About Stuart Levine

Science (the Environment)

October 17, 2007--Introduction

I didn't intent to include information concerning scientific issues here, but the English court decision about Al Gore's film, An Inconvenient Truth, convinced me that this topic ought to be included. A copy of the opinion is here.

I suspect that the opinion will be mischaracterized as a general attack on the film. It is not. In the opinion, the Court states that the film "is substantially founded upon scientific research and fact" and that the four principal scientific hypotheses advance by the film "are supported by a vast quantity of research published in peer-reviewed journals worldwide and by the great majority of the world's climate scientists." The Court then goes on to state that it had "no doubt" that "Gore's presentation of the causes and likely effects of climate change in the film was broadly accurate."

The Court's opinion can be summarized as follows:

  1. There is a statute in Britain that requires that "political" material must be presented to students in a way that leads them to access to contrary viewpoints;

  2. There were nine points in the film that were arguably inaccurate; and

  3. As a result, the educational authorities were required to provide contrary views as to these points.

Of course, the Court also concluded that Mr. Gore was a "charismatic presence," a conclusion that heretofore only Tipper shared.

Several commentators have taken issue with the "nine errors" that the Court identified. Critical commentary can be found here, here, and here.

October 21, 2007--Insurance

An interesting paper on the effects of global climate change upon the insurance industry can be found here. The money quote:

Companies and investors now increasingly realize that, in fact, it is the lack of action to combat climate change that is the true threat to the economy, while engaging with the problem and mounting solutions represents not only a duty to shareholders but also a boon for economic growth.

October 25, 2007--Old Testament Stuff

In the film Ghostbusters, there was the following exchange:

Dr. Peter Venkman: This city is headed for a disaster of biblical proportions.
Mayor: What do you mean, "biblical"?
Dr Ray Stantz: What he means is Old Testament, Mr. Mayor, real wrath-of-God type stuff.
Dr. Peter Venkman: Exactly.
Dr Ray Stantz: Fire and brimstone coming down from the skies. Rivers and seas boiling.
Dr. Egon Spengler: Forty years of darkness. Earthquakes, volcanoes...
Winston Zeddemore: The dead rising from the grave.
Dr. Peter Venkman: Human sacrifice, dogs and cats living together - mass hysteria.

Apparently, Julie L. Gerberding, M.D., M.P.H., Director, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Administrator, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has a similar apocalyptic view of global climate change that she expressed in the draft of her comments to the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. The draft is here. In that draft, she said such things as:

  • One of the most likely climate change projections is an increase in frequency of hot days, hot nights, and heat waves. The United States is expected to see an increase in the severity, duration, and frequency of extreme heat waves.

  • Climate change is anticipated to alter the frequency, timing, intensity, and duration of extreme weather events, such as hurricanes and floods. The health effects of these extreme weather events range from loss of life and acute trauma, to indirect effects such as loss of home, large-scale population displacement, damage to sanitation infrastructure (drinking water and sewage systems), interruption of food production, damage to the health-care infrastructure, and psychological problems such as post traumatic stress disorder.

  • Climate change is predicted to alter agricultural production, both directly and indirectly. This may lead to scarcity of some foods, increase food prices, and threaten access to food for Americans who experience food insecurity.

  • The northern latitudes of the United States are expected to experience the largest increases in average temperatures; these areas also will likely bear the brunt of increases in ground-level ozone and associated airborne pollutants. Populations in mid-western and northeastern cities are expected to experience more heat related illnesses as heat waves increase in frequency, severity, and duration. Coastal regions will likely experience essentially uniform risk of sea level rise, but different rates of coastal erosion, wetlands destruction, and topography are expected to result in dramatically different regional effects of sea level rise. Distribution of animal hosts and vectors may change; in many cases, ranges could extend northward and increase in elevation. For some pathogens associated with wild animals, such as rodents and hantavirus, ranges will change based on precipitation changes. The west coast of the United States is expected to experience significant strains on water supplies as regional precipitation declines and mountain snowpacks are depleted. Forest fires are expected to increase in frequency, severity, distribution, and duration.

Of course, you wouldn't know about her draft testimony if it hadn't been leaked to the press. The OMB ripped the draft to shreds and submitted only a sanitized version to the Committee.

Update, October 30, 2007--Dr. John Marburger,Director,Office of Science and Technology Policy, issued a defense of the Administration's position.

November 16, 2007--Deny, Deny, Deny

There are those who think that there is a sharp scientific debate concerning (i) whether there is a global warming trend and (ii) if so, whether the trend is due to anthropogenic causes. In reality, academic experts are overwhelmingly convinced that there is an ongoing global warming trend and that it is due to anthropogenic causes.

In 2004, the American Association for the Advancement of Science published the results of a survey by Dr. Naomi Oreskes on the available literature in peer-reviewed publications. The survey can be found here. The report noted:

The drafting of . . . reports and statements [concluding the global warming is real and due to anthropogenic causes] involves many opportunities for comment, criticism, and revision, and it is not likely that they would diverge greatly from the opinions of the societies' members. Nevertheless, they might downplay legitimate dissenting opinions. That hypothesis was tested by analyzing 928 abstracts, published in refereed scientific journals between 1993 and 2003, and listed in the ISI database with the keywords "climate change".

The 928 papers were divided into six categories: explicit endorsement of the consensus position, evaluation of impacts, mitigation proposals, methods, paleoclimate analysis, and rejection of the consensus position. Of all the papers, 75% fell into the first three categories, either explicitly or implicitly accepting the consensus view; 25% dealt with methods or paleoclimate, taking no position on current anthropogenic climate change. Remarkably, none of the papers disagreed with the consensus position.

Admittedly, authors evaluating impacts, developing methods, or studying paleoclimatic change might believe that current climate change is natural. However, none of these papers argued that point.

This analysis shows that scientists publishing in the peer-reviewed literature agree with IPCC, the National Academy of Sciences, and the public statements of their professional societies. Politicians, economists, journalists, and others may have the impression of confusion, disagreement, or discord among climate scientists, but that impression is incorrect.

(Emphasis added; footnote omitted.)

A useful guide to dealing with global warming deniers is found here.

Recently, I was confronted by a denier who contended that there was "solid data from satellites" that disproved global warming. He was wrong.

In April, 2006, a report "Temperature Trends in the Lower Atmosphere: Steps for Understanding and Reconciling Differences" was submitted to Congress by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program (CCSP). The full report can be found here.

In the abstract, the report notes:

Previously reported discrepancies between the amount of warming near the surface and higher in the atmosphere have been used to challenge the reliability of climate models and the reality of human induced global warming. Specifically, surface data showed substantial global-average warming, while early versions of satellite and radiosonde data showed little or no warming above the surface. This significant discrepancy no longer exists because errors in the satellite and radiosonde data have been identified and corrected. New data sets have also been developed that do not show such discrepancies.

In other words, the satellite evidence is consistent with the conclusion that there is rapid and on-going anthropogenic global warming.

November 21, 2007--CBO Report

Peter Orzag, the Director of the Congressional Budget Office has posted a paper Issues in Climate Change; Presentation for the CBO Director’s Conference on Climate Change. In it, he states that:

Global climate change is one of the nation’s most significant long-term policy challenges. Human activities are producing increasingly large quantities of greenhouse gases, particularly carbon dioxide (CO2). The accumulation of those gases in the atmosphere is expected to have potentially serious and costly effects on regional climates throughout the world. The magnitude of such damage remains highly uncertain. But there is growing recognition that some degree of risk exists for the damage to be large and perhaps even catastrophic.

Materials presented at the conference can be found here.

December 1, 2007--NASA

James E. Hansen is the Director of the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies. His comments on anthropogenic climate change can be found here, here, and here.

December 1, 2007--NASA

There are two recent Congressional Research Service reports on anthropogenic climate change.

The first RL33849 - Climate Change: Science and Policy Implications by Jane A. Leggett, concludes that:

The continuing scientific process has resulted in a better understanding of climate change and generally confirms the broad conclusions made in previous decades by the preponderance of scientists: that human activities emit greenhouse gases that influence the climate, with potentially serious effects. Details have been revised or refined, but the basic conclusion of the risks persists. The principal questions remaining for the majority of scientists concern not whether greenhouse gases will result in climate change, but the magnitude, speed, geographic details, and likelihood of surprises, and the appropriate timing and options involved in addressing the human components of climate change.

The second RL34266 - Climate Change: Science Update 2007, also by Ms. Leggett, states that:

The risks of abrupt and irreversible changes in the climate system -- some potentially catastrophic -- continue to grow as the atmosphere moves further from its state over the past several thousand years.

December 30, 2007--It's Getting Warmer

The National Climactic Data Center reports:

Global Temperatures

The global annual temperature for combined land and ocean surfaces for 2007 is expected to be near 58.0°F and would be the fifth warmest since records began in 1880. Some of the largest and most widespread warm anomalies occurred from eastern Europe to central Asia.

Including 2007, seven of the eight warmest years on record have occurred since 2001 and the 10 warmest years have all occurred since 1997. The global average surface temperature has risen between 0.6°C and 0.7°C since the start of the twentieth century, and the rate of increase since 1976 has been approximately three times faster than the century-scale trend.

The greatest warming has taken place in high latitude regions of the Northern Hemisphere. Anomalous warmth in 2007 contributed to the lowest Arctic sea ice extent since satellite records began in 1979, surpassing the previous record low set in 2005 by a remarkable 23 percent. According to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, this is part of a continuing trend in end-of-summer Arctic sea ice extent reductions of approximately 10 percent per decade since 1979.

As this chart shows, climatic change manifests itself in a variety of ways.

January 1, 2008

A somewhat dated, but still valuable, article summarizing the evidence for anthropogenic climate change can be found here.

January 16, 2008

NASA reported today that:

The year 2007 tied for second warmest in the period of instrumental data, behind the record warmth of 2005, in the Goddard Institute for Space Studies (GISS) analysis. 2007 tied 1998, which had leapt a remarkable 0.2°C above the prior record with the help of the "El Niño of the century". The unusual warmth in 2007 is noteworthy because it occurs at a time when solar irradiance is at a minimum and the equatorial Pacific Ocean is in the cool phase of its natural El Niño-La Niña cycle.

Figure 1 [below] shows 2007 temperature anomalies relative to the 1951-1980 base period mean. The global mean temperature anomaly, 0.57°C (about 1°F) warmer than the 1951-1980 mean, continues the strong warming trend of the past thirty years that has been confidently attributed to the effect of increasing human-made greenhouse gases (GHGs) (Hansen et al. 2007). The eight warmest years in the GISS record have all occurred since 1998, and the 14 warmest years in the record have all occurred since 1990.

(Emphasis added.)

Figure 1(a) is here:

NASA Temp Chart 1

The report does not mince words in dealing with global warming deniers:

"Global warming stopped in 1998," has become a recent mantra of those who wish to deny the reality of human-caused global warming. The continued rapid increase of the five-year running mean temperature exposes this assertion as nonsense.

In reality, global temperature jumped two standard deviations above the trend line in 1998 because the "El Niño of the century" coincided with the calendar year, but there has been no lessening of the underlying warming trend.

(Emphasis added.)

March 8, 2008--Scientists in the '70's Were Predicting a New Ice Age--Not!!

From RealClimate we have this:

To veterans of the Climate Wars, the old 1970s global cooling canard - "How can we believe climate scientists about global warming today when back in the 1970s they told us an ice age was imminent?" - must seem like a never-ending game of Whack-a-mole.

* * * * *

During the period [John Fleck, William Connolley, and Tom Peterson] analyzed, climate science was very different from what you see today. There was far less integration among the various sub-disciplines that make up the enterprise. Remote sensing, integrated global data collection and modeling were all in their infancy. But our analysis nevertheless showed clear trends in the focus and conclusions the researchers were making. Between 1965 and 1979 we found (see table 1 for details):

  • 7 articles predicting cooling
  • 44 predicting warming
  • 20 that were neutral

In other words, during the 1970s, when some would have you believe scientists were predicting a coming ice age, they were doing no such thing. The dominant view, even then, was that increasing levels of greenhouse gases were likely to dominate any changes we might see in climate on human time scales.

The full article is available here.

July 27, 2008--Bad Stuff On the Way

In the paper Analyses of the Effects of Global Change on Human Health and Welfare and Human Systems, the U.S. Climate Change Science Program And the Subcommittee on Global Change Research issued a comprehensive analysis of the negative impact that global climate changes is likely to have on the U.S. As the Executive Summary notes:

In the future, with continued global warming, heat waves and heavy downpours are very likely to further increase in frequency and intensity. Cold days and cold nights are very likely to become much less frequent over North America. Substantial areas of North America are likely to have more frequent droughts of greater severity. Hurricane wind speeds, rainfall intensity, and storm surge levels are likely to increase. Other changes include measurable sea-level rise and increases in the occurrence of coastal and riverine flooding.

changed July 27, 2008