Getting in on the ground floor of the U.S. Climate Service

Hard as it is for someone who isn’t familiar with intricacies of U.S. government-run climate science to believe, there is no climatology analog of the the immigration or revenue services, something responsible for overseeing the big picture. Sure, there’s NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, but that does a lot of things other than measure and model the climate. There’s NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, but it’s mostly a number-crunching lab, and not really set up to engage the public. That’s about to change, and the folks tasked with overseeing the creation of the new Climate Service are looking for advice.

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Same old same old in the denialsphere

ResearchBlogging.orgMuch has been written of late about the nature of denialism. New Scientist a couple of issues back produced a special report on the subject, for example, and the New Humanist explores the idea of “unreasonable doubt.”

There’s plenty more out there. The most provocative I’ve come across (thanks to Joss Garman via DeSmog Blog’s Brendan DeMelle) is a 2009 paper in the journal Studies in History and Philosophy of Modern Physics by Jeroen van Dongen of the Institute for History and Foundations of Science at Utrecht University in The Netherlands. His thesis is ideologically based denialism of science has a long pedigree, and he begins his paper with this quote from Albert Einstein:

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Matt Ridley and the Holocene Optimum

If the title of Matt Ridley’s new book, The Rational Optimist, sounds a little familiar, that’s because it borrows heavily from the world view of one Bjorn “The Skeptical Environmentalist” Lomborg. Both contrarians dismiss global warming as nothing to worry about, although Ridley seems even less convinced that the planet is actually experiencing anthropogenic global warming. I don’t have time to read it — but I did manage to take a look at the kind of thinking that Ridley uses at his blog.

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Back to the story of the hurricane

Today marks the official start of North Atlantic hurricane season. So…

One of the key differences between genuine climatology and anti-scientific denialism of anthropogenic climate change is the flexibility of the former and the stubbornness of the latter when it comes to our ever-evolving understanding of how the world works. The connection between hurricanes and climate is a perfect example.

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Megafaunal extinction, methane and monkeying with the climate

A paper in Nature Geoscience published early this month was much derided by the usual suspects in the pseudoskeptic community. Contrary to what many critics of “Methane emissions from extinct megafauna” claim, the research does not lead to the conclusion that humans are solely responsible for a global cooling event known as the Younger Dryas, which saw a brief reversal in the warming trend that brought the last ice age to an end. But it does remind us of just how interconnected are all the elements of the planetary ecosystem, and how dangerous it is to tinker with one of them.
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Quote of the month

“Climate change is an issue that is almost designed to create apathy …”

— Linda Connor, Science Alert, 20 May 2010

The writer argues that the rise of climate change denialism in the face of growing scientific evidence of serious consequences of climate change can be explained by looking at basic human psychology. Essentially, we’re talking about extrapolating psychology to the sociological sphere.
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More reading for a hot summer

This week’s Science has a lengthy review of a long list of recent books by and about climatologists. If you’re interested in doing some not-so-light reading this summer (in a year predicted to be the warmest on record), the review, which Science has made freely available, should steer you in the right direction. The reviewer, Columbia University philosopher Philip Kitcher, covers a lot of territory. He puts it all in perspective by pointing out that while many of the books try to convince readers of the simple truth of climate change, the sad truth is that:

Even if American public opinion were reformed overnight, so that virtually all citizens were convinced that anthropogenic global warming is likely to raise the average temperature of the planet by at least 2°C, that would be only the beginning….

In countries that have long taken anthropogenic climate change as a settled question, agreeing on the expected consequences and the appropriate response has not proved easy. American discussions are likely to be haunted by the long denial, so that suspicions about alarmism linger. As psychologists have repeatedly discovered, those who are misinformed and later corrected often lapse into versions of their original error.

Still, what are you going to do? Give up?


Back in the winter of 1990-91, when I was a between-real-jobs freelancer hanging out in Vancouver with plenty of time on my hands to read, I would cycle down to Stanley Park each rainless day, find a quiet stretch of beach, and read. I went through dozens of books before returning to the working world, but the only book I remember in any detail is Bill McKibben’s The End of Nature. It was the first full-length, popular-science take on climate change, and I’ve spent much of the last 20 years thinking and writing about the subject, thanks to that book. So has McKibben.

eaarth is an oddly titled sequel of sorts. Climate change is just the backstory now. What was once looming on the horizon has become a present-day crisis that threatens to undermine the very fabric of civilization. That’s the starting point of McKibben’s latest stream-of-consciousness anti-fossil-fuel polemic. And I mean that in a good way.
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The trillionth tonne meme gets some traction

The first three of the “America’s Climate Choices” reports from a U.S. National Academy of Sciences committee restate the case that there is “strong, credible body of evidence, based on multiple lines of research, documenting that Earth is warming” and calls for the adoption of “an economy-wide carbon pricing system.” Not really Earth-shattering news, just climate-disrupting. What is worth drawing your attention to is the embrace of something akin to the “trillionth tonne” idea.
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