Friday, August 31, 2007

There are models and then there are models

Some NASA scientists recently published an article in Journal of Geophysical Research Letters which shows that severe thunderstorms may be more intense in a warmer world.

There's nothing wrong with the article or the science, but I have a quibble with the press release NASA put out about it. It seems to imply that NASA built an entirely new climate model. Consider the opening paragraph:
NASA scientists have developed a new climate model that indicates that the most violent severe storms and tornadoes may become more common as Earth’s climate warms.

Wow! A whole new climate model? NASA sure has been busy! There's more:
Previous climate model studies have shown that heavy rainstorms will be more common in a warmer climate, but few global models have attempted to simulate the strength of updrafts in these storms. The model developed at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies by researchers Tony Del Genio, Mao-Sung Yao, and Jeff Jonas is the first to successfully simulate the observed difference in strength between land and ocean storms and is the first to estimate how the strength will change in a warming climate, including “severe thunderstorms” that also occur with significant wind shear and produce damaging winds at the ground.

I know how hard it is to make a climate model so I didn't think it was really a new model. Indeed the article said that Dr. Genio et al. had simply altered one small part, the convection parameterization, of the NASA GISS Model E which is probably 3-4 years old. Its more accurate to say that Dr. Genio et al. have developed a new model of convection and placed this in the larger model of the global atmosphere. Those two uses of the word "model" are very different. I would expect this distinction to be lost somewhere but not in the NASA press release.

The press release, or slightly re-written versions of it, have shown up in a couple of places so far: ScienceDaily and even Fox News.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

U.S. states continue to lead on global warming

Global warming is expected to be a big topic when Congress returns in September. I continue to believe that Bush won't even sign a bill with weak restrictions on CO2 emissions and lots of loopholes. His position is still "no mandatory cuts".

So leadership will have to continue to come from the states. Some recent coverage:

In Oregon:
Gov. Ted Kulongoski signed the state's first climate change legislation Tuesday, capping what he called the "most momentous legislative session for energy and the environment in more than 30 years in Oregon."

The bill sets ambitious standards for greenhouse gas reduction in Oregon, including reducing greenhouse gas levels by 75 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

In Maryland:
[Governor] O'Malley signed a bill earlier this year on tightening car emissions and created the Commission on Climate Change. And Mr. Aburn [top air quality official at the Maryland Department of the Environment] also said he expects his boss to continue to take action on global warming.

Standing in front of a bright yellow banner advertising the goals of "at least 20 percent by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050," Mr. Aburn said: "I think the time has come and you're going to see action this year."

Mr. Aburn hinted that even stricter emissions are possible, pointing to the banner and saying, "I'm glad you put the words 'at least' in there.

In California, Attorney General Jerry Brown was suing cities who weren't abiding the state's environmental laws in its development planning:
San Bernardino now sets the pace for how local government can adopt powerful measures to combat oil dependency and climate disruption," Brown said. "This landmark agreement establishes one of the first greenhouse gas reduction plans in California. It is a model that I encourage other cities and counties to adopt."

Approved today by the County Board of Supervisors, today's settlement resolves a lawsuit, filed by the attorney general in April, contesting the adequacy of San Bernardino's general plan under the California Environmental Quality Act.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Bush Administration ordered to produce climate report

A federal judge has ordered the Bush administration to finally produce the two reports about climate change that its required to make under the Global Change Research Act of 1990.

Part of this report was leaked to a couple of reporters in March.

This press release from the Center for Biological Diversity has the details:
The Research Plan and National Assessment required by the Global Change Research Act are intended to be the preeminent documents guiding federal research and policy-making on issues related to global warming. The Research Plan guides all federal climate research, while the National Assessment serves to provide an understandable summary of global warming impacts on the environment, economy, human health and human safety of the United States and is to by used by Congress and federal agencies in setting policy and responding to global warming. The last National Assessment was issued in late 2000 under the Clinton administration. Its use and dissemination was suppressed by the Bush administration, and the required update in 2004 was never produced. The Research Plan was required by law to be updated in 2006 but also has never been produced.

The Court ordered the Bush administration to issue the draft overdue Research Plan by March 1, 2008, with a final 90 days thereafter, and the National Assessment by May 31, 2008.

Coverage by Bloomberg, ABC News, the San Francisco Chronicle, and the Associated Press.

The administration claimed the law gave it lots of discretion on deadlines and the judge flatly rejected that. The administration also said it didn't need to do 2 reports and is instead planning to do 21 little reports over 2 years. Thus minimizing the impact and press coverage, of course. You can see the planned reports and schedule here.

The news articles are all appropriately harsh to the administration. This is mentioned as their second legal setback along with the Supreme Court decision on CO2.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Newsweek editor's pre-apology.

I read Newsweek editor Jon Meacham's "Editor's Desk" note in the issue of Newsweek with the great story on global warming deniers. I found this anecdote interesting:
In the issue of NEWSWEEK dated April 28, 1975—the cover that week, about the pending fall of Saigon, was called "The Last Battle" —the magazine ran what is probably the most-cited single-page story in our history. Headlined the cooling world, it explored worries about a new ice age. Global warming soon led scientists to put such concerns aside, but those who doubt that greenhouse gases are causing significant climate change have long pointed to the 1975 NEWSWEEK piece as an example of how wrong journalists and researchers can be. (If you type NEWSWEEK and global cooling into Google, you get 262,000 hits—not bad for a 33-year-old article.)

Meacham continues to misinterpret this history by saying scientists "put aside" cooling like it was some fad and now the same scientists are talking about warming. This was never more than a handful of scientists' speculations being blown up by the press, e.g. Newsweek. See realclimate for the definitive debunking of this media myth.

But I missed the significance of this odd paragraph in the same note:
We are not saying that it is time for all Americans to give up their cars and bike to work, or that Gore should be canonized or that the board of the Sierra Club should be given emergency powers to run the country.

Well of course you're not. Does a story about the denial industry really need this qualifier?

Luckily, the Daily Howler is long skilled at spotting this kind of journalistic weasel-ness:
But the real must-read in the current Newsweek is Jon Meacham’s weak-kneed “Editor’s Desk,” in which The Parson finds three hundred ways to apologize for running such a piece. Meacham is a genial person, but we’ve long been struck by his lack of spine, a problem which was always clear when he was doing more TV punditry. But this “Editor’s Desk” is an Instant Classic—a portrait of a multimillionaire press corps’ pusillanimity in the face of conservative power.

Sigh. Between the Democratic leadership and traditional media editors, I hope there's enough spines to go around.

Monday, August 20, 2007

The deniers screamed and nobody listened

For the last couple of weeks, the climate blogosphere has been a-buzz with the story of how a small error was spotted, and corrected, in the NASA GISS global temperature record. The correction was very minor and did not alter the global trend (up) at all. See coverage at realclimate, ClimateProgress (reprinting much of an email from James Hansen), and the August 19th edition of GW news.

Here's what's really interesting about this event: despite the coordinated effort from the deniers and their supporters in Rush Limbaugh, Fox News and the Washington Times, this "story" was completely ignored by the traditional media. About all I could find was a mention in the Washington Post, where it was portrayed as a "look at what those bloggers are in a tizzy over now" story. The LA Times also had a brief mention where the change in the data is appropriately described as "negligible" and the blog reaction is a big part of the story.

This non-reaction underscores a point I've been making a lot on this blog: the traditional media have shut the door on the climate deniers. When they're mentioned at all, they are always qualified with their conservative and other agendas. They aren't portrayed as scientists engaged in a legitimate debate.

So what should climate bloggers do? Take a cue from the traditional media reporters: when climate deniers say they have "proof" that GW isn't happening or is a hoax, ignore them. No matter how much they post in your comment section, ignore them. They will only sap your strength and time for the real fight that will begin when Congress returns in the fall: the debate about what to do about global warming.

Update: The paper of record, the New York Times, has weighed in with a story by their main climate reporter, Andrew Revkin. Again the emphasis is on the over-reaction in the blogosphere. There's some interesting words on what James Hansen and Stephen McIntyre agree on (a surprisingly large amount). This passage was interesting in what it didn't say:
Everyone appears also to agree that too much attention is paid to records, particularly given that the difference between 1934, 1998, and several other sets of years in the top 10 warmest list for the United States are so small as to be statistically meaningless.

And who is it that pays all this misleading attention to records? The media, Mr. Revkin.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Speed Matters

Let me take a timeout from climate coverage to address an issue that concerns everyone who uses the internet. Did you know the U.S. is currently ranked 16th in the world in average internet bandwidth to the home? I can remember when the U.S. led the world in internet bandwidth but that was apparently back in the dial-up days.

If we want to grow the online community, one straightforward way to do that is to improve the infrastructure.

A group called is advocating that Congress address the problem of both speed and access. The results from their test on my AT&T DSL line are on the right. Try it yourself at their website and see what you can do to help.

Monday, August 13, 2007

How to report on science: "Its not that hard".

Sharon Begley, the lead reporter on the mostly excellent Newsweek article on the global warming denial industry had an online chat last Wednesday. In it she not only showed a good grasp of the issues but had a good answer for the question of how reporters report on global warming:
White Stone, Va.: How can the responsible media best meet their "fairness/accuracy/'balance'" responsibilities in dealing with climate change deniers?

Sharon Begley: We haven't figured that out, have we? In my case, whether it's climate change or the latest fossil find, I believe that only those who do research in the given field are qualified to comment. Further, I don't think science is like political or social issues, where all views are of equal weight. To the contrary: in science, there really is a 'right' answer, tho it may take time to emerge, and journalists have a duty to tell readers what that answer is likely to be. Me, I don't do he said/she said, but delve into the arguments and see which has empirical merit. It's not that hard.

The question was an odd one, how to fairly deal with deniers (?), but the answer was a very good one on how to report science. Indeed it is not that hard. The deniers, even the few legitimate scientists like Lindzen, don't have the facts on their side. So you don't have to give equal column inches to their "view". I'm not familiar with Ms. Begley's work so I don't know if she's always been this good in reporting on global warming. But why did her fellow reporters do so badly until recently?

The best example of how to deal with deniers is the Newsweek article itself. Ignore them on stories about global warming, since they only lie about it, and instead write articles on their motives for and history of lying. I'm sure there's more great stories there. As Gavin Schmidt recently speculated in a post on Realclimate:
However, there is clearly a latent and deeply felt wish in some sectors for the whole problem of global warming to be reduced to a statistical quirk or a mistake.

Yeah. Why is that? C'mon reporters! Dig!

Saturday, August 11, 2007

Newsweek's history of "The Denial Machine"

The August 13th edition of Newsweek has an eye-catching cover with a picture of the sun and the headline "Global Warming is a Hoax*". The asterisk goes on to say "Or so claim well-funded naysayers who still reject the overwhelming evidence of climate change. Inside the denial machine". This excellent article by Sharon Begley (with help from 4 others) gives a history of the denial efforts which started as a response to Jim Hanson's 1988 testimony to Congress and continue through today.

If you are new to this topic and think there's any doubt about global warming, please read this article and see how you've been manipulated. Even if this is all old news, its a good summary.

The article is mostly history but here's a quote about where things stand today:
To some extent, greenhouse denial is now running on automatic pilot. "Some members of Congress have completely internalized this," says Pew [Center for Climate Change]'s [Manik] Roy, and therefore need no coaching from the think tanks and contrarian scientists who for 20 years kept them stoked with arguments
Fortunately, they can still be voted out of office.

Update: Joe over at Climate Progress thinks Newsweek wasn't hard enough. He also think the cover is a little to clever and I agree with that. A lot of people will just read the cover headline and not see the asterisk.

Update II: more on this article from me here and here.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Open source energy policy development

Over 10 years ago, a programmer named Eric S. Raymond presented an essay called "The Cathedral and the Bazaar" which explained why he thought the software development model that produced Linux was so successful. (Also around that time anyone reading a web page was also probably a programmer so I wouldn't need this background. How times have changed.)

Basically the action of many loosely connected individuals (the bazaar) looking at and working on source code made bugs more likely to be found and created good, reliable software in a fraction of the time of the traditional model. This was only possible if the source code was available for anyone to look at and the whole process was open. This was, and still is, a dangerous notion to companies like Microsoft that view source code as valuable intellectual property for which access is to be strictly controlled and monitored.

Well now the same open source philosophy has been applied to the arcane world of energy policy making. The result is Energize America, "a comprehensive and compelling 20-point plan developed by informed citizen activists to wean the U.S. from its fossil fuel addiction and provide the U.S. with Energy Security by 2020, and Energy Freedom by 2040." It also will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% by 2020.

I learned about this plan at a panel at YearlyKos. Some of their ideas already have the support of members of Congress. A related panel, which I missed, talked about "Using the Blogosphere to develop Policy". There's obviously a lot in common with the ideals behind the open source movement: take creation of a valuable public good (An operating system, a sustainable energy policy) and take it out of the hands of the few (for-profit software companies, lobbyists) and give it to the many (volunteer programmers,concerned citizens). Congrats to the Energize America team (whose work has really just begun).

Saturday, August 04, 2007

With Murdoch, will Wall Street Journal come around on global warming?

The Wall Street Journal editorial pages are one of the more notable MSM holdouts on climate change (see this post on realclimate for an example)

The great Bob Parks wonders in his "What's New" newsletter if Murdoch's takeover of the WSJ will change that:
Last week, WN predicted that if news mogul Richard Murdoch was successful in acquiring the WSJ, its editorial policy on climate would not get greener. Several readers, however, pointed out that Murdoch may have had a recent epiphany on climate. Indeed, Monday's New York Times quoted a May 8 Murdoch speech, "Climate change poses clear, catastrophic threats." To demonstrate his conversion, he went out and bought a Prius for a lot less than it cost him to buy Dow Jones. "The debate is shifting," he said, "from whether climate change is really happening to how to solve it." Is that enough to change the WSJ? I don't know.

Murdoch explains his green turn in an interview at Grist.

I'm with Bob's initial reaction. Fox news hasn't changed their denial-tinged coverage so I doubt the WSJ editorial pages will change anything.

For you young blog readers out there: Bob Parks has been sending out his newsletter by email since before blogs and even before the world wide web. He has been debunking junk science and calling out climate denial flim-flam for a long time. Prof. Parks is a national treasure.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Will anyone come to Bush's climate party?

I blogged about the run up to the G8 summit, where a big story was the pressure being put on Bush to do something about global warming. Blair tried his best to prod his ally. Bush made a big phony speech the week before and announced he would call his own summit of the world's CO2 emitters. Nothing came out of the G8 meeting itself.

Well he's now made the formal invitations to this conference as reported in a Washington Post story by Michael Fletcher:
President Bush yesterday formally invited top officials from the world's leading economic powers to take part in a climate change summit aimed at establishing voluntary goals for lowering greenhouse gas emissions while sustaining growth.
Long wary of the effectiveness of global environmental agreements, Bush tried to seize the initiative on global warming with his pledge to initiate a series of meetings to set flexible, long-term goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. He said his approach would allow countries to find their own best paths to reducing pollution.

In other words, Bush wants to spread internationally the "voluntary" program he advocates for U.S. businesses. This will accomplish nothing. Actually it might give the illusion something is being done and hold off real solutions which is worse then just continuing to be quiet.

Mr. Fletcher was sure fooled:
The proposal marked a clear shift for Bush, who had come under international criticism for his opposition to participating in the Kyoto Protocol, a United Nations-led environmental agreement that expires in 2012.
. This is not a Kyoto-level of commitment to change so his opposition to that approach is intact.

China and India are invited and Secretary of State Rice will host.

Reuters has a longer article by Matt Spetalnik where Greenpeace also worries about the effect of the smoke and mirrors being set up:
John Coequyt, a policy analyst with Greenpeace, expressed concern the Washington conference would be used to "erode support for the process that's strengthening at the U.N."
Note the timing...
The talks, where the Bush administration will control the agenda, will take place three days after a U.N. summit on climate change in New York in which U.S. policy on global warming may come under sharp criticism.

And this just starts a process which is scheduled to finish after Bush leaves office.

The White House said the U.S. meeting was meant to supplement, not upstage, ongoing international initiatives.
Yes I'm sure thats the only intent.

Its simple: any effort which doesn't start with binding, mandatory cuts in emissions is not a serious attempt to address this problem.

Joe Romm at Climate Progress also thinks there's not much here.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

What Adam said

Adam Siegel has a nice diary up at Daily Kos about how to view upcoming global warming legislation.

He brings up a point that I hadn't really considered before about legislative inertia and the importance of getting it right the first time.
When it comes to "Global Warming" legislation, who seriously believes that we will be able to drink at the trough multiple times. That if a GW titled piece of legislation is passed by Congress and signed by George the W, that it will be possible to invest the effort and convince 'moderates' to pass another Global Warming act just a few years later?

As per Stoller

only the Sanders-Boxer bill does what is needed. The rest of them are worse than nothing. If you pass a big piece of legislation, we'll have to wait at least five years before understanding it hasn't worked, which is five years we don't have.

This is a one-shot opportunity.

We get it wrong, the consequences will last generations.

We must get it right.

He's right that we must get it right. However I had previously been thinking that a series of laws, each tougher then the last, might be the way to go just to show the economic doomsayers that you won't wreck the economy, or even dampen it, by cutting carbon emissions. But, as Seigel points out, the legislative process doesn't work that way.

I continue to maintain that George the W isn't signing anything. The first chance for global warming legislation to become law will be late January of 2009.