Star Wars, Snark, and Climate Change (Global Warming Episode VI)

A long, long time ago, our home planet more resembled Hoth, the ice planet in the Star Wars universe. While Earth was not entirely blanketed in glaciers, large sheets of ice covered North America, Europe, and Asia. This was during the peak of the last ice age, about 20,000 years ago.

At that time, the average temperature of Earth was only about 5.5°C (10°F) lower than the middle 20th century. The atmospheric carbon dioxide level was 180 parts per million (ppm), less than half of the level today. More striking, the sea level was 400 feet (120 meters) lower than today.

For comparison… some present elevations above sea level:

  • Raleigh, NC:   435 feet
  • Richmond, VA:   166 feet
  • Philadelphia, PA:   30 feet

But subtle changes in Earth’s orbit altered how the planet absorbed solar energy, and there was shuffling of ocean circulations. By themselves, these were not enough to drive Earth out of its glacial state. However, they did lead to an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide to 280 ppm, warming Earth and helping make it the hospitable place we enjoy today, more along the lines of Endor, the forest moon where the Ewoks made their stand in Return of the Jedi.

Aldnds3

Ominous approach of the fictional Death Star toward the peaceful planet of Alderaan (otherwise not featured in this article… but shown for dramatic effect…’cause it looks similar to Earth… don’t ya think?).

Human emissions of greenhouse gases, like carbon dioxide, have increased dramatically over the last century, dwarfing the natural cycle. The concentration is at 400 ppm and climbing, which is the primary reason that the average global temperature has risen about 1°C (1.8°F) since pre-industrial times. This type of rise took several centuries to occur naturally, yet it has occurred in the last hundred years due to human activities.

Untitled

From the Climate Central office. Simulations of sea level rise in Sydney, Australia after 2°C of warming and 4°C of warming.

While no one expects Earth to turn into the desert world of Tatooine (after all, that planet has two suns), further carbon dioxide emissions will create more planetary warming through the end of the century and beyond. The amount of warming will determine how much more ice is lost at the poles, and thus, how much further global sea levels will rise, with big differences for each degree of warming.

Fictional spaceship from the author's favorite Mel Brooks' film.

Fictional spaceship from the author’s favorite Mel Brooks film.

So. Have a nice day.

Posted in Climate Change | Tagged , , , , , , ,

Scott Weiland and the Past

There has been a lot of death in the news recently.

A friend shared what Billy Corgan of Smashing Pumpkins wrote when he found out about the death of Scott Weiland, the troubled singer best known for fronting Stone Temple Pilots.  He says it better than me. In part:

… I will not pretend to know more than I know, or add some sad homily to how he loved his life. At least in that, may I now say he is undoubtably in the arms of grace and eternal love.  May I also offer my humble condolences to his family, friends, and band mates; who have, and are, suffering this great loss.

When the Big Hair Metal Bands went out of vogue in the early ’90s, I could not wrap my head around the grunge thing. At 23, I still wanted more Def Leppard, but alas, my time had passed.

Ninety3

December 1993

I could not quite get into Nirvana. Pearl Jam was okay. But Stone Temple Pilots resonated with me. Plush is easily one of my favorite songs of that decade. I still remember December ’93, singing it while riding a in car in Upstate South Carolina with two of my best friends, Corey and Mark.

“AND I FEEEEEEEL IT……  AND SHE FEEEEEEELS IT…”

Thanks, Scott… for the music.

This reminds me of the fluidity of time and the stresses of success. Not just having to battle internal demons, but having to do it in the public eye, when someone always wants to write something about you. Sometimes positive, but often negative. Things that are written that would never be said in a conversation with that person around a lunch table. Some handle it better than others.

I think about Hendrix, Morrison, Joplin, Winehouse. I am guilty of internally mocking their inner demons in the past. But that self-righteous voice in me is not as loud anymore.

I remember being 16 years old, and beginning to notice that creative minds all seemed a little weird. And a few weeks later, our 11th grade English class was given an article to read from our teacher, Joey Boehling: How Inner Torment Feeds The Creative Spirit.

It was a bit over my head at the time, but upon re-reading it recently, one passage was striking:

There may be just as many self-destructive bakers as painters, but psychiatrists and biographers do not analyze their cakes. It is the tormented artist and not the untroubled one – the Vincent van Gogh, not the Peter Paul Rubens – who provides the stuff of tabloid notoriety and romantic embellishment.

That was written in 1985.

***

I have to think social media makes this worse. No margin of error. Long diatribes between “friends” about the emotional issues of the day: guns, marriage, ethnicity, religion, economics. And for a subset of us, climate change.

I see people post, “What’s wrong with people?”

The same thing that has always been wrong with people. We just see it more. We are letting our emotions override our logic.

We didn’t start the fire. It was always burning since the world’s been turning.

Billy Joel has had his share of ups and downs too.

And this one, penned by Neil Peart, drummer and lyricist of Rush. From the 1987 song, Lock and Key (come on, you didn’t think you were going to make it through this blog without a Rush reference did you?):

We carry a sensitive cargo
Below the waterline
Ticking like a time bomb
With a primitive design
Behind the finer feelings
This civilized veneer
The heart of a lonely hunter
Guards a dangerous frontier
The balance can sometimes fail
Strong emotions can tip the scale

This is the way of the world. I take issue with those who would like to spin it as the end times.

I have the same emotional reactions to things I see online as well. Things that I see our elected officials do. Memes that people post without actually researching them first, as if to shout, “Yeah… me too… if you don’t agree with me… you’re stupid.”

I’ve done it. I try not to. But I slip. I’m human.

It is important to remember that most of us are going through something. I’m sure there are some of us who are sailing through life without a care in the world. I’m happy for them. I try to be positive on line, but I will have moments as well. Don’t think that picking up your life and career after 20 years and moving it 350 miles away comes without some emotional consequences (by the way… massive props to my military friends who have done this on a routine basis).

I have friends who have lost to their demons. Alcoholism, depression, even prison. Others have been taken from the earth too soon, either by disease or horrifying accident.

Which returns me to Corgan and the opening words of my favorite Pumpkins’ song, Bullet With Butterfly Wings:

The world is a vampire.

Still… I make every effort to consider the 7 billion people on this planet, and I realize that I am fortunate. Some would say blessed. I have electricity and running water. I have a roof over my head. I do not worry where my next meal will come from. I have good scientific training, so I’m not bothered by superstitions or conspiracy theories. I have a good job.

It could be worse.

It could always be worse.

Posted in Reflective, Sociology | Tagged , , , , , ,

5 People I’d Like To See Again

February 1979 in Richmond. A group of us in the neighborhood built this little snow dog once the snow stopped falling

Earlier this year, I changed career paths, moving my family from southern Virginia to southeastern Pennsylvania. I suppose in quieter moments, it was inevitable to look back and see what has gotten me to this point in my life.

With the horror in Paris this month, I found myself thinking about the fragility of life and the people in our past who have affected who we’ve become in the present. While I have reconnected with several people from my youth via social media, there are people who, for whatever reason, I am no longer in touch with, but they remain as distinct threads in the tapestry of my earlier days.

In fact, when I stop to think about it, I realize that none of my current friendships began before 1980. This is mostly a consequence of moving from Southside Richmond to eastern Henrico County in February of that year. I was in 5th grade at the time.

Below are 5 people I’d like to see again. I met three of them before 1980. Alphabetically…

Maricel Barrett

In the year or so before the move, I became friends with Maricel. He was a guy that everyone seemed to like. He had a great laugh and was as fast as bullet on the playground. In the fall of 1979, we were on the same pee-wee football team. If memory serves, he was both a running back and a defensive back (I was merely a second-string defensive lineman).

I still remember one football game in which we played the Broad Rock Rams, who were considered to be the toughest team in the league. Late in the 4th quarter, with no score, our team managed to drive down to the Rams’ goal line, but we could not convert on 4th and goal. On the following series, our team stopped the Rams’ running back (or maybe it was their quarterback) behind his goal line. We won the game 2-0, and I remember our team congratulating Maricel as he returned to the sideline after the safety. I don’t remember if he actually made the tackle, but I know he was part of the defense.

My last day at that elementary school in Richmond, there was a going away party for me. I was picked up by my mother at the end of the day, but before leaving, I stayed in the classroom as successive groups of my classmates were dismissed to the buses. A few seconds after Maricel’s group had been dismissed, I ran outside to chase him down, and I gave him a hug before he got on the bus. I never saw him again. Given he is African-American, I now think about the symbolism of that moment, and how when we were younger, that it didn’t seem to matter.

Lisa Branch

While attending that elementary school in 4th and 5th grade, I was in the gifted program with a few other kids. There was one other student in an accelerated math program with me, Lisa Branch. At that time, I thought we were a couple of kids who were just a little different that the rest of our classmates. As a result, we got along quite well. So well in fact, that I remember a fair bit of good-natured teasing by some of the students that Lisa and I were a couple. She is the only other person I remember in that gifted program, and I remember her having more confidence than a lot of the other kids. I cannot help but wonder what path she took through adolescence and adulthood.

Russell Tilley

Immediately after our family moved in 1980, I found myself in a new elementary school, knowing no one. The first friend I made was Russell Tilley. He and I shared the same off-the-wall sense of humor, and in the closing months of 5th grade, he would often get disciplined for some of his silly, but harmless indiscretions. We remained good friends through middle school, and I distinctly remember the two of us coming up with a juvenile poem to describe our 7th grade teachers. I can still quote it (just not here).

I may never have laughed as much or as uncontrollably as when he and I hung out together. One event comes to mind: We were walking through the hall one morning in 7th grade, just trying to make each other laugh. And I don’t even remember how the subject got started, but he said, “You gotta be careful of that radioactive waste.” By coincidence, he began that sentence just as we walked by the closed door to the teachers’ lounge. And as he finished the sentence, our biology teacher opened the door and appeared. He and I paused, looked at each other, and laughed hysterically for what seemed like 10 minutes as we continued down the hallway.

In high school, our different academic paths caused us to drift apart, but I never forgot how much better I felt in a new environment because of his friendship. I last saw him in 1997 at a 10-year high school reunion. I hope he still has that sense of humor.

Frederik Wenzel

Frederik and I met as freshmen at Penn State in 1987. He was born in West Germany, with his family emigrating to Virginia Beach when he was young.  While he was more adventurous than me, we got along very well, sharing a love of Virginia, and commiserating about being in a place that was 300+ miles away from home.  We often carpooled back to Virginia and had great talks about Europe, Virginia, and of course… girls.

In the 1988-89 academic year, we shared an apartment, which tested our friendship, but it persevered.  He went on to join the Penn State International Student Council and I moved into my meteorology coursework. We mutually decided sharing an apartment the next year wasn’t the best idea, nonetheless, I always valued his European view on the world.  I remember how excited he was when West Germany won the World Cup in 1990 and how emotional he was when Germany reunified later that year.

After the Berlin Wall fell, he briefly visited his home country, and when he returned, he gave me a small concrete rock. I was awestruck when he told me it was a piece of the Berlin Wall, and I still have it to this day. We communicated more sporadically with time as our paths diverged, and I haven’t seen him since the early ’90s.

Michael Widener

When I was living in South Richmond in the late ’70s, Michael and his family lived about 4 houses away. I remember playing on competing Manchester Optimist Little League teams in 1978.  There was a small area of woods adjacent to his backyard, and we would go exploring back there once in while, looking for caterpillars, like many other 8-year old boys would do. Mike was the last of 3 friends in that old neighborhood who all moved away before my family followed suit. Ironically, his family moved to the Roanoke Valley in 1979, a place that I would later call home from 1995-2003.

Who knows. Perhaps I will see them again. Life has a way of dealing the unexpected.

Posted in Reflective, Sociology

North and South, Book 2

To a mother, who brought him her two sons, loudly expressing her hatred of the North, Lee said, “Madam, don’t bring up your sons to detest the United States Government. Recollect that we form but one country now. Abandon all these local animosities, and make your sons Americans.”  – The Life and Campaigns of General Lee, Edward Lee Childe, 1875

* * *

Here I sit, a second time newcomer to Pennsylvania after spending the better part of the last two decades in my beloved Virginia. Once again, I am called to be an ambassador of my home state.

So, we have this Confederate Battle Flag issue again. I have seen it all, you know; I am on social media. I have friends in the Northeast, friends in the Southeast, friends who are conservative, friends who are liberal. Post any meme or story you want to thump your chest and show off your position if it makes you feel better about yourself. Blame historians, blame the media, blame whoever the hell you want. But know this: there is nothing you can say or comment that I have not heard. Nothing.

I have friends and family who like the flag, identify with it, and see nothing wrong with it. I have other friends who see it as a bitter reminder of our country’s Original Sin.

I loved to watch The Dukes of Hazzard as a pre-teen in the late ’70s and early ’80s. The flag on the roof of the General Lee didn’t seem to matter as much then. Watch all of the episodes. The Duke family was welcoming of everyone.

When I first went to Penn State in 1987, I missed Virginia terribly. Ask anyone who spent time around me. In the last few weeks of my freshman year, I went to the Army Navy store in State College in search of a Virginia State Flag. I could not find one. But I did find a Confederate Battle Flag, so I bought it. I put it up in my apartment the next couple of years. Southern pride. I thought nothing else about it.

Flags, like most symbols, are deeply personal. And that is what it meant to me. When I moved back to Virginia in 1994, it got packed away. At some point in the last 20 years, it became tattered, and I discarded it.

The meanings of symbols change. This is a certainty of life. When I was at Appomattox Court House National Historic Park several years ago, I spoke with a ranger.  He told me something I found wildly ironic: During the war, the Battle Flag was flown because it was considered less offensive than the Confederate States of America National Flag (below).

CSA

The meaning of the Battle Flag has evolved, which brings us to our current situation. Actually, one that has been bubbling for a century and a half. I cannot help but find the irony, given this past spring was the 150th anniversary of the Surrender at Appomattox.

Recall the swastika was not always a symbol of Nazism. They stole it, repurposed it, and promoted it into something sinister. It used to have much more positive connotations. No more. At least not in Western cultures.

Similarly, for me, the Battle Flag was stolen. Not that it was a benevolent symbol to begin with, but when I was younger, it seemed to be a harmless relic representing youth and rebellion. My demographic allowed me to think about it that way.

But white supremacists latched on to it. Made it a point to show it off. Screaming, intimidating, and terrorizing people as the flag was prominently displayed. Blathering on as if losing the Civil War were some travesty of history. Then there was the advent of television. Then the internet. Images of white supremacists with that flag over and over. And over and over. Ad nauseum. No more handsome pictures of the Duke Boys in the General Lee doing nice things for people. Those don’t make the news. Sorry. This is the 21st Century.

I love sweet tea and barbecue with cole slaw like most everyone else born in the South. My great-great grandfather, George Bland Sublett, fought for the CSA. So don’t lecture me about Heritage Not Hate, how I’m not Southern, or that I’m betraying my ancestors. Southern is not a heritage. Do some work and go back more than five or six generations. My heritage is from the north of France.

I have friends whose heritage is from Africa. The Battle Flag is deeply hurtful to them. Choosing not to display it is not political correctness, it is out of respect for my friends.

Having said that, if you want to fly the flag on your private property, go wild. You want it on your pickup truck? Rock on. No one should force you to take it down. But it has absolutely no business being displayed prominently at a government facility or on public property… federal, state, or local. Museums of course, being an obvious exception.

For a long time, I have worried about what people thought of me. In fact, in my last line of work, it was part of keeping my job. Perhaps this post has angered you or disappointed you. I have a thought about that.

Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn.

Posted in Reflective, Sociology

The Change

Candid moment during snowfall coverage in 2010.

Candid moment during snowfall coverage in 2010.

During the summer of 1995, my fiancée (now wife) and I were driving home to Washington, DC after attending a friend’s wedding in Boston.  She was testing and evaluating weather sensors for NOAA at Dulles Airport, and I was writing computer code at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center.  On a drive that long, there are lots of opportunities to talk about the future. We were both 25 years old, scheduled to get married in only a few months.

I told her I wanted to give television meteorology a try, as I had tinkered with it during graduate school. I told her that I didn’t want to be 40 years old, looking back, and wondering what if. A few months later, I landed my first job in television in Roanoke. Eight years afterwards, I moved on to Lynchburg.  It has been a very rewarding journey, teaching me much about weather and communications.

But after nearly 20 years, it is time for a change. I have accepted a position with Climate Central in Princeton, New Jersey.  Climate Central is a science, journalism, and media non-profit organization.  I will be working on their Climate Matters project with fellow Penn Stater and broadcast meteorology alum, Bernadette Woods Placky.

The opportunity is tremendous, and the professional challenge is an exciting one.

Certainly, there will be things I miss. Most of all will be Virginia itself. It is my home. I was born and raised here, and I have always taken a sense of pride knowing I have walked in some of the same spaces as Washington, Jefferson, and Madison. Ask any of the people I went to Penn State with, and they will tell you stories about my stubborn Virginia pride.

Like the old Robbin Thompson and Steven Bassett song, Sweet Virginia Breeze, no matter where I was in Virginia, I was home. Richmond, Roanoke, Leesburg, Fairfax, Lynchburg, Virginia Beach, the Northern Neck, Charlottesville, Williamsburg, and Blacksburg all carry great memories. Roots go deep here. My paternal grandparents met in Campbell County, my maternal grandparents in Halifax County.

I think about the wonderful places I have visited: Monticello, the State Capitol, William and Mary, George Washington’s Birthplace, Luray Caverns, Natural Bridge, Smith Mountain Lake, the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel, Tri-State Peak, the Roanoke Star, the Washington and Old Dominion Trail. So many more.

But most importantly, this change will allow me to spend evenings with my family. I have missed too much already. I want to coach Little League before my son grows out of it. I want to see my daughter in her theatre productions before she graduates high school.

And I also look forward to more evenings sharing a glass of wine with my ever-so-patient wife.  Her tolerance of me and my career has been boundless over the last 20 years.  This change gets us closer to her extended family and gives her the opportunity to spend more time with her best friend: her sister.

No one does this alone.  I have met tremendous people over these last two decades who have helped shape my work.  I am deeply grateful to Randy Smith, the General Manager who hired me twice, once in Roanoke in 1995, and again in Lynchburg in 2003.  I was also fortunate enough to have Bill Foy as a News Director at both stations during that time. Bill trusted me enough to make big decisions on weather coverage, which is something that has became increasingly rare in the industry. And of course, Chuck Bell, who put in a good word for me to get all of this started in 1995.

So many others to thank for sharing their knowledge over the years: Tim Callahan, Dennis Carter, Danner Evans, Justin Feldkamp, Matt Ferguson, Donna Harris, Bruce Kirk, Pattie Martin, Len Stevens, Emmett Strode, and Lyndsay Tapases. From the older days: Julie Bragg, John Carlin, Justin Ditmore, Barbara Gibbs, Karen McNew, Jamie Muro, Lee Ann Necessary, Ted Oberg, Amit Patel, Greg Roberts, Samara Sodos, and Rebecca Stewart.  And still a few more that I was able to work with twice: Angela Hatcher, Frances Scott, Jamey Singleton, and David Tate.

And I would also like to thank Robin Reed at WDBJ.  He sat on the AMS Board of Broadcast Meteorology shortly after I started my career, and I reached out to him to find out about serving on the Board. In 2006, I was invited to serve, and after a couple of years, my peers asked me to serve as Board Chair in 2009.  I met wonderful people through the AMS Broadcast Board, and it sowed the seeds for my new opportunity at Climate Central.

Thank you sincerely for allowing me into your homes to inform you about the weather and for allowing me into your schools to teach your children about the weather.

See you in cyberspace!

 

 

 

 

Posted in Reflective | Tagged , , , ,

The Fifth Annual Global Warming Blog: Throwing Stones

Earlier this year, I attended a dinner at a local restaurant to celebrate a good friend’s 40th birthday.

My friend and I go to the same church, so there were several people I knew well at the event, but as is often the case, there were a few people who I knew only tangentially.

At the end, I needed to get back to the office quickly. As my wife and I were walking toward the exit, one of those tangential individuals stopped me.

“Hey, I’ve been meaning to ask you, what do you think about global warming?”

Hurriedly, I replied, “Well, it’s real. It’s probably not as bad as what some people have made it out to be, but it’s very real.”

A smirk came over his face, “You know the planet has been warming since the last ice age.”

A myriad of inappropriate and anti-social responses raced into my head. But in that split second, I had to remember that I have a very public position as a media meteorologist, that I was in a restaurant filled with both strangers and people from my church, that I was with my wife, and that I have two children to support.

I paused. Then I tried to explain briefly the Milankovich forcings (procession of equinoxes, planetary axial tilt, eccentricity of orbit).  All while I am trying tactfully to leave the restuarant with with my wife.

He gave me a blank stare, I managed to excuse myself, and I escaped to the parking lot with my wife. She could tell I was upset.

In the general public sphere, this question is now equivalent to asking about politics.  This person did not have any true interest in rationally discussing the subject. He just wanted to show off and provoke me. He almost succeeded.

Even so, my very patient wife had to listen to me vent frustrations as we continued to the car.

Hiding Behind The Bunkers

As a result, I rarely bring this subject up. I’m not the only one.  Two trusted meteorology colleagues, one in Alabama, and one in Texas, don’t want to talk about it anymore either. Too much drama, too much shouting, too much name calling, too much chest thumping.

And those two disagree with my position on this issue.

So there is no doubt, I am with the mainstream scientific consensus as seen with the American Meteorological Society, the Royal Society of London, and the United States National Academies.

I try my best to understand where my colleagues are coming from on this issue, be respectful, and move on. Of course I wish they would change their minds, but I’m not going to be able to do it.  Besides, they already catch hell on social media for their position.

Similarly, when I point out the mainstream position, I catch hell, too.

Peaking Over The Sides

But given my professional position, I suspect I have some responsibility to discuss it… at least occasionally. To be sure, no one tells me what to think, and no one tells me what to post.

There is a lot of strong evidence for anthropogenic global warming (AGW) out there, but one key observation convinced me: Observed warming in the last century in the Arctic is much greater than in the middle latitudes or the tropics.

Some background. While surface temperature is governed by several things, incoming solar energy and terrestrial infrared are the two dominant energy inputs.  Terrestrial infrared in the atmosphere comes from many gases that are active in infrared part of the spectrum. Water vapor and carbon dioxide are the biggest players there. Infrared active gases have a more popular name: greenhouse gases.

It follows that in the Arctic, where there is so little solar to begin with, the infrared part of that temperature equation is more important.  The input from greenhouse gases yields a bigger warming result because there is less solar input.  This is precisely what has been observed.

The Arctic warming has already started to melt the permafrost there. In fact, the permafrost is melting so quickly, that new engineering structures, called thermosiphons, have been put in place to keep the temperature of the ground low enough to prevent older structural foundations from failing as the ground thaws.

Additionally, when observed at the decadal time scale, the multi-annual ice in the Arctic Ocean and the glacial ice on the Arctic land areas continues to melt away.

The Antarctic ice?  The seasonal sea ice is up, yes.  But the amount of multi-annual, continental ice continues to trend downward.  Melting continental ice (e.g. glacier) causes sea level rise; seasonal sea ice does not.

And come on, those attempting to equate the two poles ought to know better.  The Arctic is an ocean surrounded by land. The Antarctic is a massive continent surrounded by water. The Antarctic is much colder to begin with, leading to a stronger circumpolar vortex than the Arctic, making it harder for warm air to penetrate poleward.

Plus, there are geopolitical and strategic issues that go with more open water in the Arctic Ocean. Those issues are notably absent at the South Pole.

The First Order

Having said that, my motivation is to concentrate on the most direct effects of AGW. Call them first order effects. Sea level rise is the most obvious.  Coastal communities will have to make adjustments. Perhaps not right now, but certainly in the coming decades. Norfolk is already starting to see the genesis of this.

The occurrence of high-imapct (i.e. extreme) weather is a second order effect, one that needs a little more help to demonstrate causality. There is reasonably good evidence that damaging weather events will become more frequent in the coming decades. However, it is important to remember that this is also a function of increased global population and the expansion of housing and infrastructure.

Attribution

Attribution, or the attempt to link AGW to a specific weather event, is still a thorny issue. As the folks at NCAR (National Center for Atmospheric Research) have described in a Major League Baseball analogy, no single event can be attributed directly to AGW, just like no single home run in the ’90s could be attributed to steroid use.  But there is new work being done in that arena.

I spoke with Heidi Cullen at Climate Central about it earlier this year.  She and her colleagues are working on a project with the University of Oxford in an attempt to determine immediately if a specific weather event was influenced by AGW.

Whether their results reveal statistical or physical relationships is still in question. And to be sure, their work will be highly scrutinized, but it is important to make the effort.

Digging In

When I think of my colleagues who are skeptical of the mainstream position, I also wonder if their distaste for the way the subject is covered factors into their decision.  Mike Smith, a veteran severe weather meteorologist, posted somewhat sarcastically in May: Global Warming: Is There Anything It Can’t Do?

Regrettably, his next statement deteriorates into a snide political remark, but his point is an important one.  Too many stories are now showing up that are taking the solid data and extrapolating it toward unsupportable conclusions. While I understand the need to illustrate the risks involved with a warming planet, such extrapolations are counterproductive.

* * *

Whether or not any of the emerging science can change minds remains to be seen. More than ever, I am convinced that the deep and unyielding culture and identity of individuals will be difficult obstacles to overcome on this issue. But mine is not a new thought.

Max Planck, one of the fathers of quantum mechanics, famously stated, “A scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather because its opponents eventually die and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it.”

A recent study by The Cultural Cognition Project at Yale Law School is telling:

4177295-25652474-thumbnail

The graph is one of many from Dan Kahan’s entries at Yale. Thanks to Chris Mooney for directing me to his work.

So, no. I don’t blame some meteorologists for walking away from it. Especially those of us on the airwaves.  The last thing we want to do is alienate an audience.

The Gore Problem

While there has probably always been some difference of opinion on this issue along political lines, I cannot help but believe Al Gore’s 2006 documentary, An Inconvenient Truth, worsened the polarization.

Because he was a highly visible Democratic politician, fair or not, his movie created an opportunity to further division.

Consider a PBS Frontline episode which aired just before the 2012 elections.  The episode highlighted the reasons for the change in public opinion on AGW.

In one sit down interview, Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute states, “From my perspective, Al Gore was the perfect proponent and leader of the global warming alarmists, because he’s very politically divisive and controversal.”

James Taylor, a Senior Fellow at The Heartland Institute added, “I think Al Gore was probably the best thing that could happen to global warming skeptics.”

These were sit down interviews, not sound bites grabbed while these individuals were trying to escape into a moving car. You can find the above quotes about 7:20 into the program.

The rise of polarized cable news and echo chamber blogs only reinforce the division and put us in our current situation.

Certainly, you will find those on the political left who blame every single bad weather event on AGW.  They are not helping either.

But unless the planet unexpectedly undergoes a sustained cooling trend over the next 20 years, the climate wars will not go away.

Ashes, ashes, all fall down.

Epilogue

Just this week, the United States and China appear to have agreed on a carbon emissions reduction agreement. Initially, that sounds like a very big deal. It will be interesting to see what develops.

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The Rightful Place of Science: Disasters and Climate Change – Book Review

The Climate Wars go on. As I have mentioned in previous blogs, to express a strong opinion on the subject of Anthropogenic Global Warming (a.k.a. AGW or colloquially, climate change) immediately invites scorn, no matter what opinion is presented.

Among the academics in this fray is Roger Pielke, Jr. He has been on the faculty at the University of Colorado since 2001, is a Professor in the Environmental Studies Program, and is Director of the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research.  As I mentioned when I reviewed his book, The Climate Fix, a few years ago, he is one of the few atmospheric science academics who has also worked in the catacombs of Washington policy making.

The central theme of his short book is to provide evidence that the increasing cost of weather disasters is a poor metric for detecting climate change. His book is successful.

Pielke writes in a way that is welcoming to the non-scientist, immediately expressing his motivations for writing it. The politicization of this subject is wildly out of control, and the media’s handling of the subject certainly does not help.

He describes the heat he has taken from those most vocal in the climate change community. Whether or not that is deserved is a function of each individual’s view of the subject. Like many heated subjects in the public sphere, climate change has devolved into chest-thumping misrepresentations of other people’s views.  So to be clear, Pielke answers the most basic questions:

Is climate change real?  Yes.

Does climate change have human causes, notably from the emission of greenhouse gases? Yes.

Does human-caused climate change pose risks, perhaps significant ones, for life on earth? Yes.

Does a price on carbon make sense? Yes.

Does current science suggest that episodes of extreme heat and intense rainfall may be increasing in some areas as a consequence? Yes.

Perception is everything. Graphic imagery of weather disasters that repeatedly shows up in media reports, whether from television or the internet, always gives us pause.  It is human nature to want to blame damaging weather on something.  Decades ago, it simply was labeled an Act of God.  Now, there is a drive to blame humanity. Paradoxically, the latter is probably true. Not because humanity has necessarily changed the weather, but because of how much (and how poorly) we have built in the weather’s way.

The most dramatic of these events are hurricanes and tornadoes.  Pielke convincingly demonstrates the rising cost of damage from these weather events is due to population growth and the infrastructure development that follows.

In an act of good faith, Pielke gives credit to the work of the IPCC. He does not fall lazily into IPCC bashing. Instead, he repeatedly cites their reports to further support his individual work.

Personally, I was happy to see him opine on why this subject has become so politicized. Much of that discussion reinforces the Iron Law of Climate Policy as mentioned in The Climate Fix.

Intriguing is his discussion of those who are not convinced about AGW.  I was curious to read his section, But What About Deniers?

That section took a more philosophical turn, describing how those who argue for immediate action on climate change are going about it the wrong way.  He acknowledges “there are enough data and interpretations to offer support to most any political agenda,” and continues about the “pathological obsession of many climate campaigners with the climate skeptics.

But he also states that “the battle over public opinion on climate change has long been won, and not by the skeptics.

Perhaps that is my biggest disagreement with Pielke. As fond as I am of his work, I am not at the point which I can nod my head in agreement with his conclusion in that section:

“Climate skeptics are not all powerful and may not even be much relevant to efforts to decarbonize the global economy. They are not the reason that we haven’t solved the climate change problem, but they are an easy explanation for more than twenty years of failed campaigning.”

Of course they are not all powerful, but they unquestionably have influence, at least here in the United States. I also agree that they are not the sole reason for the failed climate campaigning, but I see them as a perplexing piece of a disorganized jigsaw puzzle. Admittedly, that is a tough statement to make, because many skeptics (or climate agnostics, or whatever you would call those who do not believe humans are playing any role in warming the planet) are friends and colleagues.

Maybe it’s because Pielke lives in Boulder, Colorado and I live in Lynchburg, Virginia. Social customs are a bit different in those cities, you know.

Having said that, and with all the chaff floating around this subject, Pielke’s work is better than most at approaching it with a clear head. Climate change is real. There are certain risks we are undertaking. More financial losses are to be expected. But to only use dollar amounts as a metric to measure climate change is fundamentally incorrect. That signal has not shown up in the dataset… yet.

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For more on information on the book, visit the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research.

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