Frog Blog

A Voice for Our Earth

“Dear President Obama & The United States Congress,

Tomorrow leaders from 192 countries will gather at The UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen to determine the fate of our planet.”

Credit: NASA/NOAA. Series of images taken by the Earth Polychromatic Imaging Camera (EPIC) aboard the Deep Space Climate Observatory (DSCOVER), which was launched on Feb. 11, 2015 and placed in a special orbit about 1,000,000 miles from Earth, where the gravitational attraction by the sun and Earth are perfectly balanced. This gives the EPIC camera an uninterrupted view of the fully sunlit side of the Earth, where it snaps full-Earth pictures about every 2 hours that are uploaded to the mission’s gorgeous website. Besides full color images, the EPIC camera snaps images in non-visible wavelengths enabling climate scientists to monitor the Earth’s energy balance by observing ozone and aerosol levels, cloud dynamics, and changes in vegetation and the solar reflectivity of land masses. All of us are rotating together in this series of images, protected by a fragile atmosphere mostly concentrated in a layer only about 10 miles thick.

“As business leaders we are optimistic that President Obama is attending Copenhagen with emissions targets. Additionally, we urge you, our government, to strengthen and pass United States legislation, and lead the world by example. We support your effort to ensure meaningful and effective measures to control climate change, an immediate challenge facing the United States and the world today. Please don’t postpone the earth.

If we fail to act now, it is scientifically irrefutable that there will be catastrophic and irreversible consequences for humanity and our planet.

We recognize the key role that American innovation and leadership play in stimulating the worldwide economy. Investing in a Clean Energy Economy will drive state-of-the-art technologies that will spur economic growth, create new energy jobs, and increase our energy security all while reducing the harmful emissions that are putting our planet at risk. We have the ability and the know-how to lead the world in clean energy technology to thrive in a global market and economy. But we must embrace the challenge today to ensure that future generations are left with a safe planet and a strong economy.

Please allow us, the United States of America, to serve in modeling the change necessary to protect humanity and our planet.”

-Donald J. Trump, Donald Trump, Jr., Eric Trump, Ivanka Trump, and other American business leaders, in an open letter published as a full-page ad in The New York Times, Dec. 6, 2009, ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen (look for their signatures 2 lines from the bottom).

See other Voices for Our Earth

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

A Voice for Our Earth

“Burning all fossil fuels would produce a different, practically uninhabitable, planet. …Our calculated global warming in this case is 16◦C, with warming at the poles approximately 30◦C. Calculated warming over land areas averages approximately 20◦C. Such temperatures would eliminate grain production in almost all agricultural regions in the world.”

The Blue Marble, an image of Earth made on Dec 7, 1972 by the crew of the Apollo 17 spacecraft, travelling toward the moon at a distance of 18,000 miles above the Earth’s surface. All of humanity (with the exception of Eugene Cernan, Harrison Schmitt, and Ronald Evans of the Apollo 17 crew) is in this image.

“…More ominously, global warming of that magnitude would make most of the planet uninhabitable by humans. The human body generates about 100 W of metabolic heat that must be carried away to maintain a core body temperature near 37◦C, which implies that sustained wet bulb temperatures above 35◦C can result in lethal hyperthermia. Today, the summer temperature varies widely over the Earth’s surface, but wet bulb temperature is more narrowly confined by the effect of humidity, with the most common value of approximately 26–27◦C and the highest approximately of 31◦C. A warming of 10–12◦C would put most of today’s world population in regions with wet a bulb temperature above 35◦C.

…We conclude that the large climate change from burning all fossil fuels would threaten the biological health and survival of humanity, making policies that rely substantially on adaptation inadequate.

…Most of the remaining fossil fuel carbon is in coal and unconventional oil and gas. Thus, it seems, humanity stands at a fork in the road. As conventional oil and gas are depleted, will we move to carbon-free energy and efficiency—or to unconventional fossil fuels and coal? If fossil fuels were made to pay their costs to society, costs of pollution and climate change, carbon-free alternatives might supplant fossil fuels over a period of decades. However, if governments force the public to bear the external costs and even subsidize fossil fuels, carbon emissions are likely to continue to grow, with deleterious consequences for young people and future generations.

It seems implausible that humanity will not alter its energy course as consequences of burning all fossil fuels become clearer. Yet strong evidence about the dangers of human-made climate change have so far had little effect. Whether governments continue to be so foolhardy as to allow or encourage development of all fossil fuels may determine the fate of humanity.”

-James Hansen, Makiko Sato, Gary Russell, and Pushker Kharecha, current and former scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, in a peer reviewed scientific journal article published in 2011.

See other Voices for Our Earth

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Americans Lament Inability to Talk About Mass Shootings or Hurricanes Because of Need to Mourn Extraordinarily Frequent Mass Shootings, Hurricanes

This “news story” is a work of satire. All linked quotes, however, are 100% real.

14 February 2018

AP – Hours after a troubled teen packing an AR-15 military style firearm killed at least 17 adults and schoolchildren in a Parkland, Florida high school, a handful of months after a gunman killed at least 26 church-goers in Sutherland Springs, Texas, and in the wake of a string of national tragedies over earlier weeks including the depraved massacre of 58 people by a “lone wolf” gunman in Las Vegas only 35 days before that and the Puerto Rican landfall of Hurricane Maria around the same time, Americans widely acknowledged on Wednesday they had entered a new Great American Mourning Episode (GAME) observed by tradition following any such travesty on U.S. soil. Variously held for a period of weeks or months, the GAME features, by mutual agreement of all patriotic American citizens and in respectful observance of the suffering of the victims of the tragedy, a usually unspoken moratorium on any insensitive public discourse related to possible root causes of the disaster or potential methods of preventing similar travesties in the future.

This exceptional American tradition was exemplified particularly well by presidential counselor Kellyanne Conlady immediately following the August landfall of Hurricane Harvey, the first of 4 major hurricanes to ravage the U.S. coastline during this year’s unusually active hurricane season.  Just hours after its landfall in Texas, a news reporter callously deviated from the spirit of the GAME by seeking to question Conlady about whether “climate change” might be a contributing factor to the hurricane’s ability to drop a record-smashing more than 4 feet of rain on Houston, whereupon Conlady justifiably responded, “…we’re trying to help the people whose lives are literally underwater, and you want to have a conversation about climate change. I mean, that is—I’m not going to engage in that right now because I work for a president and a vice president and a country that is very focused on helping the millions of affected Texans, and, God forbid, Louisianans.”

EPA administrator Scott Prune expressed a similar patriotic sentiment hours before the state of Florida was slammed by Hurricane Irma, a multi-record-setting hurricane roughly twice the width of that state.  When questioned by an indurate reporter about the possible role of “climate change” in stirring up the most savage hurricane season on record, Prune appropriately put the reporter in his place: “To have any kind of focus on the cause and effect of the storm versus helping people, or actually facing the effect of the storm, is misplaced.  …to use time and effort to address it at this point is very, very insensitive to [the] people in Florida.” Appropriate comments indeed from the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, who we must assume had by that time put a pin in all considerations of the Environment in expectation of personally performing manual labor as part of Florida relief efforts.

Hours after the October 1 Las Vegas massacre, White House press secretary Sarah Slanders similarly urged appropriate observation of the GAME. “There’s a time and place for a political debate, but now is the time to unite as a country,” Slanders solemnly reminded members of the media. “We haven’t had the moment to have a deep dive on the policy part. We have been focused on the fact that we had a severe tragedy in our country and this is a day of mourning, a time of bringing our country together, that has been the focus of the administration this morning.”

These exemplary demonstrations of patriotism epitomized the vital principle of the GAME, that any misguided efforts to identify and discuss the merits of potential policy adjustments to prevent future calamities would only serve as distractions from the proper acknowledgement and consideration of the suffering of fellow Americans.

Indeed, the GAME demands, for all who love America, that terrestrial considerations of practical human action should rather be transcended by prayer, in the form of devout appeals to any of various higher deities to ease the suffering of the afflicted and grant relief from such tragedies in the future. Americans widely admit no documented evidence of any of the major deities obviously meddling significantly in natural events or the collective fortunes of large groups of people for thousands of years. Even in those ancient times, literary evidence suggests interference of deities only in the context of vigorous efforts on the part of a human population to improve its own fortunes. Nevertheless, the documented power wielded by the deities in those times was unquestionably awesome, so the Strategy of Prayer is widely considered a “Hail Mary play” that might eliminate future human tragedies without resorting to the sorts of terrestrial human actions forbidden by proper observation of the GAME.

External observers have questioned the wisdom of the GAME, saying it might delay sorely needed actions that could prevent future horrific events. Foreign analysts have often referenced the apparent incongruity of the GAME with pragmatic American reactions to other types of problems. Aidan O’Sullivan of Limerick, Ireland pointed out, “If’n a baseball cums crashin’ through yisser picture windy, Oi’m juicy sure yer open de door roi away ter see wha’ wee kid did it, even as you’re also mournin’ de loss of yisser windy.” While true, Aidan’s example misses the point of the GAME, which has to do with the sheer size and depth of tragedy that can result only from a category 5 Atlantic hurricane or a crazy loner wielding an AR-15 legally enhanced with an ARMATAC SAW-MAG 150 round dual drum magazine, a Slide Fire bump stock, a Black Rain silencer, and a Vortex Optics Crossfire II Riflescope purchased on Amazon Prime with free overnight shipping.

Immediate, pragmatic action is entirely appropriate for day-to-day setbacks like busted picture windows.  A hurricane landfall on a major city or a gunman in an elevated firing position menacing a dense crowd of T-shirt and sandal clad concert-goers with 20 or more military grade firearms, however, is uniquely capable of generating a scale of mayhem – scores of dead and hundreds or thousands of human lives forever altered – that can only be properly observed by strict adherence to the GAME.

Disturbingly, an in-depth investigation by our reporters revealed that a small minority of Americans failed to uniformly observe the GAME. Indeed, in the same year that Americans from Puerto Rico to Texas were struggling to recover from a multi-record-setting string of ferocious hurricanes, Terry Dinan, an economist and environmental policy expert at the Congressional Budget Office, furtively wrote of her suggestions to link scientific knowledge about hurricanes to future public policy. “Hurricane damage in the United States is likely to increase substantially in the coming decades as a result of both climate change and coastal development,” she insensitively opined. “Two primary strategies for limiting such increases are mitigation, which entails reducing global emissions of greenhouse gases, and adaptation, which entails reducing exposure or reducing the vulnerability of exposed property. A coordinated global effort to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions could lessen hurricane damage between now and 2075…” Fortunately, Dr. Dinan wrote her crass comments in the obscure and little-read journal, Ecological Economics, sparing the collective psyches of Americans suffering the effects of 2017’s active hurricane season from the damage that might have been inflicted had the callous suggestions entered the mainstream media.

In private moments, several citizens quietly confessed some trepidation about the limits the GAME might place on Americans’ ability to engage in the collective discourse necessary to develop robust solutions to some of the nation’s most pressing problems. “It had been a full month since the Las Vegas shooting, and I‘d just gotten back to starting to think about whether some type of common-sense gun legislation might help reduce the body count when some nut becomes unhinged and decides to kill a bunch of innocent people in a school or at a concert,” explained Larry Swingvoater of Green Bay, Wisconsin. “Now, another maniac decided to open fire in a church, so of course I can’t think about policy while those poor people are suffering. But what I worry about is, if these hurricanes and mass shootings keep happening so close together, when WILL I think about that stuff? Anyway, I’m back to praying now – maybe that will eventually pay off.”

Others wondered aloud what the solutions from a supernatural deity might look like, should the Strategy of Prayer prove successful. Would future tragedies from climate change ultimately be averted by solutions resembling the “solar technology,” “wind technology,” or “battery technology” rumored to have been developed by human scientists and engineers? Or, might a deity prove capable of providing sustainable bioenergy derived from multitudes of burning bushes? Or, tidal energy afforded by repetitive parting of the earth’s seas? Might an entity akin to the Holy Spirit provide a bullet-proof energy field around the nation’s innocent civilians, enabling Americans to maintain casual public availability of thrilling, adrenaline-pumping battlefield style firearms without risk to young schoolchildren?

A handful of fringe citizens, who made their controversial remarks on condition of anonymity so as not to be identified as GAME-violators, expressed the cynical opinion that the GAME poorly serves American politics and is actually the result of a “cruel and selfish conspiracy” by a few well-funded special interests with outsized influence on U.S. legislative policy. “This is not patriotism, but simply a transparent political delay tactic,” claimed Jon Faiknaim, whose name has been changed in this article at his request. “Every time a hurricane or a gun-toting madman kills a bunch of people, politicians in the pockets of the fossil fuel industry and the National Rifle Association call it ‘insensitive’ to talk about policy changes that would solve some of our most urgent public problems but harm the narrow interests of those minority stakeholders. Then, everybody forgets about the problem the moment another issue of critical national interest demands consideration. Like the linguistic etymology of the word, ‘covfefe,’ or how football players arrange their limbs during pre-game performances of the National Anthem. Then, the next time one of these tragedies occurs, the irrational cycle repeats itself.” Fortunately, these cynical expressions of doubt were rare.

On the whole, proper observation of America’s GAME was alive and well Wednesday thanks, in no small part, to the stellar leadership example of President Donald Tweety, who so inspirationally addressed the nation following the earlier Las Vegas massacre. “I think the only message I can say is that we’re with you 100 percent,” Tweety remarked from the relative safety of his Secret Service perimeter, when asked by a reporter if he had a message for the citizens of Las Vegas. “I said, ‘If you’re ever in Washington, come on over to the Oval Office,’ and they’re all saying, ‘We wanna do it, how do we do it?’ And believe me, I’ll be there for them. But the message that I have is we have a great country and we are there for you, and they’re there for us,” Tweety continued, apparently extending his generous presidential invitation to the citizens of Las Vegas not dead of gunshot wounds.

But our national leader’s statements were most inspirational as he bravely defended the sanctity of the GAME when questioned by an unruly member of the press pool about whether “we have a gun violence problem.”

“We’re not going to talk about that today. We won’t talk about that,” Tweety responded, later adding that a gun policy debate “at some point, perhaps … will come.”

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s Idiotic Comments of this Past Tuesday: A Scientific Rebuttal

Scott Pruitt is the current administrator of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a federal agency that was proposed by Republican President Nixon and established in 1970. Its mission then was the same as its stated mission now. That mission is written succinctly on its website: “Our mission is to protect human health and the environment.” So far, so good.

The EPA website further elaborates on various elements of accomplishing that mission, second among them being to ensure that, “National efforts to reduce environmental risks are based on the best available scientific information.” It’s here I think we have a problem with Scott.

Prior to his appointment to the office on Feb 17, 2017, Scott Pruitt had sued the EPA 14 times as Attorney General of Oklahoma, and declared himself a “leading advocate against the EPA’s activist agenda.” Based on my own experience interviewing prospective new hires, a professed and demonstrated opposition to the mission of the job in question would be a practically disqualifying consideration. But I just work for a technology company that routinely develops and commercializes new and useful products based on science, not a government that successfully declines to take much substantive action despite decades of accumulating scientific knowledge. So what would I know about hiring in government?

The problem is, despite almost exactly a year in his position, at the head of an organization replete with expert climate scientists and with complete access to any manner of scientific evidence, Scott’s actions and statements have demonstrated a remarkable immunity to even the most basic scientific knowledge.

The latest case in point — his remarks this past Tuesday, explaining how, in direct contradiction of all scientific evidence, climate change (which Scott conceded humans have caused “to a certain degree”) might just be good for us!

“Is it an existential threat? Is it something that is unsustainable, or what kind of effect or harm is this going to have? I mean, we know that humans have most flourished during times of what? Warming trends . . . I think there’s assumptions made that because the climate is warming, that that necessarily is a bad thing. Do we really know what the ideal surface temperature should be in the year 2100? In the year 2018? I mean it’s fairly arrogant for us to think that we know exactly what it should be in 2100.”
-Scott Pruitt in an interview with KSNV TV in Las Vegas, Feb 6, 2018

This is a type of climate denial argument that seems to be growing in popularity recently, as increasing scientific evidence, a virtually unanimous and well-publicized scientific consensus, and easily observable natural events force even staunch deniers to admit the Earth appears to be warming. It just shifts the willful ignorance one logical step further: “OK, maybe the Earth is warming a bit, and maybe humans are responsible at least a little bit, but how do we know that’s bad? Maybe it’s good!”

Scott said it Tuesday, but other deniers are also employing this argument:

It’s an argument that thrives when the public is not well educated about the climate. It’s also a seductive argument, particularly in winter. You’re thinking, “Yeah, all this snow is a pain in the butt; maybe we could do with a little less of it!”

Let’s be super clear. Based on the evidence, there is absolutely no reason to expect that global climate change is likely to be a good thing for humanity. To fight this argument, we need to be armed with some basic scientific evidence. Fortunately, the evidence is publicly available and pretty simple to understand.

First, yes, we know the Earth has been warming since the Industrial Revolutions in the middle of the 1800’s, and this has been the result primarily of rising atmospheric CO2, which also started at that time. 2015, 2016, and 2017 were the three hottest years in recorded human history.

Temp Anom 2017
Graph of global average temperature as measured by 4 independent groups of scientists (orange, pink, red, and purple lines) on top of atmospheric CO2 concentration (circles). For more information, see my article here.

The effect of rising CO2 on global temperature was predicted by scientists as far back as the year 1824, based on an understanding of the absorption of infrared radiation by CO2 that was perfected with the advent of the first high-speed computers in the middle of the 1950’s.

Second, let’s clarify exactly to what “certain degree” humans have contributed to the observed increase in CO2, which drives the warming. Here is the consensus scientific opinion on that as stated in the 2014 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Synthesis Report:

“Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions have increased since the pre-industrial era, driven largely by economic and population growth, and are now higher than ever. This has led to atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide that are unprecedented in at least the last 800,000 years. Their effects, together with those of other anthropogenic drivers, have been detected throughout the climate system and are extremely likely to have been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.”

Translation: Practically speaking, you can bet essentially all of the warming has occurred because we’ve been burning fossil fuels.

This consensus is derived from a detailed accounting of the amount of CO2 that has been produced from fossil fuels and where it has gone. Based on this accounting, we now know that about exactly 57% of the CO2 we release stays in the atmosphere, the remaining 43% being absorbed by the oceans (which are acidified as a result) and soil.

Keeling with Fossil Fuels
Image credit: Scripps Institution of Oceanography. Black line: Atmospheric CO2 concentration as measured at Mauna Loa, Hawaii (for details, see my article here). Red line: Expected concentration if 57% of CO2 from fossil fuel combustion and the cement industries stay airborne.

“I mean, we know that humans have most flourished during times of what? Warming trends . . .”
-Scott Pruitt, speaking like an ignoramus

I don’t know what he means by that last part about “warming trends.” In terms of the global average temperature, the last 3 years have been the warmest years since measurements began in 1850-1880, so that “warming trend” would be now. Are we “flourishing?” Personally, I’m doing fine, though I’m not sure I would chalk it up to global warming. It’s hard to argue that folks currently on the front lines of global climate change effects — in Shishmaref, Kiribati, or Fiji, for example — are “flourishing.” And things aren’t exactly looking up for coastal real estate owners in Miami, either.

But we can, with scientific certainty, say something about under what conditions humans have historically flourished. Specifically, humans since Biblical times have been flourishing (until very recently) with a CO2 concentration between the black lines:

2000y CO2 2017 with limits update
Atmospheric CO2 concentration since the year 0 A.D. Pre-industrial maximum, minimum, and average concentrations are indicated by the solid and dashed black lines, respectively. For more details, see my article here.

The species Homo sapiens has been flourishing, since around 200,000 years ago, with an atmospheric CO2 concentration ranging from 184 to 287 ppm.

800kY plot 2 update 2017
Atmospheric CO2 concentration since 800,000 years ago. The first anatomically modern humans appeared about 200,000 years ago. Until very recently in our history, our species never experienced a CO2 level above 287 ppm. For more details, see my article here.

The 2017 average CO2 level was 406.6 ppm, and we’re in uncharted territory as a species. The Earth as it has been, with an atmospheric CO2 concentration not exceeding around 280 ppm, has defined everything we know about living on this planet. The shape of our coastlines (where we’ve built our most valuable real estate). The location of our farmland, and the entirety of our associated food distribution system. The predictability of our water supply.

Ultimately, how we regulate our body temperature. The 2012 Global Energy Assessment estimated that there remain 15,000 gigatons of fossil carbon in the Earth’s crust. According to a 2011 peer reviewed analysis by four current and former scientists at NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the burning of 10,000 gigatons of carbon on a “business as usual” trajectory would result in a global average temperature increase of 29 degrees Fahrenheit. This would result in an estimated most common wet bulb temperature over the Earth’s surface of 109 degrees Fahrenheit. Above a sustained wet bulb temperature of 95 degrees Fahrenheit, the human body cannot maintain its body temperature of 98.6 degrees.

Partaking in Scott Pruitt’s blissful ignorance could, literally, cook us.

“Do we really know what the ideal surface temperature should be in the year 2100? In the year 2018? I mean it’s fairly arrogant for us to think that we know exactly what it should be in 2100.”
-Scott Pruitt, worrying aloud over the arrogant hubris of human observation and reason

Is it “arrogant” to employ systematic observation and reason to plan for the future? Perhaps, but I’d say we’re guilty as charged! Observation, reason, and planning are humans’ differentiating features. 200,000 years ago, they enabled us to survive in a world populated by natural hazards and fearsome predators. Later, they empowered us to practice agriculture, develop technologies, and build civilizations. We’ve accomplished everything, as a species, in the comfortable and stable environment created by a rather narrow range of atmospheric CO2 levels. Where the CO2 level is currently headed, all bets are off. Why would we abandon observation, reason, and planning now, especially when those strengths have also enabled us to develop sustainable energy solutions to the problem?

Because Scott Pruitt has a hunch that climate change, just maybe, could be good for us?

I’ll tell you what I think is “arrogant.” Here’s a guy, enriched by years of generous compensation by our taxes, wearing a beautiful suit and occupying a competitive seat at the top of a major federal agency, willfully ignoring the readily accessible scientific findings of an army of career professionals in that very agency. And people in Kiribati are building desperate sandbag seawalls around the towns they’ve occupied for thousands of years. And Americans in Shishmaref have voted to move their disintegrating town. And this guy’s telling those people, and our children, hey, let’s roll the dice. Because climate change just might be fun, and the financial support of the fossil fuel industry sure has helped me in my job. And not only saying this ridiculous stuff, but forming policies based on it that affect us all. Like taking down federal informational websites about climate change. Like firing professional climate scientists from EPA advisory boards and replacing them with fossil fuel industry hacks. Like supporting the president in declaring our intent to be the only nation on Earth not in the Paris climate agreement. (Even North Korea is in it!)

That’s pretty arrogant.


Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Before Our Eyes: Melting of the Greenland ice sheet

I recently posted about what the Miami metro would look like with 6 feet of sea level rise. It’s not an encouraging picture for anyone with interest in high-value coastal real estate.

If the entire Greenland ice sheet were to melt (just Greenland, not including other melting going on in Antarctica and Alaska, for example), it would yield about 23 feet of sea level rise.

Ice sheets in Greenland, Alaska, and Antarctica are melting right now. You might imagine that looks like a dripping faucet. You might imagine it looks like many dripping faucets. You would be wrong.

It looks like this:

That’s a moulin (from a French word meaning, “mill”), a vertical chute through which melt water on the top of a glacier falls through the glacier to its base, lubricating the glacier’s movement at the base and speeding its descent to the sea.

That moulin is on Gilkey Galcier in Alaska. Similar scenes are also occurring on the Greenland ice sheet:

The Greenland ice sheet is dumping about 300 gigatons of ice into the ocean each year, according to NASA, making it the current largest source of sea-level rise from melting ice.

The good news is, this process is expected to take a few hundred years, and we have time to escape much of that fate. The bad news is, it’s a slow-developing disaster. The ice sheets melt at a rate much slower than the rate at which we’re emitting the CO2 that causes their melting. Every single moment, we are committing ourselves to more future melting, and more sea level rise. The time for doubt and denial is over.



Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

NASA, NOAA: 2017 the 2nd or 3rd warmest year on record (after 2016), despite La Niña

My very first blog post on this website, almost exactly a year ago, was about the then-recently released data from NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) that independently confirmed 2016 had become the third consecutive year to set the record for warmest global temperature. My 2017 New Year’s resolution had been to learn more about global warming, whether the science was settled or not, and how (in some detail) we know, and to post my learning journey on this site. Over the course of the past year, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned the science is very settled, and I’ve learned exactly how long we’ve known global warming is real; as it turns out, we’ve had reliable measurements since 1958 that confirm suspicions and preliminary data scientists had since the late 1800’s (read a brief history, with links to the original research, here). I’ve learned about a multitude of easily observable effects of climate change that are happening right Before Our Eyes (check them out here). I’ve learned that we have readily available technological solutions, but we are not using them with anything like the urgency we need to if we want to prevent terrible future consequences.

A year later, the data from 2017 is in, and it was either the 2nd (according to NASA’s analysis) or 3rd (according to NOAA’s analysis) warmest year on record. Check out the press release for more details, and watch the NASA video below.

This is despite the onset of La Niña, a cyclical cooling of sea surface temperature across the equatorial Eastern Central Pacific Ocean, during the latter part of 2017, which tended to make the atmospheric temperature during that time cooler than average. El Niño, the warmer part of that Pacific cycle, was in effect for most of 2015 and the first third of 2016.

According to NASA, in an analysis of global temperature statistically removing the effects of El Niño and La Niña, 2017 would be the warmest year on record.

Why the difference in rankings between NASA (2nd warmest year on record) and NOAA (3rd warmest year on record)? As I explained in some detail on another page, NASA and NOAA are among four scientific groups (the other two being a British group and a Japanese group) that independently track global average temperature trends. While NASA, NOAA, and the other groups’ analyses have agreed remarkably well over the entire period between 1880 and now, they each use slightly different data sets and analytical methods. Specifically, NASA’s methods weight measurements in the arctic slightly more heavily than NOAA’s methods, and the arctic atmosphere has been warming more quickly than the global atmosphere as a whole.

In any case, all analyses agree that the past 3 years — 2015, 2016, and 2017 — were the hottest 3 years at least since 1880, when global temperature measurement became possible.

I guess we’d better keep learning about this, huh?

Read more:


Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Bloomberg: South Florida’s Real Estate Reckoning Could Be Closer Than You Think

Last week, I posted scientific findings regarding increased “sunny day” tidal flooding in U.S. coastal cities and its linkage to global sea level rise due to melting ice in Greenland and Antarctica. I went on to argue that the frequent assertion by our president and others, that increased investment in the fossil fuel industry creates jobs and has other economic benefits, ignores the devastating and surely greater economic costs that will occur if we continue to ignore climate change. Among those costs is the massive quantity of high-priced U.S. coastal real estate that will ultimately be immersed in the ocean if we continue with “business as usual.”

Since then, I read this very recent Bloomberg article on the subject, which I recommend.

Bloomberg Article

As it turns out, though much of our government is in denial about the economic realities of climate change, that denial is vanishing in the Florida real estate market. Both social scientists and real estate business insiders can measure the effect of this growing realization on coastal real estate prices in South Florida, a test case for highly valued coastal properties that ring the nation:

Figure 2 from this social science working paper, referenced in the Bloomberg article, by researchers at the University of Colorado at Boulder and Pennsylvania State University. “Displays the proportion of exposed transactions in coastal counties within the continental United States. Exposure is measured as an indicator variable that takes a value of 1 if a property will be affected by 0-6 feet of sea level rise.”

Some highlights from the Bloomberg article and a social science working paper it cites:

“At some point, we won’t be able to sell.”
-Ross Hancock, homeowner in Biscayne Bay, FL, who faces a potential $60,000 repair bill for Irma damages to his condo not covered by insurance, and who has been trying for 2 months to sell it without success

“systemic fraudulent nondisclosure [of flood risk by real estate agents] … is pretty much what we have now.”
-Albert Slap, owner of Coastal Risk Consulting, a South Florida flood risk assessment company
(The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill in 2017 that would require agents to disclose flood risks, but the Senate has not taken it up.)

“They’re not going to live here while we spend two years raising the streets.”
-Dan Kipnis, Miami Beach homeowner who has been trying unsuccessfully to sell his house for 18 months despite dropping the price by a more than one-third from $3.2 million, worrying that sea-level related projects and the associated property taxes are scaring prospective buyers away

“Homes exposed to sea level rise (SLR) sell at a 7% discount relative to observably equivalent unexposed properties equidistant from the beach. This discount has grown over time and is driven by sophisticated buyers and communities worried about global warming.”
-Asaf Bernstein, Matthew Gustafson & Ryan Lewis, authors of the cited social science working paper, summarizing their conclusions from a recent detailed study of the relationship between SLR exposure and U.S. coastal real estate prices

#AskYourDenierIf TheyveSeenThis


Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Before Our Eyes: The sunny day floods of Miami

In previous posts, I’ve highlighted communities under ongoing assault by the direct effects of global climate change, including Shishmaref, Alaska and the nation of Fiji. And another nation, Kiribati, already doomed to submersion — in many of our lifetimes — beneath the rising Pacific Ocean. Make no mistake; in these cases we are talking about the preventable losses of the homes, livelihoods, and cultures of hundreds of thousands of fellow humans. These losses are happening right Before Our Eyes, by climate change driven processes that are well documented and obvious to anyone who cares to look. Softening permafrost. Shrinking beaches. Increasing storm damage. People suddenly erecting desperate sandbag seawalls around coastal communities that have persisted for thousands of years, until now. That we are continuing to contribute to these losses demonstrates a profound moral failing on the part of those of us who prioritize our continued ready access to cheap fossil energy (even though we have ready renewable alternatives) over the very viability of these distinct human cultures that have developed over thousands of years of people living in these locations.

But, for many readers of these posts, Shishmaref, Fiji, and Kiribati may seem like far-flung places. So let’s look at developments that may be closer to home.

You may be familiar with Miami, the 8th most populous metropolitan area in the U.S. and home to roughly 5.5 million people. What if I were to tell you that readily observable, direct consequences of climate change presently affect daily life in Miami, foreshadowing potentially existential challenges for that great U.S. city in the future?

In Miami, as any resident will attest (and as scientists have carefully studied and documented in peer reviewed journal articles), sometimes it floods on sunny days. It doesn’t require a hurricane, a storm, or even a rain cloud. Just a high tide and maybe a full moon. To see what that looks like, check out the photo at the top of this post, or simply search “sunny day flood Miami” in Google Images. That’s seawater flooding the city streets of Miami on a sunny day at high tide. It happens more and more frequently. Why? Because high tide has been getting higher since the streets of Miami were developed.

“This never used to happen. . . . I’ve owned this place eight years, and now it’s all the time.”
Eliseo Toussaint, laundromat owner, Miami Beach

Brian McNoldy, an atmospheric scientist and Senior Research Associate at the University of Miami, has been tracking the high tide level at Virginia Key, a Miami barrier island, for two decades:

McNoldy Plot with Inset
Main image credit: Brian McNoldy, Senior Research Associate, Rosenstiel School of Marine & Atmospheric Science, University of Miami. Analysis of high water level at Virginia Key utilizing publicly available tide gauge data collected by the NOAA. Inset at upper right: New York Times, 2016. Mean sea level rise in inches (light blue) and recorded number of yearly nuisance flooding events (purple bars) at Virgina Key over the same time period.

Clearly, high tides are getting higher. They are also getting higher at a rate that has been increasing over the past 20 years — nearly an inch a year, on average, over the past 5 years! An inch a year may not seem like much, until you consider that would result in a foot every 12 years, or over 6.5 feet in a typical American lifetime, and this is how the great city of Miami (built on porous limestone, so it can’t be protected by a seawall) is presently situated with respect to sea level:

Miami Photo
Image credit: Gunther Hagleitner. Presented in Encroaching Tides: How Sea Level Rise and Tidal Flooding Threaten U.S. East and Gulf Coast Communities over the Next 30 Years, Cambridge, MA: Union of Concerned Scientists, 2014.

The higher tides have resulted in a measured increase in incidents of “nuisance flooding” in the city (see inset bar chart in the graph above). More than just a “nuisance,” this comes at a real price; Miami Beach plans to spend $400 million over the next 20 years installing pump stations and raising the streets. “There is a lot of money going into these resiliency issues, so we are hoping to tap into that,” said City Manager Jimmy Morales, commenting on the city’s hopes of securing federal and state funds to pay for the improvements.

“Down here, people are actively dealing with climate change without calling it climate change.”
Tim Osborn, NOAA Manager, Central Gulf Coast

Miami is not the only U.S. coastal city facing chronic tidal flooding due to sea level rise. These are data on sea level rise since 1970, and associated increases in the frequency of tidal flooding events, measured in four other coastal cities:

Tidal Flooding 4 Cities
Figure 4 from a summary report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, 2014. Sea level has risen by about 3.5 inches globally since 1970, but more along the U.S. East Coast as shown in the upper left graph. This has resulted in a measured increase in the yearly number of days of tidal flooding — flooding caused only by high tide — in 4 U.S. cities.
Flooding in coastal cities
Image credits: Union of Concerned Scientists, 2014.

The President loves to highlight present signs of strength of the U.S. economy. Presidents have been taking credit for good economic performance, when it occurs, since the dawn of our Republic. And, the economy (for many of us) is performing great right now!

There is always a rich debate about whether presidents can rightly take much credit for a good economy. I say, go for it! All presidents claim credit when the economy is good.

But, I think we should think very carefully about claims of causality between deregulation of the fossil fuel industry and economic and job growth, particularly from a president and administration with a history of ignoring and denying climate science.

First, it’s highly debatable that the recent broad economic growth could not have been achieved, or even further enhanced, while investing aggressively in renewable energy sources as science says we need to if we want to avoid the most catastrophic outcomes of climate change. In fact, any suggestion of an obvious direct link between job creation in the fossil fuel industry and performance of the broader economy is demonstrably false. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration and the Department of Energy, the coal industry employed 160,119 Americans in 2016 while generating 30.4% of U.S. electricity. Meanwhile, the solar industry employed 373,807 Americans while generating only 0.9% of U.S. electricity. If the strategy is about creating jobs, clearly expansion of the solar industry is a far better tactic than creating artificial advantages for a coal industry that is already dying of natural market-driven causes!

And, that tactic also happens to be consistent with what we need to do to prevent substantial economic harms in the long term. Whether Miami will get federal and/or state funding of the $400 million it needs to deal with flooding over the next 20 years remains to be seen, but I think we have recently observed there may be limits to federal spending on climate change driven problems:

Moreover, costs due to climate change driven coastal flooding will intensify greatly in the future; Miami is expected to experience 40 times as many tidal flooding events in 2045 as it did in 2014. The map on the right, below, shows how the Miami metro will look with 6 feet of sea level rise. It is now clear that it will be either technically of economically impossible to protect some areas of hundreds of U.S. coastal cities from climate change driven tidal flooding, and the word “retreat” is now being used in adaptation planning.

Miami Maps
Projected coastline of the Miami metropolitan area now (left) and with 6 feet of sea level rise (right). Shades of blue indicate depths of seawater coverage. I created these images myself using this nifty NOAA tool, which enables you to map many parts of the U.S. coast with various projected sea levels.

We have only recently recovered from the Great Recession, the worst global economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930’s, which is widely understood to have been caused by overvalued real estate in the U.S. market. Projecting forward the policies of our current federal government — active suppression of climate change information, defunding of climate science, reneging on international commitments, renewed investment in fossil energy, and the above false claims of causality between U.S. fossil energy investment and broad economic performance — it seems clear that we are building into our long-term economic outlook a slow-moving real estate bubble the likes of which we have never before seen. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, complete melting of the Greenland and Western Antarctic ice sheets would raise sea level by 10 meters, flooding out 25% of the current U.S. population. That’s a lot of high-priced coastal real estate — including the Palm Beach Mar-a-Lago! — that is on track to depreciate to zero value.

In 2018, we should demand more from our elected representatives.

More reading on this topic:

  • New York Times article (2016)
  • Summary reports by the Union of Concerned Scientists (2017 and 2014)
  • Summary report by the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (2014)



Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Mark Kelly on 2017 and the Future of (humans on) Planet Earth

Harvey Life And Death Of A Storm
Image credit: NASA/NOAA GOES Project. Photo of our unique home captured from space on Sept. 2, 2017. Hurricane Irma is visible near the middle of the Atlantic Ocean tracking west. Irma would later traverse unusually warm surface waters greater than 86 degrees F, setting multiple records for intensity, time at high intensity, and intensity at its landfall on a multitude of Caribbean islands and Florida, where it reached an uncommon size twice the width of that state.

I highly recommend this short article, published this week, by Mark Kelly. A retired naval aviator and combat veteran, Mark made two deployments to the Persian Gulf and flew 39 combat missions as part of Operation Desert Storm. He then became a NASA astronaut and served as either pilot or commander of 4 space shuttle missions. As such, he has the rare perspective of having been in a position to look down upon the whole Earth during a total of 854 orbits over 54 days in space during the decade between 2001 and 2011.

Mark is an American patriot by any reckoning, and he has had an extraordinary opportunity to observe and contemplate our unique planet. I should think folks of any political persuasion would be interested in reading his reflections on 2017.

As we all reflect on the past year, I encourage you to read his article.

“Don’t worry about the planet, the Earth will be just fine. What you need to worry about is us — all of us. …we must lead the way in solving this problem. If we don’t do this, who will?”

-Captain Mark Kelly, retired naval aviator, combat veteran, and astronaut, 2017


Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Before Our Eyes: The sandbag walls of Kiribati

Kiribati (pronounced Kiribas) is a Pacific nation comprising 33 atolls and islands and a population of about 110,000. When it gained its independence from the U.K. in 1979, it became the world’s only nation with residents in all four hemispheres. The atolls and islands of Kiribati have had permanent residents since they were settled by sea-going Micronesian explorers in canoes between 3,000 and 5,000 years ago.

The lands of Kiribati rise only 3-6 feet above a sea level that has been relatively stable for the last few thousand years, but less stable recently. The residents are now engaged in an ongoing battle with a rising sea that their president has already conceded they are destined to lose.

High tides flood and salinate farmland. Families erect sandbag walls in an effort to protect their homes.

Kiribati 1

Kiribati 2

Kiribati 4

Kiribati 5

Kiribati 6
Image credits: Kadir van Lohuizen, where will we go? – rising sea levels Project, Noor Foundation. The rising sea encroaches on farmland and residential areas of the islands of Kiribati. Residents protect their homes with sandbag walls.

Kiribati is expected to be largely submerged sometime in the second half of this century, a fate that has already been set by the CO2 emissions of industrialized nations between 1850 and now. It will become the first nation to be destroyed by climate change.

While individual families erect sandbag barriers around their homes, the government of Kiribati is actively planning for its own demise. It has purchased a 5,460-acre estate on Fiji’s second largest island of Vanua Levu, where the government intends to re-settle much of its population in a staged migration. Its schools have integrated into their curricula content intended to prepare young schoolchildren for the move.

(As I have written about, Fiji faces its own challenges from climate change.)

“To plan for the day when you no longer have a country is indeed painful but I think we have to do that.”

Anote Tong, President of Kiribati, 2008


See more changes happening Before Our Eyes.

Subscribe to Blog via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.