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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

Understand the context first

Q: With the recent discovery that methane is bubbling out of the Arctic faster than expected, how worried should we be about abrupt changes in climate such as this one? Are there precautions we should be taking that both the political and scientific communities have been overlooking?

The report that methane is bubbling from the Arctic faster than expected will encourage other scientists to undertake additional research to replicate, validate and extend our knowledge and understanding about arctic methane releases and their implications. That is what the scientific process is all about. It would be helpful to know better how long this recently discovered release has been taking place as well as to gain some insights into whether similar releases took place in the past when temperatures were as warm or warmer than the present. Context is important.

What shouldn't happen, but probably will, is for climate change advocates to use this report to create a false sense of urgency about passing cap and trade legislation. It would be a false sense of urgency because nothing that the Congress can do will change the fact that if permafrost continues to melt methane releases will continue as well.

Climate models, which are the main tools of advocates, project that with cap and trade temperatures several decades in the future would not be much different than "business as usual projections". Perhaps .1 or .2 of a degree, the width of a number 2 pencil on a graph. The reason is that most of the rest of the world, especially developing countries, is not going to forego economic growth and development by suppressing the use of fossil energy. With almost 2 billion people living in a state of extreme poverty and without access to commercial energy, efforts to increase their standard of living and their physical well being are not only inevitable, they are a moral imperative. Therefore, no matter what we do in the legislative arena, greenhouse gas emissions will continue to increase, only the rate of increase is in doubt.

Given that reality, more attention and emphasis should be placed on adaptation in case the warming trend of the past three decades continues and time proves advocates right that human activities are a primary cause of warming. On the other hand, the lack of warming this decade could continue and provide more evidence that natural variability is the primary reason for the warming that occurred between 1976 and 1998 and now the potential cooling trend that now may be taking place.

While slowing the growth in greenhouse gases in an economically sensible manner makes sense, it also makes sense to look for similar actions to inform us how we should adjust to a potentially warmer world. Investing in knowledge about adaptation is important because we need another hedging strategy to complement mitigation strategies.

By William O'Keefe  |  March 10, 2010; 2:17 PM ET Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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So, an ex-oilman (current reactionary apologist) defends the status quo, denies the well known fact that methane release is accelerating alarmingly and advocates that we should "adapt" to the very catastrophes he denies are coming. Wow.

Then there are reasonable, intelligent rebuttals to this nonsense from WaPo readers... except for one "skeptic" who misuses facts and submits multiple comments.

Again, wow.

Posted by: duffworx | March 14, 2010 12:56 PM
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A mouthpiece for the George C. Marshall Institute blurted:
"On the other hand, the lack of warming this decade"

Lack of warming this decade???

Citations from just two of the more than 22,000,000 hits from a Google search: :
"January 2000 to December 2009 was the warmest decade on record. Throughout the last three decades, the GISS surface temperature record shows an upward trend of about 0.2°C (0.36°F) per decade. Since 1880, the year that modern scientific instrumentation became available to monitor temperatures precisely, a clear warming trend is present, though there was a leveling off between the 1940s and 1970s." :
"The first decade of this century is 'by far' the warmest since instrumental records began, say the UK Met Office and World Meteorological Organization."

So who, besides a mouthpiece for the George C. Marshall Institute, is stating that there is a "lack of warming this decade"? And what are their scientific credentials (if they even have any)?

Posted by: critter69 | March 14, 2010 4:10 AM
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The methane leakage will not become a major problem until we can figure out a way to tax everybody because of it. If that can be accomplished then it will become a crisis that needs to be dealt with immediately if not sooner.

Posted by: Train413 | March 13, 2010 9:31 PM
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AGWsceptic99 wrote: "Temperatures were warmer than today during the Medieval Warm Period, and probably during Roman empire times."
It is not known if the Medieval Warm Period was warmer than now or if it was a global phenomenon. See: and its reference to the IPCC report.

AGWsceptic99 wrote: "The warmists have yet to prove that the recently increasing temperatures are unusual,..."

Science does not provide absolute proof. There is a great deal of evidence that the current warming level and rate is usual compared to the last one to two thousand years. More importantly climate models predict the trend will continue to increase over the next few decades if we continue to pump CO2 into the air. The evidence for major changes is past the 90% confidence level. Where is your evidence that increasing CO2 levels will have no effect?

AGWsceptic99 wrote: "...there has been very little work on how the world should respond to a warmer climate if that occurs."

This work is being done but obviously not by climatologists. There is no consensus, but most economists seem to being saying that a cap and trade system is our best bet to curb CO2 emissions. We should also be doing a great deal more to plan for possible changes that will likely effect crop yields, fish harvests, forest fires, and possible effects like extreme weather events and sea level rise. The skeptics/deniers have not done much to help here have they?

Posted by: mike_midwest | March 13, 2010 4:10 PM
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"It would be a false sense of urgency because nothing that the Congress can do will change the fact that if permafrost continues to melt methane releases will continue as well."

There is probably no scientific finding that would be so dire or clear-cut that the Marshall Fund would not counsel inaction, because inaction is the solution to every problem for them. They and their sponsors oppose action for two decades; then when the problem - already clear - becomes urgent, they say it's too late, so why take action? It's because these people have political influence that the US is actually doing less now to address its energy problems than China - a fact that the Marshall people are no doubt in their peculiar way proud of. In the meantime, China is developing the best renewables industry in the world, and will capture the world market in electric cars before we can say "warmist junk science". Thanks guys, for speeding up America's decline - just as your tax cuts made us the world's largest debtor - to China - in less than a decade. And thanks for your reckless attitude toward the only planet we have. The simple fact is that the evidence of climate change is pervasive, and atmospheric warming will only get worse until we stop the increase in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. There is no serious, well-known scientist who disputes these facts - if there is, I'd like to know who. Not Lindsen, not Christy; they're serious, and often quoted by the skeptics - but they acknowledge the problem, and acknowledge it will get worse with more gases. So it comes down to this: pervasive evidence, minor threads of doubt, but only one planet and the threat of irreversable damage. The Marshal Institute and its benefactors say: what, me worry? or: it's all a plot by the entire scientific community to distort the truth. (In this group's world, it seems there is no such thing as truth, because their version is full of willful omissions or distortions of fact) Let's see who's right in thirty years.

Posted by: newdad | March 13, 2010 7:24 AM
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Why should there be a "false sense of urgency" about methane, a greenhouse gas 20 times more powerful than CO2 accelerating as it is increasing released from a melting artic?

The George C Marshall institute has a former history of denying that smoking caused cancer and that CFCs were destroying the ozone. This gentleman is continuing their proud history of obstructionism against a public good for the "free market"... er, corporations.

Posted by: billSWS | March 13, 2010 12:51 AM
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I am very surprised to see a reasonably balanced presentation published in the Post. as it is so frequently publishing warmist propaganda. The warmists have yet to prove that the recently increasing temperatures are unusual, and there has been very little work on how the world should respond to a warmer climate if that occurs. Temperatures were warmer than today during the Medieval Warm Period, and probably during Roman empire times.

The ice at the north pole is now approaching the norm for the last 30 years. The sea ice at the south pole has been increasing in recent years, despite IPCC claims to the contrary (their next big newsworthy scandal?). The reported rate of melting for land based ice in Antarctica, which is probably more warmist junk science anyway, would take 2 or 3 hundred thousand years to clear the existing ice, if one believes that 30 years worth of measurements is a valid way to predict future temperatures (I do not hold this belief).

Posted by: AGWsceptic99 | March 11, 2010 10:29 PM
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