Thursday, February 11, 2016

Supreme Court Temporarily Stays Clean Power Plan - What it Means

President Obama and the EPA released the Clean Power Plan in August 2015. On February 9, 2016 the Supreme Court issued a stay on implementation of the plan. Not surprisingly, the usual five conservative judges outvoted the other four. So what does this stay mean?

As a reminder, the Clean Power Plan is a set of EPA rules designed to curtail coal-based power plant emissions in an effort to combat man-made climate change. You can read more about the Plan here.

The stay isn't any kind of decision about the veracity of the Plan; it simply puts on hold implementation of the Plan until an appeals court rules on challenges to the regulations. Again not surprisingly, those challenges are being led largely by Republican states acting on the behest of the fossil fuel industry. Their main argument is that the EPA doesn't have the authority to regulate carbon emissions in power plants, this despite the fact that the EPA mandate clearly does give that authority and past Supreme Court decisions have ordered EPA to follow through on that authority.

The impact of this particular stay is mostly on timing, but that timing could be critical to successfully meeting our commitments to reduce carbon emissions to combat climate change. Given how long court cases take, including appeals back up to the Supreme Court, this could delay implementation for many months or even years. That's bad for the climate, and bad for the economy.

This is how lobbyists work - delay, delay, delay. The fact that they know they are wrong is irrelevant; their goal is to delay action as long as possible. Not coincidentally, delays mean continuation of massive fossil fuel profits just as decades of delaying tactics by tobacco companies allowed them to reap billions in ongoing profits while killing millions of people via smoking-induced cancers.

Beyond the delayed implementation, the bigger issue is that the Clean Power Plan in itself is woefully insufficient to meet our commitments anyway. It's one step, and one step only. It was an effort by the Obama administration to do what could be done to deal with climate change within the limits of the Executive branch of government. More substantive effort requires Congressional action.

And therein lies the rub. Republicans in Congress have made it clear they will deny reality and deny science and be blatantly dishonest in doing so in service to both their fossil fuel benefactors and their stated goal of denying any success to the President. Republicans have made it clear that they are more than willing to sacrifice the economy, health, environment, national security, and climate of the American people solely to maintain the profits of corporations. Ironically, Republicans are severely damaging future profits of those corporations - and all Americans - by holding back American innovation and handing development of future technology over to the Chinese and others.

In the long run, action to stem climate change will happen, if for no other reason that people who have moved out of places like Florida and the eastern coast of the US because of rising sea levels will force action. But why wait until after that happens to act? Why wait until the tub overflows and fills the bathroom before simply pulling out the plug or turning off the tap?

To not act now is irresponsible and counter to all things American.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future by Donald R. Prothero

Periodically we review books relevant to science communication and climate change. Today is the book "Reality Check: How Science Deniers Threaten Our Future" by Donald R. Prothero published by Indiana University Press in 2013.

An author of over 30 books on science, Donald R. Prothero compiles a series of case studies involving denial of science and discusses how they endanger our future. Written in a conversational, colloquial style and a somewhat folksy, often condescending tone, the book lays out each chapter with the denier misinformation and contrasts these with the reality. 

The book could have used much tighter editing - he's often repetitive and overtly belittling of deniers - but provides exceptional arguments drawn from his own experience and previous books to demonstrate the utter ridiculousness of the anti-science views.

Topics covered include acid rain, ozone hole, global warming, creationism/intelligent design, anti-vaxxers (anti-vaccination), AIDS denialism, medical quacks, astrology, peak oil deniers, and overpopulation. In early chapters and in a final chapter he discusses the basis of science and why some groups more than others are prone to science denial.

Overall, the book does an excellent job of showing the lack of veracity in all science denial arguments. Anyone interested in science, and the denial of science, should put it high on their reading list.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

El Nino and the Hottest Year on Record - Trend vs Variation

The announcement that 2015 was the hottest year on record came as the mid-Atlantic region of the United States began digging itself out of over two feet of snow. Climate deniers immediately screamed "See, climate change is a hoax because it snowed winter." As always, deniers confuse weather with climate change.

Astrophysicist and science communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson (and his dog) addressed this in a simple stroll down the beach.

In short, weather is what happens on any given day; climate is the mean of what happens over time. The climate of Florida, for example, is generally warm and humid, even during the winter. The weather at any given time in Florida may be sunny or rainy or cloudy or cooler or hotter (sometimes within a few minutes). The weather in New England may be sunny or rainy or colder or warmer at any given time as well, but it's a sure bet that on average it will be much colder in New England during the winter than in Florida. The former is weather, the latter is climate.

Another way to think about this is as the difference between trend and variation. The Tyson video above was inspired by an earlier animated video demonstrating the two terms.

In both videos the dog represents the ups and downs of yearly climate variation while the human's walking path is the trend. The trend is the average over time (more or less); the variation is the noisy short-term departure from that trend.

Which gets us to El Nino. There has been a lot of talk about the strong El Nino we've been experiencing. Climate deniers paid by lobbying groups have argued (falsely) that we wouldn't have set a new record without it. But actual climate scientists at NASA and NOAA have shown that 2015 would have set a new record anyway; the El Nino merely increased the magnitude of the record-breaking.

“2015 was remarkable even in the context of the ongoing El Niño,” said GISS Director Gavin Schmidt. “Last year’s temperatures had an assist from El Niño, but it is the cumulative effect of the long-term trend that has resulted in the record warming that we are seeing.”

El Nino, and its opposite counterpart La Nina, influence variation. As we've seen above, short-term phenomena have short-term affects on the year to year ups and downs in measurements like the global mean surface temperature (the most reported metric of climate change). Just like some days are sunny and others rainy, some years are warmer and others not as warm. That's the variation. That's the dog in the videos.

Trend is what happens over time. For the first 18 years of our lives the general trend is toward increasing height. For the last several decades, the general trend in climate has been toward increasing temperature.

That increasing trend is caused by increasing concentrations of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. This CO2 comes from the burning of fossil fuels, which take carbon that has not been part of the natural cycle for millions of years and within a short period of time dumps it into the atmosphere and oceans. Since CO2 and other greenhouse gases control the temperature of the planet - keeping us about 30 degrees C more than it would be without them - adding more CO2 means more warming. Human activity has now added 40% more CO2 to the atmosphere (with even more in the oceans) than have been present in millions of years. The effects of this rise in CO2 and temperature are significant and a danger to humanity as we know it.

The bottom line is that there is the trend (CO2 and temperatures are rising over time) and variation (some years are warmer, some years are less warm). Deniers like to cherry pick "less warm" dates and create false narratives that ignore all the rest of the data. Actual climate scientists always look at the trends over time. The variations are important as well, mainly because they teach us how short-term phenomena like El Nino and La Nina influence the long-term trend. What we've learned from these variations is that CO2 is the primary driver of man-made global warming and the changes we've observed in our climate trends.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

2015 Smashes Record for Hottest Year

As anticipated for many months, 2015 was the hottest year ever recorded. And not just the hottest by a slim margin...this was no "by the nose" win...2015 obliterated the previous record holder. By the way, that was 2014. NASA and NOAA jointly announced their independent findings this week. Here's the trend video:

This is no big surprise. Rising CO2 levels surpassed 400 ppm, a trend that has been taking CO2 about 40% higher than the normal range maintained for thousands of years. With CO2 as a driver, the mean global temperature trend has been staggering upward for many decades. Each decade has been warmer than the one before, and the hottest years are stacking up. The ten hottest years have all been since 1998, with 15 out of the 17 hottest years occurring since 2000.

You want a cool graphic? Check out this 15-second video that shows the record years continuing to rise.

In short, human activity is continuing to heat up the climate system.

Why was 2015 such a huge record breaker? Part of it is because of a massive El Nino event. You remember El Nino, right? The last big one was 1998, which not coincidentally is the year that the denier lobbyists cherry pick as their start date when they want to falsely claim "warming stopped" (despite the obvious fact that warming has continued, and more recently, sped up). El Ninos appear sporadically and in El Nino years we can generally expect global temperatures to be higher. La Nina years tend to tamp down increasing temperatures.

Aha! You might say (incorrectly). It's only warmer because El Nino made it warmer. Wrong. It's warmer because CO2 and other greenhouse gases are driving the warming trend in our climate. This year would have continued that trend even without El Nino. What El Nino did do was help 2015 not only break the previous record (of 2014), but smash it. Look again at the far right column in the graph above. Now look at the second from the right column - that's 2014. Normally the new records increase only incrementally over the previous record; after all, the climate is fairly stable and it takes a lot to change it. El Nino helped 1998 make a big jump, and it helped 2015 make a big jump. Based on how this year is starting out, 2016 has a reasonable chance of breaking the record for the third year in a row.

NASA and NOAA are not alone. The Met Office in the UK also reported that 2015 was the warmest year on record. The Japan Meteorological Agency is expected to report the same within the next few days.

None of this comes as a shock given that the early months of 2015 were already breaking monthly records by such a large margin that it would have taken a worldwide deep freeze for the rest of the year to not break the record. Instead we saw continued monthly record-breaking, which is why 2015 shattered the annual global mean temperature record.

Of course, denier lobbyists and their affiliated blogs have trotted out their usual non-scientists to dismiss the scientific findings with claims of worldwide conspiracies. Mostly the deniers have tried to ignore the inconvenient science and instead have focused on the snowstorm expected to hit one part of the eastern United States, as if it is somehow relevant. In other words, deniers will continue their desperate attempts to keep policy action from happening by intentionally lying about the well-known science.

But as the recent commitments in Paris demonstrate, the world has left the deniers to drown in their own buffoonish dishonesty while the rest of us take responsibility. It's on to 2016.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Of Sputnik and Climate Change - Science in the State of the Union in an Election Year

"Sixty years ago, when the Russians beat us into space, we didn’t deny Sputnik was up there."

So said President Obama in his final State of the Union address this week to a joint session of Congress. In referring to Sputnik, the unmanned Soviet satellite launched in 1958, Obama is of course referring to the current day Republican denial of climate science. It's an appropriate analogy. Obama adds:

"We didn’t argue about the science, or shrink our research and development budget. We built a space program almost overnight, and 12 years later, we were walking on the Moon."

And herein lies the critical point that will infuse the current campaign calculus in this presidential election year.  The science is the science, and the science unequivocally and undeniably demonstrates that human activity - primarily the burning of fossil fuels and consequent carbon emissions - is warming our climate system. The question is no longer whether it is happening, but how do we slow it down so the disruptions to the global health, environment, economy, national defense, and human suffering will be reduced.

It is no secret that all of the Republican candidates for president have repeatedly and aggressively denied the science so as to avoid taking responsibility for policy action. In contrast, all the Democratic candidates for president acknowledge the science. The issue isn't the veracity of the science - it is incontrovertible - the issue is whether the next president and Congress will honestly take on, or dishonestly shirk, their responsibility to act on behalf of the American people. President Obama goes on in the State of the Union:

"Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it. You will be pretty lonely, because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it."

The only group remaining who denies the science is the Republican party. Fed by lobbyist and billionaire money, Republican candidates from Cruz to Rubio to Trump to everyone else join their fossil fuel-supported Republican congressmen and Senators to abnegate their responsibilities to their constituents.

Unlike ever before, climate change will play an important role in the 2016 presidential elections. The Democratic nominee will undoubtedly raise the issue often. The Republican nominee will then find themselves in the position of either 1) denying reality, or 2) making a 180 degree reversal of what they have campaigned on. How one continues to show abject irresponsibility in denying science and/or blatantly lies and expects to remain a viable candidate is a question that remains to be answered.

Reminder = The science is unequivocal. Humans are warming the climate system and doing so has significant impacts on every facet of human life. The world's scientists note this, as do the nearly 200 countries of the world who have committed to taking action to deal with it. Responsible corporations, individuals, religious groups, the military, and the majority of every person or entity on the planet acknowledges the science and the need for action. Everyone except the Republican party, a point the President made clear during his speech.

President Obama spoke directly or alluded to other scientific issues as well - cancer, drug addiction, progress on AIDS and malaria, sustainable energy. Rarely has so much science made its way into the State of the Union address. This emphasizes an important contrast between the political parties in the United States. One chooses responsibility and action, the other lies about it. The American people have a choice this election. Do we choose responsibility, progress, and innovation? Or do we choose denial, dishonesty, and holding back Americans while the world moves forward?

It's our choice.

Full remarks of President Obama in the State of the Union as delivered.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Parsing the Arrogant Ignorance of Climate Denial

Once in a while on this page we parse the comments of climate deniers. This instructional tool gives honest people insight into the mind of deniers. The biggest thing it tells us is that deniers can be incredibly arrogant in their ignorance.

Let's take a recent example. On December 10, 2015 The Dake Page carried an article called "Yes, Some Scientists...and Politicians...Are Dishonest." The focus of the piece was on a Senate hearing chaired by Republican candidate-for-president Ted Cruz. Billed as an "oversight hearing" and subtitled as "promoting open inquiry," the hearing had only two actual purposes: 1) a showboating scam for Cruz's campaign, and 2) a dog-and-pony show trotting out the usual denier misrepresentation. The article highlighted the bizarre choice of witnesses (a Canadian right wing shock jock, seriously!) and the unfortunate fact that there are a handful of scientists who have become spokespeople for denialist industry lobbyists. You can read the full article at the link above.

One climate denier offered a rather bizarre comment in which he arrogantly suggested he knew more than all the world's climate scientists while simultaneously admitting he had zero actual knowledge himself. He then proceeds to display that ignorance with an arrogance that becomes rather hilarious, but can also serve as an illustration to help honest people see bull for bull. I'll parse it into pieces below, but the entire comment is here, in order, in italics.

It begins:

So many specific points to address. The most obvious is the conflict in the first paragraph of so of the article, which begins by saying the different opinions are okay, and then proceeds to say that anyone who disagrees with us is obviously dishonest. Disagreement = dishonesty. Really.

By "the first paragraph" he is actually referring to the third paragraph, which begins: "First, let me define dishonesty for the purposes of this essay." Needless to say for anyone who reads the actual paragraph, it says absolutely nothing of the sort the commenter has suggested. The commenter lies. Blatantly. The actual paragraph clearly states that legitimate differences of opinion or interpretation are possible with the same data, but when all the data prove you wrong and no data support your position, you have a problem. Not surprisingly, those who argue they are right despite no legitimate data in support of their position are all associated with denial lobbyist organizations.

The key point of the opening paragraph is that the commenter is immediately and intentionally misrepresenting the article. He's creating a strawman that serves his purpose even though it is blatantly false and not at all what the original article is claiming. Creating strawmen and lying are key tactics in denial.
But what really prompts me to waste my time writing here is the graph. Since I don't see any mention of it in the article, I mean that it does not seem to be something provided by the dishonest people, is it something to demonstrate that the really good people are correct?
 So the commenter feels he is wasting his time, and yet chooses to waste everyone else's time by ignoring the entire article he is commenting on and addressing a header graphic that wasn't even the focus of the article.

Distraction and deflection are also common tactics of denialists. When you can't address the topic, simply switch topics. This happens a lot in a tactic called the "Gish Gallop," in which denialists hop from one debunked point to another debunked point. They can't support anything they say so they try to keep their positions moving in the hopes people might not notice (even when their positions contradict each other).
I have now looked at it three times. The scale on the left seems to be related to temperature, is that right? It indicates that the scale is in degrees C, right? So it shows that since roughly from 1910 to recently, that is about 100 years, that the global surface temperature has gone from -.4 to +.6 C, right. There has been a change of one degree in 100 years? (I love the cute little colors, with the recent ones being red hot, gosh that is fearful!!!)

Here is the graph he's refering to. See my further responses on the above piece of his comment after the graph. To see it bigger click on it or click here.

To begin with, this is probably one of the best known graphs in the climate field. The fact that it's clear he has never seen it before and can't read it tells us all we need to know about his level of ignorance. It simply shows the global mean temperature anomaly. It's the standard graph so I won't go into detail here about its meaning; if you don't know what it means you shouldn't be commenting on it.

The goal of the commenter with his paragraph is to demean and dismiss 100+ years of published science, even though he indicates he has no actual knowledge of that science. This is yet another tactic of climate deniers - demean what you don't understand. It saves them the trouble of actually having to be informed while allowing them to convince themselves they are smarter than all the scientists in the world. 
Is that really the foundation for the hysteria and claims of doom? All of the computer models that I have seen have each predicted several degree changes in only a decade or so. Many other claims that I have seen have suggested about .6 degrees a year. Every single one of all the predictions, everyone of which has failed to occur, all suggest that the globe is getting much hotter. I think that your graph, which might be accurate or not, isn't good news to the Sky is Falling hoard. 
By now it appears the commenter is frothing at the mouth as he sputters out complete fabrication and contradicting himself so fast it's amazing he doesn't even notice. He's simply lying, fast and furious. Given he admitted never seeing the standard graph above, it's highly unlikely that he's seen any, never mind "all the models" he claims to have seen. He clearly doesn't have any clue about models, otherwise he wouldn't have said anything so ridiculously false as "all the models...each predicted several degree changes in only a decade." Seriously? Not even close.

He also ignorantly claims that every model prediction has "failed to occur," which is the standard line fed to ignorant deniers by the fossil fuel lobbyists. Given that models don't predict (they project) and those projections are for long time periods (e.g., the end of the 21st century), and that there are many short-term phenomena that give much short-term variability (see here for the difference between variability and trend), there hasn't been any "prediction" that has reached a period where it could "fail" or "not fail." That said, empirical evidence (i.e, real life observations) suggest that the climate is warming up faster than we expected.

The graph, by the way, demonstrates exactly why there is a need for action.
As to the truth of the issue of the actual temperature of the earth and if man's activities are in any way a cause, I am not a scientist and have no foundation of knowledge or method to reach a conclusion. I am knowledgeable enough to know that the world has been hotter and that change of temperature happens.
Well, at least he admits he is ignorant. That, however, doesn't stop him from claiming all the world's climate scientists, all the world's National Academies of Science, all the world's major scientific organizations, all the 100,000+ peer-reviewed published scientific papers, and physics are all wrong. Because, after all, being ignorant shouldn't stop you from telling experts they don't know their own field of study.
What I do know, based upon years of study at the U of Md, is that what passes in the political sphere today, including the disgrace going on in Paris, is not science. We are seeing political, ideological battles for control of people's lives. That can not be good for any of us, regardless of what the climate is doing. It never has been. Government control has always led to disaster, a disaster far worse than the climate can do to us.

That "years of study at the U of Md" was in philosophy, hence the lack of any understanding of climate science.

His last paragraph does, however, provide the motive for all his earlier paragraphs. The commenter is a dyed in the wool Ayn Rand libertarian, whose fear of "government control" is noticeable in virtually every comment I've ever seen. Like the current snackless anti-government ranchers in Oregon, however, libertarians seem to overlook all the "government handouts" they've enjoyed over the years, not to mention all the government handouts given to corporations, ranchers, and the hugely wealthy in direct violation of "free-market" principles libertarians claim to believe.

In any case, this anti-government paranoia, faux laissez-faire attitude is often cited as the reason why deniers claim the science is somehow "a hoax." Of course, science is published for all to see and not dependent on whether you are paranoid about the government or not. 

The science is the science. It's published, it's been scrutinized, and it's unequivocal. Human activity is warming the climate system and that warming is already having significant impacts on sea level rise, ice melting, severe weather events, the economy, human and environmental health, and national security. Those impacts will continue to get worse due to our inaction.

Luckily for this particular commenter and all the rest of the arrogantly ignorant deniers, the Paris climate agreement commits all nations to reducing carbon emissions. This will help slow the increase in global temperatures (as shown on the graph the commenter had never seen before). It doesn't solve the problem - much more needs to be done - but it's a step in the right direction.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Climate Change Year in Review - 2015

Paris, Denial, Climate. Things heated up in climate science in 2015, and they are about to get even hotter. As The Dake Page predicted a year ago, 2015 was going to be a critical year in man-made climate change. It exceeded even those expectations.

Let's begin with the climate itself. The hottest year on record was set just last year (i.e., 2014). In 2015 that record was not just broken; it was shattered. While the December temperatures are not quite in yet, it was clear many months ago that 2015 was on a pace that would blow past 2014 easily. In short, 2015 is the new hottest year on record when it comes to global temperatures. Temperatures were helped along by a massive El Nino, which tends to pump up an already increasingly warmer climate system. With that El Nino expected to stay strong for several months more it means that 2016 could surpass 2015 to set yet another new record.

Action to deal with man-made climate change also heated up. With strong leadership by President Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry, the United States joined 196 nations around the world in coming to a substantive agreement this December in Paris. The Paris agreement is a start, even a very big start, but there is a lot of work still to be done. Even with that caveat in mind, though, the agreement is one of the most important events in history because it started the world on a path toward greater sustainability. It might, at least in some people's minds, even be the beginning of the end of fossil fuels. That seems unlikely given our fossil fuel-based infrastructure and the prevalence of petrochemical-based plastics, but it does signal a change in mindset that will lead to greater innovation and development of renewable energy sources.

Of course, climate denialism also heated up in 2015, a not unexpected reaction to finding themselves in a corner left behind by the world. American politicians are heavy into campaigning for next year's presidential elections and man-made climate change is set to play a significant role. The lines are clear - all Republican candidates deny the science; all Democratic candidates acknowledge the science. Republican politicians can't help demonstrate their dishonesty on the subject, even staging "hearings" to boost their denialism with their base rather than to inform on policy options. We'll see more of this in 2016.

The year 2015 also saw a report revealing what most scientists already knew - ExxonMobil Corporation was well aware of the role of fossil fuels in causing man-made climate change. They knew it, and then they spent millions trying to obfuscate it. And it wasn't just Exxon; all the major oil companies knew that their business model was warming the planet's climate system, and they knew this decades ago. The fossil fuel industry did the same thing that the tobacco industry did, they understood the harm they were causing but continued to deny it and misrepresent it and actively try to block policy action on it for decades, all to protect their huge profit margins.

So where do we go from here? While 2015 was a critical year in defining action, 2016 will be a critical year in defining how sustained that action will be. Not the least of the concerns is the U.S. presidential election, where the ultimate selection of the new president could have life-changing impacts on the future of both the United States and the World. More on that in the next post.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Christmas 2015 - The Hottest Climate Year on Record

It is altogether fitting and proper, so it seems, that much of the United States and Europe is experiencing ridiculously balmy weather for Christmastime in 2015. After all, 2015 will be the hottest year on record when it comes to global climate.

Every climate research scientific organization has confirmed that last month was the hottest November on record, following on the heals of the hottest year to date on record. With December on its way to a likely record itself, 2015 is guaranteed to be the hottest year ever experienced in the global climate record. Lest anyone forget, the previous record hot year was 2014. Given the continuing presence of El Nino conditions (a record-setter in its own right), the prospects of 2016 becoming the third record-breaking year in a row are significant.

This is why deniers look so silly when they claim "there has been no warming in 18 years." The statement is so patently false it's buffoonish. In fact, even the "charts" used by deniers prove they are lying.

Meanwhile, the climate warms.

The eastern United States epitomizes on a grand scale the warming. "In many places in the East, temperatures will run some 30-40 degrees above normal." It's so warm that in some cities the low temperatures may exceed the record high temperatures for that spot.

Excess heat isn't limited to the eastern United States; Europe is seeing it too. Record temperatures are being seen in Helsinki, Sweden, Estonia, London, and even Moscow. Ice rinks in Moscow are ponds. "In the Italian Alps, ski stations have had to resort to artificial snow, cherry blossoms have been spotted in Dresden in Germany, and daffodils are flowering in England."

Of course, a Christmas heat wave in one part (or two parts) of the world is not the entire world, so what do the full data for 2015 worldwide tell us? As already noted in the second paragraph above, it tells us that 2015 is guaranteed to be the hottest year ever recorded on a global basis. In late November the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) confirmed that 2015 was well on its way to setting a new global heat record, as well as the warmest 5-year period. Yesterday the WMO confirmed that Europe would experience the second hottest year ever, just barely below the hottest year set last year. WMO noted that:

Globally, 2015 remains on track to the hottest year on record, according to WMO's provisional statement on the status of the climate in 2015. Final figures will be released in early 2016.
In short, 2015 will be the hottest year ever, passing 2014. And 2016 will start off on a fast pace in its attempt to set yet another record. You can get a feel of what that means in the following graphs from NASA (yellows to oranges to reds to dark reds show increasing mean surface temperatures above the baseline). More NASA charts of global temperature can be found here.

So will we never see snow again? Of course we'll see snow (as Denver and other spots in western U.S. will attest); the fact that the planet is getting warmer doesn't mean winter disappears. We may even see loops of Arctic vortex drop down into lower latitudes periodically and heavy snowfalls like we saw last winter in the northeastern U.S. and elsewhere. But global warming does mean we'll have to deal with all the ramifications of a warming climate, and those ramifications are both significant and impact virtually all of the world's 7 billion and growing population. That is why the recent Paris climate agreement is so important for our future.

Merry Christmas, and all that jazz.
In the Italian Alps, ski stations have had to resort to artificial snow, cherry blossoms have been spotted in Dresden in Germany, and daffodils are flowering in England.

Read more at:

Thursday, December 17, 2015

4 Things to Know About the Paris Climate Agreement

December 2015 will go down in history as one of the most important beginnings in history. This was when 196 nations came together to alter the course of our energy future. To channel the vernacular of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, this was a big F***n deal.

It won't save the planet. At least not in the short term.

But then, no one expected it to. The agreement is historic, but it's just the first - albeit rather large - step toward more sustainable energy systems. Not only do the countries each need to live up to their commitments, but even more steps need to be taken to reduce and eventually eliminate carbon emissions that are causing the warming of our climate.

Here are 4 things you need to know about the agreement:

1) It went even further than expected: There was a lot of confidence going into the meetings that they would result in a substantive agreement. This confidence was based both on American leadership to bring parties to the table and the overwhelming scientific consensus that action was necessary and long overdue. Expectations were that the resulting agreement would set a goal of keeping temperature rise to no more than 2 degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels through the end of this century. The final agreement went even further, stating that we should "pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius." This more stringent standard is good news for small island nations that are already facing the prospects of disappearing due to sea level rise and other factors. It also reflects the growing scientific belief that a 2 degree rise is way too dangerous. Of course, meeting that level is probably impossible for a lot of reasons, but setting the goal will increase the urgency of taking substantive action sooner, rather than minor action later.

2) It gets started quickly (in a relative sense): While the agreement officially doesn't go into effect until 2020 (which, after all, is only 4 years away), it stipulates an interim review of progress as early as 2018 and further reviews every five years thereafter. This ensures that countries will immediately engage in actions designed to reduce their carbon emissions. Of course, many nations, including the U.S., China, those in Europe, and elsewhere, have already taken steps to reduce carbon and expand renewable energy development. For some (e.g., the U.S.), meeting our early goals will be easy, while others (e.g., China) will have much greater challenges to keep the pace.

3) This is the end of fossil fuels (well, sort of): The agreement makes it clear that fossil fuels are on their way out, even so far as to set a goal for a "global peaking of greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible." In truth, this was happening anyway because of market factors, but the agreement commits countries to expanding renewable resources like wind, solar, hydroelectric, and others. Does it mean fossil fuels will disappear overnight, or even ever? Of course not. Not only will we still be using gasoline and diesel for fuel and heating for some time, but we rely on plastics for so many products. Plastics are mostly petrochemical based, so clearly there is need for expanded innovation. We also need to shift jobs from coal and oil to solar and wind; that must happen transitionally as workers are trained, new innovative companies are set up, and current fossil fuel companies shift to broader energy investments. But coal in particular will continue to be a bad investment, something that has been true for a long time.

4) Not everyone is happy: As with any negotiated agreement between such disparate interests, no one got everything they wanted. Fossil fuel companies (e.g., ExxonMobil) and oil-based nations (e.g., Saudi Arabia) are obvious candidates for the "we're being treated unfairly" complaints, but then they have enjoyed massive profits for decades while foisting the environmental, health, economic, and national security costs onto the public. At the other end of the spectrum are environmental and health advocates who believe the agreement doesn't go far enough. Included in this category is James Hansen, former Director of NASA's Goddard Institute, author of hundreds of scientific papers on climate change, and now outspoken advocate for action. Hansen thinks the agreement is [expletive deleted], largely because he thinks nuclear energy (which is cleaner, though has obvious issues with radioactive waste disposal and the occasional meltdown potential) should play a larger role.

Still, the agreement sets the world on a path toward sustainability. It's a first step - some may argue it's a very tiny baby step - but it's a step in the right direction. There is much more to do over and above making sure countries follow through on commitments, not the least of which is the potential problem of one political party in the United States denying the science that all the world accepts. But as one advocacy group extols, this is a turning point.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Yes, Some Scientists....and Politicians...Are Dishonest

But very few, and that is the biggest fact here to remember.

The "oversight hearing" held by Senator Ted Cruz on Tuesday, December 8th, is a good example of dishonesty. More on that in a second.

First, let me define dishonesty for the purposes of this essay. While there may be legitimate differences of interpretation when evaluating any particular data set, what I'm talking about here is the intentional disregard of data that demonstrate your interpretation to be unsupportable. That is, when you continue to argue you are right and all the rest of the world is wrong despite overwhelming, unequivocal, and incontrovertible evidence of your wrongness. This is not to say that if your data shows something different you should just shut up and accept the consensus. Science is built on investigating results that were counter to expectations. But those data must be scientifically valid and presented through the peer-review process; and those data (and resulting interpretations) must stand up to scientific scrutiny.

Okay, now that we have a baseline, let's use the Cruz hearing as a microcosm of how the denial lobbying industry works.

First, the false premise. The title of the hearing is "Data or Dogma? Promoting Open Inquiry in the Debate over the Magnitude of Human Impact on Earth's Climate." This is right out of the denier lobbyist talking point memo. Deniers, who rarely if ever do actual scientific research (and rarely are climate scientists at all), like to claim that "alternative" science is somehow suppressed. The reality is that deniers don't attempt to publish much in peer-reviewed journals, preferring instead to publish opinion pieces in newspapers, online websites, and blogs. So here we have Senator Ted Cruz from Texas, who was elected predominantly because of support from the billionaire Koch brothers and the fossil fuel industry, and who receives significant funding from fossil fuel lobbyists, abusing his position as Senator to harass scientists and science at the behest of those lobbyists.

Second, the stacked deck. As is common for Republican-chaired hearings in the House and Senate, the witnesses called tend to be from the small handful of "scientists for hire" and, well, non-scientists. This hearing was actually a significant departure from the norm in that the Republican majority actually did have actual scientists as witnesses. But the choice of scientists - and the non-scientist - is revealing.

The scientists were Judith Curry, John Christy, William Happer, and David Titley. 

Curry and Christy are actual climate scientists but clearly in the "contrarian" viewpoint. The irony is that the actual published scientific work by both Curry and Christy absolutely support the unequivocal fact that humans are significantly warming the climate system. The reason they were called as witnesses is because their blog posts and previous testimonies argues that all the world's climate scientists (and their own published work) is somehow wrong. When someone claims the opposite in their non-peer-reviewed blogs than what their actual peer-reviewed papers say, well, you can draw your own conclusions about whether their associations with denier lobbyist associations influence their positions.

Christy, by the way, is most famous as being the colleague of Roy Spencer at the University of Alabama-Huntsville (UAH). It is the UAH satellite record that deniers solely rely on for the false graphics Senator Cruz displayed during his hearing. This is ironic given that other scientists had long ago documented the major Christy/Spencer satellite data errors that invalidated their most famous work). The UAH data set is the most uncertain and inappropriate of any data set (and hidden, since Christy/Spencer won't reveal their "adjustment" methods), but deniers use it because it tells them what they want to hear. Deniers have to deny the existence of all the other data sets and empirical data that overwhelmingly demonstrate the failure of the UAH data in order to make claims based on UAH. This is dishonesty. Spencer is a Board member of the George C. Marshall Institute, an infamous lobbyist group at the front of every science denial lobbying activity for decades and profiled in the book Merchants of Doubt. Spencer is also a creationist, which is only relevant because it demonstrates his ability to ignore scientific evidence he finds inconvenient. Again, it's easy to draw conclusions about the influence of those lobbyists when everything presented is so easily shown to be specious.

Which gets us to William Happer. Why was Happer invited by Republicans as a witness, as he has been invited before? Happer has zero climate expertise and has done no climate change research. His specialty is atomic physics and nuclear arms. He is on the Board, and former Chair, of the aforementioned George C. Marshall Institute lobbying organization. He is associated with a variety of anti-science lobbying groups who pay him considerable sums to misrepresent the science. His credibility on climate science is zero, which would convince any honest Senator not to have him highlight your climate hearing. In fact, just this week the environmental advocacy group Greenpeace revealed a sting operation it had conducted in which William Happer and another scientist-for-hire agreed to provide "reports" supporting the anti-science views of what they thought were fossil fuel lobbyists. This is, unfortunately, relatively routine practice for these lobbyist-associated "scientists."

The final scientist on the witness list was David Titley, a PhD in meteorological sciences and retired Admiral in the U.S. Navy. Titley was invited by the Democratic minority of the committee (the only witness the minority was allowed to invite). When he was in charge of the Navy's assessment of climate change, Titley found that man-made climate change was both a real scientific issue and a significant national security issue. As we move toward ice-free Arctic summers we are exposed to greater dangers from foreign forces. Unlike Curry and Christy, Titley's presentation was consistent with actual scientific data. Once again, he was the sole witness allowed to be called by the Democratic minority. [To put this in context, Democrats generally call scientists to climate hearings while Republicans have called fiction writer Michael Crichton (Jurassic Park); the fake Lord, politician, and right wing speaker-for-hire, Christopher Monckley; and a variety of other non-scientists and lobbyists.]

To put the emphasis on the charade of Senator Ted Cruz's hearing, the other witness was a guy by the name of Mark Steyn. Steyn is a Canadian shock jock, i.e., a right wing zealot akin to Rush Limbaugh. The fact that a bloviating right wing radio talk show host from Canada was a "witness" in a U.S. Senate hearing on climate change tells you all you need to know about the farce (and dishonesty) of Cruz's side show. A nice discussion of Steyn's involvement is given here by scientist Greg Laden.

To end, let's circle back around to the first sentence of this piece. Yes, there are some scientists and politicians who are dishonest. But this is a rarity. Virtually all scientists are honest and diligently work without fanfare trying to discover the truth about scientific issues. More than 100,000 scientific research papers have been published in thousands of peer-reviewed journals in the more than 100 years of scientific research related to climate change. When questions and conflicts in the data arise, scientists delve into them voraciously to determine what is what. That is how science works. Scientists are driven by the need to understand. Mostly you never hear about scientists because their work is published in scientific journals.

There are a very small number of scientists-for-hire. Most famous are people like Fred Singer, who has in turn been paid to be an "expert" in everything from smoking to acid rain to climate change, none of which he has any significant research expertise in. For decades Singer has carried the water for whatever lobbying organization was paying him, as the climate denial lobbying industry continues to do today. There are a few others who are paid to write reports that say what lobbyists want them to say (e.g., see the linked sting piece about William Happer above). And then there are a few who just like the notoriety (and financial gain) of being "contrarian." Again, this is a tiny number of scientists.

Hearings such as the one held by Ted Cruz this week are designed not to provide oversight or fact-finding; they are designed to showcase people like Cruz to keep his base energized with false indignation. Cruz is abusing the public trust and hurting his own constituents in Texas, all because he is running for president and wants his most zealous followers to vote for him. The fact that he knows he is being blatantly dishonest is immaterial to him, as is his violation of his oath of office. In this age of cynicism we've almost come to accept such dishonesty from certain politicians. That is a shame but a topic for another post.

The scientists who participate in the charade, on the other hand, must remind themselves they have an ethical obligation to seek the scientific truth. As mentioned before, there can be legitimate differences in interpretation of data. In fact, legitimate data that seem to contradict other data are always a source of excitement among scientists because it gives them something cool to study (which, by the way, completely invalidates the premise of Cruz's hearing). But knowingly ignoring 99% of the data and relying on the 1% of already debunked data to push a viewpoint you know to be specious is another matter altogether. Those rare scientists who do this need some soul searching.

Meanwhile, science moves on. Hundreds of new scientific papers are published each week that further our knowledge of man-made climate change. Those papers, and millions of empirical data points, overwhelmingly, unequivocally, and undeniably tell us that human activity is warming the climate and that substantive action is necessary to deal with that reality. And that is why every country in the world has been in Paris these two weeks - to find a solution.

Thursday, December 3, 2015

What You Need to Know About the Paris Climate Change Conference

Paris has been in the news a lot lately, but right now the big event is the 21st session of the Conference of the Parties (COP21) presented by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Yes, it's a mouthful, so let's just call it the Paris Climate Change Conference (though COP21 works too).

This year's meeting is critical. Human activity has been significantly warming the climate of our planet. Action is necessary to reduce, and eventually eliminate, the carbon emissions causing this warming. The COP21 meeting of world leaders and their representatives is designed to reach a substantive agreement on how to do that.

It's not an easy task. The United States has created the majority of the global problem and remains the highest per capita emitter of carbon. Europe is also a historical high contributor. China was slower to catch up to our wasteful ways but in the last couple of years has surpassed the U.S. with annual emissions. Meanwhile, there are many developing and underdeveloped countries that had little to do with causing the problem (so far) but who could become net contributors if they "modernize" to our resource use levels. In any case, these non-contributor countries face much, if not most, of the impact. That means finding a solution has to take into consideration historical AND current AND future contributions to carbon emissions PLUS the disproportionate impacts on people who may not have received the benefits they are paying for in impact.

The need for a substantive agreement has become even more overt in recent years. We continue to see increasing global temperatures. All of the hottest years on record have come in the last 2 decades. 2015 is almost certainly going to blow past the heat record just set in 2014 (and with El Nino likely to hang around a while, 2016 may do the same). Mass migrations of refugees continue to result from climatic stress and the wars that are so often tied to fossil fuel acquisition. Sea levels continue to rise and the oceans continue to acidify. Arctic sea ice continues to shrink and the West Antarctic Ice Shelf has reached a point of no return on its breakup. As the climate continues to warm we can expect more severe extreme events, more droughts in some places and floods in others, and more mass migrations of refugees.

On a positive note, if there can be such a thing, the United States, China, India, Europe, and most of the world's other nations seem intent on reaching a workable and substantive agreement in Paris. There are huge challenges to be sure, but the will is there.

Exceptions, of course, include the Republican party in the United States who have actively worked against U.S. interests to a level bordering treason. The Republicans are seen as childish and buffoonish and backward by most of the world, which is ironic given how Republicans view themselves as "holier than thou" most of the time. It does appear, however, that the world is ignoring Republicans as they marginalize themselves and following the leadership of President Obama, who has managed to get commitments from previously slow-to-act parties such as China, industry, and the semi-developed states that are struggling to grow their economies but faced with the fact they can't do it the wasteful way the US, Europe and China has done.

Most heads of state have already made an appearance in Paris but the work of COP21 is still going on in earnest. There are several places you can follow the status of negotiations, including the UNFCCC website, the COP21 Information Hub, the Sustainable Innovation Forum website, and many news information articles

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Discussing Climate Change Over the Thanksgiving Turkey

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving, along with Christmas, are a time for families and good cheer. And football. But they can also be a time of stress, especially if members of your family arriving from out of town hold divergent beliefs on politics, or religion, or climate change.

Unlike politics and religion, where differing opinions can each have validity, one can't have different opinions on the science of climate change. The science is based on, well, scientific study, published research that must go through peer-review to ensure basic validity and long-term scrutiny and testing by other scientists. Only the sum total of all of the scientific study defines the science. In many cases there isn't a clear-cut conclusion that can be drawn, which is why scientists are always doing more research and trying to identify yet another piece of the puzzle.

So when scientists finally do reach a consensus such as they have on climate change, that means the scientific data so overwhelmingly demonstrate "warming of the climate system is unequivocal" and humans are "the dominant cause of that warming" that the picture on the puzzle becomes undeniably clear, even if there are a still a few tiny pieces to put together.

There aren't two sides of this. There is the science, and there is the denial of the science.

Of course, people do choose to believe one thing or another, claiming that their lack of understanding, or something they read on a blog, is somehow equivalent to the entire body of science published by climate scientists. So how do you have that "science" conversation with a climate denier?

In short, I recommend you don't.

There is no value in a group of people who aren't scientists "discussing" science when understanding of the science is dwarfed by predefined conclusions and misinformation. It just isn't worth it.

Thanksgiving, Christmas, and every other family get-together, should be about family. The time should be focused on catching up on the distant lives of visiting relatives, playing with the niece or nephew or grandchild you haven't seen before (or since last Thanksgiving).

That is what Thanksgiving is for. Be there for your family.

Happy Thanksgiving!

P.S. For those who desperately feel the need to ignore this advice, check out this article.

[Reposted from 2014 so we can enjoy the holiday with our families.]

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Book Review – Earth: The Operators’ Manual by Richard B. Alley

Richard Alley is a climate scientist.  While many may not have heard of him before, some will have seen him give a demonstration of the Earth’s tilt (and its relationship to climate change) in a House hearing last year.  Using his head, with his bald spot representing the North Pole, Alley schooled Republican Rep. Rohrabacher on historical climate science.  Alley uses the same humor and adroitness of analogy in Earth: The Operators’ Manual to give us an engaging look at our planet, the changes that are occurring, and options for moving forward.

The book is a companion to a PBS documentary, which I haven’t seen but plan to do so after reading this book. The book is divided in to three parts totaling 24 chapters.  The first part gives us a glimpse at how we have used energy over the millennia, how we have impacted the planet, and how we have moved from “peak trees” to “peak whale oil” to eventually (or even already), “peak fossil fuels.”  The second part gives us a dozen chapters that make it clear that human activity is changing our climate.  The third part focuses on options for non-fossil fuel energy sources.

Throughout, Alley’s whimsical side shows through, as does the ease at which he can communicate the science with apt analogies that all of us can understand. Who knew that climate was a bit like watching a kindergarten soccer game?  With climate, many factors appear to be kicking around randomly but then, eventually, there seems to be an order to the chaos.  As Alley takes us through the science it becomes undeniably clear that we are warming our planet.

While the first two sections may be the most entertaining, the final section is probably the most important part of the book.  Alley examines “the road to ten billion smiling people,” that is, the options we have to providing energy for our ever-growing global population.  Starting with toilets (I kid you not), he discusses the smart grid, solar and wind solutions, and pretty much everything else from hydroelectric to nuclear to geo-engineering.  Some seem more promising than others, and Alley largely believes that some combination of renewable energy sources are the likely future. 

Overall, I found the book interesting and definitely informative.  It’s a worthy read for anyone interested in the topic.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Book Review - Fire in the Turtle House: The Green Sea Turtle and the Fate of the Ocean by Osha Gray Davidson

Climate change has already shown impacts not only on the world's temperatures but on ocean acidification, sea level rise, and effects on plant and animal migration behaviors, among others. The Dake Page periodically reviews science-related books.It isn't clear whether the impacts noted in Fire in the Turtle House are related to climate change or some other cause, but it reflects how quickly disruptions can result in catastrophic impacts on wildlife. What follows is a short review of Fire in the Turtle House: The Green Sea Turtle and the Fate of the Ocean by Osha Gray Davidson.

The Turtle House is an area in the narrow channel separating Maui from the neighboring island of Moloka'i. Not surprisingly it is a haven for sea turtles, especially the green sea turtle that the locals call honu. And the honu are dying.

The book follows the search for the cause of rampant spread of the disease called FP, most notably characterized by the growth of tumors on the soft tissues of turtles. First noticed in the 1960s, proliferating in the 70s, and clearly epidemic by the 80s, FP has decimated green turtle populations in Hawai'i as well as in Florida. Davidson visits with the key researchers, examines the different investigations into the cause, and personalizes the scientific struggle to understand. In the end the answers are still uncertain, though viruses are clearly implicated, and dinoflagellate biotoxins, human-caused stresses from pollution and nutrient enrichment, and other factors also may be part of the complex genesis that spreads the disease.

Overall this book is well written. It does seem to veer off on tangents, such as stories about Stellar sea cows from a century before, Pfeisteria-based fish diseases, and other sidetracks that eventually are laced back into the turtle narrative with varying success. On a personal note, it was interesting to see mention of names like Archie Carr and Joanne Burkholder and others familiar to my own marine biology days.

One drawback to the book is that it was published in 2001 and thus is somewhat dated. It would be nice to know where the status of the investigation, and hopefully treatment, of FP stands now. Still, I would recommend this book for those who are interested in learning how science works in the complex real world, and how human factors can surreptitiously drive what appear to be nature impacts.

More science-related book reviews can be read here.