I have always been interested in the concept of consensus, even before that word became centered in the pro vs. anti science debate. In Anthropology, we have huge problems with consensus. In at least one branch of Anthropology, consensus can never be achieved because all good work is defined as breaking consensus. The moment you get close to consensus, you’ve failed. (That’s socio-cultural anthropology, modern style). In another branch of Anthropology, we deal with questions that can’t really be answered at that level, but sort of can be. So there is never consensus in the sense that of the many possible explanations for a thing, there will always be a list of possible, and often very distinctly different, alternative explanations. But, over time, the list changes. One hopes for the list we have now being better than the list we had a decade ago, even if both lists are approximately the same length. (Example: Reasons for the origin of bipedality in the human lineage.)
There is a particular kind of consensus that to my knowledge my friend John Cook does not talk about (yet, he’s got most of this covered very well): Beer pitcher consensus. It goes like this. Suppose there is a range of thought on a particular narrowly defined scientific question. Since this is about climate, let’s do a climate one. The question might be: What is the best value for “climate sensitivity.” This is the number of degrees Celsius that the atmosphere at the Earth’s surface will go up with a doubling of atmospheric CO2 from pre-industrial values (say that was about 280ppm). (I’m oversimplifying the concept and the question slightly and I believe forgivably.) The answers range from a somewhat pedantic and absurd 2.0 to an alarming and probably alarmist 5.6 or so.
Now, get a bunch of experts on this question, say at a conference. Sit them down for a beer. After a couple of beers, tell them, “OK, folks, I’m giving each of you a piece of paper and a pencil. Write down a guess on the climate sensitivity value. Here’s the thing. Don’t show each other what you wrote down, only show it to me. And, if they are all the same value, I’ll buy pitchers of beer for the rest of your time at this conference, starting now.”
Had I simply asked this group of experts to tell me the climate sensitivity value, it would start a conversation that would go on for hours, and there would not be a single number. But if I do it as described here, they would all write down one number, and it would be 3.5 (I’m pretty sure).
That is the beer pitcher consensus.
Anyway, have a look at John Cook’s excellent video. It shows why most of the time you as a science oriented concerned lay citizen usually get this wrong, but in a harmless way. There is not a “97%” consensus. There is a full consensus; the number 97% is kinds of silly, and it is only part of the picture. The idea that global warming is happening and is human caused is, simply put, established scientific fact. There is no valid dissent. But, the number “97%” does have an important meaning and history in the debate. More to the point, not only is there a consensus on climate change and the human cause of it, but there is a consensus on the fact that there is a consensus!
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I a not actually supporting a candidate for nomination for USPOTUS at this time, and I won’t for a while. I’m too engaged in the process of caucus, delegate selection, primary, etc. to do that. Let it never be said that Great Laden caused a particular candidate to be favored in their quest to get Minnesota’s convention delegates.
I will say that I am likely to discount (as in move down the list) old white guys including Biden and Sanders, but I have no intention of ruling anyone out at this time.
But, I am very concerned about climate change, and at this time, one could argue that Jay Inslee is THE climate candidate running right now. For all you Sanders fans out there, and for all you who like Sanders but want him to be a Democrat, notice that Inslee is the “I’m Sanders but an actual Democrat” candidate. Perhaps. He’s also the White Male Elizabeth Warren candidate.
Point is, I think everyone should support him with sufficient vigor to keep him in the race so he can make an impact on the debates and possibly beyond. Maybe he’s the one. Who knows?
One point Jeff makes is one I’ve been saying for years: Our food supply can handle almost any given disaster, or a reasonable set of disasters. But when two or three disasters line up just right, and they will, all hell breaks out and that could mean somebody shooting your child so they can get food for their child. And that will be your fault.
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.
Note that when you get down that far, the difference between F and C matters little.
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→
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:
“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).
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.