Humans Are Making it Hotter

August 2nd, 2011 at 12:34 am | 42 Comments |

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Partisanship in Washington has been extreme lately. So has the weather. Might there be a connection? It certainly looks that way.

Let’s talk about heat. As anyone living in Washington—or in about three-fourths of the nation for that matter—has surely noticed, this summer has been unusually hot. In fact, July’s heat was unrivaled in 140 years of Washington, D.C. weather record-keeping.

This year’s record heat across much of the country is not the only sign that something is amiss with our climate. This year, we have also experienced record-breaking droughts, flooding, and storms.

A word of caution: Reputable climatologists don’t ascribe individual weather episodes to the buildup of heat energy trapped by greenhouse gases. Weather is short-term, climate is long-term. One heat wave does not prove that the climate is warming, nor does a mid-winter cold snap prove that it isn’t.

However, the more heat energy that is trapped in the lower atmosphere, scientists tell us, the greater the odds that what we think of as extreme weather will no longer be extreme. It will be the new normal.

Or, to put it another way, there is no way to link a case of lung cancer to a particular cigarette. Yet the more one smokes, the greater the odds that the smoker will contract lung cancer.

Let’s talk about science. Conservative climate researcher Katharine Hayhoe of Texas Tech University says that the buildup of heat energy is “loading the dice” for climate extremes. A National Research Council report that she had a hand in writing projected global warming impacts by degrees of temperature increase – if temperatures rise 2 degrees, X will happen. If temperatures rise 3 degrees, even more of X will happen.

One of the projected impacts of rising temperatures is more incidence of what we now call extremes. Dry areas getting drier. More intense precipitation. Longer, hotter heat waves.

The higher temperatures increase, the more extreme the extremes. Example: Boost temperatures by 4 degrees C (7.2 degrees F), and in most places, nine out of 10 summers would be hotter than the hottest summer experienced during the last decades of the 20th century.

Now, what do temperature extremes have to do with political extremes?

The politics of environmental stewardship, and climate stewardship in particular, is as polarized as it has ever been. The sober warnings of climate scientists are attacked and ridiculed by radicals who know a lot less about climate science than they think they do. As then-Congressman Bob Inglis quipped at a House hearing last year: “They slept at a Holiday Inn Express last night and they’re experts on climate change.”

In the 1980s, when some of these same radicals similarly pooh-poohed warnings from scientists about the link between depletion of our stratospheric ozone layer and certain industrial chemicals, we had a conservative president who chose prudence over radicalism and addressed the problem forthrightly.

In siding with the experts and pushing through the Montreal Protocol, Ronald Reagan was being a true conservative and a no-nonsense leader. He was wise enough to separate ill-informed opinion from reliable, science-based information. As he once said, “Facts are stubborn things.”

So, as you walk around stewing and sweating in this summer’s record heat, you might consider getting steamed up a bit at the radical pundits and politicians who are increasing the likelihood that you will be doing more of the same in future summers.

Recent Posts by Jim DiPeso



42 Comments so far ↓

  • medinnus

    As if science will make a dent in the tin hats….

  • Kurzen

    You’re not even going to mention the recent NASA findings? Oh, thats right, they fly directly in the face of your agenda. Besides, its much easier to just dismiss the other side as “extreme”, “radical”, or “uninformed”.

    • thejeff

      The “recent NASA findings” of which you speak are apparently not recent NASA findings at all, instead a new interpretation of existing NASA data. That interpretation is, apparently, not setting the climate science world on fire as it seems to rely on suppositions that are highly dubious ( http://www.knoxnews.com/news/2011/jul/29/global-warming-debunked-ornot/ )

      Painting climate science as having two “sides” puts one squarely in the political realm and out of the scientific one. And snarking on about “recent findings” without doing basic fact-finding puts one squarely in the “ill-informed” camp, by personal choice. Not where a serious person would want to spend much time, imho.

      As to who has an agenda….

    • Raskolnik

      ^ +1. Roy Spencer is not “NASA,” he used data from a NASA satellite. Most everyone else using that same data has very different conclusions.

  • SteveThompson

    In fact, a State Representative from Montana actually proposed legislation that stated that global warming was good for his state as shown here:

    http://viableopposition.blogspot.com/2011/04/global-warming-whats-good-for-montana.html

    Coincidentally (or not), Montana happens to be an oil and gas producing state.

  • Smargalicious

    D.C. is indeed full of parasites and illegals, so let it fry.

    • Raskolnik

      Your jokes aren’t funny

      • Graychin

        He isn’t joking. He’s nuts.

        • Slide

          Of course he is joking. He is an attention queen and I suspect that this is the only way he knows how to get anyone to pay even the slightest bit of attention to him. Rather sad, so I forgive his childish outbursts which are only the pathetic cry of a lonely and somewhat desperate individual. It’s ok smargy, we understand.

        • Smargalicious

          Typical liberal–when someone doesn’t believe in socialism, which is and always will be a failed economic model, then the source must be discredited.

          Wait until November of next year when your Messiah is defeated…

          “Racists in America still rule!!” Har!

  • lnexus01

    “Conservative climate researcher Katharine Hayhoe”

    I don’t know what that means. You’re either a “researcher” or you’re not. I’m not sure there are political stripes to scientific research. I know that politicians called to make policy often depend, or should depend, on such research, but the people doing the work do not filter their endeavors through ideology, or they shouldn’t. (The supposed “Climategate” was nothing but a farce, manufactured in the same cauldrons of deceit as other current political “movements”.)

    • sinz54

      What I think the authors were trying to say, is that there are plenty of folks on the right side of the political aisle who accept the climate science. I’m one of them.

      Your snide crack about “cauldrons of deceit” I’ll let pass. For now.

      • Oldskool

        Don’t let an opportunity pass to enlighten us. Go for it.

      • lnexus01

        sinz54,

        I’m glad that you and I are both in the camp willing to look at reality, and since scientific “reality” demands a willingness to follow the evidence, even when it requires significant adjustments to our understanding and “beliefs”, then the current state of affairs demands a change in our relationship to the planet.

        As to the “cauldrons of deceit” remark (not intended to deceive in the least), I’m referring to the orchestrated manipulations of the media by primarily moneyed interests. I could give you a number of examples, but since I’m loathe to read long entries in these forums, I try not to write them either. So, here’s a link, and even though I know it’s a “liberal”, “leftist” source, I urge you or anyone else to go through it: http://mediamatters.org/research/200912010002

        And here’s a short quote, in case you don’t want to go through the Media Matters piece:

        ” ‘Gavin Schmidt, a research scientist with NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, says the e-mails (the ones at the center of the “climategate” farce) offer no damning indictment of climate researchers, and that bloggers are reading information in them out of context.

        ‘There’s nothing in the e-mails that shows that global warming is a hoax,’ he told Threat Level. ‘There’s no funding by nefarious groups. There’s no politics in any of these things; nobody from the [United Nations] telling people what to do. There’s nothing hidden, no manipulation.’ ”
        That’s from a post in Wired, a bit less “leftist”: http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2009/11/climate-hack/

    • Oldskool

      Beat me to it.

  • DFL

    For those bemoaning global warming- and the world has been warming since the Industrial Revolution was in its early stages- I would ask what would you give up to cool down the planet? Another question. The industrialization of China, India, Brazil and much of East Asia has raised temperatures. Does anyone expect any of these countries to either to 1) deindustrialize or 2) install environmental policies similar to those of Europe and America?

    • Raskolnik

      The release of the energy stored in the chemical bonds of petrocarbons is a fantastically inefficient means of energy production, especially when you consider the especially wasteful design of internal combustion engines.

      The point is that the only thing we need to “give up” is our near-total reliance on petrocarbons for transportation and electricity generation. Nuclear power solves the latter directly, at competitive costs whether or not you consider the environmental impact of coal and oil as a negative externality (which it most certainly is in any case). It also largely solves the former problem, if you resuscitate the electric car.

      • DFL

        I appreciate your intelligent answer. However, I don’t think many Americans will willingly give up their 20 MPG cars, SUVs and trucks.

        • Raskolnik

          They don’t have to give them up. They just might have to replace them with 25 or 30 MPG vehicles. We’re still quite some ways from an all-electric fleet.

    • anniemargret

      I don’t expect industrialized nations to address this issue….until we do. We are the supposedly superpower and shining light of the world. If we stay the course, which means giving any credence to the do-nothing, know-nothings in the GOP, we risk leading on this issue.

      I say we lead and take command of the situation. Either that, or we watch someone else do so.

  • sinz54

    When discussing climate change with some of the folks who don’t want to admit that it’s happening, I always try to probe them as to WHY they feel the way they do.

    And it’s always the same: There’s an underlying fear that the onus of coping with climate change will fall most heavily on the United States, further kicking America when she’s already reeling from the wars and the deep recession we’re only now slowly climbing out of.

    I’m confident that climate change would be more widely accepted–even among staunch right-wingers–if there were serious proposals for coping with it that did NOT involve turning the American economy and American way of life upside down.

    Some of the things I’ve seen on environmentalist websites give even me pause. When I see Greenpeace saying that coping with climate change may mean the end of jetliner travel, or other environmentalists gleefully talking about the end of American suburbia and moving all Americans into row houses or apartment blocks (as if this is Soviet Union 2.0), I see why there is so much opposition to the whole issue.

    • Oldskool

      And it’s always the same: There’s an underlying fear that the onus of coping with climate change will fall most heavily on the United States,

      So why did they feel the same way about it when times were good? Because it’s mostly to do with what they’ve been told to believe through their favorite media. Which is also why they distrust teachers, judges, higher education, gubmint, etc etc.

      • F_Grey_Parker

        They didn’t feel the same way. There is an abundance of conservatives who were reasonable (remember the Newt-Pelosi Ad?) before the election of Obama.

    • jakester

      You are using some extremists’ unreasonable positions as if that is settled policy. Obviously things will end up costing some more and being a bit smaller but no one is going to really give up much here

  • Steve D

    Both climate and the economy are complex systems where detailed predictions are hard to make, accurate predictions even more so. Yet somehow, even though we supposedly can’t place any confidence at all in climate forecasts, the very same denialists tell us with absolute confidence that Obamacare will destroy the economy, higher taxes on the rich will destroy the economy, and so on. With no real evidence, I might add. Lots of blather but no real evidence.

    A few general rules from an actual card-carrying scientist.
    1. If you argue against climate forecasts by saying we can’t predict the weather two weeks ahead, you are utterly unqualified to be in the debate. If you don’t know the difference between weather and climate, go take an intro class on meteorology. (Hint: it’s a little like micro- versus macro-economics)
    2. Anything you get off a blog or the popular media is worthless. If you can’t refer to the actual scientific literature – real journals, not the bogus ones started by denialists – you don’t have any qualifications to join the debate.
    3. NASA said it would go to the Moon and did. NASA said it would build a space shuttle and did. NASA says climate data is showing the earth getting warmer. And you have accomplished…?
    4. Anything by the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine is a joke. The vast majority of the people who signed their Petition are not climate researchers.
    5. TV meteorologists are not climate scientists.
    6. “Arrogant” is a favorite buzzword to dismiss real authorities, whether they’re climatologists, evolutionary scientists, or 9-11 debunkers. Speaking from a position of expertise is not arrogance. Speaking from a position of zero expertise is.
    7. Scientists are not “self-appointed experts.” They are real experts. The “self-appointed experts” are the people who think they can read a couple of blogs or Jack Chick tracts and enter a technical debate as equals.

    Sinz54 above makes an excellent point. What is sometimes sneeringly described as a “middle class lifestyle” has been a target of leftist disdain for decades. In the Fifties it was “status symbols” and “conformism.” In the Sixties it was pretty much everything. Then it’s urban sprawl, eating meat, and now climate change. What they really resent is that living disciplined and industrious lives results in prosperity, while waiting for handouts doesn’t.

    However, if you’re literate enough to debate climate change, you’re literate enough to separate the data from the political agenda some people try to attach to it. If you can’t do that, it’s just another sign you aren’t equipped to get into the discussion.

    The leftists may get the last laugh. The middle class now has a whining sense of entitlement to match anything we see from welfare recipients. I have a right to see my house increase in value. I have the right to retire in luxury. I have the right to services without paying taxes. I have the right to a good job even though I slacked off in college. I have the right to good grades even though I didn’t study. And of course, I have the right to be treated as an equal in technical debates even though I don’t know jack.

    While we were actually seeing Presidential candidates in 2008 who doubted the age of the earth, the Chinese rolled out an LED screen the size of a soccer stadium. They will mop the floor with us if we’re not careful. And we won’t even have to learn Chinese. They’ll do it in unaccented, idiomatic English, because they’re not too lazy to learn foreign languages.

    • balconesfault

      A few general rules from an actual card-carrying scientist.

      I’m a chemical/environmental engineer with substantial air modeling experience. Can I play?

      If you argue against climate forecasts by saying we can’t predict the weather two weeks ahead, you are utterly unqualified to be in the debate.

      Hell – I’ve argued that all news media should require anyone who is going to talk/write about climate change in any way, shape, or form should have to attend a 1-2 week seminar on the science and issues involved. There are way too many largely ignorant people out there reporting on the subject, and it does no service whatsoever to the public.

      Anything you get off a blog or the popular media is worthless.

      See above.

      While we were actually seeing Presidential candidates in 2008 who doubted the age of the earth, the Chinese rolled out an LED screen the size of a soccer stadium.

      And last week, while the House was railing against the tyranny of fluorescent lightbulbs, the Chinese were mandating LEDs for most urban lighting projects.

      At some point we may be condemned to proving Kris Kristofferson right – “Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose…”

    • Gus

      Hear, hear. It sure seems to me like the data’s in, and humans are causing or contributing to global climate change. However, I’m not a climatologist, so I don’t get involved in discussions about it. I’m happy to hear from actual experts, but I’m in no position to parse the data.

  • roesch

    Steve D that was quite the riff, and I am glad to see a more reasoned discussion of the recent re-look at the NASA data– the problem is that any computer model has difficulty in determining all the feedback factors in climate. I think if this next year follows this year with the same extremes, the folks in Texas will finally figure out that something is happening.

  • jakester

    We are going to have to address the problem with countermeasures, like find someway to reflect the thermal radiation back into outer space. Even extreme use of solar panels will help since that energy will be used to replace existing electrical power sources instead of heating the ground.

    • balconesfault

      Even extreme use of solar panels will help since that energy will be used to replace existing electrical power sources instead of heating the ground.

      That would have to be pretty damned extreme. While I’m as fervid a solar advocate as you’ve come across, the US has about 3.8 million square miles, and we’d only need to cover about 8,000 square miles with solar panels to replace all our electrical generation capacity.

      So absorbing all the solar energy that falls on 1/500 th of our surface isn’t going to make a big dent in the equation.

      BTW – the same applies to putting things into the atmosphere to absorb radiation before it reaches us. The earth is a damn big place. And perhaps I’m a bit too pessimistic … but the most plausible idea (injecting some kind of reflective particulate matter in high volume into the atmosphere to reflect radiati0n) kind of scares the hell out of me due to my deference to the laws of unintended consequences.

  • Primrose

    “What they really resent is that living disciplined and industrious lives results in prosperity, while waiting for handouts doesn’t.”

    I see. How is the farmer working in rural areas less industrious than the suburban insurance agent. How is the dockworkers in cities less industrious than the cell phone salesperson?

    Your very much full of disdain but for a scientist not much facts.

    And Sinz54,

    What environmentalists object to in suburbs Is the forced drives. Housing and retail are spread far apart so that you can’t walk to where you are going. Retail areas have no walkable sidewalks (Look at Paramus for those who live in the area. Can you imagine walking from store to store? Even those that are relatively next to each other,

    They also object to the water consumption of perfect green lawns. Perennial shrubs, plants and trees take in more greenhouse grasses and take less to manage (they don’t need to be cut). They need less water and very little poison. Despite all of us being on well water both my neighbors put chem. Green on their lawns. I am not amused.

    And while yes, lawns can go brown and dormant, in suburbs that is considered a sin. We simply can’t sustain that level of unnecessary water use.

    Furthermore, if we are to support the growing population all in suburbs there will be no farmland left. Since I moved to my road 8 years ago, two farms have disappeared to be turned into housing projects. One is blessedly stalled because of the housing crisis but it’s coming. Everywhere I look in my formerly semi-rural town, the countryside is being gobbled up. Old barns are falling into ruin. And as I said, I’ve only been here eight years, and much of that in the midst of economic troubles.

    What they are saying is reasonable. There are problems with the suburbs. Since most people in the suburbs don’t actually like taking care of outside and children no longer play outside, I am not sure what the objection to more city living is.

    I would hate it but I love to garden. I love to be outside. I wish I could afford more land not less. This is not true of my neighbors. And it is ridiculous to say that apartment living must be like living in the Soviet Union. Communism did not invent cities. I don’t think it would be unfair to say that capitalism did.

    So why pull the extreme language in once again, particularly if you accept global warning?

  • LFC

    In siding with the experts and pushing through the Montreal Protocol, Ronald Reagan was being a true conservative and a no-nonsense leader.

    Reagan is revered in the Republican Party in name only. So many of his actual deeds have been repudiated (excuse me, “refudiated”) by today’s GOP that I can’t really understand why they hold him up as an icon.

    Of course I also see plenty of Republicans like Bachmann who hold Jesus up as an icon while completely turning their backs on his actual words and deeds, so I guess they’re at least consistent in their idolatry.

  • balconesfault

    Let’s face it – the conservative rejection of climate science is based almost entirely in their rejection of the logical conclusions that any thinking person comes to if they accept climate science.

    Backing up, let’s look at evolution. Why do many conservatives reject evolution? Not because they’re so completely wed to the stories of Genesis … but because the idea that they may be genetically related to chimanzees appalls them. The logical conclusions of evolutionary theory are unacceptable … so they reject the science as a whole, and grasp at the first life preserver (intelligent design!) that promises to free them from that unacceptable conclusion.

    Meanwhile, most anyone who thinks through climate science comes to the conclusion that the risk to future generations is so great that government action is needed, that in fact global cooperation is needed.

    Conservatives reject expansion of government powers. Conservatives wholly reject the idea that America’s future depends on any global cooperation other than that which we can commandeer via the point of a spear.

    Given this, it has become incumbent on conservatives to either reject the concept of climate change, or to at least reject the idea that man can do anything about it (either technologically or politically, depending on how deep they feel like burrowing their head in the sand).

  • anniemargret

    Jim Dipeso. How many Republicans are actually joining your efforts to effect educated awareness of climate change? From where I sit, every Republican I know or hear could care less.. their leader on this topic is Rush Limbaugh, who still insists it’s a liberal plot to destroy big business.

    Your club would be flying high with Democrats, for whom the majority doesn’t have to be convinced against good ole fashioned horse sense that climate change is real, and there is a human factor involved in it.

    It’s like beating your head against the wall trying to convince the propagandists of the harm they are doing to their fans, by dumbing them down, and to the country, which needs to recognize the climate change could…could…lead to war, if the climate gets to the point where famine and drought affect life on earth.

    • Scritor

      Still, this is yeoman’s work. If you want the Democratic Party to represent something besides the diverse interests of all thinking people, it behooves you to encourage DiPeso to reform his party. I don’t think it will work, Reagan-burnishing aside, but that’s not going to keep me from cheering for him.

      After all, what do you gain if Frum, DiPeso, and the few other reasonable contributors here join the Democratic Party and the Republican Party becomes a fight club asylum? An intellectually hollowed out institutional structure that is still good at its number one goal: winning elections so that the rich stay richer.

      • anniemargret

        Good point. I like to think that sane, responsible people in this country can use common sense, rather than hyped and ginned up emotionalism to make decisions for this country. We are facing so many dangers ahead, and we are here on this blog discussing climate change, which still remains anathema to many people in this country.

        That these writers felt like they had to form a club to encourage conservatives to give more than a passing glance at climate change says it all. That in the 21st century, we’ve got people in this country who are ignorant and prefer to stay that way, if it means their party ‘wins’ and the country loses.

        I think climate change, slowly but suredly, will have a huge impact on geo-politics in due time. People expect this situation to unveil itself in a matter of weeks and months, but it is a process that is slow, but change is happening all around us.

        The politics of it, affecting the world economy, and leading to wars for vital resources is around the corner. While I understand we have to prioritize our problems, it is sickening to me that some Republicans still feel they have pry their party away from the lunacy – self-serving interests- of political big-wigs like Limbaugh and other assorted idiots who can’t see the forest for the trees.

        Perhaps you are right, Scritor…it would useless to expect the Frums and DiPeso’s out there to join the Democrats on its more conservative side. Then again, perhaps then we can leave the anti-intellectuals and anti-science folks in the dust…and pave the way for a stronger more inclusive, more efficient America instead of the mass confusion, and frat party that we have in DC now.

    • djenkins

      I co-authored this piece and also work for REP, so I’ll chime in and try to answer your question.

      First of all, polling shows that Rush Limbaugh and other radical talk radio personalities influence about 19 percent of GOP voters. Polling has also consistently shown that roughly 50 percent of Republican and Republican-leaning voters support action to reduce GHG emissions. This number has dipped a bit due to the economy, but is likely to rebound if we ever see healthy economic growth. It is worth noting that 79 percent of Republicans support strong automobile fuel efficency standards (which also points to a radical libertarian core of around 20 percent).

      This 20 percent is vocal, active, and has a disproportionate amount of influence on party leadership. This will continue to be the case until the silent majority of rational Republicans decides to expend the effort needed to take the party back. One big problem over the past decade or so has been that disgruntled Republicans don’t fight for the party’s direction, they abandon the party and become independents (or in some cases, Democrats…you know who you are:-).

      REP membership is in the thousands (but not the tens of thousands) and growing. There is a lot of interest coming from younger Republicans and from women of all ages. While the radical influences within the GOP are frustrating, we must, as Theodore Roosevelt said, be in “the arena.”

      • balconesfault

        The problem seems to be that GOP politicians perceive no real threat of negative repercussions within the party whatsoever for voting against measures intended to reduce climate change emissions … or even, really, for saying outlandishly stupid things regarding the climate change debate.

        On the other hand, they must feel tremendous potential for negative consequences if they vote for climate change legislation.

        But as I alluded to earlier … the average GOP voter, even those who may squishily support climate change legislation (I think your use of auto efficiency standards as a surrogate is flawed, since a lot of GOP voters think of this as a national security issue, or even a “screw the Arabs” issue) … is very easily persuaded when push comes to shove that personal liberties must trump some “half-baked” science out there that a lot of people on their side are telling them is bunk.

        In a macroscopic sense, the GOP is embracing a massive form of projection here. Again, as I said earlier, the GOP position imo stems from rejecting the logical consequence (more regulation and international cooperation) and therefore accepting denialists claims in order to minimize cognitive dissonance.

        And this makes them very receptive to the flipside claim … that it is those concerned about climate change who are really acting out of political motivation – not because we’re really worried about melting icecaps and lost glaciers and rapidly changing ecosystems and desertification … but because we just want to expand government powers over people’s lives and are using the climate change boogeyman as a tool

        If you aren’t willing to deal with that particular neuroses within your party, you’re doomed to fail. And we’re all as a result doomed to suffer.

        • djenkins

          Trust me, I deal with the “nerouses” within my party every day. I fully understand how these radical libertarian influences have come to dominate the party and rile up a poorly informed segment of the party. A similar dynamic also happens on the left (note I said similar…not exactly the same).

          Still, it is counterproductive to allow a minority of radicals within the party to chase off a better informed and more rational majority. How does that help move the ball on climate change, energy security or any other daunting issue we face as a nation?

          I used the CAFE poll information simply as one example, the numbers are similar for support of the Endangered Species Act, stronger pollution limits, and tougher enforcement of pollution laws. Recent focus groups also show that many conservatives lament the fact that current Republican leaders have not been better champions of clean air and clean water.

          The radicals are active and making the most noise. They have hijacked once conservative publications like National Review, they dominate the radio airwaves and have made gains in print media. Still, they do not represent the views of most Republicans. Saying they do, gives them even more power and reduces the liklihood that others within the party will ever fight back.

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