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Climate Hustle

dana1981

Dana Nuccitelli is an environmental scientist at a private environmental consulting firm in the Sacramento, California area. He has a Bachelor's Degree in astrophysics from the University of California at Berkeley, and a Master's Degree in physics from the University of California at Davis.

Dana has been researching climate science, economics, and solutions since 2006, and has contributed to Skeptical Science since September, 2010.  He also blogs at The Guardian, and is the author of Climatology versus Pseudoscience.  He has published climate-related papers on various subjects, from the build-up of heat in the Earth's climate system to the expert consensus on human-caused global warming.

Follow him on Twitter.

Publications

Nuccitelli, D., Way, R., Painting, R., Church, J., & Cook, J. (2012). Comment on ocean heat content and Earth's radiation imbalance. II. Relation to climate shifts. Physics Letters A.

Cook, J., Nuccitelli, D., Green, S.A., Richardson, M., Winkler, B., Painting, R., Way, R., Jacobs, P., & Skuce, A. (2013). Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature. Environmental Research Letters, 8(2), 024024+. 

Cook, J., Oreskes, N., Doran, P. T., Anderegg, W. R., Verheggen, B., Maibach, E. W., Carlton, J. S., Lewandowsky, S., Skuce, A. G., Green, S. A., & Nuccitelli, D. (2016). Consensus on consensus: a synthesis of consensus estimates on human-caused global warming. Environmental Research Letters, 11(4), 048002.

Cook, J., Nuccitelli, D., Skuce, A., Way, R., Jacobs, P., Painting, R., Honeycutt, R., Green, S.A. (2014). Reply to Comment on ‘Quantifying the consensus on anthropogenic global warming in the scientific literature: a Reanalysis’. Energy Policy. DOI: 10.1016/j.enpol.2014.06.002

Nuccitelli, D. A., Abraham, J. P., Benestad, R. E., & Mandia, S. A. (2013). Comment on: Akasofu, S.-I. On the Present Halting of Global Warming. Climate 2013, 1, 4–11. Climate, 1(2), 76-83.

Abraham, J., Cook, J., Fasullo, J., Jacobs, P., Mandia, S., & Nuccitelli, D. (2014). Review of the consensus and asymmetric quality of research on human-induced climate changeCosmopolis2014(1), 3-18.

Benestad, R. E., Hygen, H. O., Dorland, R. V., Cook, J., & Nuccitelli, D. (2013). Agnotology: learning from mistakes. Earth System Dynamics Discussions, 4(1), 451-505.

Nuccitelli, D., Richter, M. J., & McCall, B. J. (2005). A search for interstellar carbon-60. In IAU Symposium (Vol. 235, p. 236P).

Encrenaz, T., Bézard, B., Greathouse, T., Holmes, S., Richter, M., Nuccitelli, D., & Forget, F. et al. (2006, February). Ground-based high-resolution IR spectroscopy of Mars: H2O and H2O2 mapping, search for CH4, and determination of CO2 isotopic ratios. In Second Workshop on Mars Atmosphere Modelling and Observations, held February.

 

Recent blog posts


The war on coal is over. Coal lost.

Posted on 16 October 2017 by dana1981 &

Last week, Trump’s EPA administrator Scott Pruitt announced, “the war on coal is over.” If there ever was a war on coal, the coal industry has lost. According to a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists, many old American coal power plants are being retired or converted to natural gas, and new coal power plants aren’t being built because they’ve become more expensive than natural gas, wind, and solar energy:

The share of US electricity coming from coal fell from 51 percent in 2008 to 31 percent in 2016—an unprecedented change. New UCS analysis finds that, of the coal units that remain, roughly one in four plans to retire or convert to natural gas; another 17 percent are uneconomic and could face retirement soon.

Natural gas has now surpassed coal to supply 32% of US electricity (up from 21% in 2008), and solar and wind are up to 10% (from 3% in 2008).

US power

 Evolution of the American power grid mix since 1960. Illustration: Carbon Brief

This trend will continue.

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15 comments


Trump’s plan to bail out failing fossil fuels with taxpayer subsidies is perverse

Posted on 9 October 2017 by dana1981 &

The conservative philosophy of allowing an unregulated free market to operate unfettered often seems to fall by the wayside when the Republican Party’s industry allies are failing to compete in the marketplace. Trump’s Energy Secretary Rick Perry recently provided a stark example of this philosophical flexibility when he proposed to effectively pull the failing coal industry out of the marketplace and instead prop it up with taxpayer-funded subsidies.

Trump’s proposed coal bailout

The Trump administration has made no secret of its love for the coal industry. However, that industry has been losing badly in the free market, due largely to its inability to compete with cheaper natural gas and renewables. That was in fact the finding of Perry’s own Energy Department’s report, published just 3 months ago. The report also concluded:

Most of the common metrics for grid reliability suggest that the grid is in good shape despite the retirement of many baseload power plants … The power system is more reliable today due to better planning, market discipline, and better operating rules and standards

Perry’s new proposed rules directly contradict his department’s report, claiming “the resiliency of the electric grid is threatened by the premature retirements of these fuel-secure traditional baseload resources.” Perry tried to shift the goalposts from reliability to “resiliency” of the electric grid, essentially arguing that we need power plants that can store 90 days’ worth of fuel (i.e. huge piles of coal) to ensure that the grid remains “resilient.”

However, Perry also made the mistake of referencing the 2014 Polar Vortex to try and support this argument. The cold temperatures associated with that weather pattern caused electricity demand to spike, but as experts have noted, while wind energy produced above expectations during the Polar Vortex, coal power failed (emphasis added):

However, [Perry’s proposal] conveniently fails to mention that nearly 14 gigawatts (GW) of coal capacity was forced offline during the Polar Vortex, roughly 25 percent of all coal capacity in [the region]. 1.4 GW of nuclear was forced offline as well. Most of these generator outages were due to temperatures below the operating limit of power plant equipment ... Additional coal capacity was unavailable due to frozen coal piles.

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18 comments


Why the 97% climate consensus is important

Posted on 2 October 2017 by dana1981 & John Cook

John Cook is a research assistant professor at the Center for Climate Change Communication at George Mason University, researching cognitive science.

Sander van der Linden is an Assistant Professor in Social Psychology, Director of the Cambridge Social Decision-Making Lab and a Fellow of Churchill College.

Anthony Leiserowitz is a Research Scientist and Director of the Yale Project on Climate Change at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University.

Edward Maibach is a University Professor and Director of Mason’s Center for Climate Change Communication.

Unfortunately, humans don’t have infinite brain capacity, so no one can become an expert on every subject. But people have found ways to overcome our individual limitations through social intelligence, for example by developing and paying special attention to the consensus of experts. Modern societies have developed entire institutions to distill and communicate expert consensus, ranging from national academies of science to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Assessments of scientific consensus help us tap the collective wisdom of a crowd of experts. In short, people value expert consensus as a guide to help them navigate an increasingly complex and risk-filled world.

More generally, consensus is an important process in society. Human cooperation, from small groups to entire nations, requires some degree of consensus, for example on shared goals and the best means to achieve those goals. Indeed, some biologists have argued that “human societies are unable to function without consensus.” Neurological evidence even suggests that when people learn that they are in agreement with experts, reward signals are produced in the brain. Importantly, establishing consensus in one domain (e.g. climate science) can serve as a stepping stone to establishing consensus in other domains (e.g. need for climate policy).

The value of consensus is well understood by the opponents of climate action, like the fossil fuel industry. In the early 1990s, despite the fact that an international scientific consensus was already forming, the fossil fuel industry invested in misinformation campaigns to confuse the public about the level of scientific agreement that human-caused global warming is happening. As has been well-documented, fossil fuel companies learned this strategy from the tobacco industry, which invested enormous sums in marketing and public relations campaigns to sow doubt in the public mind about the causal link between smoking and lung cancer.

However, some academics have recently argued that communicators and educators should not inform the public about the strong scientific consensus on climate change. UK sociologist Warren Pearce and his colleagues recently published a commentary (and corresponding Guardian op-ed) arguing that communicating the scientific consensus is actually counter-productive. John Cook published a reply, which we summarize here.

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8 comments


Right-wing media could not be more wrong about the 1.5°C carbon budget paper

Posted on 27 September 2017 by dana1981 &

Last week, Nature Geoscience published a study suggesting that we have a bigger remaining carbon budget than previously thought to keep global warming below the 1.5°C aggressive Paris climate target. Many scientists quickly commented that the paper’s conclusion was based on some questionable assumptions, and this single study shouldn’t be blindly accepted as gospel truth.

Conservative media outlets did even worse than that. They took one part of the paper’s analysis out of context and grossly distorted its conclusions to advance their anti-climate agenda.

1.5°C might indeed be a geophysical impossibility

The study used the UK Met Office and Hadley Centre’s HadCRUT4 global temperature data set to conclude that so far we’ve warmed 0.93°C from the mid-1800s to 2015, compared to the Paris target of 1.5°C above pre-industrial temperatures. Several climate scientists immediately noted a problem here – HadCRUT4 excludes the Arctic region, which is the fastest-warming part of the planet. Hence it’s one of the least globally-representative temperature datasets. According to more globally-complete data sets like Berkeley Earth, the warming we’ve seen is closer to 1.1°C.

Defining “pre-industrial temperatures” is another issue. Humans caused some global warming prior to the mid-1800s; as one recent study showed, as much as 0.2°C.
A third problem discussed by climate scientists Stefan Rahmstorf at RealClimatei nvolves the way the study authors defined the budget itself. They looked at how much carbon will be emitted at the time we reach 1.5°C warming, but because of what’s known as the ‘thermal inertia’ of the oceans, and because sunlight-reflecting pollutants will fall out of the atmosphere as we shift away from dirty coal power, the planet will keep warming after that time.

If we take all these factors together, depending on how we decide to define “pre-industrial” in the Paris target, we may in fact already be committed to 1.5°C warming, and the headline conclusion that “the 1.5C warming limit is not yet a geophysical impossibility” may be incorrect.

But ultimately that’s a relatively unimportant point.

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10 comments


The Mail's censure shows which media outlets are biased on climate change

Posted on 25 September 2017 by dana1981 &

Back in February, the conservative UK tabloid Mail on Sunday ran an error-riddled piece by David Rose attacking Noaa climate scientists, who had published data and a paper showing that there was never a global warming pause. The attack was based on an interview with former Noaa scientist John Bates, who subsequently admitted about his comments:

I knew people would misuse this. But you can’t control other people.

The UK press regulator, the Independent Press Standards Organization (Ipso) has now upheld a complaint submitted by Bob Ward of the London School of Economics. Ipso ruled that the Mail piece “failed to take care over the accuracy of the article” and “had then failed to correct these significantly misleading statements,” and the Mail on Sunday was required to publish the Ipso adjudication.

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54 comments


Remembering our dear friend Andy Skuce

Posted on 21 September 2017 by dana1981 &

Long-time Skeptical Science contributor and our dear friend Andy Skuce passed away last Thursday, September 14th.  Andy was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2002, with a median life expectancy of six years, but lived another 15.  During that time he made invaluable contributions to Skeptical Science and to educating the public about climate change.  His final post Exit, Pursued by a Crabpublished just three weeks ago is an insightful personal reflection on his life, cancer, and climate change.

Andy first and foremost was a wonderful person.  Those of us who only knew him via the internet valued his wit, kindness, and insightful comments.  Those of us fortunate enough to meet Andy in person always enjoyed his company and his warm personality. When any of us traveled to his neck of the woods, Andy and his wife Annick always opened their home as generous hosts.

Andy

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9 comments


Scientific models saved lives from Harvey and Irma. They can from climate change too

Posted on 18 September 2017 by dana1981 &

The impacts of hurricanes Harvey and Irma were blunted because we saw them coming. Weather models accurately predicted the hurricane paths and anticipated their extreme intensities days in advance. This allowed millions of Floridians to evacuate the state, sparing countless lives.

Some contrarians have tried to downplay the rising costs of landfalling hurricanesby claiming they’re only more expensive because there are now more people living along the coasts with more expensive stuff vulnerable to hurricane damages. However, those arguments fail to account for our ability to predict hurricane tracks earlier and more accurately by using better and better scientific models. We’re able to prepare for hurricanes much better today than in the past because we have more warning.

Time to start listening to climate models

Although they focus on much different timescales and resolutions, climate and weather models are based on the same core physics. Scientists have a solid understanding of the Earth’s oceans and atmosphere, and that understanding is improving all the time.

Millions of people watched the evolution of the model forecasts for hurricanes Harvey and Irma, and made important decisions based on those forecasts. People trusted the models, and their trust proved to be well placed, as the model predictions were accurate. 

And climate models have an even better track record.

40 years of remarkably accurate climate models

As I documented in my book Climatology versus Pseudoscience, since their inception in the 1970s, climate models have been remarkably accurate at predicting global warming. In a 1975 paper in Science, renowned climate scientist Wallace Broecker was one of the first to use early simple climate models to predict future global warming. Based on scientists’ understanding of the climate at the time, Broecker was only able to include the effects of human carbon emissions and ‘natural cycles’ (whose effects he overestimated) in his model, but the prediction was nevertheless remarkably accurate:

broecker

Wallace Broecker’s 1975 global warming prediction (blue) compared to observational data from Nasa (black). Illustration: Dana Nuccitelli

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22 comments


Trump promised to hire the best people. He keeps hiring the worst. Nasa is next

Posted on 13 September 2017 by dana1981 &

According to 2016 election exit polls, only 38% of voters considered Donald Trump qualified to be president. 17% of those who thought him unqualified voted for Trump anyway, perhaps because he promised that as a wealthy businessman, he would be able to hire the best people to advise him. That was a claim his daughter Ivanka explicitly made in her speech at the Republican National Convention:

Unfortunately, Trump has not lived up to this promise. In many cases he’s hired some of the worst people imaginable. 

Who worse to lead the EPA than a man whose primary qualification is having sued the agency 14 times on behalf of polluting industries? Who worse to lead the Midwestern states EPA than a woman who the EPA cited for failure to control air pollution in Wisconsin and who deleted all mention of human-caused climate change from her department website? Who worse to lead the Department of Energy than a man who wanted to eliminate the department (until he forgot - oops)? Who worse to be the Department of Agriculture’s chief scientist than a right-wing birther radio host with no scientific background? And these are only the administration officials in positions related to energy and the environment.

There are of course exceptions where Trump nominated people who are at least qualified for the job, but in many cases it’s hard to imagine worse choices.

And now we can add Trump’s selection to lead Nasa to the list - Rep. Jim Bridenstine of Oklahoma.

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10 comments


Denying Hurricane Harvey’s climate links only worsens future suffering

Posted on 5 September 2017 by dana1981 &

Human-caused climate change amplified the damages and suffering associated with Hurricane Harvey in several different ways. First, sea level rise caused by global warming increased the storm surge and therefore the coastal inundation and flooding from the storm. Second, the warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor, which intensifies extreme precipitation events like the record-shattering rainfall associated with Harvey. Third, warmer ocean waters essentially act as hurricane fuel, which may have made Harvey more intense than it would otherwise have been.

There are other possible human factors at play about which we have less certainty. For example, it’s possible that Harvey stalled off the coast of Texasbecause of changes in atmospheric circulation patterns associated with human-caused global warming. As climate scientist Michael Mann notes, his research has shown that these sorts of stationary summer weather patterns tend to happen more often in a hotter world, but we can’t yet say if that happened in Harvey’s case.

Other human activities also worsened Harvey’s impacts. For example, Houston suffers from urban sprawl, covering a larger area (nearly 600 square miles) than the cities of Chicago, San Francisco, Washington DC, Boston, Manhattan, and Santa Barbara combined. With urban sprawl and poor planning came expansive impervious surfaces – absorbent soil covered instead by concrete and asphalt, increasing flood risks. Houston’s lack of zoning laws combined with the National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) also encouraged development in flood prone areas.

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50 comments


Study: Katharine Hayhoe is successfully convincing doubtful evangelicals about climate change

Posted on 28 August 2017 by dana1981 &

Approximately one-quarter of Americans identify as evangelical Christians, and that group also tends to be more resistant to the reality of human-caused global warming. As a new paper by Brian Webb and Doug Hayhoe notes:

a 2008 study found that just 44% of evangelicals believed global warming to be caused mostly by human activities, compared to 64% of nonevangelicals (Smith and Leiserowitz, 2013) while, a 2011 survey found that only 27% of white evangelicals believed there to be a scientific consensus on climate change, compared to 40% of the American public (Public Religion Research Institute, 2011).

These findings appear to stem from two primary factors. First, evangelicals tend to be socially and politically conservative, and climate change is among the many issues that have become politically polarized in America. Second, there is sometimes a perceived conflict between science and religion, as Christians distrust what they perceive as scientists’ “moral agenda” on issues like evolution, stem cell research, and climate change. As Webb and Hayhoe describe it:

theological conservatism, scientific skepticism, political affiliation, and sociocultural influences have reinforced one another to instill climate skepticism into the evangelical tribe mentality, thus creating a formidable barrier to climate education efforts.

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4 comments


Harvard scientists took Exxon’s challenge; found it using the tobacco playbook

Posted on 23 August 2017 by dana1981 &

Read all of these documents and make up your own mind.

That was the challenge ExxonMobil issued when investigative journalism by Inside Climate News revealed that while it was at the forefront of climate science research in the 1970s and 1980s, Exxon engaged in a campaign to misinform the public.

Harvard scientists Geoffrey Supran and Naomi Oreskes decided to take up Exxon’s challenge, and have just published their results in the journal Environmental Research Letters. They used a method known as content analysisto analyze 187 public and internal Exxon documents. The results are striking:

  • In Exxon’s peer-reviewed papers and internal communications, about 80% of the documents acknowledged that climate change is real and human-caused.
  • In Exxon’s paid, editorial-style advertisements (“advertorials”) published in the New York Times, about 80% expressed doubt that climate change is real and human-caused.
ExxonKnew

Percentage of Exxon document positions on human-caused global warming: expressing only doubt (red), only reasonable doubt (grey), acknowledging but expressing doubt (black), acknowledging and expressing reasonable doubt (black hatch), and only acknowledging human-caused global warming (cyan). Illustration: Supran & Oreskes (2017), Environmental Research Letters.

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12 comments


The year Trump was elected was so hot, it was one-in-a-million

Posted on 11 August 2017 by dana1981 &

20142015, and 2016 each broke the global temperature record. A new study led by climate scientist Michael Mann just published in Geophysical Research Letters used climate model simulations to examine the odds that these records would have been set in a world with and without human-caused global warming. In model simulations without a human climate influence, the authors concluded:

  • There’s a one-in-a-million chance that 2014, 2015, and 2016 would each have been as hot as they were if only natural factors were at play.
  • There’s a one-in-10,000 chance that 2014, 2015, and 2016 would all have been record-breaking hot years.
  • There’s a less than 0.5% chance of three consecutive record-breaking years happening at any time since 2000.
  • There’s a 0.1%–0.2% chance of 2016 being the hottest on record.

To put those numbers in perspective, you have about a one-in-3,000 (0.03%) chance of being struck by lightning in your lifetime. You have about as much chance of being struck by lightning this year as 2014, 2015, and 2016 each being as hot as they were due solely to natural effects. That means denying human-caused global warming is like planning to be struck by lightning three years in a row. Perhaps a tinfoil hat will help.

On the other hand, in model simulations accounting for human-caused global warming, the odds of these events goes up substantially:

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4 comments


2017 is so far the second-hottest year on record thanks to global warming

Posted on 31 July 2017 by dana1981 &

With the first six months of 2017 in the books, average global surface temperatures so far this year are 0.94°C above the 1950–1980 average, according to NASA. That makes 2017 the second-hottest first six calendar months on record, behind only 2016.

That’s remarkable because 2017 hasn’t had the warming influence of an El Niño event. El Niños bring warm ocean water to the surface, temporarily causing average global surface temperatures to rise. 2016 – including the first six months of the year – was influenced by one of the strongest El Niño events on record.

Reality has debunked the ‘warming stopped’ myth

For a long time one of the favorite climate denier myths involved claiming that we hadn’t seen any global surface warming since 1998. That myth has fallen by the wayside since 2014, 2015, and 2016 each broke the global surface temperature records previously set in 2010 and 2005 (which were also both hotter than 1998). Yet the myth persisted for years because 1998 was anomalously hot due to the monster El Niño event that year, which meant that global temperatures weren’t much hotter than 1998 until 2014 to today.

Now the first six months of 2017 have been 0.3°C hotter than 1998, despite the former having no El Niño warming influence and the latter being amplified by a monster El Niño. In 1998, there was also more solar energy reaching Earth than there has been in 2017.

TSI

Total solar irradiance data (red) and linear trend (orange) since 1950 from the Laboratory for Atmospheric and Space Physics Solar Irradiance Data Center at the University of Colorado. Illustration: Dana Nuccitelli

In terms of El Niño and solar temperature influences, 2017 thus far has been most similar to 2006, but 2017 has been 0.3°C hotter than 2006 as well.

GISTEMP

Global average surface temperature data from the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Illustration: Dana Nuccitelli

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12 comments


Study: our Paris carbon budget may be 40% smaller than thought

Posted on 24 July 2017 by dana1981 &

In the Paris climate treaty, nearly every world country agreed to try and limit global warming to no more than 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures, and preferably closer to 1.5°C. But a new study published in Nature Climate Change notes that the agreement didn’t define when “pre-industrial” begins.

Our instrumental measurements of the Earth’s average surface temperature begin in the late-1800s, but the Industrial Revolution began in the mid-1700s. There’s also a theory that human agriculture has been influencing the global climate for thousands of years, but the mass burning of fossil fuels kicked the human influence into high gear.

We may be at 1°C or 1.2°C warming since “pre-industrial”

We know that since the late-1800s, humans have caused global surface temperatures to rise by about 1°C. But what about the human influence in the centuries before that, which are technically still “pre-industrial”? The new study used climate model simulations from 1401 to 1800, during which time we know the climate influences of natural effects like solar and volcanic activity fairly well. They found that depending on the starting point, global surface temperatures during that period were 0 to 0.2°C cooler than the late-1800s.

According to the last IPCC report, to have a 50% chance of staying below the 2°C target, when accounting for non-carbon greenhouse gases, we have a remaining budget of about 300bn tons of carbon dioxide. But that was for 2°C warming above late-1800 temperatures. If we add another 0.1°C of pre-industrial warming, the study authors estimated that the budget shrinks by 60bn tons (20%), and if there was an additional 0.2°C pre-industrial warming, the 2°C carbon budget shrinks by 40%. As one of the study authors Michael Mann put it:

Either the Paris targets have to be revised, or alternatively, we decide that the existing targets really were meant to describe only the warming since the late 19th century.

It’s an important point if we want to measure whether we’ve succeeded or failed in meeting the Paris climate targets. And it’s important to know if our budget should be set at no more than 300bn tons, or more like 200bn tons of carbon dioxide pollution.

We’re moving in the wrong direction

However, we’re not yet on track to meet the Paris climate target budget. Based on current national pledges, humans will cause around 3 to 3.5°C warming above late-1800 temperatures by 2100. However, the Paris treaty included a ratcheting mechanism through which countries can gradually make their carbon pollution targets more aggressive. If successful, that ratcheting could limit global warming to 1.8°C above late-1800 temperatures, which is likely less than 2°C above pre-industrial temperatures.

pledges

Global greenhouse gas emissions and 2100 temperatures under no action, current pledges (INDCs), and successful ratcheting scenarios. Illustration: Climate Interactive

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11 comments


Climate denial is like The Matrix; more Republicans are choosing the red pill

Posted on 19 July 2017 by dana1981 &

Trump’s EPA administrator Scott Pruitt wants to hold televised ‘Red Team/Blue Team’ climate science ‘debates.’ The idea is that a ‘Red Team’ of scientists will challenge the mainstream findings of ‘Blue Team’ scientists. That may sound familiar, because it’s exactly how the peer-review process works. But climate deniers have lost the debate in the peer-reviewed literature, with over 97% of peer-reviewed studies endorsing the consensus on human-caused global warming, and the few contrarian papers being flawed and failing to withstand scientific scrutiny

So Scott Pruitt is trying to put his thumb on the scale, giving the less than 3% of contrarian scientists equal footing on a ‘Red Team.’ John Oliver showed how to do a statistically representative televised climate debate (so brilliantly that it’s been viewed 7.4m times), but it’s probably not what Pruitt had in mind:

Climate ‘Red Teams’ are a concept that the fossil fuel-funded Heritage Foundation tried four years ago, calling its 2013 ‘NIPCC report’ part of the group’s “Red Team mission.” But much like climate contrarian research papers, the NIPCC report was riddled with errors and long-debunked myths.

The name also evokes images of the red and blue pills in The Matrix, in which characters could choose to remain in the Matrix (denial) by taking the blue pill, or accept reality with the red pill. In this case the colors are reversed, but the concept is the same – by choosing the red team, Pruitt and company are choosing the soothing comfort of denial over the harsh reality of human-caused climate change and the threats it poses.

Fortunately, it seems like a growing number of Republican leaders are choosing the red pill.

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18 comments


Study: On climate change and elsewhere, politicians more conservative than citizens

Posted on 14 July 2017 by dana1981 &

Academics have identified a skew in American politics, in which policies that are implemented are much more conservative than average Americans prefer. A new paper  by David Broockman at Stanford University and Christopher Skovron from the University of Michigan suggests a cause for this disparity: American politicians perceive their constituents’ positions as more conservative than they are in actuality on a wide range of issues; for example, Republican politicians tend to overestimate support for their conservative health care views by a whopping 20 percentage points. As Broockman and his colleague Christopher Warshaw of MIT put it in an article for the New York Times: “Research shows that politicians are surprisingly poor at estimating public opinion in their districts and state, Republicans in particular.” This in turn appears to be caused by greater political engagement among conservative constituents, who contact their members of Congress more frequently than liberal voters.

The study's authors looked at data surveying thousands of American politicians’ perceptions of their constituents’ opinions, and compared those results to actual public opinion. They found that both Democratic and Republican politicians perceive that public opinion is more conservative than it is in actuality, but it’s especially true among Republican legislators. That matches patterns in grassroots mobilization—Republican voters are about 40 percent more likely to contact their member of Congress’ office than Democratic voters, especially when their member of Congress is a fellow Republican.

The conservative bias in Republican politicians’ perceptions of constituent opinion extended to every question in the survey, on issues such as firearms background checks, where GOP politicians perceive 36 percent more support for their conservative positions than there actually is among the general public—something that statisticians call “skew.” Similar overestimates occur regarding the depth of support for conservative positions on the banning of assault rifles (overestimated by about 18 percent), granting amnesty to illegal immigrants (9 percent), banning abortion (9 percent), and gay marriage (7 percent). This again matches statistics on grassroots mobilization—conservative constituents are especially well-organized and vocal on the issue of gun control.

The survey didn’t include any questions about climate change, but that’s another issue on which Republican politicians’ perceptions of constituent opinion appear extremely skewed.

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12 comments


Conservatives are again denying the very existence of global warming

Posted on 10 July 2017 by dana1981 &

As we well know, climate myths are like zombies that never seem to die. It’s only a matter of time before they rise from the dead and threaten to eat our brains. And so here we go again – American conservatives are denying the very existence of global warming.

Working backwards from a politically-motivated conclusion

The claim is based on what can charitably be described as a white paper, written by fossil fuel-funded contrarians Joseph D’Aleo and Craig Idso along with James Wallace III. Two months ago, D’Aleo and Wallace published another error-riddled white paper on the same website with fellow contrarian John Christy; both papers aimed to undermine the EPA’s Endangerment Finding.

The Endangerment Finding concluded that the scientific research clearly shows that carbon pollution endangers public health and welfare via climate change impacts, and therefore according to the US Supreme Court, the EPA must regulate carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act. Conservatives who benefit from the fossil fuel status quo and oppose all climate policies have urged the Trump administration to go after the Endangerment Finding.

Both papers are rife with flaws because they start from a desired conclusion – that the science underpinning Endangerment Finding is somehow wrong – and work backwards trying to support it. In this paper, the contrarians try to undermine the accuracy of the global surface temperature record, which has been validated time and time again. They don’t bother trying to hide their bias – the paper refers to “Climate Alarmists” and speaks of invalidating the Endangerment Finding.

The errors in the white paper

The paper itself has little scientific content. Using charts taken from climate denier blogs, the authors claim that every temperature record adjustment since the 1980s has been in the warming direction, which is simply false. As Zeke Hausfather pointed out, referencing work by Nick Stokes, roughly half of the adjustments have resulted in cooling and half in warming. Moreover, the net adjustment to the raw data actually reduces the long-term global warming trend:

View image on Twitter

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Why the Republican Party's climate policy obstruction is indefensible

Posted on 5 July 2017 by dana1981 &

Two weeks ago, Senator Al Franken (D-MN) had an exchange with Trump’s Department of Energy Secretary Rick Perry about climate change. 

Perry’s responses perfectly summarized the Republican Party’s current position on the subject. The problem is that it’s an indefensible position.

Wrong on the science

The Republican position is based upon a rejection of established climate science. When confronted with the conclusion that global warming is 100% due to human activities, Perry responded, “I don’t believe that ... don’t buy it.” But of course it’s not a matter of belief – that’s what the scientific evidence indicates. There have been dozens of studies quantifying the various contributions to recent global warming. I summarized ten of them in the chart below (details here), and the answer is clear:

all of it

Human contribution to global surface warming over the past 50 to 65 years based on ten peer-reviewed studies (see sks.to/allofit for details). Illustration: Dana Nuccitelli and John Cook

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Trump fact check: Climate policy benefits vastly exceed costs

Posted on 30 June 2017 by dana1981 &

When people who benefit from maintaining the status quo argue against climate policies, they invariably use two misleading tactics: exaggerating the costs of climate policies, and ignoring their benefits—economic and otherwise. In justifying his historically irresponsible decision to withdraw America from the Paris Agreement on climate change, President Trump followed this same playbook, falsely claiming: “The cost to the economy at this time would be close to $3 trillion in lost GDP [gross domestic product].”

That statistic originated from a report by National Economic Research Associates, Inc., which explicitly notes that it “does not take into account potential benefits from avoided emissions. The study results are not a benefit-cost analysis of climate change.” As Yale economistKenneth Gillingham noted, the report’s cost estimates are also based on one specific set of policy actions that the United States could implement to meet its Paris pledges. But there’s an infinite combination of possible climate policy responses, with some costing more than others.

For example, a revenue-neutral carbon tax is the proposed policy that currently has the most widespread support. One such proposal by the Climate Leadership Council has been endorsed by a broad coalition that includes Stephen Hawking, ExxonMobil, the Nature Conservancy, and George Shultz. And the Citizens’ Climate Lobby—a nonpartisan grassroots organization advocating for a similar policy—recently sent over 1,000 volunteers to lobby members of Congress in Washington, DC.

Regional Economic Modeling, Inc. (REMI) evaluated how the Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s proposed policy would impact the US economy. The REMI report concluded that implementing a rising price on carbon pollution and returning 100 percent of the revenue equally to American taxpayers would grow the economy and modestly increase personal disposable income, employment, and gross domestic product—the total of all goods and services produced within a nation’s borders. And the REMI report didn’t even include the financial benefits of slowing climate change and curbing its harmful economic impacts.

Those benefits are potentially massive. In terms of climate change, many of the benefits are realized in avoided costs.

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Climate scientists just debunked deniers' favorite argument

Posted on 28 June 2017 by dana1981 &

Whenever they hold one of their frequent hearings to reject and deny established climate science, congressional Republicans invariably trot out contrarian scientist John Christy, who disputes the accuracy of climate models. In doing so, Christy uses a cherry-picked, error riddled chart, but there’s a nugget of truth in his argument. Although the discrepancy isn’t nearly as large as Christy’s misleading chart suggests, atmospheric temperatures seem not to have warmed quite as fast since the turn of the century as climate model simulations anticipated they would.

santer figure

Remote Sensing Systems estimate of the temperature of the middle troposphere compared to the CMIP5 multi-model average (top frame), and the difference between the two over time (bottom frame). Illustration: Santer et al. (2017), Nature Geoscience

How you react to this information is a good test of whether you’re a skeptic or a denier. A denier will declare “aha, the models are wrong, therefore we don’t need any climate policies!” A skeptic will ask what’s causing the difference between the observational estimates and model simulations.

There are many possible explanations. Maybe the tricky and often-adjusted estimates of the atmospheric temperature made by instruments on orbiting satellites are biased. Maybe there’s something wrong with the models, or our understanding of Earth’s atmosphere. Maybe the inputs used in the model simulations are flawed. The answer is likely a combination of these possibilities, but in congressional testimony earlier this year, Christy tried to place the blame entirely on the models, with a denier-style framing:

the average of the models is considered to be untruthful in representing the recent decades of climate variation and change, and thus would be inappropriate for use in predicting future changes in the climate or for related policy decisions.

And in testimony to Congress in December 2015, Christy offered his unsupported speculation that the discrepancy was a result of climate models being too sensitive to rising greenhouse gases:

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Exxon, Stephen Hawking, greens, and Reagan’s advisors agree on a carbon tax

Posted on 23 June 2017 by dana1981 &

What do ExxonMobil, Stephen Hawking, the Nature Conservancy, and Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of Treasury and Chief of Staff have in common? All have signed on as founding members to the Climate Leadership Council, which has met with the White House to propose a revenue-neutral carbon tax policy.

The group started with impeccable conservative credentials, bringing on cabinet members from the last three Republican presidential administrations (Ronald Reagan, George HW Bush, and George W Bush): two former Secretaries of State, two former Secretaries of Treasury, and two former chairmen of the President’s Council of Economic Advisors. It was founded by Ted Halstead, who explained the group’s proposed policy in a TED talk:

Some of the world’s brightest scientific and economic minds have since become founding members, including Stephen HawkingSteven ChuMartin Feldstein, and Lawrence Summers. So have ExxonMobil, BP, and Shell. But it’s not just the oil industry joining the call for a carbon tax; GM, Proctor & Gamble, Pepsico, and Johnson & Johnson are among the major companies signing on. As have environmental groups like the Nature Conservancy.

Citizens’ Climate LobbyrepublicEn, the Niskanen Center, and the Weather Channel are among the Climate Leadership Council’s strategic partners.

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New research may resolve a climate ‘conundrum’ across the history of human civilization

Posted on 14 June 2017 by dana1981 &

Earth’s last ice age ended about 12,000 years ago. The warmer and more stable climate the followed allowed for the development of agriculture and the rise of human civilization. This important period encompassing the past 12,000 years is referred to as the Holocene geological epoch. It also created a “conundrum” for climate scientists, because global temperatures simulated by climate models didn’t match reconstructions from proxy data.

To be specific, the overall temperature change during the Holocene matched pretty well in reconstructions and models, but the pattern didn’t. The best proxy reconstruction from a 2013 paper led by Shaun Marcott estimated more warming than models from 12,000 to 7,000 years ago. Then over the past 7,000 years, Marcott’s reconstruction estimated about 0.5°C cooling while model simulations showed the planet warming by about the same amount.

A new paper led by Jonathan Baker may help to resolve that discrepancy. The scientists examined stalagmites from a cave in the southern Ural Mountains of Russia. The ratio of oxygen isotopes in the stalagmites can be used to estimate past winter temperatures. The Marcott study had one known shortcoming – the proxy temperature data they used mostly represented the summer season. And as Baker explained, changes in the Earth’s orbital cycles have caused summer cooling and winter warming during the Holocene:

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Pittsburgh and Paris join over 200 cities and states rejecting Trump on climate

Posted on 8 June 2017 by dana1981 &

I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris

So said Donald Trump in a speech justifying his irrational, historically irresponsible decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris international climate treaty. Of course, 75% of Pittsburgh residents voted for Hillary Clinton, and many city residents have since written about the outdatedness and absurdityof Trump’s invocation of Pittsburgh, which aims to be 100% powered by renewable energy by 2035. In fact, Pittsburgh joined 210 other “climate cities”representing 54 million Americans (17% of the national population), pledging:

we will adopt, honor, and uphold the commitments to the goals enshrined in the Paris Agreement. We will intensify efforts to meet each of our cities’ current climate goals, push for new action to meet the 1.5 degrees Celsius target, and work together to create a 21st century clean energy economy.

Yesterday, the mayors of Pittsburgh and Paris co-authored a New York Times editorial rejecting Trump’s efforts to pin the two cities against each other on climate change.

Additionally, 12 states (California, New York, Washington, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Virginia) plus Puerto Rico created the US Climate Alliance, committed to upholding the Paris accord. These states represent 97 million Americans – 30% of the national population.

climate states

States joining the US Climate Alliance shown in green. Illustration: Dana Nuccitelli

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Donald Trump just cemented his legacy as America’s worst-ever president

Posted on 1 June 2017 by dana1981 &

In an inexplicable abdication of any semblance of responsibility or leadership, Donald Trump has announced that he will begin the process to withdraw the United States from the Paris climate treaty, joining Nicaragua and Syria as the only world countries rejecting the agreement. It now seems inevitable that the history books will view Trump as America’s worst-ever president.

Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris treaty is a mostly symbolic act. America’s pledges to cut its carbon pollution were non-binding, and his administration’s policies to date had already made it impossible for America to meet its initial Paris climate commitment for 2025. The next American president in 2020 can re-enter the Paris treaty and push for policies to make up some of the ground we lost during Trump’s reign.

However, withdrawing from the Paris treaty is an important symbolic move – a middle finger to the rest of the world, and to future generations. America is by far the largest historical contributor to climate change. Ironically, on the heels of Trump’s claim that most NATO members aren’t paying their fair share to the organization, America has announced that we won’t do our fair share to curb the climate change threats that we are the most responsible for.

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Trump's Fox News deputy national security adviser fooled him with climate fake news

Posted on 22 May 2017 by dana1981 &

As Politico reported, Trump’s deputy national security adviser, KT McFarland, gave him a fake 1970s Time magazine cover warning of a coming ice age. The Photoshopped magazine cover circulated around the internet several years ago, but was debunked in 2013. Four years later, McFarland put the fake document in Trump’s hands, and he reportedly “quickly got lathered up about the media’s hypocrisy … Staff chased down the truth and intervened before Trump tweeted or talked publicly about it”.

Time

A real Time magazine special issue cover from 2007 (left frame), and the faked version (right frame). Illustration: Time Magazine; climate denier with Photoshop

A triply wrong myth

This particular myth – that most climate scientists in the 1970s were warning of an impending ice age – is wrong on three separate levels. First and most obviously, a majority of climate science research in the 1970s anticipated global warming, not cooling.

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NY Times’ Stephens can’t see the elephant in the room on climate change

Posted on 16 May 2017 by dana1981 &

There was tremendous outcry when the New York Times hired opinion columnist Bret Stephens, who has a long history of making misinformed comments about climate change. Stephens didn’t assuage those fears when he devoted his first column to punching hippies, absurdly suggesting that our lack of progress on climate policy is a result of greens being too mean to climate deniers.

Stephens lamentably stayed on the subject of climate change in his second and third Times columns as well. In those pieces, he used corn-based ethanol subsidies as an example of where climate policy has gone wrong:

So let’s talk about ethanol and other biofuels, a subject some climate-change activists might prefer to forget. In 2007, George W. Bush used his State of the Union speech to call for huge increases in the production of renewable and alternative fuels such as ethanol. Democrats were firmly on board, and President Barack Obama pursued a largely similar course in his first years in office.

This is a clear case of cherry picking. There are hundreds of examples of climate policies with varying degrees of effectiveness; why focus on just one? Many environmental groups and “climate-change activists” have long opposed corn-based ethanol subsidies, as Stephens himself noted. Politicians of both political parties supported those subsidies because they were popular in corn-growing Midwestern states. It had little if anything to do with climate efficacy. So why blame “climate-change activists” for these politically-motivated subsidies?

For his next misleading argument, Stephens shifted to German electricity costs:

The country is producing record levels of energy from wind and solar power, but emissions are almost exactly what they were in 2009. Meanwhile, German households pay nearly the highest electricity bills in Europe, all for what amounts to an illusion of ecological virtue.

Stephens’ comparison to 2009 is another example of blatant cherry picking. German carbon emissions that year were particularly low, due in part to the global recession. The long-term trend is unmistakable.

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Study: to beat science denial, inoculate against misinformers' tricks

Posted on 8 May 2017 by dana1981 &

After receiving misinformation from the anti-vaccine movement, including its founder Andrew Wakefield, immunization rates plummeted in a community of Somali immigrants in Minnesota, causing a measles outbreak among their children. It’s a disturbing trend on the rise in America that shows the importance of immunization and the dangerous power of misinformation.

A new paper published in PLOS One by John Cook, Stephan Lewandowsky, and Ullrich Ecker tests the power of inoculation; not against disease, but against the sort of misinformation that created the conditions leading to Minnesota measles outbreak. Inoculation theory suggests that exposing people to the tricks used to spread misinformation can equip them with the tools to recognize and reject such bogus claims.

The study focused specifically on misinformation about climate change. The scientists wanted to determine if inoculation could boost peoples’ resistance to false balance in the media, and efforts to cast doubt on the 97% expert consensus on human-caused global warming.

The two issues are connected – in climate stories, journalists will often present arguments by climate scientists and climate deniers with equal weight, creating the perception of a 50/50 split when in reality, 97% of experts are on one side, as elegantly illustrated by John Oliver in this clip with over 7 million views from his HBO program Last Week Tonight:

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Is the climate consensus 97%, 99.9%, or is plate tectonics a hoax?

Posted on 4 May 2017 by dana1981 &

Four years ago, my colleagues and I published a paper finding a 97% consensus in the peer-reviewed literature on human-caused global warming. Since then, it’s been the subject of constant myths, misinformation, and denial. In fact, last year we teamed up with the authors of six other consensus papers, showing that with a variety of different approaches, we all found the expert consensus on human-caused global warming is 90–100%.

Most of the critiques of our paper claim the consensus is somehow below 97%. For example, in a recent congressional hearing, Lamar Smith (R-TX) claimed we had gone wrong by only considering “a small sample of a small sample” of climate studies, and when estimated his preferred way, it’s less than 1%. But in a paper published last year, James Powell argued that the expert consensus actually higher – well over 99%.

We thus had three quite different estimates of the expert consensus on human-caused global warming: less than 1%, 97%, or 99.99%. So which is right?

Testing the 97% approach with plate tectonics

Yesterday, the Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society published our response to Powell, led by Andy Skuce. To determine who’s right, we turned our sights on the theory of plate tectonics.

In his critique of our study, Powell argued that on scientific theories as settled as human-caused global warming or plate tectonics, scientists don’t bother to state the obvious. In our 97% paper, we examined how many studies endorsed, rejected or minimized, or took no position on human-caused global warming.

In his study, Powell only looked at papers explicitly rejecting the human cause; he assumed that the rest endorsed the consensus. And, he argued, applying our approach to another settled scientific theory like plate tectonics wouldn’t yield any results, because Powell assumed no scientist would bother to state something so obvious. If our approach weren’t valid for plate tectonics, Powell argued that it wouldn’t be valid for global warming either.

So we tested our approach

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Climate contrarians want to endanger the EPA endangerment finding

Posted on 2 May 2017 by dana1981 &

Although Trump’s EPA administrator Scott Pruitt has been among the biggest proponents of withdrawing America from the Paris climate agreement (using bogus ‘blame China’ arguments to make his case), climate deniers have been unhappy with him. That’s because Pruitt doesn’t want to challenge EPA’s carbon pollution endangerment finding – he thinks it would be a lost cause. A group of contrarian scientists released a white paper trying to pressure him to attack the finding anyway.

The importance of the EPA endangerment finding

Briefly, the endangerment finding stemmed from a 2007 Supreme Court decision in which 12 states sued the EPA, calling on the agency to regulate carbon pollution under the Clean Air Act. The Supreme Court ruled in favor of those states, ordering EPA to determine if greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health and welfare. After considering the scientific evidence, including the latest IPCC report, national climate science assessments, etc., the EPA issued its endangerment finding correctly concluding that carbon pollution clearly endangers public health and welfare via its climate change impacts. As a result, the EPA is legally required to regulate carbon pollution.

The Obama EPA followed that legal requirement by crafting the Clean Power Plan. Early in his presidency, Trump signed an anti-climate executive order calling on EPA to review and revise the Clean Power Plan. In effect, it’s currently on hold. However, that review process takes years, and in 2020 the next president’s EPA could make the carbon pollution regulations even more aggressive. As long as the endangerment finding is in place, there is a legal requirement for the EPA to regulate carbon pollution.

The endangerment finding is based on science, and here to stay

Fossil fuel-loving deniers thus hate the endangerment finding. The problem is that it’s based on overwhelming scientific evidence. As attorney general of Oklahoma, Pruitt frequently sued the EPA and lost nearly every time, so he knows a losing case when he sees one.

Baseball fan Pruitt lost 6 of 7 lawsuits against the EPA. That would be a mediocre .142 batting average.

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NY Times hired a hippie puncher to give climate obstructionists cover

Posted on 29 April 2017 by dana1981 &

Yesterday, New York Times subscribers were treated to an email alert announcing the first opinion column from Bret Stephens, who they hired away from the Wall Street Journal. Like all Journal opinion columnists who write about climate change, Stephens has said a lot of things on the subject that could charitably be described as ignorant and wrong. Thus many Times subscribers voiced bewilderment and concern about his hiring, to which the paper’s public editor issued a rather offensive response.

Justifying the critics, here’s how the paper announced Stephens’ first opinion column in an email alert (usually reserved for important breaking news):

TOP STORIES

In his debut as a Times Op-Ed columnist, Bret Stephens says reasonable people can be skeptical about the dangers of climate change

Stephens gets his few facts wrong

In his column, Stephens pooh-poohed climate change as a “modest (0.85 degrees Celsius) warming of the Northern Hemisphere since 1880,” citing the 2014 IPCC report. However, Stephens packed three big mistakes into that single sentence. Here’s what the IPCC said (emphasis added):

The globally averaged combined land and ocean surface temperature data as calculated by a linear trend show a warming of 0.85 [0.65 to 1.06] °C over the period 1880 to 2012

The northern hemisphere warms faster than the global average because it has more land and less ocean than the southern hemisphere (water warms slowly), so this is an important mistake that underestimates the global temperature rise. On top of that, since 2012 we’ve seen the three hottest years on record (2014, 2015, and 2016), so even the 0.85°C warming figure is outdated (it’s now right around 1°C).

Stephens doesn’t understand the rapid pace or urgency of the problem

Most importantly, the global warming we’ve experience is in no way “modest.” We’re already causing a rate of warming faster than when the Earth transitions out of an ice age, and within a few decades we could be causing the fastest climate change Earth has seen in 50 million years. The last ice age transition saw about 4°C global warming over 10,000 years; humans are on pace to cause that much warming between 1900 and 2100 – a period of just 200 years, with most of that warming happening since 1975.

Of course, how much global warming we see in the coming decades depends on how much carbon pollution we dump into the atmosphere. If we take serious immediate action to cut those emissions, as the international community pledged to do under the Paris agreement, we can limit global warming to perhaps 2°C, and the climate consequences that come along with it.

But this is where Stephens’ opinions are particularly unhelpful:

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March against madness - denial has pushed scientists out to the streets

Posted on 25 April 2017 by dana1981 &

This past weekend, hundreds of thousands of people in the US and around the world marched in support of science. Next weekend, the People’s Climate Marchwill follow.

Redglass Pictures and StarTalk Radio created a short film in which the brilliant scientist and communicator Neil deGrasse Tyson – though not specifically talking about the science marches – perfectly articulated the motivations behind them.

Pinterest

For example, last weekend’s March for Science was largely a pushback against the creeping science denial among today’s political leaders, about which Dr. Tyson said:

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Humans on the verge of causing Earth’s fastest climate change in 50m years

Posted on 17 April 2017 by dana1981 &

A new study published in Nature Communications looks at changes in solar activity and carbon dioxide levels over the past 420 million years. The authors found that on our current path, by mid-century humans will be causing the fastest climate change in approximately 50 million years, and if we burn all available fossil fuels, we’ll cause the fastest change in the entire 420 million year record.

record

Changes in atmospheric carbon dioxide and in the combined solar and carbon dioxide forcing over the past 420 million years. Illustration: Foster et al. (2017); Nature Communications.

The study relates to a scientific conundrum known as the “faint young sun paradox” – that early in Earth’s history, solar output was 30% less intense than it is today, and yet the planet was warm enough to have a liquid ocean. A stronger greenhouse effect due to higher carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere may be one explanation.

Over time, solar output has grown stronger, and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels have fallen due to an effect known as “weathering” of rocks and an increase in plant life. The authors of this study found that over the past 420 million years, the slow heating of the sun and slow decline of the greenhouse effect have roughly offset each other, leading to a fairly stable long-term global climate.

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Scientists can be advocates and maintain scientific credibility

Posted on 13 April 2017 by dana1981 &

Scientists are often hesitant to engage in what might be considered “advocacy,” for fear of losing credibility with the public. But a recent study led by John Kotcher at George Mason’s Center for Climate Change Communication found that “climate scientists who wish to engage in certain forms of advocacy have considerable latitude to do so without risking harm to their credibility, or the credibility of the scientific community.”

The study found that the perceived credibility of a hypothetical scientist did not decline when that scientist advocated for generalities such as a “strong effort” to curb the impacts of climate change—nor did credibility decline if the scientist called for more specific and concrete actions such as “strict limits on carbon emissions from coal power plants.” But perceived credibility did decline when the hypothetical scientist advocated building more nuclear power plants, which are relatively unpopular amongst the American public.

These results suggest that as long as scientists don’t advocate for specific unpopular policies, a range of advocacy positions are available that won’t harm their credibility. For example, polling has shown that most Americans—including Trump voters—support policies to combat climate change. They also think it’s a bad idea to cut scientific research funding, they support clean energy, and they want the government to do more to mitigate climate change risks.

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Inconceivable! The latest theatrical House 'Science' committee hearing

Posted on 4 April 2017 by dana1981 &

Last week, the House “Science” committee held one of its regular hearings to dispute the validity of climate science research. Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) articulated the purpose of the hearing when speaking at a recent Heartland Institute climate science denial conference:

Next week we’re going to have a hearing on our favorite subject of climate change and also on the scientific method, which has been repeatedly ignored by the so-called self-professed climate scientists

For that, Smith was rightly called out by Jeffrey Mervis at Science magazine:

the chairman of the science committee in the U.S. House of Representatives acknowledged that the committee is now a tool to advance his political agenda rather than a forum to examine important issues facing the U.S. research community.

Climate scientist Michael Mann was one of the witnesses testifying in last week’s hearing. In the event’s defining exchange, Mann quoted The Princess Bride, and then proceeded to quote Mervis’ condemnation of Lamar Smith:

Smith responded by asserting “that is not known as an objective writer or magazine,” to which the scientific community collectively gasped in horror. This is the magazine associated with Science which, along with Nature, are the two most highly-respected peer-reviewed scientific journals in the world. Mervis has been writing about science policy for Science magazine for 24 years. Lamar Smith, on the other hand is a contributor to Breitbart, entered a Wall Street Journal op-ed into the congressional record, and said this shortly after President Trump’s inauguration:

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Trump has launched a blitzkrieg in the wars on science and Earth’s climate

Posted on 28 March 2017 by dana1981 &

Today, Trump signed executive orders taking aim at America’s climate policies. On the heels of a report finding that the world needs to halve its carbon pollution every decade to avoid dangerous climate change, Trump’s order would instead increase America’s carbon pollution, to the exclusive benefit of the fossil fuel industry. 

Trump’s anti-climate executive orders

One part of the executive order tells the EPA to review and revise (weaken) its Clean Power Plan and methane regulations. However, revising these regulations isn’t so simple. It requires proceeding through the same years-long rulemaking process the EPA used to create the rules in the first place. This involves considering the scientific evidence, crafting draft rules, responding to millions of public comments, and defending the new plan in court. Environmental attorneys are confident “this is another deal President Trump won’t be able to close.

A second part of the executive order tells the EPA to ignore the government’s estimated price on carbon pollution. The Republican Party wants to lower the current estimate, but most evidence indicates the government is dramatically underestimating the cost of carbon pollution. Trump gets around this inconvenient evidence by ordering the EPA to simply deny the existence of those costs.

A third part of the executive order ends a moratorium on new coal leases on public lands before a review is completed to determine if taxpayers are being shortchanged due to the lands being sold too cheaply. Environmental groups are set to immediately challenge this order. Regardless, lifting the moratorium would have little effect on coal production or mining jobs.

EPA administrator Scott Pruitt would undoubtedly be happy to follow Trump’s orders. In his previous job as Oklahoma Attorney General and fossil fuel industry puppet, one of Pruitt’s 14 lawsuits against the EPA was aimed at the Clean Power Plan. However, the Clean Air Act requires the government to cut carbon pollution. Trump and Pruitt may not like it, but the law, scientific evidence, and public opinion fall squarely against them.

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PBS is the only network reporting on climate change. Trump wants to cut it

Posted on 27 March 2017 by dana1981 &

Media Matters for America has published its annual review of American evening newscast climate coverage for 2016, and the results are stunning:

In 2016, evening newscasts and Sunday shows on ABC, CBS, and NBC, as well as Fox Broadcast Co.’s Fox News Sunday, collectively decreased their total coverage of climate change by 66 percent compared to 2015

In all of 2016, these news programs spent a combined grand total of 50 minutes talking about climate change. More than half of that come from CBS Evening News, which nevertheless only spent half as much time talking about climate change in 2016 as it had in 2015.

coverage

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19 House Republicans call on their party to do something about climate change

Posted on 20 March 2017 by dana1981 &

While the Trump administration is veering sharply toward climate science denial, 19 House Republicans have taken steps to pull the party in the direction of reality, and the need to combat the threats posed by human-caused climate change.

The Republican Climate Resolution

Last week, Congresswoman Elise Stefanik (R-NY), Congressman Carlos Curbelo (R-FL), and Congressman Ryan Costello (R-PA) led a group of 17 House Republicans in introducing a resolution that calls on Congress to develop policies to tackle climate change. 

The Republican Climate Resolution recognizes that environmental stewardship is a conservative principle, that policies should be based on scientific evidence and quantifiable facts, that climate change is having negative impacts and is viewed by the Department of Defense as a threat multiplier, and that we can and must take meaningful action to address these threats in a manner that doesn’t constrain the American economy:

...be it Resolved, That the House of Representatives commits to working constructively, using our tradition of American ingenuity, innovation, and exceptionalism, to create and support economically viable, and broadly supported private and public solutions to study and address the causes and effects of measured changes to our global and regional climates, including mitigation efforts and efforts to balance human activities that have been found to have an impact.

The Resolution has thus far been signed by House Republicans representing districts in New York, Pennsylvania, Florida, Nevada, Nebraska, Virginia, New Jersey, Utah, Washington, and South Carolina. 

The bipartisan Climate Solutions Caucus

Eleven of the Resolution’s signatories are also members of the Climate Solutions Caucus, as are Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Lee Zeldin (R-NY), who have not yet signed the Resolution. The Climate Solutions Caucus is a bipartisan group in the US House of Representatives – currently comprised of 13 Republicans and 13 Democrats – that explores policy options to address climate change.

Caucus members include some prominent conservative Republicans. Darrell Issa is the former chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, and Mia Love is viewed as a rising star in the party. Love featured in an episode of the acclaimed program Years of Living Dangerously:

Mia Love in Years of Living Dangerously

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Americans are confused on climate, but support cutting carbon pollution

Posted on 6 March 2017 by dana1981 &

The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication published the findings of its 2016 survey on American public opinion about climate change. The results are interesting – in some ways confusing – and yet they reveal surprisingly broad support for action to address climate change. The Yale team created a tool with which the results can be broken down by state, congressional district, or county to drill down into the geographic differences in Americans’ climate beliefs.

Acceptance of science despite confusion about expert consensus

The first survey questions asked about participants’ beliefs about whether climate change is happening, what’s causing it, what scientists think, and whether they trust climate scientists. Overall, 70% of Americans realize that global warming is happening, while just 12% said it’s not. A majority of Americans in every state answered the question correctly, ranging from 60% in West Virginia to 77% in New York and 84% in Washington DC. Drilling down to a more local level, majorities in every congressional district and nearly every county in America were aware of the reality of global warming.

But when asked whether most scientists think global warming is happening, Americans got a failing grade. Just 49% correctly answered ‘yes,’ while 28% believed there’s a lot of disagreement among scientists. In reality, even 95% of weathercasters – who are among the most doubtful groups of scientists about human-caused global warming – realize that climate change is happening. This shows that the campaign to cast doubt on the expert consensus on global warming has been remarkably successful in the US.

However, Americans trust climate scientists on the subject of global warming. Overall, 71% trust the scientific experts, while 26% distrust them. Majorities of Americans in every state, county, and congressional district trust climate scientists.

Regarding the cause of that global warming, only 53% of Americans correctly answered that it’s caused mostly by human activities, while 32% incorrectly said it’s mostly natural. By state, correct responses varied from 42% in Wyoming to 59% in California and 67% in Washington DC.

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Republican hearing calls for a lower carbon pollution price. It should be much higher

Posted on 1 March 2017 by dana1981 &

The ‘social cost of carbon’ is an estimate of how much carbon pollution costs society via climate damages, and can also be considered the optimal carbon tax price. The US federal estimate ($37 per ton of carbon dioxide pollution) underpins at least 150 regulations across various federal agencies, and has thus become a prime target in the Trump administration’s efforts to roll back Obama’s climate policies.

Yesterday, the House Subcommittees on Environment and Oversight held a hearing on the social cost of carbon. The Republican Congressmen and their witnesses argued the federal estimate is too high, but a majority of economists think it’s too low. Not surprisingly, the Republican witnesses have been heavily funded by the fossil fuel industry. They made two main arguments: 1) that the $37 estimate should be based on domestic, not global climate impacts, and 2) that the government should have used a higher discount rate, which would result in a lower estimate.

Both arguments are entirely backwards.

Carbon pollution causes expensive global climate damages

The first argument, articulated by Chairman Andy Biggs (R-AZ), is an immoral one:

It is simply not right for Americans to be bearing the brunt of costs when the majority of benefits will be conferred away from home.

The “benefits” other countries would reap are effects like reducing the decimation of their crops by climate-fueled droughts. An accurate rephrasing of this statement would read: ‘It is simply not right for Americans pay for their carbon pollution when the majority of the costs and damages will be borne by poor people in third world countries.’ When framed accurately, it’s a completely unethical argument.

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Trump can save his presidency with a great deal to save the climate

Posted on 22 February 2017 by dana1981 &

A month into his presidency, Donald Trump already has a minus-8 job approval rating (43% approve, 51% disapprove). Congress has a minus-50 approval rating, and the Republican Party has a minus-14 favorability rating. All are facing widespread protests, marches, and public resistance. Hundreds of concerned constituents have been showing up to town hall events held by Republican Congressmen, like this one with Tom McClintock (R-CA):

His constituents asked McClintock about the current hot-button issues: repealing Obamacare, the border wall, the Muslim ban, and climate change.

The first three topics have strong support from the Republican base, but they’re unpopular among most of the rest of Americans. That’s why Trump’s approval is held afloat by Republican support (about 85% approve), while only 35% of independents and fewer than 10% of Democrats view him favorably. In fact, they view these policies so unfavorably that there are constant mass protests. And then there’s this:

Betting markets think the odds are better that Trump won't last the year than that he'll be re-elected 

https://twitter.com/bcshaffer/status/832719875055374336 

Trump and the Republican Party need an issue and a policy that has strong support among all Americans. Climate change and a carbon tax fit the bill perfectly.

Americans - including Republicans - support climate solutions

Surveys by Yale and George Mason universities have shown that Trump voters support taking action to address climate change.

  • 69% of Americans - including about half of Trump voters - think the US should participate in the Paris climate agreement.
  • 80% of Americans - including 62% of Trump voters - agree that the US should regulate and/or tax carbon pollution. More Trump voters support doing both (31%) than doing neither (21%).
  • 66% of Americans support a carbon tax, as do about half of Trump voters.
  • 81% of Americans - including 73% of Trump voters - think the country should use more renewable energy.
  • 55% Americans - including 33% of Trump voters - think we should use less fossil fuels than we do today. Only 31% of Trump voters think we should use more fossil fuels.
Trump poll

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Expect to see more emergencies like Oroville Dam in a hotter world

Posted on 20 February 2017 by dana1981 &

The evacuation of nearly 200,000 people near Oroville Dam is the kind of event that makes climate change personal. A co-worker of mine was forced out of his home for several days by the emergency evacuation, and another friend was visiting Lake Oroville and happened to leave 15 minutes before the evacuation order was issued.

Like many extreme events, the Oroville emergency is a combination of natural weather likely intensified by climate change. California regularly sees “atmospheric rivers” that deluge the state with rainfall, but in a hotter world, scientists anticipate that they’ll be amplified by an increase in the amount of water vapor in the atmosphere.

Northern California is in the midst of its wettest rainy season on record – twice as wet as the 20th century average, and 35% wetter than the previous record year. It proved to be almost too much for America’s tallest dam to handle. Water managers were forced to use Oroville Dam’s emergency spillway for the first time ever, which then began to erode, posing the threat of a failure and catastrophic flooding of nearby towns.

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Northern California Sierra precipitation - average, previous wettest year, and 2016-2017. Illustration: California Department of Water Resources

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This is why conservative media outlets like the Daily Mail are 'unreliable'

Posted on 13 February 2017 by dana1981 &

Wikipedia editors recently voted to ban the Daily Mail tabloid as a source for their website after deeming it “generally unreliable.” To put the severity of this decision in context, Wikipedia still allows references to Russia Today and Fox News, both of which display a clear bias toward the ruling parties of their respective countries.

It thus may seem like a remarkable decision for Wikipedia to ban the Daily Mail, but fake news stories by David Rose in two consecutive editions of the Mail on Sunday – which echoed throughout the international conservative media – provide perfect examples of why the decision was justified and wise.

Debunked David Rose doubles down, goes full Trump

I knew people would misuse this. But you can’t control other people.

Most importantly, the scientific integrity of the NOAA data is indisputable. The organization’s global temperature data is nearly identical to that of other scientific groups like NASA, the Hadley Centre, and Berkeley Earth.

View image on Twitter

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Whistleblower: ‘I knew people would misuse this.’ They did - to attack climate science

Posted on 9 February 2017 by dana1981 &

This weekend, conservative media outlets launched an attack on climate scientists with a manufactured scandal. The fake news originated from an accusation made by former NOAA scientist John Bates about a 2015 paper by some of his NOAA colleagues. The technical term to describe the accusation is ‘a giant nothingburger’ (in this case, a NOAA-thing burger) as Bates clarified in an interview with E&E News:

The issue here is not an issue of tampering with data, but rather really of timing of a release of a paper that had not properly disclosed everything it was.

Bates later told Science Insider that he was concerned that climate science deniers would misuse his complaints, but proceeded anyway because he felt it was important to start a conversation about data integrity:

I knew people would misuse this. But you can’t control other people.

“Misuse” is the understatement of the year

Misuse it people did – and how! Bates’ complaints boiled down to the fact that the paper didn’t have “a disclaimer at the bottom saying that it was citing research, not operational, data for its land-surface temperatures.” The Mail on Sunday (just banned by Wikipedia as an unreliable source) warped that minor procedural criticism into the sensationalist headline “Exposed: How world leaders were duped into investing billions over manipulated global warming data.” 

The story then spread through the international conservative media like a global warming-intensified wildfire - to Breitbart, Fox News, Drudge Report, Rush Limbaugh, The Daily Caller, The Washington Times, and more. Scott Johnson summed up the fake news story perfectly in an article at Ars Technica:

At its core, though, it’s not much more substantial than claiming the Apollo 11 astronauts failed to file some paperwork and pretending this casts doubt on the veracity of the Moon landing.

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Repeal without replace: a dangerous GOP strategy on Obamacare and climate

Posted on 6 February 2017 by dana1981 &

House Republicans have introduced a bill to rewrite the Clean Air Act. The bill, which has 114 co-sponsors (all Republicans), would revise the Clean Air Act such that:

The term ‘air pollutant’ does not include carbon dioxide, water vapor, methane, nitrous oxide, hydrofluorocarbons, perfluorocarbons, or sulfur hexafluoride.

This change would kill the EPA regulation of carbon pollution that’s a key component of the Clean Power Plan.

The background story

The history behind these regulations is an interesting story. During the George W. Bush Administration, Americans were becoming increasingly concerned about the threats posed by human-caused global warming, and by the Administration’s actions to censor and silence climate scientists instead of taking action to address the problem.

So 12 states led by Massachusetts, in coordination with a number of cities, territories, and environmental and scientific groups, sued the Bush EPA. The case made it all the way to the Supreme Court in 2007. The key was that Massachusetts had to demonstrate it had legal standing to sue, which meant proving that the state was being directly harmed by climate change and EPA’s refusal to address it.

The Massachusetts Attorney General made a smart argument. As a coastal state, Massachusetts is harmed by sea level rise encroaching on its valuable shoreline property. Sea level rise is indisputably caused by global warming via the melting of land ice and the expansion of warmer water. The Supreme Court ruled in their favor in a 5-4 decision split along partisan lines, with Anthony Kennedy casting the deciding vote on the side of science. Scalia, Thomas, Alito, and Roberts dissented, basically arguing that the link between a lack of EPA carbon regulations and the state’s lost coastal property was too hypothetical, but they were outvoted.

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Trump is copying the Bush censorship playbook. Scientists aren't standing for it

Posted on 31 January 2017 by dana1981 &

As President George W. Bush said, “Fool me once, shame on ... shame on you. Fool me ... You can’t get fooled again!”

During the his Administration, political appointees censored climate science reports from government agencies, and mostly got away with it by gagging the scientists. A survey found that nearly half of 1,600 government scientists at seven agencies ranging from NASA to the EPA had been warned against using terms like “global warming” in reports or speeches, throughout Bush’s eight-year presidency.

Unaccustomed to being strong-armed by their own administrators, some government scientists reacted with what former US Climate Change Science Program senior associate Rick Piltz called “an anticipatory kind of self-censorship.” As a result, the Bush Administration’s efforts to smother scientific findings concerning global warming in government reports were remarkably effective.

Trump is dusting off the Bush censorship playbook

Perhaps assuming those tactics would work again, the Trump Administration has copied the Bush scientific censorship playbook. They issued de facto gag orders to government science agencies like the EPA and USDA, ordered that the EPA take down its climate webpage, and have mandated that any studies or data from EPA scientists must undergo review by political appointees before they can be released to the public.

However, the Trump Administration is quickly realizing that scientists learned from the Bush scandal. This time around they’re not trying to appease the political appointees by staying quiet and allowing the censorship to happen.

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Fact Check: Trump's Cabinet Picks on Human-Caused Global Warming

Posted on 30 January 2017 by dana1981 &

The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report – which summarizes the latest and greatest climate science research – was quite clear that humans are responsible for global warming:

It is extremely likely [95 percent confidence] more than half of the observed increase in global average surface temperature from 1951 to 2010 was caused by the anthropogenic increase in greenhouse gas concentrations and other anthropogenic forcings together … The best estimate of the human-induced contribution to warming is similar to the observed warming over this period … The contribution from natural forcings is likely to be in the range of −0.1°C to 0.1°C, and from internal variability is likely to be in the range of −0.1°C to 0.1°C.

In fact, the report’s best estimate was that humans are responsible for all of the global warming since 1951, and greenhouse gases for about 140%. That’s because natural factors have had roughly zero net effect on temperatures during that time, and other human pollutants have had a significant cooling effect.

In other words, the Earth’s surface warmed about 0.65°C between 1951 and 2010. Human greenhouse gas emissions caused temperatures to be about 0.9°C hotter than they would have otherwise been. But other human pollutants caused about 0.25°C cooling, and natural factors had a very small effect.

contributions

Contributions to the 1951–2010 global surface warming. Illustration: IPCC Fifth Assessment Report

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Study: real facts can beat 'alternative facts' if boosted by inoculation

Posted on 24 January 2017 by dana1981 &

It’s fitting that as Donald Trump continues to flirt with anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, inoculation may provide the key to effectively debunking this sort of misinformation.

That’s the finding of a new study published in Global Challenges by Sander van der Linden, Anthony Leiserowitz, Seth Rosenthal, and Edward Maibach. The paper tested what’s known as “inoculation theory,” explained in the video below by John Cook, who’s also published research on the subject. The video is a lecture from the Denial101x free online course, which itself is structured based on inoculation theory:

According to inoculation theory, facts are important but by themselves aren’t sufficient to convince people as long as misinformation is also present. People also have to be inoculated against the misinformation, for example through an explanation of the logical fallacy underpinning the myth.

To test the theory, the study authors ran an experiment using a fact that’s been subjected to a tremendous misinformation campaign: the 97% expert consensus on human-caused global warming. There’s been some debate among social scientists about consensus messaging, with most research suggesting it’s effective and important at convincing people about the importance of climate change. 

However, Dan Kahan has argued that given science communicators’ efforts over the past decade to inform the public about the expert consensus, the fact that so few people are aware of it suggests that consensus messaging is a dud. If it were going to work, it should have worked by now, the argument goes.

This new study guts that argument.

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We’re now breaking global temperature records once every three years

Posted on 23 January 2017 by dana1981 &

According to Nasa, in 2016 the Earth’s surface temperature shattered the previous record for hottest year by 0.12°C. That record was set in 2015, which broke the previous record by 0.13°C. That record had been set in 2014, beating out 2010, which in turn had broken the previous record set in 2005.

If you think that seems like a lot of record-breaking hot years, you’re right. The streak of three consecutive record hot years is unprecedented since measurements began in 1880. In the 35 years between 1945 and 1979, there were no record-breakers. In the 37 years since 1980, there have been 12. The video below illustrates all of the record-breaking years in the Nasa global surface temperature record since 1880.

Nasa global surface temperature data, with record-breaking years shown in red. Created by Dana Nuccitelli.

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Fact Check: Rex Tillerson on Climate Risks

Posted on 16 January 2017 by dana1981 &

President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State – and until recently the CEO of ExxonMobil – Rex Tillerson was given a confirmation hearing by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week. In his testimony, Tillerson accepted the reality of human-caused global warming and that “The risk of climate change does exist and the consequences of it could be serious enough that action should be taken.”

While he accepted the problem exists, Tillerson nevertheless proceeded to downplay its risks, saying:

The increase in the greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere are having an effect, our ability to predict that effect is very limited.

Many climate scientists took issue with that statement, and for good reason. Climate models have been very accurate in their projections about many consequences of human carbon pollution. It’s true that there’s uncertainty in just how quickly some of those consequences will be triggered. The bad news is that recent studies have shown that many of those consequences are happening more quickly than climate scientists anticipated. Greater climate uncertainty translates into more urgency to tackle the problem, not less.

The Gulf Stream could shut down sooner than anticipated

The Gulf Stream – which keeps the UK and surrounding area significantly warmer than it would otherwise be – is part of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). Research has shown it could shut down as a result of global warming:

In 1997, the oceanographer Wallace Broecker, of Columbia University in New York, suggested that if the Gulf stream turned off, winter temperatures in the British Isles could fall by an average of 11°C - plunging Blackpool or Berwick to the same temperatures as Spitsbergen, inside the Arctic circle. Any dramatic drop in temperature could have devastating implications for agriculture - and for Europe’s ability to feed itself.

Just how quickly such a shutdown could happen has been a subject of debate and research among climate scientists. A study published in Science Advances in early January corrected for a bias recently identified in climate models that acted to keep the AMOC and Gulf Stream more stable than it appears to be in reality:

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Conservative media can't stop denying there was no global warming 'pause'

Posted on 10 January 2017 by dana1981 &

Scientists have proven time and time again that global warming continues unabated. Most recently, a study published last week showed that over the past two decades, the oceans have warmed faster than prior estimates. This study affirmed the findings of a 2015 NOAA paper – not surprisingly attacked by deniers – that removed a cool bias in the data, finding there never was a global warming “pause.”

This particular myth has been a favorite of deniers over the past decade for one simple reason – if people can be convinced that global warming stopped, they won’t consider it a threat that we need to urgently address by cutting fossil fuel consumption. It’s thus become one of the most common myths peddled by carbon polluters and their allies.

One of those allies is the anti-climate policy advocacy group Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), which tries to make the case that aggressive climate policy isn’t needed. This weekend, its “science” editor David Whitehouse wrote for the conservative UK Spectator periodical – which often promotes climate denial – denying that the “pause” is dead:

their case rests on the El Nino temperature increase and will be destroyed when the El Nino subsides, as it is currently doing. A temporary victory over the ‘pause’.

The ‘pause’ can be accommodated into global warming – but not for very much longer. The world’s temperature has to increase outside the El Nino effect.

Testing the myth

If Whitehouse is correct and temperatures are not increasing outside the El Niño effect, then 2015 and 2016 should be no hotter than previous El Niño years. It’s a relatively simple test to run. In the video below, I’ve broken out the temperature data into years with an El Niño warming influence, years with a La Niña cooling influence, and neutral years.

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Prepare for reanimation of the zombie myth ‘no global warming since 2016’

Posted on 6 January 2017 by dana1981 &

Climate myths are like zombies – you shoot them through the heart, walk away thinking they’re dead, and then they pop back up behind you and try once again to eat your brain.

So it is with Stage 1 climate denial and the myth that the Earth isn’t warming. It’s so persistent that it’s related to the 5th, 9th, and 49th-most popular myths in the Skeptical Science database. Climate deniers have been peddling the myth ‘no warming since [insert date]’ for over a decade.

It’s a popular myth among those who benefit from maintaining the status quo because if the problem doesn’t exist, obviously there’s no need for action to solve it. And it’s an incredibly easy argument that can be made at any time, using the telltale technique of climate denial known as cherry picking.

I created a video to illustrate this point. The key is that the Earth has natural short-term temperature oscillations caused by factors like the El Niño/La Niña cycle. El Niño events temporarily warm temperatures at the Earth’s surface, while La Niña events cause temporary surface cooling. When you combine these up-and-down cycles with a long-term human-caused global warming trend and various other noisy influences, you get a bumpy temperature rise that allows for cherry picking of periods without warming:

That’s what it looks like with artificial data. Using real global surface temperature data from NASA, I created a popular graphic called The Escalator, which has been featured the PBS documentary Climate of Doubt and used by Senator Sheldon Whitehouse on the Senate floor. The video below shows The Escalator with data updated through 2016:
 

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Facts matter, and on climate change, Trump's picks get them wrong

Posted on 27 December 2016 by dana1981 &

When speaking about climate change, President-elect Trump has flip-flopped between acceptance and denial, which suggests that he hasn’t put much thought into one of humanity’s greatest threats. However, what his administration does is far more important than what he thinks. Unfortunately, Trump has nominated individuals to several critical climate leadership positions who reject inconvenient scientific and economic evidence.

Stage 3 denial: climate dangers and model accuracy

Climate denial often pinballs between five different stages, but the cleverer denialist arguments tend to land on Stage 3: denial that climate change is a problem.

It’s ironic that Secretary of State nominee Rex Tillerson – CEO of ExxonMobil – has the most sophisticated position on climate change among Trump’s key nominees. Tillerson accepts that humans are causing global warming, but he denies that it’s a problem. His key argument focuses on sowing doubt about the accuracy of climate models.

This happens to be the core topic in my book Climatology versus Pseudoscience, whose analysis I updated for a presentation at the American Geophysical Union conference two weeks ago. Climate scientists have been making global temperature predictions for over 40 years, and they’ve turned out to be amazingly accurate, as this video of the key slides from my presentation shows:

Various global temperature projections by mainstream climate scientists and models, and by climate contrarians, compared to observations by NASA GISS. Created by Dana Nuccitelli.

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Russian email hackers keep playing us for fools

Posted on 22 December 2016 by dana1981 &

A batch of stolen emails was released to the public, with evidence pointing towards Russian hackers. The media ran through the formerly private correspondence with a fine-toothed comb, looking for dirt. Although little if any damning information was found, public trust in the hacking victims was severely eroded. The volume of media coverage created the perception that where there’s smoke, there must be fire, and a general presumption of guilt resulted.

The year was 2009, and the victims were climate scientists working for and communicating with the University of East Anglia. The story was repeated in 2016 with the Russian hacking of the Democratic National Committee.

The faux scandal known as “Climategate”

After 1,000 of climate scientists’ private emails were stolen and published online, snippets of text were taken out of context and misrepresented to falsely accuse the scientists of scandal, conspiracy, collusion, falsification, and illegal activities. Climate deniers and biased media outlets whipped up such froth over these misrepresentations that various organizations launched nine separate investigations to identify any possible scientific wrongdoing uncovered by the emails. They found none.

Nevertheless, “Climategate” caused temporary erosion in public trust of climate scientists. Like most such news events, people quickly forgot and the effect soon faded; however, the stolen emails were made public just a month before the Copenhagen international climate summit. The well-timed release of the hacked emails provided a distraction that helped sink the negotiations, which were generally viewed as a failure. A serious international climate agreement was delayed for another six years.

Clinton’s campaign was similarly sunk

Similarly, the stolen emails released by Wikileaks did not identify any damning revelations about Hillary Clinton. The leaks had the desired effect – Clinton’s emails received three times more nightly news network coverage than all policy issues combined.

mmfa

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This is not normal – climate researchers take to the streets to protect science

Posted on 16 December 2016 by dana1981 &

Desperate times call for desperate measures, and for scientists, these are desperate measures.

Tuesday in San Francisco’s Jessie Square, approximately 500 people gathered for a ‘rally to stand up for science.’ Many of the attendees were scientists who had migrated to the rally from the nearby Moscone Center, where some 26,000 Earth scientists are attending the annual American Geophysical Union (AGU) conference this week.

This was an unusual activity for scientists to participate in; after all, they’re often accused of remaining isolated in the ivory towers of academia. Scientists generally prefer to focus on their scientific research, use their findings to inform the public and policymakers, and leave it to us to decide what actions we should take in response. In fact, one of the keynote speakers at the rally, Harvard science historian Naomi Oreskes made that exact point:

We don’t want to be here. We want to be doing the work we were trained and educated to do, which is science ... but we are at a moment in history where we have to stand up.

As Georgia Tech climate scientist Kim Cobb noted, with the appointments made thus far by the incoming Trump administration, science is under attack and scientists feel compelled to protect their research, and their ability to keep doing it. Cobb also called on more of her scientific colleagues to step outside their comfort zones and engage in activism:

Kim Cobb speaking at the rally to stand up for science. Video by Collin Maessen of Realskeptic.com.

The rally followed other recent efforts by scientists to advise the Trump administration and reassure the public. For example, over 800 Earth scientists and energy experts signed a letter urging the President-elect to take six key steps to address climate change:

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On climate change, angels and demons are battling over Trump’s soul

Posted on 12 December 2016 by dana1981 &

There are signs that a war may be brewing over President-elect Donald Trump’s climate legacy, and the bad guys are winning.

In one corner: Team Ivanka

His daughter Ivanka appears to be establishing a role as the one person who might prevent the Trump administration from undoing all of the progress made by the Obama administration in cutting US carbon pollution, and instead establishing policies that will maximize the country’s burning of fossil fuels. According to Politico, Ivanka Trump wants to make climate change one of her signature issues. She recently coordinated meetings between the president-elect and Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio.

DiCaprio in particular wisely focused his presentation on the fact that a shift to clean renewable energy would create millions of jobs. The best way to help a businessman like Donald Trump appreciate the importance and benefits of cutting carbon pollution is to focus on the economic opportunities presented by the coming green technology revolution. It’s an opportunity that China is poised to seize upon, as UCLA Law School’s Alex Wang noted:

Climate change regulation is seen as an economic tool aimed at moving China’s economy toward the low-carbon, high-tech, and clean energy industries of the future. China would like nothing more than to have the U.S. retreat from clean energy innovation and allow it to step into the breach.

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Fake news tries to blame human-caused global warming on El Niño

Posted on 5 December 2016 by dana1981 &

Human carbon pollution is heating the Earth incredibly fast. On top of that long-term human-caused global warming trend, there are fluctuations caused by various natural factors. One of these is the El Niño/La Niña cycle. The combination of human-caused warming and a strong El Niño event are on the verge of causing an unprecedented three consecutive record-breaking hot years

Simply put, without global warming we would not be seeing record-breaking heat year after year. In fact, 2014 broke the temperature record without an El Niño assist, and then El Niño helped push 2015 over 2014, and 2016 over 2015.

Sadly, we live in a post-truth world dominated by fake news in which people increasingly seek information that confirms their ideological beliefs, rather than information that’s factually accurate from reliable sources. Because people have become incredibly polarized on the subject of climate change, those with a conservative worldview who prefer maintaining the status quo to the steps we need to take to prevent a climate catastrophe often seek out climate science-denying stories.

Into that environment step conservative columnists David Rose at the Mail on Sunday, parroted by Ross Clark in The Spectator and James Delingpole for Breitbart, all trying to blame the current record-shattering hot global temperatures entirely on El Niño. Perhaps saddest of all, the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee tweeted the Breitbart piece, to which Senator Bernie Sanders appropriately responded:

An über cherry-picked argument

The conservative columnists made their case by claiming that, with the recent strong El Niño event ending, temperatures are “plummeting,” thus blaming the record heat on El Niño. There are several fatal flaws in their case.

First, the “plummet” they cite is not in global temperatures on the surface where we live, and where temperatures are easiest to measure accurately, but rather in satellite estimates of the temperature of the lower atmosphere above the portions of Earth’s surface covered by land masses. Second, although the satellite data extend as far back as 1979, and the global surface temperature data to 1880, they cherry pick the data by only showing the portion since 1997. Third, the argument is based entirely upon one relatively cool month (October 2016) that was only cool in that particularly cherry-picked data set.

The argument is easily debunked. While there was a strong El Niño event in 2015–2016, there was an equally strong event in 1997–1998. The two events had very similar short-term warming influences on global surface temperatures, but according to Nasa, 2016 will be about 0.35°C hotter than 1998. That difference is due to the long-term, human-caused global warming trend. In fact, according to Nasa, even October 2016 was hotter than every month on record prior to 1998. These “plummeting” post-El Niño temperatures are still as hot as the hottest month at the peak of the 1998 El Niño.

monthly temps

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Trump and the GOP may be trying to kneecap climate research

Posted on 30 November 2016 by dana1981 &

Last week, Donald Trump’s space policy advisor Bob Walker made headlines by suggesting that the incoming administration might slash Nasa’s climate and earth science research to focus the agency on deep space exploration. This caused great concern in the scientific community, because Nasa does some of the best climate research in the world, and its Earth science program does much more. Walker suggested the earth science research could be shifted to other agencies, but climate scientist Michael Mann explained what would result:

It’s difficult enough for us to build and maintain the platforms that are necessary for measuring how the oceans are changing, how the atmosphere is changing, with the infrastructure that we have when we total up the contributions from all of the agencies ... we [could] lose forever the possibility of the continuous records that we need so that we can monitor this planet.

Walker’s comments set off alarm bells for another reason. Were it simply a matter of transferring Nasa’s climate and earth science programs to other agencies, what would be the point? Such a transfer would be logistically difficult, and if the research funding weren’t cut, it wouldn’t save any taxpayer money. And it’s not as though the branches doing Nasa’s climate research are distracting other branches of the agency from conducting deep space exploration.

The suggestion does however look a lot like a Trojan horse whose true purpose is to cut government-funded climate research, perhaps transferring some of Nasa’s programs and budget to other agencies and simply scrapping the rest.

Bob Walker’s politicized science

In an interview with The Guardian, Walker accused Nasa of “politically correct environmental monitoring” and “politicized science.” Carol Off from CBC’s program As It Happens conducted a follow-up interview with Walker and asked for examples to support his accusations. Walker cited the example of Nasa’s announcement that 2014 was the hottest year on record, claiming:

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Groups working with Republicans on climate are discouraged, but see a glimmer of hope

Posted on 21 November 2016 by dana1981 &

Because America is entirely governed by two political parties, passage of legislation usually requires bipartisan support in US Congress. However, the Republican Party is the only major political party in the world that denies the need to tackle climate change. Therefore, for several years any hope of passing climate legislation hinged upon breaking through the near-universal opposition among Republican legislators. A number of groups have focused on doing just that.

In the wake of the 2016 US election results, I contacted these groups to assess their feelings about the prospects of US government action on climate change in the near future. The general sentiment was understandably one of discouraged pessimism, but each group identified glimmers of hope.

Citizens’ Climate Lobby’s success and growth

Citizens’ Climate Lobby (CCL) is one of the leading grassroots climate organizations in America, and has also expanded rapidly internationally. The group has seen explosive growth in recent years, now hosting chapters in 356 of America’s 435 congressional districts (over 80%), with a membership approaching 50,000 strong.

Under the CCL proposal, carbon pollution is taxed at the source, and 100% of the revenue is returned to taxpayers via a regular rebate check. It’s a bipartisan solution – liberals get their desired carbon pollution tax, while conservatives get a free market policy that doesn’t grow the size of government. Moreover, modeling projects that the policy will have a net overall positive effect on the economy.

Citizens’ Climate Lobby has also achieved several significant successes. The group was involved in spearheading the Gibson Resolution, in which 15 Republican members of Congress called for action to tackle the risks posed by climate change. CCL was also the driving force behind the creation of the House Climate Solutions Caucus – a group currently comprised of 10 Republican and 10 Democratic members of Congress exploring bipartisan climate policy solutions. And CCL initiated the California state government’s Resolution urging the federal government to pass a revenue-neutral carbon tax.

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On Trump and climate, America is split in two by these demographics

Posted on 14 November 2016 by dana1981 &

The world is shocked that America elected Donald Trump as its 45th president. Exit polls show that the country is sharply divided on Trump along the same lines as its sharp divisions on climate change.

Political ideology was the single strongest determining factor in the election. 90% of Republicans voted for Trump, while 89% of Democrats voted for Clinton. Ideology is also the primary factor associated with acceptance or denial of human-caused global warming, as climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe explained eloquently in this video:

Race was the second-clearest determining factor in the presidential election. Trump won white voters by 21 percentage points; Clinton won minorities by 53 points. Minorities are also far more likely to accept and be concerned about climate change than white Americans. As Samantha Bee explained, white Americans bear responsibility for electing Donald Trump:

The urban/rural divide was the third-strongest determining factor in the presidential election. Clinton won urban voters by 24 points; Trump won rural voters by 28 points. In many cases, cities are leading the way in taking action to curb global warming.

Fourth, voters younger than 45 went for Clinton by a 12-point margin, while older voters preferred Trump by 11 points. Voters under the age of 30 voted for Clinton by an 18-point margin. Similarly, young Americans are far more likely to be concerned about climate change than older Americans.

Finally, there is a gender gap, though it’s smaller than many expected. Despite accusations from 15 women that Trump groped, kissed, or assaulted them, and a recording of Trump bragging about sexually assaulting women, he only lost the female vote by 12 points – the same margin by which he won the male vote, and approximately the same margin by which Obama beat Romney and McCain among women. White women even favored Trump by 10 points, and white women without a college degree by an astonishing 28 points.

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President Trump would Make America Deplorable Again

Posted on 7 November 2016 by dana1981 &

In September, Hillary Clinton came under fire for suggesting that half of Donald Trump’s supporters belonged in “a basket of deplorables” consisting of “the racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamaphobic – you name it.” 

Labeling people in such a disparaging manner is not a constructive approach. However, research has shown it’s true that Donald Trump brings out the worst characteristics in Americans. Only about half of Trump supporters think global warming is real, and twice as many Republicans are unsure about the evidence as they were a year ago. Hostility towards women and racial resentment correlate with Trump support almost as strongly as party affiliation. Xenophobiamisogyny, and denial of science and facts are the defining characteristics of Donald Trump’s candidacy.

How did we get here?

Journalists have struggled to treat Donald Trump as something other than a standard presidential candidate. Because he constantly spawns new scandals and is lacking in the policy department, to normalize Trump and abnormalize Clinton, network evening news programs have devoted three times more coverage to Hillary Clinton’s emails than all policies combined, as accurately satirized by Saturday Night Live:

The nightly news programs have devoted zero time to discussing the candidates’ climate plans. Media false balance has struck again.

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Coal doesn’t help the poor; it makes them poorer

Posted on 31 October 2016 by dana1981 &

A dozen international poverty and development organizations published a report last week on the impact of building new coal power plants in countries where a large percentage of the population lacks access to electricity. The report’s conclusions are strikingly counter-intuitive: on the whole, building coal power plants does little to help the poor, and often it can actually make them poorer.

Delivering electricity to those in energy poverty is certainly important. For example, household air pollution killed 4.3 million people globally in 2012; many of those lives could be saved and health improved with the use of electric stoves to replace burning wood or charcoal. However, the question remains whether coal is the best way to deliver that electricity.

More coal doesn’t help people living close to the grid

The report notes that approximately 15% of people in energy poverty live close to existing electric grids, but there are a variety of barriers blocking their connection. For example, the poor consume relatively little electricity, so the costs of connecting them may exceed the resulting profits. The power lines used to connect them also result in high energy losses and power system instability. The poor also have little political influence in many developing countries. As the report concludes:

This means that for energy-poor families living close to the grid, building new power generation capacity – coalfired or otherwise – will not help them get connected. Instead, access will require financing the upfront costs of new connections, and rationalising tariffs to reflect the true costs of supplying power.

More coal also doesn’t help people in rural areas

Approximately 84% of energy-poor households live in rural areas further away from the grid. For this group, decentralized stand-alone and mini-grid solutions are much quicker than waiting to build a new centralized power plant and distribution lines. A single power plant can take a decade between planning and ultimate completion, while distributed wind turbines or solar panels can be deployed much more rapidly, as Elon Musk explained in Before the Flood:

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'The atmosphere is being radicalized' by climate change

Posted on 24 October 2016 by dana1981 &

Climate change’s impacts on extreme weather and society are becoming increasingly clear and undeniable. While we are making progress in solving the problem, we’re still moving too slowly, and one of the two political parties governing the world’s strongest superpower continues to deny the science. This led astrophysicist Katie Mack to make the following suggestion, related to a common refrain from Donald Trump and Republican Party leaders:

Maybe governments will actually listen if we stop saying "extreme weather" & "climate change" & just say the atmosphere is being radicalized

Global warming intensified Hurricane Matthew

Hurricane Matthew set a number of records. Its record-breaking rainfall and storm surge caused historic flooding and destructive winds along the coasts of Florida, Georgia, the Carolinas, and Virginia. Hillary Clinton touched upon the science linking global warming and hurricane impacts in a recent speech in Florida:

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No longer taken seriously, we're seeing the last gasp of climate denial groups

Posted on 19 October 2016 by dana1981 &

The Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF) is an anti-climate policy advocacy group in the UK that often releases misleading scientific “reports.” The group also hosts annual lectures, and this year, they booked a room at the Royal Society. Many members of the Royal Society expressed concern that the GWPF would exploit the organization’s credibility, and asked that the event be cancelled

The Royal Society’s governing council met and decided to allow the event to proceed, for fear that cancellation would give it “an unwarranted higher profile.” As a spokesperson for the Royal Society told DeSmog UK:

The evidence shows us that the earth is warming and that recent warming is largely caused by human activities. Once that is accepted, there is scope for debate on the policy responses and that is the area that the GWPF claims to be interested in.

If the GWPF uses this opportunity to misrepresent the scientific evidence it would undermine the legitimacy of its views on policy responses to climate change.

The lecture was delivered by writer Matt Ridley, and predictably, as is the norm for Ridley, the first three-quarters of his talk indeed misrepresented the scientific evidence. While Ridley doesn’t deny the most basic aspects of human-caused global warming, he is a self-prescribed “lukewarmer;” a group that falls into the category of Stage 3 climate denial.

Ridley’s lecture is a 5,600-word Gish Gallop that would require a novel to fully debunk. However, he condensed his main arguments into four key points that are easily refuted:

Why do I think the risk from global warming is being exaggerated? For four principal reasons.

1. All environmental predictions of doom always are;
2. the models have been consistently wrong for more than 30 years;
3. the best evidence indicates that climate sensitivity is relatively low;
4. the climate science establishment has a vested interest in alarm.

We’ve solved previous environmental problems, so let’s not solve global warming?

Ridley’s first argument against the dangers of global warming is incredibly ironic. He claims that we have nothing to worry about because previous “environmental predictions of gloom” were wrong. But the reason his cited predictions of danger didn’t come to fruition, in most cases, is because we took action to stop them.

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Pew survey: Republicans are rejecting reality on climate change

Posted on 6 October 2016 by dana1981 &

Climate scientists have 95% confidence that humans are the main cause of global warming over the past six decades. Their best estimate attributes 100% of global warming since 1950 to human activities90 to 100% of climate scientists and their research agree on this. Human-caused global warming is as settled as science gets.

Yet most Americans don’t realize it. Moreover, the more conservative a person’s ideology, the less likely they are to accept this scientific reality or to trust the scientific experts.

According to a new Pew Research Center poll, just 48% of Americans realize that the Earth is warming mostly due to human activity. Highlighting a vast partisan reality gap, 79% of liberal Democrats and just 15% of conservative Republicans answer the question correctly.

Science knowledge matters for Democrats, but not Republicans

Among social scientists, there’s an ongoing debate about whether facts can change peoples’ minds on scientific issues that have become politically polarized, like climate change. There’s some evidence that when conservatives have more scientific knowledge, it just gives them more tools to use in rejecting the scientific information that conflicts with their ideological beliefs.

Pew asked a variety of general science questions to test the correlation between scientific knowledge and acceptance of human-caused global warming. Overall, Democrats and Republicans got the same average score on these scientific questions, although liberal Democrats and conservative Republicans scored better than moderates in both parties. When it came to understanding that humans are causing global warming, Pew found that scientific knowledge makes a huge difference among Democrats, and no difference among Republicans.

pew

However, previous research has shown that conservatives with climate-specific knowledge are more likely to accept climate realities.

For Democrats, ideology isn’t a factor because the main solutions to the problem (e.g. regulations and pollution taxes) don’t conflict with their ideological beliefs. Thus scientific knowledge determines whether they understand that humans are causing global warming. For three-quarters of American conservatives, their ideology prevents them from accepting that reality, regardless of their scientific literacy.

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DOE charts show why climate doom and gloom isn't needed

Posted on 4 October 2016 by dana1981 &

A new report from the US Department of Energy paints a bright picture for our prospects to cut carbon pollution and prevent the most dangerous levels of climate change. The report looked at recent changes in costs and deployment of five key clean energy technologies: wind, residential solar, utility-scale solar, batteries, and LED bulbs. For each technology, costs fell between 41% and 94% from 2008 to 2015.

costs

Cost reductions in five key clean technologies since 2008. Illustration: US Department of Energy

Good news for doom and gloom environmentalists 

Many who understand the realities and dangers of human-caused global warming are afraid that we’ll fail to avoid catastrophic climate change. Among this group, even positive climate stories are often viewed through a lens of pessimism, and we often see stories about the likelihood that we’ll miss climate targets.

However, it’s important to acknowledge the progress that’s being made, and retain a sense of hope and optimism that we can still avoid the worst climate consequences. This new DOE report highlights the fact that clean energy technology is quickly moving in the right direction, toward lower costs and higher deployment.

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New MIT app: check if your car meets climate targets

Posted on 28 September 2016 by dana1981 &

In a new study published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, with an accompanying app for the public, scientists at MIT compare the carbon pollution from today’s cars to the international 2°C climate target. In order to meet that target, overall emissions need to decline dramatically over the coming decades.

The MIT team compared emissions from 125 electric, hybrid, and gasoline cars to the levels we need to achieve from the transportation sector in 2030, 2040, and 2050 to stay below 2°C global warming. They also looked at the cost efficiency of each car, including vehicle, fuel, and maintenance costs. The bottom line:

Although the average carbon intensity of vehicles sold in 2014 exceeds the climate target for 2030 by more than 50%, we find that most hybrid and battery electric vehicles available today meet this target. By 2050, only electric vehicles supplied with almost completely carbon-free electric power are expected to meet climate-policy targets.

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Cost-carbon space for light-duty vehicles, assuming a 14 year lifetime, 12,100 miles driven annually, and an 8% discount rate. Data points show the most popular internal-combustion-engine vehicles (black), hybrid electric vehicles (pink), plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (red), and battery electric vehicles (yellow) in 2014, as well as one of the first fully commercial fuel-cell vehicles (blue). Illustration: Miotti et al. (2016), Environmental Science & Technology.

The MIT app allows consumers to check how their own vehicles – or cars they’re considering purchasing – stack up on the carbon emissions and cost curves. As co-author Jessika Trancik noted,

One goal of the work is to translate climate mitigation scenarios to the level of individual decision-makers who will ultimately be the ones to decide whether or not a clean energy transition occurs (in a market economy, at least). In the case of transportation, private citizens are key decision-makers.

How can electric cars already be the cheapest?

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New study undercuts favorite climate myth ‘more CO2 is good for plants’

Posted on 19 September 2016 by dana1981 &

A new study by scientists at Stanford University, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, tested whether hotter temperatures and higher carbon dioxide levels that we’ll see post-2050 will benefit the kinds of plants that live in California grasslands. They found that carbon dioxide at higher levels than today (400 ppm) did not significantly change plant growth, while higher temperatures had a negative effect.

The oversimplified myth of ‘CO2 is plant food’

Those who benefit from the status quo of burning copious amounts of fossil fuels love to argue that more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will benefit plant life. It’s a favorite claim of climate contrarians like Matt Ridley and Rupert Murdoch.

World growing greener with increased carbon. Thirty years of satellite evidence. Forests growing faster and thicker.

It seems like a great counter-argument to the fact that carbon dioxide is a dangerous pollutant – a fact that contrarians often dispute. However, reality is far more complicated than the oversimplification of ‘CO2 is plant food.’ Unlike in the controlled environment of a greenhouse, the increasing greenhouse effect on Earth causes temperatures to rise and the climate to change in various ways that can be bad for plant life. We can’t control all the other variables the way we can in a greenhouse.

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Trump and the Republican Party are doing Big Oil's bidding

Posted on 14 September 2016 by dana1981 &

Trump hires advisers with fossil fuel ties

Last month, Donald Trump added Brooke Rollins and Kathleen Hartnett-White to his economic advisory council. Rollins is president and CEO of the Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF), while Hartnett-White has worked for the TPPF and the CO2 Coalition (formerly the George C. Marshall Institute), all of which are part of the “web of denial” receiving funding from the fossil fuel industry.

Hartnett-White told POLITICO in an interview that rather than listen to the conclusions of the world’s foremost climate science experts as summarized in the IPCC reports, she favors a commission that would develop an “alternative scientific methodology” and would include the voices of the less than 3% of climate scientists who reject the consensus on human-caused global warming. 

She believes “the sun had a powerful role” in global warming. However, the sun has had an overall cooling effect on global temperatures over the past 60 years, as the IPCC reports have shown. She also loves fossil fuels and seems entirely opposed renewable energy and efforts to cut carbon pollution.

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BBC climate coverage is evolving, but too slowly

Posted on 12 September 2016 by dana1981 &

For years, the BBC has been criticised for the false balance of its climate change coverage. And for years, the BBC has apparently been doing “ongoing work” to fix it. So far, however, this ‘reform’ has been more like a triumph of the middling. Yes, the BBC may broadcast less outright misinformation, but as a scientist and a citizen, I still feel let down by its continually careless handling of climate denial - most recently two weeks ago. This nod to mediocrity is a disservice to science, to public trust, and to the biggest news story in the world. And it is a huge, missed opportunity.

As a young PhD graduate working on climate change solutions, I am confronted daily by a world where the warnings of science are undercut by Fox ‘News’ and its ilk. It is a very different world to the trustworthy BBC broadcasts of David Attenborough and the Royal Institution Christmas Lectures that I grew up with, which helped inspire me to become a scientist. But as a recent BBC News segment by Science Editor David Shukman sadly reminded me, those worlds can too easily collide.

Shukman’s broadcast was an interesting one. An important perspective on the “political battle over the future of fuel” in the swing state of Ohio, and its implications for U.S. energy policy. I transcribed it here. It was all pretty benign until, halfway through, something in Shukman’s narration caught my ear (emphasis mine):

The problem with coal comes when you burn it. It releases carbon dioxide, which is blamed for global warming. Donald Trump saysthat isn’t a problem. But Hillary Clinton says it is, and she’s offering a greener future instead ...

While the debate rages over whether climate change is a threat or not

Shukman’s accompanying BBC blog post beats the same drum, outlining the candidates’ “starkly different visions of global warming”:

The Democratic Party contender says she believes in the science of climate change. By contrast, the Republican candidate talks down the threat of rising temperatures.

As harmless as they sound, words like “blamed”, “debate”, and “believe” - without careful context - are the currency of public confusion. “Who, exactly, blames carbon dioxide for global warming?” we are forced to wonder. Clinton? Liberals? Scientists? And who disagrees? Trump? Other politicians? Some scientists too? Most importantly, who’s right in this blame game?

For the record, carbon dioxide is not “blamed” for global warming - it “causes” it. That is the unequivocal scientific consensus the world over.

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Conservative media bias is inflating American climate denial and polarization

Posted on 6 September 2016 by dana1981 &

A new study by a team of sociologists at Oklahoma State University has found political polarization on climate change is growing in the United States. Today’s Republicans are less likely than they were a decade ago to accept that the effects of global warming have begun, that humans are responsible, and that there is a scientific consensus on these questions. Democrats and independents are slightly more likely to answer these questions correctly today than a decade ago.

congress enviro scores

Global warming views by party controlling for education and era. Illustration: Dunlap et al. (2016)

Climate change is now more polarizing in the US than abortion or gay marriage. At the same time, climate denial has become the norm among Republican policymakers, as they’ve grown increasingly anti-environment. As the study notes:

What was once a modest tendency for Congressional Republicans to be less pro-environmental than their Democratic counterparts has become a chasm—with Republicans taking near-unanimous anti-environmental stances on relevant legislation in recent years, especially 2015.

congress LCV scores

League of Conservation Voters’ environmental voting scores U.S. Congress – by chamber and party. Photograph: Dunlap et al. (2016).

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California has urged President Obama and Congress to tax carbon pollution

Posted on 29 August 2016 by dana1981 &

Last week, the California state senate passed Assembly Joint Resolution 43, urging the federal government to pass a revenue-neutral carbon tax:

WHEREAS, A national carbon tax would make the United States a leader in mitigating climate change and the advancing clean energy technologies of the 21st Century, and would incentivize other countries to enact similar carbon taxes, thereby reducing global carbon dioxide emissions without the need for complex international agreements; now, therefore, be it Resolved by the Assembly and the Senate of the State of California, jointly, That the Legislature hereby urges the United States Congress to enact, without delay, a tax on carbon-based fossil fuels; and be it further Resolved ... That all tax revenue should be returned to middle- and low-income Americans to protect them from the impact of rising prices due to the tax

Copies of the Resolution were sent to President Obama, Vice President Biden, House Speaker Ryan, Senate Majority Leader McConnell, and to all members of Congress representing California. The document specifically calls for the type of revenue-neutral carbon tax advocated by the grassroots organization Citizens’ Climate Lobby. Studies have shown that a rising carbon tax with all revenue returned to taxpayers would have a modestly beneficial impact on the economy, while cutting carbon pollution at faster rates than current policies.

California exerts its climate leadership

California has become the US leader in tackling global warming. 10 years ago, the state passed the Global Warming Solutions Act, requiring that its greenhouse gas emissions in 2020 be no higher than 1990 levels. California achieved that goal in 2010, 10 years early, and is among the lowest per-capita carbon polluting states

On the same day last week, the state legislature also passed a bill expanding the Global Warming Solutions Act, requiring a 40% cut in California’s carbon pollution from 1990 levels by 2030. In other words, California isn’t just calling on the federal government to take action on climate change; the state is leading the way.

It remains to be seen whether any climate legislation can survive in the current toxic partisan political climate of Washington DC. However, a revenue-neutral carbon tax has the best chance due to its bipartisan appeal. Its requirement that carbon polluters pay for the costs of their pollution appeals to the political left, while its free market, small government approach appeals to the political right. 

Revenue-neutral carbon tax is hard to dislike

By returning 100% of the taxed revenue to American households, the policy blunts the rising costs of energy produced by burning fossil fuels. In fact, studies project that a majority of Americans would receive a rebate larger than their increase in energy bills; only those who use the most fossil fuel energy would see costs rise more than the rebate.

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Historical documents reveal Arctic sea ice is disappearing at record speed

Posted on 22 August 2016 by dana1981 &

Scientists have pieced together historical records to reconstruct Arctic sea ice extent over the past 125 years. The results are shown in the figure below. The red line, showing the extent at the end of the summer melt season, is the most critical:

data

Time series of Arctic sea ice extent, 1850-2013, for March (blue line) and September (red line). Illustration: Walsh et al. (2016)

Arctic sea ice extent in recent years is by far the lowest it’s been, with about half of the historical coverage gone, and the decline the fastest it’s been in recorded history. Florence Fetterer, principal investigator at the National Snow and Ice Data Center, described the data reconstruction process in a guest post at Carbon Brief:

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Climate-related disasters raise conflict risk, study says

Posted on 19 August 2016 by dana1981 &

This is a re-post from Carbon Brief by Robert McSweeney

Extreme weather increases the risk of armed conflict in ethnically-diverse countries, a new study suggests.

Around 23% of conflict outbreaks in these countries over the last three decades have occurred during climate-related disasters, such as droughts and heatwaves, the paper says.

The results don’t suggest that weather extremes directly trigger conflict, the researchers say, but that they can be one of many contributing factors.

Carbon Brief speaks to a number of experts to dig a bit deeper into what has become quite a controversial field of climate research.

Climate-related disasters

A host of different factors can increase the risk of armed conflict breaking out in a country. Some examples picked out by previous research include povertyweak governance, a history of conflictincome gaps between rich and poor, and disputes over natural resources.

The new study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, suggests that climate-related disasters should be added to this list.

This conclusion stems from a statistical analysis of armed conflicts and the economic damage caused by extreme weather events over the period 1980-2010.

The researchers looked at three categories of climate-related disasters. These include meteorological events (blizzard/snowstorm, hailstorm, tornado, tropical cyclone, winter storm), hydrological events (avalanche, flash flood, general flood, landslide, storm surge), and climatological events (cold wave/frost, drought, heatwave, wildfire).

The results suggest that around 9% of all armed conflicts over the past 30 years have occurred during – i.e. in the same month as – an extreme climatological event.

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Climate urgency: we've locked in more global warming than people realize

Posted on 15 August 2016 by dana1981 &

While most people accept the reality of human-caused global warming, we tend not to view it as an urgent issue or high priority. That lack of immediate concern may in part stem from a lack of understanding that today’s pollution will heat the planet for centuries to come, as explained in this Denial101x lecture:

So far humans have caused about 1°C warming of global surface temperatures, but if we were to freeze the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide at today’s levels, the planet would continue warming. Over the coming decades, we’d see about another 0.5°C warming, largely due to what’s called the “thermal inertia” of the oceans (think of the long amount of time it takes to boil a kettle of water). The Earth’s surface would keep warming about another 1.5°C over the ensuing centuries as ice continued to melt, decreasing the planet’s reflectivity.

To put this in context, the international community agreed in last year’s Paris climate accords that we should limit climate change risks by keeping global warming below 2°C, and preferably closer to 1.5°C. Yet from the carbon pollution we’ve already put into the atmosphere, we’re committed to 1.5–3°C warming over the coming decades and centuries, and we continue to pump out over 30 billion tons of carbon dioxide every year.

The importance of reaching zero or negative emissions

We can solve this problem if, rather than holding the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide steady, it falls over time. As discussed in the above video, Earth naturally absorbs more carbon than it releases, so if we reduce human emissions to zero, the level of atmospheric carbon dioxide will slowly decline. Humans can also help the process by finding ways to pull carbon out of the atmosphere and sequester it.

Scientists are researching various technologies to accomplish this, but we’ve already put over 500 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. Pulling a significant amount of that carbon out of the atmosphere and storing it safely will be a tremendous challenge, and we won’t be able to reduce the amount in the atmosphere until we first get our emissions close to zero.

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As nuclear power plants close, states need to bet big on energy storage

Posted on 9 August 2016 by dana1981 &

Eric Daniel Fournier, Post Doctoral Researcher, Spatial Informatics, University of California, Los Angeles and Alex Ricklefs, Research Analyst in Sustainable Communities, University of California, Los Angeles

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) recently started the process of shutting down the Diablo Canyon generation facility, the last active nuclear power plant in California. The power plant, located near Avila Beach on the central Californian coast, consists of two 1,100 megawatt (MW) reactors and produces 18,000 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of electricity a year, about 8.5 percent of California’s electricity consumption in 2015. It has been, up until this point, the single largest electrical generation facility in the state.

Looming over the imminent closure of Diablo Canyon is California State legislative bill SB 350, or the Clean Energy and Pollution Reduction Act of 2015. The act is a cornerstone of the state’s ongoing efforts to decarbonize its electricity grid by requiring utilities to include renewable sources for a portion of their electrical generation in future years. The mandate also requires utilities to run programs designed to double the efficiency of electricity and natural gas consumption.

But a number of significant unanswered questions remain about this ambitious energy policy, as the planned closing by 2025 of Diablo Canyon illustrates. Can utilities supply electricity around the clock using these alternative generation sources? And crucially, can energy storage technologies provide the power on demand that traditional generators have done?

Moving away from nuclear power

Nuclear power plants saw their heyday in the early 1970s and were praised for their ability to produce large amounts of electricity at a constant rate without the use of fossil fuels.

The Clinton Power Station in Illinois is one of a number of nuclear plants slated to be shut down largely because of poor economics. Nuclear Regulatory Comission, CC BY-NC-ND

However, due to negative opinion and costly renovations, we are now observing a trend whereby long-running nuclear power plants are shutting down and very few new plants are being scheduled for construction in the United States.

Utilities are moving toward renewable electricity generation, such as solar and wind, partially in response to market forces and partially in response to new regulations that require utilities to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In California, in particular, the shift toward renewable energy for market and environmental reasons, along with the public’s negative perception of nuclear energy, has caused utilities to abandon nuclear power.

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Rejection of experts spreads from Brexit to climate change with 'Clexit'

Posted on 8 August 2016 by dana1981 &

Brexit support and climate denial have many similarities. Many Brexit Leave campaign leaders also deny the dangers of human-caused climate change. Older generations were more likely to vote for the UK to leave the EU and are more likely to oppose taking action on climate change; younger generations disagree, and will be forced to live with the consequences of those decisions. On both issues there’s also a dangerous strain of anti-intellectualism, in which campaigners mock experts and dismiss their evidence and conclusions.

With Brexit, the Leave campaign won the vote, and the UK economy is already feeling the consequences. As Graham Readfearn reported, a new group called “Clexit” (Climate Exit) has formed in an effort to similarly withdraw countries from the successful international climate treaty forged last year in Paris. As the group describes itself:

Brexit was Britain’s answer to the growing over-reach of EU bureaucracies. Clexit is our answer to the push for global control through climate hysteria.

Clexit leaders are heavily involved in tobacco and fossil fuel-funded organizations, in what’s become known as “the web of denial.” The group’s president is Christopher Monckton, whose extensive misunderstanding of basic climate science was revealed in a thorough debunking by John Abraham, and whoinsists that President Obama was born in Kenya, among his many controversial and conspiratorial public statements. Its vice president is Marc Morano, who began his career working for Rush Limbaugh and is essentially the real-life version of the character Nick Naylor from the film Thank You for Smoking. Its secretary is Viv Forbes, who has been involved with coal industry for over 40 years and is associated with many fossil fuel-funded groups.

With feedback from the rest of the group’s members, Forbes prepared Clexit’s summary statement, which is full of myths and misinformation about economics, energy, laws, and climate science. It includes this expression of compassionate concern over the plight of low-lying island nations that are being engulfed by rising seas:

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New research shows penguins will suffer in a warming world

Posted on 4 August 2016 by dana1981 &

We know the world is warming, and we know humans are the main reason. But so what? The thing we’d really like to know is, what will the impacts be on our planet, its biodiversity, our society, our economies? It is only through understanding the impacts of climate change that action for reducing greenhouse gases can be motivated.

This is one of the reasons I was so interested in a very recent study from the University of Delaware, which addressed how penguins will fare in a warming world. The article was published in Scientific Reports and is available open access so anyone with an internet connection can read it here.

Lead author Megan Cimino and her colleagues looked at Adelie penguin populations and asked whether their years of increasing or decreasing population corresponded to warm, cold, or normal temperatures. In the Antarctic, which is where these penguins live, the situation is a bit complex because the land area is large and weather/climate changes are not consistent across the region. 

For instance, large parts of the Western Antarctic Peninsula (WAP) are warming quite rapidly, amongst the most rapid in the world. On the other hand, in the East, some areas are warming just a little while others are cooling slightly. Since Adelie penguins live on the periphery of the ice sheet, they are exposed to a wide range of Antarctic climate regions.

The authors found that penguin colony declines occur preferentially in years where the sea waters are warmer than average. This is in contrast to colonies whose populations are stable or increasing – those occur in normal or cooler waters. This finding was particularly striking when Adelie penguin populations in the WAP (which is warming) were compared with populations elsewhere in the continent. 

This knowledge of past penguin colony health was obtained by actual measurements, primarily satellite data which provided sea surface temperatures and ice extent. But the important extension of this work is into the future. The scientists took their current knowledge of penguin health and climate and asked what will happen to these penguins in the future. 

Megan Cimino and Matthew Oliver.

 Megan Cimino and Matthew Oliver. Photograph: University of Delaware/Megan Cimino

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A climate scientist and economist made big bucks betting on global warming

Posted on 1 August 2016 by dana1981 &

Climate scientist James Annan and climate economist Chris Hope made a nice sum this year for a bet they made on global warming in 2008. As Hope tells the story:

The record warmth of 2015 just made me £1,334 richer. While the extra cash is a nice bonus, it sadly demonstrates that the atmospheric dice remain loaded towards increasing climate change.

So, how did I turn increasing temperatures into cash? About five years ago I was at a conference in Cambridge where most of the participants were sceptical about the influence of humans on the climate. I took the microphone and asked if any of them would care to make a £1,000 bet with me about whether 2015 would be hotter than 2008. Two brave souls, Ian Plimer and Sir Alan Rudge, agreed.

Like a good economist, Hope hedged his bets. Plimer and Rudge had given him even odds, and Hope found a climate scientist, James Annan, who gave him 4-to-1 odds on the opposite wager:

I asked him what odds he would give me. In 2011, he was confident enough in the reality of climate change to offer me odds of 4 to 1 against 2015 being cooler than 2008 ... now I was perfectly hedged: I would win £1,333 if 2015 were cooler than 2008, and £1,334 if it were warmer.

2015 was of course hotter than 2008, so Plimer and Rudge each lost £1,000, with £1,334 going to Hope and £666 going to Annan on Hope’s hedged bet.

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These are the best arguments from the 3% of climate scientist 'skeptics.' Really.

Posted on 25 July 2016 by dana1981 &

When I give a presentation and mention the 97% expert consensus on human-caused global warming, I’m often asked, “what’s the deal with the other 3%?”. These are the publishing climate scientists who argue that something other than humans is responsible for the majority of global warming, although their explanations are often contradictory and don’t withstand scientific scrutiny.

A few months ago, the world’s largest private sector coal company went to court, made its best scientific case against the 97% expert consensus, and lost. One of coal’s expert witnesses was University of Alabama at Huntsville climate scientist Roy Spencer - a controversial figure who once compared those with whom he disagreed to Nazis, and has expressed his love for Fox News.

Last week, Spencer wrote a white paper for the Texas Public Policy Institute (TPPI) outlining the contrarian case against climate concerns. TPPI is part of the web of denial, having received substantial funding from both the tobacco and fossil fuel industries, including $65,000 from ExxonMobil and at least $911,499 from Koch-related foundations since 1998, and over $3 million from “dark money” anonymizers Donors Trust and Donors Capital Fund.

Spencer’s arguments should of course be evaluated on their own merits, regardless of who commissioned them. However, it turns out that they have little merit on which to stand. The white paper is a classic example of a Gish Gallop – producing such a large volume of nonsense arguments that refuting all of them is too time-consuming. NASA Goddard director Gavin Schmidt rightly described Spencer’s paper as:

A great example of how making nonsense arguments undermines his whole point. Sad! https://twitter.com/pdykstra/status/755800199319158787 

A mishmash of myths

Most of Spencer’s white paper consists of repeating a variety of long-debunked myths. It’s laid out in the form of 13 basic climate questions that Spencer tries to answer. Fortunately, SkepticalScience.com has a database of over 200 climate myths, and summaries of what the peer-reviewed scientific research says about each. This makes it possible to handle Spencer’s 13-point Gish Gallop by simply referring to the relevant myth rebuttals. So here we go:

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Déjà vu: as with tobacco, the climate wars are going to court

Posted on 18 July 2016 by dana1981 & JohnMashey

Investigative journalism has uncovered a “web of denial” in which polluting industries pay “independent” groups to disseminate misinformation to the public and policymakers. The same groups and tactics were employed first by the tobacco industry, then fossil fuel companies. Big Tobacco has been to court and lost; now it’s Big Oil’s turn. Political leaders are choosing sides in this war.

Research by Inside Climate News revealed that Exxon did top notch climate science research in the late 1970s and early 1980s, which revealed the dangers its products posed via climate change. Soon thereafter, Exxon launched misinformation campaigns by funding “think tanks” and front groups to manufacture doubt about climate science and the expert consensus on human-caused global warming.

exxon knew vs did

What #ExxonKnew vs what #ExxonDid. Illustration: John Cook, SkepticalScience.com

Exxon wasn’t alone. Koch Industries, Peabody Energy, and other fossil companies have similarly funneled vast sums of money to these groups. Last week, Senate Democrats, including presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and vice presidential contenders Elizabeth Warren and Al Franken signed a Resolution expressing congressional disapproval of the fossil fuel industry’s misinformation campaign.19 Senate Democrats also took to the floor of the Senate to speak out against the web of denial, with repeated references to the tobacco/fossil connections.

 

Senator Elizabeth Warren speaking about the web of denial on the Senate floor.

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We just broke the record for hottest year, nine straight times

Posted on 11 July 2016 by dana1981 &

2014 and 2015 each set the record for hottest calendar year since we began measuring surface temperatures over 150 years ago, and 2016 is almost certain to break the record once again. It will be without precedent: the first time that we’ve seen three consecutive record-breaking hot years.

But it’s just happenstance that the calendar year begins in January, and so it’s also informative to compare all yearlong periods. In doing so, it becomes clear that we’re living in astonishingly hot times.

June 2015 through May 2016 was the hottest 12-month period on record. That was also true of May 2015 through April 2016, and the 12 months ending in March 2016. In fact, it’s true for every 12 months going all the way back to the period ending in September 2015, according to global surface temperature data compiled by Kevin Cowtan and Robert Way. We just set the record for hottest year in each of the past 9 months.

CW13 running

Running 12-month average global surface temperature using data compiled by Kevin Cowtan and Robert Way. Illustration: Dana Nuccitelli

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New research: climate may be more sensitive and situation more dire

Posted on 5 July 2016 by dana1981 &

Scientists use a variety of approaches to estimate the Earth’s climate sensitivity – how much the planet will warm as a result of humans increasing greenhouse effect. For decades, the different methods were all in good general agreement that if we double the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, Earth’s surface temperatures will immediately warm by about 1–3°C (this is known as the ‘transient climate response’). Because it would take decades to centuries for the Earth to reach a new energy balance, climate scientists have estimated an eventual 2–4.5°C warming from doubled atmospheric carbon (this is ‘equilibrium climate sensitivity’).

However, a 2013 paper led by Alexander Otto disrupted the agreement between the various different approaches. Using a combination of recent climate measurements and a relatively simple climate model, the ‘energy budget’ approach used in Otto’s study yielded a best estimate for the immediate (transient) warming of 1.3°C and equilibrium warming of 2.0°C; within the agreed range, but less than climate model best estimates of 1.8°C and 3.2°C, respectively.

This new energy budget approach, which was replicated by several subsequent studies, seemed to indicate the Earth’s climate is a bit less sensitive to carbon pollution than previously thought. As a result, the IPCC adjusted its estimated range for equilibrium climate sensitivity from 2–4.5°C in its 2007 report to 1.5–4.5°C in its 2014 report. This suggested perhaps a slightly less dire climate situation.

New finding: disagreement due to apples-to-oranges comparison

Later in 2013, Kevin Cowtan and Robert Way published a paper finding that climate scientists had been underestimating global surface warming, largely because of a lack of measurements in the rapidly-warming Arctic. Additionally, while climate models simulate surface air temperatures (the temperature of the air a few meters above the Earth’s surface), over the oceans, climate scientists measure sea surface temperatures. It turns out that the water surface isn’t warming quite as fast as the air above it. Thus looking at modeled surface air temperatures versus measured global land-ocean surface temperatures is an apples-to-oranges comparison.

A new study in Nature Climate Change led by Mark Richardson in collaboration with Kevin Cowtan, Ed Hawkins, and Martin Stolpe accounts for these differences to make an apples-to-apples comparison. They find that the use of sea surface temperatures biases the Otto result low by about 9%, and the lack of Arctic observations by another 15%. When observations are adjusted to estimate surface air temperatures (red bars in the figure below), or when models are adjusted to estimate land-ocean surface temperatures (blue bars), the estimated transient climate response from climate models and the Otto approach are in close agreement.

apples to apples

Like-with-like comparisons of transient climate response estimates between models and observations. In the upper two bars, the observed estimates are adjusted to match the method used for the models. In the lower three bars the model outputs are treated in the same way as the observations. Illustration: Richardson et al. (2016); Nature Climate Change.

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The inter-generational theft of Brexit and climate change

Posted on 27 June 2016 by dana1981 &

In last week’s Brexit vote results, there was a tremendous divide between age groups. 73% of voters under the age of 25 voted to remain in the EU, while about 58% over the age of 45 voted to leave.

View image on Twitter

This generational gap is among the many parallels between Brexit and climate change. A 2014 poll found that 74% of Americans under the age of 30 support government policies to cut carbon pollution, as compared to just 58% of respondents over the age of 40, and 52% over the age of 65.

Inter-generational theft

The problem is of course that younger generations will have to live with the consequences of the decisions we make today for much longer than older generations. Older generations in developed countries prospered as a result of the burning of fossil fuels for seemingly cheap energy.

However, we’ve already reached the point where even contrarian economists agree, any further global warming we experience will be detrimental for the global economy. For poorer countries, we passed that point decades ago. A new paper examining climate costs and fossil fuel industry profits for the years 2008–2012 found:

For all companies and all years, the economic cost to society of their CO2 emissions was greater than their after‐tax profit, with the single exception of Exxon Mobil in 2008

For much of the time during which developed nations experienced strong economic growth as a result of fossil fuel consumption, we were unaware of the associated climate costs. We can no longer use ignorance as an excuse. And yet the older generations, who experienced the greatest net benefit from carbon pollution, are now the least supportive of taking responsibility to pay for it. The longer we delay, the more devastating the consequences will be for the younger generations.

Similarly, today’s youth who are early in their career paths will face the harshest consequences of the Brexit vote that was dominated by older voters. As Jack Lennard put it:

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97% global warming consensus paper surpasses half a million downloads

Posted on 23 June 2016 by dana1981 &

In 2013, a team of citizen science volunteers who collaborate on the climate myth debunking website SkepticalScience.com published a paper finding a 97% expert consensus on human-caused global warming in peer-reviewed research. Over the past 3 years, that paper has been downloaded more than 500,000 times. For perspective, that’s 4 times more than the second-most downloaded paper in the Institute of Physics journals (which includes Environmental Research Letters, where the 97% consensus paper was published).

The statistic reveals a remarkable level of interest for a peer-reviewed scientific paper. Over a three-year period, the study has been downloaded an average of 440 times per day, and the pace has hardly slowed. Over the past year, the download rate has remained high, at 415 per day.

Follow-up paper second-most-read

The 97% study and other consensus research has been attacked and misrepresented, which led to a follow-up paper in which authors of seven previous climate consensus studies collaborated to settle the question once and for all. The two key conclusions from the paper were:

1) Depending on exactly how you measure the expert consensus, it’s somewhere between 90% and 100% that agree humans are responsible for climate change, with most of our studies finding 97% consensus among publishing climate scientists.

2) The greater the climate expertise among those surveyed, the higher the consensus on human-caused global warming.

That follow-up paper, published two months ago, has already been downloaded 45,000 times. Interestingly, the 2013 consensus paper has returned to the top spot as currently the most-read paper in Environmental Research Letters, with the 2016 follow-up study coming in second.

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The Grand Oil Party: House Republicans denounce a carbon tax

Posted on 13 June 2016 by dana1981 &

On Friday, the US House of Representatives voted on a Resolution condemning a carbon tax. As The Hill reported:

Lawmakers passed, by a 237-163 vote, a GOP-backed resolution listing pitfalls from a tax on carbon dioxide emissions and concluding that such a policy “would be detrimental to American families and businesses, and is not in the best interest of the United States.”

Six Democrats voted with the GOP for the resolution. No Republicans dissented.

The oil industry is scared of a carbon tax

ExxonMobil officially supports a carbon tax, but the company did not comment on the House Resolution prior to the vote. Meanwhile, the American Petroleum Institute, which is a key lobbying group of the oil industry, including ExxonMobil, publicly supported the anti-carbon tax resolution, as did Koch Companies Public Sector, LLC. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) suspects that the Resolution itself originated from the oil industry:

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Trump and global warming: Americans are failing risk management

Posted on 8 June 2016 by dana1981 &

Currently, about 40% of Americans support Donald Trump in the 2016 presidential election, and about 40% of Americans are not worried about global warming. While short of a majority, this is a substantial fraction of the American public failing to grasp the risks associated with a Donald Trump presidency and potentially catastrophic climate change impacts.

In Business InsiderJosh Barro recently wrote about the former:

Trump calls for a huge risk premium because, while he probably wouldn’t be a disastrous president, the low-probability disasters that he might cause would be immensely costly. Some of them involve nuclear weapons and global mass deaths. Pricing those risks in properly should push his share price comfortably below Clinton’s, even if you think she is very bad.

In most cases, Americans are good at managing risks. We buy insurance for our homes, cars, and health. We wear seat belts in cars, and far fewer Americans smoke today than just a few decades ago.

risk

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Scientists debate experimenting with climate hacking to prevent catastrophe

Posted on 1 June 2016 by dana1981 &

On his late-night talk show, Jimmy Kimmel recently invited climate scientists to explain that they’re not just messing with us about global warming.

In fact, climate scientists are so worried that we’re going to fail to prevent catastrophic consequences that some are studying how we can hack the climate, also known as “geoengineering.” This approach is essentially viewed as a last-ditch, “break glass in case of emergency” desperation option in the event of such a failure. Some climate scientists view this as a potentially reasonable way to deal with climate change, but others disagree. It’s a controversial topic.

Scientists have proposed various ways that we might use geoengineering to stave off a climate emergency, but one of the most popular involves pumping particles into the atmosphere. Volcanic eruptions spew tiny sulfur dioxide particles (aerosols) into the atmosphere, which reflect sunlight and act to temporarily cool the planet. If humans were to similarly pump aerosols into the atmosphere, in theory we could offset some global warming. This is known as albedo (whiteness) modification, because we would be modifying the Earth’s reflectivity.

If the idea of mimicking a continuous volcanic eruption makes you nervous, you’re not alone. A National Academies of Science (NAS) report warned that the potential side-effects of this type of climate hacking are not well understood or quantified. Moreover, it would not solve the problem of ocean acidification – sometimes referred to as “global warming’s evil twin” – a major threat to marine ecosystems that only 20% of the British public has ever heard of.

Hotter and more acidic oceans form a one-two punch that’s killing off coral reefs, for example with the mass bleaching event that’s currently ongoing. Coral reefs are home to 25% of marine fish species, so this is a critical concern. It’s carbon that’s causing the world’s oceans to become more acidic, so we can only solve the problem by cutting carbon pollution or by removing it from the atmosphere.

Recently the US Senate appropriations committee passed a spending bill that mysteriously included funding for the computational study of albedo hacking.

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Donald Trump wants to build a wall – to save his golf course from global warming

Posted on 26 May 2016 by dana1981 &

Donald Trump has consistently expressed his conspiratorial and misinformed beliefs that global warming is a hoax.

Ice storm rolls from Texas to Tennessee - I'm in Los Angeles and it's freezing. Global warming is a total, and very expensive, hoax!

Trump is also the presumptive Republican Party nominee for president in 2016, and were he elected, would be the leader of the country with the second-highest net carbon pollution in the world. These are frightening thoughts.

However, as reported by Politico, Trump acknowledges the reality and threats posed by human-caused global warming when it comes to protecting his own assets, and in keeping with his affinity for building walls:

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Climate denial arguments fail a blind test

Posted on 23 May 2016 by dana1981 &

As we saw in the recent legal ruling against Peabody coal, arguments and myths that are based in denial of the reality of human-caused global warming rarely withstand scientific scrutiny.

In a new study published in Global Environmental Change, a team led by Stephen Lewandowsky tested the accuracy of some popular myths and contrarian talking points sampled from climate denial blogs and other media outlets. The scientists searched the blogs for key words related to Arctic sea ice, glaciers, sea level rise, and temperature to identify the most popular arguments. Not surprisingly, they found some common myths:

nearly two-thirds of all mentions of temperature on the three top contrarian blogs included a claim of “cooling”; and likewise more than a quarter of all mentions of arctic ice alluded to its “recovery”, and so on.

Using their search results, the authors put together language that was representative of the most common arguments made on the climate denial blogs about these subjects. To ensure that their example arguments accurately depicted contrarian claims and rhetorical techniques, they also consulted climate experts, who confirmed their representativeness. Interestingly, the climate experts identified many of the same mistakes that my colleagues and I found in our 2015 study attempting to replicate climate contrarian research (cherry picking data, for example).

The authors then used the same data and arguments as the contrarian blogs, but changed the climate variables to something related to economics, and presented them to economists and statisticians:

For example, the [glaciers] scenario pairs the claim that “our country’s rural population is growing, not shrinking” with a figure that showed the change in population for numerous individual villages, akin to a figure depicting the mass balance of individual glaciers.

In addition, an alternative statement was constructed for each scenario that summarized the mainstream scientific interpretation of the climate data, again translated into economic or demographic terms (e.g., “almost all of the rural regions of the country are losing population”).

The tests involved common contrarian myths that:

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Coal made its best case against climate change, and lost

Posted on 11 May 2016 by dana1981 &

Peabody Energy, the world’s largest private sector coal company (now bankrupt), recently faced off against environmental groups in a Minnesota court case. The case was to determine whether the State of Minnesota should continue using its exceptionally low established estimates of the ‘social cost of carbon’, or whether it should adopt higher federal estimates. 

The social cost of carbon is an estimate of how much the damages from carbon pollution cost society via climate change damages. In theory, it represents how much the price of fossil fuels should increase to reflect their true costs.

The coal company called forth witnesses that represented the fringe 2–3% of experts who reject the consensus that humans are the primary cause of global warming, including Roy Spencer and Richard Lindzen, while their opposition invited witnesses like Andrew Dessler and John Abraham who represent the 97% expert consensus.

John Abraham previously summarized the proceedings and ruling in favor of the higher carbon cost estimates, but it’s worth delving into some of the details of the climate science and economics arguments to see why the judge ruled against the coal company and its contrarian witnesses. The losing case from the coal company witnesses (rebutted by John Abraham here and here) can be summarized as follows:

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Scientists are figuring out the keys to convincing people about global warming

Posted on 4 May 2016 by dana1981 &

The latest survey data from Yale and George Mason universities underscores thepartisan divide on climate science denial – 73% of Americans realize that global warming is happening, including 71% of liberal/moderate Republicans, but the average is dragged down by the mere 47% of conservative Republicans who answer this question correctly. On the bright side, this is a big improvement from the 28% of conservative Republicans who realized global warming was happening just two years ago.

Similarly, 56% of Americans realize global warming is mostly caused by humans, including 49% of liberal/moderate Republicans, but the number is again dragged down by the 26% of conservative Republicans correctly answering this question.

yale gmu

Poll results on the cause of global warming, broken down by American political party. Illustration: Yale and George Mason universities, Politics & Global warming, Spring 2016.

The numbers and demographics expressing concern about global warming are almost identical to those accepting human-caused global warming. That particular correlation lends support to a recent paper published in Nature Climate Change, led by Jing Shi.

Can facts convince people about global warming?

Social scientist Dan Kahan has argued that ideological and cultural identity can be so strong that scientific evidence, facts, and information can’t break through it. Kahan thinks that on certain issues like climate change, ideological biases make many conservatives immune to facts. 

In fact, conservatives with higher education and general scientific knowledge are often more wrong about climate change, in what’s been coined the “smart idiot” effect. This has led Kahan to conclude that on climate change, facts and knowledge can’t sway people. However, other research has found that climate-specific knowledge does correlate with acceptance of climate science.

In the new study led by Jing Shi, the authors surveyed a total of 2,495 people in Canada, China, Germany, Switzerland, the UK, and the US. They asked questions to evaluate the participants’ specific knowledge about the physical characteristics of climate change and understanding of its causes and consequences.

Critically, they found that knowledge about the causes of climate change was correlated with higher concern about climate change in all countries, and knowledge about the consequences was linked to higher concern in most countries.

respondents from Germany and Switzerland had significantly higher scores on knowledge about physical aspects of climate change than participants from Canada and the US. Chinese respondents knew significantly more about the causes of climate change than the respondents from the other countries. German and Swiss respondents were most knowledgeable about the consequences of climate change. In contrast, participants from the US had the lowest level of knowledge about climate change among the six countries we surveyed, independent of the type of knowledge.

In short, as illustrated in the Yale/George Mason poll numbers, people who realize that humans are causing global warming are more likely to be concerned about the problem.

In Shi’s survey, the Chinese respondents had the most knowledge about the causes of global warming, with the German and Swiss participants most accurately answering the questions about its consequences. These nationalities also expressed the greatest concern about climate change. Americans showed the least climate knowledge and the least concern.

concern v knowledge

Concern about climate change (0-6 point scale) vs. average correct score on questions relevant to its causes in six countries. Illustration: Dana Nuccitelli, data from Shi et al. (2016).

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Can the Republican Party solve its science denial problem?

Posted on 28 April 2016 by dana1981 &

There’s a widespread misconception about science denial – that on issues like the safety vaccines and genetically modified foods (GMOs), denial is found predominantly on the political left, mirroring the denial of evolution and climate science on the political right. This assumption has even been presented on The Daily Show, but it’s supported by precious little evidence. In fact, as Chris Mooney documented in great detail in 2014:

[The data] do not support the idea that vaccine denial is a special left-wing cause. As for GMOs, while resistance may be strongest on the far left, worries on this issue are quite prominent across the spectrum as well.

In neither case are these beliefs a mirror image, on the left, of climate change or evolution denial [on the political right].

New polling further debunks the science denial symmetry myth

new YouGov poll provided yet more data, asking, “Do you think it is generally safe or unsafe to eat genetically modified foods?”. There was little difference in answers across political affiliations – Democrats and Republicans were evenly split on the question of safe/unsafe, and Independents were more likely to consider GMOs unsafe. Gender and family income best predicted the answers, with men and higher-income individuals more likely to consider GMOs safe.

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The climate change generation gap

Posted on 21 April 2016 by dana1981 &

Click here to read the original at the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists

Statler & Waldorf

Muppets Statler and Waldorf represent the dwindling generation of old, white, conservative, American men to which climate denial caters.  Photo courtesy of Getty Images.

A record number of Americans now view global warming as a serious threat and blame human activities as the cause. But there is apparently a generation gap out there when it comes to accepting the scientific evidence. And an ethnic gap, a gender gap, and a gap in political leaning—along with whether one can be considered one of society’s “haves” or “have nots.” So, who are these climate deniers? What is their profile?

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Study: humans have caused all the global warming since 1950

Posted on 19 April 2016 by dana1981 &

A new study published in Climate Dynamics has found that humans are responsible for virtually all of the observed global warming since the mid-20th century. It’s not a novel result – in fact, most global warming attribution studies have arrived at the same general result – but this study uses a new approach.

GW attribution studies

The percentage contribution to global warming over the past 50-65 years in two categories: human causes (left) and natural causes (right), from various peer-reviewed studies. The studies are Tett et al. 2000 (T00, dark blue), Meehl et al. 2004 (M04, red), Stone et al. 2007 (S07, green), Lean and Rind 2008 (LR08, purple), Huber and Knutti 2011 (HK11, light blue), Gillett et al. 2012 (G12, orange), Wigley and Santer 2012 (WG12, dark green), Jones et al. 2013 (J13, pink), IPCC AR5 (IPCC, light green), and Ribes et al. 2016 (R16, light purple). The numbers are best estimates from each study. Illustration: Dana Nuccitelli

Studies attempting to figure out the global warming contributions of various human and natural sources usually use a statistical approach known as ‘linear regression’. This approach assumes we know the pattern of warming that each source (forcing) will cause, but we don’t know how big the resulting warming will be. For example, we know that greenhouse gases cause more warming over land than water, the most in the Arctic, and more warming in response to rising atmospheric carbon dioxide levels.

As an example of this approach, this animated graphic shows what happens when a 2011 study by Foster & Rahmstorf removed the known natural influences from the observed global surface temperature record, leaving behind the human-caused global warming signal.

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It’s settled: 90–100% of climate experts agree on human-caused global warming

Posted on 13 April 2016 by dana1981 &

There is an overwhelming expert scientific consensus on human-caused global warming.

Authors of seven previous climate consensus studies — including Naomi Oreskes,Peter DoranWilliam AndereggBart VerheggenEd MaibachJ. Stuart Carlton,John Cook, myself, and six of our colleagues — have co-authored a new paper that should settle this question once and for all. The two key conclusions from the paper are:

1) Depending on exactly how you measure the expert consensus, it’s somewhere between 90% and 100% that agree humans are responsible for climate change, with most of our studies finding 97% consensus among publishing climate scientists.

2) The greater the climate expertise among those surveyed, the higher the consensus on human-caused global warming.

consensus studies

Expert consensus results on the question of human-caused global warming among the previous studies published by the co-authors of Cook et al. (2016). Illustration: John Cook.  Available on the SkS Graphics page

Expert consensus is a powerful thing. People know we don’t have the time or capacity to learn about everything, and so we frequently defer to the conclusions of experts. It’s why we visit doctors when we’re ill. The same is true of climate change: most people defer to the expert consensus of climate scientists. Crucially, as we note in our paper:

Public perception of the scientific consensus has been found to be a gateway belief, affecting other climate beliefs and attitudes including policy support.

That’s why those who oppose taking action to curb climate change have engaged in a misinformation campaign to deny the existence of the expert consensus. They’ve been largely successful, as the public badly underestimate the expert consensus, in what we call the “consensus gap.” Only 12% of Americans realize that the consensus is above 90%.

 

Lead author John Cook explaining the team’s new consensus paper.

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The similarities between Trump support and climate denial

Posted on 4 April 2016 by dana1981 &

It’s long puzzled climate realists: why do free market supporters oppose free market solutions to climate change? The answer may be related to another puzzling question: why does Donald Trump have such unwavering support among a certain segment of American conservatives?

A recent paper by Jeremiah Bohr published in the journal Environmental Politics sought to answer the climate question. As Bohr notes:

Mainstream policy responses seek to utilize market mechanisms in an effort to minimize costs for major emitters of greenhouse gases. Presumably, this should win over some climate change deniers who align themselves with think tanks promoting free markets and economic growth. Yet, climate change deniers and free-market activists are as staunchly opposed to market-based climate policy as they are to any other form of climate mitigation.

Bohr looked through issues of the Heartland Institute’s Environment and Climate News newsletter. He found that about 75% of Heartland’s articles denied climate science, usually by exaggerating uncertainties, or by presenting the evidence as junk science. About 6% argued that climate change will be beneficial, and 39% argued that climate policies will do more harm than good, usually claiming that they’ll hurt the economy.

Among the latter group, 51% characterized markets as inherently efficient, self-regulating, and generative of wealth. Heartland views any tampering with the market as bad for the economy. As Bohr describes it:

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Current record-shattering temperatures are shocking even to climate scientists

Posted on 21 March 2016 by dana1981 &

“Stunning,” “wow,” “shocker,” “bombshell,” “astronomical,” “insane,”“unprecedented”– these are some of the words climate scientists have used to describe the record-shattering global surface temperatures in February 2016.

NASA GISS

NASA GISS global monthly (red) and 12-month average (blue) surface temperatures as compared to pre-industrial temperatures. Illustration: Dana Nuccitelli

It’s difficult to see any ‘pause’ or slowdown in the global warming over the past 50 years.

To put the current temperatures into context, prior to last October, monthly global surface temperatures had not been more than 0.96°C hotter than the 1951–1980 average, according to Nasa. The past 5 months have been 1.06°C, 1.03°C, 1.10°C, 1.14°C, and 1.35°C hotter than that average, absolutely destroying previous records. Estimates from Noaa are in broad agreement with those from Nasa.

Right now, the Earth’s average surface temperature is hotter than it’s been in thousands of years; potentially even longer.

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Lots of global warming since 1998

Posted on 15 March 2016 by dana1981 &

This is an update to the rebuttal to the myth 'it hasn't warmed since 1998'

Even if we ignore long term trends and just look at the record-breakers, 2015, 2014, 2010, and 2005 were hotter than 1998.

The myth of no warming since 1998 was based on the satellite record estimates of the temperature of the atmosphere.  However, as discussed in the video below by Peter Sinclair, even that argument is no longer accurate.  The satellites show warming since 1998 too.

To claim global warming stopped in 1998 also overlooks a simple physical reality - the land and atmosphere are just a small fraction of the Earth's climate (albeit the part we inhabit). The entire planet is accumulating heat due to an energy imbalance. Theatmosphere is warming. Oceans are accumulating energy. Land absorbs energy and ice absorbs heat to melt. To get the full picture on global warming, you need to view the Earth's entire heat content.  More than 90% of global warming heat goes into warming the oceans, while less than 3% goes into increasing the atmospheric and surface air temperatures. Nuccitelli et al. (2012) showed that the Earth has continued to heat up since 1998.

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Sanders, Clinton, Rubio, and Kasich answer climate debate questions

Posted on 14 March 2016 by dana1981 &

Last week, the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates participated in debates in Florida. A bipartisan group of 21 Florida mayors wrote to the debate moderators to argue it would be “unconscionable for these issues of grave concern for the people of Florida [climate change and sea level rise] to not be addressed.” The moderators of both debates listened, and asked the candidates questions about climate change – including by far the most substantive climate question posed to the Republican candidates thus far.

Sanders and Clinton spar over climate and fracking policies

The climate discussion in the Democratic debate can be viewed in the video below.

 

Sanders and Clinton debate climate in Florida on 09 March 2016.

In her response (transcript available here), Hillary Clinton said that she would proceed with implementing President Obama’s Clean Power Plan, and his executive actions on climate change. She supported the use of natural gas as a “bridge fuel,” arguing:

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During the most important year for climate news, TV coverage fell

Posted on 7 March 2016 by dana1981 &

Media Matters for America has published a report detailing US broadcast news coverage of climate change in 2015, and their findings are stunning.

2015 was a banner year for climate news. February, June, October, November, and December were each their respective hottest months on record, and 2015 shattered the record for hottest year. The pope delivered a climate encyclical.Investigative journalists at Inside Climate News discovered that Exxon knewabout the dangers of human-caused global warming while it funded a climate misinformation campaign, and the New York attorney general launched an investigation into the company’s behavior. President Obama’s Clean Power Plan went into effect, and he rejected the Keystone XL pipeline. And most importantly, 195 countries agreed to cut carbon pollution as much as possible to stem global warming.

Despite all these critically important stories, as in the presidential debates, climate change was largely absent from US broadcast news. Climate coverage fell in 2015. 

coverage

US broadcast network minutes of climate coverage in 2014 and 2015. Illustration: Media Matters for America

Most of the decline was due to ABC, which only spent 13 minutes in 2015 covering climate change – three times less than even Fox. While Fox’s coverage increased, most of the network’s climate segments featured interviews with guests who criticized efforts to address global warming.

The Sunday shows (ABC’s This Week, CBS’ Face the Nation, NBC’s Meet the Press, and Fox Broadcasting Co.’s Fox News Sunday) and the network nightly news programs (ABC’s World News TonightCBS Evening News, and NBC Nightly News)each aired a combined 73 minutes of climate coverage in 2015, down a total of 8 minutes (a 5% decline) from 2014. The Public Broadcasting System (PBS)NewsHour program aired more segments addressing climate change (58) than the other nightly news shows combined (48).

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