Monday, July 30, 2012

Unintended consequences watch: ozone-eating derechos

Strong summer thunderstorms that pump water high into the upper atmosphere pose a threat to the protective ozone layer over the United States, researchers said on Thursday, drawing one of the first links between climate change and ozone loss over populated areas.  
Thus the NYT. From the abstract:
 The observed presence of water vapor convectively injected deep into the stratosphere over the United States fundamentally changes the catalytic chlorine/bromine free radical chemistry of the lower stratosphere by shifting total available inorganic chlorine into the catalytically active free-radical form, ClO. This chemical shift markedly affects total ozone loss rates and makes the catalytic system extraordinarily sensitive to convective injection into the mid-latitude lower stratosphere in summer. Were the intensity and frequency of convective injection to increase as a result of climate forcing by the continued addition of CO2 and CH4 to the atmosphere, increased risk of ozone loss and associated increases in UV dosage would follow.
 The questions this study poses raises are:

* Will stronger storms, one expected effect of global warming, seriously damage the ozone layer above the United States or other temperate or tropical regions?
* If so, how much damage?
* If the damage is serious, how much skin cancer for humans and animals? How much DNA damage to plants?

You can be certain that the final toll, whatever it is, is not factored in to any of the cost/benefit analyses of cutting greenhouse gas emissions. And you can be reasonably confident that "unintended consequences" like this will continue to bubble to the surface if, in less than an eyeblink of geologic time, we transform the Earth's climate into something last seen when dinosaurs roamed.

Nature is dangerous and powerful; that has not and will not change. But in the last 13,000 years of human history, humans have learned a great many of nature's dirty tricks and we have built a civilization around outwitting them. We help been helped in this by 8,000 years of extreme climate stability. All of our experience as a civilization, the some total of recorded history, all that we have managed to do in fostering health and prosperity in the teeth of indifferent nature have come during that flat line of global climatic stability.

Now we are changing the game to a game we've never played before and don't know the rules of. We are charging into the realm of the unknown unknowns, and even if we were to do everything right from this point, the coming centuries would be full of monsters of our own creation.


Full disclosure: I am not this good-looking.

The links on the right-hand side have gotten a little sloppy and out of date; I've commenced shaping them up. Things that looked good but updated rarely to never will be out; some great blogs like Dosbat and  Quark Soup that mysteriously vanished from the blog roll have been re-added; rocking newcomers (to this blog) like are creeping in.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Quote of the Day: Watts on BEST

I’m prepared to accept whatever result they produce, even if it proves my premise wrong.

-- Anthony Watts on BEST, March 6th, 2011

He didn't stop there, but went on to effusively praise the entire operation at BEST and the people involved:

Brillinger, another affable Canadian from Toronto, with an office covered in posters to remind him of his roots, has not even a hint of the arrogance and advance certainty that we’ve seen from people like Dr. Kevin Trenberth. He’s much more like Steve McIntyre in his demeanor and approach. In fact, the entire team seems dedicated to providing an open source, fully transparent, and replicable method no matter whether their new metric shows a trend of warming, cooling, or no trend at all, which is how it should be. I’ve seen some of the methodology, and I’m pleased to say that their design handles many of the issues skeptics have raised and has done so in ways that are unique to the problem.

Mind you, these scientists at LBNL (Lawrence Berkeley National Labs) are used to working with huge particle accelerator datasets to find minute signals in the midst of seas of noise. Another person on the team, Dr. Robert Jacobsen, is an expert in analysis of large data sets. His expertise in managing reams of noisy data is being applied to the problem of the very noisy and very sporadic station data. The approaches that I’ve seen during my visit give me far more confidence than the “homogenization solves all” claims from NOAA and NASA GISS, and that the BEST result will be closer to the ground truth that anything we’ve seen.
Now we have the results:

. . . and Tony's planning a big announcement. We'll see if he plans to live by those words, or eat them.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

It's official: Muller's NYT Op-Ed is out

He has, as was rumored, caught up to 1988:

CALL me a converted skeptic. Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.
It's nothing spectacular, as conversion experiences go, more of a dry reciting of of the basic points of the IPCC assessment, with more confidence that the earlier warming, from 1850 to 1970, was probably human-caused as well.

He even touched upon the Great Heresy:
Science is that narrow realm of knowledge that, in principle, is universally accepted. I embarked on this analysis to answer questions that, to my mind, had not been answered. I hope that the Berkeley Earth analysis will help settle the scientific debate regarding global warming and its human causes. Then comes the difficult part: agreeing across the political and diplomatic spectrum about what can and should be done.
 This is why the denial machine tolerates the hits to its credibility when its fake "experts" are outed. Actual scientists bring gravitas to the enterprise, but they are a little . . . politically unreliable.

Reported without comment

Greenland melt. How did I put it? "Is there any part of Greenland that will be safe from melt in 2050, 2060, 2070?" Note that "in 2012, a week from today" was not one of the options . . .

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Greenland melt expands and accelerates

First results from a new instrument:
Greenland--Greenland's ice sheets are melting extensively, even in some inland areas, according to an image generated from data obtained by a Japanese climate-observation satellite.

Data from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency's Shizuku satellite shows the ice has been in retreat most noticeably in the southern part of the vast island.

"In the south, ice is melting in many locations, even in inland areas at high altitudes," said Kazuhiro Naoki, who analyzed the satellite data.

In the image, the different hues of blue represent how many days the ice melted. Darker blue indicates where ice melted for longer periods.

The Shizuku satellite, which was carried into space on an H-2A rocket in May, observed the ice sheets between July 3 and 9. The data was analyzed at JAXA's Earth Observation Research Center.
That picture is astounding. Here's a picture of melting days in 1992, and again ten years ago in 2002:

Here's five years ago:


The spread of a lengthening melt across the south is very evident. The solid band of melt anomalies on the western coast is absent in 1992, a broken line in 2002 and 2007, and a solid line now.

Is there any part of Greenland that will be safe from melt in 2050, 2060, 2070? Do the models project extension of melt into the interior of Greenland of the kind we're seeing?

More to come.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Dat PIOMAS -- massive ice news roundup

The melting news is not good. First there is the volume of the Arctic sea ice, which has hit a record low for the third year running. Knowing the powerful influence of local weather conditions on the Arctic sea ice, the steady fall is surprising. The warming-driven melt signal is overpowering the year-to-year variations.

And then there's Greenland.

Smack dab in the middle of high convection cell, hotter than Hades (for them). And because slightly distressed snow is a lot darker than fresh/never melted snow, the overall albedo of the entire ice sheet is shifting in the direction of more heat absorption and even more melting:

h/t Neven, via Michael Tobis
Greenlanders got an up-close-and-personal look at the shape of things to come when roaring glacier runoff smashed through the bridges of Kangerlussuaq (h/t Climate Denial Crock of the Week):

Petermann Glacier also lost a chunk of ice twice the size of Manhattan:

h/t Climate Denial Crock of the Week
Wrap up from Neven here.

But all this may turn out to be the warm-up for the really stunning ice news of the week, which is the birth of a third long-term climate record, supplementing the ice cores of Antarctica and Greenland. "Lake E" is Siberia has come up big with 3 million years of sediment records.

Like most real science, the excitement of the press-release-worthy findings is somewhat mitigated by the boring necessity of having other scientists examine the findings, confirm the findings, etc. Some of the interesting stuff in the record, though, is as follows:

1. There seem to be large climate swings in the record which are far too large to be explained by orbital changes or any other known natural forcing. While this will doubtless be trumpeted by the "science knows nothing crowd," this result, if it holds up, would imply positive feedbacks in the climate system so powerful and exquisitely sensitive that they dwarf the original positive forcing. My sense of the recent literature has been that the most likely suspect for those feedbacks would be the carbon cycle (permafrost, changes in soil respiration, methyl hydrates, etc.) The authors of this study think that's not enough -- see #3, below.

2. The Arctic and Antarctic climates are linked. They tend to warm together and cool together.

3. Melting in Antarctica may turn out to trigger melting in Greenland and the rest of the Arctic:

First, they say, reduced glacial ice cover and loss of ice shelves in Antarctica could have limited formation of cold bottom water masses that flow into the North Pacific Ocean and upwell to the surface, resulting in warmer surface waters, higher temperatures and increased precipitation on land.
Alternatively, disintegration of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet may have led to significant global sea level rise and allowed more warm surface water to reach the Arctic Ocean through the Bering Strait.
Lake E's past, say the researchers, could be the key to our global climate future.
4. The loss of ice from Greenland in Antarctica is likely to accelerate (gee, really?)

Point #3 brings to mind something from Eli's place. Fellow amateurs, gird your loins and follow me:

Shakun et al. find that at the end of the last ice age temperature increased immediately in the Arctic but only slightly, probably as a result of increased radiation during the northern hemisphere summer. As a result a small portion of the Arctic ice melted. The melt water had a lower salt concentration and thus was less dense than the surface water and sank although mostly not to great depths. The result was that the AMOC and thus the associated redistribution of heat between the Arctic and the tropics was interrupted. This meant that the temperature in the high northern latitudes no longer rose, but may, in fact, have even decreased slightly. This is exactly what was found in the data. As a result, the temperature rose in the southern tropics and then the southern temperate latitudes and finally in Antarctica. Only then did the data show an increase in CO2. So somehow warming of the southern latitudes leads to increased emissions of CO2. Simultaneous determination of the isotopic ratio (for example, according to RF Anderson, S. Ali, LI Bradtmiller, SHH Nielsen, MQ Fleisher, BE Anderson, and LH Burckle, Wind-Driven Upwelling in the Southern Ocean and the Deglacial Rise in Atmospheric CO2, Science, 323 , 1443-1448 (2009).) suggests that the CO2 source is a consequence of biological fixation of carbon residues, for example in plankton deposited on the ocean floor. This increase in CO2 concentration is more than twice as strong as expected from outgassing of CO2 from warmer sea water alone.  It indicates that the exchange with the Southern Ocean deep water became more intense and carbon deposits were transferred from the depths to the surface. Only after a significant temperature increase in the south and an increase in CO2 concentration, did the temperature rise again in the northern hemisphere. This is interpreted as providing a feedback mechanism for for greenhouse gases to drive global warming.
What if we put that together with the "Lake E" speculations? To wit:
First, they say, reduced glacial ice cover and loss of ice shelves in Antarctica could have limited formation of cold bottom water masses that flow into the North Pacific Ocean and upwell to the surface, resulting in warmer surface waters, higher temperatures and increased precipitation on land.
Alternatively, disintegration of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet may have led to significant global sea level rise and allowed more warm surface water to reach the Arctic Ocean through the Bering Strait.
Lake E's past, say the researchers, could be the key to our global climate future.
 So I tell myself the story: a slight change in solar forcing heats the North, which interrupts warm ocean currents, causing the South to heat. Ice sheets collapse, southern ocean currents change, and by some combination of unearthing plankton carbon, rising sea levels, and/or changing ocean currents, the North warms further, and more greenhouse gases are released.

Interesting story. Warming gets passed back and forth from North to South, until from modest beginnings you have a climate warmer than the present day. So what happens if, instead of a tiny tap on the Northern latitudes with a modest increase in insolation, you instead hammer the entire planet from stem to stern with a massive greenhouse gas forcing? We're about to find out.

UPDATE: The sharp eyes of the Hawk have spotted the Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Programme's (AMAP) 2011 report on Snow, Water, Ice and Permafrost in the Arctic (SWIPA).His summary of the summary is excellent.

Mostly this is stuff that is not news to regular readers; snow and ice are melting faster and faster. The loss of ice and snow is a positive feedback that leads to further warming. Permafrost is melting, releasing more carbon (we don't know how much yet). Greenland will melt faster and faster, but nobody knows how fast yet. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

Breastfeeding denial

I have been doing this for a fair bit of time now (300th post!), and one of the interesting things about climate denial is that it is really just a special case of science denial, which in turn is a noble constellation in the wider universe of conspiracy theories. Science denial uses certain fallacies and appeals to emotion in predictable ways. Whether the subject is global climate change or breastfeeding infants, the same tropes proliferate.

Alissa Quart's "The Milk Wars" is an instant classic of the genre. At issue is a basic scientific fact; infants that are breastfed exclusively do better than their formula-fed peers:
The risk of hospitalization for lower respiratory tract infections in the first year is reduced 72% if infants are breastfed exclusively for more than 4 months. However, infants who exclusively breast- feed for 4 to 6 months have a fourfold increase in the risk of pneumonia com- pared with infants who exclusively breastfeed for more than 6 months. Exclusive breastfeeding for more than 3 months reduces the incidence of otitis media by 50%. Serious colds and ear and throat infections are reduced by 63% in infants who exclusively breastfeed for 6 months.
Any breastfeeding is associated with a 64% reduction in the incidence of nonspecific gastrointestinal tract infections, and this effect lasts for 2 months after cessation of breastfeeding.
A reduction in leukemia is correlated with the duration of breastfeeding— acute lymphocytic leukemia is reduced by 20%, and acute myeloid leukemia is reduced by 15% in infants breastfed for 6 months or longer.
Long-term health outcomes are affected by duration and/or presence of breastfeeding in infancy. The incidence of type 1 diabetes is reduced 30% in infants exclusively breastfed for at least 3 months. A reduction of 40% in type 2 diabetes also is reported, possibly reflecting the long-term positive effect of breastfeeding on weight control and feeding self-regulation. Celiac disease is reduced 52% in infants who were breastfed at the time of gluten exposure.
So, breastfeeding is optimal, although in any given case, it may be necessary to supplement with formula or formula-feed exclusively. Some mothers can't breastfeed, or have health problems or take medications (like seizure medications) that make it a bad idea. Society often does not support mothers who need to breastfeed or pump. But when babies can get breast milk, they are healthier.

Such are the facts. But Ms. Quart downplays facts, and emphasizes her feelings, which she takes to be deliberately provoked by others:
MY daughter was 2 days old, and dropping weight. I had been trying to feed her, but for some reason she wasn’t yet getting the liquid gold of colostrum, the earliest mother’s milk. When the hospital’s doctor paid his daily visit and mentioned her weight, my husband asked whether we should supplement with formula, gesturing at the little Similac bottles of hospital swag with the desperation of a business traveler eyeing vodka in the minibar — and with much of the same shame. The pediatrician swiftly confirmed our fears, intoning, “Formula is evil.” He was implying we were quasi-negligent for even considering it.
First we have a worry stemming from not knowing as much as she thinks she does: two-day-olds are supposed to be losing weight. Newborns lose weight for the first week of life; it's the way they're built. Nothing abnormal about that at all.

The physician, in colorful language, condemns formula, though he apparently mistook his audience for people with a sense of humor (I have often made the same mistake) or he would not have called formula "evil." Nevertheless, the author's sense of being deliberately judged is over the top: "He was implying we were quasi-negligent for even considering it."

If you don’t drink the Koolaid, you are committing crimes against nature or you are a racist or a terrorist. Guilty on all counts!
 Jim is actually talking about climate denial, not breastfeeding, but the sense of paranoia is the same. What is lost is the sense of the facts as facts that have to be dealt with. Instead the author focuses on how those facts make her feel. She tries to invoke a sense of being threatened and belittled; the power of those emotions, if she can persuade her readers to share them, will dwarf any impression the scientific evidence can make.
Nevertheless, fewer than half of American babies are breast-fed for six months. I understand why. Breast-feeding exclusively for the first year is just not feasible for many women, who sometimes get six weeks of paid maternity leave but often get none. Choosing formula as a supplement is reasonable, given this reality. Yet, however worthwhile nursing may be, the heightened pressure to breast-feed creates shame in those who don’t manage to do it, and today’s lactation rhetoric erroneously implies that nursing is the most crucial thing you can do for your infant’s welfare.  
After invoking the "shame," now it's time for the straw man: "lactation rhetoric."  It's so overstated and overblown. Did you know they say nursing is the most crucial thing you can do for your infant's welfare? Who are "they"? The lactation rhetoricians, of course.

And you can probably find this point of view expressed somewhere online. Not by the American Academy of Pediatrics, though; they know better. Breastfeeding is a good thing for a child's health, but if you ask a doctor who cares for kids what the most crucial thing you can do for a child's welfare, I think most of them would say "don't shake the kid." (Now, if they look you up and down and say "birth control," that would be an example of a doctor that doesn't think well of you.)

After the straw man, the science denier usually feels they need to offer some explanation for why people are deluded enough to belief differently than she does. Whether it's the "Socialist World State" or "rent-seeking scientists," there needs to be a reason why the other side exists and has gone to the great trouble of confusing the public about it:
The current fascination with breast-feeding is also an extension of a society’s efforts to control risk, including risk to our children. Mandatory, exclusive breast-feeding is, in this thinking, a kind of harm-reduction or abatement. It’s part of a collective dream of reducing all danger to nil. It’s also fueled by an idealization of the natural in a world that is ever more artificial.
 I tend to think cutting your child's risk of getting diabetes by a third and cutting their risk of ear infections in half is objectively pretty awesome, but doubtless this is because I am "idealiz[ing] the natural world."

As so often, there's a conversion story in which the unhappy believer (in breastfeeding) finds an online authority and is transformed into a happy skeptic:
I discovered Dr. Amy Tuteur, whose site is called The Skeptical OB. She worked for seven years as an obstetrician and gynecologist, some of that time at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, then quit in the mid-1990s to raise four children.  On her site, which she says draws about a million visitors a year, she attacks the new nursing and birth orthodoxies among upper-middle-class women. Among some online, she is more despised than the Tiger Mom. (Recently there was a critical article about her on Slate.) “We’ve moralized breast-feeding,” she told me when I met her for an interview. She argued that it is less important than its advocates claim. She cited a 2008 study in the journal Pediatrics, in which the authors concluded there was no “evidence of risks or benefits of prolonged and exclusive breast-feeding for child and maternal behavior.” 
The joy of finding an "expert" on the side of the issue one has already invested in! The "skeptic" so suspicious of arguments from authority, is suddenly star-struck by her expert and her one study, which doesn't really say what she thinks it does.

Ms. Quart, Lomborg-like, does not go so far as to pretend breastfeeding is not best. Instead, she uses her straw man to argue that the stress laid on breastfeeding is hysterical and overblown, which comes about because people are idealizing the natural world and trying to reduce risks to zero. But the most critical move is actually the very first one: by invoking the reader's sense of guilt and shame, and arguing "they" are deliberately and maliciously trying to provoke these feelings, the denier prepares the audience to swallow the rest of the story. Because who are you going to believe, this nice lady who understands how hard it is to be a mother, or those assholes that made her feel guilty (or ignorant, or afraid)?

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Watching the corn

The extreme heat and drought in the US have cast doubt on the corn harvest, abruptly driving up prices. A useful reminder that, while the continental US comprises only 1.5% of the Earth's surface, we produce 10% of the world's wheat and 20% of the globe's beef, pork, and lamb. And last but not least -- fully half of the world's corn crop, which is America's single bestselling crop.

So this little spot of warm weather we've been having has serious potential consequences for food security around the globe. Which is the problem of global warming in microcosm; it would never be a good idea to radically alter the world's climate to something hotter than any time since we came down to from the trees. But to do so at a time when seven billion people are depending on a complex, interdependent global economic system -- a delicate clockwork mechanism to which we are applying a sledgehammer of abrupt, radial warming -- that is a special kind of idiocy. And we will all pay a price for it.

The USDA is going to release an updated harvest forecast tomorrow. Here's hoping for good news.

UPDATE (7/11): The news from the USDA is not good. They came out of their meeting projecting a brutal 146 bushels an acre, down 20 bushels (%12) in just the last month.

Nor is that all. Expected soybean yield were cut by 8%, and the estimated global wheat harvest was cut by 8 million tons.

America burning -- for the rest of our lives

The incomparable Peter Sinclair:

The companion video is also outstanding:

Not only does is give good Colbert, there are chats with the Navy's chief oceanographer and an executive and Munich Re -- which has been warming its shareholder about the impact of global warming since 1973.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Threats against climate scientists: Phil Jones' inbox

The looney right did this up themselves, as a "joke."

Glenn Tamblyn at Skeptical Science flags the University of East Anglia's release of threats and hate mail sent to Phil Jones. PDF here, examples below:

1. “Subject: Kill yourself scum
Fuck you for your lies and deceit. You deserve to die. And if you don’t take your own life, I fucking hope somebody does it for you.”

2. “Your children and family will know because we know where you live. expect us at your door to say hello ^\-(”

3. “Faggots like you will be dealt with, as now people know what you need and will beat the living shit out of you every time you show your socialist ass in public. I’d kill you in a second if given the chance. . . . I’m now going to take physical action against you. You deserve it you fucking prick!”

4. "If anyone of those perverted assholes ever steps within the boundries of the U.S., they decimated [sic]. We have 2nd amendment [sic] and you as a stupid Briton probably don't know what that means. We have a right to bear arms and these perverted assholes will be wasted. We will have plans for you as well. If you bring your family all the merrier.

You fuck prick! [Sic.] Britain needs to kill these scam artist [sic]."

 5. "Keep this in mind. Not all will tolerate your thieving lying ways when it impacts their family.

Beware of retribution upon yours.

Someone some where [sic] will hurt you down."

6. "wanker you wanker you nead [sic] to be killed"

7. "i [sic] hope you fuckers die slowly and painfully.

you are the scum of the earth and should be put in front of a firing squad."

8. "update your google search, it should say, widely known group of cocksuckers and liars that tried to enslave the world through a huge scam perpetrated by a bunck of fuckin cocksuckers, if was i charge [sic] you would all be lined up againt [sic] a wall and shot."

So what is the significance of this, besides telling us something important about the character about a certain group of "climate skeptics"?

I think it puts the question to people like Judith Curry and Roy Spencer, who still have a foot in the world of science, but derive much of their hit counts and claim to public notice from "climate skeptics" who regularly air similar paranoid ideas and abusive language in their comment threads.

Let me be clear; I am not calling for them to moderate with a heavier hand. What I am saying is that if you put yourself at the head of a mob waving pitchforks and torches, you have some responsibility for the kind of people who take you as an inspiration. I have no hope for people like Anthony Watts, who is merely a "shock jock" of the internet. But I would like to see more grown-up climate deniers and lukewarmers taking pains to isolate and marginalize the violent, paranoid, homophobic and neofacisist elements of their fellow travellers. If they and other vocal opponents of strong mitigation cannot grow up, as a movement, enough to denounce their bigots and terrorists, then they and their movement will be defined as a movement of bigots and terrorists in the public mind, and deserve to be.

The academic that launched a thousand insults.

Earlier posts on threats against climate scientists: 


Coward deniers continue threats
UPDATE: Supporting documentation here (h/t Quark Soup).

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Quote of the day: Andy Lacis FTW

Andy Lacis tells it like it is. Read the whole thing. Money quote:
As Garth notes, it is therefore not surprising then, that  “it is indeed vastly more difficult to publish results in climate research journals if they run against the tide of politically correct opinion” (in reality) a fully demonstrated understanding of current climate science. “Which is why most of the sceptic literature on the subject has been forced onto the web, and particularly onto web-logs devoted to the sceptic view of things.”
Why would anyone want stuff that is patently erroneous, irrelevant, or otherwise deficient to be published in the long-established climate science literature? Clearly, there has to be some sense of quality control to define what we reliably understand in science, and what we don’t. Why not just trash out the junky stuff in the web-blogs where that is already happening? Should anything of value be uncovered, it will surely survive the thrashing, and then it will make it into the peer-reviewed climate science literature and become recognized as a recognized part of current climate knowledge.
As I like to remind people "ignorance on your part does not constitute an obligation on my part."

Friday, July 6, 2012

Brace yourselves. El Nino is coming

You heard right; our favorite short-term temperature driver, fresh off a rare double-dip into the (comparably) frigid La Nina regime, is now charging into El Nino:

The official definition of El Nino is (roughly in plain English) that a temperature index called Nino 3.4 becomes greater than +0.5C and stays there for several months. The last El Nino episode ended in May 2010, over two years ago. We won't know for sure if we have another El Nino for several months, but, as of Monday, we have taken the first step: Nino 3.4 hit +0.6C.

The forecast indices used by NOAA, which until recently were projecting ENSO-neutral conditions through the spring of 2013, are now all coming up "hot times ahead."

What does all this mean? Well, if coupled with a little less anemic job market, it may be an opportunity to refocus the public's attention on the climate. More immediately, well . . .

Quote of the day

Summer is barely two weeks old and two-thirds of the country is in the grip of a severe drought. More crops will die. More forests will burn. More power brokers will become familiar with the consequences of a derecho. It sounds biblical, but smart scientists have been predicting this very cycle.
Read the whole article (NYT). This exceptionally bad beginning to the fire season -- which has already destroyed 346 homes in Colorado Waldo Canyon fire alone, and an additional 259 homes in the High Park fire, a total of more than 600 homes in Colorado in the first few weeks of summer -- is down to dry conditions likely related to the recent La Nina coupled with global warming. Hot and dry is a bad combination.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Lomborg's lies, part one

, author(1), starts his latest screed by pitching his typical name-brand nonsense:
So, for each person who might die from global warming, about 210 people die from health problems that result from a lack of clean water and sanitation, from breathing smoke generated by burning dirty fuels (such as dried animal dung) indoors, and from breathing polluted air outdoors.
By focusing on measures to prevent global warming, the advanced countries might help to prevent many people from dying. That sounds good until you realize that it means that 210 times as many people in poorer countries might die needlessly as a result—because the resources that could have saved them were spent on windmills, solar panels, biofuels, and other rich-world fixations.
Before we proceed to the problems with this argument, let's have a moment of silence for all the brains cells that have died confronting the superlative illogic of Lomborgianism.

Can I briefly take note of the top five ways that argument self-destructs? To wit:

1. The concept that we should ignore a deadly, destructive, expensive threat because there is some greater threat to human welfare somewhere in the world is a particularly rank fallacy of smug commentary. Presumably it would implied ignoring highway safety as long as more people are dying of cancer, and ignoring the 9/11 attacks as long as people are dying of highway accidents.

Taken to its logical extreme, the ignore-this-problem-there-are-bigger-ones fallacy leads to a world where we are all working with all our strength on one and only one issue -- presumably something to do with Africa -- whilst drunken unseatbelted teenagers smash into guardrails, Colorado burns unchecked, and AIDS sweeps through our cities without an antiretroviral medication in sight.

2. Anybody notice that while comparing the size of problems, Lomborg is comparing global warming to three other major environmental issues combined?

"So, for each person who might die from global warming, about 210 people die from health problems that result from a lack of clean water and sanitation, from breathing smoke generated by burning dirty fuels (such as dried animal dung) indoors, and from breathing polluted air outdoors."

This a stupid game, this which-issue-is-bigger crap, but if you are going to compare the relative size and importance of issues, don't you need to compare one issue to one other issue? The approach Lomborg takes here is like asking yourself: Am I obese? And answering: "Certainly not; I weigh significantly less than my three closest friends combined!"

3. Not content with this wildly inappropriate assertion, Lomborg doubles down on crazy by asserting that not only is indoor air pollution (plus water pollution plus outdoor air pollution) a bigger deal than global warming, if we stopped wasting time on global warming, no one would die of indoor air pollution (plus water pollution plus outdoor air pollution) ever again. Everyone who suffers from these ills "die[s] needlessly" because of "rich-world fixations."

Wrap your mind around that one: we are supposed to believe that the tentative and uncoordinated efforts to address climate change -- on which the world spends far less than a penny of every dollar it makes -- are depleting the world of all the resources it would need to insure no one dies of air or water pollution every again. Pristine sewers will serve a billion new toilets. Cooking fires will vanish from the world. Every industry in every country around the world will completely end the production of toxic wastes that inevitably end up in our water and our air. We won't burn coal any longer -- wait, what? Leading me to . . .

4. Reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions are not competing objections. The most direct and effective solution to both is to burn less fossil fuels (2), which are the primary source of indoor and outdoor air pollution.

To present these issues as competing with one another is nonsense. That's like saying the rich world's fixation with preventing lung cancer is distracting us from the important work of preventing emphysema.

Burning fossil fuels, especially coal and gasoline, is also an important source of water pollution. Just like quitting smoking cuts your risk both of getting lung cancer and developing emphysema, low-carbon energy sources and greater efficiency also reduce air and water pollution.

5. Even if these were two (OK, four) separate problems, which they are not, the way Lomborg has carried out his calculation of 210:1 doesn't stand up to the most causal scrutiny. 
Global warming is by no means our main environmental threat. Even if we assumed—unreasonably—that it caused all deaths from floods, droughts, heat waves, and storms, this total would amount to just 0.06 percent of all deaths in developing countries. In comparison, 13 percent of all Third World deaths result from water and air pollution.
Does Lomborg really think we are dumb enough to buy the idea that the only way global warming can kill you is if you are struck by a giant tidal wave or struck by lighting? What about something simpler like falling agricultural yields:
John Hawkins, a spokesman for the Illinois Farm Bureau, said those in the southernmost sections of his state “are close to or past that point of no return,” while elsewhere, “there’s a lot of praying; it’s hanging on by a thread.”
“These 100-degree temperatures are just sucking the life out of everything,” he said.
But that's not even the worst of this bogus comparison; stay tuned for part two.

1. For those who don't know Dr. Lomborg, he is the author of "The Skeptical Environmentalist," by which he refers to himself, although he is neither an environmentalist nor a skeptic. This book was cited by the Danish Committees on Scientific Dishonesty (I want one of those for our American "skeptics") for:
  1. Fabrication of data;
  2. Selective discarding of unwanted results (selective citation);
  3. Deliberately misleading use of statistical methods;
  4. Distorted interpretation of conclusions;
  5. Plagiarism;
  6. Deliberate misinterpretation of others' results.
2. Including wood, commonly burned in inefficient, smoky, dangerous indoor cooking fires.