Twitter button

Monday, April 16, 2012

Justin Gillis on connecting the (climate change) dots

There's an excellent and very insightful Q&A interview with Justin Gillis, the New York Times reporter who recently won Columbia University's 2011 Oakes Award for Distinguished Environmental Journalism, at the Columbia Journalism Review website.

Since I have complained previously about the Times' coverage of climate change (here, here, here, and probably other places as well), it's considerable comfort to know that Mr. Gillis has a largely similar view of what has been happening in the mainstream media on the issue. I'm really impressed with some of the things he has to say:

- "I started taking classes and the more I learned, the more I thought to myself, 'This is the biggest problem we have—bigger than global poverty. Why am I not working on it?'" (emphasis added)

- "One thing I’m seeing—and I see it in our own paper as well as many other news outlets—is that people are covering the crazy weather we’re having and, more often than not, dodging the subject of whether there’s any relationship to climate change. TV weathermen are dodging that subject. Print reporters are dodging the subject ... [I]t’s a bit of a scandal that there’s not enough connecting the dots for people." (emphasis added)

Hear, hear!

My enthusiasm is only tempered by a few things. First, Mr. Gillis essentially waves away a goof in one of his recent stories, which included a paragraph about "climate researchers who question the scientific consensus about global warming ..." and in the very next paragraph quoted Myron Ebell, who is described as a "climate skeptic at the Competitive Enterprise Institute."  This unfortunate combination suggested that Mr. Ebell is a climate researcher, when in fact he is an economist--and an economist who works for a group that has run TV ads extolling the virtues of carbon dioxide, the most important greenhouse gas associated with global warming.

Mr. Gillis's comment on this? "I suppose that in retrospect, given how much complaint there was, I wish I had made clear that Ebell is not a scientist, but an economist. I had quoted him many times before and know who he is, what he does, and what perspective he represents." But, of course, it's not enough that Mr. Gillis knows who Mr. Ebell is--that's essential information, bearing directly on Mr. Ebell's credibility, that should be shared with readers.

I noticed this reference when I read the story and was disturbed (actually, pissed would be more accurate) by it.  Joe Romm noticed it also, and wrote a post at ClimateProgress titled False Balance Lives at the New York Times, which perhaps accounts for the second thing that bothered me--Mr. Gillis taking a swing at Romm a bit later on in the CJR interview: "I think some people, like Joe Romm, would like us to send a bugler in a coat of mail around with the paper every morning playing taps and proclaiming that climate change is a problem."

Well, gosh, Mr. Gillis, if the media isn't going to do that job for us, who will?  As you have correctly said, it's the biggest problem we have, and opinion polls make it clear that the public has no idea of its seriousness.  I for one am really grateful for Joe and the folks at Skeptical Science who are keeping those of us concerned about global warming up to speed and doing battle daily with the incessant river of lies and distortions from those in denial about climate change.

Finally, my enthusiasm is restrained by the fact that the Times and most other papers continue to write about America's new-found abundance of fossil fuels with barely a whisper about global warming. I'll have more to say about this soon.

All of that being said, let me end on an up note--I appreciate Mr. Gillis and his efforts to bring more of a focus on climate change and its likely impacts, to one of the leading newspapers in America, and I wish him every success.  The work he's been doing at the Times is critical, and God knows, we need all the help we can get.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Defending climate science and academic freedom

It's pass-the-hat time for Michael E. Mann, the beleaguered climate scientist from Penn State (and author of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars) who was targeted two years ago for a witch hunt by Ken Cuccinelli, Virginia's Attorney General.  This is serious stuff, folks--a state attorney general invoking the power of the state to harass a private citizen and eminent climate scientist on the most dubious of grounds.

The witch hunt is over now, and the Washington Post has, fittingly, blistered the Dishonorable Mr. Cuccinelli with a scathing editorial about what a jerk he has been and the taxpayer money he has wasted--but the legal bills remain. Hence the fundraising.

The Climate Science Legal Defense Fund, organized a few months ago, is conducting a drive on Rockethub, a crowdfunding site, to raise $10,000 toward Dr. Mann's legal bills. Those who donate at various levels will receive premiums, as follows:

$25: One t-shirt
$50: Two t-shirts
$75: Three t-shirts
$150: All three t-shirts and a copy of Climate Change: Picturing the Science signed by Joshua Wolfe (
$300: A hockey stick signed by Mike Mann.
$1000: A 16x20 signed silver gelatin print by Joshua Wolfe.

Much more detail and background at the Rockethub page.  Please consider contributing.  At this writing, with 40 days left, $2,200 (22% of the goal) has been raised--your help is needed.

Monday, April 9, 2012

'You may not be interested in climate change, but climate change is interested in you'

That's the best line in Tom Friedman's terrific column in today's New York Times, pointing out the climate-driven factors that have played an overlooked role in the political uprisings of the Arab Spring (food prices in Tunisia, water shortages in Yemen).  Friedman references Joe Romm's excellent Climate Progress blog as well (congrats, Joe!) and concludes:
[W]e should all remember that quote attributed to Leon Trotsky: "You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you." Well, you may not be interested in climate change, but climate change is interested in you.
Folks, this is not a hoax. We and the Arabs need to figure out — and fast — more ways to partner to mitigate the environmental threats where we can and to build greater resiliency against those where we can’t. Twenty years from now, this could be all that we’re talking about. [emphasis added]

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Wall Street Journal – Dr. William Happer is Wrong Again

The following is cross-posted with permission from Scott Mandia's excellent blog, Global Warming: Man or Myth?

Letter sent to Wall Street Journal on March 27, 2012, in reply to Dr. William Happer’s op-ed: Global Warming Models Are Wrong Again which should have been titled “Dr. William Happer is Wrong Again”. My LTE has not been published. I am not surprised.

Scientists tell us that heat-trapping carbon emissions are rising, as are global temperatures, sea levels and the risks associated with climate change. But regular readers of the Wall Street Journal’s opinion page are likely to have exactly the opposite impression. 
By my count, over more than a two year period starting in late 2008, the Journal published only 4 opinion pieces that supported the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change, but 39 that questioned it, attacked scientists or otherwise misrepresented scientific findings. Those trends have continued in recent months. Meanwhile, 97 percent of publishing climate scientists agree that human activities are significantly altering our climate. And our own National Academy of Sciences tells us, “Climate change is occurring, is caused largely by human activities, and poses significant risks for—and in many cases is already affecting—a broad range of human and natural systems.” 
The latest op-ed attempting to contradict the science is from physicist William Happer who makes the classic mistake of cherry-picking an individual year and counting forward from there to make spurious claims about global temperature trends. 
In reality, the past 35 years have all been hotter than average globally, meaning half of all Americans have never even lived during a year with average or below-average temperatures. Four independent scientific agencies confirm the unmistakable warming trend, as did an analysis (the BEST project) from a former climate change skeptic. 
The Journal’s readers would benefit from more high-quality information about the science and less spin from ideologues. 
Scott A. Mandia, Professor & Asst. Chair – Physical SciencesT-202 Smithtown Science Bldg., S.C.C.C.533 College Rd.Selden, NY  11784
[For a detailed scientific demolition of Dr. Happer's claims, see Yes, Happer and Spencer, Global Warming Continues by Dana Nuccitelli at Skeptical Science.]

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Bad news for Bryce as neutrinos come home to roost

Some months ago, I had a good time here poking fun at Robert Bryce, a Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute for Public Policy, who authored a column in the Wall Street Journal arguing that since a scientific experiment had apparently found neutrinos traveling faster than the speed of light, all the findings of climate science should be considered up for grabs (see Neutrinos stage speedy rescue from global warming ... whew!, Oct. 9, 2011). No, really, he did.

Unfortunately for Mr. Bryce and his tortured logic, the neutrinos have come home to roost. Late last week, two of the top scientists involved in the experiment, which was conducted at the European high-energy physics CERN laboratory and another research center, resigned after a vote of no confidence by other researchers with whom they had been collaborating.  Just two weeks earlier, a second research group had announced that its testing did not confirm the earlier results. The culprit in the first experiment appears to have been faulty equipment.

So yet another "basis for overturning climate science," and a startlingly flimsy one at that, bites the dust.

Was Mr. Bryce wrong? Well, no, not exactly--all science proceeds by trial and error, and climate science is no exception. It's never "settled," and there are still many areas of uncertainty.  At the same time, his approach was a uniquely counter-factual one: to cast doubt on all of the findings of climate science without challenging any of them.  Very creative, since it required no climate-related evidence whatsoever, but for the same reason, not very convincing.

Here's a modest suggestion, Mr. Bryce: the climate science website Skeptical Science has an excellent and informative page titled 10 Indicators of a Human Fingerprint on Climate Change. That page itself links to another page from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on a report detailing the reasons why scientists are sure the Earth is warming.  Between the two, there are 20 or more significant findings on which the concept of human-caused climate change rests.  Next time you undertake to overturn climate science, it might be more prudent, and convincing, to present some reasons, based on observations or research results, for doubting one or more of these pillars of the actual science.

Even if you are able to do that, though, John Cook's admonition from the Skeptical Science page bears repeating:
Science isn't a house of cards, ready to topple if you remove one line of evidence. Instead, it's like a jigsaw puzzle. As the body of evidence builds, we get a clearer picture of what's driving our climate. We now have many lines of evidence all pointing to a single, consistent answer - the main driver of global warming is rising carbon dioxide levels from our fossil fuel burning.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Early ending: Maple sugar and global warming

Latest letter to the editor. Local papers offer an excellent opportunity for climate activism and education. The Valley News, for example, will basically print any letter of 350 words or less, and asks only that writers refrain from writing more than once every two weeks.  Pretty hard to beat.  The only defect is that they don't have a web version.

Letter to the Editor - Valley News (Lebanon, N.H.) - March 20, 2012 (Links added)

To the Editor:

Your article "Sap Flow Ends Early: Sugaring Ending When It Typically Would Be Taking Off" (Mar. 19) is one more indication that climate change is upon us, and the weather and world ahead will not be what they used to be.  Strangely, the article did not mention climate, nor did another ("Spring Comes to the Fore: Weather Creates Early Golf Start") the same day, but it's getting more and more difficult to ignore what is going on.

What does the future hold for maple sugaring?  Likely nothing good--to date, producers have managed to stay more or less even with the warming weather by using new technology, but climate change is like rust in that it never sleeps.  A good source for readers who would like to know more is a five-minute YouTube video titled "No Maple Syrup by 2100?"  It tells the fascinating story of Martha Carlson, a New Hampshire sugar producer who decided to become a tree researcher and PhD student at the age of 61 after she saw the quality of the syrup from her trees declining.   The video quotes the U.S. Forest Service as the source for the simple statement, "Most of the sugar maple is likely to be gone by 2100 due to climate change."  It adds that climate change threatens the $3 million maple sugar industry and the $292 million foliage tourism industry.

Anyone concerned about climate change and the prospect it offers--weather disruption, threats to plant and animal species, and more--should consider joining Citizens' Climate Lobby, a group that is seeking to persuade Congress to pass a gradually escalating carbon tax, with the proceeds distributed to all Americans as a dividend.  That may not happen this year or next, but climate change is not going away.

Thomas O. Gray

[In related news, see The End of Maple? for a first-person account of this year's sugaring "season."]

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Change of Heartland: Institute vows 'new leaf'

Sunday, April 1, 2012--The Heartland Institute, long a stronghold of criticism of generally accepted science on such issues as climate change and the health effects of tobacco, said in a press release today that it plans to "turn over a new leaf" and work to heighten public awareness of the negative effects on the Earth's climate of burning fossil fuels.

Since the highly publicized leak of internal documents some weeks ago, a spokesman for the group said, "We've had to do some real soul searching. It's been a difficult time."

Of particular importance in Heartland's change of heart, the spokesman said, was the conduct of Dr. Peter Gleick, a climate scientist and commentator who announced in late February that he had impersonated a Heartland board member in order to obtain the documents.

"At first, we were naturally very angry with Dr. Gleick, but after thinking it over, we realized that we had been a part of a similar episode in the past with Greenpeace.  We were also struck by the distinct difference between his conduct in coming forward and that of the unknown computer hackers who stole climate scientists' e-mails in the past and who remain at large.

"We also had to acknowledge, after others pointed it out to us, that we had applauded the e-mail hacking in a perhaps unseemly way that contrasted sharply with our reaction to having our internal documents made public.

"Our hearts go out to the many individuals and their families who have suffered from diseases associated with tobacco, such as lung cancer and emphysema, and to those around the world who are threatened by impacts associated with climate change such as flooding and drought.  We promise to do better in the future."

In other breaking news, meteorologist Joe Bastardi today admitted that he doesn't know beans about thermodynamics.