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


Year 4, Month 7, Day 16: GBKW

I don’t have any good news, unfortunately. The Toronto Star addresses melting permafrost, calling it a “Time Bomb”:

…the physical changes already seen in northern landscape is telling, said Dr. Merritt Turetsky, a University of Guelph ecologist who participated in the permafrost study.

“The (International Panel on Climate Change) outlined several scenarios and we are exceeding the worst case scenario,” she said.

Turetsky began her research on Canadian permafrost in the late 1990s. Over the last decade, she travelled to a number of permafrost sites in northern Alberta and the Northwest Territories — and she’s seen the melting permafrost drastically change the landscape.

“In that short time, the transformations are quite drastic,” she said. “It literally turns a forest into a semi-aquatic pool . . . vegetation starts to slump, thaw and sink into the ground. Trees start to pitch. This is causing the landscape to change in ways that most of the community hasn’t quite recognized yet.”

She said “collapse scars,” where trees and other types of vegetation slump over and sink into ponds, are becoming an increasingly common sight across the Canadian North.

In Inuvik, Rodgers said the town has experienced “permafrost stumpage” over the last several years — eroding roadsides and ditches dug in the permafrost that quickly transform into large, gaping holes.

Turetsky said the risks posed by permafrost remain high if human-made greenhouse gases remain on pace.

With nearly half of the country covered by permafrost, the impact will reach beyond already affected northern communities in the coming decades if scientists’ predictions are accurate.

Turetsky said a limit on human-made emissions could help keep some carbon frozen in the permafrost, but added that she fears an enormous amount of damage has already been done.

“The analogy is that it’s a big train about to derail,” she said. “Once it begins, permafrost thaw occurs slowly but you can’t stop it. That lack of control makes anybody feel nervous.”

I do love this world with all its beauty and all its music. So sorry to see it go. June 28:

The language of scientific discourse tends away from emotional intensity. Even the most alarming of conclusions is couched in affectively neutral terms; a scientific description of the Hindenburg disaster might run something like “a near-instantaneous hydroxygen combustion reaction triggered the ignition of carbon compounds, leading to destruction of vehicular infrastructure and a statistically significant mortality rate.” Oh, the humanity.

This detached tone demands careful scrutiny, especially when the subject is something as potentially devastating as melting Arctic permafrost, which could release enormous amounts of greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in a geological eyeblink. When an ecological scientist like Dr. Merritt Turetsky uses phrases like “drastic transformations” and “a big train about to derail,” the rest of us need to recognize that her measured words are the scientific way of shouting “FIRE!”

Ignoring the climate crisis would be the costliest mistake our civilization ever makes.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 4, Day 24: Hitting The Snooze Button For The 2000th Time

The Stanford Daily (CA) notes a new survey from the Woods Institute which indicates that some folks are waking up a bit:

Seventy-three percent of survey respondents predicted that a future rise in the sea level will be a serious problem, and only 16 percent of the public said they would want to wait until the effects of climate change directly impact them before taking action.

“The results suggest that Americans are very supportive of preparing for the effects of sea level rise and storms likely to be induced by climate change,” Krosnick said. “The least support appeared for policy approaches that involved trying to fight Mother Nature, building concrete walls or putting more and more sand along the coastline to keep the oceans back.”

The majority of the survey respondents—62 percent—said that building codes should be strengthened for coastal structures, while 52 percent wanted to enact measures preventing new construction on the coast.

The results also reveal that 82 percent of Americans are supportive of preparing for the effects of sea-level rise and storms, but only 38 percent believe that the government should pay for it. Sixty percent said that people living or running businesses along the coastline should be responsible for funding preparation efforts.

“If they choose to be [on the coastline], they choose to place themselves in harm’s way,” Krosnick said. “The message from the survey is that after the government does this work, the government should pay for it by increasing the property taxes of people and businesses along the coasts rather than increasing everyone’s taxes.”

Awake, but still utterly clueless. Sent April 12:

As extreme weather becomes the new “normal”, it’s no wonder that we’re seeing a major shift in American attitudes about climate change, as demonstrated by the Woods Institute poll. More and more of us recognize that the greenhouse effect’s consequences are happening here and now — and that’s good news.

The notion that people who live in areas threatened by rising sea levels should pay more to cover the cost of reinforcing coastal infrastructure makes a certain kind of sense — at first. Ultimately, however, this viewpoint gets washed away by the simple fact that all of us are at risk. Whether it’s the droughts currently hammering our agricultural sector, the invasive pine beetles turning Colorado forests into tinder, or the battered coastline of New Jersey, nowhere in America (or on Earth) is isolated from the impact of a transformed climate.

With one exception. In the air-conditioned offices of conservative politicians, it’s business as usual; these anti-science lawmakers and their corporate paymasters have ensured that our government will remain toothless and hamstrung in the face of the most significant threat our civilization confronted in recorded history.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 4, Day 22: Coming All The Time

The Daily Trojan (CA) notes a few spurts of sanity from the state’s Republican ex-governator:

During the opening remarks, Schwarzenegger stressed the importance of listening to the voices of our nation’s experts on the pivotal issue of climate change, likening their diagnosis to the opinions one would receive from a doctor after a yearly physical.

“If we are smart, we listen to our doctors, and if we are stupid, we ignore our doctors and it takes a heart attack to realize that we should listen,” Schwarzenegger said. “The National Climate Assessment Report is our physical and these scientists can give us a prescription for what we need to do to improve our climate. It is our duty to listen to them and encourage action — action all over the country.”

Once these guys lose power, they suddenly discover their consciences — and the truth. Fuckers. Sent April 10:

Arnold Schwarznegger’s right: climate scientists are the closest we’ve got to planetary physicians. But the sad fact is that the Governator’s Own Party (G.O.P.) is resolutely ignoring the doctors’ advice. While Mr. Schwarznegger’s attempt to awaken his ideological fellow-travelers is commendable, Republicanism no longer stands for “smaller taxes and limited government,” but for irrationality, paranoia, and ignorance.

And Mr. Schwarznegger must share the blame. Where was he when his party consciously dumbed itself down, cynically pandering to low-information voters? Where was he when radio hosts became conservatism’s public face? Like other Republican leaders, he was capitulating to the conspiracy theorists, borderline racists, aspiring theocrats, and jingoistic xenophobes who now make up his party’s core voting constituency.

It’s never too late to come to one’s senses. But for the sake of our planet, one wishes Mr. Schwarznegger had spoken out about this more forcefully a decade or two ago.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 11, Day 30: I Feel A Tingle…

Look, everybody! Actual, unambiguous good news:

A new study in the journal Science suggests that the global climate may be less sensitive to carbon dioxide fluctuations than predicted by the most extreme projections, and maybe slightly less than the best estimates of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Andreas Schmittner, a climate scientist at Oregon State University in Corvallis, Ore., and lead author on the new study, notes that, while man-made global warming is happening and tiny changes in global average temperatures can have huge and deleterious effects, the atmosphere may not be as sensitive to carbon dioxide change as has been reported.

“We used paleoclimate data to look at climate sensitivity to CO2 doubling in the atmosphere, and we are coming up with a somewhat lower value,” says Schmittner.

How long before James Inhofe suddenly discovers that science is cool and groovy? Sent November 26:

The authors of the newly released study on climate sensitivity very carefully note that while their conclusions suggest lower values than the IPCC’s more extreme projections, this does not diminish either the reality of global climate change or the importance of a robust policy on greenhouse emissions. But since the precise, reality-based language of scientists is incomprehensible to politicians desperately seeking excuses to avoid confronting inconvenient choices in an election season, we can anticipate a chorus of conservative legislators eagerly ignoring their cautionary words.

Andreas Schmittner’s historically grounded examination of paleoclimate data should not be used to bolster the usual denialist shibboleths. Employing these hopeful findings as an argument for inaction on the gravest existential threat our species has yet faced is the twisted logic of a cancer patient who, when told that the progress of the disease is slower than doctors’ worst-case projections, resumes smoking five packs a day.

Warren Senders