Weekly Mulch: ‘Global Weirding’ and Climate Skeptics’ Slushy Logic

By Sarah Laskow, Media Consortium Blogger

Climate skeptics found plenty of reasons to dig out their dreary critiques this week, between the continuing controversy over erroneous reports from the International Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) and the record-breaking snowfall on the East Coast. Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK) and his family built an igloo which Inhofe then dubbed “Al Gore’s house” in the streets of Washington, D.C. The Virginia GOP ran ads attacking the state’s Democratic representatives for their support of cap-and-trade and urged voters to “tell them how much global warming you get this weekend.” And skeptics across the world claimed that the smaller mistakes in IPCC reports undermined the organization’s broad conclusions on climate change science.

Let’s plow through this slushy thinking before it piles up too high.

Snow still happens in a warming world

In the winter, it snows, and one snowstorm does not overthrow all of climate science. “Perhaps it’s time for a refresher,” wrote Kate Sheppard at Mother Jones. “’Weather’ and ‘climate’ are not the same thing. Weather is what happened yesterday or may happen tomorrow; climate patterns occur over decades.”

“We can absolutely expect climate change to bring blizzards in places that don’t normally see a lot of blizzards, like Washington, D.C.,” chimes in Jonathan Hiskes at Grist. “Climatologists expect just this sort of ‘global weirding’: less predictable, more extreme, more damaging.”

Cold temperatures, even record lows, do not contradict the extensive body of evidence that global temperatures are rising. As Hiskes points out, erratic weather patterns support climate change theories, and the coming seasons will feature more newsworthy weather events. Chalk up the snowfall that shut down the federal government for almost a week as a bad sign, akin to harsh storms like Hurricane Katrina.

Climate science stands despite IPCC errors…

The IPCC messed up. The international organization is meant to gather and review the body of climate change science and produce definitive reports on that field. But in past reports, the organization included a few facts unsupported by real scientific research. Mother Jones’ Sheppard runs down these mistakes: the IPCC cannot back up its claims about the rising sea-level in Holland, crop failure in Africa, and the melting of Himalayan glaciers.

The bottom line, though, is that these errors do not affect the reports’ main conclusions. As Sheppard explains, “The controversies over the IPCC’s data haven’t challenged the fundamental agreement among the vast majority of scientific bodies that climate change is happening and caused in large part by human activity.”

…but that does not excuse the IPCC’s behavior

The IPCC cannot use that broad consensus as a defense, however. The organization needs to maintain both an impeccable reputation as a scientific body and its independence from political pressures. At The Nation, Maria Margaronis argues that in the climate arena, science and politics have been wedged too closely together.

“On a subject as politicized as this, it’s not surprising that scientists have been found guilty of hoarding data, smoothing a graph or two, shutting each other’s work out of peer-reviewed journals,” she writes. “The same goes on in far less controversial fields, where what’s at stake is only money and careers. … Every research paper and data set produced by climate scientists or cited by the IPCC is now fair game for the fine-toothed comb, whether it’s wielded honestly or with malicious intent. Nit-picking takes the place of conversation.”

Margaronis suggests that scientists admit to uncertainties and open up their data, while the rest of us stop looking to them as unimpeachable oracles on climate change. But as long as skeptics jump on a researcher’s every doubt as a refutation of all climate science, that’s not likely to happen.

Brace for impact

Negative attitudes about the IPCC and the snow are not idle threats to climate reform. As Steve Benen writes at The Washington Monthly, “It seems mind-numbing, but Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) said snowfall in D.C. has had an effect on policymakers’ attitudes.”

As cheap as they are, stunts like Inhofe’s seem to dampen lawmakers’ political will to pass real climate change legislation. Apparently, the Senate, already tip-toeing away from the cap-and-trade provisions passed in the House, can’t talk about global warming when there’s snow on the ground.

Foot-dragging like this costs the United States money and credibility. Administration officials are already downplaying expectations for the next international conference on climate change, to be held next winter in Mexico. And if the Senate gives up on a comprehensive climate bill and passes a weaker provision, the country will ultimately pay the price in higher deficits.

At Grist, David Roberts declares, “Good climate policy is responsible fiscal policy.” His evidence? Reports from the Congressional Budget Office. The Senate’s comprehensive climate legislation (known as the Kerry-Boxer bill) knocks $21 billion a year off the deficit, according to the CBO. The watered-down alternative increases the deficit by $13 billion a year.

Encounters with the arch-skeptic

Citing snowfall as an argument against global warming—and against passing climate change legislation!—is not the only half-baked idea climate skeptics throw around. As Joshua Frank notes for AlterNet, “There are usually a range of issues these skeptics raise in an attempt to cast doubt on climate change evidence.” Frank offers a primer of responses to common complaints—i.e. humans don’t contribute to global warming, that carbon emissions aren’t to blame, either, that climate science cannot accurately measure global warming.

Keep this resources handy. It only takes one event, like this week’s snow storm, for those misguided arguments to surface.

This post features links to the best independent, progressive reporting about the environment by members of The Media Consortium. It is free to reprint. Visit the Mulch for a complete list of articles on environmental issues, or follow us on Twitter. And for the best progressive reporting on critical economy, health care and immigration issues, check out The Audit, The Pulse, and The Diaspora. This is a project of The Media Consortium, a network of leading independent media outlets.

This Week in Global Climate Change

Here's Peter Sinclair's Global Warming Crock of the Week:

In the video Peter goes over some of the fundamental discoveries, the basic facts that we know beyond a doubt, about global warming. Of course, many people will never believe science, because they believe that anything that challenges their world view is all part of a secret, vast global conspiracy.

Case in point is Senator James Inhofe, perhaps at once the most dangerous and the most clueless man on the planet, who gave an interview to Grist. Here's his hoax theory:

Q. You reasserted in today’s hearing your belief that global warming is a hoax. Can you clarify specifically who is perpetrating the hoax? Who are the dupers and who are the victims of the climate hoax?

A. Who are the victims? It would be the United States. It would be the economy, what would happen to this country according to MIT and others who have made analyses as to the economic destruction that would come with something like cap-and-trade or [regulating greenhouse-gas emissions] through the Clean Air Act.

Q. Who are the perpetrators of the hoax?

A. That’s the United Nations and the IPCC, clearly.

Q. Major energy companies have said they believe the scientific consensus on climate change. ExxonMobil said the appropriate debate isn’t on whether the climate is changing, but what we should do about it. NASA, NOAA, the Pentagon, the Pope, evangelical leaders, top executives in all industries, and governments all over the world including China and India—they’ve all acknowledged climate change. Do you believe that all of these entities have been scammed by the U.N. and a handful of scientists in the IPCC?

A. What you’ve just said is not true. There’s not unanimity at all even though you want to believe it.

NOAA and NASA and all these organizations, these people are all tied in to the IPCC. There are a lot of companies, oil companies and all that, who would like to have cap-and-trade. That’s where they can make money.

Q. What do you believe is the motive of the U.N.? What is the motive of the scientists who are perpetrating the hoax? How do you think they stand to benefit?

A. They stand to benefit [from] government grants and private sector grants [from places] like the Heinz Foundation.

We have scientists who are really sincere, and they’ve watched what’s going on and they have a hard time believing it. Those are the ones who started going to me probably seven or eight years ago, saying they’re cooking the science on this, someone’s got to say it, and I said it. And then more of them came. I listed them on my website. I’ve been very clear all along who the perpetrators were, what the motives were.

Q. So you believe that the U.N. and the scientists on the IPCC are perpetrating the hoax in order to get grant money?

A. No, no, no. We’ve already covered this, Amanda. You guys always ask the same question over and over again looking for a different answer. What is it you want that I didn’t already tell you?

Q. I’m trying to clarify the motivation behind the hoax. Why would these scientists want to deceive the global public?

A. It’s very clear that when you have the U.N. behind it, and you have all the Hollywood people moving in, you have the Heinz Foundation, that’s John Kerry’s wife—a lot of very wealthy people.

Many of [the scientists] know that if they were recipients of grants in the past, that could well be cut off. Or if they haven’t had them, they would want them. The complaints I had brought to me were from scientists who said that many scientists had been intimidated into saying things that weren’t true because of that leverage that has been used.

Q. So you believe the scientists and the U.N. are in it for the money?

A. Well, that enters into it, yes.

That's right the Senator from Oklahoma thinks that scientists and the UN are pushing global warming for the money. It's a vast conspiracy spanning decades and scientists from multiple disciplines across the globe. The lunacy of that proposition speaks for itself. It is evidently clear that basic science is beyond the Senator.

The other major development is a lengthy op-ed in the New York Times by former Vice President Al Gore responding to the skeptics and again issuing a call to action.

There's more...

What Conventional Wisdom Doesn't Tell You

Several days after the 2008 presidential election, the New York Times produced a famous map of voting shifts since 2004.  Most politics buffs have seen this map; according to it, Appalachia “voted more Republican, while the rest of the nation shifted more Democratic.”

There is something else occurring here, however, which the map hides – and which almost nobody has perceived. This trend goes strongly, strongly against conventional wisdom.

To unearth this trend, let’s move back one election – to former Vice President Al Gore’s 2000 tie with former President George W. Bush. Here are the states he performed best relative to President Barack Obama. In all these, Mr. Gore did at least five percent better than Mr. Obama.

By and large, these states are what one would expect. All are located in the midst of Appalachia or the Deep South, regions rapidly trending Republican. All were fairly unenthused by Obama’s themes sounding change and hope.

Here are the remaining states in which Gore improved upon Obama:

This result is something quite different. Arizona – Senator John McCain’s home state – is not surprising, nor is Appalachian Kentucky.

Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Jersey, on the other hand – these constitute core Democratic strongholds. The vast majority of pundits would characterize them as becoming more Democratic, if anything at all. Indeed, there has been much ballyhoo about the Northeast’s Democratic shift – how Republicanism is dead in the region, how every single New England congressman is a Democrat, how Obama lost only a single county in New England.

That Al Gore performed more strongly than Barack Obama in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Jersey runs strongly against this hypothesis. Remember, too, that Obama won the popular vote by 7.3% while Gore did so by only 0.5%. If the two had ran evenly, this trend would have been far more pronounced. The state in which Obama improved least upon Gore, for instance, was not Alaska or Mississippi – but New York, where Gore did only 1.88% worse than Obama. The map below indicates this:

Much of the movement derives from the Republican candidates in 2000 and 2008. George Bush was a terrible fit for northeastern voters, with his lack of intellectual depth and cowboy persona. John McCain, on the other hand, was a man many northeasterners admired – he had a strong brand of independence and moderation, which the campaign tarnished but did not destroy. McCain was a person New England Republicans could feel comfortable voting for – and they did. (Fortunately for Democrats, there are not too many Republicans left in the Northeast.)

All in all, the Northeast’s relative movement right constitutes a very surprising trend. Few people would anticipate that Al Gore did better than Barack Obama in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Jersey. It defies conventional wisdom and the common red-blue state dynamic, which holds that the northeast is permanently Democratic. Finally, given increasing political polarization, this relative trend the other way probably is a good thing for the country.

--Inoljt, http://mypolitikal.com/



Yearly IPCC climate change documentary, and mobilizing the youth vote

As effective as Al Gore's documentary An Inconvenient Truth was in awakening a complacent America to the climate crisis we face, many among us were not sufficiently convinced by his presentation because of three reasons.  The first is that Gore is a politician.  The second is that Gore is not a climate scientist.  And the third is that the complexities of climate change are too great to present in a one-time documentary.

As you know, the most authoritative body on climate change is the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is comprised of over 3,000 scientists from 154 countries and whose conclusions require the 100 percent consensus of all countries that comprise it.  My suggestion is for someone within our Democratic Party to persuade the IPCC to EVERY YEAR produce and premiere an updated documentary for worldwide public movie theatre distribution.  

This documentary would remind the public about the dangers we face and apprise them of the steady stream of important developments, like James Hansen's 2008 paper concluding that the threshold CO2 number is no longer 450ppm, but 350ppm.

There's more...

Al Gore Goes Crazy For Trees on SNL

Al Gore's new plan: "So, instead of science, I'm going with crazy. I'm going to start planning trees in politicians' front yards in the middle of the night and tape toy guns to the branches pointed to the door so when they wake up and walk out of their houses in the morning they'll think it's the forests coming to get their revenge."

Could this BE any more awesome? (You know, without the actual passage of a bill or treaty?)

The Nobel Laureate was also on 30 Rock for his second cameo on that show. But I thought the SNL bit was funnier.

There's more...


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