November 28, 2007

Terminating Warming? A Look at California

Filed under: Temperature History

Many manly men around our country were undoubtedly thrilled to see super-hero Arnold Schwarzenegger become the leader of one of the largest and most powerful states in the nation, and we all knew that the Terminator would tackle problems in new and authoritative ways. However, the manly men have been a bit surprised that Governor Schwarzenegger has become such an outspoken leader in the fight against emission of carbon dioxide. Taking on a naturally-occurring molecule exhaled every minute by 150 pound weaklings seems a bit too soft for one of the physically strongest men to ever live.

The manly man governor recently attended, for the second year in a row, the Los Angeles Auto Show showcasing 1,000 of the newest vehicles from 47 of the world’s automobile manufacturers. Governor Schwarzenegger spent his time praising the hybrids and other fuel efficient vehicles, and seemed in love with environmentally-friendly cars and trucks. Among the quotes from the event, he boldly stated “It is fantastic to see that the world’s automakers are developing the technology to help us meet our goals in California. These cars come in every size and shape and they prove that we can give consumers the choices they want and still protect the environment.” Superhero Arnold also said “Imagine what we can accomplish if we improve efficiency and put more alternatives on the road, whether it is biofuels, electric cars, hydrogen or hybrids. This will also help our families with fuel prices because it’s all about supply and demand. By providing more alternatives, we can drive down oil prices from the $100 a barrel everyone is expecting.”

This is another in a long line of his “accomplishments”; in April 2004, the Governor signed an executive order creating a public and private partnership to build the Hydrogen Highway in California by 2010. Last year, the Governor signed the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006 that according to his official website is “California’s landmark bill that established a first-in-the-world comprehensive program of regulatory and market mechanisms to achieve real, quantifiable, cost-effective reductions of greenhouse gases. The law will reduce carbon emissions to 1990 levels by the year 2020 and to 80 percent below 1990 levels by the year 2050.”

Good luck, because of California’s massive and growing economy, the state is the 12th largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world despite arguably leading the nation in energy efficiency standards and taking a lead role in protecting its environment. Targeting an 80% reduction below 1990 levels should be as easy as reducing California’s fiscal budget by 80% by 2050; nothing personal to the manly man, but we are a bit skeptical on this one.

If you want more information on global warming and California, literally 1,000s of websites are now devoted to the topic. You will find no end of claims that ongoing warming is reducing the snow pack of the Sierra, and producing ominous increasing trends in sea level, heat wave days, dry years, heat-related deaths, electrical demand, ozone formation, wildfires (popular this year), species extinctions, and on and on.

With so much focus on California’s fight against global warming, we were drawn to a very interesting article in a recent issue of Climate Research. Scientists from California State University, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratories, and the University of Utah examined temperature trends from 1950 to 2000 for hundreds of stations in Governor Schwarzenegger’s California. They calculated the trend in the mean, maximum, and minimum temperatures, and their results are really not all that surprising.

As seen in Figure 1 below, California seems to have warmed at a rate of 0.20°C per decade over the past half century. But no Ph.D. in urban climate is required to immediately see that many rural locations are barely warming, not warming, or even cooling, while the heavily urbanized stations in the Bay Area and Southern California are warming at a significant rate. LaDochy et al. showed that the “urban” stations warmed at a rate of 0.20°C per decade while the “non-urban” stations warmed only 0.08°C per decade. Furthermore, they state that “Large urban sites showed rates over twice those for the state, for the mean maximum temperatures, and over 5 times the state’s mean rate for the minimum temperatures.” The research team concludes that “Some of the largest temperature increases occur in the vicinity of urban centers, particularly for minimum temperatures. Few rural stations show significant increases in minimum or maximum temperatures.”

We have covered this topic time and time again, and many of the greenhouse advocates absolutely dismiss the obvious implications of this research. Many websites claim that California is warming at an alarming rate, and depending on how one defines “alarming,” there could be validity to the claim. However, LaDochy et al. show that the warming is strangely confined to the growing urban areas, and they find little to no warming in the rural stations. Heaven forbid, but 41% of the stations had no significant warming and 6% actually had cooling. Despite the undisputed buildup of greenhouse gases from 1950 to 2000, almost half of the stations in California showed no significant warming!

Mr. T., Hulk Hogan, Jesse Ventura, and who knows how many other incredible actors (all worthy of multiple Academy Awards) have done their part in Hollywood protecting us from the worst villains imaginable. Governor Schwarzenegger is now doing his part protecting us from dangerous warming, and given the general lack of warming outside California’s major cities, the big guy seems to be getting the job done!

Figure 1. Mean temperature trends in California, 1950-2000 (from LaDochy et al., 2007)


LaDochy, S., R. Medina, and W. Patzert. 2007. Recent California climate variability: spatial and temporal patterns in temperature trends. Climate Research, 33, 159-169.

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