Friday, February 27, 2015

The Senator With The Snowball

Senator James Inhofe is one of the biggest disgraces of the United States. This is a leading member of the U.S. Senate and he uses that platform to repeatedly demonstrate just how ignorant he is. I shudder to think what the rest of the world thinks of the U.S. education system every time this man opens his mouth.

If you aren't familiar with him, he's the man that claims "manmade global warming is the biggest hoax ever perpetrated on the American public." He's the guy that says climate science is a conspiracy by Barbara Streisand and the Weather Channel. "It's all about money. I mean, what would happen to the Weather Channel's ratings if people weren't scared anymore?"

What's funny about that statement is Inhofe has accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars from the fossil fuel industry, making him one of the top recipients of oil money. Hmmm. Do you think there's a link between all the money he gets from the fossil fuel industry and his fight to protect their interests at the expense of his constituents?

Inhofe is also famous for coming out every time there's a cold day in the winter (when its supposed to be cold) and make some statement about how it proves climate change isn't real. Then, he disappears on those winter days when the temperature hits a new record high. I'm sure he thinks he's being clever. The rest of the world knows he's an idiot.

Now, he's done it again. He brought a snowball into the Senate and claimed it was proof climate change isn't real. But, it backfired. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse took him to task about it. Whitehouse cited numerous authoritative sources saying climate change is real and then repeatedly asks, who are you going to believe, these excellent sources? Or, "the Senator with the snowball." Watch the video.

There's nothing we can do about Inhofe. We're stuck with him. But, we can be thankful to Senator Whitehouse for the new catch phrase for all of the people that reject science and think they're clever: they are another Senator with a snowball.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

CO2 Heat Trapping Observed

The good news is the bad news for deniers just keeps rolling in. It's been a bad few days for the deniers.

First, one of their darlings was exposed as being a liar and fraud when records were released showing how Willie Soon was paid millions of dollars to produce anti-science papers, referred to as 'deliverables.' No one that is familiar with Soon is surprised by the news, I'm sure. But, it was really nice to see the confirmation of what everyone already knew. It was a real blow to the denier industry.

Now, there is a new report that, I hope, will be equally as damaging to the anti-science crowd. A team of scientists are reporting in the journal Nature that they have directly measured CO2 caused heat trapping. What they did was to use a decade of measurements looking straight up through the atmosphere. These instruments took measurements of both the CO2 level and the amount of radiative trapping. Plotting the two showed a definite connection between the two, exactly as 150 years of physics predicted.

As was reported,
In doing so, the data show clouds, water vapor or changes in sun's radiation are not responsible for warming the air, as some who doubt mainstream climate science claim, Feldman said. Nor could it be temperature data being tampered with, as some contrarians insist, Feldman said.

"The data say what the data say," Feldman said. "They are very clear that the rising carbon dioxide is actually contributing to an increased greenhouse effect at those sites."
Of course, the deniers will try to put some kind of spin on this, but the facts are there - increasing levels of CO2 cause trapping of heat in the atmosphere. The science is settled and it is conclusive.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Judith Curry - Climate Change Denier

A reader brought my attention an article written by Judith Curry. She has become the darling of the AGW denier community due to her credentials. Ms Curry is a climate scientist and is the former chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology. She graduated cum laude from Northern Illinois University in 1974 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Geography. She earned her Ph.D. in Geophysical Sciences from the University of Chicago in 1982.

Her credentials are real. She also accepts funds from the fossil fuel industry.

In regards to accepting funds from the fossil fuel industry, she stated:

I do receive some funding from the fossil fuel industry. My company…does [short-term] hurricane forecasting…for an oil company, since 2007. During this period I have been both a strong advocate for the IPCC, and more recently a critic of the IPCC, there is no correlation of this funding with my public statements.
We have heard a very similar statement from Willie Soon:
No amount of money can influence what I say or do or research or write.
Now, of course, we all know that, in fact, Mr. Soon really is influenced by the amount of money and who it is coming from. So, we have to wonder about Ms. Curry as well. Why has Ms. Curry become the darling of the Wall Street Journal (a leader in the anti-science effort)? See her article The Global Warming Statistical Meltdown: Mountingevidence suggests that basic assumptions about climate change are mistaken: Thenumbers don’t add up. Why has she become the darling of Congressional Republicans who work so hard to block any legislation addressing climate change?

Too bad she has chosen to reject the very science she has worked on for so long.

Officially, Ms. Curry states she supports the scientific opinion on climate change. Then, she spends all of her time undermining climate science. This article is a perfect example. Let's look at a few of her claims.

A big part of her complaint is how the AR4 in 2007 had a 90% certainty that human emissions are responsible for climate change and then it became 95% certainty in the AR5 in 2013. What I find interesting is that it has already been reported the reason AR4 stated 'only' 90% certainty is because China and India refused to sign the report if it went any higher. The scientific consensus was there to go higher, it was the politics that prevented it. The change was not because of new science, it was due to a breakthrough in politics (small as it is). And, Ms. Curry was in a position to know this!

Why didn't she report on the reality? What was her agenda?

She then lists a number of reasons she is opposed to the idea of the increase in certainty:

  • Lack of warming since 1998 and growing discrepancies with climate model projections
  • Evidence of decreased climate sensitivity to increases in CO2
  • Evidence that sea level rise in 1920-1950 is of the same magnitude as in 1993-2012
  • Increasing Antarctic sea ice extent

The problem with this list is that every one of them is a false objection and she, as a climate scientist and chair of the department, was in a position to know better. So, why did she make these false statements?

The issue of lack of warming is both a false statement and a false argument. Warming has not only occurred, but the only way you can get this statement is to cherry pick the data and falsify your results. And, she knows this! Take a look here. This is, literally, only one of hundreds, maybe thousands, of examples showing warming has not stopped. And, of course, Ms. Curry is doing nothing more than repeating the often quoted false argument that surface warming equates to global warming while leaving out the 93% of the warming going on in the oceans.

Please explain to me why someone with the education, training and experience of Ms. Curry would do that?

Well, how about decreased sensitivity to CO2? Read this here and tell me what you think. I think it doesn't look good for Ms. Curry's credibility.

She then says her proof is the sea-level rise during a 30-year period early in the century is the same as a 20-year period late in the century. That argument is pretty ridiculous all by itself. To say the sea level is rising as much in 20 years as it used to rise in 30 years is pretty conclusive. But, there's more. Reports show current sea level rise is actually twice as much as it was early in the 20th century.

Looking worse for Ms. Curry's credibility.

Continuing. Increasing Antarctica sea ice extent. Again, one of the favorite false arguments of the denier crowd, so why is she using it?

The sea ice around Antarctica really is growing in extent. But, there is so much more to the story you have to wonder why someone in Ms. Curry's position didn't include it in her statement. Why didn't she mention how Antarctica is losing land ice at an alarming rate? In fact, it is now thought so much ice is melting on the continent the fresh water has diluted the surrounding sea water to the point it is easier for it to freeze. Why didn't she include any of that in her statement?

We can already conclude Ms. Curry is intentionally working to deceive. If she doesn't like me saying that about her she knows where to find me. I'm not worried.

So, what we see about Ms. Curry is a definite pattern of deceit that works to support the claims of deniers. And, she did this after accepting money from the fossil fuel industry.

In summary, we can see Ms. Curry is accepting money and using her position of authority to mislead and deceive the public. Her claims and statements have been thoroughly debunked and refuted. She should have been well aware of all of this and I am certain she is.

And, yet, she continues to make these statements anyways.

I guess she can respond to her employers about having made the appropriate 'deliverables' now.

Monday, February 23, 2015

The PETM and Climate Change Today

The Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM) is a period in Earth's history that occurred about 55.5 million years ago. The thing that attracts interest to it is how it was a period of global warming. The more scientists study it, the more we are learning about what is happening today. There is good news along with the bad from a recent study. The good news was that the environment adjusted and eventually returned to normal after the global warming episode. While it is good to hear of the adjustment, it is also important to understand the environment took about 200,000 years to fully recover. Left to itself, things will get bad but it won't end the world, But, we may be stuck with this situation for a while.

The PETM is very interesting because of the similarities to today. What has been found is the emission levels were in the ballpark of today's manmade emission levels. The thinking is what happened back then might be a good model for what we can expect to see today. The problem is that it was already much warmer back then when the big emissions came along. In fact, it was so warm there were no ice caps. So it isn't a perfect analogy.

What was seen is the temperature rose by 5 to 8 degrees C (9 to 15 F). That isn't enough to destroy the world, but it sure would cause a lot of devastation. Analysis of sediment cores has indicated there were two pulses of carbon release. It is thought the second one occurred in response to the rising temperature caused by the first. Does that mean we can expect to see something like that today? As the temperature increases due to manmade emissions, can we expect the natural environment to become a CO2 source instead of sink? That would be doubly bad because nature currently removes roughly half of all manmade emissions. If it became a source, it would not only be adding CO2 itself, but would no longer be removing that half of our emissions.

What they have been able to piece together about the PETM is there was a changing climate where some areas became drier and others became stormier. Continent-scale mass migrations have been identified, probably as a result of the changing climate. Some extinctions occurred, but not enough to be a mass-extinction event. The oceans became more acidic.

In other words, pretty much what we are already seeing today. History really does repeat itself for those that don't learn its lesson.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Denier Willie Soon Facing Investigation

It isn't often I get to pass on good news on the climate change front, but this is one of those times. Well-known professional denier Willie Soon is facing investigation for failure to report financial conflicts when submitting papers for publication.

Mr. Soon is normally advertised as an astrophysicist with the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, but is actually an aerospace engineer, not a physicist and certainly not a climate scientist.

Mr. Soon is well known in the denier community as a champion and is frequently cited as a 'scientist' that rejects AGW in an attempt to give credibility to claims AGW isn't real. One of his claims is that any climate change we may be experiencing is due to solar variability. His scientific claims are routinely debunked.

He is also well known in the scientific community as someone that has rejected science and is closely associated with the Heartland Institute. Heartland is funded by the fossil fuel industry and is engaged in the effort to "confuse" the issue on climate change, providing funds to individuals to undermine climate science. Anyone associated with Heartland is suspect and certainly anyone associated with them has sacrificed any scientific credibility they may have ever had. Soon is a shining example of that.

Mr. Soon was also part of a team that made a submission to the Global Warming Skeptic Challenge. I rejected their 'proof' on the basis that they only claimed they didn't like future forecasts of damage due to climate change. Somehow, they thought this proved AGW isn't real.

When asked about his funding sources, Mr. Soon has stated no amount of money would affect his research. Well, if that is the case, why has he been so reluctant to reveal his funding source? Now, we know why.

Using the Freedom of Information Act, Greenpeace has obtained documents showing Mr. Soon has received at least $1.2 million in funding from the fossil fuel industry. In his documents, he has described his anti-climate science papers as 'deliverables.' This, it turns out, is an ethics violation. He, and anyone else, is free to obtain their funding from where ever they can get it, but they have to reveal that when there is a potential conflict of interest when submitting scientific papers. Mr. Soon failed to do that.

The Harvard-Smithsonian Center has launched an investigation into Mr. Soon's actions.

This is just the latest example of how the deniers work. We have already heard this same story with Richard Lindzen, another scientist (this time with MIT) that denied ever receiving fossil fuel money, but was eventually caught lying about it.

Why do we see this pattern? If AGW isn't real, why do deniers have to align with organizations that are well-known for falsifying research? Why are they continually lying about their funding? Why are they always providing false arguments and false statements as 'evidence'? Why, if the science is valid, are they not providing valid science?

Maybe because there is no valid science to support their claims?

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Global Warming and Crops

Global warming denialists frequently state rising CO2 levels are good for crops because plants use CO2 to make food. This is one of those classic examples of how they omit anything that goes counter to their claim. It is true plants use CO2 during photosynthesis to make carbohydrates. But, increasing CO2 levels do not automatically translate into higher and better crop yields. What is being left out of that statement is how rising temperatures lead to other things, such as reduced crop quality, droughts, floods, storms, insects and disease and all of those things are becoming worse with global warming.

This issue was discussed this week at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). I found a particular statement to be rather frightening.
"If you look at production from 2000 to 2050, we basically have to produce the same amount of food as we produced in the last 500 years"

Read more at:
"If you look at production from 2000 to 2050 we basically have to produce the same amount of food as we produced in the last 500 years."
The article also pointed out how we could solve this problem if we have enough time, maybe 1000 years. But we have only 10 to 20 years. 

The fact is, global warming is not good for crops and we will be paying the price. Just look at the drought in California these last few years and the effect it has had on agriculture in that state.

Here are some other examples of the effects of global warming on crops:

Rising CO2 levels result in lower than expected yield increases.

Other studies indicate rising CO2 levels will result in a 2% yield reduction per decade.

Rising CO2 levels are harmful to rice, resulting in reduced crop yield.

Worldwide yields are already dropping.

Even if the yield goes up, the nutritional value will go down.
And, the forecast for American farmers is not good.

In the 50 years starting with 2000 we need to produce as much food as in the previous 500 years, and things aren't looking good. 

"If you look at production from 2000 to 2050, we basically have to produce the same amount of food as we produced in the last 500 years"

Read more at:

Friday, February 20, 2015

Grizzly Bears Didn't Get the Memo

Remember the claim that there is no global warming? Remember how deniers keep saying it's stopped? Apparently, the grizzly bears in Yellowstone National Park weren't listening. They're waking up a full month early. While the east has been hammered with blizzards, the west is experiencing record high temperatures. As a result, at least one bear is up and has been observed eating. The sighting occurred on February 9th. The first sightings in the past have occurred in the first half of March.

The fact that it was observed eating is an important detail because bears will sometimes come out of their dens during the winter and then go back. But, once they start eating it means they are up for good. There may have been only one bear sighted so far, but as the article states, if there is one there are probably more. And, certainly, we can expect more to come out early.

The bears wake up in response to temperature. So, if it isn't getting warmer, why are the bears waking up early?

Thursday, February 19, 2015

January 2015 Continues 2014 Trend

The bad news on the climate front keeps coming in. The National Climatic Data Center released its Global Analysis for January 2015 this morning. Among the highlights (lowlights?) was the statement that January 2015 was the second hottest January on record for combined land and ocean temperature. Only 2007 was hotter. Checking the records shows January last year was the fourth hottest on record, so we are already hotter this year than at the same time last year.

The report also said the ocean temperature was the third highest on record. This was particularly bad because the only two years that were warmer were January 1998 and January 2010, both of which had El Ninos in progress. We are in a neutral ENSO condition right now. The difference in temperature between today and the record set in 1998 is only .06 degrees F (.03 C), which means the normal temperatures of today are nearly the same as the exceptional temperatures of past years.

Let's start the grim count for 2015:

January was the second hottest January on record.

So far, 2015 has one second hottest month ever recorded.

But, let's also take a look at the last 12 months.

For the last 12 months, the tally is:

January 2015 was the second hottest January ever recorded;

December 2014 was the hottest December ever recorded;

November 2014 was the 7th hottest November ever recorded;

October 2014 was the hottest October ever recorded;

September 2014 was the hottest September ever recorded;

August 2014 was the hottest August ever recorded;

July 2014 was the fourth hottest July ever recorded;

June 2014 was the hottest June ever recorded;

May 2014 was the hottest May ever recorded;

April 2014 tied 2010 as the hottest April ever recorded;

March 2014 was the fourth hottest March ever recorded;

February 2014 was the 21st hottest February ever recorded.

So, let's see what the final score was for the last 12 months: one 21st hottest month, one 7th hottest month, two 4th hottest months, one 2nd hottest month and seven hottest months ever.

Additionally, we had the hottest overall year ever recorded in 2014.

This is not a good start to the year.

Winter Storms and a Simple Math Exercise

I love hearing someone make the same lame jokes about winter storms and global warming. They think they're being cute, but the reality is they are simply showing they don't understand what is going on. They ignore the fact that we will still have winter even with global warming. This is because winter is caused by the way Earth is tilted on its axis.

Every year, on about September 21, the North Pole experiences its one and only sunset of the year. Gradually, over the next three months, the part of the Arctic region experiencing 24-hour nighttime will increase until, on about December 21, everything north of the Arctic Circle has a 24-hour nighttime. Then, that amount will gradually decrease until the North Pole experiences its one and only sunrise on about March 21. What this means is by January and February, there are parts of the Arctic region that have been sitting in dark for 2-4 months. That is going to make those areas cold. Take a look at this current temperature graphic:

Source: Polar Portal
It is no-kidding cold up there. So, it is no wonder we still have winter storms. If that mass of air moves down into our area we are going to feel it, even with global warming. But, it takes energy to move that mass. Lot's of energy.

So, let's do a simple exercise to see for ourselves.

First, take a look at this graphic showing the cold air mass moving into the the eastern U.S. today:

Source: Climate Reanalyzer
I'm sure I don't need to tell the people under that purple area that it is no-kidding cold there, too. That mass of air moved down from the Arctic and is now moving across the country. But, it didn't just happen by itself. It took energy to get there. Let's do a back of the envelope calculation and get an idea of how much.

We want the mass of that blob. To do that, we can find the surface area under the purple region and multiply the area by the pressure (weight per area) and then convert from weight to mass. If we approximate the cold air region as a circle we can calculate the area as pi*r^2. We can estimate the purple blob is about 1000 miles across. A mile has 5280 feet, so it is about 5.3 x 10^6 feet across. Dividing our diameter by two, we get the area is:

Area = pi*([5.3 x 10^6]/2 feet)^2 = about 2.2 x 10^13 square feet

A square foot has 144 square inches, so our area, in square inches, is

2.2 x 10^13 square feet x 144 square inches/square feet = about 3.15 x 10^15 square inches.

Atmospheric pressure is about 14.7 pounds per square inch, giving us a total weight of

3.15 x 10^15 square inches x 14.7 pounds per square inch = about 4.6 x 10^16 pounds.

That is the approximate weight of that big purple air mass over the eastern U.S., but we want mass, preferably in the metric system. There are 2.2 pounds to a kilogram (on the surface of Earth), so the mass of this air, in kilograms, is about:

4.6 x 10^16 pounds x 1 kilogram/2.2 pounds = about 2.1 x 10^16 kilograms.

The amount of energy this mass has can be found by calculating its kinetic energy, the energy of movement. That means we need a speed. I have read winds speeds of up to hurricane strength, but we won't go that high. We can estimate an average speed of about 44 miles per hour and that equates to 20 meters per second. Using that speed, we can estimate the amount of energy as:

Kinetic Energy = 1/2 * m * v^2
                         = .5 * 2.1 x 10^16 kilograms * (20 meters per second)^2 = about 4.2 x 10^18 joules.

How much energy is that? In comparison, the entire planet generates about 6 x 10^20 joules of energy per year. In other words, by our simple exercise, we can see it would take the entire planet about 2.3 days to generate the amount of energy consumed in moving this one single air mass. And, our calculation is actually very low. We did not include friction, interior fluid dynamics, the work required to move the air in front of our air mass out of the way, the work required to move air in behind the air mass, the expansion and compression of gases, etc. There is, in fact, a whole lot more work involved than just getting the mass up to speed.

So, where did that huge amount of energy come from? Well, obviously, it came from the atmosphere. But, where did the atmosphere get it? Simple. It came from the greenhouse effect. If there was no greenhouse effect, energy coming in as sunlight would be reradiated and reflected back out to space and there wouldn't be anything left over to do any work. Some of it must be stored in the atmosphere to be used later on. Most of that is being done through the natural greenhouse effect that has always been there. But, has that greenhouse effect been enhanced by manmade emissions? We can check the frequency of storms to see. If the number of winter storms has been increasing, we can conclude the energy is coming from some other source than naturally stored energy, i.e., AGW.

NSIDC lists the top 57 storms to hit the U.S. These figures show 20 of those storms occurred since 2010 (inclusive). That is an average of 3.33 storms per year. Nine storms occurred in 2000 - 2009, an average of .9 storms per year. Five storms occurred in the 1990s, an average of .5 storms per year. Five storms also occurred in the 1980s, an average of .5 storms per year. Four storms occurred in the 1970s, an average of .4 storms per year. Eleven storms occurred in the 1960s, 1.1 storms per year. There were three storms listed for the 1950s (.3 storms per year) but it doesn't indicate if that means there were only three storms or they didn't list them for years prior to 1956, so we'll leave that figure out of our discussion.

Listing them in order, from the 1960s to the 2010s, we see the average number of severe winter storms per year went from 1.1, .4, .5, .5, .9 and 3.33. After the 60s, there is a definite trend of an increasing number of severe storms per year. This is exactly what we would expect to see if the amount of energy in the atmosphere was increasing. And, we would expect to see the amount of energy in the atmosphere to be increasing if AGW was real.

So, this simple math exercise and this data supports the conclusion that AGW is real and is changing our climate. Is this conclusive? No. There are two significant omissions in this calculation that are important. The storm activity I listed was for severe storms only. What about non-severe storms? How do they factor in? Also, this activity was for the U.S. only. What about the rest of the world? What was going on there?

I could not find data listing all winter storms, so I will leave the focus on severe storms only and I think that is adequate for the question we want to answer - are the number of storms increasing, decreasing or staying about the same.

Wikipedia has a list of windstorms to hit Europe. Going through and picking only the storms to hit in the winter months, I get five storms hit in the 1960s, four in the 1970s, six in the 1980s, ten in the 1990s, 16 in the 2000s and 17 in the 2010s (through Feb 2015). The yearly averages come out to: .5, .4, .6, 1.0, 1.6 and 3.6. The data for Europe is very consistent with what we saw for the U.S. and we see the number of storms for Europe have also been increasing in recent decades at an accelerating rate.

So, our simple exercise shows why we have winter storms, even with global warming. And, it also happens to provide additional evidence AGW is real and getting worse.

So, yes, winter storms really can be the result of global warming.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Cost of Blizzards

In case you missed it, there was an article today reporting the New England blizzards have cost the country between $1 and $2 billion so far this year. That is in addition to the $15-16 billion from last year. The winter weather in 2014 was responsible for lowering the U.S. GDP to -2.1% for the first quarter last year.

Climate change is leading to more severe weather, including more severe winter weather. It is interesting how we keep getting 100-year blizzards multiple times a year now when we didn't even a few decades ago. Clearly, something has changed. And, that change in regards to winter weather has cost the country over $16 billion in a little more than one year. That comes out to about $53 per person.

The cost of climate change just keeps piling up. There is more costs being revealed nearly every single day. And, there are those people who still want to pay instead of doing something about the problem.


Monday, February 16, 2015

What Isn't Being Said About the Megadrought

You have probably seen the announcements concerning research by NASA scientists indicating the U.S. is probably headed for a megadrought later this century. A megadrought is defined as one that persists for 30 years, or more. The probability of it happening is heavily dependent on how we go about dealing with greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, the probability of such a drought occurring is estimated at 12%. If greenhouse gas emissions level off in the middle of the century the probability increases to 60%. If we continue to increase greenhouse emissions the way we are ('business as usual' scenario) the probability increases to about 85%. The Southwest and the mid-America regions will be the most effected and the droughts will likely be worse than anything seen in the last 1000 years. 

The report has gotten a lot of press. For example, see the article here, here, here, or here. Just for starters. It has certainly been getting a lot of attention.

But, there is something important that I have not seen reported in any of these articles. Take a look at this NASA video that shows the progression of the drought.  In particular, look closely at the depiction starting about 1:35 into the video. This shows how the drought will progress and intensify over the years. Sure enough, the Southwest and mid-America regions get hit pretty hard. But, that isn't all. Take a look to the south. See what is going to happen to Mexico and Central America. It is even worse than what is projected to happen to the U.S. They are going to get clobbered!

You might be saying, 'I'm really sorry to hear that. I feel for those poor people but we will obviously be having our own problems to deal with.' If you do, then you're really missing the point - their problems are our problems.

The population of Central America is about 42 million. The population of Mexico is another 122 million. That means there would be somewhere around 165 million desperate people on our southern border, not including population growth. There will be large numbers of people interested in coming to the U.S.. Widespread desperation will also lead to a rise of radical extremists promising solutions to all of the problems of anyone willing to follow them in a campaign of violence and revolution. In addition to the social problems, it would also mean economic disruption. We get nearly all of our bananas and much of our coffee from this region. In exchange, we sell them over $1 billion per year in food products alone.

The drought in California cost consumers over $2 billion last year. The probable megadrought will cost us much more than that, but would also result in a flood of humanity coming here, violence at our borders and even more economic losses.

One more time, tell me how climate change is good for us?

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Minds Cannot Be Changed

I have had discussions with some people in the climate science business and there have been mixed feelings about my global warming skeptic challenge. Some have been enthusiastic supporters and think it was great. Some are of the opinion that it was a bad idea because it only makes deniers dig in their heels that much harder. I actually agree with this in part.

There is no doubt it made deniers dig in their heels, but I contend it doesn't matter because there is no possible way to prove to deniers that AGW is real. No amount of science or data or logic will ever make them change their minds. People will frequently try to get me in a 'debate' over global warming, which I just refuse to do. I ask them one simple question, 'Is there anything I can do or say that will convince you global warming is real?' If they say 'no', I then suggest we save ourselves the time and trouble and move on to something else. I have never had any one say 'yes' to that question. Pretty amazing, when you think about it. To say I shouldn't have done the challenge because it causes deniers to dig in their heels is irrelevant. They will dig in their heels no matter what.

I have always said the purpose of the challenge was not to change the minds of people that have already decided. The purpose was to reach out to people that have not yet made up their minds on the issue. There is no saving someone that rejects science, but maybe we can save someone that hasn't yet done so.

On that note, I found it interesting when I came across an article today in Scientific American today on this very topic. The article initially discussed how people are refusing to vaccinate their children because of a paper linking autism to vaccinations. These people still believe in that claim, even though the lead researcher, Andrew Wakefield, was found guilty of fraud and dozens of other charges. Apparently, he had a financial stake in the findings. The paper was retracted and declared to be "utterly false." Wakefield was eventually disbarred from practicing medicine. And, yet, people still believe in his claim and put their children (and other people's children) at risk by refusing to have them vaccinated.

The article sites a study reported in the New York Times and states,
Nearly 2000 parents were shown one of four pro-vaccination campaigns, each adopting a different persuasive strategy (facts, science, emotions or stories) plus one control group, to see which was most effective in changing minds. The punchline: none of the above. Nothing changed people’s minds, and in fact, the strategies often backfired.
And, that is the point. If someone has decided to reject science, there is no scientific argument that will get them to change their minds. It is not possible, in my experience. I have never had anyone come to me and say, "You know, I didn't believe in that but you changed my mind." It doesn't happen. I hope other people have had better success than I have.

Again, the article states,
Now we know this can backfire: presenting hardline denialists with the facts just makes them dig their heels in deeper.
But, as the article states, people really do change their minds on things. It happens all the time. How does that happen? The author suggests it is because opinions are connected to a person's self-identity. If you can change that self-identity, you change their opinions. People's self-identity changes all through life, so their opinions do too. If we can change their self-identity, we can change their opinions.

She may be right on that, but that seems like an incredibly difficult, even impossible, solution. Think about it, she is suggesting we solve the problem of science rejection by somehow convincing deniers of any form to have a different view of themselves. How do you go about doing that? And, do we really want some mechanism that can cause millions of people to alter their self-image? That sounds way too much like mind-control to me. If not initially, something like that would eventually be misused (think political elections and marketing strategies).

I wish I could come up with something better, but I can't. I don't even try to change their minds. Like I said above, the only hope I see is to reach people before they reject the science. If you have a better suggestion I would love to hear it.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Stormy Arctic

I read an excerpt from a new book on storms in the Arctic and the all of the associated effects. It was an interesting read and really made some excellent points. The Arctic is warming and it is warming faster than any other region of the planet. The author, Edward Struzik, states
Between 1951 and 2012, for example, temperatures in the region exceeded the freezing point an average of 110 days. In 2010 and 2011, they did so 127 times. In 2012, the warmest year on record in the Arctic, it happened 134 times.

Over the past two decades, the number of ice-free days averaged 80 per year. In 2012, there were 96 ice-free days that significantly accelerated the erosion that is already taking place.

The results of that warming are not good. Animal species, plants, wet lands and coastline are disappearing. Communities are falling into the ocean. And, storms are getting worse.

Reductions in sea ice are making Arctic storms more frequent and more severe. This is happening a number of ways. Sea ice traps humidity but as the ice melts the open water fills the atmosphere with moisture and is doing so earlier every year. This moisture then fuels storms that normally wouldn't occur before the fall but are now happening during the summer months. Also, the ice cover keeps storm waves from getting too intense. Now, waves and storm surges are getting bigger as the ice disappears. Rising sea levels are causing storm surges to travel ever further inland. And, ultimately, ice would pile up on the coast and protect it from the storm action, but that protection is now disappearing and the results are grim.

Struzik tells of towns disappearing in the Arctic region as the coastline erodes away - slowly, initially but at increasing rates. Coastlines that were loosing fewer than 7 meters per year in the 1950 - 1979 time period are loosing more than 25 meters per year today.

In case you are thinking, 'so what?', let me tell you the estimated engineering costs associated with all of this will be in the several hundreds of billions of dollars in just Alaska. That estimate comes from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and is only the cost of mitigation for about 60 coastal communities at risk of falling into the sea. Do you think the fossil fuel companies are going to pony up that money? Do you think the Koch brothers will donate any of their fortune? Don't count on it. The money for all of this will come from tax payer dollars. In other words, the American taxpayer will be paying for this.

Let's see. $100 billion dollars comes out to about $300 for every person in the country (bad news for a family of four!). And, the estimate is there will be 'several' billions of dollars of engineering costs. Where are those deniers that keep telling us global warming is good for us?

Canada does not come out very well in his account. Prime Minister Stephan Harper is a devoted anti-science advocate and has nearly shut down all science research in the country while actively trying to remove environmental regulations. Government scientists are prohibited from discussing their research with media. Government agents are sent to science conferences to monitor what Canadian scientists are saying.

Arctic research is being slashed, but the country then spent $300 million on a gravel road to a tiny village on the Arctic coast that will see only about $4.2 million in benefits from it. The people that will see the most benefit? Is there any surprise it is the fossil fuel industry that wants to build a natural gas pipeline through the area?

So, the Canadian government is shutting down research and instituting a Joe McCarthy policy, while spending hundreds of millions on a single road for the mega-wealthy fossil fuel companies. Too bad they didn't decide to spend that $300 million on research and let the fossil fuel companies build their own road.

Like I said, it is an interesting read. Not pleasant, but interesting.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Hurricanes and New England

A study conducted by a team at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute revealed new information about the history of hurricanes striking the New England coast of North America. Using cores of sedimentary deposits, they studied the layers and were able to identify massive hurricane events hitting the area between the years of 250 and 1150 AD.

Hurricanes deposit a layer of sediment in inland areas that get buried and can remain undisturbed for thousands of years. By taking core samples it is possible to identify storms, date them and even determine how strong they were. In this way, the researchers were able to identify 23 events during that time span, each more powerful than anything that has occurred in recorded history. That is an average of one major storm every 40 years. These storms would all be classified as category 3 or 4 hurricanes today. To put that in perspective, there have been only three category 2 hurricanes in that area since the 1600s. The last was Hurricane Bob in 1991. There have been no storms stronger than category 2 to strike New England in that time period.

What has changed? Ocean temperature. Hurricanes require warm water to provide the massive amounts of energy they consume. Ocean temperature in this region of the Atlantic has been cooler for the last 850 years, but not anymore. Today, ocean temperatures are warmer than they were between 250 and 1150. Take a look at this plot:

Source: Climate Reanalyzer
The Atlantic, from the Caribbean Sea up past New England is much warmer than the baseline average. In fact, the North Atlantic is .51 degrees C warmer than average (numbers on bottom of image). The authors of the paper state today's ocean temperature is higher than during the study period.

Does this mean New England can expect a category 3 or 4 hurricane every 40 years on average? No, not by itself. There are many factors involved with the development of hurricanes and their paths. Without more detailed data we cannot reach an absolute conclusion that New England will get hit by big storms. But, it certainly means the risk is greater than we thought. 

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Why the Fight?

I recently had a disagreement with some friends because I had no opinion on an issue that was important to them. The particular issue isn't important. What is important was how they were very upset with me because I did not have an opinion one way or the other. I did not have an opposing opinion to them, I just did not have an opinion at all. They were very incredulous and I feel they treated me very badly, even worse than if I had actually held an opposing viewpoint.

When they asked me how it was possible for me to have no opinion, I told them you can't have an opinion on everything. I have not done the research on the issue in question and I have friends and family on both sides. My life will not change because of this particular issue, either way it goes. It isn't my fight.

But, I reminded them there is an issue that is important to me and that I am informed about. They all know my stance on climate change. I also know there are those of my friends that agree with me, those that disagree with me and there are even those that have no opinion on the matter at all. I don't hold that against them. I respect their viewpoint and try my best to not get on my soap box about climate change when we are together.

This is my fight. I wish it was theirs also, but I am not going to force the issue on them.

This is the single most important issue of our day. It is more important than Islamic terrorism. It is more important than AIDS and Ebola. It is more important than Russia in Ukraine. It is more important than anything else you can think of. And, the reason is simple. This is the only issue that will affect every single human being on the planet. It will affect every single living organism on the planet. It will affect the very planet itself. There is nothing that measures up to that standard. Additionally, it will affect almost every other issue you can name, mostly in a negative manner.

Why get involved with the fight? That is easy and has been said better than I can ever say it. In addition to science, I enjoy reading about history and I am reminded of a speech I read many years ago given by Theodore Roosevelt in Paris, 1910. It is formally known as "Citizenship in a Republic," but is more commonly known as the Man in the Arena speech. I think it says everything that needs to be said. Here are some excerpts:

The poorest way to face life is to face it with a sneer. There are many men who feel a kind of twisted pride in cynicism; there are many who confine themselves to criticism of the way others do what they themselves dare not even attempt. There is no more unhealthy being, no man less worthy of respect, than he who either really holds, or feigns to hold, an attitude of sneering disbelief toward all that is great and lofty, whether in achievement or in that noble effort which, even if it fails, comes to second achievement. A cynical habit of thought and speech, a readiness to criticize work which the critic himself never tries to perform, an intellectual aloofness which will not accept contact with life's realities - all these are marks, not as the possessor would fain to think, of superiority but of weakness. They mark the men unfit to bear their part painfully in the stern strife of living, who seek, in the affection of contempt for the achievements of others, to hide from others and from themselves in their own weakness. The role is easy; there is none easier, save only the role of the man who sneers alike at both criticism and performance.

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

Shame on the man of cultivated taste who permits refinement to develop into fastidiousness that unfits him for doing the rough work of a workaday world. Among the free peoples who govern themselves there is but a small field of usefulness open for the men of cloistered life who shrink from contact with their fellows. Still less room is there for those who deride of slight what is done by those who actually bear the brunt of the day; nor yet for those others who always profess that they would like to take action, if only the conditions of life were not exactly what they actually are. The man who does nothing cuts the same sordid figure in the pages of history, whether he be a cynic, or fop, or voluptuary. There is little use for the being whose tepid soul knows nothing of great and generous emotion, of the high pride, the stern belief, the lofty enthusiasm, of the men who quell the storm and ride the thunder.

Well for these men if they succeed; well also, though not so well, if they fail, given only that they have nobly ventured, and have put forth all their heart and strength. It is war-worn Hotspur, spent with hard fighting, he of the many errors and valiant end, over whose memory we love to linger, not over the memory of the young lord who "but for the vile guns would have been a valiant soldier."

Wow! What a line. "The men who quell the storm and ride the thunder."

And, that is why I fight. So, where are you? Will you be the critic that doesn't count? Or the man in the arena? After all, it's only the most important issue humanity has ever faced.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Midwest Floods Becoming More Frequent

I have noticed over recent years how often a storm is described as being a "100-year" or "500-year" or even a "1000-year" event. If something is supposed to happen only once in centuries, how come we're getting them every few years. For instance, there have been record floods in the Midwest U.S. in 1993, 2008, 2011, 2013 and again in 2014. Maybe we need to redefine what it means to be a 100-year flood.

Or, maybe the definition of a 100-year flood isn't wrong at all - at least under previous conditions. Maybe the problem is the conditions have changed.

Researchers at the University of Iowa used river gauge data from the U.S. Geological Survey to determine the flood rate in the Midwest U.S. to examine that very question. What they found is that 34% of the stations they examined recorded an increased amount of flooding, while only 9% recorded a decrease.

The researchers just reported the findings without attempting to link them to climate change. However, these findings are exactly what we would expect, and have been predicted, as a result of climate change. As the air gets warmer it can hold more moisture. Then, when it gives it up, this will result in more severe precipitation events - flooding.

By the way, the economic cost of these floods runs into the billions of dollars. For those claiming climate change is good for us, would you mind explaining this, please?

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Arctic Sea Ice Video

This is a video showing the Arctic sea ice from 1987 through 2014. Someone said it looked like the ocean is vomiting ice and it does resemble that rather graphic description. You decide for yourself if the sea ice has recovered.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Emotions Rule Climate Debate?

I saw an article today, Emotions, not science, rule U.S. climate change debate: study.
If you're at all familiar with the ongoing debate you probably don't need to read any further than that. Yes, it is all about emotions. Science has most certainly taken a back seat on this issue. Hell, science is on the side of the road trying to hitch a ride. Rejecting science is the rule of the day.

You know how you can tell this is true? Just ask someone what they think of Al Gore. WARNING: Don't stand too close when you do. Al Gore is not a scientist and his stand on climate change is irrelevant. What is important is what the science says. But, try convincing a denier. It is amazing to see how quickly they will froth at the mouth (sometimes literally and I'm not exaggerating) at the mere mention of the man.

Why is that? Really. Why do deniers go crazy when you mention Al Gore? Why do they hate him so much? Is it because of his movie? Is it because he won the Nobel Prize? I don't think so. That doesn't make sense. In fact, the whole thing doesn't make sense. Like I said, Gore is not a scientist and he is irrelevant to the question about AGW being real or not. But, I don't think there is a single topic that gets a stronger reaction than Al Gore. I wish I could tell you how many people have told me AGW isn't real because Al Gore ...... (fill in your sin/crime of choice). The fact is, there have been so many I can't tell you how many there have been. The worst part? These people really do think it proves AGW isn't real. Al Gore has become the focus of everything they want to vent about when it comes to climate change.

So, how do we get past this and address the problem? I don't really know and I don't think the authors of the paper do either. Here is what they say:
"Strategies for building support for (climate) mitigation policies should go beyond attempts to improve the public's understanding of science," Ana-Maria Bliuc, a professor at Australia's Monash University who co-wrote the study, said in a statement.
So, the science isn't the issue. I'll agree with that. The science is conclusive and anyone that believes AGW isn't real is simply rejecting science. There is nothing you can do to convince them the science is real. Read some of the submissions to my global warming challenge. I had people state any science that disagrees with them must be rejected. No amount of science will convince those people they are wrong. Consequently, you have to find another way to get through to them. What could that way be?

Then, they say,
Instead, scientists who want action on global warming should try to change the relationship between believers and deniers, said Bliuc, a social and political psychologist.
This sounds a little simplistic. Yes, the relationship needs to change. Any suggestions? Unfortunately, they also say,

Both groups generally agree that climate change is real, according to the study based on an Internet survey of U.S. residents. But the two camps differ on whether human activity is causing warming.
I can say from my own personal experience, this is not a true statement. I have met few deniers that say global warming and climate change are real. In fact, most of the deniers I have met insist it is not happening and any statement about 'the climate has always changed' is meant to divert the conversation. It is their way of avoiding the question. The truth is, based on my experience, most people saying that do not believe the climate is changing, naturally or otherwise.

But, the authors do say something that of merit,
In the United States, the two camps are divided largely along political party lines. More than 70 percent of Democrats say the earth is warming mainly because of human activities such as burning fossil fuels, according to polling data released by the Pew Research Center in January.

In contrast, among Republicans just 27 percent hold this view; more than 40 percent say there is no solid evidence that the planet is getting hotter, and 30 percent say climate change is due mostly to natural environmental patterns.
Ah, there we go. No, we do not need to convince the public, we need to convince the Republicans. That is what it all boils down to. We need to get the Republican leaders on board if we want to address this problem (Disclaimer: I am a devoted, life-long independent and do not belong to any political party). There is some indication of progress on this front. However, I do not believe the problem is going away anytime soon. Republican leaders are ensconced in the the position that AGW is not real and they will not do anything to address it.

In conclusion, I do not agree with the authors of the paper. I do not see how it is possible to convince the deniers to take action and I do not see any way the relationship can be changed. As long as they are attacking climate scientists and engaging in character assassination, there will be no civil discourse. The best I can hope for is to educate anyone that has not made up their minds, yet.

Not a very hopeful assessment, but I think it is realistic. I would be interested in hearing any suggestions, though.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Sea Ice Variability and Cherry Picking

I read a report the other day that made several statements I found interesting. In fact, statements I think the data disputes.

Erratic as normal: Arctic sea ice loss expected to be bumpy in the short term states, "Arctic sea ice extent plunged precipitously from 2001 to 2007, then barely budged between 2007 and 2013."

Let's look at the data. Here is a plot of the Arctic sea ice extent as measured in September every year.

Source: NSIDC

What you can easily see is the downward trend in the extent, represented by the dashed line. Now, take a look at the two periods in question. First, the 2001 to 2007 data shows it went from about -10% to -35%. Then, the 2007 to 2013 period shows it went from -35% to -15%. Apparently, the data supports the conclusion of the paper's authors.

But, I contend this is what is known as cherry picking - picking your data points to give the results you are looking for. I have frequently criticized deniers for doing this and it is only fair to criticize scientists for doing it, as well. How do I justify calling it cherry picking? Well, let's take a look at some other starting and ending points.

If we examine the period 2001 to 2009, we get the ice extent went from about -10% to -15%. Now, if we examine the period of 2009 to 2012, we get the ice extent went from -15% to -45%. That is a completely different result! Using these data points, I can say the ice extent was fairly steady from 2001 to 2009 but dropped at an alarming rate from 2009 to 2012, opposite of the claims made in that paper. Again, it is all about picking your starting and ending points.

Since I have just accused the authors of cherry-picking, I find it very interesting when they state,
"To understand how climate change is affecting the Arctic, you cannot cherry pick short stretches of time," Kay said. "Seven years is too short."
In this regard, they are very correct and I am in agreement with them, but I still maintain they cherry picked the data to get the results they wanted. Using slightly different starting and ending points produces exactly opposite results.

That is why we must use long-term data and determine what the trend is. There is going to be a great deal of variability from year to year, not just in sea ice but in any kind of climate data we get. The climate is extremely complex, possibly the single most complex science of all. There is not just one thing at work, there is essentially every single field of physics at play. Everything from quantum mechanics and particle physics to space science and astronomy with everything in between is involved with climate science.It only stands to reason we should see variability in the short term and we need to focus our attention on the long term

As for any claim the Arctic sea ice is making a 'recovery,' take a look at this plot of the current sea ice:

Source: NSIDC
The dark line is the long term Arctic sea ice average extent. The khaki-colored line shows the data for 2014. The blue line is the data for 2015. The dark band is plus or minus two standard deviations from the long term average. You can see the current year is roughly the same as last year and both years were near the near the minus-two sigma border. 

There is no 'recovery' underway. The sea ice is disappearing and, even with yearly variability included, it continues to do so.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Groundhog Day

Today, Groundhog Day is just another reason to have a party. No complaints about that from me, I was at one last night and we had a pretty good time. But, in antiquity, the equivalent of our modern-day ritual was serious business.

Before there were supermarkets with food supplies, people had to make careful plans on how to get through the winter. A mistake could prove fatal and often did. It was vitally important to know about the change of seasons.

This is how astronomy got started because the seasons are a result of the planet's tilt on its axis and rotation around the Sun. They didn't know about those things in ancient times, but they knew the stars, Sun and Moon changed in the sky on a regular basis. By observing over a period of time, virtually every ancient culture throughout the world figured out the two solstices and two equinoxes and how the seasons changed relative to those four days. We find ancient observatories everywhere devoted to identifying these days. In addition, the four days between, the cross-quarter days, also became important. People with knowledge of these eight days were powerful and respected. They were the ones who told everyone when to plant, when to harvest, when to do just about everything according to the seasons. This is probably how ancient priesthoods got started.

The winter and summer solstices (about December 21 and June 21) as well as the vernal and fall equinoxes (about March 21 and September 21) are well known today, with some small variation in the exact day. The cross-quarter days are not as well known, but are still mostly observed under many different names. The best known one is probably Halloween, midway between the fall equinox and the winter solstice. The cross-quarter day between the summer solstice and the fall equinox occurs in the first week of August and was referred to as first harvest. There are still some cultures that observe this day, but not many. In olden times, villagers would tithe a portion of their crop to the village to help everyone get through winter. The cross-quarter day between the spring equinox and the summer solstice occurs at the beginning of May, is known as May Day in modern times and is observed as a celebration of spring and fertility. That leaves the cross-quarter day between the winter solstice and the spring equinox - now known as Groundhog Day.

When we track the winter months we find the coldest days occur around the end of January and the beginning of February - right at the cross-quarter day. As a result, some cultures said spring started on the cross-quarter day (known as Imbolc in Germanic countries). Other cultures said it started on the equinox in March. To resolve this, the cultures in Norther Europe began a system of weather prognostication involving badgers or bears. If the day was cloudy and a shadow was not seen on Imbolc, spring had arrived. Otherwise, spring wouldn't start until the equinox. This, of course, was very serious business for these people. If they ran out of food before spring they were in real trouble. Starvation and famine were not unusual.

When the Germans immigrated to United States, they brought the tradition with them, but began using groundhogs instead of badgers. Now, with modern supply systems in place, it is just another way to have fun.

But, there is something amiss - spring is coming earlier.

As we have seen, there are many ways to define 'spring.' One way is when the dormant plants come back to life. This is particularly convenient because the active/dormant cycle with plants results in an up and down pattern to CO2 levels in the atmosphere. This allows us to measure onset of plant active and dormant phases by examining the rise and fall of CO2.

For the period of 1955 - 2002 we see the spring decrease of CO2 level is occurring earlier and this indicates spring plant activity is starting earlier and earlier. The observed rate of change is about -1.2 days per decade earlier for first leaf date, -1.0 days per decade earlier for first bloom, -1.4 days per decade for the last day below 5 degrees C and -1.5 days per decade for last spring freeze date. Consistently, we are seeing spring moving backwards by between 1.0 and 1.5 days earlier ever decade. For the six decades since 1955 this translates into an earlier spring onset of between 6 and 9 days. This is known as 'season creep.'

You might be tempted to say, 'Less winter! Wonderful news.' But, that would be a mistake. For instance, we need winter snowpack to get us through the dry seasons in summer. Less winter means less snowpack and that translates into problems with water supply. Also, the population of many pests are not being knocked down by winter temperatures the way the used to be.

Also, not all plants and animals adjust to the change equally. This is a real problem when two different species depend on each other. If plants depend on certain birds to cross-pollinate them, and the birds depend on the nectar of the flowers, they need to be together when the plants are flowering. If the plants start flowering earlier and the birds don't adjust their migration pattern, the flowers may be dying off by the time the birds get there. This, obviously, would be bad for both plants and birds - and anything that depends on those plants and birds later on.

In fact, we see this is actually happening.

Once again, climate change rears its head to remind us, even when we engaging in a relic ritual, that things are changing. The good news is Groundhog Day is based on astronomy and not climate, so we don't have to ever worry about it getting earlier.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Chinese Coal Production Down - Why It Matters

Chinese coal production in 2014 was down slightly from 2013. China dug up 3.7 billion metric tons in 2013 and 3.5 billion metric tons in 2014, a drop of about 5.4%. Imports were also down by 10%. Hopefully, this is the start of a trend and not just a one-year blip. This may be the result of China's declared program to reduce air pollution or it may be due to economic issues. Either way, less coal burning is a good thing, and for a number of reasons.

Obviously, reducing CO2 emissions is going to be helpful in the fight to prevent climate change. Less of the stunning air pollution that Chinese cities experience is also certainly good. But, there is a less obvious benefit - world stability.

The Department of Defense has stated climate change is an issue of national security and presents an "immediate risk" to the country. This risk comes from things such as food, water and energy insecurity. The issue of climate refugees will also cause international tensions.

Just how bad can this get? Take a look at an extreme scenario - a regional nuclear war between India and Pakistan. Such a war is not far fetched at all. In fact, they have already come frighteningly close. Past clashes between the two nations have not been the result of the effects of climate change, they have happened simply because the two nations don't like each other. But, since they can get that close without complications we can easily conclude additional stressors have the potential to push them over the brink.

A nuclear war between India and Pakistan, even if limited to just their region, would truly devastate the planet. The total death toll would number in the billions of people. A recent study estimated a regional nuclear war between these two countries would put approximately 5 terragrams of soot into the atmosphere and affect the Chinese climate for at least 10 years. After one year, grain production in China (the world's largest grain producer) would be down 35%. Even after four years, production would still be down 25%. It is estimated the effect on European and American farm production would also be severe. They conclude this would put a billion people at risk of famine.

Now, I am not saying climate change is going to be the final straw in a regional nuclear war between India and Pakistan, although I would really prefer to not take that risk. What I am saying is this is an example, albeit an extreme example, of how climate change is a cost we just cannot afford to pay. Even if it doesn't lead to nuclear war, if climate change leads to a regional conventional war it would not be to our benefit. Have we benefited by regional wars in parts of the planet far from our country? Isn't it in our best interest to try and prevent these conflicts? The effects of climate change is one more reason for people to start fighting, possibly even the final straw. Therefore, it stands to reason it is on our best interest to remove these complicating effects and help reduce international tension before it even begins.

Hopefully, the drop in Chinese coal use is a sign we are making progress in the battle to do something about it.

Sunday, February 1, 2015

The Cost of Climate Change Keeps Going Up

Let’s discuss the cost of climate change. The fossil fuel industry and its lackeys keep telling us climate change is good for us – the more the better. Literally, that is what they are saying. For example, take this quote from The Spectator:
Climate change has done more good than harm so far and is likely to continue doing so for most of this century. This is not some barmy, right-wing fantasy; it is the consensus of expert opinion. Yet almost nobody seems to know this. Whenever I make the point in public, I am told by those who are paid to insult anybody who departs from climate alarm that I have got it embarrassingly wrong, don’t know what I am talking about, must be referring to Britain only, rather than the world as a whole, and so forth.
By the way, his "expert" for all of this information is Richard Tol, an economist and well-known denier with a reputation for getting his facts wrong. In one of the big "Oops" moments in denier history, he analyzed the 97% consensus statement in an attempt to disprove it and - surprise! - proved it was correct. He has no scientific background that I am aware of.

I thought we could take a look for ourselves and see just how much global warming and climate change are costing us now and likely to cost us in the future.

One of the ways to look at the cost of climate change is to examine the economic cost. This is known as the social cost of carbon (SCC). Right now, the government puts the social cost at $37 for every ton of carbon dioxide that is emitted. We are currently emitting about 40 billion tons of CO2 per year, so that comes out to about $1.5 trillion per year. Yes, that was trillion, with a 't.' And, that expense is not only incurred every year, but is also increasing as emission amounts increase.

That is horrible news, but it gets even worse. Researchers at Stanford University examined this figure and have estimated it is more likely $220 per ton. That comes out to a staggering $8.8 trillion per year! Every year! And, climbing!

Why the big difference? The Stanford group included the effects current damage does to future growth.

“If climate change affects not only a country's economic output, but also its growth, then that has a permanent effect that accumulates over time,” Frances Moore, co-author and environmental scientist, said.
Let's say, for the sake of argument, they are on the high side with their calculation. It is possible, but it is widely believed the government figure is way too low. Just for the sake of argument we'll say the value is at the midpoint between their value and the government's value. The economic cost at that rate is then about $5.2 trillion per year. That amount is larger than the GDP of every country in the world except the U.S. and China.

By the way, the poorer you are, the more you'll be affected. Poor countries will fare worse than rich ones.

Keep that figure in mind when someone tells you climate change is good for you.

Then, there is sea level rise. A study found the sea level numbers for 1901 - 1990 were overstated and, as a result, the data shows the rate of sea level rise since 1990 is 25% higher than previously thought and accelerating.

If you live anywhere near a coast (as the majority of the human population does), you might want to think about how much damage you will incur as a result of rising sea levels and the cost of protecting yourself.  Factor that in when calculating how much climate change will cost you.

How about drought? The current drought in California is likely to a more common story in the future and will result in a series of ripple effects, such as increased wildfire, loss of timber, floods, erosion and degraded water quality, just to name a few. The drought is estimated to be causing California billions of dollars per year in economic damage, mostly to farmers and agriculture workers. Those are the people least able to afford the damage.

Then, I saw these little tidbits in Scientific American (August 2014, vol 311, no 2, pg 22-23):

Five National Landmarks Threatened by Climate Change:
  • Statue of Liberty - After Superstorm Sandy, the National Park Service began work on flood-proofing Liberty Island. Cost: Unspecified.
  • Faneuil Hall, Boston - The city is planning building renovations that may include flood-protection walls. Cost: Unknown.
  • Cape Hatteras Light, NC - In 1999 the National Park Service moved the lighthouse 2,900 feet to protect it against shoreline erosion and rising sea levels. Cost: $11.8 million.
  • NASA Johnson Space Center, Houston - Installed new roofs to protect withstand more severe hurricanes. Repairs from 2008's Hurricane Ike cost about $80 million.
  • Mesa Verde Nation Park, Colorado - The National Park Service is performing prescribed burns and treating the cliffs to protect against flooding and erosion. Cost: Unspecified.
The American taxpayers will be footing the bill for all of those expenses.

Still not convinced? How about the study that showed as temperature goes up, economic productivity goes down? A team at the Bureau of Economic Research found that every day life gets more expensive as the temperature goes up. They found a country's economic activity decreased by about 1% for every degree over 59 degrees F. The damage comes from increased costs associated with higher temperature. For example, if you have to pay more for electricity because you are running the air conditioner longer, you have less money to spend on other things. Notice that the people who benefit from that situation are the same ones responsible for creating it in the first place and are so eager to convince you it isn't a problem. As the temperature goes up, the total damage to economies around the world will amount to many billions of dollars.

Not enough? Take a look at this article in Eos that shows how climate change is causing cholera to spread. More epidemics around the world. Expenses for those epidemics will be in the billions of dollars.

I also saw this quote in Physics Today:

As the average global temperature rises, mountainous areas across western North America are experiencing significantly less ice and snow. A hundred years ago, Glacier National Park included some 150 ice sheets, but today it has only 25. The implications are vast for the surrounding areas. Rising air and water temperatures are affecting local ecosystems, fish, and wildlife. And because at least 80% of the water supply in the US West comes from its mountains, the loss of the natural reservoir that glaciers provide is also being felt by cities, farms, and industry all across the region. Although manmade global warming has a significant impact on the ice retreat, it is not the only cause. And the shrinking glaciers are only the first symptom of larger changes to come, says Daniel Fagre at the US Geological Survey.
To bring it home, take a look at this list I saw of seven ways climate change can kill you:

  • 1. Bug bites that kill
  • 2. Breathing problems, including asthma
  • 3. Less nutritious food
  • 4. An allergy season that goes on forever
  • 5. Heat waves
  • 6. Too much or too little water
  • 7. Sunny days that make you dreary
And, the fishery industry is expected to lose between $17 and $41 billion between now and 2050 due to climate change.  Also, don't forget that ocean acidification results in a declining shellfish population.

There is plenty more and I don't need to go through it all, but I thought I would mention one last piece of news. That blizzard that hit New York City this past week cost the city $200 million in lost economic activity. Severe weather events like this are already becoming the norm. Tell me, how many 'storms of the century' have there been in the last few years?

So, I think we can see from just a very small sampling that we can definitely say global warming and climate change are not good for us. Don't let anyone tell you differently.

But, you know who will make money off of climate change? The same people that are hell bent for everyone to believe its good for us.