Category Archives: Climate Change

Where to go to get the info on Climate Science and its deniers

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My field is paleoanthropology, where I’ve focused on the relationship between large scale change in climate (like the spread of grassland habitats, or the cooling of the Earth since the Miocene) and the evolution of our family, genus, and species. So when people say “climate has changed before,” I get it. How does one understand the importance of ongoing anthropogenic climate change in the context of such large, long term change?

A partial answer to that question: 1) most changes in the past have been slower; 2) When they were fast they were devastating; and 3) our genius emerged less than 2 million years ago, and our species less than a half million years ago. Everything recently adapted about us is adapted to a cooler environment than the one we are heading for now. You think climate change super-charged storms are bad? Well, they are, but when a three degree latitude band around the equator becomes uninhabitable by mammals, that point will become very clear.

If you go to the Skeptical Science web site, my go-to web resource for climate science denial answers, you’ll see “Climate’s changed before” right at the top of the list of “Most Used Climate Mythis” (left sidebar). Click that, then click the “intermediate” tab, and you’ll find the Skeptical Science answer to that myth, with excellent graphics.

Skeptical Science does not shy away from complex and nuanced questions. It is the single best, and most comprehensive, source of description and explanation for both climate science denial and the science itself. Skeptical Science links peer reviewed research with the thoughtful study of communication and brings them right to your uncle Bob.


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Is Forbes Magazine a Danger to Scientists?

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The other day a friend asked me, “Is Forbes Magazine legit? Should I believe what it says about climate change?”

It was a good question, since there are many outlets that have clear biases in favor of climate inaction, or even, climate reality denial.

I’m actually not sure if Forbes is a trustworthy source. I’ve seen articles about energy that are informative, and I’ve seen articles about energy that are misleading. I don’t remember off hand any articles about climate change per se.

Until now.

Roger Pielke Junior has an op ed that does damage to Forbes’ reputation, and to Roger’s reputation as well. And, unfortunately, it is a sad story. In the OpEd Roger seems to be claiming that the volunteer organization, Skeptical Science, has done damage to a short list of academics, including his father, his colleague Judith Curry, and himself. What Roger does not understand is that the criticisms that come from Skeptical Science are true. The damage to these three was self inflicted.

Here is the story.

There are two Roger Pielkes: Senior and Junior. Both are academics, and both have produced work that has been criticized by the climate science community. I’m not actually all that familiar with Senior’s work, but Junior’s work has been on my radar screen for some time, and it is an enemy ship, as it were. Junior’s main point is to contradict the increasingly well established science on the frequency, level of impact, and importance of major storms like Atlantic Hurricanes. He has variously made claims that they have not gotten stronger, that climate change is unrelated to these storms, that they are not coming with more frequency, and that their impact is not important. I believe that way down deep in his analysis, there is a fundamental flaw. He shows that the overall economic status of the US is not impacted by hurricanes, but the former is measured by GDP, and GDP increases with increasing devastation by major storms. This is because when a major storm comes along and wipes out cities or coastlines or whatever, there is so much economic activity spent on recovery that GDP goes up.

Junior has taken criticism from other academics poorly, and he has taken it personally. He has teamed up with another academic who has also been criticized heavily. This is Judith Curry. Curry’s work has been criticized by the climate community for a few reasons, but mainly this: She claims that the trend towards increasing global surface temperature is predictable by a non-global-warming scenario in which some other internal variation explains the warming. This idea, however, seems to come from a misunderstanding of the underlying stochastic (and other) dynamics of the models she has used. She is, I’m pretty sure, wrong. There may have been a time, perhaps 15 years ago, when her interpretation of the data could stay alive while more information was gathered, but that time has long past, and sadly, she has not allowed her hansom hypothesis to die an honorable death by fact.

The third element in the current drama is the organization and web site “Skeptical Science.” It is a volunteer run entity that has help from a lot of scientists and communicators. Some of my own work has been reprinted there, and I use it as a reliable and well organized source of information on climate denialism, and actually, climate change itself. If you don’t know skeptical science, you should. It is an excellent resource.

Now, here is the sad part. Rumor has it that Roger Pielke Sr. has recently become ill, and it appears that Junior is in a state of upset, possibly depression, and almost certainly in some kind of socio-psychotic episody state of some sort. I’m not qualified to diagnose so I won’t, but in the vernacular sense Junior has gone ’round the bend, and is in a mode of attacking the Skeptical Science people who, over the years, have been hard on Senior, Junior, and Curry, all three.

This is not an over the top inappropriate hardness, that Skeptical Science has produced. In fact, it is relatively toned down compared to the feelings the three deniateers have produced when they hate on science and love on the fossil fuel industry, indirectly, in their writings, their congressional testimony, and so on.

Having said that, I can’t say what exactly is going on with Roger Junior other than that he is clearly upset. He has produced a large number of tweets attacking Skeptical Science and its volunteers. He has tweeted out personal and private information about Skeptical Science people and other scientists, information that was previously stolen by denialist hackers. His tweets have been, at least in part if not majority, taken down by Twitter, and his account was, at least for a time, suspended.

Roger Pielke Junior attacked volunteers and scholars who had been defending science, attacked them, and science, in inappropriate ways, and for his trouble he has been chastised by Twitter.

I and several colleagues have contacted Roger, or friends of Roger, to see if someone can talk to him, to see if someone can talk him down.

But what happened instead, is Roger published an OpEd airing his grievances in Forbes, raising the stakes, and making his attack official and sanctioned by a major publishing outlet.

This is a credibility hit for Roger, but not one that will matter to him. This is a credibility hit for Forbes. I have no idea if Forbes Magazine cares about its credibility in the science community, or in the environmental community.

Regardless of what Forbes intended, or wanted, it got this: Scientists and science communicators must now regard Forbes Magazine, or its editorial staff, as dangerous. Roger Pielke Junior, having some sort of apparent breakdown, was easily able to weaponize Forbes. That can only have happened if Forbes wanted it to happen. Stay away from Forbes, my friends and colleagues. Don’t touch it with a ten foot pole, unless your ten foot Pole is a very tall Eastern European attorney with experience in libel law.

This is a developing situation. Much of it is happening on Twitter. One of the more pertinent tweets I’ve seen so far is this one by Climate Scientists Gavin Schmidt:

And now (added) Dana Nuccitelli has tweeted this, with a link to a new Skeptical Science post addressing this issue:

And from Katharine Hayhoe:


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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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