Thursday, May 31, 2012

Hummingbirds and lilies

Mountain lilies are blooming 17 days earlier than they did in just the 1970s. That comes out to be a change of about 4 days per decade. Such a dramatic change has to have effects on other species, and it does. In this particular case, the species affected is the broad-tailed hummingbird. These hummingbirds arrive in the mountains of the western North America to breed every spring and depend on the nectar from the mountain lily to sustain them. The lilies are now blooming by the time the hummingbirds arrive. Within a few decades the birds will be arriving after the blooms have already wilted.

For years the argument has been there was no such thing as global warming. The climate change deniers went to great lengths to push this point. But, more and more data like this report on the mountain lilies shows the planet is indeed getting warmer. The deniers have now shifted their arguments that this warming is not due to manmade emissions. Instead, they claim, this is just a normal warming cycle.

But, if there is no warming then how can there be a natural warming cycle?

Well, the deniers now admit there is warming.

But, if they were so wrong on the fact that the planet is warming, what makes anyone think they are right about it being a natural warming cycle?

The climate change deniers argue you can't trust the climate scientists because we 'don't know everything.' It is true we don't know everything, but we know this much - the climate change deniers denied all science that said the planet is warming until it was no longer possible to do so. Now, they are denying all science that says the warming is due to manmade gases.

The logical conclusion is this: They were wrong when they denied science before, they are going to be wrong when they deny that same science again.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Attacks on scientists

I read this article in Physics Today about how scientists are under attack in Europe. Anarchist groups in Europe blame capitalism for all of our problems and scientists are to blame for much of capitalism. Physics Today quotes from an article in Nature written by Leigh Phillips and says, "terrorists argue “that technology, and indeed civilization, is responsible for the world’s ills, and that scientists are the handmaidens of capitalism”.

This is quite ironic when you think about how capitalist groups are also attacking scientists. Climate scientist everywhere are under attack from a very well funded and organized campaign. Some of the groups behind much of this campaign are Koch Industries, Scaife Foundation. The Heartland Institute, a front organization for the fossil fuel industry, also provides funds for this campaign.

So, anarchists on one end of the spectrum blame scientists for capitalism. Extreme capitalists on the other end of the spectrum are blaming scientists for working against their interests. Maybe someone should explain to both of these groups that scientists merely try to figure out how nature works. What people do with that knowledge is a different story and not really our responsibility. Explosives have been used to do terrible things, but they have also been used to do wonderful things. In fact, explosives have been used for good much more than for bad, but there will still be people who think that scientists are somehow at fault for their work that led to the discovery of those explosives.

All of this relates to the climate wars. Scientists are merely trying to figure out what is happening in nature. Nature is not sentient and is not affected by what we know or don't know. What happens will happen whether we understand it, or not. When people try to shut up climate scientists and attack their work all they are doing is increasing ignorance. The climate will continue to change, even without any climate scientists to study it. But, if we all stop, then when the changes to the climate happen there won't be anyone to understand why those changes are occurring.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Larry Bell

One of my favorite climate change deniers is Larry Bell. Bell is an architecture professor that fancies himself an expert on climate change. Actually, he is a master of spinning and false argument. His articles in Forbes magazine and found on are highly deceitful. They are full of inaccuracies and outright lies. But, he is very effective at convincing people to believe in his message, no matter how much in error it is.

This is where people need to step back, take a deep breath and do a little homework into what Bell says. When you make a little effort what happens is his arguments fall apart very quickly. The simple fact is there is never any science to back up Bell's claims. When he claims there is, a quick check shows that it is just not the case. Take a look at this review of Bell by the climatologists (real scientists, unlike Bell) at

One of Bell's patrons in Senator James Inofe (R-OK) who is perhaps the biggest climate change denier in the Senate. Not coincidentally, he is the biggest recipient of donations from the fossil fuel industry, including Saudi Arabia (indirectly). Really, do you think the Saudis have our best interests at heart? These are the guys that funded Al Qaeda and danced in the streets on 9/11. Inofe receives money from them, mostly via The Heartland Institute and other institutes, and Bell toes the line drawn by Inofe. What does that tell you about Bell and his message?

But, people keep reading him, believing in his message, and normally respectable magazines like Forbes continue to pay him to write articles. There is the problem. No matter how false the statement, people continue to believe it. In short, they believe what they want to believe. Bell is selling what they want to buy so they welcome him with open arms.

I have had discussions with climate change deniers and they without fail pull out some tired old statement that has been proven false. But, when I tell them it is false and show them why it is false, they don't want to believe me. I can show the scientific evidence proving the denier claims are false, but it doesn't matter. I like to ask them, 'What will make you believe climate change is real?". Usually, they will prevaricate without giving a straight answer, but I have had some tell me, straight out, "Nothing." At least they are being honest. If you are reading Larry Bell and you believe what he says, then you are probably in that camp. If that is the case, why are you even reading Bell's columns, or anyone else's, for that matter? You have already decided you are smarter than the 97% of climate change scientists that state manmade climate change is real.

So, I have to ask you, if you are a climate change denier, what will make you change your mind and believe in manmade climate change?

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Thoughts on Climate Armageddon

I am an advocate of manmade global climate change, and have been for a long time now. I was first convinced of the scientific validity of this in the mid-1980s. Every day since then has reaffirmed my scientific belief.

At the same time, I have stood fast against alarmist predictions. I have a hard time seeing the validity in them and feel they work against the effort to convince the public and politicians that we need to take action now.

I read today an article on that I think perfectly illustrates the point. This article was adapted from the book, "The Fate of the Species: Why the Human Race May Cause Its Own Extinction and How We Can Stop It," by Fred Guterl. Fred Guterl is not some light weight. He is the executive editor of Scientific American and has been doing science reporting for over 25 years. However, despite his credentials, Mr. Guterl is wrong in this article and I will show you why I say so. I have not read the entire book, so I will not comment on it.

The article focuses on nine 'tipping points,' as defined by climate scientist Tim Lenton at the University of East Anglia. Dr. Lenton identifies tipping points as a combination of factors that could lead to a sudden change in dynamic factors. In the case of the climate, these tipping points, he claims, could result in a change in the climate occurring in a matter of a few years or even a period of a few months. I do not dispute that each of the tipping points is a cause of concern. What I dispute is the idea that these might result in a catastrophic change in the climate over a short period of time.

Let me briefly summarize these tipping points:

1. Failure of the Indian Ocean monsoons. This is caused by the combination of pollution in the air that causes the monsoons to weaken and global warming which causes the monsoons to get stronger. The result is a kind of balancing act that could rapidly change the monsoons.

2. Failure of West Africa monsoons. The same as the Indian Ocean monsoons, except applied to the monsoons of West Africa.

3. Loss of Arctic sea ice. He postulates that as the summer ice sheet continues to get smaller and thinner it could eventually result in a year-round ice-free Arctic Ocean. This would result in continuous warming and a change in the ocean currents.

4. Collapse of the Greenland ice sheet. The ice sheet could collapse much more quickly that predicted (by a factor of 3 times faster), resulting is dramatic sea level rises worldwide.

5. Altering of the North Atlantic ocean currents. The change in fresh water in the North Atlantic Ocean due to the melting of the Arctic ice sheets and the Greenland glaciers will cause the dynamics of the North Atlantic currents to alter, greatly affecting the climate of Europe.

6. Collapse of the West Antarctic ice sheet. See the collapse of the Greenland ice sheet above, only much bigger.

7. Collapse of Amazon rain forests. Droughts get longer and more severe in the Amazon, leading to a change in the climate.

8. Collapse of Canadian boreal forests. Same thing, but with the Canadian forests.

9. Altering of the El Nino - La Nina Southern Oscillation. The Southern Oscillation drives much of the world's weather. Global warming will result in changes to this oscillation and cause changes to the world climate.

So, there are the nine tipping points he mentioned. Like I said before, I don't have any particular problem with this list, it is the time frame that I have the biggest concern with. To begin with, he defined a tipping point as something that occurred over a few years or even a few months. Some of these things, he states, will take hundreds of years to occur. That hardly fits the definition of a 'tipping point' that was put forth. Specifically, he estimates the melting of the ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica will take about 300 years. In both cases, this is dramatically less than the more than 1000 years that is predicted for both. Still, 300 years is quite a bit of time. In comparison, the United States is only 236 years old this year.

Looking at numbers 1 and 2, the two about the monsoons. We are already seeing changes in the monsoons and this is an issue of great alarm. Well over 1 billion people depend on these monsoons for their livelihood and their food supplies. However, while we are certainly concerned with the idea of these monsoons changing, the scientific evidence does not support the idea that they may change dramatically, or even cease, anytime in the next few years. Could it happen? Possibly. And, we need to be concerned and work to prevent it. But, it is not something we need to worry about happening within the next few years.

Number 3 deals with the loss of the Arctic ice sheet. This is, once again, something of great concern. As the ice sheet melts the dark ocean will absorb much more sunlight than the bright ice that reflected much of it. However, the North Pole is in darkness six months of the year and the entire Arctic Ocean experiences lengthy, and cold, winters. It is not believable that the Arctic Ocean will be ice free throughout the winter in the foreseeable future.

I already mentioned numbers 4 and 6, concerning the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. Even if he is right, 300 years does not qualify as a tipping point. But, the change in the North Atlantic Ocean currents certainly does. This is one that he may be right about. In fact, one of the seldom discussed problems with the melting of the Arctic ice sheet is the fact that old ice is composed of fresh water. Ice slowly squeezes the salt out and so becomes more and more fresh as it ages. As this old ice is melting in the Arctic Ocean it is creating a large bubble of fresher water sitting on top of the ocean. There is concern that this bubble might be forced into the North Atlantic and we really aren't sure what would happen if it does. Adding billions of tons of fresh water from the melting of the Greenland ice sheet will only make matters worse. And, what is all of that extra fresh water going to do to the currents around Antarctica?

Changes in the Amazon rain forest are already being observed. As the forest is chopped back, it no longer has the critical mass to affect the climate the way it use to. Already, we see that droughts are more frequent, more severe and last longer in the Amazon region. These droughts are causing trees to die, which will only make the situation more severe. There is no speculation on this. It is already happening. But, will it suddenly collapse in a matter of years? There isn't anything to make me believe this is true. The Amazon is an area under great stress that we need to be actively working to save. But, I do not believe it will suddenly collapse in a matter of a few years.

All of this also applies to the Canadian boreal forests.

Number nine may or may not be valid. We are really learning a lot about the Southern Oscillation, but there is much we don't understand. Could it suddenly change or disappear? Really, I don't think we know enough at this time to say. But, neither does Dr. Lenton.

So, is there anything I see in this list that I am concerned with? Yes, every thing he listed is something I am concerned with. Do I believe these things will suddenly 'tip over'? No, I really don't think the time frame is that fast.

And, as I have stated before, none of this helps us. The public does not believe in a "climate Armageddon." Claims like this tend to turn them off and make them think all scientists are alarmists. At the same time, I don't ever want to be mistaken for someone that says we shouldn't be concerned about these issues. We should. And, we need to start working on them right away. I just don't believe that yelling 'wolf' is the best way to get people motivated.

Sooner or later, they won't listen to you anymore.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Australia's climate history displays the Hockey Stick

The scientific paper, "Evidence of unusual late 20th century warming from an Australasian temperature reconstruction spanning the last millennium," published in the journal of the American Meteorological Society, reports the results of reconstructing the Australian climate for the last 1000 years. They used tree rings, cores from corals and ice cores to build the proxy record. This record was then used to help validate climate models. This reconstruction shows the same hockey stick pattern that has been routinely identified in the northern hemisphere. The researchers found the warmest pre-industrial revolution period occurred in A.D. 1238 - 1267, right in the period known as the Medieval Warm Period (MWP). The coldest period occurred between A.D. 1830-1859, at the end of the Little Ice Age. There was no period that matched or exceeded the period since 1950.

This study was interesting for more than the climate pattern. What they found was that they only way they could get models to reproduce this data was to include natural forcings, such as solar and volcanic activity. But, they also found natural forcings could not reproduce the observed warming period since 1950. They only way they could reproduce the data was to include manmade emissions of greenhouse gases.

The climate change deniers will spin this up some how, they always do and the gullible people will fall for their lies and false arguments. But, the data keeps piling up. Within the scientific community there is virtually no debate that manmade climate change is real. Over 97% of climate scientists and over 80% of all scientists in all fields agree that manmade greenhouse gas emissions are changing the climate.Within the scientific community the focus is now more on understanding the dynamics of climate change and trying to figure out what we can do about it. But, before we can really do anything we must overcome the skepticism the general public has and to soundly refute the climate change deniers. 

Research like this Australian paper will help. It is one more big piece of the puzzle.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

More information on spring blooming

One of the things that has been noted about climate change is the fact that most plants are blooming in the spring much earlier than they use to. Sometimes, this early blooming is weeks earlier than records indicate it should be. But, about a quarter of plants don't follow this pattern. In fact, there are some plants that are blooming later than they use to. This really hasn't been a problem and has been viewed as an example of evolution at work - those species that adapt most readily are the ones most likely to survive.

Now, more information has been revealed about the late-blooming plants. It has been noted that the late bloomers are actually dependent on the fall temperatures. They need a cold fall and winter to set their time tables. When the fall and winter are too mild their clocks are off.

One of the interesting things about this research that isn't mentioned is that this is one more example of how more knowledge always confirms global warming. At first, these 25% of plants that were not blooming early seemed to be an exception to the changing climate observations. But, more investigation showed that they were actually responding to climate change, they were just doing it in a different way.

Apparently, you can fool a lot of people that climate change is not real, but no amount of false arguments are going to fool the plants. They know climate change is real.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Extremism works against reason

I read an article today in Scientific American about how a couple of studies that say we have already passed the tipping point in climate change. These studies claim we will see a catastrophic collapse in the world environment resulting in massive changes after 2050. They say we can expect to see the world population climb to about 8 billion people by 2040 only to see it drop to about 4 billion by 2100. The interesting thing about these studies is that the various factors they track appear to be moving in synch with the model predictions.  They reach their conclusions via different paths, but they both reach the same basic conclusion: We are in for trouble.

Well, maybe.

One of the things non-scientists miss is that scientifically valid studies come with error bars. This is the same as the plus or minus claim you see on political polls. The number quoted is the mid-range, but it could be anywhere between the plus or minus amount. I can throw a dart at a dart board and say that it hit the bulls eye, plus or minus the radius of the dart board and that would cover anything that actually managed to hit the board. But, people tend to focus on the quoted number, not the range.

If we look at the scientific forecasts about what is going to happen we see there are the ones that say there will be little change all the way to the ones that say there is no hope. The truth is, the reality will probably be somewhere in between. It is true that the extremes have a chance of being right, but there are many other options and they all have a chance of being correct, too. 

I believe we are in for some profound changes in our lives in decades to come. I hesitate to accept the premise that there is going to be a catastrophe and that billions of people will die. There are many reasons, but let me point on just one. The author of one of the studies stated that "Whereas in 1972 humans were using 85 percent of the regenerative capacity of the biosphere to support economic activities such as growing food, producing goods and assimilating pollutants, the figure is now at 150 percent—and growing." But, another study says carbon sinks have not reached capacity and instead keep growing in their capacity to absorb carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.The two values are not identical, but they would be related. This causes a question in my mind about the validity of the conclusion of the doomsday scenario.

And, this is a real problem because I'm not the only one that thinks that way. The difference is that when I question the validity of this study I do not automatically reject other studies and dismiss global climate change in its entirety. Other people will do just that. They will point at this study, conclude that it is wrong and then reach the conclusion that all other climate change predictions are also wrong. This is a hard argument to deal with because there is some truth to it, namely, the extremist predictions are probably not correct. But, it is a false argument to say that just because you find fault with the one study, therefore all other studies are equally at fault.

That is where we are in many of the public debates. In that regard, extremist claims like this just do not make the work easier.

So, please, if you find fault with one study do not judge every other study by that standard. Just like the political polls, the truth is probably somewhere in between.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

New information tends to refine models

One of the criticisms made by climate change deniers is that 'scientists don't know everything.' The premise of this is that as we learn more then what we thought to be true becomes false. In this particular instance, deniers claim that as we learn more we will learn there is no such thing as climate change. This, of course, is a totally false argument and there is a bit of recent research that illustrates this.

A new report came out showing how human use of water is contributing to sea level rise. This, of course, makes sense. We are pumping huge amounts of water out of aquifers and other land-based sources of water for use in agriculture, industry and for home use. Much of this water finds its way into the oceans, via one path or another. Measurements have shown this has added .7 mm/year worth of sea level rise.

Of course, deniers at this point will be going, 'Ah, ha! See! You were wrong about those climate change claims!' Actually, no. We were right and this study shows that. The problem has been that our calculations and measurements always came up with a shortage of about .7 mm/year in the sea level rise. When we did the calculations of sea level rise due to melting ice and thermal expansion our results were about .7 mm/year short of what was actually measured. There had to be an extra source for sea level rise that was not being factored in. Now, that source has been accounted for and the numbers add up very nicely.

The point of this is that the more we learn, the more we confirm and refine what we already know. And, the reason for this is simple. Any hypotheses or theory we come up with in the future must take into what we already know. We will not come up with a new theory that throws out everything we have already discovered. It may add a whole new dimension to it or change the way we look at things, but it will always include the discoveries that have already been made. It has to because those discoveries are properties of the natural world and the natural world does what it does with or without our understanding.

As we learn more and more about climate change the new discoveries are not going to refute climate change discoveries. They are rooted rock-solid in massive amounts of scientific evidence that is not suddenly going to go away. What we learn will merely refine what we already know and help us understand what is going on.

Those are the kinds of discoveries we need, ones that help us understand what is going on better.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Solutions Aren't Easy

Part of the problem with convincing a skeptical public that climate change is a problem is convincing them that there really isn't an easy solution. We have been trained by TV shows to believe that scientists can solve any problem within 60 minutes and still leave time for commercials. If you ask someone if they believe that kind of scenario they will look at you as if you have lost your mind. 'Of course not!,' they'll tell you. But, then they will turn right around and say that there is an easy solution to any given problem. We can solve the gas shortage tomorrow because scientists will come up with a car that gets 500 miles to the gallon. Everyone knows that and it is just the corporations that are preventing it. They don't want to loose money. Right?

Wrong! But, if someone believes that you can never convince them otherwise. And, that is part of the problem with climate change. So many people believe an easy solution is out there, so they don't believe we should worry about global warming. But, as this study shows, solutions are not nearly as easy as people want to believe.

As reported in Physics Today, this facility in Norway is working on carbon capture technology. Basically, the idea is the address global warming by removing the extra carbon dioxide we are putting in the atmosphere. However, they have found the process is very expensive. And, it uses a lot of energy. The generation of energy typically puts carbon dioxide in the air. You could use nuclear power or hydroelectric power, but unless you are building new power plants just for the carbon capture facilities you will be taking power away from other users and that power will have to be replaced with power from some other power plant. It is highly probable that the carbon capture facility will actually result in even more carbon dioxide being put into the atmosphere and doing it at great expense.

Then, there is the other extreme, the people that just say we need to stop putting greenhouse gases in the air. Sounds good, right? Wrong again! Just what are we going to do without so that we can stop putting greenhouse gases in the air? Are we going to do without electric power? Are we going to stop using cement? Are we going to stop putting fertilizer on our crops? All of these have serious consequences and would result in greatly decreased standards of living. And, the lower your income the more your standard of living would be affected. The rich will still live well. It is the middle class and the low-income people that would bear the burden.

So, what is the solution? I don't know. But, I know we aren't going to find it in 60 minutes and between commercial breaks.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Polar Bear Issue

Scientists know that all data is not created equal. The instruments and methods used can greatly affect the results. Then, there are things like normalization and error bars. The term 'comparing apples to oranges' is over used, but still applicable. Scientists know all of this and we work with the data to try and get a comprehensive picture of what ever it is we are measuring.

But, the public doesn't always understand this. To them, the results are an absolute and absolutes are not apples and oranges. They are apples and apples and can be compared. This sometimes leads to problems in communication and interpretation.

A recent report on polar bear population is just such a case in point. A new study came out that appears to say that the polar bear population is increasing, despite claims by climate scientists that their habitat is disappearing and putting the species at risk. Naturally, climate change deniers are pointing this out. What is not explained very well is that this study was done by aerial surveys and it is being compared to counts done by a different method, catch and recatch. This really is comparing apples and oranges.

The catch and recatch method consists of doing exactly what it says, they catch bears, tag them and then release them. These bears are tracked and later caught again. This data is then used to calculate how many bears there are in a given area. The latest report used aerial photographs, over a larger area, to visually count the number of bears in the target area. Both of these methods have their problems and give a count only withing a certain error range, a plus or minus amount.

So, the issue is the new report, the aerial counting one, is giving a higher number of bears than the latest catch and recatch report. If you take the two as being equal then the number of bears appears to be increasing. But, we don't know if the counts are equal. Can we take the numbers of one and compare them straight up to the numbers from the other? We don't know yet. There are plans to do comparison studies, but it is not yet known how the two compare. We may find that the catch and recatch method gave very different numbers than the aerial count. If that happens then the claim of increasing population means nothing. It is also possible that the two compare well. In that case, the population would have increased over the last few years. The point being, we don't know at this time and it is too early to drawing conclusions. This is just one datum point.

It is interesting to note that the new study does not conclude the population is increasing. It merely states the count. It is the media and public that is drawing the conclusion from that data.

But, if you are going to draw that conclusion, then you also have to note a disturbing note from the study: the number of young bears is very low. Only 3 percent of the population consists of yearlings, as compared to a normal of about 15 percent. If this holds up it would indicate a bad future for the bear population.

Why do we care? After all, the polar bear is one of the most vicious animals in the world. Will the world really care if the polar bear population goes down by a big percentage, or even goes to zero? The answer is that the polar bear population isn't really the story, its the change in their habitat that we are interested in. As Arctic sea ice melts and reduces the bear's habitat, the population will decrease. So, if we see a drop in bear population then that helps to confirm what we have been measuring by other means.

However, we cannot take a single data point in this debate and draw conclusions, one way or the other. We need years and decades of data. No matter what this latest survey says once it is calibrated to the other counting method, it will be only one datum point in many.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Warming in Antarctica is Getting Worse

One of the talking points for climate change deniers concerns warming in Antarctica. "Why," they ask, "isn't Antarctica warming if there is global warming?" Of course, the answer is that it is warming. It is somewhat sheltered by circum-antarctic air currents that trap the cold air over the continent, but even that hasn't been enough. Now, models show that it is getting even worse.Some of the ice sheets previously thought to be stable are now seen to be vulnerable.

Ice sheets, great expanses of floating ice at the end of glaciers, are susceptible to global warming from above and below. The warmer air will heat them from above while warmer ocean currents will melt them from below. The Amundsen Sea, located at the southern end of the Pacific Ocean, has been know for a long time to be vulnerable in this way. But, it was thought the Weddell Sea, at the southern end of the Atlantic Ocean, was sheltered from warm ocean currents. Now, research is indicating that isn't as much of a sure thing as previously thought. As the atmosphere warms, this will help drive warm currents into the Weddell Sea and accelerate melting of the ice sheets there.

Melting of the ice sheets won't, by itself, cause sea levels to rise. That is because the ice is already in the water and melting ice doesn't cause the sea level to rise. Put ice in a glass of water and mark where the water line is. Come back later after the ice has melted and compare the water line. You'll find it is the same. But, the ice sheets are preventing the glaciers from running down into the ocean. Remove the ice sheets and the land-bound ice will slide into the ocean more rapidly. Moving the ice from land into the ocean will result in higher ocean levels. In fact, pretty significantly higher. By the end of this century, the model shows the ice sheets will lose 1,600 billion tons of ice per year. This is enough to lift the oceans by .17 inches per year. In comparison, the oceans today are rising at a rate of .05 inches per year.

So, the accelerated melting of the Weddell Sea will result in an ocean rising rate that is more than three times the current rising rate and do it by itself. Then, there are the other causes of rising oceans to factor in. By the end of the 21st century, coastal land will be disappearing, either by submersion or erosion.

But, the end of the 21st century is a long way away. If you are reading this blog today in 2012, you will probably not see the year 2100. So, why should you care?

It is simple. You could turn your back on the future and let the people that follow us take care of our problems. Or, you can chose to take responsibility for your actions and do something about it. Of course, remember that things will be getting worse between now and the year 2100, so we all will suffer the consequences of our actions and inactions.

But, that is your choice. Which way do you want to go?

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Next Generation Climate Models

Climate change deniers like to attack the credibility of climate change models. One of the common charges is that 'you can make a model do anything you want.' In this way they are able to fool the public with a false argument.  The fact is, models must faithfully represent natural processes, or it isn't a model. I cannot go out and generate some computer code that will give me a desired end result. That is not a model. If I am creating a model then it has to be something that follows the laws that govern what ever it is I'm modeling. In the case of climate change, this would be the laws of physics.

Research scientists creating climate models must write the laws of physics into their code. If done correctly, the researcher can then input a data set and the results will accurately reflect the consequences of that data set. Unfortunately, this is very difficult. The laws of physics on the scale of planetary climate systems is very complicated and has a large number of variables. The good news is that researchers have been working on these models for a long time and are very skilled at what they do. Each new set of models is more and more sophisticated and accurate. In fact, today's climate models are becoming amazingly accurate and produce results that accurately reflect the world's climates.  Models today have been able to reproduce past climate changes as well as climate features of today. 

It is important that these models are tested and compared with other models. This is called validation and is the process of determining just how accurate a model is.Obviously, validation is an extremely important step in modeling. We all need to know just how dependable a model is if we want it to be of any use. That is why climate models are subjected to some of the most rigorous validation of any models anywhere. There is a very good chapter on climate model validation in the latest IPCC report.

Deniers will point out that models are only so accurate and there is still some errors in them. These statements are true, but irrelevant. If we were able to model the climate down to the last atom on the planet, there would still be some errors. What the deniers don't want you to know is that models give us results that are so accurate that we can now use them to make forecasts and their results can be reliably used in policy making decisions.

The real reason deniers don't like climate models is that they consistently and repeatedly show the only way we can have the climate of today is if manmade emissions are factored in. Without gases generated by humans we would have a significantly different climate today. This is just more than the deniers can stand to hear.

But, work is always in progress and I noticed that the National Science Foundation is calling for proposals for new advances in climate models.

I'm sure the deniers will use this as a false argument with the claim that models are so bad the government is vainly trying to find people that can figure out a way to make a better one. Well, don't listen to them. The models are good, but that is no reason to not want to improve them.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Good News on Solar Power - Sort Of

An article in Reuter's today stated that the world's electrical generating capacity from solar cells is expected to rise to between 207.9 gigawatts and 342.8 GW by 2016. It is certainly good news to see we are developing solar capacity. But, there are drawbacks, as well.

The first thing to understand about solar energy is that it is not cheap. In fact, it is very expensive in comparison to other sources of electricity. In the U.S., the average rate for electricity is about $.09 per kilowatt-hour (kWh). But, not all generated electricity is equal. Currently, nuclear power is about $.10/kWh; coal is about $.08/kWh; and natural gas is about $.064/kWh. Solar power tops them all at about $.15/kWh. This is more than 66% higher than the average and almost 2 1/2 times what it costs to generate electricity with natural gas. To convert over to solar power would be a gigantic economic hit for the country.

The good news is all of this is the price of solar power has been dropping very rapidly over the last couple of decades. It has even dropped by about 25% since 2008. And, as more and more solar power plants are built and demand goes up, the price should drop even more. It is estimated that solar power will reach parity with other forms of power generation within the next decade.

But, the other bad thing about solar power is that the manufacture of solar cells is not environmentally friendly. The manufacture of solar cells involves using some extremely nasty chemicals. As the tonnage of the waste products from solar cell plants builds up we are experiencing a crisis with storage. And, unlike nuclear waste, this chemical waste will be poisonous for all eternity, it will not decay into something harmless. It is strange to note the similarities between the solar cell industry and the nuclear power industry, but environmentalists don't seem to care about the solar cell industry problems.

The good news on this front is that the industry is working to reduce the hazards involved.

If we continue the way we are, we will reach the point where solar cells are safe and economical to manufacture and install. At that time, they will become a real competitor to traditional sources of power.

All of this illustrates the point that there are no easy fixes for the climate problems we find ourselves in. It took hundreds of years for us to get to this point, we are not going to fix it over night, or even quickly. We need to learn to agree on this, that we need to take steps, but those steps need to be rationale, well-thought out and not extremists.

Doing nothing and doing something very severe would both be extremists and both need to be avoided.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Heartland Institute and Deception

From the 1960s through the 1990s the tobacco industry funded a group of people that worked to deny any research linking smoking to lung diseases. As it turned out, the tobacco companies all knew this, they just didn't want anyone else to know. There is a good book about this called 'The Merchants of Doubt.' It was very effective, too. I remember talking to a guy and when I said smoking causes lung cancer this guy went berserk and screamed in my face about how I didn't know what I was talking about. Funny thing about this incident was the guy was a non-smoker.

Now, we find that the same players are using the same tactics when it comes to climate change. The fossil fuel companies all know climate change is real, this is obvious in their actions. At the same time, they are funding climate change deniers to prevent reform measures that might cost them money. One of the principle players in both the tobacco cover-up and the climate change deception is The Heartland Institute.

The Heartland Institute recently came to media attention when Peter Glieck was able to obtain documents from the Institute itself showing how its is funded by fossil-fuel companies and, in turn, funds climate change deniers. Glieck initially obtained some documents from an anonymous source and then obtained others directly from the Institute using an assumed name. The Heartland Institute has been furious about how the mask was ripped off and state the documents were stolen and forged. Neither claim is true. Glieck obtained the documents legally and the Instituted willfully turned them over. The use of an assumed name doesn't change that fact at all. This is done all the time. The police do this frequently to get information from criminals and that is no defense for the bad guys in court. And, we now know the Institute itself hides its name and involvement from the public.

The Institute and its paid climate change deniers have worked at selling to the public the story that climate change isn't valid. But, in every head-to-head event the deniers have lost. It is simple, the only way you can be a climate change denier is to reject science. And, when you reject science it will become pretty obvious when you are held to scientific scrutiny.

I challenge anyone to provide even one single instance when the climate change deniers have not been found to be scientifically invalid. Pure and simple. Just one.

Instead of focusing on valid science, The Heartland Institute has focused on personal attacks on climate change scientists. The most recent example of this was billboards comparing climate scientists to the Unabomber. But, this apparently went too far even for the Institute's supporters and the billboard was removed after one day. Their excuse? They now claim it was merely an experiment. One of their public supporters claimed it was 'battle fatigue.'

I, and many others, have to wonder. If there was any truth to the message of The Heartland Institute, why does it have to resort to these vicious, personal attacks? That does nothing to address the science. Why is it the deniers are unable to refute the science in a valid manner? Could it be that there is no valid science to their claims?

The answer to the last question is, 'Yes.'

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Another Oil Firm Bets on Global Warming

On one hand the fossil fuel industry is engaged in a campaign to deny global warming. But, on the other hand they are making huge investments that only make sense if they believe in global warming. Norways' Statoil is the third oil company to make a deal with Russian oil company Rosneft to invest in Arctic Ocean drilling. This follows deals made by the U.S. company ExxonMobil and the Italian company Eni.

Ice in the Arctic Ocean would prohibit drilling in this region, so it first appears the oil companies have lost their minds. However, sea ice is being greatly reduced by global climate change and the Arctic Ocean is becoming less and less ice bound. This reduction in ice is opening up the Arctic region to development and shipping. But, if you don't believe in global warming then you wouldn't believe that the ice will continue to get thinner. The very fact that these four giant companies are willing to pony-up billions of dollars to develop oil deposits shows they are very confident the sea ice will be a manageable problem.

Follow the money. And, it seems the money is making a very definitive statement about global warming.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Climate Change Policies Cost Money

It is easy to come up with ideas of how to address climate change. Its harder to find ones that would actually work. It is harder still to find one that will work and is affordable. Governments work on ways to take our money away from us. We work on ways to prevent that. Since the public is more nimble than the government, the public almost always wins.

For instance, in 1990 Congress passed a luxury tax on things like yachts. The idea was that rich people buy yachts so this would be a good way to tax the rich. Of course, the rich are very good at avoiding things that take their money away, so they either didn't buy yachts or bought them somewhere else. In a mere two years about 100 yacht builders were hit hard and laid off thousands of workers. Tax revenues plunged. The tax finally had to be repealed in 1992 before the entire industry was decimated.

It would be nice if governments would learn from their mistakes, but they don't. The new luxury tax equivalent is climate change legislation. The idea is that a government can legislate some policy to fix climate change and we will all meekly follow along, no matter the cost. The truth is, the public will find a way to avoid the cost.

The latest example of this is in British Columbia. A carbon tax was initiated there in 2008 and was supposed to reduce BC's carbon footprint. It would start small and get bigger over time to allow industry to adjust. This was all done with the expectation that other provinces, some U.S. states and maybe the U.S. as a whole would join in with similar legislation.

Well, the others didn't join in and BC found itself the only player with this big tax on its industry, which they passed on to their customers, of course. Now, BC industry found itself at a economic disadvantage. Products from BC were too expensive and people bought more of their goods from other places. Places that didn't have a carbon tax. The effect of the BC carbon tax was to transfer carbon emissions by transferring business to other locations that did not participate in the tax. The other places got the jobs and tax revenues. BC saw their rates decrease.

British Columbia has realized what is going on is looking at repealing the tax.

All of this serves to show that solving the climate change issue is not simple, it won't be easy and it won't be cheap. Which is one of the reasons why we can't get it done. Simple economics has to be applied to any proposed policy before it is enacted. We could, in theory, replace our power plants with solar cell farms that would generate electricity during the day, store it and then release it during the night.

The problem is that it would be about three times as expensive as what we already have. Imagine poor and middle class families getting hit with a tripling of their utility bills. And, since the cost of electricity is factored into the cost of just about everything, we would see dramatic increases in prices across the board.

When we look at it in those terms, the idea just doesn't seem as attractive.

But, we need to do something. We have to find a way we can come together and make something happen. If we don't, we and our children will be in trouble.

What Was The Heartland Institute Thinking?

One of the most notorious anti-science organizations out there is The Heartland Institute. This place is literally owned and operated by the fossil-fuel industry and its supporters. Falsehood for falsehood, they are one of the most misleading organizations out there when it comes to climate change. They try to sound scientific and present themselves as an alternative source of scientific information, but everything they say has been repeatedly debunked. In addition to misinformation, they also engage in attacks on climate scientists with the two-fold mission of attempting to discredit them (if you can't refute the message, kill the messenger) and to intimidate other climate scientists. Unfortunately, both of these tactics are successful. Many people in the general public buy into what they say and many climate scientists refuse to speak publicly about their work for fear of personal attack. I spoke to one climate scientist who told me he has to employ a body guard when he makes public appearances because of the threats of physical attack that have been made against him

The next step in The Heartland Institute's campaign against climate scientist was to erect billboards in the Chicago area comparing climate scientists to Ted Kaczynski (the Unabomber), Charles Manson and Fidel Castro. The reaction was so negative, even among their supporters, that they immediately had them removed, but the damage was done. They showed their true colors and they showed they are not interested in any kind of discourse about climate change and what needs to be done about it. There is a great need for some level headed thinking in how to deal with climate change and The Heartland Institute and its supporters have shown they do not fit the bill.

What is ironic is that The Heartland Institute is the one that compares most closely to the criminals mentioned. Ted Kaczynski was anti-science, as is The Heartland Institute. Charles Manson was a serial killer that killed people to further his won goals, as does the owners and supporters of The Heartland Institute. And, Fidel Castro is the dictator of Cuba and, among other crimes against humanity, rigorously censors everything in Cuba. The Heartland Institute has shown they want censorship and engage in it at every opportunity.

The old saying is actions speak louder than words. The Heartland Institute did both this time and now we can see just exactly what kind of people they are.

Friday, May 4, 2012

U.S Department of Defense Believes in Global Warming

The U.S. Secretary of Defense made an interesting comment this week:

“The area of climate change has a dramatic impact on national security. Rising sea levels, severe droughts, the melting of the polar caps, the more frequent and devastating natural disasters all raise demand for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.”

-- Defense Secretary Leon Panetta in a speech to the Environmental Defense Fund, as quoted by The Washington Examiner.
He went on to call climate change a threat to national security.  This, of course, is very embarrassing for global warming deniers because there is no politics involved here. Secretary Panetta and the DoD is responsible for protecting the country and anticipating future scenarios that may threaten us. They employ some of the finest scientists and minds in the country to work these problems. These people have access to vast amounts of geophysical data collected all over the world, some of which is not available to the public. And, the conclusion of these scientists?

Climate change is real and is a threat to our national security.

Once again, science trumps deniers.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Global Warming Affects Plants More Than Expected

Nature is has an amazing internal clock. We have found we can predict, almost to the hour, when certain things will happen during the year. We can track when flowers open and leaves bud in the spring. We can predict how crops will grow during the summer and when to harvest them in the fall. And, we can measure when plants go dormant in the fall. Of course, we can also measure the animal activities associated with all of these milestones, such as when animals migrate.

What we have found is that this timetable is changing. Events that occur in the spring are occurring at progressively earlier times. And, the fall time table is occurring progressively later. This means spring is coming earlier and winter is coming later. This is a sure sign of global warming.

What we want to be able to do is predict how this timetable will change with future changes to the global environment. What we find is that changes actually occur much faster than we thought.

A study published in Nature magazine found that plants are actually responding to global warming much more than predicted. This is a real problem because if plants flower too early then the insects that feed on those flowers won't be there. When the insects arrive, the flowers will be gone. Then, the animals up the food chain that depend on those insects will suffer. And, this will progress right on up the food chain.

People are fond of saying, "So what?" when it comes to global warming. This is an example of the 'what'. You cannot change one part of the equilibrium of nature and not expect to see repercussions.

It is just a law of nature. And, we need to understand that.

Global Warming Isn't Bad for Everyone

Cockroaches will love it!

Credit: Martin Davidian

Cartoon about roaches and climate change

Global Warming Doesn't Help Plants

One of the claims by global warming deniers is that as global temperatures rise higher temperatures will stimulate plants to grow and they will keep the temperature level from rising more by absorbing carbon dioxide. Of course, this is a rather amazing claim by people that say global warming doesn't exist. They are really playing both sides of the coin here. They want to say global warming doesn't exist, but is good for plants at the same time. How could it be good for plants if it isn't happening?

Well, that is no longer a problem because research has found that global warming isn't good for plants, after all. In a study funded by the National Science Foundation scientists subjected four grassland ecosystems to simulated global warming conditions. What they found was the plant growth was initially increased, but this decreased over time until the benefits disappeared completely.

Global warming deniers can now relax. They no longer have to make the contradictory statement that global warming will help plants when they claim it doesn't even exist. The fact is, it does exist and it isn't good for the plants.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Scaring off the audience

Global warming is an issue we need to be addressing, not arguing about. With so much scientific evidence proving the case you would think it would be easy to convince everyone. But, its not. There are a lot of reasons why this is so, but one of them has to be the fact that the public is being scared away. There are people actively working to scare the public with dooms day scenarios and by advocating drastic measures.

Here is a basic fact, we change the environment just by being here. We are not going away, to the chagrin of many, so we have to find a way to deal with the changes we cause.

This is unacceptable to some. They think the unblemished world of pre-humans is somehow superior to anything we have today. Any changes made by man on the world are inferior to anything that existed naturally. These people propose steps that are very unacceptable to most of the public. When someone says utility bills for the household need to increase until electricity becomes so expensive people quit using it, that is viewed as being extremist by most of the public and it will be rejected. The damage is done by associating global warming with extremist demands.

When the government steps in and tries to mandate 'green' measures the idea will almost always fail. The government seldom, if ever, achieve the desired goal. Almost always, the result is the exact opposite of what was desired. In the U.S. efforts to promote 'green' industries has been disastrous and has resulted in the subsidized companies going broke and laying off thousands of workers. In Spain, economists found that government efforts to create 'green' jobs cost over $750,000 per job. Many countries are quietly abandoning their 'green' measures. I wonder how long it will be before Germany decided nuclear power plants aren't such a bad thing, after all (ironically, the greenest of all power sources). Green measures have increased the cost of energy, which hits the poor and middle-class especially hard.

Again, there are those that think that is a wonderful thing. Make gasoline so expensive that everyone quits driving, right? But, what effect will that have on people's lives? If gas goes up, then all transportation costs go up, as well. Food prices go up. Costs for finished goods go up. This hits people right in the wallet. So, they cut back on their purchases, which means someone loses their job because there is no longer a demand for their services. More people laid off means a further reduction in demand, and more layoffs. This will cause a downward spiral ending in a recession.

Now, the average person really doesn't want their cost of living to go up and they certainly don't want to see a recession. So, when someone says we should be trying to do this because it would reduce the amount of greenhouse gases, well, the average person doesn't find it amusing. They will view the person advocating these ideas to be kooks (and, the should), but they will also view all of climate science to be the same.

When they reject the extremists they will also reject the science.

And, that is a big part of our problem today. We have to convince the public that global warming is real. We also have to convince them that we are not trying to take their rights away from them. We need to work together to find a solution to the problem, not be making enemies of each other.

The extremism, on both sides, is not helping.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Carbon Dioxide and the Last Ice Age

One of the pieces of evidence climate change deniers like to pull out is data showing the global temperature at the end of the last ice age increased prior to the increase in CO2 levels. I remember hearing a lecture by one the chief deniers, Richard Lindzen, where he pointed at a graph showing temperature rise before CO2 rise and saying that cause is suppose to precede effect. Pretty clever and it was effective with the audience. I looked around and noticed how many people were nodding their heads in agreement. This piece of data has been difficult, but not impossible to explain. But it is remarkable that deniers will say this one piece of evidence is conclusive while ignoring all other evidence. They are like a gleeful little kid that thinks he has found a treasure.

Now, they are finding out it was false gold all along..

One of the problems we have with figuring out what happened long ago is the data is sparse and difficult to get. We cannot just open an old almanac and look up the temperatures and CO2 levels for 20,000 years ago. We have to painstakingly compile the data by taking multiple samples at places all over the world. We can't rely on one kind of evidence, we have to collect many independent lines of evidence. Tree rings are great, but not enough. We need more. So, we collect sediments and drill ice cores in ice sheets. Then, we have to take these physical samples to the laboratory and make very fine and detailed measurements. Then we have to analyze the data and figure out what it means. And, we have to compare all of these different lines of evidence to ensure they are consistent with each other. If they aren't, we have to go back and find out why. All of this takes a great deal of time.

What that means is over time the data base gets better.

A new study used improved data to show the temperature at the end of the last ice age didn't lead the CO2 rise, it actually lagged the rise in CO2 levels. Take a look. The green line is global temperatures. The red line is the Antarctica temperature. The blue dots are measurements of CO2. (Credit: Shakun et al. Nature, 484, 49, 2012) :!/image/1587967850.jpg

With a more detailed database we can see the evidence now shows the level of CO2 in the atmosphere was clearly rising before the temperature was rising. A rising level of CO2 was the principle driver in the end of the last ice age.

The deniers ignored all of the other evidence before. I'm betting they will ignore this evidence as well. But, there's this thing about science. It's right; whether you want to believe or not.