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An Ideal Surface Temperature

With all the noise emanating from Washington DC, this might have slipped past.   EPA administrator Scott Pruitt has apparently decided that climate change is real, but likes to think it might be a good thing. After all, what would be the perfect temperature? Maybe its when the Earth is warmer? People like to go to Hawaii, so this would just make everyplace more like Hawaii, right?

Hey, as a geologist, the Grumpy Geophysicist will give you this one.  The planet doesn’t actually care that much.  It did OK many times with higher temperatures.   From the planet’s perspective, running a fever to rid itself of the human infection might be a great thing. Of course, those older hot times were without Homo Sapiens and without that species’s civilization. You might want to be a bit cautious about liking temperatures that favored tyrannosaurs over mammals.

If this is really legitimately where Pruitt stands, this represents real progress from his past history.  Because this question isn’t a hard one to answer. A hotter earth means less ice–you may notice this when removing ice from a freezer and leaving it out on a counter. Less ice means more water.  More water means less land. If you don’t want millions of climate refugees from coastal areas that will be drowned in the next century, you want to control greenhouse gas emissions.  And we’re not just talking brown people far away that we’ve already learned this administration isn’t concerned about.  This is about Americans, too.

Sure, we could quibble over deaths from heat waves or stronger hurricanes or more intense droughts or massive extinctions or ocean acidification.  Maybe those get balanced out by fewer heating degree days in colder parts of the country and a drop in the scourge of death by snowshovel. But it is a lot harder to find something offsetting all of south Florida’s residents streaming north, along with New Orleans’s folks, not to mention all the naval bases at risk (er, have you spoken to the Navy about this? They are actually rather concerned that a $100 billion investment could be destroyed by a 3 foot rise in sea level). While you’re chatting with the military, you might want to look at their threat assessments from global warming.  OK, so you don’t like the Obama administration ones?  Fine–try the CNA Military Advisory Board report from 2007 or 2008 testimony to Congress from the Deputy Director of National Intelligence for Analysis and Chairman of the National Intelligence Council.

Here it is in a nutshell: civilization has arisen over a pretty narrow range of climate states.  There are no guarantees it will survive something far outside its history. Sure, it might; there are no end of dystopian novels where it does. Kind of. But it will be a world poorer in species–for certain.  It will be a world missing glaciers in many places. It will be a world where tropical diseases will be far more widespread. We depend on a world where crops grow, and we’ve spent centuries now refining crops to grow well in a certain climate. Those climates will be gone; the massive monocultures we depend upon will need to be updated.

Do you really want to be the guy who pushes all his chips at the roulette table onto 00? Why risk it?

First we heard that climate change was a hoax, then we heard it was inevitable and so we’d just have to prepare for it, and now we hear we should welcome it? In fact, we might want to experiment to see what is really the best global temperature? Because, of course, we have a really solid thermostat we can turn down at any time if we realize we made a mistake….oh, right, we don’t.  In fact, the one time in geologic history when we have a nice example of something close to what we are doing (a burp in carbon in the atmosphere at the end of the Paleocene), it took tens of thousands of years to return to normal. You know, way longer than civilization has existed. This is because the processes that scrub the atmosphere of carbon work pretty slowly.

It is time to quit monkeying around.  Congress has just blown two huge holes in the federal budget, and so maybe it is time to raise the money to patch those holes with a real carbon tax. It’s a conservative solution: let the market figure out the best ways to reduce carbon emissions. And hey, it’s conservative in providing a way to balance the budget (or do you guys not do that any more?).


Sawyer redux?

GG has pointed out here and in The Mountains that Remade America that the Sawyer decision that ended hydraulic mining in most of the Sierra Nevada is a very interesting precedent when you consider global warming and oil and gas companies. We’re getting closer to seeing if the comparison will withstand real scrutiny, as the City of New York has filed suit (joining a number of smaller jurisdictions, including Boulder) against the five largest oil companies. As with the plaintiff in Woodruff v. North Bloomfield, the New York City case alleges material damages, and as in the older case, this was a consequence of the action of several companies.  And as in that case, the only way to mitigate damage would be to leave large economic reserves of a mineral (as legally defined) in the ground. Arguably the 1884 decision recognized that the damage to a growing economic sector (agriculture) outweighed damage to a stagnant sector (gold mining). We’ll see if any judge in the U.S. wants to walk in Judge Sawyer’s footsteps….

Climate Illiteracy

A National Review article recently crowed that Al Gore’s “Doomsday clock” had passed and things were OK. You’d think for a publication that for years had at least the reputation for being able to understand and properly use the English language that the Review could parse Gore’s statement properly; the article says: “Gore declared that unless we took “drastic measures” to reduce greenhouse gasses, the world would reach a “point of no return” in a mere ten years.” That was 10 years ago.

A “point of no return” is awfully different from an unbearable climate, and while that article uses more ridiculous (and also selectively quoted) materials to ridicule Gore, was he in fact right? What is a “point of no return?” It means that there is enough warming baked in, by heat stored in the oceans, CO2 already in the climate system, that harmful effects in the future are unavoidable.  The climate community pretty much believes we passed that point: significant warming in the latter part of the century is guaranteed, significant ice loss in Greenland will raise sea levels enough to force abandonment of very low lying areas. While the exact magnitudes of change will remain uncertain, bending the curve back to a natural state is beyond any mitigation we can plausibly deploy in the next few decades. If anything, most climate scientists would argue that Gore was an optimist: we probably passed a tipping point some time ago. The argument now is to try and limit the damage, because it can be much worse if we continue to do nothing.

So if crowing about your personal misunderstanding of climate statements passes as deep wisdom in the National Review, what does this tired chestnut of a cartoon tell you?


12/28/17 Michael Ramirez cartoon,

I mean, really?  Can Americans get their head around the idea that the East Coast is not the only thing that counts as “global”? Check out this global image from the same day as the cartoon (via WUndergrounds’s Category Six blog):


From wunderground post; their caption: Departure of surface temperature from average for December 28, 2017. Areas in red and orange are not necessarily warm, but they are above the average for this time of year at that location. While the Northeast U.S. was experiencing near-record cold, the globe as a whole was 0.5 °C above average, thanks to global warming. Image credit:, University of Maine Climate Change Institute.

How many times do some people have to be hit over the head to grasp the difference between an average and a distribution? Or to even have the most simple concept of geography?

We are doomed as a species if the opinion leaders we follow remain such doddering idiots.

Cold, getting warmer…

It seems a bit odd, but yesterday had, on average, the coldest high temperature here in Boulder of any day of the year.  Coming all of 11 days after the winter solstice, this seemed rather quick to GG.  After all, shouldn’t there be more thermal inertia in the system?  This got GG to wondering about these things, which led to an inability to locate this information trivially.  So a few quick numbers lifted from Intellicast’s archive, which is clearly very smoothed…(except for Boulder, which is from NOAA’s ESRL page–Denver is from Intellicast for comparison)


Place Date Lowest High Date Highest High
Boulder, CO (40N) 1 January (41) 17 July* (87)
Denver, CO (39.7N) 5 January (46) 21 July (89)
New York City (40.7N) 19 January (36) 24 July (83)
St. Louis, MO (38.6N) 12 January (37) 22 July (90)
Los Angeles (34N) 7 January (68) 8 August (85)
San Francisco (37.8N) 2 January (57) 28 September (72)
Phoenix, AZ (33.5N) 29 December (66) 12 July (107)

(*-but several almost as hot days are later in the month)

There is in fact quite a range. Phoenix wins as the place which comes closest to echoing sunlight, telling us that part of the equation is humidity. Boulder and Denver are a close second, which isn’t too surprising given that the altitude limits thermal blankets and the absolute humidity is pretty low. But some of the rest are a bit surprising…

Read More…

Making America Less Great

When President Trump signaled that the US would pull out of the Paris Climate Accord, the new President of France, Emmanuel Macron, offered to bring climate scientists to France to “make our planet great again.” He has delivered on that promise, luring 12 American climate scientists to go to France to continue their research under five year grants from the French government. [All the press reports say 13 US scientists, but GG only finds 12 with a current US affiliation and hasn’t figured out the 13th.  Maybe Camille Parmesan, a Texan who is a UK Professor? If you count that way, then several non-U.S. natives should not be counted as U.S. losses. You can count for yourself at the Science story]. Another 6 scientists come from other countries. While this upsets some French academics, who feel their higher education system needs more money (translated), the list of the 12 leaving the US–and their reasons–suggest that US science may be facing serious headwinds. This is a little different than typical grant applications in that the winners are relocating to France: this definitely represents a loss to the U.S. science community. The names of the 18 heading to France are in Science report, but GG wanted to see who was moving and what they had to say about it. Two are coming from CIRES, the research institute where GG is a Fellow, another from CU, and a fourth from Boulder’s NCAR, so the Boulder address of more than a fifth of the global haul here speaks to the visibility of the climate community here.

There are two ways to look at this list.  One is that only one tenured professor has gone for this (Derry, from Cornell) and only a couple senior research scientists, so established talent by and large remains.  Several NOAA-affiliated research scientists, including a couple of fairly senior people, will be leaving, but the rest are largely junior soft-money researchers or postdocs. So the U.S. isn’t necessarily seeing a mass migration of the very best.

But this does point out that the soft money postdoc purgatory is well stocked with capable scientists with a global profile, and these folks might never return. Worse, that so many have applied underscores the growing perception that the future of climate research in the U.S. is bleak. Freeing these researchers for five years of funding guarantees that instead of spending time writing numerous grant applications, they can focus on bigger, tougher problems than they can in the current U.S. system. If, as many in Congress like to say, STEM capability is important to the nation, then this is a warning shot across the bow that the U.S. will fall back if it continues to erode support for science.

The 12 with U.S. affiliations, with a few quotes: Read More…

Fiddling while Earth burns

It is hard as an earth scientist to watch how mindless America has become. We are now seeing the climate refugees (Puerto Ricans settling in central Florida), the stronger hurricanes, the heavier rainstorms (remember Houston?), the rising seas, the increased fires and intensified droughts that climate scientists warned of more than 10 (and arguably closer to 30) years ago. And that is just within the USA.

The news on the head-in-the-sand approach of dismissing scientists from agency panels, down-funding scientific agencies, promoting red and blue debate teams and other such counterproductive activities is drowned out by reporting on the Russia scandal and an erratic legislative hustle to rescind health insurance regulations and impose a major tax cut [itself overlooking basic macroeconomics: you want to increase revenues when times are good, both so government spending doesn’t crowd out private needs, but also so there is a cushion for government to spend in deficit when needed in a downturn]. Rather impressively, all the science shenanigans got ranked as the #4 science story in Discover‘s annual review of the top 100 science stories, a review usually dedicated to new science findings both profound and obscure. GG isn’t sure politics made the top 100 before.

And its not like things will improve anytime soon, not when we get told that talking about climate change immediately after a disaster is “misplaced”, not when the most likely thing to happen if Democrats control the House in 2019 is an increased focus on investigating the executive branch. The circus that is governance in the US at this point is incapable of dealing with small stuff like reauthorizing non-controversial legislation.  Facing the big stuff seems well beyond our politicians.

We can only hope that in the margins of the GOP tax bill someone scrawled in “enact a carbon tax”. Given the chaos there, this isn’t the least implausible thing to happen…

War on Science, EPA edition

UPDATE: Science has a piece fully explaining this latest expulsion of academic science from the EPA. And Ars Technica discusses this with a bit of different context.

Some time ago, GG suggested that what many were taking as a “war on science” was more a war on particular parts of science, that the offenders were in fact exploiting science where it was financially remunerative and opposing it where it wasn’t. But actions at the Environmental Protection Agency really look like outright war on science, period.

Consider these actions:

It is hard to look at these actions and see them as anything other than ostrich-like in trying to avoid hearing things some don’t want to hear.  These kind of blanket rules seem designed to stifle scientific participation in any aspect of the EPA’s work.