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Friday, December 30, 2011

Connecting dots on weather & climate: local newspaper shows how it's done

After two stories in two days by national-level media dropped the ball on global warming, my local paper, the Valley News, came through yesterday. Kudos!

Here is the magical (dare I call it remarkable?) text from the story "So Far, Winter Is a Washout" by Aimee Caruso:

Chris Bouchard, a meteorologist at the Fairbanks Museum in St. Johnsbury, Vt., said it's fairly unusual to have no snow in December, especially because the snowfall is just a few inches below normal.

"What's weird about it is it's been very warm, so a lot of (the snow) has melted, resulting in our measly snowpack," Bouchard said.

Last month was the third warmest November on record in Vermont, with an average temperature of 41.2.  The warmest year was 1948, with an average temperature of 42.6.

It's also been an unusually wet year, Bouchard said.  As of yesterday morning, 51.14 inches of melted precipitation made it the wettest year since records started being kept in 1894 ...

It's hard to say why Vermont has had four of its wettest years on record in the past six years, he said, but possible explanations include a transitory weather pattern or "some link to climate change.

"Warmer and wetter are two trends you would expect here in the Northeast with a warming climate," Bouchard said.
There now, that wasn't so hard, was it?

By contrast, a lump of coal goes out to the New York Times, which carried a story of similar length on the same subject (lack of snow, warm weather) Dec. 23, but managed to avoid any mention of global warming even though it included the following text: "Week after maddening week of unusually balmy temperatures have made snowfall scant in New England ... "

And a slightly smaller lump to the Associated Press, with an entry also dated Dec. 23 and titled "With snow scarce, northern U.S. has brown Christmas."  The author, John Flesher, doesn't fail to ask the obvious question--is there a reason for this?--but rather than bring up the sticky wicket of global climate change, he opts instead for "La Nina, the cooling of the equatorial Pacific Ocean that affects weather worldwide, has nudged the jet stream farther north. Air pressure over the northern Atlantic has steered storm systems away from the East Coast."

To be fair, climate science doesn't tell us a whole lot about snow--snowfalls may be much heavier due to the increased moisture content of the atmosphere, or they may be much lighter because they are replaced by rain, or the snow may melt because of warmer temperatures.  So that's a plausible reason for not bringing it up.

Still, the weather has clearly been odd--otherwise, there would be no reason for writing about it--and one factor has clearly been unusually warm temperatures.  Global warming "loads the [weather] dice," making warm spells more likely, as Mr. Bouchard noted, and it's my view that every feature story about unusual weather that dovetails with climate science should "connect the dots."

The New York Times does connect the dots sometimes--in its "Temperature Rising" series, which focuses explicitly on major issues relating to global warming, and, more interestingly, when its stories relate to politics.  Take, for example, this recent segment from a story titled "Climate Scientists Hampered in Study of 2011 Extremes," by Justin Gillis:
This year, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tried to push through a reorganization that would have provided better climate forecasts to businesses, citizens and local governments, Republicans in the House of Representatives blocked it. The idea had originated in the Bush administration, was strongly endorsed by an outside review panel and would have cost no extra money. But the House Republicans, many of whom reject the overwhelming scientific consensus about the causes of global warming, labeled the plan an attempt by the Obama administration to start a “propaganda” arm on climate.
Note the bolded passages, which provide the extra factual context a reader needs to make, yes, judgments about what is happening.  Let's look at the same paragraph without the bolded parts:

This year, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration tried to push through a reorganization that would have provided better climate forecasts to businesses, citizens and local governments, Republicans in the House of Representatives blocked it, labeling the plan an attempt by the Obama administration to start a “propaganda” arm on climate.
The latter approach has far too frequently characterized the Times' approach to weather and climate coverage.  Congratulations to Mr. Gillis for "telling it like it is" on the news story of the century--the disruption of Earth's climate by human-caused emissions of heat-trapping greenhouse gases.

UPDATE: To get a sense of just how different climate reporting can be, see this example from today's edition of the Montreal Gazette: "Quebec on the verge of catastrophic climate change, expert [says]."

Related posts:

How the New York Times could cover global warming, Dec. 23, 2011
The New York Times and global warming (not): why?, Oct. 3, 2011

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Thanks, Al

The post I should have written for Thanksgiving:

I'm thankful, of course, for everyone who is active in trying to persuade recalcitrant and boneheaded governments around the world (including our own in Washington, D.C.) to get serious about slashing global warming pollution.  Bless you all, thank you all, and more power to your efforts, whatever (nonviolent) form they may take.  But I'd like to extend a special note of thanks to our former Vice President, Al Gore.

When you look across the spectrum of U.S. politicians on this issue, it's a pretty sorry sight.  Vice President Gore has done more--far more--than any other American political leader to draw our attention to this urgent global problem, and he has done it consistently, month after month, year after year.  Take a look on Twitter for @algore and you will find him today, still pushing out information about climate science and its implications.  In return, he has been belittled, defamed, mocked, and smeared.  The lackeys of the fossil fuels industry have talked about "making Al Gore angry" as if it were a serious policy objective, rather than juvenile taunting unworthy of anyone's serious attention.  Shame on them and those who pay them.

And thanks, Al.  Thanks for not being either bought off by the fossil fuels industries, like so many others, or cowed by their Tea Party dupes.  Thanks for continuing to tell us the inconvenient truth about the serious global danger we are courting with our current energy policy and what we need to do to avert it.  We are all in your debt.

How the New York Times could cover global warming

I've complained (hmmm, maybe "ranted" is the appropriate word) here previously about the New York Times and its "coverage" of global warming.

It's interesting to compare that coverage with the Times' coverage of Congress. The e-mail alert (from the Times) for the breaking story of the day on Saturday, December 17, reads, in pertinent part, as follows:

“Senate Votes to Extend Payroll Tax Cut for Two Months

“WASHINGTON — In the ultimate cap to a year of last-minute, half-loaf legislation, the Senate voted overwhelmingly on Saturday to extend a payroll tax cut for a two months, with the chamber’s leaders and the White House proclaiming victory, even as they pushed the issue of how to extend the tax cut and unemployment benefits into the new year. …

“The agreement — should it get through the House — mirrors a series of 11th-hour deals devised by the the 112th Congress that appear to solve an impending crisis, but simply push it forward

“A failure to even extend a modest tax break for 160 million Americans for a single year — something both sides would love as political feathers in their election-year caps — is particularly remarkable in a Congress charged with far more significant items.

“‘Today is an important day for our country,’ said Senator Harry Reid of Nevada, the majority leader, as he explained from the Senate floor Saturday why his chamber would be voting on a bill, conceived Friday in private between Senate leaders to extend the tax for only two months. ‘We are doing today exactly what the Founding Fathers thought we would do,’ and passage of the bills is ‘an accomplishment important for the American people.’

Notice that the reporting is very judgmental--I have bolded some of the pieces of the text that, while they are arguably accurate reporting, also appear to express the personal views of the reporter.  Certainly, they are not "straight reporting."  Also, the article positions the quote from Reid in such a way as to make him appear either openly cynical or stupid.

The NYT does this regularly with political news, so its reporters do know how to take a position, in a news story. The mystery is why it is so assiduous about writing news stories about global warming as neutrally (and even cluelessly) as possible. It has, for example, carried lengthy articles about the recent rash of wildfires in the western U.S. and on the record-breaking Texas drought of 2011 without mentioning global warming at all.  Its blog even reported on the most well-known skeptic politician, U.S. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), sending a self-congratulatory message to skeptics at the Cancun international climate conference--without any discussion of the climate science he belittles.

That said, some credit is due. On the same day as the story above, it carried a long story on methane that actually discusses climate science as if it were settled.  I hope it's the beginning of a sea change, but at this point, it's hard to be optimistic.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Update from the Terra Incognita of rain

"Terra Incognita" is my metaphorical phrase for describing the previously unknown weather (well, unknown at least in the weather records) that is now being brought to us, around the world, by global warming.  Here's a quick update from one part of that unknown land--the rainy one.

A few days ago, Joe Romm's excellent Climate Progress blog ran a post by Dr. Jeff Masters of Weather Underground ( about the new records for rainfall that have been set in the Northeastern U.S. this year.  Dr. Masters emphasized the fact that Philadelphia, which has one of the longest weather records (and therefore extremes that are very hard to top) had set a new record with its rainiest year since the start of rainfall record-keeping in 1820.  But some other numbers in his list of new 2011 records seem to me even more striking.   Here they are:

Williamsport, PA, rainfall records dating from 1895: broke old record by 7.1 inches (180 mm) (11.5%).
Cleveland, OH, records since 1855: broke old record by 8.51 inches (216 mm) (15.8%)
Harrisburg, PA, records since 1861: broke old record by 12.29 inches (312 mm) (20.5%).
Binghamton, NY, records since 1890: broke old record by 16.61 inches (422 mm) (33.7%)

In each case, we're talking about weather records dating back more than a century, and the old rainfall records are not just being surpassed, they're being obliterated.

The bottom line?  Global warming means new weather coming, to a place near you.  It may be hotter, or dryer, or wetter than ever before, but whichever it is, we're off the old weather charts and into new territory.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Upbeat moment: Kids for Climate Action

OK, maybe I will have another happy post sometime, but probably not for a while, so savor this one.  From the Canadian Press by way of the Winnipeg Free Press, we have this story: "Students to hold Christmas flash mobs, carol for climate change."  Good to see some young people finding a creative way to engage the person in the street on global warming, and singing and dancing while they do it.

If you'd like to see what this looks like (I know I did), see this video of one of last year's Kids for Climate Action flash mobs in a Vancouver food court.

Kids for Climate Action has a Facebook page, and the lyrics of their modified carols are available on their events page:  This year's carol was "Climate Change Sucks" to the tune of "Jingle Bell Rock."  Here's an excerpt:

"Climate change, climate change, climate change sucks
Our atmosphere heating, our glaciers receding
Extinction and pine beetle aren’t very fun
And the effects have just begun

"Climate change, climate change, climate change sucks
We pollute away while the poor countries pay
Hurricanes, drought, flooding, increased disease
Climate justice please

"What a bright time, it's the right time
For us to change our ways
It’s better
To work together
To save our Earth for future days"

Sweet.  Sort of.

Wake up, getting late, time to act

David Roberts of Grist, always worth reading, has three posts on global warming in the past few days (1, 2, 3).  All three are really calls to action--#1 concerns just how dire the findings of climate science are and how long we have slumbered, #2 the scale and urgency of what we need to do now, and #3 the error of hoping that moderate, reasonable, reassuring communications will get us where we need to go.

I, of course, endorse his view--what would you expect from a guy with a blog with titled It's Burning? I'm no scientist, but I've read a lot about climate science over the past 20-plus years, and very little of it has been reassuring.  Mostly, it's amounted to the slow piling up of a mountain of evidence agreeing with the basic conclusion that we're dumping heat-trapping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere at a scale that natural systems cannot handle, that the Earth is slowly but steadily warming as a result, and that the scale of the climate system is so large that inertia will guarantee continued warming long after we recognize the inevitable and cut back on the use of fossil fuels.

But I write with respect to #3.  Every once in a while I have a discussion about global warming with someone and I wind up thinking, or saying out loud, "But what if an unreasonable solution is required?  What if the situation is so grave that reasonableness becomes a fatal trap?"  No one ever has an answer--they just shake their heads.  Maybe we've been conditioned by the ending of the military draft, and its implication (hey, war is not such a big thing, just take it easy and someone else will do the fighting and dying)?  Are we so in love with a life of relative ease that we just don't have what it takes anymore to do what it takes?

Because, you know, it's really not that hard to become an activist on this issue. There are organizations out there like Citizens' Climate Lobby and 350 and Climate Reality Project that will keep you informed and take you by the hand and tell you what to say to whom and when to say it, or where to go and what to do, in order to have the most impact. Join them and support them now.  The simple truth is that with respect to the climate, we are facing a very dangerous situation, and it's getting worse every day.  It's getting late to stop global warming and serious disruption of the Earth's climate--maybe too late--but if you and I and thousands of others don't shuck off our laziness, our inhibitions, our fear, or whatever else is holding us back and act now ... we're guaranteeing that it's too late.

P.S. Bonus reading: in this new post The doctor and the life coach: a question for Andy Revkin, Roberts lays out the essential danger of feel-good communications about global warming. Recommended.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Dawn of the undead: Fake Twitter accounts return

Not too long ago, I wrote about the problem of someone apparently paying for climate science denier ads to be run by a system of fake Twitter accounts.  As you will see from the updates to that post, I thought the problem had been resolved, but it hasn't--they're baa-ack.  The ads disappeared for a few days after December 1, but then a new series of accounts popped up--first with egg avatars, then the aforementioned photos of young women. I've written repeatedly to Twitter Support to remind them (about once a week), but am getting no response.  So this is just for the record--the zombie accounts are still there, trying to eat the brains of people credulous enough to believe a BS quote about NASA scientists lying. See for yourself: just search for "NASA scientists" and you will find them.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Who’s peddling climate science denial with fake Twitter accounts?

It was a very brief story in August--a person or persons unkown, evidently working on behalf of the oil industry, used a number of fake Twitter accounts to promote development of Alberta’s tar sands, a bete noire of many environmentalists and those of us concerned about global climate change.

The technique was crude (as it were--maybe “heavy crude?”), the giveaway straightforward: many tweets from the fake accounts, according to CBS MoneyWatch, ended with the same phrase “#tarsands the truth is out!” and a link to the American Petroleum Institute’s (API) web page about oil sands.  And according to a Mother Jones magazine article on the fraud, one of the fake accounts, for example, claimed that the owner was a big Star Wars fan … but all of “his” 27 tweets were about the tar sands.

Now someone seems to have “refined” the technique a bit (why do I keep ending up with oil terminology?) on behalf of climate science denial.

I first noticed, perhaps a month ago, that I was seeing an annoying tweet multiple times.  I can’t say for certain, but I’m pretty sure the language has not changed.  It says:

“But remember that NASA scientists are 100% behind Global Warming, no matter what the truth is”.  

That exact tweet has been posted to Twitter 12 times today (it’s now 4 p.m. where I live, so 12 times in 16 hours).


- It’s tweeted from a different account each time.

- The fake accounts contain other tweets, some apparently personal, some promoting various products.

- It doesn’t contain a link that might disclose a specific interest of the perpetrator.

- It doesn’t contain a hashtag, which is one of the previous tipoffs (those watching the hashtag #tarsands noticed the fraud).

Even so, the deception is still obvious:

- As with the previous effort, the accounts all have similar names and profile descriptions.  Typically, they include a woman’s first and last name and a number--e.g., KimberlyChant114 (not a “real” one), with a one-sentence profile beginning with “I like.”

- While a few of the account profiles have the basic Twitter egg symbol that means the owner hasn’t uploaded a profile picture, the rest, perhaps 3 out of 4, feature young women, many in suggestive poses.

- The tweet is identical in wording, and it’s never retweeted.  Apparently all of these individuals have somehow come up with exactly the same idea.

So, we’re back to the question posed by the title of this posting: who’s behind the fake tweets casting doubt (the ultimate currency of the phony climate science skeptics) on NASA and climate science?  Who’s dropping 10-20 of these identical tweets per day into the Twitterstream, and how does the apparent network propagating them work?

Update: It's a sophisticated system.  I downloaded all the tweets from two of the fake accounts (Account #1: 0 followers, 0 following, 54 tweets; Account #2: 0 followers, 0 following, 42 tweets).  #1 is shilling free laptops, #2 is shilling Victoria's Secret gift cards, and both intersperse the marketing tweets with "personal" tweets.  However, some of the supposedly personal tweets are identical.  Here is one:

     you know I ain't wanna leave!#smh

and here is another:

     Love being one of the only black people! :D lol #happytweet

Additional accounts duplicate different "personal" tweets, indicating that some sort of database is used to generate random tweets.

Update: 21 November: The system is apparently more active on weekdays. Through TweetDeck (which doesn't necessarily see everything), I count 131 tweets in the first 19 hours of today, or roughly 7 per hour.  Twitter has suspended many of the accounts, but some with several hundred tweets are still operating.

Update: 5 December: After repeated reporting of accounts for spam and complaints to Twitter Support, it appears that the system has been shut down.  None of the "NASA scientists" tweets have appeared for at least the last two days.  I'd still sure like to know who funded the global warming denial tweets.

Monday, October 31, 2011

New charts needed for Russia and Texas heat waves

A few posts ago, I likened our planetary situation today to that of medieval mariners, sailing off the maps of the known world and into uncharted waters.  That simile is underlined by findings showing that that heat waves in Texas (2011) and Russia (2010) were literally off the charts.

For Russia, the money graph is in this Climate Progress article on the heat wave, showing July temperature anomalies in Moscow since 1950. Take a moment to look at it and grasp the way in which the information is displayed--I was shocked when I realized what it showed.  There's a pretty normal bell-shaped distribution around the average, although it clearly leans a bit toward the warm side, with several years there not having equivalents on the cool side.  But then comes 2010, standing by itself about 4 degrees F hotter than any other year.  As the article details, a recent paper from the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) by Rahmstorf and Coumou concluded, based on statistical analysis, that there is an 80 percent chance that planetary warming contributed to this remarkable meteorological event, which may well have claimed more than 50,000 lives.

For the Texas heat wave, again Climate Progress has a good summary, including two graphs from Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon that show the unprecedented nature of the summer of 2011 in the Lone Star State.  See the charts labeled "Texas Summers" (2011 all by itself, a la Moscow 2010, in a graphic of average temperatures and precipitation of past summers) and "Histogram of Texas August Temperatures."  They are from a blog article by Nielsen-Gammon entitled "Can You Spot the Outlier?," in which he comments: "The year 2011 continues the recent trend of being much warmer than the historical precipitation-temperature relationship would indicate, although with no previous points so dry it’s hard to say exactly what history would say about a summer such as this one.  Except that this summer is way beyond the previous envelope of summer temperature and precipitation." (emphasis mine)

Climate change skeptics and deniers are always arguing that climate scientists don't know everything about the planetary climate system, and of course, they're right. But the series of weather catastrophes that has occurred around the world over the last decade, and the unprecedented nature of those occurring more recently, should remind us: climate change skeptics and deniers know little if anything about the size of the risks that their what-me-worry approach to climate science entails. They are too busy "straining at gnats and swallowing camels"--poking minuscule holes in climate science while ignoring the enormity of the real-time weather events occurring all around us.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

'It's cold today: So much for global warming'

As I write this, several inches of snow are predicted later today and this evening for the northeastern U.S., and the predictable flood of lame-ass jokes about Al Gore, stupid scientists, and global warming alarmists is clogging Twitter.  U.S. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) set the gold standard for this genre of know-nothing humor, encouraging his grandchildren to build an igloo in Washington, D.C., in February 2010 during a record snowfall there and dubbing it "Al Gore's new home." Photo op! (the media equivalent of "Squirrel!")

To quote a favorite movie line from Michael Caine, pardon me while I fall down laughing.

So, what's the real story, as opposed to the line being pushed by the fossil fuel industries and their dupes?  Does a cold snap, and an early snowfall, really mean we can ignore climate science?  Um .... no.

Skeptical Science covers both phenomena, cold days and heavy snow, in its usual informative style. For cold days, it points out that in recent decades, the ratio of new record high temperatures to record low temperatures in the U.S. has risen dramatically.  For more detail on this issue, see this post from Climate Progress on record highs and record lows.  But, here's the key point to remember: while the underlying model from the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) suggests that the ratio of record highs to record lows could climb from 2-to-1 during the 2000s to 50-to-1 by 2100, even in 2100, there would still be occasional record cold days somewhere in the U.S.  What would those record cold days say about global warming?  Not a damn thing.

While we are on the subject, a couple of additional things to note, which make it clear that the trend toward higher temperatures continues inexorably:

1) The ratio of record highs to lows (for the date) spiked in the U.S. during the summer of 2011. For August, in particular, it reached the alarming level of 22-to-1.

2) According to the National Climatic Data Center, August 2011 was also the "318th consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th century average. The last month with below average temperatures was February 1985."

As for heavy snow, it's actually an expectable and predicted outcome of global warming.  Why?  To quote Skeptical Science, "Global temperatures in the last few months of record snowfall are some of the hottest on record. Warming causes more moisture in the air which leads to more extreme precipitation events. This includes more heavy snowstorms in regions where snowfall conditions are favourable. Far from contradicting global warming, record snowfall is predicted by climate models and consistent with our expectation of more extreme precipitation events." (emphasis mine)

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Neutrinos stage speedy rescue from global warming ... whew!

The story is told about Bill Klem, a famous baseball umpire, that after a player was called out on strikes and angrily threw his bat high in the air, Klem said, "Young man, if that bat comes down, you're out of the game."

That always seemed pretty funny to me, until I heard about Robert Bryce's recent opinion article in the Wall Street Journal.  Bryce, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, noting recent experiments at the European high-energy physics laboratory CERN, which appeared to show that neutrinos travel faster than light, said they clearly indicate there is more room for debate about climate science.  Seriously.

Now I realize that Klem was simply ahead of his time.  Perhaps a neutrino from 2011 had traveled back in time and whispered to him.  In any event, he clearly recognized that since nothing in science is certain, that bat might sprout wings at any moment and fly away.

I've been trying to think of a suitable analogy for Bryce's assertion, but it's hard.  Perhaps the most relevant (and starkest) one is this: would you let someone set fire to your house, on the grounds that because scientists may have discovered neutrinos traveling faster than light, it's not really certain that it will burn?  Because that is essentially what he and others in denial about climate science propose to do to your, and my, planet.

(By the way, the headline on this post?  It's just a joke.  Obviously, if neutrinos were really going to rescue us from global warming, it would already have happened.)

Here's a roundup of some other opinions on Bryce's quintessentially quirky approach to pondering, and learning from, the findings of science:

Robert Bryce Makes Mockery of Science, Is Mocked in Return - ClimateProgress
Of Neutrinos and Climate Science - Media Matters
What Do Neutrinos Have to Do With Climate? Not Much - LiveScience
Neutrinos and P-Brains - Randomology
Wall Street Journal: neutrinos show climate change isn't real - Bad Astronomer (Discover Magazine)
Neutrinos spark wild scientific leaps - Cosmic Log - MSNBC

Monday, October 3, 2011

The New York Times and global warming (not): why?

Why has The New York Times so totally blown it on global warming?

It's the story of the century--perhaps the millennium--and the most respected newspaper in America has been AWOL.  Out to lunch.  Missing in action.

Our story begins in 1988, a year of record drought in the United States.  At some point, I recall muttering to my wife, "Pretty soon they're going to figure out that this is global warming, and it's coming on a lot faster than they thought."  Remarkably, within a day or two, NASA climatologist James Hansen testified before Congress that the telltale signs of global warming were beginning to be discernible.

I had high hopes for the Times.  In my dreams, I even thought it might do what it sometimes did with truly major news developments (and shortly thereafter actually did with the crisis of Communism and fall of the Berlin Wall)--devote a special two-page daily section of the paper to climate change.  What an idiot, huh?

Not only did it not put together special coverage of climate change, it has pretty much ignored it over the 23 years since--even the Science Times, its special weekly section that focuses on scientific developments, has largely given global warming a pass.  And when it HAS covered the issue, too often its coverage has, to put it charitably, stunk.

What a tragedy.

I did my bit, for quite a while.  From 1982 to the early 2000s, I was the editor of a renewable energy newsletter, and I saw to it that global warming received steady coverage after Hansen's testimony--right up until the head of the organization that published the newsletter called me on the phone and ordered me to stop.

There was no shortage of news--I read scientific journal articles regularly during the early 1990s to keep up on developments, and there was a steady flow of new papers with findings consistent with climate change, just as there is today.  You'll read about precious few of them in The New York Times, but they're there.

In any event, I don't know why the Times has failed us all so utterly on this most important issue of our time.  It's great that it's publishing occasional stories like the one a few days ago on how many of the world's forests seem to be suffering from wildfires and other problems related to--climate change--but they're far too little and too late.

For the record, from Climate Progress, the excellent blog which has been documenting the failings of mainstream media on climate coverage, here are some outstanding examples of how the Times has let us down:

NY Times strikes false balance on climate change, September 17, 2011
NY Times asks why "horrible" U.S. drought "has come on extra hot and extra early."  Their answer is ... La Nina, of course!, July 11, 2011
Must-see video connects the dots, while a NY Times story on the record Arizona wildfires fails to, June 12, 2011
NY Times reports Inhofe's gleeful disinformation--with no balance at all, December 6, 2010
As nation, Russia, and world swelter under record-smashing heat waves, The New York Times sets one-day record for most unilluminating stories, July 26, 2010
New York Times public editor files final report, never mentions the paper's dreadful global warming coverage, June 13, 2010
Brulle: “The NY Times doesnt need to go to European conferences to find out why public opinion on climate change has shifted…. Just look in the mirror," May 26, 2010
Welcome readers of the NYT's front-page story with the bad headline, February 11, 2010
NY Times and Elisabeth Rosenthal face credibility siege over unbalanced climate coverage, February 9, 2010
Anti-science ideologues spin the NY Times public editor, Clark Hoyt, on 'Climategate', December 6, 2009
Signs of global warming are everywhere, but if the New York Times can't tell the story (twice!), how will the public hear it?, July 1, 2009
New York Times runs absurdly misleading headline on Revkin's sea level rise (non)story, May 14, 2009
John Tierney makes up stuff, just like George Will--does the New York Times also employ several know/do-nothing fact checkers?, February 24, 2009
Is the New York Times coverage of global warming fatally flawed?, February 22, 2009
The New York Times blows the bark beetle story, November 19, 2008

Bear in mind, most of these critiques are dated more than 20 years after James Hansen's testimony.  My, my, where has the time gone?

Sunday, October 2, 2011

'It rained so hard the oceans fell'

A nice report from some other parts of the Terra Incognita of rain: the widespread downpours and flooding of 2010-11, when it "rained so hard the oceans fell," by Barry Saxifrage on Climate Progress.

In this part of Terra Incognita, it's raining

Terra Incognita: "unknown land." It's the phrase early mapmakers applied to land beyond the boundaries of the known world. Some conceptions were fanciful--the phrase "Here there be dragons" was sometimes used to express the perils of the unknown, or a mammoth waterfall to delineate the seas' furthest edge--but the words Terra Incognita were a simple and powerful reminder of the limits of knowledge.

Terra Incognita, to my mind, describes where we are today in terms of climate and weather. And in this part of Terra Incognita--central Vermont--it's raining.

The nearest weather station to our home reports that so far today, we've had 0.8 inches (20 mm) of rain. On Thursday, two days ago, the same station reported 1.27 inches (32 mm). And so it's gone, off and on, most of the year. We missed the peak rains of Tropical Storm Irene, but still got 4 inches (100 mm). And a few days later, the remains of Tropical Storm Lee arrived, and we got soaked again--2.76 inches (70 mm) spread over five days.

Earlier this year, the National Weather Service reported that Burlington recorded a record of 24.4 inches (620 mm) of rain from January through May. That total was more than four inches above the previous record (20.21 inches, 513 mm, in 1983) and more than 6.5 inches ahead of the third-place year (2000, with 17.74 inches, 451 mm). (Vermont's records, by the way, go back to 1850.)

It wasn't just Vermont, either. For March through May, the National Climatic Data Center found that Vermont, New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky, Colorado and Washington all had their wettest springs in 117 years. Michigan, Montana, and Oregon had their second wettest. And Binghamton, NY, deserves special mention. On September 8 (remains of TS Lee), Binghamton broke its all-time 24-hour precipitation record--by more than 60%!--with 7.49 inches (190 mm).

What's the connection between heavy rainfall and global warming? Evaporation. As ocean waters warm, more water evaporates, and warm air can hold more moisture. That simple fact, plus a small amount of warming, has meant unprecedented rain events in many parts of the world. Besides Binghamton, Pakistan--where truly biblical flooding has happened the past two summers--comes to mind, along with Tennessee, Queensland and more.

So that's the rainy part of Terra Incognita. What about the other parts? Perhaps now would be a good time to say that by Terra Incognita, I don't mean truly unknown. As climate change deniers tirelessly remind us, every weather extreme that is now occurring has happened sometime in the past. But what we are seeing now is still "incognita" in the sense that it hasn't been experienced by anyone now living in the area involved--we're moving into weather none of us have known, and it's not just occurring in Siberia or the Hindu Kush or some other unthinkably remote place, it's happening right in our own backyards.

There's the Terra Incognita of drought and heat--in July, Oklahoma recorded the hottest month ever, not just for Oklahoma, but for any state in the U.S. Texas's drought has been even further off the charts--the Texas State Climatologist, John Nielsen-Gammon, commented, " ... [W]ith no previous points so dry it’s hard to say exactly what history would say about a summer such as this one. Except that this summer is way beyond the previous envelope of summer temperature and precipitation." NASA's James Hansen, who told Congress in 1988 that signs of global warming were becoming apparent and that we are "loading the climate dice" in the direction of more extreme weather, now says that parts of the southern U.S. may become "almost uninhabitable" in the not too distant future.

And there's the Terra Incognita of ice. It's melting. For some eye-popping numbers, check the first graphic in this post on Arctic sea ice. It shows that estimated sea ice volume in the summer of 2011 was less than 1/4 what it was in 1979, 32 years ago, and less than half what it was as recently as 2006. !

The melting of Arctic sea ice carries some further potential negative implications--feedback from open water absorbing more of the sun's heat than reflective ice, feedback from release of methane locked up in permafrost, and the simple release of more heat energy that is currently going into melting cubic kilometers of ice. But I'll leave those for another time.

Right now, it's morning, and the forecast here for today is: rain. As we collectively sail out into open waters and slowly watch the known land disappear, I'm hoping there isn't a giant waterfall somewhere ahead beyond the horizon. I'm sure that faint roaring sound I hear is just my imagination.

UPDATE - 9 October 2011 - Here's a report by Weather Underground's Dr. Jeff Masters from the Terra Incognita of ozone: a large and unexpected ozone hole opened in the Arctic this spring, and it's reasonable to think that it is linked to climate change.  Why should we care?  "The total loss of ozone in a column from the surface to the top of the atmosphere reached 40% during the peak of this year's Arctic ozone hole. Since each 1% drop in ozone levels results in about 1% more UV-B reaching Earth's surface (WMO, 2002), UV-B levels reaching the surface likely increased by 40% at the height of this year's hole. We know that an 11% increase in UV-B light can cause a 24% decrease in winter wheat yield (Zheng et al., 2003), so this year's Arctic ozone hole may have caused noticeable reductions in Europe's winter wheat crop." (emphasis mine)

UPDATE - 29 October 2011 - More from Climate Progress on the Terra Incognita of Rain: extraordinary flooding in El Salvador follows similar deluge in Thailand.  We are seeing the consequences of a modest increase in evaporation--in spades.

Monday, September 26, 2011

GOP candidates are 'wimps,' Doonesbury character declares

Garry Trudeau's Sunday Doonesbury cartoon offers an incisive take on global warming and the current Republican Presidential horserace. Not to be missed.

Adapt or combat? Or both?

The debate over emergency aid to victims of natural disasters took a disturbing turn recently, with some lawmakers urging massive cuts in federal electric vehicle research to pay for the needed funds. For a moment there, it seemed like the quintessential problem with ignoring or remaining in denial about climate change: at some point, we will have to spend so much money "adapting" to a continually moving target that "adaptation" will gobble up any resources needed to avert, and hopefully roll back, disruption of the global climate.

Adaptation versus mitigation is the subject of an interesting post at B-Fair, which starts like this:

"Five years ago, at a private dinner where senior members from several major environmental organizations were seated next to her, Beth Raps, a progressive activist from Virginia, began talking about the need to figure out how to adapt to changing climate patterns. Mid-spiel, she noticed something odd. 'Everyone had sort of started to edge away from me at the dinner table,' she recalls.

"Raps had raised what was then a taboo subject among most greens. No one wanted to mention adaptation as a possible response to a warming world. Not when environmentalists were facing stiff political resistance to setting limits to greenhouse gas emissions. Climate activists feared that if they acknowledged that some climate disruption was inevitable, it would undermine their push for emissions curbs (known as 'mitigation' among climate wonks). To say we had to bolster our defenses against a changing climate would be an acknowledgement that mitigation was ineffective, that we couldn’t stall global warming by altering our carbon-spewing lifestyles. Talk of adaptation was seen as defeatist."

The discussion that follows offers much food for thought and is well worth the time to plow through. In the end, though, it seems clear to me that we're going to have to adapt as we can (strengthening flood restrictions on new building, for example) while trying to find creative solutions that don't block our ability to pursue Job #1--rolling back global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Winter sports stars hit Capitol Hill on climate issue

Is it the tip of an iceberg (as the saying used to go, back when there were such things as icebergs--heheh, just kidding)? Let's hope so. Four extreme winter sports stars visited Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., last week to share their views on the economic and employment threat that global climate change poses. The visit was on behalf of the organization Protect Our Winters, and my guess is that we'll be hearing a lot more from them. Kelly Henderson has the full story at the Natural Resources Defense Council's (NRDC) Switchboard blog. On a related topic, see Stephen Lacey's Climate Progress post on the snow sports community and climate education, and be sure to take six minutes of your life (you know you'd only waste them anyway) and watch the beautiful, dazzling trailer for the film All.I.Can., coming soon from Sherpas Cinema.