A climate change report for the Tea Party

“Major storms could submerge New York City in next decade” cries a randomly selected mainstream media outlet over a story about a new report warning residents that climate change could make life difficult in the not-too-distant future. The report, from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, is pretty standard stuff for those who have been paying attention to the growing link between global warming and extreme weather. And maybe it will spur New Yorkers to take the subject a bit more seriously.

But there’s a certain set who will welcome this 600-page conpendium of alarming research. After all, most Tea Partiers aren’t living in NYC, and most members of the far right persuasion have contempt for those do call the city home. So when they read that

By the mid-2020s, sea level rise around Manhattan and Long Island could be up to 10 inches, assuming the rapid melting of polar sea ice continues. By 2050, sea-rise could reach 2.5ft and more than 4.5ft by 2080 under the same conditions.

In such a scenario, many of the tunnels – subway, highway, and rail – crossing into the Bronx beneath the Harlem River, and under the East River would be flooded within the hour, the report said. Some transport systems could be out of operation for up to a month.

they will probably just say: “Good serves ’em right.” Proving only the political climate is now so absurd that scientists can’t win whatever they do.

What if climatologists reversed the null hypothesis?

ResearchBlogging.orgKevin Trenberth’s latest paper, which appears in Wiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change, is uncharacteristically and refreshingly blunt right from the first few words of the introduction:

Humans are changing our climate. There is no doubt whatsoever. There are arguments about how much and how important these effects are and will be in future, but many studies (e.g., see the summary by Stott et al.1) have demonstrated that effects are not trivial and have emerged from the noise of natural variability, even if they are small by some measures. So why does the science community continue to do attribution studies and assume that humans have no influence as a null hypothesis?

Continue reading “What if climatologists reversed the null hypothesis?”

The phony breakthrough vs deployment debate

David Roberts is, as usual, bang on in his latest Grist column, lamenting the pointlessness of the debate between those who insist we need more research and development before tackling climate change, and those who say we shouldn’t wait. (Roberts is among the best commenters around when it comes to the social and political context of climate change.)

For the amount of attention it gets, you’d think that settling this debate is the crucial first step in developing a policy plan or a political strategy. You’d think the “enough technology” question must be answered before anyone can move forward.

But as I see it, pretty much nothing hinges on the answer. Indeed, I find the whole debate baffling and confounding.

Continue reading “The phony breakthrough vs deployment debate”

FTL neutrinos and climate change deniers (or why I call the latter PSEUDOskeptics)

Among the very best of the science-oriented blogs I try to read regularly is Tom Levenson’s Inverse Square Blog. Tom, who teaches science journalism at MIT, isn’t a climatologist, but whenever he writes about climate science or politics, it’s usually worth a look.

Apparently, the folks at Scientific American agree, and they recently invited Tom to contribute a guest post to the magazine’s blog site. It’s primarily about the recent kerfuffle over the possibility that neutrinos might be able to travel faster than light, and a bit on the lengthy side, but he does manage to work climate in there, so let’s skip to that bit and run with his central theme, which is:

understanding what we do know, and then engaging the challenge of a new result in that context.

Continue reading “FTL neutrinos and climate change deniers (or why I call the latter PSEUDOskeptics)”

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.

Continue reading “Fighting the “he said, she said” cowardice”

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:

Continue reading “Just how much heat does global warming entail?”

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?

Continue reading “BEST paper in the urban heat island effect category”

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.

Continue reading “Impressionable youth and climate propaganda”

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.
Continue reading “The Task Force on Climate Remediation Research is wrong, and here’s why”