Thursday, February 9, 2012

Study of Melting Land Ice

A new study is out that utilized global GRACE satellite gravimetric data to estimate land ice changes. In brief, this means a pair of satellites (in space) took measurements of the earth's gravitational field, and that was used to computed fluctuations over time in the amount of ice over land. Not a routine as sticking a thermometer into something, but it is not magic. Geodesy is a real science.

Let us start by taking some key points from the overview. The data analyzed were from 2003-2010, which is not a long time especially through the prism of climate change. Over that time frame sea level is known to have increased about one inch in total. About half of that is from thermal expansion of the warming oceans. The study concludes that about 4 to 5 tenths of the inch is due to melting of land ice. That number does not seems as small when you consider it is 4.3 trillion tons of ice, and that amount of water would cover the US with about 1.5 feet or North Dakota by about 80 feet. Of that amount from land ice, about 72% was from the major ice sheets on Antarctica and the remaining 28% was from other glaciers and ice.

So of course there are vast numbers of online headlines about this saying something to the effect of 'Himalayas have lost no ice in the past 10 years'. Shocking, eh?

It is an interesting result that this study determined less ice loss there than previous work that had to extrapolate from limited ground-based and generally low elevation surveying. However an 8 year snapshot there or any location does not necessarily say much about the long-term trend there, especially looking down the road a few decades. The plateau in the Himalayas may be at high enough elevation such that warming has not affected it much so far, but that need not continue. And precipitation changes have not even been mentioned.

Somehow though this research showing "ice is being lost from around the globe, with just a few areas in precarious balance" is getting sold as something rolling back global warming because of the Himalaya aspect and that the global total rate amount is on the lower side of previous estimates. Pointing out that this is science at work draws the usual septic armchair commentors... That this supposedly is counter to previous info is considered more proof of a conspiracy to suppress, no question at all of the results or how they were obtained or if they are the final word on the subject (as long as they seem to dispute there is climate change), and so many of the pet arguments the conspiracy-mongers fail to understand are long debunked.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

All the rope he wants

Based on the entries here it is obvious that I often read something in the Herald that angers, frustrates, exasperates, etc and motivates a response. Today there was a letter to the editor that simply generated a sedate "whoa." It was so overwhelmingly out there that it could not even provoke an emotional response. It was beyond that. You could think it was satirical, but the history of writer Brent McCarthy rules that out.

McCarthy is trying to dispute characterization of the tea party, of which he apparently considers himself a part, as "radical". He does this by running through a list of declarations that run the gamut from having a whisp of reasonableness to specious to irrelevant because so divorced from reality to absolutely unsubstantied opinion to delusion. He seems to consider all these truisms that demonstrate how mainstream he (and the tea party) is. I justify my entry here because one of his brain droppings is the utterly ignornant nonsense that "[g]lobal warming is a politically motivated hoax." He concludes, "[t]he real radicals are those in Washington who disagree with the American people, and they are a shrinking minority."

I would not bet the house, but with the title "Who are America’s real radicals?" atop the letter I have a feeling that the publication of the letter was motivated to some extent to give McCarthy enough metaphorical rope to metaphorical hang himself. There is much less time spent in the simplistic but tame ("Our borders need to be secured") and more spent in the paranoid, victimized, blinkered, and ignorant delusions.

Compare the global-warming-is-a-hoax claim and the perplexing "our health care system is the best in the world because it’s private." There is plenty wrong with that statement on health care starting with that neither the former nor the latter are true. Most distressing though is that there is no indication McCarthy believes that statement needs a 'because X, Y, and Z.' Declaring the system private seemingly defines it as best. Similarly there is apparently no need to dispute climate science because McCarthy cannot accept something contrasting with his ideology.

That defines so many in denial and/or willful ignorance about climate change - virtually no knowledge beyond the spoonfed bites of misinformation that have been gobbled down because they bolster a worldview that refuses to accept that we are damaging our environment and that fossil fuels have a considerable downside. McCarthy represents not a majority like he thinks he does but a driven, loud, and relatively influential minority. The problem is not so much that McCarthy's radical views get directly adopted by the public overall but that they warp the range of public views that more and more ridiculousness is accepted, like a major party president becoming a pariah for accepting the near unanimous expert view on a field of science.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Grab that big-screen TV!

On Saturday the Herald reported on the State Department's Final Environmental Impact Statement for the proposed Keystone XL tar sands pipeline (link to article in Houston Chronicle at other end of pipeline).

There is plenty to criticize about the project. What I want to hit on here is the mindset so locked into status quo fossil fuel addiction. Below is a snippet from the above-linked article:
In its analysis, the State Department dismissed concerns from environmental groups that the pipeline would increase emissions of greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. Canada's oil sands are likely to be developed with or without the pipeline, the report said, making concerns about climate change moot.

"There are alternatives to the pipeline to move that potential fuel around" to other locations, [assistant secretary of state Kerri-Ann] Jones said, including barges, railways and tanker ships.

So the way it works is that it is simply accepted that since the tar sands can be burned they will be, so the good ol' US-of-A better grease, erm, wet its beak in the process.

If there is going to be looting, we better make sure we are at the front of the mob to make sure we get first pickings. Get that fancy (in this metaphor, climate disrupting) HDTV for us before the Chinese do!

Why is world leader America not trying harder to build a 21st century (and beyond) clean energy infrastructure and economy rather that deciding there is going to be slaughter so we ought to get our hands as bloody as it takes to get us a short term fix for our fossil fuel addiction?

Monday, August 22, 2011

No ban on political posturing

Today the Herald published another of those "dueling viewpoints" pairs of op-ed columns taking pro and con sides on a particular issue. I know it is the op-ed page where publishing of varying views is to be expected, but this still feels like a continuing degradation of journalism down to mere transcription of things people say rather than a hunt for accurate information.

In this case the premise is horrible - "Should Congress ban incandescent light bulbs?" The problem is that the question does not well describe the issue at hand. In 2007 legislation was passed that over time phases out manufacture and import of light bulbs not meeting efficiency levels. This phase out include most of the extremely cheap standard incandescent bulbs that only devote about 10% of their energy usage to generating light. Lately many have made it a mission to repeal the not-really "ban" on incandescents. So the most recent Congressional rumblings have been about dropping the not-really ban as opposed to about banning. But anyway...

The pro case by Matthew Auer does a decent enough job explaining the not-really ban and noting the political fever that is the drive behind attacking the existing legislation. It notes benefits from energy efficiency, but could have discussed more as the last link in the paragraph above does.

The con by Amy Ridenour touches on some issues that are worth exploring (e.g., sure, there is mercury in CFLs, but it is in amounts less that would be spewed into the atmosphere from coal plants to produce the energy wasted by old incandescents), but the conclusion of "Who knows the needs of your household better: You, or Congress?" demonstrates how the foundation of this case is stirring up fears about government instrusion in people's lives.

What really annoyed me about Ridenour's case is that in all the hodgepodge of supposed reasons to overturn the not-really ban, she explicitly says at the beginning, "[i]gnore claims about global warming." In other words, do not consider one of the key reasons to push for energy efficiency, to decrease fossil fuel use and their CO2 emissions that drive climate change. But we need to stick with 19th century lighting technology because, e.g., "CFL and LED lighting aren't romantic."

I wonder, where is all the outrage about government taking away freedom, and where are the declarations that the market will cure all when it comes to the 1987 legislation signed by President Reagan mandating efficiency standards on appliances? Could that actually be good policy? Or will these same guardians of freedom fight to overturn that law and others like the ban on leaded gasoline?

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Swinging back at the anti-science

Recently I lamented the Republican presidential candidates tilting from merely bad on climate science to crazy wrong. Since then bad Tim Pawlenty dropped out, and newly-in crazy wrong Rick Perry has gotten a lot of press.

Today Perry spoke on climate change, and he indeed showed off his crazy wrong credentials. In one quote block Perry went on a Gish Gallop of rapid-fire ignorance typical of the dime-a-dozen-million commentors you can find online. In one stretch of less than 75 words he touched on the supposed massive number of scientists disputing climate change, gave past natural changes as reason to dismiss humans could cause changes, and cited supposed manipulation of data by scientists.

Like so many others who spout off such non-factual reasons to doubt anthropogenic climate, he demonstrates his most fundamental reason for opposition is because he thinks addressing climate change will eat his wallet because, e.g., "the cost...of implementing these anticarbon programs is in the billions if not trillions of dollars".

That Perry dismisses science that he does not think fits with this ideology is not the news from the Washington Post item linked above. What was pleasantly surprising was that the Huntsman campaign fired at Perry for his hostility toward science. Huntsman's lack of backbone on addressing the issue is still bad, but his not completely dismissing the issue and attacking someone who does is a bit refreshing.

Maybe the no-longer-candidate former Minnesota governor can step back from his Tim Polluty incarnation and instead of trying to claim that the scientific jury remains out start advocating again for solutions to anthropogenic climate change. Like Romney, it is not clear what he actually believes since his view seems dictated by chasing votes as opposed to trying to be accurate. Here's to hoping those panderers can squash their inner denialists.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Assessing the Arctic-toc of the countdown clock for northern sea ice

I stumbled upon another media mangling the reporting of the results of a study involving climate science. It happens regularly and is not surprising, but it still earns an eye-rolling sigh.

In this case the issue is the decline in Arctic sea ice and how the decline will not necessarily be continual and steady. But in some corners of the interwebs we get left with only the idea of "more arctic sea ice in the next decade", which is merely cited as a possibility, while the firm conclusion that "there’s no escaping the loss of ice in the summer" slips out of sight.

Let us start with the paper itself, an entry in Geophysical Research Letters, Kay, J. E., M. M. Holland, and A. Jahn (2011), Inter-annual to multi-decadal Arctic sea ice extent trends in a warming world, Geophys. Res. Lett., 38, L15708, doi:10.1029/2011GL048008.. Right there in the abstract we find the conclusions (1) that the Arctic melt of recent decades (through 2005, thus not inlcuding subsequent low years like current extrema leader 2007) is about half internal variability and (2) that in their modelling results the natural variability even "[i]n a warming world" can "until the middle of the 21st century" produce periods of 2-20 years with increases in Arctic sea ice.

Now let us jump to the NSF (National Science Foundation is the sponsor of the scientists employer the National Center for Atmospheric Research) press release, which includes quotes from the authors. A press release can easily be a first step in muddling the message of what research concludes. The release is significant because it may serve as basically the only source for media reports.

Here is the first paragraph and a chunk in the middle (emphasis mine):
Despite the rapid retreat of Arctic sea ice in recent years, the ice may temporarily stabilize or somewhat expand at times over the next few decades, new research indicates.
the NCAR research team found that Arctic ice under current climate conditions is as likely to expand as it is to contract for periods of up to about a decade.

"One of the results that surprised us all was the number of computer simulations that indicated a temporary halt to the loss of the ice," says NCAR scientist Jennifer Kay, the lead researcher.

"The computer simulations suggest that we could see a 10-year period of stable ice or even a slight increase in the extent of the ice.

"Even though the observed ice loss has accelerated over the last decade, the fate of sea ice over the next decade depends not only on human activity but also on climate variability that cannot be predicted."

Kay explains that variations in atmospheric conditions such as wind patterns could, for example, temporarily halt the sea ice loss. Still, the ultimate fate of the ice in a warming world is clear, she says.

"When you start looking at longer-term trends, 50 or 60 years, there's no escaping the loss of ice in the summer."

Again, the very start and very end of the above summarizes the results - shorter periods may show Arctic sea ice not declining, but over the long term the trend is clearing downward. In general that is absolutely unsurprising, but the unexpected result encountered by the authors is the quantity of instances in their simulations with temporary halts in the ice decrease. There is note of a generic 10-year such halt, but the bolded bit that says "next decade" invites the misinterpretation that the authors are particularly emphasizing that ice loss may well halt over literally the next decade from now rather than the following decade from any arbitrary time in coming years.

Next let us move on to some items found by the Google and its news aggregator. I will post the source and headline (with link). Remember with headlines that they may not come from the article/post writer and that whoever writes them the idea is to draw eyes and not necessarily provide a fully accurate summary.

For the most part when you actually read them these articles do a good job of matching what was in the press release, often using much content directly. But look at the range of impressions provided going down the list, from the idea of a slowdown or pause in Arctic melting to a stop of melting or even that more ice is imminent. The press release page itself would probably fall in the middle of that range with its headline, "Arctic Ice Melt Could Pause in Coming Decades".

And this is all from people (presumably) trying to get the story right! It is quite easy to find denialist commentors using this result to push their same empty nonsense, like that this shows climate is only driven by natural cycles, that climate scientists are grant whores trying to have it both ways so they cannot be proven wrong, etc. But then those people will use anything or even nothing to spout that.

To conclude, let us summarize the situation. The Kay et al. paper (this research, not all, as some contends we may not go much longer before seeing a summer-ice-free Arctic) says that any particular stretch of 10 years or so through the middle of this century, like say 2024-2034, has a good chance of not having a negative trend in Arctic sea ice due to natural variability in the system. There remains no question that as the world continues to warm, the trend is for less Arctic sea ice across the whole of this century.

Friday, August 12, 2011

GOP race of Extreme vs EXXTREEEMMME!!!

Texas governor Rick Perry is now all but officially in the race for the 2012 Republican presidential nomination. Weighting individuals by chance of winning, I believe that solidly pushes the GOP field into the insane/it's-a-hoax/conspiracy-minded climate change denial as opposed to the I-don't-believe-it-now/it-isn't-because-of-humans/we-can't-know flavor of denial. I covered similar ground not long ago, but it is worth reiterating how a major political party in a world-leading (they would tell you most exceptional ever) country can completely divorce itself from reality.

From the bottom of the heap there is not much weight because of little chance to win. Picking out "here is no such thing as global warming" Rick Santorum, "it's a scam" Herman Cain, and from doubtful to "the greatest hoax" Ron Paul, you have the crazy to balance out the scrambling to rebrand as a denier Newt Gingrich and the maybe not even denier but still opposed to doing anything about it Gary Johnson and Jon Huntsman.

I have not been high on the chances of the Minnesotans, Congresswomen Michele Bachmann and former governor Tim Pawlenty, though they have at times been pegged as the leading alternative to nominal front-runner Mitt Romney. You can call them a wash with Bachmann covering the crazy denial and Pawlenty doing the craven backtracking from taking the issue seriously to calling for inaction because of made up uncertainty. If anything, the extremeness (relative to the science; it is common within her party) of Bachmann's radical views and Pawlenty's campaign fizzling tilts the scale toward crazy.

That takes us up to Mitt Romney. He is widely known (or, depending on your view, notorius) for his flip flops on issues. Yet his shifts in stance for 2008 were an effort to push to the right of that year's field, while holding basically the same spot for 2012 has him on the left side of this GOP field. He now holds a non-denialist stance on the science but tries to have it both ways by opposing action.

The entrance of Perry puts what I consider to be the most serious challenger to Romney in the race, and Perry brings into the race a much "cleaner" scorched Earth stance on climate. Unlike Gingrich, Pawlenty, and Romney, there was never a period of sanity to dog Perry with the Republican side of the electorate.

The whole of the Republican party has not jumped off the cliff into the denial abyss. But might it collectively be far enough gone and the rest of the political spectrum too stagnant to even make minimal effort to have America not be left behind in the 20th century? If the GOP takes the presidency with an ardent denier like Perry it certainly will not bode well.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Recognize the junkyard for what it is

Several weeks Joe Romm used the metaphor of a "house of cards" not once but twice when discussing what might be termed the "Wegman affair".

Romm describes the retraction by the publishing journal because of plagiarism of the paper that grew out the congressional report that supposedly undermined (but in reality did not) a swath of paleoclimatology as well as the credibility of climate science as an area of research as something that "rocks cornerstone of climate denial."

I like methaphors and similes, but I strongly disagree with the notions that denial of climate science has a cornerstone or even that it amounts to a house of cards.

Climate science denial, where there is even an attempt to justify it, is generally marked by a mishmash of assorted and often contradictory ideas that do not actually fit together to paint a coherent, fully explanatory picture. A metaphor I have used is that of a casserole bound by "anything butter" where anything in isolation that has a whiff of suggesting for whatever reason that human-driven climate change is not a concern is thrown into the mix with little to no thought of how the ingredients fit together.

Calling climate science denial a "house of cards" or saying it has a foundation gives it way too much credit. Even a house of cards implies pieces intricately and carefully put together. John Cook expounded on a difference between a "skeptic" and a "denier".
Do you look at the full body of evidence, considering the whole picture as you build your understanding of climate? Or do you gravitate towards those select pieces of data that, out of context, give a contrarian impression, while denying the rest of the evidence?

Skepticism demands concern for consistency in the big picture. Denial chases any nugget that might dispute what is not wanted to be believed, like saying it not warming (despite the all the varied evidence of warming), then that it is warming but because of the sun (despite the lack of a trend in solar activity), then that it is because of an ocean cycle (despite the lack of a physical mechanism by which that could cause the observed warming), then that even if it is us we cannot change our ways to do anything about it.

A common other side of denial is the belief that tugging at any supposed loose thread in the whole of climate science unravels the whole thing. That is why there is all the rock-throwing attempting to punch holes - the belief that the science is a house of cards that can be toppled by anything. Thus there is so much of anything being thrown out trying to do that. The goal in attacking the science is to justify preconceived notions, not to satisfy curiosity or build our understanding.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Credit where credit is due, hopefully

I am not shy about being harsh toward the Herald for what it publishes that is dismissive of anthropogenic climate change. The last week or so though as been a breath of fresh air with a few op-ed contributions touching on the issue but none trying to sell the case that we do not know anything, that doing anything positive would wreck the economy, etc.

Last Sunday relatively regular positive contributor Dr. Dexter Perkins in calling for limiting coal pollution again noted the problem with climate change and how well-known that is by experts. The next day in Lloyd Omdahl's weekly column he lamented the "present-oriented mentality" that, among other things, ignored the need for clean energy because doing that is cheaper today than taking a longer view and addressing the issue. This Sunday featured a column from Naomi Klein making the connection between our fossil fuel dependence and direct disasters like oil spills as well as climate impacts.

I understand statistics and the peril of making decisions on the basis of small samples. The next several days may feature multiple pieces disputing fundamental science, ranting that a price on carbon pollution is socialist economy-destroying tyranny and the like. But there is one other thing from the past week that makes me hopeful that the Herald maybe gets it on climate change, or at least can get it. It was the day with the dualing viewpoints with pro and con pieces on the idea of a balanced budget amendment to the federal constitution.

That day's editorial dismissed one of the main hand-waved declarations supposed to favor such an amendment, that the government has to be like a household and maintain a balanced budget. The first problem is the fallacy that households must have a constantly balanced budget and cannot take on debt, but the Herald devoted most of the column space literally to a textbook dismissal of the idea that the federal government is comparable to a household when it comes to budgeting. The fact that the column based on such flawed reaching for straws still is published is not so great. But it is nice to see that basic and well-established concepts from actual experts are used to parry political statements attempting to masquerade as evidence-backed arguments.

Maybe just maybe, the Herald will dismiss the similar baseless attempts to sow doubt about climate change. Perhaps they might even decide that their responsibility to inform the public does not mean reciting whatever fossil fuel industry or conservative think tank attack du jour but rather conveying the most accurate information even if that comes from only one side.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Will the warmer North Dakota be drier or wetter?

Like most areas across the globe North Dakota is currently in the midst of a long-term warming trend. It is well-established that warming will continue because of human activities. Over the 21st century even if we seriously curb our warming greenhouse gas emissions we face noticeable additional warming. Continuing with the carefree business-as-usual is playing a game with no winning results.

What about local effects? Global average temperature numbers like linked above have use, but the driving reason behind using the term "climate change" rather than "global warming" is that the changes are not simply that the temperature is however many degrees higher everywhere. The surface temperature change is and will be variable (such as land areas warming much more than ocean and the Arctic warming most extreme of all) and temperature is not the only thing that changes.

With the last couple decades of the rising Devils Lake and and many historically high flooding levels, in this region we obviously know how impactful long-term shifts in precipitation are. Is the current wet period a symptom of climate change and something that will continue and worsen?

Though obviously more relevant, these questions about much smaller scale are more difficult to answer. These are different beasts, but similar to how weather forecasts can readily say there will be a system passing through the area but typically not for certain if it will bring precipitation where you are much less exactly how much, we can say with great certainty there will be changes to climate but not exactly what they will be for, say, North Dakota. Regional impacts is an area of much interest these days because of the importance and how much we do not know on it at this point.

Many people, thinking of how deserts are hot and dry, may initially assume that warming means it simply will be drier. With warming indeed you expect more evaporation. Yet, moisture that evaporates from somewhere will return to the surface as precipitation somewhere. Maybe at a given area you get more evaporation, but maybe you get even more precipitation. Another factor to consider is changes in the general flow of weather patterns (e.g, through shifts in the jet stream). Maybe you get more storm systems and resulting precipitation, but maybe you get less.

Yet another issue to consider besides how much precipitation occurs is when it occurs. There could be no change in the annual average, but if the distribution through the year changes significantly that can have major impacts. Average annual precipitation for the Grand Forks area is about 20 inches (counting the snow amount in liquid equivalent). Almost half the amount falls in June-August. Suppose we kept the same annual average but lost half the amount during summer, balancing it by increasing the winter amount. Agriculture would likely suffer during those warmer and drier months, and the greater cold season precipitation would mean worse flooding in spring. Or suppose that the summer rain amount remains the same but is compiled over much fewer days with precipitation but having much heavier amounts.

Climate models, though often maligned by people who do not understand them, allow us to investigate what is likely to happen.

The Interior Department Bureau of Reclamation produced a recent report analyzing impacts to water supplies in the western US (pdf) under the expected changing conditions of the 21st century. The work separately examined various western river basins and found the warming of 5-7 degrees Fahrenheit area-wide but found that farther southwest drying and decreased runoff were likely while up like in the Missouri River basin the evidence suggests increases in the annual average precipitation.

A central facet of this analysis was compiling the results from 112 comparable climate model simulations and surveying the results. Below are figures 2 and 3 from the report which show the median change in temperature (in deg F) and precipitation (in % of annual average) comparing projected 2070-2099 to historical 1950-1979. The median value is likely very similar to the average, but by taking the median value - the middle value when all the values are ranked in order - extreme outlier values can have much less effect on the result than they could by computing the average.

Yet even with more precipitation on average per year, overall conditions could be such that they would not be "wetter". A recent review by Dai focused on drought over the 21st century with continued climate change. Cutting to the chase, the breadbasket of North America, including North Dakota, could face almost unimaginable drought conditions by within about 50 years.

There may be difficulty using the Palmer Drought Severity Index or variations on it for such projections as Dai does. The point still applies that even with more precipitation in a year, it can still be drier with increased evaporation because of warming and if the distribution of that precipitation changes such that more ends up as runoff.

Rather than have a dismissive attitude because of the uncertainty about how North Dakota and this region will be affected, that should be cause for even greater concern. We do not have the issue of mountain snowpack building during winter and releasing at the right rate during spring and summer, but we do have worries here when it comes to flooding and agriculture. There are a lot of changes that can mean negative results. Seems like something to try to avoid rather than speed toward faster and faster.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Tim Polluty and the GOP Climate Trasher Brigade

As part of his official 2012 presidential campaign rollout, Tim Polluty, er... Pawlenty, claimed he would be telling "hard truths". Oddly though, his idea of hard truths seems to be red meat for conservative activists. Pawlenty has fled from the hard truth of needing to address climate change.

An article by AP reporter Dina Cappiello from today highlighted how Pawlenty is hardly alone among Republican politicians who have abandoned more reasonable positions in favor of pandering to their base.

Today there are generally two flavors of Republicans when it comes to the issue of climate change - (1, which I will refer to here as know-nothings) the ones who dispute the science and so obviously oppose any action to address the issue and (2, which I will refer to here as do-nothings) the ones ambivalent about or even partially accepting of the science yet still opposing serious action to address the issue.

Cappiello examines how certain politicians have raced into their positions now that the political climate change among so many conservatives has made disbelief in human impact on climate an article of faith. Republicans are obviously quite far from Theodore Roosevelt, but 20 years later they are distant from the limited efforts by George H W Bush. Even just a few years ago as Cappiello points out that there would be Republicans who would support some sort of positive climate change action like emissions trading programs. But no more, and the race is on for many, including Tim Pawlenty, Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, Jon Huntsman, to disavow such a recently held stance. But to where to move one's stake?

Gingrich is an expert at flip-flopping on this issue. He has decided to go fully know-nothing and dispute the science.

Romney is well-known for repositioning himself, and he has put himself into the solidly into the know-nothing camp, though more literally "know-nothing". Rather than trying to challenge climate science directly by claiming he knows better than the scientists he simply ignores all the scientists with an "I don't know" view. If only there were experts from states Romney holds dear like Massachusetts or Michigan where he could become a little educated on the science.

Pawlenty has gone the "so sorry" route with regard to policy actions. Though not as confrontational and dismissive as Gingrich, Pawlenty claims that while warming is real, human influence on climate is negligible.

Such shifts to being know-nothings (or you might say wannabe know-betters) are not so surprising if you figure these are shameless politicians aiming to ingratiate themselves to ignorant but loud elements of their party. Somewhat interesting though are those who veer only into do-nothingism.

Huntsman has already shown that he may not make his political career a race to the right with his couple years as Ambassador to China in the Obama administration. Despite opposing action, he has rejected the science denial and attacking of the experts in the field.

New Jersey governor Chris Christie has put himself in basically in the same position as Huntsman by saying he accepts the fundamental facts humans are altering the climate, though his lip service to needing to do something about it is belied by his plan to withdraw his state from the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. But despite going the wrong way on policy, Christie is a rare example of a Republican leader becoming more correct on the science. Not long ago Christie had been one of the know-nothings saying he just could not figure it out. Not sure how he came to recognize and accept the broad consensus from the experts on the science, but I will take it as a positive sign.

My hope is that some Republicans keeping attached to reality can help get the larger part of the party back in that direction and that the tension of accepting a problem and not working toward any serious solution cannot hold. That first part is just a matter of time - climate change simply will not be something that can be ignored forever, though it might be long enough to dig us into a massive hole. The second part though sounds pie-in-the-sky. You can see from the deficit/debt issue, from among many, that a big problem does not mean a meaningful effort toward a solution is imminent. And many Democrats (like those at least recently of North Dakota) have readily claimed acceptance of the science while throwing roadblocks in the way of action. But there is no way there would be action if the majority of our leadership has their heads in the sand.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Non-Missing Link

It was satisfying today to see in the Herald the front page, starting-above-the-fold news article about the connection between extreme weather and climate change (non-local link). It was dry and appropriately restrained, just as would be expected from something that is basically a summary of research and comments from climate scientists.

The main point is that "global warming" also means many places also see a tilting of the odds toward making extreme weather more likely.

It is good to see this presented because many will try to shoot down any connection between climate change and extreme weather with a simplistic claim that since there has always been extreme weather that climate change cannot be influencing its occurrence. The same sorts of people use the same incorrect logic attempting to dispute that humans are influencing climate now because climate has always changed naturally. Founder of Bill McKibben recently sarcastically attacked dismissal of climate change impacting weather.

Suppose you have a casino full of slot machines and someone goes in and tweaks the software to affect the payout frequency. Of course you cannot look at any single jackpot earned by some player and call that a direct result of that meddling - after all there were jackpots it. But just like it is "irresponsible not to mention climate change" when referencing extreme weather events, because of how the background state is being altered you cannot simply ignore the software rewrite when considering jackpots and collective payouts.

I think a lot people have gotten a pretty good understanding (or at least acceptance) of how El Nino and La Nina can drive a tendency toward seasonal weather leaning one way or another, like this region tends to be cooler and likely wetter during a La Nina winter such as 2010-2011.

The same principles of the weather being influenced, though not controlled or overwhelmingly dominated, apply with climate change. It makes sense then that people would similarly be able understand how climate change impacts (and will increasingly impact) the likelihood of extreme weather events.