Year 4, Month 10, Day 27: The Earth Sucks

Joseph Bast is the fetid mouthpiece of the Heartland Institute, and he’s been given a big mouthpiece by USA Today:

Environmentalists hoped the latest study from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) would finally end the increasingly acrimonious debate over the causes and consequences of climate change. It has had the opposite effect.

MIT physicist Richard Lindzen called the IPCC report “hilarious incoherence.” British historian Rupert Darwall labeled it “nonsense” and “the manipulation of science for political ends.” Judith Curry of the Georgia Institute of Technology says the IPCC suffers from “paradigm paralysis” and should be “put down.”

The most precise criticism of the IPCC’s report came from the editors of Nature, one of the world’s most distinguished science journals: “Scientists cannot say with any certainty what rate of warming might be expected, or what effects humanity might want to prepare for, hedge against or avoid at all costs.”

Just shoot me. Oct. 17:

When the Heartland Institute’s Joe Bast blithely asserts that the IPCC report “exaggerates” the risks of global climate change, his cherry-picking of scientific criticism of the report is grossly mendacious. For example, Bast cites an editorial comment in the journal “Nature” which notes that “scientists cannot say with any certainty what rate of warming might be expected” — but ignores the rest of the article, which reaffirms both that warming is happening and that its consequences are likely to be disastrous.

The IPCC document is the result of collective decision-making, which means that the report’s conclusions actually minimize, rather than inflate, the dangers of runaway climate change. Mr. Bast’s statements are fundamentally dishonest and do a grave disservice to the national discussion of a genuine threat. For USA Today to offer the voices of climate-change denialism such a public forum in a time of genuine planetary emergency is sadly irresponsible.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 10, Day 26: Take Good Care Of Yourself

The Bangor Daily News runs a WaPo piece on the IPCC:

If one body represents the international scientific consensus on global warming, it is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a United Nations panel that just released the first portion of its fifth authoritative report on the science.

The report’s headline finding is that “it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”

It’s not just that the planet has warmed over the course of many decades, during which people have released massive amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Among many other things, there is what scientists have called a “human fingerprint” — a pattern of warming in the troposphere and cooling in the stratosphere that is very likely characteristic of human influence.

The authors did not shrink from addressing one of the primary threads that critics have been pulling in their effort to unravel the scientific consensus — the recent flattening of global temperature rise.

This was the hook for some generic media criticism. October 16:

News coverage of the newly issued report from the IPCC is all too often a “balanced” approach in which the opinion of a huge number of climate scientists is countered by the vague assertions of corporate spokespeople.

To cut through the fog and clarify the discussion, we need to understand that scientific speech and writing is careful and rhetorically restrained, while that of our media is sloppy and profligate. Some pundits claim the report represents the views of “environmental extremists” and should therefore be discounted, but in fact, the IPCC’s consensus underestimates some threats and almost entirely omits others, such as melting Arctic methane; the document represents a very conservative assessment of our present level of risk.

And as such, it deserves to be taken far more seriously — for if there is one phrase that we are seeing with accelerating frequency in news about Earth’s climate, it’s “more than expected.” Polar ice melt, oceanic acidification, species loss, extreme precipitation, wildfire severity — all of these phenomena are happening faster and more intensely than scientists’ predictions even a few years ago. By belittling the findings and expertise of climatologists, our media figures and politicians are endangering the health of our planet and the happiness of our posterity.

Warren Senders

Published.

Year 4, Month 10, Day 17: They Can Have Any Color They Want As Long As It’s Black

The San Antonio Express-News, on Republican denialism and foolishness:

So why is there such a disconnect between what scientists think and the public debate?

Recent cognitive research helps us understand this. Researchers find that beliefs on climate change science strongly correlate with other policy preferences.

For example, if you are skeptical of the science of climate change, then you almost certainly oppose the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and support gun rights.

Those who support action to reduce greenhouse gases very likely hold the opposite views.

If arguments about the science of climate change were actually about the science, then this result would make no sense. Whether climate change is true or not is a scientific matter, and it should be uncorrelated with philosophical views on the role of government in health care or the constitutional right to own a firearm.

But they are correlated. And this tells us that the arguments about the science of climate change are not actually about science.

So what is the argument about? The answer is policy.

If climate change is true and we decide to reduce emissions, then it will almost certainly require intervention by the government into the energy market. For some, that idea is so repugnant that the only conclusion is that the problem must not exist.

It is also about being part of the tribe. Climate change has achieved such an elevated status in the policy debate that it has become a litmus test. To be a Republican, for example, you must reject the science.

Any Republican who does not risks being voted out of office — as happened, for example, to Rep. Bob Inglis. (www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/ frontline/environment/climate- of-doubt/bob-inglis-climate- change-and-the-republican- party/).

As proud Texans, we are sympathetic to those who worry about out-of-control eco-totalitarianism. And we both love cheap and abundant energy and the lifestyle it allows us to lead. But, like most people, Republican and Democrat alike, we also want to protect the environment. Thus, we both support balanced action to address the clear and present danger of climate change.

Writing a letter like this is like shooting fish in a barrel. October 8:

The extraordinary thing about self-styled “fiscal conservatives” is their near-pathological readiness to bet against their own country. Just look at the people who whine that changing emissions regulations to cut down on greenhouse gases is going to handicap American manufacturers. They’re the same ones who screamed in the 1960s that making seat belts mandatory was going to cripple the automobile industry. Last I looked, there were plenty of cars on the road, and while auto companies have had their problems, nobody believes seat belts are the reason why.

For all their loud professions of American exceptionalism, conservatives’ opposition to sensible climate change policy is rooted in a “can’t do” ideology. We can’t change our energy economy (even if it saves us money) — because it’s too hard. We can’t take a position of global leadership (on the most important challenge facing the world today) — because it’s too hard.

That’s not fiscal conservatism. That’s laziness. That’s not economic responsibility. It’s whining.

Imagine these people running the Apollo program. We’d never have gotten into orbit, much less reached the Moon.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 10, Day 14: Congeniality

Emily Tucker, in the Bowdoin Orient (college paper, Bowdoin college, Maine) discusses the IPCC report:

For example: climate skeptics often point to the slowdown in global temperature change over the past fifteen years as evidence that climate change has stopped.

This, however, doesn’t account for the abilities of oceans and glaciers to absorb heat energy up to a certain point.

Beyond that point, though, the effects of absorbing all that heat will become eminently clear.

About half a trillion tons of carbon have been released into the atmosphere since the late 19th century. In some ways, this is good news.

We haven’t hit the tipping point yet, and there’s still time to change our trajectory.

But let’s not get too comfortable. If we (speaking globally, since most new emissions come from developing nations that rely largely on coal power) stick to our current rates of energy consumption, we’re set to hit the trillion-ton mark around 2040.

By that time, current Bowdoin students will be between the ages of 45 and 50, slightly younger than most of our parents are right now.

It’s interesting to note that the earth’s crust still contains an estimated three trillion tons of carbon-rich fuels.

If we’re to observe the trillion-ton limit, most of these reserves will have to either remain untapped or be harnessed in a way that does emit greenhouse gases or other pollutants.

From the right point of view, this situation can be seen as a gateway to revolutionary technological innovations in renewable energy production, greenhouse gas sequestration or (hopefully) both.

The 2013 IPCC report includes very little in the way of new discoveries.

The authors simply note that, as opposed to being 90 percent confident in human-caused climate change in 2007, they are now 95 percent confident.

If this can’t end the so-called “climate debate” and usher us into an era of groundbreaking new green technologies, I don’t know what will.

After all, there are no 100 percent guarantees in science, and we probably aren’t going to get much closer.

All good stuff. October 6:

In the sixties, college students were at the forefront of protests against the insanities of war and racial bigotry. In the eighties, it was the campaign for divestiture from the racist apartheid government of South Africa that galvanized campuses across America. While college students today may seem to have a wide menu of possible choices for their activism, ultimately there is only one central cause.

In the final analysis, all human progress has been made possible by the fact that our Earth’s climate is relatively benign, providing us the ability to feed ourselves and others while still having time left over to figure out ways to make things better. Our social advances — expansion of the franchise, the gradual elimination of slavery, the emancipation of women, the once-radical idea that children had rights, an end to the marginalization of LGBT people — are all contingent on environmental stability.

If we fail on climate, we fail on everything.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 10, Day 13: The Germ Of An Idea Blossoms In My Fevered Brain

McClatchey’s Eric Pooley discusses the IPCC report, in the Fresno Bee (CA):

The people who are paid to spread doubt and confusion about our changing climate have been working overtime this week, because the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a scientific body that includes thousands of the world’s best climate scientists, has just issued its latest assessment. The IPCC report is the Olympics of climate change – once every few years the best in the world show us the results of thousands of the most recent research studies. Inevitably, it brings out the peddlers of doubt, people who do their best to muddy the waters about our changing climate. It’s so predictable you could write a book about it.

In fact, I did write one. Six years ago, when the last IPCC assessment came out, I left my day job in journalism and started work on “The Climate War.” I thought it would be a book about how we finally started to get serious about climate change – I figured we had to, because that report declared that global warming was “unequivocal” and that most of the observed warming was “very likely” caused by human activity.

Instead, it became a book about how we didn’t get serious. The peddlers of doubt won that round and, in 2010, they defeated climate action in the U.S. Senate.

Now the IPCC is back with a new report. Basically, the scientists are as sure that human activity is warming the planet as they are that cigarettes cause cancer.

Miley Cyrus! October 5:

If the greenhouse effect was a nubile starlet offending our sensibilities on national television, newspapers, TV pundits, and Facebook would be full of discussion about the implications for our children, and the future of our civilization. If oceanic acidification was the newborn scion of a hereditary dynasty, we’d be able to read about it in every supermarket checkout line in the nation. Our collective ignorance of the single largest threat our species has yet faced in its time on Earth is enabled by our mass media’s obsession with trivial scandals and irrelevancies.

This, then, is the central challenge of our time. All humanity’s other struggles — the fight to end slavery, to spread democracy, to empower women, to stop the exploitation of children, to curb epidemic diseases — require a stable environment. Earth’s climate is the stage upon which history’s greatest ideas are realized, upon which the dreams of a better future are shared.

If this is destroyed because of the irresponsible consumption of fossil fuels, our aspirations will be replaced by a grim fight for survival on a newly hostile planet. Fail to address climate change, and we fail at everything.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 10, Day 12: Plus ca change…

Who the fuck is “Ambrose”? The Henderson (KY) Gleaner:

Given what the report seeks, you’d think it would deal at length with a major fact in conflict with its tone of certainty, admonition and fright. It’s that there has been no global, atmospheric warming for 15 years. The report belittles the issue, saying 15 years isn’t so long in the time span we’re discussing, and, besides, all that warmth may be hiding in the depths of the ocean.

Here’s the thing. The computer models that predicted something more accelerated than what has actually happened since 1998 are the same ones predicting disaster in the long run. If they were wrong about the past 15 years, it is a good sign they are wrong about the long run, too.

Sheesh. There’s that year again! October 4:

On reading Ambrose’s opinion piece belittling the IPCC report on Earth’s transforming climate, I wondered: why is it that when climate-change denialists assert that the atmosphere hasn’t warmed, it’s always “since 1998″? What’s so special about 1998?

Well, that year had a drastic temperature spike, so if we start there, the resulting graph sure looks like a decline. But since our measurements go back long before Monica Lewinsky made the headlines, we can look at planetary temperatures recorded over the past hundred and twenty years or so — and the picture’s very different: a zigzagging line climbing steadily across the page, accelerating significantly faster after around 1975.

Because competent scientists — unlike op-ed columnists — know the difference between statistical “noise” and genuine long-term trends, 1998′s anomalous heat is as irrelevant to the overall picture as 1995, a year of equally anomalous cold. Mr. Ambrose’s statistical cherry-picking irresponsibly misrepresents the overwhelming climatological consensus.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 10, Day 5: A Fine Roll Of Honour

The Hattiesburg American (MS) reprints a USA Today article on the IPCC report:

The panel releases reports every few years that synthesize the latest in peer-reviewed research, and its fifth assessment – to be released in several parts over the coming year – is the first since 2007.

This assessment is likely to paint a dire portrait of climate change. Yet some scientists say it actually underestimates the problem. Kevin Schaefer of the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colo., says it doesn’t, for example, include the increasing greenhouse gas emissions from thawing permafrost, which is perennially frozen ground in Alaska and other Arctic regions.

The State Department’s Climate Action Report, updated every four years as part of the U.N.’s monitoring of global efforts, agrees that the challenges ahead are formidable. “Climate change represents one of the greatest challenges of our time,” it says.

Nobody wants to talk about it, but it’s all there is to talk about. September 27:

There are more than enough inadequacies to go around when it comes to our collective response to climate change. When the best the most powerful nation on Earth can offer is a “dent” in its emissions goals, that’s pathetic. And when the IPCC report, hailed as a “blockbuster,” turns out to understate multiple aspects of the problem (Arctic methane release being the most terrifying of a very bad lot), that’s a sobering realization. But the capper comes in the State Department’s polite characterization of the climate crisis as representing “…one of the greatest challenges of our time.”

What a sadly tentative statement. All other challenges — ending slavery, expanding the franchise, empowering women, addressing income inequality, stopping child labor, wiping out epidemic diseases — are contingent on a stable environment. Our climate is the canvas upon which great humanitarians throughout history have painted their visions of a better future; destroy that through the irresponsible consumption of fossil fuels, and all our species’ aspirations will be replaced by the grim imperatives of survival on a planet turned hostile.

If we fail to address climate change, we fail at everything.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 10, Day 3: A World Of Plastic Hungers

A well-informed citizenry. That’s the phrase. The Washington Post, on the IPCC report’s numbers:

WASHINGTON — Top scientists from a variety of fields say they are about as certain that global warming is a real, man-made threat as they are that cigarettes kill.

They are as sure about climate change as they are about the age of the universe. They say they are more certain about climate change than they are that vitamins make you healthy or that dioxin in Superfund sites is dangerous.

They’ll even put a number on how certain they are about climate change. But that number isn’t 100 percent. It’s 95 percent.

And for some non-scientists, that’s just not good enough.

There’s a mismatch between what scientists say about how certain they are and what the general public thinks the experts mean, specialists say.

Ah well, it was fun while it lasted. September 25:

It’s not only that scientists are as certain of human-caused climate change as they are that smoking is bad for your health, or that some of the people most responsible for spreading misinformation about climate change did the same for big tobacco companies. The really significant analogy lies in the psychology of addiction.

Consumer culture is hooked on fossil fuels; like all addicts, we’ll do anything to ensure our supply. Anyone who’s ever tried to quit smoking surely remembers the phrases they used to rationalize their dependency. “Just one more,” “I need to relax,” and “It’s too hard to quit right now” — all these phrases uncomfortably evoke the fossil-fuel industry’s case against meaningful policy approaches to climate change.

Our civilization’s carbon energy habit has gravely damaged our planet’s health, and denialists’ responses to the IPCC report are remarkably similar to a heavy smoker’s hacking contempt for the oncologist’s advice.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 10, Day 1: They All Lived Happily Ever After

The Border Mail (Australia) talks about the IPCC report in unambiguous language:

Early next week, hundreds of scientists will meet in Stockholm’s Brewery Conference Centre to put the finishing touches on the world’s most important climate change document. It is unlikely the beer will be flowing.

By Friday the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change will have released the results of its labour – the first part of its fifth major assessment of climate science.

Its last report, released six years ago, delivered a stark message: the climate is warming mostly because of human activity and poses a major threat – especially if global temperatures increase by more than two degrees.

Go beyond two degrees and the planet faces dangerously rising seas, larger drought-affected areas and more frequent extreme weather events, amid other dire projections.

That report won the group the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize, which the panel’s chairman, Dr Rajendra Pachauri, observed would ”be seen as a clarion call for the protection of the Earth as it faces the widespread impacts of climate change”.

Six years on, the fifth report’s core findings remain largely the same, only now there is even greater scientific certainty. But already, it is clear the fanfare that greeted the last report is unlikely to be repeated. And so far it is the areas of uncertainty in the report – inevitable when dealing with scientific predictions – that are creating headlines.

To prepare the report, scientists from throughout the world volunteer years of their lives to collate and assess data and modelling results to pull together the report’s 3000 or so pages. The report is split into three sections: the first dealing with the physical science, the second and third – due out next year – looking at impacts and ways to cut emissions.

The IPCC does no research of its own, but calls on the expertise of about 830 scientists to draw together evidence from thousands of sources – from ice-core samples drilled out of Antarctica, to ocean temperature records sampled kilometres below the surface – to form the most comprehensive picture of the Earth’s climate system.

Scientists who were lead authors on the report gave Fairfax Media a consistent message: the evidence of a warming planet caused by human activity – such as burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests – is stronger than six years ago.

Dire. September 23:

As the new IPCC report shows, the scientific evidence both for climate change’s human causes and the profound danger it represents is now overwhelming. As their political power ebbs and flows, climate-change deniers are finding it harder and harder to keep up the pretense of objectivity.

There are five stages of climate denial: 1 – it’s not happening; 2 – it’s happening but humans don’t cause it; 3 – humans cause it but it’s not so bad, really; 4 – it’s really bad, but it’s too expensive to fix; 5 – it’s too late to do anything, so let’s have a party instead. Wholly controlled by their petroleum paymasters and aided and abetted by a complaisant media, the titular leaders of the industrialized world have spent decades begrudgingly working their way to stage two.

Assuming the IPCC report pushes them along to stage three, expect to see cheerful talking heads on television telling us that a warmer planet will mean millions of new jobs manufacturing air conditioners. Plants will grow taller, food will be more nourishing, and economies worldwide will boom. Our children will be smarter and more beautiful, and everyone will be above average.

No, they won’t.

Such fairy tales are beneath contempt. All five stages of denial represent intellectual and moral abdications of our responsibilities to our posterity, our species, and to the planetary web of life of which we are a part.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 8, Day 31: Merde Alors!

Time Magazine’s Bryan Walsh notes that the IPCC Report discusses oceanic acidification, saying of climatologists:

But here’s one thing they do know: oceans are absorbing a large portion of the CO2 emitted into the atmosphere—in fact, oceans are the largest single carbon sink in the world, dwarfing the absorbing abilities of the Amazon rainforest. But the more CO2 the oceans absorb, the more acidic they become on a relative scale, because some of the carbon reacts within the water to form carbonic acid. This is a slow-moving process—it’s not as if the oceans are suddenly going to become made of hydrochloric acid. But as two new studies published yesterday in the journal Nature Climate Change shows, acidification will make the oceans much less hospitable to many forms of marine life—and acidification may actually to serve to amplify overall warming.

The first study, by the German researchers Astrid Wittmann and Hans-O. Portner, is a meta-analysis looking at the specific effects rising acid levels are likely to have on specific categories of ocean life: corals, echinoderms, molluscs, crustaceans and fishes. Every category is projected to respond poorly to acidification, which isn’t that surprising—pH, which describes the relative acidity of a material, is about as basic a function of the underlying chemistry of life as you can get. (Lower pH indicates more acidity.) Rapid changes—and the ocean is acidifying rapidly, at least on a geological time scale—will be difficult for many species to adapt to.

I revised a letter I sent to Time on the same subject about 2 years ago. Took me about 10 minutes. Better luck this time, non?

Those of us who grew up in the 1960s will remember that Walter Cronkite wasn’t the only man on television who was universally loved and trusted. The late Jacques Cousteau introduced millions of young people to the notion that our planet’s oceans were places of strange and profound beauty, well-worth the effort to preserve and protect. The IPCC Report’s distressing news about accelerating oceanic acidification makes me wonder that that tough old Frenchman would say — and do — about it. It’s easy enough to imagine: after a few unprintable Gallic expletives, he’d start speaking truth to the world’s industrialized nations — telling them to show genuine leadership on climate change and carbon emissions. This passionate and eloquent explorer noted years ago, that “the water cycle and the life cycle are one.” Our captains of industry and the leaders of our civilization need to heed those words before it’s too late.

Warren Senders