Year 3, Month 9, Day 4: Naked Self-Interest Edition

Another Canadian paper, the Melfort Journal (where? Here.) runs a version of the David Suzuki article used for yesterday’s letter:

Faced with the evidence, many deniers have started to admit that global warming is real, but argue that humans have little or nothing to do with it. Muller’s study was just one of many to demolish that theory.

Our climate has always changed, and natural variation is part of that. But scientists have long known that carbon dioxide and other gases trap heat in the atmosphere. Recent warming is occurring at an unprecedented rate that corresponds to burning fossil fuels. According to NASA, global average temperatures have been rising significantly since the 1970s, “with the 20 warmest years having occurred since 1981 and with all 10 of the warmest years occurring in the past 12 years.” North America just experienced the hottest July on record, and the first seven months of 2012 were the warmest, on average, in more than 100 years.

This evidence has caused some deniers to change their tune again. Yes, the Earth is warming, they say, but whether it’s from natural or human causes, we can’t do anything about it, so we might as well continue with business as usual, maybe employing technological fixes to help us adapt.

The truth is, as most of us know, that global warming is real and humans are major contributors, mainly because we wastefully burn fossil fuels. We also know solutions lie in energy conservation, shifting to renewable sources, and changing our patterns of energy and fuel use, for example, by improving public transit and moving away from personal vehicles.

Scientists have been warning about global warming for decades. It’s too late to stop it now, but we can lessen its severity and impacts. The side benefits are numerous: less pollution and environmental destruction, better human health, stronger and more diversified economies, and a likely reduction in global conflicts fuelled by the rapacious drive to exploit finite resources.

We can all work to reduce our individual impacts. But we must also convince our political and business leaders that it’s time to put people – especially our children, grandchildren, and generations yet to come – before profits.

I was glad enough that Muller changed his mind a bit, but he’s not being much help in the aftermath. Sent August 29:

Yes, Richard Muller, once a “skeptic,” is raising eyebrows among political conservatives with his recent conversion to the accepted consensus on global climate change. The erstwhile doubter finally laid his reservations to rest with his own Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature study, confirming that the planet is warming significantly and that humans are responsible. But it’s still a good idea to keep adding a pinch of salt to Dr. Muller’s public statements, even as his research brings him in line with the climatological wisdom of the 1990s.

Muller’s enthusiastic advocacy of natural gas as an alternative energy source demonstrates that exceptional intellectual powers offer no protection from self-delusion. Natural gas is only cheap when you don’t count externalities like huge infrastructural costs for delivery and extraction technology, and the virtual certainty of groundwater contamination in the aftermath of the hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) process. Once all these factors are accounted for, it’s neither cheap nor clean, contributing almost as much to greenhouse emissions as do oil and coal.

While it may displease the arch-conservative Koch brothers (Richard Muller’s sponsors), the truth is simple: to survive and prosper in the coming centuries, the world’s civilizations must shift as rapidly as possible to renewable sources of energy. There is no time left to waste.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 9, Day 3: Vernacular, As Opposed To Classical, Gas)

The Welland Tribune (Ontario) runs an Op-Ed by David Suzuki, summing up the state of the situation, with special reference to Mr. Muller:

Most North Americans know that human-caused global warming is real, even if political leaders don’t always reflect or act on that knowledge.

According to a recent poll, only 2% of Canadians reject the overwhelming scientific evidence that Earth is warming at alarming rates — a figure that may seem surprising given the volume of nonsense deniers (many of them funded by the fossil fuel industry) spread through letters to the editor, blogs, radio call-ins and website comments.

Polling indicates more deniers live in the U.S., but they still make up just 15% of that population.

It’s getting harder to ignore the evidence: record high worldwide temperatures; increasing extreme weather events; devastating droughts, floods, and wildfires; animal and plant species turning up where they’ve never been found before; record ice loss in the Arctic and Greenland; melting glaciers …

The trends are exactly as climate scientists predicted.

Meanwhile, one of the few “skeptic” climate scientists, Richard Muller, recently reversed his thinking.

Muller and colleagues at the University of California, Berkeley, studied climate data dating back to 1753, then looked at possible causes of the unusual warming observed since the mid-1950s. (Ironically, the study was funded in part by the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation, founded by climate change skeptics with heavy interests in the fossil fuel industry.)

Their conclusion? It’s not the sun. It’s not volcanoes. The most likely cause is humans spewing massive amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, mainly by burning fossil fuels. This isn’t news to most climate scientists.

Muller is a little disingenuous, methinks. Sent August 28:

While it’s true that erstwhile climate-change “skeptic” Richard Muller recently reversed his position on the existence and causes of global warming, it’s worth pointing out that Dr. Muller has only caught up with the state of climate science as of, say, 1990. After releasing the final version of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature report in which he acknowledged that those worried climatologists have had it right all along, Muller segued effortlessly into advocacy of natural gas, which he asserts is a cleaner alternative to oil and coal.

Well, maybe. Oil and coal were “cheap” until we began taking into account all the externalities associated with these fuels, like their long-term public health and environmental impacts (to say nothing of all the expensive wars they seem to require). Natural gas is only cheap if we ignore the fact that it demands both a massive industrial effort for the drilling process along with huge investments in infrastructure for pipelines and other delivery mechanisms — to say nothing of the devastating consequences of hydraulic fracturing (“fracking”) as a means of extraction.

Muller’s “conversion” is certainly welcome news. But we need to be skeptical about the impact of his corporate affiliations on his public utterances. Natural gas is the planetary equivalent of a nicotine patch — a slightly less smelly way to deliver the same poisons. Ultimately, the only way to reduce our greenhouse emissions is to burn less fossil fuel — and that is something we shouldn’t be delaying for another minute.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 8, Day 28: Nice Work If You Can Get It

The Arizona Star discusses the problem and tries to be even-handed, while simultaneously pointing out that the denialists are full of shit:

The following appeared in the Chicago Tribune on Friday:

It’s official: July was the hottest month in the continental U.S. since the government began keeping those records in 1895.

For years, scientists have warned that climate change is happening. They reached that conclusion not because of a hot summer like this one, but from decades of data that show slowly rising temperatures.

In 2010, the National Academy of Sciences unequivocally warned: “A strong, credible body of scientific evidence shows that climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems.”

Americans have heard similar alarms before, and no doubt many have become adept at tuning them out, which is why we’d like to draw attention to physicist Richard Muller, a prominent climate-change skeptic who has changed his mind. Here’s what Muller wrote in a July 28 New York Times op-ed:

“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.”

One reason Muller’s conversion is drawing attention: His Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Project was heavily funded by the Charles Koch Charitable Foundation, which has a history of supporting groups that deny climate change.

Muller’s latest scientific paper will be pawed and poked by climate scientists – skeptics and believers alike. We’ll see how well it holds up.

One thing we can predict with certainty: Muller will not convince all climate doubters. But complete agreement usually isn’t necessary or achievable in science. Heck, there are still physicists who don’t think Einstein got it right.

Climate is complex and doesn’t yield easily to computer models and scientific calculations. Scientists won’t ever be able to predict with 100 percent certainty how bad warming will get and when.

And let’s acknowledge this isn’t just about data. Somewhere along the way, what started out as a scientific debate turned into a political, even ideological, spat. Highhanded advocates for slashing our use of fossil fuels backed extreme restrictions that would damage the world’s developed economies – America’s included. Skeptics pushed back, as aggravated by the righteousness of the climate-change Cassandras as by their doubts about the underlying – and incomplete – science.

Sent August 23:

Now that erstwhile skeptic Richard Muller has satisfied himself that the science of global warming is real and indisputable, the doubters are running out of scientists to reassure them that the greenhouse effect isn’t really happening. Leaving aside the voices of a few television weather forecasters and a phalanx of conservative pundits, the only scientists still supporting the denialist side are MIT’s Richard Lindzen and the University of Alabama’s Roy Spencer — names certain to appear frequently in the coming months as the evidence confirming climate change continues to accumulate.

Lindzen is notorious for his continued refusal to accept a causal relationship between cigarettes and lung cancer, and Spencer’s papers have been repeatedly debunked. Sure, these two contrarians could still be right, and thousands of climatologists could be wrong. But American energy and environmental policies should be based on the worldwide scientific consensus, not a handful of extreme minority opinions.

Year 3, Month 8, Day 24: You Say Ee-ther, I Say Eye-ther…

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, in an editorial:

While those with vivid memories of weather during the Depression might take umbrage, it is now official that July 2012 was the hottest month ever in the United States.

So far, 2012 is the driest and hottest year in more than a century. Farmers are battling a drought estimated to cover 63 percent of the country. Crops are failing and livestock are being put down. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has designated half of all counties disaster areas and expects the lowest corn yield in 17 years. This soon will be reflected in higher food prices.

Meanwhile, wildfires have been a problem nationwide. Rivers are receding and exposing once dark river beds to direct sunlight. At the same time, heavy rains have hit parts of the United States, but the damage to crops and livestock has been done.

Writing July 28 in The New York Times, former climate-change skeptic Richard A. Muller conceded what most of the scientific community has already considered gospel — global warming is real. Mr. Muller now agrees that man-made carbon dioxide emissions are contributing to the rise in the planet’s temperature, but he also believes much of the extreme weather is the result of cyclical, natural forces.

While there will probably be an argument about the validity of global warming until the last polar bear drowns, the oppressive heat of July 2012 will be remembered for a long time — or until its record is broken.

That is to say, August. Sent August 13:

The scientific argument about the reality of planetary climate change was settled quite some time ago — well before the recent conversion of erstwhile skeptic Dr. Richard Muller. The overwhelming majority of the world’s climate scientists (ninety-seven percent, more or less) are in agreement on the issue, differing only in their interpretation of particular details.

Yes, there probably will “be an argument about the validity of global warming until the last polar bear drowns,” as your editor writes. Heck, there’ll probably be such an argument as long as there are enough humans to encompass a wide range of opinions and beliefs. But just because there’s an argument doesn’t mean that both sides have equivalent factuality. The Earth is not flat; astronauts actually landed on the moon; Elvis is dead; global warming is real, human-caused, and getting worse.

Without a responsible news media, the Jeffersonian ideal of “a well-informed citizenry” is unachievable — and if there ever was a time when we needed such a citizenry, it’s now.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 8, Day 11: Tremendous Richard(s)

More on Muller, from the San Francisco Chronicle:

The hot issue of global warming got hotter Monday when a UC Berkeley physicist, once a loud skeptic of human-caused climate change, agreed not only that the Earth is heating up, but also that people are the cause of it all.

Richard Muller converted only a year ago to the idea that the world has been warming for decades. Before then he had argued that global warming data – even figures compiled by U.N. experts – were badly flawed.

Now Muller is going further, blaming the warming almost entirely on human emission of greenhouse gases, most notably carbon dioxide – a conclusion that almost all climate scientists reached long ago.

Muller argued that the evidence from more than 36,000 temperature stations worldwide shows that the global thermometer has risen by 2.7 degrees Fahrenheit over the past 250 years. The warm-up began with the onset of the Industrial Revolution, Muller said, and has accelerated in recent years.

Watchng the comments pile up is a real education in despair. Sent July 31:

Those seeking scientific opposition to the worldwide consensus on global climate change had their available options significantly reduced by Dr. Richard Muller’s “conversion.” For many years, Muller was one of the go-to guys for media outlets needing a contrarian voice to bolster a “the science isn’t settled” argument. Now, with the release of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Project’s results, Muller embraces the science he once scorned, leaving conservative pundits and politicians no choice but Dr. Richard Lindzen, the poster boy not only for climate-change denialists, but also for those who still doubt the connection between cigarette smoking and lung cancer.

Like those apocryphal Japanese soldiers still fighting Allied forces on forgotten Pacific islands, Lindzen is a true believer with thoroughly solidified opinions, making him a perfect recipient for the Koch brothers’ next climate-change research grant. The rest of us are pleased to welcome Richard Muller to the reality-based community.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 8, Day 10: Breathing Oil Fumes Will Do That To A Guy

The Boise Weekly, on Richard Muller:

One of the most-outspoken global warming deniers has reversed his stance on climate science, saying it is indeed human-made. The news that physicist Richard Muller had gone public with his reversal was even more surprising because his Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project is heavily funded by the climate change-denying billionaire Koch brothers.

Muller said that his new opinion stems from his own Koch-funded project, whose meticulous work, he said, led to the only explanation for rising temperatures was human activity.

In an Op-Ed in the New York Times, Muller was blunt about his reversal.

“Three years ago, I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming,” Muller wrote.”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.”

Dr. Muller is about to encounter the vicious, ignorant, gratuitously stupid face of modern American conservatism. Sent July 30:

Dr. Richard Muller has long been one of the go-to guys for conservative politicians and media figures who wanted scientific credibility for messages of climate-change denial. Along with a few other professional climate-science contrarians (such as Dr. Richard Lindzen, who’s noteworthy as one of the vanishing few who still hasn’t accepted a link between cigarette smoking and lung cancer), Muller publicly doubted the overwhelming consensus on the human origins of the greenhouse effect.

“Was,” not “is.” With the release of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Project’s conclusions this week, Muller is now firmly aligned with the rest of the climatology community in accepting the reality and the dangers of anthropogenic climate change. At least, he’s caught up with the conclusions of climate science from the late 1990s, which is a step in the right direction.

Muller’s results, important though they are, won’t convince anyone who isn’t convinced already. If his experience is similar to that of other climatologists, he’s going to receive hate mail and death threats from the same people who, a few months ago, were lionizing him as a scientist of great integrity and a courageous voice of dissent.

Warren Senders


Year 2, Month 11, Day 23: Defund or Defend?

More on the IPCC report, this time from the Washington Post:

Climate change will make drought and flooding events like those that have battered the United States and other countries in 2011 more frequent, forcing nations to rethink the way they cope with disasters, according to a new report the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued Friday.

The report — the culmination of a two-year process involving 100 scientists and policy experts — suggests that researchers are far more confident about the prospect of more intense heat waves and heavy downpours than they are about how global warming is affecting hurricanes and tornadoes. But the new analysis also speaks to a broader trend: The world is facing a new reality of more extreme weather, and policymakers and business alike are beginning to adjust.

It’s late at night in a hotel room in Madison, Wisconsin. I’ve got a big day tomorrow — four hours of classroom teaching and a concert, so I figured I’d get the letter out of the way before I went to sleep. Sent November 18:

As the case of Dr. Richard Muller case demonstrates, a responsible scientist changes his or her mind when confronted with factual evidence. The past few weeks have seen a plethora of studies demonstrating over and over again that the reality of human-caused climate change is no longer deniable. The newly released report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change offers an ominous look at a post-greenhouse-effect future in which extreme weather is the norm, with concomitant effects on agriculture, infrastructure and geopolitics that range from inconvenient to outright terrifying.

Scientific ethics compelled Dr. Muller to revise his opinion once he confirmed the validity of worldwide temperature measurements. Confronted with the same data, conservative politicians would resolve the problem differently — by defunding the IPCC and any other scientific organizations with the temerity to report facts as they are. In Republican politics, electoral exigencies trump the truth, every time.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 11, Day 19: Not With A Whim, But A Banker

The Concord Monitor (NH) discusses both Richard Muller’s apostasy and the sensible approach espoused by a few brave Democratic Reps:

A few weeks ago, after conducting a multi-year study funded in fair measure by the ultra-conservative billionaire Koch brothers, University of California professor Richard Muller, one of the more credible skeptics of global warming, announced his findings. The great majority of scientists who claimed that the world’s climate was warming at a fair clip, Muller said, are right.

Muller’s findings produced a gamut of responses. In climate skeptic circles, he had committed apostasy. In the broader scientific community the reaction was essentially, “What took you so long? Didn’t you notice that the glaciers are disappearing, permafrost melting, sea level rising and polar bears drowning?”

Last month, nine Democrats in the U.S. House decided to swim upstream through the sewage that is Washington politics to introduce the Save Our Climate Act, a bill that would impose, at its onset, a $10 per ton tax on carbon dioxide emissions. Their goal is to reduce emissions by 80 percent below 1990 levels.

Pete Stark (the only “out” atheist in Congress, just so you know) is a good guy; he’s the originator of this doomed legislative initiative. I’m so tired I can’t even think straight…but my letter appears to make a species of sense, combining a wee dram of S.O.C.A. advocacy with a big glass of Republicans Are Idiots. Sent November 15:

Now that Dr. Richard Muller’s career as a “climate skeptic” has foundered on the facts, one wonders how the GOP can continue to ignore those stubbornly inconvenient truths that have the rest of us losing sleep at night. But they will, they surely will.

Climate change is one of the least ambiguous problems America faces, for the laws of physics and chemistry are utterly oblivious to the exigencies of electoral politics. If we wish to pass a habitable world to our descendants, we need to stop burning carbon and putting it into the atmosphere. Period. And as a spate of recent reports have indicated, our window of opportunity is rapidly closing.

Congressional Republicans should support Rep. Stark’s Save Our Climate Act, which is environmentally sound and fiscally sensible. But they won’t, because their entire ideology is based on the idea that a profitable lie beats a costly truth every time.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 11, Day 5: All Muller, All The Time

The Houston Chronicle, running an AP article on the newest DFH tree-hugging enviro-nazi:

WASHINGTON (AP) — A prominent physicist and skeptic of global warming spent two years trying to find out if mainstream climate scientists were wrong. In the end, he determined they were right: Temperatures really are rising rapidly.

The study of the world’s surface temperatures by Richard Muller was partially bankrolled by a foundation connected to global warming deniers. He pursued long-held skeptic theories in analyzing the data. He was spurred to action because of “Climategate,” a British scandal involving hacked emails of scientists.

Yet he found that the land is 1.6 degrees Fahrenheit (1 degree Celsius) warmer than in the 1950s. Those numbers from Muller, who works at the University of California, Berkeley, and Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, match those by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and NASA.

He said he went even further back, studying readings from Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson. His ultimate finding of a warming world, to be presented at a conference Monday, is no different from what mainstream climate scientists have been saying for decades.

What’s different, and why everyone from opinion columnists to cable TV ‘s satirical”The Daily Show” is paying attention is who is behind the study.

I’m getting more material out of Muller than I got from the Deepwater Horizon. I wonder what that means. Sent Nov. 1:

It’s a little confusing to hear Richard Muller confirming the data and conclusions of previous researchers in climate science, while simultaneously asserting that there “…was not enough skepticism” shown in their work. What he seems to be saying is that the scientists whose work he previously doubted didn’t doubt their work enough at the time, but now that he’s figured out they were right all along, everything’s okay. Or something like that.

But that’s not what really matters. What really matters is that Muller, whose work was significantly funded by arch-conservative climate-change deniers, applied scientific method and intellectual rigor to the problem — and came to the conclusion that the world’s atmosphere is getting warmer. The Koch brothers must be seething; conservatives don’t like surprises.

For his part, Dr. Muller is going to discover what life is like when the petroleum funding evaporates. Welcome, sir, to the ninety-nine percent!

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 11, Day 4: Paraphrasing WHO?

Dr. Richard Muller continues to be the gift that keeps on giving, this time with an opinion piece in the Midland (MI) Daily News:

Richard Muller has been quoted by climate skeptics the world over as one of the leading authorities on why we should not take the climate science behind global warming on its face.

This past week, a study that took Muller two years to complete, concluded that climate scientists are right about one thing: The land is 1.6 degrees warmer than it was in the 1950s.

Muller, who works at the University of California, Berkeley, and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, conducted the study by focusing in on two chief criticisms of the skeptics — that weather stations are unreliable and that cities, which create heat islands, skew results.

“The skeptics raised valid points and everybody should have been a skeptic two years ago,” Muller said in a telephone interview. “And now we have confidence that the temperature rise that had previously been reported had been done without bias.”

How often do I get to evoke Don Rumsfeld? Sent on Halloween:

Stop the presses! A scientist confirms other scientists’ results!

Of course, science is supposed to work like that, with constant checking and cross-checking leading to ever-more-accurate descriptions and analyses of the world. Dr. Richard Muller’s readiness to change his mind when confronted with irrefutable proof of climate change’s factuality is simple responsibility to the norms of his profession.

In a sane world, this wouldn’t be news.

Unfortunately, ours is not a sane world, but one where billionaires push ideologically-driven distortions of the scientific process, politicians are the captives of corporate interests, our media promotes a false equivalency between petro-funded contrarians and genuinely worried climatologists — and the best interests of the American people are betrayed. In a sane world, we’d have started addressing the dangers of climate change long ago. But as Donald Rumsfeld might say, we live in the world we’ve got, not the world we wish we had.

It’s crazy.

Warren Senders