August 25, 2005
The Warring Climate Tribes

An Aug. 23 article by Andrew Revkin in the New York Times set the stage this week for one of the most crystalline examples I've seen of the tribal nature of the climate wars.

Revkin's piece was about Roger Pielke Sr.'s resignation from a panel set up to try to help sort out confusion over tropospheric climate trends. Here's how Revkin launched into the subject:

A scientist who has long disagreed with the dominant view that global warming stems mainly from human activity has resigned from a panel that is completing a report for the Bush administration on temperature trends in the atmosphere. (emphasis added)

That's tribal talk, placing Pielke Sr. firmly in the camp of those labeled "Skeptics," and the Colorado scientist clearly didn't like it. On his blog, he fired back, denying that he held any such tribal affiliation:

To state that I have "long disagreed..that global warming stems from human activity" is a completely erroneous characterization of my perspective.

Point taken, evil MSM wrong again, etc. etc. But then, in the comments, it got just plain weird when William Connolley, a guy I usually respect on this stuff, all but demanded that Pielke Sr. take a sort of tribal loyalty oath:

To clear this up, Id be interested to know if you accept the IPCC conclusion most of the warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities?

Pielke Sr., a veteran climate researcher, holds a nuanced view - that, while greenhouse gas emissions are an important contributor to human effects on climate, land use changes are even more important. In a series of posts that followed, he laid it out in brief, including a link to a 2001 piece in EOS arguing that the land use work he and others have done "suggest(s) that humans have an even greater effect on climate than is suggested by the IPCC."

Once Pielke Sr. had shown sufficient fealty, Connolley welcomed him back to a seat around the tribal fire, and I was again left wondering why we spend so much time trying to define who's a member of which tribe rather than talking about the climate.

(Update 8/26 10 a.m. - fixed a stray "Jr." in there.)
(Update II 8/26 6:30 p.m. - the disagreement between Revkin and Pielke Sr. seems worked out, and the comments have been deleted)

Posted by John Fleck at August 25, 2005 08:56 PM