Global Warming: Which Future Do You Choose?
How urgent is global warming? This urgent, according to NASA scientist physicist and climatologist James E. Hansen:
Global warming isn’t a prediction. It is happening. That is why I was so troubled to read a recent interview with President Obama in Rolling Stone in which he said that Canada would exploit the oil in its vast tar sands reserves “regardless of what we do.”
If Canada proceeds, and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate.
Canada’s tar sands, deposits of sand saturated with bitumen, contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history. If we were to fully exploit this new oil source, and continue to burn our conventional oil, gas and coal supplies, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than in the Pliocene era, more than 2.5 million years ago, when sea level was at least 50 feet higher than it is now. That level of heat-trapping gases would assure that the disintegration of the ice sheets would accelerate out of control. Sea levels would rise and destroy coastal cities. Global temperatures would become intolerable. Twenty to 50 percent of the planet’s species would be driven to extinction. Civilization would be at risk.
Given that scenario, the statement “civilization would be at risk” seems an understatement. A better way to put it might be, “Civilization will be struggling to maintain itself — if we’re really, really lucky.”
In the nearer term, things don’t look any better. “Over the next several decades, the Western United States and the semi-arid region from North Dakota to Texas will develop semi-permanent drought, with rain, when it does come, occurring in extreme events with heavy flooding,” Hansen writes. “Economic losses would be incalculable. More and more of the Midwest would be a dust bowl. California’s Central Valley could no longer be irrigated. Food prices would rise to unprecedented levels.”
Hansen isn’t pulling this out of his butt, as much as some would like to believe. His warning is based on a peer-reviewed statistical study showing that global warming is affecting weather — not will affect the weather, is affecting the weather. We’re seeing a process that’s happening now.
Hansen’s reasoning has to do with math. Statisticians employ standard deviation to measure variability; it’s the calculation pollsters use to determine margin of error, and it’s especially valuable when looking at the weather. Perfect distribution of standard deviation is graphed as the familiar bell curve; about two-thirds of the time, data points fall in the middle of the bell — or within one standard deviation of the mean.
In the paper, which Time.com confirmed has been peer-reviewed, the authors show that extreme outliers of more than three standard deviations above the mean temperature covered between six and thirteen percent of the globe during the years 2003 to 2008. If they were normally distributed and similar to the climactic record, that should have been just a 0.1-to-0.2 percent frequency of an extreme heat event. (That’s about exactly as often as a perfect bell curve predicts they would occur.) Hansen dubs this difference a “three-sigma anomaly,” for the Greek-letter symbol for standard deviation. And in the world of statistics, these anomalies represent a stunning 10-fold increase in extreme weather events.
In other words, it’s statistically impossible for this to be part of the “normal variation” that deniers claim it to be. To go back to the bell curve, think of throwing dice. “Imagine dice with two sides red (for hot), two sides blue (for cold) and two sides white (average temperatures),” Time explains. “If you roll the dice, you’re equally likely to get any result. With continued emissions of greenhouse gas, however, the authors predicted that by the early 21st century, four of the sides would be red.”
“The climate dice are loaded now, just as we said back in the 1980s that they would be,” Hansen told Time. “People should be able to recognize the change, especially the increasingly extreme events. Don’t be surprised if there are more examples this summer.”
I know this whole climate change thing is scary, but it’s long past time for people to put on their big kid pants and deal with it.
News Roundup for 7/29/11
Bill Nye reacts to a question on Fox News
-Headline of the Day-
“Bill Nye Explains To Fox News Moon Volcanoes Don’t Cause Global Warming.”
You might think that’s one of Wonkette’s typical comically hyperbolic headlines, but it’s actually pretty damned close to the mark. See, Bill Nye the Science Guy was on Fox to talk about a rare volcano found on the moon. During the interview, the foxbot asked this deeply penetrating question; “Does it go, you know, anywhere close to the climate change debate that’s underway here on earth? I mean, you know, if the moon had erupting volcanoes, a few years, well, a few million years ago, however you want to put it…
you know, it’s not like we’ve been up there burning fossil fuels.”
At which point, Bill blinks and answers with what the report describes as a “blank stare.”
You can understand Nye’s problem here — where the fuck do you even begin? Do you start by explaining that burning fossil fuels doesn’t cause volcanoes or by saying that volcanoes aren’t causing global warming? And, while you’re making this decision, you’re also distracted by the astonishing stupidity of it all. Regardless of where you start, is Copernicus over here even capable of understanding it?
“That’s the last time Fox News tries to invite an actual children’s science teacher on the program,” the report surmises. Yeah well, science was invented by commies to launch sputnik and fluoridate water with zombie serum.
Patriots don’t do science. (Wonkette, with video)
-The GOP position on the debt ceiling explained-
See, it works like this:
Hope that clears up any questions you might have. (Whip or Will)
“More Top Democrats Come Out in Support of 14th Amendment Solution.”
If you haven’t heard of it, it basically involves the President declaring the debt ceiling hereby raised, getting taken to the Supreme Court, and winning.
Not the worst plan ever. (Firedoglake)
Republicans Repeal the Existence of Climate Change
Global warming is just some crap scientists made up to get that sweet, sweet grant money, right? Never mind that this money goes to the research, not the scientists themselves, so researchers would have nothing to gain here; it’s obvious (to Republicans, at least) that scientists are pulling a hoax to get grant money, which allows them to spend their days researching something that doesn’t exist. I guess because it’s fun.
Well, the gravy train stops here. The House Energy and Commerce Committee on Wednesday voted climate change out of existence. Problem solved. Add it to the other huge problems facing our nation that the GOP is working hard to solve, like the microscopic fraction of federal money spent on NPR or making sure the words “In God We Trust” are plastered over every blank square inch of America. You know, all that important “fiddling while Rome burns” stuff.
Sean Pool, ClimateProgress:
House Republicans on the Energy and Commerce Committee demonstrated their commitment to science denial yesterday by unanimously voting down three separate amendments offered by Democrats to reaffirm basic facts about climate science. They then unanimously voted to pass the Upton-Inhofe bill to repeal the Environmental Protection Agency’s scientific endangerment finding on greenhouse pollution.
Let’s be clear. Congress should not attempt to make scientific decisions. The role of Congress is to take the best science and use it to make the best possible policy. The three amendments rejected unanimously by committee Republicans each lays out a fairly basic statement about generally accepted climate science.
Pool makes a good point when he writes, “Congress should not attempt to make scientific decisions.” Michele Bachmann is not the person who should be designing docking clamps for the international space station, for example. We hire people to do that. People who know what the hell they’re talking about. Scientists advise government, by supplying people in government with facts. When government decides to ignore those facts, things don’t go very well.
At this point, it probably pays to point out that — worldwide — the American Republican Party is the only major political party that denies the existence, importance, and severity of global climate change. This is less “fiddling while Rome burns” and more “whistling past the graveyard.” Dealing with climate change will be a big effort — growing bigger the longer we put it off — and, unless it’s war, Republicans don’t go in for big things. Change is antithetical to the Republican mind, which is why the only changes they actually support involve changing things back to the way they used to be. Undoing regulations, striking down Roe v. Wade, returning America to the pre-organized labor days — all cornerstones of GOP philosophy and all involving disassembly. New things are not their friends and the old, pre-progress world — as bad as the sexism, racism, and other bigotries were back then — is always preferable to today.
So global warming must be a hoax, cooked up by Al Gore and crazy environmentalists to soak up that sweet, sweet grant money. Ask any conservative; back in the seventies, scientists used to worry that the Earth was cooling — now they’ve pulled a 180 and are saying it’s warming! Pffft! Silly scientists…
Except, that’s not exactly true. Here’s part of a Frank Capra short from 1958.
So, we can safely assume that roughly five decades of research is all wrong. Why? Because it’s not good news for fossil fuel industries. We could be creating new jobs, new technologies, new industries, and new markets — but only at the expense of old jobs, old technologies, old industries, and old markets. It’s metaphor I’ve used more than once, but the Republican Party is in the hip pocket of the buggywhip industry. Technology must not be allowed to move beyond the horse-draw carriage, because no one will buy buggywhips anymore and that means economic catastrophe for the United States.
I think at this point, it’s clear that the Republican Party has no interest in solving any problems. As Paul Krugman pointed out recently, they’ve completely lost interest in unemployment and jobs. Much more important is fighting pointless, doomed political battles based entirely on ideology and zero facts. Need a job? Hey, we’ll defund NPR for you. That ought to help. Never mind that it’ll never go anywhere or that it’s just a bone to please the teabagger base and the rightwing blogosphere.
And jobs and the green energy sector? Who needs them? We can all make buggywhips. You just wait and see — when the rest of the world realizes that all this global warming stuff is hooey, they’ll come crawling to us looking for coal. Because all those wind turbines and solar cells — all made anywhere but the United States — will magically stop working, I guess.