Let me be clear right off the top: global warming is real. There is vastly overwhelming evidence for it and scientific consensus about it, and the only people still sowing doubt about it appear to be motivated more by ideology and corporate interests than scientific evidence.
Having said that, one thing I’m careful about when I talk about it is linking specific weather events to the worsening climate. We humans like to connect events if they occur at the same time, whether they are actually connected or not. So when huge storms spawning tornadoes ravaged the midwest last year, I was careful not to say it was caused by global warming. When a huge glacier calved off Greenland a few weeks ago, I was careful not to say it was caused by global warming. When Greenland got a tremendous burst of warm air that caused unprecedented ice melting, I was careful not to say it was caused by global warming. When wildfires erupted over the US and Russia this summer, I was careful not to say it was caused by global warming. I said these events are all consistent with global warming, but not necessarily caused by it.
Now, however, things have changed. New evidence has arisen that indicates the extreme heat waves that are cooking the US are in fact and in deed caused by global warming.
[UPDATE: Talk about timing: the NOAA just released their State of the Climate report, showing that July 2012 is the hottest month ever recorded in the history of the contiguous United States.]
Climate scientist James Hansen – who, in the 1980s, was the first to talk about the idea that the planet is heating up – has published research linking global warming and these extreme events. It’s explained in an article on the NASA site: Hansen and his team looked at northern hemisphere surface temperatures going back to the early 1950s. At any given time, some places are hotter than average, some cooler. So they plotted these temperature deviations from average and got a bell curve, just like the bell curve some teachers use to grade students. Most temperatures are near the average value, while very hot or very cold places are less common; the graph peaks in the middle and falls away to either side.
All well and good. But when they plotted these temperatures over time – looking at the average temperature for a given year as well as the extreme events – they saw three things, none of them good. One was that, over time, the average temperature moved to the right – that is, the the overall temperature got hotter. Second, there were fewer cooler temperatures – the graph on the left got weaker. Third, there were more extreme heating events – the graph got stronger on the right.
The green line shows the smoothed average curve for the time period of 1951 – 1980. The filled in part shows the curve for the decade of 2001 – 2011. Note that it’s skewed right, and there are more hot events as well.
It hasn’t been your imagination. We’re getting hotter, and we’re seeing more extremely hot summers. You can confirm this for yourself: walk outside.
Personal anecdotes aside, the data back that conclusion up. Statistically speaking, the temperature "anomalies" are highly significant, meaning they are almost certainly real. In the 1950s, extreme heat waves like we’re seeing now were rare to nonexistent. Today, 10% of the northern hemisphere experiences these heat waves. Dr. Hansen says that without global warming, these anomalies wouldn’t be happening. In other words, our warming planet is the culprit behind these extreme events.
This doesn’t mean every summer will be hotter than the last, or have worse heat waves. But as Dr. Hansen points out, it does mean that in general that’s what we’ll see. Climate Scientist Michael Mann describes it this way:
It is not simply a set of random events occurring in isolation, but part of a broader emerging pattern. We are seeing, in much of the extreme weather we are experiencing, the “loading of the weather dice.” Over the past decade, records for daily maximum high temperatures in the U.S. have been broken at twice the rate we would expect from chance alone. Think of this as rolling double sixes twice as often as you’d expect – something you would readily notice in a high stakes game of dice. Thus far this year, that ratio is close to 10 to 1. That’s double sixes coming up ten times as often as you expect.
What Dr. Hansen’s research shows is that again, while any specific event is hard to blame in its entirety on global warming, the overall trend we’re seeing – including these disastrous heat waves causing deaths, massive crop failures, drought, and wildfires – is linked to global warming. As he put it:
This summer people are seeing extreme heat and agricultural impacts. We’re asserting that this is causally connected to global warming, and in this paper we present the scientific evidence for that.
That’s a pretty firm commitment. And one that will, no doubt, make heads explode amongst climate change denialists. They will obfuscate, they will nitpick, they will distract, they will deny. But they are wrong. The media, and more importantly, politicians, need to understand that.
Again, as Dr. Mann says (emphasis mine):
The time for debate about the reality of human-caused climate change has now passed. We can have a good faith debate about how to deal with the problem – how to reduce future climate change and adapt to what is already upon us to reduce the risks that climate change poses to society. But we can no longer simply bury our heads in the sand.
As I’ve said before: when does weather become climate? It’s starting to feel like now.
Image credit: NASA/Goddard Space Flight Center Scientific Visualization Studio
Whenever I post about the reality of climate change, I get the usual chorus of denialist outrage. This includes the odd ad hominem or two, like the sneering "What does an astronomer know about the climate?", because apparently not having an advanced degree in science makes someone a better judge of the data.
But the slings and arrows I get here are nothing, nothing, compared to what professional climate scientist Michael Mann gets. He is, after all, the researcher who first published the hockey stick diagram which shows beyond a reasonable doubt that the Earth has warmed up. To the deniers, he is Enemy Number 1. They have attacked his diagram and his research many times, always coming up short. The data and methods are solid, and it’s clear the Earth really is warming up.
So what’s a denier to do when all the evidence is against them? They attack Dr. Mann himself, of course.
All that is, sadly, to be expected. But now, ramping up the rhetoric to full-on disgusting, comes The National Review. A far-right paper (to say the least), they are not exactly supportive of the reality of global warming. But a few days ago they published a blog article by Mark Steyn that calls Mann a scientific fraud. This may be expected from deniers, but doesn’t change the fact that when you say that the research done by a scientist is deliberately fraudulent, you are stepping into defamation territory.
Needless to say, Mann isn’t sitting back and taking this. He contacted his lawyer, who has sent a letter to The National Review saying they knowingly defamed him by accusing him of scientific fraud, and demanding an apology and that the defamatory article be taken down. Mann put up a copy of this letter on his Facebook page. As he points out, Mann has been cleared of all wrongdoing multiple times by multiple independent agencies (like here, and here, and here, and here, and of course here), despite the efforts of the global warming deniers to do whatever they can to take him down. I certainly hope The National Review complies, and issues an apology.
Oh, but we’re not done just yet. Amazingly, it gets worse.
Geez, this again? Seriously?
Two years ago, someone hacked into a University of East Anglia server and anonymously posted thousands of emails from climate scientists. Quickly dubbed "Climategate", global warming deniers jumped on this, trying to show that these scientists were engaging in fraudulent activities. However, it was clear to anyone familiar with how research is done that this was complete and utter bilge; the scientists were not trying to hide anything, were not trying to trick anyone, and were not trying to falsely exaggerate the dangers of climate change.
I wrote about this when it happened and then again quickly thereafter, showing this was just noise. Accusations of fraud were leveled at climate scientist Michael Mann, but time and again he was exonerated: like this time, and then this time, and then this time, and of course this time, and then my favorite, this time.
Climategate was widely denounced as a manufactured controversy, except, of course, by denialists. Because they denied it. That’s axiomatic.
However, like a bacterium festering away someplace dank and fetid, Climategate is poised to infect reality once again: The Guardian is reporting that a second cache of stolen emails has been released anonymously, and once again the cries of conspiracy are being heard. However, it looks like these emails aren’t really new, and were simply from the original stolen batch, but were held back until today. Mind you, the emails from the first Climategate were released right before a big climate conference, in an obvious attempt to derail it in the media. This new batch was released days before a similar conference, in what appears to be a similar propaganda move.
[UPDATE: Congressman Ed Markey (D-MA) has called on the US intelligence community to investigate who stole these emails. I think this is the right move. We still don't know who did this two years ago, and I'd be fascinated to see who was behind it. H/T Michael Mann on Twitter.]
If you’ve read this blog for more than a few nanoseconds, you know how incensed I am over the blatantly antiscience trend in the Republican leadership. As I have pointed out before, supporting the reality of global warming or evolution is akin to political suicide if you are a candidate for office in the GOP. The attacks on science by the far right are not new, but the openness and outspoken nature of it are fairly recent. Even Newt Gingrich, who used to a be a strong supporter of science, is making Michele Bachmann-level misstatements about it.
So I was very glad to read an article at the National Journal saying that older leaders of the Republican party are trying to re-establish the role of science in the GOP:
But quietly, many acknowledge a deepening GOP schism over the issue, as many moderates grow increasingly disturbed by their party’s denial of proven science. A number of influential Republicans who have left the battlefield of electoral politics are now taking action in an effort to change the GOP’s stance.
And we’re not talking about lightweights, either. People like former (under Bush I) Secretary of State George Shultz, who said this:
"My own opinion is that this [climate change] problem is very real," Shultz told National Journal. "I recognize there’s a lot of people pooh-poohing it. Whether they like the science or not, there’s a huge problem coming at us. There’s a huge melt coming in the Arctic regions. There’s melting taking place." Of Republicans like [Presidential candidate Rick] Perry who deny climate science, he said, "They’re entitled to their opinion, but they’re not entitled to the facts."
Oh my. That is very heartening to hear. Of course, they have an uphill battle ahead of them. And by uphill, I mean like climbing out of the event horizon of a black hole, given how loud the antiscience noise is. The article acknowledges this, saying these leaders have kept quiet
in part because acknowledging climate change puts them out of sync with the tea party base that has so energized their party, and because climate-change legislation stands no chance of passing Congress in the current political environment.
The far-right Tea Party is mired in a radical religious agenda, and has become the de facto voice of the GOP. I have serious doubts that the more moderate wing of the Republican leadership can do much about it; that whirlwind has been sown, and they are now reaping it… as are we all. Once an audience is whipped into a frenzy that is not based on reason, corralling it will be nearly impossible. Just look at the editorial climate scientist Michael Mann wrote for the Vail Daily, defending his research against oft-repeated falsehoods about it — which sometimes come from people as lofty as Congressmen in the House of Representatives. That kind of stuff won’t stop overnight, or even in the next few years. It’s a foregone conclusion antiscience will play its role in the 2012 election, too.
So while I’m glad to hear that some members of the Republican Party are fighting to get their party back, I despair of their chances of actually doing it.
- Erasing false balance: the right is more antiscience than the left
- Republican candidates, global warming, evolution, and reality
- The increasingly antiscience Republican candidates
- Michele Bachmann needs to check her ID
- Next up for Congress: repeal the law of gravity
- Antiscience party
It’s not often you can actually say "case closed", but in this case it’s literally true: climatologist Michael Mann has been cleared of all wrongdoing by the Inspector General of the National Science Foundation.
Did I say "has been cleared"? I meant has been cleared once again, since there have been several investigations into his research and Dr. Mann has been cleared of all charges every single time (like here and here). All of this stemmed from the "ClimateGate" nonsense of the past couple of years, where leaked emails were taken hugely out of context by the press and climate change deniers, and used to smear scientists. Dr. Mann was at the center of the whole manufactured controversy, being the biggest target of the people who want to deny the Earth is warming up.
This latest, and hopefully last, investigation into Dr. Mann’s research (PDF) again shows he is not guilty of misconduct. A couple of the report conclusions are worth pointing out:
We found no basis to conclude that the [Climategate] emails were evidence of research misconduct or that they pointed to such evidence.
That’s clear enough, I think. They also said:
There is no specific evidence that [Mann] falsified or fabricated any data and no evidence that his actions amounted to research misconduct.
A big claim by the deniers is that researchers were using "tricks" to falsify conclusions about global warming, but the NSF report is pretty clear that’s not true. The most damning thing the investigators could muster was that there was "some concern" over the statistical methods used, but that’s not scandalous at all; there’s always some argument in science over methodology. The vague language of the report there indicates to me this isn’t a big deal, or else they would’ve been specific. The big point is that the data were not faked.
What does this mean for global warming? A lot of these attacks can be traced back to the famous "hockey stick" diagram, showing how Earth’s temperatures have been increasing rapidly in recent times. This graph is what really clinches the idea of man-made global warming, and so has been the epicenter of the manufactroversy. The fact that Dr. Mann has been cleared again, and that his data are good, shows that this graph is even more solid — or at least is not as weak as so many would lead you to believe.
And what does this mean about "ClimateGate"? That’s clear enough: all the outrage, all the claims of fraud and fakery, were just — haha — hot air.
Not that this will stop or even slow down the denial machine. Politicians from the Virginia State Attorney General to members of the House of Representatives have been on what I would characterize as witch hunts. Dr. Mann has been vocal in his opposition, and I applaud him. Still, needless to say, the attacks will continue.
Here are the facts: the Earth is warming up. The rate of warming has increased in the past century or so. This corresponds to the time of the Industrial Revolution, when we started dumping greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Greenhouse gases warm the planet (hence the name) — if they didn’t we’d have an average temperature below the freezing point of water. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas which is dumped into the atmosphere by humans to the tune of 30 billion tons per year, 100 times the amount from volcanoes. And finally, approximately 97% of climatologists who actually study climate agree that global warming is real, and caused by humans.
Those are simply the facts. It’s not hard to connect them, as long as you stick to reality and don’t let ideology sway you.
Tip o’ the thermometer to DeSmogBlog.
I’m happy to report that my alma mater, the University of Virginia, is not only fighting back against State Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s witch hunt against climate scientist Michael Mann, they are also being pretty clear about their protest:
In its most strongly-worded court filing to date, UVA characterized Cuccinelli’s investigation as "an unprecedented and improper governmental intrusion into ongoing scientific research” and said that Cuccinelli is targeting Mann because he “disagrees with his academic research regarding climate change."
In other words, they’re saying this is a politically and ideologically motivated abuse of power, which I’ve been saying all along.
I’m thrilled to see the University standing firm. Cuccinelli’s actions, on purpose or otherwise, are sending out a message that academic research can be chilled due to political ideology, and that is something that must not be allowed. I fully support what UVa is doing, and hope they can stop Cuccinelli in his tracks.
The University’s court filing really is worth reading. Thomas Jefferson would be proud.
The story so far:
Climate scientist Michael Mann is under constant attack by global warming denialists in the government. He writes an editorial for the Washington Post pointing out why these demagogues are wrong. Congressman Joe Barton (R-TX) writes a fallacy-laden "rebuttal" in the Post misrepresenting quite a bit of what Dr. Mann has done. The Post declines Mann’s request to followup, so he sends his letter to me, which I posted here on this blog. As usual, in the comments, noise-machine hilarity ensued.
OK, so now that you’re caught up…
In his OpEd hit piece, Rep. Barton mentions a National Research Council report that he claims contradicts Mann’s climate change research. This is utter nonsense. Jerry North — the chair of the NRC committee that wrote that report — makes this clear in this OpEd he wrote in the Post:
While we did find some of the methods used in Michael E. Mann’s original papers to be less cautious than some of our members might have used, we have not found any evidence that his results were incorrect or even out of line with other works published since his original papers.
Mr. Barton’s reference to “Mr. Mann’s global warming projections” is incorrect and quite misleading. Mr. Mann’s work does not make projections about global warming. His work, and that of our committee, was concerned with the reconstruction of temperatures in the past. As stated in the report, this area of research does not attempt to make any inference about future temperatures.
Shorter version: Barton was wrong, and worse, doesn’t appear to even understand what the report he was quoting was about.
Have I mentioned that the Honorable Joe Barton is the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Energy and Commerce? You’d think a person in a position of that much authority would know better.
Mind you, when BP executive Tony Hayward was being raked over the coals this summer — deservedly — for the Gulf oil leak, it was Representative Barton who apologized to him for the treatment.
So, I await Representative Barton’s public apology to Dr. Mann with bated breath.
Last week, climate scientist Michael Mann wrote an OpEd in the Washington Post defending himself against attacks by ideologically-driven climate change deniers.
On Tuesday, the Post ran a "rebuttal" of sorts by Congressman Joe Barton (R-TX). In it, Barton grossly mischaracterizes Dr. Mann’s research and motivations. Go ahead and take a moment to read it.
Mann sent a letter to the Post asking for a chance to defend himself against Barton’s slurs. The Post declined: if they allowed this sort of thing, it would go on forever, in a "he said/she said" war of words. I can understand that decision, but it doesn’t mean Mann has to remain quiet. I was contacted on behalf of Mann by the Union of Concerned Scientists, asking if I would run the letter from Mann that the Post declined.
Of course I would. Here it is, in its entirety:
I recently wrote an essay arguing that politicians should stop attacking scientists. Rep. Joe Barton’s response was to write a letter attacking me yet again. He continues to misrepresent my research, insult my character and spread misinformation about climate science.
Barton deeply mischaracterizes a 2006 National Academy of Sciences report on past climates. He wrongly equates the report’s conclusions regarding how to further advance the science with a criticism of my scientific conclusions. As the Post noted ("Study Confirms Past Few Decades Warmest on Record", June 2, 2006 [link]), the academy study backed up the conclusions my colleagues and I reached more than a decade ago about the unprecedented nature of modern climate change. So have more than a dozen independent studies since.
Tellingly, Barton calls my research in this area "global warming projections." But such projections use models to predict future climate changes. They have nothing at all to do with the research Barton has attacked my colleagues and me for, which use real world data to reconstruct past climate changes.
After six years of these attacks, is it possible that Barton cannot even identify the nature of our work?
Rep. Barton apologized to former BP CEO Tony Hayward after the company was required to pay for damage from the Gulf oil leak. He should apologize to me and my colleagues too, but I won’t be holding my breath.
Michael E. Mann, the author of "Dire Predictions: Understanding Global Warming," is a professor in the meteorology department at Penn State University and director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center.
The Honorable Barton’s editorial is already getting ripped to shreds in various venues, such as on Deep Climate here, the DeSmogBlog, and here, as well as in the comments of the editorial itself. I would categorize Congressman Barton’s editorial to be dissembling at best: Mann doesn’t want to suppress questioning of scientific research. In fact, he knows, as we all do, that science thrives when it’s questioned. It’s how we learn.
But what’s going on in Congress is not an evidence-based query, it’s a politically-driven attack on science.
It’s not exactly a subtle distinction.
I’ll note that Representative Barton has the distinction of being the Congressman who received the highest amount of lobby dollars from the oil and gas industry — 1.7 million dollars over the past 20 years. As Mann mentions, you may remember Barton as the Congressman who shamefully apologized to BP executive Tony Hayward after that company dumped millions of barrels of oil into the Gulf of Mexico (and then issued a non-apology about it). He is a notorious global warming denier and exactly the sort of person Dr. Mann is warning us about in his Post editorial.
And I’ll remind you, every single one of the Republican Senate hopefuls this election season is against taking any action about climate change.
Congressman Barton, if you read this — and I certainly hope you do — I will point you to your own words in your editorial: "I think Mr. Mann is entitled to make up his own mind, but not his own truth." That is ironic indeed, given that this is precisely what you have been doing for a long, long time. The actual truth is clear: the climate is changing, the globe is warming, and all the denying, all the noise, all the letter writing you can do will not change those simple facts.
You are not fighting a political battle, you are fighting against reality itself. And if you win, we will all lose.
What could Issa, Sensenbrenner and Cuccinelli possibly think they might uncover now, a year after the [Climategate] e-mails were published?
The truth is that they don’t expect to uncover anything. Instead, they want to continue a 20-year assault on climate research, questioning basic science and promoting doubt where there is none.
This is a tour-de-force of fighting back against politically-driven climate change denial.
But the attacks against the science must stop. They are not good-faith questioning of scientific research. They are anti-science.
I couldn’t have said it better myself.
Tip o’ the thermometer to Chris Winter.
Virginia State Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli really doesn’t like people thinking the Earth is warming up. He has used his position to continually attack scientist Michael Mann and his work done at the University of Virginia, claiming that Dr. Mann abused taxpayer money and knowingly used falsified data.
Cuccinelli was essentially riding on the coattails of the now totally-discredited Climategate fiasco. You may remember how lots of people got very upset that scientists were sending emails to each other that, when taken grossly out of context and misinterpreted, made it look like those scientists were engaged in cooking the data. Once people looked a little more carefully, it became clear that no shenanigans were going on. Interestingly, although it was hugely covered in the media and by the usual antiscience mob in politics, you hardly hear about Climategate anymore.
But Cuccinelli can’t let it go. Even though his subpoena for documents from UVa was dismissed by a judge, he retooled his claims and is now demanding that the University hand over some emails from Mann to colleagues. Apparently, he feels that
Specifically, but without limitation, some of the conclusions of the papers demonstrate a complete lack of rigor regarding the statistical analysis of the alleged data, meaning that the result reported lacked statistical significance without a specific statement to that effect.
Not surprisingly, Michael Mann — who has been repeatedly cleared of wrongdoing despite many attempts to smear him and his work — sees the situation somewhat differently: