Thursday, August 2, 2012

Don't Know Much Climatology

Like the thief on the cross, Richard A. Muller, a professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley has been in the eleventh hour saved from unbelief. "Call me a converted skeptic," he writes in a recent New York Times op-ed, confessing that after "an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause . . . . it appears likely that essentially all of this increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases."

 Greenhouse gas (Congress in session, 2011)

Muller is a founder of the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project. His research carefully eliminated temperature variations from incidental causes or poor data sources, "biases from urban heating . . .  from data selection (prior groups selected fewer than 20 percent of the available temperature stations; we used virtually 100 percent), from poor station quality . . . and from human intervention and data adjustment (our work is completely automated and hands-off)." He found that "The carbon dioxide curve gives a better match [to historical temperature gradients] than anything else we’ve tried. Its magnitude is consistent with the calculated greenhouse effect . . . .  to be considered seriously, an alternative explanation must match the data at least as well as carbon dioxide does."

Muller's study was heavily funded by the Charles Koch Charitable Foundation, which, with its libertarian petrochemical billionaire founder, has a history of backing groups that deny climate change. In fact, while they may be just the Koch Brothers to you and me, they're coal and oil to the rest of the world.

It appears as though the Kochs may have been handed different results than they paid for. The irony was not wasted in the press - the L.A. Times quotes Michael E. Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, who noted "a certain ironic satisfaction in seeing a study funded by the Koch Brothers – the greatest funders of climate change denial and disinformation on the planet – demonstrate what scientists have known with some degree of confidence for nearly two decades."
As I write this, I am seated at a kitchen table in southern Kansas, the Koch Brothers' home state, where the temperatures have hovered at 109F for more than a week with little promise of immediate relief in sight. Circles of irrigated corn are standing parched in fields, farmers are complaining of a promising wheat crop bereft of moisture before it could be harvested, news sources report more than half the counties in the country as federal disaster areas with rainfall levels at a half-century low. Things were even worse here last summer.

Not to mention that more than half of Greenland’s surface ice melted during four days in July. By itself, the weather doesn't prove anything about climate change. A few good hard winters wouldn't reverse anything or overturn the measurements of climate scientists over more than two decades. But for a population that takes the most crack-brained nonsense on faith, it's all "just a natural cycle," something a benign god has ordained but will not allow to overcome His People, and any opinion to the contrary is a leftist poitical conspiracy conceived in some basement at the United Nations intended to get us to . . . what? Drive small cars like they do in Lithuania? ride bicycles like they used to do in China, until China started making and selling automobiles to a billion Chinese? walk, which is apparently forbidden to His Faithful?

"I won it for being an American."

People steeped in the nonchalant fatalism born of faith can listen to the likes of the eminent climatologist Pat Robertson tell them that climate change is a hoax (there aren't any SUVs on Mars and it's really hot there), and happily dismiss the scientific consensus as media-whoring by the experts. At last week's Senate hearing on the topic, Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions (the William Jennings Bryan of the 21st Century) acted like someone had called him a Baptist when he was a Methodist (or vice versa) - when Barbara Boxer of California reminded him that 98 percent of climate scientists around the gobe accept that anthropogenic warming is real and serious, he was outraged:

Sessions: Madam Chairman, I am offended by that, I’m offended by that . . . I said the data shows [sic] it is not warming to the degree that a lot of people predicted, not close to that much. 

Boxer: The conclusion that you’re coming to is shared by 1-2 percent of the scientists. You shouldn’t be offended by that. That’s the fact.

Sessions: I don’t believe that’s correct.

He should know - he's no expert. But righteous indignation always dazzles the faithful back in Alabama.

"Don't know much climatology . . . "

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