March 30, 2011

Yes, Even Poison Ivy Thrives in a CO2 Enriched World

Filed under: Adaptation, Plants

A “fan” of World Climate Report sent us an email insisting that we feature too many articles showing biological benefits of elevated atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) levels. We were accused of featuring forests, grasslands, and agricultural crops, with no discussion of how elevated CO2 might enhance noxious members of the biosphere. The “fan” challenged us to do a feature on poison ivy, so in the spirit of fairness, we accepted the challenge and explore the world of higher levels of CO2, higher temperatures, and the impact on poison ivy. We imagine that just like plants the world over, poison ivy, too, will greatly benefit from an enriched atmospheric CO2 concentration.


March 23, 2011

Global Greening Continues: Did We Cause It?

You know the story. Humans are burning fossil fuels and because of their actions, the world is now warming at an unprecedented pace. This warming is stressing ecosystems throughout the world with devastating consequences to vegetation from one end of the earth to the other. If we do not act fast, we will destroy the planet and have a tough time facing our grandchildren. We can all hear it now—why didn’t you do something when there was still time to save the Earth?

Two articles have appeared recently in the scientific literature with results that may make us reconsider this entire affair. The first appears in the Journal of Geographical Sciences dealing with worldwide trends in the vigor of vegetation since the early 1980s—the results may surprise you, but they did not surprise us given all that has been written on this subject and certainly covered at World Climate Report.


March 17, 2011

U.S. Life Expectancy at All-Time High

Filed under: Climate Politics

Back in the fall of 2008, we summarized our arguments that we submitted to the EPA as to the myriad reasons why the EPA should not make a finding that “greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health and welfare.” Ultimately, our arguments fell on deaf ears.

Perhaps the most persuasive argument that we made, in our minds anyway, was that the most direct measure of human health and welfare that there is—life expectancy—has increased by about 2/3rds over the past 100 years (Figure 1), while surface temperatures rose about 0.7°C. The EPA thinks that this temperature rise is primarily the result of rising human greenhouse gas emissions (although we think that they are overly confident in this assertion).

Figure 1. Life expectancy at birth in the U.S., 1900-2009 (source: Centers for Disease Control)

Now, don’t get us wrong, we don’t believe that much of the rise in life expectancy is due to climate change, but we do assert that a substantial portion of it come from the benefits derived from a plentiful and inexpensive energy supply, largely from fossil fuels.

And life expectancy just keeps on rising. The latest report from the Centers for Disease Control is that in 2009 the U.S. life expectancy exceeded 78 years for the first time ever. At the turn of the last century, this number was 47.3 years.

In fact, in the life expectancy during 10 of the past 10 years was the highest on record.

These numbers and trends are not what one would expect if climate change/greenhouse gas emissions, in the EPA’s words, “endangered” human health and welfare.

The EPA nonetheless insists upon saving us from ourselves by limiting our emissions of greenhouse gases. For the foreseeable future anyway, the only way to do so is to lower our use of energy—which has the very real possibility of stopping or slowing the growth of life expectancy.

While the EPA apparently is convinced that this is a risk worth taking, a lot of the rest of us aren’t so sure.

A question worth asking: Is our health and welfare more endangered by U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, or by attempts to reduce them?

March 14, 2011

Volcanism Caused by Global Warming?

Filed under: Volcanism

We all know that if you are impacted by a flood, drought, tornado, hurricane, heat wave, wildfire, tsunami, earthquake, landslide, or anything else you can dream of, you might as well just go ahead and blame global warming—after all, if you don’t someone else most assuredly will. Whether or not you’d be correct, though, is another story entirely.

Over the past year, a number of volcanic events have been in the news from Europe to Hawaii and now the big earthquake in Japan and resultant tsunami has a lot of folks asking “can we blame all of this global warming.” Literally one day after the earthquake in Japan, The Daily Caller ran a story entitled “Some respond to Japan earthquake by pointing to global warming” starting with the sentence “Hours after a massive earthquake rattled Japan, environmental advocates connected the natural disaster to global warming. The president of the European Economic and Social Committee, Staffan Nilsson, issued a statement calling for solidarity in tackling the global warming problem.”

Another a story at Grist was titled “Today’s Tsunami: This is What Climate Change Looks Like” (but this Grist story was softened after severe critcism from the Center for Environmental Journalism). Even in far away places like Nunavut Canada, people are pushing a global warming/earthquake link.

And back when volcanoes were closing down air traffic in Europe, Reuters (April 16, 2010) carried a story worldwide entitled “Ice cap thaw may awaken Icelandic volcanoes”. Here is an excerpt from that story:


March 10, 2011

Amazing Arctic Reconstructions

Filed under: Arctic, Polar

We hear over and over that any warming at the global scale will be amplified in the Arctic region of the Northern Hemisphere, and the warming will cause ice to melt and sea level to rise and all the rest. Let some ice-free area appear during summer near the North Pole and the global media will take the bait every time and announce we are witnessing geophysical changes of Biblical proportions. Several articles have appeared recently in leading journals with interesting results regarding the temperature history of the Arctic over the past 1,000 to 1,500 years, and they show that temperatures there have risen and fallen to a significant degree many times in the past (that is, without the benefit of large changes in atmospheric CO2 levels), and they call into question whether any unusual warming (or cooling) has occurred there in recent decades.


March 1, 2011

Coldest Back-to-Back U.S. Winters in a Quarter Century

Filed under: Climate Changes

As the curtain falls on the climatological winter (December-February) of 2010-11 in the U.S., we are left shivering.

For the second year in a row, the winter temperature when averaged across the contiguous United States came in below the average temperature for the 20th century. This marks the first time since the winters of 1992-93 and 1993-94 that two winters in a row have been below the long-term normal, and it makes for the coldest back-to-back winter combination for at least the past 25 years.

Figure 1 shows the history of winter temperatures averaged across the Lower 48 as compiled by the U.S. National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) for the winters from 1895-96 through 2009-2010. Although all the data have yet to be completely processed by NCDC for the winter of 2010-11, when the final numbers are in the average winter temperature will probably fall within the oval we added at the end of the record. If it does so, it will mean that the combined average temperature for the past two winters will be colder than any two-winter combination since 1983-84 and 1984-85, and perhaps even as far back as the all-time back-to-back coldest winters of 1977-78 and 1978-79.

Figure 1. Average winter (Dec.-Feb.) temperature for the contiguous United States (data source: NCDC). The oval of the right hand side of the data series contains our guess as to the value for the winter of 2010-2011.

[Update: March 8, 2011. NCDC’s final numbers are in for winter 2011, and the U.S. winter temperature history looks like this.]

What’s global warming got to do with any of this? It is hard to say. But what we can say for sure, is that whatever influence it may have, the end product during recent winters is nothing out of the ordinary—at least as far as can be ascertained by looking at the seasonal average temperature history of the U.S.

Over the longer term (i.e. since 1895-86) there has been a statistically significant increase in the NCDC-compiled U.S. winter temperature history. And recent decades have been dominated by warmer than average winters (including many that have been much warmer than average). But as the last two winter seasons have aptly demonstrated, cold snowy winters have not been relegated to a thing of the distant past.

Whether or not all the winter warming exhibited by the NCDC-compiled record is actual warming of the broader-scale climate (there are indications/suggestions/contentions that some of the warming may result from artificial warming from microclimate or instrument changes), what is undoubtedly true is that whatever your tastes in winter may be, we are sure that you will continue to get your fill from winters to come.

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