Category Archives: Climate Change

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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A New Book On Drought by NASA GISS’s Ben Cook

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Drought: An Interdisciplinary Perspective by Benjamin (Ben) Cook is the book you’ve always needed handy when the dry side of climate or climate change comes up in conversation.

The relationship between rainfall, groundwater, evaporation and transpiration, vegetation, bodies of water, animal distribution, agriculture, humans, and atmospheric conditions (not to mention oceanic factors and topography) underlie many different realms of academia and policy. Almost nothing I’ve ever done in my anthropological research didn’t include the hydrologic cycle, climate, and related issues. The weather weirding we are currently watching across the globe, including the current heavy rains and tornadoes, are part of this, and the long lived California Drought, the one that ended just recently, is as well.

In Drought: An Interdisciplinary Perspective, Cook looks at the dry end of the spectrum of the hydrologic cycle, but in so doing, he really has to cover the basics of rain related climate. There is math, and there is complicated science, in this book, but all of the material presented here is accessible to anyone who wishes to learn. If you are interested in climate change or agriculture, or paleoclimate, or any of that, Cook’s book is an essential reference, filling a gap that exists in the available range of current public-facing serious science books.

Cook covers the hydrologic cycle and the relationship between the hydrologic cycle and climatology. He defines the sometimes confusing concepts and measurements known as “drought” in a non-confusing and detailed way. I’ve found that in many discussions of drought, self defined experts who also happen to be climate change deniers tend to talk past (or over or around) others, making it difficult for the average non-expert to avoid frustration. Cook will arm you with the knowledge to stand up to such shenanigans!

Cook covers drought in the Holocene, and the relationship between climate change and drought. He provides two key detailed case studies (the American dust bowl, and droughts in the Sahel of Africa). He covers landscape degradation and desertification, and irrigation.

Drought: An Interdisciplinary Perspective is fully authoritative and thorough, and, as noted, very readable and understandable. Reading this book might make you thirsty but it will also make you smarter.

Ben Cook is a research scientist at NASA-Goddard Institute for Space Studies and the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University, and he teaches at Columbia’s School of Professional Studies.


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Koch-Tank Drains Out Climate Denial Group: Michaels, Maue, Gone

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In 1974, libertarians Ed Crane, Murray Rothbard, and Charles Koch (of the Koch Industries conglomerate) founded the Charles Koch Foundation, a libertarian “think” tank. In 1976 the name was changed to the Cato Institute. The name “Cato” comes from the “Cato’s Letters, or Essays on Liberty Civil and Religious and Other Important Subjects” which were written by John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon in the early 18th century, under the psuedonym “Cato” who was, in turn, an enemy of Julias Caesar. (For a treatment of the role of Cato’s Letters in the American Revolution see The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution by historian Bernard Bailyn.)

Cato took up the issue of anthropogenic global warming in around 2003, and the institute had a strong influence on Bush Administration policy. The most current and widespread Republican plank, among those Republicans that can read, is that global warming is real and at least some of it is human caused, but it does not matter, no big deal, climate changes, get over it. This philosophy (perhaps abusing the word “philosophy” there) is essentially a Cato product.

But now, Scott Waldman at E&E News reports that Cato is closing its climate shop. The biggest effect this will have is the departure of Patrick Michaels, often a commenter on Trump News, and the keeper of the nefarious policy on climate change. Waldman reports Michaels as saying, “They informed me that they didn’t think their vision of a think tank was in the science business, and so I said, ‘OK, bye.’ There had been some controversy going around the building for some time, so things got to a situation where they didn’t work out.”

Also gone from Cato, but his departure not necessarily connected with this change, is Richard Lindzen. Extremely annoying twitter denizen and supposed meteorologist Ryan Maue is also out.

For all the currently available details, see “Cato closes its climate shop.


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Unexpected Methane Surge

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According to Climate Nexus,

An unexpected surge in global atmospheric methane is threatening to erase the anticipated gains of the Paris Climate Agreement. This past April NOAA posted preliminary data documenting an historic leap in the global level of atmospheric methane in 2018, underscoring a recent wave of science and data reporting that previously stable global methane levels have unexpectedly surged in recent years.

The scientific community recently responded to the surge into two high profile publications by calling for a reduction in methane emissions from the natural gas system…

It is not clear where this methane is coming from, but most bets are on wetlands that have shifted from being greenhouse gas sinks (or neutral) to being greenhouse gas emitters. Methane is a bad greenhouse gas while it lasts (decades) but eventually changes into CO2 and water. The CO2, of course, stays in the atmosphere for much much longer. So, this is really like CO2 release but with a giant kick in the gut right out of the gate.

See this for more.


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Renewable energy in the time of Polar Vortex

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A polar vortex event like we experienced last week does not make the sunshine weaker, nor does it reduce the strength of the wind. In fact, very cold weather can be associated with very sunny conditions, and in Minnesota a long dreary cool but not frigid cloudy period ended with the arrival of a much sunnier but very cold Arctic air mass. And,the movement of great masses of air is what pushes those windmill blades around. Continue reading Renewable energy in the time of Polar Vortex


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Go Home, Arctic, You’re Drunk

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Dusting off the old meme I made a few years back, last time the Polar Vortex attacked North America:

And yes, regardless of any dispute about the term “Polar Vortex” itself (there is some confusion and disagreement), the excursion of air masses that normally reside in a particular latitudinal region (i.e, tropical, temperate, polar) can be, and likely is, caused by the effects of human release of greenhouse gasses. Ironically, the sequence of steps that go from your local coal plant or the back end of your excessively large car to an attack by the polar vortex involves a warming of the Arctic. So, I suppose, the polar air we are at present being assaulted with could be worse.

Simply put, as the Arctic warms, the age-old and somewhat complex process of heat moving from the warm equatorial regions to the poles (which you know it has to do, right?) is messed up because the longitudinal temperature gradient is messed up. This causes the giant circles of fast air known as the jet streams to bunch up and form enormous semi-stable loops known as quais-resonant Rossby waves. Once these suckers are happening, all kinds of things happen, like very wet rainy periods causing major flooding, much larger and more intense than usual blizzards, multi-year droughts, and these very annoying arctic incursions.

And that’s what we are having right now in the upper middle part of North America.

Like this:

Note that when you get down that far, the difference between F and C matters little.


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Global Warming vs. Climate Change: Origin Myths

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I’ve heard again and again the story of how we used to call it “global warming” then we called it “climate change” for one reason or another. I have honored esteemed colleagues who have their beliefs about the origins and shifts of these terms, and in some cases, they even have some documentation of how these terms came to be used, when, and why. However, my own version of this history is almost always different from theirs, and different from what I hear reporters, activists, writers, and others say.

Briefly, here is my version of the story. Originally it was called climate change, mainly because the people who studied it were looking at the long term, and warming was only one direction in which climate changed. Then a subset of people started looking much more closely at anthropogenic global warming, and started to use that term where appropriate. But even then, the basic theory and much of the empirical evidence related to the study of global warming came from the broader field of climate science, which studies change in climate and its causes (aka climate change). So, there are two axes of understanding here. One is the broader field of climate change of which global warming study is a part, and the other is the broader theoretical framework of climate change, of which global warming is a more narrowly defined application. Continue reading Global Warming vs. Climate Change: Origin Myths


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Vermont could lead the way. But it doesn’t.

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Vermont. The state where everyone lives in a yurt and drinks organic maple syrup. Bernie Sanders is their Senator and I’m pretty sure the Dalai Lama lives there. Or, at least, the yurts are lined with Llama fur.

You’d think that Vermont could get its act together to reduce greenhouse gasses more than most other states, but in fact, that has not happened, and it is probably important to know why.

Vermont had implemented one of the more aggressive greenhouse gas reduction plans, but it turns out, the state’s greenhouse gas emissions have gone up by about 16%. Like this following figure from this report shows:

Figure 1. Vermont Historic GHG Emissions Estimates and Future Emissions Reduction Goals.

From the Boston Globe:

“It wasn’t just disappointing and ironic, it was surprising,” said Sandra Levine, a senior attorney based in Vermont for the Conservation Law Foundation. “Many thought we were at least moving in the right direction. But we weren’t just missing the target, we were moving backward.”

The main reasons greenhouse gas emissions went up is because people, for the most part, did everything backwards. They did not buy electric cars, and they did buy bigger gas guzzling cars. They figured that as long as gas was cheap and easy to get, who cares about the planet?

Also, “Much of the blame falls on the aging pickup trucks, the state’s most commonly registered vehicles, which many residents often drive alone. The state also has a disproportionate number of tourists who clog its mountain roads on their way to ski resorts or leaf peeping.” (Boston Globe).

So much for the yurt people saving us all.


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Warming Of The Global Ocean: 2018 is the warmest year so far

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There is a story that I hope is not apocryphal, told among anthropologists. It goes like this. A graduate student in Cultural Anthropology went to the field, to a site in the American Southwest, where he intended to document the lifeways of a group of Native Americans living there. On arrival at the field site, he was directed by helpful locals to the home of a very old man who, they said, knew all about the group’s history and culture. This would be a great place to start his research.

Continue reading Warming Of The Global Ocean: 2018 is the warmest year so far
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