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William O'Keefe
CEO, George C. Marshall Institute

William O'Keefe

William O'Keefe is CEO at the George C. Marshall Institute, a think tank that promotes better use of science in public policy. He is a former COO at the American Petroleum Institute. ALL POSTS

Operating as Hypotheses

In science, there is always some level of doubt, which is why scientists try to falsify an accepted theory and in doing so advance our understanding and produce new knowledge. Only in climate science is questioning and skepticism not considered virtues.

The question should not be what doubt is there about climate science but whether there is sufficient certainty to justify proposals that would mandate dramatic reductions in emissions and atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases.

The proponents of such actions assert that the science is settled in an effort to shut off debate. They assert that those who raise questions are simply opposed to taking action to avoid a climate catastrophe sometime this century. That characterization is just plain wrong. The debate is not whether to take action but what actions are consistent with our state of knowledge about the climate system and the consequences of actions.

Most of what is claimed as knowledge about how the climate system operates is not knowledge but hypotheses. We know that greenhouse gas emissions are changing the chemistry of the atmosphere; we know that CO2 emissions are higher than they were a century ago; we know that greenhouse gases have a warming effect, and we know that global temperatures are higher than at the beginning of the 20th century but how much higher is a legitimate subject of debate. Beyond those facts, our knowledge is limited but improving.

We have a limited understanding of cloud formation, ocean currents, water vapor, aerosols, solar and lunar influences, climate sensitivity and natural variability. The extent of scientific uncertainty has been documented by the National Academy of Sciences and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its most recent report (page 4, Summary for Policy Makers).

Most of what we are told about the effect of emissions on future climate comes from complex global circulation models which have never been validated, are driven primarily by hypotheses, and cannot replicate past temperature with out adjustments. Quite simply the models are being misused for political purposes.

The bottom line is that we know enough to act to slow the growth of emissions but we do not have enough knowledge to justify a mandated rapid reductions in fossil fuel use and we certainly do not know enough to inflict the kind of economic damage that would be caused by such reductions. Proposals to mandate a 20 percent reduction below 2005 levels by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050 have no credible scientific justification.

The solution to the "climate problem" is to advance our understanding as quickly as practical, to use knowledge to fashion science based policies, and to promote the development and deployment of new lower carbon, cost-effective alternative energy sources.

By William O'Keefe  |  October 14, 2009; 2:51 PM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg     Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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CO2 has never and will never drive climate or poison the oceans. If one does not know the climatological past of this planet then it is easy to be fooled by charlatans. Our planet has been MUCH WARMER than today and has had CO2 levels MANY TIMES higher than today. Not only were these times of higher temperatures and higher CO levels not "dangerous" or "life threatening", they were times of great abundance of both flora and fauna. I refuse to argue with these knuckle dragging warmists anymore. They refuse to subject their theory to the scientific method and ignore any data that contradicts them. The scare mongering is over guys, grab a sweater, it's going to get cold.

Posted by: changein2012 | October 19, 2009 12:14 PM
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There has been a bit of study in the world of mathematics, about the technique of making decisions with insufficient information. It is called game theory - which some might find a bit trivializing for such a profound question as global warming.

Do we have sufficient information to act, and what is the extent of our action, and how rapid?

I do not think that we have sufficient information to act in any sort of good way, using the utilitarian ethic of 'greatest good for the greatest number.' I do not think we have information sufficient to act responsibly. For this doubleplusungood perspective, I have been pilloried by both Big- and Little-Endians.

We may absolve ourselves of guilt from any harmful actions, if our actions were well-intentioned; and the likely sufferers of the consequences are both brown and far-away, also assuaging to the American conscience.

But we are lacking in exercise of the fundamental methods of solving such problems. The outcome will be miserable.

Posted by: SteveofCaley | October 18, 2009 11:46 PM
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The acidification of the ocean, lakes and rivers by increasing atmospheric CO2 levels is a sure thing defined by thermodynamic laws. Ocean acidification was involved in many of the earth's mass extinctions.

We are now recreating, by massive CO2 emissions, the conditions, that led to global catastrophes in the geologic record.

http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2009/10/7/790678/-Oceans-Turn-AcidicHypoxic-in-Fertile-Zones-from-Arctic-to-Antarctica:-DK-Greenroots

Posted by: ttbirchard | October 18, 2009 10:51 PM
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Ladies and Gentlemen,

Much of this discussion is rather ridiculous name calling, no? Personally I don't care who's a wicked capitalist stooge, a fundamentalist, or a pinko leftist, I care about the science of the issue. Please enlighten about the degree of accuracy of the models and their degree of match to the historical climate record. Anything else is really of no help.

Posted by: PaulJB1 | October 18, 2009 10:46 PM
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Part II (from previous post)

These organizations also agree with the consensus:
The Earth Institute at Columbia
University Northwestern University
University of Akureyri University of Iceland
Iceland GeoSurvey National Centre for Atmospheric Science
UK Climate Group Climate Institute Climate Trust
Wuppertal Institute for Climate Environment and Energy
Royal Meteorological Society Community
Research and Development Centre Nigeria
Geological Society of London
Geological Society of America
UK Centre for Social and Economic Research on the Global Environment
Pew Center on Global Climate Change
American Association for the Advancement of Science
National Research Council
Juelich Research Centre
US White House US Council on Environmental Quality
US Office of Science Technology Policy
US National Climatic Data Center
US Department of Commerce
US National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service
The National Academy of Engineering
The Institute of Medicine
UK Natural Environment Research
Council Office of Science and Technology Policy
Council on Environmental Quality National Economic Council
The National Academy of Engineering
The Institute of Medicine
UK Natural Environment Research Council
Australian Government Bureau of Meteorology Engineers
Australia American Chemical Society
The Weather Channel
National Geographic

And who gets to define what is "science", if not the top scientists?


Posted by: truthseeker1 | October 18, 2009 8:54 PM
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BJ says: Mr. O'keefe states: "Quite simply the models are being misused for political purposes". Now I ask you, who really has a politcal agenda when Mr. O'Keefe is the former COO of the American Petroleum Institute. His "former" boss has been one the loudest detractors of climate change.

Meanwhile, independent scientists from around the world are telling us that climate change is a serious problem. Who are you really going to believe? Who really has a politcal agenda?

TS: Agreed!

FACTS:

"Since 2007 no scientific body of national or international standing has maintained a dissenting opinion. A few organisations hold non-committal positions."

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Global_warming_consensus

Specifically, the "consensus" about anthropogenic climate change entails the following:

1) the climate is undergoing a pronounced warming trend beyond the range of natural variability;
2) the major cause of most of the observed warming is rising levels of the greenhouse gas CO2;
3) the rise in CO2 is the result of burning fossil fuels;
4) if CO2 continues to rise over the next century, the warming will continue; and
5) a climate change of the projected magnitude over this time frame represents potential danger to human welfare and the environment. These conclusions have been explicitly endorsed by:
the following list of scientific organization with international standing in the sciences (ie who have issued statements in support of global warming):

Academia Brasiliera de Ciências (Brazil)
Royal Society of Canada
Chinese Academy of Sciences
Academié des Sciences (France)
Deutsche Akademie der Naturforscher Leopoldina (Germany)
Indian National Science Academy
Accademia dei Lincei (Italy)
Science Council of Japan
Russian Academy of Sciences
Royal Society (United Kingdom)
National Academy of Sciences (United States of America)
Australian Academy of Sciences
Royal Flemish Academy of Belgium for Sciences and the Arts
Caribbean Academy of Sciences
Indonesian Academy of Sciences
Royal Irish Academy
Academy of Sciences Malaysia Academy
Council of the Royal Society of New Zealand
Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences

In addition to these national academies, the following institutions specializing in climate, atmosphere, ocean, and/or earth sciences have endorsed these conclusions:

NASA's Goddard Institute of Space Studies (GISS)
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA)
National Academy of Sciences (NAS)
State of the Canadian Cryosphere (SOCC)
Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)
Royal Society of the United Kingdom (RS)
American Geophysical Union (AGU)
American Institute of Physics (AIP)
National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR)
American Meteorological Society (AMS)
Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society (CMOS)

Posted by: truthseeker1 | October 18, 2009 8:53 PM
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Here are some excellent global warming sites on misinformation/lies by the Right Wing press:
(I had to put in the links one at a time – as there is a bug at the WP site.)

#1 http://skepticalscience.com/argument.php

Posted by: truthseeker1 | October 18, 2009 8:49 PM
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Posted by: truthseeker1 | October 18, 2009 8:49 PM
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Posted by: truthseeker1 | October 18, 2009 8:48 PM
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Posted by: truthseeker1 | October 18, 2009 8:47 PM
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david wojick says: We are trying to figure out why the global temperature does what it does. CO2 is only part of the answer, and we so far don't know which part,

TS: I see very basic information that is not well known

"The CO2/Temperature correlation over the 20th Century

The broader picture in this scenario is to recognise that CO2 is not the only factor that influences climate. There are a number of forcings which affect the net energy flux into our climate. Stratospheric aerosols (eg - from volcanic eruptions) reflect sunlight back into space, causing net cooling. When solar activity increases, the net energy flux increases. Figure 3 shows a composite of the various radiative forcings that affect climate.

So we see that climate isn't controlled by a single factor - there are a number of influences that can change the planet's radiative balance. However, for the last 35 years, the dominant forcing has been CO2.

http://skepticalscience.com/The-CO2-Temperature-correlation-over-the-20th-Century.html

see
graph at Figure 2: Separate global climate forcings relative to their 1880 values (image courtesy NASA GISS).

When all the forcings are combined, the net forcing shows good correlation to global temperature. There is still internal variability superimposed on the temperature record due to short term cycles like ENSO. The main discrepancy is a decade centered around 1940. This is thought to be due to a warming bias introduced by US ships measuring engine intake temperature.


WASHINGTON POST -- will you start putting out basic science -- I see such illiteracy here!!!

Posted by: truthseeker1 | October 18, 2009 8:45 PM
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Gmeltre cites the WSJ BBC: Global Warming Stopped in 1998 to interpret that every year MUST be higher than the previous – ie temperature must go up as a perfect straight line.

TS replies: Another example of where the WSJ (now owned by R. Murdoch of Fox news) crassly distorts the actual article.


Now why is it a LIE by the WSJ that we are in a cooling period?

Look at the LONG term graph of warming:
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Instrumental_Temperature_Record.png

Notice since 1850, the hottest decade on record is the last decade (see graph above)
The hottest ten years on record were:

The year 2008 was tenth warmest on record, exceeded by 1998, 2005, 2003, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2001, 2007 and 1997. 1997 and 1998 had a high spike because of an El Nino added to the global heat trend.

So Right Wingers aka WSJ like to say if you take 1998 (the hot spike year) all the years after it were relatively cooler that it.

Posted by: truthseeker1 | October 18, 2009 8:41 PM
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William OKeefe says: The extent of scientific uncertainty has been documented by the National Academy of Sciences and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its most recent report (page 4, Summary for Policy Makers).

TS: Only to the DEGREE of how fast it will warm. You are lying by omission seems to me.


the National Academy of Science was asked by Congress (see their report 2006 report) to assess the validity of temperature reconstructions over the last 1000 years.

To summarize, it concluded the last decades were the WARMEST since the last four hundred years with high statistical certainty**; and it was also likely higher during the last 1100 years of proxies studies (but with less statistical certainty being possible)

"The basic conclusion of Mann et al. (1998, 1999) was that the late 20th century warmth in the Northern Hemisphere was unprecedented during at least the last 1,000 years. This conclusion has subsequently been supported by an array of evidence that includes both additional large-scale surface temperature reconstructions and pronounced changes in a variety of local proxy indicators, such as melting on ice caps and the retreat of glaciers around the world, which in many cases appear to be unprecedented during at least the last 2,000 years. Not all individual proxy records indicate that the recent warmth is unprecedented, although a larger fraction of geographically"

http://books.nap.edu/openbook.php?record_id=11676&page=3


Mr. O'Keefe states: We have a limited understanding of cloud formation, ocean currents, water vapor, aerosols, solar and lunar influences, climate sensitivity and natural variability.

TS: These have all been studied and there is consensus as to the materiality of the effects on our climate.

Mr. OKeefe just likes to smoke up the room.

For the top technical climatology link in the world....(run by real climatologists including NASA GISS, etc)

See all the above topics discussed here.

http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2004/12/index/

Not having PERFECT knowledge is NOT the same as having no knowledge as all.

Posted by: truthseeker1 | October 18, 2009 6:59 PM
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gmeltre,

I'd wait a few months before jumping on the WSJ bandwagon.

The author of the BBC piece doesn't even off the minimal validation check of citing the source of his claim about temperature trends. It contradicts several other reports I've read. He cites two dissenters who have single-factor models explaining temperature trends; the mainstream models claim to include both factors.

I'm willing to change my view if the evidence is persuasive. How about you?

Posted by: j2hess | October 18, 2009 6:54 PM
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Does Mr. O'Keefe have any background as a scientist?

Posted by: davew175 | October 18, 2009 9:35 AM
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To add to the discussion:

BBC: Global Warming Stopped in 1998
http://blogs.wsj.com/iainmartin/2009/10/12/bbc-global-warming-stopped-in-1998/

Posted by: gmeltre | October 18, 2009 9:25 AM
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The views of this scientist are very different than the views of all the other scientists in this feature. He presents little data of his own, and merely asserts that there exists 'uncertainty'. This 'uncertainty' word is the Achilles Heel of a real scientist when arguing with laymen, because an intellectually honest scientist will *always* admit to *some* uncertainty, even about things a layman would usually call 'facts'.

Oh wait. O'Keefe's not a scientist at all. In fact, he's a former oil executive. All of a sudden, much of my uncertainty about his motives has evaporated.

Posted by: DupontJay | October 17, 2009 5:32 PM
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I agree with J2Hess. Al Gore is irrelevant when it comes to real climate science, as is API, and the popular press for that matter, from Reuters to Limbaugh. The fact is that the thousands investigating climate change are trying to figure out why climate changes. So far we don't know. Science does not get any better than this.

David Wojick
http://www.climatechangedebate.org

Posted by: DavidWojickPhD | October 17, 2009 5:28 PM
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OTTODOG ears need cleaning, if he can't distinguish between reasonable rebuttals and shrieks and howls. It's an ad hominem, sir.

Al Gore is one individual and hardly representative of the thousands investigating climate change. In logic, one counter-example falsifies the proposition. But this is a statistical investigation; the outlier tells us very little about the distribution - whether in politics or temperature readings.

Posted by: j2hess | October 17, 2009 5:08 PM
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Bill is right. Warmers present the scientific basis for the hypothesis of simple AGW (anthropogenic global warming) as though it confirms that hypothesis, but it doesn't. This is the recurrent pattern on this blog. It's like you people don't understand the science at all. Warming per se is not evidence for AGW.

Let's make this real simple. Simple AGW says that CO2 is a GHG, so if CO2 goes up temperature must go up. But from 1940 to 1978 CO2 went up and temperature went down. Since 1998 CO2 has gone way up and temperature has been flat. There has only been 20 years of warming in the last 70 years. There is also strong evidence, though not yet compelling, that it was just as warm 1000 years ago as today, when CO2 levels were much lower. So simple AGW simply does not work, period.

This is why the USA has spent roughly $30 billion on climate change research since 1990, and the rest of the world has spent about the same amount. This is why we have climate models running on supercomputers all over the world.

We are trying to figure out why the global temperature does what it does. CO2 is only part of the answer, and we so far don't know which part, if any. Perhaps the missing point here is that the temperature changes we are talking about are very small, much smaller than the year to year changes, which we also don't understand.

The simple fact that CO2 is a GHG proves nothing, it is only the basis for research.

David Wojick
http://www.climatechangedebate.org

Posted by: DavidWojickPhD | October 17, 2009 5:03 PM
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Wow. Mr. O'Keefe's assertion that any questioning of the Religion of Mancaused Climate Change is typically greeted with shreiks and howls is pretty evident in the comments thus far. Next, O'keefe's accused of being paid for his skepticism,

GRANT5 wrote:
"Follow the money. On one side you have oil companies, power companies and manufacturers who make billions of dollars in profits on trillions in sales, and on the other side you have environmentalists who want us to have clean air and water. Which side has a conflict of interest?"

Grant5, Al Gore has founded a huge industry based on trading Carbon Credits, and while his primary organization altruisticly declares that it retains no profits, more scrutiny reveals that the funds are funnelled to profitmaking organizations where, you'd never guess, Al Gore has a partial or controlling interest.
Ditto that to the Utilities who're slated to receive excessive "free" carbon credits, that the can sell for pure profit on Gore's newly created exchange. Don't forget the political implications of the "green jobs" mantra, where pet organizations receive public funds that are inefficiently and wastefully spent under the giuse of having an unmeasurable "green" intangible payoff far in the future.

There's plenty of parties whoring out money and influence under the "climate change" supposition. All you have to do is go beyond your personal prejudice and strip the phony altruism away.

Posted by: OttoDog | October 17, 2009 2:56 PM
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"Only in climate science is questioning and skepticism not considered virtues."

"The extent of scientific uncertainty has been documented by the National Academy of Sciences and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in its most recent report (page 4, Summary for Policy Makers)."

Does anybody else see a contradiction here?

In fact, the extent of scientific uncertainty in the cited source shows that even at the most conservative reasonable estimate (two standard deviations below the mean), there is still a positive warming effect.

O'Keefe also fails to note that the level of uncertainty is decreasing. From the same source he cited, on the following page:

"Since the TAR, progress in understanding how climate is changing in space and in time has been gained through improvements and extensions of numerous datasets and
data analyses, broader geographical overage, better understanding of uncertainties, and a wider variety of
measurements. Increasingly comprehensive observations are available for glaciers and snow cover since the 1960s, and for sea level and ice sheets since about the past decade. However, data coverage remains limited in some
regions.

Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global
average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice, and rising global average sea level."

Posted by: j2hess | October 17, 2009 2:51 PM
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PHIGGITS, you want to have a public debate about the actual science? Why not Einstein's theory of relativity? Get real! The debate has been public and going on for decades. The consensus that there is global warming and its due to human activities is real. Read the IPCC and various nations (including the USA) science academy reports. Better yet, join the IPCC or your local university's atmospheric science or physics department to participate in the research.

Posted by: NCindependentthinker | October 17, 2009 2:41 PM
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This is the Tobacco Institute argument: We don't know with absolute certainty that smoking causes cancer, so let's not address it.

O'Keefe then misrepresents the state of scepticism in climate science, misrepresents the importance of details vs main effects in climate modeling, and misrepresents the costs of dealing with climate change. He is discredited by his own words.

Our energy challenges are an opportunity. The great surges of economic growth and development over the past several centuries have been driven by increased energy capture: water power, steam power, petroleum, electricity. We have an opportunity to tap renewable energy. It is less damaging to the landscape. It lowers pollution and greenhouse gases. It doesn't leave us with dangerous radioactive wastes. It opens a new booming economic sector. It increases energy security in two ways: It lowers dependence on foreign oil, and it creates a new decentralized grid that is less vulnerable to natural disaster or terrorist attack.

And here is the source of O'Keefe's celebration of uncertainty: The certainty that these changes will outdate the business model of Big Oil, decreasing its control over the source of energy, its profits, and its political influence. In a word, it will increase our liberty!

Let's meet the challenge. It's good for the economy, it's good for the climate, and it's the American way.

Posted by: j2hess | October 17, 2009 2:15 PM
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You should look at who is objecting and why. Most of them are "astroturf" groups or other organizations funded by oil companies, or legislators that take enormous contributions from oil companies. Follow the money. On one side you have oil companies, power companies and manufacturers who make billions of dollars in profits on trillions in sales, and on the other side you have environmentalists who want us to have clean air and water. Which side has a conflict of interest?

Posted by: grant5 | October 17, 2009 2:06 PM
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Wow! the venom in some of these responses seems to show more emotion than reason. It's as if Mr. O'Keefe must be evil if he takes this stance. Frightening.

The computer models that are relied on for the dire predictions are wrong over and over again. The same people who make the models the basis for their draconian solutions would never invest their own money based on similarly shoddy financial models. I don't care about the conspiracy theories on either side. I just want to see a public debate of the actual science. All we ever hear is "the debate is over," or "thousands of scientists say," or "the science is clear." When will the folks making the GWG claims actually address the seams in the "consensus" science??????

Posted by: phiggits | October 17, 2009 12:46 PM
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You assert--with certainty that would raise the eyebrow of any honest economist--that mandated reductions will inflict "economic damage." I submit that we know more about the science of climate change than we do about the long-term economic impact of our policies. (Climate science has a much better track record than the CBO.) The question is not whether we are scientifically justified in mandating rapid reductions, but whether we are economically justified in not making them.

Posted by: paul37 | October 17, 2009 11:49 AM
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Your use of the word "falsify" in the first sentence is significant because it shows some overall ambiguity in your statement. Falsify can mean disprove - which is the common term used is defining hypothesis - but it can also mean misrepresent.

I had to chuckle when reading, "only in climate science is questioning and skepticism not considered virtues." You can find that same sentiment in the literature from the Discovery Institute regarding evolution vs. Intelligent Design.

Your argument is that because climate models are not complete, accurate and validated they are therefore being politically misused. That's quite a leap. I agree some may want to overemphasize the implications of models. How is that different from when you try to underemphasize them? Is that the political (economic?) difference?

Models such as these are problematic, but they represent the best we all have to work with. Scientists are properly trying to make their findings known so that politicians can act accordingly. Of course, even when scientific statements are thoroughly vetted, politicians will misuse them (see the current health care debate).

You do acknowledge the need to slow the growth of emissions. In the short term I think that is sufficient; it takes a while to turn a supertanker and similarly this won't happen overnight.

Posted by: tfspa | October 17, 2009 11:15 AM
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"Only in climate science is questioning and skepticism not considered virtues."

This is a lie of epic proportions. Ask anyone interested in fusion - to begin with. The man is a liar.

Posted by: therev1 | October 17, 2009 8:06 AM
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Mr. O'keefe states: "Quite simply the models are being misused for political purposes".

Now I ask you, who really has a politcal agenda when Mr. O'Keefe is the former COO of the American Petroleum Institute. His "former" boss has been one the loudest detractors of climate change.

Meanwhile, independent scientists from around the world are telling us that climate change is a serious problem. Who are you really going to believe? Who really has a politcal agenda?

Posted by: bowenjody | October 17, 2009 7:29 AM
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