An Evangelical Christian Republican View of Climate Change

Trending wetter with time: weather never moves in a straight line, but data from NOAA NCDC shows a steady increase in the percentage of the USA experiencing extreme 1-day rainfall amounts since the first half of the 20th century. Photograph: NOAA NCDC

My Apology to Paul Douglas

I admit that I do a lot of Republican bashing. I’m a Democrat, and more than that, I’m a partisan. I understand that a political party is a tool for grass roots influence on policy, if you care to use it. The Democratic party platform, at the state and national level, reflects my policy-related values reasonably well, and the Republican approach is largely defined as supporting the opposite of whatever the Democrats say, even when Democrats come up with a policy that is closely based on a previously developed Republican policy. So, my hope is to see the Democratic caucus in the majority, in both houses of my state legislature, and both houses of the US Congress. And a Democratic President. This is the only way that the policies I see as appropriate and important are advanced, and the anti-policies put forth by the reactionary party, the Republicans, are not.

So, with respect to elected officials, I will always oppose Republicans and always support Democrats. That includes opposing “Reasonable Republicans” (an endangered species) and, not happily, supporting Red Dog Democrats. This is necessary because of the necessity of a majority caucus in each legislative branch. (You probably know this, but the majority party gets to call the shots, run committees, etc.) At some future date, when Democratic majorities are not as tenuous, I may change that approach, but not now.

If key policy orientations for key issues tended to find cross-party support, I would not be so much of a partisan. But that is not what happens these days in government. My partisanship is not a choice, but a necessity required by Republican reactionary philosophy among elected officials.

So, that is my explanation — not excuse, but explanation — for my Republican bashing, a behavior that is one side of a coin. The obverse is, obviously, Democratic cheerleading.

And, with that as background, I sincerely apologize to my friend Paul Douglas.

Minnesota Nice Weather

Paul is one of the country’s top meteorologists.

When I was about to move to Minnesota, I flew out to find an apartment for my family, and get the feel of the landscape. I stayed in a hotel in the near western suburbs, and spent each day looking at apartments, and checking out driving times between various neighborhoods and the University of Minnesota. Every evening I pick up the local papers to peruse them while watching the local news, because that is a good way to get to know a place.

One day I was out driving around, lost, somewhere near downtown on this mess of highway that made no sense to me. The sky had been filled since early morning with enormous thunderheads, the kind I had seen previously in the Congo, but rare in Boston, where I was living at the time. Suddenly, a huge thunderstorm passed overhead, with hail, and the road filled with water, forcing me to pull off for a few minutes to avoid hydroplaning. After the storm had passed, I drove back out onto the highway, and witnessed an amazing sight.

First, I should note that in Minnesota, you can see the sky for great distances because it is relatively flat here. Minnesotans don’t think of Minnesota as flat, and compared to Kansas, it isn’t. But it is compared to my previous homes in Boston or upstate New York. I remember thinking that day that Minnesota counted as “Big Sky Country” in its own way. Minus the Rocky Mountains.

Anyway, the sky was being big, and the view was filled with more thunderheads. But off to the northeast was a huge horizontally elongated cloud. It was at about the same elevation as the lower parts of the nearby thunder clouds, longer in its longest dimension than a good size thunder storm, but shaped more like a giant cigar. And it was rotating, rapidly, like a log rolling down hill. (Except it wasn’t really going anywhere.)

I thought to myself, “This is amazing. I wonder if the people of Minnesota appreciate how spectacular and beautiful is their sky and weather, which they observed every day!”

Later that evening, I got back to my motel and switched on the news. The top news story that day, it turns out, happened to be the day’s thunderstorms, so the anchor handed off the mic to the meteorologist.

I had made an error in thinking that the people of Minnesota might be inured to spectacular thunder storms and giant rotating cigar shaped clouds. The weather reporter was showing news footing of the sky, including the rotating cigar shaped cloud I had witnessed. He told the viewers that the storms today were especially spectacular, and that this giant rotating cigar thing was a special, highly unusual weather event. He named it, calling it an arcus cloud, and noted that it was effectively similar to a tornado, in terms of wind speed and destructive potential, but that this sort of cloud rarely touched down anywhere.

(This sort of arcus cloud is a roll cloud, very rare in continental interiors, though somewhat more common in coastal areas.)

That year there were many thunderstorms in the Twin Cities. The following year as well. There were also a lot of tornadoes. All of the tornadoes I’ve ever seen with my own eyes (small ones only) were during that two year period, including one that passed directly overhead and eventually damaged a tree on the property of a house we had just made an offer on, subsequently moving along a bit father and menacing my daughter’s daycare.

An Albino Unicorn Observes Weather Whiplash

I’m pretty sure, if memory serves, that some time between my observation of the arcus cloud and the Saint Peter tornado, Paul Douglas moved from Chicago back to the Twin Cities, where he had perviously been reporting the weather.

Paul Douglas will tell you that during this period he, as a meteorologist covering the midwest and plains, started to notice severe weather coming on more frequently than before. When such a thing happens a few years in a row, one can write that off as a combination of long term oscillations in weather patterns and random chance. But when the fundamental nature of the weather in a region shifts and such normally rare events become typical, then one might seek other explanations. Climate change, caused by the human release of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, is ultimately the explanation one is forced to land on when considering widespread, global (and Minnesotan), changes in weather patterns.

Paul describes himself as an “albino unicorn.” This is not a reference to a horn sticking out of his nose, or atypical pigmentation. Rather, he recognizes that as a Republican who fully accepts science, and in particular, the science of climate change, he is an odd beast. It is worth noting that Paul is also an Evangelical Christian. There are not many Evangelical Christian Republicans who understand and accept science. There are probably more than the average liberal or progressive Democrat thinks there are, because such rare beasts need to keep their heads down in many contexts. But Paul is the rarer subspecies of albino unicorn that simply refuses to do that. He speaks openly and often about climate change, giving talks, frequent interviews (like this one with me), and regular appearances on various news and commentary shows.

Paul currently runs this company, and writes an excellent weather blog here. His weather blog focuses on Minnesota weather, but it should be of interest to everyone in the US and beyond, because he also catalogues current extreme weather events globally, and summarizes current scientific research on climate change.

You are probably familiar with The Guardian’s blog on climate change, “Climate Consensus – the 97%” written by my fellow Minnesotan John Abraham, and Dana Nuccitelli, author of Climatology versus Pseudoscience: Exposing the Failed Predictions of Global Warming Skeptics. The current post on that blog is a guest post by Paul Douglas: Meteorologists are seeing global warming’s effect on the weather.

The graph at the top of this post is featured in Paul’s writeup, so go there and read the background. If you happen to know Donald Trump, suggest to him that there is an interesting write-up on climate change by an Evangelical Christian Republican, which he should read in order to get the Evangelical Christian Republican view on the topic!

Paul writes:

In a day and age of scammers, hackers, hucksters and special interests it’s good to be skeptical. You should be skeptical about everything. Some of the biggest skeptics on the planet are scientists. In fact, science is organized skepticism. Climate and weather are flip-sides of the same coin; everything is interconnected. Climate scientists tell us the climate is warming and meteorologists are tracking the symptoms: freakish weather showing up with unsettling regularity. Even if you don’t believe the climate scientists or your local meteorologist do yourself and your kids a favor. Believe your own eyes.

Paul saw the signature of anthropogenic climate change in the weather he was analyzing and reporting on long before climate scientists began to connect the dots with their research. Many of the dots remain unconnected, but the association between observable changes in the climate system and changes in the weather is now understood well enough to say that it is real. I believe that the recent uptick in acceptance of climate science by Americans is partly a result of the impossible to ignore increase in severe weather events, especially flooding and major storms. The most severe heat waves have, so far, occurred in other countries, but we do get the news and we do know about them.

Check out Pauls’ Guardian writeup where he connects the dots for you, and makes a strong case that we need to put aside denialism of the science.

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31 thoughts on “An Evangelical Christian Republican View of Climate Change

  1. that description of the rolling billow of a cloud sounds almost exactly like the end scene of the movee ‘A Serious Man’, which was filmed in MN, in the suburbs somewhere, I think.

  2. Curiously, sort of apropos to the piece here, that movie, ‘a serious man’, had a distinct religious theme – Jewish in this case.

  3. Kudos to The Guardian for letting ink flow where Science and Scientific American fear to tread

    Nary a politically incorrect word has appeared in their pages in decades, and their partisan denial of the existence of scientific Republicans has turned the Republic of Science into all but a one party state.

  4. Nary a politically incorrect word has appeared in their pages in decades, and their partisan denial of the existence of scientific Republicans has turned the Republic of Science into all but a one party state.

    Come on, Russell. Paul Douglas self-describes as ‘an albino unicorn’. Not that the Graun is without faults, mind you, but misrepresenting the political hue of climate change denial is not one of them.

  5. C’mon, Russell – every True Republican knows that the only thing Science and Scientific American publish is politically incorrect garbage to further the Muslim Socialist Econazi New World Order Bilderberg Obama conspiracy to fluoridate our water and indoctrinate our children to perverse LBGT bathroom etiquette. There oughtta be a law!

  6. Have BBD & Brian abandoned those science communication in favor of their blog comments? The revolving door between The Nation Institute and The Center for American Progress and their editorial offices would do credit to the Pentagon.

    The decades since Earth Day have seen the AAAS segue from centrist bipartisanship to slightly to the right of Science For The People.

  7. Yes, Russell, it’s all a librul conspiracy to fool the people into paying for world socialism with their tax dollars. Or something.

  8. No, BBD- its called the sociology of science. Are you denying that leans by more than three sigma towards Guardian-reading evangelists as zealous as Haldane , Bernal, Gould Mooney & Klein?

    Get back to us when the first decimal of the value of ECS actually equilibrates.

  9. The readership demographic of the Guardian doesn’t affect physics. An ECS or even EfCS of ~1C would, given the observed transient response of ~0.9C to 280 -> 400ppm CO2.

  10. RickA – continuing from the Steyn thread…

    Just to keep things coherent, I will start us off again.

    Human activity since 1880 has increased the amount of energy in the climate system. More energy in the climate system affects all weather events, though not equally or in the same way. But there is an effect, all the same. How could there not be?

    I’m asking the question how could there not be an anthropogenic component to all modern weather? once again because you have not answered it so far, despite being asked twice.

    So, here we are again.

  11. BBD:

    We cross posted on the other thread – but I am happy to move here for continued discussion.

    Do you believe that spring is caused by climate change?

    How about summer?

    How about winter?

    And fall?

    Do you believe that it is normal to snow in the winter?

    Do you believe that it is normal to rain in the spring?

    How do you assign a fractional amount of climate change blame to a typical spring shower or a typical winter snowfall?

    What if a particular future spring is below historical averages for rainfall (but not drought) – what fractional amount of climate change blame would you assign for a rainfall event during that period?

    We are supposed to have a “normal” hurricanes season this year (I am talking USA here). What fractional amount of climate change blame would you assign for this hurricane season?

    What fractional blame do humans get for the less than normal number of hurricanes over the last 10 years?

    I think this fractional attribution meme is totally unworkable and frankly meaningless.

    Please explain how this is supposed to work?

  12. BBD #15:

    Cross posted again!

    Ok – say we can actually measure the energy level in the Earth climate system and it really is higher (and not just heat moving around internally). I will grant you that point for this discussion.

    Sure the higher energy will have an effect.

    But what effect and how to measure it – especially as to any particular rainfall event in a locale or a snowfall in a locale.

    In Minnesota we had a normal amount of snowfall last year (as far as I know anyway). How can “normal” or within the historical averages (say from before 1950) be assigned fractional blame due to climate change.

    If the SREX report says no single weather event can be blamed on climate change – then why switch to blaming every weather event on climate change?

    Are we not supposed to defer to the experts?

    Just kidding – I don’t and neither should you.

  13. BBD:

    Here is how I look at it.

    The seasons are not caused by climate change. To me that is a given.

    That means that “normal” weather within each season is not caused by climate change.

    So a typical spring shower (at least in Minnesota and perhaps the entire Northern Hemisphere) is zero percent caused by climate change.

    Spring showers are normal.

    So is spring flooding (in Minnesota).

    The snow melting in spring (in Minnesota) is normal.

    Now the problem is when something happens which is not normal – say we break a record.

    That is difficult because it is normal to break records also – we have been doing it all along from 1880 to 1950 (and it continues to date).

    But sure – if we had 30 springs without “normal” spring showers or 30 winters without “normal” snowfall – I would be inclined to say we were outside “normal” territory and could see a correlation with climate change.

    But I don’t see that yet.

    The weather continues to be fairly normal (at least in Minnesota).

    I think it is probably not scientifically sound to place any fractional human blame due to climate change on a normal spring shower.

    That is my position – what is yours?

  14. RickA

    I chose this thread for a reason – the subject of the exceptional flooding in France, Germany, Bavaria and Austria came up. Now, look at the graph at the top of the headpost. More rainfall.

    This is standard physics and a long-anticipated effect of AGW on weather: precipitation extremes increase.

    A warmer troposphere and warmer SSTs = more WV in the lower atmosphere = more extreme precipitation events (these can be snow as well as rain). And that’s exactly what we are seeing.

    For now it isn’t possible to quantify the effect of AGW accurately (eg. 6% of this or that flood attributable to AGW; 94% natural).

    But – and this is the big but – neither is it possible to say that AGW had no effect on this or that extreme weather event.

    There is more energy in the climate system. We put it there. It is starting to have discernable effects on the weather.

    The forced trend will emerge clearly from the weather noise in time. And by then, we will be in serious trouble with this stuff.

  15. BBD #19:

    More rainfall.

    I can report that locally (Brainerd MN) we have had more rainfall as well. My lake is back to the same height it was 30 years ago.

    But – see – my neighbours think this height is normal and the lower level was abnormal.

    Ditto for Lake Superior.

    I assumed some of the higher rainfall in the USA (at least in Minnesota) was due to el nino?

    I have no idea if el nino can affect rainfall in Europe. I wonder if there is any correlation with el nino conditions and higher than average rainfall in Europe? I truly don’t know – but I certainly wonder (since they certainly cause heavier rainfall in Texas and Calf. – at least).

    But I am very happy to hear you agree that currently it is not possible to quantify climate change as to fractional attribution to human causes versus nature as to an extreme weather event – because I agree.

    Even more so as to a “normal” weather event.

    Therefore we shouldn’t blame heavy rainfall on climate change.

    We shouldn’t blame fires started by lightning strikes on climate change.

    Not until we can actually attribute fractional blame to humans for a particular weather event.

    And even though I am pushing back on blaming humans for every weather event – that does not mean I wouldn’t support getting more energy from non-CO2 fossil fuels.

    I am on record as agreeing to increase our electricity generation by nuclear from 20 ish to 75 or 80% – that would be good (if we could do it).

    As solar power gets cheaper and more efficient – I am sure the share it will produce will go up – and that is also good.

    However, I do happen to think that a carbon tax would be net bad.

    But that is just a personal opinion.

  16. But I am very happy to hear you agree that currently it is not possible to quantify climate change as to fractional attribution to human causes versus nature as to an extreme weather event – because I agree.

    Even more so as to a “normal” weather event.

    Therefore we shouldn’t blame heavy rainfall on climate change.

    Will you please refrain from altering my statements. I do not appreciate it.

    What I said was:

    For now it isn’t possible to quantify the effect of AGW accurately (eg. 6% of this or that flood attributable to AGW; 94% natural).

    But – and this is the big but – neither is it possible to say that AGW had no effect on this or that extreme weather event.

    What you just did was flat-out dishonest. Especially given the *evidence* presented in the OP about increasing US rainfall. Just because fractional attribution is extremely difficult at present does not mean that you can deny the contributory factor of AGW to weather extremes.

    Your only argument is word-twisting. You have to concede this point. Please do so.

  17. BBD:

    I thought we had agreed we cannot do fractional attribution to a particular extreme event based on the current state of the science.

    I thought we therefore agreed that meant we couldn’t say AGW had no role – but also that we couldn’t say AGW definitely had a role, in any particular extreme weather event.

    Sorry for misunderstanding you.

    Because that is my position.

    I am happy to agree not to say that there is no proof that AGW didn’t have any influence over any particular weather event.

    But by the same token, I also firmly believe there is no proof that AGW definitely had any influence over any particular weather event.

    Which is what the SREX report said – so I am consistent with that.

  18. I thought we had agreed we cannot do fractional attribution to a particular extreme event based on the current state of the science.

    I thought we therefore agreed that meant we couldn’t say AGW had no role – but also that we couldn’t say AGW definitely had a role, in any particular extreme weather event.

    No. That’s wrong and I’ve explained why several times now.

    Because that is my position.

    And it is wrong.

    But by the same token, I also firmly believe there is no proof that AGW definitely had any influence over any particular weather event.

    Which is what the SREX report said – so I am consistent with that.

    Why aren’t you reading the links I provide? Links to studies that supersede the (obsolete and excessively cautious) SREX?

    Here are some more for you:

    Extreme hot weather events:

    Coumou et al. (2013) Global increase in record-breaking monthly temperatures:

    The last decade has produced record-breaking heat waves in many parts of the world. At the same time, it was globally the warmest since sufficient measurements started in the 19th century. Here we show that, worldwide, the number of local record-breaking monthly temperature extremes is now on average five times larger than expected in a climate with no long-term warming. This implies that on average there is an 80 % chance that a new monthly heat record is due to climatic change. Large regional differences exist in the number of observed records. Summertime records, which are associated with prolonged heat waves, increased by more than a factor of ten in some continental regions including parts of Europe, Africa, southern Asia and Amazonia. Overall, these high record numbers are quantitatively consistent with those expected for the observed climatic warming trend with added stationary white noise. In addition, we find that the observed records cluster both in space and in time. Strong El Niño years see additional records superimposed on the expected long-term rise. Under a medium global warming scenario, by the 2040s we predict the number of monthly heat records globally to be more than 12 times as high as in a climate with no long-term warming.

    Seneviratne et al. (2014) No pause in the increase of hot temperature extremes:

    Observational data show a continued increase of hot extremes over land during the so-called global warming hiatus. This tendency is greater for the most extreme events and thus more relevant for impacts than changes in global mean temperature.

  19. Which is what the SREX report said – so I am consistent with that.

    I can’t be bothered to trawl through SREX 2012 (I presume you refer to 2012?) looking for what you claim it says. Please provide quote, link and page number.

  20. I thought we had agreed we cannot do fractional attribution

    RIckA, you’re attempting to twist that into an agreement to do fractional denial.

    Try again.

  21. SREX12 SPM p5, (emphasis mine):

    The impacts of climate extremes and the potential for disasters result from the climate extremes themselves and from the exposure and vulnerability of human and natural systems. Observed changes in climate extremes reflect the influence of anthropogenic climate change in addition to natural climate variability, with changes in exposure and vulnerability influenced by both climatic and non-climatic factors.

  22. At the outset I repeated a question that you keep dodging RickA.

    And I am *still* waiting for a straight answer.

    Let’s test your integrity and good faith once more.

    Human activity since 1880 has increased the amount of energy in the climate system. More energy in the climate system affects all weather events, though not equally or in the same way. But there is an effect, all the same. How could there not be?

    I’m asking the question how could there not be an anthropogenic component to all modern weather? once again because you have not answered it so far, despite being asked three times now.

    So, here we are again.

  23. “Confidence in attribution findings of anthropogenic influence is greatest for those extreme events that are related to an aspect of temperature, such as the observed long-term warming of the regional or global climate, where there is little doubt that human activities have caused an observed change…
    A definitive answer to the commonly asked question of whether climate change “caused” a particular event to occur cannot usually be provided in a deterministic sense because natural variability almost always plays a role. Many conditions must align to set up a particular event. Extreme events are generally influenced by a specific weather situation, and all events occur in a climate system that has been changed by human influences.”
    http://www.nap.edu/catalog/21852/attribution-of-extreme-weather-events-in-the-context-of-climate-change pp. 6, 9

    “A number of this year’s studies indicate that human-caused climate change greatly increased the likelihood and intensity for extreme heat waves in 2014 over various regions. For other types of extreme events, such as droughts, heavy rains, and winter storms, a climate change influence was found in some instances and not in others. This year’s report also included many different types of extreme events. The tropical cyclones that impacted Hawaii were made more likely due to human-caused climate change. Climate change also decreased the Antarctic sea ice extent in 2014 and increased the strength and likelihood of high sea surface temperatures in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. For western U.S. wildfires, no link to the individual events in 2014 could be detected, but the overall probability of western U.S. wildfires has increased due to human impacts on the climate.”
    http://journals.ametsoc.org/doi/pdf/10.1175/BAMS-ExplainingExtremeEvents2014.1 Abstract

    http://www.rtcc.org/2015/08/21/extreme-weather-events-of-2015-is-climate-change-to- blame/#sthash.JiCZD9R6.dpuf

    “Using fraction of attributable risk to compare the likelihood of extreme Australian summer temperatures between the experiments, it was very likely (>90% confidence) there was at least a 2.5 times increase in the odds of extreme heat due to human influences using simulations to 2005, and a fivefold increase in this risk using simulations for 2006–2020. The human contribution to the increased odds of Australian summer extremes like 2013 was substantial, while natural climate variations alone, including El Nin?o Southern Oscillation, are unlikely to explain the record temperature.”
    http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/grl.50673/full

    Not only extreme weather:
    “Climate change – driven mainly by the burning of coal, oil and gas – has caused extreme ocean temperatures, making the bleaching on the GBR this year at least 175 times more likely. At present rates of climate change, this level of bleaching could occur every two years by the 2030s.”
    https://www.climatecouncil.org.au/uploads/e3449c5187f7100528cc90c380993381.pdf

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