Carbon Majors, Finger Pointing and Responsibility

new study in Climatic Change linking most of the fossil fuels extracted in the last 150 years to 90 producers has garnered a bit of interest in the climate change world. One of the issues raised in the study is responsibility, and the coverage in the media has led to debates about pointing fingers and just who is really responsible for climate change.


Here’s a sample from Tim Worstall’s blog, who calls the article “complete and total bollocks”:

The fault is not in the companies but in us the consumers. Not one single one of the fuckers would have dug up or pumped a single kilo of carbon if we hadn’t wanted to use it.

We have been warm, well fed and mobile for a century because of fossil fuels. We wanted it, we enjoyed it and if there is any blame to be passed around then it is to us, the people who enjoyed the products of which the emissions are a by product.

His article in Forbes is as follows:

Fossil Fuel Companies Do Not Cause Carbon Emissions, We Consumers Do

Do I have to mention a similar cause-effect guilt-culpability claim by an infamous organization?

Guns don't kill people they make it easier dr heckle funny wtf memes

And there’s more where that came from:

According to William M. Connolley,

Its an attempt to shift the blame off us lot so we can all relax and spew out yet more CO2 and say “oh no, its not our fault, look, the Graun says its all the fault of those nasty fossil fuel companies over there”.

Not to miss an opportunity, The Onion has this article out in response: New Report Finds Climate Change Caused By 7 Billion Key Individuals:

From the article:

“Our research has proved conclusively that, year after year, the acceleration of the rate of global warming and the damage caused by this man-made acceleration can be clearly linked to 7 billion main culprits,” explained lead author Dr. John Bartlett, noting that many of these individuals have links to climate change going back nearly a century. “Worse, the significant majority of damage was done within the past two decades, when the consequences of climate change were widely known and yet these specific individuals did nothing to curb or amend their practices.”

“Now that we’ve done the hard work of identifying the key players responsible for this crisis, we can move forward with holding them accountable,” Bartlett added. “And it is my opinion that we need to regulate these individuals swiftly and decisively before they do any more damage.”

Yeah, it’s a good yuk and I do love the Onion, and I do hate to appear to lack a sense of humour, but satire runs the risk of minimizing the real issues while poking fun. In this case, it runs the risk of doing a serious disservice to those among the 7 billion who have not contributed to global warming in any appreciable amount but who are suffering as a consequence of those who have.

Are all humans equally culpable for the CO2 and land use changes that are causing global warming?

Of course not.

A small proportion of those alive today and in the past is largely responsible for the majority of the emissions. Do we, the individuals, really have a choice about those emissions? After all, if consumers didn’t want to buy gasoline to fuel their cars and heat their houses and air condition their condos and make their plastic products, they could choose to buy some other form of energy, right? Oh, wait…

So it looks as if this report has received quite the mixed response.

While reading the point-counterpoint is amusing and mentally invigorating, after you clear away all the hot air, this is an important question. Who is responsible for global warming? What do we mean by responsibility? Why do we want to assign responsibility and culpability? What good will it do to name names? Point fingers?

Here’s the abstract of the Heede paper:

Tracing anthropogenic carbon dioxide and methane emissions to fossil fuel and cement producers, 1854 – 2010

This paper presents a quantitative analysis of the historic fossil fuel and cement production records of the 50 leading investor-owned, 31 state-owned, and 9 nation-state producers of oil, natural gas, coal, and cement from as early as 1854 to 2010. This analysis traces emissions totaling 914 GtCO2e—63 % of cumulative worldwide emissions of industrial CO2 and methane between 1751 and 2010—to the 90 “carbon major” entities based on the carbon content of marketed hydrocarbon fuels (subtracting for non-energy uses), process CO2 from cement manufacture, CO2 from flaring, venting, and own fuel use, and fugitive or vented methane. Cumulatively, emissions of 315 GtCO2e have been traced to investor-owned entities, 288 GtCO2e to state-owned enterprises, and 312 GtCO2e to nation-states. Of these emissions, half has been emitted since 1986. The carbon major entities possess fossil fuel reserves that will, if produced and emitted, intensify anthropogenic climate change. The purpose of the analysis is to understand the historic emissions as a factual matter, and to invite consideration of their possible relevance to public policy.

It bears repeating the purpose of the analysis for the author — “to understand the historic emissions as a factual matter, and to invite consideration of their possible relevance to public policy”.

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Tragedies, (Non-Existent) Conversion Errors and Wrestling With Pigs

I was going to post this comment over at WTFIUWT but don’t want to taint myself after so long a time away from the idiocy and slime of the denialosphere. So, instead, I thought I’d post my comment here.


Here is what I almost — ALMOST — posted at WUWT. But I held back in the spirit of not getting down in the mud to wrestle with pigs deniers.

What’s clear about this post is that it is so purely political, aimed not to inform about a weather event but to rouse the rabble. As a result, it is insensitive to the max. It is not objective reporting on the event, Super Typhoon Haiyan. It is playing to the choir, a battle cry for climate deniers, and the use of a tragedy to whip up the fury of blog followers and it succeeded.

It is crass.

The smugness of the commenters is disgusting, as they scored what they thought were some kind of points for their ‘side’ by downplaying a human tragedy.

Objective scientific reporting on a weather event would have focused on the evidence without political commentary. It could have commented on the error in converting KPH to MPH and noted that this frequently happens and can be of the most innocent variety of mistakes, however regrettable. Instead, people in the comments call it a lie and used that to attack the ‘other side’.*

The post could have discussed how the data was preliminary and that there were many potential sources of error in the data and how it is collected, analyzed and reported. That would be valuable reporting.

Anyone familiar with large-scale weather events like a typhoon — especially a super typhoon — hitting a densely populated and impoverished region would be aware of the potential for high casualties and the lag time between the event and reliable stats on deaths and damage. Instead of showing this caution, the poster and commenters downplayed the damage and death as a way of attacking opponents, politicizing it, making political hay.

A single line about hearts and prayers for those affected after paragraphs and paragraphs of using the tragedy to score political points does not in any way offset the rest of the post.

I believe the proper comment is “shame”.

I would have posted that over at WUWT but that would be like wrestling with pigs — all it does is get you dirty and the pigs enjoy it.

*ETA: it appears that there was no error in reporting the wind speeds, but a difference in the source of the numbers. Here is a quote from a comment by Dylan over at WTFIUWT:

“…the figures that the BBC uses are DIRECTLY from the advisories issued by the JTWC which estimated before landfall the strength of Typhoon Haiyan’s strength to have winds of 195 mph gusting to 235 mph.”

In other words, there are several sources for data, and the difference in numbers comes from this.

Met comments here to clarify:

The reason that PAGASA’s wind estimates are much lower than the Joint Typhoon Warning Center and those quoted by news outlets is because for some reason PAGASA bases their sustained windspeeds on a 10-minute average whereas JTWC bases their sustained windspeeds on a 1-minute average (which is consistent with NOAA and the Saffir-Simpson Scale). You’re comparing apples and oranges with those lower PAGASA estimated windspeeds.

ETA2: Apparently some media outlets did mistakenly report KPH as MPH — a simple enough mistake to make and certainly not politically motivated. Hell, planes have crashed because of the need to convert Imperial to Metric. In the rush to get news to market, because it is a new world in the world of media due to the 24/7 news cycle and the internet, a mistake gets duplicated because of the rush to publish.

This is why I left blogging about the climate wars. It’s all so damn petty, the attempt to discredit climate science and climate scientists using every tiny crack or mistake, but at the same time, the larger issue is so damn important. I am sick of the politics.

Because the intent of the WUWT post was to cast discredit on so-called ‘alarmists’ instead of actually, you know, discussing the cyclone and its dimensions and strength, there was a rush to judgement and the attempt to find errors and downplay the seriousness of the storm. They looked for any excuse to call the media coverage into question.

And simply got it wrong.

I maintain that if there had been an error in reporting, there is a way to deal with that kind of error without resorting to using a tragedy to score political points. But that would be far too respectful for this crew.

People far braver than I, with less distaste for pig mucking, are over at the thread trying to clarify. I still haven’t seen a correction to the insinuation and claim that this was an over-hyped storm. And the death toll mounts. I wonder how many deaths will have to be reported before the owner of the blog and the poster and commenters acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, the hype in this sorry episode was on their side…

Some images of the ‘over-hyped storm’ and its damage:





According to the Discover article, which was the source of this image, the colored areas represent “the total amount of heat energy available for the storm to absorb, not just on the surface, but integrated through the water column. Deeper, warmer pools of water are colored purple, though any region colored from pink to purple has sufficient energy to fuel storm intensification. The dotted line represents the best-track and forecast data as of 16:00 UTC on November 7, 2013.”

Free Market Economics and Science Denial


Couldn’t resist this. Based on the content of the study, we can presume this will be denied as well.

Although nearly all domain experts agree that carbon dioxide emissions are altering the world’s climate, segments of the public remain unconvinced by the scientific evidence. Internet blogs have become a platform for denial of climate change, and bloggers have taken a prominent role in questioning climate science. We report a survey of climate-blog visitors to identify the variables underlying acceptance and rejection of climate science. Our findings parallel those of previous work and show that endorsement of free-market economics predicted rejection of climate science. Endorsement of free markets also predicted the rejection of other established scientific findings, such as the facts that HIV causes AIDS and that smoking causes lung cancer. We additionally show that, above and beyond endorsement of free markets, endorsement of a cluster of conspiracy theories (e.g., that the Federal Bureau of Investigation killed Martin Luther King, Jr.) predicted rejection of climate science as well as other scientific findings. Our results provide empirical support for previous suggestions that conspiratorial thinking contributes to the rejection of science. Acceptance of science, by contrast, was strongly associated with the perception of a consensus among scientists.


This merely confirms what most of us already knew: the reality of climate change due to human influences, such as greenhouse gasses and land use is not under debate. What is under debate is what to do about it. In order to argue we should do nothing, to keep faith with their ideological commitment to free market economics, denialsts must deny the science. Any way they can. Wildly ridiculous claims of hoax and conspiracy — it doesn’t matter. These folks don’t really care about facts or evidence. Just maintaining their ideological purity — or power.

On Behemoths and Bi-Partisanship

Daniel Sarewitz has a commentary in Nature in which he claims that science is on a “worrying slide towards politicization”. The solution so that scientists can “gain the confidence of people and politicians across the political spectrum”? Scientists can demonstrate that “science is bipartisan.”

No. Just no.

Science is not bi-partisan. Science should not be bi-partisan. It should be non-partisan.


If “science has come, over the past decade or so, to be a part of the identity of one political party, the Democrats, in the United States” it is not because science is partisan. It is because one political party, namely the Republican Party, has ever so steadily estranged itself from science, through cutting funding or outright denial of science’s findings.

The problem isn’t with science’s partisanship. It’s with the corruption of politics and the radicalization of the Republican Party. The political realm is so thoroughly addicted to the financial elite’s donations and influence that the science has been denied, ignored and trodden on. The Republican Party has so thoroughly estranged itself from anything resembling moderation that it is a shadow of its former self.

Politics, that behemoth, is the real problem.


The Behemoth and Leviathan

There can be no better example than climate change / global warming.

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Heartland and Simple Maths

I love mathematics. It’s so simple. 1 + 1 = 2.

When the Gleick Heartland documents were first released, people who call themselves climate skeptics claimed that the strategy memo was a fake because Heartland wouldn’t be so blatant in its wording about its goals and strategy to undermine the IPCC and prevent teachers from teaching science:

Lines such as the following were given as examples:

“Heartland is part of a growing network of groups working the climate issues, some of which we support financially. We will seek additional partnerships in 2012. At present we sponsor the NIPCC to undermine the official United Nation’s IPCC reports and paid a team of writers $388,000 in 2011 to work on a series of editions of Climate Change Reconsidered.” 


“Principals and teachers are highly biased towards the alarmist perspective. To counter this, we are considering launching an effort to develop alternative materials for hte K-12 classroom… His [Dr. Wojick’s] efforts will focus on providing curriculum that shows that the topic of climate change is controversial and uncertain — two key points that are effective at dissuading teachers from teaching science.”

People on the “skeptic” side argued that the document must be fake because there is no way any right-minded CEO would write a climate strategy that bald-faced about its efforts to deny science and undermine the IPCC.

Then we have this:


Any organization that would put up a billboard that is as extreme as this is very very capable of writing a confidential document that contains the quotes above.

Simple maths.