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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


Republican lawmakers react to the IPCC report – ‘we have scientists’ too!

Posted on 17 October 2018 by dana1981 &

Major climate science reports usually pass by largely unnoticed, but in the wake of the latest IPCC report a number of journalists laudably grilled Republican lawmakers about its findings. While their responses were predictably terrible, it’s nevertheless crucial for journalists to hold GOP politicians accountable for their climate denial and policy inaction. Donald Trump’s answers were particularly ignorant and nonsensical in his 60 Minutes interview with Lesley Stahl.

Welcome to Stage 2 climate denial

None of the Republicans exhibited Stage 1 climate denial (denying that it’s happening), but several remain in Stage 2 (denying humans are responsible). Trump was the worst of the lot, telling Stahl:

Something’s happening [with the climate] and it’ll change back again … I don’t know that it’s manmade.

Earth’s climate isn’t magical. Each of its changes has physical causes and will only “change back” if something causes them to do so. Trump’s claim is akin to arguing that if he gains 50 lbs by eating McDonald’s fast food every day he’ll eventually ‘change back’ to his less obese self. Doing so would require a physical cause, like a change in diet. Fossil fuels are the climate’s greasy fast food.

Similarly, Trump’s top economic advisor Larry Kudlow said to George Stephanopoulos on ABC’s This Week:

how much of [climate change] is manmade, how much of it is solar, how much of it is oceanic, how much of it is rain forest and other issues? I think we’re still exploring all of that.

And Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) told CNN’s Jake Tapper:

I can’t tell you to what percentage of [climate change] is due to human activity

Climate scientists can. It’s 100% since 1950.

Gavin Schmidt@ClimateOfGavin

For @marcorubio @jaketapper and anyone else, it’s a good thing that scientists have indeed already looked at how much recent trends in climate are due to human activity. https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/2015-whats-warming-the-world/ 

[narrator: it was all of it]

This is settled science, about which there’s a 97% expert consensus. But of course, Republican politicians prefer the beliefs of the less than 3% of contrarian climate scientists.

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12 comments


There’s one key takeaway from last week’s IPCC report

Posted on 15 October 2018 by dana1981 &

The Paris climate agreement set a target of no more than 2°C global warming above pre-industrial temperatures, but also an aspirational target of no more than 1.5°C.  That’s because many participating countries – especially island nations particularly vulnerable to sea level rise – felt that even 2°C global warming is too dangerous.  But there hadn’t been a lot of research into the climate impacts at 1.5°C vs. 2°C, and so the UN asked the IPCC to publish a special report summarizing what it would take to achieve the 1.5°C limit and what the consequences would be of missing it.

The details in the report are worth understanding, but there’s one simple critical takeaway point: we need to cut carbon pollution as much as possible, as fast as possible.

We’re about to burn through the 1.5°C carbon budget

Depending on how we define ‘pre-industrial temperatures’ and how fast we keep consuming fossil fuels, we’ll likely burn through the rest of the 1.5°C carbon budget within the next 3 to 10 years.  To stay below 1.5°C, the IPCC therefore concludes the world must embark on a World War II-level effort to transition away from fossil fuels, and also start removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere at large scales – anywhere from 400bn to 1.6tn tons of it.

budget

 Global carbon dioxide emissions to date, and potential pathways to stay within the remaining 1.5°C global warming budget. Illustration: IPCC SR15

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25 comments


The Trump administration has entered Stage 5 climate denial

Posted on 8 October 2018 by dana1981 &

tragedy

A cartoon illustration of the Trump administration’s climate policy logic Illustration: John Cook

Several years ago, I wrote about the five stages of climate denial.  To date, the Trump administration has pinballed between Stages 1, 2, and 3, calling climate change a Chinese hoaxdisputing the degree of human causation (100% since 1950), and claiming it’s not a threat.  But the purpose of climate science denial is to obstruct climate policies, and science denial doesn’t hold up in court.  Unlike in the political realm, judicial decisions are generally based on evidence. 

The Trump administration wants to roll back the Obama administration’s increased vehicle fuel efficiency standards.  But under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), “if a proposed major federal action is determined to significantly affect the quality of the human environment,” the agency has to publish an environmental impact statement (EIS).

cafe

Vehicle fuel efficiency standards to date (blue) and required under the Obama administration rules (green) and the Trump administration’s proposal (red) Illustration: National Highway Traffic Safety Administration

And so, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) was required to publish an EIS detailing how the proposed fuel efficiency rollbacks would impact the environment, including via climate change.  Here, the Trump administration shifted to Stage 4 and 5 climate denial.

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10 comments


New study finds incredibly high carbon pollution costs – especially for the US and India

Posted on 1 October 2018 by dana1981 &

The social cost of carbon is a measure of the economic damages caused (via climate change) by each ton of carbon pollution that we produce today.  It’s difficult to estimate because of physical, economic, and ethical uncertainties.  For example, it’s difficult to predict exactly when various climate tipping points will be triggered, how much their damages will cost, and there’s also a question about how much we value the welfare of future generations (which is incorporated in the choice of ‘discount rate’).

In 2013, the Obama administration set the federal social cost of carbon estimate at $37 per ton of carbon dioxide (up from the previous estimate of $22).  That was a conservative estimate – in recent years, research has pegged the value closer to $200 because recent research has shown that global warming slows economic growth, which makes it quite expensive.  A majority of economists in a 2015 survey believed the federal estimate was too low, but Republicans have recently been trying to dramatically lower it anyway.

The Republican argument is twofold.  First, that we should only consider domestic climate costs (the federal estimate is of global costs, because our carbon pollution doesn’t just hover in the air above America).  Second, that instead of trying to stop climate change now, we should just save our money and let future generations pay for its costs (by using a high discount rate).

The social cost of carbon is much higher yet

A new study led by UC San Diego’s Katharine Ricke published in Nature Climate Change found that not only is the global social cost of carbon dramatically higher than the federal estimate – probably between $177 and $805 per ton, most likely $417 – but that the cost to America is around $50 per ton.  That’s the second-highest in the world behind India’s $90, and is also higher than the current federal estimate for the global social cost of carbon.

That’s a remarkable conclusion worth repeating.  Ricke’s team found that the cost of carbon pollution to just the United States is probably higher than its government’s current estimate of costs to the entire world.  And the actual global cost is more than 10 times higher than the federal estimate.  And yet Republican politicians think that estimate should be much lower.

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2 comments


New study reconciles a dispute about how fast global warming will happen

Posted on 24 September 2018 by dana1981 &

We’re currently on pace to double the carbon dioxide-equivalent (including other greenhouse gases) in the atmosphere by around mid-century.  Since the late 1800s scientists have been trying to answer the question, how much global warming will that cause?

In 1979, top climate scientists led by Jule Charney published a reportestimating that if we double the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere from pre-industrial levels of 280 ppm to 560 ppm, temperatures will warm by 3 ± 1.5°C.  Four decades later, ‘climate sensitivity’ estimates remain virtually unchanged, but some climate contrarians have argued that the number is at the low end of that range, around 2°C or less.

It’s an important question because if the contrarians are right, the 2°C resulting global warming would represent significantly less severe climate change consequences than if mainstream climate scientists are right and temperatures rise by 3°C.  It would also mean our remaining carbon budgetfor meeting the 2°C Paris target is about twice as large than if the mainstream consensus is right.  If the consensus is correct, we’re on pace to blow through the remaining Paris carbon budget by around 2030.

Another nail in the contrarian ‘low sensitivity’ coffin

Studies published in March 2014May 2014, and December 2015 identified two critical flaws in the contrarians’ preferred so-called ‘energy balance model’ approach: it doesn’t account for the fact that Earth’s sensitivity can change over time, for example as large ice sheets continue to melt, or that the planet responds differently to different climate ‘forcings’.

Last week, the journal Earth’s Future published a study by the University of Southampton’s Philip Goodwin that took both of these factors into account.  Goodwin ran climate model simulations treating every forcing separately, including changes in greenhouse gases, solar activity, particulates from volcanic eruptions, and from human fossil fuel combustion.  For each, he included feedbacks from changes in factors like atmospheric water vapor, clouds, snow, and sea ice, including how these factors change over different timescales, as Goodwin explained:

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28 comments


California plans to show the world how to meet the Paris climate target

Posted on 17 September 2018 by dana1981 &

Last week, California Governor Jerry Brown signed State Senator and US Senate candidate Kevin de León’s SB 100, which mandates that the state obtain all of its electricity from zero-carbon sources by 2045. That in itself was a big deal, but Brown didn’t stop there; he also issued an executive order calling for the entire California economy to become carbon-neutral by 2045. That’s a huge deal.

In order to stay below the Paris climate threshold of 2°C global warming above pre-industrial temperatures, humanity must become carbon-neutral by around 2060 or 2070. If California can meet Brown’s target, it will be providing the rest of the world a blueprint for meeting the Paris target. As the world’s fifth-largest economy, California can provide a powerful roadmap for others to follow.

carbon budget

Global emission reduction trajectories associated with a 66% chance of avoiding more than 2°C warming by starting year. Solid black line shows historical emissions, while dashed black line shows emissions constant at 2016 levels. Data and chart design from Robbie Andrew at CICERO and the Global Carbon Project. Illustration: Carbon Brief

Brown’s executive order directs the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to work with relevant state agencies to develop a framework for implementation and accounting of progress toward statewide carbon neutrality. While state agencies can figure out a plan to achieve carbon neutrality, the state legislature will have to pass laws to implement that plan.

California has been all-in on tackling climate change, as its carbon cap and trade system and SB 100 illustrate, but Californians will have to keep electing climate realists to state office in order to make the dream of carbon neutrality a reality.

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9 comments


Kavanaugh’s views on EPA’s climate authority are dangerous and wrong

Posted on 10 September 2018 by dana1981 &

Donald Trump’s latest Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh accepts that humans are causing global warming and we need to take action to stop it.  The problem is that he doesn’t trust the experts at EPA to do so and wants to erode their authority to regulate carbon pollution.

Chevron is the key

When discussing Chevron and climate change, we usually focus on the company’s legal liability.  However, in Kavanaugh’s context, ‘Chevron deference’ is even more important.  The term refers to the fact that courts will generally defer to government agency interpretations of laws as long as Congress hasn’t spoken directly to the issue at hand. 

David Doniger, director of the climate and clean air program at the Natural Resources Defense Council noted that Kavanaugh doesn’t believe Chevron deference applies on issues of major importance.  In a recent net neutrality case, Kavanaugh argued, “While the Chevron doctrine allows an agency to rely on statutory ambiguity to issue ordinary rules, the major rules doctrine prevents an agency from relying on statutory ambiguity to issue major rules.”

That’s Kavanaugh’s position on climate change.  In oral arguments before his DC Circuit Court of Appeals in a 2016 Clean Power Plan case, Kavanaugh said:

This is huge case … it has huge economic and political significance … it’s fundamentally transforming an industry by telling existing units you in essence have to pay a penalty, a huge financial penalty in order to continue to exist, in order to shift from coal plants to solar and wind plants, at the same time the coal mining industry is in essence greatly harmed, as well.

But while regulating carbon pollution would have a major impact on the fossil fuel industry, the same is true of most pollutant regulations.  It’s nevertheless EPA’s job to regulate pollutants, and the agency has been doing exactly that since its inception. 

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3 comments


California's response to record wildfires: shift to 100% clean energy

Posted on 3 September 2018 by dana1981 &

In America today, it’s rare to see political leaders respond to a threat with an appropriate evidence-based policy solution. At the national level, more often we see actions that aggravate existing problems or create new ones. California – the country’s most populous and economically powerful state – has been a welcome exception.

California has been battered by extreme weather intensified by climate change. From 2012 to 2016 the state was scorched by its worst drought in over a millenniumWeather whiplash struck in 2017, when much of the state broke precipitation records. This combination led to devastating mudslides and created the conditions for the most destructive and costly wildfire season on record in 2017, followed by the state’s largest-ever wildfire in 2018, which broke the previous record (set in 2017) by more than 60%.

All of these impacts have been exacerbated by global warming. The past five years have been California’s five hottest on record. And so, the state’s leaders decided to do something about it. California had already set a renewable portfolio standard in 2002, strengthened by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 2008 executive order requiring that 33% of electricity be generated by renewable sources by 2020. Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill (SB) 350 in 2015, expanding the requirement to 50% renewables by 2030. 

Last week, California state lawmakers passed State Senator (and candidate for US Senate) Kevin de León’s SB 100, which amps up the target to 50% renewables by 2026, 60% by 2030, and 100% from “renewable energy resources and zero-carbon resources” by 2045.

The more aggressive clean energy targets are justified. Not only does California need to make up some of the climate slack created by the Trump administration, but the state is now ahead of its targets, with 29% of electricity last year generated from renewables and over 50% from zero-carbon sources (including nuclear and hydroelectric power).

clean energy

 Percentage of California’s electricity generated by renewables (black) and zero-carbon sources (gray) to date, based California Energy Commission data. The previous renewable target is shown in blue and targets under SB 100 in green. Illustration: Dana Nuccitelli

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34 comments


Trump’s Dirty Power Plan is much worse for kids’ health than for climate change

Posted on 27 August 2018 by dana1981 &

Last October, then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced that the agency would repeal the Obama administration’s Clean Power Plan. But because the Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that carbon dioxide is an air pollutant and the Obama EPA correctly concluded that it poses a threat to public welfare via climate change, the EPA is legally obligated to do something to address that threat. That meant they needed a replacement plan.

Last week, the Trump EPA unveiled that plan and inaccurately named it the ‘Affordable Clean Energy Rule.’ The rule basically just extends the life of some dirty coal power plants and encourages them to run a bit more efficiently. The rule’s costs in worsening public health far exceed its monetary benefits. It would more accurately be named the ‘Expensive Dirty Power Plan.’

But there’s a silver lining – coal plants are already shutting down so quicklybecause they can’t compete with cheaper, cleaner alternatives that it turns out we don’t even need the Clean Power Plan to meet Obama’s targets.

Dirty Power Plan’s climate impact is small

Many news stories about the Dirty Power Plan exaggerated its climate impact due to confusion about various points of comparison. For example, the Clean Power Plan aimed to reduce carbon pollution from US electricity generation 32% below 2005 levels by 2030. The Dirty Power Plan will encourage coal plants to operate more efficiently, which the EPA estimates will reduce emissions about 1% more than simply repealing the Clean Power Plan.

That sounds like a big difference between the two plans, and it confused a lot of reporters. The key point is that US electricity generation was already becoming cleaner years before the Clean Power Plan was even conceived. Coal plants have been shutting down so rapidly that power sector carbon pollution is already 25% below 2005 levels. That happened without the Clean Power Plan ever going into effect – we basically didn’t need it, because coal was replaced anyway just for being too expensive.

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1 comments


Sunshine Blogger Award

Posted on 21 August 2018 by BaerbelW & dana1981

Checking our Twitter stream on July 26, we were pleasantly surprised to notice that Jonathan Dean Coey had nominated Skeptical Science for the Sunshine Blogger Award.

Sunshind-blogger-award

What is the Sunshine Blogger Award?

The award is driven entirely by the community, passed from blogger to blogger in recognition of their inspiring, creative and motivational blogs. Each nominee passes it on to 11 of their favourite bloggers, and round and round it goes. This is a great way to give recognition to bloggers who may otherwise fly under the radar of many people.

For accepting the Sunshine Blogger Award nomination, there are a few rules:

  • Thank the blogger(s) who nominated you and link back to their blog.
  • Answer 11 questions the blogger asked you.
  • Nominate 11 new blogs to receive the award and ask them 11 new questions.
  • List the rules and display the Sunshine Blogger Award in your post and/or on your blog.

So a big thank-you to Jonathan Dean Coey for nominating us for this award! As Skeptical Science is a global team effort, several of us have contributed answers to the questions we received from him. It’s therefore perhaps a bit different compared to other posts in this series where one blog often equals one author!


Jonathan's Questions and Our Answers

1. What will your blog be like in 5 years?

[Baerbel] Hopefully, Skeptical Science (SkS) will no longer need to fight misinformation regarding climate science in 5 years’ time and can actually report on successfully implemented mitigation policies in order to keep global warming to a manageable level (one can dream, right?!?) .

[Dana] We expect that in five years, climate science denial will no longer exist, and Skeptical Science (SkS) will be a nonstop party, celebrating humanity’s evolution to a wiser, more enlightened state that includes finding solutions to the existential threats we face. Of course, that’s also what we thought five years ago!

[David K] I have high confidence that SKS’s list of rebuttals will still be needed five years from now. There are many science deniers who have an amazing ability to avoid reality. And in today’s world of “fake news” their efforts to delay action on climate change will only continue to grow over the next five years.

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4 comments


Trump reignited his war with California, but his Tweet got burned

Posted on 13 August 2018 by dana1981 &

Last week, 18 wildfires were burning at once in California, including its largest in history, destroying over 1,100 homes and forcing tens of thousands of residents to evacuate. The smoke made the air in the state’s Central Valley unhealthy to breathe for a record 15 consecutive days, as I can personally attest.

Donald Trump decided to use the opportunity to renew his war with California by nonsensically blaming the wildfires on environmental laws.

Donald J. Trump@realDonaldTrump

California wildfires are being magnified & made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amounts of readily available water to be properly utilized. It is being diverted into the Pacific Ocean. Must also tree clear to stop fire from spreading!

It’s no surprise that Donald Trump dislikes California. His 2.9m national popular vote deficit to Hillary Clinton is a sore spot, and her margin of victory in California was by 30% and 4.3m votes. California has also long been a leader in developing laws to clean and protect the environment, and Trump despises regulations that benefit public health and welfare at the expense of industry profits.

And so, we got the Tweet bemoaning water being “diverted into the Pacific Ocean” (in scientific terms, they’re called “rivers”). Daniel Berlant, assistant deputy director of Cal Fire immediately noted that water isn’t firefighters’ problem:

We have plenty of water to fight these wildfires, but let’s be clear: It’s our changing climate that is leading to more severe and destructive fires

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11 comments


The GOP and Big Oil can't escape blame for climate change

Posted on 6 August 2018 by dana1981 &

Last week’s issue of the New York Times magazine was devoted to a single story by Nathaniel Rich that explored how close we came to an international climate agreement in 1989, and why we failed. The piece is worth reading – it’s a well-told, mostly accurate, and very informative story about a key decade in climate science and policy history. But sadly, it explicitly excuses the key players responsible for our continued failure.

Culprit #1: The Republican Party

Rich’s piece immediately goes off the rails in its Prologue, where he argues that the GOP isn’t responsible – at least not for the climate failures up to 1989:

Nor can the Republican Party be blamed … during the 1980s, many prominent Republicans joined Democrats in judging the climate problem to be a rare political winner: nonpartisan and of the highest possible stakes.

However, his story is peppered with examples that contradict this narrative. The world’s foremost climate scientists had published the groundbreaking National Academy of Sciences ‘Charney Report’ in 1979, concluding that a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide would most likely cause 3°C of global warming (still the consensus today), and as Rich summarizes:

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2 comments


America spends over $20bn per year on fossil fuel subsidies. Abolish them

Posted on 30 July 2018 by dana1981 &

Imagine that instead of taxing cigarettes, America subsidized the tobacco industry in order to make each pack of smokes cheaper.

report from Oil Change International (OCI) investigated American energy industry subsidies and found that in 2015–2016, the federal government provided $14.7bn per year to the oil, gas, and coal industries, on top of $5.8bn of state-level incentives (globally, the figure is around $500bn). And the report only accounted for production subsides, excluding consumption subsidies (support to consumers to lower the cost of fossil fuel use – another $14.5bn annually) as well as the costs of carbon and other fossil fuel pollutants.

At a time when we need to transition away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible, the federal and state governments are giving the industry tens of billions of dollars to make the production of their dirty, dangerous products more profitable.

We already have to leave tapped fossil fuels in the ground

Crucially, the OCI report noted that if we want to meet the Paris target of limiting global warming to less than 2°C (and we do!), not only does the fossil fuel industry have stop developing new reserves, but “some already-tapped reserves must be retired early.”

carbon budgets

 Developed fossil fuel reserves vs. remaining carbon budget to meet 2°C and 1.5°C Paris climate targets. Illustration: Oil Change International

This reality is incompatible with continued US government subsidization of fossil fuel industry production, including $2.5bn per year for the exploration of new fossil fuel resources ­– new resources that simply cannot be developed if we’re to meet the Paris climate target.

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13 comments


Facebook video spreads climate denial misinformation to 5 million users

Posted on 25 July 2018 by dana1981 &

Marc Morano is the real-world fossil fuel industry version of Nick NaylorHis career began working for Rush Limbaugh, followed by a job at Cybercast News Service where he launched the ‘Swift Boat’ attacks on 2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry. In 2006, Morano became the director of communications for Senator Jim Inhofe (R-OK), who is perhaps best known for throwing a snowball on the Senate floor and calling human-caused global warming “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.”

Thus it’s unsurprising that in 2009, Morano began directing fossil fuel-funded think tanks designed to cast doubt on the reality of and dangers associated with human-caused global warming. As he admitted in Merchants of Doubt, Morano frequently embodies the strategy of climate denial known as ‘fake experts’:

Most recently, Morano created a short video that centers on three common climate myths and has garnered over 5m views on Facebook.

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13 comments


97% of House Republicans foolishly reject carbon taxes

Posted on 20 July 2018 by dana1981 &

Yesterday, the House of Representatives voted on an anti-carbon tax Resolution. The Resolution was introduced by Steve Scalise (R-LA) with essentially the same language as he introduced in 2013 and 2016.

On those past versions, every Republican House member voted against carbon taxes. This time, six Republicans rejected the Resolution and one abstained, voting ‘Present.’ However, 97% of the House Republicans on the floor voted against carbon taxes.

House Democrats have been fairly consistent in their votes on these Resolutions as well. In 2013, 94% voted against the Resolution, and in 2016 and 2018, 96% voted ‘Nay,’ with six to seven pro-fossil fuel Democrats voting ‘Yes.’

The Resolution is wrong – carbon taxes can be good for the economy

The text of the Resolution claims that carbon taxes are necessarily bad for America:

Expressing the sense of Congress that a carbon tax would be detrimental to the United States economy … [and] to American families and businesses, and is not in the best interest of the United States.

This week’s Resolution ironically came right on the heels of a comprehensive study showing that a carbon tax whose revenues were returned to taxpayers either via rebate checks or by offsetting income taxes would have a negligible impact on the economy – significantly less than the cost of unchecked global warming. In fact, research has shown that it’s global warming that will seriously slow economic growth.

Simply put, the only way to protect the economy is to stop global warming. Accomplishing that will require that virtually every world country implement climate policies aimed at curbing carbon pollution. That was the purpose of the Paris climate accords. Disgracefully, the Trump administration made America the only country in the world whose leadership rejects that international climate agreement. But a carbon tax would be one of the most effective and efficient ways to cut America’s carbon pollution.

The text of the Resolution has it exactly backwards – a carbon tax would help protect the American economy by slowing global warming and its detrimental effects on economic growth.

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7 comments


Comprehensive study: carbon taxes won't hamper the economy

Posted on 16 July 2018 by dana1981 &


Eleven teams participated in a recent Stanford Energy Modeling Forum (EMF) project, examining the economic and environmental impacts of a carbon tax. The studies included “revenue recycling,” in which the funds generated from a carbon tax are returned to taxpayers either through regular household rebate checks (similar to the Citizens’ Climate Lobby [CCL] and Climate Leadership Council [CLC] proposals) or by offsetting income taxes (similar to the approach in British Columbia).

Among the eleven modeling teams the key findings were consistent. First, a carbon tax is effective at reducing carbon pollution, although the structure of the tax (the price and the rate at which it rises) are important. Second, this type of revenue-neutral carbon tax would have a very modest impact on the economy in terms of gross domestic product (GDP). In all likelihood it would slightly slow economic growth, but by an amount that would be more than offset by the benefits of cutting pollution and slowing global warming.

Meanwhile, House Republicans are again on the verge of introducing a Resolution denouncing a carbon tax as “detrimental to American families and businesses, and is not in the best interest of the United States.”

The strong economic case for a carbon tax

The modeling teams examined four carbon tax scenarios, with starting prices of $25 or $50 per ton of carbon dioxide, rising at 1% or 5% per year. These are somewhat modest policy scenarios; CCL proposes a starting tax of $15 per ton rising at $10 per year, and the CLC proposes $40 per ton rising around 4% per year. The most aggressive policy considered by the Stanford EMF teams ($50 per ton rising 5% per year) falls in between these two proposals.

carbon taxes

 The carbon price each year 2020–2050 in proposals by Citizens’ Climate Lobby (blue), the Climate Leadership Council (red), and the four approaches modeled by the Stanford EMF teams (green). Illustration: Dana Nuccitelli

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97 comments


There are genuine climate alarmists, but they're not in the same league as deniers

Posted on 9 July 2018 by dana1981 &

Those who debunk climate change misinformation often face a dilemma. We’re flooded with such a constant deluge of climate myths, where should we focus our efforts? Climate misinformation is propagated via congressional climate hearings, conservative media outlets, denial blogs, and even from some genuine climate alarmists. 

Specifically, there has recently been a debate as to whether Skeptical Science– a website with a database of climate myths and scientific debunkings, to which I’m a primary contributor – would be more useful and effective if it called out misinformation from ‘alarmists,’ and if it eliminated or revised its Climate Misinformers page.

Richard Betts@richardabetts

I describe the SkS lists as political because their 'misinformer' lists don't include those on the 'climate action' side who actively deny science & espouse conspiracy ideation

There is some validity to these critiques, and in response, Skeptical Science is renaming the page ‘Climate misinformation by source.’ But the site is run entirely by a team of international volunteers, and as such, opportunity costs must be considered. Time devoted to refuting alarmists is time not devoted to debunking the constant deluge of climate denial.

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Republicans try to save their deteriorating party with another push for a carbon tax

Posted on 2 July 2018 by dana1981 &


The Republican Party is rotting away
. The problem is that GOP policies just aren’t popular. Most Americans unsurprisingly oppose climate denial, tax cuts for the wealthy, and putting children (including toddlers) in concentration camps, for example.

The Republican Party has thus far managed to continue winning elections by creating “a coalition between racists and plutocrats,” as Paul Krugman put it. The party’s economic policies are aimed at benefitting wealthy individuals and corporations, but that’s a slim segment of the American electorate. The plutocrats can fund political campaigns, but to capture enough votes to win elections, the GOP has resorted to identity politics. Research has consistently shown that Trump won because of racial resentment among white voters.

While that strategy has worked in the short-term, some Republicans recognize that it can’t work in the long-term, and they’re fighting to save their party from extinction.

Can a carbon tax save the GOP?

Climate change is one of many issues that divides the Republican Party. Like racial resentment, climate denial is a position held mostly by old, white, male conservatives. There’s a climate change generational, ethnic, and gender gap. 61% of Republicans under the age of 50 support government climate policies, compared to just 44% of Republicans over 50. Similarly, a majority of Hispanic- and African-Americans accept human-caused global warming and 70% express concern about it, as compared to just 41% of whites who accept the scientific reality and 50% who worry about it.

But the plutocratic wing of the GOP loves fossil fuels. Republican politicians rely on campaign donations from the fossil fuel industry, and quid pro quo requires them to do the industry’s bidding. It might as well be called the Grand Oil Party.

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30 years later, deniers are still lying about Hansen’s amazing global warming prediction

Posted on 25 June 2018 by dana1981 &

30 years ago, James Hansen testified to Congress about the dangers of human-caused climate change. In his testimony, Hansen showed the results of his 1988 study using a climate model to project future global warming under three possible scenarios, ranging from ‘business as usual’ heavy pollution in his Scenario A to ‘draconian emissions cuts’ in Scenario C, with a moderate Scenario B in between.

Changes in the human effects that influence Earth’s global energy imbalance (a.k.a. ‘anthropogenic radiative forcings’) have in reality been closest to Hansen’s Scenario B, but about 20–30% weaker thanks to the success of the Montreal Protocol in phasing out chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs). Hansen’s climate model projected that under Scenario B, global surface air temperatures would warm about 0.84°C between 1988 and 2017. But with a global energy imbalance 20–30% lower, it would have predicted a global surface warming closer to 0.6–0.7°C by this year.

The actual 1988–2017 temperature increase was about 0.6°C. Hansen’s 1988 global climate model was almost spot-on.

Hansen 88

Scenario B from Hansen’s 1988 paper, with the trend reduced by 27% to reflect the actual radiative forcing from 1984 to 2017, compared to global surface temperature data from Cowtan & Way. Illustration: Dana Nuccitelli

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Should we be worried about surging Antarctic ice melt and sea level rise?

Posted on 18 June 2018 by dana1981 &

There’s recently been a spate of sea level rise denial in the conservative media, but in reality, sea level rise is accelerating and melting ice is playing an increasingly large role. In the first half of the 20th Century, average global sea level rose by about 1.4 millimeters per year (mm/yr). Since 1993, that rate has more than doubled to 3.2 mm/yr. And since 2012, it’s jumped to 4.5 mm/yr.

GMSLR

Global mean sea level data from the Colorado University Sea Level Research Group, with 4-to-5-year linear trends shown in black and red. Illustration: Dana Nuccitelli

Thermal expansion (ocean water expanding as it warms) continues to play the biggest role in sea level rise, but its contribution of about 1.3 mm/yr is now responsible for a smaller proportion of total sea level rise (30% in recent years) than its contribution since the 1990s (40% of the total). That’s because of the acceleration in melting ice.

Glacier melt is accelerating, recently contributing about 0.75 mm/yr to sea level rise, up from 0.65 mm/yr since the 1990s. But the biggest jumps have come from ice in Greenland and Antarctica. Greenland had been responsible for about 0.48 mm/yr sea level rise since 1990, but in recent years is up to 0.78 mm/yr. A recent study in Nature Climate Change found that Greenland contributed about 5% to sea level rise in 1993 and 25% in 2014.

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Benefits of curbing climate change far outweigh costs

Posted on 12 June 2018 by dana1981 &

Those who oppose policies to cut carbon pollution and slow climate change always claim that doing so will be too expensive and cripple the economy. They argue that instead we should maximize economic growth so that we can pay for climate damages and adaptation in the future. It’s an argument helped by the fact that models have essentially treated economic growth as an external factor that won’t be significantly impacted by climate change.

That assumption has been challenged in recent years, starting with a 2012 paper in theAmerican Economic Journal finding that higher temperatures reduce economic growth rates, particularly in poorer countries. A 2015 paper by Stanford scientists published inNature Climate Change built on this work, similarly finding that global warming will particularly hurt economic growth in poorer countries, and that “Optimal climate policy in this model stabilizes global temperature change below 2 degrees C.” This finding is consistent with the target set by the Paris climate accords. 

Later in 2015, a team of scientists led by Marshall Burke published a paper inNature finding a relationship between temperature and Gross Domestic Product, or GDP. There’s a sweet spot where regions with an average temperature around 13 degrees Celsius (55 degrees Fahrenheit) have the highest economic productivity. When temperatures are much hotter or colder, GDP falls. Countries like the United States, Japan, China, and many European countries happen to have temperatures right near that sweet spot, while many developing countries closer to the equator—in regions like Africa and southeast Asia—are already hotter than optimal. Consistent with the findings of the aforementioned studies, the economies of these poorer tropical countries will be particularly hard hit by global warming, because their climates are already sub-optimally hot.

Just recently, Burke led another team of scientists in research quantifying these economic costs of higher temperatures. Their latest paper, also published in Nature, found that limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius would likely save the global economy more than $20 trillion by the year 2100 as compared to 2 degrees Celsius warming—at a cost of about $300 billion. That means the benefits of curbing climate change would exceed the costs by about 70-to-1. The study also only accounts for temperature effects on GDP and not other damaging factors like sea level rise, and is thus likely a conservative estimate.

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The Wall Street Journal keeps peddling Big Oil propaganda

Posted on 11 June 2018 by dana1981 &

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) Opinion page has long had a conservative skew, and unfortunately that has extended to politicizing climate change with biased and factually inaccurate editorials.

Over the past several weeks, the WSJ’s attacks on climate science have gone into overdrive. On May 15th, the Opinion page published a self-contradictory editorial from the lifelong contrarian and fossil fuel-funded Fred Singer that so badly rejected basic physics, it prompted one researcher to remark, “If this were an essay in one of my undergraduate classes, he would fail.”

The WSJ did publish a letter to the editor (LTE) from real climate scientistsAndrea Dutton and Michael Mann rebutting Singer’s editorial. However, it gave the last word to science deniers in an LTE response rejecting the well-established facts that sea level rise is accelerating and Antarctic is loss is contributing to it.

A few days later, the WSJ opinion page was at it again, publishing an editorialby Stephen F. Hayward, who describes himself as having “spent most of my adult life in conservative think tanks in Washington, D.C.,” and it shows. Hayward has a long history as a climate naysayer, spanning over a decadeback to his days with the fossil fuel-funded American Enterprise Institute.

Playing Whack-a-Mole with Hayward’s Gish Gallop

Hayward’s arguments of course deserve to be judged on their own merits. I devoted my first-ever Tweetstorm to doing just that:

Dana Nuccitelli@dana1981

Ok, let's do a Whack-a-Mole Twitter thread debunking all the nonsense in @stevenfhayward's @WSJ editorial (1/n)

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The latest weak attacks on EVs and solar panels

Posted on 4 June 2018 by dana1981 &

Over the past two weeks, media attacks on solar panels and electric vehicles have been followed by Trump administration policies aimed at boosting their fossil fueled rivals.

Efforts to undermine solar power

The first salvo came via a Forbes article written by Michael Shellenberger, who’s running a doomed campaign for California governor and really loves nuclear power. Shellenberger’s critique focused on the problem of potential waste at the end of a solar panel lifespan when the modules must be disposed or recycled. It’s a somewhat ironic concern from a proponent of nuclear power, which has a rather bigger toxic waste problem.

About 80% of a solar panel module can be recycled, but some portions cannot, and create potentially hazardous waste due to the presence of metals like cadmium and lead. The Electric Power Research Institute notes that long-term storage of used panels until recycling technologies become available may be the best option for dealing with this waste stream. Ultimately, it’s an issue that will need to be addressed as solar panels become more widespread and reach the end of their 25-plus year lifespan, much like the issue of nuclear waste. But it’s an issue that we should be able to resolve with smart policies and technologies.

It’s also not a big near-term concern, unlike the urgent need to deploy low-carbon energy, or an immediate pollution problem like for example the environmental crises that result when oil rigs fail or coal barges sink into rivers.

Shellenberger also raised concerns about the possibility “that cadmium can be washed out of solar modules by rainwater.” But that’s only a problem for broken panels, which are relatively rare except perhaps in the wake a natural disaster like a hurricane or earthquake. In a disaster area, leaching of metals from some broken solar panels is the least of a city’s problems.

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Trump administration refuses to consider that 97% of climate scientists could be right

Posted on 29 May 2018 by dana1981 &

Last week, the Washington Post obtained a White House internal memo that debated how the Trump administration should handle federal climate science reports.

The memo presented three options without endorsing any of them: conducting a “red team/blue team” exercise to “highlight uncertainties in climate science”; more formally reviewing the science under the Administrative Procedure Act; or deciding to just “ignore, and not seek to characterize or question, the science being conducted by Federal agencies and outside entities.”

In short, the White House considered ‘debating’ established climate science, casting doubt on scientists’ conclusions, or just ignoring them. Accepting and/or acting on the findings of the scientific experts is not an option they’re willing to consider.

Katharine Hayhoe@KHayhoe

So according to this memo, the administration considered 3 options--(1) framing reality as being up for debate; (2) developing their own view of reality; or (3) ignoring reality--and went with option 3.

Interesting that "accepting reality" was not an option. 

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Yes, EVs are green and global warming is raising sea levels

Posted on 21 May 2018 by dana1981 &

Last week, the House Science, Space and Technology Committee held yet another climate science hearing similar to those from April 2017February 2017January 2016May 2015June 2014December 2013, and so on. It seems as though disputing established climate science is House Republicans’ favorite hobby. This time, it was Philip Duffy’s turn to spend two hours playing whack-a-mole with the committee Republicans’ endless supply of long-debunked climate myths.

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL) claimed that sea level rise is due to the White Cliffs of Dover tumbling into the ocean (yes, really), and his colleagues argued that scientists in the 1970s were predicting global cooling, that Earth is just returning to its “normal temperature,” that Antarctic ice is growing, and sea levels are hardly rising.

Self-contradictory sea level rise denial

Those last two claims originated from a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) editorialentered into the Congressional record by Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX), written by Fred Singer. As the group Ozone Action documented, Singer has been a lifetime contrarian on virtually every scientific subject imaginable - acid rain, nuclear winter, nuclear waste, nuclear war, ozone depletion, secondhand smoke, amphibian population loss, and even minimum wage benefits. In recent decades he’s worked for a plethora of fossil fuel-funded think tanks, denying established climate science.

Singer’s WSJ editorial is difficult to follow, largely because it contradicts itself several times, saying:

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California, battered by global warming’s weather whiplash, is fighting to stop it

Posted on 14 May 2018 by dana1981 &

In 1988 – the same year Nasa’s James Hansen warned Congress about the threats posed by human-caused global warming – water expert Peter Gleick wrote about the wet and dry extremes that it would create for California:

California will get the worst of all possible worlds – more flooding in the winter, less available water in the summer.

Three decades later, California has been ravaged by just this sort of weather whiplash. The state experienced its worst drought in over a millennium from 2012 to 2016, followed immediately by its wettest year on record in 2017. The consequences have been similarly extreme, including hellish record wildfiresnarrowly-avoided catastrophic flooding at Oroville Dam, and deadly mudslides.

A study published last month in Nature Climate Change found that these wet and dry extremes will only worsen in California as temperatures continue to rise. As lead author Daniel Swain wrote:

most of California will likely experience a 100 – 200% increase in the frequency of very wet November-March “rainy seasons” … California will likely experience an increase of anywhere from 50% to 150% (highest in the south) in the frequency of very dry November-March periods … Since California is so dependent on precipitation during its relatively brief winter rainy season, even a single dry winter can quickly lead to adverse drought impacts upon agriculture and the environment.

Swain fig

Relative change (in percent) in extremely wet seasons and extremely dry seasons by 2070-2100 in Southern California. Illustration: Swain et al. 2018, Nature Climate Change

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Global warming will depress economic growth in Trump country

Posted on 7 May 2018 by dana1981 &

A working paper recently published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond concludes that global warming could significantly slow economic growth in the US.

Specifically, rising summertime temperatures in the hottest states will curb economic growth. And the states with the hottest summertime temperatures are all located in the South: Florida, Louisiana, Texas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Arkansas, and Arizona. All of these states voted for Donald Trump in 2016.

This paper is consistent with a 2015 Nature study that found an optimal temperature range for economic activity. Economies thrive in regions with an average temperature of around 14°C (57°F). Developed countries like the US, Japan, and much of Europe happen to be near that ideal temperature, but continued global warming will shift their climates away from the sweet spot and slow economic growth. The question is, by how much?

The new working paper concludes that if we meet the Paris target of staying below 2°C global warming, US economic growth will only slow by about 5 to 10%. On our current path, including climate policies implemented to date (which would lead to 3–3.5°C global warming by 2100), US economic growth would slow by about 10 to 20%. In a higher carbon pollution scenario (4°C global warming by 2100), US economic growth would slow by about 12 to 25% due to hotter temperatures alone.

Republicans have this totally wrong

House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, who represents Louisiana (the second-hottest state), recently introduced a new anti-carbon tax House Resolution. Scalise introduced similar Resolutions in 2013 with 155 co-sponsors (154 Republicans and 1 Democrat) and in 2015 with 82 co-sponsors (all Republicans). The latest version currently only has one co-sponsor, but more will undoubtedly sign on. All three versions of the Resolution include text claiming, “a carbon tax will lead to less economic growth.”

As the economics research shows, failing to curb global warming will certainly lead to less economic growth. Climate policies could hamper economic growth, but legislation can be crafted to address that concern.

For example, as Citizens’ Climate Lobby notes in its point-by-point response to the Scalise Resolution, an economic analysis of the group’s proposed revenue-neutral carbon tax policy found that it would modestly spur economic growth(increasing national GDP by $80 to 90bn per year). With this particular policy, 100% of the carbon tax revenue is returned equally to households, and for a majority of Americans, this more than offsets their increased costs. As a result, real disposable income rises, and Americans spend that money, spurring economic growth.

REMI

Modeled change in real disposable personal income in the US resulting from the CCL rising revenue-neutral carbon tax. Illustration: Regional Economic Models, Inc.

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Republicans have so corrupted EPA, Americans can only save it in the voting booth

Posted on 30 April 2018 by dana1981 &

Like Donald Trump and the rest of his administration, Scott Pruitt has been caught up in so many scandals that it becomes impossible to focus on any single act of corruption. It’s difficult to focus on the damage Pruitt is doing to the environment and public health when seemingly every day there’s a new scandal related to his illegal $43,000 phone booth, or use of Safe Water Drinking Act funds to give two staffers a total of $85,000 in raises (and lying about it), or his sweetheart deal on a condo rental from a lobbyist’s wife (and lying about having met with that lobbyist), or wasting taxpayer funds on first class air travel and military jets, and a nearly $3m per year security detail, and bulletproof car seat covers, and a bulletproof desk, and so on.

Lisa Friedman@LFFriedman

Number of federal investigations into Scott Pruitt has now risen to 11. Reps. Beyer & Lieu say EPA inspector general will take up an inquiry into the $50-a-night condo rental from the wife of an energy lobbyist.

But while Pruitt’s unprecedented corruption is staggering and would have resulted in his firing long ago in any other presidential administration, the damage Pruitt is doing to public and environmental health is a far greater scandal yet. As George W. Bush’s former EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman wrote in the scathing explanation for why TIME included Pruitt as one of its 100 most influential people this year,

If his actions continue in the same direction, during Pruitt’s term at the EPA the environment will be threatened instead of protected, and human health endangered instead of preserved, all with no long-term benefit to the economy.

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Pruitt promised polluters EPA will value their profits over American lives

Posted on 23 April 2018 by dana1981 &

TIME magazine announced last week that Trump’s EPA administrator Scott Pruitt is among their 100 most influential people of 2018. George W. Bush’s former EPA administrator Christine Todd Whitman delivered the scathing explanation:

If his actions continue in the same direction, during Pruitt’s term at the EPA the environment will be threatened instead of protected, and human health endangered instead of preserved, all with no long-term benefit to the economy.

As a perfect example of those actions, the Daily Caller recently reported that at a gathering at the fossil fuel-funded Heritage Institute, Pruitt announced that the EPA and federal government will soon end two important science-based practices in evaluating the costs and benefits of regulations.

Regulating pollutants has “co-benefits,” like saving lives

When the EPA regulates pollutants, the practice often yields what are called “co-benefits.” For example, limiting allowable mercury pollution can force dirty coal power plants to install pollution-control equipment or shut down. Since coal plants produce other pollutants like soot, the regulations not only reduce mercury levels, but also particulate matter in the air. The latter isn’t an intended consequence of the regulations, but creating cleaner air and healthier Americans are unintended “co-benefits” of limiting another pollutant.

In doing cost-benefit analyses, the EPA accounts for all direct benefits and indirect co-benefits of its regulations. Certain industry groups and conservative pundits don’t like that approach, because they care more about polluter profits than they do about clean air and healthy Americans. However, during the George W. Bush administration in 2003, the Office of Management and Budget issued a guidance saying that it’s important to consider co-benefits:

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The courts are deciding who's to blame for climate change

Posted on 16 April 2018 by dana1981 &

There are numerous ongoing legal challenges in an effort to determine who’s responsible for climate change. Exxon is under investigation by state attorneys general, cities are suing oil companies over sea level rise costs, and Our Children’s Trust is suing the federal government for failing to protect their generation from climate change. At the heart of these legal challenges lies the question – who bears culpability for climate change and liability for its costs and consequences?

Like Exxon, Shell Knew

Exxon has been a prime target of these investigations and lawsuits since Inside Climate News’ investigative journalism revealed that the company’s internal climate science research warned of the dangers posed by human-caused global warming since the late 1970s.

Recently, Dutch journalist Jelmer Mommers of De Correspondent unearthed internal documents from Shell that began warning of the dangers associated with human-caused climate change 30 years ago. The company’s 1988 report titled “The Greenhouse Effect” warned,

by the time the global warming becomes detectable it could be too late to take effective countermeasures to reduce the effects or even stabilise the situation.

And, particularly relevant to Our Children’s Trust’s lawsuits, Shell’s 1988 report warned of the climate consequences for future generations.

shell

Similarly, in a 1991 film called Climate of Concern, Shell warned,

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EPA’s war with California proves America needs a carbon tax

Posted on 10 April 2018 by dana1981 &

Last week, Trump’s EPA announced that it will repeal the vehicle fuel efficiency standards set under the Obama administration and replace them with weaker requirements. EPA also threatened to revoke California’s ability under the Clean Air Act to impose its own greenhouse gas standards. If they do so, California’s attorney general will sue the EPA.

Xavier Becerra@AGBecerra

The Trump Administration’s assault on clean car standards risks our ability to protect our children’s health, tackle climate change, and save hardworking Americans money. We’re ready to file suit if needed to protect these critical standards: https://oag.ca.gov/news/press-releases/attorney-general-becerra-epa%E2%80%99s-assault-federal-greenhouse-gas-emission-standards  https://twitter.com/business/status/980867241565736960 

This lawsuit would be tied up in court for years, and in the meantime California’s more stringent standards would remain in place. Those standards have been adopted by 12 other states, which along with California account for one-third of new car sales in America. Weaker federal fuel efficiency standards wouldn’t much help the US auto industry if they don’t apply to one-third of domestic sales.

The Obama administration set the stricter fuel efficiency standards after the federal government was forced to bail out the auto industry. Struck by the 2008 global recession and a spike in fuel prices, US auto manufacturers, whose fleets were less fuel efficient than foreign competitors, were in dire financial straits. The auto industry thus accepted the federal bailout and didn’t fight the higher fuel efficiency standards – until Donald Trump came into office. California also agreed to the new federal standards in 2008, and now wants to use its Clean Air Act authorization to keep them.

The auto industry has argued that low gasoline prices are the problem, but that’s not a problem they want to solve. In fact, US automakers are in the process of repeating the same mistakes that led to the industry collapse a decade ago:

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American conservatives are still clueless about the 97% expert climate consensus

Posted on 5 April 2018 by dana1981 &

Gallup released its annual survey on American perceptions about global warming last week, and the results were a bit discouraging. While 85–90% of Democrats are worried about global warming, realize humans are causing it, and are aware that most scientists agree on this, independents and Republicans are a different story. Only 35% of Republicans and 62% of independents realize humans are causing global warming (down from 40% and 70% last year, respectively), a similar number are worried about it, and only 42% of Republicans and 65% of independents are aware of the scientific consensus – also significantly down from last year’s Gallup poll.

The Trump administration’s polarizing stance on climate change is probably the main contributor to this decline in conservative acceptance of climate change realities. A recent study found evidence that “Americans may have formed their attitudes [on climate change] by using party elite cues” delivered via the media. In particular, the study found that Fox News “is consistently more partisan than other [news] outlets” and has incorporated politicians into the majority of its climate segments.

Americans are gradually becoming better-informed

Nevertheless, public awareness about climate change realities has improved over the long-term. For example, about two-thirds of Americans now realize that most scientists agree global warming is occurring, up from less than half in 1997.

gallup 1

Responses to Gallup survey question asking whether most scientists believe global warming is occurring. Illustration: Dana Nuccitelli

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Climate scientists debate a flaw in the Paris climate agreement

Posted on 29 March 2018 by dana1981 &

In September 2017, a team led by the University of Exeter’s Richard Millar published a paper in Nature Geoscience, which was widely reported as suggesting that the Paris climate agreement’s aspirational goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial temperatures is still technically within our reach. Many other climate scientists were skeptical of this result, and the journal recently published a critique from a team led by the University of Edinburgh’s Andrew Schurer.

The debate lies in exactly how the Paris climate target is defined and measured, which has not been precisely established. Millar’s team used the UK Met Office and Hadley Centre global surface temperature dataset called HadCRUT4, which begins in 1850 and estimates global surface temperatures have warmed about 0.9°C since that time. The team thus calculated the remaining carbon budget that will lead to an additional 0.6°C warming.

The three issues underlying the vague Paris target

But HadCRUT4 has some significant flaws. First, it only covers 84% of Earth’s surface. There are large gaps in its coverage, mainly in the Arctic, Antarctica, and Africa, where temperature monitoring stations are relatively scarce. And the Arctic is the fastest-warming part of the planet, which means that HadCRUT4 somewhat underestimates global warming.

Coverage bias in the HadCRUT4 temperature series and its impact on recent temperature trends, by Kevin Cowtan.

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In court, Big Oil rejected climate denial

Posted on 27 March 2018 by dana1981 &

In a California court case this week, Judge William Alsup asked the two sides to provide him a climate science tutorial.

The plaintiffs are the coastal cities of San Francisco and Oakland. They’re suing five major oil companies (Chevron, ExxonMobil, Shell, ConocoPhillips and BP) to pay for the cities’ costs to cope with the sea level rise caused by global warming. Chevron’s lawyer presented the science for the defense, and most notably, began by explicitly accepting the expert consensus on human-caused global warming, saying:

From Chevron’s perspective, there is no debate about the science of climate change

Deniers still want to debate the science of climate change

Deniers filed briefs in support of the defense, but they contradicted Chevron’s tutorial. For example, one brief filed by a group led by Christopher Monckton and Willie Soon began by stating, “The “consensus” about global warming is 0.3%, not 97%” (this is obviously incorrect). Another brief filed by William HapperSteve Koonin, and Richard Lindzen argued that “It is not possible to tell how much of the modest recent warming can be ascribed to human influences.” Chevron and the IPCC disagree.

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Developing countries need fossil fuels to reach the standard of living we enjoy, right?

Posted on 20 March 2018 by dana1981 &

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John Kelly shut down Pruitt’s climate denial ‘red team,’ but they have a Plan B

Posted on 19 March 2018 by dana1981 &

In 2007, the US Supreme Court ruled that carbon dioxide is an air pollutant, which means that if it poses a threat to public health or welfare, the EPA must regulate it under the Clean Air Act. In 2009, the EPA completed its review of the climate science literature and correctly concluded in its Endangerment Findingthat carbon pollution poses such a threat via climate change. That document is the foundation for all government climate policies, including the Obama Administration’s Clean Power Plan. Climate deniers have thus long had their sights set on revoking the Endangerment Finding.

That’s a tall order, since the scientific literature is crystal clear on this question. House Republicans first tried to simply rewrite the Clean Air Act to state the greenhouse gases aren’t pollutants, but they failed to get nearly enough support to pass that legislation. Next they proposed setting up a ‘Red Team’ of climate deniers to debate the mainstream climate science ‘Blue Team.’ But Trump’s chief of staff John Kelly worried that having this prominent debate on the record would be a distraction and potentially expose the administration to litigation, so he killed the idea

However, E&E News reports that Pruitt has a safer Plan B: take public comments on petitions asking EPA to revisit the Endangerment Finding. This would appease the deniers by allowing them to officially make their case, but the EPA wouldn’t be under any obligation to take action. It’s a fight Pruitt knows he would lose in court, because the science is not on the deniers’ side, so he would prefer to simply weaken the Clean Power Plan, eliminate as many other federal climate policies as possible, and delay all US climate action until the clock runs out on the Trump administration.

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Burning coal may have caused Earth’s worst mass extinction

Posted on 12 March 2018 by dana1981 &

Earth has so far gone through five mass extinction events – scientists are worried we’re on course to trigger a sixth – and the deadliest one happened 252 million years ago at the end of the Permian geologic period. In this event, coined “the Great Dying,” over 90% of marine species and 70% of terrestrial vertebrate species went extinct. It took about 10 million years for life on Earth to recover from this catastrophic event.

Scientists have proposed a number of possible culprits responsible for this mass extinction, including an asteroid impact, mercury poisoning, a collapse of the ozone layer, and acid rain. Heavy volcanic activity in Siberia was suspected to play a key role in the end-Permian event.

Recently, geologist Dr Benjamin Burger identified a rock layer in Utah that he believed might have formed during the Permian and subsequent Triassic period that could shed light on the cause of the Great Dying.

Utah

Sheep Creek Valley, Utah. Photograph: Benjamin Burger

During the Permian, Earth’s continents were still combined as one Pangea, and modern day Utah was on the supercontinent’s west coast. Samples from the end-Permian have been collected from rock layers in Asia, near the volcanic eruptions, but Utah was on the other side of Pangaea. Burger’s samples could thus provide a unique perspective of what was happening on the other side of the world from the eruptions. Burger collected and analyzed samples from the rock layer, and documented the whole process in a fascinating video:

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Stop blaming ‘both sides’ for America’s climate failures

Posted on 5 March 2018 by dana1981 &

Steven Pinker is a cognitive psychologist, linguist, and author of Bill Gates’ two favorite books. However, his latest – Enlightenment Now – has some serious shortcomings centering on Pinker’s misperceptions about climate change polarization. Pinker falls into the trap of ‘Both Siderism,’ acknowledging the Republican Party’s science denial, but also wrongly blaming liberals for the policy stalemate, telling Ezra Klein:

there is implacable opposition to nuclear energy in much of the environmental movement ... There are organizations like Greenpeace and NRDC who are just dead set opposed to nuclear. There are also people on the left like Naomi Klein who are dead set against carbon pricing because it doesn’t punish the polluters enough ... the people that you identify who believe in a) carbon pricing and b) expansion of nuclear power, I suspect they’re a tiny minority of the people concerned with climate … What we need are polling data on how many people really would support carbon pricing and an expansion of nuclear and other low carbon energy sources.

Here Pinker has created a strange straw man that bears no resemblance to the real population of American liberals and environmentalists. In fact, the polling data he wonders about already exists.

For example, a 2016 survey by Yale and George Mason universities found that 73% of Democrats support a carbon tax or a combination of tax and regulations (a further 17% favored carbon pollution regulations only). In fact, most consider putting a price on carbon pollution the single most crucial step in tackling global warming. Even Naomi Klein has said, “I don’t think a carbon tax is a silver bullet, but I think a progressively designed carbon tax is part of a slate of policies that we need.”

While it’s true that a majority of liberals oppose building more nuclear power plants, 38% support the idea. Some environmental groups like Greenpeace do oppose nuclear power, but Pinker’s other example, NRDC merely points out that new nuclear plants are currently uneconomical, and even suggests, “The federal government should continue to fund research into nuclear energy.” There are strong economic reasons to oppose building new nuclear power as an inefficient use of resources when renewables today are cheaper and can be deployed more quickly. That being said, were nuclear power funding included in comprehensive legislation to tackle climate change, most liberals and environmentalists would accept that deal in a heartbeat.

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Actions today will decide Antarctic ice sheet loss and sea level rise

Posted on 1 March 2018 by dana1981 &

A new study published in Nature looks at how much global sea level will continue to rise even if we manage to meet the Paris climate target of staying below 2°C hotter than pre-industrial temperatures. The issue is that sea levels keep rising for several hundred years after we stabilize temperatures, largely due to the continued melting of ice sheets in Antarctica and Greenland from the heat already in the climate system.

The study considered two scenarios. In the first, human carbon pollution peaks somewhere between 2020 and 2035 and falls quickly thereafter, reaching zero between 2035 and 2055 and staying there. Global temperatures in the first scenario peak at and remain steady below 2°C. In the second scenario, we capture and sequester carbon to reach net negative emissions (more captured than emitted) between 2040 and 2060, resulting in falling global temperatures in the second half of the century.

The authors found that global average sea level will most likely rise by about 1.3 meters by 2300 in the first scenario, and by 1 meter in the second. However, there is large uncertainty due to how little we understand about the stability of the large ice sheets in Greenland and especially Antarctica. At the high end of possible ice sheet loss, we could see as much as 4.5 meters of sea level rise by 2300 in the first scenario, and close to 3 meters in the second scenario.

fig 1

Carbon emissions (top frames), global temperatures (middle frames), and sea level rise (left frames) in the study’s two scenarios (left and right frames). Illustration: Mengel et al. (2018), Nature Communications

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What role did climate change play in this winter’s US freezes, heat, and drought?

Posted on 28 February 2018 by dana1981 &

This is a re-post from the Citizens' Climate Lobby Blog by Dana Nuccitelli and Doug Sinton, CCL Science Policy Network Team

There is growing scientific evidence suggesting that human-caused global warming is causing rapid changes in the Arctic, which in turn is altering the atmosphere, causing wavy patterns to form more frequently in the jet stream. On the West Coast, this can cause persistent high-pressure systems to form in the Pacific, exacerbating droughts by blocking storm systems. It can also allow frigid Arctic air to spill into the USA, creating especially cold winter weather. In sum, these freezes, heat, and droughts are made more likely by rising global temperatures, and as they rise further, such extremes may well become more common.

Abnormal winter weather

This winter, the eastern USA was hit by frigid cold weather, although at the same time, the western states (and most of the rest of the world) were relatively toasty:

Surface temperatures, Arctic, North America, NASA

North American surface temperatures for Dec. 26, 2017 – Jan. 2, 2018, from NASA Earth Observatory

This prompted a presidential tweet suggesting, “Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming.” It’s a natural reaction, when in the midst of frigid weather, to wonder how such cold conditions can strike in a world that’s being heated by global warming. However, scientific research has suggested that, counterintuitively, climate change appears to be playing a role in making these cold winter weather events happen more often in some regions.

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News network climate reporting soared in 2017 thanks to Trump

Posted on 15 February 2018 by dana1981 &

In 2016, US TV network news coverage of climate change plummeted. News coverage was focused on the presidential election, but the corporate broadcast networks didn’t air a single segment informing viewers how a win by Trump or Hillary Clinton could affect climate change or climate policy. That followed a slight drop in news coverage of climate change in 2015, despite that year being full of critical events like the Paris climate accordsClean Power Plan, and record-breaking heat.

The good news is that the annual analysis done by Media Matters for America found that in 2017, network news coverage of climate change soared.

coverage

Minutes of US corporate news network climate coverage by year, 2014–2017. Data from Media Matters for America. Illustration: Dana Nuccitelli

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The EPA debunked Administrator Pruitt’s latest climate misinformation

Posted on 12 February 2018 by dana1981 &

Last week, a Las Vegas news station interviewed Trump’s EPA administrator Scott Pruitt. The interviewer brought up the topic of climate change, and virtually everything Pruitt said in response was wrong, and was often refuted on his own agency’s website, until he started deleting it.

Humans are causing global warming. All of it.

To begin, Pruitt claimed that we don’t know ‘with precision’ what’s causing global warming.

Our activity contributes to the climate changing to a certain degree. Now measuring that with precision, Gerard, I think is more challenging than is let on at times.

Here’s what the EPA website said about that a year ago, before Pruitt got a hold of it as part of the Trump Administration’s systematic deletion of government climate change websites:

Research indicates that natural causes do not explain most observed warming, especially warming since the mid-20th century. Rather, it is extremely likely that human activities have been the dominant cause of that warming.

To support this statement, the EPA referenced the latest IPCC report. The IPCC concluded with 95% confidence that humans are the main cause of global warming since 1950, with a best estimate that humans are responsible for all of the global warming during that time. That’s what the scientific research has overwhelmingly concluded:

all of it

The percentage of human contribution to global warming over the past 50-65 years from various peer-reviewed studies. Illustration: Dana Nuccitelli and John Cook

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Humans need to become smarter thinkers to beat climate denial

Posted on 6 February 2018 by dana1981 & John Cook

Climate myths are often contradictory – it’s not warming, though it’s warming because of the sun, and really it’s all just an ocean cycle – but they all seem to share one thing in common: logical fallacies and reasoning errors.

John Cook, Peter Ellerton, and David Kinkead have just published a paper in Environmental Research Letters in which they examined 42 common climate myths and found that every single one demonstrates fallacious reasoning. For example, the authors made a video breaking down the logical flaws in the myth ‘climate changed naturally in the past so current climate change is natural.’

Video abstract for paper “Deconstructing climate misinformation to identify reasoning errors” published in Environmental Research Letters by John Cook, Peter Ellerton, and David Kinkead.

Beating myths with critical thinking

Cook has previously published research on using ‘misconception-based learning’to dislodge climate myths from peoples’ brains and replace them with facts, and beating denial by inoculating people against misinformers’ tricks. The idea is that when people are faced with a myth and a competing fact, the fact will more easily win out if the fallacy underpinning the myth is revealed. In fact, these concepts of misconception-based learning and inoculation against myths were the basis of the free online Denial101x course developed by Cook and colleagues.

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It's not okay how clueless Donald Trump is about climate change

Posted on 1 February 2018 by dana1981 &

Donald Trump has decimated all presidential norms to such a degree that it’s now difficult to feel alarmed or outraged when he inevitably breaks another. It was difficult to raise an eyebrow when the story broke that Trump paid off a porn star to remain silent about their affair, which happened just after his third wife had given birth to his fifth child, because it’s Donald Trump – of course he did.

Likewise, when Trump made a number of grossly ignorant and wrong commentsabout climate change in an interview with Piers Morgan last week, my first reaction was ‘it’s Donald Trump – of course he did.’

But that’s not okay. Donald Trump is the leader of the country most culpable for the existential threat that we’ve created by rapidly changing Earth’s climate. His administration is alone in the world in declaring that we need not worry about that existential threat. We need to hold him to account for his ignorance on this critically important issue and demand better.

Trump’s ignorant climate comments

Trump’s climate comments in the interview were so ridiculously misinformed that even late night comedians were able to debunk them:

They’re claims you might expect from a YouTube troll, not the leader of the country that produces some of the best climate science research and data in the world. It would be easy to laugh them off as Trump’s usual buffoonery, but he should be held to a presidential standard. So, to briefly debunk each of these myths:

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Natural gas killed coal – now renewables and batteries are taking over

Posted on 29 January 2018 by dana1981 &

Over the past decade, coal has been increasingly replaced by cheaper, cleaner energy sources. US coal power production has dropped by 44% (866 terawatt-hours [TWh]). It’s been replaced by natural gas (up 45%, or 400 TWh), renewables (up 260%, or 200 TWh), and increased efficiency (the US uses 9%, or 371 TWh less electricity than a decade ago).

US power grid

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

In other words, of the 866 TWh of lost coal power production, 46% was picked up by natural gas, 43% by increased efficiency, and 23% by renewables.

Natural gas is an unstable ‘bridge fuel’

While the shift away from coal is a positive development in slowing global warming by cutting carbon pollution, as Joe Romm has detailed for Climate Progress, research indicates that shifting to natural gas squanders most of those gains. For example, a 2014 study published in Environmental Research Letters found that when natural gas production is abundant, it crowds out both coal and renewables, resulting in little if any climate benefit. Part of the problem is significant methane leakage from natural gas drilling.

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Switching to electric cars is key to fixing America's 'critically insufficient' climate policies

Posted on 22 January 2018 by dana1981 &

In order to meet its share of the carbon pollution cuts needed to achieve the 2°C Paris international climate target, America’s policies are rated as “critically insufficient” by the Climate Action Tracker. The Trump Administration has taken every possible step to undo the Obama Administration’s climate policies, including announcing that America will be the only world country to withdraw from the Paris agreement, and trying to repeal the Clean Power Plan.

In 2020, the next American president will have to make up the lost ground and come up with a plan to rapidly accelerate the country’s transition away from fossil fuels. Currently, transportation and power generation each account for about 30% of US greenhouse gas emissions, so those sectors represent the prime targets for pollution cuts. 

Carbon pollution from electricity is already falling fast

American power sector carbon emissions had exceeded those from transportation from 1979 until 2016. But because coal power plants have rapidly been replaced by natural gas and renewables, US power sector emissions have fallen rapidly since 2007, and are now below 1989 levels. US carbon pollution from transportation, on the other hand, has been on the rise since 2012. It remains higher than in 2000, nearly 20% higher than 1989 levels, and has surpassed power sector emissions.

sector emissions

US Energy Information Administration data on carbon pollution from the transportation and power sectors since 1973 (2017 estimated from the first 9 months of data) Illustration: Dana Nuccitelli

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Scott Pruitt insincerely asked what's Earth's ideal temperature. Scientists answer

Posted on 17 January 2018 by dana1981 &

In an interview with Reuters last week, Trump’s EPA administrator Scott Pruitt said,

The climate is changing. That’s not the debate. The debate is how do we know what the ideal surface temperature is in 2100?

Pruitt’s goal is to sow doubt on behalf of his oil industry allies in order to weaken and delay climate policies. Shifting the ‘debate’ toward ‘the ideal surface temperature’ achieves that goal by creating the perception that we don’t know what temperature we should aim for. It’s in line with his boss’ recent ignorant tweet suggesting that “Perhaps we could use a little bit of that good old Global Warming.”

I spoke with a number of climate scientists who agreed that to minimize the risks associated with rapid human-caused climate change, from a practical standpoint the ‘ideal temperature’ is as close to the current one as possible.

Temperature isn’t the issue - temperature change is

Stefan Rahmstorf, Head of Earth System Analysis at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research pointed out that we’re not concerned about specific temperatures; it’s rapid temperature changes that cause problems:

Pruitt of course is trying to have a strawman debate, distracting from the fact that not a certain temperature as such is better or worse, but that a change from what we are adapted to is a problem, especially a very rapid change - in either direction, cooling or warming, this causes big disruption.

We should not stray too far away from what we and the currently existing ecosystems have evolved for. That is the optimum, simply because it is what we’re highly adapted to, and any major change is going to be very painful.

Civilization developed in a stable climate

Texas Tech’s Katharine Hayhoe agreed, noting that human civilization has developed in the relatively stable climate of the past 10,000 years.

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The 'imminent mini ice age' myth is back, and it's still wrong

Posted on 9 January 2018 by dana1981 &

This post has been incorporated into the rebuttal to the myth A grand solar minimum could trigger another ice age

Roughly every two years we’re treated to headlines repeating the myth that Earth is headed for an imminent “mini ice age.” It happened in 20132015, and again just recently at the tail end of 2017.

This time around, the myth appears to have been sparked by a Sky News interview with Northumbria University mathematics professor Valentina Zharkova. The story was quickly echoed by the Daily MailInternational Business TimesSputnik NewsMetroTru News, and others. Zharkova was also behind the ‘mini ice age’ stories in 2015, based on her research predicting that the sun will soon enter a quiet phase.

The most important takeaway point is that the scientific research is clear – were one to occur, a grand solar minimum would temporarily reduce global temperatures by less than 0.3°C, while humans are already causing 0.2°C warming per decade

solar minimum temp

The global mean temperature difference is shown for the time period 1900 to 2100 for the IPCC A2 emissions scenario. The red line shows predicted temperature change for the current level of solar activity, the blue line shows predicted temperature change for solar activity at the much lower level of the Maunder Minimum, and the black line shows observed temperatures through 2010. Illustration: Adapted from Feulner & Rahmstorf (2010) in Geophysical Research Letters by SkepticalScience.com

So the sun could only offset at most 15 years’ worth of human-caused global warming, and once its quiet phase ended, the sun would then help accelerate global warming once again.

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2017 was the hottest year on record without an El Niño, thanks to global warming

Posted on 2 January 2018 by dana1981 &

2017 was the second-hottest year on record according to Nasa data, and was the hottest year without the short-term warming influence of an El Niño event:

1964–2017 global surface temperature data from Nasa, divided into El Niño (red), La Niña (blue), and neutral (black) years, with linear trends added.

In fact, 2017 was the hottest year without an El Niño by a wide margin – a whopping 0.17°C hotter than 2014, which previously held that record. Remarkably, 2017 was also hotter than 2015, which at the time was by far the hottest year on record thanks in part to a strong El Niño event that year.

For comparison, the neutral El Niño conditions and the level of solar activity in 1972 were quite similar to those in 2017. 45 years later, the latter was 0.9°C hotter than the former. For each type of year – La Niña, El Niño, and neutral – the global surface warming trend between 1964 and 2017 is 0.17–0.18°C per decade, which is consistent with climate model predictions.

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Fake news is a threat to humanity, but scientists may have a solution

Posted on 27 December 2017 by dana1981 &

People are very good at finding ways to believe what we want to believe. Climate change is the perfect example – acceptance of climate science among Americans is strongly related to political ideology. This has exposed humanity’s potentially fatal flaw. Denying an existential threat threatens our existence.

But that’s exactly what many ideological conservatives doPartisan polarization over climate change has steadily grown over the past two decades. This change can largely be traced to the increasingly fractured and partisan media environment that has created an echo chamber in which people can wrap themselves in the comfort of “alternative facts” (a.k.a spin and lies) that affirm their worldviews. We’ve become too good at fooling ourselves into believing falsehoods, which has ushered in a dangerous “post-truth” era, with no better example than the subject of climate change.

In its December 2017 issue, the Journal of Applied Research in Memory and Cognition published a paper by Stephan Lewandowsky, Ullrich Ecker, and John Cook, along with an impressive 9 responses from other social scientists, essentially investigating how we can make truth great again.

The Fox Newsification of America

The December 2017 Alabama special election provided an excellent example of the problem at hand. Despite numerous allegations and evidence that Roy Moore pursued and in some cases sexually assaultedteenage girls while in this thirties, 71% of Alabama Republicans believed the allegations were false. Among those disbelieving Republicans, approximately 90% said that the media and Democrats were behind the allegations. As Donald Trump would put it, they believed the allegations were “fake news.” Similarly, 51% of Republicans still believe that Barack Obama was born in Kenya.

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Scientists have beaten down the best climate denial argument

Posted on 18 December 2017 by dana1981 &

Climate deniers have come up with a lot of arguments about why we shouldn’t worry about global warming – about 200 of them – but most are quite poor, contradictory, and easily debunked by consulting the peer-reviewed scientific literature. The cleverest climate contrarians settle on the least implausible argument – that equilibrium climate sensitivity (ECS – how much a doubling of the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere will increase Earth’s surface temperature) is low, meaning that the planet will warm relatively slowly in response to human carbon pollution.

But they have to explain how that can be the case, because there are a lot of factors that amplify global warming. For example, a warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor, which is itself a greenhouse gas, adding further warming. Warming also melts ice, leaving Earth’s surface less reflective, absorbing more sunlight. There are a number of these amplifying ‘feedbacks,’ but few that would act to significantly slow global warming.

Clouds are one possible exception, because they both act to amplify global warming (being made of water vapor) and dampen it (being white and reflective). Which effect wins out depends on the type of cloud, and so whether clouds act to accelerate or slow global warming depends on exactly how the formation of different types of clouds changes in a hotter world. That’s hard to predict, so many contrarians have wishfully argued that clouds will essentially act as a thermostat to control global warming.

Denial101x lecture on cloud feedbacks by Peter Jacobs.

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Research shows that certain facts can still change conservatives’ minds

Posted on 14 December 2017 by dana1981 &

There’s a debate between social scientists about whether climate change facts can change peoples’ minds or just polarize them further. For example, conservatives who are more scientifically literate are less worried about global warming. In essence, education arms them with the tools to more easily reject evidence and information that conflicts with their ideological beliefs. This has been called the “smart idiot” effect and it isn’t limited to climate change; it’s also something we’re seeing with the Republican tax plan.

However, other research has shown that conservatives with higher climate-specific knowledge are more likely to accept climate change – a result that holds in many different countries. For example, when people understand how the greenhouse effect works, across the political spectrum they’re more likely to accept human-caused global warming.

Social scientists have also debated whether communicating the 97% expert consensus on human-caused global warming moves the needle in a positive or negative direction. Previous research led by Stephan Lewandowsky has shown that informing people about the expert consensus increases acceptance of human-caused global warming. However, Yale social scientist Dan Kahan has remained unconvinced and continues to argue that 97% consensus messaging is polarizing and therefore counter-productive.

New research: consensus messaging works on conservatives

To test which side is correct, social scientists Sander van der Linden, Anthony Leiserowitz, and Edward Maibach conducted a survey of over 6,000 nationally-representative Americans, of which 934 were conservatives with at least a college degree. This is the group for which facts should hypothetically be most polarizing, because they have the tools to most easily find ways to reject those facts and an ideological bias against accepting climate science.

On Monday the authors published their first paper using this data in Nature Human Behavior.

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California's hellish fires: a visit from the Ghost of Christmas Future

Posted on 11 December 2017 by dana1981 &

In Charles Dicken’s ‘A Christmas Carol,’ the Ghost of Christmas Future appears to Ebenezer Scrooge to show what will happen if he doesn’t change his greedy, selfish life. California’s record wildfires are similarly giving us a glimpse of our future hellish climate if we continue with our current behavior.

California’s textbook example of weather whiplash

This year, California experienced its worst and most expensive wildfire season on record. This surprised many, because while the state recently had its worst drought in over 1,200 years, the 5-year drought ended in 2016. However, California was hit by the opposite extreme in 2017, with its wettest rainy season on record.

Though it seems counter-intuitive, the wet season contributed to the state’s wildfires. The resulting vegetation growth created fuel for the 2017 fire season, particularly after being dried out by high temperatures. 2017 was the hottest summer in record on California, breaking the previous record set just last year by a full degree Fahrenheit. As Stephen Pyne put it, “Whether it’s exceptionally wet or exceptionally dry, you’ve got the material for a fire in California.”

California’s wildfire season normally ends in October – big wildfires are relatively rare in November and December. But fires are raging in Southern California two weeks shy of Christmas, impossible to contain due to intense Santa Ana winds, creating hellish scenes.

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The moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the Republican Party

Posted on 5 December 2017 by dana1981 &

The parallels between the Republican Party positions on taxes and climate change are striking. Both are morally appalling and reject the available evidence and expert opinion.


The Initiative on Global Markets’ panel of economic experts was recently asked about the Republican tax plan. Among the experts who took a position either way, there was a 96% consensus that the plan would not substantially grow the economy more than the status quo, and a 100% consensus that it would substantially increase the national debt.

View image on Twitter

Those numbers are quite similar to the 97% consensus among climate scientiststhat humans are driving global warming and the 95% consensus among economists that the US should cut its carbon pollution. 

The House and Senate Republicans have passed similar versions of their tax bill, and neither chamber is allowing any climate policy to move forward.

So what’s making Republican Party leaders reject the expert consensus on these incredibly important issues?

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New study uncovers the 'keystone domino' strategy of climate denial

Posted on 29 November 2017 by dana1981 &

The body of evidence supporting human-caused global warming is vast – too vast for climate denial blogs to attack it all. Instead they focus on what a new studypublished in the journal Bioscience calls “keystone dominoes.” These are individual pieces of evidence that capture peoples’ attention, like polar bears. The authors write:

These topics are used as “proxies” for AGW [human-caused global warming] in general; in other words, they represent keystone dominoes that are strategically placed in front of many hundreds of others, each representing a separate line of evidence for AGW. By appearing to knock over the keystone domino, audiences targeted by the communication may assume all other dominoes are toppled in a form of “dismissal by association.”

Basically, if these bloggers can create the perception that the science underlying polar bear or Arctic sea ice vulnerability to climate change is incorrect, their readers will assume that all of climate science is fatally flawed. And blogs can be relatively influential – surveys have shown that blog readers trust them more than traditional news and information sources.

Denier blogs and science-based blogs “diametrically opposite”

In this study, the authors examined the arguments made by 45 denier blogs and 45 science-based blogs regarding the impact of human-caused global warming on polar bear populations and Arctic sea ice extent. They found that the science-based blogs all showed that Artic sea ice is declining, and nearly all said that global warming threatens polar bear populations.

Conversely, the denier blogs nearly all denied that Arctic sea ice is declining or argued that we can’t predict how it will change in the future, and that polar bears aren’t threatened and/or will adapt to climate change.

pie charts

 Pie charts showing the percentage of 45 science-based and 45 denier blogs expressing positions on the effects of human-caused global warming (AGW) on Arctic ice extent and polar bears. Illustration: Harvey et al. (2017), Bioscience

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Battered by extreme weather, Americans are more worried about climate change

Posted on 20 November 2017 by dana1981 &

The latest climate change survey from Yale and George Mason Universities is out, and it shows that Americans are still poorly-informed about the causes of global warming. Only 54% understand that it’s mostly human-caused, while 33% incorrectly believe global warming is due mainly to natural factors. 

In fact, a new study published in Nature Scientific Reports developed a real-time global warming index. It shows that humans are responsible for 1°C global surface warming over the past 150 years – approximately 100% of the warming we’ve observed. Lead author Karsten Haustein explained their new index and study in a blog post.

GWI

Americans are nevertheless growing increasingly concerned about climate change. A record 22% are very worried about it (double the number in the March 2015 survey), and 63% of Americans are at least somewhat worried about climate change. That’s probably because they perceive direct climate impacts – 64% of survey participants think that global warming is affecting the weather, and 33% said it’s having a big influence.

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On climate and global leadership, it's America Last until 2020

Posted on 13 November 2017 by dana1981 &

Five months ago, Trump quickly cemented his legacy as the country’s worst-ever president by inexplicably starting the process to withdraw from the Paris climate accords. With even war-torn Syria now signing the agreement, the leadership of every world country has announced its intent to tackle the existential threat posed by human-caused climate change, except the United States. 

View image on Twitter

While this decision may seem puzzling to the rest of the world, the explanation is simple - a study published two years ago found that the Republican Party is the only major political party in the world that rejects the need to tackle climate change, and we know that voters follow elite cues. In 2016, American voters made the terrible mistake of putting that party in charge of the entire federal government, including electing this man president:

The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.

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“Toasted, roasted and grilled” or already over the hump?

Posted on 9 November 2017 by dana1981 &

Last week news stories came out that said that global human carbon emissions may have peaked, essentially implying that we could already be over the hump and on the way to solving climate change—while other news stories that same day and in that same publication noted that atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations jumped by a record amount in 2016These stories exemplify the emotional roller coaster that often comes with following climate change news. How can we reconcile the ebbs and flows between hopeful and apocalyptic climate stories?

The answer lies in considering the timeframe around a piece of climate news. For example, the seeming contradiction in the two news reports is explained by the monsterEl Niño event of 2016 that intensified droughts and consequently weakened the ability of vegetation to absorb carbon dioxide—showing that while human carbon pollution is responsible for the long-term rise in atmospheric concentrations, there is still ample short-term natural variation.

To give a second example: In a recent story, the managing director of the International Monetary Fund was quoted saying: “If we don't do anything about climate change now, in 50 years' time we will be toasted, roasted and grilled.” While that is an alarming statement, it focuses on a potential scenario in which half-a-century from now we have failed to change the course of our climate policies.

It’s important to remember, however, that with the international Paris climate accords, nearly every nation in the world agreed to begin the process to alter that worst-case course.

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We have every reason to fear Trump’s pick to head NASA

Posted on 6 November 2017 by dana1981 &

Unlike past Nasa administrators, Trump nominee Jim Bridenstine doesn’t have a scientific background. He’s a Republican Congressman from Oklahoma and former Navy pilot. He also has a history of denying basic climate science. That’s concerning because Nasa does some of the world’s best climate science research, and Bridenstine previously introduced legislation that would eliminate Earth science from Nasa’s mission statement.

At his Senate hearing last week, Bridenstine tried to remake his image. He said that his previous science-denying, politically polarizing comments came with the job of being a Republican congressman, and that as Nasa administrator he would be apolitical. A kinder, gentler Bridenstine. But while he softened his climate science denial, his proclaimed new views remain in line with the rest of the harshly anti-science Trump administration. That’s very troubling.

A gentler form of climate science denial

The standard Trump administration position on climate change, held by administration officials like EPA Administrator Scott Priutt and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, is that humans are contributing to global warming, but we don’t know how much. Bridenstine repeated that position in a tense exchange with Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI).

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New data gives hope for meeting the Paris climate targets

Posted on 30 October 2017 by dana1981 &

Over the past half-century, growth in the global economy and carbon pollution have been tied together. When the global economy has been strong, we’ve consumed more energy, which has translated into burning more fossil fuels and releasing more carbon pollution. But over the past four years, economic growth and carbon dioxide emissions have been decoupled. The global economy has continued to grow, while data from the EU Joint Research Centre shows carbon pollution has held fairly steady.

co2 vs gdp

Annual global carbon dioxide and gross domestic product growth. Data from the EU Joint Research Centre and World Bank. Illustration: Dana Nuccitelli

China is becoming a global climate leader

China’s shift away from coal to clean energy has been largely responsible for this decoupling. Due to its large population (1.4 billion) – more than four times that of the USA (323 million) and nearly triple the EU (510 million) – and rapid growth in its economy and coal power supply, China has become the world’s largest net carbon polluter (though still less than half America’s per-person carbon emissions, and on par with those of Europeans). But as with the global total, China’s carbon pollution has flattened out since 2013.

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Americans want a tax on carbon pollution, but how to get one?

Posted on 23 October 2017 by dana1981 &

According to a new study published by Yale scientists in Environmental Research Letters, Americans are willing to pay a carbon tax that would increase their household energy bills by $15 per month, or about 15%, on average. This result is consistent with a survey from last year that also found Americans are willing to pay an average of $15 to $20 per month to combat climate change. Another recent Yale survey found that overall, 78% of registered American voters support taxing and/or regulating carbon pollution, including 67% of Republicans and 60% of conservative Republicans.

regs & tax support

This raises the question – with such broad support across the political spectrum, why doesn’t America have a carbon tax in place by now? Study co-author Anthony Leiserowitz noted the similarity to public support for many gun control policies:

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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.

support

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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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