Thursday, December 29, 2016

How to Assess Climate Change Through Critical Thinking

To quote Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum in their book, Unscientific America, “[t]he problem with the internet is obvious to anyone who has ever used it; There’s tons of information available, but much of it is crap.” The same is true of Facebook, where pages can be set up on various topics, including Climate Change, and saturated (and administered) by people with no science training and/or who intentionally suppress science and promote denial of that science.

So how does the average person determine what is reliable information on the internet, and what is "crap?" The answer is through critical thinking.

That may sound all elitist and difficult to some, but it really isn't. We use critical thinking every day. When we are sick we call on doctors, not plumbers. When our bathtub is leaking, we call on plumbers, not doctors. Raise your hand if you would ask a trained surgeon to perform the much needed tumor surgery rather than see if your local bartender could cut you open before happy hour gets rolling.

So critical thinking is what we all do dozens of times a day as we decide between running out into traffic or waiting for the walk like at the intersection...or whether to drive our kids to school rather than handing them over to some random stranger who knocks on your front door. We think critically all the time. And yet, when it comes to assessing science we often stop thinking critically. So here is a reminder of how to assess whether what you are reading is science or anti-science.

Is it Science?

Science is both a body of knowledge and a process. Scientists observe what is happening, suggest a possible reason for it based on physical, biological, mathematical, and statistical knowledge, then test that possible reason (which we call a hypothesis) to see if it's true. We then keep testing to try to falsify it, that is, try to prove it wrong. Most scientific studies deal with small, measurable points, science is the sum total of all the relevant studies; any one study is not enough. Eventually you have enough information to call it a theory. Gravity, evolution, and man-made climate change are all called theories; they represent as close as science gets to proven fact.

Does the information come from a science source?

As the opening line to this post notes, you can find tons of information on the internet. But as we saw this past year, there is a lot of fake news and conspiracy junk out there in addition to accurate information. So how do you tell which is which?

For climate change, there are many scientific organizations that study the climate. These alphabet soup of organizations include NASA, NOAA, JMA, WMO, NSIDC, IPCC, UK Met Office, and others. Click on the names for links to their climate-related sites. There are also climate research organizations associated with universities. These are all legitimate scientific sources.

If you have to dismiss all of these scientific organizations to reach your opinion, then you are by definition denying the science. If you have to believe that all of these organizations, and all of the climate scientists around the world, and all of the hundred thousand published research papers, and physics, are all somehow part of a global, multigenerational conspiracy to defraud the people, then you are, again, a denier by definition.

So if you deny all the above scientific organizations there are a lot of un-scientific web sites out there that pretend to be science. Many of these are run by lobbyists (e.g.., Climate Depot, run by a libertarian political lobbyist, CFACT), or supported by lobbyists (e.g., JoannaNova, WUWT, both of whom have received funding and otherwise substantial support by lobbying organizations like the Heartland Institute), or are actually paid by lobbyists to write Op-Eds and other blog posts that intentionally misrepresent the science.

How do you know it's a science source?

In short, follow the credentials. More on that below in "Is the person an expert?"

Is the source accurate?

I wouldn't tell a brain surgeon what the brain looks like or how to do the surgery he has been trained to do. Most of us know how to do whatever we have been trained to do and have practiced through a career in that field, whether it be brain surgery, plumbing, librarian, beekeeping, accounting, or nuclear physics. We rely every day on experts in their fields, just as we expect others to call on us for whatever our particular expertise is. So if you aren't an expert in the field, you either accept the scientific expertise of those who are trained or you become an expert yourself. Note that becoming an expert doesn't mean "googling the internet" for an afternoon, it means going to graduate school and working in the field.

Non-experts, however, can learn the basic principles so they have a greater understanding of the science, thus allowing them to better employ critical thinking to assess the veracity of the source.

Is the person an expert?

The scientific organizations listed above (NASA, NOAA, etc.) only post information from their in-house experts. Other experts are professors at universities. You can determine if someone is an expert by following their credentials.

Michael Mann, for example, has a PhD in physics from Yale University (in addition to 3 Master's degrees and a Bachelor of Arts). He is director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, has worked for many years as a climatologist, and published hundreds of scientific papers. Another expert is James Hansen, who also has a PhD, decades of experience in the field, and hundreds of publications. This is the norm for climate scientists. For legitimate experts you can usually find their credentials online, either at the agency they work for or their university.

In contrast, someone like Ivar Giaever is not an expert in climate science. Giaever was an accomplished scientist in his field - tunneling in superconductors - which has no relevance at all to climate science. He has done no work in the field, has no publications in the field, and in fact admitted to "googling the internet" for a few hours before declaring he was a "skeptic." But even he is an outlier because the vast majority of anti-science sources are not scientists at all. Most are lobbyists or paid front groups or political ideologues with no knowledge of climate science. Again, track back to their credentials, or lack thereof.

But maybe some random person on the internet is right? 

This is a common refrain: "Sure, he has been proven wrong every single time in the past, but maybe he is right this time! You should evaluate the information, not the source!"

The problem with this refrain is that these unreliable sources are always wrong. Every single time. Their information has already been proven false many times. They simply repeat the same talking points over and over and over. Despite what many political ideologues believe, falsehoods don't suddenly become true because you've repeated it enough times. They are still false. Some sources will always - every time - print falsehoods. This is their job; to misrepresent, mislead, and, sometimes, outright lie. Lobbyists have a network of collusion that includes bloggers, media outlets, and paid spokespeople. Their job is to "manufacture doubt," just as the tobacco companies did for decades to suppress the science of smoking causing cancer.

There is no reason for honest people to waste time with sources who have established themselves as either intentionally dishonest or grossly ignorant. There are plenty of legitimate sources out there, and we do ourselves a disservice to hope that someday one of these constantly unreliable sites will stumble upon something accurate. Just ignore them and move on.

But what about blogs?

For most of us the science sources can be overly technical and hard to understand. That's true, though some, like NASA, have attempted to provide pages that get the basic information across without getting bogged down in technical language. Still, most people are going to get their climate science information from blogs or Facebook.

It's important to remember that blogs are not science, though they may help communicate the science to non-scientists. Some blogs are always reliable sources of information while others are always unreliable; how to tell one from the other was described here. Reliable blogs (including those from the scientific agencies as well as some news sites) will generally link back to the actual scientific study or studies being discussed. Don't stop with the blog; always go back to the original study. Be aware that the headline often doesn't reflect the actual content of the article (headlines are written by marketing people trying to be provocative in order to stimulate "hits") and the article often doesn't quite get the science right (again, because more provocative means more hits means more revenue for the author and any advertisers). Read the original paper, or at least the abstract if that is all that is available.

Lobbyist blogs and their front groups (and the unaffiliated but ideological blogs that plagiarize and saturate the blogosphere with the information fed through lobbyists and front groups) will often link back to another front blog rather than the original study. The reason is because these front blogs will "reinterpret" the study results, often drawing conclusions that are exactly opposite of the actual study conclusions. This is done by cherry picking pieces of the study or statements from the study report and then interpreting those pieces as if they were stand-alone. Thus, a paper that unequivocally states the humans are causing climate change might have one sentence of the uncertainties section cherry picked and used to claim the paper says humans have no part in climate change. Yes, lobbyist blogs and their plagiarists do that, and they do it all the time. This is why nothing on those blogs can be trusted. [When someone lies all the time, you can't assume that maybe this one time they accidentally said something true.]

I want to emphasize this point. Legitimate blogs will link to the scientific source and/or published papers. If the blog links to a lobbyist site or one of their front groups (e.g., WUWT, Climate Depot) then you can be assured that the blog is intentionally steering you to the "reinterpretation" of the study, not the actual study conclusions.

The above tips should be employed to ensure you think critically about the sources of information on which you rely. A blog by a comedian/satirist/radio talk show host three steps removed from an actual study they misrepresented is never going to be a reliable source. An Op-Ed in a business blog written by a lawyer paid by a tobacco and fossil fuel lobbying organization with a history of promoting falsehoods is never going to be a reliable source.

Legitimate sources like NASA, NOAA, IPCC, etc. are always going to be reliable. Stick to reliable sources. And ask yourself, do you have to dismiss 100+ years of published science and/or believe in a global, multigenerational conspiracy of the world's climate scientists for more than a decade? If you have to do this to believe something written on a blog, then the blog is not going to be reliable. In fact, the blog is promoting the denial of science.

Here are more ways to critically assess the validity of information you read on the internet.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Record Sea Ice Losses at BOTH Poles: This is What it Means

We've just hit the winter solstice - the first day of winter. And that means sea ice extent in the Arctic is going through its annual period of increase, which generally reaches a maximum around February before beginning its annual melting. And we are seeing an increase. But that increase is setting a record that we wish we weren't seeing because so far it's a record low.

Last year (that is, around February of 2016) we recorded the lowest Arctic sea ice extent in history. This year so far we're seeing that record low being broken. Now it's still early in the growth season so it might recover. Or it might not. Clearly the dropping sea ice extent in the Arctic continues the trend we've been seeing for decades. The ice is melting more than usual in the summer and its not growing back as much in the winter.

[See larger here]

As bad as that is - and it is very bad indeed - we're seeing an even worse result right now in the Antarctic. Because the Antarctic is at the southern pole, the area is now going into summer. As of early December Antarctic sea ice extent was the lowest on record.

It is highly unusual to see record low sea ice extents at both poles at the same time. Of course, these early indicators could reverse as the seasons (freezing in Arctic, melting in Antarctic) continue over the next two or three months, but the overall trends are not giving us much hope for correction.

To make matters worse, the Arctic is seeing its warmest temperatures for this time of year ever. And not just a little warmer; temperatures are heating up to unbelievable levels that have climate scientists startled - at least 20 degrees Celsius warmer than normal. Temperatures have actually been above the freezing point. This is causing melting during a part of the year where the ice should be freezing.

Part of the reason in the Arctic is because this past year set a record low total ice extent for the year (a combination of the record low maximum and near-record low minimum). With warmer waters in the summer and early fall the ice growth never got a good start in the late fall and now winter. If the low ice extent maximum trend continues it creates a vicious cycle of conditions that will lead to acceleration of the downward spiral we've been witnessing for years.

Total Polar Sea Ice Extent:

The reasons for the low ice extent in Antarctica are harder to explain. It may be related to weakening of westerly winds that generally insulate the Antarctic from the effects of global warming. Or it might be related to the ozone layer. Or just dumb luck. Unlike the Arctic, the Antarctic is harder to define. One thing is clear, however, and that is that the Antarctic should be the last place we would see the effects of climate change. The fact that we are seeing them (e.g., destruction of west Antarctic ice shelf and more rapid movement of glaciers in the east Antarctic) suggests we may have reached a tipping point. The ramifications of any sudden melting of land-based Antarctic ice (along with melting of Greenland) will be dramatic, to put it mildly.

The ramifications of Arctic melting are already being experienced - great warming, more melting, national defense issues, rising sea levels (from land-based melting), dramatic changes in weather patterns and jet streams, and much more.

We'll have to watch what happens over the next few months - melting in the Antarctic and freezing in the Arctic - to see if these record lows continue. If you're not sure how to read the graphs, check out this quick primer. For the basics on how the Arctic and Antarctic are different, read here.

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Madhouse Effect by Michael Mann and Tom Toles

This is a book every American should read, and read now. The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy sports a "Global Warming Meets Edvard Munch" cover, but that shouldn't be taken as a lack of seriousness. The book's authors - award-winning climate scientist Michael Mann and Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist Tom Toles - have attempted to bring both climate science and climate denial to the forefront. Using Toles's creative genius and Mann's scientific depth, and more than a smidgen of subtle humor, the two have succeeded masterfully.

This short book is a quick read and written in a style that is accessible to everyone. In short, it's the book I planned to write but never got around to. The eight chapters are easy to breeze through, but when you reach the end you realize you've learned a lot more than you anticipated.

It begins with a chapter on how science works, a topic that it appears most of the public hasn't yet grasped. It's also an introduction of sorts to how lobbyists and hired guns intentionally distort the science (but more on that later). Mann and Toles note that science is unique in that it is "self-correcting" by its very nature. Scientists publish their research, and other scientists challenge it. If someone got something wrong, the process is designed to find that out and correct the misconception. The chapter also clarifies the idea of skepticism. Scientists are inherently skeptical; it's what makes us tick. But most of the people who claim to be skeptical when they deny the science aren't skeptical at all.

The second chapter provides some of the basics of climate science. The first paragraph puts it all in context:

"The basics of climate science are actually very simple and always have been. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere traps heat, and we are adding more CO2 to the atmosphere. The rest is details."

They then go on to explain in general terms the "Physics and Chemistry 101" of climate change, plus some of the effects such as more extremes, rising sea levels, warmer atmosphere, ocean acidification, and melting ice. The chapter ends with a discussion of tipping points, an area of both great uncertainty and grave ramification.

Chapter 3 is perhaps the most important chapter: "Why Should I give a Damn?" In it they discuss the effects of climate change on national security, food production, water supplies, energy resources, land use, human health, and ecosystem disruptions. If none of that concerns you, how about the massive negative effect on the economy resulting from not doing anything? In short, you better give a damn because this is your life being impacted, and your children's and grandchildren's lives.

The next three chapters address the actions of climate deniers. Chapter 4 outlines the six stages of denial; Chapter 5 the war on climate science (here are those lobbyists and hired gun men mentioned earlier); Chapter 6 on the hypocrisy of climate denial. These are important chapters for anyone who believes Fox News and the conspiracy/white supremacy blog Breitbart are somehow "science" while NOAA, NASA, IPCC, and WMO are "in it for the money."

Chapter 7 hits on geoengineering, the idea that somehow we can find some technological fix. In short, it's akin to trying to find ways of keeping a bathtub from overflowing by throwing in toasters or blasting the rising water with a propane torch in an effort to evaporate it. These ideas are likely to 1) not work, and 2) have unintended consequences. Of course, the alternative is to turn off the tap and pull the plug. Duh.

The book ends on a more hopeful tone, as Chapter 8 delves into a path forward. What may come as a surprise to many folks is that we've already been working to reduce carbon emissions and shift from fossil fuels to renewable sources of energy. The world, through the leadership of the Obama administration, has taken significant steps toward righting the ship. More needs to occur.

Throughout the book are the cartoons of Tom Toles. Toles has an exceptional knack for taking the key points and boiling them down into an easily understood comic drawing. The cartoons heighten the value of the book tremendously. And don't miss the teeny toons in the bottom right corner of every cartoon; they too exquisitely capture the important moments.

This book is especially important given that the apparent incoming administration (this review was published on 12/15/16, a month or so after the 2016 election) has said it will make Rex Tillerson, CEO of ExxonMobil and a long-time funder of climate denial front groups, as the next Secretary of State.

So read this book. It reads fast. It provides excellent information. And it is necessary for all Americans to understand what we are up against.

More book reviews (click and scroll down)

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Who is Scott Pruitt?

Scott Pruitt is apparently the new administration's choice to become Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA. In short, this choice epitomizes the old warning of "the fox guarding the hen house."

Sound a little hyperbolic? In reality, it underestimates the problem.

Pruitt is the Attorney General for the oil and gas dependent state of Oklahoma. He is currently suing the EPA. Yes, the very same EPA he is slated to lead. Pruitt prides himself on suing the EPA "every chance he gets." He has sued EPA to eliminate standards for reducing smog pollution. He has sued EPA to remove protections against mercury pollution. He has sued EPA to remove protections against toxic arsenic pollution. He has sued EPA to block protections against acid gases and other pollutants from power plants. He has sued EPA to block air quality standards in national parks and wilderness areas.

Until he is sworn in, assuming that happens, Pruitt will be continuing his campaign to block EPA from implementing clean air, clean water, and climate change regulations that Congress has authorized it to implement.

Republicans hate mentioning that part. But it is Congress that has passed laws that require EPA to develop regulations to accomplish what Congress told EPA to implement in those laws. Furthermore, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered EPA to follow through on laying out regulations because it was too slow in doing so. Yes, the Congress and Supreme Court ordered EPA to protect human and environmental health, but Republicans blame EPA for doing the job they were required to do.

Pruitt has led the suite of Republican states fighting EPA health and safety regulations, in particular ones that his fossil fuel lobbyists tell him they don't like. If Pruitt is confirmed, he will try to dismantle these health and safety efforts from the inside.

Pruitt has received several hundreds of thousands of dollars from the fossil fuel industry. He was caught sending letters to President Obama under his own name that were actually written by gas industry lawyers. He has fought to eliminate EPA oversight completely, arguing that fossil fuel dependent states like his have a right to destroy the environment, human health, and the climate system just because they make money doing so.

Not surprisingly, Pruitt is a climate denier. He routinely repeats the same old non-science lobbyist talking points fed to him by fossil fuel and libertarian lobbying organizations in Washington. He has outright lied about how EPA has attempted to implement the Congressional mandates given it. He has defended the right of corporations and other Republicans to lie about the state of climate science. And now he'll be in charge of the Agency that both he and the incoming administration have promised to dismantle.

This is your health and safety they are putting at risk.

The professed goals of Pruitt and the administration are to eliminate any regulations that require fossil fuel and other companies to limit their pollution. To eliminate all safeguards against massive CO2 emissions into the atmosphere and oceans. To eliminate all innovation and advances in our future energy needs.

This is the person the incoming administration has chosen to lead the EPA, the Agency he has vowed to destroy. Now he'll have a chance to destroy all health and human safety protections for all of us from the inside.

Oh, and it gets worse.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Incoming Administration is Even Worse Than Expected for Climate Science

Prior to the recent U.S. election this page noted "the last gasp of climate denial groups." It seems denial lobbyists are now guarding the hen house. The shocking election result brings with it expectations of climate denial, deceit, and defunding of science organizations. And it likely will get even worse.

To begin with, the person selected to head the EPA transition is Myron Ebell, chief anti-science lobbyist at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Similar anti-science lobbyists are in charge of transition for the Departments of Energy and Interior. Likely EPA administrators have been narrowed down to fossil fuel state politicians intent on gutting EPA health and safety regulations. Many senior EPA staff have suggested they won't remain in an agency led by anti-science lobbyists.

The new administration has already indicated it will abuse its political power to suppress science and push conspiracy theories. The climate science budget at NASA (and likely NOAA) is expected to be slashed. As with all Republican administrations and Congresses, their choice is always to cut funding of science research so that research can't continue to demonstrate the dishonesty of science denial.

With Republicans controlling both houses of the legislative branch, the entire executive branch, and likely to stack the judicial branch for decades to come, Americans are faced with an anti-American plutocracy in charge of the country.

All of this, of course, will hurt all Americans, including those people who voted for the Republican ticket because, well, not because they are racist or bigoted, they say, but because, well, because, um, something about the high cost of health care.

Health care costs will immediately go up as the new administration cuts out competition and throws at least 15 million people off insurance rolls.

So much for that. Congratulations, America, you got played.

Because of the ignorance of voters across the world (think Brexit, the 2016 U.S. election, and the upcoming French elections), we are now faced with significant regression of humanity. Scientists will be required to continue research with even more limited budgets, face accentuated anti-science lobbyist power, and deal with a populace that seems incapable of connecting actions with consequences. Just ask all those Republican voters now complaining that Republicans will kill their health insurance, take away their medicare, and destroy social security.

Somehow scientists have to find a way to reach out to the public. That job just got a lot harder.

Meanwhile, the climate continues to warm (2016 will set a new heat record for the third year in a row) and humans continue to be the dominant cause of that warming.

To quote Neil deGrasse Tyson, "The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe it."

In other words, the science is the science. Your choice to deny the science doesn't change the science.

Time to get to work.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Effect of the U.S. Election Result on Climate Change

A disaster for the planet? Or will we keep building on the progress? No one knows for sure.

There is no doubt that the surprise election result will bring many questions about what happens to global to combat climate change. The fact that Myron Ebell from the anti-science lobbyist Competitive Enterprise Institute is heading up the EPA transition team signals a disdain for science.

Beyond that, everyone is guessing.

Here's a quick run down on people trying to analyze the situation. Click the links to read the full articles.

There's no way around it: Donald Trump is going to be a disaster for the planet - Vox

Trump picks top climate skeptic to lead EPA transition - Scientific American

Climate change: Nations will push ahead with plans despite Trump - BBC

Change ahead: Shifts on immigration, health, climate, and taxes - New York Times

Donald Trump's victory could mean disaster for the planet - TIME

All is not lost on climate change - Slate

The global danger's of Trump's climate denial - National Geographic

In Trump, the U.S. puts a climate denier in its highest office and all climate change action in limbo - Inside Climate News

While the results of the election on climate are uncertain, the fact that humans are heating up our climate system is unequivocal. The year 2014 set a new heat record, which was broken by 2015 and will be broken again by 2016. According to the World Meteorological Organization, the five hottest years have all been since 2011. The trend will continue upward.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Basics of Climate Change Science - The Series

This page started a series of posts on the basics of climate change science and why we know that human activity is causing the climate to warm. To make the information easier to find, this current post creates a running summary and links to all the other posts. Whenever new articles are written they will be added to this central access point. Click on the titles for the full articles.

1. So is it "Global Warming" or "Climate Change?": A guide to some basic terms used by climate change scientists, including clarification of terms that scientists and the public use in different ways.

2. What is the Greenhouse Effect and What Does it Have to Do with Global Warming?: The Earth is kept warm by the natural greenhouse effect. This post describes the basic scientific principles and the history of their discovery, beginning with William Herschel in 1800.

3. So What are Greenhouse Gases and What are NOT Greenhouse Gases?: Most of the warming of the greenhouse effect is caused by a few gases that occur in very small amounts in the atmosphere. The strongest greenhouse gases are water vapor, CO2, methane, and ozone, with CO2 being the main driver of warming.

4. CO2 and Other Radiative Forcings of Global Warming: Impacts on the warming of the climate include forcings and feedbacks. This post explains the basic principles and the main drivers of global warming.

5. Carbon Dioxide (CO2): The Smoking Gun of Climate Change: CO2 is the main driver of  global warming. This post introduces the relationship between CO2 and temperature, and sets the stage for future posts on why we know the CO2 we've added to the climate system is causing our current unprecedented spike in warming.

As noted, this is a continuing series so more posts will be linked as they are written. Feel free to bookmark this post and return periodically to catch any updates you may have missed.

For those interested in more detailed discussions of climate science, follow the links provided in the posts above. For those who like even more details, review the latest IPCC Assessment Report Number 5 (AR5), whose four volumes provide thousands of pages on the science. Start with the Synthesis Report to get a detailed overview, then move to the Physical Science Basis report to dig deeper on the science. The other two reports deal with Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability and Mitigation of Climate Change, important for examining ways we can deal with the unequivocal science.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Disappearing Spoon by Sean Kean

The full title of this book is The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sean Kean. 

The spoon that disappears is made of gallium (Ga, Atomic Number 31), a metal that melts at around 86 degrees Fahrenheit. One scientific party gag was to serve tea in Victorian parlors and watch the guests as their teaspoons slowly dissolved away. Scientists are fun that way.

The book is a surprisingly entertaining as well as informative read. 

Kean takes us through a tour of the periodic table of elements, the mainstay of chemistry and physics. As exciting as that sounds (or not), the tour actually includes murder and madness, love and attraction, and a whole lot of history. 

Early in the book the focus is on the development of the table itself as scientists started to notice patterns of characteristics. Not surprisingly, these patterns relate to the deep-diving chemistry and physics of elements and you'll probably learn more about orbital shells and subatomic anatomy through this book than your introductory science class. 

The author goes on to examine specific elements and groups of elements as they come to be known, all while giving a voyeur's look into the often mischievous (and sometimes mad) world of the scientists - both male and female - who discovered them.

Most science and history loving readers should find this book fascinating. Kean's writing style is jam-packed with information and yet easy to read. And even sometimes downright fun. 

The book is definitely worth reading.

Other scientific book reviews (click and scroll down)

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Last Gasp of Climate Denial Groups

The headline in the Guardian says it all: "No longer taken seriously, we're seeing the last gasp of climate denial groups." Written by scientist and regular Guardian contributor, Dana Nuccitelli, explores the recent lecture given by "Lord" Matt Ridley, a somewhat journalist known for his misleading (to be kind) support of climate change denial lobbyists. Most specifically in this regard is the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), an anti-science climate denial policy lobbying organization in the UK.

Click on the link above to read Nuccitelli's debunking of Ridley's repetition of the usual denier talking points, all of which have been debunked over and over and over before.

In a nutshell, Ridley is wrong to claim that environmental predictions are "always exaggerated." The examples he gives weren't exaggerated (in fact, they were likely underestimated) AND they were corrected by taking appropriate policy action. We took responsibility for them and fixed them.

Ridley is also wrong to claim "model predictions have been consistently wrong." In fact, models have been remarkably accurate. If anything, they have underpredicted the rate and magnitude of man-made climate change.

Ridley is absolutely wrong to claim "the best evidence" indicates climate sensitivity is "relatively low." In fact, he's carefully, and dishonestly, cherry picked the handful of studies he likes and ignored all the majority of studies that he doesn't like.

Finally, Ridley is wrong again when he suggests that all the world's scientists for the last 100+ years are in on some grand conspiracy. Frankly, when you have to have global, multigenerational conspiracies to "explain" your position, you know you have no scientific evidence.

Again, these points are discussed in detail in Nuccitelli's excellent debunking.

Why was this talk even given?

But let's step back and explore the "last gasp" part of the title. The Ridley talk was given on the premises of the Royal Society, which is the UK's version of the National  Academy of Sciences. The obvious question is why would the Royal Society open up its conference facility to such a person as Matt Ridley, especially as he was there representing the GWPF lobbying organization? Many scientists asked this question as well, rightly concerned that the GWPF was attempting to garner some undue credibility by having the talk in such a prestigious location.

Like most scientific organizations, the Royal Society (RS) is underfunded and often rents out its conference rooms to outside groups. Once a contract is signed they can't really cancel the event without cause. Apparently the RS initially thought that since the science is unequivocal, having a "policy" oriented talk would focus on policy options for addressing the science.

Not surprisingly, that isn't what Ridley did. As usual for GWPF, he spent the majority of his lecture denying the science rather than proposing policy measures. That is par for the course for denial lobbyists, who prefer to deny the existence of reality instead of take responsibility for addressing it.

And so the "last gasp." Denial lobbyists have painted themselves into the corner of their own rhetoric. They've been denying the unequivocal science of man-made climate change for so long and with such clearly divorced-from-reality deception that they have no honest way of shifting to actual policy discussions. Given that their denial is so obviously dishonest, they have nothing left than to try stunts like this. "Ooh, what a coup. We're at the Royal Society. That will get us some credibility!"

Dana Nuccitelli's Guardian article shows the result is the opposite. Other than their ideological Facebook spammers, no one takes the denial lobbyists and their spokespeople seriously any more. The Paris climate agreement recently went into force earlier than expected because the nations of the world understand the necessity of dealing with the unequivocal science. Deniers are becoming more and more pathetic and alone in their denial.

Denial lobbying groups like GWPF, Heartland Institute, Cato Institute, George C. Marshall Institute, and all the other fossil fuel- and libertarian-funded lobbyists and their hired spokespeople have devolved into self-parody, much like, as Nuccitelli notes, the Trump-led Republican party in the United States.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) - The Smoking Gun of Climate Change

Carbon dioxide - the smoking gun of global warming! There, I said it. So far in this series we've established that the greenhouse effect is the normal process that keeps our planet within a reasonable temperature range so that we can live here. Now we'll jump ahead a bit and show why we know that it is CO2 from fossil fuels that is causing the rising global temperatures. This will take several posts so to begin with I'll focus on a series of graphs that will clearly show the relationship between CO2 and temperature.

First, a reminder of what has been happening with temperatures since 1880. In this land-ocean temperature index graph it's pretty clear that average global temperatures have been rising.

Now, what has been happening with CO2? Well, we have more than 50 years of very high quality continuous data on CO2 taken at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. The famous Keeling curve shows that CO2 has been rising steadily during that time. The line line goes up and down because CO2 release is seasonal. This year we passed 400 ppm, a 40% increase over pre-industrial highs.

By the way, if you look at the temperature graph and then the Mauna Loa CO2 graph you'll notice that the relationship isn't linear. In other words, while the CO2 has had a fairly steady and even climb, the temperature tends to go up and down in the short-term because there are important short-term events (e.g., El Nino, La Nina, AO, etc.) or other pollutant impacts (e.g., aerosols), not to mention the occasional volcano, that can either enhance or inhibit the effects of CO2. Anyone who suggests that there is an exact one-for-one linear relationship between CO2 concentration and temperature on a short-term basis clearly doesn't understand the science. In any case, even with the short-term "noise" you can still clearly see the longer-term climb in temperatures along with the CO2.

Okay, continuing on, you can also track back and see how CO2 and two other greenhouse gases have increased dramatically in the last century.

I'll come back and talk about methane and nitrous oxide in future posts, so for now just focus on the carbon dioxide (CO2), the red line in the graph above. So how does the CO2 relate to the temperature. In the graph below you can easily see that temperatures (cool blue to warm red) have increased as CO2 increased (the black line).

The following graph also shows the correlation between increasing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere and temperatures.

Looking pretty clear, isn't it. And it is pretty clear. As I've discussed in previous posts the dynamics of the greenhouse effect are basic physics, and they were first discovered 200 years ago. Of course, science always will look at new data, and with the incredible growth of technology, use of satellites, ability to measure ice cores and ocean depths, etc., climate scientists from all disciplines have been able to find more and more data, and all of it supports the concept that CO2 is causing an increased warming of the atmosphere.

Okay, this post has hit some of the highlights and tried to show the correlation with graphs. I'll take a closer look at key points in future posts. For now I'll leave you with one more graph. Scientists often get asked how they know it is human activity that is causing the increasing temperatures. The following is just one way we know. Graphs for each part of the world show the same trends.

I'll talk more about this later, so for now just look at the black line and the pink and blue bands in each small graph. The black lines are the observed (measured) temperatures in each geographical region going back to the early 1900s. The blue bands show the results of modeling with just the natural forcings, like those things I talked about in earlier posts. The pink bands show the results of modeling when human activity forcings are added to the calculations. Guess what. The modeling thatincludes human activity match pretty well in all regions to the actual observedtemperatures. The modeling that omits the human component, well, not so much.

[This is part of a series of posts explaining the basic science of climate change. More posts will be added weekly.]