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.
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.
You’ve heard about the “scientific method.” If your memory is excellent, and you took a lot of science classes in American schools, you learned two of them, because life science textbooks and physical science textbooks teach somewhat different concepts called “scientific method.” If you study the history of science, even at a superficial level, or do actual science, you will find that the “scientific method” you learned in high school, the very same “scientific method” people who either love or hate science, but are not scientists, and talk a lot about science, incessantly refer to, is not what scientists actually do. Neither the procedures for developing a study nor the inferential process of advancing understanding follow this method, or at least, not very often. Doing science is much more haphazard and opportunistic, nuanced and visceral, much less clean and predictable. Like the famous physicist once said, “The scientific method; that is what I fall back on when I can’t think of anything else do to.”
I have been discussing on this blog for a few years not the problem of quasi-resonant amplification (QRA) of the jet stream. Let me quickly review what that is, then tell you about the new research.
The Earth is encircled by giant twisting donuts of air. The two main donuts lie side by side along the equator. Air warmed at the point where the sun is strongest (a climatological equator that moves north and south with the seasons) rises. It traverses, at altitude, either north or south, towards the polls, then drops and then circles back towards the equator. This drives wetness at the equator as moist air hits cold air aloft and thunderstorms are everywhere.
These primary giant twisting donuts, called Hadley Cells, set up a second set of twisting donuts to the north and south. These donuts, called mid-latitude cells, tend to cause a dry zone to form. Look at a map of the planet, and you can trace the dry zone across the northern hemisphere from the deserts of Central Asia, to the deserts of the US Southwest. In the south, the deserts of Namibia, Botswana and South Africa line up with dry regions of South America and, pretty much all of Australia.
There is a third cell, the Polar cell, north and south of the mid latitude cells.
These cells, as they move around the spinning earth, are the trade winds. Near junctures of the cells, at latitude, air molecules face an interesting mathematical problem. Air pressure, temperature, cell-driven winds, and all the various factors set up a situation where those air molecules sitting between the upper parts of the cells are supposed to be somewhere where they are not, pretty much all the time. In order to solve that problem, the air has to move very rapidly in one direction. This is a bit like nature abhorring a vacuum, large scale. That rapidly moving river of air is the jet stream.
A combination of trade wind effects and the jet stream tends to move storm systems around the planet in the mid latitudes. Under pre-climate change conditions, a low pressure system might ride along just south of the Jet Stream, moving across the planet at a few tens of km an hour, bringing rain followed by fair weather. But if the jet stream either slows or changes direction somewhat, that conveyor belt effect can get kinked up, and the low pressure system can sit in a giant meteorological kink, causing a large region to experience wet conditions for days or weeks at a time. Meanwhile, on the other side of the jet stream, in the counter-kink that a curved jet stream might cause, you can get a stalled high pressure system bringing dry conditions for longer than normal, causing what meteorologist Paul Douglas calls a “flash drought.”
Go back to the beginning a second. This entire process is controlled by the global process of heat accumulated in abundance at the equator moving to the north and south poles. But in recent years, the arctic has warmed considerably. Lack of snow cover in northern Canada and Siberia, loss of sea ice, and, probably, darkening of glacial ice in Greenland, combine to cause the Arctic to warm to a much greater degree than the rest of the planet.
This is a little like putting your refrigerator too close to the wall and building a cabinet around it without proper ventilation. The heat pump that runs your refrigerator will stop working. The behavior of the giant twisting donuts and the jet streams changes.
What occurs is this: The jet stream gets wavy, and that waviness can form a standing wave, like a swirl you see in a running brook that sits in one place because of an underwater obstruction like a rock or log. The wave, in a sense, resonates with the circumference of the earth, so you get a regular number of waves around the planet, and they tend to move only very slowly, or not at all, for months at a time.
There are two phenomena that have caused the plethora of wild and wicked weather we have been experiencing across the globe for the last five or six years. One is the increase in strength and possibly frequency of various storm systems as a nearly direct effect of warming. The other is this QRA system causing major weather patterns to pan out abnormally.
These two problems can interrelate, by the way, but that is a subject of a different essay, perhaps.
The result of quasi-resonant waves? The California drought, massive multi day rainfall events in Calgary, Boulder, Minnesota, China, Japan, Mediterranean Europe, and on and on and on.
Two questions arise from the research showing this effect. One: is it real, is there really a QRA effect? Two: will this persist, get worse, or get better, over time?
The answer to the first question has been getting more and more solid with the publication of research paper after research paper. There isn’t any longer a doubt, in my view, that this phenomenon is for real and seroius. The second question is harder. The paper that came out today on this topic says that the degree of extra warming in the Arctic is probably the biggest factor affecting the future of QRA effects. The research also suggest that it could get worse and it could persist. But there still is some uncertainty.
We find that the incidence of QRA events would likely continue to increase at the same rate it has in recent decades if we continue to simply add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. But there’s a catch: The future emissions scenarios used in making future climate projections must also account for factors other than greenhouse gases. Historically, for example, the use of old coal technology that predates the clean air acts produced sulphur dioxide gas which escapes into the atmosphere where it reacts with other atmospheric constituents to form what are known as aerosols.
These aerosols caused acid rain and other environmental problems in the U.S. before factories in the 1970s were required to install “scrubbers” to remove the sulphur dioxide before it leaves factory smokestacks. These aerosols also reflect incoming sunlight and so have a cooling effect on the surface in the industrial middle-latitudes where they are produced. Some countries, like China, are still engaged in the older, dirtier-form of coal burning. If we continue with business-as-usual burning of fossil fuels, but countries like China transition to more modern “cleaner” coal burning to avoid air pollution problems, we are likely to see a substantial drop in aerosols over the next half century. Such an assumption is made in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s “RCP 8.5” scenario—basically, a “business as usual” future emissions scenario which results in more than a tripling of carbon dioxide concentrations relative to pre-industrial levels (280 parts per million) and roughly 4-5C (7-9F) of planetary warming by the end of the century.
As a result, the projected disappearance of cooling aerosols in the decades ahead produces an especially large amount of warming in middle-latitudes in summer (when there is the most incoming sunlight to begin with, and, thus, the most sunlight to reflect back to space). Averaged across the various IPCC climate models there is even more warming in mid-latitudes than in the Arctic—in other words, the opposite of Arctic Amplification i.e. Arctic De-amplification (see Figure below). Later in the century after the aerosols disappear greenhouse warming once again dominates and we again see an increase in QRA events.
Author Michael Mann notes, “Most stationary jet stream disturbances will dissipate over time. However, under certain circumstances the wave disturbance is effectively constrained by an atmospheric wave guide, something similar to the way a coaxial cable guides a television signal. Disturbances then cannot easily dissipate and very large amplitude swings in the jet stream north and south can remain in place as it rounds the globe.”
From the abstract of the original paper:
Persistent episodes of extreme weather in the Northern Hemisphere summer have been associated with high-amplitude quasi-stationary atmospheric Rossby waves, with zonal wave numbers 6 to 8 resulting from the phenomenon of quasi-resonant amplification (QRA). A fingerprint for the occurrence of QRA can be defined in terms of the zonally averaged surface temperature field. Examining state-of-the-art [Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5)] climate model projections, we find that QRA events are likely to increase by ~50% this century under business-as-usual carbon emissions, but there is considerable variation among climate models. Some predict a near tripling of QRA events by the end of the century, while others predict a potential decrease. Models with amplified Arctic warming yield the most pronounced increase in QRA events. The projections are strongly dependent on assumptions regarding the nature of changes in radiative forcing associated with anthropogenic aerosols over the next century. One implication of our findings is that a reduction in midlatitude aerosol loading could actually lead to Arctic de-amplification this century, ameliorating potential increases in persistent extreme weather events.
I usually ignore Junior’s yammering whines, but in this case there is an interesting and helpful response providing the bigger picture, a thing to learn from.
For context, I provide below links to selected posts of my own about Junior.
This most recent event involves an Op Ed published by the largely anti-science-even-if-it-is-bad-for-the-economy The Wall Street Journal, by Pielke Jr. In it he attacks Michael Mann, and does so in a ham-handed and factually incorrect way. In other words, just another day in the life of Junior.
Dire Predictions: Understanding Climate Changeis everyperson’s guide to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. The IPCC issues a periodic set of reports on the state of global climate change, and has been doing so for almost two decades. It is a massive undertaking and few have the time or training to read though and absorb it, yet it is very important that every citizen understands the reports’ implications. Why? Because human caused climate change has emerged as the number one existential issue of the day, and individuals, corporations, and governments must act to implement sensible and workable changes in behavior and policy or there will be dire consequences.
Michael Mann, distinguished professor of atmospheric science and director of the Earth System Science Center, Penn State, will receive the seventh annual Stephen H. Schneider Award for Outstanding Climate Science Communications from Climate One at the Commonwealth Club.
The $15,000 award is given to a natural or social scientist who has made extraordinary scientific contributions and communicated that knowledge to a broad public in a clear and compelling fashion. The award was established in honor of Stephen Henry Schneider, one of the founding fathers of climatology, who died suddenly in 2010.
The jurors for the award state that Mann exemplifies the rare ability to be both a superb scientist and powerful communicator in the mold of Schneider.
“Professor Mike Mann has been a world leader in scientific efforts to understand the natural variability of the climate system and to reconstruct global temperature variations over the past two millennia,” said Ben Santer, climate researcher, Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. “This critically important work led to the famous ‘hockey stick’ temperature reconstruction. The hockey stick provides compelling evidence for the emergence of a human-caused warming signal from the background noise of natural fluctuations in climate.”
Mann will receive the award — presented by Climate One, a project of the Commonwealth Club of California and underwritten by Tom R. Burns, Nora Machado and Michael Haas — in December during the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in New Orleans.
Mann is the author of more than 200 peer-reviewed publications and has written “Dire Predictions: Understanding Climate Change” and “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars.” He is also co-author with Tom Toles, Washington Post editorial cartoonist, of “The Madhouse Effect.” He is co-founder of the science website RealClimate.org.
“Stephen Schneider was a role model and mentor to me, and I am truly humbled to receive the Stephen Schneider Award for Outstanding Climate Science Communications,” said Mann. “While none of us can fill the very large shoes Steve left behind, we can honor his legacy by doing our best to inform the public discourse over human-caused climate change in an objective, clear and effective manner.”
The first recipient of the Schneider Award was Richard Alley, Evan Pugh Professor of Geosciences, Penn State.
State Auditor Rebecca Otto is running for Governor of Minnesota. She will seek the DFL (Democratic Party) Endorsement. There are several other candidates either declared or likely to run, but Otto stands head and shoulders above all the others, especially in three areas:
1) Honesty and integrity in government.
Otto has been recognized nationally by the auditors around the country, and this is for good reason. In fact, she’s recognized internationally. The Minnesota Auditor’s office, under Otto, is one of those places the US State Department sends people from other countries to figure out how they should set up their own Democracy. (I’m not sure if the State Department will still be doing that ….)
2) Eschewing the false balance and finding real common ground between desperate parties.
This is Rebecca Otto’s super power. I’ve seen her do this right before my eyes.
The whole state saw her do it in Minnesota. There is a large mining region here, and mining companies want to start a new phase, extracting copper. Have you heard of the Environmental Movement? The US Environmental Movement has multiple roots, including my own home town Hudson River, with the sloop Clearwater and all that. But it also started in Minnesota, with the mining companies up on “The Range” (a place in Minnesota) where the miners were killing Lake Superior with their effluent. There has always been a fight on The Range between those who want more jobs and those who do not want to kill the Great Lakes and other natural wonders.
A couple of years ago, Rebecca cast a principled vote on a committee the Auditor serves on, the only vote among her fellow Democrats, to put environmental considerations on equal footing with jobs and other issues. She didn’t want to see the big mining companies leave The Range in the same sort of mess, with respect to local costs of cleanup, lost jobs, etc., as they have in the past, and like mining companies tend to do. That move got all the Republicans and some of the Range Democrats mad at Otto, and they have been viciously attacking her ever since, because they want all those Range votes for themselves.
Meanwhile, Rebecca went to The Range, talked to people, helped all the parties find common ground, and on voting day, she outperformed the Democratic Governor, and the Congressional candidate in counties and precincts she should, according to common wisdom, should have lost. Twice.
And this is why climate scientist Michael Mann endorsed her. Among other things, Mann said:
… Otto is a shining example of the kind of integrity and leadership we hope for in our elected leaders but too rarely see: someone who puts their money where their mouth is. I’m proud to support Rebecca Otto for Governor of Minnesota, and urge everyone who is concerned about climate change and clean energy to join me in supporting her. … As the Minnesota State Auditor, Rebecca issued a nationally award-winning report on how local governments can reduce energy costs dramatically by switching to clean, carbon-free energy sources…
I asked Professor Mann why a climate scientist working in Pennsylvania would worry about a governor’s race in Minnesota. “In climate change, we face a threat that knows no boundaries—continental boundaries, national boundaries, or state boundaries,” het told me. “We must support politicians everywhere who are willing to act on climate. Rebecca Otto has demonstrated that she places great priority on science-based policymaking on climate change and I am happy to support her candidacy.”
Make sure, when you visit that site, you watch Rebecca’s one minute video. See those solar panels she’s sitting in front of? I helped install them!
It turns out that there is an untold story behind the “discovery” of the famous Hockey Stick graph by Mike Mann and his colleagues. It is an excellent example of how science works, worthy of repeating, say, in a science classroom.
Anthropogenic Climate Change is very serious business. And, therefore, there has been far too little humor applied to communicating about this problem. Mike Mann and his co-author Tom Toles have started to backfill that gaping hole in the collective effort to bring the most important existential issue of our time to everyone’s attention.
Hurricane Matthew wasn’t just a storm enhanced by, or affected by, or influenced by, climate change. Matthew is the new poster storm for climate change and catastrophe, not because it Destroyed America (it didn’t, America got lucky, though Haiti did not) but because of several unique characteristics of that storm.
So, I did an interview with Mike Mann, even as Matthew was just about to pounce on Florida, in which we discuss various aspects of Atlantic hurricanes, and Matthew in particular.
We also discuss long term variation in the climate record, those squiggles in the surface warming trend on top of which regular warming is imposed.
We discuss Mike’s journey to the Hockey Stick, which I’m pretty sure is a story that has not been covered on a blog post or podcast or anything like that.
And, we discuss Mann and Tole’s new book, “The Madhouse Effect.”
Michael Mann has a specialty or two. Climate simulation modeling, analysis of proxy data, the study of global teleconnections, Northern Hemisphere surface temperatures over historic time scales, etc. A while back, Mann’s research interests and activities converged, I assume by some combination of design and chance (as is often the case in Academia) with a key central question in science. This question is, “What is the pattern of surface warming caused by human effects on the atmosphere, including changes in greenhouse gas concentration and other pollutants?”
Mann and his colleagues essentially solved that problem in 1998, with the publication of a study looking at tree ring data, ice cores, and direct measurements of the atmosphere and the ocean surface, to estimate “surface temperature” of the atmosphere in the northern hemisphere. NASA, NOAA, and other agencies already had a temperature record going back into the 19th century, about a century of data. But since human effects started way before that, and since there is a lot of non-human caused variation in the system, the only way the basic pattern of surface warming, and the relative role of human effects, could be ascertained was by extending that record back several more centuries. Mann and his colleagues did that.
What they did was to turn this graph:
Into this graph:
Ironically, that first graph is from the oil industry, a report by ExxonMobil to be exact. Scientists generally knew that greenhouse warming was a thing, but these ExxonMobil scientists hid their research in order to … well, you can guess their motivation. (And you thought they were just about oil!)
So, that should have been about it. A major question was clarified and science marches on.
But there were two other things that happened after that. One makes total sense, and is a good thing. The other is mad. Mad as in madhouse.
The first thing was clarifying the science even more. Mann and colleagues worked mainly on the Northern Hemisphere because that is where much of the data lived. They were not using all the proxy data that would eventually become available. The record had to be pushed even farther back in time. The direct surface measurements needed to be reanalyzed a few times by different people, using different approaches, in order to understand it better. And so on.
Also, climate needed to march along a bit, as it turns out. The years since 1998 or so have seen dramatic changes in surface temperature, and dramatic effects of warming.
So that all happened, and our understanding of climate change is much refined and pretty darn good, with a few interesting and important questions remaining. But we know enough to confirm several times over the existential nature of the problem.
But something else happened at the same time.
Your curmudgeonly old Uncle Bob got mad at the climate data because, well, it seemed like it was Environmentalism which is all Hippie and Communist and stuff. Your cousin the developer and your other cousin who works at the power plant got mad because it became clear that modern civilization’s present day technologies for making and using buildings, making and using vehicles, and making and using energy, were the cause of an existential crisis. So they got mad about being blamed, even though they weren’t really being singled out. And all the energy producing corporations, stock holders, and their … well, their wholly owned souls such as members of Congress, Republicans, talk show hosts, and, to bring it full circle, your curmudgeonly old Uncle Bob, all got mad because addressing climate change would ruin the American Dream.
The American Dream, by the way, is this: You are a poor slob living in dirt. Them something happens and the dirt is gone but somehow you are still filthy. Filthy rich! Every American would become filthy rich if only … if only Mike Mann would shut up and go away.
So, this second thing that happened involved intense harassment, often bought and paid for, of climate scientists, active opposition to truthful and honest science, and the organic development of what Mann and his coauthor Toles refer to as a “Madhouse.”
One of the topics Mann deals with in this new book, that has not been dealt with enough, is the Breakthrough concept, especially as related to geoengineering. To quote from the text:
Many of those who advocate against taking action when it comes to dealing with the underlying problem—our ongoing burning of fossil fuels— have instead turned to possible technosolutions for counteracting climate change that involve other massive interventions in the Earth system: geoengineering. In some ways, for the free-market fundamentalist, geoengineering is a logical way out because it reflects an extension of faith that the free market and technological innovation can solve any problem we create, without the need for regulation.
Unsurprisingly, even many rather level-headed captains of industry, such as Bill Gates, have embraced the concept along with techno-Pollyannas, such as Bjorn Lomborg and the Breakthrough Institute. Price on carbon? Nah, the market doesn’t need it. Renewable energy? It’s a pipe dream. Massively interfering with the Earth system in the hope that we might get lucky and offset global warming? Yeah, that’s the ticket!
One of the important Stages of Science Denial (and there is a whole chapter on the stages in The Madhouse Effect) is to assume that this problem will be solved with one great technological advance.
We might have some helpful technological advances, but most of the key advances have already happened and now need some fine tuning. The laws of physics can’t be broken just because we want them to be. It takes energy to separate Carbon from Oxygen, and we get energy by combining the two (if we start with the right molecules). We can’t suck the CO2 out of the atmosphere and make it solid without either spending more energy, or violating the laws of physics. And at the scale we are talking about here, we can’t store the gas in some safe place. The bottom line: We have to keep the fossil fuel in the ground, and use the widely available, abundant, clean, inexpensive, and by the way, very cool alternative sources of energy that already exist but that don’t happened to be owned by the Koch Brothers.
This book serves many purposes. It includes an overview of the basic science of climate change and human caused global warming. It has a compendium of many of the key science deniers, and a description of the well known taxonomy of science denial (“It’s Not Happening!”, “OK, It’s Happening but It’s Natural”, “It Will Take Care Of Itself”, “It Will Be Good For Us”, etc.). The authors discuss the war on climate science, and of special interest because it isn’t discussed enough, the prospects (which are poor) and the problems (which are very serious) of geoengineering as a means of addressing climate change.
And, everything is well documented with detailed notes and references at the end, including some to my own writing on the topic!
This is not like a cartoon guide to a topic (though those guides are great), but is mainly text richly illustrated with Tolees’ often ironic and biting cartoons. The text is well written and very accessible but at the same time authoritative.
And the book will prove its own need. Just visit the amazon reviews of this book and you’ll see, I suspect (give it a few weeks for the deniers to mass on the borders of reason and charge in).
I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in climate change and global warming. Teachers discussing this issue in class may want to have a copy of it handy, especially to prepare for denialist charges and complaints, but also, for the basic science. Activists will find the material on what to do about climate change, at several levels, interesting and helpful.
UPSATE. The motion has been denied. Rather hilariously, bt the way.
Professor Michael Mann vs. Shock Jock Mark Steyn
You all know about the libel suit filed by Professor Michael Mann against Canadian right wing radio shock jock Mark Steyn. Steyn made apparently libelous comments linking Mann, who is widely regarded as the worlds top non-retired climate scientist, to the Jerry Sandusky scandal. (I don’t know what Steyn was implying but the only link is that both work(ed) at Penn State University!) There are other aspects of the libel suit as well, beyond the scope of this post.
The suit was filed in October 2012. I’m told this sort of law suit can drag on for years, and in this case, Steyn and the other defendants have taken action to delay what seems likely to be a decision against them, so this one might take a bit longer.
ADDED:It has come to my attention that some are arguing that Steyn has been trying to push this suit along while the other defendants are those responsible for the delay. You need to be aware of the fact that early on in the process, Steyn separated himself from the other defendants, and some observers have noted that he has been conducting his side of the process in such a way that has left legal scholars wondering if he has a competent lawyer. I have no personal comment on this. But it remains true that there is no way to separate the discovery part of this process among the parties. In other words, as the different parties in the defense take separate action, they are capable of playing something of a “good cop – bad cop” scenario, and that looks like what they are doing. In any event, Steyn has taken specific delaying action by filing a counter-suit.
Then, on June 1st, yesterday, Steyn’s lawyer requested that the DC Court of Appeals expedite the case.
Why is Steyn suddenly in a hurry to see this court case finished, when until now he has been more interested in delay?
I’m pretty sure the reason is a microcosm of how things are developing in the larger world of fossil fuel industry supported science denial, as well as the larger world of right wing vs. progressive politics.
The suit serves, rather, as a part of a larger effort to combat the ongoing systematic attacks on well meaning and hard working scientists who are just doing their jobs. These attacks, in large part funded by energy industry front groups or “think” tanks such as the Heartland Institute, threaten to cast a chilling pall over over the scientific endeavor itself. Young people going into science careers, especially in certain areas, potentially face future denigrating attacks on their personal lives and character, and potentially career ending frivolous investigations by science deniers in Congress or in other positions of power.
A few months ago we saw shock jock Steyn called by anti-science Senator, failed presidential candidate, and widely detested Ted Cruz, in what can only be described as a three-ring circus of climate science denial. Steyn used his time before congress to argue his case in the Mann law suit, and to blow a racist dog whistle or two denigrating two of the DC Appeals court judges, Judges Natalia Combs Greene and Vanessa Ruiz. I only mention this because it gives background on Steyn and the overall anti-science movement. See Mark Steyn, The DC Appeals Court, and Congress for a detailed discussion of that).
Ask not for whom the bell tolls, science denier.
A couple of years ago, in Minnesota, a Republican House and Senate passed a bill to create a constitutional amendment making same sex marriage illegal. Why an amendment and not a law? It was generally thought at the time that the Republicans assumed that if Democrats took power (which they did right after that), that the law would be toast. A constitutional change is harder to undo. But there was another strategic reason to go for the change to the State’s Constitution, a reason that is directly parallel to Mark Steyn’s current strategy vis-a-vis the Mann law suit.
The Republicans legislators voted close to 100% in favor of banning same sex marriage in Minnesota, the Democrats voted close to 100% against it. The amendment then became a ballot issue, which was fought over for months in the public forum, and then, resoundingly defeated by the people of Minnesota. That was one of the first and key moments in the Great Domino Knockover ending legislation and constitutional restriction against same sex marriage.
Here’s what. During the public fight over the ballot amendment, I went to a fund raiser hosted by a colleague. At that fund raiser, a member of the Minnesota House told a story.
Every year, pages are brought to the legislature to work the legislative session. These are high school seniors representing every single district in the state, so they are geographically evenly distributed across liberal and conservative enclaves and regions. Urban Minneapolis is very liberal. One of the Urban members of the US Congress, Keith Ellison, is an African American Muslim Bernie Sanders Supporter. One of the non-urban members of the US Congress, for several years, was Tea Party co-Founder Michele Bachmann. So, you get the picture.
When the pages are first brought in, there are orientation activities of various sorts. One of the orientation activities is to poll the pages on various political questions. The pages, from Michele Bachmann’s district, Keith Ellison’s district, and everywhere else, were polled that year on their position on the Same Sex Marriage Banning Amendment. How did that shake out?
Every single page was opposed to the amendment. Every. Single. One. They were all about 18 years old.
The Republican strategy to make same sex marriage unconstitutional, instead of merely illegal, was motivated by a correct reading of the state’s demography. The next generation of Minnesotans was not going to have this sort of discrimination. Every year the state’s population would be increasingly in favor of marriage freedom and opposed to repression of LGBT people. The conservatives in the State Legislature had to act quickly to codify their systematic hatred before everyone else grew up.
Grumpy Old Men
Grumpy Old Men isn’t just a movie set in Minnesota. It is a key part of the demographic base for science denial.
At about the same time that the marriage amendment was being proposed and eventually put down in Minnesota, John Cook, Dana Nuccitelli, Jim Powell and their colleagues were turning out the Climate Consensus Project. This project paralleled and replicated earlier research, but using a different approach. The upshot of that collective research was to show that nearly, but not exactly, 100% of climate scientists and the peer reviewed papers that address climate change, all agree: Climate change is real, and human caused.
The actual studies are more complex and nuanced than that, but for now there is one conclusion that I want you to focus on. Something less than three percent of the people who’s opinion matter in the scientific world, those who are verified experts in this area, continued to question the legitimacy of human caused climate change in the face of overwhelming scientific evidence.
Who are these people?
We know from work by John Mashey, that science deniers with actual scientific credentials are like conservative Minnesota legislators.
Mashey examined the characteristics of individuals who opposed, from within, the American Physical Society’s position on the reality of human caused climate change. The opposition took the form of a petition signed by less than a half percent of the 47,000 member of the society. That subset of APS members tended to be in subfields that did not focus on climate science. But most interesting here is the demography of that group.
Mashey showed that the signers of the anti-science petition were, as a group, older and more likely to be retired than the APS members in general.
Of the 119 signers, 102 (86%) were born before 1950, compared to about 40% for overall APS. This is a strong effect, and cannot be due to “retired scientists are finally free to tell the real truth”, given that only one plausible climate scientist is a signer, and he is not retired.
In addition, there is evidence that as this non-representative sample of APS members was recruited to sign on, efforts were made by the petition organizers to find older or retired individuals, dust them off, and get them on board.
Like the situation with same sex marriage in Minnesota, the demographics are changing. That few percent that the Consensus Project and similar research identifies as not being on board with climate science probably represents the grumpy old men who are disappearing at the usual rate, like they do. The scientists who understand climate science and make up the bulk of the consensus are not only more involved in actual climate science, but also, are of the current generation of active scientists.
They are old. And, therefore, becoming less numerous with every passing day, with every tolling of the bell.
Who is Steyn’s dead guy?
A key reason given by Steyn and his lawyer for expediting the Mann lawsuit is that key witnesses that would support Steyn’s case may die off before the case comes to court.
Steyn’s expert witnesses are older than Mann’s; time affects them more. Many of Steyn’s expert witnesses are emeritus professors and comparatively advanced in years, being of an age and eminence that enables them to stand against the bullying and intimidation that prevails in climate science. Therefore, the passage of time is not an unimportant thing. Indeed, one of Steyn’s proposed witnesses has, in fact, died while this interlocutory appeal has been with the appellate court.
The brief does not mention which witness died. Any guesses?
Apparently, Steyn and his lawyer had a “holy crap” moment, realizing that if this law suit does not come to court sooner than later, there would be precious few individuals prepared to serve as witnesses in favor of an idea that about to get pulled off life support.
Time is running out for Steyn. Over time, those who question the validity of well established science are likely to change their minds once they get the proper information, realize that their position is laughable and walk away from denialism simply because it is embarrassing, or, apparently, die.
But it is more important that time is running out for the planet, and for the up and coming generation that is being handed a ruined environment.
Even as I write these words a news alert comes across my desk: “Europe floods: 10 dead amid fears of fresh heavy rainfall,” referring to flooding in France and Germany. Flooding in Texas over the last few days, and continuing, has taken at least a half dozen lives. To someone like Steyn, and his out of touch geriatric witnesses, this is small change. A half a dozen people here, a half a dozen people there. And that is exactly the problem and exactly why Mann’s lawsuit is important and valid. Climate denialism is, as a movement, effectively sociopathic. And, as individuals in that movement realize that, they tend to wander off.
The Atlantic Hurricane Season started yesterday and there are already two named storms. Major fires in the Canadian Rockies, the decline of iconic species such as the North American Moose, coral bleaching, the spread of very nasty diseases out of the tropics, record high temperatures, the Syrian refugee crisis, are all linked to climate change to some degree, often very directly, sometimes more tenuously. (See this for a current accounting of climate disasters ongoing.)
Extreme variability in precipitation patterns, including both short and long term droughts and major rain or snow fall events, has been linked pretty directly to anthropogenic global warming. Heat waves and sea level rise due to melting glaciers, and changes in ocean chemistry, are direct measures of increasing surface heat. Weather and climate are two faces of the same coin, different in scale with weather being in one spot and on one day, and climate being weather long term and everywhere. If we change climate, which we have, we change weather, and thus we affect day to day live, the food supply, the global economy, and global health.
The award winning climate scientist Michael E. Mann and the Pulitzer Prize-winning political cartoonist Tom Toles have fought at the frontlines of climate denialism for most of their careers. They have witnessed the manipulation of the media by business and political interests and the unconscionable play to partisanship on issues that affect the well-being of millions. The lessons they have learned have been invaluable, inspiring this brilliant, colorful escape hatch from the madhouse of the climate wars.
Through satire, “The Madhouse Effect” portrays the intellectual pretzels into which denialists must twist logic to explain away the clear evidence that man-made activity has changed our climate. Toles’s cartoons collapse counter-scientific strategies into their biased components, helping readers see how to best strike at these fallacies. Mann’s expert skills at science communication aim to restore sanity to a debate that continues to rage against widely acknowledged scientific consensus. The synergy of these two commonsense crusaders enlivens the gloom and doom of so many climate-themed books–and may even convert a few of the faithful to the right side of science.