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Alarmism or Not? Joe Romm and the 'Crying Wolf' Dilemma

By Robert Bradley Jr. -- May 1, 2012

“This notion that the environmental movement — or any other major play in the media landscape — is pushing non-stop apocalyptic messages like a broken record is one I debunked ….”

– Joe Romm, April 29, 2012

“CONCLUSION: Unrestricted emissions of greenhouse gases threaten multiple catastrophes, any one of which justifies action. Together, they represent the gravest threat to humanity imaginable.”

– Joe Romm, November 15, 2010

“Now that [James Lovelock] has dialed back his doomism — alarmism is a wholly inadequate word for Lovelock’s (former) brand of unjustified hopelessness.”

– Joe Romm, April 23, 2012

“… the alarmists have ‘won the day’ scientifically.”

– Joe Romm, January 11, 2012

Confused? Even dizzy? It is not your fault.

The alarmists’ alarmist Joe Romm is trying to soften a bit to have it both ways. But if Obama is a new oilman, just about anything is possible in this election season where the Hard Left is running to the middle on climate alarmism and energy policy.

Obama’s Energy Surprise

President Obama became an ‘oil man’ in Cushing, Oklahoma on March 22, 2012–and an all-of-the-above energy man too. Remember this?

I’ve come to Cushing, an oil town — (applause) — because producing more oil and gas here at home has been, and will continue to be, a critical part of an all-of-the-above energy strategy. (Applause)

Now, under my administration, America is producing more oil today than at any time in the last eight years. (Applause.) That’s important to know. Over the last three years, I’ve directed my administration to open up millions of acres for gas and oil exploration across 23 different states. We’re opening up more than 75 percent of our potential oil resources offshore. We’ve quadrupled the number of operating rigs to a record high. We’ve added enough new oil and gas pipeline to encircle the Earth and then some.

So we are drilling all over the place — right now….”

It was Obama’s Worst Speech Ever, fussed Romm at Climate Progress.

Romm on Lovelock

But now it is Joe Romm, already having been scaled back at Climate Progress, who is trying to nuance himself as … the the non-catastrophic catastrophist.

Here is his post from April 23 in response to the news that a famous scientist James Lovelock was backing away from climate alarmism, a shift that was noted across the blogosphere.

James Lovelock Finally Walks Back His Absurd Doomism, But He Still Doesn’t Follow Climate Science

By Joe Rommon Apr 23, 2012 at 7:10 pm

Famed scientist James Lovelock has always been in a category of one when it comes to global warming. See for instance my June 2009 post, “Lovelock still makes me look like Paula Abdul, warns climate war could kill nearly all of us, leaving survivors in the Stone Age.” That’s mostly because he doesn’t follow the scientific literature.

Now that he has dialed back his doomism — alarmism is a wholly inadequate word for Lovelock’s (former) brand of unjustified hopelessness — the media and the deniers are just so excited….

Doomism, Inc.: Lovins, Holdren, Ehrlich, etc.

Romm then takes Lovelock to task:

Memo to Lovelock: Gore never asserted billions would die or anything close to what you’ve been saying. And unlike you, he always believed — and still does — that it’s not too late. So if you finally admitted you were wrong, that’s awesome, but don’t try to claim you were just saying what others were. You weren’t. Not even close.

Well, those who have been following Dr. Romm for years can call this ‘the kettle calling the pot black’.

Romm’s many ‘stunner’ or ‘stunning‘ news posts talk about how anthropogenic climate-change was worse than thought. He has surrendered to a “hellish vision” of the world under business-as-usual. He also admits to being too optimistic in the past. And this Rommdoomism:

Warming of 7F is certainly not the worst-case in the scientific literature (see M.I.T. doubles its 2095 warming projection to 10°F “” with 866 ppm and Arctic warming of 20°F andOur hellish future: Definitive NOAA-led report on U.S. climate impacts warns of scorching 9 to 11°F warming over most of inland U.S. by 2090 with Kansas above 90°F some 120 days a year “” and that isn’t the worst case, it’s business as usual!“).

Off camera, he seems worse. In one private email he called me a ‘sociopath’ for my labors questioning climate alarm and related activist energy policy. (James Hansen got a cc of the email as well, and Joe has never apologized to me for his resort to what the Left calls hate speech.)

Now if a new leaf has been turned over at Climate Progress, maybe Dr. Romm can evaluate these quotations from these heavyweights:

Amory Lovins (1975):

“Present energy policies however tacit and ill-constructed they may be, are quickly destroying the options that mankind, living and unborn, will need for millennia.”

John Holdren (1981):

“Too much fossil fuel means flirtation with a CO2-induced climate change potentially catastrophic for world food production.”

Paul Ehrlich on John Holdren (1986):

“As University of California physicist John Holdren has said, it is possible that carbon-dioxide climate-induced famines could kill as many as a billion people before the year 2020.”

There are many, many more quotations from Romm’s intellectual brethren–the Climate Hawks as he calls them–that could be called out just as Romm did to Lovelock.

Will it be done in the cause of consistency and a challenge culture?

I wish.


  1. Russell  

    How does Robert Bradley Jr. judge how James Lovelock follows the scientific literature ?

    How many different scientific journals as Bradley read in the last month, and to how many does he subscribe?

    Nothing appearing here suggests the double digits, let alone the hundreds of titles any intellectually serious analytical effort would have to at least occasionally peruse, or the thousands on the shelves of a major research library.

    Could Master Resource instead be a firm of PR hirelings masquerading as players on the science policy stage?

    Heaven forbid!


  2. rbradley  


    The main point of my post is how alarmism is alarmism–and how, indeed, crying wolf is part of the reason why climate alarmism is being rejected by the public at large.

    The neo-Malthusian warnings of doom-and-gloom, from Paul Ehrlich in the 1960s on, are just not very persuasive. You might say I am like the person who jumps off the tall building and reports that everything is breezy on the way down. But then why have so many of us been ‘jumping’ for so long on so different issues (mineral depletion, etc.) without hitting the pavement?


  3. Chip Knappenberger  

    Not sure how Romm rectifies Gore’s “The habitability of this planet for human beings really is at risk” with Romm’s “Memo to Lovelock: Gore never asserted billions would die…”



  4. rbradley  

    “Modern industrial civilization, as presently organized, is colliding violently with our planet’s ecological system. The ferocity of its assault on the earth is breathtaking, and the horrific consequences are occurring so quickly as to defy our capacity to recognize them, comprehend their global implications, and organize an appropriate and timely response.”

    – Al Gore, Earth in the Balance: Ecology and the Human Spirit (New York: Plume/Penguin, 1992, 1993), p. 269.

    “Our ecological system is crumpling as it suffers a powerful collision with the hard surfaces of a civilization speeding toward it out of control.”

    – Al Gore, Earth in the Balance, p. 42.

    “The potential for true catastrophe lies in the future, but the downslope that pulls us toward it is becoming recognizably steeper with each passing year. . . . Sooner or later the steepness of the slope and our momentum down its curve will take us beyond a point of no return.”

    – Al Gore, Earth in the Balance, p. 49.


  5. Russell  

    “The environment has always afforded a charming excuse for those predisposed to societal intervention ”

    – Russell Seitz ‘In From the Cold’, The National Interest Summer 1986

    Unfortunately, determining the state of the environmental sciences still requires reading and understanding their literature rather than merely subjecting it to polemic abuse.


  6. rbradley  

    Thank you for this quotation, Russell. Here is my favorite:

    “Is there any more single-minded, simple pleasure than viewing with alarm? At times it is even better than sex.”

    —Kenneth Boulding (1970), “Fun and Games with the Gross National Product—The Role of Misleading Indicators in Social Policy.” In The Environmental Crisis, edited by Harold Helfrich Jr., 157–70, at 160.


  7. rbradley  

    Russell: A question for you: is energy/climate alarmism exaggerated? Have the alarmists ‘overachieved’ even from their own perspective? You are an expert.


  8. Jon Boone  

    “Unfortunately, determining the state of the environmental sciences still requires reading and understanding their literature rather than merely subjecting it to polemic abuse.”

    I couldn’t agree more. But, as the great physicist, Richard Feynman, once said: “Knowing” even the smallest thing requires life-long learning. Language itself is so nuanced that precision is difficult to achieve in any field of inquiry. Ambiguity is everywhere. Which is why science has become suffused in the language of mathematics. But even this requires much context and careful analysis.

    If Romm wasn’t such a polemicist himself, often using churlish ad hominems to “advance” his cause, I might agree that Rob Bradley was been a bit unfair. But such is not the case. Romm is essentially a polemical propagandist for some of the most provisional ideas about climate future, all too willing to invest the public’s treasure into various ratholes that support his ideology. Consequently, Rob’s gentle rebuke seems to hit the right note, hoisting the man on his own petards.

    It was at least fun to note the reasons for Lovelock’s mild apostasy; evidently he’s finding Gaia to be more resilient than he thought. But even in Lovelock’s most Torguemada-like harangues, he worked hard to expose the goofiness behind “renewable” technologies like wind. And it is here that Romm, one of the nation’s leading wind shills, should have been instructed. Or at least one could wish….

    I might also offer Freeman Dyson’s name as a mind to be reckoned with as a prominent skeptic about climate apocalypse. One of the most creative forces in 20th Century physics, Dyson’s long standing criticisms of climate change models–and their conclusions–have been prescient. And instructive to me.


  9. Ed Reid  

    Professor Seitz makes half the case: ” determining the state of the environmental sciences still requires reading and understanding their literature rather than merely subjecting it to polemic abuse.” What he ignores, regrettably and perhaps intentionally, is that understanding their literature properly requires access to all of the underlying data, adjustments, models and model “tweaks”, which the climate science community has been working diligently to avoid.

    It is long past time to “open the kimono”. Perhaps Mann and UVA could take the lead in that process.


  10. Russell  

    However much polemicists have persisted in the rhetorical abuse of global systems models, economic and scientific , the models themselves have evolved- were it not for their capacity for heuristic improvement, the impact of information technology on both science and economics would not be so strongly felt.

    It is therefore both morally hazardous and scientifically unsound to ignore how effective mere peer review can be in improving the gospel-to-garbage ratio of political discourse.

    I appreciate that the denizens of K-Street and The Heartland and Discovery Institutes have a duty their clients to serially embrace and advertise every new shard of crackpottery that promises a reprieve from scientific reality, but they are not about win over the intellectually serious , and those who persist in trying to make a career of disinformation, right or left, should be shown the way back to their respective sides of the carnival midway whence they came.

    By the way, I’m not a professor, just a regular Fellow.


  11. Jon Boone  

    And so am I a “regular Fellow, Russell. Disinformation can be mitigated by peer review. But, as the present situation shows with–uh–climate science, it remains alive and all too well.


  12. Ed Reid  

    Russell { 05.02.12 at 1:21 pm } 10

    I am just a regular fellow as well, though with a small “f”.

    It is not at all common in my experience to be sneered at in such erudite, though hardly diplomatic, language. Certainly “polemicists”, “rhetorical abuse”, “crackpottery”, and “career of disinformation” are a significant step up from “deniers”, “climate zombies”, “liars” and “anti-science”.

    I accept that the climate models have “evolved”; however, they have not yet “resolved”. They remain multiple models, producing differing ranges of results depending on the feedbacks included and the sensitivities assigned.

    I find it difficult to understand how “mere peer review” can proceed successfully or optimally without access to the data, adjustments, models, model assumptions, model “tweaks” and statistical methods used to reach the conclusions being reviewed. Do the reviewers merely assume the validity of these components of the analysis?

    I was amused to see the positions on a scientific issue referred to as “right or left”, as would be more common for a political issue. I assume that, in this case, “left” is associated with correct, while “right” is associated with “wrong”.


  13. Russell  

    No, Mr. Reid, I assume right should be associated with right and wrong with wrong.

    Unfortunately, some politically astute fellows have discovered that no argument is too scientifically dim to win over at least some on the left hand side of the bell curve, and so have lit upon that cohort as their lawful prey.


  14. Ken Langford  

    “The goal of modern propaganda is no longer to transform opinion but to arouse an active and mythical belief.” This Ellul quote describes today’s debate when you add; and that belief is “global warming”.


  15. Russell  

    “The goal of modern propaganda is no longer to transform opinion but to arouse an active and mythical belief.”

    And what would Ellul make of the Heartland Institute’s selection of Kaczynski as its semiotic poster child ?


  16. Ken Langford  


    “And what would Ellul make of the Heartland Institute’s selection of Kaczynski as its semiotic poster child ?”

    He would probably wonder why you have a problem with a billboard that highlights your “true believers”. Maybe you’ll feel better as the Heartland Institute rolls out more anthropogenic climate change representatives such as Charles Manson, Fidel Castro, James Lee, and most likely your hero, Barak Obama.


  17. Ed Reid  

    Ken / Russell:

    Perhaps Steve Zwick might have been a more current and relevant choice as a semiotic poster child. (see link below)



  18. Graham Thompson  

    This is interesting and relevant …

    An internal study by the U.S. EPA completed by Dr. Alan Carlin and John Davidson concluded the IPCC was wrong about global warming. One statement in the executive summary stated that a 2009 paper found that the crucial assumption in the Greenhouse Climate Models (GCM) used by the IPCC concerning a strong positive feedback from water vapor is not supported by empirical evidence and that the feedback is actually negative. Water vapor in the atmosphere causes a cooling effect, not a warming one. Carbon dioxide also causes a slight cooling effect but it so small it could never be measured by man’s instrumentation.

    EPA tried to bury the report. An email from Al McGartland, Office Director of EPA’s National Center for Environmental Economics (NCEE), to Dr. Alan Carlin, Senior Operations Research Analyst at NCEE, forbade him from speaking to anyone outside NCEE on endangerment issues. In a March 17 email from McGartland to Carlin, stated that he will not forward Carlin’s study. “The time for such discussion of fundamental issues has passed for this round. The administrator (Lisa Jackson) and the administration have decided to move forward on endangerment, and your comments do not help the legal or policy case for this decision. …. I can only see one impact of your comments given where we are in the process, and that would be a very negative impact on our office.” A second email from McGartland stated “I don’t want you to spend any additional EPA time on climate change.”

    McGartland’s emails demonstrate that he was rejecting Dr. Carlin’s study because its conclusions ran counter to the EPA’s current position. Yet this study had its basis in three prior reports by Carlin (two in 2007 and one in 2008) that were accepted. Another government cover-up, just what the United States does not need.

    Eliminate this regulation immediately. This is a scientific tragedy.


  19. rbradley  


    I added this ‘update’ to the front of my March 2nd post on Heartland and Joe Bast (http://www.masterresource.org/2012/03/heartland-institute-appreciation/):

    [May 7th Update: The subjects of this post have been diminished by the very unwise decision to conduct a (quickly terminated) billboard campaign linking global warming beliefs to madmen. We all make mistakes, and this was a big one. Our side has little margin for error given the huge resources of the other side. We cannot become ‘Joe Romm’ (et al.) in the quest to fight the Joe Romms (et al).]


  20. rbradley  

    Joe Romm went ‘soft’ with a May 21st post here where he rejects the use of the term ‘denier’ as in ‘Holocaust Denier’.



  21. rbradley  

    And just for contrast to Joe Romm, Fred Singer calls those who deny any role of GHGs on temperature ‘denialists.’

    “Denialists are people who are people I don’t really go for,” Singer said. “They aren’t my friends.”

    May 23: http://www.eenews.net/climatewire/2012/05/23/2

    AND yet subsequently at Climate Progress Stephen Lacey uses the term ‘denialists’: http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/05/23/489452/lack-of-funding-forces-heartland-to-end-climate-denial-conference/


  22. rbradley  

    At comment #20, I reported that Joe Romm went ‘soft’ on using the term ‘denier’ given the Holocaust.

    Well, Joe is back to using ‘denier’: http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2012/05/30/492114/yes-deniers-and-confusionists-the-iea-and-others-warn-of-some-11f-warming-by-2100-if-we-keep-listening-to-you/ (May 30)


  23. Master of Incorrect: Joe Romm (Part I: "Mideast Oil Forever," 1996) - Master Resource  

    […] where a free-market hat is suddenly donned (nuclear power, carbon capture & storage), he has cried wolf so much that some of us just go […]


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