Category Archives: Climate Change

Trump’s New Party


Trump’s Paris Accord idiocy makes everything clear at last. The Know Nothing Party formed in the 1850s to fight immigration of Catholics. The Know Less Than Nothing Party, Trump’s, has formed to fight immigration of Muslims and to fight knowledge and truth on every front. This latter party is on its way to becoming the Nihil Farrago Party, which believes that nothing at all exists other than coal, coal miners, chocolate cake, and the next election.


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Global Warming XV: The Coming Ice Age

A recent Politico report tells us that Trump’s Deputy National Security adviser, K. T. McFarland, put a copy of two Time magazine cover pages in his reading list. One cover, which showed a lone penguin on a mound of snow and ice, had the title: How To Survive the Coming Ice Age: 51 Things You Can Do to Make a Difference. It’s from April 9, 1977. The other cover, which showed a lone polar bear on a small floe, had the title: Be Worried: Be Very Worried: Climate Change isn’t some vague future problem—it’s already damaging the planet at an alarming pace. Here’s how it affects you, your kids and their kids as well. Headlines for some of the issues’ stories, shown on the cover are: Earth at the Tipping Point, How It Threatens Your Health, How China & India Can Help Save the World—Or Destroy It, and The Climate Crusaders. It’s from April 3, 2006. The point of this juxtaposition is to demonstrate that since scientists once worried us about a coming Ice Age and now they alarm us with talk of roasting, they really haven’t a clue.

In fact, the Coming Ice Age cover is a fake. Here’s Time’s own explanation. The con artist had changed the headline, three digits in the year, and a couple of the top story teasers from a 2006 Time cover. According to Politico, an unnamed White House colleague defended McFarland on the grounds that the cover was “fake, but accurate.” (?!?!?) In fact, the cover is not only fake, but it is inaccurate. The opposite of the truth.

Here’s the fake cover and the one the con artist modified, from the Time explanation.

My essay deals with the idea that in the 1970s climate scientists thought that we were heading for an Ice Age. You can read more about K. T. McFarland in Wikipedia. Word is that she will be appointed our ambassador to Singapore, and inside the beltway types are wondering if it’s a dream come true for her, or exile.

Were scientists worrying about the Earth falling into an Ice Age in the 1970s? No.

I should say this. The Earth’s history shows that it has Ice Ages and Interglacial Periods. Here’s some useful data:

This data is from a 2008 paper in Nature and shows the Antarctic temperature and CO2 concentration from the remarkable ice core data, going back 800,000 years. Close to the present is to the left, and the distant past is to the right on this graph. The temperature shows the temperature difference between a modern average and the past temperature in degrees C. The temperature difference between an ice age and an interglacial period in Antarctica, as it is elsewhere, is about 4 or 8 C (7 to 15 F). The point to take from these data is that glacial periods and warmer periods alternate. As we are presently in an interglacial period that began 14,000 or 12,000 years ago, most people would predict that we are likely to have another ice age in the future. That prediction supposes that the same natural factors that produced the climate alternation in the past continue to produce the same effects in the future.

Scientists have known since the late 1800s about the greenhouse effect, and the main greenhouse gases. These gases are H2O (water vapor) and CO2. Indeed, but for these atmospheric gases absorbing upward moving long wavelength infrared radiation from the Earth’s surface, the average surface temperature would be around -5 C, about 20 F! Everything would be frozen. The most intense Ice Age ever. This natural greenhouse effect is the reason that the average surface temperature is 12 or 15 C, in the upper 50s F.

Greenhouse gases are not the only things that influence the flow of energy through the atmosphere. Aerosols are another important factor, and they are complicated. These are tiny particles or even molecules suspended in the atmosphere. Are they black carbon, soot? Then they absorb energy where they are, high in the atmosphere, and stop it from reaching the ground. Are the nitrates and sulfates? Then they reflect energy and neither warm the atmosphere nor the ground. But they may seed the formation of clouds, which also reflect incoming energy, and stop upward moving energy sending it back down. As I said, it’s complicated, and you can read about it here. That’s where I get this interesting graph:

In this graph, time moves from left to right, beginning in 1850. The blue shows stuff, mostly sulfates, blown into the atmosphere by major volcanoes. The red shows the Earth’s surface temperature anomaly, the difference between the temperature around the 1980s and the graphed date. You can see the gradual rise of about 1 C due to global warming, but after the big volcanoes you can see that the temperature drops below the trend for a couple of years. It takes that long for the sulfates blown into the stratosphere to settle out of the atmosphere. Not shown here is the immense Mt. Tambora volcanic eruption of 1815, which produced the Year Without a Summer, as it is known in Europe. I’m wandering from my point because this is so interesting.

That point is that the effects of aerosols are complicated, and in the 1970s some climate researchers pondered the effects of global aerosol pollution from burning coal. Burning coal puts a lot of bad stuff in the atmosphere. In addition to soot, it puts sulfur compounds up there, which lead to acid rain. It puts mercury into the air, which ends up in fishy predators. It puts uranium and other long-lived isotopes into the air, from where it settles on the ground and into the water. More too. So, some researchers wondered if humans were putting enough coal and oil junk into the air to cause general cooling. No one was predicting an imminent ice age. These researchers knew and understood the greenhouse effect, and they and other scientists generally believed that humans were warming the climate by adding significant amounts of CO2 to the atmosphere.

Put another way, in the 1970s scientists believed that if natural factors alone operated as they had in the past, the Earth would enter an ice age at some unspecified but distant time, say 20,000 or 30,000 years from now. They understood the greenhouse effect, and they could see that humans were upsetting the natural factors by adding CO2 to the atmosphere in massive amounts. They could see that we were doing other things to upset the natural factors. They studied all these. During the decades since, computing power for data analysis and theoretical models has increased immensely. The Space Age began, and data from satellites became available. The relevant laws of nature, the properties of greenhouse and other gases, aerosols, radiation, and other factors, however, did not change. Our new power and knowledge has solidified and confirmed what has been clearly known for many decades: humans are causing the Earth to warm by burning fossil fuels.

K. T. McFarland, who has studied foreign affairs, worked in politics and as a staff member in national security areas, and broadcast in national security affairs for Fox News, apparently knows little or nothing about climate science. I’ve never met her, I confess. I don’t know, and I haven’t read, if she believed that the fake Time cover was a real one. Apparently, it has been circulating in the right-wing world for some years. The idea is consistent with what she’s have heard on Fox News, that the climate change alarmists are mistaken, foolish, and corrupt. Her colleague who defended her with the “fake, but correct” claim doesn’t know what he or she is talking about. I’d say that “fake, but correct” will enter our language along with Kelly Ann Conway’s famous “alternative facts.”

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Global Warming XIV – Florida Gov. Scott’s Beach House


In my Physics class at the University of Tampa, I show my students pictures of Florida Gov. Scott’s beach house in Naples, Florida. That is about 170 miles south of Tampa on Florida’s Gulf coast. These are photos I found with brief internet searches. On the mid-term exam that includes Climate Change I ask my students when the Governor’s house is likely to be flooded: next year, a few decades, a few centuries, a few thousands of years. A few decades is the correct answer, depending upon the vagaries of hurricanes and tides added to the inevitable sea level rise as Greenland and Antarctica melt and the ocean’s warm.

In the first picture, you see an aerial view of Florida Gov. Scott’s house. According to a real estate article it’s worth about $15 million. His house is the one with the black line.

You can just see a bit of the water in the lower left. The house is but a few feet above the high tide line, and the road on the inland side is also a bit lower than the house. You can’t see it, but it’s on a narrow barrier island, so there is water not far to the right too.

The second photo shows the house, water, and the road. The central house in the photo, larger than the governor’s is a ~$70 million one. That owner, I read, is in prison for some reason. Above the high tide line, barrier islands of this type often have a low, linear vegetation-covered dune. You can see it here. By the governor’s house, that is, because his neighbor seems to have removed the dune between his house and the Gulf. It’s not high, and the governor (and everyone else) has cut paths through the low dune. The lines of pilings are probably attempts to control beach erosion, as development cuts off new sources of sand and along-shore currents and storms remove the beach sand. Futile in the long run.

In this photo, probably taken by an amateur, hence the under exposure and imprecise focus, you get an idea of the high-water levels from tides, from the slight color changes in the beach sand, and you can see the height of the barrier dune. You can see the exit of one of the paths cut through the dune. The dune is a few feet high.

The governor’s house, to my eye, is lower than the top of the dune, and not much above the high-water marks.

The governor’s house is in trouble. Likely it will be wiped out the next time a hurricane or tropical storm brings a storm surge on a high tide, on top of whatever sea level rise will have occurred at the time.

Sea walls won’t work on dunes or anywhere else on peninsular Florida because the underlying rock is porous limestone.

The Governor is well-known as a global warming denier. Indeed, researchers and other employees at the state’s environmental agency say that the political leaders of that agency required them to remove any mention of global warming from official documents. The Governor and his staff deny this.


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Bret Stephens’s NY Times Op-Ed on Climate Change: Wrong, Wrong, Wrong


This April 28 Bret Stephens op-ed debut is way off the mark every inch of the way.

First, what Old Jew Of Galicia? Milocz wrote that epigraph and hundreds or thousands have cited it as if it’s ancient and real wisdom that transcends the folly of whomever you want to lambaste. But what Old Jew of central or western Europe would use precise figures like 55% as opposed to 60% to describe degrees of being sure that one is right? And right about what? Everything? It seems to me that’s the only possibility of the quote, given no other information than the “quote” itself. It seems to be about totalitarian regimes that rewrite truth and history to their liking and allow no dissent. But that’s a whole different world! Climate scientists are not claiming they’re 100% right about everything, only 97% right about something very important that they’ve looked at from dozens or hundreds of different angles and almost always come up with the same conclusion, which is that warming will with high likelihood accelerate and all of humanity with high likelihood will be in a peck of trouble therefrom.

Then he writes, “In the final stretch of last year’s presidential race, Hillary Clinton and her team thought they were, if not 100 percent right, then very close.” Polls and betting sites showed a consistent 70-85% likelihood of Clinton winning, with her likelihood increasing right at the end most likely due to Trump’s bizarre behavior and words in the last debate, together with some of the Comey stuff. I tracked these numbers myself for several months from multiple sources. Who is Stephens to claim that Clinton and company thought they were all but 100%? He cites no source. It’s mere supposition.

Citations of made-up quotes, and suppositions? We are to trust and believe this writer over hundreds or thousands of scientists and their experiments and analyses and peer reviews?

Scientists are 100% right about Bernoulli’s Law, and thank goodness, because if they were not 100% right then some planes would go down inexplicably. Humanity is 100% right that four colors suffice to color a planar map so that no two countries with a shared boundary that’s more than a single point will have the same color. Anything not proved or demonstrated correct through a combination of rigorous analysis and consistent results from thousands of experiments can be no more than an informed opinion. Stephens does not apply information to buttress his opinion. Therefore his opinion is all but worthless. He does not cite even one example of “much else that that passes as accepted fact [but] is really a matter of probabilities.” He does not cite even one example of “history … littered with the human wreckage of scientific errors married to political power.” He seems not to understand that conviction is only “beyond a reasonable doubt” not “with absolute certainty.” He’s not worth listening to or reading.

And the New York Times has broken a contract with its readers by giving an imprimatur of believability and merit to him by publishing this op-ed.



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Global warming XIII – The Carbon Dioxide Control Knob


EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt appeared on CNBC’s Squawk Box on March 9. Here’s one question and answer:

JOE KERNEN (HOST): Let me ask you this, let me ask you one other thing, just to get to the nitty gritty. Do you believe that it’s been proven that CO2 is the primary control knob for climate? Do you believe that?

SCOTT PRUITT (EPA ADMINISTRATOR): No, I think that measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do, and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact. So, no, I would not agree that’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see. But we don’t know that yet, as far as — we need to continue debate — continue the review and analysis.

The question is awkward, since no one asserts the premise of the first question. No one says that CO2 is the primary control knob for climate. What knowledgeable people believe is that of the various “control knobs” for the climate, humans are “turning up” the CO2 knob and warming the planet. Thus, by accident, Pruitt’s first word is correct: “No.” After another accidental correct claim, that measuring the effects of human activity on the climate is challenging, the rest of his answer is wrong.

Pruitt asserts that there is “tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact” (of human activity on the climate). This is incorrect. There is general agreement that increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere due to people burning carbon fuels is warming the Earth. In the various models, as in all scientific endeavors, models and theories produce somewhat different predictions based upon different starting points, different methods, and different interpretations. All professional studies of the effect of the increasing CO2 agree that it will increase the Earth’s temperature. Some predict an increase of, say, 2 C, in 50 years given no changes in present fossil fuel use, others 4 C. None predict no effect. None predict that there will be a cooling. Pruitt says that because some scientists say 2 C and some 4 C, they have no idea what the warming will be. This is the claim of many opponents of scientific knowledge, that if scientists don’t know everything about a phenomenon to infinite precision, then they might as well know nothing.

All climate researchers would agree that neither they, nor anyone else, knows all there is to know about the climate. Contrary to Pruitt and to many other global warming deniers, the climate researchers know plenty, and, as it typical in research, they have sought the causes of the big effects first. Those are well-known and have been for decades, some more than a century.

Pruitt says that he does not agree “that’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.” Now the contraction in this sentence is “that it is” where the “it” refers to the question: carbon dioxide. Filling this in, we see Pruitt’s meaning: “I would not agree that carbon dioxide is a primary contributor to the global warming that we see.” The question from Kernen: “Is CO2 the primary control knob for the climate?” The answer from Pruitt: “No. CO2 is not a primary contributor to global warming.” At least Pruitt says that the globe is warming.

That CO2 is not a primary contributor to global warming is false. The Earth’s climate arises, of course, from many factors. To understand it involves assessing the Earth’s energy balance in accordance with the 1st Law of Thermodynamics or the Conservation of Energy. This great law, known with increasing depth and precision, arose in scientific thought in the 1800s.

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Global Warming XII – cherry blossom bloom time in Kyoto


Climate change and global warming deniers darkly insinuate that the world’s climate researchers, in cahoots with radical pinko anti-capitalist environmentalists, are dishonest. Publishing pre-ordained conclusions backed by tendentiously selected data mis-interpreted, the scientists hope to justify increasing their, supposedly, lucrative grants. The deniers often accuse the scientists of manipulating their data, but if the scientists did not, for example, adjust their raw data for artifacts within the data, the deniers would, and do, accuse the scientists of ignoring important effects.

To come up with such an important piece of information as the global mean surface temperature is complicated, difficult, and involves an immense amount of work. For example, mid-ocean surface temperatures do not arise from continuously reporting weather stations but from ships’ logs. Someone must go through thousands of ship journeys, recording each day’s ocean temperature readings and the ship’s position at the time of the reading. Some ships measure ocean temperature with a thermometer fixed in the engine cooling water intake pipe. Others drop a canvas bucket over the side and report the temperature of the water in the bucket pulled back onto the deck. Do those give the same value? What is the relation between those two readings and the temperature of the air above the sea? These questions and others require answers, and the researchers must adjust their data before they begin averaging. What about the possible effects of changes to urbanization around airport weather stations, the heat island effect? What if the thermometer is changed from a mercury instrument, read each day or each hour by eye, to an electronic, automatically recorded one? All these and many more matters must be considered and adjusted. Complicated statistical methods applied to vast data sets require powerful computers, and the algorithms and programs must be checked and re-checked. Hand-testing is nearly impossible.

Interesting and powerful data that does not require such expert, detailed analysis is available, however. Indeed, no one type of evidence or result proves that global warming is real or that humans are causing it. What convinces the researchers is the range of data and evidence arriving at a consistent picture of nature, arriving from distinct lines of evidence.

Here’s one I like that, in my opinion, shows global warming is not the result of nefarious collusion among modern climate scientists. I found this from Jason Kottke’s blog, but his source is here, the Economist.

Here we have the date of the peak of cherry blossom season in Kyoto Japan recorded for 1200 years. Kyoto is Japan’s ancient capital, and this record extends nearly to the formation of that natural beauty loving nation. You can see the variation caused by the weather, but looking at the solid line, an average, I’d say that for a thousand years the peak was about April 15. Beginning in the early or mid-1800s you can see a dramatic change in the location of the scattered cherry blossom data points and in the average. To my eyes, peak cherry blossoms have shifted 10 or 12 days earlier. A day a decade? This tells us that temperatures in Kyoto, roughly the latitude of Atlanta, have been warmer in February and March than they had been during the 1000 years from 800 AD to 1800 AD.

Just this one charming graph doesn’t prove that Earth’s climate is warming or that humans’ burning fossil fuels have done it. There are, however, many similar lines of evidence. In biology, geography, geology, oceanography, and other areas of knowledge. Birds return to their northern summer homes earlier. Average last frost occurs earlier and first frost later. Ocean acidity is increasing. Droughts are becoming more likely. Shorelines are submerging as land ice melts and ocean waters warm. The Northwest passage now opens across northern Canada in summers, and ships sail from East Asia to Europe across Siberia’s northern coast. The EPA has an informative periodic publication about a few dozen climate indicators. It’s worth looking at. Lots of pictures and clear explanations.

While scientists are human and subject to corruption, the same as anyone else, it is incredible that some politicians and others casually smear men and women working hard and skillfully to increase human knowledge and to benefit all of us. These scurrilous slanderers ignorantly suppose that there is a conspiracy among thousands of scientists that, evidently involves Japanese nature lovers.

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Global Warming XI – Trump Administration Statements


A few weeks ago the New York Times ran Climate Change Denialists in Charge. I used the quotations for a Science in the News item in my Univ. of Tampa Physics 125 class. Remember, our textbook is Physics and Technology for Future Presidents: What Every World Leader Needs to Know. I’d like to share some of these quotations and my remarks with you and our readers. You can find the full citations in the Times article.

In November 2012, Donald Trump tweeted: “The concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U. S. manufacturing non-competitive.” At a 2015 rally in South Carolina he said “A lot of [climate change] is a hoax. It’s a hoax.”

Both assertions are blatant and outrageous falsehoods. Our president suffers from delusions, and this particular one will prove to be the most damaging to Americans and to the human race.

The claim that warnings about global warming are part of a world-wide conspiracy by climate scientists in cahoots with radical environmentalists out to destroy American capitalism is widely asserted from the political right. This claim is a pernicious and evil falsehood. Several of the others I cite below refer to this plot.

In a 2014 MSNBC interview, Mike Pence said:

It’s just a few years ago, we were talking about global warming, which is – we haven’t seen a lot of warming lately. I remember back in the ’70s when we were talking about the coming ice age. And, look, you know, we have – we’ve had a tough winter. And in the Midwest, we’re – we’re made of hardy stock. We’ve seen these kind of winters before. And we’ll shoulder through them. We’ll leave the scientific debates for the future.

In his first sentence, Pence is referring to the so-called global warming hiatus, a non-existent pause in global warming. 1998 was an unusually hot year because of a strong El Nino. Indeed, it set a record for the thermometric temperature record going back to the 1880s. For about 10 years, no year’s global average surface temperature exceeded it, and global warming deniers proclaimed a pause in global warming and even an apparent cooling. Yet the Earth continued to warm throughout those subsequent years as energy accumulated in the oceans, which is where most of it goes in any case. 2014’s temperature exceeded 1998, setting a new record high. Then 2015 exceeded 2014. 2016 exceeded 2015, smashing the previous record. I’m suspect that Mike Pence does not actually remember talking about a coming Ice Age back in the ’70s. He is an evangelical Christian who believes in an inerrant Bible and the Garden of Eden! No evolution for him. Astonishing, but apparently true. Then he mistakes weather for climate, as if global warming will produce warm winters. Finally, he falsely asserts that there are scientific debates about the reality and effects of global warming.

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