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Leonard Hyman & William Tilles

Leonard Hyman & William Tilles

Leonard S. Hyman is an economist and financial analyst specializing in the energy sector. He headed utility equity research at a major brokerage house and…

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The Three Faces Of Climate Change


The U.S. Presidential election is over and climate change is back in the headlines. The bulk of America’s population (if we can still trust surveys and polls) thinks there's a looming man-made climate crisis ahead. 195 nations signed the Paris climate accords in December promising to limit carbon and the attendant rise in global temperatures. Whether it will be effective or not we cannot say.

At another UN sponsored climate conference in Marrakesh, last week, numerous nations including the Chinese, (perhaps responding to certain allegations by the President-elect) seemed eager to address and limit the possible ravages of climate change. The new administration in the U.S., on the other hand, has firmly declared the whole business a hoax, aided and abetted by "scientific" input mainly from domestic oil and gas interests. Rather than join the shouting, let’s look at the business and policy implications of some of the positions taken.

We can divide the climate change debate into three camps.

Those agreeing that human activity, especially burning fossil fuels, is mostly responsible for the rise in CO2 levels subscribe to the so called anthropogenic school of climate change. Let’s call this paradigm ITHS! (It’s the Humans Stupid!) The global scientific community overwhelmingly belongs to this camp. But ITHS! campers may disagree on policy prescriptions. Some even say that the forces unleashed by our carbon emissions are already so profound that a long range policy of coastal retreat and accommodation is the only sensible path.

In the second camp we find those offering an alternative explanation for climate change: that we’re experiencing a long cycle of ongoing geological change not clearly caused by human activity. The proponents of this paradigm point out that in previous periods global temperatures rose and fell, and glaciers advanced and retreated totally without human interference. The present is merely one such episode. This paradigm we’ll call INOF (It’s Not Our Fault). Its proponents often include energy executives with impressive engineering backgrounds. This argument resembles that of tobacco executives who, years ago, tried to dismiss the high statistical link between smoking and lung cancer as not showing definitive proof of causation.

The third camp consists of outright denialists. Coming also primarily from the natural resources sector, they appear to have influence and are likely to affect policy in Canada and Australia as well as the U.S. However, more and more of their activities look like that of the Church in pursuit of Galileo for heresy. If this is the case, then science eventually prevails but only after all the old "cardinals" retire or die. Related: Japan Is Aggressively Buying Up Oil And Gas Around The World

Both the ITHS! and INOF campers can agree that average temperatures around the globe have been rising and rising temperatures means melting glaciers and higher sea levels. They may differ, though, among other things, as to the rate and degree of future temperature or sea level changes.

ITHS! argues for aggressive carbon remediation. INOF, by not accepting the carbon-climate link, would disagree using the old Scottish legal defense, not proven.

But’s let’s go back to temperature rise which we should all be able to agree on. If, as some project, a 2 degree increase in global temperatures leads eventually to a 25 meter increase in sea level, that would affect a significant percentage of the world's population residing in coastal areas. By some estimates severe coastal inundation, which some geophysicists consider virtually inevitable, may take place over long time horizons like 250 to 500 years. But smaller rises in sea level, and still severe damage from hurricane storm surges, could take place sooner and that is the issue we need to discuss.

Politicians and policy makers typically respond to the needs of living voters, not to the needs of generations yet unborn. Rising seas as an issue is important. But for many rising rents are a more critical issue.

Forward thinking urban planners in cities like New York are working with an anticipated 2.5 meter rise in sea level versus the climatologists really long term sea rise estimate of 25 meters or more.

Let’s assume for a moment that the INOF camp is correct. Global warming is simply a long term process not directly connected to anthropogenic carbon emissions. This suggests little interest in shuttering coal fired power generating plants. But what about higher temperatures and rising sea levels?

INOFers should be totally fine with the notion of rising sea levels. After all, it happened before humans were a factor. Look at the geological record. Even coastlines expand and contract. But if we do accept the notion of coastal or riparian “mutability”, this leads to a choice: do we fight or flee? Do we spend billions on sea walls, sand dunes, oyster beds and the like? Former NYC Mayor Bloomberg advocated for a seawall at mouth of the Hudson to protect Manhattan. Estimated cost: $20 billion. But the city has also "retreated" so to speak, purchasing homes in certain lowlying coastal communities for abandonment. Related: Tesla’s Solar Roof Market: What’s The Potential?

Or does it make more sense from the perspective of the public purse to acknowledge the long term futility of coastal fortification efforts and prepare instead to accommodate the ocean? (Perhaps Manhattan is the new Venice around the year 2200 minus the old world charm).

This problem may remain annoying and expensive near term. Only longer term does it become unmanageable.

Regardless of which climate paradigm is correct, if sea level rise projections curently being discussed are even remotely accurate, then by the end of this century much coastal infrastructure will need relocation. Acting on this is the “managed retreat” response to climate change.

Dr. James Hansen, the “godfather” of modern climate science, anticipates that due to the CO2 (and methane) we’ve already pumped into the atmosphere, global ice sheets will melt. The attendant rise in sea levels will eventually engulf all coastal cities around the world within 50-150 years.

These events may eventually prove catastrophic but only over long time horizons. And that’s the problem. Global warming has the potential to impose enormous changes and hardships in human activity. But ones that we initially at least only experience irregularly via hurricanes, flash flooding and higher high tides.

A substantial number of adherents to the INOF paradigm admit the earth is warming.

There are some holdouts who deny change and others who say the planet is cooling, echoing earlier claims from the 1970s. But most of the denialist camp admits the truth of the thermometer. The world’s been heating up.

INOF adherents accepting the idea of a warming planet have a choice of three policy options:


1) The government should leave this issue alone for longer. Extreme weather events are not proof of climate change.

2) Perhaps the rising level of greenhouse gas emissions will produce positive changes.

3) Lastly, Hansen and his ilk are right. It’s too late. Don’t waste billions on inefficient government programs (like seawalls) on a problem that can’t be ameliorated in that fashion.

If all the ITHS! adherents joined with the warming planet faction of INOF they would probably constitute a majority.

It would be ironic if our newly elected President, supposedly an accomplished builder himself, turned his back on the biggest construction and relocation project in history due to a faulty paradigm.

By Leonard Hyman and William Tilles for Oilprice.com

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  • cowboybob on November 26 2016 said:
    the only reason this nonsensical global warming tripe continues is because supposedly learned publications continue to spout the junk science mantra. Please stop the insanity. The statistics are generated and manipulated by those that want to control the industries they purport are the cause...this is nothing more than a power grab. I seriously doubt that anything like 50% of the US public buys this baloney. Please don't assume that it is proven fact when making conclusions such as this article has feebly attempted to do.
  • Meme Mine69 on November 26 2016 said:
    Trump to climate change scientists;

    If it's too late to save the planet then end this debate NOW and say your end of the world is as real as you say the planet isn't flat, or it's not real."
  • John Scior on November 26 2016 said:
    One factor left out of the discussion is that climate change may not in fact be bad for all nations. A few hypothesis : 1. Northern climates which have shorter growing seasons might benefit from a longer growing season 2. less need to heat homes or plow streets of snow in winter months 3. A warmer climate while melting ice, might cause more water to evaporate and then condense and fall so that now arid regions become capable of growing crops. 4. As oil become more scarce, other transport methods take hold such as Tesla's electric car. ( thus less CO2 ) 5. Population trends may reverse as the globe becomes more electrified and social systems put in place such as ( retirement pensions ) that displace the need to have your ( multiple ) children care for you in your old age.
    One should realize the scale of attempting to control CO2 on a global scale and the herculean effort required to enforce such an effort. How does one get emerging nations to agree to forgo inexpensive electrical production via burning coal or skip their own industrial age and the increased living standards that accompany it when other countries have already had their turn ??
  • Rod Van Mechelen on November 26 2016 said:
    The vast majority of the scientific community do not belong to the ITHS camp. The survey that made that claim has been debunked. The IOF camp is anti-scientific. If anthropogenic global warming was based on science, skepticism would be welcome. But instead, skeptics are attacked as deniers, which is another way of calling them heretics, and exposes the whole thing as a religion. Global warming happens. Global cooling does, too. A growing body of evidence points to a new maunder minimum that could begin a new "little ice age."
  • utter nonsense on November 26 2016 said:
    "But’s let’s go back to temperature rise which we should all be able to agree on."
    Your statement, above, indicates that this is not just an article but an op-ed. The ONLY data indicating a global temp 'rise' over much of the last century is clearly altered data. Gavin Schmidt of NASA, after announcing the last years (pick one) as 'the warmest on record' also said that he couldn't be held accountable for bad data corrupting his findings. LOL! >>NASA, his employer, is the agency altering the data sets!
  • Greg Ketterman on November 26 2016 said:
    Global warming is a hoax. For the best argument go here; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DrWznOFq38s

    This is a recent discussion between Lord Christopher Monckton and Stephan Molyneux.
  • Rik Myslewski on November 27 2016 said:
    Y'know, the climate-science deniers are, quite simply, out of ouch with the irrefutable science behind global warming and its effect, climate change.

    Doubt that assertion? Then disprove the physics behind the blockage, absorption, and re-radiation of long-wave (IR) radiation by large, active molecules such as CO2, CH4, N2O, and the like, and how that blockage and re-radiation warms the troposphere in quite easily measurable and quantifiable amounts while concomitantly and measurably cooling the stratosphere, as has been well-demonstrated for many decades. 

    Second, please explain how it's meaningless that that warming not only correlates quite smoothly with the steep increase in radiative-forcing CO2 in the troposphere in, say, the last century, as well as being mathematically and demonstrably well-fitted through multiple well-sourced and peer-reviewed analyses to prove that such other forcings as volcanoes, solar activity, aerosols, and other niceties can't account for the same global temperature rises. 

    Third, challenge and refute all of the easily correlated temperature measurements, such as those by NOAA, NASA, UK Met Office, the Japan Meteorological Agency, and others over the past half-century or more.

    As an attendee at conferences of, say, the American Geophysical Union, where 25,000 actual, certifiable scientists gather to discuss such physical realities as climate change, it appalls me that denialists continue to unsupportably trash honest, concerned, careful, honest scientists and analysts with silly ad hominem attacks based on assertions of “greed”, “careerism”, and “grant seeking”. Not true. Simply not true. Wanna provide some proof? Thought not…
  • Keith on November 27 2016 said:
    This article has so many flaws it is difficult to decide where to start.
    First, a recent UN poll showed that climate change came last of many issues that people internationally were concerned about. https://wattsupwiththat.com/2016/11/22/the-un-poll-redux/ Only 3% of people found climate change their most compelling problem. So straight up, the authors’ assertion that “the bulk of Americans” think there is a climate crisis is false.
    Second, the authors categorise one group, those who believe natural variation is an important cause of change. However, the authors then go on to suggest that this group believe temperatures will inevitably rise. WRONG. Natural variability is cyclical. There is nothing to say that the trend of rising temperatures from the little ice age keeps rising.
    Third, a rise of less than 2 degrees C is what the Paris climate accord was all about. The view was that a restriction to 2 degrees C would avoid problems. The authors here associate 2 degrees C rise with a 25 m sealevel rise. Where do they find any evidence associating those 2 figures? The average of the world's tide gauges show sea level rising at 18 mm per year. At that rate it will take 1388 years to reach a sealevel rise of 25 m. In the meantime, any cyclicity would change the direction of change from up to down.
    Fourth, the authors are happy to consider a group that says (INOF) its not our fault, but virtue signals them negatively by associating them with tobacco science, and talking about denialists. Has the left not learnt from Trump’s election that name-calling the opposition does not work?
    The authors say "extreme weather is not proof of climate change". This is wrong on so many levels. Category 3 and above Hurricane landfalls on the US are at historic lows. Tornado counts are at historic lows. Anticyclonic energy (ACE) is low. No trend to higher levels is evident. http://models.weatherbell.com/tropical.php There is no evidence for greater extreme weather. Even the IPCC agrees on that.
    The authors invent 3 options for people who do not believe in present policy response to the possibility of temperatures rising. These options are utterly straw men and have nothing to do with the views of people who do not believe that climate change is a) controllable, or b) best dealt with via the present policy response.
  • Phil Bickel on November 27 2016 said:
    If AGW is such settled science, why are AGW scientist now being forced to alter climate history to maintain their "proof?"
  • David Overton on November 27 2016 said:
    Almost all climate scientists have concluded that human activity is the primary cause of climate change. A good summary of the science and the scientific consensus is the report "What We Know" by the American Association for the Advancement of Science, at http://whatweknow.aaas.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/whatweknow_website.pdf. It is well worth reading.

    It points out that the sooner we act on climate change, the less it will cost. At this point, we will need to both reduce emissions (mitigation) and react to the climate change that is already happening (adaptation). We owe it to future generations to take this seriously.
  • Rockyredneck on November 27 2016 said:
    There seems to be enough evidence that global temperatures have increased in the last couple of centuries. Personal observation would seem to confirm this, at least locally an in the northern hemisphere. A human factor would also seem obvious given the scope of our impact on the landscape.
    That, however, does not constitute proof that warming will continue in the future. Unrecognised factors could lead to a lessening of the rate of warming or even a reversal to a cooling trend. Predictions of any kind, by even the most thoughtful people, are most often proven wrong or inaccurate as to degree.
    "But what if they are right," cry the alarmists with great fervour.
    Well, what if they are. The chance of some great catastrophe striking the earth and humankind is always there. Most of which we are incapable of preventing.
    The cost (social, economic, and politically) of governments attempting to stop climate change is immense and largely known while the actual effectiveness is a poor guess at best.
    I think we would be very wise to lessen our dependence, on fossil fuels, slow the use of our resources and reduce our impact in general. Drastic action, on the other hand would seem to be a recipe for disaster.
  • Dave on November 27 2016 said:
    Guberment funds all those University Scientist. No Climate Change No funding. Guess they would have to find some other cause to get those federal dollars.
  • Bud on November 27 2016 said:
    The planet has added about 3 Billion people since Reagan set the IPCC in motion during the 1980s. That is 66% in 30 years, while the population in NA and Europe has stabilized with carbon emissions dropping.

    The OCO2 satellite and A train scientific constellation in tow is providing real time atmospheric carbon figures and shows where most of the pollution is happening. The current data clearly shows the majority of the pollution coming from the equatorial zone plus Industral northern China. Brazil, Indonesia, Nigeria, etc. whether from clear cutting, forest burning, natural co2 release, human and animal co2 production, or flaring of natural gas, the places where the population as grown fastest is where most of the carbon release is occurring most of the year.

    People production and animal husbandry are the main problem, if we really have a problem we have any control over. Americans and Europeans understand they cannot afford more kids while being told to stop all economic activity so the current polluters can increase GDP and have more kids.

    This is not social justice. Social justice was created by the allies and cheap hydrocarbon based energy, that allowed the worlds population to grow 4-5 billion since WW2 with billions in the developing world raised out of poverty. Would the Germans or Japanese allowed China to have the most billionaires in the world less than one mans life time from the wars end.

    Most Americans who voted for the president elect understand that American greatness has been restricted in the past few decades and have had enough.
  • Oilracle on November 27 2016 said:
    Surely the climate change can be characterized as man-made. One just has to learn how much and often initial data was changed and manipulated into the “global warming” religion.

    Even I could call it as such with some qualification:

  • Leslie Graham on November 27 2016 said:
    Now that the effects of rapid man made global warming have become simply an obvious reality all over the world the last of the deniers just sound unhinged.
    And of course Trump knows climate change is real. It is just not credible that he could be *that* stupid as to believe it is a 'Chinese hoax'. For one thing he has just cited climate change as a reason that a local council in Ireland should provide him with a sea wall to protect his golf course there.
    It is also basic schoolboy level physics that has been know and understood for over a century now. Indeed the first warnings from scientists were sounded in 1896 when it was first proved that CO2 is a greenhouse gas. Though to be fair no-one at the time could have imagined that we would currently be pumping 38 trillion tons of the stuff into the air every year.
    How can anyone be so naive as to think that adding 38 trillion tons of a known greenhouse to the atmosphere every year - increasing the concentration by 42% - could possibly NOT have an effect? Insane.
  • Bud on November 28 2016 said:
    You are off by 1000x. This is the problem that makes the income tax paying middle class in America skeptical, and when technology is put in place, like the oco2 satellite in 2014, to produce hard data, the numbers are not quoted if it doesn't fit the socialist agenda.

    Again, humans produce co2 and methane if they breath air and eat food.
  • Luke B on November 28 2016 said:
    YES! I do see and obvious examples of where the soil has eroded, where the tides have changed and where localized land has sunken. Nope, Sorry, don't see evidence of rising sea level around the world.
  • Ken on November 29 2016 said:
    You're a purveyor of pap. So camp 1 believes humans are responsible for the rise in atmospheric CO2? I'm in camp 1 then. But I'm also firmly in camp 2.

    This type of nonsensical logic featured in this article is responsible for many people resisting the so-called "accepted science". If it was clear-cut, there'd be no need to pull "historical" figures from thin air to support failed warming predictions.

    Many people are now prepared to wait and see what comes rather than submit to economic hara-kiri.
  • Dr Duude on November 29 2016 said:
    The Chinese are proving a very important point----Trump has been quoted as saying climate change plays right into the Chinese hands. China had previously stated they should be allowed to grow their carbon emissions till 2030 because they are still a developing country. Obama was one willing to accept the Chinese delays even while the US worked diligently in cutting its own emissions making China the best place to export American manufacturing jobs. Now that Trump is President-elect, the Chinese see they may lose their uneven playing field advantage and so are now trying to bring the US back to the table.
  • amos033 on December 01 2016 said:
    God controls the climate, not man.
  • Johnny Enlish on December 01 2016 said:
    Just how much of the "Greenhouse Effect" is caused by human activity?

    It is about 0.28%, if water vapor is taken into account-- about 5.53%, if not.



    The contention made by HockeySchtick seems to be supported by old table from the Energy Information Administration which shows the same thing: only about 3% of atmospheric carbon dioxide is attributable to human sources. The numbers are from IPCC data.


    Man kind is NOT responsible for more than approx. 3% of Earth's atmospheric CO2 emissions on an annual basis.

    CO2 is not a prolific greenhouse gas. Water vapor is.

    If the "Warmunists" want to more productively spend their time, they should focus on the following:


    Mangrove reforestation worldwide, esp. in Indonesia and SE Asia. Very helpful, as are more traditional reforestation projects worldwide (esp. those that utilize bamboo species).

    This, combined with focusing on development of significantly improved appliance (refrigerator & A/C, namely) and electric motor efficiency.

    That's what the Warmunists should focus their attention on. That being, something productive.
  • Lynden Foley on December 02 2016 said:
    The comments to this article are just stunning in their denial. I hope they are all from trolls. Rex, is that you?

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