Another day, another survey

And today we have less positive numbers. This is a newer poll of 1500 Americans, conducted by Abt/SRBI Inc. for the Pew Research Center [LINK]. This poll is a repeat of earlier ones focused on global warming (the science and the policy). The interesting part is that the Pew Center is reporting on the trends over the past few years, showing that there has been a strong decrease in the belief that global warming is supported by solid evidence and a decrease in the belief that global warming is a very serious problem. The numbers seem to suggest that this signal is mostly carried by the 365 Republicans and the 543 Independents in the survey, but even the 473 Democrats show a decline.

The news is not all bad, and not all contradictory to the older survey I reported on yesterday [LINK]. Despite the decline, the survey shows that 57% of respondent think there is solid evidence the earth is warming, and 65% think it is somewhat or very serious. That's a strong majority. Things get a bit dicier when you consider that only 36% believe there is solid evidence the earth is warming because of human activity; this is a ridiculously low number, and Jim Hoggan thinks this has a lot to do with the well-funded anti-environment, pro-coal lobby [LINK]. The other positive result is that of the participants 50% favor limits on carbon emissions, even if it means higher energy prices. Even more people, 56% of the participants, say that the USA should join other countries in global initiatives to address global warming.

Okay.... but wait a minute. Let me just state that I'm skeptical of the robustness of these results. To be fair, there is a plus or minus 3% on all of these, according to the methodology [LINK]. But even with that in mind, I have to wonder how 50% of the responses favor limiting emissions to address global warming and 56% want global action while only 35% of people think global warming is a "very serious" problem and only 36% think there is "solid evidence" of human-caused global warming. Maybe people are just really pragmatic about environmental policy, so they favor erring on the side of action because of the large risk. I'd support this, as it seems the most rational response (in the absence of "solid" evidence (of which there actually is a mountain)), as discussed in this video. I'm pretty sure people are not nearly that pragmatic nor rational, so I have to wonder whether there is something else happening. I don't really have an alternate hypothesis. One would be a biased sample, but the methodology does seem pretty good (but I'm no expert). A second alternative is that Jim Hoggan is right, but this just seems a little to conspiratorial. Another possibility is that in the past year or so Americans have gotten a little bit edgy because the economy went nuts, and now they are a bit shaken up, not knowing what to think about things like global warming. If this were the case, we'd see a shift in the numbers toward the more moderate or the "don't know" position. However, looking at the responses from April 2008 and October of 2009, the percent of people who think the earth is warming (at all) went from 71% to 57%, and the number of people who think there is not warming went from 21% to 33%. That'd pretty much mean people have changed their minds. However, the question is stated as:
From what you've read and heard, is there solid evidence that the average temperature on earth has been getting warmer over the past few decades, or not?
So we are restricted to "solid" evidence, so we can not reject my moderation hypothesis.

In this case, I think that we have to take these results with the figurative grain of salt. What would be more informative is to see the results showing whether people have shifted to what they might perceive as the more moderate position. Is there "solid", "compelling", "preliminary", "unconvincing", or no evidence at all that the earth is warming? My guess is that what has really happened is that people, in a haze of fear of the economy collapsing, have shifted to the more conservative position, adopting a more "wait and see" attitude. However, some of their previous thinking remains, and they are taking the more pragmatic position on action because of this. In fact, as a bit of evidence that this is the case, we can look at the follow up question:
Do you believe that the earth is getting warmer mostly because of human activity, such as burning fossil fuels, or mostly because of natural patterns in the earth's environment?
The "human activity" answer changed from 47% to 36%, but the "natural patterns" stayed about steady, going from 18% to 16%. If Hoggan's conspiracy were the correct mechanism for the change in opinion, then more people would be jumping on the "natural patterns" bandwagon, since that is a very prevalent denial argument. Instead, I would suggest people are just feeling more skeptical about issues that they don't know much about (e.g., the economy, global warming, etc). Either way, it will be interesting to watch how public opinion changes in the coming months. And the fact that still half of Americans are in favor of action supports my repeated call for the current government to actually do something.


How many Americans don't believe in climate change, or don't care?

There was a survey conducted in the Fall of 2008 that asked detailed questions about climate-related issues. The study was conducted by the Yale Project on Climate Change and the George Mason University Center for Climate Change Communication. The report is available for download [LINK], or you can read a summary at the Center for American Progress [LINK]. You should definitely start with the summary, and take a look at those graphs. The bottom line is that report breaks the American population into 6 groups based on their beliefs about climate change. Notable about this analysis is that it finds 51% of Americans are quite concerned about global warming, and are prepared to take actions (by voting and spending). That is terrific, as it shows that the message has finally penetrated to mainstream America. Even better, only 7% are "dismissive" of global warming, meaning they don't believe it is even happening. This makes all the deniers on the internet seem even more out of touch and fanatical. There are another 11% that are "doubtful," which is a mix of people who don't know what to believe or think it might be a "natural cycle." So, even if we take all 18% on this side, they only balance the "alarmed" on the other side. Of course, taken a different way, it means almost 1 in 5 Americans still don't think global warming is important.

I guess there are a couple of important things to take away from these results. First, that we can now confidently say that "most Americans" believe global warming is real, caused by humans, and should be addressed. Next, there are at least 18% of Americans that are willing to take strong action to be part of addressing global warming, and in fact, 34% think large-scale action should be taken by the USA government even if it costs a lot. These are the people who will engage in "consumer activism," meaning they will reward or punish companies based on their environmental stands. This means that companies that are eco-friendly should (and already are in many cases) say so, while companies that are not will try to obfuscate their views. In terms of activism, environmental groups should point out companies that are both ends of the spectrum to promote this consumer activism, as knowing which companies are where is a big impediment to actually acting.

I guess the last big point that strikes me is that these results are not in line with the USA government's actions in climate change and energy policy. As I have repeatedly pointed out, the government has done little of substance to address global warming. The current administration talks pretty good talk, but the congress has decided to sit on their hands and worry about getting re-elected. The big Copenhagen meeting is coming up, and it isn't likely that a binding resolution will come out of that. So the American people now have to make their voices heard on these issues. Since most Americans now believe that action should be taken, and since the basic science supports this majority opinion, and emerging science suggests impacts are already being felt in sensitive ecosystems and climate regimes, it seems no good can come from putting off actual action. When I say actual action, I mean (1) consumer activism as mentioned above, (2) political activism via voting for candidates who pledge to take action on climate policy, (3) political activism via pressuring congress to pass climate and energy policy, and (3) domestic legislation and international agreements with binding targets to reduce carbon emissions and punish those countries that do not participate or do not comply with the agreements.

Maybe a way to start is by visiting the up-and-comer in climate activism, 350.org. Sign a petition or send your congressperson a message. Go support climate change policy by participating in the International Day of Action on 24 October. As much as it doesn't sound like it, one of the most useful ways to help galvanize meaningful action is to donate money to organizations that interface more directly with lawmakers.... sigh, yes, these are "lobbyists." But there are good organizations out there that are really fighting for rational policy to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Examples are the Union of Concerned Scientists, 350.org, the Environmental Defense Fund, or the Save Our Environment Action Center (which is a confederation of other groups).


Water vapor movie from NOAA

Just was directed to a mesmerizing animation of the 2008 Atlantic hurricane season via Jeff Masters. You definitely should go and watch. They have stitched together all the GOES water vapor imagery over a nice topographic background. You get to just watch the large-scale flow swirling and pulsing over the course of several months. Amazing. This is the kind of thing that has inspirational power... for casual passers-by, school kids, and even those of us actively in the field. I can watch this all day.


Watching Wave

I've been passively listening to some of the reaction to Google Wave lately. Yesterday (via Daring Fireball), I found a blog post by Daniel Tenner that explains how Google Wave will "replace" email for corporate environments [LINK]. I think Tenner is presenting a good case that the people currently testing Wave aren't really the audience that will most benefit from such a product. Where I think he's going slightly wrong is by using the "corporate" environment (which is what DF says too) as the model. Wave is collaboration software, and the way it is presented by Tenner, it really does sound like it could replace email to a large extent for projects and collaboration. It doesn't replace email for correspondence, and it doesn't replace Facebook or Twitter for "status updates" or "microblogging," and it doesn't replace your favorite IM software. But for people who use any of these tools to actually do work, and especially for people who switch between them (or want to be able to switch between them) for a project, Wave sounds like it will be amazing. The essential idea seems to be that you can start a "wave" as a virtual conversation, including having documents and files and thing, and you can add or drop people from the wave at any time (and they get to see everything, not just what is "happening" now), and Wave makes sense for seamless transitions from email to IM type communication. That is, you upload a document, and everyone has it and can read it and edit it, and everyone can see all versions of it. No more attachments. You can walk away from your computer and come back and get caught up with what is going on, or you can be sitting at your computer going back and forth with others in the wave.

Maybe my vision of Wave makes it better than it can possibly be. But I got excited by Tenner's post. I think this would be an amazing way to do collaborative science. Tenner presents things as problems with email and why Wave fixes it, and for every one I though, yes, that is a problem with email! In science there are many collaborations that could benefit by replacing the normal email with a more efficient communication stream. Examples are reports of all kinds, like when people have to report on the status of a project to the funding agency, or when a dispersed team is writing a paper about a project and different people are writing different sections. Another example might just be a grad student working on her/his thesis, their advisor could observe progress and give feedback using Wave, and postdocs, researchers, or committee members could be brought into the wave as needed for further advice and feedback. It could also work for planning projects, working on code, or even doing homework. Wave seems to be a way to clean up your communication stream, bringing different pieces all into one "wave" seems like a better way to get things done. But we'll see.


Woo-hoo for me

Well, I took the Pew Research Center's science knowledge quiz, and as you can see, I did quite well. Go take the quiz yourself: LINK.


Paul Hudson's climate change denier pornography

On BBC.co.uk a story by Paul Hudson appeared with the title "What happened to global warming?" [LINK]. My opinion of this article is that it is intentionally provocative and misleading, ignoring science for titillation. Hudson takes a mock impartial tone, giving much more credence to climate change deniers than is warranted, and inflating arguments that have been addressed by actual scientists over many years. Additionally he conflates completely different points about the variability of the climate system for the sole purpose of nudging readers toward the unsubstantiated view that global warming has stopped. Let's go through a few of these points in more detail.

Slower warming does not equal cooling

Point number one is essentially the lead of the story: that global average temperature has cooled since 1998. This is now more than misinformation, it has entered the realm of the canard. The source of Hudson's statement is a table at the Met Office website [Hudson's blog, the table]. Amazingly, if you go to the page with that table and actually read the text on the page, it states clearly that global warming has not stopped:
The record-breaking temperatures in 1998 occurred after three decades of warming, starting in the 1970s. These decades saw an increase in global average temperature of about 0.45 °C. After 1998, however, warming slowed significantly — trends over the past 10 years show only a 0.07 °C increase in global average temperature. Although this is only a small increase, it indicates that there has been no global cooling over this period. In fact, over the past decade, most years have remained much closer to the record global average temperature reached in 1998 than to temperatures before the 1970s. All the years from 2000 to 2008 have been in the top 14 warmest years on record.

So the Met Office make sure to inform their visitors that global warming is ongoing. Not only that, but there are other datasets of global average temperature that are slightly different than the Met Office numbers. For example, the National Climatic Data Center's global temperature anomaly data set [LINK], which shows 2003 as slightly warmer than 1998 (though in a statistical tie). This issue has also been thoroughly reviewed at RealClimate [LINK, see links from there].

It is not the sun

The second point Hudson makes is to suggest that something must be going on to explain the "cooling" (that doesn't exist), and his primary argument is that it must be the sun. He appeals to authority in Piers Corbyn (Weatheraction) who "claims that solar charged particles impact us far more than is currently accepted, so much so he says that they are almost entirely responsible for what happens to global temperatures.
He is so excited by what he has discovered that he plans to tell the international scientific community at a conference in London at the end of the month." Um, so Hudson is suggesting that somebody is about to announce that everything we know about climate change is mistaken, but provides no details? And there's no paper to reference? And Corbyn is going to a "conference in London" to announce the findings? Amazingly, Hudson has omitted that this conference is being organized by WeatherAction.com, which is Corbyn's company. Curious, don't you think. Reminds me of the Orbo in a lot of ways. By the looks of it, Corbyn is suggesting some kind of solar wind hypothesis, which makes no sense whatsoever. These ideas, I'm guessing, are rooted in the galactic cosmic ray hypothesis, which hasn't shown much promise [cf, RC].

PDO: refuge of the deniers

Then Hudson's article goes for the oceans. Wait, what do the oceans have to do with solar charged particles? Nothing. Yes, Hudson simply changes course in the middle of his article, which must be some kind of logical fallacy. Anyway, Hudson starts writing about the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, stating that is the most important cyclical warming-cooling mode in the oceans. This is an oversell: the PDO is a big signal, but it is not cyclical, and it is not necessarily the most important mode of variability for the climate. In fact, there is an ongoing debate about what the PDO even is; a current paper supports the view that the PDO is really just a ghost of the ENSO signal, and not a mode of variability unto itself [LINK]. Hudson falls right into the trap, quoting Don Easterbrook:
Professor Easterbrook says: "The PDO cool mode has replaced the warm mode in the Pacific Ocean, virtually assuring us of about 30 years of global cooling."
It should be noted that Don Easterbrook is a retired professor of geology, and has become a climate change denier as a hobby over the past decade or more. It seems quite unlikely that Easterbrook's prediction of cooling for the next 30 years will be right, no matter what phase the PDO is in.

Hudson does then state that people at the Met Office stand by the science and their modeling effort.

A climate crock continues

Then Hudson says, I assume without appreciating the irony,
To confuse the issue even further, last month Mojib Latif, a member of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) says that we may indeed be in a period of cooling worldwide temperatures that could last another 10-20 years.
Of course, Hudson has to say in the next paragraphs that this is not actually what Latif thinks, and that he isn't changing his long held belief that humans are causing the observed climate change. Amazingly, this is also a topic of recent debunking, this time at the hands of Peter Sinclair [LINK].

To end the piece, Hudson says it with the elegance it deserves:
One thing is for sure. It seems the debate about what is causing global warming is far from over. Indeed some would say it is hotting up.
Yes, I guess it really is hotting up.


Military green

I just read an excerpt from Amanda Little's book Power Trip: From Oil Wells to Solar Cells—Our Ride to the Renewable Future on Grist [LINK]. The excerpt is about the Department of Defense's efforts to be more "green," meaning energy efficient in this case. I had wondered a little about the fuel usage of the military, and specifically about how the military uses fuel and meets its energy needs in Iraq, but I hadn't really read much about it until now. Not to spoil the read, which I definitely recommend, but the most shocking numbers are probably that the cost of fuel (diesel or gas) increases by an order of magnitude when the cost of transport and security for field delivery is included, and another order of magnitude when it is delivered aerially. Also, just the sheer amount of fuel used by the DoD is amazing... billions of dollars annually? Crazy! So this excerpt is really about the efforts to improve energy efficiency, increase security, and decrease costs by the DoD. While I'm not a big proponent of many of the DoD's efforts, it is exciting to hear that it is looking pretty seriously at alternative energy technology. Many of our favorite things have come from such R&D efforts (e.g., the internet), so maybe these efforts will accelerate some technologies and get them into commercial use faster than could otherwise be expected.


Watch this week's crock

Hey, I think this week's Crock of the Week by Peter Sinclair really shows how climate change deniers are chomping at the bit to get anything that even vaguely resembles a credible critique of human-caused global warming. Take a look:


US Chamber of Commerce

It isn't a government agency, it's just a coalition of large businesses in the US. Really, it's a lobbying organization for these businesses. The US Chamber of Commerce position on climate change has been very regressive, and quite a few companies have started to take notice of it.

But now it is getting serious. Apple has quite the Chamber (as have other companies recently). [LINK] Note that Apple isn't the first company to do so, their move follows some others, which amazingly also include some big utilities [LINK1, LINK2].


Fessing up to imminent delays

So Carol Browner (director of the White House Office of Energy and Climate Change Policy) says there's very little chance Congress (that is, the Senate) is going to get climate/energy legislation passed and to the president before the UN meeting in Copenhagen [LINK]. This is no surprise, just an update, and an admission from the administration.

My feelings on this are a little jumbled. My first thought was, 'yeah, we knew that was coming.' After that though, I felt some anger and frustration, first with the Obama administration, and then with the Senate, and then -- and most viscerally -- with the Senate democrats. The administration is trying to get things done, there's no doubt about that. They are having so much difficulty convincing Congress that Americans deserve affordable health care that something has to give, and other massive legislative action is exactly what that something has to be. I can respect that they feel they need to focus their energy, it's just too bad. Which brings me to my feelings about the Democrats in the Senate. Rather than express these feelings, let's just say I have some left-populist rage about these people. Afterall, they now control the Senate with a filibuster-proof majority. That means if they could just agree to do something, they could do it. Instead, they play politics while the world suffers. Ooops, I'm starting to express those feelings I said I wouldn't.

Beyond the anger, though, I am very concerned. From my point of view, dealing with the USA's energy needs and with climate change (which we have all come to accept are intrinsically linked, right?) should be at the top of the agenda. The inertia in the climate system has protected humanity from it's own actions so far, but every day that passes brings parts of the climate system closer to the brink. When will the ocean stop buffering the temperature rise by absorbing CO2? When will acidification start to impact the base of the global food web? At what point will the snow/ice-albedo feedbacks kick in strongly and permanently alter the high latitudes? How will that impact the permafrost, holding it's vast reservoir of methane? I'm deeply concerned that if we don't take more drastic action now, that in the next few decades we will pay for it 10s or 100s of times over. Not just in economic terms, but with the cost of decreased biodiversity (that is, species going extinct) and lives of people lost to famine, disease, and natural disaster. At the same time, if we delay now, will we be pushed to the point of actually implementing some of the drastic geoengineering ideas that have been discussed in the past few years?

Then there is the guilt.... I feel guilty because in these possible consequences, I find that I'm genuinely curious about the outcome. I think we can learn a lot about natural systems by thinking about climate change, and even by really thinking about geoengineering schemes. This the guilt of being a climate scientist. There's also the guilt of being an American; we are most responsible for the climate change we're already committed to, and thus we are most responsible for ameliorating it. Yet we do nothing. We continue, as individuals and as a society, to live a carbon intensive lifestyle, fully knowing that we are poisoning the Earth for future generations. Frankly, I also have guilt as a human, since it is our species among the millions that have existed on Earth for billions of years that has discovered how to exploit the system so fully as to potentially bring it to a grinding halt.



Okay, nothing really to do with climate change.... yet. But I just learned what a blobfish is. Perhaps one of natures least lovable animals [via Kottke].