Monthly Archives: March 2017

Teachers: Be on the alert for this anti-science mailing!

A well known anti-science “think” tank has sent around, to teachers, a mailing including an antiscience book, a movie, and nice letter and, oddly, a pamphlet exposing the fact that the mailing is entirely politically motivated.

Most science teachers will ignore this. A few science teachers are science deniers, and they already had the material in the mailings. So, I think this was a huge waste of money and effort. But it happened and you should know about it, and you should warn anyone you know that is a teacher.

The real concern, in my opinion, is not this falling into the hands of science teachers. The science teachers will recognize this for what it is. The concern is this mailing in the hands of non-science teachers who are not inoculated against it, who may then wonder why their colleagues down the hall are not “teaching the controversy,” as it were.

The Heartland Institute, famous for supporting research to prove that smoking is not bad for people, and more recently for promoting research that climate change is not real, has sent this mailing to many thousands of teachers. I’ve heard the number 300,000, but that number is probably from Heartland, and they lie all the time, so I don’t believe it.

The Heartland Institute

…is a Chicago-based free market think tank … that has been at the forefront of denying the scientific evidence for man-made climate change. The Heartland Institute has received at least $676,500 from ExxonMobil since 1998 but no longer discloses its funding sources. The Union of Concerned Scientists found that “Nearly 40% of the total funds that the Heartland Institute has received from ExxonMobil since 1998 were specifically designated for climate change projects.”

David Padden founded The Heartland Institute in 1984 and served as its Chairman between 1984 and 1995, co-chairing with Joseph Bast. Padden was also one of the original members of the Board of Directors of the Cato Institute…

In the 1990s, the Heartland Institute worked with the tobacco company Philip Morris to question the science linking second-hand smoke to health risks, and lobbied against government public health reforms. Heartland continues to maintain a “Smoker’s Lounge” section of their website which brings together their policy studies, Op-Eds, essays, and other documents that purport to “[cut] through the propaganda and exaggeration of anti-smoking groups.”

In a 1998 op-ed, Heartland President Joe Bast claimed that “moderate” smoking doesn’t raise lung cancer risks, and that there were “few, if any, adverse health effects” associated with smoking.

The mailer includes the book “Why Scientists Disagree about Global Warming, with three authors including Craig Idso, Robert Carter, and Fred Singer, with a forward by conservative columnist Marita Noon.

Idso is the head of an organization who’s stated purpose is to “separate reality from rhetoric in the emotionally-charged debate that swirls around the subject of carbon dioxide and global change,” which means, in this case, to deny the basics of atmospheric physics. He has numerous ties with the oil industry. Carter died in 2016. He advised several climate change denying organizations and filled the print media with many anti-science op eds and editorials. He has openly admitted that he is a paid shill of the petroleum industry. Singer is an actual former scientist but recognized by his colleagues as an anti-climate science spokesperson. Singer has been on the Heartland Institute payroll for quite some time.

The book is full of lies and misdirections. It is mainly an attack on the “scientific consensus” on climate change.

You have probably heard a lot about the “climate consensus.” Since the attacking the consensus is the main objective of this mailing, I’d like to spend a moment on that topic. Feel free to skip down to the bottom of the post for suggestions on what books would be good for your favorite science teacher to have in his or her room, in case you want to participate in a sort of grass-roots counter mailing!

In most scientific endeavors, where new discovery is being made, a period of uncertainty, perhaps confusion, perhaps vigorous competition among ideas, is usually followed by a period of growing consensus around a particular scientific idea (a model, a theory, a set of methods and interpretations of findings, etc., depending on the science).

The growth and establishment of consensus is one of the key objectives of science. Scientists know that consensus is powerful and even limiting; an incorrect consensus can mislead researchers and be very counter productive. For this reason, scientists take consensus pretty seriously. Like a jury deciding on innocence or guilt of a person accused of a very serious crime, scientists don’t want to make a mistake. However, scientists are more like a civil case jury than a criminal case jury. We are not required to reject an otherwise well developed case because someone has raised doubt about one tiny aspect of it. Rather, we arrive at consensus using the preponderance of evidence, like in American civil law.

And, once consensus is established, it does not become dogma. Rather, it becomes a dart board, always hanging there in sight, always subject to attack and interrogation. (OK, I know that nobody interrogates their dart board. Maybe it is more like an Elf on the Shelf. But I digress.)

Consider “continental drift” (aka plate tectonics). When Alfred Wegener proposed his theory that continents move around in the early 1900s, he noted that many others had suggested similar ideas. Wegener proposed a comprehensive model of what may have happened in the earth’s past, but he lacked a good mechanism for it. So, the middle of the 20th century involved a period of criticism of his theory, with the idea eventually being more or less thrown out. One of the key features of plate tectonics is how the two kinds of Earth’s crust interact, but geologists did not yet know that the Earth has these two kinds of crust. “Deep sea” exploration had found submerged continental crust, and that looked like regular crust, so it was assumed that the land under the sea was the same as the land on the land.

I note that even though oceanic crust was not understood in the 19th century, Darwin had observed, during the voyage of the Beagle, that a set of islands in the Atlantic, which are actually a bit of ocean crust thrust above the sea surface, was very odd, and that with more study, may cause us to think novel thoughts about rocks.

Even though the theory was eclipsed, some people still thought it was a good idea.

So, we went from nobody getting continental drift, but with a few people mentioning it now and then, to a surge in thinking about it, to a widespread rejection but with a few people thinking it might be valid. I oversimplify, but it is safe to say that by the middle of the 20th century, even though “continental drift” had been a conversation in science since even before science could be said to exist, there was no consensus.

The later part of the middle of the 20th century, however, saw more and more evidence mounting. Rocks were found to be absolutely identical in the evidence of how they formed (that is the main way geologists divide up rocks) across large areas. For example, there are rock formations in South America, South Africa, India, Antartica, and Australia that clearly were once part of a single geological formation all on the same continent. This required that the continents had moved, and in this case, that these particular continents were all attached to each other at one (or more) time.

Also during this period, deep water oceanography was advanced and the actual sea floor was observed and sampled. Mid ocean ridges were discovered and documented. This is where the continents were spreading.

Meanwhile, the dynamic of continental crust subducting under other crust were being figured out, and the significant movement of continents right now (like around the Pacific) became the only way to explain, for example, Japan. The fossil record, which demonstrates a complex biogeography of evolution and movement of species, either restricted by being on different continents, or able to move around large areas that are now on different continents, started to makes sense only in the light of the emerging and increasingly detailed theory of continental movement. Research on how the Earth itself works as a planet, below the surface, eventually allowed for, if not definitively providing, a means for the continents to move.

Plate tectonics (the process) and continental drift (the historical events) eventually became consensus science.

Climate change, the processes by which climate patterns form and change over time, including the role of CO2 and other greenhouse gases, and the potential contribution of human release of fossil Carbon as CO2 or Methane in causing significant change in climate, was consensus science at least a few decades ago. But agents of the petroleum and coal industries preferred citizens (voters and consumers) and governments (regulators) to not act on this already happening climate change. They funded libertarian and conservative front groups and others to manufacture doubt about climate change. For this reason, five years ago, to pick a date, the casual observer could not tell, depending on who they listened to and what they read, whether or not climate scientists were all on the same page.

A group of rather brave and smart scientists decided to do something that had not been done very much before, and that had never been addressed with a fully committed research program: Measure the consensus.

I have a few comments on that, but the best way to learn all about this effort is to check out “The Consensus Project.”

Normally the consensus over a scientific issue forms and all the scientists know about it. That is part of what being a scholar of science is about. You learn to learn about the developing arguments, the fights, the building consensus, the overturning of ideas, all of it, over historical time, recent decades, the present, as you study to become a scientists and you continue to keep track of this information as a working scientists.

Scientists know what consensus means, and they know its limitations and what questions remain. Today in geology nobody is working to disprove the idea that Cambridge Argillite and its sister rock in Norway match up and were once part of the same sea basin prior to the opening of the Atlantic Ocean, because that fact can only be wrong if everything we know about rocks is wrong. But others are working on, and arguing about, important details of the deep layers of the Earth and how they act in moving continents around.

But the scientists studying climate consensus were forced into the position of addressing consensus, as a concept or as a measure of the maturity or stability of a particular scientific construct, because the bought and paid for deniers forced them to do so with their politically motivated anti-science (and anti environmental) yammering.

There were actually two groups, and their work is often confused. The less widespread but excellent analysis that happened first showed that almost 100% of scientists agree on the basics of global warming related science. The more intensive analysis showed that nearly 100% of the literature agreed on the basics of global warming. In both cases, they were a couple percent short of full consensus, but I note the following:

1) The research was conservative, biased a little towards including items or people on the non-consensus side, in order to be unassailable.

2) The research was done with scientists and peer reviewed papers over a period of time, and the work ended (most of it) a couple of years ago. So, a figure like “97%” reflects, perhaps, the state of the field in 2010 better than 2017. The last few years have seen the total wiping out of certain non-consensus generating observations (like the so called “pause” in global warming). In other words, if this work showed a 3% non-consensus, I expect at least half of that to have gone away by now.

3) The deniers and their works, if they are scientists and if the work is peer reviewed, are of course considered in such studies, so that accounts for a half percent of so.

4) In normal society, something like 8% of people believe they were abducted by aliens. About 1% or a bit less probably believe they are aliens. (That works out nicely.) Among scientists, there are always going to be a few oddballs. There is a tenured professor at Harvard who is a UFO-ologist. There was until recently a tenured professor in Washington who thought Bigfoot was real. There are probably one or two geologists who think plate tectonics is fake. Science is lucky that the oddball number is low compared to society in general. But it is not zero.

The Heartland mailing asks teachers, “How do you teach global warming?”

Let me ask you that now, if you are a teacher? I’d love to know how and if, and using what materials and methods, you address climate change and global warming. Let us know in the comments!

Meanwhile, please let any teachers you know about this mailing. Feel free to share this blog post with them. And, if you are not a teacher but know one, or if you are a parent with a kid in school, consider sending the teacher a note, and if you feel up to it, a book! (But not the one Heartland sent!)

I do have some suggestions for you. There are many books on climate change and global warming, and they have tended to differentiate themselves so that there is remarkably little redundancy. Here, I’ll note a handful of recent (all are very current) books that serve a variety of different purposes. I’ve reviewed most of these on this blog (see links below) if you want more info on them.

Dire_Predictions_Mann_KumpDire Predictions, 2nd Edition: Understanding Climate Change by Michael Mann and Lee Kump.

The UN’s IPCC periodically summarizes the state of scientific thinking on climate change. It is a huge report written for an expert audience. This book turns that report into something accessible by the average person, and does so with excellent graphics and other material. This book should be on the shelf in every science classroom.

Explore global warming with graphics, illustrations, and charts that separate climate change fact from fiction, presenting the truth about global warming in a way that’s both accurate and easy to understand. Respected climate scientists Michael E. Mann and Lee R. Kump address important questions about global warming and climate change, diving into the information documented by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and breaking it down into clear graphics that explain complex climate questions in simple illustrations that present the truth of the global warming problem clearly.

My review

Screen Shot 2017-03-31 at 11.10.24 AMA Global Warming Primer: Answering Your Questions About The Science, The Consequences, and The Solutions by Jeffrey Bennett.

This is the book sent around to teachers by the National Center for Science Education. It is an excellent overview of climate change and human impacts, using a unique approach that will work especially well in both high school science and social studies classrooms.

Is human-induced global warming a real threat to our future? Most people will express an opinion on this question, but relatively few can back their opinions with solid evidence. Many times we’ve even heard pundits say “I am not a scientist” to avoid the issue altogether. But the truth is, the basic science is not that difficult. Using a question and answer format, this book will help readers achieve three major goals: To see that anyone can understand the basic science of global warming; To understand the arguments about this issue made by skeptics, so that readers will be able to decide for themselves what to believe; To understand why, despite the “gloom and doom” that often surrounds this topic, the solutions are ones that will not only protect the world for our children and grandchildren, but that will actually lead us to a stronger economy with energy that is cheaper, cleaner, and more abundant than the energy we use today.

Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know® by Joe Romm.

This is more for the parents and teachers than the students, but it could be an excellent choice for an environmental science class. Romm discusses many of the pragmatic aspects of global warming, for the average individual, which is not seen as intensively developed in other books.

This book offers the most up-to-date examination of climate change’s foundational science, its implications for our future, and the core clean energy solutions. Alongside detailed but highly accessible descriptions of what is causing climate change, this entry in the What Everyone Needs to Know series answers questions about the practical implications of this growing force on our world:

· How will climate change impact you and your family in the coming decades?
· What are the future implications for owners of coastal property?
· Should you plan on retiring in South Florida or the U.S. Southwest or Southern Europe?
· What occupations and fields of study will be most in demand in a globally warmed world?
· What impact will climate change have on investments and the global economy?

My review.


Climatology versus Pseudoscience: Exposing the Failed Predictions of Global Warming Skeptics by Dana Nuccitelli.

Dana examines climate change by comparing what people, both real scientists and the fake ones, predicted, with what happened. He does other stuff too, but that is my favorite part of this book.

28 Climate Change Elevator Pitches: Short Explanations on the Scientific Basis of Man-made Climate Change by Rob Honeycutt.

This is hot off the presses. Again, this is more for the teacher and parent than the school setting, but since it is new I wanted you to know about it. My review is here.

Nuclear Industry Suffers Meltdown?

It is hard to get very far into a discussion of non-fossil fuel energy, and the energy transition, without someone coming along and yammering about nuclear energy.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for inexpensive and safe nuclear power and for building nuclear power plants that promise to eat up all the waste, do not create any more waste, are totally safe, are affordable, are efficient, don’t require the equivalent of slave labor to mine the uranium, and are cost effective. Bring it on!

But the nuclear industry is generally troubled by the fact that this list of promises is not possible. Well, each item on that list can be delivered by this or that technology, but not all in one power plant. And, on top of that, nuclear plants are just too darn expensive to build.

Moments ago, Westinghouse Electric Company, which is owned by Toshiba of Japan, filed for bankruptcy. Westinghouse is a key player in the nuclear industry, globally. This filing is a very big deal, and may signal either the end to or a dramatic slowdown of movement towards expanding nuclear capacity.

And it isn’t just Westinghouse. From the New York Times:

General Electric, a pioneer in the field, has scaled back its nuclear operations, expressing doubt about their economic viability. Areva, the French builder, is mired in losses and undergoing a large-scale restructuring.

Among the winners could be China, which has ambitions to turn its growing nuclear technical abilities into a major export. That has raised security concerns in some countries.

The shrinking field is a challenge for the future of nuclear power, and for Toshiba’s revival plans. Its executives have said they would like to sell all or part of Westinghouse to a competitor, but with a dwindling list of potential buyers — combined with Westinghouse’s history of financial calamity — that has become a difficult task.

Clay Higgins: McCarthyism

Scientists are now being subjected to unbridled McCarthyism.

Eventually the transcript will be available, but for now you’ll have to just trust me on this. Congressman Clay Higgins, Republican on Lamar Smith’s alt-Science committee, demanded today to know if climate scientist Michael Mann (author of The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines, and By Michael E. Mann – Dire Predictions, Second Edition: Understanding Climate Change“>this book) is a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists. It turns out that Mann is not. I wonder what would have happened if he was?

Anyway, after Mann answered the question, Higgins demanded that Dr. Mann provide proof that he is not a member of the Communist … er, I mean, Union of Concerned Scientists.

I’ve heard that the only way to prove that you are not a member of the Union of Concerned Scientists is to be tossed in a pond, and if you float, you are a member. (Or do I have that backwards?)

Anyway, I made a nice card for Mike Mann to send in if he likes:
Screen Shot 2017-03-29 at 1.28.08 PM

And, of course, the obligatory Monty Python video:

Trump Hates You, His Supporters, And Our Planet

A few items that I think you should see:

Screen Shot 2017-03-29 at 12.35.58 PM

Trump’s executive order puts the world on the road to climate catastrophe

On Tuesday, President Donald Trump issued a sweeping executive order that effectively guts national efforts to address climate change. If he isn’t stopped, the endpoint of this approach is the ruination of our livable climate and the needless suffering of billions of people for decades to come.
The order starts the process of undoing President Obama’s Clean Power Plan standards for power plants. It also spurs fossil fuel consumption and blocks federal efforts to even prepare for the multiple, simultaneous catastrophes that unrestricted carbon pollution the world faces?—?severe drought, ocean acidification, ever-worsening heat waves, rising seas that threaten to destroy coastal cites.
This is not politics as usual. …

Read the rest

Screen Shot 2017-03-29 at 12.37.36 PM

Trump’s Executive Order Threatens to Wreck Earth as a Livable Planet for Humans

Decades of progress on cleaning up our dirty air took a significant hit on Tuesday, along with hopes for a livable future climate, when President Trump issued his Energy Independence Executive Order. Most seriously, the order attacks the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA’s) Clean Power Plan, which requires a 32 percent reduction in CO2 emissions from existing power plants by 2030 (compared to 2005 emission rates.)

Tuesday’s blow was just the latest in a series of attacks that threaten our health and the planet’s health. On March 15, Trump also ordered…

Read the rest

I am an Arctic researcher. Donald Trump is deleting my citations

…At first, the distress flare of lost data came as a surge of defunct links on 21 January. The US National Strategy for the Arctic, the Implementation Plan for the Strategy, and the report on our progress all gone within a matter of minutes. As I watched more and more links turned red, I frantically combed the internet for archived versions of our country’s most important polar policies.

I had no idea then that this disappearing act had just begun.

Since January, the surge has transformed into a slow, incessant march of deleting datasets, webpages and policies about the Arctic. I now come to expect a weekly email request to replace invalid citations, hoping that someone had the foresight to download …

Read the rest

Lamar Smith: Nothing more than a hippie puncher

Congressman Lamar Smith is a well known science denier, especially a climate science denier.

Recently, he admitted that the House committee he runs is a tool of the anti-science forces.

At a recent conference at the pro-Tobacco anti-Science Koch (and others) funded fake think tank Heartland, this happened:

Smith: Next week we’re going to have a hearing on our favorite subject of climate change and also on the scientific method, which has been repeatedly ignored by the so-called self-professed climate scientists.

Audience Member: I applaud you for saying you’ll be using the term climate studies, not climate science. But I also urge you to use the term politically correct science.

Smith: Good point. And I’ll start using those words if you’ll start using two words for me. The first is never, ever use the word progressive. Instead, use the word liberal. The second is never use the word ‘mainstream’ media, because they aren’t. Use ‘liberal’ media. Is that a deal? I’ll give you a bonus. When we talk about changing the Senate rules on ending filibusters, don’t use the word ‘nuclear’ option. That has a negative connotation. Use ‘democratic’ option.

Smith agreed with an audience member that the EPA should not be regulating air quality, and that there is no limit to how far he would go in dismantling the last 8 years of environmental regulation.

Smith (a Republican, but you already knew that) also noted that Trump (a Republican as well) would pretty much do whatever Smith and the Heartland Institute want him do to: Dismantle environmental regulations generally.

Smith’s top contributor last year was an energy company, and the top industry that funds his campaign is the Oil and Gas industry.

Source of the dialog.

Arduino Playground: Book Review of a Serious Maker Book

Arduino Playground: Geeky Projects for the Experienced Maker is not for the faint of heart. Unless the faint of heart person plans to build a pacemaker with an arduino!

Screen Shot 2017-03-28 at 9.03.55 PMMost books about making electronic projects, including and especially Raspberry Pi or Arduino projects, have a bit up front about tools and technology. You’ll need a screwdriver, maybe a magnifying glass, some extra wire, that sort of thing. Arduino Playground: Geeky Projects for the Experienced Maker does that too, but it is a bit more extreme. Maybe you need a tap and die set, oh, and here are some neat tips on designing and building at home your own circuit boards. Oh, and here is how to take apart different controllers and recombine them Frankenstein-like to be able to use a USB cable to access the serial subsystem on the one that normally lets you do that.

This is the kind of preparation you need if you are going to build some of the more complex projects in this book. For example, the automatic watch winder shown here, or a regulated power supply, or a highly accurate industry standard pH meter, or a device to measure how fast a bullet comes out of a gun, or a special fancy thermometer, or agitator for circuit board etching. There’s that circuit board etching again.

Author Warren Andrews takes the reader through these and a couple of other projects, providing a lot of technical information, theory, technique, and very good instructions. This is a highly advanced book, starting somewhat beyond the level of the preliminary intro books (suggesting there may be a need for more medium level books on this topic?) and truly challenging the maker in some unexpected and interesting ways.

Andrews is up to the task as well, having a lifetime of experience at major corporations such as GE and Motorola where he did this kind of tinkering for the big players.

I’m probably going to build the pH meter. What are you going to build?

From the publisher:

You’ve mastered the basics, conquered the soldering iron, and programmed a robot or two; now you’ve got a set of skills and tools to take your Arduino exploits further. But what do you do once you’ve exhausted your to-build list?

Arduino Playground will show you how to keep your hardware hands busy with a variety of intermediate builds, both practical and just-for-fun. Advance your engineering and electronics know-how as you work your way through … 10 complex projects

Table of Contents:

Chapter 0: Setting Up and Useful Skills
Chapter 1: The Reaction-Time Machine
Chapter 2: An Automated Agitator for PCB Etching
Chapter 3: The Regulated Power Supply
Chapter 4: A Watch Winder
Chapter 5: The Garage Sentry Parking Assistant
Chapter 6: The Battery Saver
Chapter 7: A Custom pH Meter
Chapter 8: Two Ballistic Chronographs
Chapter 9: The Square-Wave Generator
Chapter 10: The Chromatic Thermometer

How Global Warming Causes Extreme Weather: New research

I want to tell you about what may be the most important research result in the area of climate change in recent years. First, a little background.

We know from paleoclimate studies that the Earth’s climate system changes from time to time enough to leave a mark. For example, it is widely thought that during the “ice ages” (periods of extensive or moderate glaciation) over the last couple of million years, areas that are currently very dry had a lot more water. Some combination of rain and evaporation (more rain and less evaporation) conspired to fill playas (dried up lakes) or salt lakes (like the Great Salt Lake in Utah) with so much fresh water that inland basins filled and started to drain out to the sea. It is hard to imagine how the weather would have been so different to make the arid regions of the American West into very wet places, long term, but it happened.

As we head towards a warmer and warmer planet, one would think that whatever happened during the ice ages would be the opposite of what we would expect in the future. To some extent that is almost certainly true, as certain regions will likely be much dryer in a heated up world than they were during the cooler ice ages. But some patterns of climate change are not simply characterized by temperature. The pattern of movement of air, and the pattern of moisture in the air, can be different from one climate system to another in very complex ways. Perhaps (this is very conjectural) the recent intense rains we see in the American West would be a common phenomenon in a warmed world. Perhaps the phenomenon of ARkStorm, a very rare situation where several “pineapple express” style storms happen over a single winter, large ones, in rapid sequence, filling the dry valleys of the American West with giant lakes and wiping out low lying villages and most of the crop land. That kind of feels like the Pleistocene when the great inland deserts were converted int great inland lakes! Or, perhaps the multe-year california drought that we experienced up until just a few months ago will become the “normal” situation.

Don’t get me started, but it is not difficult to imagine a world in which the American west has 4 to 10 year long droughts punctuated with a couple of winters in a row sufficiently wet to fill those lakes, so we get both!


ADDED: Jet Streams, Extreme Weather and Other Things with Stefan Rahmstorf


Here is the point of all this: Back in the 1950s through the early 1980s, by my estimation, North America (and probably many regions in the world) experienced stereotypical storm patterns that were like storm patterns seen over many centuries, though with the occasional interruption for something strage for a few years. 1860 – 1861 were strange years out west. The 1930s were strange in a lot of places. But what happened startomg around 1980 or so was different.

Prior to 1980s, storms in North America came from certain directions, were more common during certain times of years, dropped a range of precipitation amounts on the ground, and rarely were severe in the amount of rain that occurred. After 1980, the timing and various aspects of the physical nature of those storms including their apparent directionality and the speed which with they passed through, changed.

For example, in Minnesota, at the Twin Cities airport, there was an average of about 1.64 above 2 inch rainfall events per year for the hundred years of record keeping before 1971. In the time following, to the present, that number went up to about 2.7. Since about 2000 that number has gone to close to 3.5. Meanwhile, out east, the frequency of large blizzards has gone from one every few years to at least one in most years.

Putting this a slightly different way, the chance in a given year of having a major storm around these parts has more than doubled, with that doubling happening well within the lifetime of most of the people who live in the region.

I’ve written before about a special class of research on climate change that I have always regarded as among the most important. The authors of that earlier work overlap with the most recent work, with a key player being Stefan Rahmstorf. Rahmstorf and his colleagues, a few years ago, tackled an interesting problem that others had also noticed, and for which a number of explanations were floating around. Speaking of floating, this work surfaced and got some real traction when the Rocky Mountains near Boulder, and up near Calgary, were each hit by a really bad and very special kind of storm.

In each case, the storm system was trained along a very curvy and slow moving jet stream. When the jet stream slows it curves, or when it curves, it slows, or, really, kinda both. When that happens, if there is a big wet storm following along in the air system that itself creates/is created by the jet stream, that storm also slows. Fed by a more or less unending supply of moisture, such a storm can drop a lot of rain on a given region. We tend to think of the most severe storms as being fast moving, and they often are. Hurricanes can be pretty darn fast. Rapidly moving fronts coming off a dry line are associated with either tornado outbreaks or derecho storms. But these big and slow jet stream mediated storms are very very wet. Calgary was badly flooded, like no one has seen before. Boulder was very badly flooded more than in anyone’s memory.

Storms like this happen now and then, and can be found in historical records, and may have even happened in or near Calgary or Boulder at some time in the past. But since Calgary, we have had many many more such storms. Here in Minnesota, we’ve had a few. St. Louis had one. Texas had had a bunch of them. They’ve happened in China, Japan, all across Europe.

These storms, which are associated with a jet stream that is curvy and slow, are now common, and they were once rare.

What is the climate change connection? How do we know that global warming causes this?

There are a couple of different lines of evidence. First, as noted by the earlier work, and exemplified in the graph I put at the top of the post, which I made a couple of years ago, researchers have noticed that these curvy jet stream are more common. Another reason to think this is that curvy jet streams are expected to be associated with an Arctic that is warming more rapidly than the rest of the planet.

How does that work? I can explain it in general terms that will probably make some atmospheric scientists yell at me, but that I think is close to reality and also understandable by the average science-savvy civilian.

The big features of the weather system on a planet with an atmosphere have to do with heat reaching equilibrium across the planet. There is more heat near the equator, less near the poles, so it is all about heat moving from the equators to the poles, but also, hot stuff, water or air, making that journey. This hypothetically sets up an interesting phenomenon in the atmosphere that can be thought of as a giant twisting donut — a plain round donut shaped donut, not some hipster cream filled donut — just north of the equator, and another donut just south of it. Air is moving up in altitude at the equator, cools and spreads away from the equator, then drops back down to the surface, and heads back to where it was originally heated to get warmed up again.

This pair of giant twisting donuts of air helps set up another giant twisting donut of air to the north and south, and those donuts can, in turn, set up another, and so on. On a small planet like Mars, with a thin atmosphere, there may be one single donut per hemisphere. On giant heavy atmosphere planets like Jupiter and Saturn, you get many such donuts, and an overall striped appearance from a distance.

On earth, you get one really well defined donut (in each hemisphere) then a poorly defined donut, then another donut that is fairly well defined but that is also rotating in a circle, around the pole, much like a donut that got partly stepped on, rolled out the door of the donut shop, and his heading down the street.

Now here’s the thing, the explanation you can understand once you rap your head around these donuts: If the difference in heat at the equator vs. at the poles is great, the donuts are well defined and energetic. If the difference in heat between the equator and the poles is less, the donuts become less well defined, wobbly, and curvy.

The upper atmosphere region between adjoining donuts and the jet stream are more or less the same thing. So, as the arctic warms faster than the rest of the planet, the donuts change their configuration and you get curvy jet streams that can set up to remain in the same location over long periods of time.

Simple.

There was, however, a major missing part of this theory, and Michael Mann, climate scientist, joined the Rahmstorf et al team to fill in that blank. It is very difficult to be sure that a climatic phenomenon is either a) for real or b) characterizable as you’ve witnessed it, when you are looking at it for just a few years. If there is a change in climate because of the above described effects, there are not too many years of data allowing us to track it, observe its variations, or to figure out exactly how it works. This is complicated by several factors. For example, an alternate but similar explanation for the waves themselves, and the weather that comes with them, is the warming of the North Pacific. Hell, it could be both factors, because both factors may reduce the heat differential between the midriff and heads of the planet.

There are two obvious solutions to this problem. One is to sit back and wait a hundred years or so and collect data then consider the problem with a lot more information at hand. I’m sure climate scientists are busy doing this as we speak, but it may take a while! The other is to use climate modeling to simulate long periods of time, and see if quai-resonant waves and changes in the weather pattern are associated with anthropological global warming.

Michael Mann told me “that there is now a detectable influence of anthropogenic climate change on jet stream dynamics associated with extreme, persistent weather events like the 2010 Russian heat wave/wildfires, 2011 Texas heat wave/drought, 2013 European floods, etc. This is the first article, in my view, to demonstrate a robust such connection.”

This research involved combining some 50 climate models that comprise the CMIP5 project, and historical observations of climate over time. They found that under conditions of a warming Arctic, “standing waves” (quasi-resonant waves in other parlance) formed, just as we’ve seen during recent bad weather events. Above, I focused on rainfall events, but drought, extreme fire conditions, etc. are the other side of the coin, or rather, the other side of the jet streams. A persistent standing wave in a jet stream can cause a few nice and sunny days to transform into several years lack of rain, and a drought.

“Both the models and observations suggest this signal has only recently emerged from the background noise of natural variability. We are now able to connect the dots when it comes to human-caused global warming and an array of extreme recent weather events,” said Mann.

Here is the abstract of the paper:

Persistent episodes of extreme weather in the Northern Hemisphere summer have been shown to be associated with the presence of high-amplitude quasi-stationary atmospheric Rossby waves within a particular wavelength range (zonal wavenumber 6–8). The underlying mechanistic relationship involves the phenomenon of quasi-resonant amplification (QRA) of synoptic-scale waves with that wavenumber range becoming trapped within an effective mid-latitude atmospheric waveguide. Recent work suggests an increase in recent decades in the occurrence of QRA-favorable conditions and associated extreme weather, possibly linked to amplified Arctic warming and thus a climate change influence. Here, we isolate a specific fingerprint in the zonal mean surface temperature profile that is associated with QRA-favorable conditions. State-of-the-art (“CMIP5”) historical climate model simulations subject to anthropogenic forcing display an increase in the projection of this fingerprint that is mirrored in multiple observational surface temperature datasets. Both the models and observations suggest this signal has only recently emerged from the background noise of natural variability.

Historical data and cutting edge modeling and analysis strongly indicates that global warming, caused by human release of greenhouse gas, is increasing the frequency of persistent weather extremes such as very wet or very dry conditions. This paper looked at the northern hemisphere summer.

We have long passed the point where you can say with a straight face, “you can’t attribute a given weather event to global warming.” Climate change is change in climate; weather is climate today, climate is weather long term. Weather generally carries the climate change signal, and some of the weather is very different than it was prior to recent decades because of that change. You can’t separate a given weather event from global warming.

Michael E. Mann, Stefan Rahmstorf, Kai Kornhuber, Byron A. Steinman, Sonya K. Miller & Dim Coumou, 2017, Influence of Anthropogenic Climate Change on Planetary Wave Resonance and Extreme Weather Events.

Why fossil fuel corporations killed us

Sometimes, when I look at the things the Republicans and their leader, Donald Trump, are doing, I think of that poignant line in so many actual and fictional moments: “You have killed me.”

Someone says that because the killing is done, but they are not yet dead. The knife is driven deep, the car is heading for the cliff, the contract killer is closing in. Then the person dies, but not before they get to say, “You killed me.”

Today, I look at Donald Trump, the Koch Brothers, Rex Tillerson, the petroleum industry, the Heartland institute. They didn’t kill me, but they have killed my daughter, and they have killed my son.

And I wonder, why the hell did they do that?

Wondering leads to thoughts, and thoughts lead to blog commentary, so this:

ExxonMobil, to take one example, made a very significant mistake and essentially killed themselves as a corporation. They did this by choosing to not shift their corporate activities to follow, if not actually lead, in the energy transition that is absolutely required if our global civilization is expected to survive into the future, decades hence. ExxonMobil and the other petroleum corporations can not exist 100 years from now, though they could have made decisions over recent decades to ensure that they do.

I’m reminded of my deceased mentor’s comments (before he ceased) on patrilines. Irv Devore, when discussing patriliniality and kinship systems, would note that patrilines and corporations, unlike people, are expected to exist for all eternity, or at least, up until the day they stop existing. Once you grasp that idea, it is possible to understand why either does what they do. An elder man in a patrilineal kinship-based society will go to great lengths to preserve the patriline. The very strong often heinous preference for male over female children is part of this. Since only sons carry on the patriline, too many daughters are a threat. Infanticide of daughters is therefore significantly more common than infanticide of sons. And so on.

(Hell. My writing is interrupted by an Amber Alert. An ex-boyfriend stabbed the mother of his son, took off with the son. A male associate assisted. Long life the patriarchy. Fuck the patriarchy.

https://twitter.com/MnDPS_BCA/status/846712545322905600

But I ever so slightly digress…)

This should mean that decisions by corporations are made with very long term consequences in mind. When ExxonMobil and the other Big Oil corporations realized, in the 1980s, that continued use of fossil fuel would eventually a) be curtailed by regulation and/or b) cause the end of civilization and thus corporations, they should have started on plans to change what they do. A big energy company could have developed non-fossil fuel burnable materials, they could have muscled their way into the electricity industry, figuring that electric motors, already the preferred means of running a lot of machines that could have been run with IC engines, were part of the future. They could have done a lot of things to usher in a new age of reduced fossil fuel use and expanded use of other energy sources.

But no. They didn’t. Instead, they’ve killed us.

They, the big energy companies, the corporate sycophant-parasites known as Republicans, and their allies and puppets like the Heartland Institute and others chose to kill us all rather than do the right thing.

So why would someone like Rex Tillerson, when he was CEO of a major oil company, make decisions like this?

A lot of you will say: they do it for the short term profits, for the quarterly earnings report, because the corporation is beholden to the stockholder, etc. etc.

I do not disagree with any of that, all of that is true. But, there is another element that I think needs to be considered.

Even though all those reasons are true, there is something else that should be going on, and that in fact HAPPENS ALL THE TIME in other corporations. Not all corporations fail to consider the long term. Leaders of many corporations make decisions that positively affect the long term. They recognize that short term reduction in earnings can have long term positive effects on earnings. They choose sensible investment in the future, in all the future quarterly earnings.

But in some industries, I suggest, this is much less likely because of the interplay between risk and compensation.

If you run a company that makes shirts, nothing is going to happen in your corporation that causes the entire world to suddenly focus on you as the person in charge of a deadly disaster. Well, OK, in the past that did happen for shirt companies now and then, but not any longer. But if you run a company with offshore rigs, chemical factories, refineries, giant ships full of oil, a fleet of passenger carriers, and so on, then there is a risk of a sudden and singular disaster that will attract everyone’s attention, cost hundreds of millions or billions of dollars, and that may become truly notorious. Bhopal, Exxon Valdez, Deep Water Horizon. Unforgettable disasters.

(I think we actually do forget about some of the disasters, if they are in a category with frequent events over decadal times scales. So, even if you don’t remember Tenerife, you know that plane crashes are bad.)

If you are a Rex Tillerson in charge of an ExxonMobil, or the CEO of any of these high risk corporations, there is a distinct possibility that you will wake up one morning to the news that a chemical leak in one of your factories just killed thousands of townspeople, with thousands more to have permanent debilitating injuries. You might be informed, just before picking up your bonus check, that one of your ships ran ashore and dumped 41 thousand cubic meters of crude oil on a formerly pristine natural coastline. You might get the news just before going to bet that one of your off shore rigs has exploded and is burning, eleven dead, three months of oil blowing into the sea, the worst environmental disaster ever, and on your watch. Or perhaps you’ll learn that one of your aircraft just colided with another at an obscure airport in the Canary Islands, and nearly 600 died in the fiery crash.

Most of us would be able to live for years off of a single year’s salary of any of the top CEOs in the oil industry. And, by years, I mean hundreds of years. But from the CEO’s point of view, the relevant balance is between getting a huge salary and bonus this year, allowing one to never have to work a day again, to cover high end living expenses for the whole family and their offspring, vs. the long term health of a corporation that might fire you at any day if something really terrible goes wrong.

Why would a corporate executive choose to stop earning an income forever? Well, if your company kills a few thousand people or destroys a major habitat under your watch, you might not be working for a while.*

The bottom line: In an industry that can spit out major career ending disasters, the foresight of corporate leaders becomes myopic, and long term prospects become invisible, much more easily than in most corporations. This strongly biases the already myopic focus on short term earnings reports. The result: corporate, or any, sustainability goes out the window.

It is ironic that the biggest petroleum related disaster ever was the sinking of a rig named Deepwater Horizon. There is nothing deep about the time horizon considered by Big Oil. Yes, that is because of the quarterly report fetish, but the mitigation of short term thinking is obviated by the grotesquely imbalanced comparison of likely disaster vs. outlandish salary and bonuses.

FYI: The top paid oil company execs get between 15 and 150 a year in salary, and between 4 and 10 extra in bonuses.

Million.


*Note: People in charge of major corporations when there is a major disaster don’t necessarily lose their jobs or become unhirable. But it does affect them. Lawrence Rawl was in charge of Exxon when the Exxon Valdez crashed into Alaska, and he was criticized for badly handling the response. He kept his job for four more years and retired, and I don’t know if he got very many more bonuses. But, he is officially “known for the Exxon Valdez spill.” That is his legacy. Warren Anderson was in charge of Union Carbide when Bhopal happened. He was charged with manslaughter. He remains a fugitive. Other higher ups in the Indian part of that company were tried and convicted of various charges. Tony Hayward, CEO of BE at the time of Deepwater Horizon, was not fired but then was replaced, and that disaster and his handling of it has left him a very controversial figure. He is dogged by protestors and companies and institutions that have anything to do with him find themselves shunned. So, no, this is not a simple formula: I will be fired if there is a disaster. But there are consequences, and I suspect, a perception of fear of consequences is very real.

Examples of “You killed me”:

I like this book so much I’ve read it 3 times: Neotropical Companion

The Neotropical Companion by John Kricher came out years ago, in the late 80s if I recall correctly. I’ve got a copy of it around somewhere.

Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 1.48.31 PMI loved that book because it did a great job integrating all the things in one place: animals, plants, habitats, evolution, etc. Even though I was working in the paleotropics at the time, I found it informative.

Then, more recently, I got a revised version of the same book. I’ve got it around somewhere. It is from the 1990s, I think. Great book, same idea as the first one, but with more in it, and a somewhat larger format. This dates to after my fieldwork in the rainforests, but overlapped with visits to arid regions in the tropics, though again, I’m paleo and the book is neo, but still great.

Then, I got a new copy of f Kircher’s book, The New Neotropical Companion. I got this one in the future! (Not quite published yet, but I think you can actually get it now.

Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 1.48.36 PMThis is a serious book. To a large extent, the intended audience is folks who plan to travel in the neotropics and want a strong background in areas of evolutionary biology and conservation. But the book is very high level in terms of the material covered, the range of facts and scope of theoretical work brought to bear, and so on. It is easy to read, even engaging to read, but it is very very rich in content.

So, the book includes information on traveling, and seeing nature on your trip. But then it includes all that information on the nature itself. It is not a small book, not a field guide format (as the first version was), but it is worth lugging around if you are doing some serious visiting.

Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 1.49.10 PMOr, if you are simply a student of the tropics, evolutionary biology, or nature (not and, but or, on all of that) this book will be an excellent addition to your library.

And, it should be in school libraries, and on the shelves of biology teachers. There are many well developed examples of wildlife and evolution in here, that can be expand on with further literature review (and the book provides a handle on that) for developing in class projects.

I’ve put the table of contents below. As you can see, the book is well organized and covers a lot of material. Also, it is a well produced (as is typical for this publisher, Princeton) and nice looking.

The author, John Kricher, is a biology professor at Wheaton. He’s also written: Galápagos: A Natural History, Tropical Ecology, A Field Guide to California and Pacific Northwest Forests (Peterson Field Guides), By John Kricher – The Balance of Nature: Ecology’s Enduring Myth, and a couple of book on tape thingies such as Ecological Planet – An Introduction to Earth’s Major Ecosystems: The Modern Scholar (well, not really tape, of course).

Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 2.03.37 PMTABLE OF CONTENTS:

Preface 9
Acknowledgments 11
How to Use This Book 12
1 Welcome to the Torrid Zone 15
2 Why It Is Hot, Humid, and Rainy in the Tropics 29
3 Rain Forest: The Realm of the Plants 39
4 Finding Animals in Rain Forest 58
5 Sun Plus Rain Equals Rain Forest 73
6 Essential Dirt: Soils and Cycling 81
7 If a Tree Falls . . . Rain Forest Disturbance Dynamics 95
8 Evolutionary Cornucopia 113
9 Why Are There So Many Species? 134
10 Tropical Intimacy: Mutualism and Coevolution 155
11 Evolutionary Arms Races: More Coevolution, More Complexity 181
12 Cruising the Rivers to the Sea 205
13 Scaling the Andes 235
14 Don’t Miss the Savannas and Dry Forests 250
15 Neotropical Birds: The Bustling Crowd 262
16 From Monkeys to Tarantulas: Endless Eccentricities 319
17 Human Ecology in the Tropics 365
18 The Future of the Neotropics 377
Appendix Words of Caution: Be Sure to Read This 389
Further Reading 392
Index 417