Weatherdem's Weblog

Bridging climate science, citizens, and policy

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Government Crisis Viewed Through D.C. Media Bubble

In the postmortem of Republican’s surrender from their extremist hostage taking and ransom demands, people everywhere are analyzing what they think happened.  One article contained glaring ideological framing.  I agree with the foundational analysis of “Short-term debt deal won’t mask big barriers ahead” by Charles Babington of the Associated Press: yesterday’s deal didn’t address the underlying problems in D.C.  But I do disagree with important parts that Charles uses as supporting evidence for his argument.


Republicans still adamantly oppose tax increases. Powerful interest groups and many Democrats still fiercely oppose cuts in Social Security and Medicare benefits.

The first sentence is mostly true.  Republicans oppose tax increases on the rich (witness the 2011 deal to lock in lower tax rates for people making $400,000 or more per year), but are more than happy to shift taxation onto the lower and middle class.  But the second sentence is even more painful to read for its vapidity.  What the heck are “powerful interest groups”?  Does Charles know who opposes Social Security and Medicare benefit cuts the most?  People that receive them!  Want to “fix” Social Security?  Lift the taxable income cap and Social Security is solvent for centuries.  But that means “raising taxes” to pay for a social good.  Does Charles seriously believe there are no “powerful interest groups” that oppose tax increases?  No, but he and the AP sure expects readers to.  And Republican supporters demonstrate that effort works.  It’s hip to trash Social Security and Medicare in the D.C. cocktail circuit, but remains wickedly unpopular in the rest of the country.

In fact, most of the “powerful interest groups” on the right – the same ones that pushed for the partial government shutdown and threatened the US’s role as the safest investment on earth –

Also, as usual, there is no mention of the national deficit’s growth under Republican President George W. Bush, George H. W. Bush, or Ronald Reagan.  But this fact is an obvious part of the Teabagger’s outrage at establishment Republicans.  It also serves another purpose: if Republicans can generate enough outrage over national debt (that they themselves accumulated), they can demand Social Security and Medicare cuts while the obscenely wealthy get their taxes cut, even though Social Security doesn’t contribute one penny to the national debt they’re supposedly so concerned about.


The Simpson-Bowles plan remains widely praised nationwide, and largely ignored in Congress.

What?!  Most of the nation doesn’t even know what the S-B plan is or what it would do.  S-B remains widely praised in the same D.C. circles where it’s cool to want to take insurance programs away from the disadvantaged, and that’s it.  Does Charles write that it’s Congress’ job to plan for and pass a budget every year?  Because they haven’t done that on time since 1996 – a time when Republicans dominated the legislature.  Instead, folks in D.C. turned to gangs as the answer – gangs of legislators trying to do the work the rest of their colleagues can’t be bothered to do.

Left out of this article, as usual, are the long list of concessions Democrats yielded all to willingly to Republicans in previous “negotiations” without acquiring Republican concessions.  This latest “reset” is no different: sequestration cuts to the budget (which nobody likes but too many voted and signed for) remain in place.  Those cuts reduce our national economic activity: reduced GDP of about 1%.  At a time of historically low interest rates, the government could rebuild our decaying infrastructure for nearly at-cost, while putting millions of people back to work who want to work.  We are squandering an immense opportunity that will not repeat itself.  That infrastructure will be rebuilt, but today’s politicians want to make sure we pay more than we have to.

Charles and the AP mention none of this.  Instead, it is “powerful interest groups” and crackpot plans.  The framing by the D.C. crowd belittles the American people.  It’s no wonder the media and Congress aren’t liked or trusted by a majority of Americans.


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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.


Climate Sensitivity and 21st Century Warming

I want to write about shoddy opining today.  I will also write about tribalism and cherry-picking; all are disappointing aspects in today’s climate discussion.  In climate circles, a big kerfuffle erupted in the past week that revolves around minutiae and made worse by disinformation.  The Research Group of Norway released a press release that somebody’s research showed a climate sensitivity of ~1.9°C (1.2-2.9°C was the range around this midpoint value) due to CO2-doubling, which is lower than other published values.

Important Point #1: The work remains un-peer reviewed.  It is part of unpublished PhD work and therefore subject to change.

Moving from that context, what happened next?  The Inter-tubes were ablaze with skeptics cheering the results.  Additionally, groups like Investor’s Business Daily jumped on the “global warming is hooey” bandwagon.  Writers like Andy Revkin provided thoughtful analysis.

Important Point #2: Skeptics view some model results as truthful – those that agree with their worldview.

IBD can, of course, opine all it wants about this topic.  What obligation to their readers do they have to disclose their biases, however?  All the other science results are wrong, except this one with which they agree.  What makes the new results so correct when every other result is so absolutely wrong?  Nothing, as I show below.

Important Point #3: These preliminary results still show a sensitivity to greenhouse gas emissions, not to the sun or any other factor.

For additional context, you should ask how these results differ from other results.  What are IBD and other skeptics crowing about?

 photo Climate_Sensitivity_500_zps9f1bcb3a.jpg

Figure 1Distributions and ranges for climate sensitivity from different lines of evidence. The circle indicates the most likely value. The thin colored bars indicate very likely value (more than 90% probability). The thicker colored bars indicate likely values (more than 66% probability). Dashed lines indicate no robust constraint on an upper bound. The IPCC likely range (2 to 4.5°C) is indicated by the vertical light blue bar. [h/t Skeptical Science]

They’re crowing about a median value of 1.9°C in a range of 1.2-2.9°C.  If you look at Figure 1, neither the median nor the range is drastically different from other estimates.  The range is a little smaller in magnitude than what the IPCC reported in 2007.  Is it surprising that if scientists add 10 more years of observation data to climate models, a sensitivity measurement might shift?  The IPCC AR4 dealt with observations through 2000.  This latest preliminary report used observations through 2010.  What happened in the past 10 years that might shift sensitivity results?  Oh, a number of La Niñas, which are global cooling events.  Without La Niñas, the 2000s would have been warmer, which would have affected the sensitivity measurement differently.  No  mention of this breaks into the opinion piece.

Important Point #4: Climate sensitivity and long-term warming are not the same thing.

The only case in which they are the same thing is if we limit our total emissions so that CO2 concentrations are equal to CO2-doubling.  That is, if CO2 concentrations peak at 540ppm sometime in the future, the globe will likely warm no more than 1.9°C.  Note that analysis’s importance.  It brings us to:

Important Point #5: On our current and projected emissions pathway, we will more than double pre-industrial CO2 concentrations.

 photo CO2_Emissions_IPCC_Obs_2011_zpsa00aa5e8.jpg

Figure 2.  Historical emissions (IEA data – black) compared to IPCC AR4 SRES scenario projections (colored lines).

As I’ve discussed before, our historical emissions continue to track at the top of the range considered by the IPCC in the AR4 (between A2 and A1FI).  Scientists are working on the AR5 as we speak, but the framework for the upcoming report changed.  Instead of emissions, planners built Representative Concentration Pathways (RCPs) for the AR5.  A graph that shows these pathways is below.  This graph uses emissions to bridge between the AR4 and AR5.

 photo CO2EmissionsScenarios-hist-and-RCP-2012.png

Figure 3. Representative Concentration Pathways used in the upcoming AR5 through the year 2100, displayed using yearly emissions estimates.

The top line (red; RCP8.5) corresponds to the A1FI/A2 SRES scenarios.  As Figure 3 shows, our historical emissions most closely match the RCP8.5 pathway.  The concentration for this pathway through 2100 is 1370ppm CO2-eq, which results in an anomalous +8.5W/m^2 forcing.  This forcing is likely to result in 4 to 6.1°C warming by 2100.  A couple of critical points: in this scenario, emissions don’t peak in the 21st century; therefore this scenario projects additional warming in the 2100s.  I want to make absolutely clear this point: our business-as-usual concentration pathway blows past CO2-doubling this century, which means the doubling sensitivity is a moot point.  We should investigate CO2-quadrupliung.  Why?  The peak emissions and concentration, which dictates the peak anomalous forcing, which controls the peak warming we face.

The IBD article contains plenty of skeptic-speak: “Predictions of doom have turned out to be nothing more than madness”, “there are too many unknowns, too many variables”, and “nothing ever proposed would have any impact anyway”.

They do have a point with their first quoted statement.  I avoid catastrophic language because doom has not befallen the vast majority of people on this planet.  Conditions are changing, to be sure, but not drastically.  There are too many unknowns.  Most of the unknowns scientists worked on the last 10 years ended up with the opposite result that IBD assumes: scientists underestimated feedbacks and results.  Events unfolded much more quickly than previously projected.  That will continue in the near future due mainly to our lack of knowledge.  The third point is a classic: we cannot act because others will not act in concert with us.  This flies in the face of a capitalist society’s foundation.  Does IBD really believe that US innovation will not increase our competitiveness or reduce inefficiencies?  Indeed, Tim Worstall’s Forbes piece posited a significant conclusion: climate change becomes cheaper to solve if the sensitivity is lower than previously estimated.  IBD should be cheering for such a result.

Finally, when was the last time you saw the IBD latch onto one financial model and completely discard others?  Where was IBD in 2007 when the financial crisis was about to start and a handful of skeptics warned that the mortgage boom was based on flawed models?  Were they writing opinion pieces like this one?  I don’t think so.  Climate change requires serious policy consideration.  This opinion piece does nothing to materially advance that goal.


Conservatives Do Not Believe In States’ Rights

The most conservative judges on the Supreme Court since the 1930s issued a decision yesterday that said police could racially profile people in Arizona.  Some of the writings and statements made yesterday were overtly political – exactly what judges should not be.  The politicization of the Supreme Court by right wing extremists has reached new heights with this group.  That was the state of affairs forecasted to occur by non-partisan experts asked to comment on President Bush’s unqualified nominees.  And that is the state of affairs that has developed.  Based on the aforementioned writings, the conservative judges defended the so-called “right” of Arizona to “defend” itself against people that those in power don’t want in the state: brown people.

Is the immigration system broken?  Yes.

Are most government systems broken?  Yes.

Why are they broken?  Because those same right-wing extremists have put policies and personnel in place to ensure the systems don’t operate as they were designed.  The more they can wreck things, the truer their complaints that government doesn’t work rings true.  It’s called fulfilling their own prediction.

But hold on one moment.  Those same so-called “pro-states’ rights” folks are equally silent on the right of Montana to enforce a 100-year old law to keep corruption out of government.  Folks used to publicly pay for legislators – including U.S. Senators – to get the policies they individually wanted implemented.  The people of Montana stood up to that kind of nonsense.  Alito, Romney, Limbaugh and all the other right-wing nuts out there didn’t say word one about Montana’s right to pass a state law in the absence of national laws and a broken election system.

There are dozens of corporate media articles proclaiming Romney’s unwavering belief that states’ rights are paramount.

Except that it isn’t.  The corporate media is part of the problem.  If they sold themselves as stenographers, dutifully copying down everything fed to them by whatever source they could dredge up, that would be one thing.  But they continue to try to pass their industry off as legitimate.  The results?  Declining participation in a democratic process.  Disapproval of all branches of government.  These conditions won’t last forever.  Movements will arise and succeed in putting the ship back on course.  The wealthy and powerful won’t like it, but that’s not the real issue.

At the end of the day, conservatives believe in states’ rights.  Except when they don’t, which is more often than when they do.

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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?

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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.


On Super PACs and “Conservative” Columnsists

I’m going to revisit a writer whose work continues to demonstrate how non-conservatives conservatives have moved.  The Denver Post’s David Harsanyi opines on Super PACs and, according to his title, “free will”.  Like most other “conservatives”, he argues that free speech is critical to our way of life and the Supreme Court “conservatives'” pre-meditated choice to issue a decision that didn’t even deal with a case that was brought before them somehow increases free speech (in the form of money, of course).  He continues by lamenting that citizens don’t have this same freedom because they have to file reports with the federal government when they join with at least 11 other citizens to donate money to political campaigns.

The crocodile tears shed for citizens sounds good until you think about which citizens have the most money: those already contributing to Super PACs.  I don’t have a single friend or activist acquaintance that has the financial ability to donate tens of thousands or millions of dollars to any campaign or issue of their choice.  Therein lies the problem with the argument: do super-corporations (especially those based over-seas) have more freedom of speech than a citizen of the United States?  Should they have more freedom than we do?  I don’t think so.  But “conservatives” today do.

Note further that “conservatives” wouldn’t be extolling the virtues of Citizens United if their elite-blessed candidates weren’t expected to be the primary beneficiaries of the decision.  Such is the reality in the hyper-partisan environment those same “conservatives” have spent 50 years creating.

And how much does this columnist actually believe in “free will” anyway?  If the belief was consistent, free will would extend to all personal choices, including what women decide to do with their own bodies.  That is the crux of the matter: too many partisans – on both sides of the aisle – are only willing to push for “rights” and “freedoms” when it’s convenient for them to do so.  Consistency is another casualty of today’s hyper-partisanship.