Thursday, August 30, 2012

Fighting climate denial: the Akin line


Pity Todd Akin. It must seem to him as if the world makes no sense.

One minute he is living the life of a normal House Republican gunning for a vulnerable Senate seat, and the next he's a virtual pariah, with most of his own supporters saying he should drop out of the race. And all for making a comment not substantially different than those he and his colleagues make every day. Here is the line that turned his own party against him:
Well you know, people always want to try to make that as one of those things, well how do you, how do you slice this particularly tough sort of ethical question. First of all, from what I understand from doctors, that’s really rare. If it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.
Instant pandemonium. But why should that be so? What did Akin actually do?

It's a five-step process:

1. You have a rigid ideology that is absolutely opposed to a given action (like abortion).
2. There are empirical facts that make your absolutist position untenable (sometimes women are pregnant not because they chose to be, but because they were raped.)
3. Find a crackpot scientist (one sharing your ideological idiosyncrasies) who will explain away the inconveint fact (Women who have really been raped don't get pregnant!)
4. Ignore the vast scientific evidence to the contrary.
5. Promote the conspiracy theory as scientific fact.

Why did Akin think he was going to get away with this sophistry? Because he and his party have been playing this game, routinely and increasingly blatantly, for years. How would he know that all of a sudden ignoring the scientific consensus and promoting pseudoscience would blow up in his face? Compare his remarks on climate change
AKIN: This whole thing strikes me if it weren’t so serious as being a comedy you know. I mean, we just went from winter to spring. In Missouri when we go from winter to spring, that’s a good climate change. I don’t want to stop that climate change you know. Who in the world want to put politicians in charge of the weather anyways? What a dumb idea….
Some of the models said that we’re going to have surf at the front steps of the Capitol pretty soon. I was really looking forward to that….
 His official website trots out some more old canards (h/t Grist):
Although some of the physics and meteorology surrounding climate is well understood, the question of predicting future climate trends as well as man’s ability to definitively influence them is still an active field of scientific research. Moreover, despite our desire for complete certainty, we must understand that global climate is very complex phenomena. No one variable can be taken as the sole driver of climate and there exist cycles within cycles of meteorological variability. Scientists state that the planet has gone through many natural heating and cooling cycles over the last thousand years.
While scientists understand that increased levels of CO2 and other greenhouse gases work to trap heat, those gases are not the only variables when it comes to Earth’s temperature trends. For example, the sun itself has variable output, which affects temperature cycles. Currently, scientists are somewhat puzzled by a current-extended minimum in solar activity. Such a long-term lack of solar output in the early 18th century, referred to as the Maunder Minimum, is thought to have contributed to the last mini-ice age. Of course, factors such as solar variability — that could cause a mini-ice age — would probably not afford a man-made solution.
So here's the real question: why does the one public endorsement of pseudoscience spark outrage, while the other gets ignored? What's the difference? Where is the "Akin line" that separates comments like Michele Bachmann's, blaming the HPV vaccine for mental retardation, with these, from Akin's colleagues:
The committee’s chair, Ralph Hall (R-Texas), lumps “global freezing” together with global warming, which he doesn’t believe humans can significantly impact because “I don’t think we can control what God controls.” Dana Rohrbacher (R-CA) thinks cutting down trees reduces levels of greenhouse gases they absorb. Mo Brooks (R-Alabama) still trots out the debunked notion that a scientific consensus existed in the 1970s on “global cooling,” which he portrays as a scare concocted by scientists “in order to generate funds for their pet projects.”

Dan Benishek (R-Michigan) strikes that climate-scientists-as-charlatans note, dismissing contemporary research as “all baloney. I think it’s just some scheme.” Paul Broun (R-Georgia) says that “Scientists all over this world say that the idea of human-induced global climate change is one of the greatest hoaxes perpetrated out of the scientific community.”
Watching the Deniers asks: How would you counter the denial movement? And I think the answer is very simple; we need to bring them across the Akin line. We need to gently and truthfully shape the public debate such that outrageous comments provoke outrage, that laughable ignorance provokes laughter, until we reach a point that those that advocate science denial get shunned by their own political allies as liabilities in the battle for electoral success.

So why did Akin and Bachmann instantly provoke national scorn, while Benishek and Broun have not?

A) In each case, there was a simple, testable scientific assertion. Vaccine = mental retardation. Rape = no pregnancy. It's easier to see why that more easily trips up a science denier as compared to "It's all very complicated" or "Climate models are unreliable."

B) The puppet strings are short and colorful -- there is no problem at all reading the minds of Akin and Bachmann and understanding why they are making stuff up. Akin wants abortion to be completely illegal, always, in all circumstances. That women get pregnant from rape is an awkward fact for him, so he tries to suppress it by invoking pseudoscience. Bachmann is against the HPV vaccine because it makes sex a little less dangerous for women, and in her mind, that encourages promiscuity.

In both cases the lies play into the speakers' established positions in culture wars that have been raging for a generation. Even the most low-information voter knows how conservative Republicans feel about abortion and safe sex. That makes it easy to connect the dots.

C) There is a clear scientific consensus, and the audience knows that, even if they don't know the details. Physicians and medical science have a much stronger presence in American life than does climate science or climate scientists. Most people know a physician personally. The science denial wing of the Republican party has not constructed a campaign to slander and defame physicians, attacking them as frauds or incompetent or self-interested rent-seekers. They would not find it easy to do if they tried. But in the absence of such preparation, voters have little reason to reject the scientific consensus. The total rejection by the medical community of these lies ends the debate.

D) These comments were deeply insensitive and hurtful to other Americans. Rape victims were insulted by Akin. People with actual learning disabilities or cognitive limitations and the families that care for them were insulted by Bachmann. This brought anger and contempt into the response to the speakers as well as mockery.

If we go back to the statements by Akin and friends on climate change, it's clear they are missing most of the attributes listed above. Take "Scientists state that the planet has gone through many natural heating and cooling cycles over the last thousand years." It's vague, not clear and testable (A). If you strongly connect Akin to fossil fuel interests, it could be said to meet (B). The public does not have a clear idea of the scientific consensus that the current global warming is orders of magnitude different from natural climate variations of the recent past (C). Those that do know this have also been exposed to a relentless campaign to undermine the scientific consensus by slandering the scientists themselves (C). The comment is deeply offensive to people who understand what Akin is trying to accomplish and what the actual state of affairs is, but they do not have the visceral offensiveness of someone blaming rape victims or the parents of the mentally retarded for their situation (D).

So, if we think Akin's pseudoscience about climate change deserves the same contempt as his pseudoscience about rape and pregnancy, how can we encourage the public to see things similarly?

A) In each case, there was a simple, testable scientific assertion. Focus on deniers' assertions about science. Don't let them get away with vague statements of doubt, and endless one-sided interrogations of others. Encourage them to explicitly state their beliefs.

B) The puppet strings are short and colorful -- there is no problem at all reading the minds of Akin and Bachmann and understanding why they are making stuff up. Highlight the connection between right-wing extremism and climate denial. Make the connection between science denial and other right-wing views. As entertaining as it is to show how climate denial relates to the conspiracy-theory-prone mindset, the critical driver of climate denial in politics is the broader radicalization of the Republican Party.

C) There is a clear scientific consensus, and the audience knows that, even if they don't know the details. The contempt of hardcore climate deniers for the concept of scientific consensus is born of fear. Despite deniers' whining and jeering and embrace of the Galileo gambit, the public knows very well that the consensus of the vast majority of scientists on a given issue is as close to the truth as anything we can lay hands on. And survey after survey shows that even "alarmists" vastly understate the strength of the scientific consensus on global warming -- the meaning the fact of the scientific consensus has not been "priced in" by the public.

So, while sticking to the stuff we clearly know to be true, and not venturing into unsupported speculation, it's important to highlight the contrast: Consensus vs. crackpots on the fringe.  Consensus vs. crackpots on the fringe. Consensus vs. crackpots on the fringe.

D) These comments were deeply insensitive and hurtful to other Americans. This one is hard -- I don't know it is achievable in the short term. It's difficult to "put a face" on global warming. But perhaps, as with "consensus," the deniers are giving us a hint, by vehemently attacking the arguments they most fear. And what is the single most jeered-at, eye-rolling, cliched picture in all of climate change? You know what it is. It's this:

Deniers jeer at what works.
When the deniers deny, they are insulting those that have already been hurt by climate change. They are insulting the other creatures we share the planet with. We have to make those people -- Inuits whose villages are being washed out to sea, elderly people without air conditioning dying in record-breaking heat waves, children in temperate climates suffering with tropical diseases previously unknown there -- we need to make them as real, as familiar, as indisputably linked with AGW as that bear on his shrinking ice floe. 

Compare the argument over gays in the military. While they were theoretical, people could say (and did) all sorts of ignorant and hurtful things, with little political fallout. But as the culture gradually changed, as gay service members dared to speak out more, as the ban was finally ended, gays in the military stopped being theoretical people, and they became actual, flesh-and-blood people with their lives on the line for their country. And suddenly as a social conservative you had to be very careful what you said. This social changed went very slowly, until it reached that critical point where it was hard to attack "gays in the military" as an abstraction without insulting the actual people you were talking about. Then the culture and the discussion changed more in six month than it had in the previous sixty years. And where is that debate today? Gone and virtually forgotten.

Even cuter than polar bears.
I've written about confronting climate denial before, and as before, I find a reasonable approximation of my views is to take all the well-meaning advice of the self-identified "moderates" in the climate debate, the Kloors and the Revkins and so forth, and do the exact opposite of what they recommend.

Don't be a free educational resource to people with no actual sincere desire to learn. Ask them questions -- be skeptical about their skepticism -- put their beliefs and opinions on the record and under the microscope.

Don't waste your time searching for a mythical middle ground. Climate deniers are in this in order to have an ideological battle. It is part of their war with modern life and Western civilization. You will not win them to your way of thinking with a clever compromise, any more than the NRA is going to wake up one morning at say "Wow, we've got all the pro-gun legislation we could ever need! Now, back to regional shooting competitions!" Instead, embrace the polarization of the debate -- among other things, this helps the public understand what motives climate deniers to lie and distort.

Don't try and convey uncertainty. If you have a complex message while your opponents have a simple one you will lose. Plain and simple. Deniers want us to spending our time trying to educate the public to grasp complex scientific ideas. They are delighted when they can provoke us into doing that by accusing us of oversimplifying the story. (They will just be at this little table over here on the other side of the room, saying FRAUD LIES FRAUD TAXES SOCIALISTS GREEDY SCIENTISTS NATURAL NATURE FRAUD FRAUD.)

So find a simple message, well inside the borders of the consensus, and hammer it home relentlessly. Show the people being hurt by global warming. Show them over and over again, until the public gets a visceral sense that deniers are denying not just the scientific understanding of where the climate is going, but of what is happening in the world right now. People are dying while the right-wing fringe lies and defames. When the public understands that -- understands it in their bones -- deniers will find themselves across the Akin line.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Curry's Review

 Climate Etc.'s "Week in Review" function is getting more and more erratic, ignoring big stories, trumpeting horribly unprofessional and ill-thought-out editorials, and in general looking more and more like an archaeological record of the self-reinforcing power of cognitive dissonance.
I am trying to figure out what Mann is trying to accomplish with these lawsuits.  I guess he is hoping to intimidate people into not saying negative things about him?
The lack of common sense -- and lack of empathy -- expressed here is startling. Evidently tribal feelings in Dr. Curry have reached a point where she can't comprehend why a person would fight back against slander and defamation.

She highlights a truly God-awful article,  "The Moral Downside of Climate Change." Major parts (not the ones she chooses to quote) rehash a bundle of myths and lies:
It seems likely, after all, that what we are witnessing in the furor over climate change is a rerun of the wildly off-base population explosion announced in the 1960s, or the brief romance with a threatened ice age in the next decade, or the treatment of pregnancy as a disease, or the pressing need for safe sex, or the horrors of growing up in a world in which not everyone respects and affirms our every choice. . . . the actions taken at best waste time, energy and resources and at worst either make the problem worse or create new problems in their wake.
 One wonders if Curry believes condoms are "a waste of time and resources" or if she clings to the discredited myth that scientists in the 70s predicted a new ice age. And speaking of the ice, it's time to spin the free-fall up north:
Depending on which data set you look at, the Arctic sea ice extent is approaching or has surpassed the record minimum extent (for the period since 1979) in 2007.  There are even predictions of an ice free Arctic Ocean by the end of Sept.  I’ll do a post later in Sept on “what is going on and what does all this mean.”   But in the mean time, here is highly confident prediction:  the Arctic Ocean will NOT be ice free by the end of Sept.  In fact, nearly all of thin and loosely consolidated ice has already melted (helped along by the big cyclonic storm in early Aug).  The remaining ice is consolidated near Greenland and the Canadian archipelago, and is at high latitudes where the autumnal cooling is well underway.  So I would suspect that there will be an earlier than usual sea ice minimum this year, with the minimum not getting much lower.
Wow, desperate much? Where are the predictions of an ice-free Arctic Ocean this year to be found? In this one paragraph we have:

1. A straw man fallacy, trying to refocus our attention on the ridiculous idea that the ice will vanish this year, a position I can find no one endorsing.
2. A desperate stab at reassuring her readership that although the ice numbers are presently in free-fall, no doubt everything will be back to normal.

It's shocking (to me at least) that promising "an earlier than usual sea ice minimum this year" is not really substantially different than Goddard's supposed "early recovery" of the sea ice. And when a full professor is starting to echo Steve Goddard, it's time to pour the whiskey and vodka down the drain and take a serious hard look at yourself.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Keith Kloor proposes killing millions of deniers -- I try to talk him down


 I've been reading this "Keith Kloor" guy over at Collide-a-Scape. Call me crazy, I think the kid has potential. I came across this:
Like the never-ending war on drugs, the conventional paradigm for addressing climate change has proven to be a colossal failure–yet it remains in place. In case anyone needs a reminder of where things stand:
The global output of heat-trapping carbon dioxide has jumped by a record amount, according to the US department of energy, a sign of how feeble the world’s efforts are at slowing man-made global warming.
This quote summed up the situation well:
“The more we talk about the need to control emissions, the more they are growing,” said John Reilly, the co-director of MIT’s Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change.
There appears to be growing recognition that a different approach might be necessary.
Keith is right, people. The first approach doesn't always work. The American anti-slavery movement, for example, kicked off in 1688 with the Germantown Quaker Petition Against Slavery. But despite a hundred and sixty years of petitions, pamphlets, demonstrations, speaking tours, and assistance to fugitive slaves, they couldn't rid the country of slavery. It took a massive war spanning five years and killing over one million Americans to do that.

Or take the European response to the rise of Hitler. There was subtle maneuvering, diplomatic protests, multiple compromises forged. Didn't work -- ultimately it took a global war to deal with the problem, a war that would claim over 50 million dead and see the invention and first use of nuclear weapons.

So what is Keith's "different approach"? Is someone going to have to be delegated to go over to his house and secure his firearms? Perhaps not:
Along these lines, do read a new essay by Roger Pielke Jr. posted at the Foreign Policy website. He writes:
For years — decades, even — science has shown convincingly that human activities have an impact on the planet. That impact includes but is not limited to carbon dioxide. We are indeed running risks with the future climate through the unmitigated release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, and none of the schemes attempted so far has made even a dent in the problem. While the climate wars will go on, characterized by a poisonous mix of dodgy science, personal attacks, and partisan warfare, the good news is that progress can yet be made outside of this battle.
The key to securing action on climate change may be to break the problem into more manageable parts.
Can we have a constructive debate that explores this avenue? We’ll find out soon enough.
 Ah. Mr. Kloor's "different approach" is to"break the problem into more manageable parts" and abandon the "schemes" for checking "the unmitigated release of carbon dioxide."

I am perhaps having a little fun at Mr. Kloor's expense, but isn't this always the way of it? When people say of the fight to cut GHG emissions, "this isn't working; let's try something else" they are never referring to making our (if it really is "our") actions bigger; they always want to make our goals smaller.

There is always a prominent complaint of how "poisonous" the climate debate has become, but like those that rue our "poisonous" tax debates or our "poisonous" social debates, their solution to the poison is typically to concede the debate to the people who have done the most to make it poisonous.

There is no solution to the problem of global warming without cutting emissions of greenhouse gases. There is no way to cut greenhouse gas emissions globally without collective political action. I know of no one, literally no one, who is for this but against adaptation, or who is for this but against action on land use or black carbon or any of the other "manageable" climate problems. Working on those angles is admirable, but it doesn't break the problem into manageable parts; it abandons the problem in favor of more manageable problems.

Major social change can take a long time. Much like reading the climate, you need more than ten or twenty years of data to call a social movement a failure. Abolitionism, feminism, the welfare state, the civil rights movement all took longer than that from their inception to their great victories. Perhaps the current approach is a failure, or perhaps we are simply in the middle of a long, painful, exhausting struggle.

We should be willing to consider new strategies; but this strategy, the "managable parts" strategy, sometimes called the "no regrets" approach or the "adaptation first" approach, is not a strategy as much as it is a plan for surrender.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Hot times in Phoenix

The last time the temperature dipped below 90 degrees in Phoenix was at 6 a.m. on Aug. 6. Two days later came the hottest day of the current heat wave — “I guess we can call it that,” Mr. Waters conceded — and the hottest Aug. 8 ever in Phoenix, when the high reached 116. (The record of 122 degrees was reached on June 26, 1990.)
As of Monday, the average August temperature was 100.2 degrees, or 6.2 degrees higher than normal, Mr. Waters said. By Tuesday, the temperature had reached 110 degrees for nine consecutive days; last year, the longest stretch where temperatures reached or surpassed 110 degrees was six days. Tuesday was also the 31st consecutive day the mercury hit 100 degrees (NYTimes).
People are dying in that heat; count on it. But it could be so much worse.

 Just eyeballing it, New Mexico looks to be +4C (+7.2 F) compared to the present. Imagine a similar heat wave, same distribution of temperatures, after +4C of warming. The highs hit 117 F, day after day, and for over a week, it never dropped below 97 F.

But wait, it gets worse:
The urban climate will probably continue to warm as the population of the region increases. Using a projection of regional climate change for the SW US (Sprigg and Hinkley [18]), estimates of Phoenix growth rates (GPRA [19]), and empirical relationship between population and magnitude of urban warming (e.g., Oke [20]), Brazel [21] determined that urban dwellers may experience a further rise in annual mean temperatures of 1.7 to 2.5 ( Environmental consequences of rapid urbanization in warm, arid lands: case study of Phoenix, Arizona" (registration required)).
 So we set our scene in Phoenix proper, in the year 2100 (4C + 2.1C = 6.1C = 11 F). Same distribution as today (although the extremes could actually become worse as the Arctic melts):
The last time the temperature dipped below 90 degrees 101 degrees in Phoenix was at 6 a.m. on Aug. 6. Two days later came the hottest day of the current heat wave — “I guess we can call it that,” Mr. Waters conceded — and the hottest Aug. 8 ever in Phoenix, when the high reached 116 127. . . . As of Monday, the average August temperature was 100.2 degrees  111.2 degrees, or 6.2 degrees higher than normal, Mr. Waters said. By Tuesday, the temperature had reached 110 degrees 121 degrees for nine consecutive days . . . Tuesday was also the 31st consecutive day the mercury hit 100 degrees 111 degrees.
 Imagine day after day in which temperatures never dropped below 100 degrees (even the 90 degrees beggars belief). The heat stress would be enormous. Outside of air conditioned environments, people would be severely limited in any activities. And some people would just drop dead:
Hyperthermia following heat stress results in profound brain edema formation and damage to the central nervous system (CNS). However, whether acute or chronic diseases such as cardiovascular, endocrine, or metabolic ailments further influence the vulnerability of human populations to heat-related deaths is still unclear. In this investigation, we examined the effect of hyperthermia on chronic hypertensive rats. The influence of growth hormone (GH) as a therapy to attenuate brain dysfunction was also evaluated. Subjecting rats to 4 h of heat stress at 38°C in a biological oxygen demand (BOD) incubator resulted in profound impairment of motor and cognitive functions, breakdown of the blood–brain barrier (BBB), reduction in regional cerebral blood flow (CBF), edema formation, and brain damage. These effects were further aggravated when chronic hypertensive rats (two-kidney, one-clip model for 4 weeks) were subjected to similar hyperthermic conditions (38°C for 4 h). Interestingly, the behavioral alterations and impairment of motor and cognitive functions in hypertensive rats were much worse than those in the normotensive animals subjected to heat stress.
Fortunately it's not as if Americans are going to be older and sicker in the future . . . [/sarc]

Explosive unplanned growth in the middle of a desert; rapid climate change; obesity and terrible preventative care. As an American, it sometimes seems as though our chickens, not being content with coming home to roost, are in the process of forming gigantic rabid flocks a la The Birds.

Uh, I thought you were going to cut our emissions. Did you at least start exercising and eating better?

Our dear friends

From "The Anxious Idiot," an excellent description of the titular deniers:

I should define “idiot” for our purposes. I don’t mean someone of low I.Q. or poor academic abilities. Intelligence as commonly conceived has nothing to do with it. By “idiot,” I mean exactly what my brother meant when he tagged me with the epithet: an impractical and unreasonable person, a person who tends to forget all the important lessons, essentially a fool, one who willfully ignores all that he has learned about how to come to his own aid. A person who is so fixated on the fact that he is in a hole that he fails to climb out of the hole. An idiot, in short, is someone who is self-defeatingly lazy.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Weaponized ignorance

I rarely turn my comments elsewhere into blog posts, but boy, am I sick of this particular dodge:

I asked a polite question which you have not only refused to answer (by not providing evidence) but have managed to infer I am scientifically ignorant, something you could not possibly know.
Ah, but there’s the rub. If you do not, in fact, believe that there is warming in the pipeline, you could simply state that, and say why you believe that.

If you are not scientifically ignorant, you are aware of the argument you are asking me for, aware that it is widely accepted by the scientifically literate, and that the burden of proof fails on you to cast doubt on this element of a well-established scientific theory.

Hence, your question is fundamentally insincere. You want to challenge this aspect of climate, but you do not want to be put to the trouble of formulating an argument and supporting it with evidence. So you ask me to teach you this basic science — without, I might add, offering any compensation — but not because your intention is the learn, but rather to shift the burden of proof away from your challenge to the science.

This form of “weaponized ignorance” is incredibly common. Some people will play along with you, but unless I am in a very, very generous mood, I prefer not to.

Let me lay out for you what I think is an honest way of engaging on this question, one that would get a more data-driven response from me:

Actual Skeptic: I’m aware that climate scientists think there is warming in the pipeline. Their argument, as I understand it, is “x, y, z.”
Actual Skeptic: I think that argument is dubious, because of “a, b, c.”
Actual Skeptic: If you are still convinced there is warming in the pipeline, how do you respond to “a, b, c.”

If you are not scientifically ignorant, you should be able to summarize the state of the science now and explain where and why you disagree. If you pretend to be ignorant of the science in order to avoid the burden of articulating and supporting your own ideas, I will always take you at your word and treat you as ignorant. And this goes for anyone who deploys that “I don’t know of any evidence” crap. Rob, I’m looking at you.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The New Normal -- Literally

We have arrived at an interesting place. ENSO and the solar cycle are the two major short-term influences on global temperatures (absent a major volcanic eruption.) They are now both as neutral as neutral can be:

Zero point zero. ENSO is balancing on the head of a pin. Now the solar cycle:

Looking at the smoothed values, the peak of the last solar cycle hit about 190, and the trough was at about 70. The average is (190 + 70)/2 = 130. And where is the blue line now? Right about 130.

Temperatures are as normal as they are gonna get. Shall we take a peek out into the world and see how the new normal is treating it?

Greenland still looks bizarre:

It's no longer melting over 96% of its surface . . . that's a comfort. But it's hard to look at these albedo numbers and think that all is well. This is some disturbing shit. A difference of 5% in the albedo compared to the average? That's a lot of joules . . . right where we don't want them.

Looking northwards, Dr. Jennifer Francis has a great presentation on how the changes in the Arctic are changing our weather. Key slide here:

And speaking of extremes, the contineintal US had its hottest July ever, and more importantly, drought and heat in the US have sent food prices skyward:

In July, food prices jumped 6%, after three months of declines, according to the United Nations' monthly Food Price Index released Thursday. The main drivers behind the increase? Grain prices. And more specifically, corn prices, which have hit record highs in recent weeks.
According to the U.N. report, global corn prices surged nearly 23% in July, exacerbated by "the severe deterioration of maize crop prospects in the United States, following drought conditions and excessive heat during critical stages of the crop development."
Since we so recently learned that big thunderstorms can chew up the ozone layer over North America, perhaps we should check on thunderstorms in our new world:

 Note that the graph ends in 2011. The crazy thunderstorms that have wracked the Midwest and Northeast over the last two months don't show up yet.

Torn to pieces by an Arctic cyclone, the thin sea ice up north is rapidly giving up the ghost.

Both the cyclone, and the thinness of the ice that got walloped, were fueled by Arctic warming and accelerate it further.

In the upper left you can see a huge chunk of the ice sheet break off and go its own way. This is not, to say the least, a common occurrence, and the ice sages at Neven's seem to be in agreement that this has never been seen before in thirty years of satellite observations.

Both solar activity and the ENSO index are still rising. Be interesting what the world looks like in an extra-warm year, won't it?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Do you know what this means?

Michael Mann on Richard Muller, in an observation with heady implications:

"Muller's announcement last year that the Earth is indeed warming brought him up to date w/ where the scientific community was in the 1980s. His announcement this week that the warming can only be explained by human influences, brings him up to date with where the science was in the mid 1990s."
Obviously Muller is a scientific genius -- his understanding has advanced by an entire decade in just under a year.

We should check back with him in 2016 when, by the iron laws of linear extrapolation, his science will be the equivalent of the consensus of the 2030s.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The body electric

Fact of the day:
The ability to move electricity from power plants to end users will also be threatened by climate change, since electrical transmission lines lose 7 to 8 percent of their transmitting capacity in high temperatures--just when demand for power rises.
This from a study on the effects of climate change on California's grid. Another little bit of knowledge to stew over:
The warmer climate will decrease hydropower generation in the summer months when it is needed most, the report said. High-elevation hydropower plants, which supply about 75 percent of the state's hydropower, are especially at risk, since the small size of their reservoirs allows little flexibility to cope with reduced snowpack.
At the same time, higher temperatures alone will require the state to increase its electricity generating capacity 38 percent over current levels by 2100.
 This is apropos of the crisis this week in India, where a massive blackout left 670 million people in the dark. That's roughly ten percent of the population of the world. Most of the power is back on today, but rolling blackouts and "power holidays" will continue to be a fact of life. (Revkin's roundups here and here.)

India's blackout points to a dangerous climate feedback -- the political feedback. Global warming is going to ramp up demand for electricity and threaten supplies. Not just hydropower but any plant that requires water for cooling (nuclear, coal, gas) can potentially be compromised by the heat. The heat ramps up transmission losses (did you know that? I didn't.) Power lines can be compromised by wildfires, floods, or other extreme weather event.

The political feedback comes when the public demands reliable electricity and doesn't care whether the source of that power makes the long-term problem worse. Some of India's electrical problems stem from a shortage of coal, which in turn is partially the result of the world's largest democracy protecting some of its last dense forests. They are wise to do so, but will they maintain their resolve in the face of events like those of last week?

The adaptive capacity of people is often invoked and praised in the climate debate. (Ironically, those that are most apt to profess unlimited faith in the human capacity to adapt and overcome are the most vehement that we should not start the process of adapting and overcoming.) But humans have another, less admirable characteristic; under pressure people frequently give way to emotional and short-term thinking that worsens the very crisis they are responding to.

The trade protectionism that deepened and prolonged the Great Depression is one classic example. Fighting terrorism by invading Iraq could be considered a recent exhibition. Russia's ban of wheat exports in response to its heat wave disaster is another.

It's critical that the world get on a better energy path before our civilization becomes so stressed that people lack the basic security needed to think about the future.