Boing Boing 

Insurance industry pricing climate risk as a dead certainty

Insurance underwriters generally operate in the real world, where science trumps ideology (that's why terrorism insurance is pretty darned cheap -- despite the politically successful posturing of our leaders, terrorism just isn't a very big threat). That's why climate change insurance costs big bucks -- insurers know that it's real, it's coming, and it's really, really bad news.

The difference between the general Big Business propaganda intended to sow doubt about climate science and the cold, hard economic reality of underwriting the risk of climate catastrophe is telling. It's like the Texas Young Earth Creationists who profess a public belief in the 5,000-year-old Biblically accurate planet, but still allow their geoscientists to direct oil-drilling operations in accord with the blasphemous four-billion-year-old Earth. Money talks, bullshit walks.

Read the rest

Scientists march across Canada, fighting the Tory war on facts

On Monday, scientists across Canada demonstrated against the Conservative government's war on science. The Stephen Harper government has imposed political minders on scientists, requiring routine press queries to be vetted by unqualified political operatives, many of them 20-something Conservative party fundraisers without any background in science. The Harper government has taken many other unprecedented, anti-science measures, from demanding NDAs from foreign scientists working on projects in Canada to shutting down the Experimental Lakes Area, the Canadian equivalent of the Large Hadron Collider, a massive lake-system used for crucial large-scale climate research.

The Tories raised their election war-chests from tar-sands oil companies and other dirty industries, and have spent their time in government trying to abolish facts from political discourse. Canada's world-class research community had been crying foul all along, but this appears to be the breaking point.

Read the rest

Google's lobbyists go big on climate change denial, raise money for Inhofe & Competitive Enterprise Insitute


Brad from Forecast the Facts sez, "Google is throwing its money around in DC politics, led by Republican operative Susan Molinari. Unfortunately, that means that Google's lobbyists have discarded its 'Don't be evil' philosophy. They're now holding fundraisers for Sen. Jim Inhofe ("Global warming is a hoax'), bankrolling Competitive Enterprise Institute ('CO2: We Call It Life'), and joining the American Legislative Exchange Council ('Even substantial global warming is likely to be of benefit to the United States').

"In response, hundreds of people have flooded the Google+ page for the Google DC headquarters with one-star reviews. The page also now includes photographs from the protest organized by Forecast the Facts and Greenpeace during the Google DC fundraiser for Inhofe. This digital activism is only part of a 150,000-person strong campaign led by Forecast the Facts, which has organized protests of Google in DC, Mountain View, and New York City. Google doesn't have to be evil to be a part of our democratic system. The company should be working to fix the corruption, not financing it."

Google - About - Google+ (Thanks, Brad!)

Solar pays


Redditor Tufflaw has been running a central air-conditioning system "24/7" during the New York heatwave. But the bills were offset by 26 home solar panels by Sharp that took three days to install and were subject to state and federal tax-credits, and will take 7-8 years to pay for themselves. Here is the most recent bill: $6.05. Tufflaw says that there are sometimes months that go by with no bill at all (and one year generated a $20 rebate from the power company!), and adds, "There's also an intangible benefit, feeling good about using a free renewable source of power."

Been running my central air 24/7 lately, especially with the recent heat wave. This is my most recent electric bill. Damn I love my solar panels.

How pregnancy is like climate change denialism

Hillary Rosner is a fantastic environmental reporter — the sort that digs facts and stories more than outrage-bait and blind activism. She's currently pregnant and, like all pregnant ladies, is finding herself subject to a deluge of warnings and "helpful" advice. When you're pregnant, there is always somebody who wants to let you know what you're doing wrong, why you're being irresponsible, and how you've totally ruined your kid's life already.

But in the midst of this, Rosner noticed something really fascinating: When it feels like the world is conspiring to make you terrified and guilty, it's sometimes easier to just tune out the world rather than investigate which claims are true and which aren't.

Read the rest

Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction


Annalee Newitz, founding editor of IO9 and former EFF staffer, has a new book out today called Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction, and it's terrific.

Scatter's premise is that the human race will face extinction-grade crises in the future, and that we can learn how to survive them by examining the strategies of species that successfully weathered previous extinction events, and cultures and tribes of humans that have managed to survive their own near-annihilation.

What follows from this is a whirlwind tour of geology, evolutionary biology, cultural anthropology and human history, as Newitz catalogs the terrifying disasters, catastrophes and genocides of geology and antiquity. From there, the book transitions into a sprightly whistle-stop tour of sustainable cities, synthetic biology, computer science, geoengineering, climate science, new materials science, urban theory, genomics, geopolitics, everything up to and including the Singularity, as Newitz lays out the technologies in our arsenal for adapting ourselves to upcoming disasters, and adapting our planet (and ultimately our solar system) to our long-term survival.

This has both the grand sweep and the fast pace of a classic OMNI theme issue, but one that's far more thoroughly grounded in real science, caveated where necessary. It's a refreshingly grand sweep for a popular science book, and if it only skims over some of its subjects, that's OK, because in the age of the Net, one need only signpost the subjects the reader might dive into on her own once she realizes their awesome potential.

This is a delight of a book, balanced on the knife-edge of disaster and delirious hope. It neither predicts our species' apotheosis nor its doom, but suggests paths to reach the former while avoiding the latter.

Scatter, Adapt, and Remember: How Humans Will Survive a Mass Extinction

Climate answers sought in supercomputers

Carl Franzen, for The Verge:
There's a dark cloud hanging over the science of climate change, quite literally. Scientists today have access to supercomputers capable of running advanced simulations of Earth's climate hundreds of years into the future, accounting for millions of tiny variables. But even with all that equipment and training, they still can't quite figure out how clouds work.

Australian heatwave goes into the pink

Yesterday, Australia experienced its hottest nationwide average temperature ever — 40.33 degrees C (104.6 degrees F). Today, the country's national weather bureau added a new color to official weather forecast maps, reflecting a need to predict temperatures higher than 52 C (125.6 F). Insert your Spinal Tap jokes and terrified flailing here.

The Meteorology of Little House on the Prairie

If you read The Long Winter, Laura Ingalls Wilder's novel about narrowly avoiding starving to death during a ferocious winter on the South Dakota prairie, then you'll remember how the trains stopped running because of the snowfall. In fact, that's a big part of why Laura and her family were so hungry — their harvest had been lean and the train carried the supplies they were dependent upon.

I'd never had a real clear idea of what "the train can't get through" really meant, not being totally clear on how to adjust snow-clearing expectations from today back to the 1880s. But, as it turns out, when the train company said they couldn't get the trains through, they were not messing around. The above image, from the Minnesota Historical Society, shows you the kind of snowfall we're talking about. That picture was taken in southern Minnesota, during the same winter — 1880-1881 — that nearly killed Laura Ingalls Wilder. Please note the dude standing on top of the train. He really gives you the overwhelming sense of scale.

Last year, Barbara Mayes-Boustead, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, actually looked at the records we have for temperatures and snowfall from that winter, most of which come from military forts and major cities miles away from the small town of DeSmet, where Laura Ingalls Wilder lived. Mayes-Boustead found that the story in the book matches up reasonably accurately with actual data.

She's got a series of short audio commentaries on the winter of 1880-1881 and how it plays out in the Little House books, including a really fascinating one about the climate patterns and probably created those many months of blizzards. By looking at weather patterns from the time and at the climate systems we associate with weather like that today, Mayes-Boustead says that we can probably blame the Long Winter on a combination of a strong negative North Atlantic Oscillation — a pattern in the jet stream that sucks icy air from the Arctic down into the Midwestern US — and an El Nino year — which tends to make that same region of the county wetter than usual.

Listen to all of Barbara Mayes-Boustead's recorded presentations

Bill O'Reilly-watching climate-change-denier is moved to tears by polar melting documentary

Alexander sez, "James Balog had his movie Chasing Ice released, which is about the attempt to capture melting polar ice on film. A self-described daily Bill O'Reilly watcher, who used to tell people to get out of her house if they said global warming was anything other than 'bullshit', saw it -- and started crying. I really, really, want to see O'Reilly watching her reaction."

Synopsis « Chasing Ice (Thanks, Alexander!)

Did climate change cause Hurricane Sandy? The answer depends on why you're asking

There are two answers here: One for the legitimately curious, and one for people who want a disaster to be a referendum on climate change.

Read the rest

At sea for science

The Joides Resolution is a large boat—more than 450 feet long and almost 70 feet wide. That’s small compared to a lot of cruise ships, but big enough to house and feed and provide work space for 126 people. It’s a floating city, with a movie theater, helipad, hospital, cafeteria, laboratories, and a giant drilling rig. But even a big boat can start to feel small when you have nowhere else to go, and no land in sight, for two whole months.

Read the rest

Building an indoor hurricane at the University of Miami

This is how Hurricane Isaac looked on Tuesday, as it made landfall on America's Gulf Coast. If you've never been to the Gulf of Mexico, here is a key fact you should know: The water there is warm. While Pacific coastal waters might be in the 50s during August, and the central Atlantic coast is pulling temperatures in the 60s and 70s, the water in the Gulf of Mexico is well into the 80s.

And that makes a difference. We know that water temperature affects hurricane strength. But we don't understand the particulars of how or why at a detail level. To learn more about this (and other factors that make each hurricane an individual), researchers at the University of Miami are building a simulation machine. When it's complete, it will be a key tool in improving forecasts.

Peter Sollogub, Associate Principal at Cambridge Seven, says the hurricane simulator is comprised of three major components:
The first is a 1400-horsepower fan originally suited for things like ventilating mine shafts. To create its 150mph winds, it will draw energy from the campus's emergency generator system, which is typically used during power outages caused by storms.

The second part is a wave generator which pushes salt water using 12 different paddles. Those paddles, timed to move at different paces and rates, can create waves at various sizes, angles and frequency, creating anything from a calm, organized swell to sloppy chaotic seas.

The third aspect of the tank is the tank itself, which is six meters in width by 20 meters in length by two meters high. It's made of three-inch thick clear acrylic so that the conditions inside can be observed from all sides.

Read more about the hurricane simulator at Popular Science

More about how the Sahara creates the Amazon

On Monday, I posted about an incredibly fascinating study linking the minerals that fertilize the Amazon rainforest to a specific corner of the Sahara desert in the country of Chad. That lake of sand—once an actual lake the size of California—is what keeps the Amazon green and verdant.

The interesting thing is that the study is actually not anything new. It came out in 2006. I heard about it from science writer Colin Schultz. Earlier this week, Colin went on News Talk 610 CKTB out of Niagara Falls, Ontario, to talk about how he stumbled across the study and why it's important far beyond simply connecting the desert and the jungle.

The interview delves into the subject in a lot more depth. In fact, it's a great demonstration of how reading a single research paper can be interesting, but doesn't necessarily give you the full picture of what's actually going on in science. Turns out, what we know about how dust travels to the Amazon has important implications for how we think about climate change and geoengineering. Also great: Colin comparing the volume of dust traveling from the Sahara to the volume of several Honda Civics. It's short, and very much worth listening to.

You can follow Colin Schultz on Twitter. BTW: He'd like you to know that when he says "bioengineers" in the interview, he means "geoengineers".

Read More:
A 2010 Nature News article on the connection between the Sahara and the Amazon.
• Geophysical Research Letters on changes in dust transport over time.
• NASA on the way that dust affects climate.
A 2010 follow-up to the 2006 paper by the same group of researchers. Colin says that this gets more into the details of how the dust becomes an important fertilizer in the Amazon.

Image: rainforest, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from tauntingpanda's photostream

CNN reporter tells Bill Nye that he doesn't understand climate change

Watch in awe as CNN's Carol Costello tells Bill Nye, a respected scientist, engineer, and science educator, that he's a "kooky guy who doesn't know what he's talking about" when he asserts the scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change.

Bill Nye - Could climate change be wildfire cause?

Weatherman predicts the end-times

Here's a weather report for the apocalypse: "On WTVR CBS 6 in Richmond, VA, weatherman Aaron Justus provides the last weather forecast you'll ever need."

Hot Weather in Richmond this Weekend (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

Maggie at CONvergence, Twin Cities, July 6-7

Every year, CONvergence draws upwards of 5,000 people to the Minneapolis/St.Paul area for a celebrations of science fiction, fantasy, comic books, and general geekery. This year, I'll be one of them. I'm participating in several of the Con's science and skepticism-themed panels. On July 6th, you can catch me at 3:30 pm, talking about facts, controversy, and climate change; and at 8:30 pm, I'll be on a panel about the physiology of drugs and alcohol. July 7th at 12:30 pm, I'll be on a panel about climate change denialism in the classroom. At 2:00 pm that same day, I'll be talking about women in science and technology. There will also be a chance on Friday to buy a copy of Before the Lights Go Out, my book on electric infrastructure and the future of energy, and/or get your copy signed by me. Hope to see you there!

Learn about climate, energy, and "the new normal" this weekend

I'm at the Aspen Environmental Forums, an annual conference focused on many different aspects of climate science, energy policy, conservation, and other environmental issues. You can follow along on Twitter with the tag #aef2012, and I'll be tweeting regularly from the panels I watch. For instance, if you check out the tag now, you can find some great tweets from last night, covering a discussion with Stewart Brand about biotech, cloning, and the possibility of reversing extinction.

The aftermath of extreme weather

IMAGE: Derek Montgomery for MPR

That is not the result of an earthquake. Instead, this is what happens when a city receives as much as 10 inches of rain in three days. Over the last two days, flash flooding ripped apart Duluth—and other cities in Northeast Minnesota/Northwest Wisconsin. The damage in Duluth alone is expected to be in the millions. There will be street repairs, sewer line replacements, damage to private homes and businesses. The photos are devastating. Luckily, it seems that nobody died, but my heart goes out to everyone dealing with the aftermath of these storms.

At Minnesota Public Radio's Updraft blog, Paul Huttner explains how Duluth, a city built on a hillside and not near any big rivers, can end up with flooding this intense.

A cold front approached Minnesota from the High Plains on Sunday, June 17th and this front set off numerous thunderstorms through the evening. Duluth NWS received nearly an inch of rain (0.71"). The rains that fell on Sunday had inundated the soil, and created more saturated conditions than normal, which primed the Duluth area for runoff in the extreme rain event that we received

Meanwhile, 1/3 of the state of Minnesota is under drought conditions.

In pre-response to the inevitable climate change discussion, let me just remind you of meteorologist Paul Douglas' brilliant analogy:

You can’t point to any one weather extreme and say “that’s climate change”. But a warmer atmosphere loads the dice, increasing the potential for historic spikes in temperature and more frequent and bizarre weather extremes. You can’t prove that any one of Barry Bond’s 762 home runs was sparked by (alleged) steroid use. But it did increase his “base state,” raising the overall odds of hitting a home run.

See more photos from Duluth, including the soon-to-be-classic shot of an escaped zoo seal wandering the streets of downtown.

Read Paul Huttner's Updraft blog

Read an earlier post about Paul Douglas and his thoughts on climate change.

Energy and geo-engineering: Maggie on the radio

I'm going to be on the radio a couple of times today, talking about my book, Before the Lights Go Out, and the future of energy and climate. At 1:00 Eastern/Noon Central, you can listen to an hour-long interview with me on Minnesota Public Radio's Bright Ideas. You don't have to be in Minnesota to listen. It's streaming online. Then, about 2:10 Eastern/1:10 Central, I'll be on "To the Point", talking about climate, energy, and geo-engineering. Climate scientist Ken Caldiera will also be on that show and he's a great speaker. That will be online, as well.

Watch an Icelandic glacier disintegrate

"The sound of running water is not something you used to hear on an ice cap." Arctic explorer Will Steger said this last weekend, during a presentation at the Science Museum of Minnesota. Steger was showing video clips from some of his travels, and he had to speak rather loudly. Otherwise, we couldn't have heard him over the sound of running water, flowing over, under, and through an ice cap.

Steger started traveling to the Arctic 18 years ago, and he's seen the region change dramatically over time. Today, he says, it's impossible to dogsled to the North Pole without bringing some kind of floatation device. You just can't rely any longer on the ice being solid all the way up.

But one of the most disturbing things Steger showed us was how global warming disintegrates glaciers. This isn't just about the melting that happens on top of the ice. It's really about what's happening below. Glaciers aren't a solid mass. Because they move, they're riddled with cracks and crevasses. When snow and ice on top of the glacier turns into water, there are plenty of ways for that water to seep down to the bottom of the glacier. Once there, the water acts as a lubricant. It makes it easier for the front of the glacier to break off and melt away into nothing.

You can watch that process happen in real time, as meltwater helps to break apart a glacier in a time-lapse video filmed between March 27, 2007 and March 4, 2012. About halfway though, the video reverses. As the glacier "rebuilds" itself, you really get the full impact of what's happened, and what is still happening, to our Arctic ice sheets.

Video Link

See more videos of melting ice filmed by the Extreme Ice Survey.

Learn more about the global outlook for ice and snow.

Learn more about how climate change is affecting the Arctic at the Will Steger Foundation website.

Climate change isn't liberal or conservative: It's reality

Paul Douglas is a Minneapolis/St.Paul meteorologist. Meteorologists don't study the same things as climate scientists—remember, weather and climate are different things—but Douglas is a meteorologist who has taken the time to look at research published by climate scientists and listen to their expertise. Combined with the patterns he's seen in weather, that information has led Douglas to accept that climate change is real, and that it's something we need to be addressing.

Paul Douglas is also a conservative. In a recent guest blog post on Climate Progress, he explains why climate isn't (or, anyway, shouldn't be) a matter of political identity. We'll get back to that, but first I want to call attention to a really great analogy that Douglas uses to explain weather, climate, and the relationship between the two.

You can’t point to any one weather extreme and say “that’s climate change”. But a warmer atmosphere loads the dice, increasing the potential for historic spikes in temperature and more frequent and bizarre weather extremes. You can’t prove that any one of Barry Bond’s 762 home runs was sparked by (alleged) steroid use. But it did increase his “base state,” raising the overall odds of hitting a home run.

Mr. Douglas, I'm going to be stealing that analogy. (Don't worry, I credit!)

A few weeks ago, I linked you to the introduction from my new book, Before the Lights Go Out, where I argue that there are reasons for people to care about energy, even if they don't believe in climate change—and that we need to use those points of overlap to start making energy changes that everyone can agree on, even if we all don't agree on why we're changing.

But there's another, related, idea, which Paul Douglas' essay gets right to the heart of. Just like there's more than one reason to care about energy, there's also more than one way to care about climate. Concern for the environment—and for the impact changes to the environment could have on us—is not a concept that can only be expressed in the terms of lefty environmentalism.

You and I can think about the environment in very different ways. We can have very different identities, and disagree on lots of cultural and political issues. All of those things can be true—and, yet, we can still come to the same, basic conclusions about climate, risk, and what must be done. Here's Douglas' perspective:

I’m a Christian, and I can’t understand how people who profess to love and follow God roll their eyes when the subject of climate change comes up. Actions have consequences. Were we really put here to plunder the Earth, no questions asked? Isn’t that the definition of greed? In the Bible, Luke 16:2 says, “Man has been appointed as a steward for the management of God’s property, and ultimately he will give account for his stewardship.” Future generations will hold us responsible for today’s decisions.

This concept—Creation Care—is something that I've summed up as, "Your heavenly father wants you clean up after yourself." It's not a message that is going to make sense to everybody. But it's an important message, nonetheless, because it has the potential to reach people who might not otherwise see a place for themselves at this table.

Too often, both liberals and conservatives approach climate change as something that is tangled up in a lot of lifestyle, political, and cultural choices it has nothing to do with. Those assumptions lead the right to feel like they can't accept the reality of climate change without rejecting every other part of their identities and belief systems. Those same assumptions lead the left to spend way too much time preaching to choir—while being confused about why people outside the congregation aren't responding to their message.

That's why essays like Douglas' are so important. We look at the world in different ways. We come by our values for different reasons. But even though we might take different paths, we can come to some of the same places. Let's respect that. And let's have those conversations. Climate change is about facts, not ideologies. It's about risks that affect everyone. We need to do a better job of discussing climate change in a way that makes this clear. And that means reaching out to people with language and perspectives that they can identify with.

Read Paul Douglas' full post on Climate Progress.

Read more about energy, climate, and what we can do to make the message of climate science more universal in my book, Before the Lights Go Out.

Image: Weather, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from 66770481@N02's photostream

Canada's government muzzles scientists, stonewalls press queries about health, environment and climate

The Canadian Harper government's policy of not allowing government researchers to speak without approval and without being attended by political minders is in the news again. A series of speakers at an AAAS meeting told the international science community that climate, environmental and health research that calls government policy into question is routinely suppressed. Prof Andrew Weaver of U Victoria said, "The only information [the press] are given is that which the government wants, which will then allow a supporting of a particular agenda."

The allegation of "muzzling" came up at a session of the AAAS meeting to discuss the impact of a media protocol introduced by the Conservative government shortly after it was elected in 2008.

The protocol requires that all interview requests for scientists employed by the government must first be cleared by officials. A decision as to whether to allow the interview can take several days, which can prevent government scientists commenting on breaking news stories.

Sources say that requests are often refused and when interviews are granted, government media relations officials can and do ask for written questions to be submitted in advance and elect to sit in on the interview...

The Postmedia News journalist obtained documents relating to interview requests using Canada's equivalent of the Freedom of Information Act. She said the documents show interview requests move up what she describes as an "increasingly thick layer of media managers, media strategists, deputy ministers, then go up to the Privy Council Office, which decides 'yes' or 'no'".

Canadian government is 'muzzling its scientists (Thanks, DaveGroff!)

(Image: Frankenstein's Monster, gagged, a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike (2.0) image from kazvorpal's photostream)

What's causing Europe's cold snap?

One of the things that makes it difficult to understand weather, climate, and long-term climate changes is the fact that, when something noticeable happens, there's a good chance it's being caused by more than one thing. So, when you look at a weather phenomenon and ask, "Is this being caused by anthropogenic climate change?", there's several (technically correct) ways that question could be answered.

Take, for instance, the recent cold snap in Europe that's killed more than 300 people and dropped snow as far south as Libya. As Andrew Freedman explains on Climate Central, this particular bit of weather weirdness is being caused by natural variations in the air currents over the Arctic:

The Arctic Oscillation, or AO, is is a climate index that describes the characteristics of the atmospheric circulation over the Arctic, and a related index describes the circulation over the North Atlantic. Depending on whether it's in a "positive" or "negative" phase, the Arctic Oscillation can bring warmer or cooler than average wintertime conditions to the U.S. and Europe.

Right now the Arctic Oscillation is in a negative phase, which tends to favor colder than average weather in Europe and the U.S. Scientists don't fully understand what causes the Arctic Oscillation to switch from one phase to the other, which limits their ability to forecast these changes ahead of time beyond a week in advance.

But (and, ladies and gentlemen, this is a great big but) scientists have noted that the Arctic Oscillation has been behaving more strangely than usual for the last decade. In fact, Freedman points out that several record-breaking positive and negative oscillations have coincided with extreme weather events you probably took note of: December 2009's Snowpocalypse, February 2010's Snowmageddon, and April 2011's massive outbreak of tornadoes (which, thankfully, doesn't have a cutesy name associated with it).

And this is where the lines between "naturally occurring" and "anthropogenically caused" get blurred. Because this record-breaking decade of Arctic Oscillations has coincided with a record-breaking decade in loss of Arctic sea ice and there's good reason to suspect that the two might be related.

... in recent years there have been studies examining how the global warming-related loss of Arctic sea ice might affect winter weather patterns in the northern hemisphere. Some of this research shows that sea ice loss may favor winters with predominately negative phases of the Arctic Oscillation. One potential result of global warming, referred to as the "Arctic Paradox," is that sea ice loss can help warm the Arctic during the winter, while setting in motion a chain reaction of events that make winters colder than they otherwise would be in Europe and the U.S.

This actually gets even more complicated, because it also appears that AO can affect the amount of sea ice that melts in a given year, which can, in turn, affect what happens with the AO. For more information, check out:
An explainer from The National Snow and Ice Data Center
— A NASA explainer from a couple of years ago that talks about the relationships between climate change, AO, and cold weather.

Also, just so we're clear, the AO is not the same thing as the climate systems that could drive "abrupt climate change"—a possible scenario that served as the basis for the highly fictional movie "The Day After Tomorrow". You can read more on that at the Weather Underground blog.

WSJ's partisan approach to climate change vs. science

The Wall Street Journal published a letter expressing skepticism about anthropogenic climate change signed by a group of engineers, retired weathermen, and scientists from fields other than climate science.

In response, a much larger group of actual climate scientists signed onto a letter rebutting the first letter. The WSJ rejected it. Instead, the pre-eminent science journal Science, which is know for its rigor in treatments of science, published it, as "Climate change and the Integrity of Science" on January 27th, 2012.

(i) The planet is warming due to increased concentrations of heat-trapping gases in our atmosphere. A snowy winter in Washington does not alter this fact.

(ii) Most of the increase in the concentration of these gases over the last century is due to human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels and deforestation.

(iii) Natural causes always play a role in changing Earth's climate, but are now being overwhelmed by human-induced changes.

(iv) Warming the planet will cause many other climatic patterns to change at speeds unprecedented in modern times, including increasing rates of sea-level rise and alterations in the hydrologic cycle. Rising concentrations of carbon dioxide are making the oceans more acidic.

(v) The combination of these complex climate changes threatens coastal communities and cities, our food and water supplies, marine and freshwater ecosystems, forests, high mountain environments, and far more.

Two incontrovertible things: Anthropogenic Global Warming is Real, and the Wall Street Journal is Political Rag

What's up with the weather?

 

Yesterday evening, I stood at a bus stop in Minneapolis wearing no socks, no gloves, and no hat. The breeze was warm. The birds were singing. Clearly, something is deeply wrong here. In fact, 2012 has brought the warmest start to a January on record in the Twin Cities. We're also in the middle of a major drought, which, this time of year, means no snow on the ground.

All of that has consequences—just this morning Minnesota Public Radio was talking about the economic impact the drought has had on snowmobile-based tourism in this state. What everybody wants to know: Is this caused by climate change? Is this what it will be like next year, too?

That's really hard to say. Remember: The really solid stuff scientists can tell you about climate change comes from analysis of trends over decades—for instance, when you look at global temperature anomalies over 50 years and find that the last time the global mean monthly average was lower than the 20th century average was back in February 1985. That's because, while anthropogenic climate change exists, it's not the only thing influencing the local weather or the global climate. The climate system involves a lot of different phenomena, which act alone and together. We can see a pattern of warming that can be linked to rising carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere. But there's other stuff going on, too, which affects year-to-year fluctuations within the decades-long pattern.

In this case, says Jeff Marsters on the Weather Underground blog, the abnormally high temperatures are related to oddities in the jet stream—air currents in Earth's atmosphere. And those oddities may, or may not, be the result of anthropogenic climate change.

The cause of this warm first half of winter is the most extreme configuration of the jet stream ever recorded, as measured by the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). The Arctic Oscillation (AO), and its close cousin, the North Atlantic Oscillation, are climate patterns in the Northern Hemisphere defined by fluctuations in the difference of sea-level pressure in the North Atlantic between the Icelandic Low and the Azores High. The AO and NAO have significant impacts on winter weather in North America and Europe--the AO and NAO affect the path, intensity, and shape of the jet stream, influencing where storms track and how strong these storms become. During December 2011, the NAO index was +2.52, which was the most extreme difference in pressure between Iceland and the Azores ever observed in December (records of the NAO go back to 1865.) The AO during December 2011 had its second most extreme December value on record, behind the equally unusual December of 2006. These positive AO/NAO conditions caused the Icelandic Low to draw a strong south-westerly flow of air over eastern North America, preventing Arctic air from plunging southward over the U.S. and Europe.

The December Arctic Oscillation index has fluctuated wildly over the past six years, with the two most extreme positive and two most extreme negative values on record. Unfortunately, we don't understand why the AO varies so much from winter to winter, nor why the AO has taken on such extreme configurations during four of the past six winters. Climate models are generally too crude to make skillful predictions on how human-caused climate change may be affecting the AO, or what might happen to the AO in the future. There is research linking an increase in solar activity and sunspots with the positive phase of the AO. Solar activity has increased sharply this winter compared to the past two winters, so perhaps we have seen a strong solar influence on the winter AO the past three winters. Arctic sea ice loss has been linked to the negative (cold) phase of the AO, like we observed the previous two winters. Those winters both had near-record low amounts of sunspot activity, so sea ice loss and low sunspot activity may have combined to bring a negative AO.

Image: Crazy (awesome) Minnesota Christmas weather, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from shilad's photostream. Please note the lack of snow, the fact that there is open water on Lake Harriet, the presence of ducks, and the lack of hat and gloves on that woman. This is not normal for Minnesota in December. 

 

Climate denier as Borat: what if Christopher Monckton was really a long-running Sacha Baron Cohen character?

Australian comedy-news program The Hamster Wheel covers archconservative British politician Christopher Monckton, 3rd Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, a Thatcherite climate denier, and former editor for The Sunday Telegraph and other right-wing papers. The Hamster Wheel decides that Monckton (who once advocated confining people with AIDS to lifetime quarantine) must actually be a long-running Sacha Baron Cohen ("Bruno," "Borat") character and makes a compelling case that this must be so.

The Hamster Wheel: Lord Monckton (Thanks, Fipi Lele!)

What Fukushima can teach us about coal pollution

Earlier this week, I told you about a new study tracking radioactive fallout from the nuclear power plant disaster in Fukushima, Japan.

Read the rest

Raw data on global temperatures now available

Raw climate data and global temperature records from the UK's Met Office (yes, the data that prompted hackers to break into the emails of climate scientists) is now publicly available for download. (Via New Scientist and Margie Kinney)