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.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

It is the best of times, it is the best of times

Today the Herald gave us another op-ed page entry lavishing praise on the fossil fuel industry and stating how absolutely essential it is to our economy and lives, which I believe is the accepted order for those priorities. It is hard to remember distinctions between these columns and letters as the continuous stream tends to all run together.

This one though did make the case that coal=good and renewable=bad because satellite pictures of coal power plants have around them parking lots with cars while wind turbines do not. Who can argue with that logic? How could you argue it - by noting the facts that there are more wind industry jobs than coal mining jobs and that only about 60,000 Americans (1 per 5000) working in coal power plant jobs? Then you would just open the door to the pivot that few jobs in coal is good because that helps keep it cheap, cheap, cheap as is so important.

Anyway, ordinarily such a letter would not so much register. But the next letter was another lamentation on the federal debt "asteroid" that faces the economy with an "extinction-level event". And this on the day of the latest Harold Camping Rapture prediction!

Since the world has not ended today, I decided this is the best time to be alive, so we should all soak it up, gloat, and relish it.

How can I conclude that? Easily. We can dismiss the past as a preferable time to live because obviously it is awful, at least up to the "good ol' days" we can remember, whenever those were.

Backward is worse, so what about forward in time? Society is utterly dependent on a foundation of energy from fossil fuels, as so many commentators have insisted. Since that foundation will only last another few decades to few decades plus a century, any time beyond that will be terrible.

I know that virtually half the American political spectrum simply reflexively disregards climate science, but indeed human activities are driving climate change, and this will have negative results.

The debt problem can be considered an anti-problem, i.e., a good thing for us. Think about it - we are living beyond our means, which equals benefit. Taking more than we deserve is good for us, right? Free money. Despite the gnashing of teeth and wailing about how big a problem it is, who thinks we are actually going to do anything serious about the debt? Blowing off climate science correlates very highly with refusal to even consider increasing revenue through any higher tax rates. Then on the other hand, what would end up getting cut to balance the ledger? Quite simply, there is no good reason to expect we are actually going to pay the deficit spending piper. So win-win!

Since we are not going to divert that debt asteroid, it might end up hitting us. But that will be later! It is the same story with the double-doozy of no longer having cheap fossil fuels and dealing with the environmental disruption from all the earlier burning of them. Sure, you can say it is already starting to hit the fan with oil prices and warming we have already seen. But, it is not going to get really bad until the future.

We are in the sweet spot right now. In a world of "I got mine", we are set here in 2011. Let the poor saps in 2111 pull themselves up by their bootstraps and solve whatever problems they may face if they can no longer sweep them under the rug. If they wanted things better they should have been smarter, worked harder, or whatever to be alive now.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Bow Lower

The past week or so the Herald has featured some op-ed writings about a particular flavor of coal pollution. On May 7, Terrence Kardong of the Dakota Resource Council (DRC) defended EPA air quality standards. Two days ago the DRC had a column basically saying North Dakota should begin shifting energy generation away from coal and toward renewable sources. Again, the selling point used was air quality.

Yesterday, Perrie Schafer came riding in to the defense of the coal industry in response to the earlier letter. The defense is that the industry is spending and making efforts to meet air standards, that "North Dakota’s air is clean and getting cleaner", and critically that we should simply be more appreciative of coal and the coal industry. Schafer says,
[t]he state needs to stand up for an industry that is responsible for more than 20,000 good-paying jobs and more than $90 million in state tax revenue every year — and keeps the lights on.

I can pick out a items that fit as warning signs of abusive relationships. But please do not tell the coal industry that - they might, I mean, I might fall down the stairs or walk into a door.

This issue has been festering (as many do), and air quality is bubbling up in North Dakota recently. But note to what this particular back-and-forth on air quality does not refer. Air quality and respiratory health is only a sliver of the coal pollution issues pie.

You could stretch and say they are covering acid rain (warning: cap-and-trade at work!). Mercury is not covered. Arsenic and heavy metals are not covered. And of course the billions of tons gorilla in the corner (and everywhere else in the atmosphere) is greenhouse gas emissions. Even never-will-be-achieved "clean" coal burning that eliminated NOx, SO2, mercury, arsenic, heavy metals, and particulates is still grossly polluting by dumping massive amounts of climate-altering and ocean-acidifying CO2 into the atmosphere.

Yet for the likes of Schafer we should be more often kissing the dirty feet of the coal industry in appreciation for how they "keep the lights on" for cheap, even though it is punting the future off a cliff.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

This week in overturning the paradigm

This week in overturning the paradigm

Here are the headlines associated with several links that came back from doing a search related to a newly released study...

"Study Shows Salty Diet Good; Heart Group Disagrees"

"Low-Salt Diets Reduce Heart Disease Risk, Right? A Study Disagrees"

"New Study Questions Whether We Should All Be Ducking Salt"

"Controversial new study suggests low-salt diet increases risk of death"

"Health Buzz: Eating Less Salt May Not Help Heart Health"

"Sodium won't kill you? Scientists shake up what we know about salt"

"Low-sodium diet may not be helpful, study suggests"

There is a range there from hinting that sodium intake is not much of a health factor to suggestion more salt is better such that reading all of them one could easily think they do not all refer to the same single study. Across the board there is a sign of conflict. Keep that in mind. Let us go a little more in depth on this conflict with this article from WebMD.

In summary, in this new study "[p]eople with the highest sodium levels had a significantly lower risk of dying from heart disease than did people with the lowest sodium levels."

Those in the business of selling salt applaud and are ready to call this the whole story. "Predictably, [American Heart Association] guidelines ... drew fire from the Salt Institute, the trade group representing the salt industry. The group has been quick to herald the European findings. 'We now know conclusively that the U.S. government's war on salt consumption will cause harm,' Lori Roman, president of the Salt Institute, says in a news release."

Ralph L. Sacco, MD, president of the American Heart Association and chairman of the neurology department at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, responds by rattling off multiple issues with this new study itself as well as noting that the conventional wisdom calling for limited salt intake is well-established.

In the end, what will many of the casual browsers who came across this news take away from? I can hear the voices talking about how they read that more salt is good for you.

There very well might be something to this new study that will hold up to time and further investigation and is contrary to the conventional wisdom. But this one study does not "shake up what we know about salt" as one of the above-noted links said so cleverly (salt shaker, shake, get it?).

What though is likely to spark interest and catch eyes? Conflict. Disagreement. Saying that what we thought we knew is wrong and something else is true. So things carrying the whiff of that get sold by the supposedly neutral media, to say nothing of the Salt Institutes of the world that are looking for benefit from overturning the paradigm.

There can be many headlines like, "More research shows low-sodium diet good for you" that barely cause a ripple while a single headline suggestive of more salt being better can receive a massive push and cause waves. That happens regularly with climate science. Study after study build and tweak our knowledge and understanding fully consistent with anthropogenic climate change being quite real. A few make the general headlines, but most do not. Yet the rare item even hinting at fundamental (or sometimes even marginal) disagreement is picked up and trumpeted by those who so wish that climate change is no concern.

It can actually be funny when that frenzy leads to misinterpretation and an own-goal. Last year the retraction of a paper studying sea level rise was celebrated by some as meaning the rise was not occurring. Actually the retraction was because of problems with the paper such that the lower numbers cited in it were not actually supported, and the evidence was actually consistent with previous work that pointed to more sea level rise that the low end the paper suggested.

Just remember, a study can safely always be assumed to not overturn our understanding. That is true regardless of the direction it supposedly flips things. We have compiled a lot of evidence putting the Charney sensitivity around 5 degrees Fahrenheit. Something new out of the blue saying it is either 1F or 10F should be viewed skeptically. Follow the full weight of all the evidence, not just that latest new thing.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Peaking out of the fishbowl

We got a bit of snow this past weekend, and while out and about I caught a snippet of conversation referencing the snow and mentioning global warming. I will say that discussion did not exactly involve the perhaps expected questioning that constantly pops up of how there can be heavy/early/late/whatever snow if there is supposed to be global warming. What the people exactly were saying is not really important, but as someone who is relatively knowledgeable about weather and climate what was striking was how unknowledgeable these ordinary people that I overheard were.

I am obligated to give my standard note about ignorance. There is nothing wrong with ignorance of a subject per se. Problems come from certain sorts of responses - disregard of what is known about and those who are expert on the subject, filling the knowledge gap with demonstrably false information and ignoring correction, etc.

It is easy to get a little isolated at times and forget the minimal knowledge of most people when it comes to climate science. Thus it is important to remember to highlight "the big picture", as at Skeptical Science - because of human activities the Earth is warming and will continue to warm with net negative results.

Not sure how best to do so, but I think ground can be gained with many of the people who have a major dearth of knowledge related to weather and climate. There is probably not some single way. Some may respond to the simple authoritative statements like in the paragraph above, some may respond to certain details such as the basic physics, etc.

That malleable group though may be rather small at very least in the US because of the politicization of the issue of climate change here. The Republican party has virtually made denial of climate science a litmus test, and partisans tend to follow the stances of their leaders. Yet the higher the education level among Republicans the greater the tendency to deny the science. There are interesting ideas to explain this like that "more educated" Republicans are more detached from the science and more politically polarized and that they are more likely to come into contrarian garbage that can be believed to disprove climate change. On the flip side of the coin at least there are many on left who do accept the science even though they are clueless about it. The correct thing for the correct reason is best, but the correct thing is an acceptable runner-up.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Green scapegoating

It has been several weeks, but an asburd letter to the editor by Harvey Tallackson (link from Bismarck Tribune, with a subsequent reply) illustrated the dangers when people believe the unsubstantiated views of extremists on environmental issues. But the worrisome extremists are actually those serving up the short-sighted and self-serving rhetoric opposing sensible regulation intended to avert the trashing of our world and crimping of the future in pursuit of the quick buck for today. Tallackson is another who has drunk the corporate kool aid that protecting the environment equates to destroying the economy. Of course that is ludicrous at face value, but also the idea we are doing much to protect the environment is not accurate.

The extremists are the groups like the National Association of Manufacturers, the American Enterprise Institute, Americans for Tax Reform, the Institute for Energy Research, and politicians of many stripes (though mainly Republicans who now seemingly have such belief as a litmus test) including Mitch McConnell who all simply dismiss efforts to rein in climate-altering carbon pollution by declaring it will "destroy" jobs and increase costs.

As much as I despise even linking to such hollow "arguments", I want to show how automatic, brain-dead, and from-everywhere the claims are. Any action attempting to head off the cost and suffering of climate change is dismissed with a handwave and some combination of a label of tax and claims of job losses and freedom taking.

To be abundantly clear, continuing to do nothing about climate change will destroy livelihoods and is a tax on the future. If you want to protect people's well-being, you must protect our home. And that does not mean protecting the right to use the environment as an unlimited dumping ground for pollution.

The Clean Air Act has a history of benefits far outweighing costs. Dealing with ozone depletion at the government level spurred technological advancement that limited the costs of action. A "cap and trade" mechanism has proven effective in addressing the problem of acid rain in North America. Climate change is a larger problem, yet that makes it even more exasperating that even the most meager efforts against it are demonized.

Of course many people can still dismiss anything like ozone depletion, acid rain, and climate change as something from scam, hoax, to complete non-issue in order because of the psychological block against any role for government in maintaining livability. Strange though where that opposition stops. If we have to pinch every penny no matter the ultimate cost to the environment and thus us a later, why not oppose schools and even construction of buildings - are those things not similar wastes of money that could be put to better use (or pockets) rather than in such "investments" for the "future"?

Thursday, March 17, 2011


This is the opening weekend for Limitless, a movie starting from the false premise that humans only use a small fraction of their brains and following a character who takes a drug that supposedly opens up that vast untapped brain power to basically make him superhuman.

Once more, that entire idea of our only using something like 10-20% of our brain and thus having "limitless" potential is quite wrong but a fine enough premise for a fictional movie. However, basing energy, environmental, and other policies on the notion of a "limitless" Earth is ludicrous.

Yet The New Republic editor John B. Judis penned a recent column with the theme of how in recent decades the Republican Party has come to adopt that "limitless" stance, which also dovetails with my previous post.

This is exceedingly childish thinking, and civilization is past the point where it needs to act adult. The idea that the world is basically infinite for humanity is dangerously persistent. We see it in climate science denial with the summary dismissal of the idea that human activities could possibly affect nature such that it can alter climate. We also see it in the notion that we just need to open up more area to drilling, mining, logging, etc. in order to satisfy our needs.

One might think though that the "limitless" mindset would make those people who have it amenable to the idea that we can do the work required to transition to sustainability. But instead the response is like a child that goes from boundless energy for play to a don't-want-to, whining, feigned inability to even stand up when it is time for chores. Americans are apparently so exceptional and capable of anything... except, for instance, shifting toward an infrastructure not utterly dependent on massive burning of fossil fuels. We can do it later. Or preferably we do not have to worry about it at all, and somebody else (i.e., in the future) will deal with the problem without our having to do anything. A kid would appreciate the attitude, or at least one not saddled in the future with our mess would.

The major problems we face are not simply the result of big, bad government that by taxes and regulation blocks the path to limitless production. The much bigger concern is that the world is not limitless - there is only so much fossil fuel, there are consequences to adding CO2 to the atmosphere and oceans, and we could only ignore these things for so long. Time to grow up and deal with the limits to the world.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Old Way or No Way

Today brought a couple of good examples of the death grip of so many on massive burning of fossil fuels and the idea that has no drawbacks and is the only path to prosperity and happiness.

First, this morning was the syndicated op-ed point-counterpoint run in the Herald asking, "Should the U.S. push fast development of oil resources?" The "con" by A. James Barnes does a nice job of debunking the simplistic idea that more drilling here will ease a load of problems like high gas costs, dependence on foreign oil, etc. that the "pro" by feet-planted-firmly-in-the-20th-century Andrew Morriss made. It is not surprising someone like Morriss makes the case to drain-America-first or that he seems oblivious to issues like climate change or that oil will not last forever.

What is exasperating is the argument by Morriss that development of renewable energy will be slow and cost money, so we should not put effort into it. But development of more oil production will not happen overnight, so we have to pour money into that and start right away.

Current North Dakotans need not worry about the black gold cash cow - it will be providing over the coming decades. However, it is exactly those issues that Morriss ignores like scarcity and climate change that are why we need to start working today for the solutions we need tomorrow that wean us away from burning fossil fuels.

Second, today we got another demonstration that climate science denial is a litmus test in the current Republican party as the Energy and Commerce Committee steps toward blocking the EPA from enforcing climate-related rules.
House Republicans rejected amendments offered Tuesday by Democrats that called on Congress to accept the scientific consensus that climate change is occurring, it is caused in large part by human activity and it is a threat to human health.

All three votes fell exactly along party lines.

Of course there was at least quibbling with the science and claims that it was not sure enough for any conclusions. But the brunt of the Republican push is based in the idea that doing something about climate change by reducing emissions can only cripple the economy. Essentially an entire political party think that the only way to use energy is just like we have and refuse to hear reasons why this cannot be so.

This backward-facing view, with a mindset we guzzled gas before, guzzle gas now, and so have to keep guzzling gas, crimps the future. Such short-sightedness short-changes the now too. Imagine energy usage (and thus costs), say, 25% less because of efficiency effort. Imagine pushing to lead on building the clean, renewable energy systems that must be the future. Please imagine anything but pretending the pages of the calendar do not turn or that "have been" means "gotta keep on".

Friday, February 11, 2011

Today's Half-Baked Climate Science Ignorance Casserole

Whether it is because of simply have given little thought to it or because of desire to grasp any straws in order to believe climate change is not a human concern, people who do not accept the established science typically are highly ignorant of climate science.

I have noted before that "ignorance" is by no means necessarily an insult. There is a lot of knowledge - no one can learn about everything. The negative connotation on ignorance is when it is actively embraced by shunning accurate information and/or lapping up inaccurate information. Unfortunately there is lot of that when it comes to climate.

I read a comment today that exemplified the hodgepodge of disinformation, misinformation, misunderstanding, contradictions and such that so many people throw into the pan and bake together to support their desire to refute the science of climate change. These casseroles tend to be very similar, and I think it is worth regularly debunking and trying to enlighten on various ingredients.

The starting point was a post on The New Republic describing how many politicians have abandoned trying to dispute climate science in favor of simply declaring that any efforts to control greenhouse gas emissions will supposedly crush the economy. A comment from one "mr_rationale" tried to chop down climate science with the wet noodle of ignorance.

No one doubts that the Earth's climate changes, has changed in the past, will change in the future. Total and complete agreement on this point.

The argument is over anthropogenic global warming (AGP) :
- What is the real magnitude? Initial models have been proven wrong and most of the warming happens at night due to heat sink. And the raw climate data set has yet to be made available, ignoring FOIA requests.
- Can you use the most recent 150 year data set to predict the earths climate, a planet that is over 4 Billion years old. Hmmm
- Is AGP lasting and permanent? A few million years of recent climate data would suggest otherwise -- the earth's climate is a robust system that has always reverted to mean
- Even if true, can AGP be stopped.
- Even if true, do the costs of AGP outweight benefits?

The binding ingredient here is what I call "anything butter". (I would also call this sort of a person an "anything butter") As in, acceptance of virtually anything but having to address climate change driven by human activities. Piece by piece...

No one doubts that the Earth's climate changes, has changed in the past, will change in the future. Total and complete agreement on this point.

This is little more than an attempt to seem reasonable by expressing agreement with something that if disagreed with would basically end the conversation. Acknowledging past climate change is like acknowledging there is water in the ocean. You get no credit for that because, as this person said, no one disagrees with that.

The argument is over anthropogenic global warming (AGP) :

I have no idea why the acronym chosen is "AGP". I could think of something like it being a warping of "anthropogenic" since those letters are all at least in there, but I suspect that would be too generous.

- What is the real magnitude? Initial models have been proven wrong and most of the warming happens at night due to heat sink. And the raw climate data set has yet to be made available, ignoring FOIA requests.

This is where the nonsense begins, and it is so thick it can barely be chewed. Most of it is not even wrong. What "initial models"? What has been "proven wrong"? Again I am clueless when it comes to "most of the warming happens at night due to heat sink" - that basically points to this person having heard some things and trying to parrot them despite a near complete lack of understanding. That assessment is further supported by not realizing that copious climate data is and long has been readily available.

- Can you use the most recent 150 year data set to predict the earths climate, a planet that is over 4 Billion years old. Hmmm

The fundamental point here this person does not grasp is that climate science is not based solely on the instrumental temperature record. That initial acceptance of past climate change should have already hinted at that. There are many independent lines of evidence from theory and data and observations that all converge. That is why we know that greenhouse gas increases will warm the planet.

- Is AGP lasting and permanent? A few million years of recent climate data would suggest otherwise -- the earth's climate is a robust system that has always reverted to mean

The cluelessness is only matched by the failure to realize it. What "mean" state does the earth's climate supposedly have? The climate system does not have some sort of homing instinct - climate responds to whatever ways forcings (like greenhouse gas concentration changes) push it.

- Even if true, can AGP be stopped.
- Even if true, do the costs of AGP outweight benefits?

Here we reach the thick base layer of "anything butter". This person shows no attachment to disbelief that human activities are affecting climate. The only concern is not doing anything about it. Any excuse will work. Maybe nothing can stop it! Maybe it will actually be better!

Please do not let any of the undercooked or spoiled ideas poison your brain.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Risk management and risk maximization

As summarized in a Herald article today the Grand Forks City Council last night was briefed on flooding risks for this spring. It is estimated that the chances of a 60-foot (the level to which the permanant protection including levees is supposed to work) flood in Grand Forks is 2-3 percent. To put it in a another perspective, that is basically the odds of any given number coming up on a roulette spin.

Often events with a 2-3% chance of happening are basically ignored. A 2-3% risk that any restaurant will get your order wrong? No big deal, you will still go out to eat. But Grand Forks City Engineer Al Grasser very well summarized why 2-3% is not always disregarded in describing the odds of a 60+ feet flood as
low probability of a high-consequence event.

High-consequence event. If there is a 2-3% you will be run over if you try to run across the street without looking, you take that seriously. Likewise, Grand Forks does not just let slide a 2-3% chance of a 60-foot flood (and about 1% chance of a 63-foot flood). It may be a rather unlikely event, but the costs if something happens that overcomes the local permanent flood protection is so immense that the only sensible option is to take precautions to try to avoid or ameliorate the consequences. That is reasonable risk management.

Now imagine you are in some fictional town along the Red River. The experts have explained that flooding to some degree is imminent. There is a slight chance it may not be so terrible, and those chances improve if serious preparatory action is taken. But on the other end of the spectrum it may be catastrophic, especially if nothing is done in preparation to minimize impacts. However, this town is making no serious effort at all to avoid any consequences - no sandbags, no levees, no diversions, no anything. In fact there is much more action being taken, like diverting even more water into the river, that would lead to worsening rather than to avoiding or minimizing the impacts of flooding.

As inconceivable as that seems with regard to flooding around a town, that exemplifies our action (or inaction, as the case may be) pertaining to climate change. Not only are we avoiding significant effort to deal with the problem, we are causing it ourselves and continuing to stack the odds and consequences against ourselves.

A couple years ago the MIT Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Climate Change performed a new analysis that is analogous to the local peak flood forecasts. They estimated the odds of what the global average temperature increase over essentially the 21st century would be and expressed it like a roulette wheel or a "wheel of misfortune":

By that estimate where we continue recklessly dumping immense quantities of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere there is a roughly 2-3% chance of the temperature increase being 15+ degrees Fahrenheit. A more median projection is 9-10 degree Fahrenheit warming. We have already committed to non-trivial warming, but we could keep things from being that bad. If we enacted and followed serious policy to cut greenhouse gas emissions, the worst case for the year 2100 may be only 6+ degrees warming with a median of about 4 degrees warming.

Will we try to minimize the risk of dire consequences, or will we continue with the business as usual and maximize the risk?

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Might Duane Sand *not* truly be a climate science denialist?

It has become basically a litmus test for any Republican that he or she disbelieve the decades of accumulated knowledge and understanding that explains how human activities, particularly burning fossil fuels, are driving climate change. There are a range of ways to get your check mark, from pretending the issue of climate change does not exist (a la Rick Berg) or mostly ignoring the issue except for citing some thinktank-invented uncertainty (a la John Hoeven) to the full-blown tinfoil hat proclamations that it is all a hoax (a la Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma).

In today's Herald multiple-time North Dakota Republican candidate for Congress Duane Sand made a sales pitch for nuclear power. (Nuclear power is a whole other issue - low-carbon but very expensive to say the least.) In a place in that op-ed one could pretty easily interpret Sand as acknowledging that carbon emissions need to decrease, and by really reaching one could guess that Sand understands the reason for that is their effect on climate and the environment.

For certain Sand maintains plausible deniability. He could always say that his mention of the need to replace "aging carbon-emitting power plants" does not mean that he thinks climate scientists are not wrong and/or lying. Also he might only have opposition to fossil fuels to the extent it would stand in the way of nuclear power.

And of course in the past Sand has tried to disregard climate science in favor of his own musings. Might his Americans for Prosperity ideology slightly worn off? Perhaps he is confusing himself with another non-denialist Duane Sand.

Maybe just maybe though, sanity and realism are trying to bubble to the surface for Sand. If so, do not fight it, Duane! Be a leader - acknowledge the need to decrease carbon pollution, and fight to make it happen!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Curb your goose, Kevin Cramer

Fossil fuel industry errand boy, no wait, Public Service Commissioner Kevin Cramer sent an early Valentine to the oil industry last month referring to it as the "goose laying golden eggs".

Bad news, Kevin. That and the other fossil carbon geese are pooping up the planet, most notably with the massive greenhouse gas emissions driving climate change. Just because you deny climate change does not mean you can hide from it, and no amount of golden eggs will change the laws of physics to match your delusion that we can burn fossil carbon with no adverse effects.

Cramer is obviously politically ambitious, and only just turned 50. Assuming he has another few decades on this rock, he will get to see more of the continuing and increasing impacts of climate change. But maybe, assuming money can even buy it, he will have gotten enough shares of the golden eggs to insulate himself enough to continue to ignore those effects. Is that all he cares about?

If Cramer wants to even pretend that he stands for "compassion" & "responsibility" and against "redistributing wealth", he must work to rein in his beloved carbon geese and stop mortgaging the futures of our children, grandchildren, and subsequent generations just to squeeze out as many golden eggs as he can today.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Getting the year off on the denialist foot

A little late, but it has to be mentioned how the Herald published some intellectual excrement from Cory Christofferson this past Sunday. They were not the ones either, as you can search the interwebs and easily find the same thing under at least the banner of the Bismarck Tribune and the Jamestown Sun.

Basically Christofferson cites snow in Germany, snow in Grand Forks, and unspecified "headlines such as these" to ask whether "God is making fun of Al Gore and the global warming nuts". Yes! A denialist ignorance hat trick of (1) using a couple instances of local weather to speak on climate, (2) conflating snow with cold, and (3) mocking Al Gore!

Really? Did the Herald not have a little graphic or clip art of a steaming pile of manure they could have run in that space instead? It would have basically been the same thing in terms of content but would have saved a bit of time on editting, assuming anyone with half a clue actually reads stuff like this.

Clearly the greater imperative for newspapers in North Dakota, including the Herald, is not to convey accurate information but rather to serve as publisher of garbage in order to concoct a sense of "balance" between on one hand information based on massive evidence and on the other hand, like from Christofferson, faulty ideas couched in politics and ignorance.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Death panels

This past week the Herald graced us with more cheerleading for long-term climate devastation from George Will. In this case though Will was not directly denying climate science. Rather he was falling back to the line of defense that there is no alternative to copious burning of coal and the resulting dumping of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere and oceans.

Will talks about some history of coal usage, how integrated its burning for energy is in global society, and how relatively cheap it is as an energy source to run much of our world. He does that all to establish massive coal burning as a necessary and unavoidable characteristic of the world in which we live regardless of the consequences, which he does not really think are bad. One can easily think of the sort of columns Will might have written 150 years ago discussing slavery had how integral that system and resulting "cheap" energy were to the economic system and prosperity of the day.

Last week the Herald had one of those point-counterpoint on whether the EPA should be able to work to limit greenhouse gases emissions. Of course it was not a climate scientist opposing action, it was a Professor of Finance and Business Economics (who is also a scholar at the climate change denying AEI). As is so often the case it is a bean-counter argument calling for inaction on climate.

Yet when there is even a perception of using cost arguments to urge inaction in health care, there are screams of bloody murder. Try an internet search for "bureaucrat between you and your doctor". I got 209,000 results. The apex of that came with the claims of "death panels" going to decide whether granny gets treatment or just dies between it is not worth the cost.

Why do so many people bristle at the idea of the doctor saying treatment is needed but the bean-counter nixing it because of cost concerns, then accept an economics argument (that is not even good but actually backwards) when the science says continued greenhouse gas emissions will wreak havoc on our world?

If anyone wants to really worry about death panels, they need look no further than the George Wills and the American Enterprise Institutes of the world. They are the ones using whatever disinformation or excuses they can to avoid actions to limit our disruption to climate. Typically those excuses center on supposed costs of action and give no consideration of the tremendous costs of inaction. Their warped bean counting is the rubber stamp set to approve a brave new world rather different than the one to which we grew accustomed.