Lukewarmers–a subset within a wide range of opinions on climate change

I think there’s a rule about not capitalizing the title of a post when it gets to be as long as the post itself…

I am hoping to do a series of posts on Matt Ridley’s essay published via GWPF yesterday. But first, let’s discuss my impressions of a bandwagon effect regarding the Lukewarmer position on anthropogenic climate change.

It seems that the term itself is being more widely used and that more people are identifying themselves or others as Lukewarmers. I think it’s overall a good thing–although I don’t at all take it as a sign that we are winning the argument. Far too early for that.

I think it’s good even though I also think that some people on both sides are playing fast and loose with the term. I think some skeptics are saying that in essence they are Lukewarmers because they accept the accepted physics leading to a 1C per doubling of CO2 concentrations, although in practice they are very skeptical of any further effect on the climate or the rest of the planet. Given the abuse they have received under the name skeptic and the disgusting conflation of skepticism with neo-Nazi skinheads who deny the Holocaust occurred, it’s certainly understandable.

I also see that some climate activists are eager to lump Lukewarmers in with the most ardent of skeptics, arguing that at the end of the day we are as ‘bad’ as their arch-villains like Morano and Monckton. And I understand that–we probably are more dangerous to their position than those at the end of the spectrum and given the way they treat all who are not completely committed to their cause, it would be laughable to expect fair or even honest treatment from people like Eli Rabett or William Connelly, let alone the Tim Lamberts of the world.

I want to get a couple of words in before the wholesale criticism of ‘Lukewarmer-ism’ gets out. I noted yesterday that Dana Cook  Nuccitelli (sorry, all) of Skeptical Science plans a post on the folly of the Lukewarm position and I have no doubt that others will be writing against what we generally believe–although most of it will be tied to Ridley’s essay, it will be used as a springboard.

There are already attacks on Lukewarmers out there–most of them purely political and without showing any signs of having read what we have written in various venues. Clive Hamilton labels us as ‘insidious’ (read the comments for my own and Steven Mosher’s response), saying we are ‘politically conservative’ (I’m pretty much to the left of Marx–I just forget if it’s Groucho or Karl), and that we fell for the ‘climategate spin,’ not realizing that almost all of those he accuses of the sin of Lukewarmer-ism were writing long before Climategate.

The most accurate self-description on the intertubes is found at Idiot Tracker–he tracks and he’s pretty much described himself. In his diatribe against Lukewarmers, he manages to combine Steve Mosher and myself into one person named Steve Fuller–although he may have another post somewhere railing against Tom Mosher. There are others–here, for example. (Update: Hey, Idiot Tracker–if you ever see this check above–I just did the same thing with Dana Nuccitelli. Guess we’re all human…)

My basic point here is that the Lukewarm ‘position’ (it isn’t really all that well-defined) is in fact a range of opinions–I’m pretty sure that Steve Mosher and I look at it differently and that Pat Michaels, who identifies himself as a lukewarmer, would disagree with both of us–and maybe Lucia Liljegren, one of the very first to wear the lapel button, might differ from all of us.

It describes a range of opinion. In that it is no different from the labels ‘skeptic’ or ‘climate activist.’ There is a very wide spectrum of opinions on climate change, its various causes and its potential impacts.

What we will see in the coming weeks is an attempt to pigeonhole us. These attempts will come from the extremes of the spectrum. The most ardent of activists will try and push us over with the most skeptical of the skeptics–and it’s quite possible that the skeptics will try and paint us as activists in sheeps’ clothing.

stuck in the middle

For my money, the most energetic of the climate activists are very wrong in trying to panic the public with talk of Xtreme Weather, a rapid melt of the Greenland Ice Cap, very large rises in sea level and skyrocketing temperatures.

For my money, the most skeptical of the skeptics are very wrong in ignoring the very real potential for future effects on our climate (and the rest of the planet) due to human causes, among which is emissions of incredible quantities of CO2.

But I have no doubt that I (or someone who believes as I do) will be compared to both Michael Mann and Marc Morano–maybe in the same comment thread.


50 responses to “Lukewarmers–a subset within a wide range of opinions on climate change

  1. You’re going to win few friends. ‘Climate Sceptics’ who believe it’s all nonsense view lukewarmers the same way atheists view agnostics. Worse, ‘activitists’ don’t actually have anything to be active over, if there is no crisis.

    Finally, some lukewarmers argue that benefits outweight costs, i.e., for warming below 2C over periods of one century or more. This is the winners & losers argument. In that case, this group is seen as even more ‘extreme’ than ‘denialists’ (to those who use such terms) who don’t expect there to be any consequences good or bad.

  2. Good post. I was not aware that lukewarmerism has become so successful that it needed attacked. You have to remember that during the 1989-91 period that “the team” spent a lot of effort attacking research that supported man made climate change through mechanisms other than greenhouse. Some of the researchers that were attacked could easily be described as left wing environmentalists. And some of the strongest advocates of CAGW were hardly liberal. Has everyone forgotten Newt’s Contract with the Earth.
    I have never called myself a lukewarmer. There is a lot I don’t have in common with some of the people you’ve mentioned. So I will quickly state my position.
    1. Temperature sensitivity to CO2 is relatively low. The current warming do to current levels of co2 is probably less than 1C/century. There is no thermal tipping point.
    2. Other man made effects are either as great or greater than co2.
    3, Natural cycles are still the largest component.
    4. Regional climate change due to non co2 human activity dwarfs the greenhouse effect.
    5. CO2 is a problem, but it is not the biggest environmental threat,
    6. Most of the solutions being pushed for CAGW will concentrate wealth and power, not equalize it.
    7. I’ve stopped using left and right to describe political positions because they have drifted away from their original meaning . They are now just packages of opinions on well crafted wedge issues I really don’t feel strongly about. Market mechanism sometimes produce an optimum outcome, but don’t count on it. I don’t think that everyone should get paid the same, but there is a point where inequality in wealth and power becomes obscene. Every war this country has been involved in during my lifetime has been a mistake at one level or another. I think we have a duty to preserve the biodiversity of the planet.

    Go ahead, give me a label.

  3. This is of course the reaction you are going to get. If you deny the possibility of there being a crisis, you deny the point of ‘snerk’s’ social conscience. ‘Snerks’ ‘understands’ the science, and that understanding is based on what he believes it should be. There is no room for discussion. Good science is separated from bad science based on the conclusions of a study, not the quality of the research. This cuts both ways. Climate Sceptics love studies that argue for natural cycles or solar influence, even if those studies are just as bad as the ‘consensus’ studies they would immediately rubbish.

  4. I have some sympathy for the lukewarmer position, and can imagine that it might appeal particularly to people invested in the academic world. It seems a rather odd way of describing one’s position, but I think it is reasonably clear.
    Personally, I am a little more sceptical of the details. Clearly there is some insulating effect from the atmosphere, and some sort of trend in the measurements, but I worry that even the honest attempts at measurement are confounded by effects which are not recognised (e.g. localised micro-climates).
    I have zero confidence in the 30 year trend being up or down, but anticipate the rate of change to be manageable (excepting the ice-age scenario.

  5. John Cook? Was that on purpose?

    To me, a lukewarmer is a person who believes that CO2 will cause some warming (perhaps not the 3C climate sensitivity median), warming will cause some damage and is an important issue that warrants further investigation and some intermediate action. There’s no reason not to pursue alternative energy technologies and expanding (fairly market competitive) existing non-fossil fuel ones like nuclear or hydro.

    I think the “true believers” are like lukewarmers but with a strong left ideology slanted towards extreme environmentalism, big government, possibly socialism, perhaps Malthusian and with a strong “save the planet” mentality. These people tend to up the ante leaning towards higher climate sensitivity, more damage predicted and thus much more urgent action required. And I fully believe that they have no problem exaggerating or worse given a basic philosophy of “The end justifies the means”.

    • Whoops! It’s Dana Nuccitelli. I’d better fix that–thanks!

      I think you’re pretty close to my idea about what lukewarming is all about. I might be a bit more concerned than your description indicates–but that’s because of my worries about rising energy consumption more than sensitivity.

      • Lol…and then a little later on you talk about a guy who comes up with Steve Fuller.

        Maybe Cook and Nuccitelli were in your mind as you were typing. I know it’s not a Freudian slip but I wonder if the mechanism is similar?

      • Hmm. You may have a point. I’m laughing too–but not out loud.

  6. Tom, as you know from previous discussions I don’t like the “lukewarmer” label. I have the same feelings for political moderates. I want to ask you one question,i.e. if you could wave a magic wand so that all that is known about CO2 was wiped clean, would you call yourself a lukewarmer. In other words, if all we had was Milankovitch cycles, ENSO, PDO, AMO, land use, soot, sulphates,water vapor, etc.,etc., but no CO2, how would you describe yourself?

    • Ummm… ‘calmer?’ No. I would be worried about (at least) the conventional pollution and potential climatic effects of increasing energy consumption throughout this century.

      • Tom, you say, ” Ummm… ‘calmer?’ No. I would be worried about (at least) the conventional pollution and potential climatic effects of increasing energy consumption throughout this century”.
        You say calmer. I am right to say then, that despite your belief in a lower CO2 sensitivity, you still equate this lower sensitivity with the “evil” side of CO2 – otherwise why would you be calmer. If I am correct in the preceding statement, then, you see no benefit to the low CO2 sensitivity meme. If I am wrong, why would you be calmer? Plus, in your second sentence, you evade the CO2 question. If (remember CO2 doesn’t exist in my question) all you were concerned about was pollution, etc. why would you label yourself a lukewarmer?

  7. Tom, I would suggest then you and Mosher, Lucia and others are CO2-Centric Lukewarmers. You are not a CH4-Lukerwarmer, you are not a Solar-Lukewarmer, you are not a Natural Variability -Lukewarmer, etc. Like Mosher says, double CO2 you get 1.1C by the laws of physics, while disregarding (in a respectful way) feedbacks etc. A CO2-Centric Lukewarmer, Tom.

    • Hi Bob,

      That’s not really true–they convert estimates of other greenhouse gases into CO2 equivalents and report on the totals. That’s more or less how I look at it as well.

      I would say CO2 focused, but not obsessive. I’m equally as concerned about LULC changes and deforestation, but nobody besides Marty ever wants to talk about them.

      FWIW, I’d be thrilled if we spent time, energy and even money on taking care of black soot and deforestation let CO2 do what it does for a good long while–at least until we get a grip on what’s happening.

      • Hi Tom,
        I don’t mean to dwell on the topic but I am really trying to understand your Lukewarmer label. The premise of the thought experiment was all things included , except CO2, and you said you would be “calmer”. If you meant that, you are CO2-Centric. No such thing as CO2 equivalents in the premise. I say this as a means of truly trying to understand what self-identified lukewarmers understand. It may seem trivial or esoteric to push this point, but the only logical conclusion is that at least some lukewarmers believe that CO2 is the primary driver. Tom, we all believe in the Tyndall effect, but despite protestations of Mosher and some others, there is no global empiric evidence to support the claim the CO2 is the primary sensitivity driver. Physics, yes – empiric global in situ data – No.

  8. Hi Tom,
    I hope we can agree by now that you are a “CO2-Centric Lukewarmer”. Now, as far as I know no one has credibly (no, not Nuccitelli) reputed the Vostoc data that indicate that CO2 lags temperature by 100-800 years, how do you justify yourself (I realize it is my description of you, logically) being a CO2-Centric Lukewarmer?

    • Bob, Tom has written a lot on this. Go through some old threads. He has a rather nuanced position. Don’t simplify it prematurely. And I would not call him co2 centric.

      • Hi Marty, if you followed the discussion, he in essence called himself a CO2-centric. Nothing wrong with that – I don’t agree with it, but I hope you can see how it shapes opinion and world view. Problem is, some don’t even know they are CO2-Centric lukewarmers.

      • Hi Bob and Marty–I’m trying not to get hung up on labels (other than the one I will keep deleting, if needed). If it helps Bob shape his thoughts and responses here, hey–why not? I am concerned about CO2, although I wouldn’t say I’m centered on it.

      • Marty, just to explain a little further, I am just trying to pin people down as to why they believe they are lukewarmers so I can better understand their musings. By deduction, Tom shows that the single most important contributor that defines him as a luke is CO2. Tom is, like most people, concerned about pollution and other environmental contributors, but they are not despositive in making him a “warmer” (albeit, luke). Mosher is so certain of CO2’s prima fascia that I would be willing to bet that he would quantumly copulate with CO2’s valence electrons if he could.

      • Hi Tom,

        Please excuse me for posting on your new blog without first congratulating you on its release. You are one of the good guys.

      • Thanks Bob–glad you found us and hope you enjoy visiting.

    • Bob, the old “CO2 lags temperature” canard is one of the oldest ***** propaganda pieces in the book. You can educate yourself here:

      (Stupid derogatory remark deleted by blog administrator.)

      • Snerkersnerk, please don’t use that language here.

        Thank you for your consideration.

      • I always thought the oldest trick is discrediting research papers that don’t agree with your personal perspective.

      • Hi snerkersnerk,
        If you think that reference reputes Barnola, well, that says a lot about you.

      • The CO2-temperature relationship started life as empirical evidence of the warming effects of CO2 on the atmosphere. But when the lag was determined, it could no longer be used as clear cut empirical evidence. Rather, one had to assume it had a second order effect via some sort of feedback mechanism. That means it’s not evidence for climate models although it’s not evidence against climate models. Obviously, this doesn’t get us very far.

  9. My position as a Lukewarmer is that a warm planet is a happy planet. In this I’m guided by Dr. Patrick Moore, formerly of Greenpeace.

    According to which running average you choose, the present global temperature anomaly is somewhere between +0.2K and +0.6K.

    This is in the ballpark for temperatures during the MWP, when Gaia seems to have been fairly content with her situation.

    In the 1970’s when the anomaly was ±-0.2K, agriculturists reported shortened growing seasons and reduced harvests.

    To a recent but fairly serious student of climate such as myself, it would seem that we don’t want to go below an anomaly of zero.

    Within this century a return to LIA temperatures, with their associated hardships, seems highly unlikely, so I won’t dwell on that.

    We don’t really know what it will be like if the anomaly rises to +0.1K and above. But I am led to believe that equatorial zones will be little affected, while the polar zones could heat up by some 8K.

    Although 30 per cent of the world’s land mass is found at latitudes above 50 degrees, only 8 per cent of the human population lives there.

    This is probably a result of an inhospitably cold climate, and some warming would surely be welcome.

    At the same time I am concerned with the increased consumption of fossil fuels, especially coal.

    I am anti-pollution, but not anti-CO2. That’s what makes me a Lukewarmer.

    To keep up with demand, world-wide one coal-fired power plant will have to be brought into service every month.

    Nuclear power is about five times more expensive than coal, and radioactive waste disposal is laughably inadequate.

    Wind and solar energy have shown themselves not up to the task, and a criminal waste of money. In fact that is why I find myself uneasily in the Lukewarmer camp, purely out of opposition to the lunatic policies of the anti-CO2 brigade.

    Methane seems to be the only viable alternative, as its combustion products are almost entirely carbon dioxide and water.

    The trillions of dollars now spent on alternative energy should rather go to cleaning the emissions of coal and gas power plants, although disposal of those wastes creates yet another problem.

    In the long term, we need to develop the technology to bury nuclear waste deep in the lithosphere, many kilometers below the surface. Only then will nuclear power be truly clean and safe.


    For “We don’t really know what it will be like if the anomaly rises to +0.1K” read “We don’t really know what it will be like if the anomaly rises to +1.0K”


  11. What do guys think of shale gas? Less CO2, a little cleaner…fracking?

    • I am also MikeC, btw. Different computer, different cookie?

    • Hi, MikeC, I clearly think the benefits of fracking outweigh risks, but not because of less CO2. The sensitivity to CO2 is so low, despite convention wisdom, that it should not be the driver of any policy.

      • I’m a little more cautious about fracking as yet–I’m excited (aren’t we all) about its potential, but still concerned about some of the environmental impacts. I’d like to see more disclosure of the fracking fluids and a bit more research–and especially a little more geological surveying before we sink the drillheads.

  12. MikeC, google “Jonah field wyoming” to see why I’m anti-fracking. The water table contamination and fracking fluid spills seem to be greatly exaggerated. Newer fracking technologies make it possible to drill many bores from a single site which would greatly reduce the surface environmental impact, but they cost more.

  13. Hi oldfossil,
    The vast majority of anti-Jonah Field articles were pushed by green literature groups like Voice for the Wild. The vast majority of the articles protest on esthetic grounds – not solid scientific grounds.

  14. I’ve commented on fracking on other threads. If it’s so safe, why all the secrecy. I’m just asking for full transparency.

  15. Rob,

    I’ve spent a fair amount of time on foot in arid landscapes like the Kalarhari, Karoo and Ovamboland. These are incredibly sensitive landscapes and don’t recover easily. The first sign of destruction is that all the big predator birds disappear and all you see is crows. That’s because all the small mammals have been decimated. Some animals like foxes and racoons are adept at coexisting with humankind, but the majority cannot. The exposed verges of roads become establishment sites for invasive plant species.

    Shale gas is great, don’t get me wrong on that. “But when you talk about destruction, don’t you know that you can count me out.”

  16. Tom,
    Great blog.
    You are certainly one of them most interesting and certainly one of them most civilized of those involved in the great climate dispute.
    I am a lukewarmer, deeply doubtful of any talk of dangerous climate change or apocalyptic visions. But I certainly do think we are influencing the climate in new ways from those with which we have influenced it in the past. The past was land use, changes in plant cover, and shifting of water features. We have, it would seem, caused a significant amount of desertification worldwide. CO2 in large quantities is a new way. However, the evidence simply does not support the climate fear mongering of the climate obsessed. And most certainly the present state of the cliamte does not support the Inquisition-light-style behaviors of the climate obsessed. But obsession is seldom if ever justified by reality.
    I would invite you to consider that the harsh desert environments you speak about are not delicate so much as readily changeable. As someone who has walked in some North American deserts, I can only stand in admiration of your journeys.

    • Hey, hunter! Glad to see you made it over here. Thank for the kind words.

      Yes, we’ve created desertification for millenia (such as RC’s blogroll… /snark), but it seems we’re fixing it, bit by bit. After I finish the Ridley series I am thinking of trying to set off against each other the principal human factors influencing climate–deforestation, artificial reservoirs, irrigation, seasonal agricultural practices–and hey! Desertification too!

  17. Tom,
    Thank you for the kind welcome. I post little now. Sometimes I post occasionally under “lurker passing through, laughing” to express my fatigue at the long term and predictable aspects of the great climate wars. I don’t think it fools anyone.
    Your idea about reviewing the human influences on climate is profound and actually moves things forward. That could be a hell of a book (hint) as well.

  18. Tom,
    If we were to take some hints, just how would the scope of this look?
    Archaeology, paleo-anthropology, records, etc. for starters. I think of european earthworms converting North American forests in fundamental ways- was that human vectored or human caused?
    Aboriginees using fire to not only drive game but to influence plant secession/mix, etc. etc. etc. The mind boggles…

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