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.

It's Snow News

by Walter Brasch

 Up to two feet of snow hit the Mid-Atlantic and New England states last week, the second storm within two weeks. Wind gusts of up to 50 miles an hour and temperatures in the 20s created severe wind chill and extreme hazardous driving conditions. Pennsylvania ordered all commercial trucks off many of its major highways and Interstates. Schools and colleges throughout the Northeast cancelled classes, many for two days.

 We were warned that this would be a severe storm, because days before we received minute-by-minute predictions from TV weather persons. The snow will be two feet deep. Or maybe only 3 to 5 inches. No, wait, that was last hour's prediction. It's now going to be 5-9 inches. Or, maybe 10 inches. No, wait. That's wrong, it'll be 15 to 20 inches. It'll bury buildings and wreak a path of destruction unlike anything seen in the past four thousand years! It might also be only a half-foot. We'll be revising our prediction to some other number as soon as our assignment editor throws a dart at the Snow Inch Board.

 Most residents, unless they were forced to work, were smart enough to stay home. Also smart enough to stay indoors were TV news directors who sent their reporters and camera crews into the middle of snow-covered roads. Deep-voiced anchors introduced us to the infotainment promotion that has become TV news: "Now, LIVE from the middle of the Interstate, and bravely facing blizzard conditions with EXCLUSIVE coverage ONLY on Eyewitless News 99, your hometown station for LIVE EXCLUSIVE weather coverage is our LIVE reporter, Sammy Snowbound."

 Reporters and meteorologists were soon entertaining us with wooden rulers, which they pushed onto snow-covered tables and snow banks to report snow accumulation, not unlike a radio reporter doing play-by-play announcing for a high school basketball contest.

 The previous week, the local news stations and TV all-news networks identified a crippling snow as "Snowmageddon" and "Snowpocalyse." This week, with its winds, we learned about "Snowicane."

And so for two back-to-back snow-somethings, we had almost unlimited Team Coverage. The teams interviewed business owners—"So, how's the snow affecting your business?" They interviewed residents—"So, how's the snow affecting your plans?" They even interviewed public officials—"So, how's the snow affecting your budget?"

If Jesus came to the Northeast, he'd be watching all-snow all-the-time coverage, and waiting in a green room for his one minute interview. "So, Jesus, how you surviving the snow?"

 The problem of the extended coverage is that when there isn't any snow, local TV news gives us a five minute weather report on the Evening News. Excluding commercials, teasers, and mindless promotion, that's more than one-fourth of the news budget. We learn all about highs and lows, Arctic clippers, temperatures in obscure places, and the history of snowflakes. When a weather "event" occurs, TV has to ramp up its coverage, 'lest we think we can learn what we need to know in only five minutes.

Every weather person will tell you there are no two snowflakes the same. But, we can always count on the same coverage, storm after storm, from the same flakes covering the weather. While the reporters are in the middle of a blizzard showing us snow—and how brave they are—they aren't giving us significant information about how to prepare for and then survive a storm, which may cut off electricity for up to a week. Nor are the TV crews telling us what happens to the homeless, or how the storms are affecting everything from insects to black bears.

Long after the storm passes, we'll still be seeing TV weather reports of about four or five minutes—"It'll be sunny tomorrow, and here's a history of sun." It would be nice if local TV news would spend as much time as it does delivering semi-accurate weather reports to discuss significant governmental and social issues along with its diet of car crashes, fires, and the latest Pickle Festival.

 [Walter Brasch was a reporter and editor before becoming a professor of mass communications and journalism. He is an award-winning syndicated columnist and the author of 17 books, including the recently-published third edition of Sex and the Single Beer Can: Probing the Media and American Culture.]

 

 

challenge to Obama supporters

I have been a Hillary supporter for the last two months. Nevertheless I would gladly send a $100.00 donation to Obama campaign and hand wash the car of his supporter in my geographical area if they can convince me of one of the two things- It is morally equivalent to pardon some one who repents and applies for a pardon ( meaning he expresses regret for his action and spends time in jail) and some one who wishes he had "done more" and or show me one piece of legislation desired by the Democrat rank and file that Senator Obama was able to reach across the aisle and get support from the repub in Washington. The latter is his  main claim to the nomination.

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NH weather tomorrow ideal for high turnout!

Well just wanted to note the weather forecast for New Hampshire tomorrow is ideal for high turnout. It will be about as warm as it gets in New Hampshire this time of year with highs about 53-55 and lows of 42.

There is very little chance of any serious precipitation

People are not going to have the weather as an excuse to avoid voting!

Given the election on both the democratic and republican side and the the nice weather one has to guess turnout is going to be very high.

I will avoid drawing any conclusions on the impact of this on the election results in order to avoid incurring anyone's wrath as I have done enough of that today unfortunately.

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