Thursday, December 8, 2016

Who is Scott Pruitt?

Scott Pruitt is apparently the new administration's choice to become Administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the EPA. In short, this choice epitomizes the old warning of "the fox guarding the hen house."

Sound a little hyperbolic? In reality, it underestimates the problem.

Pruitt is the Attorney General for the oil and gas dependent state of Oklahoma. He is currently suing the EPA. Yes, the very same EPA he is slated to lead. Pruitt prides himself on suing the EPA "every chance he gets." He has sued EPA to eliminate standards for reducing smog pollution. He has sued EPA to remove protections against mercury pollution. He has sued EPA to remove protections against toxic arsenic pollution. He has sued EPA to block protections against acid gases and other pollutants from power plants. He has sued EPA to block air quality standards in national parks and wilderness areas.

Until he is sworn in, assuming that happens, Pruitt will be continuing his campaign to block EPA from implementing clean air, clean water, and climate change regulations that Congress has authorized it to implement.

Republicans hate mentioning that part. But it is Congress that has passed laws that require EPA to develop regulations to accomplish what Congress told EPA to implement in those laws. Furthermore, the U.S. Supreme Court ordered EPA to follow through on laying out regulations because it was too slow in doing so. Yes, the Congress and Supreme Court ordered EPA to protect human and environmental health, but Republicans blame EPA for doing the job they were required to do.

Pruitt has led the suite of Republican states fighting EPA health and safety regulations, in particular ones that his fossil fuel lobbyists tell him they don't like. If Pruitt is confirmed, he will try to dismantle these health and safety efforts from the inside.

Pruitt has received several hundreds of thousands of dollars from the fossil fuel industry. He was caught sending letters to President Obama under his own name that were actually written by gas industry lawyers. He has fought to eliminate EPA oversight completely, arguing that fossil fuel dependent states like his have a right to destroy the environment, human health, and the climate system just because they make money doing so.

Not surprisingly, Pruitt is a climate denier. He routinely repeats the same old non-science lobbyist talking points fed to him by fossil fuel and libertarian lobbying organizations in Washington. He has outright lied about how EPA has attempted to implement the Congressional mandates given it. He has defended the right of corporations and other Republicans to lie about the state of climate science. And now he'll be in charge of the Agency that both he and the incoming administration have promised to dismantle.

This is your health and safety they are putting at risk.

The professed goals of Pruitt and the administration are to eliminate any regulations that require fossil fuel and other companies to limit their pollution. To eliminate all safeguards against massive CO2 emissions into the atmosphere and oceans. To eliminate all innovation and advances in our future energy needs.

This is the person the incoming administration has chosen to lead the EPA, the Agency he has vowed to destroy. Now he'll have a chance to destroy all health and human safety protections for all of us from the inside.

Oh, and it gets worse.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Incoming Administration is Even Worse Than Expected for Climate Science

Prior to the recent U.S. election this page noted "the last gasp of climate denial groups." It seems denial lobbyists are now guarding the hen house. The shocking election result brings with it expectations of climate denial, deceit, and defunding of science organizations. And it likely will get even worse.

To begin with, the person selected to head the EPA transition is Myron Ebell, chief anti-science lobbyist at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Similar anti-science lobbyists are in charge of transition for the Departments of Energy and Interior. Likely EPA administrators have been narrowed down to fossil fuel state politicians intent on gutting EPA health and safety regulations. Many senior EPA staff have suggested they won't remain in an agency led by anti-science lobbyists.

The new administration has already indicated it will abuse its political power to suppress science and push conspiracy theories. The climate science budget at NASA (and likely NOAA) is expected to be slashed. As with all Republican administrations and Congresses, their choice is always to cut funding of science research so that research can't continue to demonstrate the dishonesty of science denial.

With Republicans controlling both houses of the legislative branch, the entire executive branch, and likely to stack the judicial branch for decades to come, Americans are faced with an anti-American plutocracy in charge of the country.

All of this, of course, will hurt all Americans, including those people who voted for the Republican ticket because, well, not because they are racist or bigoted, they say, but because, well, because, um, something about the high cost of health care.

Health care costs will immediately go up as the new administration cuts out competition and throws at least 15 million people off insurance rolls.

So much for that. Congratulations, America, you got played.

Because of the ignorance of voters across the world (think Brexit, the 2016 U.S. election, and the upcoming French elections), we are now faced with significant regression of humanity. Scientists will be required to continue research with even more limited budgets, face accentuated anti-science lobbyist power, and deal with a populace that seems incapable of connecting actions with consequences. Just ask all those Republican voters now complaining that Republicans will kill their health insurance, take away their medicare, and destroy social security.

Somehow scientists have to find a way to reach out to the public. That job just got a lot harder.

Meanwhile, the climate continues to warm (2016 will set a new heat record for the third year in a row) and humans continue to be the dominant cause of that warming.

To quote Neil deGrasse Tyson, "The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe it."

In other words, the science is the science. Your choice to deny the science doesn't change the science.

Time to get to work.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Effect of the U.S. Election Result on Climate Change

A disaster for the planet? Or will we keep building on the progress? No one knows for sure.

There is no doubt that the surprise election result will bring many questions about what happens to global to combat climate change. The fact that Myron Ebell from the anti-science lobbyist Competitive Enterprise Institute is heading up the EPA transition team signals a disdain for science.

Beyond that, everyone is guessing.

Here's a quick run down on people trying to analyze the situation. Click the links to read the full articles.

There's no way around it: Donald Trump is going to be a disaster for the planet - Vox

Trump picks top climate skeptic to lead EPA transition - Scientific American

Climate change: Nations will push ahead with plans despite Trump - BBC

Change ahead: Shifts on immigration, health, climate, and taxes - New York Times

Donald Trump's victory could mean disaster for the planet - TIME

All is not lost on climate change - Slate

The global danger's of Trump's climate denial - National Geographic

In Trump, the U.S. puts a climate denier in its highest office and all climate change action in limbo - Inside Climate News

While the results of the election on climate are uncertain, the fact that humans are heating up our climate system is unequivocal. The year 2014 set a new heat record, which was broken by 2015 and will be broken again by 2016. According to the World Meteorological Organization, the five hottest years have all been since 2011. The trend will continue upward.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

The Basics of Climate Change Science - The Series

This page started a series of posts on the basics of climate change science and why we know that human activity is causing the climate to warm. To make the information easier to find, this current post creates a running summary and links to all the other posts. Whenever new articles are written they will be added to this central access point. Click on the titles for the full articles.

1. So is it "Global Warming" or "Climate Change?": A guide to some basic terms used by climate change scientists, including clarification of terms that scientists and the public use in different ways.

2. What is the Greenhouse Effect and What Does it Have to Do with Global Warming?: The Earth is kept warm by the natural greenhouse effect. This post describes the basic scientific principles and the history of their discovery, beginning with William Herschel in 1800.

3. So What are Greenhouse Gases and What are NOT Greenhouse Gases?: Most of the warming of the greenhouse effect is caused by a few gases that occur in very small amounts in the atmosphere. The strongest greenhouse gases are water vapor, CO2, methane, and ozone, with CO2 being the main driver of warming.

4. CO2 and Other Radiative Forcings of Global Warming: Impacts on the warming of the climate include forcings and feedbacks. This post explains the basic principles and the main drivers of global warming.

5. Carbon Dioxide (CO2): The Smoking Gun of Climate Change: CO2 is the main driver of  global warming. This post introduces the relationship between CO2 and temperature, and sets the stage for future posts on why we know the CO2 we've added to the climate system is causing our current unprecedented spike in warming.

As noted, this is a continuing series so more posts will be linked as they are written. Feel free to bookmark this post and return periodically to catch any updates you may have missed.

For those interested in more detailed discussions of climate science, follow the links provided in the posts above. For those who like even more details, review the latest IPCC Assessment Report Number 5 (AR5), whose four volumes provide thousands of pages on the science. Start with the Synthesis Report to get a detailed overview, then move to the Physical Science Basis report to dig deeper on the science. The other two reports deal with Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability and Mitigation of Climate Change, important for examining ways we can deal with the unequivocal science.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

The Disappearing Spoon by Sean Kean

The full title of this book is The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sean Kean. 

The spoon that disappears is made of gallium (Ga, Atomic Number 31), a metal that melts at around 86 degrees Fahrenheit. One scientific party gag was to serve tea in Victorian parlors and watch the guests as their teaspoons slowly dissolved away. Scientists are fun that way.

The book is a surprisingly entertaining as well as informative read. 

Kean takes us through a tour of the periodic table of elements, the mainstay of chemistry and physics. As exciting as that sounds (or not), the tour actually includes murder and madness, love and attraction, and a whole lot of history. 

Early in the book the focus is on the development of the table itself as scientists started to notice patterns of characteristics. Not surprisingly, these patterns relate to the deep-diving chemistry and physics of elements and you'll probably learn more about orbital shells and subatomic anatomy through this book than your introductory science class. 

The author goes on to examine specific elements and groups of elements as they come to be known, all while giving a voyeur's look into the often mischievous (and sometimes mad) world of the scientists - both male and female - who discovered them.

Most science and history loving readers should find this book fascinating. Kean's writing style is jam-packed with information and yet easy to read. And even sometimes downright fun. 

The book is definitely worth reading.

Other scientific book reviews (click and scroll down)

Thursday, October 20, 2016

The Last Gasp of Climate Denial Groups

The headline in the Guardian says it all: "No longer taken seriously, we're seeing the last gasp of climate denial groups." Written by scientist and regular Guardian contributor, Dana Nuccitelli, explores the recent lecture given by "Lord" Matt Ridley, a somewhat journalist known for his misleading (to be kind) support of climate change denial lobbyists. Most specifically in this regard is the Global Warming Policy Foundation (GWPF), an anti-science climate denial policy lobbying organization in the UK.

Click on the link above to read Nuccitelli's debunking of Ridley's repetition of the usual denier talking points, all of which have been debunked over and over and over before.

In a nutshell, Ridley is wrong to claim that environmental predictions are "always exaggerated." The examples he gives weren't exaggerated (in fact, they were likely underestimated) AND they were corrected by taking appropriate policy action. We took responsibility for them and fixed them.

Ridley is also wrong to claim "model predictions have been consistently wrong." In fact, models have been remarkably accurate. If anything, they have underpredicted the rate and magnitude of man-made climate change.

Ridley is absolutely wrong to claim "the best evidence" indicates climate sensitivity is "relatively low." In fact, he's carefully, and dishonestly, cherry picked the handful of studies he likes and ignored all the majority of studies that he doesn't like.

Finally, Ridley is wrong again when he suggests that all the world's scientists for the last 100+ years are in on some grand conspiracy. Frankly, when you have to have global, multigenerational conspiracies to "explain" your position, you know you have no scientific evidence.

Again, these points are discussed in detail in Nuccitelli's excellent debunking.

Why was this talk even given?

But let's step back and explore the "last gasp" part of the title. The Ridley talk was given on the premises of the Royal Society, which is the UK's version of the National  Academy of Sciences. The obvious question is why would the Royal Society open up its conference facility to such a person as Matt Ridley, especially as he was there representing the GWPF lobbying organization? Many scientists asked this question as well, rightly concerned that the GWPF was attempting to garner some undue credibility by having the talk in such a prestigious location.

Like most scientific organizations, the Royal Society (RS) is underfunded and often rents out its conference rooms to outside groups. Once a contract is signed they can't really cancel the event without cause. Apparently the RS initially thought that since the science is unequivocal, having a "policy" oriented talk would focus on policy options for addressing the science.

Not surprisingly, that isn't what Ridley did. As usual for GWPF, he spent the majority of his lecture denying the science rather than proposing policy measures. That is par for the course for denial lobbyists, who prefer to deny the existence of reality instead of take responsibility for addressing it.

And so the "last gasp." Denial lobbyists have painted themselves into the corner of their own rhetoric. They've been denying the unequivocal science of man-made climate change for so long and with such clearly divorced-from-reality deception that they have no honest way of shifting to actual policy discussions. Given that their denial is so obviously dishonest, they have nothing left than to try stunts like this. "Ooh, what a coup. We're at the Royal Society. That will get us some credibility!"

Dana Nuccitelli's Guardian article shows the result is the opposite. Other than their ideological Facebook spammers, no one takes the denial lobbyists and their spokespeople seriously any more. The Paris climate agreement recently went into force earlier than expected because the nations of the world understand the necessity of dealing with the unequivocal science. Deniers are becoming more and more pathetic and alone in their denial.

Denial lobbying groups like GWPF, Heartland Institute, Cato Institute, George C. Marshall Institute, and all the other fossil fuel- and libertarian-funded lobbyists and their hired spokespeople have devolved into self-parody, much like, as Nuccitelli notes, the Trump-led Republican party in the United States.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

Carbon Dioxide (CO2) - The Smoking Gun of Climate Change

Carbon dioxide - the smoking gun of global warming! There, I said it. So far in this series we've established that the greenhouse effect is the normal process that keeps our planet within a reasonable temperature range so that we can live here. Now we'll jump ahead a bit and show why we know that it is CO2 from fossil fuels that is causing the rising global temperatures. This will take several posts so to begin with I'll focus on a series of graphs that will clearly show the relationship between CO2 and temperature.

First, a reminder of what has been happening with temperatures since 1880. In this land-ocean temperature index graph it's pretty clear that average global temperatures have been rising.

Now, what has been happening with CO2? Well, we have more than 50 years of very high quality continuous data on CO2 taken at the Mauna Loa Observatory in Hawaii. The famous Keeling curve shows that CO2 has been rising steadily during that time. The line line goes up and down because CO2 release is seasonal. This year we passed 400 ppm, a 40% increase over pre-industrial highs.

By the way, if you look at the temperature graph and then the Mauna Loa CO2 graph you'll notice that the relationship isn't linear. In other words, while the CO2 has had a fairly steady and even climb, the temperature tends to go up and down in the short-term because there are important short-term events (e.g., El Nino, La Nina, AO, etc.) or other pollutant impacts (e.g., aerosols), not to mention the occasional volcano, that can either enhance or inhibit the effects of CO2. Anyone who suggests that there is an exact one-for-one linear relationship between CO2 concentration and temperature on a short-term basis clearly doesn't understand the science. In any case, even with the short-term "noise" you can still clearly see the longer-term climb in temperatures along with the CO2.

Okay, continuing on, you can also track back and see how CO2 and two other greenhouse gases have increased dramatically in the last century.

I'll come back and talk about methane and nitrous oxide in future posts, so for now just focus on the carbon dioxide (CO2), the red line in the graph above. So how does the CO2 relate to the temperature. In the graph below you can easily see that temperatures (cool blue to warm red) have increased as CO2 increased (the black line).

The following graph also shows the correlation between increasing CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere and temperatures.

Looking pretty clear, isn't it. And it is pretty clear. As I've discussed in previous posts the dynamics of the greenhouse effect are basic physics, and they were first discovered 200 years ago. Of course, science always will look at new data, and with the incredible growth of technology, use of satellites, ability to measure ice cores and ocean depths, etc., climate scientists from all disciplines have been able to find more and more data, and all of it supports the concept that CO2 is causing an increased warming of the atmosphere.

Okay, this post has hit some of the highlights and tried to show the correlation with graphs. I'll take a closer look at key points in future posts. For now I'll leave you with one more graph. Scientists often get asked how they know it is human activity that is causing the increasing temperatures. The following is just one way we know. Graphs for each part of the world show the same trends.

I'll talk more about this later, so for now just look at the black line and the pink and blue bands in each small graph. The black lines are the observed (measured) temperatures in each geographical region going back to the early 1900s. The blue bands show the results of modeling with just the natural forcings, like those things I talked about in earlier posts. The pink bands show the results of modeling when human activity forcings are added to the calculations. Guess what. The modeling thatincludes human activity match pretty well in all regions to the actual observedtemperatures. The modeling that omits the human component, well, not so much.

[This is part of a series of posts explaining the basic science of climate change. More posts will be added weekly.]