That’s a climate model running on my iMac, thanks to BOINC, Climateprediction.net, and the new New Zealand and Australia modelling experiment launched yesterday. In this guest post, Dr Suzanne Rosier of NIWA explains what it’s all about…
A new citizen science experiment in which scientists will address possible links between climate change and extreme weather in Australia and New Zealand was launched on Wednesday. ANZ runs as part of the highly successful climateprediction.net project based at the University of Oxford, which makes state-of-the-art climate models available for anyone with a PC and an Internet connection to download and run on their computer. The global model contains within it a much more detailed model of the Australia/New Zealand region, detailed enough to model weather events properly, and the ‘2-in-1’ model needs to be run many thousands of times if scientists are to have a chance of capturing the very rarest weather events. This takes a huge amount of computing power – and you can help by volunteering your computer.
The model runs in the background on your machine, taking up any processing power that happens to be spare, but not interfering with your work. When your computer has finished crunching the results are automatically uploaded to a server at the University of Tasmania. If you take part in the project you also have the option to see how the model you are running on your machine is progressing. Many thousands of generous volunteers have already taken part in climateprediction.net, running global models, and , running regional models for other parts of the world. This is your chance to get involved and help scientists to gain a better understanding of what is happening to weather in Australia and New Zealand region as the climate changes.
The experiment launched today will produce many thousands of different simulations of how the weather in 2013 might have been, both with and without anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. This will enable scientists to put some hard numbers on how the risks of extreme weather events might — or might not — be changing as a result of the human contribution to global climate change. Scientists at NIWA will focus initially on the severe North Island drought of January to March 2013, but later the record-breaking warmth of last year’s winter will also come under scrutiny. Extreme rainfall events, such as that in Golden Bay and Nelson in December 2011 and the recent floods in Christchurch, will also be investigated as the ANZ experiment continues.
The more people who participate, the more science can be done. Please go to ‘weatherathome.net’ – sign up, and start crunching numbers.
Gareth adds: Suzanne does an excellent job of introducing the project in this video:
Read more about the project at Climateprediction.net, The Conversation, and NIWA. If anyone’s interested in running an NZ climate team, let me know. For some background to the difficult statistics of extreme weather events, I highly recommend this recent article by Stefan Rahmstorf at RealClimate. The ANZ models will run (via BOINC, the framework for distributed processing developed at Berkeley and used in a wide variety of distributed computing projects such as or ) on most recent releases of Windows, Mac OSX and Linux.
The dramatic loss of summer sea ice in the Arctic has prompted a lot of research interest in the way that this is affecting weather patterns around the northern hemisphere. The latest contribution is Influence of Arctic sea ice on European summer precipitation, by Dr James Screen of the University of Exeter [PhysOrg]. In this “video abstract”, he explains how reductions in Arctic sea ice affect the position of jetstream — the ribbon of winds winding around the planet that guides weather systems — bringing more summer storms to Western Europe, and a recent run of record-setting wet summers to the UK. But as he points out, the effects are planet-wide:
The impacts are not just over northwest Europe. Actually in the model, what we find is that whilst the sea ice loss increases rainfall over northwest Europe, we actually find drier conditions over Mediterranean Europe. Also the jet steam shifts over North America, which can have implications for the weather there too.
Dr Screen’s study underlines a point that I have been making for some time: rapid climate change is not something theoretical that will happen in the future — it’s happening now and we’re feeling the effects. Warming in the Arctic is driving sea ice loss, and the atmospheric consequences are changing the shape of the weather right round the northern half of the planet.
It’s worth noting that an especially vigorous jetstream directed and helped to intensify the recent huge European storm that hammered the UK, Germany and Denmark, killing 16 people and causing huge amounts of damage. Christopher Burt at WeatherUnderground provides a handy overview of the storm that has four names — St Jude, Christian, Simone and Carmen. The storm centre moved 2,000 km in 26 hours, a remarkable pace of 77 kph.
You’d think, in the middle of the worst drought in 70 years, with farmers in crisis, that their national political body might be thinking about the big picture of climate change and how best to communicate that to farmers.
In Marlborough, where the drought is hitting hard, the local Federated Farmers chapter is sponsoring a talk by crank Lord Monckton. I asked Conor English, Federated Farmers CEO, what he thought about this and he said:
“We have 24 Provinces and they get all sorts of speakers on all sorts of things. We simply don’t know.”
OK, one renegade chapter. Fair enough. I’m sure Top of the South farmers will be relieved to know climate change isn’t real.
But on March 8, Federated Farmers’ “Friday Flash” weekly email bulletin was mailed to members right around the country, including a full-on promotion, with dates, links, and phone numbers of Monckton’s wander around the country. The item even questioned the science of global warming, running out the tired old denier “global warming has stalled for 16 years” argument (rebutted here) that is central to Monckton’s theories.
So I went back to Mr English to ask how they could be promoting Monckton’s visit, right in the middle of this terrible drought, the type of drought farmers are expected to get a lot more of as climate impacts kick in.
Indeed, how could the only mention of climate change in that Friday Flash newsletter be to advertise a tour by someone who is currently in Australia promoting the Rise Up Australia Party, whose leader, Pastor Daniel Nalliah, says that the awful 2009 Black Saturday fires in Victoria were God’s retribution for that state’s abortion laws?
Oh, the comms person said, that was just in our newsletter – we weren’t promoting it. “Events publicised in the Friday Flash do not necessarily align with Federated Farmers official standpoint.”
Really? So your newsletter can have any old rubbish in it? That’s not how a number of farmers who have contacted me over the last week see it. They are very much of the view that Federated Farmers are promoting the tour.
John Hart, a Wairarapa farmer, comments:
“I think Monckton’s climate-change-denial tour couldn’t have come at a worse time, as we battle the worst drought in a generation. In my opinion, Federated Farmers promoting his tour most certainly associates their brand with his. The man is a crank and does Federated Farmers no favours among rational farmers that accept climate change is real and requires meaningful action.”
Federated Farmers says: “Our organisation is keen to encourage debate and free speech. That is why we have publicised events from both sides of the climate change debate.”
“As for “promoting debate”, they don’t seem to realise that by giving oxygen to cranks like Monckton, Federated Farmers are playing into the hands of the climate change deniers. It’s disappointing to see Federated Farmers wasting time we don’t have when farmers need leadership in sustainable agriculture.”
Indeed, “debate” like this is exactly what Frank Luntz, the Republican communications guru, told the party to do:
“Should the public come to believe that the scientific issues are settled, their views about global warming will change accordingly. Therefore, you need to continue to make the lack of scientific certainty a primary issue in the debate.”
Because doubt, after all, is the only product Monckton deals in. Oh, sorry, and conspiracy.
Given that Federated Farmers went on to assure me that they were “well aware that scientists have predicted parts of New Zealand, in particular the East Coast, will get drier and hotter. That is why we have advocated a greater use of water storage and access to new science and new technologies,” what sort of contribution are they expecting from someone who’s going around the country saying climate change is a hoax?
Even that bastion of National Party fervor, David Farrar over at Kiwiblog doesn’t think that Monckton would make a useful contribution to the country. “He has a history of over-egging his claims,” he says, linking to John Abraham’s thorough rebuttal of Monckton’s science.
They’re coming back to me on that one, apparently. Deafening silence so far.
What I find astounding is the fact that Federated Farmers refuse to distance themselves from Monckton’s tour. Including something like this in your newsletter implies tacit approval, doesn’t it? Given that the majority of climate change’s worst impacts in New Zealand are likely to be on the farming sector, they might consider that including a discredited denier in their newsletter is not going to be particularly enlightening to their constituents, or a helpful contribution on the issue.
New Zealand’s favourite astrologer, the self-appointed “long range weather forecaster” Ken Ring — who is wrong about everything — has not been having a good start to the year. He’s having trouble reconciling NZ’s record drought with the forecasts he’s been making. Here’s Ring on February 26th, in an opinion piece headlined Hang on farmers, rain is coming, published at Yahoo News:
So the question being asked is whether or not a drought is imminent. The answer is no.
The entire North Island has been declared a drought zone this morning.
Every time anyone other than Ring takes a look at his forecasts, they are found to be useless1. But Ring is working hard to rewrite history to his advantage. His Yahoo News column was posted on Feb 26th, but the same article seems to have been posted to his website a few days earlier2. He’s revisited the piece, and added some notes in red attempting to justify his failed forecasts. But there’s one other change he’s made. Here it is:
So the question being asked is whether or not a lingering drought is imminent. The answer is no.
Of such little dishonesties are Ring successes made. He remains a charlatan, and is — as ever — wrong about everything.
Self-proclaimed weather guru Ken Ring is wildly astray in his January predictions for the South Island hydro lakes region, in his 2013 weather almanac. His summary for January, based on lunar patterns, says “the driest regions for the South Island for January may be the hydro lakes”.
But Environment Canterbury flood controller Tony Henderson said the 500mm of rain in the Waitaki and Rangitata river catchments over four days was “probably the most we’ve had over the summer in several decades”.
Occasionally — but only occasionally — the political pantomime that is parliamentary question time throws up something interesting. Yesterday, NZ’s deputy prime minister Bill English managed to dig himself into a drought-ridden hole, only to emerge looking like a climate denier. Green Party co-leader Russel Norman tried to get English to expand on his earlier comments that the government would not be able to help farmers hit by increased incidence of droughts, which led to this astonishing little exchange [Hansard transcript here]:
Dr Russel Norman: Does he agree with the Government’s own research body the National Institute of Water and Atmospheric Research (NIWA) when it states: “Droughts are projected to become more frequent and more intense under climate change.”?
Hon Bill English: I would not want to question the scientific effort that has gone into that, although there is always uncertainty about these predictions. I recall similar predictions made by similar scientific bodies in Australia just 4 or 5 years ago and it has not stopped raining since.
Astonishing stuff. English gets the uncertainty issue completely wrong1, and then manages to insult Australians who have been suffering through their hottest summer ever. Here’s a little chart from the Aussie Climate Commission that he might find helpful.
The most likely scenario sees farmers in most North Island regions, as well as those in eastern regions of the South Island — especially Canterbury and eastern Southland – spending 5-10 per cent more of the year in drought by the middle of this century. This means that if you spend an average of 10 per cent of your time in drought at the moment, by 2040, you might expect to spend as much as 20 per cent — although this figure will naturally vary from year to year.
Throughout the exchange with Norman, the deputy PM seemed extremely loath to use the words “climate change”, and instead made extensive references to cycles and weather patterns. In a later supplementary question, Norman asked him if he accepted that “human-induced climate change is real?”
Hon Bill English: It may well be, but I am not sure what that has got to do with this particular question.
Weasel words, at best. English wants to ignore the clear advice the government is receiving from the Crown Research Institute tasked with studying the issue, and can’t bring himself to directly accept the reality of anthropogenic climate change. You’d think it would be a simple matter for a senior politician to take reality at face value and act accordingly, but that seems be something that English and his cabinet colleagues find difficult in lots of areas…
The best evidence (NIWA summary pdf here) we have indicates that the frequency of droughts is going to increase — the uncertainty is by how much and when.
Australia may have had an extraordinary “Angry Summer“, but New Zealand’s been having a bit of a cracker too. Prolonged warm and sunny weather over much of the country has driven North Island soil moisture deficits to levels not seen for at least 70 years (see map at left). Official drought status — which means farmers are eligible for various forms of government assistance — has been declared in Northland, South Auckland, Coromandel, Bay of Plenty, Waikato, and Hawke’s Bay. The Manawatu and Rangitikei regions have also asked government for drought status. Most of the North Island is also subject to total fire bans — another first for this dusty summer. Preliminary estimates of economic losses are already heading towards $1 billion.
Long, dry spells are forecast to double by 2040 as temperatures continue to rise and New Zealand heads towards a more Mediterranean climate.
Experts warn it could spell the end for farming as we know it and may cost the country billions of dollars in drought relief each year before practices are adjusted.
“This is historic,” said climate scientist Jim Salinger, who has calculated that the amount of rain needed for grass growth was the highest since records began. “It’s like comparing your income against expenditure in your cheque book. And we are in deficit.”
Looking to the future, the risk of drought in New Zealand is on the rise. The persistent high pressure systems typical of the subtropics are already moving our way and this trend looks set to continue. The “subtropical high pressure belt” is where the world’s deserts are located, and that belt is edging our way as the tropical region expands outwards under a warming climate.
Combine that with higher temperatures, increased evaporation, lower soil moisture, and we have a recipe for at least doubling the risk of drought in many of the drier parts of the country by late this century, possibly by mid-century in places. A recent report for the Ministry of Primary Industries projected an increase in drought occurrence for almost all of the country, even under an optimistic scenario for greenhouse gas emissions.
We’ve certainly been getting persistent high pressure systems. This surface pressure anomaly plot for the NZ region from mid January to a few days ago1 shows that a substantial blob of high pressure has been parked over us.
The MetService blog has a (much) more detailed explanation of what’s been going on in the southern hemisphere’s atmosphere here.
Finance Minister [Bill] English, standing in for John Key while he is visiting Latin America, said that while the Government was providing support now, this may not be sustainable if severe droughts became regular events.
“If there’s going to be more droughts, more regularly, farming practices will simply have to adapt,” he told TVNZ’s Breakfast.
“We’ve got research in place for instance to find more drought resistant grasses and farmers have for years been adapting their management practices.
“That would have to continue because . . . Government simply can’t support them to maintain practices in the face of continuous droughts, if that’s what happens.”
If that’s what happens? The government knows exactly what NIWA’s modelling of future climate has to say about the likelihood of increased frequency and severity of droughts, and has done for years. A prudent government might have done some thinking about risk and sensible strategies for the future, and considered the wisdom of encouraging diversification away from water intensive and drought sensitive agricultural systems such as dairying.
Unfortunately, our government has preferred to gut the emissions trading scheme and dismember all but the bare bones of a rational national response to the climate challenge. By delaying a carbon price signal for agriculture, the government locks the near term NZ economy into high carbon, high water use agricultural systems — the very worst outcome.
Meanwhile, the drought isn’t all bad news. Looking beyond the bones of the cow’s arse, the national grape harvest is looking good (perhaps great)2, and apple growers aren’t complaining either. That’s what diversification and adaptation are all about…
The nets are on, and there’s a potentially exciting crop of pinot noir ripening at Limestone Hills — the last thing I want is drought-breaking rain, at least not before the main harvest is in (mid April in Waipara).
2012Amidst the blizzard of year-end roundups, here’s one you have to read in full — a joint effort put together by a diverse group of bloggers and scientists: Angela Fritz, Eli Rabett, Emilee Pierce, Greg Laden, Joe Romm, John Abraham, Laurence Lewis, Leo Hickman, Michael Mann, Michael Tobis, Paul Douglas, Scott Mandia, Scott Brophy, Stephan Lewandowsky, Tenney Naumer and yours truly. Lead author Greg Laden explains:
A group of us, all interested in climate science, put together a list of the most notable, often, most worrying, climate-related stories of the year, along with a few links that will allow you to explore the stories in more detail. We did not try to make this a “top ten” list, because it is rather silly to fit the news, or the science, or the stuff the Earth does in a given year into an arbitrary number of events. (What if we had 12 fingers, and “10” was equal to 6+6? Then there would always be 12 things, not 10, on everyone’s list. Makes no sense.) We ended up with 18 items, but note that some of these things are related to each other in a way that would allow us to lump them or split them in different ways. See this post by Joe Romm for a more integrated approach to the year’s events. Also, see what Jeff Masters did here. We only included one non-climate (but related) item to illustrate the larger number of social, cultural, and political things that happened this year. For instance, because of some of the things on this list, Americans are more likely than they were in previous years to accept the possibility that science has something to say about the Earth’s climate and the changes we have experienced or that may be in the future; journalists are starting to take a new look at their own misplaced “objective” stance as well. Also, more politicians are starting to run for office on a pro-science pro-environment platform than has been the case for quite some time.
A failing of this list is that although non-US based people contributed, and it is somewhat global in its scope, it is a bit American based. This is partly because a few of the big stories happened here this year, but also, because the underlying theme really is the realisation that climate change is not something of the future, but rather, something of the present, and key lessons learned in that important area of study happened in the American West (fires) the South and Midwest (droughts, crop failures, closing of river ways) and Northeast (Sandy). But many of the items listed here were indeed global, such as extreme heat and extreme cold caused by meteorological changes linked to warming, and of course, drought is widespread.
1: Super Storm Sandy
Super Storm Sandy, a hybrid of Hurricane Sandy (and very much a true hurricane up to and beyond its landfall in the Greater New York/New Jersey area) was an important event for several reasons. First, the size and strength of the storm bore the hallmarks of global warming enhancement. Second, its very unusual trajectory was caused by a climatic configuration that was almost certainly the result of global warming. The storm would likely not have been as big and powerful as it was, nor would it have likely struck land where it did were it not for the extra greenhouse gasses released by humans over the last century and a half or so.
A third reason Sandy was important is the high storm surge that caused unprecedented and deadly flooding in New York and New Jersey. This surge was made worse by significant global warming caused sea level rise. Sea level rise has been eating away at the coasts for years and has probably caused a lot of flooding that otherwise would not have happened, but this is the first time a major event widely noticed by the mainstream media (even FOX news) involving sea level rise killed a lot of people and did a lot of damage. Fourth, Sandy was an event, but Sandy might also be the “type specimen” for a new kind of storm. It is almost certainly true that global warming Enhanced storms like Sandy will occur more frequently in the future than in the past, but how much more often is not yet known. We will probably have to find out the hard way.
Note that the first few of the links below are to blog posts written by concerned climate scientists, whom the climate change denialists call “alarmists.” You will note that these scientists and writers were saying alarming things as the storm approached. You will also note that what actually happened when Sandy struck was much worse than any of these “alarmists” predicted in one way or another, in some cases, in several ways. This then, is the fifth reason that Sandy is important: The Earth’s weather system (quite unconsciously of course) opened a big huge can of “I told you so” on the climate science denialist world. Sandy washed away many lives, a great deal of property and quite a bit of shoreline. Sandy also washed away a huge portion of what remained of the credibility of the climate science denialist lobby.
3: The Polar Ice Caps and other ice features experienced extreme melting this year.
This year, Arctic sea ice reached a minimum in both extent (how much of the sea is covered during the Arctic summer) and more importantly, total ice volume, reaching the lowest levels in recorded history.
We also increasingly recognised that loss of Arctic sea ice affects Northern Hemisphere weather patterns, including severe cold outbreaks and storm tracks. This sea ice loss is what set up the weather pattern mentioned above that steered Sandy into the US Northeast, as well as extreme cold last winter in other areas.
5 and 6: Two major melting events happened in Greenland this summer.
First, the total amount of ice that has melted off this huge continental glacier reached a record high, with evidence that the rate of melting is not only high, but much higher than predicted or expected. This is especially worrying because the models climatologists use to predict ice melting are being proven too optimistic. Second, and less important but still rather spectacular, was the melting of virtually every square inch of the surface of this ice sheet over a short period of a few days during the hottest part of the summer, a phenomenon observed every few hundred years but nevertheless an ominous event considering that it happened just as the aforementioned record ice mass loss was being observed and measured.
…were formed when the Petermann Glacier of northern Greenland calved a massive piece of its floating tongue, and it is likely that the Pine Island Glacier (West Antarctica) will follow suit this Southern Hemisphere summer. Also, this information is just being reported and we await further evaluation. As summer begins to develop in the Southern Hemisphere, there may be record warmth there in Antarctica. That story will likely be part of next year’s roundup of climate-related woes.
8: More Greenhouse Gasses than Ever
Even though the rate of emissions of greenhouse gasses slowed down temporarily for some regions of the world, those gasses stay in the air after they are released, so this year greenhouse gas levels reached new record high levels
As expected, given the greenhouse gases just mentioned, Record Breaking High Temperatures Continue, 2012 is one of the warmest years since the Age of the Dinosaurs. We’ll wait until the year is totally over to give you a rank, but it is very, very high.
A very rare event caused by drought conditions was the closing of the Mississippi River to traffic in mid-summer at two locations. This is part of a larger and growing problem involving drought, increased demands for water, and the importance of river traffic. Expect to hear more about this over the next couple of years.
In June, a major and very scary derecho event – a thunderstorm and tornado complex large enough to get its own Wikipedia entry – swept across the country. This was one of several large storm systems that caused damage and death in the US this year. There were also large and unprecedented sandstorms in Asia and the US.
We continue to experience, and this will get worse, great Losses in Biodiversity especially in Oceans, much of that due to increased acidification because of the absorption of CO2 in seawater, and overfishing.
18: Unusual Jet Stream Configuration and related changes to general climate patterns…
Many of us who contributed to this list feel that this is potentially the most important of all of the stories, partly because it ties together several other events. Also, it may be that a change in the air currents caused by global warming represents a fundamental yet poorly understood shift in climate patterns. The steering of Hurricane Sandy into the New York and New Jersey metro areas, the extreme killer cold in Eastern Europe and Russia, the “year without a Spring” and the very mild winters, some of the features of drought, and other effects may be “the new normal” owing to a basic shift in how air currents are set up in a high-CO2 world. This December, as we compile this list, this effect has caused extreme cold in Eastern Europe and Russia as well as floods in the UK and unusually warm conditions in France. As of this writing well over 200 people have died in the Ukraine, Poland and Russia from cold conditions. As an ongoing and developing story we are including it provisionally on this list. Two blog posts from midyear of 2011 and 2012 (this one and this one) cover some of this.
The following video provides an excellent overview of this problem:
19: The first climate denial “think” tank to implode as a result of global warming…
… suffered major damage this year. The Heartland Institute, which worked for many years to prove that cigarette smoking was not bad for you, got caught red handed trying to fund an effort explicitly (but secretly) designed to damage science education in public schools. Once caught, they tried to distract attention by equating people who thought the climate science on global warming is based on facts and is not a fraud with well-known serial killers, using large ugly billboards. A large number of Heartland Institute donors backed off after this fiasco and their credibility tanked in the basement. As a result, the Heartland Institute, which never was really that big, is now no longer a factor in the climate change discussion.
Battling against rural broadband that resembled digital molasses (or the bunker oil being pumped out of the Rena), Gareth returns to NZ and joins Glenn Williams and John Cook to discuss drought in Tuvalu, the El NiÃ±o Southern Oscillation (ENSO), floods and sea level falls, ocean cooling (that isn’t), solar towers of power and much, much more…
Watch The Climate Show on our Youtube channel, subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, listen to us via Stitcher on your smartphone or listen direct/download from the link below the fold…
http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/psd/enso/mei/mei.html: ’I believe the odds for a La NiÃ±a winter have indeed risen to near 100%, with the ‘fall window’ of disrupting this evolution closing rapidly. However, it does not appear likely that we will see as strong an event as in 2010-11.’
The research team, which was led by Samantha Stevenson (University of Colorado Boulder) and includes NCAR scientists Markus Jochum, Richard Neale, Clara Deser, and Gerald Meehl, used the NCAR-based Community Climate System Model (CCSM) to simulate the effects of climate change on ENSO over the 21st century. They found no significant changes in its extent or frequency.
However, the warmer and moister atmosphere of the future could make ENSO events more extreme. For example, the model predicts the blocking high pressure south of Alaska that often occurs during La NiÃ±a winters to strengthen under future atmospheric conditions, meaning that intrusions of Arctic air into North America typical of La NiÃ±a winters could be stronger in the future.
’For the two more realistic scenarios, calculated based on the emissions and pollution stabilizing, the results show that there will be a sea level rise of about 75 cm by the year 2100 and that by the year 2500 the sea will have risen by 2 meters.’
Worst case: ’sea levels will rise 1.1 meters by the year 2100 and will have risen 5.5 meters by the year 2500.’
On Monday, the space agency issued the award to team Pipistrel-USA.com of State College, Pa., as part of the Comparative Aircraft Flight Efficiency, or CAFE, Green Flight Challenge.
The competition, sponsored by Google, was created to inspire the development of more fuel-efficient aircraft and spark the start of a new electric airplane industry, NASA said. The winning aircraft had to fly 200 miles in less than two hours and use less than one gallon of fuel per occupant, or the equivalent in electricity.
James Hansen’s latest discussion paper begins and ends with Monarch butterflies. He watches some on his property in Pennsylvania as they prepare to leave for their migration to Mexico and reflects on the prospects for their survival as a species as global warming takes hold. The Monarchs cross Texas on their way south, a difficult path this year over desolate, baked-out territory. Which leads Hansen to a spirited denunciation of ’well-oiled Governors and Senators in Texas and Oklahoma’ who assert that global warming is a hoax and help business-as-usual CO2 emissions to continue.
He addresses the question of whether the drought and fires in Texas can be attributed to global warming. The media have remained largely silent this year on possible connections between extreme weather events and human-made climate forcing, and Hansen asks whether scientists should be making more effort to draw public attention to the human role in climate anomalies.
The longstanding difficulty in such communication is distinguishing climate change caused by global warming from natural climate variability. ’The human-made climate ‘signal’ must be extracted from the large ‘noise’.’ But he thinks the public can understand the distinctions.
He sets out the reasons we can expect intensified climate extremes from global warming:
(1) Warmer air holds more water vapor, and precipitation occurs in more extreme events. ’100-year floods’ and even ’500-year floods’ will become more likely. Storms fueled by water vapor (latent heat), including thunderstorms, tornadoes and tropical storms, will have the potential to be stronger. Storm damage will increase because of increased flooding and stronger winds.
(2) Where weather patterns create dry conditions, global warming will intensify the drought, because of increased evaporation and evapotranspiration. Thus fires will be more frequent and burn hotter. Observations confirm that heat waves and regional drought have become more frequent and intense over the past 50 years. Rainfall in the heaviest downpours has increased about 20 percent. The destructive energy in hurricanes has increased (USGCRP, 2009).
What about the Texas drought? Is it related to human-made global warming?
There is strong reason to believe that it is. Basic theory and models (Held and Soden, 2006) and empirical evidence (Seidal and Randel, 2006) indicate that the global overturning circulation, air rising in the tropics and subsiding in the subtropics, expands in latitude with global warming. Such expansion tends to make droughts more frequent and severe in the southern United States and the Mediterranean region, for example.
But while the occurrence of unusual Texas heat and drought is consistent with expectations for increasing CO2, may this year’s event just be climate ‘noise’?
I used ‘climate dice’ in conjunction with testimony to Congress in 1988 to try to help the public understand that the human-made climate ‘signal’ must be extracted from the large ‘noise’ of natural climate variability.
In an upcoming post (Climate Variability and Climate Change, Hansen, Sato and Ruedy) we try to clarify this matter via simple maps and graphs that show how the odds have changed, allowing comparison of expectations and reality…
We show that a ‘signal’ due to global warming is already rising out of the climate ‘noise’, even on regional scales.
Hansen offers maps and some technical detail to illustrate this, and concludes:
The chaotic element in climate variability makes it impossible to say exactly where large anomalies will occur in a given year. However, we can say with assurance that the area and magnitude of the anomalies and their practical impact will continue to increase. Clear presentations of the data should help the public appreciate the situation as global warming continues to rise further above the level of natural variability.
So much for the longstanding difficulty for scientists in helping the public understand the distinction between climate variability and the overall trend of the effects of global warming. But Hansen also describes a new difficulty which has arisen more recently and which has nothing to do with the science. It is the character assassination of scientists, mainly directed against Ben Santer, Michael Mann and Phil Jones.
The important point I wish to note is that each of these three targets, the scientific conclusions that provoked the critics and which they aimed to destroy or discredit, have been shown in subsequent analyses to have been correct, indeed, dead-on-the-mark.
However, the scientific community is well aware of the toll that these attacks took on the scientists, despite the fact that their work was eventually vindicated and corroborated.
Thus, it would not be surprising if these experiences have an effect on the willingness of other scientists to make statements that draw attention to the likely role of human-made forcings as a contributor to the climate extremes of the past summer.
But the “inherent objectivity” of science is needed to help society find a path which will avoid our exiting the stable Holocene climate in which civilisation developed. Hansen is not prepared to stop short of engagement with the policy implications of the science, though governments want scientists to do so. He explains why:
If scientists do not connect all of the dots in this story, the dots will be connected by people with a vested interest in preserving the fossil fuel industry. The resources that the fossil fuel industry brings to bear in protecting its economic interests are formidable. The public is immersed daily in advertisements using effective spokespeople including skilled professional actors. Their message has appeal. They say that efforts to extract fossil fuels in tar sands, in the Arctic, and so on, would provide jobs and produce needed energy.
Existing irrefragable climate science makes clear that this path — advocated by the fossil fuel industry and supported by governments worldwide — would be calamitous for young people and nature. Yet if scientists bring only this negative message, there is no hope of stopping the fossil fuel juggernaut with its aim to exploit all fossil fuels.
Hansen’s positive message, which is well known by now, is that the way forward is a rising carbon fee or tax collected from fossil fuel companies and returned to the population on a per capita basis. He has been criticised for his advocacy of a fee-and-dividend policy and blunt rejection of cap-and-trade schemes, which he describes in this paper as ’designed to allow business-as-usual, leading to certain mining of all fossil fuels on the planet and a debacle for young people’.
His specific advocacy may be arguable. However it is important that scientists who know the consequences of continuing to extract and burn fossil fuels should speak up if politicians who claim to be addressing the problem are at the same time allowing and even abetting the further exploitation of fossil fuels – as if the magic of trading and offsetting will somehow render them harmless. That appears to be very much the case in New Zealand under present government policies which unashamedly look to a prosperous future from fossil fuel exploration and exploitation while running an ineffectual ETS on the side and getting credit internationally for doing so. Hansen’s forthrightness exposes this for the greenwash that it is.
And his carbon tax proposals are not foolish, even if they’re not flavour of the month. I recently reviewed Shi-ling Hsu’s book The Case for A Carbon Tax, which advanced a strong and well-considered argument for such an approach. Al Gore has expressed his preference for a carbon tax albeit acknowledging it is not currently acceptable in the US.
Hansen’s paper ends wryly with those butterflies:
Survival of the Monarch will depend more on conditions in Mexico than in Texas. If business-as-usual continues and we burn most of the fossil fuels this century, it is unlikely that those forests [where the Monarchs winter] or the Monarchs will survive. There is not much that the Monarch can do about this matter. Their fate will be up to the intelligent species.
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