Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Snowing On Global Warming

A good friend of mine who is a loyal Republican always says when I discuss global warming science and policy with him: "As long as I am shoveling snow, it is not warm enough."  As I said, he is a loyal Republican so he often adds to tweak me: "I will believe global warming when I can play golf in December." 

Public opinion about global warming is now in three key blocks.  About 55% accepts global warming science and wants sensible action taken.  At the other end of the spectrum is about 20% that denies global warming is taking place.

My friend reflects the 25% of people whose views are fluid and for whom their daily weather experience drives their opinion about global warming. This group is the key to global warming politics and action.
Convincing about two-thirds of this group that global warming is real and getting worse is a necessity to reach the 70% threshold where our democratic system responds to public opinion.  It is my rule of 70%.

 The October snows snowed on global warming among this key group whose views often are shaped by their weather experience. I am sure that I will hear about this snow from my friend.

What will be my response?  More conversation and information.  I will appeal to his brain, reminding my friend that the ratio of new record highs to new record lows has been getting greater every decade.  I will remind him that warm air holds more water vapor and that the amount of moisture in the air has increased 4%, since temperatures have increased 2 degrees fahrenheit already.  I will remind him that the Koch Brothers funded research confirms global warming is real and accelerating.

But humans do not decide by the brain alone.  My friend's December golf or snow shovel test will be met if the world stays on its current course, but by then enormous damage will be done.


  1. Any opinion on the recent argument raised by Curry and Whitehouse re: the Muller study?

  2. Mind boggling desperation is my first reaction. This is not about facts, probability, risks, science for some.

  3. John: A couple of questions come to mind (some of which I have shared previously on this blog):
    1) what "sensible action" will the 55% support; I ask, because I have never seen the cost quantified, and I think that is critical to what we will support.

    2) At the 70% threshold, "our" democratic system may respond, but what about the systems of China and India, whose economies are going through significant growth (and fuel use), and represent a much higher portion of the now 7B world population than we do. So, how do the changes that we may support translate into action in the high-emitting countries?

  4. The Pennsylvania Legislature passed Act 70 that directed the Department of Environmental Protection to write a report for the Legislature looking at the state's carbon emissions and possible actions. The report included a detailed examination of more than 50 possible actions and a cost-benefit analysis for each action. Some actions like building a new nuclear plant had a negative economic impact because the costs of construction were so high. But other actions like certain forestry, agriculture, and energy efficiency practices had a positive economic impact or very high rates of return. The study unfortunately did not do a look at fuel switching gas for coal at old, inefficient plants. Using more gas would have substantial positive economic and carbon impacts. There are many, many win-win actions that lower carbon and make PA more competitive.

    CAFE standards at the national level are examples. Moving to gas for transportation is yet another.

    The international questions are much thornier. They are a major reason why I am a pessimist about whether the world can stabilize carbon concentrations below 500 or 600 ppm. At some point, Europe and North America must insist that trade with China not be a game where China wins through currency manipulation, tariffs or other protections of key home markets (see what the Chinese have done on wind turbines), industrial espionage and intellectual property thefts, as well as different rules on carbon. China is beginning to show some concern about what it is doing to the climate. Perhaps a strong position on Chinese trade could produce environmental and economic benefits.

  5. John, I find your comments on gas drilling, etc, to be data driven and based on a lot of experience. But then you go off the rails, lol, when writing about global warming.

    "I will appeal to his brain, reminding my friend that the ratio of new record highs to new record lows has been getting greater every decade"

    I do not think this statement is correct. If asked I can probably rummage around and find the appropriate charts.

    As for the recent snowstorm, it was due to a more-southerly-than-usual Polar jet stream, nothing more. There has been some musings by a few scientists that made it into the press but that's really about it.

    Attributing record breaking storms, droughts, floods etc. to global warming is no different than your friend whose beliefs are formed by the weather. It is not science.

    FYI, there is an entire group of science and engineering types that no one talks much about. We jokingly call ourselves "Lukewarmers." Generally we believe in the basic physics of warming--see Stefan Boltzmann black body law. This gets you to about 1 deg C increase from 2x CO2. Additional warming from positive feedback (ie water vapor, as you rightly say) may occur, but so can offsetting negative feedbacks. So far this increased climate sensitivity lives only in the IPCC models. There is no particular evidence for it. And actually, there are competing papers in the literature on this topic right now. It is anything but "settled."

    Sigh, I get tired of the term denier. There are many like me that have advanced degrees in the sciences, so are hardly Luddites. To the contrary, we feel we are Defending science from politicization by the IPCC, et al.

  6. Thank you Joel for a voice of reason and science.

  7. Joel:

    The ratio of new record highs to new record lows has been changing not surprisingly given that average land temperatures have increased about 2 degrees fahrenheit since 1970. It is not surprising that the ratio of new highs to new lows has increased significantly, again given the average temperature increases. The I posted on the changes in the ratio on August 9. For the decade ending in 2000, the ratio of new highs to new lows was 2.04 to 1; for the decade ending 2010, the ratio of new highs to new lows was 2.68 to 1. The ratio for the decade ending 1950 was 1.09 to 1. Data comes from NOAA. Also see www2.ucar.edu/news/1036/record-high-temperatures-far-outpace-record-lows-across-us. Given the absolute fact that average temperatures are up 0.9 degrees celsius, it would be stunning indeed if the ratio of highs to lows had not changed. So my statement to my friend is accurate. Does that fact impact your thinking?

    Further the climate has already measurably changed. Higher average temperatures; more moisture in the atmosphere. Of course daily weather has been impacted. Seasons have been impacted, with plants blooming earlier and so on. The evidence for climate and weather changes is overwhelming. The point of the snowstorm posting was to point out even though it is much warmer already and even though the ratio of new highs to new lows is much higher the fact of the snow in October does not rebut the fact of warming. Not surprisingly some on Fox News pointed to the October snow to mock global warming science.

  8. Oops -- somehow I got it into my head you were talking not about record temps, but about extreme events generally. (The snowstorm, the blizard of a couple of years ago, the recent east coast hurricane, the SE tornado swarm, the Russian heat wave.)

    These have all been in the news lately and sloppily attributed to AGW. But anyway, my bad. I apologize if I'm on something of a jihad against those making such claims with absolutely no data to support them.

    As a "lukewarmer" of course I do not question the fact of warming, nor that a part or all of it is due to man and CO2. I do point out that the AMOUNT of warming observed is entirely consistent, proportionally, with the no-feedback prediction of approximately 1.1 deg C. Well, maybe just a little hotter but quite a bit below the IPCC models with tons of feedback.

    Incidentally, the headlines surrounding the recent BEST findings were hugely misleading. BEST was not confirmation of global warming theory... only confirmation of warming, which we already knew!

  9. I appreciate the comment. I would say a lot of deniers and a good number of conservatives have attacked the temperature records. They have said that scientists were manipulating temperature data. That was the whole nonsense about "climategate." They have attacked Mann for the hockey stick. The BEST data confirms the hockey stick and disproves that scientists were engaged in a massive manipulation of temperature and climate data.

    Again now that temperatures are up 2 degrees and the rate of increase is accelerating, there are changes that also are occurring in daily weather and seasons. No surprise that daily weather would change given a 2 degree increase. It is also certain that some extreme events such as a new all time new record hot day is a product of the changed climate. Many of the IPCC model runs predict more or less of various events and many of those events are taking place. More moisture in the atmosphere impacts precipitation. There is a reasonable amount of data and science on how warming seas increase the intensity of hurricanes, though probably not the frequency. And hurricanes have been getting stronger as the seas warm. I agree too that some extreme weather or natural events are attributed to warming when there is little or no science to link warming to them.

  10. To me the implication that a big early snow storm calls into question climate change is totally overruled by observation of what glaciers are doing. Worldwide 9 of 10 glaciers are melting and evaporating away. Some of these glaciers that have existed for thousands of years are disappearing. Think about this these glaciers represent thousands of years of snowfalls. The snow gain in one end of the glacier used to equal the snow loss on the lower end of the glacier. There was an equilibrium. Now that equilibrium is lost and these glaciers are disappearing. This is something that a fifth grader can understand and see if you point them in the right direction. Add to that the last fifteen years of unprecedented drought and floods. And consider that thousands that died in the 2003 European heat wave and the 2010 Russian heat wave. Please note those were not deaths from famine but heat related deaths. James Hansen and Michael Mann have played very important roles in educating the public about climate change but today I say its obvious that the planet is experiencing devastating climate change. How you can be a lukewarmer in light of that is beyond me. Fight for clean energy for America! It's the most important thing you can do.

  11. I was a volunteer for Anthony Watts' SurfaceStations.org project and surveyed most of the temperature sites in GA and a few in the Carolinas. Most of the ones I saw were horrible. This was the case nationally as well and a great embarrassment to NOAA. Combine that with poor treatment of urban heat island effect, we really expected the U.S. temperature record to be way off. But when some of the the early data were plotted, carefully selecting only the best rural stations, it was a surprise (at least to me) that it pretty much matched NOAA's and USHCN charts for the U.S. Well, let the chips fall way the may, but go figure.

    This is why BEST wasn't much of a surprise. BTW, BEST lends support to the land temperature record, not to Mann’s Hockey Stick. That’s completed dead, dead dead, much as the famed NAS panel report tried to dress it up.

    Because of the sorry shape of the temperature network and also because the agencies involved were so completely opaque, I believe there was good reason to be suspicious of the data or its handling. Jeepers, NASA only released its code only two years ago and Hadley's CRU only under pressure in the wake of climategate.

    BEST's Muller was not a skeptic as the headlines say. But he was super-critical of secretive data and opacity. A major goal of BEST is in fact to make all the code open-source and data accessible to all. (That's yet to be finished, I understand.)

    About climategate, very little of it had to do with the temperature record. This is something almost every single journalist gets wrong. Most all of it was about tree ring proxies and their late 20th century decline relative to temperature--the so called divergence problem. There were to ways employed to “hide the decline.” The first is what UEA’s Keith Biffa did: he simply chopped off the data in his proxy series before it showed series divergence with temperature. The second was done by Phil Jones and Michael Mann before him... “Mike’s Nature Trick. It involved padding of instrumental temperature data at the end of his centered moving average. The effect was to make it appear that the proxies were going up late century when in fact they were going down. I point out this was undisclosed to readers and would certainly drawn critical journal comments if it had.... another thing Muller was disgusted with.

    @Fred K:

    I am a lukewarmer because that is what the actual physics predicts without large feedback effects... a modest warming. People logically posit add-on warming because of increased water vapor, which is also a greenhouse gas. But other things like increased clouds may offset the warming by increasing albedo. Nobody really knows what the earth’s climate “sensitivity” is.

    Citing a heat wave here and a heat wave there doesn’t hold any sway in science. Weather is random and it is too easy to be, as they say, fooled by randomness. What about the early snowstorm this year and the freak blizzard a couple of years ago? You read that these too may be caused by... with a slight change in term... ‘climate change’. That’s the press. Nobody but nobody makes this claim in the journal literature.

  12. The BEST data produce a carbon copy of the hockey stick. Need to rethink your dismissal of it.

  13. John - Mann's tree ring proxies were calibrated to the recent instrumental record so it is no surprise at all that the newest instrumental record looks similar. Instead, the purpose of the Hockey Stick was to determine the paleo temp history going back 500 then 1000 years (his '98 and '99 papers), before the instrumental record.