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2015 SkS Weekly News Roundup #5B

Posted on 31 January 2015 by John Hartz

Claims that climate models overestimate warming are "unfounded"

A new paper takes an in-depth look at the suggestion that climate models routinely overestimate the speed at which Earth's surface is warming - and finds the argument lacking.

A look back over the past century shows that, by and large, what we see in global average temperature is extremely well captured by models, the authors tell Carbon Brief.

The new research, a collaboration between scientists at the Max Planck Institute in Germany and the University of Leeds, is published today in the journal Nature.

Claims that climate models overestimate warming are "unfounded", study shows by Roz Pidcock, The Carbon Brief, Jan 28, 2015

Climate change skeptic accused of violating disclosure rules

A climate-change skeptic at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics who has relied on grants from fossil-fuel energy interests apparently failed to disclose financial conflicts of interest in a newly released paper, according to a complaint by a climate watchdog group.

The paper by Harvard-Smithsonian scientist Willie Soon and three other climate-change skeptics contends that the UN panel that tracks global warming uses a flawed methodology to estimate global temperature change. Soon and his co-authors claim to have a simpler, more accurate model that shows the threat of global warming to be exaggerated.

The Chinese journal that published the paper, Science Bulletin, imposes a strict conflict of interest policy on authors, obligating contributors to disclose any received funding, financial interests, honors, or speaking engagements that might affect their work.

Climate change skeptic accused of violating disclosure rules by Sylvan Lane, Boston Globe, Jan 26, 2015

Keystone XL bill passes Senate, setting up Republican showdown with Obama

After three weeks of rollicking debate, the Senate has passed the Keystone XL pipeline bill. 

It will almost certainly never become law, with Republicans still lacking the votes to overcome a threatened White House veto.

Undeterred, the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, told reporters he was happy with the results, and that the Keystone vote was a step forward for jobs and energy independence.

Republican leaders said they will now work with the House, which voted on its own version of a measure earlier this month, to present a Keystone bill to Barack Obama.

The White House has said Obama will veto the bill, which seeks to short-circuit the State Department’s deliberations on approval of the pipeline.

Keystone XL bill passes Senate, setting up Republican showdown with Obama by Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian, Jan 29, 2015

Kids caught in crossfire of climate education battle

New science standards require students be taught climate change as a scientific fact. They face resistance in several states from climate skeptics.

Kids Caught in Crossfire of Climate Education Battle by Katherine Bagley, InsideClimate News, Jan 29, 2015

Many Americans reject evolution, deny climate change and find GM food unsafe, survey finds

major survey of US opinions has revealed that huge numbers of people reject Darwinian evolution, consider GM foods unsafe to eat, and doubt that human activity is warming the planet.

The report by the Pew Research Center in Washington DC was conducted with the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and sought to compare the opinions of a cross-section of the US public with those held by the AAAS’s scientific members.

Published in the journal Science, the survey found that 31% of the US public believed that humans had existed in their present form since the beginning, with a further 24% stating that humans had evolved under the guiding hand of a supreme being. In contrast, only 2% of AAAS scientists said humans had not evolved in their time on Earth.

Many Americans reject evolution, deny climate change and find GM food unsafe, survey finds by Ian Sample, The Guardian, Jan 29, 2015

Nor’easters may become more intense with climate change

Mad rushes to the grocery store usually mean one of two things in the U.S. Northeast: either a holiday or a nor’easter snowstorm is approaching. With the holiday season just behind us, the sparsely stocked supermarket shelves in the region are a sign of the latter and tonight’s storm in particular is gearing up to be historic.

Nor’easters are born much like other storms. “They’re low pressure systems of the same kind that give us our precipitation in the United States throughout the year,” says Jeff Masters, director of meteorology at Weather Underground. “But they happen to form right off the Northeast coast and in winter.” The winds blowing from the northeast that give these storms their name also push them ashore.

The storms derive their energy from the contrast in air temperature between very cold, dense air from Canada that meets relatively warm, moist air coming off the Atlantic Ocean. “That difference in air masses can be converted to the energy of the winds and precipitation that come with the storm,” Masters says.

Nor’easters May Become More Intense with Climate Change by Andrea Alfano, Scientific American, Jan 26, 2015

On climate change, 'not a scientist' not enough for some U.S. Republicans

Rick Perry's farewell speech to the Texas legislature listed the accomplishments expected from an outgoing Republican governor of the country's largest oil-producing state. But his Jan. 15 speech also did something less predictable: touting his environmental record, from lowering Texas' carbon emissions to turning the state into a global leader in wind energy production.

"We have expanded our economy while protecting our environment," said Perry, who is openly exploring a second White House run in 2016.

It was a greener message than the one he delivered ahead of his last presidential campaign, when he called climate change a "contrived phony mess," and it reflects an expectation among some in the party that voters in 2016 will want Republican candidates to develop a more sophisticated climate change message.

On climate change, 'not a scientist' not enough for some U.S. Republicans by Valerie Volcovici and Amanda Becker, Reuters, Jan 27, 2015

Something really, really terrible is about to happen to our coral

Coral reefs cover just 0.1 percent of the ocean floor, but provide habitat to 25 percent of sea-dwelling fish species. That's why coral scientist C. Mark Eakin, who coordinates the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Coral Reef Watch program, is surprised that the warning he has been sounding since last year (PDF)—that the globe's reefs appear to be on the verge of a mass-scale bleaching event—hasn't drawn more media attention.

Something Really, Really Terrible Is About to Happen to Our Coral by Tom Philpott, Mother Jones, Jan 28, 2015

Surprise lake sheds light on underbelly of Greenland ice

On a clear day, anyone flying over Greenland on the route between North America and Europe can look down and see the bright blue patches of melted water atop the flat, blindingly white expanse of the ice sheet that covers the island, the second largest chunk of ice on Earth.

Scientists have long known this meltwater flows in streams along the ice sheet’s surface before disappearing down chutes that take it tumbling to the bottom of the ice sheet, where the ice scrapes against bedrock.

It was thought that the water quickly flowed between ice and rock and out to sea, with little impact on the bottom ice layers. But a new study suggests the story isn’t so simple. In a serendipitous discovery, a team of scientists has found a lake at the bottom of the ice where the relatively warm meltwater pools and makes the ice around it slushier. Ultimately, that could make the ice flow faster to the ocean.

The finding, detailed in the Jan. 22 issue of the journal Nature, suggests that this process could be important to more accurately modeling how Greenland will respond to climate change and contribute to the already 8 inches of global sea level rise since 1900. Greenland holds enough ice to raise global sea levels by 24 feet, and how much and how quickly it melts could change projections of future sea level rise, which the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change puts between 10 and 32 inches by 2100, including contributions from Greenland’s glaciers.

Surprise Lake Sheds Light on Underbelly of Greenland Ice by Andrea Thompson, Climate Central, Jan 22, 2015

The best idea in a long time: Covering parking lots with solar panels

America is a nation of pavement. According to research conducted by the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, most cities’ surfaces are 35 to 50 percent composed of the stuff. And 40 percent of that pavement is parking lots. That has a large effect: Asphalt and concrete absorb the sun’s energy, retaining heat — and contributing to the “urban heat island effect,” in which cities are hotter than the surrounding areas.

So what if there were a way to cut down on that heat, cool down the cars that park in these lots, power up those parked cars that are electric vehicles (like Teslas), and generate a lot of energy to boot? It sounds great, and there is actually a technology that does all of this — solar carports.

It’s just what it sounds like — covering up a parking lot with solar panels, which are elevated above the ground so that cars park in the shade beneath a canopy of photovoltaics. Depending of course on the size of the array, you can generate a lot of power. For instance, one vast solar carport installation at Rutgers University is 28 acres in size and produces 8 megawatts of power, or about enough energy to power 1,000 homes.

The best idea in a long time: Covering parking lots with solar panels by Chris Mooney, Energy and Environment, Washington Post, Jan 27, 2015

The climate debate is brutal and dysfunctional, but there’s still a way out

As we watch the new GOP-controlled Congress clash over the Keystone XL pipeline, it’s rather depressing to realize that this is just the beginning of the pitched, drag-out battles to come over climate change in the next two years.

Even bigger than Keystone XL is the coming fight over the Environmental Protection Agency’s plans to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from older coal-fired power plants, known as the Clean Power Plan. Republicans hate it; to them it epitomizes everything they despise about command-and-control government regulatory actions. Democrats don’t love it, per se, but they think it’s sadly necessary (since they can’t get Republicans to pass a law to limit greenhouse gas emissions).

Yet, while watching the blow-by-blow, there’s been far too little stepping back and realizing how we got here. That’s the wrong approach in light of the following two facts: First, even proponents of strong climate action wouldn’t call EPA’s approach their first choice; and second, we also know enough about the psychology of politics to recognize that EPA’s approach — not that the agency can help it, of course — is guaranteed to produce a highly polarized partisan response.

The climate debate is brutal and dysfunctional, but there’s still a way out by Chris Mooney, Energy and Environment, Washington Post, Jan 29, 2015

The Northeast blizzard is just another sign of global warming 

We've heard for years how climate change is making the weather more extreme. If you live between New York City and Boston, you're probably seeing the evidence outside your window tonight in the form of lots and lots (and lots) of snow. Both cities are at risk of breaking their all-time single-storm snowfall records (26.9 inches in 2006 and 27.5 inches in 2003, respectively).

That's quite a feat for the Northeast, which has some of the longest-running weather databases in the country (records have been kept continuously in NYC's Central Park since 1869). With up to 30 inches expected in New York City and "isolated totals of three feet" in the Boston area, this kind of snowstorm is very, very rare—"unprecedented," according to the National Weather Service.

When you look closer at the record books, a more ominous trend jumps out: Five of the ten biggest snowstorms in New York City have happened since 2003. This week's blizzard will likely make number six, bumping the 18-inch storm recorded on December 26, 1872, from the list. While climate change deniers will happily seize this as proof of a vast liberal conspiracy, the real question is more concerning: What if global warming is actually making snowstorms worse?

The Northeast Blizzard Is Just Another Sign of Global Warming by Eric Holthaus, Vice, Jan 27, 2015

Warming ups odds of extreme La Niñas, wild weather

La Niña events can drive weather patterns wild around the globe from helping exacerbate drought in West Africa and increase rainfall in areas as diverse as South Asia and the Pacific Northwest. The more extreme the La Niña, which is characterized by a cooling of waters in the tropical Pacific, generally the more pronounced the impacts can be.

New research published on Monday in Nature Climate Change shows that climate change could nearly double the likelihood of the most intense La Niñas from 1-in-every-23 years to 1-in-every-13 years by the end of this century. Three-quarters of the increase are projected to come following extreme El Niño years, which are also likely to become more frequent according to previous research.

Back-to-back super El Niño/La Niña have played out before. For example, the 1998-99 La Niña is the strongest on record and came on the heels of the strongest El Niño on record. La Niña helped push heavy rains across Australia and contributed to a severe drought in the Southwest U.S., both areas that were dealing with near opposite conditions the year before thanks to an El Niño that has been dubbed the climate event of the century. The same La Niña also upped the odds of intense hurricanes in the North Atlantic and the 1998 season gave rise to Hurricane Mitch, the seventh-strongest storm to ever form in the basin.

Warming Ups Odds of Extreme La Niñas, Wild Weather by Brian Kahn, Climate Central, Jan 26, 2015

Why bigger snowstorms come with global warming

Winter storm Juno is expected to dump as much as 3 feet of snow across parts of New England early this week. Media outlets have already dubbed the storm "a massive blizzard of epic proportions." Schools closed their doors, grocery stores had their shelves stripped and governors announced travel bans along most of the storm's path.

But on social media, Juno is being pointed to as the latest evidence that global warming is not happening, or that it's even a hoax or scam—an assertion that scientists said couldn't be further from the truth.

"That claim is nonsensical," said Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo. "Yes, we have always had storms in the winter, but climate change is often the contributing factor that pushes these events over the edge to become record-breaking."

Here's why: As the oceans warm due to the burning of fossil fuels, the atmosphere above can hold more moisture, which in turn fuels the creation of the most intense precipitation events. The mid-Atlantic is currently 2 degrees Fahrenheit above normal. In the spring, summer and fall, that translates into more of the most intense rainstorms. In the winter, when that moisture-rich air hits cold temperatures on the continent, heavier snowfall results.

Why Bigger Snowstorms Come With Global Warming by Katherine Bagley, InsideClimate News, Jan 27, 2015

World's cities experiencing more heatwaves, study shows

World cities are experiencing more heatwaves and fewer cold spells, according to a study of extreme temperatures in hundreds of urban areas over the past 40 years. It found that many cities are seeing fewer extremely windy days than in the 1970s and have more extremely hot individual days and nights. 

The climate researchers from US and Indian universities identified 620 of the world’s urban areas with a population over 250,000 and then chose 217 which were situated close to an international weather station with rainfall, wind and temperature records stretching back to 1973.

They found that four of the five years with the most heatwaves had occurred since 2009. They were experienced mostly in Africa, East Asia, Europe and North America. 

World's cities experiencing more heatwaves, study shows by John Vidal, The Guardian, Jan 29, 2015

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Comments 1 to 9:

  1. New science standards require students be taught climate change as a scientific fact.

    Climate change is not a fact but a theory. Facts pertain to measurements of temperature or green house gas fractions, etc. Climate change cannot be discovered as a fact in nature, but is an explanation of many facts and ties them together. Facts without explanation and theory are pretty random and boring. It's not that I'm unconvinced. I fully expect climate change to be humankind's major challenge in a future which is likely to be nearer than most think. It's a matter of terminology. You have data, facts, hypotheses, theories, and laws. Data itself means nothing (thermometer readings), they have to be combined with context and some interpretation (was it night or day? what kind of thermometer?) before they emerge as facts. Hypotheses construct a possible working explanation (a "story") about causes and effects that tie facts together. Theories are hypotheses that have passed a lot of tests and discussion and have proved convincing. Even in mathematics we talk about Euclid's theorem, not because it is not true (theorems have to be proven), but we still do not refer to it as a fact. Theories are about relationships, and even if they are true, positing and formulating relationships require thought and cannot be discovered solely from experience or observation.

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  2. "Climate change is not a fact but a theory"

    Anthropogenic climate change (ACC)/anthropogenic global warming (AGW) is a robust theory, referred to as "settled fact" by scientists.

    Per the National Academies of Science, science advisors to Congress and the Office of the Presidency since Lincoln, in their 2010 publication Advancing The Science Of Climate Change (p. 22):

    "Some scientific conclusions or theories have been so thoroughly examined and tested, and supported by so many independent observations and results, that their likelihood of subsequently being found to be wrong is vanishingly small.

    Such conclusions and theories are then regarded as settled facts.

    This is the case for the conclusions that the Earth system is warming and that much of this warming is very likely due to human activities."

    And note that the above National Academies paper is available for free download after a free registration. No purchase necessary. And the quote is from page 22.

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  3. You're kind of missing my point: Euclid's theorem is not less true or certain because it is called a theorem. It is a different kind of a thing than a fact. Climate change is not a theory because of some degree of uncertainty, but because you cannot discover anthropogenic global warming somewhere except in a book or human discourse. A single fact is rarely very remarkable outside the context of a theory that it supports or falsifies. A theory is a whole more than a fact. A theory can even be very convincing despite uncertainties about many of the facts involved, as if often true of court cases. Scientific theories are often about relationships of cause and effect. Sometimes it can take a long time and a lot of ingenuity before you discover cause and effect, even if all the facts are already present at hand. You cannot state: here we have a weight, there we have a number of sightings, here are some temperatures, there some distances, oh, and then we tripped over a bunch of causes while crossing the gully.

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  4. I'm not sure what your point is, JWRebel.  Is it simply that you object to the theory being called a fact?  Or is it that you don't think that the theory has been amply demonstrated in, for example, direct surface-based measurements of the greenhouse effect, e.g. Puckrin et al. 2004 — amply demonstrated to the extent that A) no one--even a very large percentage of "skeptics"--thinks more evidence is required, and B) a number of successful products rely on the existence of the effect to operate correctly?

    If the first, yah, ok.  Absolute language.  Probably a bad idea where science is concerned.  Even what you describe as "facts" aren't really absolutely and universally known.  The general public (that part that doesn't really get science), of course, wants absolute certainty.  So how should the science be communicated?  With uncertainty--ala the IPCC--or representative of the level of certainty that has become actionable in the minds of those who do understand the science (in other words, "we're certain enough that we demand action"?  

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  5. You are right DSL — you are not sure what my point is: it has nothing to do with certainty. Surely you don't think that I have doubt's about Euclid's theorem. Still we do not call it a fact. Because, as I stated already, theories are a different kind of thing: they require thought (about cause and effect).

    Let me give you two facts: Eddy was hit by the bus. Eddy died shortly thereafter. A convincing theory would be that the bus killed Eddy. But it is not a fact that the bus killed Eddy. Maybe he threw himself in front of the bus and killed himself. Maybe the bus driver hit him on purpose and it was the bus driver that killed him. Maybe he survived the bus accident but was hit by lightning right after. Note that the theory could be a convincing explanation even if I told you that I made up the facts.

    And that is why AGW is a theory. If you knew everything about temperatures and CO2 and CH4 in the air, but nothing about burning fossil fuels, you could even have more or better facts than we do have, but you would not have a theory. Theories can be tested, but facts can at most be verified.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] You have made your point more than once. Please note that excessive reptition is prohibited by the SkS Comments Policy.

  6. "And that is why AGW is a theory. If you knew everything about temperatures and CO2 and CH4 in the air, but nothing about burning fossil fuels, you could even have more or better facts than we do have, but you would not have a theory."

    JWRebel smears the difference between a scientific hypothesis and a scientific theory.

    Occasionally, scientific ideas (such as biological evolution) are written off with the putdown "it's just a theory." This slur is misleading and conflates two separate meanings of the word theory: in common usage, the word theory means just a hunch, but in science, a theory is a powerful explanation for a broad set of observations. To be accepted by the scientific community, a theory (in the scientific sense of the word) must be strongly supported by many different lines of evidence. So biological evolution is a theory (it is a well-supported, widely accepted, and powerful explanation for the diversity of life on Earth), but it is not "just" a theory.

    Words with both technical and everyday meanings often cause confusion. Even scientists sometimes use the word theory when they really mean hypothesis or even just a hunch. Many technical fields have similar vocabulary problems — for example, both the terms work in physics and ego in psychology have specific meanings in their technical fields that differ from their common uses. However, context and a little background knowledge are usually sufficient to figure out which meaning is intended.

    Below is a generalized sequence of steps taken to establish a scientific theory:

    1. Choose and define the natural phenomenon that you want to figure out and explain.
    2. Collect information (data) about this phenomena by going where the phenomena occur and making observations. Or, try to replicate this phenomena by means of a test (experiment) under controlled conditions (usually in a laboratory) that eliminates interference's from environmental conditions.
    3. After collecting a lot of data, look for patterns in the data. Attempt to explain these patterns by making a provisional explanation, called a hypothesis.
    4. Test the hypothesis by collecting more data to see if the hypothesis continues to show the assumed pattern. If the data does not support the hypothesis, it must be changed, or rejected in favor of a better one. In collecting data, one must NOT ignore data that contradicts the hypothesis in favor of only supportive data. (That is called "cherry-picking" and is commonly used by pseudo-scientists attempting to scam people unfamiliar with the scientific method. A good example of this fraud is shown by the so-called "creationists," who start out with a pre-conceived conclusion - a geologically young, 6,000 year old earth, and then cherry-pick only evidence that supports their views, while ignoring or rejecting overwhelming evidence of a much older earth.)
    5. If a refined hypothesis survives all attacks on it and is the best existing explanation for a particular phenomenon, it is then elevated to the status of a theory.
    6. A theory is subject to modification and even rejection if there is overwhelming evidence that disproves it and/or supports another, better theory. Therefore, a theory is not an eternal or perpetual truth.

    For a good discussion of science terminology (especially for the "Evidence, not Proof" bit), see here.

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  7. JWRebel @1&3&5.

    Give us a break.

    First. Nobody here is saying AGW is a philosophical "fact".  And 'in fact' it is not even being presented here as some form of scientific fact. Rather it is to be taught "as a fact" and is also being described by the National Academies of Science as "settled facts", the latter because the science has presently run its course.

    Second, "fact" is generally what people accept to be true. @1, you strongly suggest that you accept AGW as true, as 'being fact.' So why all the philosophy? You don't even present your philosophy convincingly!

    Thirdly, it is always better to use Pythagoras's Theorem not Euclid's for such an example. Not only can Pythagoras be proven mathematically, importantly, it can be proven very simply on the back of an envelope. So, bar space not being flat, Pythagoras's Theorem is evidently more than mere "theory" . And for good measure, its discovery has zip to do with Pythagoras.

    Fourthly, that some mathematical construct is provable but is still call a theorem has zip to do with what you are trying to argue.

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] Please note "no dogpiling" from the comments policy. I think this discussion is in danger of descending into semantics and philosophy with little to do with climate science. Please desist.

  8. Moderator, I was hoping to drag it back to climate science. JWRebel seems anxious not to connect what he's trying to get out with climate science.

    Out with it, JW! You're not saying anything! You claimed I didn't understand what you were saying, and then you explained exactly what I said, but failed to apply it to the issue at hand (climate).  Insinuation is fine if no one wants to go anywhere.  We can insinuate all day.

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    Moderator Response:

    [PS] Unless someone has something of serious substance to contribute, I would say drop it.

  9. And as reliably a ever, the Wall Street Journal shows up the other day with another "models aren't accurate" trope on its editorial page, using the same tired old short-term time frames. It is the very definition of tragicomedy.

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