Would a CO2 “monkey trial” improve scientific integrity and transparency?

As reported in the L.A. Times and Wall Street Journal, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has petitioned EPA to hold a trial-type hearing before finalizing its proposed finding that greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health and welfare. (We blogged about the proposed endangerment finding here.)

The main argument in the petition is that a formal hearing is required to effectuate the administration’s stated commitment to scientific integrity and transparency. Don’t be fooled. Scientific integrity is nowhere near the top of the Chamber’s wish list. Chamber officials have made that clear by telling the L.A. Times that the proceeding they have in mind would be “the Scopes monkey trial of the 21st century.” Scopes was convicted in 1925 of violating Tennessee’s law against teaching evolution in the public schools. His trial was a media circus (no doubt something the Chamber would like to replicate), but hardly a triumph for scientific integrity or transparency. No expert scientific testimony was presented at the Scopes trial because the only legally relevant question was whether the defendant had taught evolution. The trial did not address, much less resolve, the truth of evolution. (NPR has a timeline and retrospective on the Scopes trial here.)

But putting motivation aside, is there anything to the Chamber’s claim that a trial-type hearing on endangerment would enhance scientific integrity or transparency? Absolutely not.

The “informal rulemaking” process EPA is following in the endangerment proceeding is actually a better vehicle for exploring the strength of the scientific evidence than the formal hearing the Chamber seeks. And it is much better suited to resolving the policy issues that are at the heart of the Chamber’s objections to EPA’s proposed finding.

Informal rulemaking requires that EPA explain the basis for its proposed decision and take comment from all interested parties, as it has done. EPA provided a 60-day period for submission of comments after it issued its proposed endangerment finding. (The Chamber complains that wasn’t long enough, but the proposed endangerment finding didn’t catch anyone by surprise. EPA had issued an Advance Notice of Proposed Rulemaking ten months earlier seeking comment on whether, in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision in Massachusetts v. EPA, it could or must regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act.) Although it was not required to do so, it also held two public hearings, on opposite sides of the country, to take additional testimony.

The informal rulemaking process allows written comments of any length. Commenters can (and should) include citations or even attach supporting literature. The agency must review the comments and respond to any that raise important questions about the scientific basis for the decision. If the agency’s explanation is inadequate, reviewing courts are not shy about remanding for further explanation. The process is far closer to the type of exchange the scientific community uses to resolve disagreements or clarify what is and is not known than the formal hearing the Chamber wants.

The Chamber insists that testimony and cross-examination are necessary here because that’s the way the adversarial system works. Live testimony and cross-examination may be useful for allowing a decisionmaker to evaluate who is telling the truth when the contending parties disagree about, say, what happened in a car accident or what a defendant intended. It’s never been a good way to test the strength of support for a scientific proposition. It’s not the witness’s demeanor that matters in scientific disputes but the strength of her reasoning, which is better evaluated on a careful written record than under attack in a “gotcha” type of hearing.

Cross-examination would serve no function here, because EPA didn’t generate the data supporting its finding. It did an extensive literature survey of what is known about climate change and its impacts, and explained what conclusions it drew from that survey. It makes no sense to say that EPA should have to get on the stand and defend the methods in those studies or the data they generated. Of course EPA should have to explain its interpretation of the data and its judgments about the reliability of the methods, but it has done that in the proposed finding and will do so again when it responds to comments and finalizes the decision.

As for transparency, EPA has explained the basis for its finding, with citations to the supporting literature. It has put every submitted comment and transcripts of the two public hearings on the web through regulations.gov (the docket is here, if you’re inclined to go through the 12,000+ comments). Nothing has been hidden.

What the Chamber wants is further delay, and as much confusion as it can sow about the basis of EPA’s decision. EPA is right that a trial-type hearing would be a “waste of time,” as the agency’s spokesman told the LA Times.

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Reader Comments

7 Replies to “Would a CO2 “monkey trial” improve scientific integrity and transparency?”

  1. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce stopped being a serious organization a long time ago. I’m especially amused by the revisionist history of the Scopes Monkey Trial in which the protagonists were actually the reactionary conservatives scared by the implications rather obvious scientific evidence had for their way of life.

  2. In case readers are interested, I’ve posted more about the legal context for this request: http://legalplanet.wordpress.com/2009/08/25/more-on-the-chamber-of-commerces-extraordinary-demand-for-a-scopes-trial-on-climate-change/

    nemesisofevil: unfortunately, the Chamber still wields a lot of power, whether or not its positions are reasonable. I think Joe Romm’s take on this (linked in my post) discusses both the tension between the Chamber’s position and some of its prominent members’ public statements, and the Scopes trial analogy, pretty well.

  3. Okay, so let’s forget a “trial”, for the moment.

    What would you say about having the EPA, NASA, NOAA, or whomever else claims to have firm knowledge that CO2 or any other non-water vapor GHG causes Climate Warming, present THEIR proof or at least present the proof they relied on in a Public forum with the ability to ask direct questions of their experts. What they presented is nothing less than UN/IPCC techno-babble that would take years to respond to via petition. A week would be enough in a live public forum. A conference similar to the Big Bang/Static Universe debate that was also quite heated.

    The biggest issue lies with the fact that Anthropogenic Global Warming (AGW) has never left the Hypothesis stage. There is no “AGW Theory”, only a loose collection of correlations that have not been shown to have causation. All focus is on the Effect while questions about the Cause are dismissed as already been proven without ever having been verified and no records of such a profound event.

    There is not one study or measurement that connects CO2 to warming, the correlation occurred at the same time the planet was recovering from a well documented cool period known as the Little Ice Age. Feedback and forcing are only concepts that have not been measured or verified. Finally, the Radiative Greenhouse Effect has never been measured, and to claim that it contributes any significant amount to surface temp is done without recognizing that Convection is far more efficient at transferring energy than GHG’s can “trap” escaping energy.

    A falsification of the AGW Hypothesis renders the EPA’s “solutions” void even without explaining how they do reduce hazards in the first place. While there are some exceptions to Scientific Laws, they are well documented. There are no exceptions to the Thermo Laws with regards to heat transfer rates that I am aware of.

    Many of us that are looking for this trial, debate, or AGW Theory demonstration are most certainly looking for Scientific Integrity, Clarity, and Transparency. The list of Scientific Infractions are numerous; Modelers will not reveal their code citing intellectual property, No true AGW Theory complete with a detailed Hypothesis, step by step Methods employed to draw the Conclusion(s), and then the actual Conclusion(s) that agree with the Hypothesis, and those that claim to have firm conclusions will not answers questions from those that dissent. Where is the integrity?

    The continued refusal to debate will not stop those of us asking for it but rather only lead us to demand it. It will do little to help the advocate’s position because once Cap & Trade type measures are put in place and later found to be unwarranted, Advocate’s credibility will sharply diminish and probably end up hurting the foot soldiers more than the Generals. No one wants to see AGW scientists go hungry, but the more this political agenda is pushed the less compassion will be provided when they are jobless.

    Sorry for the length, but this is just the beginning,

    The End is Far,


  4. Steve,

    To where is your “Convection” transferring energy? (And what ever happened to plain, old “convection”?) Convection doesn’t transfer heat into the vacuum of space, of course.

    Many of your questions about the science have very good answers. As far as the “Thermo Laws”, the theory of global warming seems pretty simple and in complete agreement with standard laws of thermodynamics; it’s just black-body radiation. That behavior that can be demonstrated in high school laboratories and is noted in astronomical observations of distant objects. Basically, bodies in a vacuum radiate energy at a rate proportional to their absolute temperature. Input energy, an object will heat up until the energy coming in equals the amount of going energy out.

    The Earth is such a body, insulated by an atmosphere. It absorbs solar radiation, reflects a portion of the incoming visible light and emits infra-red energy to stay in balance. Carbon dioxide is opaque (absorbs energy) across part of the infra-red spectrum and happens to be opaque where water vapor is transparent. Extra CO2 in the atmosphere absorbs infra-red that would otherwise radiate out into space, re-radiating part of that energy into space and part back towards the Earth. That extra bit of energy changes the energy equilibrium and forces the Earth’s temperature to rise. That actual temperature rise can certainly be calculated and is probably an easy calculation to make.

    There we go, we’ve established that more CO2 in the atmosphere should cause the Earth’s temperature to rise.

    Because the basic science is pretty simple, it makes sense that we spend more time trying to understand how this extra dose of energy will be absorbed by the Earth and looking for evidence of climate change occurring today. The earth receives an average of 235W/M2 of solar energy. (I think that’s the number for the top of the atmosphere). The forcing from the extra CO2 is estimated to be less than 1W/M2, about 0.8W/M2. It’s tiny and the effect is hard to observe, hard to tease out from the “noise” of natural climate variability. But we can calculate that over time, the extra 1 watt will lead to enormous changes, like melting ice caps and warming up the oceans.

    The enormous capacity of the oceans to absorb additional heat and the the difficulty modeling the way heat is transferred in the oceans complicates climate predictions. Some of the anthropogenic CO2 is going into the oceans rather than the atmosphere (which are becoming measurably more acid). We understand the science behind natural feedback loops, but, just the same, they are difficult to model. Same for other changes–vast land use changes that can affect albedo or release carbon, pollution that can cut down on solar radiation–that we will be making to the planet and are difficult to foresee.

    One quick question, if you don’t mind. What is it with conservatives and capitalization?

  5. Convection transfers both heat and matter from the surface of the planet to the Tropopause, the absolute altitude where convection stops and the atmosphere stratifies hence the name Stratosphere. at this point temp starts to rise with altitude instead of decrease as within the Troposphere. As convection moves both energy and matter skyward the temp decreases. This energy must go somewhere as it is not destroyed, we know that energy, on average, always moves from areas of higher energy pressure (temperature) to areas of lower pressure via conduction, convection, and radiation and in that order as far as efficiency from highest to lowest.

    Entropy states that energy will follow the path of least resistance so within the Troposphere most of the energy is transfered via convection. You basically have two forms of convection, forced and free, not sure what is meant by plain old convection, perhaps free convection?

    “Basically, bodies in a vacuum radiate energy at a rate proportional to their absolute temperature.”

    Correct, but the Earth has an atmosphere comprised of about 5000 Trillion tons of N2 and O2, ~13 Trillion tons of Water Vapor, .75 Trillion tons of CO2, and > a couple trillion tons of other trace gases and up to an altitude of ~15,000 meters convection occurs. The atmosphere draws heat of the surface via conduction and then transports it to the Tropopause via convection. It is the N2 and O2 that carries nearly all the heat as they make up nearly 100% of the atmosphere.

    Black body objects that radiate at ~240 W/m^2 have a temp of about -18 C.

    “Input energy, an object will heat up until the energy coming in equals the amount of going energy out.”

    So this means where the atmosphere is -18 C is where incoming Radiation = outgoing Radiation or equilibrium. Within the Troposphere, but far from the surface.

    “Carbon dioxide is opaque (absorbs energy) across part of the infra-red spectrum and happens to be opaque where water vapor is transparent.”

    CO2 absorbs IR in 3 narrow bands that can account for at maximum 8% of the IR the Earth emits. Only one of the three bands that CO2 is “opaque” to is transparent to water vapor and not completely where on the other hand water vapor is “opaque” to nearly all the IR the Earth emits, hence low cloud heat effects. Only half of the IR absorbed by any GHG can be redirected back to Earth so that leaves maximum of 4% of the ~240 W so that leaves about 10 W at total saturation.

    A cubic meter of water at 18 C contains about 2 Trillion Joules so by keeping an extra 10 W there will not by any measurement increase the temp as it takes ~4 Million joules to raise a cubic meter of water 1 C. Furthermore, the “trapped” 10 W would easily be transfered via Convection. The GHE is not due to Radiation being trapped, it is due to massive amounts of N2 and O2 that absorb heat from the surface and slowly moves it to the Tropopause.

    Any Radiation “trapped” is in effect being kept at the surface since light travels at the speed of light and would bounce back and forth between the Tropopause and the surface 20,000 times a sec. Used Tropopause because over 80% of the mass of he atmosphere is within the Troposphere. This bouncing back and forth basically creates a energy field that gets stronger the closer to the surface since the IR would bounce back in forth 300,000,000 at 1 meter as opposed to 20,000 times at 15,000 meters. So no energy is added, it only means the cooling process for radiation is slowed by 10 W which doe not mean Convection will not transfer the heat especially given that convection is a more efficient means to transfer heat.

  6. continued . . .

    That actual temperature rise can certainly be calculated and is probably an easy calculation to make.

    ? That is odd because it has never been measured. To get a rise in temp you must either increase energy input or reduce the volume of the system. CO2 in any amounts does neither.

    But we can calculate that over time, the extra 1 watt will lead to enormous changes, like melting ice caps and warming up the oceans.

    Even at CO2’s complete saturation of the energy bands it absorbs, it cannot “trap” enough heat to raise the temp as mentioned above. Again, it is odd that this has never been calculated. I would be interested to see that calculation if it has been observed. Problem is the GCM’s only put Convection at transferring 10% of the heat transfer as Radiation and that is simply wrong. This can be shown with heat transfer formulas.

    Some of the anthropogenic CO2 is going into the oceans rather than the atmosphere (which are becoming measurably more acid).

    Sorry, the pH of the oceans has only dropped from ~8.2 to ~8.1 and it fluctuates down to about 7.4 under common conditions. This is a non-argument. We should be more worried about Fresh water (less salts to buffer H+ additions) becoming more acidic, but my tap water can vary from about 6.2 to 7.5 over the course of a day. ( I brew beer so I test) With all the salts in the oceans, there is no cause for alarm with regards to sea water becoming an acid.

    I’m with you on the land use changes and pollution. I have always enjoyed nature and take more trash out when I hike/camp than what I carry in, so I do have environmental concerns. Call me light green, but I am solid.

    For the above reasons, a trial, a debate, or most importantly a Demonstration of how the determination of CO2 causes warming was arrived at Will be carried out. The EPA may use Procedure to stall, however, when Procedure is elevated above the intended goal, the system is worthless and and must be dissolved. If not the EPA, then we will pursue NASA, NOAA, or one of the many Carbon Credit Orgs or other AGW profiteers such as the Scientists themselves.

    We’re not looking to confuse anyone, only the opportunity to help clear things up. the Scientific Method will most certainly be applied with the utmost transparency for all to critique and comment on.

    What is it with conservatives and capitalization?

    When writing, as opposed to speaking, it is sometimes difficult to express emphasis so it helps the reader with context and meaning. The Declaration of Independence is a very good example.


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About Holly

Holly Doremus is the James H. House and Hiram H. Hurd Professor of Environmental Regulation at UC Berkeley. Doremus brings a strong background in life sciences and a comm…

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About Holly

Holly Doremus is the James H. House and Hiram H. Hurd Professor of Environmental Regulation at UC Berkeley. Doremus brings a strong background in life sciences and a comm…

READ more