Global warming is already upon us, but when was the last time you had a proper chat about it?? For Green Great Britain Week, ClimateAdam speaks to a climate communication expert (Steve) to take his conversation skills from amazing to brilliant.
Last month, deep in a 500-page environmental impact statement, the Trump administration made a startling assumption: On its current course, the planet will warm a disastrous 7 degrees by the end of this century.
A rise of 7 degrees Fahrenheit, or about 4 degrees Celsius, compared with preindustrial levels would be catastrophic, according to scientists. Many coral reefs would dissolve in increasingly acidic oceans. Parts of Manhattan and Miami would be underwater without costly coastal defenses. Extreme heat waves would routinely smother large parts of the globe.
But the administration did not offer this dire forecast, premised on the idea that the world will fail to cut its greenhouse gas emissions, as part of an argument to combat climate change. Just the opposite: The analysis assumes the planet’s fate is already sealed.
Climate activists and poets, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner and Aka Niviana, travel to the latter’s home of Greenland to recite their collaborative poem, Rise, on a melting glacier that might threaten the former’s home nation of the Marshall Islands in the Pacific
For background, see this post at Climate Denial Crock of the Week.
See also this related post by Bill McKibben.
It is never too soon to talk about human caused climate change in relation to hurricanes. This is a bed we made and we are now sleeping in it.
Rather than yammering on and on about how a warmer atmosphere is a damper, but also more evaporation-inducing (and thus drying), and energetic atmosphere, and about how warmer air going over warmer sea water produces more and bigger storms globally, and all that, I’ll point you to some resources below.
But first I want to address two misconceptions: 1) that you can never attribute to a particular storm the effects of climate change THIS IS FALSE and 2) that climate scientists believe that Atlantic hurricanes will become less and less of a problem with climate change THIS IS ALSO FALSE.
On the attribution. Let’s say there is a disease with a 50% mortality rate. But then a treatment is invented that reduces that to zero. We use the treatment widely and nobody dies of it any more. Then, you get the disease, are cured, and go on a public speaking tour in which you espouse the greatness of this cure.
But one night, while you are speaking in front of a large audience, someone stands up and says, “Hey, wait one darn minute there! You might have been one of the 50% that would have lived! You can’t say that this cure did ANYTHING. Faker!”
The audience, realizing that the cure does not actually work, stands up and walks out.
Was that fair? Was what just happened in this scenario a honest, thoughtful turn of events?
With climate change it is a little like that. People who want to deny the importance of climate change, including journalists still stuck in the false balance mode (if there are Senators in the Senate claiming that human caused global warming is a hoax, then we must consider that as equally likely as what all the world’s scientists are saying), pull the attribution rabbit out of the hat all the time. Since you can’t yada yada. Even some climate scientists used to say this because the were badly trained in what to say.
Indeed, the binary (cure/not cured) I gave you above is not really like climate change. The fact that ALL the sea surfaces in the tropics and sub tropics — every single square centimeter — are on average (and in fact most of the time, for most of the seconds of most of the days, all year) anomalously warm, all of the tropical weather systems are affected all of the time. Fail to understand that at your peril.
The second falsehood, that Atlantic hurricanes will become less of a problem, is perhaps even more pernicious. There once was a study that seemed to show that some of the climatic conditions that would attenuate tropical cyclones, denying them the chance to form into hurricanes, would become more common in the Atlantic. This is probably true. However, the climatic conditions that cause tropical storms to form and advance to hurricane stage are also increased — different effects — and these effects have the added bonus of causing hurricanes to form much more rapidly and sometimes (perhaps often) grow much larger and, by the way, exist farther north. Indeed, if Florence does reach Category 5 for a short time today or tomorrow, it will be the farthest north Cat 5 hurricane ever in the Atlantic.
Here’s the thing. We will see periods of time when hurricanes that might have formed, say, 20 years ago, won’t. But we will also see periods of time when more and bigger and worser hurricanes form. The actual average number of hurricanes in the Atlantic has not gone down, but rather, stayed fairly stable, over recent decades. The frequency of large and dangerous hurricanes globally has gone up, and that trend is probably observable in the Atlantic.
Point is, we are not seeing a decrease in Atlantic hurricane activity or impressiveness, and we are seeing records being broken with respect to time to formation, size, strength, etc.
Climate Signals has a page on Hurricane Florence. They point out that sea level rise and coastal storms are a significant coastal erosion threat. warmer waters make for more and bigger hurricanes, keeping the hurricanes big longer, and making them form faster. These hurricanes are wetter.
Indeed, we have replaced the term “Biblical Flooding” with “Harvey Size Flooding” since we no longer have to imagine it.
Here is a helpful video:
This graph showing the relationship between sea surface temperature and hurricane activity.
Finally, an interview with Michael Mann, author of The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy, on Florence in which Mann points out ways in which climate modeling predicted greater severity of hurricanes. That set of predictions included, by the way, an increased tendency for Atlantic hurricanes to hit the US:
Three items all in one handy post.
First, Peter Gleick has an Op Ed in the Washington Post in which he chastises Trump for his boneheaded tweets about water and the fires in California. Peter is the world’s leading expert on water in California (see: California Drought and Syrian Refugee Crisis with Dr. Peter Gleick) and Donald Trump is as dumb as a brick (see: brick).
Second, did you know that the Saudis have between two and three billion in Tesla, making them the largest single stockholder outside the company? No? Are you surprised? Of course not, it actually makes total sense. Anyway, see: World’s biggest oil exporter is betting $2 billion on electric cars
Third, Climate Signals has updated info on climate change and wild fires, especially in the west and california. The bullet points:
- Human-caused climate change is increasing wildfire activity across forested land in the western United States.
- Since 1970, temperatures in the American West have increased by about twice the global average.
- Scientists have found a direct link between anthropogenic warming and the observed trend of increasing heat extremes over the western US.
- The effect of temperature — and how dry the vegetation is — can matter more for wildfire risk than how much rain or snow fell the previous winter.
- A warmer world has drier landscapes, and dry vegetation becomes fuel for fires making them more likely to spread farther and faster.
- From 1979 to 2015, climate change accounts for 55 percent of observed increases in land surface dryness in western forests.
For more info, and documentation of these items, go HERE.
Steve Goddard, or as I like to call him, Dorothy (because Dorothy of the Wizard of Oz is his avatar, and I think he might live in Oz) is one of those science deniers who now and then produces a graphic that shows that global warming isn’t real. He is increasingly being ignored by even the ingenuous, but his latest attempt to deny reality has been slapped down so effectively by scientist and blogger Tamino that thought you should see it.
I’m just going to give you a little bit of the story, and then send you to Tamino’s excellent post.
First, here is Goddard’s graphic attempting to show that global warming is not real.
See how temperatures are going down? How can that be? Note that this is average maximum temperature over time, 1918-present, in the US.
Why 1918 (the data set goes back farther)? Why the US? Also, why is he using absolute temperatures instead of the usually used anomalies? Maybe he knows something we don’t know. Or, maybe he is counting on his audience not knowing some stuff that all the experts know.
Now look at this graph, produced by climate scientist Tamino.
That’s a silly graph, isn’t it. It appears to show the mean latitude of something over time. Of what? Of the stations used to estimate temperatures. How is this relevant to the present discussion?
To learn the answer to that and other important questions, see: USA Temperature: can I sucker you?
An excellent PBS News Hour piece called “Climate change is making wildfires more extreme. Here’s how.”
It starts with California but discusses this as a world wide problem. Has a segment with Michael Mann, author of The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy (recently in upgraded and expanded edition with a chapter on Trump).
And that is the United States, and that is because of Donald Trump. From WaPo:
The Trump administration on Thursday announced plans to freeze fuel-efficiency requirements for the nation’s cars and trucks through 2026 — a massive regulatory rollback likely to spur a legal battle with California and other states, as well as create potential upheaval in the nation’s automotive market.
The proposal represents an abrupt reversal of the findings that the government reached under President Barack Obama, when regulators argued that requiring more-fuel-efficient vehicles would improve public health, combat climate change and save consumers money without compromising safety.
Trump’s plan also undercuts California’s long-standing ability to set its own tailpipe restrictions, most recently in an effort to curb greenhouse-gas emissions.
What is the rational for this? There is only one. Hippie punching. He is showing his base that he has yet another way to make the liberals cry.
But guess what. The liberals will not cry. But they will fight.
My only remaining Republican friend, Paul Douglas, provided this information.
Considering the top 20 most destructive California fires from Cal Fire’s database, 6 of those have happened in the last 10 months.
The worse so far is the Tubbs Fire last October, and that was HUGE. Nearly 6,000 structures were burned, 22 people were killed. The sixth on the list is the Carr fire, with just under 1,500 structures burned and six killed as of this writing, but that fire is still burning.
I’ll just add this. There was a moment in time between about 2 and 3 years ago, when it was apparent to me and many others that fires were getting worse. But the data was just coming in. There were studies that stopped their data roughly a year or a year and a half earlier that showed no statistically convincing increase. The delay in data range is normal. You get your data, clean it up, then Reviewer three adds eight months to the publication process, etc. so most studies are one or maybe two years late. Anyway, I was being told over and over again that I was wrong whenever I talked about fires. Much of that came from those who were sufficiently in the game to pretend they were not denying climate change, but who chose to get into the contrarian game despite the huge moral cost of doing so.
Well, we were right. We told you so. Shame.
Eventually, of course, the wildfires will stop. Like the surgeons say, the bleeding always stops. Eventually. One way or another.
Attributing major weather related disasters, such as the current wildfires in California or the recent heat waves in Japan, to climate change is a little like attributing deaths due to respiratory illness to influenza.
Before going further with that concept, let me be clear: Those extreme weather events are highly unlikely to have happened had there been no global warming. Not only does global warming increase the chances of those events happening, but also, in some cases, without global warming it would be almost impossible for certain events to occur. Warming of the planet due to the human release of greenhouse gases has quantitatively changed key aspects of the Earth’s weather system so extremes in one direction (like heat, stronger storms, flooding, etc) are more common and more severe. It also appears that human caused global warming has qualitatively changed the climate so things happen now that would simply not have been a thing in the past, or that would have been very rare indeed.*
The comparison between the flu and global warming is not an analogy. Or it wouldn’t be a very good one, in any case, assuming a good analogy takes a concept you are very familiar with and points out parallels between that system and some system you understand less. Indeed, I assume you understand the idea that a warmer world makes for more heat waves pretty clearly, and at the same time, I’m pretty sure most people don’t actually know how we even know how bad a flu season is. I don’t assume everyone understands influenza, so I know I did not just hand out an “aha!” moment by which a greater understanding of climate change will result.
It is, rather, an imperfect but serious comparison that helps us understand a third concept: why fighting over attribution of climate change, in the press and the beer halls and on the street, is stupid and bad.
Did you know that every flu season in the US, a lot of people get the flu, and some of them die? I’m pretty sure you did, and the reason you know is that you learned it on the news, or from your friends, or in health class, or by reading a book on the flu. No one disputes it. Even Fox News says it is true. You won’t see Trump tweeting in all caps about how it doesn’t actually happen.
But what you might not know is that it is the epidemiologists who tell us this, and give us important details such as “we are having a bad flu season” or “the flu hasn’t really arrived in Ohio yet but it is coming” or “other than long term care facilities, where it is still a problem, this year’s flu season is mostly over” and such, don’t directly observe the flu’s spread across the landscape. They are, rather, attributing an easily made observation to a specific cause, in a way that is conceptually similar to how climate scientists attribute wildfires and such to the human release of greenhouse gas. The methods are different, and the climate scientists have the upper hand on their data. While epidemiologists looking at the flu only actually directly measure the presence or effect of influenza in a small number of cases, climate scientists have thousands of measurement points taking data every hour, satellites, and all sorts of other probes.
When someone dies of influenza, we usually know that because there is an autopsy or some other carefully made observation in a hospital. When someone is put in an intensive care unit because of influenza, we usually know that. When a privileged wealthy suburban kid gets a really bad case of something, they will often get tested and then we’ll know for sure if they have the flu, as opposed to some other thing. But when most people get all those symptoms we think of as “the flu,” we never really know what they had, and it is simply true that during the flu season, there are a lot of other things going around, and only a percentage of people “with the flu” are actually infected with influenza.
But, it turns out that when influenza spreads through a population, the relatively small scale sampling that government epidemiologists do picks that spread up, and allows for reasonable estimates of what kinds of virus is out there, how sick it is making people, and a rough estimate of how dense the disease is on the landscape.
Meanwhile, schools keep track of kids being out sick, and hospitals and clinics keep track of who is complaining about flu like symptoms. So, epidemiologists (and I’m oversimplifying here) combine information they have from direct observation of actual influenza infection with information they have on “flu like symptoms” appearance and other indicators of general public health, with carefully developed and continuously refined modeling and statistical analysis. They then attribute a certain percentage of the flu like symptoms to the actual flu, not on a case by case basis but on a population level, by state and across the country, using science.
And almost nobody even knows that, and almost nobody really cares. We just want to know how bad it is, what the timing is, and that sort of thing. We trust the system to give us that information and it does. We know they know a lot more than we do about how do to this, and we are busy with other things. It would require some powerful derp to come up with a conspiracy theory about how the flu isn’t real. If anything, the average American has it backwards. People get really sick from a bad version of the common cold and claim they have the flu a lot more often than people get the flu and claim there is no such thing as influenza.
At present, thanks to a recent paper in Nature and some talk in the New York Times and elsewhere, we are seeing a lot of talk about attribution, the process of linking global warming to weather disasters. But I warn you that much of it is uninformed and somewhat misleading. For example, a recent article in a major science oriented magazine talked about attribution of weather events to climate change, and made the valid points that a) we can do that and b) yes, much of what we see happening in the area of bad weather is climate change caused. But that article missed a LOT of key information about attribution science, focusing, I assume for rhetorical reasons, on only one part of attribution science. Unfortunately the author chose the method of attribution that tends to underestimate the link between cause and effect.
I’m pretty sure the same thing would happen if we saw a major public discussion on influenza. You might learn a lot from reading the public literature, but you wouldn’t qualify for a Masters degree in epidemiology on the basis of that learning.
It would like a little like the famous Harris cartoon shown here. But instead of “then a miracle occurs” it would be “this part is complex so I’ll skip it.” And it is complex.
In climate science, there are a number of very complex problems that cause scientists to not be able to directly communicate to the average person what is happening. A great example is the understanding of “sensitivity.” Broadly speaking, this means just how much will global temperature change with a change in atmospheric greenhouse gas. This is incredibly complicated to figure out, and requires a number of assumptions that we are not totally certain about. However, the overall theoretical framework is solid and unassailable. But since some of the details have wiggle room, the actual numbers are hard to pin down. Then, once a reasonable range is produced, there is a fair amount of wiggle room as to when the change in temperature will be fully realized. The fact that it takes a certain amount of time is actually related to the fact that there must be a range of estimates, because rates of change are in some cases linked to how much change there will be. (Ie., methane is a powerful greenhouse gas, but it breaks down over years or decades. So “postive feedback” from methane can exacerbate warming and cause other systems to jump in and also exacerbate warming. But how much of this happens will depend on the rate methane is introduced and how fast it breaks down. And since much of the methane that is added to the environment comes form melting permafrost or warming Arctic seas that cover underwater solid methane, adding sea level rise can change those calculations … and so on and so forth.)
Skipping the complex step, or totally ignoring the more complex methodologies, has a benefit. This may make it easier to get the point across.
But it has a serious downside. It allows nefarious wizards to work their magic. This is an easy extension of Clarke’s third law, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” We all assume, in this modern well informed world, that this law applies only to some other people in some other place or time where they don’t have radios. But it very much applies to us. If the details of the science are beyond comprehension if you don’t have the right PhD, or worse, left out of the conversation entirely because the author of the public literature doesn’t understand (or even know about) it, then nefarious wizards can swoop in and make up stuff that is based on equally hidden logic or method.
Scientists using science that includes methods hidden for the benefit of explanation** allows for anti-science actors to swoop in and manipulate that ignorance, manipulate that view of knowledge as the product of magic, and manipulate the weak of mind or give tools to those who prosper from the spread of willful ignorance. The nefarious wizards exploit almost unavoidably occult scientific method to control the deplorables and serve the purveyors of dark money.
I proffer the parallel cases of tracking flu seasons and attributing bad weather to anthropogenic climate change to point out that the difference in the debate about the two is a matter of nefarious wizardry. Next time you run into a climate science denier, not only check your wallet, but makes sure your defense against the dark arts skills are up to snuff.
*It is possible to imagine a world without hurricanes, if the oceans and continents were configured a certain way. In the modern configuration of continents and oceans, hurricanes are concentrated in specific areas of the ocean, and occur during certain time frames. When they occur, they tend to form in certain places, grow over a wide range of time frames, but usually not too fast, and they have characteristics that are determined by how hurricanes form and maintain in relation to the environment around them. Many of these features show signs of changing, or have simply gone off the charts already.
Hurricanes have become more common, and stronger. There are eight main regions in which tropical cyclones (which includes hurricanes) form. The dates of the observations of each area’s most powerful storm (there are nine because Australia has a tie) are 1979, 1999, 1999, 2003, 2004, 2004, 2005, 2015, and 2016. A hurricane forming in certain areas is very rare. A hurricane in the South Atlantic is unheard of. In recent years we’ve had one South Atlantic hurricane, and at least one major storm formed in the part of the Indian Ocean basin where no one was expecting one to form. A hurricane limits its own growth by churning hot surface water into deeper cooler water is common, but recently hurricanes that do not to that because there are no deeper cool waters in that churning zone have happened several times in recent years. A hurricane that goes from “nothing to see here” to full on hurricane in one or two days is almost impossible. We thought. Now, rapid formation is more common, which is a big problem since it can take days for the current system to decide if there should be an evacuation, and to carry it out. A major quantitative shift in the hurricane system in the US is the change from the assumption of evacuation to the assumption of not evacuating in certain areas no matter how bad the storm is. That is a combined function of increased storm severity, decreased formation time, and unfettered thoughtless human development in certain areas.
**I do not refer here to methods hidden completely, hidden from other scientists, or the interested public. That is a separte issue, and is not very common. Pretty much all of the climate science is public and open, despite accusations from deniers of science.
The supreme court today unanimously refused to reject a case by a bunch of young folk against the government for letting climate change ruin the future.
The law suit, in essence:
Youth filed their constitutional climate lawsuit, called Juliana v. U.S., against the U.S. government in the U.S. District Court for the District of Oregon in 2015. Earth Guardians is also an organizational plaintiff in the case.
Their complaint asserts that, through the government’s affirmative actions that cause climate change, it has violated the youngest generation’s constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property, as well as failed to protect essential public trust resources.
The SCOTUS event that happened today was to say no to an attempt by the defendant to throw the case out. This is probably mostly procedural, but a fair number of law suits are “lost” before they are tried because of such procedures. This is not the first test of this case. The Chldren’s Trust suit has survived previous counters. Read all about it on their site.
Rapidly rising sea levels likely to happen over the next couple of decades may destroy an important part of the very Internet itself…
From “Lights Out: Climate Change Risk to Internet Infrasctructure, by Ramakrishnan Durairajan, Carol Barford, and Paul Barford: Continue reading Climate Change Can Ruin The Internet
The details are evolving, but the basic relationship is for real.