2014 SkS Weekly News Roundup #5

A change in the legal climate

For years, the tiresome back-and-forth has played on like a broken record. Scientists announce new data showing that the global climate is warming, creating potentially devastating changes in the world. Skeptics attack, proclaiming the researchers are lying as part of a conspiracy to gin up research funding. The climatologists respond, calling the detractors anti-science deniers who push their claims at the behest of fossil-fuel companies that stand to lose the most if the research is accepted as fact. And round and round it goes, with no end in sight.

That is, until maybe now, with the spinning potentially coming to a stop in the most unlikely of places - a Federal district court in Washington, D.C. There, a little-noticed lawsuit filed by one of the world's preeminent climatologists against a premiere conservative publication and a conservative think tank is moving forward, and both sides - absent dismissal or settlement - will have to put up or shut up.

A Change in the Legal Climate by Kurt Eichenwald, Newsweek, Jan 30, 2014

Climate and vaccine deniers are the same: beyond persuasion

These tactics are common knowledge. But every one of them is also used by climate science deniers. And yet the same kind of unhinged repudiation of an overwhelming body of scientific facts is treated not as the private obsession of a handful of nutcases, but as a legitimate part of the “debate” over global warming.

The media treat the anti-vaccinators with the disdain they deserve, but sections of the media see no contradiction in actively promoting the same type of anti-science fanaticism when it comes to climate.

Climate and vaccine deniers are the same: beyond persuasion by Clive Hamilton, The Conversation, Jan 28, 2014

Foundations band together to get rid of fossil-fuel investments

Seventeen foundations controlling nearly $1.8 billion in investments have united to commit to pulling their money out of companies that do business in fossil fuels, the group plans to announce on Thursday.

The move is a victory for a developing divestiture campaign that has found success largely among small colleges and environmentally conscious cities, but has not yet won over the wealthiest institutions like Harvard, Brown and Swarthmore.

But the participation of the foundations, including the Russell Family Foundation, the Educational Foundation of America and the John Merck Fund, is the largest commitment to the effort, and stems in part from a push among philanthropies to bring their investing in line with their missions.

Foundations Band Together to Get Rid of Fossil-Fuel Investments by Diane Cardwell, New York Times, Jan 29, 2014

Green groups: Obama not doing enough on climate

The White House has rebuffed repeated protests by some of President Barack Obama's top environmental allies that his climate strategy won't work.

The heads of 18 environmental groups went public recently with a complaint they have privately pressed the White House on for months: Obama's support of expanded oil and gas production doesn't make sense for a president who wants to reduce global warming pollution.

"We believe that continued reliance on an 'all-of-the-above' energy strategy would be fundamentally at odds with your goal of cutting carbon pollution," the environmentalists wrote in a letter to Obama this month.

Green groups: Obama not doing enough on climate by Matthew Daly & Dina Cappielo, Associated Press/Seattle PI, Jan 31, 2014

Human cause of global warming is near certainty

Global warming is unequivocal, human influence has been the dominant cause since the mid-20th century, and atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases, already at levels not seen in at least 800,000 years, will persist for many centuries, the final version of the latest United Nations report on climate change warned today.

"Continued emissions of greenhouse gases will cause further warming and changes in all components of the climate system," according to the report, which finalizes a summary of findings by the UN-backed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) issued in September, outlining a litany of threats from the melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets to rising oceans to extreme weather events such as cyclones and heat waves.

Human cause of global warming is near certainty, UN Reports, Phys.org, Jan 31, 2014

Industry groups plan "unified strategy" against EPA carbon pollution rules

Forty industry groups launched a new partnership on Thursday to form a "unified strategy" to respond to forthcoming federal regulations targeting carbon emissions from the country's fleet of power plants and other carbon-intensive facilities.

Led by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Institute for 21st Century Energy, the group will lobby local, state and national lawmakers and  educate the public about what they believe will be the economic impact of future regulation.

Industry groups plan "unified strategy" against EPA carbon pollution rules by Valerie Volovici, Euters, Jan 30, 2014

IPCC hearing brings UK closer to US polarisation

A parliamentary committee will this week provide further proof that political debate in the UK about climate change is becoming as depressingly unscientific and polarised as it is in the United States.

As part of its inquiry into the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the House of Commons select committee on energy and climate change has invited six witnesses to provide testimony on Tuesday. But instead of focusing on experts who represent the overwhelming scientific consensus that human activities are the main cause of global warming, half the oral evidence sessions will be devoted to 'sceptics' who reject the IPCC’s findings.

IPCC hearing brings UK closer to US polarisation on climate change by Bob Ward, The Guardian, Jan 27, 2014

It may be cold today, but the climate is heating up

We completely understand the feelings of those who would favor a little climate change right about now; we, too, would welcome some relief from this brutal winter. We're not talking palm trees at Bradford Beach kind of change, but a week or so above freezing — or even above zero — would be kind of nice.

What we don't understand is those who argue that this particularly cold winter proves that the climate isn't getting warmer and that climate change is a hoax. Nonsense. One bad winter no more proves something than did the unusually hot summer of 2012, when the mercury stood at about 100 on the Fourth of July.

What matters are trends over time, and the trends aren't changing. The consensus in the scientific community that human activity is a factor in climate change is overwhelming, and the evidence just keeps rolling in.

It may be cold today, but the climate is heating up, Op-ed by the Editorial Board, Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Jan 27, 2014

Prominent scientist suing climate change deniers for libel

A prominent climatologist at the center of a libel battle with deniers of man-made global warming said Sunday that he was being targeted as part of a “well-funded” campaign to silence and discredit the “entire environmental movement.”

Speaking to Al Jazeera America just days after a court ruled that his defamation lawsuit against the libertarian think tank Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) and conservative news magazine National Review could proceed, Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, accused his detractors of resorting to old allegations that had been disproved time and time again.

On Thursday, a judge for the D.C. Superior Court ruled in favor of the scientist, denying a motion to dismiss the libel suit.

Prominent scientist suing climate change deniers for libel by , Al Jazeera, Jan 26, 2014

Teenage polar explorer on quest to raise climate change awareness

Parker Liautaud, the teenage polar explorer who set the record last year as the fastest unsupported person to trek to the South Pole, said he set off on the 314-mile (505 km) trip from the coast of Antarctica to draw attention to climate change.

The 19-year-old California native broke the previous record held by Norwegian explorers Ottar Haldorsen and Jacob Meland by almost four days when he reached the South Pole on Christmas Eve after 18 days, four hours and 43 minutes.

On the return trip Liautaud bored into the hostile terrain and took 6.5-foot-deep (2 meter) samples that he hopes will help scientists answer questions about global warming.

Teenage polar explorer on quest to raise climate change awareness by Marina Lopes, Reuters, Jan 27, 2014

The communication of uncertainty is hindering climate change action

For fans of probability, confidence intervals and margins of error, climate change is a dream come true. For everyone else, the fact that uncertainty (inherent in any complex area of science) has gradually become one of climate change's defining features is a constant headache. Because uncertainty – real or manufactured – is a well-rehearsed reason for inaction.

What proportion of scientists agree that human activity is changing the climate? How sensitive is the climate to carbon emissions? Is it very likely or merely likely that flooding will increase? And what does likely mean anyway?

Questions such as these have become a stick with which to beat climate models. Scientists (naturally reticent in their communicative style) feel obliged to reel off lists of things they don't know, and forget to re-emphasise the (remarkably certain) link between human behaviour and climate change.

The communication of uncertainty is hindering climate change action by Adam Crorner, Sustainable Living Hub, the Guardian, Jan 31, 2014

UK climate change spend almost halved under Owen Paterson

The money spent on preparing the UK for the impacts of global warming has almost halved since the environment secretary, Owen Paterson –widely regarded as a climate change sceptic – took office. Critics called the cuts "shocking" and "complacent".

Figures released under freedom of information rules show annual spending falling from £29.1m in 2012-13 to £17.2m in 2013-14. The drop in funding follows a previous slashing of staff working on the issue from 38 to six in May 2013.

The adaptation funding at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is spent on finding ways to cope with the increased floods, droughts and heatwaves expected in the UK due to global warming. It had risen by almost 20% under Paterson's predecessor, Caroline Spelman, but fell 41% after Paterson replaced her in September 2012. Some was also spent on cutting greenhouse gas emissions but the Department of Energy and Climate Change takes the lead on that issue.

UK climate change spend almost halved under Owen Paterson, figures reveal by Damien Carrington, the Guardian, Jan 27, 2014

Posted by John Hartz on Saturday, 1 February, 2014

Creative Commons License The Skeptical Science website by Skeptical Science is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.