Daily Archives: April 11, 2013

What is climate sensitivity, why does it matter, and who’s got what wrong and why?

Climate sensitivity is the number of degrees C that the earth’s average temperature (of the atmosphere air and water on top of the “earth” per se) will increase with a doubling of “pre-industrial CO2” in the environment.

This is an important number … and it is a number, and to save you the suspense, the number is about 3 … because it tells us what the direct effects of the release of fossil Carbon (mainly in the form of CO2) from the burning of fossil fuels would be.

Here’s the thing. Climate change denialists would like the number to be 1, or some other number lower than 3. Well, we would ALL like the number to be low, but those of us interesting in actual science and truth and such things mainly want to have a good estimate of this important value. Climate change denialists want to pretend that the number is lower than it is, regardless of what that number may be.

A while back, an unpublished study was leaked that seemed to indicate, taken at face value, that the Climate Sensitivity Number was about 1.9. The study is flawed, and as I said, unpublished (as far as I know). But this gave all the climate science deniers tingly feelings and there has been a fair amount of talk about how this backs up the obvious lack of warming over the last decade, global warming isn’t real, etc. etc.

One of the more insidious forms of climate science denialism is the small number of writers, some editorial in nature, some bloggers, associated with mainstream publications like the New York Times or Forbes, who either don’t really understand the science, or do understand it but don’t care that it is science and not politics, that it is something that needs to be gotten right, and that if they make unsubstantiated claims about the science someone will notice and provide corrections. The Economist is one of these mainstream outlets that tends to pander to the business community and pushes out stuff that is just bad commentary. Recently, a piece in the economist got the whole “climate sensitivity” thing and made a number of rather embarrassing mistakes.

These mistakes have been corrected by Dana Nuccitelli and Michale Mann in “How The Economist Got It Wrong” on the ABC web site.

Go read that to get what The Economist messed up. Personally I find this morbidly humerous because all the actual economists I’ve ever known, and I’ve known quite a few, pride themselves on getting complex stuff like this right, but here, The Economist made errors you would not let a Middle School student do in a basic Earth Science project.

Anyway, there are two key things that Nuccitelli and Mann point out that relate to the bigger picture that I wanted to mention here. These have to do with both the question of the climate sensitivity factor and the idea, which is incorrect, that warming has stalled for a decade (or some other number of years).

1) There is a fair amount of internal variability in climate systems. For example, if you want to measure the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere and count how much we are adding, you can do that, but you have to account for the fact in the natural earth system, CO2 moves in and out of the atmosphere at several different scales of time (seasonally, over longer term oscillations, etc.) and you have to account for that. The unpublished paper failed to do so, but the point I want to make here is that climate scientists can in fact account for these things. I see a lot of people realizing that the climate system is complex and from this concluding that it is unknowable. It is actually complex and knowable. (See this for a peer reviewed paper related to the topic of variation, and this for recent work on the specific role volcanoes play.)

2) If you look at climate data longish term (over decades) the earth is warming and we are in a warm decade. If you look at only data for the earth’s atmosphere over the last decade or so, and close one eye and tilt your head and kind of squint, and pretend to not notice that most of the years in this decade are warmer than any prior average value, then you might see a bit of a flattening off of temperature rise. It would be nice if this was true. It would mean that global warming has slowed down despite the release of lots of CO2 into the atmosphere (never mind that the rate of release over recent years has gone down because of the economy). However, if you measure the ocean and air together, you get a different picture. The heat that ends up on the earth because we circle the sun at 93 million miles or so warms both the air and the sea, and the two interact (and the ground, too, but mostly the air and the sea). In fact, most of the extra heat from global warming goes into the sea. You have to measure both. When you do, global warming does not look like it has stopped. Also, we have recently discovered that an alarming amount of heat may be building up in the deep, cold sea. This heat is important.

Global warming. It is real. And, real important, despite The Economist getting it wrong.

Please go have a look at Nuccitelli and Mann’s piece, and in fact, spread it around. Tweet it, facebook it, G+ it, give it to your mom. It’s important.

Graphic from EDF

Taking Bachmann Out of Congress

Minnesota’s 6th congressional district is represented by Michele Bachmann, who moved from the Minnesota Senate where she was one of the first legislators in the US to introduce academic freedom legislation to silence professors at the University of Minnesota who were lecturing on climate change and evolution, to the United States Congress a few terms back. Bachmann rode on her national popularity as a major co-founder of the Tea Party to secure re-election against a series of reasonable opponents. But last year, four things happened. First, Bachmann’s unrelenting over the top craziness started to catch up with her. Second, she let her constituents down by running for President instead of representing her district and doing very very poorly in that effort. Third, the Tea Party popularity started to wane as its hapless members lost interest or, in some cases, became embarrassed. Fourth, a well funded candidate, new to the political scene but capable, ran against her. So, last November, Jim Graves came almost within recount distance of Michelle Bachmann. And that was with Bachmann outspending Graves 12-1.

Well, today, Graves has announced that he will run again. He figures that he came close enough last time to make it possible for him to do it again only get those 4,000 votes or so he needed last time.

“These days Congress is all about scoring political points rather than actually solving problems and Minnesota’s 6th District — my home — is losing out because of that more than anywhere,” … “I’m not interested in celebrity, only in solutions.”

Bachmann has responded to Graves as she responded to every one of his moves during the last election: Sending around a fund raising letter linking Graves to a highly subversive and anti-American organization known to most of us as the Democratic Party.

In related news, Bachmann has won the 2013 Daily Kos Republican March to Madness Tournament. By a landslide.

The Corporation. Have you seen it?

Have you seen The Corporation? It is an excellent documentary that runs through the list of psychiatric disorders that seem to be endemic to corporations. It came out in 2004, but is still very relevant. If you’ve not seen it, you should.

The film has a website, here. In some countries you can watch at least part of the film there (it may also be on YouTube, I’ve not checked lately) and The DVD costs about 20 bucks to buy or a few dollars to watch on Amazon. It is not on Netflix streaming, but it is available as a DVD.

Sexual Politics of Meat

Usually I don’t mention books unless I’ve read them, but I thought a lot of my readers would be interested in a volume I have only heard about: Defiant Daughters: 21 Women on Art, Activism, Animals, and the Sexual Politics of Meat.

Here is the description:

When The Sexual Politics of Meat: A Feminist-Vegetarian Critical Theory by Carol J. Adams was published more than twenty years ago, it caused an immediate stir among writers and thinkers, feminists and animal rights activists alike. Never before had the relationship between patriarchy and meat eating been drawn so clearly, the idea that there lies a strong connection between the consumption of women and animals so plainly asserted.

But, as the 21 personal stories in this anthology show, the impact of this provocative text on women’s lives continues to this day, and it is as diverse as it is revelatory. One writer attempts to reconcile her feminist-vegan beliefs with her Muslim upbringing; a second makes the connection between animal abuse and her own self-destructive tendencies. A new mother discusses the sexual politics of breastfeeding, while another pens a letter to her young son about all she wishes for him in the future. Many others recall how the book inspired them to start careers in the music business, animal advocacy, and food. No matter whether they first read it in college or later in life, whether they are in their late teens or early forties, these writers all credit The Sexual Politics of Meat in some way with the awakening of their identities as feminists, activists, and women. Even if you haven’t read the original work, you’re sure to be moved and inspired by these tales of growing up and, perhaps more important, waking up to the truths around us.

Including a foreword from Carol J. Adams herself, this collection of fresh, bold voices defies expectations and provides rousing support for the belief that women have the power to change the world around them for this generation and those to come.