April 29, 2005

Global Warming: Something to sneeze at?

Filed under: Health Effects

The April 28, 2005 issue of Nature magazine contains a “News” story headlined “Climate change blamed for rise in hay fever.” It seems that a record number of Japanese are plagued with itchy eyes, runny noses, and annoying sneezes this spring.

Somehow, in yet another “predictable distortion” of global warming, Nature managed to conflate all this snottiness with global warming: “Spare a thought for Japan’s hay-fever sufferers as they endure the highest pollen levels on record this spring. Global warming seems at least partly to blame and most experts agree the worst is yet to come.”

Add 20 more million people to the list of climate change victims? Not so fast. Here is a story that that Nature left behind, from the New York Times.

April 28, 2005

James Hansen Increasingly Insensitive

Filed under: Climate Models

It seems that the longer NASA scientist Jim Hansen studies the climate, the more insensitive he, or should we say, his interpretation of the climate, becomes.

Climate “sensitivity” is the change in surface temperature expected for each additional Watt of energy that is re-radiated onto the earth’s surface and lower atmosphere by slight changes in the greenhouse effect. The main cause of these changes in the greenhouse effect, of course, is the increasing levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide caused by the combustion of fossil fuels.

You would think that it would be big news when Hansen—the guy who started all this mess with his incendiary 1988 congressional testimony—lowers his estimate for the sensitivity to two-thirds of the value he used back then.

After all, he does get a lot of ink. That’s what happened in October, 2004, when he traveled to hotly contested and environmentally sensitive Iowa the weekend before the election, and publicly berated his Boss’ global warming policy. Talk about insensitive!

Hansen’s most recent figure, just published in Sciencexpress, is that the surface temperature ultimately changes 0.67˚C per Watt per square meter (W/m2). In 1988 he said it was a full degree, and in 2001 he lowered it to 0.75.

The lower the climate sensitivity, the less that the global temperature will rise in the future (given the same amount atmospheric carbon dioxide) and the lower the threat of catastrophic climate change.

April 22, 2005

The Tip of the Iceberg: Yet another Predictable Distortion

This Earth Day, AP newswire leads with a real scare story: “Study Shows Antarctic Glaciers Shrinking.” In doing so, the press, yet again, predictably distorted a global warming story.

By “Antarctica” they actually meant the Antarctic Peninsula, which comprises about 2% of the continent. It’s warming there and has been for decades. But every scientist (or for that matter, everyone who has read Michael Crichton’s State of Fear) knows that the temperature averaged over the entire continent has been declining for decades.

The underlying science behind the AP story was published in the April 22, 2005 issue of Science magazine, under the more appropriate (and accurate) title, “Retreating Glacier Fronts on the Antarctic Peninsula over the Past Half-Century.” A research team led by Alison Cook of the British Antarctic Survey carefully measured the historical position of 244 glaciers as determined from a 60-year collection of images including aerial photographs and satellite pictures. By comparing the position of glacier termini over time, the researchers were able to determine the timing and speed of glacial changes.

The results presented in Science weren’t even based on the entire Peninsula, but rather the northern portion. While a more comprehensive continent-wide investigation of coastal glacier changes is underway, only the results from the Peninsula were written up.

Change of Direction: Do SO2 Emissions Lead to Warming?

Filed under: Climate Forcings

Many scientists believe that sulfur dioxide emissions, either from un-scrubbed power plants or from large-scale agricultural burning, serve to cool the planet’s surface temperature.

The cooling mechanism is fairly straightforward. Sulfur dioxide is transformed in the atmosphere into sulfate aerosol, a fine particle that reflects away the sun’s radiation. The particles also serve as the condensation nuclei for cloud droplets which also reflect away the sun’s energy.

On the other hand, no one really knows the magnitude of these cooling effects (if any). So we have argued that sulfate cooling is simply a fudge factor put into climate models in order to chill the overly-hot projections they make if left to their own devices.

Now comes evidence that sulfur dioxide actually can enhance global warming.

April 21, 2005

Tsunamis and Global Warming: Who would dare connect them?

Shortly after the devastating tsunami struck southeast Asia on December 26, 2004, there were several instances where mentions of tsunamis made their way into global warming stories. Whether this conflation was intentional or not has been subject to debate. Most recently in a breathless article written for Mother Jones Magazine, envirojournalist Bill McKibben goes so far as to make the case that the connection between global warming and tsunamis was fabricated by “the usual suspects” in order to take pot shots at the environmental community. McKibben claims that the Wall Street Journal brought the issue to the forefront by drawing a connection where no connection existed in citing two activists who were quoted in the UK’s Independent about an increase in global catastrophes in general but not specifically linking global warming and the tsunami.

McKibben fingered me [Patrick Michaels] as furthering this plot, writing “Patrick Michaels of the Cato Institute issued a press release attacking ‘anyone who has the moral audacity’ to blame deaths from the tsunami on global warming, and added that ‘Michael Crichton should sue environmentalists who blame the massive death toll’ on global warming for plagiarism.”

April 12, 2005

Where are the headlines?

Filed under: Climate Forcings

New research shows that there has been no significant long-term trend (since measurements began in 1979) of the atmospheric concentrations of “hydroxyl radicals,” an important chemical species that helps to cleanse the atmosphere. This should have been big news. Let’s turn back the clock and see why.

April 8, 2005

Climate Perspectives: The Great Early 20th Century Rainy Period in the American West

One of the problems in communicating climate science concerns peoples’ perceptions versus climate reality. For example, most middle-to-slightly-older-agers who grew up in the Mid-Atlantic region will tell you that it just doesn’t snow like it did in their youth (and usually they will blame global warming). Indeed, the 1960s were a very snowy decade. But somehow, we tend to view what we grew up with as “normal,” while everything different in our adult lives is “abnormal.” [Caution: this applies to more than weather and climate.]

Consider what happened in the American West in the early 20th century, when population grew roughly 50% from decade-to-decade, the largest regional growth spurt in post-colonial American history. People were lured by warm temperatures and abundant moisture. For much of that period, believe it or not, the West was a green paradise. Abundant moisture was so much du jour that allocation rights for Colorado River water, which have been contended ever since, were based upon what turns out to be the wettest period in nearly 1200 years. Had early 20th century planners had modern climatological analyses in their hands, it’s doubtful they would have been so profligate with water distribution from what really is the only big river in the Pacific Southwest.

April 7, 2005

Al Gore Grows Up, Downsizes

Filed under: Climate Politics

For years, former Vice-President Al Gore has dreamed of his own TV station. And, on August 1, his new network, dubbed Current, will take to the airwaves.

Current marks the culmination of years of effort, and a great deal of growth beyond his earlier attempt. Back in 1998, Gore proposed a television channel that would provide a constant image of the sunlit earth. At the bottom of the screen, various environmental statistics (all bad, no doubt) would scroll by. The station was needed, Gore said, because, “with global warming a growing concern, and with problems like El Niño causing growing concern, this will be of tremendous value.”

Only problem is that there wasn’t any satellite that could do this. Weather satellites, parked at 22,500 miles are “geostationary,” meaning that they fall around the earth at a speed that keeps them over a constant spot. This is very good for monitoring storms, but the images oscillate through night and day.

April 5, 2005

Is soot, not CO2, to blame for the loss of Arctic ice?

There are three primary tools that global warming alarmists use in their arguments that anthropogenic enhancements to the world’s naturally occurring greenhouse effect are causing the climate to behave as it never has before and this will ultimately be catastrophic. They are 1) the “hockey stick” temperature reconstruction for the past 1,000 years, which purports to show that left to its own devices, the global average temperature changes very little, yet it jumps at the slightest provocation from mankind; 2) the IPCC 21st century temperature projections which show a range of possible warming by century’s end that spans 1.4 to 5.8ºC (of course, the alarmist attention is given to the high end projection); and 3) the sea ice in the Arctic Ocean has been steadily declining for the past several decades and will be entirely gone in the summertime in the next 50 years as a result of rising levels of atmospheric greenhouse gases. With the latest publication by NASA scientists Dorothy Koch and James Hansen, the final of these arguments now joins the first two in being soundly repudiated.

April 1, 2005

CNN’s Predictable Distortion

Filed under: Climate Politics

Last November, my (Patrick J. Michaels) book on the distortion of the science of global warming hit the streets. If I had not finished it by then, I would have devoted a chapter to CNN’s handling of the subject in its global warming documentary that aired on March 27 and is set to re-air three times on April 2.

The thesis of my book is simple. All scientific issues, including global warming, compete with each other for a finite amount of taxpayer largesse. So, logically, in order to gain advantage in that competition, scientists tend to pitch dire and drastic scenarios whenever they can.

The projections of gloom and doom by eminent scholars merit news coverage. The politicians respond to the incessant drumbeat by holding hearings and writing legislation for funding or regulation. What sane scientist would testify that global warming may be no big deal? After all, it’s currently so big a deal that the new budget proposes spending $4 billion researching it.

In its documentary, CNN had an opportunity to present a dramatically different view of global warming. They asked me to talk about global warming science. Here is what they were told.

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