The “Climate Debate” on TV: John Oliver Gets It Exactly Right

If only there were more coverage like this.

So many earnest words have been written trying to say what John Oliver says here. I have yet to see anyone make this point any clearer. Dead on, plus hysterical.


Down the Rabbit Hole: The Surreal Case of Frontiers in Psychology Retracting a Paper by Lewandowsky, et al. (Part 1)

rabbitholeSome background to a strange story that would be merely comical if there weren’t serious issues at stake. Which isn’t to say there isn’t some comedy here.

A cognitive psychologist and his colleagues write a paper linking the denial of climate science with conspiratorial thinking.  It is provocatively titled “NASA Faked the Moon Landing—Therefore (Climate) Science is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science,” and it is published in the well respected academic journal, Psychological Science.

The reaction in some circles of the blogosphere is that something must be very wrong with those findings. People were deceived, the research was faked, and the whole thing must have resulted from the nefarious intentions and behavior of the authors.  So the cognitive psychologist studies this reaction and publishes a second paper showing how the reaction to the first paper exhibits the features of conspiratorial thinking that were the topic of the first paper. This one appeared in the open access, online journal Frontiers in Psychology, under the title, “Recursive Fury: Conspiracist Ideation in the Blogosphere in Response to Research on Conspiracist Ideation.”

And then it disappears. Really. During the brief period it was posted, it quickly had become the most widely viewed article in Frontiers’ history. Roughly 30,000 views of the abstract, and over 9,000 downloads of the full paper.  Number two is a fraction of that. So what happened to it?

No one likes their thinking characterized as conspiratorial. Even if they admire the way their own beliefs are reflected in Senator James Inhofe’s book, The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. inhofebook

Frontiers receives complaints about it from the people whose internet posts were analyzed, and it actually retracts the paper, citing legal reasons that must not have occurred to them before publishing it. That last sentence needs a whole lot of unpacking, because this is where the funny part becomes both surreal and serious.

When Frontiers eventually retracted the paper, it noted that it had conducted a nearly year-long investigation into the complaints, and found no problems of either an ethical or academic nature with the paper. So the retraction caused something of a stir, in reaction to which Frontiers has issued three further statements. Dramatically changing its story. And digging itself into a hole worth diving down.

Returning readers of Say What? are probably wondering why we are not leading with the philosophical problems that interest us here, or what our own personal involvement in this is. Yeah, sorry about that. Bear with me. First have a look at Elaine Mckewon’s well-written account of these events, and some of their implications. We will follow up in Parts 2 and 3.


(edited 4/21 8:00 pm)


Editors Resign as Retraction Scandal Deepens at Science Journal That Caved in to Intimidation from Climate Deniers

Huff Post Green, The Blog
Posted: 04/18/2014 12:18 pm EDT 
Updated: 04/18/2014 1:59 pm EDT
Elaine McKewon Headshot
These are dark times for science — in particular, climate science and related fields of study.

Hate mail, harassment campaigns, accusations of scientific fraud and threats of lawsuits have become the new normal for climate scientists and researchers who study climate change denial. These problematic conditions have a chilling effect on scientific research.

So what happens when a scientific journal becomes part of the problem?

Last month, the journal Frontiers in Psychology retracted a paper, ‘Recursive fury: Conspiracist ideation in the blogosphere in response to research on conspiracist ideation‘, by cognitive scientist Stephan Lewandowsky and colleagues. It is a narrative analysis of blog posts published by climate deniers in response to Lewandowsky’s earlier study in which he and his colleagues found that endorsement of free-market economics and conspiratorial ideation are associated with the rejection of science. Recursive Fury further examined and reaffirmed the link between climate change denial and conspiracy ideation.

As soon as Recursive Fury was published in February 2013, Frontiers received a series of complaints and threats from climate deniers who said they had been “libeled” and “defamed” in the paper. After a year-long investigation into these complaints and threats, Frontiers concluded

This investigation did not identify any issues with the academic and ethical aspects of the study. It did, however, determine that the legal context is insufficiently clear and therefore Frontiers wishes to retract the published article.

As a reviewer of this paper, I’ve shared my own first-hand account of the peer-review process and early negotiations to re-publish the paper, adding that I’d have expected a scientific journal to have more backbone. As you might expect, the journal copped a fair amount of criticism from other academics as well, appalled that a scientific journal would cave in to threats from climate deniers and abandon its responsibility to defend academic freedom.

What has been shocking is the journal’s response to academic criticism. In an effort to deflect the growing backlash from scientists and negative media reports, the journal has issued false statements, changed its story on the retraction and exposed the authors of the paper to reputational damage.

First came the journal’s statement which included the claim that “Frontiers did not ‘cave in to threats’; in fact, Frontiers received no threats.” I had to read that sentence twice. Surely Frontiers would not issue a statement that is patently and demonstrably false?

As it happens, a number of these threats are a matter of public record. When environmental journalist Graham Readfearn broke the story days before the paper’s retraction, he posted 118 pages of documents obtained through a Freedom of Information request. Readfearn’s article even directly quotes one letter from a blogger who made explicit legal threats against the journal:

I have sought legal advice which has confirmed that, as long as a reasonable number of blog readers are aware of my true identity and professional reputation (which is the case), I could potentially have a defamation action against the authors and publishers of this paper for an outright lie that was told about me.

As a reviewer, I was privy to some of the earliest threats sent to the journal following the paper’s publication. Email exchanges between the journal’s management, legal counsel and editors and reviewers clearly demonstrate that the journal received threats and responded to them as threats.

In one email, the journal’s manager warns the journal’s legal counsel, “This is not looking good. See doc attached from the blog writer.” In the attached document, the blogger threatens to use his bully pulpit to expose the journal’s “anti-science position,” while his use of the word “libel” implies the threat of legal action:

I have been libeled by Stephan Lewandowsky in his most recent publication in your journal … I demand that an immediate retraction be made. If I do not receive a reply in two days, I will pursue taking this to the next level … in addition to pursuit of other action I will use my blog’s public influence to explain to my readers your Journal’s anti-science position when it suits your agenda.

In a later email (in the same exchange), the journal manager advises editors and reviewers, “We will have to keep this article back until we can establish whether it is libellous or not…” This email exchange culminated in a conference call to enable the journal’s manager, legal counsel, editors and reviewers to discuss how the journal should proceed. Let me be perfectly clear: the very reason the journal convened the conference call was to deal with threats that had been received from climate denialists.

So the journal’s claim that it “received no threats” is demonstrably false. Not the kind of behavior that instills confidence in the journal’s integrity, professionalism and commitment to the truth.

In that same statement, the journal subtly began to change its story about why it had retracted the paper, explaining that its decision had been guided by concerns that the paper “does not sufficiently protect the rights of the studied subjects.” With a bit of charity, this might be construed as a mealy-mouthed affirmation that it had bowed to legal threats and retracted an academically and ethically sound paper.

However, a more recent statement on the Frontiers web site by Henry Markram, who identifies himself as “Editor-in-Chief, Frontiers,” leaves no doubt that the journal has now adopted the position that the paper was retracted because of academic and ethical issues.

In his statement entitled Rights of Human Subjects in Scientific Papers, Markram argues that the paper should never have been published owing to “fundamental errors or issues that go against principles of scholarly publishing”. At the same time, he absolves Frontiers of all responsibility and points the finger squarely at the authors and reviewers: “[W]e fundamentally believe that authors should bear the full responsibility of submitting papers with the highest standards and that scientists should bear the full responsibility of deciding what science is published.”

This latest position is rendered all the more suspect in light of the fact that the journal commissioned a report by an independent expert panel to further investigate such ethical issues. This panel concluded:

[B]log posts are regarded as public data and the individuals posting the data are not regarded as participants in the technical sense used by Research Ethics Committees or Institutional Review Boards. This further entails that no consent is required for the use of such data.”

In other words, the experts made a clear distinction between a discourse analysis of public statements (on which the paper was based) and a scientific experiment involving human subjects.

So the journal now appears to be creating academic and ethical issues with the paper in order to justify its retraction, while off-loading any blame onto the paper’s authors and reviewers. Again, hardly the kind of behavior that inspires the trust of scientists.

It does not help that Markram made some rather intemperate comments below his lengthy statement in which he questions the value of studying climate denial, suggests that the authors of Recursive Fury look like “the biggest nutters” (presumably compared to climate deniers), and clearly implies that the authors of the paper “abused science” to conduct a “public lynching” of climate denialist bloggers.

The whole episode has so far resulted in the resignation of three of the journal’s editors in protest.

Professor Colin Davis, Chair in Cognitive Psychology at the University of Bristol, told environmental journalist Graham Readfearn: “My resignation was in response to Frontiers’ handling of the retraction of the paper by Lewandowsky et al. The retraction itself was very disappointing.”

Chief Specialty Editor of Frontiers Ugo Bardi, a professor of physical chemistry at the University of Florence, said in his resignation announcement that Frontiers had “shown no respect” for the paper’s authors and referees, and that the journal’s actions reflected a “climate of intimidation” around climate science.

Frontiers Associate Editor Björn Brembs, a professor of neurogenetics at the University of Regensburg, describes the retraction as an “outrageous act” which shows that the editors at Frontiers “are not really on the side of science”:

Essentially, this puts large sections of science at risk. Clearly, every geocentrist, flat earther, anti-vaxxer, creationist, homeopath, astrologer, diviner, and any other unpersuadable can now feel encouraged to challenge scientific papers in a court.

Meanwhile, Australian climate scientist Roger Jones, Professorial Research Fellow at the Victoria Institute of Strategic Economic Studies and a coordinating lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says he is now reconsidering his decision to become an associate editor of Frontiers’ newly established area of Interdisciplinary Climate Studies. This is because of recent statements by the journal which made him doubt their understanding of research ethics:

I see this behaviour from Frontiers as counterproductive to science in general and climate science in particular … If the statements made by Editor-in-Chief Henry Markram are representative of Frontiers at large, I can’t see how it can be supported by the research community.

It’s worth noting that the Frontiers “progressive publishing group” scored a partnership with the prestigious scientific journal Nature because of its stated commitment to provide an innovative platform for open-source publishing “by scientists, for scientists.”

That is, unless those scientists dare to study the phenomenon of climate change denial.

Follow Elaine McKewon on Twitter:

What’s the Matter With Kansas?

Very interesting piece posted today on the Guardian’s Environment Blog by Dana Nuccitelli, who has been writing good stuff at  I am re-posting his take on this issue as background to a few re-posts and some commentary (to appear here soon) on the Keystone XL controversy.

Low emissions are no justification for Kansas scaling back renewables

Is the ‘Saudi Arabia of wind’ willing to sacrifice the economic benefits of clean energy for the sake of the coal industry?

Renewable energy in Greensburg, Kansas

To date, 29 states in the US have set standards requiring a certain percentage of electricity production to be met by renewable sources. Soon that number may fall to 28.

In 2009, Kansas passed legislation establishing a renewable energy standard requiring 10% of the state’s electricity production to come from renewable sources by 2010, and 20% by 2020. The state, the “Saudi Arabia of wind”, met the 2010 requirements by exploiting its wind power potential, which is second only to Texas in the US.

Republican congressman Dennis Hedke, the chairman of the Kansas Congressional joint committee on energy and environmental policy – who has ties to the oil and gas industry – arranged for his committee to hear arguments to delay or eliminate these requirements. This Thursday, the commitee has its final hearing on the subject.

The main argument against the renewable energy standards is a common one – that the law will have an insignificant impact on curbing global warming.

It’s true that carbon emissions in Kansas are small on a global scale, and the argument is a reassuring one; if our emissions are too small to matter, we can maintain the status quo without worries or guilt. However, the same argument could be made for any state, or even any country.

Under the George W Bush administration, the US Environmental Protection Agency argued to the supreme court in 2007 that vehicular greenhouse gas emissions in the US are too small on a global scale to require government regulation. The court rejected that argument in its ruling, noting: “Agencies, like legislatures, do not generally resolve massive problems in one fell regulatory swoop.” Incremental steps are important; even if a single action can’t reverse global warming, it can still slow or reduce it.

Critics of renewable energy in Kansas have also argued that the technology is too costly. While renewable energy was once relatively expensive, according to the US Energy Information Administration, wind energy has become cost-competitive with new coal plants.

This doesn’t account for the external costs of coal combustion, for example on public health via air pollution, or on climate change via carbon emissions. If we were to account for all of the costs of coal combustion, its market price would be significantly higher than the cost of wind energy.

As a result of its renewable energy laws, Kansas came in third in total US wind energy deployment in 2012, behind the much larger states of Texas and California. Despite this rapid increase in wind energy production, Kansas utilities reported electricity price increases of just 1% to 1.7% to cover renewable energy investments in 2012 and 2013. Analyses have shown that thus far there has been no connection between renewable energy usage or growth and electricity prices in the US.

The Department of Energy has concluded that the total economic benefit of adding 1,000 megawatts of wind energy in Kansas would exceed $1bn over a 20-year period, including $2.7m per year in payments to landowners, $2.9m per year in local property tax revenue, thousands of construction jobs, and 432 new local long-term jobs. All evidence indicates that continuing to add wind energy will have little impact on electricity rates and will benefit the local economy.

The question now is whether Kansas is willing to sacrifice those benefits for the sake of the coal industry.

Dana Nuccitelli blogs at

Top Climate Stories of 2012

Thanks to Greg Laden, who (I think) wrote the introduction to this group effort, among other parts of it. His blog, cleverly named Greg Laden’s Blog, is one of my favorites, as are those of the people who did the actual writing below.  They are the blogs I read pretty much every day and from whom I often steal ideas, if not actual text. I continue to learn a hell of a lot from these people.  I will update this post here at Say What? with photos and other  illustrations, so please send pictures during the next week.  (-SB)

A group of us, all interested in climate science, put together a list of the most notable, often, most worrying, climate-related stories of the year, along with a few links that will allow you to explore the stories in more detail. We did not try to make this a “top ten” list, because it is rather silly to fit the news, or the science, or the stuff the Earth does in a given year into an arbitrary number of events. (What if we had 12 fingers, and “10” was equal to 6+6? Then there would always be 12 things, not 10, on everyone’s list. Makes no sense.) We ended up with 18 items, but note that some of these things are related to each other in a way that would allow us to lump them or split them in different ways. See this post by Joe Romm for a more integrated approach to the year’s events. Also, see what Jeff Masters did here. We only included one non-climate (but related) item to illustrate the larger number of social, cultural, and political things that happened this year. For instance, because of some of the things on this list, Americans are more likely than they were in previous years to accept the possibility that science has something to say about the Earth’s climate and the changes we have experienced or that may be in the future; journalists are starting to take a new look at their own misplaced “objective” stance as well. Also, more politicians are starting to run for office on a pro-science pro-environment platform than has been the case for quite some time.

A failing of this list is that although non-US based people contributed, and it is somewhat global in its scope, it is a bit American based. This is partly because a few of the big stories happened here this year, but also, because the underlying theme really is the realization that climate change is not something of the future, but rather, something of the present, and key lessons learned in that important area of study happened in the American West (fires) the South and Midwest (droughts, crop failures, closing of river ways) and Northeast (Sandy). But many of the items listed here were indeed global, such as extreme heat and extreme cold caused by meteorological changes linked to warming, and of course, drought is widespread.

This list is subject to change, because you are welcome to add suggestions for other stories or for links pertaining to those already listed. Also, the year is not over yet. Anything can happen in the next few days!

The following people contributed to this effort: Angela Fritz, A Siegel, Eli Rabett, Emilee Pierce, Gareth Renowden, Greg Laden, Joe Romm, John Abraham, Laurence Lewis, Leo Hickman, Michael Mann, Michael Tobis, Paul Douglas, Scott Mandia, Scott Brophy, Stephan Lewandowsky, and Tenney Naumer.

1 Super Storm Sandy

Super Storm Sandy, a hybrid of Hurricane Sandy (and very much a true hurricane up to and beyond its landfall in the Greater New York/New Jersey area) was an important event for several reasons. First, the size and strength of the storm bore the hallmarks of global warming enhancement. Second, its very unusual trajectory was caused by a climatic configuration that was almost certainly the result of global warming. The storm would likely not have been as big and powerful as it was, nor would it have likely struck land where it did were it not for the extra greenhouse gasses released by humans over the last century and a half or so.

A third reason Sandy was important is the high storm surge that caused unprecedented and deadly flooding in New York and New Jersey. This surge was made worse by significant global warming caused sea level rise. Sea level rise has been eating away at the coasts for years and has probably caused a lot of flooding that otherwise would not have happened, but this is the first time a major event widely noticed by the mainstream media (even FOX news) involving sea level rise killed a lot of people and did a lot of damage. Fourth, Sandy was an event, but Sandy might also be the “type specimen” for a new kind of storm. It is almost certainly true that global warming Enhanced storms like Sandy will occur more frequently in the future than in the past, but how much more often is not yet known. We will probably have to find out the hard way.

Note that the first few of the links below are to blog posts written by concerned climate scientists, whom the climate change denialists call “alarmists.” You will note that these scientists and writers were saying alarming things as the storm approached. You will also note that what actually happened when Sandy struck was much worse than any of these “alarmists” predicted in one way or another, in some cases, in several ways. This then, is the fifth reason that Sandy is important: The Earth’s weather system (quite unconsciously of course) opened a big huge can of “I told you so” on the climate science denialist world. Sandy washed away many lives, a great deal of property and quite a bit of shoreline. Sandy also washed away a huge portion of what remained of the credibility of the climate science denialist lobby.

Is Mother Nature revving up an October Surprise (w/ human thumbs on the scale)?

Grim Trajectories

Has climate change created a monster?

Ostrich Heads in the Sand(y)? Does your meteorologist break the climate silence?

Climate of Doubt As Superstorm Sandy Crosses US Coast

Are Tropical Storms Getting Larger in Area?

What you need to know about Frankenstorm Sandy

[Fox: Hurricane Sandy Has “Nothing To Do With Global Warming”: ]

2 Related to Sandy, the direct effects of sea level rise…

… were blatantly observed and widely acknowledged by the press and the public for the first time

Sea Level Rise … Extreme History, Uncertain Future

Peer Reviewed Research Predicted NYC Subway Flooding by #Sandy

How peer-reviewed material understates likely sea-level rise and examining NY Times interactive graphic relying on this optimistic material.

See WMO summary of year for info on global extremes – especially floods in Africa, India, Pakistan, China

3 The Polar Ice Caps and other ice features experienced extreme melting this year.

This year, Arctic sea ice reached a minimum in both extent (how much of the sea is covered during the Arctic summer) and more importantly, total ice volume, reaching the lowest levels in recorded history.

Arctic sea ice extent settles at record seasonal minimum

Ice Loss at Poles Is Increasing, Mainly in Greenland

[TV Media Cover Paul Ryan’s Workout 3x More Than Record Sea Ice Loss:–3x-mor/190165%5D

4 Sea Ice Loss Changes Weather …

We also increasingly recognized that loss of Arctic sea ice affects Northern Hemisphere weather patterns, including severe cold outbreaks and storm tracks. This sea ice loss is what set up the weather pattern mentioned above that steered Sandy into the US Northeast, as well as extreme cold last winter in other areas.

Arctic Warming is Altering Weather Patterns, Study Shows

5 and 6 Two major melting events happened in Greenland this summer.

First, the total amount of ice that has melted off this huge continental glacier reached a record high, with evidence that the rate of melting is not only high, but much higher than predicted or expected. This is especially worrying because the models climatologists use to predict ice melting are being proven too optimistic. Second, and less important but still rather spectacular, was the melting of virtually every square inch of the surface of this ice sheet over a short period of a few days during the hottest part of the summer, a phenomenon observed every few hundred years but nevertheless an ominous event considering that it happened just as the aforementioned record ice mass loss was being observed and measured.

Greenland Losing Ice Fast

[Media Turn A Blind Eye To Record Greenland Ice Melt:

7 Massive Ice islands…

…were formed when the Petermann Glacier of northern Greenland calved a massive piece of its floating tongue, and it is likely that the Pine Island Glacier (West Antarctica) will follow suit this Southern Hemisphere summer. Also, this information is just being reported and we await further evaluation. As summer begins to develop in the Southern Hemisphere, there may be record warmth there in Antarctica. That story will likely be part of next year’s roundup of climate-related woes.

8 More Greenhouse Gasses than Ever

Even though the rate of emissions of greenhouse gasses slowed down temporarily for some regions of the world, those gasses stay in the air after they are released, so this year greenhouse gas levels reached new record high levels

United StatesGreenhouse Gas Levels Reach New Record High

World Meteorological Organization: Greenhouse Gas Concentrations Reach New Record

9 It Got Hot

As expected, given the greenhouse gases just mentioned, Record Breaking High Temperatures Continue, 2012 is one of the warmest years since the Age of the Dinosaurs. We’ll wait until the year is totally over to give you a rank, but it is very, very high.

UK Met Office forecasts next year to set new record

Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math

10 …and that heat brought extreme, killer heat waves

Hot, Very Hot, Extremely Hot Summers

[STUDY: TV Media Ignore Coverage of Climate Change In Coverage Of Record July Heat:

11 For many areas, this was the year without a Spring.

The growing season in temperate zones is longer, causing the USDA in the US to change its planting recommendations.

It’s the Heat of the Night

12 There were widespread, unprecedented and deadly wildfires…

…around the world and in the American West.

[STUDY: Media Avoid Climate Context In Wildfire Coverage:

[STUDY: Media Begin To Connect The Dots Between Climate Change And Wildfires:

13 There was a major drought…

…in the US with numerous negative effects including threats to the food supply

Drought, Water & Energy

What is the link between Global Warming and Drought?

Brutal Droughts, Worsened by Global Warming, Threaten Food Production Around The World

Alarm bells on climate change as extreme weather events sweep the world: CCSOS

The Bacon Shortage

14 River Traffic Stops

A very rare event caused by drought conditions was the closing of the Mississippi River to traffic in mid-summer at two locations. This is part of a larger and growing problem involving drought, increased demands for water, and the importance of river traffic. Expect to hear more about this over the next couple of years.

Drought Closes Mississippi River Traffic in Two Locations

15 Very, very bad storms.

In June, a major and very scary derecho event – a thunderstorm and tornado complex large enough to get its own Wikipedia entry – swept across the country. This was one of several large storm systems that caused damage and death in the US this year. There were also large and unprecedented sandstorms in Asia and the US.

June 2012 North American derecho

16 Widespread Tree Mortality is underway and is expected to worsen.

Dire Drought Ahead, May Lead to Massive Tree Death

17 Biodiversity is mostly down…

We continue to experience, and this will get worse, great Losses in Biodiversity especially in Oceans, much of that due to increased acidification because of the absorption of CO2 in seawater, and overfishing.

Big loss of biodiversity with global warming

18 Unusual Jet Stream Configuration and related changes to general climate patterns…

Many of us who contributed to this list feel that this is potentially the most important of all of the stories, partly because it ties together several other events. Also, it may be that a change in the air currents caused by global warming represents a fundamental yet poorly understood shift in climate patterns. The steering of Hurricane Sandy into the New York and New Jersey metro areas, the extreme killer cold in Eastern Europe and Russia, the “year without a Spring” and the very mild winters, dome of the features of drought, and other effects may be “the new normal” owing to a basic shift in how air currents are set up in a high-CO2 world. This December, as we compile this list, this effect has caused extreme cold in Eastern Europe and Russia as well as floods in the UK and unusually warm conditions in France. As of this writing well over 200 people have died in the Ukraine, Poland and Russia from cold conditions. As an ongoing and developing story we are including it provisionally on this list. Two blog posts from midyear of 2011 and 2012 (this one and this one) cover some of this.

The following video provides an excellent overview of this problem:

19 The first climate denial “think” tank to implode as a result of global warming…

… suffered major damage this year. The Heartland Institute, which worked for many years to prove that cigarette smoking was not bad for you, got caught red handed trying to fund an effort explicitly (but secretly) designed to damage science education in public schools. Once caught, they tried to distract attention by equating people who thought the climate science on global warming is based on facts and is not a fraud with well-known serial killers, using large ugly billboards. A large number of Heartland Institute donors backed off after this fiasco and their credibility tanked in the basement. As a result, the Heartland Institute, which never was really that big, is now no longer a factor in the climate change discussion.

Mexican Meteorologist Forecasts Extreme Weather Event, Points to Long-Term Climate Change

mayan meteorology

Sandy, Science, and Politics

I had a much wordier introduction to the article that is re-posted below. Then I saw this Toles cartoon on Joe Romm’s website, Climate Progress, which says most of what I had in mind.  The Paul Douglas piece on Sandy’s legacy is from Huffington Post Green. Nicely done, Paul.

By the way, for a nice collection of images put together by some of my students who are reading about climate change, the fossil fuel industry, and money in politics, go to their Facebook Crisis and Cultural Change Experiment.

Toles, on ClimateProgress at

Paul Douglas

Chief Meteorologist, ‘WeatherNation TV’; Star Tribune’s ‘On Weather With Paul Douglas’

Sandy’s Legacy? Vote As If Future Generations Depend On It

Originally Posted: 11/02/2012 6:08 pm on Huffington Post Green

“…Storms that used to occur every 100 years can be expected between 5 and 33 times as often.”

Were you impacted by “Nor’easter-cane” Sandy?” Statisticians will debate whether it was a 1 in 100 year storm — or something worse. Insurance companies will calculate how many tens or hundreds of billions of dollars were lost. It will be a big number, probably the most expensive storm clean-up and recovery in American history. It’s “media hype” until it injures your loved ones, cuts the power, floods your home, or shuts down your small business.

Sandy was a rare, hybrid storm — an odd meteorological mutation, a little understood mash-up of hurricane and Nor’easter vaguely similar to 1991’s “Perfect Storm.” It was unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed in my 40 year meteorological career: the size of the storm, its speed, the transition from hurricane to explosive Nor’easter, the miles of coastline experiencing a devastating storm surge, the sheer number of Americans impacted? Unprecedented.

A warmer atmosphere is flavoring all weather now, so it’s increasingly nonsensical to say “you can’t prove climate change made Sandy worse!” And you can’t prove it didn’t. We’re rolling dice, and as water levels rise, warm and expand we can expect Sandy-like storms to strike with greater frequency and ferocity. A one foot rise in sea level has left New Yorkers even more vulnerable to the ravages of storm surge. Scientists predict even more in the years ahead, and America’s most populace city is especially vulnerable. Here’s an excerpt from a Nature article abstract:

“…Struck by many intense hurricanes in recorded history and prehistory, NYC is highly vulnerable to storm surges. We show that the change of storm climatology will probably increase the surge risk for NYC; results based on two GCMs (General Circulation Models) show the distribution of surge levels shifting to higher values by a magnitude comparable to the projected sea-level rise (SLR). The combined effects of storm climatology change and a 1 meter sea-level rise may cause the present NYC 100-year surge flooding to occur every 3-20 years and the present 500-yr flooding to occur every 25-240 years by the end of the century….” According to…Storms that used to occur every 100 years can be expected between 5 and 33 times as often.

Doppler Time Lapse of June 29 Derecho. Courtesy of Greg Carbin, NOAA Storm Prediction Center.
It’s been two years of unprecedented weather disasters. An historic summer derecho, the most severe on record, swept from Indiana to Washington D.C. on June 29. My relatives in Bethesda & Potomac are still traumatized by the boomerang-shaped swirl of hurricane-force winds that swept in with little warning, plunging a huge swath of the Mid-Atlantic back to the 18th century in the blink of an eye.

Maybe it was the stultifying summer heat wave and drought that rivaled the Dust Bowl, symptoms of the warmest year on record for the USA? 1-in-500 year floods in Nashville and Duluth since early 2010; record rains lashing Vermont in the wake of Hurricane Irene last year; wildfires in Colorado Springs; record swarms of killer tornadoes sweeping across Dixie Alley in the spring of 2011? Pick your poison.

Mother Nature is on a tear.

It’s all part of a pattern, a discernible trend. According to a Yale University study, 4 out of 5 Americans was personally impacted by extreme weather or natural disasters in 2011; 1 in 3 was injured by severe weather last year. An October report from reinsurance giant Munich Re shows over a trillion dollars in damage from 1980 to 2011, a five-fold increase in disasters over 3 decades, with North America Ground Zero for weather extremes.

Turn on the TV or pick up a newspaper. Wall Street was just shut down for the first time since 1888. Submerged subways in Lower Manhattan. The Navy has come to New Jersey’s rescue. Damage may top the previous record, Katrina’s $146 billion in 2005. How much more evidence do we need?

Climate change is real, as I’ve tried to describe in previous posts here, here and here. Last Monday I warned our Alerts Broadcaster corporate clients of an historic storm brewing for the Northeast. By Wednesday, October 24th, five days before landfall, I started sharing our increasingly dire forecasts with Huffington Post readers. We called for a record hybrid storm unlike anything the Northeast had ever witnessed. If anything, Sandy was more extreme than even my worst-case scenario.

I don’t like making these calls. It drives me crazy to see the effects of climate change going on all around us, to see the devastation, and all I can do is react — warning people to get out of harm’s way. It’s time we do more as a nation than react, late, and after the fact. It’s time we wake up and act.

Fact: we already have the technology and the entrepreneurs to slowly transition beyond coal, natural gas and oil. What’s lacking? Vision. And the political courage to do the right thing. Not just for today’s press release, next month’s unemployment numbers or the next quarterly shareholder report, but for the Americans who come next; those stuck with cleaning up our dirty little fossil fuel hangover.

The power may still be off where you live, but the one gift, the most precious power we all possess, is the ability to make our voices heard. On November 6 consider voting for local, state and national candidates who acknowledge a role for sound science, leaders who aren’t afraid to face climate facts. Don’t know where your state representatives stand on climate science? Here’s a good place to start.

2012-11-02-444444paulimage004.jpg Long Beach, New York. Post-Sandy, courtesy of WeatherNation TV.
Dr. Ben Santer is one of the world’s leading climate scientists, doing research at California’s Lawrence Livermore Labs. He travels extensively, sounding the alarm, educating everyone he can about what is happening, and what is coming. At a recent climate seminar in St. Paul he said:

“We hear so much about budget deficits and the national debt, both very real concerns. But what of the environmental debt we’re leaving our children, and their children? There is something fundamentally wrong and profoundly immoral about what we are passing on to future generations.”

Future generations will hold us accountable.

“What did you know…when, and what did you do to help? Did you vote on November 6, 2012? Did you think of us?”

Step one: elect politicians who still respect sound science.

Michael Mann and the Climate Wars: An Update

First, a nice primer by Greg Laden on the background about the climate change denying American Tradition Institute’s harassment of respected scientist Michael Mann. An interesting spin on the story is reported this morning in Mother Jones. More comments from me about this story later in the week.


David Schnare is a climate change denier, right-wing activist, and lawyer, and he works for the conservative “free market” think tank American Tradition Institute (ATI). Evidence has come to light suggesting that Schnare acted unethically during the course of a recently settled legal battle over access to private emails exchanged among university based climate scientists. In particular, Schnare may have worked at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at the same time he was engaged with work at ATI, without the required permission.

Almost two years ago, ATI initiated legal proceedings to gain access to private documents held by the University of Virginia, mainly emails that had been exchanged among several scientists working on global warming. This is regarded as a systematic attack on climate scientist Michael Mann, the well known researcher who produced the famous “Hockey Stick” graph demonstrating the severity and immediacy of ongoing climate change (and more recently author of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines). In September of this year, the University of Virginia won its fight against ATI to protect the researchers’ emails.

Part of the process of assessing whether or not these documents should be released involved giving access to those very documents to designated individuals. This presents a conundrum, because a legal team such as that representing ATI might reasonably require access to the documents in order to make the argument that they should be more broadly released, but if the entity requesting this access is itself politically motivated or in some way untrustworthy, this means that the access being argued over is being granted de facto. From the point of view of those who generated the document, this may be a real and meaningful breach of confidence, privacy, or security. Recognizing this, the legal teams representing the University of Virginia and Michael Mann asked the courts to not allow ATI lawyers access, and the courts agreed.

In May, 20112, as part of this dispute a legal arrangement between the University of Virginia and ATI, Chris Horner, an ATI lawyer and climate change denier, and David Schnare would have been given access to these emails. The University of Virginia soon took the position that this would be inappropriate because Horner and Schnare had released “disturbingly inaccurate” information to the press about the arrangement that had been made, and a third individual who would not have been allowed access to this material, science denialist Delegate Marshall, seemed to have entered into an arrangement with Horner and Schnare to have access to the documents. In other words, Mann and the University of Virginia were arguing that Horner and Schnare could not be trusted. That dispute was settled when the courts agreed to modify the arrangement. However, as part of this process the apparent ethics violation by David Schnare came to light.

Schnare worked not only for ATI, but for a period of time, he also workedfor the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In order for this to have been ethical and legal, Schnare would have had to seek and obtain permission from the EPA to carry on outside activities related to EPA work. Schnare claimed to have sought permission but the University of Virginia has argued that Schnare did not inform the EPA of this outside work until about nine months after first engaging in it. Schnare claims that the letter requesting permission was prepared on or near November 16th, 2010, but there is no record at the EPA that any such letter existed. The letter, which exists now, seems to have been prepared much later in time.

All of this raised significant concerns over the trustworthiness of of those representing ATI. Being allowed, as lawyers representing interests in a particular case, to see documents that the court may rule to be private requires a much higher standard of trust, the University of Virginia argued, than should be afforded to these climate science denialists. In a court filing, the University says:

University counsel can no longer defend their willingness to entrust tens of thousands of pages of personal, scholarly, and research communications from Professor Mann and other scientists to two individuals who have regrettably provided far too many reasons to doubt that their words may be trusted.

In response, ATI filed a document accusing the University of Virginia of being discourteous and engaging in ad hominim attacks, and provided rather weak evidence making their case. Most importantly, ATI does not address key evidence including University of Virginia’s time stamped emails documenting that Schnare had carried out some of his activities in violation of ethics rules.

A delicious irony has emerged from an interview of Schnare by Mother Jones:

Schnare insisted in an interview with Mother Jones that he had proper authorization to litigate the email case. “I had permission to do legal work outside of work that did not directly involve the EPA or issues in front of the EPA and this is one of them,” he said. He added that the work was pro bono and insisted it was done outside of his day job.

While the court’s ruling on Mann’s emails didn’t touch on ATI’s motivations or Schnare’s employment, the legal record suggests that ATI’s own lawyer may have been working on the case while at has taxpayer-funded EPA job. Wherever and whenever Schnare did his lawyering, ATI’s main argument for why they should have had access the emails was to “fulfill the public’s right to know how taxpayer-funded employees use the taxpayer’s resources.”

The effort by ATI and other climate change denialists to access emails exchanged among climate scientists, such as Michael Mann, who is now the director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, seems to be a carry over from an earlier event in which climate change denialists had stolen and disseminated emails from among climate scientists. Accusations based on those stolen emails, that data had been rigged or other improprieties had taken place by the climate scientists, were eventually proven false and these accusations are now generally regarded as politically motivated and nefarious. Nonetheless, ever since the “Climategate” event, as it is sometimes called, anti-science activists have tried on many occasions to access private emails or other research documents.


%d bloggers like this: