Mulling Over Muller

The climateers are making a big deal out of Berkeley physicist Richard Muller’s supposed “conversion” to a climate alarmism in today’s New York Times, “The Conversion of a Climate Change Skeptic”:

CALL me a converted skeptic. Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.

Richard Muller

The climateers are especially having fun with what Muller calls “my total turnaround” because Muller’s Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project was partially funded by the (twirl evil mustache here) Koch Brothers!  (Cue evil organ music, too, just to be safe.)  Hmm, maybe the Kochs are actually interested in good science after all, and perhaps their critics might want to give some benefit of the doubt to other Koch-supported research projects?  Yeah, right—that’ll happen.  (Or maybe this is part of a truly diabolical Koch plot of discredit climate alarmism from within?  Has that possibility occurred to the Left?  I can hear the heads starting to explode now.)

But back to Muller.  His BEST was primarily about seeing whether the defects of the disputed modern temperature record could be resolved, and as I expected from the outset, his results basically confirmed the warming of the last 150 years or so.  In other words, Muller has confirmed what almost no one disputes.  Part of the controversy over the temperature record was the lack of transparency on the part of the climate science community, which attracted much of Muller’s original criticism.  (Muller’s project posts all of its data online, along with the computer programs used to analyze the data, so it can all be reviewed and critiqued.)  Muller also discounts the effect of variation in solar radiation, but appears silent about the theory currently gaining traction that cosmic radiation has a close correlation with temperature trends.  Stay tuned on this one.

But just how much of a “skeptic” was Muller?  Here’s the opening from his 2008 interview with Grist.org:

Grist: What should a President McCain or Obama know about global warming?

Muller: The bottom line is that there is a consensus — the [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] — and the president needs to know what the IPCC says. Second, they say that most of the warming of the last 50 years is probably due to humans. You need to know that this is from carbon dioxide, and you need to understand which technologies can reduce this and which can’t. Roughly 1 degree Fahrenheit of global warming has taken place; we’re responsible for one quarter of it. If we cut back so we don’t cause any more, global warming will be delayed by three years and keep on going up. And now the developing world is producing most of the carbon dioxide.

Sounds pretty close to the “consensus” party line to me, and as such today’s Times op-ed does not represent a fundamentally new position for Muller at all.  (I’m wondering whether a Times editor pressured him to use the “total turnaround” language.)  Actually, Muller has always been among the group of folks known as “lukewarmers,” i.e., that warming has taken place, but that serious doubts remain about the full extent of human causation, and more importantly, how much more warming can be expected in the future (not much, says MIT’s Richard Lindzen, for example), or what should be done about it if there is more warming ahead: the climateers’ only answer—suppression of fossil fuels, is idiotic—full stop—and their opposition to considering alternatives to fossil fuel suppression hinders the development of real options (geoengineering, carbon capture, resilience/adaptation, etc.) for dealing with climate change from whatever cause.  (The weakest part of Muller’s new piece, by the way, is his discussion of the potential of future warming, which shouldn’t make anyone on any side of this controversy happy.  But we’ll have to see what additional findings are released tomorrow.)

It turns out that the Climateers hate the “lukewarmers” almost more than climate skeptics, as can be seen from this piece from Clive Hamilton on the ThinkProgress blog:

We are familiar with the tactics, arguments, and personnel of the denial industry. Yet there is a perhaps more insidious and influential line of argument that is preventing the world from responding to the warnings of climate science.

“Luke-warmists” may be defined as those who appear to accept the body of climate science but interpret it in a way that is least threatening: emphasizing uncertainties, playing down dangers, and advocating a slow and cautious response.

Sure enough, Muller’s Times op-ed today includes these important breaks with the alarmist line:

I still find that much, if not most, of what is attributed to climate change is speculative, exaggerated or just plain wrong. I’ve analyzed some of the most alarmist claims, and my skepticism about them hasn’t changed.

Hurricane Katrina cannot be attributed to global warming. The number of hurricanes hitting the United States has been going down, not up; likewise for intense tornadoes. Polar bears aren’t dying from receding ice, and the Himalayan glaciers aren’t going to melt by 2035. And it’s possible that we are currently no warmer than we were a thousand years ago, during the “Medieval Warm Period” or “Medieval Optimum,” an interval of warm conditions known from historical records and indirect evidence like tree rings. And the recent warm spell in the United States happens to be more than offset by cooling elsewhere in the world, so its link to “global” warming is weaker than tenuous.

Well this rather takes all the fun about of being a climateer, doesn’t it?

UPDATE: The Times own Andy Revkin has a good overview of Muller that is essential reading.  One notable aspect: Judith Curry is not impressed.  Stay tuned.  There will be more innings over the next few days.

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