The Most Important Thing You Will Read Today – The Clearest Statement on Climate Science From the Most Definitive Source

Aug 6, 2013 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment


You just can’t find a more solid, conservative, reliable and grounded group than the American Geophysical Union.  Since 1919 the AGU has been the hub of the physical sciences in the United States providing a gathering place and information exchange for earth, air and space scientists and then communicating carefully reviewed scientific information to the public and decision-makers in government, business and throughout society.

When a group like the AGU speaks through an official statement you know that every word of the statement has been scrutinized and carefully chosen to communicate important ideas and complex climate science as accurately as possible. The process of creating these statements involves hours, days, weeks and years of meetings, reviews, re-reviews and painstaking scrutiny.

This means when that when the AGU issues (as it did in 2003) and then updates (as it did again last week) its official position statement on a subject like global warming, attention should be paid. The latest version of that statement can be downloaded in PDF form from the AGU website and is “pasted” below in its entirety.

The calm and carefully chosen words of the AGU should reinforce a critical realization that immediate and dramatic action is needed to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions immediately. By becoming much more efficient in our use of energy and dramatically reducing the amount of fossil fuels that we burn, we can reduce greenhouse gas emissions.  Meeting these goals will require developing dense and sustainable cities where most trips can be made on foot and convenient and affordable public transit plays a strong and supporting role as well as technological shifts to highly efficient buildings powered by renewable energy like wind and solar power.  The AGU also reminds us that even if we slash our greenhouse gas emissions very sharply and immediately we must deal with the implications of the emissions of the past and the warming that is already baked into the system, warming that is bringing us rising sea levels and extreme and disrupted weather.

The call to action that the scientists of the AGU is sounding is being heard here in New England – laws like the renewable energy and energy efficiency standards are on the books in part because of this fundamental challenge.  This legislative response to climate science is even more obvious in the case of laws specifically requiring emissions reductions – like the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act.  But passing laws is only one in a series of needed steps forward.

Translating the law into regulations (as the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection just refused to do when pressed by a remarkable group of kids) and then action, actually delivering on the promise of reduced pollution emissions, will not be easy.  But we really don’t have a choice . . .


Human-induced climate change requires urgent action.

Humanity is the major influence on the global climate change observed over the past 50 years.

Rapid societal responses can significantly lessen negative outcomes.

“Human activities are changing Earth’s climate. At the global level, atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping greenhouse gases have increased sharply since the Industrial Revolution. Fossil fuel burning dominates this increase. Human-caused increases in greenhouse gases are responsible for most of the observed global average surface warming of roughly 0.8°C (1.5°F) over the past 140 years. Because natural processes cannot quickly remove some of these gases (notably carbon dioxide) from the atmosphere, our past, present, and future emissions will influence the climate system for millennia.

Extensive, independent observations confirm the reality of global warming. These observations show large-scale increases in air and sea temperatures, sea level, and atmospheric water vapor; they document decreases in the extent of mountain glaciers, snow cover, permafrost, and Arctic sea ice. These changes are broadly consistent with long-understood physics and predictions of how the climate system is expected to respond to human-caused increases in greenhouse gases. The changes are inconsistent with explanations of climate change that rely on known natural influences.

Climate models predict that global temperatures will continue to rise, with the amount of warming primarily determined by the level of emissions. Higher emissions of greenhouse gases will lead to larger warming, and greater risks to society and ecosystems. Some additional warming is unavoidable due to past emissions.

Climate change is not expected to be uniform over space or time. Deforestation, urbanization, and particulate pollution can have complex geographical, seasonal, and longer-term effects on temperature, precipitation, and cloud properties. In addition, human-induced climate change may alter atmospheric circulation, dislocating historical patterns of natural variability and storminess.

In the current climate, weather experienced at a given location or region varies from year to year; in a changing climate, both the nature of that variability and the basic patterns of weather experienced can change, sometimes in counterintuitive ways — some areas may experience cooling, for instance. This raises no challenge to the reality of human-induced climate change.

Impacts harmful to society, including increased extremes of heat, precipitation, and coastal high water are currently being experienced, and are projected to increase. Other projected outcomes involve threats to public health, water availability, agricultural productivity (particularly in low-latitude developing countries), and coastal infrastructure, though some benefits may be seen at some times and places. Biodiversity loss is expected to accelerate due to both climate change and acidification of the oceans, which is a direct result of increasing carbon dioxide levels.

While important scientific uncertainties remain as to which particular impacts will be experienced where, no uncertainties are known that could make the impacts of climate change inconsequential. Furthermore, surprise outcomes, such as the unexpectedly rapid loss of Arctic summer sea ice, may entail even more dramatic changes than anticipated.

Actions that could diminish the threats posed by climate change to society and ecosystems include substantial emissions cuts to reduce the magnitude of climate change, as well as preparing for changes that are now unavoidable. The community of scientists has responsibilities to improve overall understanding of climate change and its impacts. Improvements will come from pursuing the research needed to understand climate change, working with stakeholders to identify relevant information, and conveying understanding clearly and accurately, both to decision makers and to the general public.”

Adopted by the American Geophysical Union December 2003; Revised and Reaffirmed December 2007, February 2012, August 2013.

One More Lesson from the Presidential Election: Ignoring Rigorous Number Crunchers Is a Bad Idea

Nov 9, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

It is a dangerous thing to ignore very smart people who are using rigorous methods of analyzing data. This is true when discussing elections, it is even more true when it comes to thinking about the earth’s climate.

Consider the case of Nate Silver, whose computer forecasting tools have been making spookily accurate predictions about the outcome of elections over the last five years. Silver’s models, which uses public opinion polls, with adjustments for various effects, over the last year showed a presidential election that was very stable with a consistent reality of the incumbent President maintaining a small but clear lead on the national level and a slightly larger but even more consistent lead in key “swing states.” The bottom line prediction of the model was a moderate (60%) to high (92%) probability that the outcome would be the re-election of Barack Obama. He was, of course, impressively accurate.

And yet, leading up the election, Silver’s work was reviled by many – principally those who saw this quantitative approach as undermining their business of dispensing qualitative analysis of elections and, even more vehemently, by those simply could not accept the results of the modeling because they just couldn’t accept the re-election of the President as a potential likely outcome. This phenomenon of folks in denial projecting their own warping of science and analysis on to analysts and scientists who they disagree with is very familiar in the climate context.

For a very long time those who find the truth of global warming to be inconvenient have claimed, amongst other things, that climate science is skewed and political, accusing scientists of suffering from confirmation bias and leaning towards evidence and models that confirmed their political beliefs. Dark, and totally unsubstantiated, accusations are made about how it is “convenient” that the scientist are reaching conclusions that line up with expectations of agencies providing funding. But, of course, these same climate change deniers are the greatest case study of confirmation bias that one could ever find.

So who is the climate equivalent of Nate Silver? Who is a clearly disinterested and objective outside observer coming in from a different world, like Nate Silver came to politics from sports forecasting, and employing sophisticated analytical tools imported from another context?

I would suggest the prudent accountants at PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) are making a very strong audition for that role given their Carbon Disclosure Project and very specifically with the issuance just last week of a sobering analysis: PwC Low Carbon Economy Index 2012: Too late for two degrees?

That analysis makes it very clear that drastic action, both in terms of emissions reduction and in reshaping our infrastructure and society, is needed if we are going to avert total disaster. As a partner at PwC said in a press release about the report, “This isn’t about shock tactics, it’s simple maths. We’re heading into uncharted territory for the scale of transformation and technical innovations required. Whatever the scenario, or the response, business as usual is not an option.” Indeed, the levels of global warming pollution that PwC tells us will flow from “business as usual” matches up with the levels that scientists tell us will make the land on which half of humanity resides uninhabitable.

PwC is not alone in delivering this message of cold, sober quantitative analysis delivering hard (and frankly terrifying) conclusions about our climate trajectory.  Lord Nicholas Stern has delivered a similar and powerful message, most famously as an adviser to the British Government. In that role, in 2006, he authored a very influential report starkly demonstrating that the cost of failing to address global warming far outstrips the cost of acting to reducing the emissions that are the source of so much of the problem.

The good news (and it yes, I am following apocalyptic statements with good news) is that here in New England the message of these number crunchers is being heard, and bits of action, designed to respond to this threat, are being seen.  The Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act provides a binding legal mandate that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts address the causes and effects of global warming pollution.  And, the changes in the complexion of state legislatures across the region (detailed on this blog by the CLF state office directors) suggest that we may be able to make more progress on this front across New England. Finally, the rise of clean energy champions in our congressional delegation (notably the election of former wind energy developer Angus King as a Senator from Maine) means that our representatives will continue to rise up as voices of sanity on energy and climate on the national stage – and sanity is what is needed if we are going to heed the message our number crunchers are sending us.

Brace for Impact – Heavy Weather Ahead (and a Changing Climate is Part of the Reason It is Happening)

Oct 25, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

If you have a sense that this business of hurricanes becoming routine in October is new and that we didn’t use to have to worry about such storms with names starting with S, T and higher in the alphabet so much in the past then you are correct.

As Hurricane Sandy (no relation to CLF’s ace Vermont Senior Attorney Sandy Levine) moves up the coast it is worth noting that some of the sharpest observers of our climate and weather, like the founder of weather website Weather Underground the redoubtable Dr. Jeff Masters, are seeing a very real relationship between our changing climate and the advent of these “perfect storms” that bring tropical and winter weather into a fiendish collaboration.  As Dr. Masters writes (note sentence I have underlined in particular):

The Northeast U.S. scenario

If Sandy makes landfall farther to the north near Maine and Nova Scotia, heavy rains will be the main threat, since the cold waters will weaken the storm significantly before landfall. The trees have fewer leaves farther to the north, which will reduce the amount of tree damage and power failures compared to a more southerly track. However, given that ocean temperatures along the Northeast U.S. coast are about 5°F above average, there will be an unusually large amount of water vapor available to make heavy rain. If the trough of low pressure approaching the East Coast taps into the large reservoir of cold air over Canada and pulls down a significant amount of Arctic air, the potential exists for the unusually moist air from Sandy to collide with this cold air from Canada and unleash the heaviest October rains ever recorded in the Northeast U.S., Nova Scotia, and New Brunswick. This Northeast U.S. scenario would probably cause damages near $100 million dollars.

 The story is clear and frightening.  Warmer water (a clear part of the story of global warming) is keeping these tropical storms alive later and later in the year and putting water into the atmosphere that then pours down on us in these storms.

And you were wondering why we were so intent on taking the steps needed to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions causing global warming? The answer is very clear: self-preservation.

Really Cool Event About “Doing the Math” and Taking on the Fossil Fuel Forces of Doom

Oct 23, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

There comes a time when you just have to say that enough is enough.

That is where we are in the world of climate advocacy.

As Bill McKibben laid out in his essay on Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math we can no longer ignore the deep and fundamental need for action to save our climate, our families, our communities and our environment from catastrophe – and that there are powerful, entrenched and well-financed forces who will do just about anything to thwart our efforts.

The primary tools that CLF employs in the fight for climate protection are law, science and economics.  We fight for a thriving New England in court and work with smart business people to build markets for renewable energy like wind farms and to foster energy efficiency, the clean resource all around us.  And we are fighting to ensure that the governments of the region live up to their pledges to create great places where there is more walking and less driving and more of the remaining cars pollute less. We know that this work is essential if we are going to win the war to save our climate.


But sometimes we need to do more. One thing we need to do, in addition to our calm and civil lawyerly work, is to get angry and push back in the right ways at the right times and in the right places.  This is the spirit behind the Cape Wind Now! campaign that CLF and its partners have launched to call out the fossil fuel powered interests fighting against renewable energy. It is also the driving force behind the Do The Math tour and campaign led by 350.0rg.

And now it is coming to a concert hall near you. This event is a unique blend of “multimedia lecture . . . organizing rally [and] live musical performance” that is not to be missed. CLF has helped to arrange for this important effort to land at the historic Orpheum Theater in Boston on November 15 – tickets are still available!

Before coming the Boston the tour stops in Portland Maine on November 13 and then off on a cross-country odyssey from New York to Los Angeles, to Seattle and then Colorado and many stops in between and on the way.

When Global Warming Attacks, People Won’t Take Action to Stop It

Jun 4, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

A sober, clean and depressing article from Inside Climate News details how scientists who work on climate are  grappling with the science and reality of global warming puts me in mind of a classic science fiction movie paradigm – they know something terrible is unfolding, but no one will listen ! Or in this case, as notes John Reilly co-director of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change, most scientists studying climate change today are viewing “the seemingly unstoppable rise in global greenhouse emissions” with “increasing alarm.”

Reason to Believe In Taking Action on Global Warming

Mar 29, 2012 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Climate Scientist Katherine Hayhoe is an evangelical Christian who sees her work and the need to protect the earth as deeply consistent with her faith.

Read all about her at Climate Central.  Buy her book, co-written with her husband who, like Dr. Hayhoe, is a Professor at Texas Tech. He is also the Pastor of their church.

Given the latest science showing that the models that predict the exact march of global warming appear to be overly conservative and underestimating the effects of the warming in progress and the strong likelihood that we are about to cross an irrevocable tipping point that commits the planet to deeply damaging warming it is not crazy to suggest that we need science, prayer and action.

The need for action and steps to be taken to address this crisis is not abstract.  The latest massive compilation of science shows the very real effects that global warming is having all around us and will increasingly inflict upon us.  The need to build resilient communities that can survive (and even thrive) in these conditions is very real.  However, it is equally vital that we reduce the emissions that are disrupting the climate.  This means building renewable energy of many sizes and types, it means making our society and economy more efficient, properly planning and building our communities and providing and funding safe and clean transit and spreading and truly implementing efforts like the Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Act and the greenhouse gas regulations being slowly rolled out by the Federal government.

The size, scale and nature of the crisis we face must spur all of us, whether we are motivated by a purely secular moral motivation to watch out for our fellow humans and/or other planetary passengers or the religious mission that guides someone like Dr. Hayhoe, to act. Because if we don’t we truly don’t have a prayer.


Doctor Mann’s Courage

Mar 20, 2012 by  | Bio |  1 Comment »

I am not the only person to find a sharp description of our unfortunate political and cultural situation in W.B. Yeats dark meditation on the aftermath of World War I: The Second Coming.

Many remember that poem for the hair-raising question that comes at its end, “. . . what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?”

However, the poem also famously states: “The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.”

It is hard to imagine a more accurate statement of the problem around the climate debate where denial is often presented with powerful zeal and, too often, truth is presented in a tentative manner.

However, fortunately, sometimes the tellers of truth show powerful courage.  Doctor Michael Mann, a leading climate scientist, is one of those who has refused to temper his message and bow in the face of those who denounce him for clearly and powerfully presenting the results of his research.   He tells the story of his life, his research, the attacks upon him and the lessons he has learned from these experiences in a deeply readable book, “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars

His book is required reading for all those who want to understand climate science – as well as those who want an inside view of a critical political and cultural debate between sound science and ideologically driven denial.

In the short term this remarkable book presents a happy ending as Dr. Mann is able to continue with his work and survive scurrilous attack. However, like a monster movie that ends with a moment of peace that fades into ominous music and a hint of the horrible threat just waiting to burst on the scene, the book ends with a question: Will humanity listen to the message of science and avert the catastrophe of a warming and disrupted planet?

Doctor Yergin’s dilemma

Mar 14, 2012 by  | Bio |  2 Comment »

Update – The debate about this phenomena continues.  See compilation of further ruminations about continued available petroleum and climate from a variety of powerful voices in another post from June 11, 2012.  And some of the same ideas are chewed on in an interesting op-ed by Reuters editor Chrystia Freeland in the August 9, 2012 New York Times.

In 1991 Daniel Yergin published his massive history of the petroleum industry, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money and Power. Regardless of what you think about Yergin’s perspective on the topic, it is hard to dispute the complete and authoritative nature of that book. It provided a guided tour through the life of one of the defining industries of the 20th century and remains a powerful and surprisingly readable look at this essential subject.

In the years that followed there was strong interest in an update to The Prize that brought the story up towards the present and grappled with challenges to the ascendancy of petroleum in our economy and society – like the realization that global warming caused by burning fossil fuels is causing deep and systemic damage to the planet.

In 2011 Doctor Yergin did produce that much awaited sequel, The Quest: Energy, Security and the Remaking of the Modern World. That book contains six full chapters detailing the evolution of modern climate science and leaves no doubt about the fundamental validity of the observation that the phenomena of global warming from the burning of petroleum and other fossil fuels is indeed, very real.

However, that point must play out against the backdrop of Dr. Yergin’s deep and abiding belief that the there is no such thing as “peak oil” – that global oil production may plateau and stop rising but that improvements in technology mean that we will never see a steep decline in exploitable oil reserves. Indeed, he is even more firm in his belief that if you look at the broader array of fossil hydrocarbons, including natural gas, that the progression of technologies like hydraulic fracturing and its deployment across the world will lead to continued availability of such fuels at fairly low prices for the long term – really, he argues, indefinitely. This is a hard perspective for a climate advocate to ponder – he is in effect arguing that continued availability of hydrocarbons is an “inconvenient truth” that those addressing the challenge of global warming must face, that the argument that “we are running out of the stuff anyway” is simply not part of the debate about continued use of fossil fuels.

But Dr. Yergin has his own dilemma to confront: he does not address the fundamental collision between his observations about the validity of climate science and his belief that we are not in danger of running out of affordable hydrocarbons. This is an especially difficult circle for him to square as he is fundamentally an optimist – believing that society has always found technological solutions to the problems we have encountered and created for ourselves in the past and we will do so again. To Dr. Yergin’s credit he does engage renewable energy and energy efficiency, the  key tools for decarbonizing our economy, at  length in The Quest but never quite gets to the point of describing a path to a future where we are no longer burning fossil fuels and putting greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

It would be very difficult for Dr. Yergin to fully confront the dilemma implicit in his work – that the presence of affordable hydrocarbons (oil and/or natural gas) for indefinite future will create a strong pull constantly moving us away from making the reductions in our greenhouse gas emissions that science tells us we need to make in order to save ourselves.

Bill McKibben has noted on many occasions, getting off fossil fuels will be the hardest thing that humanity has ever done and the only thing that would be harder would be living in the world where we don’t. And Dr. Yergin is telling us that his expert analysis is that it will be even harder than many believe to make that transition because new technologies and techniques will continue to increase the pool of available fossil fuels – but he has looked at the climate science and he does not deny that we must make the transition.


Discovery Channel responds: Show about polar environment will talk climate change

Nov 18, 2011 by  | Bio |  Leave a Comment

Quick update on subject of a blog post the other day.

Discovery Channel, in an article posted on Treehugger (which discloses it is owned by Discovery Communications, the parent of Discovery Channel) claims that the climate change content in the US version of Frozen Planet will be the same as in the BBC version – that they will simply be re-editing the show to fit into six episodes and with an American accented narrator.  Apparently our ears are not sophisticated enough to appreciate the dulcet tones of Sir David Attenborough.

And as to the climate issue, as Treehugger concludes, the proof will come when the show airs . . .