13 February 2010

Beyond the "Consistent With" Canard

For a few years, I've been noting the tendency for advocates and others to explain that specific weather events are "consistent with" predictions of climate models of the expected effects of human-caused climate change (e.g., here).

Over at the Center for American Progress, Joe Romm has recommended that journalists use the "consistent with" construction to imply in misleading fashion a linkage of specific weather events with human-caused climate change. Implying such a linkage is simply wrong, because weather is not climate.

In addition to being wrong, implying such a linkage is also wrongheaded. To understand why, have a look at the short debate above between Daniel Weiss of CAP and Marc Morano of climatedepot.com. Based on this performance, CAP may want to rethink its messaging. However, Mark Morano is probably pretty happy with it as it stands.

In the Washington Post, Dana Milbank makes a point that I have been arguing for years:
For those concerned about warming, it's time for a shift in emphasis. Fortunately, one has already been provided to them by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), who has done more than any Democrat to keep climate legislation alive this year. His solution: skip the hurricanes and Himalayan glaciers and keep the argument on the hundreds of billions of dollars spent annually on foreign oil, some of that going to terrorists rather than to domestic job creation.

Al Gore, for one, seems to realize it's time for a new tactic. New TV ads released during last week's blizzards by Gore's climate advocacy group say nothing about climate science. They show workers asking their senators for more jobs from clean energy.

That's a good sign. If the Washington snows persuade the greens to put away the slides of polar bears and pine beetles and to keep the focus on national security and jobs, it will have been worth the shoveling.
Someone should pass along this good advice to CAP.


  1. "For those concerned about warming, it's time for a shift in emphasis"

    Translation: now that we've been caught out and our hype is being turned against us, it's time for a new strategy."

    How about going back over the last 20 years, going down the list of every heat wave, every flood, every hurricane, and every dead butterfly, and fess up. It was all a tissue of lies.

    "Now that you caught me dipping into the till for 20 years, I'll never do it again."

  2. Dana mentioned the pine beetles..I would add:

    Don't forget that dealing with mountain pine beetle hazards IS "climate change adaptation"; we probably spend more time and funds projecting, discussing and assessing potential future problems than those staring us in the face (or falling on us, as the case may be ;)).

  3. With experience in power system planning I can say with certainty that "green jobs" is as much a fallacy as the hype you are advocating abandoning. All we are doing is using taxpayer funds to artificially create jobs generating power that no power grid can effectively use. Roger , you are a clever man, so I ask you to study this carefully, as the ongoing costs of this go for decades with crazy prices guaranteed for this unuseable power. Check http://www.mnforsustain.org/windpower_schleede_costs_of_electricity.htm for startere and maybe talk to some real power engineers.

  4. "skip the hurricanes and Himalayan glaciers and keep the argument on the hundreds of billions of dollars spent annually on foreign oil, some of that going to terrorists rather than to domestic job creation..."

    So in other words, lie to people, tell them we're doing it to protect them from terrorists, when really we care about global warming.

    And he actually has the colossal nerve to say it in print! Think about it! Bush/Cheney lied about their justification for the Iraq war, but they didn't put it in a Washington Post op-ed first. If you're going to attempt a stupendous lie, and least have the courtesy to brazen it out.

  5. For an almost laughable example of the "consistent with" nonsense try the team's explanation for there being no evidence for the AGW fingerprint of warming in the troposphere: http://www.realclimate.org/docs/santer_etal_IJoC_08_fact_sheet.pdf

    The argument is this: there is no evidence for what we claim but, given the uncertainties at multiple levels (these are the people who say the science is settled), what we say might - might - still be true.

  6. Yes, but there is a lot of coal and shale oil in the US so cutting dependence on foreign oil doesn't necessarily translate to low carbon energy and energy efficiency. Competing with China for markets might make more sense as a slogan (though not necessarily economically).

  7. Of course the amusing part is that the UAH Tropospheric Temperature Map shows that the cooling is actually localized to the Eastern US and Western Europe and that this actually the warmest January we've had since UAH started compiling data, but they can't mention it because of all the years they spent denouncing the UAH index.


  8. The argument from energy security/not funding foreign dictators/job creation is an excellent argument for energy efficiency, and a good argument for nuclear power. But it's a poor argument for most forms of renewable energy, and it's no argument at all for carbon capture and storage.

  9. Regarding the “consistent with canard": The term (consistent with) is a time-honored expression that denotes a conservative scientific conclusion, as in the following examples:

    “The increasing potential intensity associated with global warming…is consistent with the increase in modeled storm intensities…”

    “…hurricanes have been decreasing with time…and this decrease is consistent with the observed down- ward climatic trend in hurricane frequency…”

    “…normalization results that are consistent with longitudinal geophysical data on hurricane frequency….”

    “…a methodology developed in 1998 produces results that are consistent with the results of catastrophe models used by the insurance industry…”

    all taken from recent papers of Pielke, Jr. In fact, it’s hard to find a paper of his (or anyone’s) that doesn’t use the term.

  10. -9-fws

    Right. Used properly the term connotes -- as you say -- a conservative scientific conclusion. That is not what we have here.

    As my colleague Ben Hale says, its not the phrase that is the problem, it is the phrase in a particular context.

  11. The simple point is this: All the weather of late is entirely consistent with the hypothesis that there is no warming whatsoever.

  12. #7 Joel,

    They can't use the UAH satellite data because UAH is only showing a .13 degree/decade uptrend.

  13. By and large a good editorial but we could do without the "In fact, warming theory suggests that you'd see trends toward heavier snows, because warmer air carries more moisture" bit.

    This pseudo-science absurdity has gone far enough. You'd have to be a complete idiot to believe snow is caused by anything other than cold air. Notwithstanding that there is only a 2% increase in water vapor according to Trenberth's previous attempt, via Revkin's dotearth, to link a midwest flood to global warming. Maybe it's one of these fabled tipping points.

    But in fact I'm actually surprised the media didn't resurrect the shifting gulf stream nonsense that a few Woods Hole Researchers were convulsing about earlier this century. Even that theory though, which Carl Wunsch said would require the planet to stop spinning, had colder air bringing snow.

    About the cost of foreign oil though - should we include the cost of oil-patch wars or not. ie Would Saddam have mattered if he hadn't been sitting atop a mountain of oil, and would Afghanistan have happened if it wasn't for Unocal?

  14. The phrase "X is consistent with A" is really only meaningful in a context where "X is inconsistent with B" might also appear or be implied. And it's really only worth saying if people have at least speculated about *both* A and B in the past.

    I think that's a more precise way of making Roger's point about context. I'm not an expert on his peer-reviewed work, so I will leave it to others (him?) to elaborate on what the possible values for B are in the phrases fws quoted in comment 9.

  15. jgdes,

    "About the cost of foreign oil though - should we include the cost of oil-patch wars or not."

    Having had an all expense vacation to the Middle East during the Carter Administration and having had 2 of my children also have all expense paid vacations during the Bush Jr Administration I would say yes.

    Even excluding the oil patch wars, 2 of out 12 Carrier battle groups are dedicated to the middle east.

    So 1/6th of the Navy which costs $160 Billion a year should be the minimum number. So lets be conservation and say our dependence on the oil patch costs us $25 billion a year.

    Loan guarantees don't cost more then 5% of construction costs. So in one years 'protecting the oil patch' we could provide $500 billion in loan guarantees.

    $5oo billion is enough for 100 nuclear plants employing 3,000 workers each in the construction phase. 300,000 jobs would be a fair start to a jobs program.

    But alas, no one wants to make me king for a day.

  16. I tossed a die and got a two. Is that consistent with the binomial distribution?

    This past weekend, the Northwest United States tossed a die and got a 6. Is that consistent with the binomial distribution?

    In Vancouver, the Olympics tossed a die and got a 1, is that consistent with the binomial distribution?

  17. I don't know....

    I've had to listen to years and years of news organizations tell me that every streak of warm weather, every bout of snowy weather, every hurricane (that hit the United States), every drought, and every flood was the direct result of global warming....

    Screwing it up the other direction just seems like breaking even.

  18. #12 Harrywr2,
    Of course, that is why it amusing. I actually blogged about it:

  19. The BBC's environment analyst Roger Harrabin put questions to Professor Jones, including several gathered from climate sceptics.

    The questions were put to Professor Jones with the co-operation of UEA's press office.

    Do you agree that from 1995 to the present there has been no statistically-significant global warming

    Yes, but only just. I also calculated the trend for the period 1995 to 2009. This trend (0.12C per decade) is positive, but not significant at the 95% significance level. The positive trend is quite close to the significance level. Achieving statistical significance in scientific terms is much more likely for longer periods, and much less likely for shorter periods.

    C - Do you agree that from January 2002 to the present there has been statistically significant global cooling?

    No. This period is even shorter than 1995-2009. The trend this time is negative (-0.12C per decade), but this trend is not statistically significant.


  20. Roger,
    There are two main uses of energy. One is for electric power and heat, and the other is for transportation. The first uses coal, gas, nuclear, hydro and some oil. The transportation one uses mostly oil. We do not import coal or gas or nuclear or hydro. Oil is the imported issue. We have significant oil reserves available, but presently not being obtained. As we convert to electric and more hybrid cars, and possibly use LNG for trucks, even the limited oil we can get would allow us to become nearly import independent. Cutting coal burning for more use of wind and Solar electric are not helpful for the import issue, and with reasonable use of technology to clean up stacks, not that necessary for cutting pollution (CO2 is not pollution). More nuclear is desirable, but not strongly necessary for the near future, as coal and shale gas are plentiful on the short to mid time scale. Long term, nuclear is the most likely way to generate electricity and some heating. Green jobs should mainly concentrate on increasing efficiency, and using electric or hybrid cars, and LNG for trucks. The main energy sector job creation should concentrate on developing our own oil and gas reserves.

  21. “Over at the Center for American Progress, Joe Romm has recommended that journalists use the "consistent with" construction to imply in misleading fashion a linkage of specific weather events with human-caused climate change. Implying such a linkage is simply wrong, because weather is not climate.”

    The Center for American Progress is a socialist web site with a very large agenda. It’s also a very well funded organization (George Soros). Romm and the cronies at American Progress push disproved and discarded theories and ideas because it’s an ideological organization not concerned with fact but rather concerned with agenda. The entire organization is the view of the anointed/intelligentsia and not the view of the objective.

    “In the Washington Post, Dana Milbank makes a point…”.

    There is a slight problem with Graham and Milbank’s strategy. Green energy can’t compete in the market place without major government subsidies and government mandates. Hence a gallon of ethanol: your cost + the tax payers cost + government mandates = true cost. You remove the tax payer subsidy and mandates and ethanol (and all green energy) can’t compete in a free market. For more information see these links:



  22. I think the oil resources currently off limits gets oversold. "Energy Independence" is code for "business as usual", for both liberals and conservatives. To liberals it means increasing taxes on the oil industry. To conservatives, it means cutting taxes and weakening environmental regulations. Neither side advocates policies that would materially reduce dependence on oil imports. Leonard Weinstein is right about the need to use transportation fuel more efficiently. That's where the low hanging fruit is.

    Link to MMS assessment of undiscovered resources on the OCS (PDF):


    It's instructive to look at the table that breaks it down by oil vs. gas by OCS area. The vast majority of remaining resources are in the western and central Gulf of Mexico, already open to drilling. Resources in the eastern Gulf and Atlantic are heavily weighted to gas, not oil. Of an estimated 66 billion bbl oil economically recoverable at $60, 3 bbo are offshore Atlantic, 3 bbo eastern Gulf, and 8 bbo Pacific, mostly S and Central California. The rest is in the Gulf of Mexico and offshore Alaska, which are already open.

    I think we should open the areas currently closed, because any gas we can use to displace coal will be good for CO2 as well as for the environment generally. However, we're kidding ourselves if we think the off limits areas are the key to oil import independence.

  23. The concept of "green jobs" is an even worse canard than the "consistent with" canard! Wherever "green jobs" are forced by the government, jobs are actually LOST. Look at Spain. It is just simple first-grade logic that we will not be able to compete with, say China or India, if we are spending three times as much money per kilowatt-hour. Of course many of the so-called "progressive" members of Congress don't seem to understand the most basic economics or logic. Than God, now the "silent majority" is waking up and understanding this idiocy, and we have a chance to kick a bunch of these people out of office!

  24. #20 Leonard

    We do not import coal or gas.

    In coal the statement is half true. We are a net exporter. We did however import 31 million tons of coal in 2009. Coal is relatively expensive to move which makes it 'location dependent'. The central Appalachian coal mines are in decline and the mines west of the Rockies are all but finished off completely.

    In natural gas we imported 13% of total consumption in 2008 and that has been a fairly steady percentage for a decade or so.

  25. Harrywr2

    What I hear is that the Powder River Basin (that supplies about 40% of coal in the US) has 10-20 years worth left (depending on price)..is that your "all but finished off completely?". Seems to me like that gives us some transition time and a natural target time to hitch our wagon to another energy source.

  26. Sharon,

    The powder river basin is east of the Rocky's.Centered in Wyoming.

    It's constitutes pretty close to 50% of known coal reserves in the US. 17% is considered economically recoverable, 80% recoverable if cost is no object.

    West of the Rocky's in Washington and Oregon we had two small coal mines that fed our 2 coal powered electricity plants. That coal is all but finished. One of the mines shut in 2006.

    The Washington Coal Power Plant just put in new scrubbers in 2007...so they are going to run that as long as they can.

    The Oregon plant looked at the cost of scrubbers and rising cost of coal and decided to run it as long as they can get away without scrubbers then just close it.

    On the East Coast Appalachian Coal maybe has 30-35 years left and the price is already rising as the coal seams get thinner and thinner. Which is why the Senator from South Carolina wants more nuclear now. South Carolina is a long way from Wyoming.

    Economically the mid-west is good to go on coal for a long time.

  27. Harrywr2

    Thanks, didn't catch the "west of the Rockies", was thinking of the "western US."
    Don't Oregon and Washington get a lot of their energy from hydropower? I wonder if solutions to electricity generation are really regional rather than national.

  28. If there is no climate catastrophe, then there is no need for policies based on fear of one.
    A change in tactics is merely repackaging a fib.
    We call it 'putting lipstick on a pig', in this part of the country.

  29. The "green jobs" claim is not a very good prop for enviromentalists. A survey in Spain (which firefox won't let me paste into this comment for some reason - just google "spain green jobs") showed that 2.2 regular jobs were lost for each "green job" that was created. This will not come as a surprise to any economist (or layperson familiar with Bastiat's Broken Window fallacy)

  30. Sharon F,

    Yes Oregon and Washington get a lot of power from Hydro, we also have one nuclear plant. Idaho is 84% Hydro as well.

    To the extent the Hydro dams can be used to store power when the wind blows wind works here as well. We've got a lot Windmills but they are mostly owned by Californian concerns.

    So yes, in the broader context the energy 'menu' varies greatly by region. Once one adds 2 or 3 cents per mile transportation cost for a ton of coal from Gillete, Wyoming then at some distance coal is not very economical.