August Green Linkdump 1:

by Robert Nagle on 8/11/2010

in global warming,linkdump

10 Indicators of a Human Footprint for Global Warming.

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Two great videos from the 2010 Net Roots nation conference about climate change. See the  79 minute video about Copenhagen and international agreements and how the failure of climate change in USA implies the need for better grass roots organizing (75 minutes).

Here’s a report suggesting that the massive decrease in phytoplankton can be traced to global warming.

NDRC report suggests that Harris County and Bexar County may face extreme risk to their water supply in 2050 as a result of global warming.

Here’s an interview with Katharine Hayhoe about the regional impacts of climate change. (She’s also written a book about climate change for the faith-based community).  This comes from Climate Abyss, a Houston Chronicle blog about climate change maintained by climatologist John Nielsen-Grammon.

I’ve been using my ipad to store all those gigantic government climate change reports!

Lester Brown on how climate change is aggravating food crises:

The rule of thumb used by crop ecologists is that for each 1 degree Celsius rise in temperature above the optimum we can expect a reduction in grain yields of 10 percent.

Tom Vanderbilt on how not having a car become a Hollywood stereotype for loser.

1979 Video of a talk by climatologist Stephen Schneider:

We’re insulting our global environment at a faster rate than we’re understanding it. And the best we can do, in all honesty, is say: look out, there’s a chance of potentially irreversible change at the global scale, based on the benefits of the use of energy. And it’s very tough for us to know whether those benefits o…f energy today are worth the potential risks of environmental change for our children.

Here’s a 3 page interview Schneider did in 2009 (he died in 2010). He made a key point about models:

There is always uncertainty as well, but as scientists we’re always trying to move the needle toward more confidence. More confidence does not mean 100 percent confidence. The only thing the IPCC ever said it was 100 percent confident in was that it has been warming over the last 150 years. Some try to frame climate change by saying that as long as there remain open elements, it isn’t "proved." That’s a fraudulent frame. Nobody in this world–in medicine, investment banking, military security, environment–is ever 100 percent sure of anything in a complex system.

When I’m asked, "What is the probability that the Greenland ice sheet will melt if temperatures rise X degrees?," I speak in percentages. My very good friend and colleague Jim Hansen says, "One degree." I don’t think Jim knows that. I don’t think I know that. The problem is too complicated for us to know that, so I frame it as a risk management problem: One degree? 25 percent chance. Two degrees? 60 percent chance. Three degrees? 90 percent chance. Is that the truth? Of course not. That’s as honest as I can be based on my subjective reading of the evidence. However, just so you don’t think I’m an optimist relative to Jim, I also think there’s a 5 percent chance that it’s already too late.

You talk about subjectivity, but isn’t science supposed to be objective?

No. Science is truthful, which doesn’t necessarily mean objective. How can science be objective about the future? How much data do we have for 2100? Try zero. We have data for 2009 and previous years. We take that data, analyze where we think it’s high quality, analyze where we’re not so sure of the quality, show how well the data explains multiple phenomena from the past, and ask how closely related those phenomena are to the future.

Then we build a model. It could just be a set of rules between how many watts of energy per square meter of heating we get between winter and summer and how much the temperature differs between winter and summer. That’s a model. Then we use it to predict how many watts per square meter from a doubling of CO2 in the atmosphere. Now, this model is not very good. We know enough to know it’s not very good. But that’s how you start thinking.

We then codify our knowledge in terms of the equations that best describe our understanding of each subsystem–atmosphere, oceans, chemistry, ecosystems, demography, economics, technology, etc. Every time we add a model, we add more uncertainty. This is called ‘theory,’ and everybody does theory, even data people. Then we create a super model, what we call an integrated system. None of the factors is known perfectly. But if we plot it as a bell curve we can bracket the answers. That’s why the IPCC says, "One to five degrees warming [by 2100]" for example. That is an expert judgment; it’s subjective, but built on objective modeling and data.

Our job is to examine our knowledge of the system and then make a diagnosis based on the way our models have predicted past events. If the models have done really well, we have more confidence. If they’ve done badly, we have low confidence. The models have done really well on temperature over a long time period so we trust that. They’ve done really badly on precipitation in the short run. We don’t trust that. So, we order the relative degree of credibility–not just in the model itself but in what the particular model predicts.

Therefore, the IPCC can say with very high confidence that we’re going to warm up a lot, and that warming will create fires and rising sea levels. Yet it has very low confidence in which year the fires will start to take off, where they will happen, and how severe they will be. But those are not inconsistent.

Once we build our climate models, we must always make a subjective judgment, because it is going to be a prediction outside the realm of direct verifiability. We have to be able to predict whether this is a potential catastrophe for humanity. We can’t just hang around and wait.

Here’s a prediction: once global warming becomes conventional wisdom, every natural disaster will be blamed  on it – whether or not global warming had anything to do with it. It’s going to become the perfect scapegoat for politicians.

Someone figured out that energy production is a better predictor of where you will vote on climate change than party affiliation:

The top 10 fossil fuel producing States account for 79.78% of the country’s CO2 potential while representing only 18.39% of the country’s population; the top 20 account for 97.59% of the CO2 potential with only 49.33% of the population…. Of the top 10 emitting States, every single Senator (100%), regardless of party affiliation, is opposed to climate change legislation.

Here’s a video that summarizes with the aid of charts all the evidence for global warming. Well-made generally, but I have to ask: why can’t  skeptics  simply  read an article and become informed? Multimedia is good about explaining charts, but time-consuming to absorb. (The Climate crock of the week videos are better than most though).

David Roberts discusses whether higher gas prices in Europe led to innovation or simply a change in lifestyle.

Crap, I just realized that about half of my links for this linkdump were lost when my computer crashed.

Austin scientist Michael Tobis criticizes Roger Pielke’s model for scientists to be the “honest broker” (providing options rather than recommendations).  Stand-up economist asks legitimate question about Pielke’s presentation at a recent speech:

The hypothetical above about the planet exploding if we hit 450ppm makes it clear by Roger’s story is incomplete from an economics perspective. An analogy will help explain other limitations of his approach: Let’s say we’re talking about global populations of tuna, and that scientists are telling us that tuna are being caught at an unsustainable rate and that we need to cut the number of tuna we catch by 20% by 2020 in order to maintain a stable tuna population. Then Roger comes over and tells us that what we really ought to be looking at is not the number of tuna being caught every year but the consumption of tuna per capita in different countries around the world. Then Roger shows us graphs about rising populations in the developing world and the rising consumption of tuna per capita all over the world and tells us how difficult it will be to reverse this trend: how many more chickens we’d need to raise, etc. Finally, Roger comes to the seemingly inescapable conclusion that the number of tuna being caught every year is going to keep on rising. Anybody with half a brain can see that there is something missing from this story: What happens if there are biological limits to how many tuna we can catch? Anybody with a full brain should see that this analogy casts doubts on the value of Roger’s approach to climate change: What happens if there are physical limits in terms of the quantity of fossil fuels we can consume? What happens if there are biogeochemical limits in terms of the quantity of fossil fuels we can consume before blowing up the planet? This is not the time to pass judgment on these questions—for myself, I worry about the second question but not the first one—but it is the time to be concerned about the fact that these kinds of questions don’t even come up in Roger’s analysis.

A comment I made about a Naomi Oreskes article about denialism:

I have to confront deniers everywhere and all the time. I am just a layman (and btw, Crock of the Week and Skeptical Science are helpful, not to mention CP), but I never cease to be surprised at 1)the number of lefty people who think it’s all a right-wing conspiracy to profit from carbon trading, 2)the number of highly educated people in oil and gas who haven’t updated their knowledge for over a decade and 3)the number of Republicans who almost seem to take pride in conspicuous consumption of fossil fuels and unsustainable lifestyles.

Also, I live in Houston; yes, I realize that it’s the headquarters for a lot of fossil fuel companies, but I am amazed at the number of people have no idea how the consequences might affect a coastal city like Houston. The extent of their knowledge is that global warming might produce inconvenient weather on occasion. I am also amazed at the number of people who are ignorant about how electricity is generated or the source of their own energy. I once interviewed someone in public affairs for a major web hosting company who had no idea what their carbon footprint was or what the fuel mix of their utility was. (I had to tell him after examining several reports).

I’m glad that Oreskes has traced the origins of denialism, but the cognitive dissonance of many Americans is often self-inflicted.

By the way, I am reading a great book by Greg Craven, What’s the Worst that Could Happen? (inspired by the video he made on Youtube which became famous). Craven is a clear-headed high school science teacher. Instead of tackling the climate change question directly, he tackles the question of logic and how we arrive at scientific conclusions. Fascinating read, especially the parts about confirmation bias. 

Here’s two other arguments to give to a denialist who tries to deny the  existence of climate change or the human connection):  You are not only talking about risk to YOU, but RISKS to me as well. Sure, you may not believe that AGW is true, but yet you are insisting on the right to expose all of us to risk on the basis of your minority position. Please explain why you have this right to continue imposing this risk on all of us! Maybe I could hold a gun at your head and say, "No, this bullet will not injure you one bit!" My stubborn belief that firing the gun will not damage your brain will not give me the right to do it.. or make it right.

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