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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

LA Times: Non-coverage of non-winter's climate connection

Los Angeles Times science reporter Eryn Brown sees a remarkably warm winter over most of the U.S., but manages to skate through without any mention of global warming, opting instead to point out that the Pacific Northwest has been cool and that Los Angeles has had a few chilly days.  Oh, and the Arctic Oscillation and La Nina have something to do with it too.

Climate scientist Dr. Michael Mann, author of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines, commented on Twitter, "For climate change to not even be mentioned in a story on 'Year Without A Winter' is simply journalistic malpractice."  I concur.  As I've said elsewhere, this winter isn't proof of human-caused global warming--it's just the kind of weather, in particular extreme weather, that we are likely to see more and more of in a warming world.  Any reporter for a major newspaper who doesn't point that out is failing in her responsibility.

Related posts:

Connecting dots on weather & climate: local newspaper shows how it's done, Dec. 30, 2011
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, January 19, 2012

'Loading the climate dice': Why it's important

[UPDATED 6/23, 9:30 a.m.] Twenty years ago today, James E. Hansen testified before the Senate Energy Committee — in a room kept intentionally warm by committee staff — that the atmospheric buildup of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels and forests was already perceptibly influencing Earth’s climate.
That's a quote from the New York Times' Andrew C. Revkin, dated June 23, 2008, memorializing a key 1988 turning point in the history of human-caused climate change. Dr. Hansen was then director of NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City. Revkin adds:
The video [shot by Revkin during a 2008 interview that is the subject of the article] begins with [Dr. Hansen's] explanation of a visual aid he created in 1988 with Jose Mendoza, an illustrator at Goddard in the days before PowerPoint: a pair of cardboard dice showing how humans were tipping the odds toward climate troubles. Notably, perhaps because of old glue, the paper black dots were falling off. (emphasis added)
The more I think about Dr. Hansen's metaphor, the more impressed I am.  In 1988, he was able to come up with a very simple explanation of how humans were affecting the climate--so simple that almost anyone could understand it.  My profession is communications, and I can tell you from long experience, that's not easy to do.

In addition to being simple, it's a very accurate (perfect?) description of a scientific phenomenon that is becoming more and more obvious as time goes on, and the perfect response to those who (1) point to a remarkably cold or snowy day as proof that global warming doesn't exist or (2) (accurately) state that any short stretch of weather doesn't prove the climate is changing.  No, a short stretch of record hot weather doesn't prove anything, but we are loading the climate dice, and it's exactly the type of weather that we'll be seeing more and more of as time passes, because we've changed the odds and the "old normal" no longer applies.

I'd like to encourage everyone who shares my concern about global warming, and about the remarkably poor job most mass media are doing of communicating the issue, to bring up the topic of "loading the dice" as often as possible.  It's simple, it's accurate, and there's not, to my knowledge, an easy and simple denier response.  Regrettably, after all this time, many newspaper and broadcast journalists still don't get this most basic explanation of the effect of human-caused climate change on weather.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Lest we forget: 2011's 'mind-boggling' weather

Before 2011 totally gets away from us, here is a comment I've been meaning to post about.  It's from a Public Broadcasting System (PBS) interview on the weather of 2011 with Dr. Jeff Masters, co-founder and Director of Meteorology of Weather Underground, and Kathryn Sullivan, deputy administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
JEFF MASTERS, Weather Underground: In one year, we had three of the most remarkable extreme weather events in the history of the U.S.  I mean, we talk about the Dust Bowl summer of 1936. Well, this summer pretty much matched that for temperature, almost the hottest summer in U.S. history. We also talk about the great 1974 tornado outbreak. Well, we had an outbreak that more than doubled the total of tornadoes we had during that iconic outbreak. And, also, we talk about the great 1927 flood on the Mississippi River. Well, the flood heights were even higher than that flood this year.  So, it just boggles my mind that we had three extreme weather events that matched those events in U.S. history. (emphasis added)
I post it here as something to remember--there were many other weather events in 2011, from Hurricane Irene to the Western wildfires and the Phoenix dust storms, but Dr. Masters's comment is a nice sound bite summarizing some ways in which the year really "pushed the [weather] envelope" on a macro scale.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Thin Ice in the Arctic

My letter to the Valley News (local paper that makes virtually no content available via the Web) appeared Wednesday:

Thin Ice in the Arctic

Thanks for the interview with Jackie Richter-Menge, lead editor of the Arctic Report Card ("Hanover Researcher Writes Report on Arctic Health," Dec. 24).  To Ms. Richter-Menge's comments on global warming and the Arctic, I'd like to add a statistic that is remarkable to me. Detailed measurements of Arctic sea ice have been taken since 1979.  In 2011, the minimum estimated volume of the sea ice was just one-quarter what it was in 1979, and less than half what it was as recently as 2006.  For anyone interested in following the latest findings in climate science, I recommend the excellent Climate Progress and Skeptical Science blogs.  If you're already concerned, Citizens' Climate Lobby is actively pursuing a simple remedy--a gradually increasing national tax on carbon with the proceeds distributed back to individuals as a yearly dividend to all Americans.  This concept is embodied in the Save Our Climate Act, H.R. 3242.  I urge your support.