Categories: climate

climate change vid

I think this has been floating around for a while, but I just watched it now, and it’s well worth it. As wfmu blog (where I found it) says:

“Wonderingmind 42” tells us exactly how global climate change is going to cause the end of the world. Sure, An Inconvenient Truth did it pretty well, but this guy does it without being instantly polarizing (sorry, Al, the right hates you to pieces), and with way more charming dorkiness. But most importantly, he describes the science and facts behind it all in a way that even your stubborn conservative Christian uncle can relate to – and maybe he’ll even pay attention to the facts when they are presented by this nice, clean-cut high school science teacher.

And the point of it all is that deciding what to do about climate change isn’t a question of certainty. It’s a question of risk management.


Categories: climate, politics

climate disaster

Jesus these Conservatives are a little over the top on their performance at the Climate talks in Bali, no?

Canada hosted an event called “Turning the Corner on Climate Change” apparently about Canada’s climate plan, with Environment Minister John Baird speaking. Instead, a number of Canadian companies spoke about their products. Baird apparently poked his head into the room, in his flip flops, and then left. He didn’t speak at all.

Whatever you think of Climate, that’s not very classy.

If you’d like to know what I think about climate change, here are a couple of things I’ve written:

* Climate Change & Blogging
* Climate: Point-Counterpoint

Oh and if you feel like signing a petition, here’s one.

Finally, why not send a note to Environment Minister John Baird to tell him what you think:

John Baird, Minister of Environment
House of Commons
Ottawa, Ontario
K1A 0A6

Telephone: (613) 996-0984
EMail: BairdJ@parl.gc.ca
Web Site: www.johnbaird.com/


Software Licenses & Climate

WordwebPro is, apparently a good dictionary/thesaurus ap for Windows, and it’s free, which is not all that interesting. What is interesting is this provision in their free license:

WordWeb may be freely used only by people who meet the conditions below.

Global greenhouse gas emissions are currently around 1 tonne per person per year, and need to be greatly reduced to avoid catastrophic warming this century. Most computer users are responsible for far more emissions than is sustainable. For example one medium distance return flight can be warming-equivalent to over 1 tonne of emissions: more than an average person should be emitting in an entire year. A typical SUV causes about twice as much warming per mile as a typical normal European car: 10,000 miles of travel in an SUV is responsible for about 5 tonnes of emissions. Offsetting emissions is no substitute for direct cuts.

You may use the program free of charge indefinitely only if
* You take at most 4 flights (2 return flights) in any 12 month period
* AND you do not own or regularly drive an SUV (sports utility vehicle).

Surely not effective on its own as a way of making a difference, but it is a curious and interesting extension of the copyleft mechanisms developed in the free software movement: to stipulate legal/moral obligations to use a particular piece of code, but extending those obligations beyond the normal provisions of software licenses.

I don’t know how legal such things are, but it’s very very interesting, and very creative.


climate: point-counterpoint

With my renewed attention to the climate debate, I’ve been noticing a number of rhetorical tactics in the debate on the Other Side. Here are three of my favourites, offered as point-context-counterpoint:

1. The Political Scientists
Point:
“Scientists like David Suzuki are political propagandists” … or: “Al Gore, who is a politician and not a scientist would have you believe …” etc.

Context:
David Suzuki has a PhD (in Genetics), but he is not an active scientist, certainly not a climate scientist. He is a journalist and a commentator, with a political agenda. Al Gore is not a scientist, his agenda is purely political. However, both of those people (as non-scientists) are quoting the mainstream scientific consensus. The debate is not about what Suzuki or Gore think – and they are irrelevant. The relevant question is: what do actual scientists think? And the answer, the famous consensus is:
1. climate change is happening
2. climate change is happening at an increased rate as a result of human actions
3. this is bad news
4. we should take action to a) stop the change and/or b) adapt to it

Counterpoint:
Forget Suzuki and Gore (they are just messengers). Forget, even, the United Nations (which is an considered with distrust by the right in any case). Instead focus on the joint statement signed in June 2005 by the National Academies of Science of the eleven most powerful countries in the world, which says:

The scientific understanding of climate change is now sufficiently clear to justify nations taking prompt action.

Here is the full text (pdf). Forget the messengers, listen to the scientists.

2. There are still skeptics
Point:
There are still skeptics within the scientific community about climate change, and we should wait until the science is “settled” before we undertake any dramatic action.

Context:
The details of climate science are complex. Disagreements about one issue or another will always exist, in the same way that it does in any scientific area. But that there are disagreements about some areas of the science, does not mean that the fundamental principles are not agreed. The vast majority of scientists working in the field agree with the consensus view described above. And of course there are skeptics. There will always be skeptics, in any field of inquiry, especially one as complex as climate science. But the question is: how should you make your policy? I would suggest that you make policy on “best available evidence.” The best available evidence is reflected by the consensus view.

Counterpoint:
There is no such thing as 100% agreement in science. But policy-makers are bound to make decisions based on best available evidence, and the best evidence, supported by the vast majority of active climate scientists indicates we should do something serious right now.

3. Why Bother?
Point:
It is too late to do anything about climate change, so we should just go on the way we have been going and not worry about it. It’ll be too hard, too expensive, and too disruptive to do anything, and anyway it’s too late.

Context:
This is at once the most pathetic and the most powerful of arguments. If it is indeed too late, and cataclysm is nigh, then at the very least we should be spending some serious time, money and energy thinking about how we’ll deal with the consequences. Governments in Canada and the US have not even done that; so if you take this view you’re either logically obliged to lobby for action, or you are willfully irresponsible.

Counterpoint:
If you make this statement, you acknowledge that climate change is a massive problem. If you acknowledge that it’s a massive problem, then you acknowledge that something should be done. Plus, it just ain’t true.

For a more complete list, see: How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic. And for the best in-depth analysis of science, visit: realclimate.org


climate, blogging, la presse

A while back (on the old dose), I wrote some climate change posts, that attracted the attention of a couple of commenters, who I suspected of being flacks. We had a detailed exchange.

My theory for which I have zero proof, is that some people are paid to go around making climate-skeptic comments on blogs. I met Nicolas Ritoux (through Evan), and we talked about it. He writes for La Press, did some more digging, and wrote a couple of pieces that are in the paper today:

Cool.

And here is an article, from NY Review of Books, about where we are on climate.


climate (& iraq?)

According to a recent Globe & Mail poll, suddenly, strangely, climate change has become the most important issue for the majority of Canadians (climate change topped the list for 26% of Canadians, followed by health & security). A curious and surprising event, perhaps an interesting result of the democratic system.

When the Liberals (as a centrist/left party, theoretically more enviromentally friendly than the right wing Conservatives) were in power, they did NOTHING on climate change. No policy, no effective strategy, no concrete action, and no results, except a 30% increase in CO2 emissions. But when the Liberals were in power, the official oposition was the Conservatives, right wing, oil-based, and hostile to policies addressing climate change (which will have a big impact on the oil industry and energy-intensive business). So agressive climate action on the part of the Libs would have resulted in strong opposition from the Conservatives. So the Libs did nothing.

Now, the Conservatives are in power, and they just got slaughtered (by the Libs, Bloc and NDP, and public opinion) for their weak stand on climate change in their recent Clean Air Bill (tho, in their defense, at least they tabled serious policies/laws with actual impacts on industry: the Libs never did). Stephane Dion is leading the charge, and in all the hooplah, climate change lands at the forefront of issues in the mind of Canadians. Harper shuffles his deck, and climate change becomes the Conservatives shiny new focus.

So, strike one up for Minority government as a good way to get things done that people actually want: those who pull the strings in power (the Conservatives) are forced to adjust their policies according to pressures from the other side of the spectrum. Which, theoretically at least, is a good way to ensure balanced government…And one hopes, a step in the direction of taking climate change seriously as a problem.

Hopping from government to media, interesting shift in the Globe and Mail this weekend too. Rex Murphy is the Globe’s shrillest climate alarmist-alarmist (he worries endlessly about the climate change propogandists and doomsdayers that run the National Academies of Sciences in all the biggest countries and economies of the world). He has spent the last 5 or 6 thousand years scoffing at, sneering about, and dismissing climate change, with few updates in his rhetoric for annoying things like the scientific advances. But even Rex seemed to back off in his weekly column yesterday. Well, almost. He presents a couple of examples of climate research gone wild (an Italian study linking suicide with climate change, and Al-Qaeda’s insistence that the US sign the Kyoto Agreement) as evidence that the rest of the scientists are single-minded fools. Yet he after all that silliness, he finally says:

“If we believe global warming is as big a problem as the world’s experts are telling us, we also have to believe the world’s politicians are capable of fixing it.”

And concludes that their inability to fix potholes suggests they won’t be much good at fixing climate change. He might have a point there, who knows? But there was a subtle, grudging, shift, almost imperceptible, but present. A back-handed acknowledgment that maybe, perhaps, it’s possible that all those damned scientists might be worried about something worth worrying about. Even if he does not trust politicians to do anything useful about it.

Margaret Wente is another of the Globe’s usual “climate change is bullshit” columnists. A sample of her headlines from the last few years (the Globe is subscription only, so you can’t read the articles): “Ice the ‘polar bears are drowning’ theory,” “Will we freeze or will we fry?” “Kyoto always was a fantasy,” “The collapse of climate ‘consensus'” “The Kyoto-speak brainwashers” … etc.

In an article in this Saturday’s Globe, Wente finally, finally, finally actually talks to some mainstream climate scientists, instead of the odd-ball guys she fished up in previous articles (it’s all good and well to say there are scientists who don’t agree with the consensus, but they are a small minority, and often not active scientists, and more often not regarded as very serious in their research).

In any case, her article in Saturday’s Focus section of the Globe, is titled “A Questionable Truth.” She has spun her argument something like this: Al Gore’s movie an Inconvenient Truth exaggerates the likelihood of bad effects from climate change. And mainstream scientists think the probability of catastrophic climate change is … uncertain. In fact, much of climate science is uncertain. So …

And here is the interesting thing. In the past Wente’s “So…” used to be followed by, “So the climate alarmists are a bunch of propagandists, and we should ignore them…”. But this time she ended (almost, as well as a swipe at Gore) with: “So what can a worried citizen do?” To answer, she quotes Mark Jaccard of Simon Fraser University, who answers: “Lobby the politicians to put policies in place immediately that put a value on the environment … Drive your car to Ottawa if you have to. The most important thing is to get policies in place that are intelligent.” Translation (I think): we have a problem here, and something should be done.

(Not content to leave it at that, however, Wente finishes with a swipe at Al Gore, “even though much of what he says is dubious or just plain wrong, he’s going to win that Oscar anyway.”)

But when you read the text of her article, and what the actual scientists say (rather, what she decided to quote them as saying), it’s a funny thing. There is not one scientists there arguing that climate change is not a major problem worth addressing. Not one person saying: climate change is not happening. Not one person saying: humans have no impact on the climate. Not one person saying: there is nothing to worry about. Not one person saying: we should do nothing. The scientists she interviews, instead, are cautious, level-headed, and, like most scientists, uncomfortable with sensational headlines. Says one, “The probability of another metre of or sea-level rise in the next 50 years isn’t zero, but it isn’t 90 per cent either. And if you pinned me down to tell you what it really is, I couldn’t do that.” That is, there is a risk of serious problems, and scientists can’t pin down just what that risk is. Which hardly suggests: a) that there is no risk, or b) that we should do nothing.

Another interesting thing: Wente and some of her pals at the Globe (the paper probably has had a 50-50 split on the issue) have spent the last ten years pillorying the Kyoto Protocol. Yet when discussing how to address climate change in this article, she writes: “But climate economists generally agree that the first and most important thing to do is to put a value on the atmosphere. You do this with carbon taxes and emissions caps. If emitting carbon costs money, then people will have a big incentive to cut down on it.” The Kyoto Protocol was a loose international framework whose objective was to a) get nations to agree to emissions caps on their national emissions, b) provide a timetable to try to meet those targets, c) provide some loose mechanisms to meet them. The Kyoto Protocol does not say ANYTHING about how any one country should meet their targets; that is left to countries figure out for themselves. (Which is why the “Made in Canada” solution trumpeted by Harper is hogwash: Kyoto’s objective is to get every country to come up with their own solution). Wente’s main expert’s opinion about how to address climate change suggests, essentially, that we should have started working within the framework of the Kyoto Protocol years ago. Wente manages make it sound as if she had just uncovered a sensible and innovative answer to this climate problem, a solution ignored by the hordes of rabid alarmists with Kyoto as their bible as they made their joyful march to climate apocalypse. That’s pretty disingenuous. The whole point of Kyoto was to do exactly what she seems to agree with here. And she has spent 10 years mocking Kyoto. At least, Ms. Wente, have the decency to utter a quiet little mea culpa. There is more dishonesty (intentional or accidental, I don’t know) in that article, but Rome was not built in a day. Ms. Wente has written her pivotal article on climate change, hovering on both sides of the argument, but she won’t go back to her old ways. She will continue to be distrustful of the enviros (which is fine), but I’d wager that she’s now convinced that things must be done.

I wonder: does the Iraq debacle Iraq have anything to do with this sudden turn-around in the public’s climate opinions? After all, those for the Iraq war tended to be, on balance, those against doing anything about climate change. And personally I always found it strange the dichotomy between the logic of spending billions on Iraq as compared to billions on climate change. Both threats (Saddam’s WMDs/climate chaos), according to their proponents, could have catastrophic impacts on all of us. Both would take massive amounts of resources, effort and policy will-power to address. Yet Iraq will gobbled up an estimated $1 trillion, with probable results of: destabilizing the Middle East, weakening the American position internationally, both among friends and foes, exposing the US as bad failed occupiers, stretching the military to the breaking point, and emboldening enemies (after all, the US can hardly make any military moves now, and Iran is the big winner in their blunder). All this sold by the same folks who told you not to worry about climate change (including Wente, including Murphy). So, maybe this is the effect of a little reality settling in. If the right was SO wrong about everything in Iraq, maybe it’s time to wonder what else they might have gotten wrong. Is the collapse of the Neocons and their grand vision for Iraq a chance for thier more moderate cheerleaders (in the press and public) to examine everything they sold with a new eye? After all, you only buy a lemon from a car salesman once. After that you steer clear.

It’s pretty hard to believe anything the current President says these days. It always was, for me; but it seems the naked emperor and his disastrous war has been revealed. So if you don’t have any more faith in the guy who is President, maybe it’s time to take a look at what the other guy, that guy who *could* have been President, has been parroting on about for the past few years.

I didn’t like the movie, and sure he goes too far in parts, and gets some things wrong. But hark: that’s the sound of Wente and Murphy reevaluating climate change. A good sign.


Categories: climate, politics

wente & murphy getting hot?

Splitting my previous climate post into 3 (since it was 3 separate ideas):

Interesting shift in the Globe and Mail this weekend. Rex Murphy is the Globe’s shrillest climate alarmist-alarmist (he worries endlessly about the climate change propogandists and doomsdayers that run the National Academies of Sciences in all the biggest countries and economies of the world). He has spent the last 5 or 6 thousand years scoffing at, sneering about, and dismissing climate change, with few updates in his rhetoric for annoying things like the scientific advances. But even Rex seemed to back off in his weekly column yesterday. Well, almost. He presents a couple of examples of climate research gone wild (an Italian study linking suicide with climate change, and Al-Qaeda’s insistence that the US sign the Kyoto Agreement) as evidence that the rest of the scientists are single-minded fools. Yet he after all that silliness, he finally says:

“If we believe global warming is as big a problem as the world’s experts are telling us, we also have to believe the world’s politicians are capable of fixing it.”

And concludes that their inability to fix potholes suggests they won’t be much good at fixing climate change. He might have a point there, who knows? But there was a subtle, grudging, shift, almost imperceptible, but present. A back-handed acknowledgment that maybe, perhaps, it’s possible that all those damned scientists might be worried about something worth worrying about. Even if he does not trust politicians to do anything useful about it.

Margaret Wente is another of the Globe’s usual “climate change is bullshit” columnists. A sample of her headlines from the last few years (the Globe is subscription only, so you can’t read the articles): “Ice the ‘polar bears are drowning’ theory,” “Will we freeze or will we fry?” “Kyoto always was a fantasy,” “The collapse of climate ‘consensus'” “The Kyoto-speak brainwashers” … etc.

Wente finally, finally, actually talks to some mainstream climate scientists, instead of the odd-ball guys she fished up in previous articles (it’s all good and well to say there are scientists who don’t agree with the consensus, but they are a small minority, and often not active scientists, and more often not regarded as very serious in their research).

In any case, her article in Saturday’s Focus section of the Globe, is titled “A Questionable Truth.” She has spun her argument something like this: Al Gore’s movie an Inconvenient Truth exaggerates the likelihood of bad effects from climate change. And mainstream scientists think the probability of catastrophic climate change is … uncertain. In fact, much of climate science is uncertain. So …

And here is the interesting thing. In the past Wente’s “So…” used to be followed by, “So the climate alarmists are a bunch of propagandists, and we should ignore them…”. But this time she ended (almost, as well as a swipe at Gore) with: “So what can a worried citizen do?” To answer, she quotes Mark Jaccard of Simon Fraser University, who answers: “Lobby the politicians to put policies in place immediately that put a value on the environment … Drive your car to Ottawa if you have to. The most important thing is to get policies in place that are intelligent.” Translation (I think): we have a problem here, and something should be done.

Not content to leave it at that, however, Wente finishes with a swipe at Al Gore, “even though much of what he says is dubious or just plain wrong, he’s going to win that Oscar anyway.”

But when you read the text of her article, and what the actual scientists say (rather, what she decided to quote them as saying), it’s a funny thing. There is not one scientists there arguing that climate change is not a major problem worth addressing. Not one person saying: climate change is not happening. Not one person saying: humans have no impact on the climate. Not one person saying: there is nothing to worry about. Not one person saying: we should do nothing. The scientists she interviews, instead, are cautious, level-headed, and, like most scientists, uncomfortable with sensational headlines. Says one, “The probability of another metre of or sea-level rise in the next 50 years isn’t zero, but it isn’t 90 per cent either. And if you pinned me down to tell you what it really is, I couldn’t do that.” That is, there is a risk of serious problems, and scientists can’t pin down just what that risk is. Which hardly suggests: a) that there is no risk, or b) that we should do nothing.

Another interesting thing: Wente and her pals at the Globe (the columnists are probably 50-50 split on climate) have spent the last ten years pillorying the Kyoto Protocol. Yet when discussing how to address climate change in this article, she writes: “But climate economists generally agree that the first and most important thing to do is to put a value on the atmosphere. You do this with carbon taxes and emissions caps. If emitting carbon costs money, then people will have a big incentive to cut down on it.” The Kyoto Protocol was a loose international framework whose objective was to a) get nations to agree to emissions caps on their national emissions, b) provide a timetable to try to meet those targets, c) provide some loose mechanisms to meet them. The Kyoto Protocol does not say ANYTHING about how any one country should meet their targets; that is left to countries figure out for themselves. (Which is why the “Made in Canada” solution trumpeted by Harper is hogwash: Kyoto’s objective is to get every country to come up with their own solution). Wente’s main expert’s opinion about how to address climate change suggests, essentially, that we should have started working within the framework of the Kyoto Protocol years ago. Wente manages make it sound as if she had just uncovered a sensible and innovative answer to this climate problem, a solution ignored by the hordes of rabid alarmists with Kyoto as their bible as they made their joyful march to climate apocalypse. That’s pretty disingenuous. The whole point of Kyoto was to do exactly what she seems to agree with here. And she has spent 10 years mocking Kyoto. At least, Ms. Wente, have the decency to utter a quiet little mea culpa. There is more dishonesty (intentional or accidental, I don’t know) in that article, but Rome was not built in a day. Ms. Wente has written her pivotal article on climate change, hovering on both sides of the argument, but she won’t go back to her old ways. She will continue to be distrustful of the enviros (which is fine), but I’d wager that she’s now convinced that things must be done.


Climate & Iraq?

I wonder: does the Iraq debacle Iraq have anything to do with this sudden turn-around in the public’s climate opinions? After all, those for the Iraq war tended to be, on balance, those against doing anything about climate change. And personally I always found it strange the dichotomy between the logic of spending billions on Iraq as compared to billions on climate change. Both threats (Saddam’s WMDs/climate chaos), according to their proponents, could have catastrophic impacts on all of us. Both would take massive amounts of resources, effort and policy will-power to address. Yet Iraq will gobbled up an estimated $1 trillion, with probable results of: destabilizing the Middle East, weakening the American position internationally, both among friends and foes, exposing the US as bad failed occupiers, stretching the military to the breaking point, and emboldening enemies (after all, the US can hardly make any military moves now, and Iran is the big winner in their blunder). All this sold by the same folks who told you not to worry about climate change (including Wente, including Murphy). So, maybe this is the effect of a little reality settling in. If the right was SO wrong about everything in Iraq, maybe it’s time to wonder what else they might have gotten wrong. Is the collapse of the Neocons and their grand vision for Iraq a chance for thier more moderate cheerleaders (in the press and public) to examine everything they sold with a new eye? After all, you only buy a lemon from a car salesman once. After that you steer clear.

It’s pretty hard to believe anything the current President says these days. It always was, for me; but it seems the naked emperor and his disastrous war has been revealed. So if you don’t have any more faith in the guy who is President, maybe it’s time to take a look at what the other guy, that guy who *could* have been President, has been parroting on about for the past few years.

I didn’t like the movie, and sure he goes too far in parts, and gets some things wrong. But his point, that something must be done, is starting to sound reasonable even to the Wente’s & Murphys of the world.


Climate Change & Blogging

Veeeerrrry interesting. I wrote a little post on Climate Change (a letter to the editor of the Globe and Mail regarding Rex Murphy’s latest bit of climate idiocy). And I got two comments from people who have certainly never been to this site before. I presume there is a concerted blog/commenting effort, probably funded by PR companies, to troll through the blogosphere and make “grassroots” comments. I noted this kind of thing before on my Zune post a while back, and if I were a PR company, I would be doing this too. Good, cheap, and very direct way to get your message out. Even if you don’t reach the writer (in this case me) you might sow some doubt in other readers of the post.

I was going to answer these fellows in the comments, but it’ll take some links etc, so I’ll do it here instead.

First, Ken Ring from predictweather.com has explaned his position onglobal warming: here. He’s from New Zealand and predicts weather partterns using moon cycle analysis. Here is his comment, and my response below:

Instead of berating Murphy, how about listing the ACTUAL evidence that the world is warming. By the world I don’t just mean the tiny areas occupied by the cities, I mean the oceans, icecaps, swamps, craggy monutain ranges, deserts etc that comprise, without human habitation, 98.4% of the Earth’s surface. Oh bother, there aren’t any thermometers in those places. (Now aint that the inconvenient truth..)

Evidence coming, but first some propositions:
1. earth’s climate is a complex system
2. human civilization has developed in a period of relative warmth & climate stability (allowing for agricultural food production)
3. global temperature is directly correlated with CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere
4. if CO2 concentrations rise, there is a good chance that temperature will rise too
5. if the temperature rises significantly, the complex system of the climate will be destabilized
6. if the climate system is destabilized, our ability to manage a global agricultural system will be destroyed
7. if we cannot manage a global agricultural system, human civilization as we know it is finished.
8. CO2 is rising, partly due to human emissions of CO2

Now for some evidence, the most powerful piece of data I have seen in climate change science, from the Vostok ice core:

vostock ice cores

Note CO2 concentrations follow temperature. Note also that the past 10,000 years (far right of graph, blue) have seen something extraordinary: relatively warm, stable temperature, also the period when human civilization developed.

Now perhaps doubling or tripling or quintupling C02 concentrations is fine. But if I were a betting man, given a graph like that, I would say there is 50% chance that rising CO2 will raise the temperature. And knowing a little about the history of the earth, I would say we don’t want temperatures to go up, and we should do what we can to make sure they don’t.

If you want some more evidence, in counterpoint to climate-denial, a good place to start is this article from Realclimate.org: Wall Street Journal vs. Scientific Consensus.

Regarding Ken’s other comment about measurement of temperatures out of cities, I’m not sure that’s even worth responding to, but satelite data, and the Vostok ice core (from Antarctica) are a good start. For more reading, see: NASA’s GISS Surface Temperature Analysis. For less theoretical evidence (ie. the kind you can feel in your cold, wet toes) here’s an article about the melting Arctic.

I think that’s all for Ken.

Now for the other commenter, Jeff Jones, no URL. Here’s what he had to say:

Notice how the doomsayers claim, as the host does, that each year the scientific community gets more certain. Which scientific community? Certainly not the 19,000 who signed the Oregon petition.

It’s the kind of dishonest device that the Church used to deny Copernicus and Galileo.

Maybe you mean the scientific community made up of political scientists like David Suzuki whose goal is to destroy the corporate basis of Western democracy.

So, the famous Oregon Petition is widely regarded as bunk. There was no control on petition signers, no required proof of academic creditials, no stated affiliation with academic institutions. I did a cursory search through the signatories, and of 15 names I checked I was able to find three academics: Earl Aagaard, professor of biology at Christian creationist university; Arthur Ballato, an Electrical Engineer with the US Army; and Daniel J Cantliffe, a biologist at University of Florida. None of whom has any direct experience with climate science, as far as I can tell.

But rather than spend time on the discredited Oregon Petition, better to answer the question directly: Which scientific community does get more certain? Well, for one (sorry, for eleven) the National Academies of Science of the following countries: Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Italy, Japan, Russia, UK and the USA.

Say these Academies, in the following document (Joint science academies’ statement: Global response to climate change-pdf):

We urge all nations, in the line with the UNFCCC principles, to take prompt action to reduce the causes of climate change, adapt to its impacts and ensure that the issue is included in all relevant national and international strategies.

As for scientific literature, Naomi Orseskes did a random study of 928 peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals, with the key-words “climate change.” Of the articles, about 75% of them deal with the question of causes of climate change, 100% support the view that a significant fraction of recent climate change is due to human activities.

And what exactly is the consensus? According to realclimate.org, the consensus is:

1. The earth is getting warmer (0.6 +/- 0.2 oC in the past century; 0.1 0.17 oC/decade over the last 30 years)
2. People are causing this
3. If GHG emissions continue, the warming will continue and indeed accelerate
4. (This will be a problem and we ought to do something about it)

So … as they say: who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?


BookReview: Field Notes from a Catastrophe

Field Notes from a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change

Climate Change Book by Elizabeth Kolbert

My first job out of university, as a fresh-faced, idealistic engineer, was in the energy industry, for a sort of international think-tank made up of eight of the biggest electric companies in the world from G7 countries. I got there in 1998 (a year after the Kyoto Protocol was signed), and climate change obviously was high on the agenda, so I got to know what many in the energy industry thought of it (it was a big problem, and these companies were generally worried about how to address it in the most efficient, and least-costly way. That is, they were concerned, but wanted to avoid losing lots of money as a result). From the E7 (now E8) I went on, in the summer of 2000, to a financial brokerage called Prebon in New York, which was setting up an investment banking team to build financial products tailored for Kyoto Mechanisms – financial mechanisms aimed at getting funding into projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I was the policy guy, mainly, looking at national and international frameworks, as well as doing marketing of our insurance-based products to big energy companies around the world; and negotiating with potential sellers of emission reductions. I attended the COP conference in the Hague and talked to government officials all over the place. (Those were my jetset days of flying around the world, when I thought I might just be able to save the human race and become a multibillionaire at the same time). I worked at Prebon for a year and a half until the election of George Bush (and US abandonment of Kyoto, going back on a GOP campaign promise to regulate CO2 in the US); and then September 11 forced Prebon to shut down our group. Also a factor in shutting us down: we hadn’t made a nickle, despite having a $350 million deal in the works, though I don’t think we would have made the sale even without Bush and September 11. After I came back from NYC to Montreal, I spent some time working with a small alternative energy company here in Montreal, with toes still in CO2 waters … tho since 2004 I have been just an observer.

But I have been following Climate Change more or less closely for ten years or so, and have watched as the science matured (and Canada, incidently, did absolutely nothing except sign papers year after year). I am, you could say, a Climate believer…though I have an open mind to new research: if it were to turn out that everyone was mistaken about the climate, I would be happy to recant my former beliefs. But, the opposite has happened. Since 1998 when I started paying attention, various predictions from the models (then very uncertain) have started to come to pass: plants and animals are changing their breeding habits, the Arctic and Antarctic are melting, glaciers around the globe are receding, and the temperature keeps going up. Closer to home, the ski hill I grew up on no longer operates (they never made snow, and the natural snow isn’t enough to guarantee a viable season any more), and it regularaly rains in January and February.

And so when I first read Elizabeth Kolbert’s series of articles on climate change in the “New Yorker” in 2005 I was captivated. Field Notes on a Catastrophe: Man, Nature, and Climate Change is a compilation and expansion of those articles. It is the only climate book I have ever been inspired to buy — all the others seemed to rehash things I knew already, but there was something about the way Kolbert writes on climate — at once scientifically compelling and personal. And frightening. Of the many hundreds of articles I have read about climate change, Kolbert’s are the best.

In this book, Kolbert weaves a compelling tale, focusing on a handful of active scientists, their work on climate, and an underlying sense of terror that seems to infect all of them. They are at the front lines of climate research — out in the field and building the models. She visits the melting permafrost in Alaska, NASA climate modellers in New York, biologists studying butterflies in northern England, and Columbia paleoclimateologista with the world’s biggest collection of ocean core samples. She also talks to some historians who argue that massive civilization collapse in human history can often be attributed to climate changes destroying the agricultural systems those civilizations depend upon; and some of the people trying to do something about all this worrying problem that so many seem to ignore. The impressive thing about these scientists is not their much-trumpeted alarmism, though, but the opposite: the caution with which they make their claims. Scientists tend to be a thoughtful bunch, they are used to weighing massive amounts of data, inputs, and research from across many fields to make their conclusions. You make your hypothesis, you do your experiments, you publish your results in peer-reviewed journals, and others do their best to poke holes in your argument. More experiments are done, in various disciplines; in the case that other results consistently conflict with a hypothesis, it is rejected. When more data backs a hypothesis, from many different areas, it becomes accepted. Climate science is no different, and what’s happened over the past ten years, since I first started following the climate debate, is a hardening of certainty, as more and more evidence, more studies, and more data are backing up the theory that the climate is changing (not in doubt) and that we are forcing the change. But the real test of a theory is its predictive power: if a theory says such and such should happen, and such and such happens, it is worth paying attention to.

And this is why the much-maligned climate models are so powerful: they have been tweaked and improved over the past ten years, and have become more powerful. They back-check well against the past records, and have done a good job of predicting what is happening now. What’s scary is their predictions of what will happen in the future. It ain’t pretty.

Kolbert manages an impressive feat in this book: she presents the latest climate science clearly, and in enough detail that one gets a powerful sense of where most scientists think we are and where we are going. There are graphs and data sets, and evidence. But what emerges most powerfully is the sense of quiet, measured … panic (there is no other word for it) from the scientists working in the field. They are watching as our climate changes, and they know where we are likely to go. And most think we are pushing climate fast to that frightening place. In this slim volume, Kolbert has encapsulated the panic, and shown exactly where it comes from – scientifically and historically. And she shares this panic. As arctic researcher, Donald Petrovich relates to Kolbert:

The way I’ve been thinking about it, riding my bike around here, is, You ride by all these pastures and they’ve got these big granite boulders in the middle of them. You’ve got a big boulder sitting there on this rolling hill. You can’t just go by this boulder. You’ve got to push it. So you start rocking it, and you get a bunch of friends, and they start rocking it, and finally it starts moving. And then you realize, Maybe this wasn’t the best idea. That’s what we’re doing as a society. This climate, if it starts rolling, we don’t really know where it will stop.

My rating: 4.0 stars
****


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