Update on Climate Hawks, Judith Curry and more

More information and commentary has become available since my previous post on the introduction of the label “climate hawk,” its applications and its potential relevance to climatologist Judith Curry, about whom Michael Lemonick recently wrote the article “Climate Heretic” for Scientific American. Here’s a quick recap.

At Climate Central, Lemonick has posted “Why I Wrote About Judith Curry,” which offers some informative backstory on the piece as well as some reflections that he didn’t explicitly include in it. It sounds like he’s drawn criticism from some who think that giving her any media attention is journalistic malpractice. I disagree; Lemonick’s piece was fair and even-handed but also drew conclusions that separate it from typical journalistic treatments that retreat into shows of fake balance.

For me, the useful bottom-line assessment is this one:

What I found out is that when she does raise valid points, they’re often points the climate-science community already agrees with — and many climate scientists are scratching their heads at the implication that she’s uncovered some dark secret. I also became convinced that some of her other points are not very persuasive at all. As Stephen Schneider, the eminent Stanford climate scientist who died prematurely last summer, told me: “It is frankly shocking to see such a good scientist take that kind of a turn to sloppy thinking. I have no explanation for it.”

He also writes:

… that the vehement reaction of climate scientists, while perfectly understandable, might be akin to the violent reaction of the human immune system to some bacteria and viruses — a reaction that’s sometimes more damaging than the original microbe.

The comparison is provocative and will no doubt delight the climate ostriches and climate dodos who like to write off passions about global warming as evidence of eco-freaky tribalism run amok. I don’t know that I disagree outright with Lemonick’s suggestion—he does say, after all, that the climate scientists’ reactions are understandable. Rather, I’ll quibble that the immune-system comparison may make their defensiveness sound innate, whereas I think any judgment of their behavior needs to acknowledge the historical context. Many scientists have been locked for years, even decades, in a high-stakes struggle with disinformation and denial from politicians, industry, the media and an undereducated public. It’s hardly surprising that some of their responses would get very emotional—much to the haughty disdain of relative newcomers to the fray. More about this another time, perhaps.

[Update added shortly after initial post: By the way, for anyone who might think that Scientific American's publication of the article about Curry somehow reflects a softening in the magazine's stance on climate change, let me steer you toward this new page at ScientificAmerican.com that provides links to much of their past coverage of the subject, including the 1959 article on "Carbon Dioxide and Climate" and, ahem, my piece from last year, Seven Answers to Contrarian Nonsense. Much of the linked content is behind the paywall, alas, but I think the page makes its point.]

Keith Kloor at Collide-a-Scape faulted David Roberts’ choice of the climate hawk label because it clung to climate as a central concern rather than jumping aboard a clean energy bandwagon:

Whatever Roberts’ purpose was, truly broadening the coalition for decarbonization was not one of them. Otherwise he wouldn’t have insisted on keeping “the threat of climate change at the center of the conversation.”

Perhaps, but I think for now I’ll continue to agree with Roberts that “climate” is a feature of the term, not a bug. Passing explicit climate legislation may be difficult, but unless we’re prepared to treat any climate benefits as just happy byproducts of more popular clean energy reforms, keeping climate in the discussion seems essential.

Kloor also directs attention to my previous post (for which, thanks, Keith!) and its Judith Curry discussion. More important, he contacted Curry to elicit her reaction, and received this response from her:

I am currently distracted from continuing my uncertainty thread over at Climate Etc. by preparing a response to the Scientific American article.  The next installments in the series (will have to wait until next week) are about decision making under climate uncertainty.  My position on this is more nuanced than the climate hawk position, stay tuned. So the answer is no, I am not going to sign up to be a climate hawk.

So we can look forward to Curry’s rejoinder to Lemonick’s article; I think we can infer that she didn’t care for at least parts of it. And (not really to my surprise, I must confess) she has declared herself not to be a climate hawk. Because her positions are more “nuanced.” Bear in mind that the threshold qualification for being a climate hawk is favoring some level of timely action on climate mitigation that is discernibly different from the status quo. I’ll be curious about whatever fuller explanation of her views Curry makes in the future, but for now, I’d say she’s given us a clear answer about where she stands.

Also, I’ll agree with both Roberts and Kloor that further prattle about the climate hawk label itself is worthless. Either it proves its worth in the ongoing discussions by falling into widespread use or it doesn’t. If you believe in it, use it. Let’s see what happens.

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