Post Magazine: What Global Warming?
Tuesday, May 30, 2006; 11:00 AM
The conventional wisdom is that we humans are driving ourselvestoward the brink of climate change disaster if we don't do something soonabout the greenhouse gases were are emitting into the atmosphere. Well, notall scientists believe that.
Joel Achenbach, whose story about global warming skeptics and theirthinking appeared in Sunday's Washington Post Magazine is online Tuesday, May 30, at 11 a.m. ET , to field questions and comments.
Joel Achenbach is a Magazine staff writer.
Joel Achenbach: Is this mike working.
Joel Achenbach: Why is there a little red light on that camera that is aimed at me.
Washington, DC: How dare you award all this print space to people who are all prostitutes for petroleum. How dare you decide for all of us that we should try being misled for fun. How is it "journalism" to take the half-baked, full-paid liars and put them in your magazine?
Joel Achenbach: Hello! Thanks for your questions. Before I answer this, I'm sorry I'm a little late here to the chat, but had a technical problem.
Let me answer this directly: If you type "global warming" or anything like that into Google, you quickly hit a zillion links to sites written by people who deny that global warming is a problem. Who are these people? That's what my editor wanted to know. I think that was a good question to ask. Who are they and why are they denying the reality of global warming?
The overwhelming response to the story has been positive from the people are most concerned about global warming, and from the scientific community, which grasped the central feature of the story: the skeptics as they present their case tend to undermine it.
Washington, DC: Who edited your article? It was interesting, but seemed
like it needed some cutting in places.
Joel Achenbach: It was a long piece. It was 7,500 words or so. At one point it was about 11,000, so we took the chain saw to it.
Arlington, Va: Thanks for your great article. I expect you'll be overwhelmed by questions, but I'll give it a shot: I still am confused why an issue accepted by, say, 98 percent of active scientists, is so strongly attacked by conservatives who are non-scientists. Do you get a sense that there is anger towards Science in general (which brought us Evolution and the 6000+ year old Earth)? Whatever the cause is, it seems to be a uniquely American phenomenon. I don't see this sort of debate in places like Europe.
Joel Achenbach: It is striking that the debate is so different in Europe. Partly this is because America has a lot of hardline conservatives who don't want to be told (especially by the government, or by elites at universities, or by the news media) that they shouldn't be rolling down those highways in gas guzzling cars. Freedom's just another word for tanking up and hitting the road. I bet there are folks out there who still pine for the days when gas has lead in it.
Washington, DC: I think the argument that "How can they predict
something 50 years down the road if they can't tell me if
its going to be a hot summer THIS SUMMER?" is one that
resonates with your average American. Why didn't you
address the core of this argument more (the difference
between weather and climate)?
Joel Achenbach: I think a graf on weather v. climate might have been a good idea.
Bethesda, Md: What does it say about the age we live in that America can elect a president who will consult a Science FICTION writer (Michael Chricton) to advise him on global warming, but not actual scientists? Just stop and marvel at that one for a moment. If we are - as some of the more chauvinistic denizens here wish to think, the "pinnacle of modern civilization" - isn't it pretty much a foregone conclusion that the human race will eat itself for dinner one day?
Joel Achenbach: Let me address the second half. I believe the human race will figure out a way to survive in the future, because we're a clever species, but it's very much an open question whether we'll live on a planet that we're familiar with at present. And whether it will be a planet of justice and equality or one that's Hobbesian as you seem to suggest is most likely.
As for Bush and Crichton, too bad we don't have secret White House tapes anymore to listen to.
Herndon, Va: Did you feel when interviewing these scientists that they had their minds made up and were looking for evidence to support their positions, or did they seem to feel the "jury was still out" and willing to look at all of the evidence whether it supported their position or not.
Joel Achenbach: I interviewed a number of scientists, including some who didn't get quoted in the story but who were very helpful. In science, the jury is always out, in a sense: There aren't many absolute, final truths. But I think the overwhelming majority of scientists, both the climate modelers and the ones who do direct observation, are strongly persuaded that climate change is happening very quickly and with potentially malign effects to the biosphere and human civilization. And that's not a situation where you wait for the jury to come back with a unanimous verdict.
M St NW, Washington, D.C.: You did readers a disservice in introducing the Competitive Enterprise Institute in your story. By using descriptors such as "a factory for global warming skepticism" you make them sound merely cranky, when instead, their scientists have deep industry ties.
CEI is a conservative institution largely funded by the energy industry, which has a financial stake in opposing policies that seek to combat climate change. CEI has received substantial funding from the fossil fuel industry, including more than $2 million from the Exxon Mobil Corporation since 1998.
A story by Jeffrey Birnbaum on March 19 noted: "The Competitive Enterprise Institute, which widely publicizes its belief that the earth is not warming cataclysmically because of the burning of coal and oil, says Exxon Mobil Corp. is a 'major donor' largely as a result of its effort to push that position."
In two recent ads that downplay the significance of global warming, CEI misrepresents several scientific studies, according to Media Matters. One ad suggests that environmentalists have falsely labeled carbon dioxide as a pollutant when, in fact, it is "essential to life." But the ad ignores that it is not C02 itself that is inherently harmful, but it is excessive discharges of the gas that scientists argue is harmful to the atmosphere.
The second ad claims that recent scientific studies have proven that "Greenland's glaciers are growing" and that the "Antarctic ice sheet is getting thicker, not thinner." In fact, the Greenland study found increased snow accumulation only on the island's interior, while separate studies conducted during the same period found significant melting among the coastal glaciers.
The author of the study on Antarctica accused CEI of a "deliberate effort to confuse and mislead the public about the global warming debate."
CEI is no benign think tank that your story presented them to be.
Joel Achenbach: My story explicitly states precisely what you are saying, and so I have to suggest that you re-read the piece and, while doing so, ask yourself why it is that you were tone-deaf to the narrative the first time you read it.
Boston, Mass.: Bill Gray comes off as a movingly tragic figure. One thing that wasn't clear to me from the piece was what work he had done to rise to his level of stature. What does it mean that he is the pre-eminent hurricane expert? (I'm not asking this to be slighting; I'm really interested in learning more about him.)
Joel Achenbach: Good question. Bill Gray organized tropical meteorology conferences around the world. He all but built the field of hurricane science, according to a number of people I spoke to. There's a lot of affection for him for his many years of doing that -- and I think some consternation that he's gotten off on this anti-global warming kick.
Washington, DC: Hi Joel!
Can't you see that if I produce CO2 naturally by breathing, the logical conclusion is that no amount of it can be harmful ever? Each morning when I wake up, I purposefully hyperventillate just to produce more of this wonderful gas. If it's a nice day out, I may even sit in my garage with the car on just so that I can bask in wonderful CO2.
Why do you hate America? No, seriously.
The Right Wing
Joel Achenbach: Kids, don't try this at home.
Great Falls, Va: It's nice to see the other side of the global warming debate featured. Many of the dire predictions are based on anecdotal data and computer modeling that at best is questionable at the times frames quoted.
Sounds like the chicken little hype of the ozone hole a few years back. What ever happened to that?
Looks like the Ozone man has transformed into the Global Warming man!
Joel Achenbach: Glad you brought up the ozone hole. It was a serious problem, and may yet be -- and in fact, has probably caused countless additional cases of skin cancer, particularly in places such as Australia. It's unclear whether the hole will close back to its pre-industrial level. What's certain is that CFCs were damaging it, and the solution was a worldwide treaty to ban CFCs. It was an environmental success story in terms of how we responded to the discovery of the problem.
Alabama: In the article, I find this paragraph: "Gray says the recent rash of strong hurricanes is just part of a cycle. This is part of the broader skeptical message: Climate change is normal and natural. There was a Medieval Warm Period, for example, long before Exxon Mobil existed."
The Medieval Warm Period took place over hundreds of years (c. 800 or 900 to 1300, depending who you speak to), and some experts think it was localized around the North Atlantic -- we know Europe experienced increases in warmth, as did North America and parts of Africa, but that is not evidence that temperature increases took place around the globe. In fact, there's good evidence that warm and cold periods followed each other during this time. This was not "global warming" -- it was not global and it was not a long, sustained increase in temperature. Apart from the Big Thaw at the end of the last Ice Age, there is NOTHING in history that matches the pattern of climate change that we see today, and skeptics are deluding themselves if they think otherwise.
Joel Achenbach: My story said that explicitly. Read the whole thing. I come back to the Medieval Warm Period and make the point you are making.
South Carolina: Wow, Joel. Wow. I think the article was great and your presentation of the opinions of global warming skeptics was (excuse me for this)fair and balanced. But I am shocked and amazed at the complete short-sightedness and selfishness of the people depicted in this piece. Their clear disdain for anything friendly to the environment that doesn't earn them a dollar in the long run is shameful. What I don't understand is their endorsement of harmful and potentially toxic substances that are used by industry, such as the abestos comment made by one of the subjects. Even if the gloabl warming issue is not included when considering industrial activities, how can they endorse such business when you consider all the other harmful results to humans as a result of industrial activity? High cancer rates, air pollution, mesothelioma in the case of asbestos, just to name a few? I guess their stance is that if they make money, it is justifiable. My question is, in the minds of these people you interviewed, does the dollar and the preservation of captialism trump everything else, including health of industrial workers and the environment?
Joel Achenbach: I think CEI articulates a libertarian perspective that is very powerful in Washington right now.
One thing I didn't mention in the piece is that there's a movement to bring back DDT. The argument is that DDT will kill mosquitoes that cause malaria in subSaharan Africa.
Laurel, Md: There is no denying that CO2 is a greenhouse gas and its amount in the atmosphere is increasing. The planet can compensate to some degree, but eventually CO2 effects will overcome the compensating feedback. This is straight forward physics. So its not a question of "if" but "when". I have never heard the debate with the naysayers on this matter.
Joel Achenbach: Well, it's already happening, it's really a debate over the degree to which the atmosphere is sensitive to, say, a doubling of CO2. But even "debate" is the wrong word; it's more like a scientific inquiry with different possible answers. And the range of possibilities includes scenarios that most people would consider dire.
Washington, DC: Joel, do you think the editors of the Washington Post could be persuaded to run a 7,500 word article on the actual science of climate change, as understood by the overwhelming majority of scientists who study the phenomenon? I don't mean short reports of recent journal articles, although there are scant few of these in the Post,but a comprehensive piece in plain English that puts the current state of knowledge into perspective for lay readers. Perhaps, you could write it?
Joel Achenbach: It's definitely possible. I am sure we will continue reporting this story from many angles. I found the book by Tim Flannery helpful, by the way, in preparing the story.
San Francisco, Calif: Your article, The Tempest, was grossly irresponsible. Would talk about folks that claim that the hollocaust was a hoax in these terms?
The fate of multiple millions of souls hang in the balance of what's going to happen to world climate. In the next decades, 2/3's of Bangledesh may dissappear. How many of the 150 million or so folks that live around the Bay of Bengal will perish in the chaos?
If your writing slows the effort to mitigate the damage to even an 'nth degree, you can count your small self incrementally responsible for those deaths.
Nobody knows exactly what will happen, but there is universal concensus amoung weather scientists that it is happening. You tag yourself a fool of the highest order writing this sort of drivel.
Your careless irresponsible excuse for journalism should be cause for your dismissal.
Joel Achenbach: I think "The Tempest" helps people understand the origin of global warming skepticism, and thus provided a public service. I'm very happy with how it turned out.
Arlington, Va: Joel - Very impressive and thorough Sunday article sorting out (to the extent possible!) the yins and yangs in the global warming debate.
I first came across the so-called Skeptic positions at the time of the Kyoto treaty signing. As a liberal and an environmentalist, I was surprised that some of those arguments still did give me pause and seem persuasive. Especially when so many "smart scientific" folks seemed to be party to them.
As I have a good many smart scientific people as my own friends and colleagues, I initially didn't think of the positions of the Global Warming Skeptics as necessarily "conservative". But as I read more widely, a pattern did seem to emerge, as those writers and speakers often drifted wide-rangingly into (rather jaw-dropping) accusations about the other side's broader social agenda, communism, intentional annihilation of all poor folks in third world countries, etc.
You talked a little about this, as personified by this movement's especially colorful characters like Bill Gray and Fred Smith. But my question is more about the more "mainstream skeptics", for lack of a better term. As you looked at the people, journals and organizations who in general get in line behind them on the underlying position on global warming, are the demographics still skewed largely to the political right? And if so, any theories as to why?
I realize time will have to tell which group has the right answers on this critical issue. But it seems if we could somehow remove the political-spectrum overlay, we might have better and more productive conversations about it.
Joel Achenbach: The partisan nature of scientific debates is dismaying to me. But yes, skeptics tend to be conservatives, as far as I could tell (though Gray said he used to be a knee jerk liberal).
I think "skepticism" in general is a good thing. I don't think people should blindly believe everything they're told. I think the consensus can sometimes be wrong. And I don't think people should make decisions about science based on the political affiliations of the people presenting the arguments. Science works in part because you can be right even if your politics are wacko.
I actually called Michael Shermer (editor of the magazine "Skeptic") and asked him about all this, and he said that until recently he'd been a GW skeptic, too, but was converted by Gore's movie.
Johnstown, Pa: I read the article on Global warming by Mr. Achenbach with interest. However to my surprise, every aspect of global warming was covered, except the role of SUN! in global warming. Many of us apaprently have forgotten that all of earth's activities, as far as the water and ice and winds are concerned are affected by SUN's activities' directly, not to mention life on earth.
I would suggest that Mr. Achenbach write an article on the central role of SUN in the global warming and cover that REAL story for all of us. I am sure there are cyclical events happening in regards to the activity of SUN that are affecting us here on earth.
Al Ardekani, Ph.D.Biologist
Joel Achenbach: It's true that scientists believe that increased solar radiation early in the 20th century was a factor in the global warming in those decades. But only Fred Singer seems to think that the sun is the cause of the warming of the past three decades or so.
Washington, DC: You might have delved into Tech Central Station a little deeper, after mentioning that they contracted media handlers for Dr Gray at the Hurricane Conference.
It was recently revealed by the Washington Monthly that Tech Central Station is a project of DCI Communications, a Washington lobby firm in fact THE registered lobbyists for ExxonMobil according to House and Senate records. hmmmm.... what does Exxon have to gain from Dr. Gray's voice being amplified?
Joel Achenbach: Interesting point.
M St Again: I'm sorry my question made you so cranky. In fact I reread your piece more than once to make sure I didn't miss anything before submitting the question.
Is no one allowed to criticize your work? Tetchiness isn't a useful attribute for a reporter.
Joel Achenbach: You can criticize my work! I'm sorry if I was defensive. I should have better manners than that. I just don't think you were giving that CEI section a fair reading. But I guess the deconstructionists would say that the author doesn't really get to decide what a text "means."
Washington DC: I'm often curious as to the motives of global warming skeptics. In your personal opinion after having spoken to so many of them, was your sense that they are just nuts, just chasing industry money, or do they actually honestly believe that global warming won't have the dire consequences some think it will?
Joel Achenbach: I find that, to a remarkable degree, people say what they believe. That doesn't mean they won't cash a check from some source (industry, a non-profit, a think tank, whatever) that agrees with them and is happy that they made the argument. But most people are true believers. That's what gives them energy. Faith is a greater motivator even than money.
Crab City (Baltimore), Md.: Your critic from Alabama is quick to criticize the evidence of a Medieval warm period, which raises an interesting question:
If we're supposed to dismiss evidence from back in that era because of the faulty collection of data back then, then exactly how are we supposed to accept data from ages ago as evidence that the planet was cooler back then? Could not a great deal of the evidence cited for global warming actually be due to vastly more accurate and widespread data, rather than just sampling tree rings in the Amazon and ice bores in the Arctic as evidence? I know scientists are supposed to extrapolate for such data refinement, but.......
Joel Achenbach: I don't think the climate record of the past million years or so is based on a single ice core or a single data point. And to the extent that there have been studies that were based on limited evidence, they've been battered pretty hard. The fact is, scientists like to disprove things. They like to find out that someone else's work is faulty. There's a hazing of the evidence. Look at the debate about the ivory-billed woodpecker, or the debate about the "Hobbit" of the island of Flores: There's always someone ready to poke through the data and come up with a different interpretation. That's why in our story we talk about the consensus as something that continues to emerge and firm up.
Washington, DC: Wow-- the vitriol you're getting in this chat for even mentioning those who are arguing against global warming--in a non-complimentary way at that--is pretty staggering. I am just about as certain as a non-scientist can be that it's a serious problem, and I'm very interested in what should be done about it. But the responses you're getting here make it pretty easy to sympathize with all of the folks you mention in the article. Apparently, if you don't believe that the world is coming to an end tomorrow you're evil. Who knew? So the question-- you make note of this in the article, but do you think there's any way this country will ever return to a time when scientific issues can be discussed, umm, scientifically, without all of the partisan antics? Or am I just too young to realize that that was never actually the case?
Joel Achenbach: Well, vitriol is part of the mix these days. This hasn't been too bad. You should check out -- dare I say it? -- my blog, Achenblog -- here on our site -- because the people who comment there are intelligent and rational and sober. Well, intelligent and rational. Often sober. I mean, they CAN be sober, at certain times of day. They've been spotted sober on occasion.
Knoxville, Tenn.: I think the questions in this discussion really show why having a shrill political debate on the topic of global warming is so detrimental! People who are taking the logical and right position that we should do something about global warming are so enraged by the debate that they fail to see the fact that your article was about putting sunshine to flawed arguments.
As someone who does science writing on the PIO side, I loved the article - you gave these folks the opportunity to sell their side, and they failed miserably.
Joel Achenbach: Thanks, Knoxville! I like that sunshine phrase, I'll steal it if that's OK.
Batesville, Va: "Gore believed in global warming almost as much as Hitler believed there was something wrong with the Jews."
By quoting some nut who compares Al Gore to Hitler you perpetuate the ugly slander so that still others will pass it around; sort of like, ah, Goebbels, I suppose.
Joel Achenbach: Any sane person would find that the quote is more damaging to the speaker than to Gore.
Washington, DC: How could you write an article about the "Skeptics Industry", and interview so many, yet ignore how Exxon Mobil has funded near all of them ?
(Yes, the exception seems to be Gray - but why would anyone give so much credibility to the words of a leaf specialist if their concern is with the forest?)
For starters, try exxonmobilsecrets.org - it's an easily accesible funding database set up long ago by Greenpeace.
By not examining their skeptics' funding, you've highlighted the rather large difference in journalistic acumen between WashPost and NYT's magazines.
Your grade: D+
Joel Achenbach: My story explicitly states that fossil fuel industries have poured millions into the anti-global warming campaign. And it gets more specific:
"CEI relies on donations from individuals, foundations and corporations. The most generous sponsors of last year's annual dinner at the Capital Hilton were the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, Exxon Mobil, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, and Pfizer. Other contributors included General Motors, the American Petroleum Institute, the American Plastics Council, the Chlorine Chemistry Council and Arch Coal."
"[CEI] still gets money from Exxon Mobil, the biggest and most hard-line oil company on the climate change issue, but many of its donors have stopped sending checks."
bc in DC: HI JOEL. I'M SCREAMING THIS AT THE TOP OF MY LUNGS BECAUSE I CAN'T AFFORD A TV AD CAMPAIGN, DEDICATED WEB SITES OR A LOBBYING GROUP/TRAVEL AGENCY TO GET YOUR ATTENTION. I -WOULD- SET MYSELF ON FIRE, BUT THAT WOULD PROBABLY KEEP ME FROM SCOOPING THE LITTER BOXES AND TAKING THE TRASH OUT TONIGHT, WHICH MAKES IT A NON-STARTER ACCORDING TO MY WIFE. AND IT WOULD ADD TO THE AMOUNT OF METHANE IN THE ATMOSPHERE, WHICH WOULD MAKE IT AN IRRESPONSIBLE ACT.
Gosh, that was tiring. Anyway, we've been hearing both extremes of the Global Warming debate, and thanks for bringing the far conservative point ot view. Short of having our own Ariel to help us make everything right in a few quick Acts, it there a person or an organization that you think might be an effective focal point for a reasonable middle ground, one that advocates (and more importantly) and can coordinate large-scale actions to reduce the human contributions to global warming? I know we may have lost a chance with the Kyoto accord...
Secondly, here on Earth, we're facing Global Warming and potentially disasterous effects at some point in the future, yet the rest of the universe is facing a possible Heat Death, a future where Everything has cooled off to a point near absolute zero C, and eternal nothingess. I'm worried about both possible futures. What should I do?
I heard you tell Bob Wright on bloggingheads tv the other day "I don't know", so I'm hoping you have had some time to consider a different answer.
bc in DC
Joel Achenbach: I don't know.
Actually, I may do a story on the future of energy, and would love to explore alternative energy, conservation, etc., and will keep you updated about what I find out -- on the Achenblog.
Maryland: Well, Fred Smith is right about one thing: CEI's commercials (video on their website) do bring a tear to my eye. I often tear up when I'm laughing that hard. Do the skeptics really frame the economic argument in terms of using fossil fuels vs. not using any fuels at all? It seems like there should be money to be made (and jobs to be created) from development and marketing of alternative fuels, as well the growth of emerging technologies in the building industry.
Joel Achenbach: I think the solution to global warming is going to make some entrepreneurs a lot of money. To that end, it needn't necessary require across-the-board suppression of the spirit of competitive enterprise.
Washington, DC: I really appreciate your illumination of the insanity and delusion of the global warming naysayers. It was a fun read. But you missed a few points.
Tech Central Station is run by DCI Communications the Hill registered lobbyists for ExxonMobil!! no small item that EXXON was essentially running Dr Gray's media at the hurricane conference.
Also, having watchdogged these clowns (CEI and friends) for a decade, the lead has to be that the only reason they have staff and offices is corporate funding. They are the definition of FRONT GROUP. CEI is the largest recipient of Exxon funding since the Kyoto Protocol, now topping $2 million dollars 1998-2005 according to Exxon documents, a significant portion of the $19 million in skeptic funding from Exxon we have tracked on www.exxonsecrets.org.
As Mr. Smith slips in the last stanza of your piece saying other companies no longer fund their dirty tricks. That is because Exxon is the laggard and American Petroleum Institute, which they dominate has been the spearhead to a campaign to deliberately slow down and stall action on global warming. Its not just about questioning the science, its how the science drives the policy train and CEI knows that if they confuse the public on science all else slows down.
Joel Achenbach: Thanks for interesting comment. Perhaps the Tech Central Station folks could have been explored more.
Arlington Va: Thank you for your excellent piece in the Magazine. Some understanding of Bill Gray's myopia may be gained from understanding the distinction between two different types of meteorology: short- and medium-term weather forecasters and the much longer time horizons of climatologists.
Bill Gray does great work forecasting the number and severity of hurricanes based on near-term observations of weather patterns. It is unfortunate that he dismisses the recorded observations and modeling of long-term climatologists, who are warning us of climate disruption. They do work with different data, different assumptions, and different methods.
One other point that was left unsaid is that, while climate change skeptics warn with hyperbole about the disastrous effects of limiting fossil fuel, the Chicken Littles of industry (especially auto industry and electric utilities ) opposing environmental regulation have been proven wrong over and over again for the past 3 decades. Whether addressing smokestack controls for acid rain, fuel economy standards for car efficiency, reducing tailpipe emissions, or what-have-you, the polluters have claimed that meeting these clear air requirements would mean economic ruin. But in each case, ingenuity and smart engineering have provided solutions at little or no cost while providing enormous benefits.
We have off-the-shelf answers to avoid exacerbating climate change, and surely a national commitment will bring forth more.
Joel Achenbach: The classic example is complying with the CFC ban -- a top-down ban by governments that led to a lot of profits, ultimately, by the chemical industry as it switched to different refrigerants.
We're running over here. I'm going to post a few of the comments/statements/invectives even though I don't have time to craft much of a response.
Arlington, Va: Do you really think it's appropriate to give so much space to an idea (global warming doesn't exist) for which there's so little scientific evidence? Are you responding to some push to be "objective" when all you're relly doing is giving equal time to the other side?
Joel Achenbach: I would invite readers to look at the Technorati links to the story. Very few people have argued that it shouldn't have been written.
Durham, NC: Some people say that the only scientists who still question the human causes of global climate change are those who are bought and paid for by big oil. How do you answer those charges? And how much of your funding comes from ExxonMobil and other corporations in the fossil fuel industry?
Joel Achenbach: My funding? I actually am funding ExxonMobil a LOT lately.
Washington, DC: Hi Joel,
Thanks for covering the 'other' side of the global warming debate. I think that it's important to point out how a lot of people are coming to swift conclusions, and that you just can't do that in science without hard data to back things up - you would never approve a drug if your 'trends showed' that it was safe.
Maybe it was the people who you interviewed for the story, but I did have a major problem with the linking of the skeptics to their opinions on fossil fuel consumption. I agree that there are other environmental problems that we should address - lack of sustainable farming, for example - but bundling the lack-of-data skepticism with the 'why should we become oil-independent' throughout the article seemed a bit much. I think that their opinions of fossil fuel use are completely separate from the argument against global warming, and your article seemed to keep linking them together.
That, and the other comment I had is that Bush isn't a 'skeptic' by any means. He would have to understand the science to have an opinion.
But thanks again for bringing this 'dark side' to light.
Joel Achenbach: Thanks for the comment.
Milano, Italia: Ciao, Joel,
I understand how the opinions of the owners and producers of petroleum products who wish to sell thier products are derived. I also understand a certain type of conservative/right wing who find environmentalists/left wingers annoying (being slightly right of center myself).
The thing that I do not understand about the conservative opinion in America, is that there are a lot of conservatives who think that, regardless of global warming, America's reliance on foreign oil has been detrimental to America financially not to mention politically. I talk to my friends and they (mostly) think global warming is a bit chicken little, but they all agree that alternative energy sources produced here in America (solar, wind, whatever..) if viable would be a great thing.
The key word there is viable obviously. But I do not understand why the conservatives, in the financial, small government sense are not jumping on the bandwagon to turn America in that direction.
Did you do any research as to the opinions of this subset of conservatives? Where are their views?
Joel Achenbach: Tom Friedman argues in "the World is Flat" that Bush had a golden opportunity to put America on a moonshot-style program to achieve energy independence before the decade wasa out.
Boodledelphia, Md: I thought it was a great piece, Joel, and it was a great service to the debate to profile the skeptics' side of the argument. But it is so hard to have a reasonable, sane discussion about almost any issue anymore without somebody in the blogosphere going ballistic.
Have you had any "blowback" from any of the skeptics themselves yet?
Joel Achenbach: I am waiting to hear from Dr. Gray. I heard one skeptic say the piece was fair. We're doing a radio program this afternoon, and there may be more blowback then.
Washington, DC: I think this article made it clear that the anti-global-
warmalists were looping their logic and getting tangled in
their own rhetoric. As someone concerned about global
warming, it was an intriguing window into the other side.
Joel Achenbach: Thanks!
Washington, DC: Joel, tried to post previously... Maybe a technical difficulty you referred to..
Overall, a wonderful job of objective journalism related to a highly emotional and controversial issue.
And I'm glad you cited that comment by Professor Gray over the predictions of a "New Ice Age" back in the '70s. That's just a mere 30 years ago and I recall it generated considerable concern and controversy (we discussed it in school, I recall)..
Quick question.. Did anyone provide a reasonable answer as to why rising CO2 levels are not being "neutralized" by increasing plant growth??
Suggest you research the work of the late Dr. John Martin and his claim that the oceanic "nutrient deficiency" is one of the causes of rising CO2 levels, citing that phytoplankton, responsible for 90% of all global CO2 seqestration, are unable to grow in response to this increase in the gas they consume.
His proposal has the beauty of being controllable, highly effective, efficient and cost effective, and beneficial to the entire realm of the oceanic food chain.
But no one wants to discuss "geo-engineering", despite the fact that the planet engages in altering its climate every day.
Thanks again for a great article!!
Joel Achenbach: Thanks. I'll let readers track down the Martin research, I'm unfamiliar with it. And I don't know to what extent plant growth could counter CO2 increases over a longer period of time -- though there's a lot of research on that at the moment. But if climate is destabilized rapidly, nothin' much good can come of that. That's the more important point.
One of the problems with the constant mentioning of the Ice Age fears of the 1970s is that it's irrelevant NOW what scientists said THEN. Climate science today is so much more advanced than it was then.
Baltimore, Md: One issue I've yet to see raised is that of just how reliable the scientific community can be in all this. If we are to dismiss those whi dismiss or question the science behind global warming theories because they're taking money from "big oil", automakers, and the like, why should we accept the theories of environmental scientists, who--at least in theory--can be viewed as people advocating decades of government-subsidized spending on more scientific research, all by crying "crisis"? I'm not one to dismiss or ignore global warming theories, but it seems to me that the scientific "community" stands to "profiteer" from a global warming "crisis" as much or more so than auto makers, etc. stand to profit from the status quo.
And no one's answered the $64 trillion dollar question: If humans revert to cavemen-like existence and global warming continues upwards (possibly because of some unremarked factor that humans can do nothing about, like animal flatulence or seismic/volcanic activity), then who will be the fall guy to accept the wrath of what's left of Homo Sapiens?
Joel Achenbach: Most climate scientists that I spoke to are civil servants who don't "profit" from issuing warnings of climate change. They're credible scientists who are following the data.
Joel Achenbach: I am way overtime here. I'm sorry I left so many questions/comments unaddressed. If you wish, you can post comments DIRECTLY to my blog, at washingtonpost.com/achenblog.
Thanks for joining in!
Washington DC: What's your personal view of the issue? Is it all gloom and doom do you think, or is there perhaps some value to the notion that we can--and should--simply adapt to whatever changes global warming brings our way? Have your feelings about some of the direst predictions about climate change changed at all while reporting this story?
Joel Achenbach: I accept the consensus view -- and the full range of possibilities therein. In general I believe that human beings can adapt to their problems if they are willing to recognize them. I also suspect that our list of serious environmental problems doesn't begin and end with global warming.
OK, thanks again!
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