Shifting the Emphasis in Climate Arguments–Devaluing Attribution?

Those of us following the debate on climate change have noticed that activists are not shy about abandoning one theme and grasping hold of another. Surface temperatures were the primary focus of the debate–until suddenly they were not, the pause that dare not be named having had an effect on their arguments.

More recently, sensitivity, labeled by the IPCC as the most important unresolved question in climate science, is now being hidden behind a curtain after observation-based estimates bring in lower values. It has happily been replaced by Xtreme Weather, which can be brought into play with the tossing of a dart at a map of the world.

I have noticed that Dr. Doom, aka Michael Tobis, has made two comments recently about the over-emphasis his political opponents (including myself) place on attribution issues.

In this post he writes in the comments, “This so grossly overvalues the attribution question that my head threatens to explode.”

And later he says, “I have more to say about this but for now, the naysayer’s overattachment to the attribution question is the honest but misguided part of their obsession with Jones and his mailbox.”

I sense in this the beginning of another campaign theme. We ‘nay-sayers’ who have acknowledged recent warming and the potential for a large human contribution to it are naturally curious about quantifying the different human contributions to warming. There are many, ranging from deforestation and black soot to cement production. There are also natural contributions, some of which we cannot begin to quantify–but some of which we can.


Tobis’ argument, assuming he develops it further,  is treacherous and extreme. If we don’t need to attribute climate impacts to a cause, then all impacts will be laid at the doorstep of industrial emissions of CO2. It will serve to undermine the foundations of the recent Fast Mitigation initiative, which calls for a focus on mitigating other causes of warming than CO2 because it is quicker to implement and more efficient in the short term.

But the fact is that some have postulated (and even have rough figures suggesting) black soot may be the cause of up to 30% of human contributions to climate change and that deforestation is the cause of 17%. That’s almost half.

This lack of intellectual curiosity on Tobis’ part to me suggests that de-emphasizing attribution is a political ploy meant to maintain all focus on CO2. The idea that proper attribution of recent warming and other impacts to the correct causes is not important can only be taken as an attempt to deflect attention and energy from the real complexity of climate change.

Tobis has a history of making really savage (and fact-free) political attacks for short term gain, both against policy preferences and personalities. One example is his vicious campaign against Judith Curry, where he labeled her incompetent, hinting that she was suffering from ‘neurological decay,’  while later admitting he had not read any of her work. He is willing to sacrifice the rules of reasonable discourse for an advantage, believing as he does that emitting CO2 is the ‘equivalent of mugging old ladies.’

I hope he doesn’t get away with this attempt to devalue investigation of every aspect of this sector of science.


5 responses to “Shifting the Emphasis in Climate Arguments–Devaluing Attribution?

  1. I’ve noticed they run away making crosses and spitting holy water when I mention attribution, climate sensitivity, the exaggerated RCP8.5 fossil fuel projection, and geoengineering.

    Regarding the oil projection forecast, I just read a blog post by Dennis Coyne showing peak oil at 80 mmbopd. Dennis used a high resource estimate but wasn’t able to push the peak beyond an 80 plateau. I think there’s an outside chance we could see a 90 mmbopd plateau between now and 2035, but the IPCC “business as usual” rcp8.5 projects over 160 mmbopd in the second half of the 21st century.

    Here’s Dennis post

  2. I can understand them not wanting to talk about it. But to ignore all of that in their own thinking–it seems very head in the sand…

    • I think you nailed it as a political ploy. They talk about it but those discussion have raised too many inconvenient facts to use it now for their political agenda.

  3. Tom, I haven’t commented on your blog since you returned from SF(aka China). You continue to intrigue me. As I witness your comments on your own blog, as well as on others, I sense you are beginning to appreciate that this “climate debate” is much more nuanced than your originally imagined ( decreased climate sensitivity, pause, etc.). The GAGW story ( with CO2 as the main villain) is totally bogus. I suspect you realize that is the case, but you are incapable of admitting it for a host of reasons – maybe it is the water in SF or maybe it is the close relationship with the insufferable Mosher. My advice – don’t tie you anchor to avidly to Mosher. Experience shows that people with his arrogance usually get their comeuppance. He’s not as prescient as you suspect. look at his peer-reviewed publication (or lack of it). He’s a climate groupie.

  4. A good name for people who do not like to think rationally about cause and effect is “superstitious”.

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