Year 4, Month 1, Day 25: Here Comes Science!

Now THIS is a damn good idea — Naomi Oreskes, in the Washington Post:

But President Obama can move independently of Congress to address this critical issue: He can mobilize scientists through the U.S. national laboratory system.

There is a powerful precedent for the president to take this route. The core of the national laboratory system was created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt as part of the Manhattan Project to address an earlier threat to American safety and security: the possibility that German scientists were going to build an atomic bomb that could have been decisive in World War II. Scientists brought the issue to the president’s attention and then did what he asked: They built a deliverable weapon in time for use in the war.

While historians have long argued about the seriousness of the threat of a Nazi atomic bomb, there is no question that at the time it was viewed as imminent. Today we face a threat that is somewhat less immediate but far less speculative. An obvious response is to engage the national laboratory system to study options to reduce or alleviate climate change, which the president could do by executive order.

Let’s defuse the Carbon and Methane bombs. Sent January 18:

A national call to scientists is precisely what is needed in the face of the metastasizing threats posed by climate change. A negative consequence of the Industrial Revolution has been the consumption of many millions of years’ worth of fossilized carbon in a geological instant, with concomitant consequences for our biosphere and our civilization. But another consequence is the rapid expansion of human intellectual resources; thanks to leapfrogging technological advances, we’ve made strides of understanding and insight into the nature of our universe that even a few decades ago would have seemed beyond the wildest imaginings of science fiction.

If there are solutions to the greenhouse effect and its destructive epiphenomena, they won’t be found by those so-called conservatives who’ve carried out a multi-decade campaign against scientific understanding and method, but by climatologists, physicists, chemists and other experts working together for the common benefit of our species and our posterity.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 1, Day 24: Busted Flat In…. Boulder?

The Coloradoan notes a new study on climate change and wildfires:

Last year, 2012, the hottest year on record in both Colorado and the United States and the state’s worst wildfire year ever, may be just a taste of what climate change has in store for the West.

Colorado’s future under the influence of climate change will be significantly warmer and drier than recent years, and the impacts will affect the regions’ water, forests, wildfires, ecosystems and ability to grow crops.

That’s the conclusion of the draft of the federal government’s National Climate Assessment, which was released for public comment on Monday by the U.S. Global Change Research Program.

The water content of Colorado’s snowpack and the timing of the spring runoff are changing, which could pose major challenges for the state’s water supplies and farmers, said Reagan Waskom, director of the Colorado Water Institute at Colorado State University and co-author of the portion of the assessment addressing Colorado and the Southwest.

Reaching a bit for the metaphor, but what the hell. Sent January 17:

The unimaginable devastation wrought by 2012’s wildfires are “just a taste,” writes Bobby Magill, “of what climate change has in store for the West.” In the aftermath of the world’s hottest year on record, Americans may finally be waking up to the dangers posed by a rapidly accelerating greenhouse effect. The earlier phrase “global warming” was misleading, offering a picture of our planet as getting a little cuddlier and more comforting; after all, who doesn’t like being warm? The true picture as predicted by climatologists for several decades is now emerging: whatever climatic factors were already dangerous are going to be even more so. Did your region already suffer from occasional drought? Get ready for two or three years of water shortages. Occasional heavy rains? Be prepared for massive flooding. Hurricanes every now and then? Batten down the hatches and keep them battened down for the foreseeable future.

If last year’s wildfires were the appetizers, we can anticipate a multi-course banquet of climatic disaster.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 1, Day 21: I Do Not Believe You Are An Idiot. My Choice Of Verb Is More Accurate: I KNOW You’re An Idiot.

The Anchorage (AK) Daily News reprints an Op-Ed from the Kansas City Star of a few days ago, titling it “The Costly Ignorance Of Climate”:

The overwhelming number of scientists who believe in climate change scored another “victory” in 2012.

Unfortunately, because of timid political leadership in the United States and around the world, the war against global warming is still being lost.

Scientists have long warned that man-made greenhouse gases are heating up the Earth. They added more evidence to their arsenal when the contiguous United States recorded its hottest year ever in 2012. The average temperature was 55.3 degrees, smashing the 1998 record by one full degree, an incredible leap given the usually small changes in these kinds of measurements.

The New York Times reported other worrisome facts: 34,008 daily high records were established at U.S. weather stations but only 6,664 record lows in 2012.

Worldwide, the average temperature is expected to come in as one of the 10 warmest ever, with all of those occurring in the last 15 years.

Always happy to mock the faithful. January 14:

There’s no doubt among people who pay attention to the evidence that climate change is a dangerous reality. Self-styled “skeptics” confuse incomprehension with intellectual honesty; the root of the problem lies in a word we hear too often in the discussion of the burgeoning greenhouse effect and its consequences. “Believe.”

Scientists’ relationship with reality is vastly different from the faithful’s relationship to their religions. You’ll never hear a religious adherent say that they’ve evaluated the data and are prepared to accept their creed’s validity within two standard deviations, and you’ll never hear a climatologist say they “believe” in climate change. Scientists accept the evidence for climate change because they understand how that evidence was collected and analyzed, and their evaluation of other possible explanations for that evidence suggests that the consensus explanation is the correct one.

To conflate the concepts of belief and understanding is to do both science and religion a disservice. And when this confusion makes concerted international action on global climate change less likely, it makes risible religion’s claims to moral ascendancy.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 1, Day 17: Turn Off All Thought, Surrender To The Void

The Washington Post’s Eugene Robinson weighs in on climate change, with an excellent column titled “Hot Enough For You?”:

All right, now can we talk about climate change? After a year when the lower 48 states suffered the warmest temperatures, and the second-craziest weather, since record-keeping began?

Apparently not. The climate-change denialists — especially those who manipulate the data in transparently bogus ways to claim that warming has halted or even reversed course — have been silent, as one might expect. Sensible people accept the fact of warming, but many doubt that our dysfunctional political system can respond in any meaningful way.

The thing is, though, that climate change has already put itself on the agenda — not the cause, but the effects. We’re dealing with human-induced warming of the atmosphere. It’s just that we’re doing so in a manner that is reactive, expensive and ultimately ineffectual.

A slap at George Will in my second paragraph. Ha ha ha ha. Sent January 11:

Climate change denialists have always had lots of excuses and diversionary tactics available for use in the face of Mother Nature’s stubbornness. The climate’s not changing — but if it is, it’s not dangerous — but if it is, humans aren’t responsible — but if they are, it’s too expensive to do anything — but if it’s more expensive to do nothing…well, repeat ad nauseum. Enabled by a complaisant media, anti-science politicians dance attendance on the fossil-fuel establishment, whose profits might be infinitesimally reduced if we took steps to address the accelerating greenhouse effect before it spins catastrophically out of control.

Whether they’re scientifically-ignorant tea-partiers or bow-tied faux-intellectuals, denialists have this in common: no amount of evidence or logic can shake their faith. In this respect, they’re like the NRA: enablers and excusers of a destructive technology, and avatars of ignorance at a time when our society desperately needs wisdom.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 1, Day 13: Ain’t No Place A Man Can Hide, Will Keep Him From The Sun

The Woodland, CA Daily Democrat runs an AP article on the future of Beautiful Lake Tahoe and environs:

Lake Tahoe is “the fairest picture the whole earth affords,” Mark Twain once wrote. Its crystal blue waters, surrounded by stunning snowy mountains, define one of California’s crown jewels as an American landmark. It attracts 3 million skiers, boaters, campers, hikers and other visitors each year.

But it could look very different in 100 years.

Climate change could profoundly affect the Tahoe area, scientists say, taking the snow out of the mountains and the blue out of the water. Last winter’s ski season showed a glimpse of what a future, warmer Tahoe may look like. Snow didn’t start falling in the mountains until January. The California Ski Industry Association reported that 25 percent fewer skiers visited the Sierra last season. For a region that boasts a $5 billion year-round economy, that hurts.

New climate models show that in a worst-case scenario average temperatures in the Tahoe area could rise as much as 9 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century. That’s equivalent to moving Lake Tahoe from its current elevation of 6,200 feet above sea level to 3,700 feet, climate scientists report in a special January issue of the journal Climatic Change. That’s as high as the peak of Contra Costa County’s Mount Diablo, which gets only an inch of snow a year.


Homewood Ski Resort, a lower-elevation resort without an extensive snowmaking system, is well aware of the threat of climate change. Last season, Homewood didn’t open until Dec. 14, said resort spokesman Paul Raymore, and it wasn’t able to open any chair lifts until January. More winters such as last year’s would be disastrous. “We do rely on Mother Nature and what she provides in terms of natural snowfall,” Raymore said.

While doing little to curb global climate change, the resort does encourage skiers to use public transit, now offering $5 off lift tickets for those who do. “We have a vested interest in ensuring that the mountains stay cold,” Raymore said.

To be sure, people should keep in mind that the climate models aren’t necessarily forecasts, said Michael Dettinger, a climate modeler at Scripps Institute of Oceanography in San Diego and one of the authors of the special Climatic Change issue. “They’re what-if predictions,” he said, adding that scientists can’t say yet which scenario is most likely to unfold.


Sent January 8:

When considering climate scientists’ warnings about the dangers of a climate-changed future, we must remember that climate models are notoriously fallible — and that their predictions of how a transformed planetary atmosphere will impact our lives are frequently inaccurate.

So does this mean everything’s fine? Nope. Those scientists almost universally erred in underestimating the speed and severity of the damage. By now “worse than expected” is a near-universal refrain in scientific circles and the public media. Arctic ice? Melting faster than expected. Sea levels? Rising faster than expected. Heat waves? Hotter, longer, and larger than expected.

That these effects are now outracing experts’ predictions is no reason to dismiss scientific study of our climate. If your oncologist tells you the prognosis is worse than expected, that doesn’t mean you should abandon therapy. Those who love and enjoy the beauties of Lake Tahoe had better get ready for the unexpected.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 1, Day 11: Who Put The Benzedrine In Mrs. Murphy’s Ovaltine?

The San Francisco Chronicle reports on one of our technological back-up plans:

One afternoon last fall, Armand Neukermans, a tall engineer with a sweep of silver bangs, flipped on a noisy pump in the back corner of a Sunnyvale lab. Within moments, a fine mist emerged from a tiny nozzle, a haze of salt water under high pressure and heat.

It didn’t look like much. But this seemingly simple vapor carries a lot of hope – and inspires a lot of fear. If Neukermans’ team of researchers can fine-tune the mechanism to spray just the right size and quantity of salt particles into the sky, scientists might be able to make coastal clouds more reflective.

The hope is that by doing so, humankind could send more heat and light back into space, wielding clouds as shields against climate change.

The fear, at least the one cited most often, is that altering the atmosphere this way could also unleash dangerous side effects.

“Ten years ago, people would have said this is totally wacky,” Neukermans said. “But it could give us some time if global warming really becomes catastrophic.”

When, not if. Sent January 6:

While the prospect of geoengineering technologies for mitigating climate change’s effects is terrifying, the crisis allows for no non-terrifying outcomes. We’re midway through a mass extinction of a magnitude unprecedented in human history; our greenhouse emissions have achieved a critical mass sufficient to forestall an ice age 50,000 years from now (even if we completely stopped burning fossil fuels today); melting methane in the Arctic has transformed the “Venus effect” from a never-in-a-million-years nightmare to a statistically significant probability.

There’s no single cause of the climate disaster, and no single solution. But the business-as-usual approach which has brought us to this point must be rejected; we humans must transform ourselves, our communities, and our nations — putting the survival of our species above our short-term gratification. Armand Neukermans’ work on increasing cloud reflectivity could never as dangerously uncontrolled an experiment on Earth’s atmosphere as the multi-century endeavor known as industrial civilization.

Warren Senders


Year 4, Month 1, Day 2: I Know You Are, But What Am I?

USA Today, on the thawing Antarctic:

Western Antarctica has warmed unexpectedly fast over the last five decades, weather records confirm, adding to sea-level rise concerns in a warming world.

Temperatures in West Antarctica have increased at a rate nearly twiceas large as the global average, a 4.3 degree Fahrenheit increase since 1958, conclude meteorologists in the journal, Nature Geoscience, out Sunday.The finding adds Western Antarctica to the list of hot spots most affected by global warming, the century-long increase in global average temperatures largely driven by greenhouse gas emissions from burning oil, gas and coal.

“The magnitude of the increase is substantial,” says polar meteorologist David Bromwich of Ohio State University, who led the study. “One of the most surprising aspects of this warming (increase) is how much is going on in the summer, that’s the time we would get any melting.” Bromwich had expected increases in rates of warming to be fairly uniform across the seasons, instead.

Fuck. Sent December 27:

As the most rapidly warming place on Earth, the Southern polar regions are going to be the focus of intense scientific scrutiny in the years to come. The vast quantities of ice now starting to melt in Antarctica’s Western territories will raise sea levels far beyond the earlier predictions of climate scientists, lending further urgency to the struggle to contain global climate change within manageable bounds. But the prospect of massive ice melt is not the most alarming aspect of this rapidly transforming region.

Scientists confirm that at least four billion tonnes of methane are currently frozen beneath the Antarctic ice sheet. A greenhouse gas twenty-five times as powerful as carbon dioxide, methane is already entering the atmosphere above the Arctic, and bringing with it the potential to destabilize our already traumatized climate and impact all Earthly life in devastating ways. If Antarctic methane melts, humanity’s in very deep trouble.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 12, Day 29: The Sky Is A Hazy Shade Of Something Or Other

The Seattle Times speculates on the likely end of winter, with a “scientists are surprised” subhead.

One of the biggest surprises in the technical report on biodiversity and ecosystems is how much winter has already changed, said Bruce Stein, director of climate-change adaptation with the National Wildlife Federation, in a conference call this week.

“The bottom line is that these impacts aren’t just going to happen in 50 to 100 years; many of them are already here, and are only going to get worse over time,” Stein said. “There has already been more effect on winter than we thought, and that affects what happens in summer.”

In the Northwest, forests already show the effect of warmer winters in beetle-killed trees. The pests thrive without the killing cold. That, in turn, means summertime wildfires stoked with dead conifers.

In addition to changes in winter, the report noted many other effects of even small shifts in temperature. Among them, increased risk of extinction among animals that can’t move, or adapt quickly enough to outrun warming temperatures.

“We were surprised at the rate of movement of species in response to these changes in temperature,” Stein said. Shifts in species’ ranges is occurring about two to three times faster than previous estimates, with plants and animals shifting north in their home ranges about 10 miles a decade, and marine species moving even faster, as much as 27 to 30 miles north, seeking colder water.

There are exceptions of course, and winners, as well as losers. As the climate warms, some species are gaining whole new ground to colonize, while other animals are dying out.

Locally in the Northwest, barnacle and mussel beds already are declining in the Strait of Juan de Fuca, because of warming water in the intertidal zone, according to the report.

The timing of seasonal events in nature is also shifting, with animals migrating and nesting earlier caused by shorter, milder winters, including northern flickers in the Northwest.

The bottom line is change. Because of the amount of carbon dioxide already in the atmosphere, no matter what is done now to affect human-caused global warming from the burning of fossil fuel, long term, the climate of the past will not be seen again.

“What we are seeing, ” Stein said, “is a new normal.”

Yesterday’s letter was actually triggered by this piece, but then I got disoriented, because I had two separate “oh-shit-winter-is-gone-forever” articles up in two different browser windows. Anyway. Sent December 23:

A phrase like “that’s surprising,” can mean different things depending on who’s saying it and where it’s being said — but when it’s scientists discussing environmental factors reinforcing one another and unpredictably worsening the effects of climate change, it’s almost certainly bad news. Predictability is the essence of science — but it’s also essential for planning and policy; when we cannot prepare for the future, we’re at its mercy.

One certainty: there’ll be more unpleasant surprises for climatologists — and the rest of us. Whether it’s disrupted agriculture, a collapsing oceanic food chain, or catastrophic weather events, the accelerating climate crisis isn’t waiting for us to catch up. If the “new normal” described by the National Wildlife Federation’s Bruce Stein is one where science, policy and preparation are constantly blindsided by events, it’s not just winter sports that are going to disappear, but the entire infrastructure of our civilization.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 12, Day 26: Hit The Snooze Button Again, Willya?

The Chicago Sun-Times says Americans are finally waking up.

Call it change more Americans are starting to believe in.

A recent Associated Press-GfK poll found that a growing majority of Americans not only think global warming is occurring, but also that it will become a serious problem and that the U.S. government should do something about it.

If this fall’s elections were any indication, average Americans are moving ahead of the politicians on this issue. Serious debate on climate change was a lot less noticeable than the melting polar icecaps, Superstorm Sandy and Midwest drought were.

Fashionably late, that’s us. Sent December 20:

The fact that Americans are only now accepting the reality of global climate change demonstrates two things: first, that the United States has been able to avoid the adverse effects of global warming for longer than many other parts of the world, and second, that our national relationship to scientific knowledge has deteriorated grossly since the 1960s and 70s, when our space program brought human beings to the moon and back with the full support, admiration and respect of an engaged public. That was then.

Now, it’s a different story. Thanks to an indifferent media, climatologists are misrepresented when their findings are complex, ignored when their work is misunderstood, and physically threatened when their results are ideologically inconvenient. Since geographical good luck no longer protects our nation from the consequences of the accelerating greenhouse effect, will America’s politicians, media and citizenry finally accord climate scientists the respect they deserve?

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 12, Day 23: Intestines Were A-Hanging From The Highest Of The Trees

The New York Times notes that winter sports are suffering a bit:

NEWBURY, N.H. — Helena Williams had a great day of skiing here at Mount Sunapee shortly after the resort opened at the end of November, but when she came back the next day, the temperatures had warmed and turned patches of the trails from white to brown.

“It’s worrisome for the start of the season,” said Ms. Williams, 18, a member of the ski team at nearby Colby-Sawyer College. “The winter is obviously having issues deciding whether it wants to be cold or warm.”

Her angst is well founded. Memories linger of last winter, when meager snowfall and unseasonably warm weather kept many skiers off the slopes. It was the fourth-warmest winter on record since 1896, forcing half the nation’s ski areas to open late and almost half to close early.

Whether this winter turns out to be warm or cold, scientists say that climate change means the long-term outlook for skiers everywhere is bleak. The threat of global warming hangs over almost every resort, from Sugarloaf in Maine to Squaw Valley in California. As temperatures rise, analysts predict that scores of the nation’s ski centers, especially those at lower elevations and latitudes, will eventually vanish.

I went skiing as a kid in different places all over New England. It was fun until I broke my leg as a teenager. At that point I said, “fuck it.” Sent December 17:

Thanks to the barrage of weather-related disasters over the past year, more previously dubious Americans are beginning to accept the reality of global climate change; there’s something about tangible evidence that helps nudge people off the fence. The decline in snow coverage on the nation’s ski slopes should amplify this effect, perhaps helping winter sports enthusiasts to recognize both the factuality of the greenhouse effect and the dangers it presents.

But we — all of us — must start thinking in much longer terms and much larger scales. While the economic disruption caused by a collapsing winter sports industry will be significant, it pales in comparison to that triggered by a collapsing planetary environment. While our industrialized society has wrought technological wonders, we are laughably unable to control the havoc unleashed by our profligate greenhouse emissions. Humanity isn’t on the bunny slopes anymore, but careening down a precipice, unknowing, unheeding.

Warren Senders