Fighting the “he said, she said” cowardice

Don’t get me wrong. I love NPR. I listen to it for at least four hours a day. But lately I’ve found the network’s embrace of “he said, she said” journalism a little too difficult to swallow. This morning’s report on censorship of a scientific report commissioned by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality isn’t perhaps the most egregious example, but it does concern climate change, so it’s worth examining.

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Just how much heat does global warming entail?

Everyone talks about global warming, but it’s not easy to get one’s mind around just how much heat we’re talking about. Even more difficult is putting that heat energy in terms that the average layperson can grasp. Fortunately, some scientists are making an effort to do just that.

ResearchBlogging.orgIn a recent paper in Geophysical Research Letters, “Observed changes in surface atmospheric energy over land,” Thomas Peterson, of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, NC, Katharine M. Willett of the Met Office Hadley Centre in Exeter, UK, and and Peter W. Thorne, who works alongside Peterson at the Cooperative Institute for Climate and Satellites, try to separate the various elements of all that energy being trapped by the greenhouse effect. There’s surface temperature, kinetic energy (wind) and latent heat (energy associated with water changes from one state to another, such as during evaporation).

All that is useful stuff from people who make their living studying climate. But what’s really interesting for our purposes is the team’s effort to express the energy being absorbed by the atmosphere. As part of the paper’s concluding section, they convert that energy into a gravitational equivalent: the energy required to lift an object:

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Fool Me Twice

My review of Shawn Otto’s new book, Fool Me Twice
Fighting the Assault on Science in America
, is up over at the relatively new sustainability-oriented blog/resource site, Planet 3.0. Here’s how I start:

Shawn Otto is a big name in the campaign to restore science to its rightful place as a major player in the public sphere. He spearheaded the first “Science Debate” effort in 2008 to get the presidential candidates to address scientific issues, and has been working, tirelessly but not entirely successfully, it would seem, since then to keep the home fires burning. The frustration that comes with failure — the best the group could do back then was elicit written responses to a list of science-oriented questions from Barack Obama and John McCain — evidently got him thinking about why Americans care so little about science. Fool Me Twice is the result.

Like the books that preceded this one (Chris Mooney’s The Republic War on Science, Al Gore’s Assault on Reason, Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum’s Unscientific America and Randy Olson’s Don’t be such a scientist!), it’s long on description and short on prescription. The subtitle, Fighting the Assault on Science in America, implies the latter…

Whole review here.

BEST paper in the urban heat island effect category

There’s this notion among the climate denial community that somehow the entire professional climatology community has overlooked an obvious flaw in the science behind anthropogenic global warming. Their hypothesis is that too many of the thermometers used to record temperatures over the last 200 years have been located in or near cities, and so have produced a warming bias produced by the waste heat generated in urban areas.

It sounds plausible. The problem with the notion, of course, is that it’s so obvious a potential bias that climatologists long ago learned to take the “urban heat island” effect into account. Still, the idea persists, and so a bunch of still-open-minded-despite-reams-of-solid-evidence-scientists, known collectively as the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST) project, and all but one of them new to the field, decided to conduct their own independent analysis of the data that NASA, NOAA and HadCRU say shows unequivocal evidence for global warming.

Today, that team released its findings. Can you guess what they found?

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Impressionable youth and climate propaganda

How old do you have to be before it’s acceptable for your high-school teacher to expose you to propaganda?

Last week I had the honor of taking part in a video chat with a class of eighth graders at a private school in Atlanta. I got involved through a personal connection and then took a strong interest when I learned that the students would be sitting through both Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth and Martin Durkin’s Great Global Warming Swindle as part of an environmental writing section of their English course. Then their teacher, in an effort to nudge his students toward something approaching critical thinking, added a YouTube video by British journalist Peter Hadfield that makes a desperate attempt to supply an objective take on both documentaries.

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The Task Force on Climate Remediation Research is wrong, and here’s why

It’s hard to argue against funding scientific research. But let me try.

This past week 18 experts assembled as the Task Force on Climate Remediation Research released the product of its collective wisdom. A creation of the Bipartisan Policy Center, which the New York TimesCornelia Dean describes as “a research organization based in Washington founded by four senators — Democrats and Republicans — to offer policy advice to the government,” the task force concluded that the U.S. should be spending unspecified sums on research into what is colloquially known as climate hacking. Most everyone knows it as geoengineering, but the policy center wonks decided “climate remediation” is a less scary term.

Joe Romm weighs in, and talks with former and current members of the task force (including one who quit out of frustation with where the group was headed), at Climate Progress. I share his problems with the report, but want to delve more deeply into the speciific, as I suspect this issues is going to be a big deal for the foreseeble future.
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Take that, climate-deniers!

Climatologist Michael Mann is fed up. Actually, he’s been fed up a long time, given that he’s been the subject of mean-spirited investigations and slander for years now. We probably need more of this kind of rebuttal:

These are just lies, regurgitation of dishonest smears that have been manufactured by fossil fuel industry-funded climate change deniers, and those who do their bidding by lying to the public about the science.

Mann wrote that in an op-ed for the Vail Daily. It’s not the New York Times, but that’s the point. The climatology community needs to respond every time some ignorant editor agrees to print anything that distorts the facts about anthropogenic climate change and the scientists who devote their lives to studying it. And not just in the big venues read by the chattering classes.

The author of the offending letter that got Mann’s goat is one Martin Hertzberg, who claims to be a scientists, but keeps writing things like “The entire theory that ‘greenhouse gases’ in the atmosphere can reradiate energy back to the Earth and thus cause more heating, has been proven to violate the laws of thermodynamics, and thus to be completely devoid of physical reality.” [Citation, please.]

We can ramble on on these here science-oriented blogs ’til the cows come home (or the chicken come home to roost, or some such metaphor), but the battle needs to be waged on the streets, so to speak. As much as the Internet is vital medium, papers like the Vail Daily (circ. around 15,000) aren’t small potatoes. For millions of Americans, they are where the action is and we shouldn’t ignore them.