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‘Jonas’ illustrates dark magic of storms, tides, and sea level rise

January 24th, 2016 · No Comments


  Tides, and

     Sea Level Rise

Sadly, this rolls off the tongue.

Sadly, because is a rather terrifying presage of the world that we are moving into.

This guest post comes from John Englander, one of the most prescient voices as to the implications of sea level rise and the ever-increasing imperative to act to adapt to the changes that are coming — no matter how much climate mitigation we take. [note: that there will be worsening implications from climate change, no matter what we do, is not a reason not to work (hard, urgently, passionately) for mitigation. We might have a say as to how fast and how bad climate change impacts humanity and ecosystems even if it is well past time to prevent significant damage from happening.)

‘Jonas’ (also known as: the Blizzard of 2016, and “snowzilla”) was just one more unusual weather event that will go down in the ‘record books.’ What made this special was how the amount of moisture in the air and the unusual temperatures and pressure systems aligned for massive snow. Of course, heavy snow does not cause coastal flooding.

Yet the severe coastal flooding from the Carolinas up to Massachusetts illustrates the dark magic when the flooding forces of storms, tides and sea level rise combine. Jonas was not even hurricane force winds, something we associate with severe coastal damage. There were strong winds, but by themselves they would not create this kind of coastal flooding.

But Jonas did hit at the monthly full moon, when tides are more extreme.  Plus we are in the higher phase of the 18.6 year tide cycle, raising water heights even higher this year. It is the invisible way that the timing of the wave heights and the tide cycle just happen to hit that determines whether flooding will be bad or not. For example, when Jonas hit Annapolis this weekend, the tide was not at the high point of the daily cycle. When the peak of the storm hit farther up the coast the damage was much worse, because it hit at high tide.

Over the last century, sea level in the area of the mid Atlantic east coast of the United States has risen approximately 14 inches. That will not reverse for at least a thousand years, until such time as the planet’s temperature falls to the point where the glaciers and ice sheets return to growth mode. Indeed the rate of sea level rise is now increasing dramatically.

In fact our problem with sea level rise is almost entirely related to the rate of the rise. Sea level keeps inching higher and higher, as the glaciers and ice sheets in the polar regions continue to melt due to record levels of heat. For example, Arctic temperatures this month were as much as 50 degrees F above normal.

“Eventually” sea level will be tens of feet higher than now. The question is how quickly.  That depends on the amount of heat we add to the oceans and some subtle structural dynamics in Antarctica that cannot yet be determined.

I like to use the rhyming phrase “storms, tides, and sea level rise” to help identify how this powerful synergy between those three forces will keep breaking records over the coming decades. When we see streets flooding, there is a tendency to think of it as having a single cause. Yet there can be various factors that contribute to flooding:

  • heavy rainfall
  • storm surge – a bulge in ocean height driven by wind or low barometric pressure
  • different levels of ‘high tide’ which cycles primarily due to the position of the planets, peaking almost twice daily, with extra height at the full and new moon according to the 28 day lunar cycle.
  • sea level — the base ocean level at low tide that primarily reflects the amount of ice on land and any overall change in ocean heat content. On a regional level, sea level can also be affected by land subsidence, a drop in its elevation due to compaction, plate tectonics, extraction of groundwater or petroleum.

Erosion is a different phenomenon, though it often also gets lumped in with these types of flooding. Primarily erosion at the beach is due to direct wave action driven by local or distant storms, OR it is due to the long term removal of sand by the normal currents along the coast, but often disturbed by artificial structures like jetties and inlets.  To a considerable degree, what we think of as erosion is a natural inevitable process as ocean currents continue to sculpt shorelines in a very dynamic manner.

The flooding this weekend from Jonas is a powerful reminder how storms, extreme tides, and sea level rise are a swirling dynamic. What we see is the severe flooding. Almost everyone associates the flooding with the record storm. They do not notice how much the subtle planetary-driven tide cycle contributes. It is also easy to overlook how the unstoppable long term rising sea will keep making these events worse and worse.

The sooner we plan and adapt to rising sea level, the better communities will be prepared for these temporary flood events too.  Resiliency planning for higher ocean levels is a good investment for coastal interests everywhere. That’s the business case we make at The Rising Seas Group. Planning ahead for inevitable higher sea level is a good investment. Any sailor knows that you look out to the horizon to know the weather that is headed your way.

We can plan and adapt to much higher sea level that is now on the horizon.  Indeed we must. For example, I like to use a “9-box matrix” which allows different stakeholder groups to look at their own Short-Medium-Long time perspectives, against Low-Moderate-Worst case projections for sea level rise for a particular geographic area. With that and a vulnerability assessment, the next step is to plan adaptation.

Events like Jonas should remind everyone with coastal interests that even modest storm surge can have surprising impact. We are at the early phase of a very long term trend, an ever-rising sea level — something not witnessed in human history.

We can ADAPT. To do that we must PLAN. To do that, we must UNDERSTAND where things are headed.

→ No CommentsTags: catastrophic climate change · climate change · guest post

Porter Ranch should spark end to ‘out-of-sight, out-of-mind’ on methane leakage

January 11th, 2016 · No Comments

The Porter Ranch methane gas leak is emerging from an ‘out-of-sight, out-of-mind’ situation to more common knowledge, with growing governmental, media, and social focus on this continuing manmade disaster. Likened increasingly to a land-based version of BP’s Deepwater Horizon, the leak has serious health implications that are leading to 1000s being moved from their homes and looks likely to have, at the end, the equivalent climate impact equivalent of over 10 years of an average coal-fired plant.* This is both a massive and slow-motion disaster: slow-motion in that capping the leak is a difficult and time-consuming engineering challenge with little ability, it seems, to do more than watch the methane leak (with special cameras) and leak and leak for month after month until is finally capped.

There are at least four California Senate bills under consideration that call for moratoriums on new gas injections in this storage area, placing financial responsibility for the disaster on ‘the polluters’, and other measures. (See the material in Senate Porter Ranch Gas Leak Background and Bill Package 010816.)
An old adage is ‘never let a good crisis go to waste’.  While wondering what ‘good’ really means, there is no question that this situation merits ‘crisis’ status and one question to ask, therefore, is “what can be done to help in the long term based on learning from and within the political focus on this crisis?”  Within this package of proposals, there seems to be a gap that merits filling that will help in identifying and tackling future methane leaks more rapidly, efficiently, and effectively.
In short, it is well past time to institute  more extensive, continuous (okay, frequent/iterative), public mapping of methane leaks along with the requirement to and resources for rapidly addressing leaks.  With something along those lines, California (and the California Air Resources Board (CARB)) could become leading-edge in the nation as to this underemphasized pollution issue and help drive forward the Administration’s methane leakage efforts.
Methane leakage is far from only a problem at fracking sites or at major storage sites — but is leakage is a problem through the entire cycle from drilling to end user. Many (including this author) were stunned seeing the work of researchers who mapped methane leaks in Boston and Washington, DC.  As one discussion began,
Residents of Washington, DC are used to jokes about metaphorical hot air, humidity, and the swampy history of their city. But there’s something they may not know about the District: it’s overrun with methane, which sometimes makes manhole covers explode.

Natural gas is mostly methane,

Methane leaks mapped as 3,356 spikes along 785 miles of road in Boston. Yellow indicates methane levels above 2.5 parts per million.

Methane leaks mapped as 3,356 spikes along 785 miles of road in Boston. Yellow indicates methane levels above 2.5 parts per million.

and it is carried through underground pipes to heat buildings and cook food. Those pipes are often old, and this led ecologist and chemical engineer Robert Jackson of Duke University to drive around DC over a period of two months, regularly measuring the air to take methane levels.

He and his research team found methane leaks everywhere, with thousands of places having significantly higher than normal methane concentrations, and some places reaching 50 times normal urban levels (100 ppm vs 2 ppm). A similar study in Boston last year found essentially the same results. In DC, the source wasn’t the swamp on which the city was built — it was fossil fuel.

Those leaks — all those yellow spikes — help show the thruthiness lie of ‘natural gas has half the emissions when burned‘ because, well, coal doesn’t disappear in the atmosphere between the mine and burning. That ‘natural gas’ doesn’t look so great in total emissions profile if we take well to flame leakage rates seriously. If leakage rates are high enough, natural gas (methane) could actually be worse than coal because methane has roughly 80 times the climate impact of natural gas over 20 years.
Consider all those yellow spikes. Because costing money, they create risks: risks of explosions, risks to health of those breathing the molecules, and risks through worsened climate change impacts.  All those spikes merit erasing … but can’t be dealt with if they remain out of sight (and thus out of mind).
A robust mapping effort would not have to be expensive and could have significant benefits.  Very simply, California could move to put monitoring devices on public vehicles (school buses, police cars, busses).  It wouldn’t be perfect coverage but would provide rather robust and frequent monitoring.  Of course, the systems wouldn’t have to be limited to only methane.  Note that this has already been done.  Three Google mapping cars were equipped with Aclima monitors to provide air quality data in a test in the Denver area:
Three Street View cars took measurements of nitrogen dioxide, nitric oxide, ozone, carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, methane, black carbon, particulate matter, and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) — air pollutants which can affect human health or climate change. …
Imagine constantly updated, publicly available information about the air quality of your community.  Writ large, from VOCs to CO2 to other pollutants, the pollutants all around us are out-of-sight, out-of-mind.  Data enables decision-making and action.  Visibility fosters support for that action.
California shouldn’t let the Porter Ranch crisis go to waste. There should be round-the-clock efforts to reduce and end the leak as fast as possible. The health and safety risks to individuals and community require continuous monitoring and addressing.  There must be measures to address the very real damages that local residents and communities have occurred. Measures are required for reducing risks into the future. And, measures with broader payoff merit implementing.  California should take a lesson from Porter Ranch and act so that methane leakage is never again ‘out-of-sight, out-of-mind’.
* Note: The calculation as to climate impact is a back of the envelope effort that merits more detailed analysis.
UPDATE:  Here is a discussion of pollution levels around Porter Ranch which incorporates a visualization like those above.

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This shouldn’t happen: salad in a #climate change(d) DC suburb

January 3rd, 2016 · No Comments

There are many joys of gardening, not least of which is harvesting food feet from your front door to dine on just minutes or hours later.

It is 3 January 2016.

Here is the lettuce that I just harvested from my garden — wild lettuce from plants we had dined off of last spring and then in the fall — and for which I will be making a salad dressing shortly.


DC-area lettuce harvested 3 Jan 2016 (c) A Siegel

DC-area lettuce harvested 3 Jan 2016 (c) A Siegel


Lettuce growing in DC-area garden. late Dec 2015

Lettuce growing in DC-area garden. late Dec 2015

To be clear, this is healthy (even beautiful) lettuce — three different varieties — that we will all enjoy eating.


We will all enjoy, however, with serious ill-ease.

Every one of us know that this should not happen. We should not be eating lettuce from the garden in January.

I live with a climate change(d) backyard.

We live in a climate change(d) world.

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→ No CommentsTags: climate change

Start saying everything is related to #climate change. Just start it.

January 1st, 2016 · 3 Comments

Simply put, amid weather extremes occurring within a climate change(d) world, too many are not connecting the dots as to the relationship between climate change and the hottest year on record/North Pole warmth/Mississippi flooding/flowers in a DC garden on New Year’s day/…. This is a repost of a 2011 piece (that has a rich 290 comment discusion thread).  Some recent discussions sparked a  reread and reconsideration of the post and the comments. Sadly, as per reposting below, it is sadly too relevant today.

As the hottest year in recorded history closes (surpassing 2014’s record and with 2016 being predicted to being even hotter) with a series of extreme(ly unusuable, record-breaking) weather events/patterns, it is astounding how rarely media outlets & meteorologists connect these to climate change (an example from my breakfast table: this recent Washington Post front page story on December’s heat).While fully capable of doing so, “the media” does not treat climate change as seriously as it/they did Monica Lewinsky’s blue dress. Some do this out of ignorance (not making the connections or thinking ‘oh, everyone knows what is going on, why bother or I wrote about climate last month, there is no reason to repeat things over again) and some do this from direct climate-science denial.  No matter what the ’cause’, the reality is that this is a disservice to public understanding and public discourse of what likely is the defining public policy issue for the century (if not centuries) to come.

To be clear, as discussed below, it would be incorrect to state bluntly: “Climate change has caused X or Y extreme weather event”.  However, it is simply as (actually, arguably more) erroneous  — without some serious science behind it — to assert the reverse. The truth, in situation after situation, is that climate change is impacting (has a role) in extreme weather situation after weather event. Simply put, in our climate change(d) world, every square inch of the earth and every cubic centimeter of the atmosphere has been impacted by humanity.  “Weather” is not occurring, any longer, outside a context of climate change.

The absence of climate change from media examinations of weather extremes has moved past potentially understandable oversight to, increasingly, what might be referred to as ‘journalistic malfeasance’.  Editors and journalists should read and consider seriously these New Year’s resolutions for reporting on climate.

In simple truth, it has now become impossible to discuss responsibly weather patterns and events without putting it in the context of climate change (climate disruption / global warming). As per Bill McKibben’s Eaarth and the scientific move to the term Antropocene era, we have fundamentally altered the planetary system.     Thus, while it is absolutely true that it remains (and likely will remain) impossible to say “X” event occurred “because of” global warming, it is also true that global warming is now a factor (among many other factors) that impact weather events — all weather events.

Weatherdude posted one of those massively explosive discussions.  Stop saying everything is because of climate change. Just stop it. had 447 comments with hundreds of recommendations.  Simply put, that is a travesty even though there is truth to this statement:

Please, for the love of FSM, stop trying to link every extreme to climate change. The ice caps are melting, the oceans are rising, and all sorts of other scary shit is happening, but not every single event is due to the climate’s change. If all of this stuff is happening due to climate change, we don’t yet have the trends to back it up. Wait until we do. Until then, warn about the dangers of climate change, don’t say everything happened because of it.

In addition to truth, there is also what seems to be concern trolling (see note at end of post) — there is a difference between connected to and caused by.

From the title on, this reader (not for one) saw that post as concern trolling

Stop saying everything is because of climate change. Just stop it.

When it comes to climate disruption, knowledgeable people do not generally run out and say “global warming caused this tornado” or “we wouldn’t ever have had this flood without global warming“.  Sure, those statements occur … but relatively rarely and are not heard from credible voices (outside cheery-picked quotes). Far more frequent and typical is to have a rash of 100-year and 500-year events (floods and droughts and fires and …), a series of disruptive weather events out-of-pattern with historical events in an area, a rash of heat records being broken, etc … without climate change or global warming ever being mentioned.

No, global warming isn’t the determinate of any and all weather.

Clearly, the earth still orbits around the sun, January and July have different temperatures, etc … There are many, many factors that coalesce and influence weather patterns.

For example, re tornados and damage, let’s just talk about direct human activity (without getting into the complexity of global warming):

  1. More population, more spread out — greater likelihood that someone gets hurt/killed even with zero change in the number and strength of tornadoes.
  2. Related to above — ever more physical footprint (buildings, roads, transmissions lines, etc) means increased likelihood of fiscal damage.
  3. Better scientific instruments (and more spread out population) means that we should, writ large, be better at data collection and will have (therefore) more reported tornados.
  4. FAR LESS CERTAIN and a substantiated hypothesis: human land use could be having an impact on local-weather conditions / patterns enough to influence (in some cases .. maybe) tornados formation (think urban heat islands … and whether several degrees would matter within larger weather pattern)
  5. Etc …

Similar lists could be generated for wildfire, river flooding, hurricane damage, storm weather surges, droughts, etc …

There are many factors that influence weather events. Among them: climate disruption. We are now, however, in a situation where failure to discuss whether and how climate change / global warming / climate disruption could be a contributing factor would be, well, gross negligence.

Of course, as Weatherdude emphasizes, weather is events and climate trends. “Weird” weather events have happened, it seems, throughout Earth’s history.  There were 2-inch rainfalls in a day 50 years ago (when Co2 count was about 300 ppm) in my area — there are far more and these are a far greater share of total rainfall today.  Thus, a big thunderstorm that knocks out my power isn’t “because of” climate change but it is reasonable to discuss the increasing frequency of more severe storms within the context of climate disruption (and a Co2 count of about 394).  (PS: And, of course, the local doesn’t prove global … And, of course, decisions about tree trimming, whether to have power lines above or below ground, maintenance schedules, etc all are major players as to whether the power goes out …)

To me, Stop saying everything is because of climate change. Just stop it. was a travesty — even as there are elements within that are correct and with which I agree — because it contributes to a ‘don’t discuss it because you don’t have 100% proof of 100% causality’-type argument favored by those seeking to forestall action no matter that the author comments within the diary “I believe that climate change is real.” (Note “believe”: there is a problem of using the term “belief” related to science.)    No, climate disruption is not “the” reason for any specific weather event but, no, we don’t have the decades to wait until the evidence is in.

SIGH … TO BE CLEAR .. A NOTE FOR CLARITY. Writing that some of a discussion reads like concern trolling is not (and is not meant as) an attack on another’s character or capability or value or ….  This post began, with reason, pointing out that there was “truth in …”  And, while highlighting my arenas of disagreement, the final paragraph includes “even as there are elements within that are correct and with which I agree”.  This post points to  an — important — arena of disagreement as how to discuss a critically important issue.

UPDATE:  Jeff Masters’ piece Unprecedented: Simultaneous January Named Storms in the Atlantic and Central Pacific provides a textbook example of how to incorporate global warming & climate in extreme weather event reporting. That post ends:

Alex’s genesis
Alex can trace its genesis to an area of low pressure that formed off the Southeast U.S. coast on January 7. Between January 8 and 12, pre-Alex tracked generally eastwards over ocean waters that were 22 – 25°C (72 – 77°F); these temperatures were near-record warm for this time of year (about 2 – 4°F above average). These temperatures were just high enough so that Alex was able to gradually gain a warm core and become a subtropical storm. It is unlikely that Alex would have formed if these waters had been close to normal temperatures for this time of year. The unusually warm waters for Alex were due, in part, to the high levels of global warming that brought Earth its warmest year on record in 2015. Global warming made Alex’s formation much more likely to occur, and the same can be said for the formation of Hurricane Pali in the Central Pacific. To get both of these storms simultaneously in January is something that would have had a vanishingly small probability more than 30 years ago, before global warming really began to ramp up.

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→ 3 CommentsTags: climate disruption · Global Warming · journalism · media · weather

A call to journalists: treat #climate like a #sex scandal

December 30th, 2015 · 1 Comment

This guest post from Dean Baker provides a different perspective on inadequate media discussion and coverage of climate change issues.  In short, Dean reminds us that journalists do know how to dig to the bottom of a story and how to pressure politicians.  He asks media outlets and journalists to treat climate change with, at least, the serious energy expended on making (in)famous a certain blue dress.

The Washington Post ran a column last week that blamed the baby boom generation for global warming. Even for the Post this was extraordinarily low. This is not an issue of defending my generation; it is a question of how bad policy persists. And the answer puts the blame far more on media outlets like the Washington Post than people born in the two decades after World War II.

Most people don’t spend their days enmeshed in policy issues; they have jobs and lives. They rely on the media to let them know what is important. Unfortunately, this has generally not meant much coverage of global warming. The media have largely treated global warming as sort of a sidebar of interest to a narrow clientele, kind of like sailboat races.

Contrast the coverage of global warming with the near wall-to-wall coverage of Ebola back in the fall of 2014, a disease that infected a total of three people in the United States. Or, take the current coverage of ISIS. If we envision a worst case scenario for ISIS, there are probably several thousand times as many lives being put at risk by global warming than will ever be threatened by ISIS.

We got an excellent display of the media’s ability to ignore global warming in the two presidential debates that took place immediately after the Paris climate talks. There was not a single question on global warming in either party’s debate.

Part of the reason for ignoring the issue likely stems from the fact that one party insists that global warming is not happening, or at least that humans are not causing it. It is a basic tenet of the Republican Party that global warming is not an area for public policy.

As a result, all of the leading candidates for the party’s presidential nomination, as well as the leadership in the House and Senate, deny knowing anything about it. “I am not a scientist” is now rivaling the pledge of allegiance as an oath taken by Republican Party leaders.

But Republican denials of global warming don’t put the issue in dispute any more than their refusal to accept arithmetic would make addition a debatable topic. A responsible press would treat these denials as the scandal they are.

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→ 1 CommentTags: climate change · climate delayers · climate zombies · Congress · global warming deniers · guest post · journalism · Washington Post

Will the ‘invisible’ Porter Ranch #climate catastrophe lead to the largest lawsuit ever?

December 29th, 2015 · No Comments

That is the question that Shockwave asks in this guest post.

“Porter Ranch” refers to a massive California methane gas leak equivalent, while unchecked to 25% of that state’s greenhouse gas emissions. This is, in terms of global impact, potentially of greater real import than Deepwater Horizon. With the latter, the Cabinet was in full crisis mode with multiple members of the Cabinet up late a night dealing with the crisis and the Secretary of Energy, Stephen Chu, working all channels to find any technology that could help address the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico. Not the case with Porter Ranch — unless, just like the methane gas, that crisis-mode reaction requires thermal imaging to see …

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US East Coast basks in warmth while the North Pole is melting?

December 28th, 2015 · No Comments

While pleasurable, it felt odd to bike comfortably in shorts and a t-shirt in late December in the D.C. suburbs.

Roses and Azaleas blooming in DC-area garden, late Dec 2015

Roses and Azaleas blooming in DC-area garden, late Dec 2015

The table is pretty with a vase of roses, but weird to have them coming from the garden.

And, there is nothing more Locavore than vegetables from the garden, but — really — a bed of green rather than fresh snow in the backyard?

So, DC at 72 degrees Fahrenheit on 27 December 2015 didn’t just break records  — it felt bizarre to have temperatures 30 degrees warmer than normal.

That bizarre, however, has nothing on the Arctic.  It isn’t 72 Fahrenheit in the middle of winter at the North Pole.

Do "bad kids" become global warming denying fossil fools?

Do “bad kids” become global warming denying fossil fools? (Courtesy of Skeptical Science)

The Arctic is, however, predicted to be somewhere in the range of 72 degrees above “normal” temperatures in the coming days. Talk about starting the New Year off with a bang!

We’ve probably never seen weather like what’s being predicted for a vast region stretching from the North Atlantic to the North Pole and on into the broader Arctic this coming week. But it’s all in the forecast — an Icelandic low that’s stronger than most hurricanes featuring a wind field stretching over hundreds and hundreds of miles. One that taps warm tropical air and hurls it all the way to the North Pole and beyond during Winter time. And it all just reeks of a human-forced warming of the Earth’s climate…

A massive storm, with impacts from the North Pole down through (already hard hit) England.  The storm will also warm the Arctic in an “extraordinarily” severe way.

These winds will bring with them extraordinarily warm temperatures for the High Arctic region during Winter time. By Wednesday, the North Pole is expected to see temperatures in the range of 1-2 degrees Celsius or 41-42 degrees C above average (73-75 degrees Fahrenheit above the normal daily temperature of -40 F for a typical Winter day).

Yes, roughly around New Year’s Day, the North Pole have above freezing temperatures rather than life-endangering cold building up ice packs.

Such an extreme departure would be like seeing a 120 degree (Fahrenheit) December day in my hometown of Gaithersburg, MD.

Yes, 72 degrees in the DC-area in late December was pretty nice while weird and disconcerting. 120 degrees — that is hard to fathom.

Needless to say, a 1-2 C reading at the North Pole during late December is about as odd as witnessing Hell freezing over.

Read more at Warm Arctic Storm To Hurl Hurricane Force Winds at UK and Iceland, Push Temps to 72+ Degrees (F) Above Normal at North Pole.

A note on messaging and discussion:  Remoteness does not communicate well. Focusing solely on the Arctic Circle is, by definition, remote from the daily lives and experiences of >99% of humanity.  Remote, however, does not mean irrelevant — even if people don’t see it.  Thus, linking this to what is being experienced in our backyards (e.g, the opening re how climate change(d) my backyard) or relating what it would mean in the backyard (that 120 degrees in Gaithersburg analogy) helps people bring the understandable ‘gap’ from the remote to their own lives.

→ No CommentsTags: catastrophic climate change · climate change

Shhh … when it comes to #weather/#climate links, nothing to be seen here (@WashingtonPost edition)

December 27th, 2015 · 4 Comments

Shhh … there is nothing to be seen here. Even with perhaps the nation’s top political cartoonist on climate change,CXG5n6KWQAAisRo Tom Toles, and the excellent climate/energy/science reporting of the likes of Chris Mooney, article after article in The Washington Post discussing ‘weird weather’ in the DC area and elsewhere goes with nary a mention of climate change.

See the 26 December front-page, above-the-fold article “White Hot Christmas: Some rejoice in D.C’s record-setting warmth, but others are unnerved“.

Even as Washingtonians found themselves luxuriating in the steam bath that was Christmas 2015, even as decades of meteorological records were shattered, they could not help but feel out of sorts, as if they were indulging in something that was not quite right

The article tells us that DC saw “the highest Christmas [temperature] reading in more than 30 years” amid “ever-toastier conditions” yet, amid dozens of column inches, we hear of “end times” and recipes for a warmer Christmas but the words “climate change” don’t appear.

Speaking of End Times, the online version’s headline is telling:

‘Jesus might be coming back .?.?. Or it’s something else. I don’t know.’

Within the article,

Lakisha Webster’s eyes narrowed as she struggled to make sense of the forces that may have conspired to turn what she once knew as winter into the strangest of summers.

“Jesus might be coming back,” Webster, 44, said, while her young grandson test-drove a new $800 dirt bike. “Or it’s something else. I don’t know. But it’s scary — a little bit scary.”

The voice of confusion and conflict — enjoyment and/or discomfort.  A long, front-page article without any placement of context. (For an alternative approach, capturing the dissonance between enjoying warm December weather while understanding climate change impacts, see #Climate change has changed my (and your) backyard.)
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→ 4 CommentsTags: climate change · environmental · journalism · media · Washington Post · weather

#Climate change has changed my (and your) backyard

December 27th, 2015 · 4 Comments

It is late December, Washington, DC, suburbs

Roses and Azaleas blooming in DC-area garden, late Dec 2015

Roses and Azaleas blooming in DC-area garden, late Dec 2015

and things are out-of-whack. Roses and azaleas blooming in the garden with cut flowers adorning the dining room table and enough lettuce coming up that we’re looking toward fresh salad from the garden for a New Year’s brunch.

Let me tell you: this is not normal.  Actually, correction: this was not normal and sadly is likely a sign of ‘the new normal’: weird weather, with new extremes of all types, amid a warming global ecosystem.

Washington is warm — record-setting warm.


Even the cherry blossoms are confused, looking like mid-April rather than December.

Lettuce growing in DC-area garden. late Dec 2015

Lettuce growing in DC-area garden. late Dec 2015

High temperature record, after record, along the U.S. east coast are getting shattered

this December as my lettuce emerges through winter cover plants.


And, while it gets warm during the day, it isn’t cooling at night.

This isn’t just DC.

“According to preliminary data from NOAA’s National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI), at least 2,693 record daily highs were tied or broken across the U.S. during the first 23 days of December. An additional 3,912 record-warm daily low temperatures have been set during the same time period,” the Weather Channel reported. “By comparison, just 147 daily record lows and 140 additional record cool highs were set in the same time frame.”

Let us be clear, for a moment, this is not isolated either temporally nor geographically. Here, for example, is Minnesota with the question “what is happening to winter?” In the UK, daffodils are blooming at Windsor Castle.

Dec 2015 temperature anomalies (note: baseline is 1980-2010: e.g, a climate changed baseline ...)

Dec 2015 temperature anomalies (note: baseline is 1980-2010: e.g, a climate changed baseline …)

Temperatures are going up globally — writ large — year to year. Decade-to-decade, ever more warm temperature records are getting broken than cold ones (for daily highs and warm minimums, and for average temperatures). And, this is happening globally, with 2015 blasting through the record books and surpassing 2014 as the warmest year on record.

Back to the backyard …

Daily life is a form of cognitive dissonance.

Physically, these warm temperatures are a joy. Bike riding and walking with t-shirts, having windows open for fresh air, not having to be bundled up with heavy winter clothing.

Yet … this is beyond bizarre, the changed backyard is ominous to the extent of ‘climate changed’ rather than ‘the climate will change’.  In the past ‘normal’, roses from the garden aren’t supplying cut flowers for the household at the end of the year.  Wild lettuce never provided a New Year’s day salad.

If ‘new normal’ were only about enjoying standing outside talking to neighbors and eating fresh food from the garden, then there’d be reason to embrace it … sadly, that is not the dominant outcome.

From disrupted wildlife and agriculture, to more severe storms, to rising seas, to … climate change threatens us.

And, even while tomorrow’s impacts will be greater than today’s, as my (and your) changed backyard shows, these threats are truly upon us now …


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Climate reality debunking

December 22nd, 2015 · 1 Comment

Debunking deceit is difficult business.

Among other things:

  • Deceit and dishonesty is easier than thoughtful, substantive, truthful engagement. As Winston Churchill put it, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”
  • People simply don’t have the capacity (think time and luxury of deep consideration) to absorb detail counterpoints on issue after issue, day after day.
  • Which means that Gish Galloping (“a debate spewed forth an endless torrent of talking points, rendering constructive debate impossible”) powerfully sways the ‘undecided’ and marginally informed as the talking points stick and detailed rebuttals sound weak, whining, and caught up in the details (rather than exuberantly thriving in 140-character Twitterdom climate-science denial like @RealDonaldTrump). Simply put, those who care less about truthful engagement have a debate advantage:
  • And, people simply don’t want their misperceptions corrected — there is a natural resistance to inconvenient truth.

All this combines to mean that fact checkers operate with inherent disadvantage.

Worsening the situation is the ever fracturing of our media and communal interaction landscape. There is no longer a Walter Cronkite nor M.A.S.H. unifying American discourse and providing true common guidestones for interaction and ground truth. Too many are getting “their truth” from “their” media and are not open to external voices or opinions.

And compounding the problem further:  most ‘debunkers’ seem not to have read Randy Olson‘s Don’t be such a scientist: talking substance in an age of style and take a rather academic and intellectual approach to the process, much like what one might have been taught in an academic class back in grammar school, with a argument structure that can fail to capture audience and, even worse, can actually reinforce falsehoods in audience’s minds.

All of this combines, as per the opening sentence, to make debunking myths extremely difficult and highlight the importance of taking this very seriously, including learning from those that dedicate serious attention to the challenges and leverage their learning to foster more effective styles.

Simply put, The Debunking Handbook (pdf) is one of the most effective pieces of literature that I’ve encountered. A short, fully documented yet highly digestible paper with a real impact on how I think about and approach ‘debunking’ and refuting truthiness-laden arguments. (See here for my review: Debunk me: Lean, mean, and easy to read.) There are five core elements:

  • Mud sticks: it is hard to change people’s mind and simply providing accurate and more information is not likely to dislodge myths.
  • Familiarity Backfire Effect: The more people hear something, the likelier that it ‘sticks’ with them.
  • Overkill Backfire Effect: More information and arguments ? more effective.  Less often is more.
  • Worldview Backfire Effect: Sadly, when it comes to climate change (or evolution or …), a simple reality is that there are unreachables that will not be convinced no matter how much energy you put into it and therefore “outreaches should be directed towards the undecided majority rather than the unswayable minority”.
  • Mind the Gap: MIND THE GAPThe debunking effort creates a void (a gap in people’s mental model) and nature abhors a vacuum.  For effective debunking, “your debunking must fill that gap” with an alternative (truthful) explanation

With these in mind, here is an Anatomy of an effective debunking. Bringing all the different threads together, an
effective debunking requires:

  • Core facts—a refutation should emphasize facts, not the myth. Present only key facts to avoid an Overkill Backfire Effect;
  • Explicit warnings—before any mention of a myth, text or visual cues should warn that the upcoming information is false;
  • Alternative explanation—any gaps left by the debunking need to be filled. This may be achieved by providing an alternative causal explanation for why the myth is wrong and, optionally, why the misinformers promoted the myth in the first place;
  • Graphics – core facts should be displayed graphically if possible.

While important in providing ‘how to’ guidance, the Handbook also provides a window by which to consider debunking efforts.

Perhaps like debunking myths, The Debunking Handbook seems to face an uphill struggle.  People “know” how to debunk and remain locked into old patterns that might not be effective.

There are many organizations and individuals across the climate (and broader science) communities who expend meaningful resources challenging various myths (and outright falsehoods) about climate science and potential mitigation paths forward.  All too often, these individuals and institutions do not follow debunking basic principles.

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