Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Response to a comment

I just wrote this in reply to a comment on an earlier thread, but it got fairly long and I thought it might as well get a post of its own.

John Ham commented on my "Happy Blog Action Day for Climate" post, in quotes below - my responses are after each quoted bit.

JH: "You don't really mean to compare Venus' atmosphere with that of Earth do you?!"
me: Same laws of physics - a useful data point on the scale.

JH: "Of course a doubling of CO2 is likely to raise average temperatures here on Earth on the order of 1 degree C (that's a bad thing?),"
me: That's a GOOD thing? That's the question. So read IPCC AR4 wg2, and Mark Lynas' book Six Degrees: our future on a hotter planet LC#: QC981.8 .G56 L983 2008; ISBN: 9781426202131 -- because it's not just 1C - see below...

JH: "...but all the rest is poorly understood feedbacks, despite what the climate modelers tell you."
me: Not *that* poorly understood -- there is a whole body of scientific literature on feedbacks and the effective climate sensitivity to an initial forcing. The net gain from the combined feedbacks has to be more than zero to account for paleo/historical data and recent satellite results. Royer 2007 in Nature is a good recent entry: Royer 2007
A handy summary of results of over 60 studies estimating the sensitivity factor is at Barton Paul Levenson's climate pages
A detailed book is Understanding Climate Change Feedbacks from the Panel on Climate Change Feedbacks, Climate Research Committees, Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate, Division on Earth and Life Studies, National Research Council of the National Academies.
LC call # QC981.8 .C5 U485 2003
ISBN: 0309090725
Also readable online here (See box on p.19-20 for a good summary of feedbacks and gain in climate sensitivity.) Note: quite technical.

JH: "(They should get out more often so they stop confusing their models with reality.)"
me: They aren't *confusing* the models with reality - they test the models against data from the real world. The point of modeling is to improve our understanding of the behaviour of a complex system. They apply the laws of physics. They readily admit what their models do and don't cover, and what they can and can't replicate. I've been to guest lectures on campus by several top climatologists who refer to their modeling work, and it's clear to me they have their feet on the ground of hard data from the real world.

JH: "Or ocean acidification (a pretty scary term used to describe making the pH of the oceans slightly less alkaline than they currently are, if that were possible): a good look at ocean carbonate chemistry debunks that idea fairly quickly."
me: I've had a good look at ocean carbonate chemistry. There's a chapter on it in this nice 4-volume collection in our UofT science library:
Climate change : critical concepts in the environment
edited by Frank Chambers and Michael Ogle.
LC # QC981.8 .C5 C5144 2002
ISBN 041527656X
Note: quite technical

I also defer to the "alarmist" statement from 155 leading oceanographers in the 2009 Monaco Declaration.

JH: "Is this really how you propose to 'engage the denial'? "
me: Yes.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

no decline to 'hide'

The big kerfuffle over Professor Keith Briffa's remark in the stolen emails that he used a 'trick' to 'hide the decline' has set tongues wagging and 'threatens to derail Copenhagen.' I'm up at 3 am to post this because I'm so disgusted with how this is all unfolding.
Let's get a couple of things straight right at the start:
* The only place he says he 'hid' a 'decline' is in that specific graph
* The 'decline' is in a small number of tree-ring proxy indicators
* What he uses to 'hide' this is the 'real temps' - from tens of thousands of thermometers
* There is no decline to 'hide' in the 'real temps' over the past 50 years; these show a sharp increase
* The real temps are far, far more reliable data than the small number of tree ring proxies
* The proxies are indirect indicators, subject to confounding factors like wet vs. dry, recent air pollution and acid rain
* That problem with the tree rings has not been 'hidden' from the public; it is covered extensively by scientists as the 'divergence problem'
* That problem is a single, small wrinkle against an enormous, huge mass of other data showing warming, using direct measurement with thermometers at over 10,000 sites worldwide that show very clear and unprecedented warming in the last 50 years.
* When we want to look at the past 1000 years, we need to use the indirect proxy data from tree rings (and other proxies like corals, stalactites, boreholes, etc.)
* To compare these two types of data on one graph, the scientists found the best alignment in the period where they overlap (since about 1850)
* In the most recent 50 years, the tree ring series diverge from all the others, and this is the only thing that Prof. Briffa chose to 'hide' in combining the graphs.

To sum up, the 'real temps' for the past 50 years don't have any 'decline' to 'hide'; it's simply outrageous that the data thieves are free to spin a worldwide conspiracy from this one unfortunate combination of words in one email, as if 'trick' + 'hide' = 'everything in the IPCC is a fraud!'?

Now once again we're being treated to 'balance as bias' on CNN as Campbell Brown runs a week-long series 'Global Warming: Trick or Truth?' They're putting anti-science politicos from American Enterprise Institute up against top scientists as if they were comparable. Marc Morano, Stephen McIntrye and their ilk are getting national TV time for their scurrilous, slanderous insinuations that one spinnable email means we can just toss decades of research drawing on tens of thousands of data sources.

I looked on the CNN website and they allowed comments on 'Trick or Truth' but the comments are closed already. The real-time user comments that ran live at the bottom of the screen were really weak; I'll have to see if I can post something better as the show continues.

When I look at Marc Morano on national TV, all I can say is: the world is freakin' crazy. The one thing that looks hopeful right now is that the Copenhagen meetings actual sound like they have some momentum toward a deal, and that the Saudi delegation may be isolated in their oil-soaked protests that they want a total do-over of the past 20 years of climate research based on two phrases in the stolen CRU emails.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Here's the text of an email I just sent to Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) on seeing him quoted as saying he is "cynical" about global warming science (I'm sure he meant to say "skeptical"...)

On his Senate website he posted concerns about Kerry-Boxer (full text available
here ) that ss. 705 and 707 would empower the President to direct the Federal government to use all existing powers to try to cut U.S. GHG emissions if global CO2-eq concentration reaches 450ppm. He claims this 'trigger' would go off "within months" of enactment. That didn't sound right to me, so I dug around a bit for forecasts. Here's what I came up with:

Dear Sen. Vitter,

On your website you state that the 450 ppm CO2-eq "trigger" would be reached "within months" of enactment. I don't agree. Current CO2-eq is 400 ppm, rising around 2.5 ppm / year. In projections that factor in emission reductions that countries have already committed to, the world should not reach 450ppm CO2-eq before 2037. Even projecting Business As Usual (ignoring all existing reduction commitments, as if everyone quit trying entirely) the world would not reach 450ppm CO2-eq until 2032. So while the trigger could indeed come into effect in some *decades*, I think "within months" greatly overstates the matter.
Data source (very detailed projections for several possible policy outcomes):

Yours Truly,
Jim Prall
U.S. citizen

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Happy Blog Action Day for Climate

I'm posting this as my little contribution to Blog Action Day 2009 on tackling climate change. Let me start off by saying I am indeed happy today; I'm happy to see people pitching in all across the web to contribute to this great campaign. I'm happy that there is still some chance the world may work together at Copenhagen. I'm particularly happy that there are just so many solutions to climate change waiting to be put into practice, as soon as we all agree to stop dithering and act.

I want to reflect on the recommendations at the conclusion of Kari Norgaard's excellent essay on the psychology of climate denial, which I blogged on recently. I'll use the concise and convenient summary of six points provided by Wellsharp's nice overview of Norgaard's recommendations:

Engage with denial openly – research shows fears are less paralyzing when faced openly.
If you're one of the many people still trying to argue that CO2 doesn't cause warming, that it's "plant food", etc. - it's time to let go and face reality. Look at the planet Venus: surface hot enough to melt lead, and the reason (worked out well before anybody began debating the greenhouse effect on earth) is the huge buildup of CO2 in Venus' atmosphere. Find a better account of why Venus is so hot, and then come back; I won't hold my breath. Otherwise, you need to recognize that you're grasping at straws. Besides, if greenhouse warming weren't bad enough, CO2 emissions are also acidifying the world's oceans - already, right now, it is measurable and it's got oceanographers really shaken. (See my recent posts on Acid Test and the Monaco Declaration.)

Many people have landed in climate "denial" by way of a conservative blog, talk radio, cable news, or editorials like those from George Will or the Washington Post. Look, whatever your views on their politics, those sources just aren't listening to the science. They're 'in denial'; you may feel, like them, that liberals are trying usher in world government, and using climate change "alarmism" to scare people into compliance. Well, we're not. I don't want world government, and neither do Obama nor the Democrats in Congress, nor any center or left party in Canada's Parliament, nor Elizabeth May. Passing laws like CAFE standards, cap-and-trade, or renewable portfolio standards may not be laissez-faire, but neither are they Socialism, nor stepping stones to rule by the U.N. They're just domestic policy, same as the old kinds of policy like depletion allowances for oil exploration, or loopholes in New Source Review for coal plants.

Contradict fear by providing honest information, open discussion (e.g. acknowledgement of the risks but also hopeful examples)
If we drag on the delay and make no effort to cut greenhouse emissions, we do indeed face serious consequences - for people, not just for polar bears. Drought and stresses on the food supply are probably the biggest and "scariest" impacts. Look at Australia now; consider that scientists project similar problems setting in around the world in more temperate climate as continental interiors heat up and dry out. Poor countries will be hit first and hardest, be we won't escape such impacts in the developed world either. So we won't be able to just retreat into a wealth bubble, even if the ethical problems of doing so didn't rule that out anyway. Indeed, poor countries are already experiencing negative impacts from climate change, as documented by CARE.

Okay, now: don't panic. We can in fact cut greenhouse emissions, substantially, without moving back to the stone age. Maybe Exxon won't be the biggest supplier of energy in the future, and they won't like that, but we can have hot water, comfortable houses, mobility, and electrons for the fridge, TV and internet from 100% renewable sources. More on this below. I already get all my electricity from renewables through Bullfrog Power and soon, Ontario will be providing much more green electricity to everyone province-wide thanks to the groundbreaking Green Energy and Green Economy Act. The future for renewables in Ontario is really looking up.

Contradict helplessness through providing opportunities for effective action, including opportunities that reduce isolation, build community, and create positive frames of reference. “people must be given not only information, but something to do.” (p.47)
Okay, you are on the internet. There's plenty you can do besides changing lightbulbs. Look up what legislation is being proposed where you live, and email your representatives to tell them what you think. You'll be surprised how easy it is, and they actually keep track of what their constituents bother to write in about. You can phone and leave your views with a staffer, as well.

Vote with your wallet - sign up for green electricity; insulate (lots of tax credits for doing this, lately); boycott products that are the most negative for the environment, and tell stores and manufacturers why you are making those choices (again, emailing is quick and easy.) I read that Wallmart is aiming to post the carbon footprint of every product on their shelf pricing displays - wow!

Next, tell your friends: tweet whatever you discover about greener or smoggier product choices; join Facebook groups for action to protect rainforests, healthy oceans, whatever catches your eye and heart. You don't need to chain yourself to a smokestack to be an activist on the internet.

Combat guilt by acknowledging the present and providing opportunities to engage in more responsible behavior.
Here we are, now. We've got big fossil fuel companies, coal-fired power plants, oil pipelines, and furnaces to run. When we started building all this, we didn't realize what it could do to the atmosphere and ultimately the climate. So let's not beat ourselves up over what our parents didn't know, nor over how right now, we need coal, oil and gas to be able to function. However, good news: there are alternatives - lots of them. We won't convert everything overnight, but in a generation, we could readily replace fossil fuels with renewable sources in most sectors where it counts. Houses can be far better insulated (saving money on whatever kind of energy you buy for heat and cooling - now that's cool!) Houses can get heat from geo-exchange systems (zero carbon if the power for circulating pumps is green electricity); hot water passive solar already works and is catching on worldwide, from China to Mexico to Canada (okay, we need backup heat for grey Februaries...).

For electric power, there's small hydro (only 3% of dams in the U.S. have electric generation - retrofit even a fraction of the rest, and get more power with no new dams); run-of-river hydroelectric also avoids dams; solar PV prices are plummeting, and the industry has been growing incredibly rapidly with multi-billion-dollar investments; concentrating solar thermal like Solar 1 can also work well, and can be equipped to provide dispatchable power or "baseload" by storing the heat carrier in insulated tanks for use on demand (one of Joe Romm's top picks for green energy); wind power - already cheaper than most other new generation sources, and beats coal handily if we only make coal pay the full ride for all its externalities (CO2, mercury, particulates, smog and acid precipitation, mining impacts - yuck!)

For cars, plug-in hybrids are an exciting prospect for cutting dependence on gasoline and making the most of the kind of green electricity I just enumerated. Have a look at the great news and commentary site www.evworld.com for the latest on electric, plug-in hybrid, and other green autos.

I could go on and on with this kind of great news; I'll save some for a future post, but for now, just stop worrying that if we agree to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, this will somehow "cripple the economy." Instead, I foresee a great future for renewable and sustainable energy production from dozens of sources. Never again should we need to worry about "peak oil" or peak anything - we can produce more than enough for everyone if we deploy even half of the potential inexhaustable sources that are starting to prove themselves more and more ready for prime time.

Oh wait - did I mention LED lighting? Bio-char? Cellulosic and algal biofuels? Wave and tidal power? Electric rail for freight and passenger travel?

All that without even getting to controversial lower-carbon power such as nuclear or coal+carbon sequestration, either of which are still potential sources (though each likely to end up costing MORE than renewables - see www.climateprogress.org)

Confront and constrain the influence of the fossil fuel industry on policy debate (e.g. public information campaigns)
Good responses to this are easy to find now - we just need to get them out to the public and to policymakers, consistently. Just a few top picks:
Look on DesmogBlog for James Hoggan's new book Climate Cover-up and order your copy today. It's a powerful expose of the sorry spectacle of Big Oil and Coal laundering their dirty money through foundations and think tanks to fund mindless spin doctors and astroturf (i.e. fake grassroots) campaigns of deception. Hoggan caps off a series of such exposes that started with Ross Gelbspan's The Heat is On through Stauber & Rampton's Trust Us, We're Experts and Toxic Sludge is Good for You.

Develop other ways of appealing to national identity and national pride e.g. through emission reduction efforts
For the US: despite all the denial and delay under Bush 43, the U.S. economy has indeed achieved some measure of improvement in CO2 intensity of GDP. It will take a lot more than this to achieve absolute reductions, particularly if and when economic growth kicks back in. But the U.S. still leads in technical innovation and research.
For Canada: okay, we signed Kyoto and then punted, and the earliest we might see national carbon policy in effect is 2011. However, paradoxically, there is one jurisdiction in Canada that already has a carbon price in effect. Did you guess Alberta? No, really - check it out.
Both countries have been laggards in the global negotiating process, but the Obama administration has re-engaged and is working hard to bring in China. There could still be a productive agreement in Copenhagen this December. Contact your elected officials to urge them to make this happen.

Be positive! Don't sit around thinking "oooh, we're dooooomed." We're not doomed. We just need to pry political power from the oily hands of the fossil fools.

Monday, 5 October 2009

New NRDC video "Acid Test" on ocean acidification

Well now that I know I can embed YouTube videos so easily (in Chrome, I right-click on the video where I found it, and choose "copy embed html" - then just paste that HTML into a new blog post...

Like this:

I found this at the NRDC site where they have background information about the project.

This dovetails well with the Monaco Declaration that I've been trying to publicize. Even if the greenhouse effect were not a problem (and it is), CO2 continues to change the chemistry of the entire world's oceans, posing a huge threat to marine life, from plankton to corals to reef fish and the whole aquatic food chain. This also threatens the food supply of mammals that depend on fish in their diet - seals, grizzly bears, about a billion people ...
Let's see if I can embed a YouTube video...

Nice ad from the Sierra Club responding to the ongoing "clean coal" TV ad blitz.

Friday, 2 October 2009

Interesting articles on psychology of denial

The term "climate denial" gets some people annoyed, as though they are being lumped in with Holocaust deniers. I think that's off the mark - that's hardly the only connotation of the term "denial." Let's set aside that issue, and consider the use of the term "denial" in psychology, as in being "in denial" about a problem. Lots of thoughts are unwelcome or uncomfortable, and everyone is prone to avoiding such discomfort by trying not to think about those things.

I find it useful to be able to talk about public reaction to news about global warming, or to calls for change to deal with it, in terms of psychological denial. "Let's just hope the scientists are all overreacting"; or, "let's just hope the scientists are going to invent some great new technology that will save us all, and save us having to make big changes"; or, "let's just deflect the unwelcome messages by reading websites that say it's all not true." I think that sums up a lot of what's going on these days, right?

Here's an eloquent posting summing up an academic paper on this topic: The Social Organization of Denial. I like the emphasis on the social nature of climate denial; it's a shared behaviour, rather than a personal foible that just happens to appear in large numbers of people independently.

Well Sharp is a blog I had not come across before, by New Zealanders David Parker and Barry Larsen. Worth a look.

Something we all can do now

People say it's important to give your audience a sense of what they can do to be part of the solution, so that they don't leap from avoiding the troubling message about climate change directly to despair that nothing can be done.

So in the spirit of "at least we can do this now" I offer these tips for cutting the carbon footprint of our internet habit:

#1 Find or buy a couple of power bars that have an on/off switch. Set up one to control all your small device chargers: cellphone, PDA, laptop, Wiimote, whatever. It turns out those little "brick" transformers in chargers draw a small amount of power whenever plugged in to the wall, even when the battery-powered product is not connected(!) Clue: they stay warm all the time. If it's warm, it's functioning as a tiny baseboard heater. Save needing to plug and unplug the AC prongs by just flipping the switch on the power bar. During heating season it's less critical.
Set up another one at your computer, and plug into it all the computer peripherals you use only occasionally, including the power "brick" converters for small DC power supplies.
Leave the power bar switched off except when you need the devices. Both Macs and PCs can cope with having USB devices powered off and then turned on when needed.
If you have a router and DSL or cable modem, but you are the only user, consider if you can power these down when you're not online. They typically need no more time to sync up with your ISP than your PC needs to boot up, or come out of hiberate. (For wireless routers, this will be less appealing, but see if you can work out some plan - switching off while you're out of the house, while you sleep, etc.) Leave as little as possible powered on 24/7.

#2 Windows users: set up your PC to enable hibernation, using the Power options control panel. Then download and run this simple registry update, which tells windows to make visible the hidden Hibernate button in the Shut Down/Restart dialog box. Page explaining the registry change and link to download the .REG. Don't be alarmed by browser warnings about dangerous file type. I've tested this download, and it does what it says.

The hidden hibernate button can already be revealed by pressing "CTRL" while the box is showing, but why keep it secret? Out of sight is out of mind.
When you hibernate, Windows saves a snapshot of what's in memory, right down to what files and web pages you have open. It can then power down your PC completely. When you power up again, it does the usual BIOS 'POST', then when it starts from your hard drive, it sees the hibernate image and reloads that instead of booting windows from scratch. Loading is considerably faster, and you're back where you left off. (You'll still need to use "restart" to complete some Windows updates, security patches, etc. at times.)
I believe the appeal of this little tweak can help steer us all to take advantage of Hibernate, where we'd otherwise be tempted to leave the PC on for many hours ("I can't bear to watch it 'saving your settings' for 5 minutes, and then wait for Windows to boot when I want to get back online later") Also perfect for laptops - great for battery life. Hibernate is "off", while standby is "on but low power" and still drains your battery gradually.

You can set the Power Options control panel to hibernate your PC automatically after a chosen interval of inactivity, just as you've likely got already for screen saver and/or standby.
By itself this tweak won't save the world, but little steps in the right direction, taken by enough people on enough different fronts, can make a good start.

Monday, 28 September 2009

Blog Action Day '09 - Climate Change

What is Blog Action Day? According to their site:
Blog Action Day is an annual event that unites the world's bloggers in posting about the same issue on the same day. Our aim is to raise awareness and trigger a global discussion.

This year's topic: climate change. So I've signed up, as the 2132nd blogger to agree to take part so far, evidently.

On the other hand, they ask how many RSS readers I've got, and I had to fill in ZERO. Come on, people - somebody start following me here. I think a few people drop in now and then to read this, but I'm obviously not catching on how to do the self-promotion thing.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

Carbon as garbage - a new way to frame CO2 buildup

This week I met a great group of climate activists and had a few hours of really good, thought-provoking discussions. We talked over the challenges of communicating climate science, how few people really seem to grasp the seriousness of the climate crisis, and how hard it is for ordinary people to picture the relentless build-up of CO2 in the atmosphere. One concern that came up is that some people may mis-perceive CO2 as similar to "air pollution," where emissions impact on those immediately downwind, for a short time, and can be relieved almost immediately by stopping the emissions. Close down the factory, and local air quality improves right away.

CO2 is not like that. CO2 does not settle out of the air, as particulate ("smoke") pollution gradually does, nor is it washed from the air by rain showers, as particulates are. We need to think of CO2 as "dissolving" in the atmosphere the way salt dissolves in water, milk dissolves in coffee, or gin dissolves in tonic water: once it is mixed in, there is no practical way to get it back out again.

So here's my new analogy to help picture the true nature of the CO2 problem: cutting greenhouse gas emissions is a bit like getting people to recycle. The problem of recycling is that we throw away far too much stuff, and landfills keep filling up. Nobody wants a new landfill near their home, so our best plan is to adopt the "Three Rs"--reduce, reuse, and recycle. That means to buy less stuff, choose products with less packaging, don't use things once and toss them, and when we do have unwanted items, try to separate materials for recycling so they don't end up in the landfill.

As long as the economy keeps growing, people keep buying more new things, and companies keep adding ever bulkier packaging for protection in transit, and to deter shoplifting, our waste stream keeps expanding. The rate the dump fills up depends on how much we are throwing away each year. The more we recycle, the longer we have before the dump is full and must be closed, and a new one located (after much squabbling.) Around here, new landfill sites are simply not being accepted.

The movement to promote recycling has been a long slog. Some people get the message and take on their individual responsibility out of personal concern, but many people either don't understand or just can't be bothered to separate their trash. They keep tossing paper, cans and bottles careless in the garbage bin. At some point, cities find that the one way to influence most people to get serious about recycling is to impose a cost on garbage pickup. This is what Toronto has done over the past couple of years: they provide each house a large blue bin for recycling, and a smaller grey bin for garbage; they charge extra for bag tags for overflow trash, and give people a break if they accept a smaller grey bin. Businesses must pay per bag for trash pickup, as well. Here in Toronto there is a third stream: a smaller green bin, picked up every week, for wet organic garbage and food waste. By keeping the wet and smelly matter separate, both the recycling and the grey bin can stay dry and odour-free so they can be picked up on alternate weeks. Toronto's program isn't perfect--there are problems with plastic in the wet garbage, apartment buildings don't yet have full access to these programs--but we are at least moving in the right direction.

Residents have to take on a bit of extra work of separating food scraps, recyclables, and those stubborn remaining "other" items that can only go in the actual trash. The modest cost imposed on extra bags or on having a larger grey bin provide the incentive to go to this small extra effort. People are now doing their bit, and blue bins are brimming with material ready to go to recycling and thus staying out of landfill.

Now think of the atmosphere as our landscape. We have been using it as a CO2 dump, but since CO2 is invisible, there has been no "NIMBY" resistance to the dumping. There is no one point where the atmosphere is going to be "full" and CO2 can't be dumped any more; rather, the longer we go on adding CO2, the more it will keep building up and the greater the impact on climate and the greater the severity of every kind of impact and risk we incur.

In trying to picture what's happening with CO2, it's important to realize that CO2 is more like landfill garbage than like factory smoke: it doesn't "go away" as soon as we get around to stopping emissions. It has been piling up higher and higher in the "CO2 dump", and even when we all attain zero emission perfection, the pile will still be standing there, stinking things up by overdriving the greenhouse effect.

CO2 hangs around in the atmosphere for hundreds to thousands of years before it will ever move on - by dissolving in the ocean, mainly. Even there it poses a further threat, since it becomes carbonic acid, lowering the pH of the ocean and harming sea life.

When we stop burning coal, the smoke will clear in a few days, but the CO2 left behind will just sit there in the air, going around and around the earth, year after year after year, trapping infrared heat and sending a bit extra back downward to heat things up here at the surface. The dump will just keep stinking. We can't cover it over and plant a golf course on top of the CO2 dump, either. We're going to be stuck with this for centuries.

Imposing a modest cost on throwing away trash has been effective in getting people to change their behaviour and adopt good recycling habits. Right now there is no cost at all for emitting CO2. It's free, so nobody goes to any trouble to emit less, except the idealistic few who understand the crisis and care deeply enough to change their habits. Like recycling, carbon reductions will only take hold across the board if there is a price signal. Once we show people they can save money by emitting less carbon, there are plenty of opportunities to make serious reductions. Since coal is very CO2-intensive for a given amount of power generated, an imposed carbon emission price - whether a carbon 'tax' or a tradeable 'permit' worth real money - will tip the scales away from coal and toward carbon-free power generation. There are plenty of alternatives waiting in the wings; wind power is already becoming competitive with most other forms of generation apart from existing, very dirty coal power.

When we finally make up our minds to begin to slow the buildup of CO2, we will need to stand tough against the dirty coal lobby, who have been tossing around terms like 'clean coal' rather casually. We certainly must not "grandfather" existing coal plants to be exempt from any carbon cost, as happened in the "New Source Review" shenanigans around power plant emission reductions. We don't yet know how feasible or affordable it is to capture the CO2 from a coal plant and bury it underground. People worry about what so much CO2 will do to groundwater and whether it may escape. One pilot plant in Germany set up to do this has not yet been able to overcome these concerns to get permission to begin pumping the CO2 underground, so it is still just dumping it into the air--carbon capture and spillage? Even when capturing the CO2 from coal, this does not in itself address the many other negatives of coal: sulphur, mercury, particulates, smog, and all the harm done by coal mining. It's really Orwellian to talk about coal as "clean."

So remember, CO2 is building up in our atmosphere's "airfill" just as every item we throw away ends up in a landfill, and whatever CO2 we emit is going to sit there for ages and ages. It won't blow 'away' or get washed out in the next rain the way smoke will. CO2 disperses and gets mixed evenly through the whole atmosphere. It continues to pump up the greenhouse effect even after it is spread out everywhere. Smoke can "disperse" and eventually we can see a blue sky again, but CO2 is not 'going away' even though we can't see it.

The whole atmosphere is one big airfill, and slowing our emissions will only slow the rate that the pile keeps growing. We don't have any easy way to take CO2 out of the atmosphere on the kind of scale we're now dumping it in. As long as we keep emitting, the pile is only going to keep growing. Planting trees or preserving rain forests will help a little, but can't absorb the kind of quantities we've dumped over the years. Some of the excess CO2 will gradually seep down from the air to the ocean, but that's actually driving a huge additional problem: acidification. It's a bit like leaching from a landfill into the ground water.

People weren't thrilled about having to pay for bag tags for excess garbage, but we've all adjusted to it and taken up using the blue bin. I also believe the world can cope with having a price on carbon emissions. It will not "destroy" the economy, it will simply channel it toward the many, many lower-carbon options we already have, as well as spurring the development and improvement of new ones.

To motivate the community to accept such a price signal, it would help for people to be able to picture that our one shared 'airfill' is getting dangerously full, and even though technically CO2 is odorless, the airfill is really getting damned stinky.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

A busy week

This week is Environment Week here at UofT, with lots of events around campus throughout the week. I'm hoping to get to a couple of them.

This week's UofT Bulletin has an interview with Prof. Danny Harvey on the value of wind farms in addressing climate change.

Danny will be appearing at two Environment Week events this week, on Wednesday evening and Thursday.

Meanwhile, my order arrived with two very new books I'm looking forward to reading:

Climate Cover-up by James Hoggan [2009: Greystone Books]

What's the Worst That Could Happen? by Greg Craven [2009: Perigee]

Plus I had only just started these excellent titles that I have checked out of our science library:

Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens our Future by Chris Mooney and Sheryl Kirshenbaum [2009]

Why We Disagree About Climate Change: Understanding Controversy, Inaction and Opportunity by Mike Hulme [2008]

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Pleistocene Park - and a tank?

I got a real belly laugh out of this true-life account of tundra scientist Sergei Zimov of the Russian Academy of Science station at Cherskii. It ranges over wooly mammoths, permafrost carbon stores, and ... a tank? Yes, indeed. Read for yourself:


Here's another page about Zimov that casually mentioned the tank in the station's list of equiment, and got me curious, leading to the Stanford magazine article above...


Here's the closest thing to a homepage for Zimov's project that I've found:


You just can't make this kind of stuff up. Truth really is stranger than fiction.

Friday, 24 July 2009

How many sponsors does one conference need?

I just came across an interesting list in the great online encyclopedia SourceWatch.

This list counts FORTY TWO co-sponsors of the 2009 climate skeptics' conference in New York, in addition to the title sponsor and organizer, the Heartland Institute.

Some choice samples from the list:

"Americans for Prosperity"
"Asutralian Libertarian Society"
"Ayn Rand Institute"
"Carbon Sense Coalition"
"Center for the Study of Carbon Dioxide and Global Change"
"Climate Skeptics Party"
"Competitive Enterprise Institute"

and so on.

Forty two.

Fans of Douglas Adams will have their own reading of that number, but I digress...

Anyway, (A) why does one conference need that many co-sponsors? Did any real scientific conference ever drum up that many co-sponsors?

(B) Why is a "scientific" conference being co-sponsored by political parties, policy think tanks, libertarian and positivist groups (and no scrientific or academic bodies)?

Those are my questions for today.

Monday, 20 July 2009

The Great Climate "Skeptics" Swindle

In my laboriously gathered list of climate scientists and people making claims about climate science, I've completed several milestones recently. I filled in the number of papers matching the word "climate" for the great majority of the list, including all 619 IPCC AR4 wg1 authors, all signers of the Cato ad, the 3 skeptics letters to Canadian PMs and to UN SG Ban Ki-Moon and all of the "scientist" signers of the Manhattan Declaration - basically nearly every skeptic I've had time to catalogue (though far from every name that Marc Morano has been accumulating - maybe he's just able to type faster than I can - but consider that this is his full-time job, while I've got both a day job and a life outside of work and the web - I spent last weekend adding insulation to my house.)

I've also started providing two versions of each listing: one sorted in descending order of number of citations (starting with the fourth-most-cited paper for each author, then sub-sorting on the #3 paper and the #2 paper as needed); the other version, new this month, is sorted on the number of papers mentioning "climate" by that author. I found this addresses the issue of people with long careers in some other field who begin making pronouncements on climatology without ever having published on climate themselves - such as phycists Antonio Zichichi and (particularly) Freeman Dyson. Both ranked in the top 100 when sorting on most citations to their entire published works - but these guys published very little academically actually talking about climate. Freeman Dyson has just 23 hits on "climate" in Google Scholar, versus over 435 in total, and a high-ranking 318 cites to his fourth-most-cited paper (which was nothing to do with the climate.) Zichichi? He's got six.

Sorted on matches for "climate," the list now gives more of an indication of which names are in fact climate scientists themselves. It also highlights just how far down the barrel the skeptic groups are digging to find names to fill out their open letters and political ads.

I've made separate pages for just the Cato ad signers, the "scientists" who signed the Manhattan Declaration, and one specific to Martin Durkin's overwrought documentary "The Great Global Warming Swindle." In this page I list those who appeared in the film, plus the (larger) list of scientists who signed a letter of complaint to BBC4 Channel 4 critiquing the film and asking that it not be promoted until some of the most glaring inaccuracies are somehow addressed. The outcome of the sort for this list is particularly striking: the complaint letter drew three of the ten most widely published authors on climate - Philip Jones, Stephan Harrison and Sir John T. Houghton - and of the 21 authors with over 100 papers mentioning "climate" in this subset, seventeen were signers of the complaint letter and just four appeared in the film: John Cristy (186 "climate" papers), Pat Michaels (149), Richard Lindzen (140), and Fred Singer (110). I also note where each author ranked in my overall listings. None of these four even made it into the top 200. Meanwhile the skeptics featured in the film include three names with zero hits on "climate" and another two with just one match.

A similar trend carries through to other new sub-tables I've set up, including the one limited to just Canadian authors. The median number of papers mentioning "climate" for this group is 39. Four Canadian contributors to AR4 wg1 fall below this median value, while around 30 meet or exceed that level; AR4 wg1 included five of Canada's ten authors with the most papers on "climate" (of those I've catalogued, anyway).

Only three of the top 50 Canadians by number of articles on "climate" have signed skeptic declarations or letters: Cornelius van Kooten, Jan Veizer and Ross McKitrick. Of these, only Veizer is a scientist; the other two both write on economics.

I'll leave for another post the particulars of my table of signers of the 2009 Cato Institute ad directed at President Obama's stance on climate.

The Latest Neologism

Neologisms are newly-coined words that didn't exist until someone had the insight to boldly go where no man has gone before, word-wise. Here's one that turned up in an interview on one of the science podcasts I frequent, adding yet another compelling title to my painfully long list of 'must reads':


This one has the virtue of summing up nicely what is going on, without being too cutesy, and was evidently coined by the author who is an actual ... flotsametrician or whatever: Dr. Curtis Ebbesmeyer, Ph.D. oceanographer who built a network of volunteer beachcomers who gather data on ocean currents by reporting in what they find washed ashore on their local beaches. Ebbesmeyer shot to fame (at least among science nerds) when he discovered that a shipping container full of Nike sneakers had been washed overboard in the Pacific Ocean, broke open, and released its massive cargo of readily identifiable floating data points. As these began washing ashore, he was able to isolate a specific model that made up that shipment, and the dates and places of their arrivals on shorelines worldwide have proven a terrific source of new data on surface ocean currents. Not long after, the same thing happened again to a shipping container full of rubber duckies. As he likes to put it, he would never have been able to get permission to release such a collection of items on purpose.

So now I'm really trying to make time to get through the my stack of library books to clear the decks, since I've just GOT to get my hands on his book Flotsametrics and the Floating World: How One Man's Obsession with Runaway Sneakers and Rubber Ducks Revolutionized Ocean Science.

(Okay, maybe 'revolutionized' is overselling it a bit - let's wait and see how the book plays out...) Ebbesmeyer is also a leading expert on oceanic gyres - the surface regions that act as "sinks" for floating rubbish such as plastic bags, lost fishing nets, refrigerators(!) etc., trapping them in slowing turning whirlpools of clutter that boggle the imagination with their scale (THREE times the size of Texas?!) and pose a real threat to marine life with their bright colors and chewy textures.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Ocean acidification

I just came across yet another powerful appeal from scientists in response to rising CO2 levels - this one specifically on the problem of ocean acidification. As CO2 dissolves into seawater, it reacts to form carbonate and bicarbonate ions. Adding more CO2 changes the balance between these ions, and that lowers the pH of the water.

Seawater is naturally slightly alkali, but we have witnessed a drop in pH (lower pH = more acidic = less basic/alkali) of around 0.1 units of pH, from 8.2 to 8.1. That may not sound like much, but it is enough to affect marine organisms, and the effect is projected to worsen as CO2 emissions continue in the future.

Oceanographers have been reporting on this issue for some time now, and have expressed concern about the potential damage to marine ecosystems. The Monaco Declaration of January 30, 2009 was an attempt to highlight these serious concerns, bringing together some 155 oceanographers from 26 countries taking part in the ASLO Aquatic Sciences Conference.

The group have started an extensive website www.ocean-acidification.net with background information on the problem, news on current research and goals for future work.

I quickly checked the list of signatories against my list of climate scientists, and found 16 I'd already listed. Oceanography is an allied discipline to climate science, given the central role of the ocean in the carbon cycle. Oceanographers appreciate the ecosystem risks inherent in rapidly forced changes to ocean pH that come with spiking CO2 in the atmosphere.

Overall, marine life is one of the hidden victims of carbon pollution. The oceans are under assault on so many fronts, from runoff of pesticides, fertilizer and general contaminants, through overfishing, fish farms causing outbreaks of fish lice and releasing antibiotics, shrimp farming driving destruction of mangrove forests needed as nurseries by many marine species, massive buildup of non-biodegradable plastic garbage (shopping bags, lost fishing nets, etc.) that are ingested by seabirds, turtles and fish, plus now water temperature changes, sea level rise and acidification, all piled one on top of the other. There's a horrendous negative synergy compounding between all these separate ways we impact marine life. All this takes place out of sight of most of us, largely unreported and unnoticed.

Losses of both subsistence and commercial fisheries threaten economic disaster in coastal communities worldwide. It's time for us to wake up to what's happening below the waves. I urge everyone to read the Monaco Declaration and look through the www.ocean-acidification.net website. For more news on this topic, see Science Daily

Vast resources for learning

If you really want to understand the current outlook of climate scientists, and not just hear the opinions of bloggers making claims about what the science shows, there are many, many online resources that get you directly to the primary sources.

Nearly every science journal has an online edition now; indeed, some are phasing out paper editions to save costs and lower their environmental impact. While most still restrict full-text access to subscribers only, at least for the latest few issues, many now grant open access to back issues past a set window such as one year, and virtually all give free access to article abstracts. Many also have supplementary web content beyond the formal articles, which may include editorials, less technical subject reviews, news briefs, commentary, etc. as well as source data too extensive to fit into print format.

I've made up a web page listing over sixty journals that address climate science and allied disciplines, such as oceanography, biogeochemistry, etc.

Many readers will find most of the research articles in the academic journals beyond their interest or understanding; they are, after all, intended for professionals within their field, and will come across as "inside baseball" loaded with statistics, equations, jargon and loads of assumed background, leaving most of us struggling to keep up. That's normal, and it doesn't mean there's anything wrong with us for not being insiders, nor with them for talking to one another at their own level. When looking through academic journals, look especially for "review articles" which aim to recap the highlights of the state-of-the-art on a particular topic; these can be a better entry point for non-specialists trying to get a start on an unfamiliar subject. But even these will often demand a good measure of "science literacy."

For the "rest of us" who have not studied these fields enough to follow the primary literature, is there still a way to follow what's happening? Indeed there are several. Science journalism is still alive and has much to offer to the interested lay person. While the financial pressures on tradional media - both print and broadcast - have put the squeeze on science journalism in mass media, there are still many good sources in "science news."

This would include magazines such as New Scientist and Scientific American which attempt to address a broader audience while still aiming for the standards of academic publication - editorial and peer review, citation, and publishing qualified rebuttals.

As well, some of the top journals have supplementary products addressing science news and current issues. The AAAS website supplements their lead journal Science with an extensive website sciencemag.org, a lively podcast of science headlines and features. The magazine website has headlines linking to journal article abtracts, which are free for public access; full text of articles requires subscription or online payment.

Similarly, the UK's Royal Society supplements their lead print journal Nature with a fine website, including an entire site devoted to climate change at Nature Reports Climate Change
So although both Science and Nature are subscriber-only, each has free public access to excellent supplementary material, including much of relevance to climate.

Another excellent source is ScienceDaily, a free science news site with clear, brief write-ups of current work in all areas of science. To see what they've covered on climate, glaciers, ocean acidification, or whatever, just use their search box.

So if you are unfamiliar with what has been going on in the process of climate science, or only hearing about it second or third hand from bloggers, do yourself a favour and get a look at some of the excellent primary material, as well as good journalism reporting directly on primary sources, that is available online.

Thursday, 23 April 2009

Rep. Boehner on cows and CO2

I just posted the following comment on Chris Mooney's excellent blog "The Intersection", at its new home on the Discover Magazine website. Here's the discussion thread that prompted this. See there for a video clip of George Stefanopoulos' interview with Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio) (whose House homepage currently leads off with "Ohio’s coal industry employs about 3,000 people ... Coal and the Ohioans who depend on it are also quietly under attack, courtesy of the federal government" - because of the proposed CO2 cap-and-trade legislation, which he opposes.)

Chris wrote an editorial in response to Boehner's remarks, and in the blog entry he follows some of the response to his position. You might want to view the 2 minute clip and read the blog post as context for the following.

Here's what I posted on Chris' blog:

I’ll second the notion that Boehner’s red herring about CO2 not being a “carcinogen” is more revealing than his mentioning cows as a source of CO2. Technically, it’s true that cow “eructation” can include some CO2, but the video clip makes it clear Boehner was trying to deflect George’s question of whether climate change is a serious problem by tossing up the meme that CO2 is natural (yes) - implying that it can’t then be harmful (no!) - that’s the point of Mass. v. EPA and the new Finding of Risk: spiking GHG concentrations pose large environmental risks from drought, severe weather events, sea level rise and ocean acidification; these not based on any claim of toxicity of CO2, and Boehner ought to know that. He’s just playing a rhetorical card - one that I’m sure plays well for his base.

When it comes to cows, a key point missed in many of these superficial debates is that the US population of cattle is around 100 million - one cow per every three Americans - and we fatten them on subsidized ADM corn in CAFOs (Confined Animal Feeding Operations), not on grass. This is entirely unnatural for cattle; corn is much harder for cattle to digest than the grasses on which they are naturally adapted to ruminate. This causes them to “eructate” a lot more methane than cows grazed on grass. Here’s a recent article on cows and GHGs:
Fattening cattle on corn instead of grass also gives them acid indigestion, promoting growth of dangerous e-coli, requiring lots of antibiotics not needed for grass-fed cows, greatly increasing the risk of antibiotic resistant strains. Some of these really nasty e-coli find their way into our food supply, leading to food poisonings and mass recalls. This is documented in detail in the compelling bestseller _The Omnivore’s Dilemma_ by Michael Pollan - highly recommended reading!
But getting back to climate change, methane is indeed the #2 greenhouse gas (pardon the expression) after CO2. Concentrated feedlots can’t recycle the volumes of manure they yield, so it stews in manure “ponds” (devastating if they spill into waterways, as seen recently) where it ferments into yet more methane.
Rice farming, landfill garbage, and leaks from natural gas pipelines are other significant human sources of excess methane; wetlands and peat bogs are natural sources. Thawing of permafrost in the tundra is expected to add lots more methane as the climate warms (a big temperature-to-greenhouse-effect positive feedback.)
One methane molecule has some 21 times the greenhouse warming effect of one CO2 molecule; it takes around eight to ten years for methane in the atmosphere to oxidize into CO2 (adding yet one more CO2 molecule that will persist for on average 100 years).
Methane concentrations today are almost triple their pre-industrial levels. While those in denial about climate used to crow about a recent “plateau” in this very elevated level, there is recent evidence of levels starting to rise again, such as here:


Anyway, it’s clear that Boehner did not want to answer George’s persistent questions (props to George for focusing on the real issue). Boehner kept jumping ahead to “we shouldn’t act if China won’t” - which completely fails to answer the question about CO2!
I believe this illustrates the problem we are up against: many conservatives have already decided that capping CO2 will be too costly, will push jobs overseas, etc. From that point, they work backwards to choose talking points that cast doubt on the science

Saturday, 28 February 2009

Tangent: actual scans of bird brains

Well, I was checking to see where I'd posted or blogged using my birdbrainscan nickname, which I chose in hopes it would not be taken by anyone else anywhere. While I have never run into "name already taken" by someone else, today I did find one curious collision, with this catchy news story:

Brainy Birds Out-Thought Doomed Dinosaurs?

Hey, this one has everything for the bird-inclined paleo buff: the K-T mass extinction, working from tiny fossils to infer who survived and why, and of course, brainy birds. Plus there's a handy Scrabble(TM) word tossed in: "wulst"

Betcha didn't know that one.

Monday, 9 February 2009

Even better?

This week I came across a study published this past September that gives a much clearer picture of the outlook of climate scientists on the whole.

A January, 2009 Paper in EOS 90:3 (20 Jan 09) by Peter Doran and Maggie Kendall Zimmerman surveyed over 3,000 AGU members for their views on climate change.

The paper is linked on the EOS site but is subscriber-only: EOS Vol. 90 no. 3, 20 Jan.2009

Fortunately, this write-up at Scienceblogs is open-access.

Lesser mortals might see this as a threat to their own little personal slice of the pie, carved out of a winter's worth of evenings and weekends, but not I. No, I am noble and fair-minded, and I want credit to go where credit is due. These BAStards fine scholars got way better access that I've got.

I'll still hold forth my list as potentially useful: I show who is highly cited, link to their home page for everyone to see for themselves what each researcher is working on and what they've posted on their own sites. Also, my coverage of the now nearly a dozen public declarations and open letters goes beyond what has been done previously on the web. Much of the time, that has consisted of copying and pasting just the names without the context of who they are or how much weight they may carry within the field.

I hope my listing gives a glimpse into that issue that is of some use to others.

Added UCS 2008

There is a powerful call for action on climate change put out by the Union of Concerned Scientists in May 2008, and endorsed by some 1728 American scientists and economists.

I've extracted the list of signers, and this weekend I compared it to my existing list. I was able to match up some 145 names already on my list who signed this declaration. I've added the tag "UCS08" in the Notes column beside names of signers. I also gathered homepage links and citation stats on any of these names that were still waiting in my 'no stats' queue.

With that done and the list sorted anew, I now find 181 of the top 500 have signed one of the 'activist' declarations versus just 21 signing any of the skeptics' statements. This is apart from having served as an IPCC contributing author.

Still to do: filter out economists from the remaining 1583 UCS08 names and post those names. The problem is they'll all fall in my 'no stats' queue, pushing that to far over 2/3 of the total size of the list. Ouch.

Friday, 6 February 2009

getting somewhere

Well I've put a ridiculous amount of my spare time into the big list of climate scientists - and as one respondent pointed out, many non-scientists or non-specialists who have also chimed in on the topic. I've been publicizing more recently, and I'm starting to get some very nice feedback, including from several prominent names on the list. It's a surreal experience to look in my inbox and see a name I know from reading assignments in my climatology course.

Anyway, I feel the list I've put together so far does a reasonable job of illustrating who is getting cited widely, as well as who is signing which kind of climate declaration. I'm struck by just now many of these declarations there have been. This morning I got an email pointing out two more activist statements by Swiss scientists. Earlier this week I found the original list from the skeptics' Leipzig Declaration (1995) and I believe there may be something from the skeptics back to 1992, still waiting to be tracked down and collated.

I found some nice freeware for building interactive timelines for the web, and I've been meaning to try out one of these for a timeline of climate statements; I could show dates of the Toronto conference in 1988, the IPCC ARs in 1990, 1995, 2001 and 2007; the US NAS assessments, and the statements from science academies worldwide; then all the open letters and declarations both activist and skeptical that I've been logging here. I could make a bar showing the long time span that the OISM list has been accumulating... this should be interesting, if I can just get to it.

Until last month, I had only known of one skeptics' letter to the Canadian PM (CA06) and the activist climate scientist response later that same month (CMOS130). Then I did more digging and found the earlier CA02 and CA03 letters. Considering just Canadians, the CMOS 130 outnumber the 21 Canadians on the CA06 letter by six to one - and as for the broader case, the Canadian skeptics are also skewed toward retirees, non-scientists or non-climate-scientists, and many have little or no standing as far as citations to peer-reviewed publication.

At one point I'd had in mind to take Canada as a more tractable subset of the world population of climate scientists and skeptics. I have no hope of filling out the list with every possible climate scientist around the world, but for Canada I've got a reasonable first cut already. I might still want to include this argument in my analysis: I may not have anywhere near complete coverage of the world, but I've got most of the Canadians listed and counted (a lot of the CMOS130 names are still not done though.) My separate page for Canada could be the place to focus on the CA02-03-06 letters and the CMOS letter.

Of course, skeptic spinmeisters could then claim that Canada is not a representative sub-sample of the world's scientists. I doubt I could talk them out of that viewpoint; maybe we really are all pinkos with our socialized medicine where you can't have your policy canceled for having used it, and our gun registry, and that pinko David Suzuki on our government-run CBC (the one station on my radio dial with no commercials - I'm spoiled now and have to clench my teeth through those yelling matches and jingles waiting for a traffic update on AM - Ahh-LAARRRM Forrrrrce!)

Sunday, 1 February 2009

More new names

I decided to track down the list of people profiled by the National Post's columnist Lawrence Solomon in his series "The Deniers" (which he also released in book form.)

I found the series headings listed on the site Urban Renaissance, though only the headline, date, and first sentence or so. The full text articles linked there are paywalled and I was not inclined to pay-per-view, so I just transcribed the headlines and the dates for reference. Fortunately, UofT has an electronic subscription to the Post, so I was able to view back issues by date, then locate the columns by their headlines. This allowed me to match up who was profiled on what date.
There were 37 people covered. Of these, at least five were so far from being climate skeptics that I felt they have to be bracketed out as objects of Solomon's tendency to get some quotes and then launch off on his own "unique" interpretation, generally consisting of savaging the IPCC.
I've added a notation "LSDeniers" in the notes column for all 37 names; I added to my list the half-dozen or so names I had not found previously and gathered their stats and homepages. Of these, a number are actually well-cited climate scientists who have no patience for Solomon's spin on their views. Nigel O. Weiss of Cambridge reacted so sharply to Solomon's write-up that he compelled the Post to issue a retraction. Poor Dr. Carl Wunsch has been subject to this treatment twice - once by Solomon then again by Martin Durkin in TGGWS.

This got me to catch up on gathering stats for a few very prominent "skeptics", notably Freeman Dyson, who now sits at #22, the highest-ranked author to have signed a skeptics' declaration (three in fact). Also economist William Nordhaus, profiled by Solomon and an outspoken critic of Nicholas Stern's report on climate impact and mitigation economics, now sits at #20. It's rather apples-to-oranges to rank citations for an economist against climate scientists, but oh well.

Update: 2009-11-21: I was interviewed on CBC Radio's The Current (archived here with link to mp3 podcast) in connection with their coverage of James Hoggan's new book Climate Cover-up, and Lawrence Solomon was on after me. Checking back to this post on his Deniers series, I found the Urban-Rennaissance site closed down and was apparently merged into that of Energy Probe, of which Lawrence Solomon is Executive Director. Here is a new, live link into their open access archive of The Deniers column series. Use the page number navigation buttons to move through the series. (Other columns by Solomon are also linked via these pages.) End update

Meanwhile, there's a new name at #1, David Tilman of UMinnesota, with an unsurpassed 1007 citations to his fourth-most-cited work. I looked him up on Scopus, and they give him an h-index score of 49.

Also, I re-checked some stats of names I'd added a long time ago, and a few showed up as severely undercounted - likely a case of my having left some added search term in rather than getting the stats on the "all" setting. Most noticeable here is Dr. James Hansen of NASA GISS, who had been languishing, implausibly, at #131. It turns out I had under-scored him quite badly - I missed several more highly cited papers. My excuse: there is another James E Hansen who is very widely cited in medical research, so it takes a bit of filtering to make sure I've got *this* James E Hansen's top four papers. I'm more confident I got the stats straight this time. Now he is at #7, which makes more sense knowing his prominence in the literature (as well as the media - though they can certainly also hype people with picayune credentials.)

I don't know if I'll bother to collect h-index rankings for everyone - just so much more clerical work. I've done a few names as a sampling process. No big inconsistencies between that and my home-rolled ranking method so far.

Wednesday, 28 January 2009

New names

Apart from the vast backlog of unsorted names at the bottom of my list, a few new names have popped up that I've taken the time to look up, find home page and stats, and some interesting new names have popped to the top in my sort order.

The top two spots now are both recent additions:
new #1 name: Dr. Stuart Pimm of Duke Univ. in Durham, NC, with a striking 682 cites to his fourth-most-cited paper.
new #2 name: Dr. William Schlesinger of the Nicholas School and the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, NY. I've heard Dr. Schlesinger's warm baritone voice on several of the excellent podcasts posted by the Nicholas Institute on their site and via iTunes U. Here's one sample and a listing of many.

I find podcasts of conferences and lectures via "iTune U" (as in university) a great source for some extra learning that fits in with commuting by subway and walking between home, office and the station. If they are giving a PowerPoint presentation and you've just got the audio, it can be frustrating not having the slides to watch - do your best to infer/imagine. Some conferences now also post the slides and/or a video.

Also new at #7 is President Obama's newly appointed head of NOAA, Dr. Jane Lubchenco of Oregon State U., with impressive citation stats which have vaulted her to the top female researcher on my list.

I have added a column in my Excel source file of all this to note which authors are women. I haven't thought through how to present that data point visually yet - my spreadsheet shows 172 women that I've noted so far, out of just over 1800 names in all - just under 10%. This reflects a broader gender imbalance in physics and math studies in general. With more time and more complete data gathered such as year of PhD, I might be able to look for any trends toward less imbalance in more recent graduates, but I don't have that yet.

I've also added President Obama's pick for science advisor and Director of the OSTP, John Holdren. Since his academic work is in science policy, the citation stats (landing him in the mid 400's of my list) are not really comparable with those working in 'hard' sciences, which tend toward higher numbers of shorter published works, versus fewer but much longer pieces in social science field such as policy analysis.

Monday, 26 January 2009

Calls for action, calls for inaction

I've developed a new angle for my list of climate scientists that I believe opens up new insights into the list. I've tracked down ten public declarations or open letters to leaders regarding climate change - six 'skeptical' and four 'activist,' as I'll dub them. The 'activist' letters issue a strong call for prompt action on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The 'skeptical' letters argue that GHG emission cuts will be economically devastating, and generally go on to question the very basis of the case for such reductions: the existence or strength of a greenhouse forcing effect of rising CO2 concentrations; the attribution of current temperature trends to human emissions; the validity of the historical temperature record itself; the significance of projected harmful impacts of rapid warming or sea level rise; and so on.

I've linked to websites of each of the ten documents. I've downloaded the list of signatories, worked these into tabular form and checked for duplicates. I've given each statement a short tag, which I've entered in the "notes" column beside each author's name who signed the document. I've colour-coded the notes cell in the table to show signers of the activists documents in green, with the 'skeptics' documents in grey. (I also count as activist the ten contributors to the website Realclimate; among the skeptics I also count those interviewed in the TV documentary The Great Global Warming Swindle.)

I've limited this to documents I believe were signed knowingly and where the signers' identities are clear from the document, and are specifically from scientists. This excludes the vast but untraceable list on the so-called "Oregon Petition" (much favoured by Sen. Inhofe) as well the list of skeptics maintained by Sen. Inhofe's staffer Marc Morano, which largely tracks the lists I've cited with various additions gathered by Morano, but has more than a few names of people who objected strongly on learning they had been listed.

A single exception is that (action advocate, Bali declaration supporter) Dr. Carl Wunsch of M.I.T. was included in The Great Global Warming Swindle unaware of the film's editorial stance, and promptly denounced how the film characterized his views and rejected its conclusions.

The colour-coded notes boxes makes it immediately visible how the top scientists are 'voting' on these appeals. Of the top 100 most cited authors in my list as of now, I find some 35 have signed activist appeals, but just two signed skeptics' appeals (plus one other name, Vincent Courtillot, who I recognize is a "climate skeptic" but who has not signed one of the listed statements) 35 to 3, i.e. over eleven to one in favor of activism over 'inactivism.'

The non-signers should not be considered undecided on these questions, just simply ones who did not happen to take part in any of these open letters. I would further argue that the IPCC Assessment Reports are themselves quite strong calls to action, progressively more urgent and unequivocal with each round. None of the 619 authors of AR4 wg1 signed any of the skeptics' open letters I've listed.

However, many skeptics or contrarians like to argue that the "consensus" within the IPCC is somehow tainted by "group think," excessive peer pressure or politicization of the review process (the objection given by Dr. Chris Landsea as leading to his resignation.) Without acceding to any of those portrayals, I've kept the IPCC participation as a separate column which I don't refer to in counting some authors as "activists." So names with a plain white background in the notes column can be seen as "non-signers" who have signed neither an activist nor a skeptical appeal, excluding IPCC reports.

Many IPCC authors fall under the 'non-signer' category, but none have signed any of the skeptics' appeals. Looking at the table of 619 contributing authors to IPCC AR4 wg1, the only names linked to strong 'skeptics' positions are Dr. Landsea, and Dr. John Christy of UAH, who appeared in the film The Great Global Warming Swindle.

Of the 63 'non-signers' among the top 100 most-cited, some 39 were AR4 wg1 contributing authors.

I would argue a large share of the non-signers would be more inclined to agree with the activists and not the skeptics, but that's another debate; it can be approached by looking at their published work, obviously, but that takes both effort and interpretive judgment.)

For now, let my data on the number of signatories of clearly activist or skeptical appeals stand on their own: of the top 500 most-cited authors on climate, 130 have signed appeals for prompt action (outside of the IPCC assessments themselves); twenty-two of the 500 have signed a skeptical statement. At this level, the outspoken activists outnumber the skeptics by six to one, and skeptics make up just 4.4% of authors.

I've added a petitions page with background on the public appeals from scientists, as well as some of the largest petitions on climate change from the general public.

Wednesday, 14 January 2009

Progress on my list of climate scientists

It's been a while since I've blogged on my quixotic project, and a lot has happened in the interim. In mid-December, I posted on some climate discussion sites including Realclimate and Deltoid, describing my list and providing a link. I've begun getting some very nice feedback - about a dozen responses so far - and the comments have been very positive. I may post some "dust jacket blurb" pull-quotes soon. (I'll anonymize any where the source does not want to be quoted by name.)

I've added some ancillary pages based on spillover from the data I've been harvesting: a list of over 60 journals that have published the authors I've catalogued. There are ones that cover climate science, paleoclimate, oceanography, biogeochemical cycles, and various allied subjects.

I also threw together a partial list of climate research centres at universities around the world. (I could do a similar one for the others that are either government run or that span several different universities - still To Do.) The one I've got for university centres is still far from complete; I first need to go through the domain names I extracted from all the author URLs to see how many more these might pick up. Today I pulled out stats on what countries these come from, based on the top-level domain suffix (probably still including multiples from the same university in several cases, though):
190 .edu (mainly U.S. universities)
43 .gov (U.S. gov't agencies)
45 .ac.uk U.K. universities
30 .de Germany
29 .ca Canada
23 .fr France
18 .au Australia
14 .jp Japan
13 .ch Switzerland
9 .it Italy
9 .nz New Zealand
and so on through AR AU BR CL CN DK ES EU FI HK IN IR IT MX NL NO RO RU SE to ZA.
Plus - extra bonus! - the first site I've ever visited that's set in the .AQ namespace - Antarctica! Twice, in fact: Australia's SIPEX and ASPECT. (The British Antarctic Survey falls under the .ac.uk domain, though they clearly could justify a .aq name if they wanted.)

As for my issue with sorting out authors with the same or very similar names, this is even turning into an issue within the list. I've now identified three pairs of similarly named climate scientists whom I confirmed are indeed different people:
Karl R Thomas director of NOAA's NCDC, not-the-same-guy-as the Austrian-born Karl Thomas lately at NCAR in Boulder

This Bin Wang of U. Hawaii not-the-same-guy-as this other Bin Wang of China -- both were IPCC AR4 wg1 delegates.

David C. Lowe of New Zealand's NIWA (no homepage found) not-the-same-guy-as David J. Lowe of Waikato U. -- also in New Zealand. At least these two have different middle initials, making it possible to tell them apart in Google Scholar.

This past week I went back to a topic I looked at in some depth a year ago: open letters to the Prime Minister of Canada opposing Kyoto and arguing that the science on climate needs to be gone back over (again?) before anyone makes any decisions. I found there were actually three such letters, in 2002, 2003, and 2006. I've charted who signed which one, how many were actually Canadians (no more than 1/3) and then I picked up the 2006 rebuttal letter from a much longer list of Canadian climate scientists. The latter seems to have arising out of a meeting of the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society (CMOS) and has 130 signatories - all Canadian and all well qualified - so I've dubbed this the "CMOS 130." I'll blog in more detail on the Canadian angle in a future post.

I'm working on this idea as a formulation of who is who in this list: a subset who are declared on the outspoken 'anti' side - signatories of the inactivist petitions, fellows of think tanks staunchly against the mainstream science, and the like; a separate subset who are vocal activists urging immediate cuts in carbon emissions; and the silent majority who just publish their research and in many cases contribute to the IPCC reports. The key point is that the IPCC reports draw on the full range of the published literature, which includes this whole spectrum; yet the IPCC ARs make it clear we really do have a problem. Thus the inactivists are reduced to attacking the IPCC itself - and with it, in effect, all the science literature it built upon. This is why Naomi Oreskes' paper caused them such consternation. They also have to keep trying to claim there are "silent skeptics" afraid to say what they think out of fear of persecution by "alarmist" bullies. Hmmm.

I launched into the creation of my site to put a face to the over 600 authors of IPCC AR4 wg1, most of whom toil above the fray of blog and counter-blog. A lot of them spend months at a time in the field - on survey ships, in the Arctic or Antartic, climbing and drilling on glaciers, operating LIDARs, sondes, hydrographs, and then months more back in the lab (and the classroom!) working through the data.

As I kept expanding from just AR4 wg1 to all their co-authors, departmental colleagues, and then other names that I came upon following those leads, a picture has begun to emerge of a broad and still growing field of interrelated research disciplines. I've got 1600 names and a long queue of sources I haven't even begun to examine yet. My list may top out at some point out of sheer exhaustion - of me rather than of the sources of more names of scientists.