Monday, January 26, 2009

Calls for action, calls for inaction

I've developed a new angle for my list of climate scientists that I believe opens up new insights into the list. I've tracked down ten public declarations or open letters to leaders regarding climate change - six 'skeptical' and four 'activist,' as I'll dub them. The 'activist' letters issue a strong call for prompt action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The 'skeptical' letters argue that GHG emission cuts will be economically devastating, and generally go on to question the very basis of the case for such reductions: the existence or strength of a greenhouse forcing effect of rising CO2 concentrations; the attribution of current temperature trends to human emissions; the validity of the historical temperature record itself; the significance of projected harmful impacts of rapid warming or sea level rise; and so on.

I've linked to websites of each of the ten documents. I've downloaded the list of signatories, worked these into tabular form and checked for duplicates. I've given each statement a short tag, which I've entered in the "notes" column beside each author's name who signed the document. I've colour-coded the notes cell in the table to show signers of the activists documents in green, with the 'skeptics' documents in grey. (I also count as activist the ten contributors to the website Realclimate; among the skeptics I also count those interviewed in the TV documentary The Great Global Warming Swindle.)

I've limited this to documents I believe were signed knowingly and where the signers' identities are clear from the document, and are specifically from scientists. This excludes the vast but untraceable list on the so-called "Oregon Petition" (much favoured by Sen. Inhofe) as well the list of skeptics maintained by Sen. Inhofe's staffer Marc Morano, which largely tracks the lists I've cited with various additions gathered by Morano, but has more than a few names of people who objected strongly on learning they had been listed.

A single exception is that (action advocate, Bali declaration supporter) Dr. Carl Wunsch of M.I.T. was included in The Great Global Warming Swindle unaware of the film's editorial stance, and promptly denounced how the film characterized his views and rejected its conclusions.

The colour-coded notes boxes makes it immediately visible how the top scientists are 'voting' on these appeals. Of the top 100 most cited authors in my list as of now, I find some 35 have signed activist appeals, but just two signed skeptics' appeals (plus one other name, Vincent Courtillot, who I recognize is a "climate skeptic" but who has not signed one of the listed statements) 35 to 3, i.e. over eleven to one in favor of activism over 'inactivism.'

The non-signers should not be considered undecided on these questions, just simply ones who did not happen to take part in any of these open letters. I would further argue that the IPCC Assessment Reports are themselves quite strong calls to action, progressively more urgent and unequivocal with each round. None of the 619 authors of AR4 wg1 signed any of the skeptics' open letters I've listed.

However, many skeptics or contrarians like to argue that the "consensus" within the IPCC is somehow tainted by "group think," excessive peer pressure or politicization of the review process (the objection given by Dr. Chris Landsea as leading to his resignation.) Without acceding to any of those portrayals, I've kept the IPCC participation as a separate column which I don't refer to in counting some authors as "activists." So names with a plain white background in the notes column can be seen as "non-signers" who have signed neither an activist nor a skeptical appeal, excluding IPCC reports.

Many IPCC authors fall under the 'non-signer' category, but none have signed any of the skeptics' appeals. Looking at the table of 619 contributing authors to IPCC AR4 wg1, the only names linked to strong 'skeptics' positions are Dr. Landsea, and Dr. John Christy of UAH, who appeared in the film The Great Global Warming Swindle.

Of the 63 'non-signers' among the top 100 most-cited, some 39 were AR4 wg1 contributing authors.

I would argue a large share of the non-signers would be more inclined to agree with the activists and not the skeptics, but that's another debate; it can be approached by looking at their published work, obviously, but that takes both effort and interpretive judgment.)

For now, let my data on the number of signatories of clearly activist or skeptical appeals stand on their own: of the top 500 most-cited authors on climate, 130 have signed appeals for prompt action (outside of the IPCC assessments themselves); twenty-two of the 500 have signed a skeptical statement. At this level, the outspoken activists outnumber the skeptics by six to one, and skeptics make up just 4.4% of authors.

I've added a petitions page with background on the public appeals from scientists, as well as some of the largest petitions on climate change from the general public.


Thomas Palm said...

It's a great list, but I think you could be a bit more obvious in marking people who have appeared on "skeptical" lists but publically denounced them. I think people who just browse the list will miss the importance of those parenthesis.

Also Sami Solanki writes on his homepage:
"A misleading account of my views was published in the Toronto National Post in March, 2007 (and is to be found at different places on the web). In contrast to what is written there I am not a denier of global warming produced by an increase in the concentration of greenhouse gases. Already at present the overwhelming source of global warming is due to manmade greenhouse gases and their influence will continue to grow in the future as their concentration increases. The same newspaper already misquoted other scientists on this topic."
So he should be dropped from the list of "skeptics".

I suspect Nordhaus would be somewhat uncomfortable with his listing too. This isn't a direct denouncement, but he does argue as if AGW is real, he just has a more optimistic view on how well future society will be able to deal with it.

birdbrainscan said...

Right! I'm working on improving that - shortly I plan to separate out the claims made by list keepers Morano and Solomon from the info on who freely signed one of the declarations.
I want to do some more analysis and write-up on how these list-keepers are quote-mining from people who don't support their conclusions (I keep finding more cases of this.) Lawrence Solomon turned his Deniers column series into book form, and a number of reviewers complained that by p. 140-something he admits "I realised most of these people are not deniers at all" (so then why publish the book?) Of course he goes on to rationalize why its okay to keep the vivid book title, and the editorial slant that AGW is probably all wrong, and then to go on picking details of smaller discussions or debates as though they brought down the whole body of science.
Another comment I received today is that economists including Nordhaus are really for a different list, if this is a list of climate scientists specifically. That's a challenge for me; it also stands in the way of my immediately adding the 1700 names on the Union of Concerned Scientists' 2008 letter, which is from both scientists and economists. (Maybe I could automate sorting them via some kind of web search - if the word "economics" is on their homepage... ? Not that simple.)