Temperature (1) – from a personal perspective
Temperature (1) – from a personal perspective
Every now and then I get a long letter from a reader who tells a personal and passionate story of why they are skeptical that the Earth is warming and that we can attribute that warming to man. Sometimes the letters convey a thread through an entire career – a whole life. They are doubtful. They might convey disbelief that we, as a species, are able to cause climate change – or disbelief that we can measure and understand climate change because it is complex. Sometimes they convey belief – perhaps, belief that there is a divine role of humans on Earth and the climate is cared for to help us thrive or to punish our misdeeds.
I wonder if I should write such a story with a personal thread through my climate life …. Remembrance of some drought in North Carolina in the 1960s, next to the white oaks in the front yard, thinking that maybe we were the target of divine punishment, wondering if the atmosphere had somehow “forgotten” how to rain. Daddy assuring me that there was no way I could deliver adequate water to that oak from a hose. I read in 1969 about 6 or 8 or 10 ways we were changing the planet and that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was at the top of the list. I know this because I found the magazine with my handwriting in the margin; I was very worried about the end of the world. From my story, this thread of my experiences, my observations, and my anecdotes, I would make the argument of why I do believe that the climate is changing and that we are causing that change. The point … would there be a point? The point would be to show the allure, the strength, the weakness of such a story – especially, if the story can be aligned with some facts or some authoritative sources.
These letters are written by people who have obviously thought about climate, climate change, and their Earth. They are generally not argumentative and hostile. More likely, they say that they have read the words I have written and, in short, I have presented evidence that is pretty convincing in a way that is not offensive to them, but that there is just one thing that they cannot get around. Often times that one thing has something to do with the surface temperature record. Perhaps they are concerned with sloppy location of stations, or creeping urbanization, or tree rings. They might be worried about the satellite temperature data.
My response to this is to acknowledge that there are problems in the surface temperature record. That these problems are known; they are not ignored nor are they dismissed. Quite the contrary, there has been and is a long history of searching out, quantifying, understanding, and trying to correct these problems. More importantly, however, the scientific investigation of the Earth’s climate requires us to examine far more than the surface temperature record before we can say that either the Earth is warming or that humans are the primary cause of that warming. If the planet is warming we need to see the ocean heating up; we need to see the growing season starting earlier and ending later; we need to see ice melting, and possums in Michigan. Like the temperature measurements, if we see any one of these occurrences in isolation, then it is easy to find several rational, well-founded explanations. When we see them all together, well, the number of alternative rational, well-founded explanations decreases. (see BRAND NEW State of Climate 2009, which takes a comprehensive look across many variables.)
The presence of the signal of warming in measures other than surface temperature is not just a convenient coincidence. Good scientific practice requires that these “other,” “correlated” changes be predicted and measured. And if they are predicted and not measured, then that is a real problem. Good scientific practice also requires that multiple, independent investigators reproduce the results. There is a preponderance of evidence from multiple sources that stands in concert with the surface temperature record; this is at the forefront of my response to those worried about the fidelity of the temperature record. Sometimes the doubtful are convinced; sometimes they are not.
The Earth’s climate has become a political issue. This is because if we are going to do something about climate change, then we are going to have to change where we get and how we use energy. We are going to have to pay more attention to our energy waste. Some people see opportunity, others see dangerous cost. Minimally, there is change, and both the perception and reality of losers and winners. This infiltration of the impacts of climate change throughout society makes climate science a political issue, and it is a fact of our political system, that people make advocacy-based points to influence politicians and voters. A tactic when people are trying to make points of influence is to isolate the “fact” that supports their position; give that fact some special, fundamental value; and require that their special fact be refuted in some absolute way. This is a tactic – a form of argument. It’s an old tactic; it is effective.
Given the recognition of this tactic, there are several points to be made. For example, it is possible for those solely focused on the surface temperature record to rightfully point out the deficiencies of this observational stream. It there are efforts by scientists to identify and correct these deficiencies, then the political argument is that the data are being manipulated. For those vested in the political arguments, then communication and education about the whole story is of no interest. The whole story is dismissed because of the special nature of their chosen fact, infused with a fundamental nature and the requirement for absolution. For those developing the political arguments, education about the science of climate change is not the way forward.
As scientists we need to think about the reasons people take the positions they take and say the things that they say. Scientists perhaps fall too quickly into the trap that the systematic exposition of observation-based knowledge will provide a convincing counterargument to incomplete statements and misinformation. But if the messenger is trying to make a point to maintain a political position, then their goal is to create, maintain and spread doubt about science and scientists. If arguments are smothered by the systematic exposition of observation-based knowledge, then that only begets the identification of other isolated issues that breed doubt. Or perhaps, their arguments turn to less noble forms, for example, attacks on the personal motivations of scientists or the belief that there is conspiratorial movement to legislate people’s behavior with science-based knowledge of the environment and health. When will I be denied the burnt ends from Arthur Bryant’s BBQ?
It is important for scientists to recognize that exposition of knowledge is not the sole way forward. We deal with a form of argument. If we participate in that form of argument, then we propagate that form of argument. While what I present here is drawn from my observations and my experiences, there is knowledge from other perspectives that help us to develop strategies.
At a meeting in May, I met Anthony Leiserowitz from Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Look at his web page; he does studies on the communication of climate change. Leiserowitz has worked to describe the public and their positions on climate change. He types the people as: Concerned, Cautious, Alarmed, Doubtful, Disengaged (or Unconcerned), and Dismissive. The survey results are summarized around Beliefs, Behavioral Intentions, Policy Preferences, Demographics, Political Affiliation, Values, Media Use and Civic Engagement. I will let you look at an online presentation. In short, the polarization that permeates our political society is reflected in concerns about climate change – an issue that some think should be defined by the systematic exposition of observation-based knowledge.
My point - or at least a point: From the scientist’s perspective, it is necessary to recognize not only that there are differences in how the public assimilates the knowledge of climate change, but also that there are well-founded, non-scientific bases on which individual and group positions are taken. For scientists to conclude that all of the positions assumed in the public are positions of ignorance and that systematic exposition of knowledge will overcome that ignorance can, in fact, be damaging and helps to perpetuate and propagate the selective doubt generated by political arguments.
Figure 1: From Center for American Progress, Global Warming’s Six Americas. Here is a June 2010 update and more figures.
Updated: 4:09 AM GMT en Julio 30, 2010
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Appreciation of Steve Schneider
Appreciation of Steve Schneider
Steve Schneider died July 19, 2010 on a trip to London. (dotearth) Steve was one of the most influential climate scientists and was far out in front in identifying the co-evolution of life on the planet and climate. He was outspoken, prescient, and many would say our field’s chief pugilist.
Personally, I only got to know Steve in the past few years. He contributed greatly to the success of the Michigan delegation to the Conference of Parties (COP) in Copenhagen last December. He shared with me his strategy of making a COP a successful experience for students – including mock negotiations and how to manage invitations to events. He was stunning in both his generosity and his commitment to students and the planet.
He is known for feistiness. His last book was Science as a Contact Sport: Inside the Battle to Save Earth's Climate. He was a man who was, bluntly, harassed and threatened by those who did not like his message. He never shrank from the battle.
Natasha Andronova sent this video link from Climate Science Watch. It is remarkable that he states the basic, clear facts of the argument in 1979 that we are still learning to state in 2010.
Ben Santer sent around an appreciation earlier today. It is a marvelous remembrance and reproduced here with his permission.
July 19, 2010
Today the world lost a great man. Professor Stephen Schneider – a climate scientist at Stanford University – passed away while on travel in the United Kingdom.
Stephen Schneider did more than any other individual on the planet to help us realize that human actions have led to global-scale changes in Earth’s climate. Steve was instrumental in focusing scientific, political, and public attention on one of the major challenges facing humanity – the problem of human-caused climate change.
Some climate scientists have exceptional talents in pure research. They love to figure out the inner workings of the climate system. Others have strengths in communicating complex scientific issues to non-specialists. It is rare to find scientists who combine these talents.
Steve Schneider was just such a man.
Steve had the rare gift of being able to explain the complexities of climate science in plain English. He could always find the right story, the right metaphor, the right way of distilling difficult ideas and concepts down to their essence. Through his books, his extensive public speaking, and his many interactions with the media, Steve did for climate science what Carl Sagan did for astronomy.
But Steve was not only the world’s pre-eminent popularizer of climate science. He also made remarkable contributions to our scientific understanding of the nature and causes of climate change. He performed pioneering research on the effects of aerosol particles on climate. This work eventually led to investigation of how planetary cooling might be caused by the aerosol particles arising from large-scale fires generated by a nuclear war. This clear scientific warning of the possible climatic consequences of nuclear war may have nudged our species onto a different – and hopefully more sustainable – pathway.
Steve was also a pioneer in the development and application of the numerical models we now use to study climate change. He and his collaborators employed both simple and complex computer models in early studies of the role of clouds in climate change, and in research on the climatic effects of massive volcanic eruptions. He was one of the first scientists to address what we now call the “signal detection problem” – the problem of determining where we might expect to see the first clear evidence of a human effect on global climate.
After spending many years at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Steve moved to Stanford in 1996. At Stanford, Steve and his wife Terry Root led ground-breaking research on the impacts of human-caused climate change on the distribution and abundance of plant and animal species. More recently, Steve kept intellectual company with some of the world’s leading experts on the economics of climate change, and attempted to estimate the cost of stabilizing our planet’s climate. Until his untimely death, he continued to produce cutting-edge scientific research on such diverse topics as abrupt climate change, policy options for mitigating and adapting to climate change, and whether we can usefully identify levels of planetary temperature increase beyond which we risk “dangerous anthropogenic interference” with the climate system.
Steve Schneider helped the world understand that the burning of fossil fuels had altered the chemistry of Earth’s atmosphere, and that this change in atmospheric composition had led to a discernible human influence on our planet’s climate. He worked tirelessly to bring this message to the attention of fellow scientists, policymakers, and the general public. His voice was clear and consistent, despite serious illness, and despite encountering vocal opposition by powerful forces – individuals who seek to make policy on the basis of wishful thinking and disinformation rather than sound science.
Steve Schneider epitomized scientific courage. He was fearless. The pathway he chose – to be a scientific leader, to be a leader in science communication, and to fully embrace the interdisciplinary nature of the climate change problem – was not an easy pathway. Yet without the courage of leaders like Stephen Schneider, the world would not be on the threshold of agreeing to radically change the way we use energy. We would not be on the verge of a global treaty to limit the emissions of greenhouse gases.
It was a rare privilege to call Steve Schneider my colleague and friend. It was a privilege to listen to Steve jamming on his beloved 12-string guitar; to sing Bob Dylan songs with him. It was a privilege to share laughter, and good food, and a good glass of red wine. It was a privilege to hear his love of science, and his deep passion for it.
We honor the memory of Steve Schneider by continuing to fight for the things he fought for – by continuing to seek clear understanding of the causes and impacts of climate change. We honor Steve by recognizing that communication is a vital part of our job. We honor Steve by taking the time to explain our research findings in plain English. By telling others what we do, why we do it, and why they should care about it. We honor Steve by raising our voices, and by speaking out when powerful “forces of unreason” seek to misrepresent our science. We honor Steve Schneider by caring about the strange and beautiful planet on which we live, by protecting its climate, and by ensuring that our policymakers do not fall asleep at the wheel.
Figure 1: Steve Schneider and his wife and colleague, Terry Root.
Updated: 3:52 PM GMT en Julio 20, 2010
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A Vast Machine
A Vast Machine
First, I want to thank Dave Bader for sending me the reference for a paper by Dan Murphy and co-authors, entitled “An observationally based energy balance for the Earth since 1950”, published in 2009 in the Journal of Geophysical Research. This paper looks at the heating of the planet since 1950 – what influences the energy balance and where does the energy go. Their analysis has an emphasis on aerosols, and their changes over the past 50 years. It’s like a good version of my recent series of blogs.
This blog is NOT a book review, but it is about a book. It’s a book that I think is a magnificent discussion of weather and climate science from the point of view of historian Paul Edwards. (I don’t get any money if you buy his book.) The name of the book is “A Vast Machine”, and it is available at the MIT Press. (It’s at Amazon as well, but I will make you work for that.) It’s getting really great reviews, if you search around the web.
There are a number of threads through the book that I think are interesting. One thread that I think will be interesting to many readers of WU blogs is about the quest to collect observations of the weather, and ultimately to forecast the weather. It seems routine today to collect, every few hours, enough data to define the global weather. Collection of such data is essential for good weather forecasting. It took about a century to collect the data for the first weather map – and of course, the first maps were viewed as state's secrets. There is another thread through the book about how the need to share weather data led to a global communication network, scientific infrastructure that was a precursor to the World Wide Web and the internet. (World Weather Watch – World Wide Web, coincidence?) Paul is expert on computers and infrastructure, so this is a theme throughout the book.
The thread I want to follow through the book is on the political aspects of the climate science. Edwards points out the work of Eduard Bruckner, who in the late 1800s was talking about humans were changing the climate. Much of this early discussion, which is older than the work of Bruckner, was about how land-use changes impact the local climate. Over the past 150 years there have been many who have argued that altering the land could alter the climate, both to advantage and disadvantage. One of my favorites was the idea that railroads brought plowing farmers, which brought the rain to support the farms. (Another of my favorite books The Worst Hard Times on the Dust Bowl.)
The discussion in Chapter 15 of “A Vast Machine” is about the more recent controversies of climate change and the development of climate change as a global political issue. I had not been aware of, or perhaps completely forgotten, the hearings on Scientific Integrity and Public Trust. These hearings have, in fact, set in language many of the words that are still used in the politically motivated arguments about climate change and whether or not we should do something about it. It’s also many of the same people carrying on the arguments, supporting one of my life lessons it takes half a generation before things start to change. Throughout the book there is discussion of the roles of models and observations in climate science, and the political effort to discredit models because “they are only a model.”
I will use some of the ideas from “A Vast Machine” in future blogs. It's an excellent book, and I know that those who write thousands of words in the comments of this blog would like it.
Bumps and Wiggles (1): Predictions and Projections
Bumps and Wiggles (2): Some Jobs for Models and Modelers (Sun and Ocean)
Bumps and Wiggles (3): Simple Earth
Bumps and Wiggles (4): Volcanoes and Long Cycles
Bumps and Wiggles (5): Still Following the Heat
Bumps and Wiggles (6): Water, Water, Everywhere
Bumps and Wiggles (7): Blackness in the Air
Bumps and Wiggles (8): Ocean, Atmosphere, Ice, and Land
And here is
Faceted Search of Blogs at climateknowledge.org