Category Archives: Climate Change

Bjorn Lomborg’s Little Idea

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Bjorn Lomborg is famous for downplaying the importance of climate change, and the urgency of acting on it. I don’t know anyone who quite understands why he does this. If you want to know more about him, click here.

You will remember his comment a while back about how sea levels actually went down for a while, but nobody ever talks about that. He was wrong. Sea levels are rising over time, but they do go up and down within that larger framework. His sea level comment prompted me to create the following graphic:

Lomborg’s latest is to make the incorrect claim that the recent and ongoing unprecedented, traumatic, and destructive fires in Australia are just kind of average. Nothing to see here. His claim is based on a misrepresentation of cherry picked data. Australia does have a lot of fire, so it is easy to find a way to describe this year’s as not abnormal. What is different, and worse, this year is where the fires happened, the kind of habitat that burned, and the timing. (See this.) The Twitter thread that Lomborg started, and many others chimed in on, is here.

And, here is the graphic I could not resist making in response. I’ve replaced the Picard Face-palm with the Greta Stern Look. This might be a thing from now on.

The graphic used in that image is a screen shot from this video:


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Climate Change New Year’s Resolutions

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Inspired by a post at the Northeast Metro Climate Action Facebook page, here are some suggested New Year’s resolutions related to climate change.

1) Normalize climate concern. When a relative or friend smirks at the idea of buying electric, or scoffs at the link between climate change and severe weather events, don’t sheepishly demure. Correct them. How you do that is something I can’t give you advice on, as it depends on the person and your relationship. But don’t let it pass, ever, in 2020.

2) Foreground climate concern. Don’t wait for Uncle Bob to say something stupid. Take opportunities to say something smart and poignant, or ear-catching and clever, or inspiring and helpful. For example, don’t just say “wow, I got 65 mpg on the trip here in my hybrid.” Add to that “That is equivalent to almost two thousand pounds of Carbon Dioxide.”

3) Learn something and tell something. There are multiple resources you can use to learn about both climate denialism and climate change itself. I’ve put some resources below. And, when you do learn something, be sure to mention it incessantly at every social event and opportunity. OK, maybe not EVERY one, but at least, now and then.

4) Take personal action. Each one of these, or sets of them, can each be considered a new year’s resolution. A few suggestions.

  • Turn the heat down, use less hot water, all of that. Get a programmable thermostat if you don’t have one already.
  • Insulate things. Every thing.
  • Get a home energy audit from your power company. They may give you free stuff, or great discounts, on LED lights.
  • Every light in your home should be an LED light. BUT don’t just remove the incandescent bulbs and screw in expensive LED bulbs in every case. Consider replacing built in fixtures with the new fangled fixtures that don’t actually take a bulb of any kind. Like this one.
  • Don’t automatically use warm or hot water when you do your laundry, and keep the loads reasonably filled.
  • Over time, replace all appliances that use gas with electric, and use heat pumps instead of traditional heating and cooling. This can save you loads of money, too. Remember this: There is no series of moral steps that lead to installing a natural gas appliance of any kind (including stove tops) in 2020.
  • Drive and fly less, replacing high CO2-footprint transport with less energy demanding ways. One long distance family trip in an airplane is worth a LOT of CO2. If your family does that every year, just stop it. Do it every three years or less, find a different, less planet-destroying way to amuse yourself!

5) Keep up the pressure on your representatives. Remember, a lot of climate related fight-backs happen at the state level, some even at the local level. Find out if your city is in any sort of program to its reduce carbon footprint (in Minnesota, it is called “GreenStep Cities“). If it isn’t, make them joint one. Join your state level environmental political group (in Minnesota, that would include the DFLEC, but feel free to suggest other choices below in the comments). There is a misconception that contacting your state or federal rep is meaningless because, either they are already on board and your message isn’t necessary, or they are totally against addressing climate change, so your message is useless. Neither one of these things is true. Anti-climate science representatives need to be pressured, and your contact is pressure. Pro-environmental representatives need to be able to say “I got a zillion calls and notes from my constituents, so no, I can’t compromise on this important climate related bill.”

6) Give a few bucks to candidates who support aggressive action on climate change. Then contact their opponent and tell them why they did not get your money. Do the same thing with campaign-supporting volunteer time. Hit the streets.

7) Change your diet sensibly and effectively. Clearly, eating less meat will reduce your carbon footprint. When you do eat meat, the smaller the animal the better with respect to carbon footprint. That’s easy. But not all diet decisions are easy. People may over-estimate the importance of local eating, especially if they are driving their SUV to the grocery store two or three times a week, and don’t go to the nearest store because it doesn’t have their brand of cranberry juice. It is not clear that there is a difference, or what the difference is, between organic and non-organically grown food. One of the biggest things you can do is to monitor and manage the food you do buy so that very little is wasted because you let it go bad in the back of the refrigerator. Americans waste about a third of our food this way. Resolve to develop an effective, personal, method to avoid this.

Learning Resources:

Books:*
The basics of climate change: Dire Predictions, Second Edition: Understanding Climate Change by DK Publishing (2-Jun-2015) Paperback

A long list of things that can be done by individuals, governments, corporations, etc.: Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming

Personal financial decisions: Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know®

The fundamental political problem: The War on Science: Who’s Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About It

On Line Classes:

Making Sense of Climate Denial

Climate Change: The Science and Global Impact

If you are in Minnesota, and want to organize a talk on climate change, contact me. I do one, and I work with Phil Adam, and he and I have multiple offerings in the area of climate change and energy, and there are other local excellent speakers I can put you in touch with. Church? Rotary club? Local environmental group or Indivisible group? Let me know what you need.


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Hurricanes may start stalling more, and that is bad.

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The tempo of storms has changed with global warming. A single storm that might drop X amount of water across a zone one thousand miles in length and hundreds of miles wide may now drop that same amount of water over a zone that is only a few hundred miles in length. Major floods in Calgary, Boulder, Southeastern Minnesota, Duluth, and other very wet rainfall events are now on record as examples of this, and the cause is quasi-resonant Rosbey waves. Continue reading Hurricanes may start stalling more, and that is bad.


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Do Not Miss Rachel Maddow’s New Book: Blowout

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Rachel Maddow is the Charles Darwin of Cable News.

Darwin’s most important unsung contribution to science (even more important than his monograph on earthworms) was to figure out how to most effectively put together multiple sources into a single argument — combining description, explanation, and theory — of a complex phenomenon in nature. His first major work, on coral reefs, brought together historical and anecdotal information, prior observation and theory from earlier researchers, his own direct observations of many kinds of reefs, quasi experimental work in the field, and a good measure of deductive thinking. It took a while for this standard to emerge, but eventually it did, and this approach was to become the normal way to write a PhD thesis or major monograph in science.

Take any major modern news theme. Deutsche Bank. Trump-Nato-Putin. Election tampering. Go to the standard news sources and you’ll find Chuck Todd following the path of “both sides have a point.” Fox News will be mixing conspiracy theory and right wing talking points. The most respected mainstream news anchors, Lester Holt, Christiane Amanpour, or Brian Williams perhaps, will be giving a fair airing of the facts but moving quickly from story to story. Dig deeper, and find Chris Hayes with sharp analysis, Joy Reid contextualizing stories with social justice, and Lawrence O’Donnell applying his well earned in the trenches biker wisdom.

But if you really want to Darwin the news, and sink your natural teeth and claws into a story, go to Maddow. Continue reading Do Not Miss Rachel Maddow’s New Book: Blowout


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Climate Change Reading and Resources

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Dire Predictions: The Visual Guide to the Findings of the IPCC by Michael Mann summarizes the IPCC Report on climate change (scientific basis) in a clear and understandable way without sacrificing important detail and nuance.

One test of the legitimacy of claims about scientific matters is time. Over time, if a proposal about how nature works that buck the consensus is valid, it will be shown to be valid. If it is not, it will fail the test of time. Climatology Versus Pseudoscience: Exposing the Failed Predictions of Global Warming Skeptics by Dana Nuccitelli looks at the predictions of those who have been denying the reality of climate change, comparing those predictions made by mainstream science. Read the book to find out who won!

Even though this is not specifically about climate science, I always recommend that people read Sean Otto’s The War on Science: Who’s Waging It, Why It Matters, What We Can Do About It to understand why we are not simply and directly dealing with climate change. Along the same lines, Michael Mann’s The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines chronicles the denier-science fight at its high water mark, a few years back.

Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming is a pretty good book, and at this moment very current, to read about how to address climate change.


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The cold spot caused by global warming and why it should scare you

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You saw the film The Day After Tomorrow. This is that. Not like in the movie, but still…

Warming causes melting of ice, adding fresh water into the North Atlantic, which interferes with a major current system that at present warms Europe.

Consequence: The planet warms dangerously, while at the same time, large parts of Europe become much cooler, to the extent that people may not be able to live there in the manner they do now, or produce very much food there. Gibraltar would have a climate similar to the coast of Maine, and Berlin would have a climate similar to the Northwest Territories or northern Hudson Bay.

The models have predicted this, but it now seems that they’ve under-predicted it. It appears to be happening faster, and more furiously, than expected.


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A Conversation with Michael Mann: The Existential Threat

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The Giant of the Senate interviews Mike the Madhouse Mann.

In this week’s episode, I talk with Michael Mann, Nobel Prize-winning climatologist for his work with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). We cover a lot of ground. How to talk about climate change to your crazy right-wing climate-denying uncle. “Uncle Hal, sea level is rising. For two reasons. Ice is melting. And water expands when it gets warmer.” If Uncle Hal insists sea level is rising because of all the rocks falling into the ocean, then just give up. We talk about how climate used to be a bipartisan issue, but since Citizens United, the Koch Brothers have threatened to primary any Republican who acknowledges the science. Addressing climate change has become a victim of our tribal politics. The answer right now? Win.


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Michael Mann Wins

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During the late 20th century, Michael Mann and colleagues published research showing that then recent warming, believed to have been caused by human caused changes in atmospheric chemistry, were indeed large and unique over a very long natural record of about a thousand years. The graph showed what looked like a hockey stick laying down, with the blade, sticking abruptly up, indicating the dramatic increase in average surface temperature of the planet. See this book for an overview of the climate science.

Over subsequent decades, a handful of individuals, organizations, and at least one media outlet decided to attack Mann over his research. These attacks falsely claimed that Mann had faked or altered data in order to show that global warming was real when it wasn’t. To be clear: Global warming is real, and Mann was not making up or faking data. See The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines for more on that. See also this book for just how crazy this can all get.

Mann, in an effort to defend the science, took these various and sundry entities to court, to compel them to retract their lies and apologize. Today, June 7th, one of those law suits ended with such an apology.

For historical context, I give you the aforementioned events superimposed over a graph showing the steady rise of the Earth’s surface temperatures:

Then, the retraction:

This isn’t over. The story of these law suits is complicated by several factors. At least one “think tank” changed its name a couple of times. Individuals or other entities have counter sued. Other things. There are still open cases. Eventually, it will all be settled. See this post for more information.
Well, the law suits will be settled. And, the science is settled. But we need to do a lot more work to decarbonize our economies and limit the effects of global warming.


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State of the climate, 2019

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The year 2018 was warm, but since previous years had been super warm, it may have seemed a bit cooler. There was indeed a downswing, but only a little one.

However, 2019 is looking like an upswing year. It will not be as warm as the recent El Nino year, but it will be close, and it will follow the predicted upward course of global warming caused by our release of greenhouse gasses and the effect of those gasses on delicate and critically important atmospheric chemistry.

Climate Central has a a State of the Climate report here.

Note that the various predictions for the activity level of the 2019 hurricane season suggest an average year. The most common midpoint of estimates for the number of actual hurricanes is five, with 2 major ones, in the Atlantic. The long term average for those numbers is 6.4 and 2.7. However, the estimate for the total number of named storms is a bit higher than the average of 12.1, suggesting between 10 and 14 or so. We have already had one, before the official start of the season, but the Atlantic has been relatively quiet since then.

This Spring’s unprecedented flooding is of course directly related to climate change, and there isn’t a sane person on the Earth who doesn’t accept that as truth. You will have a harder time finding people accepting a link between tornado activity, which has been very high this year, and global warming, but it is also true that a) there has been a very well entrenched and active non-acceptance of that relationship for years in the meteorological community and b) it seems that having a few bad years in a row, as we have had with hurricanes, is required before enough people put their thinking caps on and think. So, I await a possible shift in position on tornadoes and global warming.


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What The DNC Just Did Wrong

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You are probably aware that the DNC has just put the kibash on having a climate change related debate in the primary process.

Climate change, Perez says, is a single issue and no single issue is worthy of elevation to this level. Here are some of my thoughts on this, and below find a link to Adam Siegel’s excellent post on the subject, where you will also find the DNC’s position.

The climate crisis is not a single issue, Mr. Perez. It is an existential issue that permeates all of the other issues, an economic issue that will shape our entire agenda, an issue of national security that should be of great concern, and the number one premier health issue of the century. It is a moral issue that tests our the ability of our elected Democrats and candidates to lead.

The moment at hand has bee a long time coming. This is the first election cycle in which climate change and its effects are being taken serious by almost all Democratic candidates and voters. This issue has to be part of the conversation from now on, indefinitely.

Perhaps instead of driving climate change into a corner, or ignoring it, you actually meant to challenge the current framing of such a debate. Indeed, Democrats do not have to debate “climate change.” We all know it is real, critically important, and that we must address it. That is not a matter of debate.

But we do need to discuss, and debate, the solutions. What kind of Green New Deal do you want, candidate? How do you propose we harness market forces to hasten the transition away from fossil fuels? Do you like bridge fuels like Methane or are you on board with following a direct line to zero-Carbon? What about Carbon pricing, fee and dividend? How can we keep the economic benefit that will come with decarbonization in the US, by supporting local union industry in the construction of wind, solar, and storage facilities? Can the benefits of this energy transition be made available to most citizens? Is there a way to have economic benefits that go to more than the 10%? Should there be improved national best practices and regulations to push utilities to help more with this? What about divestment from funds that invest in fossil fuel extraction, processing, and distribution? What is your favorite pipeline story and what does it tell us about our commitment to changing things? What sorts of mandates can hasten widespread access to technologies like heat pumps and geothermal heating and cooling?

There is, indeed, a great deal to debate. Not climate change per se, but rather, how we save the future for our children and grandchildren. As noted by “Climate Hawks Vote,” climate change is a single issue: the survival of humanity. That is worth a debate.

Have a look at this thoughtful and informative post by energy expert A. Siegel to see how debating climate change can work as a political tool to the benefit of Democratic candidates and the party.

Coming out against a climate or energy debate is ethically questionable and politically foolish. Lets expand, rather than contract, this vitally important conversation.


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Books On The Energy Transition

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Be informed, have a look.

Drawdown: The Most Comprehensive Plan Ever Proposed to Reverse Global Warming edited by Paul Hawken.

This is a great resource for understanding the diverse strategies available to decarbonize. There is a flaw, and I think it is a fairly significant one. Drawdown ranks the different strategies, so you can see what (seemingly) should be done first. But the ranking is highly susceptible to how the data are organized. For example, on shore vs. off shore wind, if combined, would probably rise to the top of the heap, but separately, are merely in the top several. Also, these things change quickly over time in part because we do some of these things, inevitably moving them lower in ranking. So don’t take the ranking too seriously.

Free Market Environmentalism for the Next Generation by Terry Anderson and Donald Leal.

I mention this book because I hope it can help the free market doe what it never actually does. The energy business is not, never was, and can’t really be a free market, so expecting market forces to do much useful is roughly the same as expecting the actual second coming of the messiah. Won’t happen. This book is not an ode to those market forces, though, but rather, a third stab (I think), and a thoughtful one, at a complex problem.

Related, of interest: Windfall: The Booming Business of Global Warming by McKenzie Funk. “Funk visits the front lines of the melt, the drought, and the deluge to make a human accounting of the booming business of global warming. By letting climate change continue unchecked, we are choosing to adapt to a warming world. Containing the resulting surge will be big business; some will benefit, but much of the planet will suffer. McKenzie Funk has investigated both sides, and what he has found will shock us all. ”

Designing Climate Solutions: A Policy Guide for Low-Carbon Energy by Hal Harvey, Rovbbie Orvis and Jeffrey Rissman. ” A small set of energy policies, designed and implemented well, can put us on the path to a low carbon future. Energy systems are large and complex, so energy policy must be focused and cost-effective. One-size-fits-all approaches simply won’t get the job done. Policymakers need a clear, comprehensive resource that outlines the energy policies that will have the biggest impact on our climate future, and describes how to design these policies well.”


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