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 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 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, 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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Rex Murphy and Climate Change

I just sent this to the Globe and Mail:

To The Editor,

I have read Rex Murphy’s climate articles with a sort of wonder for ten years now. Each year the science gets more sophisticated; each year the scientific community gets more certain; and each year more effects predicted in climate models are coming to pass (demonstrating the robustness of the models, while also showing that we are moving faster along a dangerous path than anyone expected).

Yet each year Rex Murphy’s climate articles remain exactly the same: the thousands of scientists who study this issue are alarmists and politically motivated; and those who disagree with overwhelming scientific evidence (like Mr. Murphy himself), are oppressed, unjustly attacked, and deserve to be heard with the same seriousness as the people who actually spend their careers studying climate change.

So my question, for Mr. Murphy, columnist, pundint and human: could you please list for us the evidence that *will* convince you that climate change is real, and worrisome? So that when, in a year or two, we have crossed those markers, we can all agree that it’s time for you to stop berating us with these inane columns on scientific issues, where you display total lack of interest in science?

What, I wonder, did Mr. Murphy, Newfoundlander, have to say about warnings that the cod fishery would collapse?

If you are interested what Rex Murphy did have to say about the cod fisheries, watch this wonderful video from the CBC archives, 1994.

politics, instability, open source, stability

Some other general political thoughts – and a reference to open source & computer networks at the end. There has been a general tendency recently in the developing world to elect what could be called “anti-US” governments: Hamas in Palestine, and, say the sweeping leftism in South America: Chavez in Venezuela, Evo Morales in Bolivia, Bachelet in Chile, Lulu in Brazil, Vázquez in Uruguay, and maybe Kirchner in Argentina. There are likely more, elsewhere.

All of these are considered “worrying” by the policy-makers in USA; yet most of these elections were considered fair. The question worth asking is, why do countries in the South keep electing governments that the US is opposed to (publicly and privately)?

And I suggest that the answer is this: the policies that the US exports, and the governments they support, have not done a very good job of providing for their populations. So the global status quo (as defined by US and its allies) is not a very stable system – or at least it won’t be unless the Northern policies are adapted to accomodate the shifts in the south.

Something similar happened during and after the 1929-39 Depression in North America. The late 1800s to late teens of the 20th C saw a radical shift in industrialization; huge production, technological advances, etc twinned with terrible conditions for workers. To avoid revolution, and total chaos in our governing and social systems, we built a social safety net, worker safety conditions, worker rights etc. Which in fact either brought on, or at least paralleled the most prosperous era in the history of humanity. Is that a coincidence?

Capitalism, unfettered, leans towards massive exploitation – of workers and consumers – monopolies, and destruction. Unattended capitalism will tend to be very lucrative for a few, and very destructive for the rest.

Socialism, unfettered, leans towards inefficiency and unnecessary government intervention.

Somewhere between the two is a balance that’s probably the optimum for the global system (though the variables are changing: oil prices, and climate change being the two biggies, I think, which are likely to throw everything out of whack in the near future). We’ve seen a massive shift to the right in the US; and much of the rest of the world is shifting in the other direction. And I suggest that if the US starts creeping towards the centre the balances on the other side will too; but the US – being the powerful beast – needs to examine why the rest of the world is reacting the way it is, and where they need to change their policies, not just their communication strategies.

All this makes me think about (much less complex) open source systems – like LibriVox, or more obviously wikipedia – that are self-stabilizing through open input; and also extremely efficient at producing “useful work” from idle hours. I’m not sure what the connection is exactly, but I keep thinking about politics from an open source perspective: how to bring the efficiencies and stability inherent in open source systems to our political structures?

Anyone know the answer?