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.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

How Climate Deniers Take Advantage of Science to Lie About Science

It's a recurring practice. A new climate study comes out and suddenly the internet is saturated with "reinterpretations" by climate deniers of what the study says. This is how climate denier lobbyists misrepresent, aka lie, about the science. The most recent is how they have lied about a new study released by NASA regarding mass gains in Antarctica.

Keep in mind that science is incremental. One study generally isn't meaningful by itself. Science is the compendium of all related studies. For example, one study may suggest that (under the conditions of the study) Antarctica is gaining more ice than it is losing while other studies show that West Antarctica may have gone into a state of irreversible retreat. That doesn't make any one study right or wrong, merely additional data points in the total understanding of the science. It's how science works.

A summary of this particular study being misrepresented can be found in NASA's press release. You can download the full study as a PDF file from this journal site. I highly recommend anyone wanting to understand the study read the actual paper because press releases often do a lousy job of communicating the science. Yes, I know, communicating the science is what press releases are designed to do, but my experience tells me that they  introduce confusion as often as they inform, in part because they report single studies and not the total science. I'll tackle that topic in another post.

The inadequacy of press releases for studies and the very nature of how science works results in opportunities for climate denier lobbyists to exploit uncertainties. And that is exactly what they do.

In this case we have information that may (or may not) contradict other information and the lobbyists pounced on it. As is their standard tactic, deniers take one point from the paper, fabricate an entire story line that fits their narrative, and put the false story line out on their paid lobbyist blog and media outlets. These lobbyists know that their false story will be plagiarized and repeated on every conspiracy and political blog by ideologues until the blogosphere is saturated with the false interpretation. That's how climate denial lobbyists work.

Greg Laden, a scientist who writes on Science Blogs, explains how the NASA study has been "misunderstood." [I think Greg is giving the blogosphere too much benefit of the doubt by using the term "misunderstood;" as the recent revelations about Exxon's knowledge decades ago that fossil fuels were causing climate change show, climate denial lobbyists know they are misrepresenting (i.e., lying about) the science. It's intentional.] That said, Greg notes that to begin with, the study may not be correct. While touted as "recent data" the data set used actually ended in 2008 so would miss the rapid ice loss of the last seven years. As Greg notes:

The last decade of research on Antarctica have shown, in many studies using a variety of techniques, that Antarctica is contributing to sea level rise. They have also shown that the rate of melting in Antarctic is probably increasing. Even more importantly, they have indicated that certain areas of Antarctic are current in a state of instability, suggesting that the rate of contribution of the southern continent’s ice mass to sea level rise may increase abruptly in the near future.

So the study, like all studies, needs to be placed into context with the state of the science. Deniers never do that; they cherry pick what they like and make believe all the rest of the science doesn't exist. This tactic is so prevalent in climate denial that the lead scientist of the study even predicted that climate deniers would misrepresent his work, which is exactly what they did, as reported in the above linked article:
"I know some of the climate deniers will jump on this," but "it should not take away from the concern about climate warming."

The first lesson here is that it isn't appropriate to take one study and assume it represents the total state of the science. Science is the sum total of all the relevant studies. The second lesson is that the climate denial lobbyists knowingly and willfully misrepresent single studies and then draw global "state of the science" conclusions that are inconsistent with the sum total of all the science.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The Role of Climate Change in the 2016 Elections

As the 2016 presidential election in the United States gathers steam, the candidate debates show that climate change can play a significant role. Well, depending on which debates you watch.

The sole Democratic debate so far included a brief, but substantive, discussion on climate change. Each of the Democratic candidates noted that they will actively address the problem when elected. Not surprisingly, climate change has been largely ignored in the three Republican debates. Why? Because the entire Republican party has made a decision to deny the science, largely because any honest discussion of policy action could impact their corporate benefactors. Republicans are actively trying to sabotage American interests. In last night's "undercard" debate (called by some the Junior Varsity or Baby debate), the subject of climate change only came up because Lindsey Graham was asked to defend his contrary (to the party) position, i.e., why is he the only Republican willing to admit what scientists have demonstrated unequivocally...that man-made climate change is a significant issue that needs to be addressed.

Much has been said in recent days about another Republican who has more or less admitted the science. Kelly Ayotte, a Republican from New Hampshire, says she will back the President's Clean Power Plan, a set of EPA rules aimed at reducing carbon emissions from power plants. Environmentalists and "No Labels" types are bending over backwards to encourage her and others. Which is a good thing.

It's also a bad thing. Ayotte bills herself as a staunch conservative and would not be coming out in support of the CPP except for the fact that she faces a stiff challenge for reelection from current New Hampshire Governor Maggie Hassan. While it's nice to get a Republican to voice their support for anything, we have to acknowledge that had she not done polling that shows she would lose her seat, she would be just as adamantly and dishonestly against the CPP as every other Republican. The Republican Senate leadership has given her permission to "support" CPP only because they don't want to lose her seat. Should she retain it, she will ditch any pretense of support and vote against the CPP just as she is told by Republican leaders. 

So she isn't really supporting it at all; she's miming the words to get reelected. 

Unfortunately, this is how Washington works. Congress knows that people have infamously short memories. This is why politicians can say things one day that contradict what they said the other day without fear the voting populace will even notice. A good sound bite is better than an actual set of principles. That sounds cynical, but it's reality.

What Ayotte's lip service does show, however, is that climate change can play an important role in the 2016 election. The fact that a Republican has to "go against" her party to admit even the most basic scientific reality says a lot about the Republican party, and the power of the climate change issue to encourage dealing with that reality. As mentioned above, this isn't real support by Ayotte, merely a politically expedient maneuver to trick New Hampshire citizens, but if enough of the populace requires all of their representatives to engage in honest discussion of policy options to address the reality of climate change, well, public opinion can move mountains.

The discrepancies between the parties should also play a much more important role once the nominees are selected. In the party vs. party debates, the Democratic nominee will present their view of how to deal with the science, while the Republican nominee will be forced to either defend the denial of science or explain the incredulous flipflop of "accepting" the science and proposing a solution.

We already have seen this in action. Soon after President Obama took office there was a discussion of climate change policy. Democrats offered a carbon tax proposal, Republicans offered a market-based "cap-and-trade" proposal. Democrats were convinced the only way to get a viable bill was to adopt the Republican "cap-and-trade" proposal. Once accepted, the Republicans then turned on their own market-based proposal. They vehemently argued their own proposal was some sort of socialist takeover. Yes, their own proposal, put forth as a market-based solution, was now being attacked by themselves as "cap-and-tax." Their own market-based proposal. And the Republican voting populace seemed not to notice. [See "infamously short memory" above]

So we see how powerful this issue can become in 2016. Republicans will not only have to defend their denial of science, they will have to defend their attacks on their own market-based plan. Meanwhile, the Democratic candidate can 1) showcase the dishonesty of the Republican history on the issue, and 2) offer up additional policy options that expand on the actions already achieved under President Obama. Most of the world's nations have already issued their commitments for the upcoming agreement to be signed in Paris in December. That will be in place prior to the next President taking the oath of office. It will be hard for a Republican to defend reneging on our commitments to ourselves and world, no matter how much money the Koch's and fossil fuel companies spend on candidates.

And that's why climate change is so important in this election.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Book Review – Doubt is Their Product: How Industry’s Assault on Science Threatens Your Health by David Michaels

Given the recent revelations that Exxon knew how fossil fuels caused man-made climate change decades ago, then hid it, the following review of Doubt is Their Product: How Industry's Assault on Science Threatens Your Health, by David Michaels, is timely.

"Doubt is our product” is how a tobacco company executive once described the industry’s attempt to hide the fact that smoking cigarettes caused lung cancer and related diseases. And that is the theme that David Michaels uses throughout his book. He argues rather persuasively that the tactic of denying the science first perfected by the tobacco companies has been used over and over again by other industries. The goal – to protect profits and avoid litigation liability from exposing people to dangerous chemicals and other practices.

The book is replete with case studies and examples, many from his personal experience as an epidemiologist and a former Assistant Secretary of Energy responsible for protecting the health and safety of workers, neighboring communities, and the environment surrounding the nation’s nuclear weapons facilities. He talks about problems with lead and children, workplace cancers from beryllium, “popcorn lung” destruction from diacetyl, secondhand smoke, asbestos, chromium, vinyl chloride in plastics, diet drugs fen-phen, Vioxx, and nuclear radiation, among others. In each case the responsible industry delayed action and avoided taking responsibility while the regulators were hamstrung by a combination of insufficient authority, political unwillingness, and nearly always deficient resources.

Throughout the case studies Michaels also discusses some of the tactics and strategies used by industry to keep from being regulated. While he only gives a passing mention of climate change, the tactics he describes in this 2008 book are clearly evident in this new opportunity for delay. I’m familiar with most of the cases he mentions, some quite intimately and others less so, but I learned quite a bit more about the behind the scenes high jinks that frankly I found a bit startling. As the title suggests, the primary tactic is “create doubt,” otherwise known as “highlight the uncertainty.” Science can never be fully certain because there is always another question that can be asked. Industry has exploited this by emphasizing any uncertainty so that no regulatory decision can be made. One common method is to employ “reanalysis.” That is, get the raw data from a study that is adverse to your position, then reanalyze it over and over, changing assumptions and conditions, enough to get a different conclusion, which then can be used to cast doubt. If reanalysis doesn’t do it, then conduct a new study, often designed specifically to create conflicting data, so again there is uncertainty. Call whatever industry does “sound science” (a term invented by the lobbying firm Hill and Knowlton for the tobacco industry) and call whatever regulators do “junk science” (a term made famous by long-time industry propagandist Steven Milloy, who of course got his start from the tobacco industry).

There is much more, of course. The book is extremely well documented, with many pages of end notes. Michaels is himself a former regulator and so experienced many of his case studies first hand. For those who are not familiar with the history of industry-created doubt, the book will be a real eye-opener. Unfortunately, I found it all too familiar.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Climate Change at the Democratic Debate

Well, at least it was mentioned. That's my take on the level of discussion of man-made climate change in the most recent Democratic debate held the other night. It's also more than can be said for the two Republican debates so far (and likely, ever).

Reaction to the "climate portion" of the Democratic debate has been mixed. One blog's headlline screams breathlessly, "Climate change features heavily in the Democratic debate."

"a major focus was how to respond to climate change, with acceptance that it's actually happening shared by all the debaters. Four of the candidates—Lincoln Chafee, Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, and Martin O’Malley—all made acting on climate change part of their opening statements. Sanders and O'Malley both named it as one of the leading national security threats. And, when asked which group he was most proud of angering, Chaffee responded with, "I guess the coal lobby.""

Other outlets also tout the inclusion of the topic in the debate. Andrew Winston in the Huffington Post noted that "CNN let a voter ask the question, 'What would you do about climate change?'" and concluded "the range of answers was telling." I'm not sure how "telling" it was beyond acknowledging they all agree that man-made climate change is a real issue that must be addressed.

More telling was how CNN seemed to only grudgingly include the topic at all. David Roberts on Vox observed:
"Who finally got to ask the question? Just as CNN had a Latino anchor ask about immigration, a woman anchor ask about paid leave, and an African-American kid as whether black lives matter, it gave the climate question over to Anna, a young white woman who looked every bit the liberal arts student. That, you see, is a 'climate person.'"
And herein lies the problem. Unlike Fox News, which makes no pretense about being the communication/lobbying arm of the Republican Party, CNN likes to think of itself as an honest broker. Clearly they are better than the more openly partisan networks, but by choosing to limit the opportunity for climate discussion, and by the thinly-veiled stereotyping of all of their questioning, they are being just as biased in their reporting.

It's within these confines that the candidates who spoke about climate deserve major credit for inserting it into the debate despite CNN. With the exception of former Virginia Senator Jim Webb, all of the candidates made it clear they consider man-made climate change a "big f***ng deal" (who paraphrase Vice-President Joe Biden, who was not at the debate). This is a good thing because it provides a clear differentiation between Democrats and Republicans (one of many). Republicans deny climate change to avoid making hard decisions; Democrats acknowledge it and prepare to make hard decisions.

I've argued before for separate debates on specific issues, or at least keeping to a single issue for 30 minutes or so (and limited a 90-minute debate to a maximum 2-3 issues). has worked hard to have a science-specific debate to include not only climate change but other science-based issues and misconceptions like vaccines, GMOs, and others. Clearly there is a need for candidates for the highest political office to both acknowledge and have a basic understanding of the scientific and technological challenges that impact national security, the economy, civil rights, education and every other facet of modern life. The public wants it. And we all need it.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

American Public Wants Science Debates, With a Caveat

A new poll out concludes that "an overwhelming majority of Americans (87%) say it is important that candidates for President and Congress have a basic understanding of the science informing public policy issues." This belief is bipartisan, with both Democratic and Republican voters (as well as Independents) agreeing that in our modern age science has a large and necessary role in making policy. But there are some caveats.

The poll was commissioned by ResearchAmerica (a polling organization) and (a non-profit organization). Analysis of the data collected from over 1000 U.S. adults was done by Zogby Analytics.

Results show a clear desire by the American public for presidential candidates and members of Congress to include science in their decision-making. You can see a PDF of the summary slides at this URL. (Be sure to scroll down to see all the graphs and tables.) There are a few take-away lessons from the poll.

First, a vast majority of the public believe that public policy must be based on the best available science.

The public also believes that candidates should be required to have a basic understanding of the science necessary to govern:

And that majority is (somewhat) non-partisan, with Democrats, Republicans, and even Independents agreeing that basic science understanding is important.

As the graph above shows, Democrats are somewhat more likely to believe science understanding is necessary (92% [very + somewhat important]) than Republicans (90%) and Independents (79%). These trends are reflected in most of the other graphs in the study. (see PDF for full results).

What does this all mean?

The main messages from the poll are that Americans believe science is important, that it should inform policy decisions, and that the presidential and congressional candidates have an obligation to have at least a basic understanding of the relevant science needed for decision-making. These beliefs are held across all Americans no matter what their party affiliation.

At least that is what they say.

The reality is much more revealing. While the vast majority of the public proclaims that public policies should be based on the best available science (77%), less than half of that same public (45%) believe they are even somewhat informed about the positions of the candidates on science.

Furthermore, what people are saying in response to poll questions doesn't appear to accurately reflect their voting habits. In the poll, strong majorities of both Republicans and Democrats say they believe in science and that candidates should too, but that clearly isn't the case in real life. For example, all the Republican candidates for President have repeatedly and aggressively touted their disdain for climate science, offering up various forms of denial as a matter of course. Even those who previously supported action and whose home states are most at risk (e.g., Florida, Louisiana, New York, California) have denied the science. And yet they lead the polls. Clearly Republican voters answer questions differently than they demand from their candidates.

One note about the "Independents." In many of the bar graphs splitting out responses by party, Independents often show less support for science than Republicans. At first this would appear counter-intuitive, but it reflects a change in how people identify themselves. In the past, "Independents" were generally the more moderate voters who didn't wholesale identify with either the Democratic or Republican parties, and may vote either way depending on the candidates. Today the number of voters who fit this description is shrinking. In our hyperpartisan era, a growing percentage of self-identified "Independents" are actually the more extreme wings of the two parties. They may be "tea partiers" and libertarians who believe the Republican party is too moderate (yes, you read that correctly). The mainstream party to these people are RINO (Republican in Name Only), and so they identify themselves as "Independent" even though the chances of them ever voting for Democratic candidates are close to nil. To a much lesser extent, "Independents" may also include the more extreme liberal wing of the Democratic party (who disdain DINOs), or the anti-science folks such as anti-vaxxers. While those on the extreme wing represent a small percentage of the Democratic party and their wackier views are generally not incorporated into the Democratic platform, the extreme wing of the Republican party now IS the Republican party, with its most egregiously extreme anti-science views driving the entire platform and actions of the party. [For a good review of the political state of affairs, check out Thomas Mann and Norman Ornstein's book It's Even Worse Than it Looks.]

What should we do about it?

While in the responses to the poll questions Americans say they want science, they also admit to not really understanding science; continue to be misinformed about climate science, GMOs, vaccines, and other science important for decision-making; and about half the country overwhelmingly supports candidates who fundamentally deny even basic scientific principles. Some of this can be attributed to the extreme partisanship evident in today's politics, as evidenced by Republicans viciously attacking their own policy proposals as soon as President Obama and the Democrats agree to them. But some of it is because the majority of Americans don't even know the candidates views on science-based policy initiatives.

Americans strongly agree that presidential candidates should be required to participate in a science-based debate. At least 86% of respondents strongly or somewhat agreed with this proposal. (one of the organizations that commissioned the independent poll) has worked hard to have candidates participate (see here for more information of past participation). Candidates would have a chance to present their proposals for addressing policy needs presented by such issues as climate change that are inherently based on science. The public would then be able to make informed choices.

Finally, as the above graph shows, Americans overwhelmingly believe that scientists should engage directly with the public and inform elected officials about scientific research that impacts decision-making. This has been a theme for The Dake Page for a long time.

It's time for a Science Debate.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Flight Behavior - Communicating Science Through Fiction

Periodically I review books that have a science or science communication flavor. As might be expected, these normally are non-fiction books. This week I'm reviewing a fiction book called Flight Behavior, which touches not only on the science but on communication of science, especially when local beliefs are predisposed to deny that science.

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver

I can relate to Ovid Byron. He is the scientist in Barbara Kingsolver's Flight Behavior, which I can say is one of the most extraordinary books I've read in a long time.

Byron isn't the main character. That would be Dellarobia Turnbow, a farmer's wife trying to make ends meet at the Tennessee end of Appalachia. Kingsolver successfully integrates valuable insights into marriage, country life, sheep-raising, and religion with the extraordinary ecology of Monarch butterflies thrust into potential extinction by the changing forces of climate. All in a storyline that keeps you devouring one page after another.

As an ecological scientist myself, I was fascinated by the interweaving of real scientific study with the evolving lives of the people simply trying to raise their kids and put food on the table. This interweaving is what makes the book so valuable.

And valuable it is as an example of science communication. That isn't necessarily Kingsolver's goal, but she succeeds in communicating the science of the butterflies in language most scientists rarely achieve, and much more effectively. She captures the thought processes and priorities that influence how people take in new information, especially information they find uncomfortable or disruptive to their lifestyle. 

At one point late in the book Kingsolver has a character relate the problems of communicating information when that informaiton comes from "outsiders." This is best summed up in one quote:

"The key thing is, once you're talking identity, you can't just lecture that out of people. The condescension of outsiders won't diminish it. That just galvanizes it."

Scientists would do well to read and understand the writing in this book as they strive to communicate man-made climate change and other scientific issues to the public. 

While my review above is biased toward the scientific element, the book also works incredibly well as a relationship story...and a family story...and a community story. 

I most highly recommend the book for all readers.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The Beginning of the End for Climate Denial

Climate denial is dead. Okay, that may be somewhat wishful thinking, but it's clear that the organized denial of climate science has peaked and will continue to fall away. Historians at some point in the future looking to identify when this threshold for change was reached might very well point to this past week.

The Science

To begin with, the science of climate is unequivocal. That means, undeniable. For more than 100 years scientists from all over the world and from every type of scientific organization imaginable, and working in countries with every type of government and economic structure extant, have produced more than 100,000 peer-reviewed scientific research papers published in journals. To this add in dozens, and even hundreds, of review reports that summarize the state-of-the-science. All of these empirical data and studies point unequivocally, undeniably, clearly to the conclusion that human activity is warming the climate system. And that warming has significant consequences to human health, economics, and national security, in addition to the obvious problems of changing climate, sea level rise, and human migration.


Which gets us to one of the many reasons why climate denial is dead. Even the fossil fuel companies admit that fossil fuel combustion is causing the climate to warm. A report was released this past week documenting through internal Exxon records that Exxon, the biggest and mightiest of the fossil fuel companies, knew their operations were causing the climate to warm, and they knew this as far back as the 1970s. Exxon's own scientists, working on projects started by Exxon itself, were able to determine that fossil fuel burning was causing man-made climate change. Exxon management then ignored their own scientists' warnings, shut down the research project, and instead directed millions of dollars over the next several decades to denying their own scientists' research.

I'll have more on that later, but obviously this impacts the credibility of fossil fuel funded denial of the science. Everyone already knew that Exxon was deceiving the public, of course, but this report documents how Exxon's own records show how they did it (see "tobacco lobbyists deny smoking causes cancer technique").

World Leaders Move Forward

This week also brought a huge public outpouring of political support for action to address man-made climate change. President Obama has for some time now been making executive decisions to reduce carbon emissions, largely because Republicans in Congress have refused to even acknowledge the science. Pope Francis, religious leader for the world's 1.2 billion Catholics, was also in Washington, D.C., where he gave speeches at the White House and to a joint session of Congress in which he espoused a moral obligation to deal with climate change. Other world religious leaders (Judaism, Islam, and others) have also issued statements supporting the moral obligation to deal with the impacts of climate change.

Chinese President Xi Jinping is also coming to D.C.; Xi has been openly working with Obama on preparations for the upcoming international climate talks in Paris in which most of the world's nations are expected to agree on significant carbon reduction actions. Even Hillary Clinton, the former Secretary of State and current Democratic candidate for president, said she is against the Keystone XL pipeline, a major potential source of carbon emissions. The other major Democratic candidate for president, Bernie Sanders, also noted he is in agreement with the Pope's (and Presidents Obama's and Xi's) climate message.

Meanwhile, Republican reaction has been to attack the Pope and tell foreign governments they don't support action. (See, "fossil fuel campaign contributions to members of Congress")

But even here there is some movement. In the recent debate there was one question (yes, only one) about climate change, and only three candidates answered it. While they still didn't openly acknowledge the science, their denial employed a subtly different tactic - they claimed that the U.S. working alone won't have much effect. It's still denial but it's a shift that allows them to rationalize action when they find their denial is no longer credible. Which, of course, was a long time ago. To this we can add a rare proactive move by a small group of Republicans who are either 1) not running for reelection, or 2) are in moderate districts where being honest won't automatically get them thrown out of Congress by Republican voters. It's a small effort that won't go anywhere, but again it provides a mechanism by which Republicans can rationalize their eventual shift in strategy.

On to Paris

All of this bodes well for the upcoming climate talks in Paris. World leaders, including Obama and Xi, have been working for several years toward a meaningful agreement that will result in carbon reduction plans worldwide. This is a difficult issue. The U.S. and Europe have historically contributed the greatest to the climate change problem, while China's rapid growth in recent decades has resulted in it passing the U.S. as the worst emitter annually. At the same time there is a need for less developed countries to manage their future growth such that they don't simply repeat the mistakes we made, while acknowledging that they shouldn't have to pay for how we messed up the world. To this we can add in regional differences in impact and capacity. Complex diplomatic negotiations were, and continue to be, necessary to ensure as equitable a path forward for all nations as is possible.

Enter the Zombies

All of these factors, and many more, signal the death of climate denial. But being dead doesn't mean denial will go away complete. When it looked like public sentiment was leading to the abolition of slavery, slaveholders fought to expand slavery, thus starting the Civil War. When President Obama's election threatened the established white supremacy notion of many Americans, it led to a resurgence of racial hatred. So too with climate denial. As we move toward the inevitable action to deal with man-made climate change, denial lobbyists and their ideological followers will once again rise up like zombies to attack climate scientists who document the science and world leaders who try to act on that scientific knowledge.

The year 2014 was the hottest year in the instrumental record. The current decade is hotter than the previous, which was hotter than the previous, which in turn was hotter than the decade before that. 2015 is already well on its way to smashing the hottest year record set just last year, and with a strong El Nino possibly hanging around into next year, 2016 could surpass 2015 to set a third record year in a row. As climate change becomes more obvious to the general public, as the deceit of climate deniers becomes even more clear and more buffoonishly dishonest, and as responsible world leaders continue to move toward actions that will reduce carbon emissions while improving economic growth and national security, the death of climate denial is inevitable.

So watch out for climate denial zombies, but know that the rest of us are moving forward and taking responsibility for our children's and grandchildren's futures.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Climate Debate, Climate Pope, Climate Republicans, and Exxon Lies - The Week in Climate Change

This is a big week in climate change, though if you watched the Republican debate last night you would have missed it. Also, the Pope comes to the United States and talks about climate, while a new report shows how Exxon (now ExxonMobil) studied climate change as far back as the 1970s and then lied about it for decades. Here is a quick round up of climate news you definitely need to know.

Republican Debate

All one hundred (or 17, no 16, no 15) Republican candidates for the 2016 nomination engaged in a tag-team debate on CNN on September 16th. The early debate featured the lowest polling Republicans, minus one former Governor who couldn't garner enough support to be included even in this low-threshold affair, and another former Governor who decided he couldn't afford the airfare to California from Texas. The later debate featured everyone else.

In four and a half hours there was exactly one question related to climate change, answered by only three candidates, and totaling a breathtakingly inconsequential three minutes of air time. That in itself is why we need to have a Science Debate. Marco Rubio (Florida, which faces life-endangering sea level rise), Chris Christie (New Jersey, which was devastated by Superstorm Sandy just a few years ago), and Scott Walker (Wisconsin, whose warming temperatures will likely be offset by more extreme winter storms), all trotted out the new "denier talking point of the month." Having exhausted the "I am not a scientist" line (while ignoring what scientists say), the fossil fuel lobbyist/public relations approved official Republican denier line is now "The U.S. can't make any impact alone." Not only is this false, but they ignore the worldwide commitments being made by all other nations serious about dealing with man-made climate change. As always, the Republican party simply denies climate science (thus disqualifying them for the job they seek) and actively tries to sabotage international action that will have greater impacts.

Bizarrely for the guy who many think is the smartest of the bunch, Marco Rubio even made an ill-conceived joke about the severe drought being experienced by California - where the debate was being held. And in the shadow of a model of Ronald Reagan's Air Force One (the debate was held in the Reagan Presidential Library), Chris Christie mocked Ronald Reagan's own Secretary of State as being out-of-touch. All of them denied climate change and any attempt to act on it.

The Pope Brings a Climate Message to Congress and the United Nations

Pope Francis begins his whirlwind tour of the United States next week, with stops in Washington, D.C., New York City, and Philadelphia. The Pope shocked everyone a few months back by calling for an encyclical, which is Pope-speak for calling in experts on a particular issue to derive a policy. In June the results of that encyclical were released, with the Pope calling on all Catholics to acknowledge they have a moral obligation to steward God's gift to Man, i.e., the planet and the climate that lets us survive here. Other religions have also reiterated the moral obligation to take care of His creation.

Not surprisingly, the Republican party in the United States turned on the Pope, telling him he should "leave science to the scientists." These are the same Republican politicians who while saying "I am not a scientist" continue to tell scientists they don't know their own science. Breaking with corporate-Republican creed, there is a small group of Republicans who are honest about having to deal with the science. Perhaps eventually the rest will catch on that lying to your constituents won't stop sea level rise in Florida; droughts in Oklahoma, Texas, and California; or superstorms in New Jersey, New York, and New England. Until then, Republicans have disqualified themselves from positions requiring personal and professional responsibility.

Exxon Knew About Man-Made Climate Change in the 1970s

A new report compiled from thousands of Exxon documents and interviews with Exxon employees and others reveals that Exxon's own in-house research clearly demonstrated the role of fossil fuels in man-made climate change. And Exxon knew this all the way back in the 1970s. Concern about carbon emissions from the burning of fossil fuels had been raised decades earlier, and scientists were already studying the impacts. As the largest fossil fuel corporation on the planet, Exxon engaged in a research project in which its own scientists told them clearly and emphatically that fossil fuels were causing the climate to warm. Everyone at Exxon knew this, including senior management and CEO.

Rather than address the issue, Exxon buried it. They killed funding for the research and began a decades long campaign to deny man-made climate change. A series of industry front groups posing as "research organizations," many with intentionally deceptive names, was set up to "manufacture doubt." This was the same technique used by tobacco companies to deny smoking caused cancer. That network of lobbyists and front groups expanded to include other denial networks begun by the Koch brothers, libertarian and conservative lobbyists, and other anti-science organizations. Collusion among lobbyists, the media, and politicians became the norm

This page will have more about what Exxon (now ExxonMobil) knew in future posts. From my own personal knowledge I can say that Exxon scientists then, and now, continue to do good science and provide scientific information to the company and its management. Those scientists have made it clear that the science is unequivocal, and that ExxonMobil must find more sustainable alternatives to fossil fuel. Denial of the science falls solely on ExxonMobil management and the denial lobbyists they support.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Republicans in US Try to Sabotage International Climate Action as World Moves Forward

It really is mind-boggling how the Republican Party in the United States can so blatantly engage in treasonous acts against the President, all while hurting their own constituents. They continue to do this with respect to man-made climate change despite the unequivocal consensus that human activity is causing the planet's climate system to warm. Republicans even work against the best interests of their own constituents, as most Americans agree that action is necessary to deal with climate change.

The latest treasonous act by Republicans in the U.S. is their plan to disrupt the international climate talks that this December in Paris expect to result in a substantive agreement for worldwide action. Critical nations all over the world have made carbon reduction commitments. President Obama has been leading the way, engaging in agreements with China, India, Europe, and other countries that will lead to eventual stabilization of atmospheric warming and a halt to oceanic acidification due to our history of excess carbon emissions.

Republicans in Congress have stood in the way of meaningful climate action ever since President Obama was elected. Former Republican Senator George Voinovich acknowledged that in 2008, before President-Elect Obama even took the oath of office, Republican leadership instructed all Republicans to oppose anything Obama proposed: "If Obama wanted it, Republicans had to be against it."

That includes policy actions that Republicans once promoted. As early as 2003, Senator and future Republican presidential nominee John McCain offered a bill called the "Lieberman-McCain Climate Stewardship Act." McCain offered more climate bills right up until his 2008 nomination, at which time the preview to the "tea party" forced him to renounce his own bills.

Republicans were also promoting the most recent cap-and-trade bill to deal with climate change as "a free-market solution." Yes, conservative and libertarian lobbyists, and the Republican party, preferred the cap-and-trade plan over the carbon tax plan originally offered by Democrats. But once the Democrats and President Obama agreed to support ca-and-trade, that same free market system once promoted by Republicans and conservatives was suddenly called cap-and-tax. Republicans turned against their own plan just because President Obama agreed with them to move it forward.

Now the Republican party is telling our allies around the world that they won't support an agreement that hasn't even been reached yet. Why? Because the President is moving forward along with the rest of the world. Republicans, rather than come up with their own plans (or even support the plans they previously offered) are trying "to undermine...hopes of reaching an international climate change agreement that would cement his environmental legacy."

Just as with the treasonous act by Republican Tom Cotton - sending a "mutinous" letter to Iran telling them they won't support a no-nukes agreement - Republicans are acting against the best interests of the United States in an effort to block action on climate change. Not only are Republicans acting against the US and the President, they are acting against the best interests of their own constituents.

In future posts I'll have more on how climate denier Republicans like Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, James Inhofe, Joe Barton and all of the current Republican candidates for the presidential nomination are hurting their own constituents.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

President Obama Went to Alaska; Here's Why That is Important to Climate Change Communication

It's been a big week in climate change, in more ways than one. This is especially true for President Obama. First he went to New Orleans, and then he spent several days in Alaska. That's a big deal for climate communication.

The New Orleans visit was on the occasion of the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. Ostensibly the focus of the trip was to show the federal government hasn't forgotten about those who are still struggling to recover. Despite Republican Governor Bobby Jindal's request that Obama not mention climate change, he did. And it was appropriate to do given that much of New Orleans still lies below sea level...and sea level is rising. Which means the next Katrina could be even worse.

But it's the Alaska visit that is most critical. Using a variety of modern media methods to reach out to the populace - Twitter, a "survival" television show appearance, Instagram, and video blogs, the President highlighted the importance of places like Alaska in climate change effects, and why solutions are needed.

He even talked about gigatons!

Science writer Chris Mooney wrote a nice column in the Washington Post about why Obama explaining gigatons is such a big deal. I recommend you read Mooney's fine article here. Most people probably still won't get the whole "science speak" stuff, but they might be able to visualize the idea of blocks of ice the size of the National Mall from the Capitol Building all the way to the Lincoln Memorial and four times as tall as the Washington Monument - then multiply that volume 75 times.

Now picture all that melting every year just from Alaskan glaciers. Add in melting ice from glaciers all over the world, plus Greenland and other northern land masses, plus Antarctica, plus, well, you get the idea. 

Here's the bottom line. Human activity is making our global climate warmer. That warming is significant. This year, 2015, is on track to be the hottest year on record, passing the last hottest year, which was 2014. And with a strengthening El Nino system in the Pacific, 2016 might even pass 2015. Action is necessary to reduce (and preferably reverse) emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2) into the system. These are the facts. 

Our decision point is not whether it is happening. It's happening. Our decision point is what do we do about it. The President has taken several steps and is leading the world into making substantive goals for CO2 reduction. Over the last year Obama has brought China, the other major emitter, into an agreement to deal with man-made climate change. Other agreements and goal-setting have been accomplished with other major contributors in the lead up to the big meeting in Paris at the end of this year.

This activity, and his trip to Alaska to highlight the need for action, is in stark contrast to the Republican-led Congress and the Republican candidates for president, all of whom are denying the science and choosing inaction.

By raising the visibility of man-made climate change, the President is speaking directly with to the public. An informed public can then ask their Governors, Senators, and Representatives what they are doing to deal with the unequivocal science. Denial isn't sufficient; the science doesn't go away because they ignore it. The effects seen already, and those sure to come, are real and impact the very constituents who send the most climate deniers to Congress. Yes, the people of Texas, Louisiana, and the midwest - all denier states - receive the most federal disaster aid yet deny the science on which the need for that aid is based. The constituents of Oklahoma, Florida, Louisiana, Missouri, and all the rest deserve to be represented by their elected officials, not pawns in a game in which those officials sacrifice the present and future for donations to their campaigns.

A more complete visualization of a gigaton and the ramifications of man-made climate change can be found on this expansion of Mooney's piece in the Washington Post.

For more on the President's Alaskan trip, check out this blog by Obama's chief science adviser, John Holdren.

For a good primer on man-made climate change, check out this series of helpful pages by the NASA climate research team.

One last point to make regarding President Obama's trip. Fossil fuel lobbyists, their front groups, and their network of media in collusion are unsurprisingly negative in their attacks on the President. Environmental groups and like-minded individuals are generally supportive, but even they have criticized the President for apparent contradictions (or hypocrisy) in going to Alaska to talk about climate change (plus all his other actions) while also signing off on oil leases in the Arctic for Shell Oil. I'll go into this in more detail in following weeks, but for now watch Obama's video, in particular about halfway through where he addresses his rationale regarding the leases.

To recap, President Obama has been doing two things in recent weeks and months that all of us should appreciate in terms of communicating climate science. One is that he is taking direct action where he can with his limited Executive Branch powers. This is absolutely necessary given Congresses inability and unwillingness to pass anything of substance. The second is that Obama is talking directly to the public about both the science and the need for action.

And that is a very good thing for all of us.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

The Irony of Climate Deniers Attacking Published Journal Articles

A new peer-reviewed paper was published recently in the scientific journal Theoretical and Applied Climatology. Its title is "Learning from Mistakes in Climate Research" and the objective is to survey recent "denier" papers, that is, the rare papers that reject the unequivocal scientific consensus that human activity is warming our climate system. The authors - seven climate scientists and science communicators from Norway, the Netherlands, the United States, the UK, and Australia - highlighted the errors in fact and logic common to the selected denier papers.

Not surprisingly, the denier lobbyists and their network of front groups and bloggers attacked the study. The lines of attack ignored the validity of the actual points being made and focused instead on its publishing history and the impact factor of the journal. These attacks are about as ironic as you can get given that deniers rarely even attempt to publish in actual scientific journals (preferring instead to "publish" opinion pieces in business blogs). The one journal they publish most in has an impact factor that is essentially non-existent. As the proverb goes, those who live in glass houses should not throw stones.

But it was rejected by other journals?

Deniers (on Facebook and other non-scientific venues, mainly by non-scientist ideologues and/or conspiracy theorists) are trying to denigrate the study by suggesting it was rejected by other journals. Their false conclusion is that if a paper is rejected by other journals it must somehow be wrong. That false conclusion shows an incredible ignorance of how scientific publishing works.

In previous posts I discussed how peer-review works (and how deniers try to abuse the process) so I won't repeat the basics here. Scientific journals reject thousands of papers every year based on factors that have nothing to do with whether the paper is good or bad. In all fields there are journals professionals in those fields consider the most prestigious, and so those professionals tend to submit their papers to the best journals first. That demand for space runs up against the obvious limitations of space each journal has to fill, so the most prestigious journals reject the vast majority of papers received solely on the basis of no room to print them. Journals may also reject papers because the topic doesn't fit the narrow scope of that particular journal.

In short, rejection in scientific journals is common, and expected.

The reason for the initial rejection of this particular paper is likely because it is an untraditional paper that doesn't fit the scope of most journals. Most climate studies collect data on temperature, sea level, ice thickness, or hundreds of other measurable factors, do statistics, and report the results. This paper is more of a survey of other papers selected because they represent the tiny percentage of papers rejecting the unequivocal science. The goal was to see if there were commonalities in their methods or logic. There are limitations of such a survey (as there are will all studies), and the authors acknowledge those limitations. The observations they make may be incomplete because the survey didn't look at all denier papers, but they are valid.

The irony here is that deniers rarely publish scientific papers, and when they try to publish they often are rejected. Those rejections may include the same factors as above, but they also include rejection based on lack of veracity of the data they present and the logic used to derive conclusions. As the "Learning from Mistakes" paper highlights, even the rare denier papers that do make it through the publication process have serious flaws that invalidate their conclusions. In fact, denier conclusions often don't even agree with the data they present in their own paper, never mind with reality.

But the journal has a low "impact factor?"

These same deniers have suggested that the journal the paper was published in has a "low impact factor." They falsely conclude from this that the journal is not to be trusted. That's silly, and inaccurate.

To begin with, the journal in which this paper was ultimately published, Theoretical and Applied Climatology, is put out by Springer Science, a renowned publishing company in business since 1842. The journal is a continuation of journals that have been published since 1949. In recent years the journal has evolved into an Open Access format, that is, the papers are available in full as PDFs for free to the public.

An "Impact Factor" is a measure of the average number of citations of recent articles, that is, how often are those articles cited by other authors in newer papers. It's a rather arbitrary metric with many criticisms, and there are other metrics that are also used. It's use is based on the assumption that papers that are cited more are somehow more important, but impact factors tend to be biased towards journals that publish review articles (people cite review articles instead of each individual study reviewed) and journals that publish cutting edge news (like Science and Nature). The more specialized the journal, the fewer opportunities there are for citing it.

The reason deniers have focused on this one metric is because they think it allows them to dismiss the paper without having to address any of its points. That, and the fact that the denier lobbyists sent word out via their blogging networks to tell everyone to focus on it.

The most recent impact factor for Theoretical and Applied Climatology in 2014 was 2.015. This falls within the range of most climate journals.

Not surprisingly, for the rare attempts by deniers to publish, their preferred journal, Energy & Environment, had an impact factor of 0.319, which ranked it 90th out of 93 journals in its category. Hardly something to brag about, especially since its editor admitted to "following her political agenda" in choosing the papers to publish (mostly from a small group of deniers). Of course, deniers' favorite platform for "publishing," that is, blogs, have zero impact factor because they aren't peer-reviewed at all. Which is why virtually everything in denier blogs is wrong.

There are more instances of denier ignorance and double standards demonstrating they don't understand most of what they parrot from their denier blogs. I've cataloged many of them on this page under Exposing Climate Denialism.

The main goal of the denier lobbyists and their blogger network (including Facebook trolls) is to deflect from the valid points being made in the journal article "Learning from Mistakes in Climate Research." Those "mistakes" made by deniers may be intentional, as the history of people like Willie Soon and Richard Lindzen suggest. They include "cherry picking," "curve-fitting," and other factual and logical errors like drawing conclusions that aren't even supported by the data they themselves present. This likely happens because they start with the conclusions they want and try to force-fit the cherry picked data to support it.

There's a word for that.

Take the time to read the article as it important to read what the denier lobbyists have tried to hide from the public. Dana Nuccitelli, one of the co-authors on the paper and a regular contributor to the Guardian, has provided a nice summary of their findings. Because the journal is open access you can download the full paper from their website and read it yourself. And here is the PDF copy.