Category Archives: Global Warming

Climate March April 29: A few videos and tweets

Why are major broadcast networks turning away from coverage of the climate disaster?

From MMFA:

Broadcast networks are decreasing their climate coverage at a time when the case for reporting on the issue is become more and more compelling. By ignoring this serious matter, media are failing to inform audiences about pressing impacts on human migration patterns, women, and the economy.

In 2016, media had no shortage of compelling reasons to cover climate change — from the revelation that it was the third consecutive hottest year on record to the United States’ election of a climate denier to its highest office. Yet broadcast news outlets’ coverage of climate change dropped a whopping 66 percent from 2015 to 2016, making it the third consecutive year of declining coverage.

When media turn a blind eye to climate change, they ignore an issue that will have devastating impacts and multiply existing threats across the globe. According to The New York Times, unmitigated climate change could displace between 50 million and 200 million people by 2050. But the effects of climate change are already visible. Un the U.S. last year, the federal government allocated $48 million in grants to resettle residents of Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana, which represents “the first allocation of federal tax dollars to move an entire community struggling with the impacts of climate change.”

The rest of the story is here.

This video makes several important points, including the differential effect on women, poor, and, well, people on small islands.

Climate Science Removed From EPA Site: WaPo

The EPA has removed climate science from its site in order that the site contents better reflect Donald Trump’s perspective.

From Chris Mooney and Juliet Eilperin at the Washington Post:

The Environmental Protection Agency announced Friday evening that its website would be “undergoing changes” to better represent the new direction the agency is taking, triggering the removal of several agency websites containing detailed climate data and scientific information.

One of the websites that appeared to be gone had been cited to challenge statements made by the EPA’s new administrator, Scott Pruitt. Another provided detailed information on the previous administration’s Clean Power Plan, including fact sheets about greenhouse gas emissions on the state and local levels and how different demographic groups were affected by such emissions.

The changes came less than 24 hours before thousands of protesters were set to march in Washington…

Go to that article to get the gory details.

By the way, given what is happening at the New York Times, the Washington Post has become the US national level go-to major media for climate change. It helps that Chris Mooney is there, and his coverage is excellent, though there are lots of other writers who cover environmental and climate issues as well. If you happen to be a member of Amazon Prime, you can get the Washington Post free for a period of time (I can’t remember how long, I got mine a long time back) and subscribing isn’t too bad. Once you do the free thing for a while you’ll start getting special offers, and I recommend it. Note that even during a period when I wasn’t subscribing to the Washington Post, I used it as my main major media source for ongoing primaries during the election season, as it had the best organized (though not perfect) site with current results. (Prime or not, perhaps this is a good deal for the paper at Amazon as well: The Washington Post.)

Out of the gate, Bret Stephens punches the hippies, says dumb things

Right in the middle, between the Trump-inspired March for Science, and the Trump-inspired People’s Climate March, the New York times managed to come down firmly on the side of climate and science denial, in its editorial pages.

This week sees the first NYT installment by the ex Wall Street Journal columnist and author Bret Stephens (also former editor of the The Jerusalem Post). He is a professional contrarian, well known for his denial of the importance and reality of climate change, as well as other right wing positions. I assume the New York Times added Stephens to their stable of opinion writers to appease the new Republican Majority in Washington DC. And, maybe that is a good idea. But they should have gone with a principled conservative who is interested in things like facts, rather going with a modern philistine like this guy.

Just consider this all too cute sentence with which he attempts to dazzle his readers.

Anyone who has read the 2014 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change knows that, while the modest (0.85 degrees Celsius) warming of the Northern Hemisphere since 1880 is indisputable, as is the human influence on that warming, much else that passes as accepted fact is really a matter of probabilities.

First, let’s admit that time passes, so a 2014 report based on pre-existing information mainly from a year or two earlier is out of date in 2017, in a dynamic, rapidly changing field like climate change. As I note here, it is becoming increasingly common for climate science deniers to use the aging IPCC report to make an outdated point. The IPCC report is a good starting point for understanding the scientific basis of climate change, but it is not a current document and should not be treated like one. Editors of the New York Times, please take note of this and hold your columnists to a higher standard.

Or, for that matter, hold them to any standard at all with respect to fact checking. Stephens’ 0.85 degrees has to refer to the planet, not the Northern Hemisphere, as he claims. The editors of the New York Times still think the Earth is round, with hemispheres, right? I would hope so. Also, we understand that this average (the 0.85 for the globe, or the higher value for the Northern Hemisphere) is a low ball estimate for two reasons. One is statistical, as explained in the IPCC report Stephens pretends to have read. The other is because the estimates have a problem now being increasingly realized in that they ignore a lot of earlier warming. (This all has to do with baselines and confusions about them, and the often unexamined and incorrect assumption that the first century of burning coal does not count because it was so long ago. Trust me, it counts.)

And, that is not a modest number. It is a significant number, and the warming in the pipeline which will not go away on with wishful thinking from climate contrarian columnists, is an even larger and even more significant number.

But never mind the pesky details such as facts. Or that he separates the indisputable form the probabilistic, when it is all probabilistic and none is indisputable (science is not really ever indisputable). His overall argument is utterly stupid.

Listen: he says that Hillary Clinton read the polling data wrong, a certainty (her victory in November) turned out to not happen, therefore we should not put much stock in a widespread scientific consensus as we have for the basics of climate change. I note, however, that the chance of Clinton winning was around 50-50, and that only one candidate can win. And, oh, yes, she did win the popular vote, which is actually the measure were are talking about when referring to polling data. So, Stephens has that totally wrong. As your analogy goes, so goes the rest of your argument, Bret.

Stephens’ run up to this point involves some very attractive conspiratorial ideation (very attractive if you are a conspiracy theorist, that is) using the argument that the more sure science is of something, the more likely it is to be a complete lie based on a vast conspiracy. That whole idea is so conspiratorial that I was forced to use the word “conspiracy” or a form of it three times in one sentence and five times in one paragraph. How about that?

I’m pretty sure Stephens was listening to the widespread complaints about his hiring at the NYT, and perhaps heeding his masters’ voice in the editorial room, because he does in the end admit that climate change is real and mostly what the scientists say. He has, rather, adopted a rather Revkinesque view of climate change — and I know this is Revkinesque because Stephens blames this half assed idea directly on Andy Revkin twice in this one column. That view is this: Breathless yammering about climate change has now and then emanated from out of control hippies who don’t know the science. Therefore, the science is less certain than the scientists say it is.

OMG, what hogwash. I can rearrange the letters in the name of a great American President to spell hairball conman. Therefore that president was a hairball conman.

What is to be said about a columnist who responds in his first installment to an honest and widespread critique by scientists and their supporters by making so many foolish statements about science? I’m not sure, but wise people say this is a reason to cancel their subscription to the New York Times in protest.

The New York Times has often been a little iffy on climate change, but it has not been a total rag. The Grey Lady’s reputation took a real hit in this area with the addition of Stephens. Even the other writers at the New York Ties are put off by it.

More reactions to Bret Stephens

<li>Sou at Hot Whopper: <a href="http://blog.hotwhopper.com/2017/04/bret-stephens-lowers-bar-for.html">Bret Stephens lowers the bar for intellectual honesty and more @NYTimes</a></li>

In his very first NYT article you’d not have guessed that Bret Stephens had ever been awarded a Pulitzer. You’d not have known that he was a journalist at all, let alone one with any sort of reputation. You’d have thought he was a

<li>Graham Readfearn at Desmog: <a href="https://www.desmogblog.com/2017/04/27/another-leading-climate-scientist-cancels-new-york-times-over-hrting-climate-denialist-bret-stephens">Climate Scientists Cancelling Their New York Times Subscription Over Hiring of Climate Denialist Bret Stephens</a></li>

Stephens wrote several columns while at the WSJ disparaging climate science and climate scientists, which he has collectively described as a “religion” while claiming rising temeperatures may be natural.

The NYT has been defending its decision publicly, saying that “millions of people” agree with Stephens on climate science and just because their readers don’t like his opinions, that doesn’t mean

<li>Dana Nuccitelli at The Guardian: <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/environment/climate-consensus-97-per-cent/2017/apr/29/ny-times-hired-a-hippe-puncher-to-give-climate-obstructionists-cover?CMP=share_btn_tw">NY Times hired a hippie puncher to give climate obstructionists cover</a></li>

Most importantly, the global warming we’ve experience is in no way “modest.” We’re already causing a rate of warming faster than when the Earth transitions out of an ice age, and within a few decades we could be causing the fastest climate change Earth has seen in 50 million years. The last ice age transition saw about 4°C global warming over 1,000 years; humans are on pace to cause that much warming between 1900 and 2100 – a period of just 200 years, with most of that warming happening since 1975.

Of course, how much global warming we see in the coming decades depends on

<li>Joe Romm at Think Progress: <a href="https://thinkprogress.org/the-ny-times-promised-to-fact-check-their-new-climate-denier-columnist-they-lied-72ad9bdf6019">The NY Times promised to fact check their new climate denier columnist?—?they lied</a></li>

The very first column the New York Times published by extreme climate science denier Bret Stephens is riddled with errors, misstatements, unfair comparisons, straw men, and logical fallacies.

Leading climatologist Dr. Michael Mann emailed ThinkProgress: “This column confirms my worst fear: That the NY Times management is now willingly abetting climate change denialism.”

<li>Osita Nwanevu in Slate on <a href="http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2017/04/26/let_s_read_bret_stephens_terrible_horrible_no_good_very_bad_vox_interview.html">Bret Stephens sexist and racist remarks about rape</a></li>

Here is Stephens’ exchange on campus rape:

Jeff Stein: You wrote, “If modern campuses were really zones of mass predation — Congo on the quad — why would intelligent young women even think of attending a coeducational school?” My question to you is: Isn’t it necessary for women to attend these coeducational schools for their economic and educational advancement? Isn’t it possible that’s why they’d be there even if there’s a higher risk of sexual assault?

Bret Stephens: Of course it is. But if sexual assault rates in, let’s say, east Congo were about 20 percent, most people wouldn’t travel to those places. Because that is in fact — or, that would be, in fact, the risk of being violently sexually assaulted.

(I’d like to point out that a traveller’s chance of rape in a “place like E. Congo” is not the same as the chance of a woman who lives there. Not that it is a particularly safe place to go, but Bret Stephens exhibits here an excellent example of the Ignorance of Privilege and how it can be used to make excuses for bad male behavior and scare the bejesus out of white people. – gtl)

<li>From Peter Sinclair at Climate Denial Crock of the Week: <a href="https://climatecrocks.com/2017/04/27/climate-scientist-to-nytimes-cancel-my-sub/">Climate Scientist (Stefan Rahmstorf) to NYTimes. Cancel my Sub</a></li>

When Stephens was hired I wrote to you in protest about his spreading of untruths about climate change, saying “I enjoy reading different opinions from my own, but this is not a matter of different opinions.” I did not cancel then but decided to wait and see. However, the subsequent public defense by the New York Times of the hiring of Stephens has convinced me that

Selected tweets about Bret Stephens

https://twitter.com/BWagnerelli/status/858047670639841282

My letter to the New York Times

The New York Times
Elizabeth Spayed, Public Editor

Dear Elizabeth,

I am writing to express my concern for the addition of Bret Stephens to the NYT team as a columnist.

I don’t expect a columnist who seemingly writes about everything to be wrong about nothing. But the Gray Lady should, at the very least, expect a columnist to know something about something.

Stephens doesn’t simply express opinions that are not popular in certain, many, circles. He attempts to support his opinions with what we now seem to be calling alt-facts.

For example, his opinion about the importance of climate change is that we don’t know what climate change will really do, if it will really do anything, or when. He supports this idea by asserting that there is too much uncertainty in the science for us to know.

Elizabeth, you must know that science is nothing if it is not the study of variation in nature and its causes and properties. While the public face of many scientific findings is often the trend line showing the relationship between two variables, much of the science itself is about the uncertainty around that trend line; measuring, understanding the limits and extent of, and grappling with uncertainty is what scientists do.

As a scientist (not a climate scientist, though I’ve published in that area) and a science communicator, I can tell you that when Mr. Stephens makes the claim that there is too much uncertainty about anthropogenic climate change to say much about it, he is simply wrong. He does not know the science, he has made up this thing that looks like a fact, and he has used it to buttress absurd arguments, and you, the New York Times, is now set to be a vehicle for passing this misinformation on to the general public.

Many of my friends and colleagues have unsubscribed to the New York Times over this. I have not. Rather, I was just about to subscribe, as part of my overall effort to support good journalism in the Trump Era. In the past few weeks I’ve subscribed to my local paper, my regional paper, and one national paper (Washington Post) and I was just about to add the New York Times to that list. But now I can’t ethically do so, even though much of your other science coverage is pretty good, and even tough I grew up on the New York Times Science Section (remember that?).

But this probable drop in subscription is nothing to you, because trends in the business side of the NYT operation are much larger and more complex than many, if not most, of the world’s climate scientists dropping off your list over the addition of Bret Stephens to your staff. The bigger problem is this: The New York Times editorial staff has lost our respect.

I look forward to your prompt and decisive attention to this manner, and the quick repair of the mistake the NYT has made.

Sincerely,

Greg Laden, PhD.

Dear New York Times: Climate Change Is Real

I’ve been meaning to write a letter to the New York Times I just wrote this letter to the New York Times about their very wrong decision to add a climate science denier to their editorial staff. When they were recently challenged about this idea, the response was, paraphrasing, “millions of people believe this man that climate change is not for real.”

Coming from the New York Times I find that deeply disturbing and overwhelmingly offensive.

Anyway, I haven’t written my letter yet, but my friend and colleague Stefan Rahmstorf, climate scientist, did, and he says it is OK to post it. So, here is Stefan’s letter:

To the executive editor
The New York Times
27 April 2017, via email

Dear editor,

I am a climate researcher, professor for physics of the oceans and have worked for eight years as advisor to the German government on global change issues. I regret to have to tell you that hereby I cancel my subscription to the New York Times in the wake of you hiring columnist Bret Stephens. Let me explain my reasons.

When Stephens was hired I wrote to you in protest about his spreading of untruths about climate change, saying “I enjoy reading different opinions from my own, but this is not a matter of different opinions.” I did not cancel then but decided to wait and see. However, the subsequent public defense by the New York Times of the hiring of Stephens has convinced me that the problem at the Times goes much deeper than a single error of judgement. It concerns its attitude towards seeking the truth.

The Times argued that “millions agree with Stephens”. It made me wonder what’s next – when are you hiring a columnist claiming that the sun and the stars revolve around the Earth, because millions agree with that? My heroes are Copernicus, Galilei and Kepler, who sought the scientific truth based on observational evidence and defended it against the powerful authority of the church in Rome, at great personal cost. Had the New York Times existed then – would you have seen it as part of your mission to insult and denigrate these scientists, as Stephens has done with climate scientists?

The Times has denounced the critics of its decision as “left-leaning”. This is an insult to me and was the final straw to cancel my subscription. There is no left-leaning or right-leaning climate science, just as there is no republican or democrat theory of gravity. I have several good climate scientist friends who have been lifelong republicans. Their understanding of climate change does not differ from mine, because it is informed by the evidence.

Quite unlike Stephens’ views on climate change, which run counter to all evidence. He is simply repeating falsehoods spread by various “think tanks” funded by the fossil fuel industry.

In December 2015, Stephens called global warming “imperceptible” and the Paris climate summit a “meeting to combat a notional enemy in the same place where a real enemy just inflicted so much mortal damage”. My colleagues and I have analysed 150,000 temperature time series from around the world, finding that monthly heat records occur five times more often now as a result of global warming than in an unchanging climate (Coumou et al, published in Climatic Change 2013). One of those record-hot months was August 2003 in western Europe. 70,000 people died due to this heat wave. Was global warming “imperceptible” to these people and the ones they left behind? On 15 August 2003, the New York Times reported: “So many bodies were delivered in recent weeks to the Paris morgue that refrigerated tents had to be erected outside the city to accommodate them all.” Was that just a “notional” problem?

Stephens doubts that global warming will continue, claiming that in hundred years “temperatures will be about the same”. That is a shockingly ignorant statement, ignoring over a century of climate science. Our emissions increase the level of CO2 in the atmosphere, it is higher now than in at least 3 million years. CO2 is a greenhouse gas, as demonstrated first in the year 1859 by physicist John Tyndall. CO2 traps heat – more CO2 means a warmer climate. That is basic physics, borne out by the history of climate. Denying these well-established facts is about as smart as claiming the Earth is flat, and best left to cranks, ideologues and fossil fuel lobbyists.

Stephens has claimed that “in the 1970s we were supposed to believe in global cooling.” That’s an age-old climate denier myth. It would have cost Stephens just 60 seconds with Google to find out it is wrong. (Try and google “Did scientists predict an ice age in the 1970s”.) But Stephens is clearly not interested in evidence or seeking the truth about matters.

Last Friday, you sent me an email with the subject: “The truth is more important now than ever.” It made me cringe seeing this in my inbox. It said “thank you for supporting news without fear or favor.” The hypocrisy of that is unbearable, and I will support your newspaper no more. Instead, I will give the money to ClimateFeedback.org, a worldwide network of scientists sorting fact from fiction in climate change media coverage. It is much better invested there.

Best regards,

Prof. Stefan Rahmstorf

Also posted on Stefan’s Facebook page

Donald S. Beyer Letter to Lamar Smith on Climate Change Hearings of March 2017

Behold the following letter from Representative Donald S. Beyer in reference to the recent House Science, Space, and Technology hearing “Climate Science: Assumptions, Policy, Implications, and Scientific Method” held last month (Warning Big File):

Beyer Fact Check – Submitted April 11

Here is a smaller, much abbreviated and much less fun version of the letter, sans the extensive appendix:

Letter Only

Global Warming Is Warming

The latest data from NASA GISS has come out, showing a surprise result for the month of March.

Hat tip to Jeff Masters of Wunderground for sending this info. He’ll probably be blogging on it soon.

The surprise is that March, while expected to be warm due to human caused greenhouse gas pollution, turned out to be very warm globally. This is a surprise because the Earth supposedly just experienced a minor cooling La Niña event that ended in January. March 2017, it turns out, is the fourth warmest month since 1880 expressed as an anomaly from a 1951-1980 baseline (that’s a bit tricky, more on that below).

Here’s the current list of warmest months:

February 2016, 1.32°C
March 2016, 1.28°C
January 2016, 1.13°C
March 2017, 1.12°C
February 2017, 1.10°C
December 2015, 1.10°C

The key thing to notice here is all those years being very very recent.

The ranking of months is on a month by month basis. In other words, Feb 2016 is not necessarily the warmest month of all the months over 120 years. Rather, it is the warmest of all the Februaries over this period of time. This may seem like a strange way to do it, but it actually makes sense. Even though these are global values and thus integrate northern and southern seasons, there is a potential for intra-annual variation in global temperatures, for a number of reasons (including the uneven distribution of land and ocean between the northern and southern hemispheres). For this and other even more esoteric reasons having to do with how to track anomalies, we compare months to months (Januaries to Januaries, Februaries to Februaries, etc.).

The New York Times Bites It With New Climate Denier Columnist

The New York Times has a history of supporting a certain degree of climate change science denial, while at the same time supporting some very good journalism in this area. Just now, the Times jumped over one big giant shark by adding Bret Stephens to its opinion page staff.

Stephens comes to the Times from the Wall Street Journal, a Murdoch anti-science rag you are all familiar with.

In 2011, he wrote,

Consider the case of global warming, another system of doomsaying prophecy and faith in things unseen.

As with religion, it is presided over by a caste of spectacularly unattractive people pretending to an obscure form of knowledge that promises to make the seas retreat and the winds abate. As with religion, it comes with an elaborate list of virtues, vices and indulgences. As with religion, its claims are often non-falsifiable, hence the convenience of the term “climate change” when thermometers don’t oblige the expected trend lines. As with religion, it is harsh toward skeptics, heretics and other “deniers.” And as with religion, it is susceptible to the earthly temptations of money, power, politics, arrogance and deceit.

“OK,” you say, “That was like six years ago. Maybe he stopped being a jerk since then.”

Nope. According to Joe Romm,

…in 2015, he wrote that climate change?—?along with hunger in America, campus rape statistics, and institutionalized racism— are “imaginary enemies.”

“OK,” you say, “That guy is even more of a jerk now than he was then!”

Indeed.

Romm also quotes climate scientist Michael Mann on Stephens’ hiring.

“sadly, the New York Times itself seems to have fallen victim to this malady, hiring one one of the most notorious climate change deniers, Bret Stephens, to promote climate denial propaganda on the once-hallowed pages of the Grey Lady.”

Media Matters has assembled a number of examples in which Stephens mislead readers on a number of matters including climate science. For example:

So global warming is dead, nailed into its coffin one devastating disclosure, defection and re-evaluation at a time. Which means that pretty soon we’re going to need another apocalyptic scare to take its place.

[…]

As for the United States, Gallup reports that global warming now ranks sixth on the list of Americans’ top 10 environmental concerns. My wager is that within a few years “climate change” will exercise global nerves about as much as overpopulation, toxic tampons, nuclear winters, ozone holes, killer bees, low sperm counts, genetically modified foods and mad cows do today.

Something is going to have to take its place.

The world is now several decades into the era of environmental panic. The subject of the panic changes every few years, but the basic ingredients tend to remain fairly constant. A trend, a hypothesis, an invention or a discovery disturbs the sense of global equilibrium. Often the agent of distress is undetectable to the senses, like a malign spirit. A villain—invariably corporate and right-wing—is identified. [The Wall Street Journal, 4/6/10; Media Matters, 4/6/10]

My friends at DeSmog Blog, a central clearing house for information on climate science deniers, will probably do something as well. I’ll link to it here should that happen.

How the IPCC becomes a climate change denial tool

About once a day, someone tells me that human caused climate change is not real because this or that thing in the latest report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) contradicts something I, or some other scientists or science writer, has said.

I’ve noticed an uptick in references to the IPCC report by those intent on denying the reality of climate change. This even happened at recent congressional hearings, where “expert witnesses” made similar claims.

How can that be? How can the flagship scientific report on climate change, the objective source of information about the science of climate change, be used so frequently to argue that scientists have climate change all wrong?

Obviously, one way this can happen is if the information is cherry picked or misrepresented. That, certainly, happens and is almost always part of the recipe. But there is another only barely less obvious reason, and this is a reason that becomes more and more relevant every passing year. What is it? Hold on a sec, first a bit of context.

As a scientists and writer-about-science I often have access to temporarily secret information. Also, I make it a point to keep track of opinions held by trusted experts in the field, as they change and adapt to new findings. This secret information is, of course, peer reviewed research that isn’t published yet, and is under embargo.

To be embargoed means to be held in secret, but distributed to a small number of trusted individuals or agencies (often news outlets and science writers), with an “embargo date and time” after which the information is no longer secret. There are a few reasons this is done. One is that many scientific outlets rely on the splash factor to get readership, and having a paper that changes how we think about the world be released at a particular planned moment helps with that. Related is the idea that publishers, research institutions, and the scientists themselves want the paper published alongside other products to help the press and the public understand the material better, such as a press release, selected graphics, maybe a nice video. This all requires production time and effort, and it is pretty much wasted effort if it does not become publicly available at the same exact moment the paper becomes available.

A few papers exist as early drafts long before publication, and those are passed around for the purpose of getting some preliminary feedback, and to get the conversation about the topic going among experts. That is less common because many journals don’t like it, and how often this happens depends on the field of study. Indeed, there are entire “journals” that started as and still serve as semi-formalized outlets for early drafts of appers, academic theses, or reports are routinely published, sometimes years before a final peer reviewed product comes out, representing for example that year’s output from a long term grant. (NBER and BAR come to mind as examples of this.)

Authors and publishers send me embargoed papers they think I might want, or more commonly, ask me if I’d like to have a copy of an embargoed paper, giving me a chance to say yes. Often, I know of a subset of scientists who also have the paper (typically, the co-authors) and I can ask them questions about the paper before hand. Most outlets will provide a science writer with this sort of contact information. This is how all those fully formed news reports come out in the media the moment a paper is released. Days or even weeks of work has already happened, quietly and in secret, before the paper’s release.

Other research is available in other ways. I have colleagues who are always working on certain things, and they’ll say things like, “well, we don’t have it finalized yet, but this thing you said is probably wrong because X turns out to be larger than Y, even though we previously thought the opposite … we’ve got a paper coming out probably next summer on this…” or words to that effect.

All this is, of course, why I write the blog posts and you read them. You could do this too; You could have foreknowledge of the developments on the leading edge of a particular scientific field as well. You just have to become a credible quasi-journalistic outlet (I am not now nor have I ever been a journalist) and develop a pertinent Rolodex, and gain the trust of everybody. Takes a few years.

I mention all this because it makes this happen now and then: I have a concept of some aspect of climate change research that is not yet generally understood outside a limited range of experts. Then, of course, the dissemination of information catches up and everybody knows the same thing, and the revised, updated view of that bit of science is now added to general knowledge. Close behind, perhaps, follows a shift in, or refinement of, consensus. This is how science works large scale.

The scientific understanding of an active area of research is dynamic and requires currency. Six months old is old. A year or two old is ancient.

I’ll give you three examples.

A while back the generally understood consensus of sea level rise was that sea levels were going up at a certain relatively low rate, on average. However, that estimate was faulty because of a lack of integration of a full understanding of how water moves between fresh water reservoirs and the sea, and certain really cool research on ocean warming, gravitational effects, etc. had not yet been published. Also, some time was missing; there had been a couple of strange quirky sea level related events that turned out to be outliers, so data sets needed to be full updated, and a couple of years added over the passage of time. For this reason, what was generally known at one point in time was different from what came to be understood a few years later. People in my position saw it coming, people who were not tracking the literature held the old and incorrect view.

Second and related example: There was a set of estimates for how fast glaciers in polar regions (Greenland and Antarctica) would melt with global warming, and how much this process would contribute to sea level rise. However, there was some new research coming to bear on the issue that was starting to change that. Glaciers don’t just melt, but they also structurally fall apart, big chunks ending up in the sea and melting there. Some increase in understanding how that happens emerged. The upper limit of how fast that could probably happen, in the general publicly available knowledge base, was modest. But over a fairly short period of time, a previously highly speculative and closely held thought that the upper limit on how much ice could deteriorate was higher, and a similarly unexpressed thought that the lower limit on how soon that might start to happen, began to make its way into the more public discussion. This is still very much an area of uncertainty and very active research. Look for big changes and many surprises over the next 24 months. But today, the best informed experts have a very different view of what might happen, and what is likely to happen, than widely held a few years ago, because of this shift. Polar glaciers will likely fall apart and contribute to sea level rise more and sooner than the best guesses would have suggested five years ago.

A third example just went through a major change. A few years ago it was generally thought, and often repeated, that it was difficult to attribute human caused climate change as a reason behind any particular bad weather event. That has shifted dramatically over time. A set of studies a few years back failed to find any clear association in a majority of weather events. A year later, a similar number of studies, of new weather events, either attributed the events to climate change or resulted in “we can’t say one way or another.” The most recent papers are generally showing a likely connection. Meanwhile, certain research linking certain climate phenomena to a large set of bad weather events was developing. Note that the previous studies were conducted mainly ignoring this new and emerging research. I was a little like saying “We don’t know why so many more people are falling on the subway tracks these days” while ignoring a growing set of observations of bad people showing up at the subway stations and pushing people off the tracks on purpose. In the absence of consideration of this nefarious and willful behavior, one could not say that the increase in untoward events was anything other than a random uptick in numbers. Seeing and acknowledging an actual cause makes it impossible to not link the cause and effect.

This happened, as noted, slowly and in the background in the literature, and suddenly, just a few days ago, a crowing paper took that likely cause of severe weather, ran it in highly sophisticated and reliable models, and demonstrated that this is a thing. Humans release fossil carbon in greenhouse gasses (and do some other bad things), certain things about our climate system change unambiguously because of this, this causes an important but heretofore not fully understand change, which then causes additional droughts and floods across the globe.

Five years ago, that would have been regarded as speculation, worthy of consideration but nothing that could nail down our understanding of the greenhouse gas – severe weather link. Today, the link is sufficiently established to regard it as scientific fact rapidly becoming consensus, though there will certainly be a bit more fighting about it, and much refinement of the theory and data.

All of these examples can be rephrased in relation to the last IPCC report.

The most recent IPCC report was published nominally in 2014. It was restricted to existing peer reviewed literature, thus not including the pre-embargoed material (though there was an effort by many scientists to get stuff out in time to be employed in that process). The report took time to produce. The physical science basis part of the report, on which the rest is based, actually dates to 2013 nominally, though it includes some 2014 material.

It is now April 2017. A claim that “The IPCC Report said bla bla bla therefore you are wrong” is the same as “in or before 2013, at least 4 years ago, the best we knew was bla bla bla therefore your are wrong.

Let’s return to the sea level rise example and consider the thinking of how fast and how much glacial melting, and other factors, would cause sea levels to rise in the future.

There were several studies used in the IPCC report, mostly dating to or before 2011. I would regard the science in the IPCC report to reflect the thinking primarily of the first decade of the 21st century on this subject. The last 2 years, or even one year, of research on sea level rise contrasts remarkably with that early work, suggesting a faster rise and more of it. That is just what is published. I don’t happen to know of any new work coming out shortly, but I can promise you that the summaries, the estimates, and the graphics that would be produced by an IPCC-like agency working on a summary of the physical science of sea level rise as it stands right now would be significantly different than what the last such report by the actual IPCC provided in 2014.

Two IPCC reports back, it was estimated that global sea level could rise between 18 and 59 cm by 2100. The subsequent report, the most current one, estimated that sea levels can rise between 29 and 82 cm by 2100. A recent and well regarded paper, dating to early in 2016, and using the best available information and methodology, estimates that the global sea level could rise by more than a meter by 2100 from just the melting of Antarctic, not counting Greenland.

Longer term sea level rise estimates have also risen, with a key paper published in 2013 suggesting that we may be in for as much as two meters over the next few centuries, and the aforementioned most recent report suggesting “more than 15 metres by 2500.”

(I hasten to add that an estimate of between 8 and 15 meters has been on the table for a long time, coming from palaeoclimatologists, who have always seen higher levels because in the past, similar conditions today produced such high levels, indicating that current levels are actually unusually low.)

Climate science is progressing very rapidly, especially in some areas. There are things we know now, or that we feel fairly comfortable asserting as pretty likely, that one year ago, and certainly four years ago, were fairly uncertain or in some cases inconceivable.

Citing the most recent IPCC report about a climate change relate issues tells me two things:

1) You don’t read the literature or talk to climate scientists; and

2) You are not especially interested in an honest conversation about this important scientific and policy issue.


The recent work on sea level mentioned above is here, the IPCC report is here, and a summary of the IPCC and other sources is here.