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Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy

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Continuing a Theme

The Nordhaus & Shellenberger piece certainly has kicked up a lot of dust, including from someone whose work I normally enjoy.  Tom Toles issued his own ranting screed at the Washington Post yesterday.  It includes most of the same over-the-top grousing about the N&S piece as other writers.  But it includes a couple of things I’d like to highlight for additional discussion.

The ‘concern’ is that as a tactic it can ‘backfire’ and not win over conservatives to climate change action. Not win over conservatives! The article doesn’t place ALL the blame on faulty environmentalist tactics. It pauses to include what may be the most understated disclaimer in history: “Other factors contributed. Some conservatives and fossil-fuel interests questioned the link between carbon emissions and global warming.” Some! Really???

At what point will people realize that if we nullify conservative’s work against climate action, then the very thing Toles and others claim to care about so deeply will finally happen: widespread and robust climate action?!  No, Tom is right.  We should continue the same strategies that failed for 30+ years, because one day, gosh darn it, they’ll magically work.  It’s quite simple really: identify and work via values and tactics that resonate with conservatives to achieve the same goal that working via different values and tactics that resonate with liberals.  This is where tribalism rears its ugly head big time.  Instead of recognizing inherent worldview differences and expending effort to talk to conservatives differently than liberals, it is much easier to shut your brain down and scream about how conservatives are “others” and should therefore be banned from all decision-making.  What a wonderful strategy!  Obviously it’s worked since so many conservatives are voting for carbon taxes and setting up subsidies for renewable energy and … that’s right, none of that is happening, is it?

N&S pointed out that many environmentalists work against their stated goals by purposefully shutting out 1/3 of the population.  That doesn’t sit well with Toles or Romm or many others.

Here is the second thing Toles writes that irks me:

If environmentalists aren’t careful, it says, sufficient support for an adequate policy response might go away. Go away! As though it was ever even close to being there in the first place. They cite Al Gore’s 2006 ‘Inconvenient Truth’ as contributing to backlash and division. Do they think no one has any memory whatsoever? Let me remind those who don’t. Before “Inconvenient Truth’ there was close to ZERO widespread public concern about climate change.

How close to ZERO was there, Tom?  Let’s check the first thing that comes up when I Google search ‘global warming polling 1980′:

 photo GlobalWarmingPollingGallup1989-2013_zpsf586fd1f.gif

Well, would you look at that – somebody polled Americans for decades now – who would have thought?  It turns out that 50-72% of Americans worrying a great deal or a fair amount is close to ZERO in Tom’s world.  That’s enlightening.  Gore released “An Inconvenient Truth” in early 2006.  In Gallup polling, worry jumped from 51% in 2004 to 62% in 2006 and 66% in 2008.  So yes, Truth likely brought American’s attention back to the issue in a way that other efforts did not.  Note however a couple of things this time series shows us: support was higher in 1999 and 2000 than 2008.  So Truth wasn’t the most effective strategy.  Also, worry post-2008 fell back to 2004 levels: 51%.  Worry was falling in 2009 – when Waxman and Markey were writing their cap-and-trade legislation – through 2010 – when the legislation failed to pass Congress.  That was despite having a Democratic President and a Democratic-led House and Senate.  That combination will not repeat itself any time soon.  So what should liberals do?  Find alternate tactics to motivate conservatives instead of denigrating and alienating them?  That sounds crazy to me.

Gallup’s page has plenty of other interesting results to chew over.  I will include one more in this post for illustrative purposes because it gets at the heart of what N&S really wrote about.  Gallup started asking in 1997 whether people thought global warming was a threat in their lifetime.  Guess what the majority answer was.  That’s right: most people said “no”.  Most people (50%-69%) hold this belief at the same time they believe that global warming is real, that human activities cause it, and that news reports on it are correct, if not underestimated.

What does that mean?  It means that people view the problem as a distant threat that will impact others before Americans.  There is scientific truth behind this belief.  The first reports of impacts were on Asians and Africans.  Those same populations will continue to be disproportionately affected in the coming decades, as the IPCC AR5 reported this year.

N&S’s post was an attempt to change this perception.  If scientists employ “communications approaches that take account of individuals’ personal points of reference (e.g., based on an understanding and appreciation of their values, attitudes, beliefs, local environment, and experiences) are more likely to meaningfully engage individuals with climate change,” more people are likely to view climate change as a direct threat to their own lives.  If that happens, support for climate action will break through traditional barriers.  But I guess Toles, Romm, and others aren’t really interested in that.  They’re interested in this topic on ideological grounds: so long as liberals beat conservatives and people with slightly different worldviews, they’re happy.

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On hit pieces and legions of destroyed strawmen

There is an ongoing case of intensifying tribalism in a part of the climate activist population.  There are prolific bloggers and twitter users that spend time attacking anyone – and I mean anyone – who doesn’t agree with them 100% of the time on every aspect of climate change activism.  Unfortunately, this leads to them making narrow interpretations, setting up and destroying strawmen, and writing obscenely character assassinations. Their works are becoming competitive: who can write the most damaging screed, or use the biggest set of words, etc.  They moved away in some respects from attacks on what they label ‘denier’s’ to people that actually agree with them on the seriousness of future climate change effects but offer differing prescriptions about what to do.  In their zeal to knock someone else down and establish themselves as the sole and ultimate arbiters of not only physical scientific truth, but also social scientific truth, they seem to forget about their core mission: motivate an apathetic public to apply political pressure to mitigate future climate change.

In the newest example, Climate Progress’ Joe Romm entitled this piece, The Brutally Dishonest Attacks On Showtime’s Landmark Series On Climate Change, which starts out with:

For instance, the piece [Global Warming Scare Tactics] repeats the tired and baseless claim that Al Gore’s 2006 movie “An Inconvenient Truth” polarized the climate debate.

For a piece with “Brutally Dishonest” in its lede, you might expect honestly within.  Unfortunately, this piece, like so many others, is prejudiced by Romm’s vitriol for the authors.  Here is what the piece actually says about “An Inconvenient Truth”:

For instance, Al Gore’s 2006 documentary, “An Inconvenient Truth,” popularized the idea that today’s natural disasters are increasing in severity and frequency because of human-caused global warming.

See the subtle difference?  Nordhaus & Shellenberger actually wrote that Truth popularized the misconception that global warming has already increased the severity and frequency of natural disasters.  They did not write about the larger climate debate.  This argument is one Romm (and many others) is particularly fond of, but isn’t supported by their ultimate arbiter of climate information, the IPCC, which wrote about the lack of such a signal in the recently released Working Group II report: “Economic growth, including greater concentrations of people and wealth in periled areas and rising insurance penetration, is the most important driver of increasing losses… loss trends have not been conclusively attributed to anthropogenic climate change (AR5 10.7.3)” and in a report dedicated to extreme weather: “Most studies of long-term disaster loss records attribute these increases in losses to increasing exposure of people and assets in at-risk areas (Miller et al., 2008; Bouwer, 2011), and to underlying societal trends – demographic, economic, political, and social – that shape vulnerability to impacts (Pielke Jr. et al., 2005; Bouwer et al., 2007). Some authors suggest that a (natural or anthropogenic) climate change signal can be found in the records of disaster losses (e.g., Mills, 2005; Höppe and Grimm, 2009), but their work is in the nature of reviews and commentary rather than empirical research.”

Moreover, the authors continued to write that there were other influences beyond “Inconvenient Truth” including two other favorite targets of Romm’s: “Some conservatives and fossil-fuel interests questioned the link between carbon emissions and global warming.”

Probably the most critical aspect of missing climate action within the past decade went untreated by Romm: the Great Recession.  As a direct result of millions of Americans losing their jobs and houses, the depth of their concern for the environment understandably fell.  Millions more Americans knew somebody (or many somebodies) who lost their jobs and/or houses through no fault of their own.  That phenomenon had a chilling effect on American’s willingness to stick their necks out for an issue that is not impacting them to the same degree: climate change.  The 2009 Waxman and Markey could not have introduced their climate legislation at a worse time in contemporary history.  Congress provided 1/3 to 1/2 the stimulus that experts on the Great Depression said was required to restore America to full employment again.  With little hope of robust economic recovery, climate change was very much a background issue.  We’re still dealing with the short-sightedness of a paltry stimulus plan that agencies executed haphazardly.

Romm also dismisses the next part of the article – the part that he and other activists should really spend some time digesting: how to talk about climate change.  Again, activists fill blog posts and tweets with disaster porn language: apocalypse, catastrophe, end of civilization, end of the world!!!  Given the evangelical bent of many Americans, they view climate change as an act of God, not mankind.  That fundamental shift in perception turns anything else activists have to say about the topic into rubbish for many Americans.

There is a 2009 study entitled, “Fear Won’t Do It” by Saffron O’Neill and Sophie Nicholson-Cole at the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, University of East Anglia in the UK – the same institution that was the target of an illegal email hack some years back.  The study concluded:

Although shocking, catastrophic, and large-scale representations of the impacts of climate change may well act as an initial hook for people’s attention and concern, they clearly do not motivate a sense of personal engagement with the issue and indeed may act to trigger barriers to engagement such as denial.

Well, look at that.  Denial is a natural response to disaster language and imagery that climate activists routinely employ in their communication attempts.  They go on to recommend more personally meaningful imagery and language:

The results demonstrate that communications approaches that take account of individuals’ personal points of reference (e.g., based on an understanding and appreciation of their values, attitudes, beliefs, local environment, and experiences) are more likely to meaningfully engage individuals with climate change.

This kind of communication inherently requires more effort, which might very well be part of the reason why it isn’t employed more often by activists.  We’re all searching for paths of least resistance and quick returns on our efforts.  But if activists really believe that global warming is the penultimate problem of our species, they should be as interested in social science results as physical science results.  Pressing the latter while ignoring the former hasn’t achieved goals on the time-frame activists say is required to “avert catastrophe”.

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IPCC’s Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability Report Issued

The IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report’s Working Group II (AR5 WGII) issued their report today.  I do agree with some of the opining characterizing the report as ‘alarmist’ – from the standpoint that I don’t think there is enough information presented simultaneously regarding opportunities for action.  People don’t respond well to persistent negative messages.  Would climate activists subject their children to daily messages of upcoming death, devastation, and the collapse of civilization?  If not, then why do they think adults are any better at handling the same messaging?

That said, I believe that scientists settled the science years ago.  I think it is highly unlikely scientists will identify anything fundamental to change that science in business as usual activities.  What will change is the climate’s response to activities changed by policy.  With new and updated policies, mitigation and adaptation will occur.  Therefore, I spend as much or more time on policy discussion than science discussion, using the science as my foundation.  As the picture on this blog emphasizes, I operate as a bridge between these two distinct sides of the problem.  Scientists typically don’t understand policy processes (to the point they eschew social science findings and believe physical scientists should exclusively inform and decide policy), while policymakers continue to ask for more actionable information.

What follows is a summary of high-level results (Summary for Policymakers) from this new report. I want this post to serve as something I can point to repeatedly in the future for these results.


1. In recent decades, changes in climate have caused impacts on natural and human systems on all continents and across the oceans.

2. In many regions, changing precipitation or melting snow and ice are altering hydrological systems, affecting water resources in terms of quantity and quality (medium confidence).

3. Many terrestrial, freshwater, and marine species have shifted their geographic ranges, seasonal activities, migration patterns, abundances, and species interactions in response to ongoing climate change (high confidence).

4.  Negative impacts of climate change on crop yields have been more common than positive impacts (high confidence).

5. At present the world-wide burden of human ill-health from climate change is relatively small compared with effects of other stressors and is not well quantified (small-medium confidence).

6. Differences in vulnerability and exposure arise from non-climatic factors and form multidimensional inequalities often produced by uneven development processes (very high confidence).  These differences shape differential risks from climate change.

7. Impacts from recent climate-related extremes, such as heat waves, droughts, floods, cyclones, and wildfires, reveal significant vulnerability and exposure of some ecosystems and many human systems to current climate variability (very high confidence).

8. Climate-related hazards exacerbate other stressors, often with negative outcomes for livelihoods, especially for people living in poverty (high confidence).

9. Violent conflict increases vulnerability to climate change (medium evidence).

Number 6 tells me that differential risk can be reduced by helping developing countries develop more quickly.  They will bear the early and severe brunt of climate change effects despite contributing the smallest portion of anthropogenic climate change forcing.  Despite this, most climate activists want to keep these countries in their current state by preventing them from industrializing.

Number 7 is relevant to the climate activist vs. Pielke Jr. brouhaha (which activists claim means very little to them at the same time they issue post after post and tweet after tweet regarding their personal opinion of Pielke).  The IPCC states: “For countries at all levels of development, these impacts are consistent with a significant lack of preparedness for current climate variability in some sectors” (emphasis mine).  What this tells me is human systems are vulnerable to today’s climate, which has a small fraction of human influence (read: overwhelmingly most influence is natural).  The focus then should be on preparing for today’s climate variability as primary steps toward dealing with tomorrow’s variability.  I don’t hear enough from today’s climate activists how today’s infrastructure can’t handle today’s climate variability.  Most of what I hear deals with 2050 or 2100 – dates when most of us will be dead.  Why not focus instead on today’s infrastructure, which we know are deficient?  Indeed, this is exactly what the report suggests we do.

The Summary continues with Adaptation Experience:

1. Adaptation is becoming embedded in some planning exercises, with more limited implementation of responses (high confidence).

2. Adaptation experience is accumulating across regions in the public and private sector and within communities (high confidence).  Governments at various levels are starting to develop adaptation plans and policies to integrate climate-change considerations into broader development plans.

It’s late in the <2C warming game for these adaptations to take place, but at least people are initiating them somewhere.  Municipalities and collections thereof are the hotspot for climate adaptation and mitigation plans and policies.  In the US, national policy is virtually nonexistent.  My hope is that local policies grow in scale.  We need to start evaluating plans and policies to inform additional locales as well as scale them up for larger governmental entities – how do they need to change for state and regional levels, for instance?

I’ll have more on this and related topics in the future as I continue to read through the report.

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Climate News & Opinion Links – March 26 2014

I’ve collected a number of interesting climate and energy related news releases, stories, and opinion pieces in the past couple of weeks.  In no particular order:

The only way we will take large-scale climate action is if there are appropriate price signals in markets – signals that reach individual actors and influence their activities.  One step in the right direction was phasing out federal subsidies for high-risk coastal properties’ flood insurance policies, as Congress did in 2012.  This had the expected effect of increasing premiums for policy holders.  Unsurprisingly, people don’t want to pay more to live in their high-risk homes.  So they complained to their representatives, who responded by passing new legislation … reinstating government subsidies.  Taxpayers across the country are shoveling good money after bad for a select handful of wealthy people to build without mitigating risk to their homes or paying the true economic costs of their lifestyle decisions.  We will pay for them to rebuild again and again (remember: sea levels will rise for centuries) unless we as a society decide to stop.

Tesla is entering the energy industry.  This could be a game changer in terms of home solar energy and electric vehicles, no matter how Tesla comes out in the long-term.

20 years of IPCC effort and “achievement”.  With no robust international climate agreement after 20 years’ of work, I have a hard time accepting the claim the IPCC has achieved much of anything except an excessive bureaucracy and huge reports that few people read.

News that’s not really news: Asia will be among those hardest hit by climate change.  This isn’t a new result, but something that the IPCC’s WGII report will report on with increased confidence in 2014 versus 2007 (see above statement).  The number of people living close to coasts in Asia dwarf the total population of countries who historically emitted the most greenhouse gases.  That was true in 2007 and will be true in the future.  It will take a generation or more before effects on developed nations generate widespread action.

New research (subs. req’d) indicates ice gains in Antarctica’s Ross Sea will reverse by 2050.  Recent temperature and wind current patterns will shift from their current state to one that encourages rapid ice melt, similar to what the Arctic experienced in the past 20 years or so.

An El Nino might be developing in the tropical Pacific.  The anomalous heat content traveling east via an Equatorial Kelvin Wave rivals that of the 1997-1998 El Nino, which was the strongest in recorded history.  Earlier this month, NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center issued an El Nino Watch, citing a 50% probability that an El Nino would develop in summer or fall 2014, based in part on projections such as Columbia University’s.  El Nino is the warm phase of the ENSO phenomenon.  Warm ocean waters move from the western to eastern Pacific, affecting global atmospheric circulations.  Related to science policy, one result of Congress’ austerity approach to the economy is  monitoring buoys’ degradation in the Pacific Ocean.  NOAA helped deploy a widespread network of buoys following the 1982-1983 El Nino which helped track the progress of the 1997-1998 El Nino with greatly improved fidelity.  That network is operating at less than 75% of its designed capacity, hampering observations.  If we can’t observe these impactful events, we can’t forecast their effects.  This negatively impacts business’ and peoples’ bottom line.

Finally, I want to make some observations regarding goings-on within the climate activist community.  Vocal critics recently spent a lot of energy on hit pieces, this being only one example (poorly written with little on science, heavy on “he-saids”, with an overdose of personal insults and vindictive responses to anyone who didn’t agree with the piece, including my comments).  These writings demonstrate something rather simple to me: if you do not agree with 100% of what the activist consensus is, you’re no better than people the activists label ‘deniers’.  Additionally, the their argument is absurd: social scientists have no business analyzing climate data or commenting on activist’s claims.  Why is this absurd?  Because they simultaneously hold the contradictory belief that physical scientists should have exclusive input and decision-making power over climate policy (a social creation).  Furthermore, implicit in their messaging is social scientists don’t have the right kind of expertise to participate in “serious” discussions.  These efforts to deligitimize someone they don’t believe should participate (how very elitist of them) is reminiscent of efforts by many in the Republican party to deligitimize Barack Obama’s presidency simply because of his race.  Nothing is gained and much is lost by these efforts.  How does this advance the climate discussion to people not currently involved, which will need to happen if we are to ever take any kind of large-scale climate action?

Additional lack of critical thought is found in this post, mostly in this penultimate paragraph:

I’ve said before that I think people can believe what they want, as long as they don’t try to act on those beliefs in a way that interferes with others’ lives. When they deny the reality of global warming, and preach it to their flock, that’s exactly what they’re doing (incidentally, a large fraction of Americans believe to some extent the Bible is literally true).

The very same complaint is made by the people the author derides in this paragraph and post but in reverse and it’s one of the biggest reasons why we’ve taken so little climate action.  The author’s condescension is plainly evident for those who don’t believe exactly as he does. Instead of trying to reach out to people with different beliefs (and underlying value systems), he takes the lazy route and spends time insulting them.  Have you ever believed in something you didn’t previously after someone insulted you?  No, it’s an absurd and self-defeating strategy.  These basic problems underlie most climate change discussions and people retrench their positions instead of trying to step into other’s shoes.  I’m not sure how much this has to change before we undertake more widespread and effective climate mitigation strategies.

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Newest Climate Change Consensus Document Won’t Matter…

It won’t matter unless and until physical scientists leverage expertise outside of their silos and stop executing failed strategies.  In addition to summary after summary of government sanctioned peer-reviewed scientific conclusions, scientists now think they need to report on the perceived consensus on individual bases of those conclusions in order to spur the public to action.  Regardless of their personal political leanings, scientists are very conservative job actors.  They have long-held traditions that are upheld at every turn, which reduces the urgency of their statements.  As an analogy, think of a bunch of people sitting down who think for long time periods before any action is ever taken.  First, they calmly say there is a situation that requires near-immediate action.  Then they say it a little louder.  Then a handful start yelling because you’re not responding to their carefully crafted words and they think that you just didn’t hear them or you just aren’t smart enough to understand those carefully crafted words.  Then they start screaming because they’re convinced you’re an idiot and screaming will definitely work where yelling and saying those words didn’t work before.

Well, the screaming isn’t helping, is it?  You’re not an idiot.  The volume of words isn’t the issue.  The issue is you are motivated by things outside of the climate realm – things like having a job; a job that pays a living wage so you can pay for your mortgage and car payment and keep your children educated and happy.  An existence in an affluent world that allows you the time and energy to think of complex problems beyond your perceived immediate needs.  If those needs aren’t met – if you have insecure affluence – you place climate change and the environment far down on a list of priorities – just like a majority of other Americans.

But the newly released “American Association for the Advancement of Science, the world’s largest general scientific society with a membership of 121,200 scientists and “science supporters” globally” report won’t change this dynamic.  While it is important that the AAAS engages scientists and the society it serves, this report is unfortunately just the latest effort by a group of physical scientists that ignores science results outside of their discipline to try to convince Americans that immediate and drastic action is necessary.  Like previous efforts, this one will not spur people to action, mostly because the actions listed are about limits, stopping, restricting, reversing, preventing, and regulating.  The conceptual model from which these words arise works in direct contrast to the fundamentals of American culture.  We are a people who are imaginative, who innovate, who invest.

As I have written before, there is no way we will achieve greenhouse gas emissions reductions without substantial investment into innovation of new technologies that we research, develop, and deploy at scale.  There is nothing limiting or restrictive about this framework.  It it the opposite of those things.  This framework recognizes and sets out to achieve opportunities; it allows for personal and cultural growth; it is in sync with the underlying cultural fabric of this country.  It directly addresses people’s perception of the security of their affluence in the same way that developing countries’ economic growth allows people to move beyond basic material needs to higher order needs.

The reality of insecure affluence among many Americans today might be an indirect outcome of the 1%’s efforts to increase wealth disparity, but it is real.  We have to address that disparity first in order to address the real, valid perceptions of insecure affluence.  Only after Americans feel their personal wealth is secure will they have the resources to devote to higher order needs such as global climate change.  That can happen with concerted focus on investing and innovating a post-carbon economy.  But you won’t see that at the top of any policy prescription from the majority of climate scientists.

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CO Politics: Flooding and Gun Safety

I’ve read numerous “news” articles regarding the political implications of the historic flooding of Sep. 2013 and the votes that elected representatives took in the 2013 legislative session.  As is usually the case, the right-leaning Denver Post “news” staff parrots Republican talking points while they seek to undermine Democratic Governor John Hickenlooper and the Democratic-led legislature.  The Post enjoys writing about perceived partisan rancor, but they have to search pretty hard to do it.  How many people would read about the overwhelming majority of legislation that passed with huge bipartisan support in 2013?  Not many.  So in a self-fulfilling prophecy, many people think Democrats and Republicans are constantly at each others’ throats.

Aside from that, I found the most recent Post piece on flood and legislation effects interesting for the language used.  Here is a quote from CO Secretary of State Scott Gessler (who has been part of more than his fair share of conflicts of interest as Sec-State):

“Those [Hickenlooper poll] numbers reflect the fundamental feelings of all Coloradans, whether they live in rural communities or more populated cities,” said Secretary of State Scott Gessler, a Republican who is among a field of candidates vying to unseat Hickenlooper in 2014.

“I’m not going to criticize his flood work; he did his job. But what he supported and signed into law — laws that make rural Coloradans pay higher rates for electricity and make them feel like they’re less safe — are fundamentally flawed.”

First, more people support Hickenlooper’s re-election effort than not.  Fundamentally, Coloradoans want Hickenlooper to continue governing the state of Colorado.
Second, when did Scott Gessler last examine how rural electricity co-operative rate changes?  Did the rates ever increase prior to a standardized renewable electricity standard?  You bet they did.  Where was Gessler’s concern back then?  He didn’t have any, did he?  What’s the real issue: higher rates or mandated sources?  If Gessler and rural Coloradoans have an issue with mandated sources, they need to prepare to discuss that, not push a proxy argument that fear mongers.
Third, “make them feel like they’re less safe” is actually the best way I’ve heard the gun safety legislation passed in 2013 framed.  And here is the legislation’s effects: background checks on all buyers (which many people erroneously believe already occurs and receives ~80% support from Democrats, Unaffiliateds, AND Republicans; limits on gun magazines to no more than 15 rounds (which also receives majority support).  Everybody still has their arms, regardless of their current magazine capacity.
Here is something Gessler and the Post never discuss: gun safety legislation helps urbanites actual public safety.  Note my own language: actual safety, not perceived safety – that’s a critical distinction.  Nobody is going to a movie theater in Brush or Cheyenne Wells or Clifton and murdering 12 people and injuring 70 others12 high schoolers and 1 teacher weren’t slaughtered in Rangely or Kremmling or Carr.  Those tragedies occurred in an urban location and Colorado urban elected officials decided enough was enough after 20 1st graders and 6 adults were ruthlessly slaughtered in Sandy Hook.  Why?  Because their constituents demanded action.  Actions taken were common sense, reasonable, and respect the 2nd Amendment.
In a civilized, modern society, public safety is paramount.  My family has a right to life that supersedes anybody’s perceived “right” to an assault rifle with unlimited ammunition.  This is real life, not some video game.  Colorado urban mass murders resulted in real people who are really dead.  Nobody’s safety in the aforementioned unpopulated portions of this state is threatened by mandatory background checks and 15 round magazine limits.  Senseless butchery of urban dwellers needs to stop.  There are ways to accomplish that goal while maintaining Coloradoans’ access to firearms for safety and hunting.
Scott Gessler and other Republicans would obviously rather see more Colorado massacres than implement any regulation on firearms.  I would love to see them defend that position to 2014 voters.


Incrementalism Advocacy

I haven’t written on this topic in a long time, but read something today that inspired me to do so. From a DailyKos article written yesterday (emphasis mine):

In that light, while Obamacare is not the best option, it is the best option that was attainable given a corrupt Congress and a corrupt political process. It is imperative that Americans enroll in the exchanges. It is imperative that Obamacare as a first step in our health care reform is marginally successful.

While it is not spoken about much, Obamacare is the first step on a path toward a single-payer system. Those on the left that are upset that it isn’t a single payer system already must stay in the game. They must continue to fight for single payer. That said, they should not be fighting against this law because it was not their ideal or because in the initial stages of this law private insurance companies will still reap an unearned profit from skimming. Battles are won either incrementally or revolutionarily. The second option is simply not in the current American DNA. As such all must play the long game. HR 676 will be a closer reality if Obamacare is effected.

This is a false choice.  It it not an either or situation.  The situation is whatever we make it.  Reducing health care work to an either/or choice creates an absurdly simple view to a very complex problem.

I characterize people who advocate this position “incrementalists”.  And here is my biggest problem with them: what is the strategy in this amorphous “long game”?  What steps take us from our current position to single payer health care, which every other industrialized nation on earth except the U.S. implements?  There are never any steps, strategies, or tactics that take us from here to there.  I adapt a common argument used on DKos:

1. Obamacare

2. ???

3. Single payer! Yay!

Incrementalists make excuse after excuse after excuse, all the while apologizing for all the people who are immersed in the aforementioned corrupt system, but then lecture folks who oppose Obamacare because it was written by industry and not by other health policy entities.  Futhermore, Obamacare doesn’t ensure health care to all people, just health insurance to some more people.  It took 18 months for the incrementalists to capitulate to industry and the political establishment, after which the Democratic base sat out the 2010 elections.  Historically, we address health care legislation once per generation.  In 25 years, what steps will we take toward single payer, if that is really the goal of the incrementalists?  How many generations need wait until we implement a 20th century health care system?  In the meantime, what improvements to today’s system will the rest of the industrialized world implement?

Going back to that first paragraph, let’s highlight the following.  “It is imperative that Americans enroll in the exchanges.”  If this were true, why didn’t the Obama administration work to make sure Americans were ready to enroll come tomorrow?  They’ve only had three years to figure out an enrollment strategy that is absolutely critical to the entire program’s success and implement it.  What were they doing?  Incremental work, I suppose.  Which is why 60+% of Americas have no idea what tomorrow’s open enrollment consists of.

“It is imperative that Obamacare as a first step in our health care reform is marginally successful.”

Really?  18 months of negotiation, three years of shoddy implementation, and the best the author can come up with is it’s imperative Obamacare is only marginally successful?!  The insurance companies get 30 million new customers (read: profits) and the best we can do is marginal success?  Millions of Americans are shut out from Obamacare because they have the misfortune of Teabagger governorship, but marginal success is incrementally better than no success, right?  It is this blind acceptance of sub-par results that lays the foundation for incrementalists.  I expect more from my country and fellow Americans.  Unfortunately, I am part of a minority.  The majority accepts mediocrity as the best they can achieve.

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IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report – Working Group I – Released Today

My Twitter feed has heavy volume today because of the IPCC’s Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) Working Group I’s (WGI) Summary for Policymakers official release.

I have waited since 2007 (when they released AR4) for this report’s issuance.  I read most of the AR4′s WGI report (1000 pages long).  Since it’s release, I have read hundreds of climate-related journal articles so I could stay current on the latest research.  I have also read some of AR4′s WGII report, dozens of social science journal papers and books because it became clear to me after the AR4 WGI report that there was no significant problem with the science.  As a scientist, I realized that the state of climate science hasn’t changed appreciably for decades.  The same top-level messages of the First Assessment Report remain in place today.  The AR5 WGI report primarily provides more confidence in the reported numbers.  Detail changes are relatively minor compared to the knowledge body that existed in 1990.  Scientists will continue to work on important items such as mechanisms behind deep ocean heat uptake and cryosphere dynamics.  They need to better model Important feedback processes because of their nonlinearities.  But the science, by and large, settled long ago.

What remains is our handling of that science, which is where social science knowledge comes in.  The difference between acting today to provide cheap, reliable energy to the 1 billion people on Earth who currently have no such access with clean energy versus dirty energy is monumental.  Prior to that, we need a reconciliation between believers and skeptics.  Nobody should browbeat anyone else in a conversion effort.  Instead, we need to identify solution pathways which acknowledge multiple worldviews.  Those pathways exist but the status quo is awfully powerful within today’s systems.  Changing from the status quo will not be easy, but it will be fruitful.  Unfortunately, that very same Twitter feed puts that status quo on display daily; the more so when the IPCC issues a comprehensive science report.  Why do the same climate scientists that demand others believe a particular stance from peer-reviewed physical science articles discount a particular stance from peer-reviewed social science articles?  Should we trust experts, or not?  The reason is tribalism.  Tribalism runs rampant on Twitter and too many people think if they shout a little louder every day that eventually everyone will hear and agree with them, despite years of evidence to the contrary.

There is plenty to write about and discuss within the IPCC AR5 summary.  I will do so as time permits.  I do want to pass along a good article written by Andrew Revkin (the most salient part is at the end).  My own research is climate science-based, but I am also working on a social science aspect in order to make the physical science results meaningful to policymakers.

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Can scientific issues be up for political debate?

The short answer should obviously be yes.  But within the climate change realm, there are some folks who think that scientific realities should dictate political attitudes:

Even as some studies suggest the potential for double-digit warming across the globe, the media has been stubbornly silent, treating climate change as an issue that is still up for political debate, instead of a scientific reality.

That is a dangerous viewpoint to hold and to operate from.  This isn’t an either-or choice to make.  Politics and science are two very different enterprises for many different reasons.  Would these same advocates accept dictated political attitudes based on religious reality?  Of course they wouldn’t.  So why should others blindly adopt their viewpoint?

This is but one example of climate advocates trying to silence others’ opinions, the same charge that they accuse the fossil fuel industry of doing to them.  Which leads us to a rather inevitable conclusion: the fight isn’t about “reality” vs. politics (note the frame – if you don’t agree, you’re not a part of someone’s “reality”).  The fight is over value systems.  Many climate activists are using science as a proxy in a battle which demands other tools.

Another note: if the media isn’t paying “enough attention” to your BIG problem, perhaps the problem lies in your messaging and not the media’s bias.  Doubling down on used-up rhetoric isn’t going to sell your story any better.


Denver’s April 2013 Climate Summary With A Bonus

During the month of April 2013, Denver, CO (link updated monthly) recorded a 74°F difference between maximum and minimum temperatures.  This fact tells us nothing about how temperatures compare to climatological norms however.  For the entire month, Denver was 5.7°F below normal (41.7°F vs. 46.4°F).  The maximum temperature of 80°F was recorded on the 29th while the minimum temperature of 6°F was recorded on the 10th.  Here is the time series of Denver temperatures in April 2013:

 photo Denver_Temps_201304_1_zps0b7f12c3.png

Figure 1. Time series of temperature at Denver, CO during April 2013.  Daily high temperatures are in red, daily low temperatures are in blue, daily average temperatures are in green, climatological normal (1981-2010) high temperatures are in light gray, and normal low temperatures are in dark gray. [Source: NWS]

There is a big disparity between 2013 temperatures and normal temperatures, especially daily maxima.  Three outbreaks of Arctic air impacted Denver during the month, which set record low temperatures on four different days.  This graph also shows something else that is eye-opening: five daily maximum temperatures were equal to or lower than the climatological daily minimum temperature!  As someone who was ready for spring to spring, April was a disappointing weather month.

But it also got me to thinking about the difference between spring 2013 and spring 2012.  As many of us remember, temperatures in the US in 2012 were very warm compared to climatological norms.  So how different were temperatures in Denver in February-March-April 2013 versus 2012?  I decided to take a look.  Let’s start with extending the dates in Figure 1 back to the beginning of February 2013:

 photo Denver_Temps_201304_2_zps9764a3a4.png

Figure 2. Time series of temperature at Denver, CO during February-April 2013.  Daily high temperatures are in red, daily low temperatures are in blue, climatological normal (1981-2010) high temperatures are the top dark gray line, and normal low temperatures are the bottom dark gray line. [Source: NWS]

This graphic simply demonstrates the same story that I wrote above as well as in my March and February Denver Climate Summary posts.  February was obviously colder than normal due to extended cold air masses over the area.  March and April were also colder than normal, but this was due to vigorous mid-latitude cyclones that brought Arctic air masses south over the area.  This is evident by the significant dips in both maximum and minimum daily temperatures: there was one in the beginning of March, another in the end of March, and three in April.

With this chart in mind, let’s look at the difference between 2012 and 2013.  First, daily maximum temperatures:

 photo Denver_Temps_201304_3_zps34dbe5f9.png

Figure 3. Time series of maximum temperature at Denver, CO during February-April 2012 and 2013.  2013 temperatures are in brick-red, 2012 temperatures are in red, and climatological normal (1981-2010) high temperatures are the dark gray line with green crosses. [Source: NWS]

My memory of 2012′s maximum temperatures was close to reality.  February 2012 was colder than I remember, but this was likely affected by the warmth of April 2012 and the record-setting daily highs in the summer of 2012.  Figure 3 shows a very large difference between daily maximum temperatures in 2012 and 2013, especially after the 22nd of March.  I didn’t remember the cold snap on April 3, 2012.  This graphic shows, by proxy, the lack of spring synoptic storms in 2012.  Daily maximum temperatures rarely fell below the normal for the date.  Instead, April temperatures were as much as 20°F warmer than normal on some dates, but regularly 10°F warmer than normal.  In contrast, 2013 temperatures were often 25-30°F colder than normal.  The difference between two years’ temperatures is a measure of interannual weather variability.  I have more on that below.

 photo Denver_Temps_201304_4_zps477a8e24.png

Figure 4. Time series of minimum temperature at Denver, CO during February-April 2012 and 2013.  2013 temperatures are in blue, 2012 temperatures are in green, and climatological normal (1981-2010) high temperatures are the dark gray line with brown pluses. [Source: NWS]

Again, February 2012′s temperatures were similar to February 2013′s.  The specific dates of temperature swings obviously varies between the two years.  March 2012 and March 2013 also look similar, up until the 22nd of March (see maximum temperatures above also).  Thereafter, the time series diverge with much colder air in place over Denver four different times through the end of April.  2012 had warmer than normal minimum temperatures through most of April.  The combination of warmer than normal nights and days, combined with a relative lack of precipitation in 2012 set the stage for the record-setting warmth in the summer as well as the rapid decline in drought conditions, which are still largely present now.

Interannual Variability

I have written hundreds of posts on the effects of global warming and the evidence within the temperature signal of climate change effects.  This series of posts takes a very different look at conditions.  Instead of multi-decadal trends, this series looks at highly variable weather effects on a very local scale.  The interannual variability I’ve shown above is a part of natural change.  Climate change influences this natural change – on long time frames.  The climate signal is not apparent in these figures because they are of too short duration.  The climate signal is instead apparent in the “normals” calculation, which NOAA updates every ten years.  The most recent “normal” values cover 1981-2010.  The temperature values of 1981-2000 are warmer than the 1971-2000 values, which are warmer than the 1961-1990 values.  The interannual variability shown in the figures above will become a part of the 1991-2020 through 2011-2040 normals.


Precipitation was above normal again during April 2013, extending this new trend to three months.  During the month, 1.87″ of liquid water equivalent precipitation fell, compared to 1.71″ normally.  The wettest April on record was in 1983 when 4.56″ of precipitation fell.  There were three notable weather events during April: a 6″+ snowstorm on the 9th, a 7″+ snowstorm on the 15th, and a 5″+ snowstorm on the 22nd.  In total, the NWS recorded 20.4″ of snow.

The recent precipitation surplus reduced northeast CO drought severity in the last three m months, but did not break it yet.  Above-average precipitation will have to fall for longer than three months for that to happen.  The NWS expects continued drought conditions across most of Colorado through the next three months.  Additional improvement in eastern Colorado might occur, but NOAA and the CPC expects western Colorado drought  to remain the same or worsen.


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