Weatherdem's Weblog

Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy

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Brief Comment On Insults & Apologies

At least 28 people have been killed and hundreds wounded since Tuesday, when it first emerged that Bibles and other religious materials had been thrown into a fire pit used to burn garbage at Dover Air Force Base, a large U.S. base near Dover, Delaware.

President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and other Iranian officials have apologized for what they said was a mistake in handling the Bibles, but their regrets have not quelled the deadly protests.

I can’t imagine what people might be upset about….  Certainly not bad policy and certainly not failed execution, right?


Plants Demonstrate How Climate Has Already Changed

The USDA recently released new plant hardiness zones – updating maps from 1990.  While some areas look different just because finer details were possible, there are clearly significant differences between the maps that are due to longer growing seasons and warmer nights at the bookends of the growing season.  Those shifts in plant hardiness are an obvious manifestation of shifts that have already occurred in the climate.  More shifts will continue to become apparent in the years ahead.

Where did most of the changes occur?  As the comparison map below shows, at higher latitudes and higher altitudes – in the same locations that have warmed the most to date.


Figure 1. Comparison of the 1990 and 2012 USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Maps. Image credit: USDA and Arbor Day Foundation.

Look at the northern tier and the Rocky Mountains.  Shifts from Zone 3 to 4 up north and from Zone 4 to 5 and Zone 5 to 6 throughout the Rocky Mountains are most apparent.  Other changes can also be seen in smaller regions across the country.

The plants are simply responding to the changes in the climate.  No cosmic rays or long solar minimum precipitated these changes.  Readers should keep a simple fact in mind: these shifts are in response to the climate forcing leading up to the 1980s.  These shifts do not yet represent the forcing of the past 30 years.  How different will the maps of 2100 look?

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Would Romney Run Country Like His Campaign?

If so, we would be in deep trouble financially if he got elected.

For the month of January, Romney’s campaign was negative $12.2 million in funds, which beat … George W Bush’s record in January 2000.

Given the thrashing that Bush did to the U.S. deficit and debt, it’s not a stretch to say we couldn’t afford another Republican President whose campaign spends more than it makes.

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Americans Don’t Think Employer Belief Should Impede Their Access To Insurance Coverage

A solid nominee for the “Duh!” moment of the day: polling shows that Americans think they should have unfettered access to insurance coverage – that procedures and treatments should be available to those who are insured.

Put another way – why should employers get to decide what insured Americans get access to?  The Teabaggers didn’t think that the government should have that ability (not that the recent health insurance legislation ever proposed doing so), so why should it be okay for employers to restrict access, as Republican politicians are advocating?

All that said, this whole thing wouldn’t even be an issue if universal health care was enacted instead of forcing millions of Americans into the for-profit insurance industry.

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What Journalistic Integrity?

When you see graphs like the one below, you realize most journalists and journalism entities are led around to ridiculous lengths.  I’ve seen the graph before but haven’t written about it – until I kept hearing about the nonsensical witch hunts being perpetrated by House Republican Teabaggers like Darrel Issa and Fred Upton.  The activities they pursue would qualify them for immediate removal from office in a country with values.

On a related note, I’m sure glad then-Speaker Pelosi decided not to investigate the Bush Administration’s handling of the Iraq and Afghanistan invasions and occupations.  No, investigating that would have destroyed the comity of the House.  Real waste, fraud & abuse?  Swept under the rug by Democrats intent on maintaining power.  Fake waste, fraud & abuse?  Ratcheted up to conspiratorial heights by Republican Teabaggers and abetted by the corporate media.

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Gasoline Usage Still Way Down YoY; Oil Prices Rising

According to NDD at the Bonddad Blog, Year-over-Year gasoline usage in the U.S. remains significantly negative: 8167 M gallons this year vs. 8810 M gallons last year this week.  That’s -7.3%.

Yet oil prices increased this week by over $4 to $103.24 per barrel and gas prices at the pump rose $0.04 to $3.52 (national average).

Let ‘s state this clearly: it’s not American demand driving those prices up.  We can attribute part of the increase to other growing economies.  But as more people are figuring out all the time, a not inconsequential part of it is commodity speculators.  Then there’s tension over Iran that the Republican Teabaggers are trying to inflame – they just love them all the war and conflict they can gin up (as long as their family members aren’t required to actually serve, dont’cha know).  Finally, don’t discount the role of the giant fossil fuel industry here – do you think they’re taking the Keystone pipeline decision in peace?

As the folks at Bonddad Blog state, oil and gas prices this high helped act like a choke collar on the U.S. economy last year.  Given the relative growing health of the economy since, and the similarly growing prospects for Obama’s reelection largely as a result, that collar might be forcefully reapplied (or no action taken by some to remove it) in order to dim his electoral chances.

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Globe’s 19th Warmest January in 2012

January 2012 was the globe’s 19th warmest on record, according to NOAA, which is pretty much what one would expect given the prolonged La Niña conditions dominating the tropical Pacific and the fact that we’re still climbing out of the last solar minimum.  The characterization could be made that despite the cooling being exerted, the globe still ended up being warmer than more than 110 other January’s!

It is useful to keep in mind when reading about these type of circumstances that there are multiple signals occurring at the same time (solar, ENSO, AGW, etc.) and the state of global temperature (or any other variable) at any one point in time is but a snapshot within larger trends.

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January 2012 CO2 Concentrations: 393.09ppm

The Scripps Institution of Oceanography measured an average of 393.09ppm CO2 concentration at their Mauna Loa, Hawai’i’s Observatory during January 2012.  These readings are from the Scripps’ dataset, not NOAA’s, which was my original data source when this series began.

393.09ppm is the highest value for January concentrations in recorded history. Last year’s 391.19 was the previous highest value ever recorded.  This January’s reading is 1.90ppm higher than last year’s.  As I’ve written before, this increase is significant.  Of course, more significant is the unending trend toward higher concentrations with time, no matter the month or specific year-over-year value.

The yearly maximum monthly value normally occurs during May. Last year was no different: the 394.34 concentration is the highest value reported both last year and all time.  If we extrapolate last year’s value out in time, it will only be 3 years until Scripp’s reports 400ppm average concentration for a singular month (likely May 2015).

Judging by the year-over-year increases seen per month in the past 10 years, I predict 2012 will not see a monthly concentration below 390ppm.  I had earlier predicted that 2011′s minimum would be ~388ppm.  I overestimated the minimum somewhat since both September’s and October’s measured concentrations were just under 389ppm.  One month into 2012 and so far I’m spot on.

CO2Now has the following graph on their front page:

It shows concentrations in the Scripps dataset going back to 1958.  As I wrote above, concentrations are persistently and inexorably moving upward.

Given our historical emissions to date and the likelihood that they will continue to grow at an increasing rate in the next 25 years, we will pass a number of “safe” thresholds – for all intents and purposes permanently as far as concerns our species.  It is time to start seriously investigating and discussing what kind of world will exist after CO2 concentrations peak at 850 and 1100ppm.  I don’t believe the IPCC has done this to date.  To remain relevant, I think it will have to do so moving forward.

Additionally, efforts to pin any future concentration goal to a number like 350ppm or even 450ppm will be insanely difficult: 350ppm more so than 450ppm.  Beyond an education tool, I don’t see the utility in using 350ppm – we simply will not achieve it, or anything close to it, given our history and likelihood that economic growth goals will trump any effort to address CO2 concentrations.

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Economics Reading Generates Climate-Related Analogy

While reading some background material for an economics course, I ran across the following:

“But for the monthly or quarterly time spans that economists usually deal with, it seems unlikely that a particular consumer’s tastes would change radically”  [Source: Intermediate Microeconomics A Modern Approach 5th Edition by Hal R. Varian, 1987; 1999; p.118]

This is, of course, proven incorrect when economic conditions change rapidly.  Witness the shifts in consumer behavior after $4.00 gas a few years ago as well as some shifts post-Great Recession.  Now, I am not making a value judgment regarding the inability of economic models to accurately predict consumer behavior after various tipping points were passed.  What I am doing is pointing out that economic models weren’t designed to handle situations in which extreme forces are exerted quickly on the economic system.  Economic models were designed to handle conditions that are much more often found: stable and slowly changing.

By way of analogy, climate models aren’t necessarily designed to handle situations in which extreme forces are exerted quickly on the climate system either.  There is chance (a significant one?) that important aspects of the system will not be well captured by the model.  That is just as alright for climate models as it is for economic models – no value judgment need be made.

Finally, I will point out again that a key feature of any model is to evaluate how well its projections perform by comparing them with observations.  To that end, climate models have historically demonstrated skill; that skill has increased over time as climatologists have made models more sophisticated.  Similarly, economic models have historically demonstrated skill.  What is different about them in this case is that they have failed spectacularly when the situation demanded the most of out them: as rapid change has taken place.  So how prevalent are non-economist comments that economists don’t know what they’re doing and they’re only working because of the incredible amount of money involved and economic models are all bunk because they don’t include fundamental aspects of their system and economics is all a big hoax?  I would say they’re not very prevalent, but then I don’t blog about economics.  I would sure like to know the answer to that question though.

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Boulder City Council Looking At Climate Plan 2.0

News out of Boulder, CO: a reassessment of the city’s climate plan started this week.  There are a couple of reasons for this reassessment.  First, Bolder voters approved plans to move forward with municipalization of utility services due in part to friction with Xcel Energy.  Second, the city’s carbon tax is set to expire in 2013 and Councilmembers want to figure out if they can/should ask voters to extend the tax.  The following is an important component of the news:

The city in 2002 adopted the Kyoto Protocol, which calls for reducing greenhouse gas emissions to 7 percent below 1990 levels by 2012. Now that 2012 has arrived, the city still needs to cut the equivalent of about 521,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide to meet its goal.

That’s quite a bit of CO2.  It would take approximately 744 GWh of electricity generation to emit that much CO2.  Obviously some commentators jumped on this announcement and declared Boulder’s effort a complete failure.  What it constitutes is what the official interviewed declared:

“It’s not quite as easy as we thought,” Huntley said.

There is no problem with that – it’s a frank admission and better it’s made now than never.  It’s the same lesson I learned through analysis on a project in graduate school last semester.  The scale of the mitigation problem is many times larger than most people, even experts, realize – simply because they haven’t looked at the problem from every vantage point before.  As more and more people realize the enormity of the situation, the goals we set will become more and more realistic.

This is one of the topics I will write additional posts on moving forward.  Now that people have a solid grasp on the fact that anthropogenic global warming is increasingly making its presence felt around the globe, people need to realize how enormous the mitigation problem really is.  Only then will viable solutions be developed and implemented.  Kudos to Boulder and other cities for taking this issue on, even without having all the requisite information at their fingertips.


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