The last time I found myself paying attention to the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)–which calls itself “the world’s largest professional geological society”–the year was 2006. At the time, AAPG had caused something of an uproar by giving its “journalism award” to the late Michael Crichton’s anti-global warming novel State of Fear. This triggered a variety of criticisms–including this one by the council of the American Quaternary Association, remarking that “In bestowing its 2006 Journalism Award on Crichton, AAPG has crossed the line from scientific professionalism to political advocacy. In our opinion, the group should be upfront about its new status.” (Later, the AAPG changed the prize’s name to the “Geosciences in the Media” award, which certainly removes one criticism–if not others.)
You can’t say the Crichton award was inconsistent: To this day, AAPG remains an organization that questions the seriousness of human caused climate change.
It’s only early January, and already we’re witnessing what could be the most devastating climate change story of the year. A new study in Nature Geoscience this week shows that even if we go to zero emissions and completely halt our wholesale burning of fossil fuels, climate change will continue for the next 1,000 years.
If only we could take solace in saying, “I told you so” to climate change deniers and the fossil fuel lobby fighting to confuse the public about climate change. Such proclamations seem trite and trivial, however, when we’re faced with the burning reality that our dirty oil addiction is cooking the planet in an irreversible way.
The study, conducted by University of Calgary and Environment Canada’s climate centre at the University of Victoria is the first full climate model simulation to make predictions 1,000 years into the future. Dr. Shawn Marshall and his team explore the question: “What if we completely stopped using fossil fuels and put no more CO2 in the atmosphere? How long would it then take to reverse current climate change trends and will things first become worse?” Using simulations with the Canadian Earth System Model, the research team exploredzero-emissions scenarios if humans completely stop burning fossil fuels in 2010 and 2100.
The article shows, devastatingly, that climate change will continue even if we stop our use of fossil fuels immediately. We’ve had that much of an impact. With this news, Canada’s head-in-sand approach to climate issues just won’t cut it.
It’s a typical blog comment for this time of year. “I hope,” wrote one of my ‘skeptic’ readers, “the folks in the NEUSA and Europe didn’t hurt their backs when shoveling all that global warming.”
This common insinuation–that somehow, human-caused climate change is refuted by the perennial occurrence of bad winter weather–puts us scientific rationalists in a bind. The problem is that unlike many denier talking points, there isn’t really even an argument being put forward here that might be refuted. It’s more of a “nyah nyah,” followed by, “I never believed you to begin with, but this time of year, I just feel sorry for you.”
For those concerned about ensuring the accurate use of science in U.S. politics and political decision-making—about stopping what everybody now calls the “war on science”—we now stand at a critical juncture. What happens next will be extremely important. That’s the topic of this post; but first, let’s review how we got here.
1. The Last Administration Misused and Abused Science To a Degree Unprecedented in Modern American Politics.
There are still a few contrarians who question this conclusion. But they’ve long since lost the argument.
A voluminous number of science abuse case studies from the Bush administration were investigated and documented by myself, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), and many others across the journalistic and NGO communities. Importantly, we demonstrated that a) during the Bush years, scientific information itself was regularly distorted for political reasons (e.g., these were not just disputes over policy, but over matters of fact and what is true about the world); and b) this happened on some of the most high profile issues of the day, where the scientific facts or scientific consensus was clear and the administration undermined them anyway (like stem cells and global warming).
There’s no doubt about it. It’s been a challenging year for climate science and climate scientists, for journalists, and for the public. A string of legislative and regulatory disappointments coupled with dizzying political spin have left many more confused than ever about the overwhelming scientific consensus of climate change.
It’s been a particularly grim year following the Citizens United decision that ushered in a new era of rampant electoral spending on climate change denial; the U.S. midterm elections produced a Senate filled with climate change skeptics and deniers; a failed climate bill or two, and after the Copenhagen talks failed to produce any real results. In addition, many pundits and analysts are giving us good reason to believe the U.S. won’t see a climate bill for two years, and little reason to believe that real climate progress will be made in Cancun next week. It seems there’s a lot of reason to feel distressed.
Last week marked a year since the so-called Climategate “scandal” sent climate change deniers into an echo chamber frenzy. Bud Ward and John Wihbey aptly note that to even call it “climategate” lends it credence that is undeserved. Yet it is imperative that we try to learn lessons from it. This certainly won’t be the last difficult year for the climate change movement; an increasingly challenging political environment promises more interesting times ahead, both for the science and for the scientists who devote their lives to the subject. In a nutshell, we’ve got our work cut out for us.
A new research paper from American academics is threatening to blow a hole in growing political support for carbon capture and storage as a weapon in the fight against global warming. The document from Houston University claims that governments wanting to use CCS have overestimated its value and says it would take a reservoir the size of a small US state to hold the CO2 produced by one power station.
Longer term, sulfur from volcanoes has the potential to cool the Earth. Sulfur reacts with water in the air to form sulfuric acid droplets that reflect sunlight hitting Earth, thus blocking some rays. The reduction in sunlight can reduce temperatures for a year or so, until the droplets fall out of the atmosphere. When Mount Pinatubo erupted, it cooled the planet by 0.9 degrees Fahrenheit.
The UN’s carbon offsetting scheme has become mired in yet more controversy after the panel overseeing the initiative suspended its third auditor in 15 months. The board of the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM) last week suspended Germany’s TUEVSUED and also partially suspended Korea Energy Management Corporation, after spot checks undertaken at their offices revealed procedural breaches. Both firms are recognised by the UN as so-called designated operational entities (DOEs) and provide official verification of emission reduction claims made by projects operating within the CDM. Emission reduction projects have to gain approval from DOEs before they can sell carbon credits under the scheme, making their auditing and verification role essential to the credibility of the scheme.
The echo chamber is alive and well and currently bouncing Phil Jones’ bastardized quote all over the global media. Recap - Phil Jones speaks to the BBC about climate change. The Daily Mailselects part of his response, stripping it of its context and using that selection to argue that Prof. Jones is backtracking on the likelihood of global warming.
Then every half-wit, oil company shill and agenda-driven journalist in the world picks up the Mail’s manipulation and uses it as if it’s real.
BBC: Do you agree that from 1995 to the present, there has been no statstically-significant global warming”
Prof Jones: Yes, but only just. I also calculated the trend for the period 1995-2009. This trend (0.12 per decade) is positive, but not significant at the 95% significance level. The positive trend is quite close to the significance level. Achieving statistical significance in scientific terms is much more likely for longer periods and much less likely for shorter periods.
More evidence is being unearthed on the sophisticated cyber-burglary of more than 1,000 emails from the Climate Research Unit (CRU) that sheds light on who did the stealing and why.
An interesting post on IT-NETWORKS picks apart what is currently known about the hack job and what it can tell us about the identity of the hacker and their motivations.
Forensic data analysis reveals that the hacker was in a time zone somewhere in the eastern US or Canada. Rather than a single breach of security, the hacker was also able to access confidential CRU on four different occasions over a six-week period.
The IT-NETWORKS analysis also points out that only a small portion of the emails stolen was actually released. The hacker took the trouble of sifting out all the routine messages about holidays and fire alarms and possibly much more.
Democracy is utterly dependent upon an electorate that is accurately informed. In promoting climate change denial (and often denying their responsibility for doing so) industry has done more than endanger the environment. It has undermined democracy.
There is a vast difference between putting forth a point of view, honestly held, and intentionally sowing the seeds of confusion. Free speech does not include the right to deceive. Deception is not a point of view. And the right to disagree does not include a right to intentionally subvert the public awareness.