Book club: Nierenberg. Part I: introduction

Zut alors: le Nierenberg vieux est arrivee! And you can join in the fun. I’ll be posting up scans (well, actually, photos) of the text as I go along.

Aside: I got this thanks to the wonders of the extrawub: abebooks found me a copy for a mere $6.54 (plus postage) delivered from the states in a week. Marvels will never cease. I could have tried the UL, I suppose, but that would have meant stopping on my way to work. And anyway their catalogue suggested they didn’t have it.

So far, the introductory stuff is up: frontispiece, people, foreword, preface, contents list. And also the synthesis, though I haven’t got so far myself.

Lets look at what we can find out about the vexed question of who appointed Nierenberg to chair the commission. Oreskes says While the formal charge to the new committee was not formulated until June of the following year, a committee was already in place by October 1980, with Nierenberg as its chair. Which (for those who haven’t been paying attention) means that Reagan didn’t appoint him. But we knew that. All I can find in the report as to timing was the act, in June 1980, and that in response to the congressional mandate the CDAC committee was formed under Nierenbergs leadership, and that a preliminary plan was provided by January 1981 [page x].

I skimmed the preface and foreword; most people do.

Executive Summary [page 1]:

1. CO2 is important in determining the climate, and its going up. 2. Because of fossil fuels. 3. Future projections are uncertain, but doubling to 600 ppm by the 3rd quarter of the 21st century (note: caution here: baseline nowadays would be considered to be pre-industrial, ie 280 ppm; doubling would be 560. Their numbers are in line with current IPCC) 4. If deforestation is larger than we think, then we’ve got the airborne fraction wrong and future projections are wrong. 5. There are significant uncertainties in the effects of increasing CO2 on climate, notably clouds. 6. There are other non-CO2 GHG’s; adding those in produces effects significantly earlier. 7. From climate models, we conclude with considerable confidence that there would be global mean temperature increase. Less confident about regional stuff. 8. 2*CO2 leads to 1.5-4.5 oC T rise. But “The climate record of the past one hundred years and our estimates of CO2 changes over that period suggest that values in the lower half of this rage are more probable. (chapters 4, 5)”. 9. By itself, CO” inc should have benefical effects on photosynthesis and water-use efficiency. 10. +/- about balance over the next few decades. 11. 2oC warming could reduce water resources in western US. 12. 3-4 oC warming over next 100 years likely to lead to 70 cm SLR; could be more rapidly subsequently if the WAIS falls apart. 13. Large uncertainties need to be confirmed, so need good monitoring. 14. Societal change and so on. 15. In terms of env damage, CO2 problem appears intractable. In terms of change in local env, is part of many other stresses. Flexibility in response. 16. Uncertainties: balanced programme of research. 17. Even forceful policies won’t prevent all change. So need applied research [adaption]. 18. Assessment of CO2 should be iterative process – carry over of learning. 19. International research. 20. R&D recommendations: (a): some priority to non-fossil energy (b): evidence at hand doesn’t support switch from fossil now. May be necessary in future. Think carefully about cost/benefit. Near future: improve knowledge. (c) some evidence suggests you should start with non-CO2 GHGs. 21. CO2 issue interacts with many other issues; may be stimulus in other areas of research.

Thats a quick summary of the summary. If you want more, read it for yourself. Nothing desperately exciting, though I’ll look out for the lower climate sensitivity supposedly justified by chapters 4 and 5, which is interesting.

11 thoughts on “Book club: Nierenberg. Part I: introduction”

  1. Great job posting this, I never thought of taking photos of the pages!

    I can tell you that I am extremely happy to have this on line so that people can form their own conclusions about whether Oreskes et al 2008, or our critique is closer to the truth. (Sorry about shamelessly including this link once again :-))


  2. A scientist with whom I’m in touch has emailed me the following comments. He wants to remain anonymous but said I could post his comments. He also said to keep in mind that he’s relying on memory from almost 30 years ago. But I think it provides an interesting personal viewpoint from someone who was a Jason at that time:

    It’s hard to know where to begin with this business. I was both a member of Jason at the time their report was written (although I refused to participate in it) and also a member of the Charney committee. Contrary to Oreskes (who is an unreliable reporter, and something of a conspiracy theorist) Jason is *not* a secret organization although it often produces secret reports about things like nuclear weapons. I resigned from Jason in part because it was true that its members hardly knew anything about climate change and I felt they were overpaid pretenders when it came to climate, etc. The Jasonites, although very smart people, were amateurs in an arena where people like Charney and other members of his committee were true experts. But the latter worked without pay. One of the authors of the Jason report was an expert on radiative transfer (Joe Chamberlain), but he was not a Jason member. (The book called The Jasons is a good one.)

    Nierenberg was a talkative nitwit who later on became associated with Fred Seitz and the Marshall Institute, which is a conspicuous climate change denier organization. Nierenberg was a physicist who fancied himself an expert on everything. Historically, it’s the Charney report that has remained influential. The Reagan years were disastrous, but not mainly because of CO2 and I don’t think the science community, at least, paid much attention either to the Jason or Nierenberg reports.

    In 1979 (the time of the Jason and Charney reports) a comparative handful of scientists (notably Roger Revelle) were calling attention to the ongoing “experiment”, as Revelle termed it. The models of that day were extremely primitive (Manabe’s may have been the only one), oceanographers really couldn’t describe how much or how fast the ocean would take up heat or carbon dioxide, no one understood the cloud feedback problem etc. There were only small pieces of ice cores, etc. We have learned a great deal in the last 30 years. Revelle’s worries remain, have become more specific and quantifiable.

    [Thanks. Thats helpful. One does lose track, sometimes, of what matters. I think its true that the Charney report is the one everyone knows – no-one had heard of the N report until O brought it up -W]


  3. Dave Rado, thank you, extremely interesting stuff! If your source wants to tell more, please post.
    I’ve been fascinated by Nierenberg and Singer, how could they become what they did.


  4. Mr. Rado and gravityloss,

    I don’t think that the JASON, Charney, and CDAC reports are directly comparable. JASON and Charney were narrowly focused on climate sensitivity, while the 1983 CDAC report was much more comprehensive. In fact climate sensitivity was only one chapter of that report, and the view did not change from the earlier reports. In addition to being comprehensive, the 1983 report provided a new forecast for CO2 growth based on economic analysis and a new look at the carbon cycle. It also provided a new look at sea level rise. Both of those have turned out to be, in my opinion, more accurate than previous attempts. Obviously these are just a couple of the areas covered.

    I haven’t looked into what the impact of the report was. Dr. Oreskes seems to feel that it was the launch of the “denier” movement, but I don’t think that seems right based on the content of the report. You may be right that it didn’t have much scientific impact, but it doesn’t seem that any of us have any real data on that.

    I haven’t had any previous experience with blogs, but I did want to comment on what I have seen as a tendency to attack people rather than their work or their actions. Posting an anonymous email that calls someone a “nitwit” just seems discourteous to me, especially when that person is deceased.

    My father was a highly respected researcher and professor of Physics at the University of California at Berkeley for twenty years. He was the longest serving director at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. He was a member of the National Academy of Sciences. I could go on and on. He was many things, but he was certainly not a “nitwit.”


  5. Hi Nicolas

    I don’t think he was referring to your father’s research record in his own field, which I agree is outstanding, but rather to his later attempts to present himself as an expert in other fields on the basis of that record, and to influence policy via the Marshall Institute, which has an appalling record of attacking science for policy reasons (e.g. the Oregon petition). Seitz also had an outstanding research record in his own field of study.

    I agree that the evidence for the N report being the start of the “denier” movement looks overstated to me, although I’m no expert.

    I posted the comment simply because it provides the personal viewpoint of someone who was around at that time, which seemed to me to be insightful.


    [FWIW, people aren’t allowed to call each other names in the comments of my blog (unless its me doing the callnig, of course) but copies of other comments like those Dave pasted in are probably exceptions. Maybe it would have been better to remove that word? Perhaps -W]


  6. Also further to my previous post:

    To clarify, I believe it was N’s *judgement* that was being questioned by my source, not his intelligence or research record, which were clearly both outstanding.

    Also, I realise that N wasn’t directly involved with the Oregon petition, Seitz was, but it was a particularly egregious example of the tactics that the leaders of the MI have used, which was why I mentioned it. And the MI have sought throughout to push the line to govt. that unless and until models became so perfect that no uncertainties remain (an impossibility), no action should be taken. They have also consistently pushed highly questionable papers by people like Soon.



  7. Mr. Rabett,

    That is correct. Although to be clear he wanted the government to continue to spend, and even increase research spending on climate change. The action that he opposed was government regulation designed to change fuel mix.

    I am not saying that this was good policy, just the policy that he advocated.


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