Water Supply In the Colorado River Basin

Many of the people objecting to my challenge say it should be about why we need to worry about global warming, or even about what to do. They clearly have not paid attention to what the challenge is all about.

But, they are correct in one thing, we need to discuss the effects of global warming more. Is global warming good for us? Bad for us? Or, does it even make a difference? I will be spending more time addressing this issue in the future once I am done with the challenge (come on July 31st!).

In that vein, here is a NASA news release about a study of water in the Colorado River Basin. It paints a pretty bleak picture about what is going on with water in the Southwestern U.S. Using data from the GRACE satellite, scientist have been able to identify the amount of mass the basin area has lost since 2004 and determined it has lost about 53 million acre-feet of water. That is almost twice the total volume of Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the U.S. What is really scary is that 41 million acre-feet of that amount came from ground water. Imagine you lost 75% of your income and you then started depleting your savings to maintain the same standard of living. Eventually, your savings are going to run out and you will be faced with a bad situation. That is where the Southwest is today in regards to water. The area has lost its water supply and has been relying on ground water to keep things going the same way instead of changing the way they do business. But, as they say in the new release, we don’t know how much ground water there is, so we have no idea how long it will last. If it starts to run out, then there will be a very bad situation in the Southwest.

So, what does this have to do with global warming? Well, there is growing evidence the on-going drought is the result of global warming, and there is growing evidence that the effects of droughts are made worse by global warming. Basically, rainy areas will see more rain while dry areas will see less. Additionally, precipitation that falls as snow on the mountains melts slowly over time and provides water into the summer. As the temperature goes up, it gets too warm for snow and the precipitation falls as rain, which runs off and is no longer available when the dry months of summer come along. To make it worse, the higher temperatures mean there is more evaporation and the area loses even more water. None of these scenarios are good for the future of anyone depending on the water of the Colorado River Basin.

Read this article on the effects of global warming on the area. Richard Seager, a climate scientist who studies water issues at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University in New York does not believe the drought is caused by global warming, but he goes on to point out that the Southwest has suffered drought conditions in some form for 15 years, and warmer climates have resulted in winter precipitation tending to fall as rain rather than snow. With less snow melting during the spring there is a lack of water during the hot summer months.

“It all adds up across the Southwest to an increasingly stressed water system,” he said. “That’s what they might as well get ready for.”

So, even someone who doesn’t believe the drought is caused by global warming believes it has been made worse by global warming. He also believes this is the new normal for the area.
This is not good news. 
In regards to the debate on if global warming is good or bad for us, I think we can put a very firm check mark in the “Bad for us” column on this one.

Climate Change Denial is the Moral Equivalent of Racism

On June 21, 1990,  a teenager in St. Paul, MN, identified only as R.A.V., burned a cross in the front yard of an African-American family. He was charged with violating the St. Paul Bias-Motivated Crime Ordinance which stated,

Whoever places on public or private property, a symbol, object, appellation, characterization or graffiti, including, but not limited to, a burning cross or Nazi swastika, which one knows or has reasonable grounds to know arouses anger, alarm or resentment in others on the basis of race, color, creed, religion or gender commits disorderly conduct and shall be guilty of a misdemeanor.

The teenager appealed the charge on the grounds that the law was an unconstitutional violation of his free speech rights. The case is known as R.A.V. vs City of St Paul. The Minnesota Supreme Court found in favor of St Paul and upheld the law. It was then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court which struck down the law in a unanimous decision. Justice Scalia, writing the majority opinion, said,

Although the phrase in the ordinance, “arouses anger, alarm or resentment in others,” has been limited by the Minnesota Supreme Court’s construction to reach only those symbols or displays that amount to “fighting words,” the remaining, unmodified terms make clear that the ordinance applies only to “fighting words” that insult, or provoke violence, “on the basis of race, color, creed, religion or gender.” Displays containing abusive invective, no matter how vicious or severe, are permissible unless they are addressed to one of the specified disfavored topics. Those who wish to use “fighting words” in connection with other ideas — to express hostility, for example, on the basis of political affiliation, union membership, or homosexuality — are not covered. The First Amendment does not permit St. Paul to impose special prohibitions on those speakers who express views on disfavored subjects.

He concluded,

“Let there be no mistake about our belief that burning a cross in someone’s front yard is reprehensible. But St. Paul has sufficient means at its disposal to prevent such behavior without adding the First Amendment to the fire.”

What does this have to do with climate change? Nothing.

What does this have to do with climate change deniers? Plenty.

Climate change denial has reached the point of offensiveness that I now contend it is the moral equivalent of racial slurs. Racial slurs serve the purpose of denigrating someone based on some irrelevant basis, such as the color of their skin or their religious beliefs. There is no logic or factual basis to support the claims of people that use these slurs, although they will very vigorously claim there is. I cannot tell you how many racists I have listened to that have gone on about how one race is better than another one, or one religions is superior to another.

Yet, in this country, people are free to hold those opinions and to even voice them (with certain restrictions, most notably the ‘fighting words’ standard). So, if someone wants to go and use a slur in reference to some other person or group of people, they are free to do so. The words may be reprehensible, but they are free to use them.

However, everyone else is also free to condemn them for their words and even for their beliefs. We are free to label someone as a racist and to shun them from our society for their viewpoints. Part of the reason most of us find this kind of thought to be unacceptable is because we realize how illogical the thoughts are. The idea that all of the people in one race are superior to all of the people in another race, simply because of the color of their skin, is completely without any supporting evidence and intelligent people of any walk of life will recognize them as having no value and being offensive. Most people also recognize that, while it is healthy to allow free speech, the hate speech of racists is itself harmful to society.

The words of climate change deniers has now reached that same point. There is no logic or scientific evidence to support their claims and they are made merely for the sake of denigrating science.  In other words, what global warming deniers say about climate science is exactly parallel to what racists say about other races.

Pure and simple, climate change deniers are engaging in hate speech.

Just like in the case of R.A.V vs St Paul, their actions are reprehensible, but are allowed under the Constitution. However, we as a society have a responsibility to stand up to these hateful people and label them for what they are. It is healthy to allow that our Constitution allows them to say the things they do, but it is unhealthy for society to let them do it without condemning them.

I remember my grandmother telling me of how she had a separate set of glasses she used to take water and lemonade out to the help working in the yard. She kept these separate from the other glasses because, as she said, “No white person would ever drink out of a glass after a black man used it.”

Where are you going to stand on the subject? And, how do you want your children and grandchildren to remember your stand?

Deniers Only Want to Censor

One of the complaints deniers make is that they only want to engage in a debate and claim they are being shut out by the scientific community. I have always observed that this is not true and could give many examples to support that statement, but I’ll give you just the most recent example. No, I’m not doing this to bash deniers. That is something I enjoy doing, but the purpose is to illustrate that the scientific community is more than willing to discuss the issues with anyone, including deniers. It is the deniers that are not interested in discussing the science. Their response is merely to censor anyone that supports their beliefs.

I was in a community on Google+ and a denier by the name of Cyrus Manz had this graphic on his posting:

Cute, but a completely false argument on the part of global warming deniers. I posted a comment about why it is a false argument. No one is claiming CO2 is a major part of the atmosphere, but at the same time it is well established science that a small amount of chemical can have effects far beyond its mass percentage. I made the analogy of pain killers and pointed out two Aleve tablets have a mass of 440 mg while I have a mass of about 88 kg. The two pain killers then have a mass that is about .0004% of my body mass, and yet that small amount of chemical can relieve my pain for 12 hours.

He replied:

Cyrus Manz
Your irrelevant parallel to describe the role of CO2 in climate temperatures is what’s abjectly FALSE here my friend:-)

He also posted,

Please reference a single piece of scientific proof that explicitly places CO2 as the driver for global average temperatures.
If you can’t (which I am confident you can’t) then you need to delete your own comment along with an apology, or you will be removed from this community.
Thank you.

So, already, he has shown that all he wants to do is censor any opposing statements that don’t support his world viewpoint. I responded by providing a link to Skeptical Science that gives a very good discussion of CO2 in the atmosphere:

So, to be clear, Mr. Manz demanded that I provide ‘a single piece of scientific proof’ about the role of CO2 in the atmosphere, which I did. And that wasn’t enough for him, or to more correct, it wasn’t what he wanted to see. What he responded with was this:

Cyrus Manz
Our entire planet’s atmosphere contains less than 0.04% CO2 (or Carbon Dioxide)….
Humans currently contribute an additional 0.002% to atmospheric CO2.
Come and see how you have been duped by climate change disinformation.
https ://plus.google.com/c ommunities/105386304 309909999553

I stated this was the what the fossil fuel funded denier industry wants people to believe. These are people that do not have our best interest at heart and only want to take our money. Why in the world should we believe anything they say?

His response?

Cyrus Manz
You clearly do not understand the [purpose of being a community member.
Goodbye troll.

At which point he disenrolled me from the community and spammed my comments.

So, where was the debate that Mr. Manz and other deniers keep claiming they want?

But, there is more to this story. This is an earlier comment Mr. Manz made on the same post:

Cyrus Manz

Yesterday 9:37 AM
We know that there is not a single self respecting scientist that can claim to have scientific proof of man-made climate change.
But maybe you do. Let us hear it.

But, Mr. Manz, when a “self-respecting” scientist shows up to show you scientific proof you call him a ‘troll’ and censor him. So much for “Let us hear it.”

One last comment. In case you think I’m misinterpreting things, this is the comment Mr. Manz made after banning me:

Cyrus Manz
We run the community for the sole purpose of advancing our cause, not theirs.
We engage in opposing discussions outside but the community provides a safe haven for us, free from trolls.

Notice the use of the term ‘trolls’ again. Anyone that doesn’t subscribe to his world view is a ‘troll’ and is to be censored. While he isn’t man enough to listen to the scientific evidence, at least he admits he’s not man enough.

I’m sorry for Mr. Manz and anyone else that has fallen for the psedo-science of global warming denial. There is nothing I can do for them. They are lost minds and can’t be saved. But, for those of you that haven’t made up your mind yet and are wondering about what is going on, take a look at what was going on here with Mr. Manz and avoid shutting down your thought processes like this. If you want to be a denier that is your business, but at least don’t stop thinking or listening.

Obama’s New Coal Regulations

I’ve been holding off commenting on the new coal regulations announced by the EPA this past Monday. The reason is because the regulation has nothing to do with the reality of global warming. The science remains the same with, or without the proposed regulations.

However, I also like to discuss actions we can take to address the problems we are facing and the emission of greenhouse gases is certainly a problem that needs to be addressed. So, the question is, does the new proposed regulations address the problem? I have been reviewing what is being said and, to no surprise, both sides of the argument are making extreme predictions, neither of which seems to be holding up to the light of day.

First, I really see no evidence this will make a significant change in our greenhouse emissions. Headlines are saying it will reduce our emissions by 30%, but that isn’t true. What it will do is cut emissions from new construction power plants by 30% compared to the 2005 levels. Power plants have already reduced emissions by about 13% compared to 2005 levels, so we are talking about an additional 17% reduction. These regulations apply only to new power plants and not to any existing power plants or other sources of greenhouse gas emissions, such as cars. In the total picture, that comes out to about a 6% cut. And, that is over a 15-year period. Notice that the 17% reduction occurred without any new EPA regulations. They occurred because of market forces, so it is reasonable to assume that further reductions would occur without these new regulations.

Also, it isn’t even necessary to actually make the cuts. States can make their own plans and combine the power plants with something else. So, if some industry is making reductions anyway it is possible to combine them with the power plants and the power plants can then go their merry way. To make it even worse, states are allowed to join together in one big plan. So, the reduction could be taking place in one state and the coal-fired plant could be in another.

Based on that, I have to say this is getting a lot more attention than it deserves.

But, what about the draconian predictions of the groups opposed to the proposed regulations?

Again, I just don’t see it. They are saying this will make electricity more expensive and cause a loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs. The US Chamber of Commerce is predicting a loss of 224,000 jobs PER YEAR for the next 15 years. That comes out to 3,360,000 total jobs and that number is just not credible on the surface. I would want to see some serious estimates before I accept a figure like that.

Why am I so critical of that estimate? Simple. The demand for electricity is sky-rocketing in this country. If we are not building coal-fired plants, we will build something else. The electrical utilities will find a way to supply the electricity demanded because that is what they are in business to do. Supplying electricity means profit. They are not going to sit back and allow potential profits to go away without doing something about it.

And, as it turns out, we are developing better ways to generate electricity than burning coal. Natural gas is not great, but it is much better than coal and we have a very serious boom in natural gas production going on in this country. We have the ability to replace all of the coal-fired plants with natural gas alone.

But, that isn’t all. It now turns out that photo cells are becoming competitive with other forms of power production. A report by Barclays investment bank shows that photocells are already cost-competitive in Hawaii, and will be competitive in California by 2017 and New York and Arizona by 2018. By 2024, they say photocells will be cheaper than grid power in all but a handful of states.

Specifically, the report is looking at the issue of cells and storage on private homes – people going off the grid. But, if photocells are becoming that competitive, how long will it be before the utilities realize they can make efficient, competitive power plants using photocells?

In other words, we will be making electricity and I don’t see the cost sky rocketing. As for the jobs, there will likely be some job displacement, but losses will probably be minor if in fact, we don’t see an increase in jobs due to new technologies. Coal miners might see their jobs suffer, but I’m betting it won’t be as much as is claimed. Coal is something of a miracle power source, other than the fact that it is a terrible polluter. You just dig it out of the ground and use it. You don’t have to process it and it even comes in an easy to transport form. If we are not burning coal here in this country, there are world markets where it will still be cost effective to ship our coal. China alone is planning on opening a new power plant every week between now and 2050.

So, the way I view the regulation is that its pretty close to being much ado about nothing. The cost to the economy is not going to be anything like the dire forecasts being made. At the same time, the benefits to the environment are not going to be anything like the optimistic forecasts being made.

However, we must do something about the emissions. If this will help, then we should do it. And, it gives us the moral high ground to put pressure on other countries to take action on their emissions.

But, there is one dark side to this that needs to be addressed. As much as I, as a scientist, want to see politics stay out of a scientific issue, we all know that is not realistic. Politics is the driving force behind much of the debate. I really don’t believe the Republicans would deny global warming evidence so strongly if it was being proposed by a Republican. And, what Obama has done with his actions is to stir the pot and alienate Republicans even more. By his failure as President to work with the representatives of the People, including members of his own party, he is making future progress even harder to attain. By acting as an Imperial President, Obama is making it increasingly difficult to convince skeptics that this is a problem that needs to be addressed now.

In summary, I think the regulation is good one, even though it is over-hyped. But, I denounce the way it is being done.

Can We Trust Climate Scientists?

One of the claims deniers are now making is that we can’t trust the climate scientist that are involved with global warming research. Their line of reasoning is that their grants and positions depend on finding evidence of global warming and they risk losing either, or both, if they ever find anything else. This, of course, is so ridiculous as to be funny, except there are people that believe this. So, let’s examine this and see if there is any truth to the claim.

The basis, and motivation, for the claim comes from the fact that deniers are paid by the fossil fuel industry to discredit climate research. The funding is dependent on finding the results the fossil fuel industry wants. In other words, it is directed funding. This funding source greatly damages the credibility of the deniers, much to their chagrin. They can’t get funding from any other source and are stuck with it. So, they respond by trying to paint authentic climate researchers with the same brush. If they are getting funding to find evidence of global warming, then we can’t trust them, either. The irony of this argument is that they are themselves saying they can’t be trusted. By making the claim that directed funding discredits you, they are admitting their own directed funding must discredit them. But, this posting is about the credibility of climate scientists, not the lack of credibility of the deniers.

The claim of the deniers depends on one thing – are the climate scientists being directed in their research? Do they receive funding to find evidence of global warming? Or, are they simply receiving funding to do research and let the chips fall where they may?  If this claim they are being directed is not true then we should be able to find research results that do not support climate change. This is actually pretty easy to do. Climate and weather are very complicated and not everything is going to lead to global warming.

A recent announcement from the National Science Foundation (NSF)  illustrates this. A researcher at the University of Michigan studied the effects of pollen on the climate and found something interesting. It had been thought pollen had little effect because it was such a large particle it would settle out. But, Dr. Allison Steiner and her team found that pollen particles actually break apart and become many small particles. These small particles lift water vapor up into the atmosphere where they assist in cloud formation. It this way, pollen actually works against global warming by providing a cooling effect.

By the way, Dr. Steiner gets her funding from the NSF. So much for being paid to find only proof of global warming.

Another example is some work done by scientists at Princeton University, the Australian Research Council Centre of Excellence for Climate System Science and the Australian University. They studied the way droughts are measured and they state there is an issue with the way droughts are measured. One of the beliefs about global warming is that the amount and severity of droughts worldwide will increase as the climate warms. The most common measure of drought, the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI), has shown that this is actually happening. However, this team of scientists studied the PDSI and their conclusion (released in November 2012) is that this measure is in error because it was dependent on climatic conditions off the past. When they adjusted the measure to account for climatic changes due to global warming they found little change in the amount of drought over the last 60 years.

Again, credible scientists at reputable institutions finding results that do not support global warming.

This is the way science works. Researchers do the work and discover what the science says. If the science does not support what they believe, then they will change what they believe. The science is irrefutable.

The deniers fail in this manner. When the science does not support what they want to sell the public, they simply discard it and find a new false argument to try and persuade people to believe in what they want them to believe.

The claim that climate scientists are getting paid to prove global warming doesn’t pass the credibility test. Climate scientists are paid to do climate research. There will be a climate with, or without, global warming. Their jobs do not depend on global warming and anyone thinking about this for even a few seconds will see that is true. If nothing else, we need a much more robust understanding of climate science for weather forecasting. That, by itself, is enough to justify all of the climate research being done and that would be true even if there were no such thing as global warming. The issue of global warming simply makes it that much more important.

Scientists are not motivated to find a specified result. They are motivated to find the correct result and to find it first. Honors go to the first, not the second. They do not give the Nobel Prize to runners-up. But, at the same time, by the scientific method, any scientific finding must be repeatable by anyone else. Scientists are not magicians and do not have special powers. They have special training and experience, but anyone with similar training and experience must be able to replicate their results. If only one person can do it, it isn’t valid. If some scientist was to announce some kind of result and it couldn’t be validated by other scientists the damage to that person’s career can be devastating. Consider what happened to Pons and Fleishmann after their cold fusion announcement.

Finally, consider this. Much of the research on climate change was done during the administration of George W. Bush between 2001 and 2009. The Bush administration was openly hostile to climate change research and worked to suppress it. The irony is that, contrary to claims by the deniers, climate scientist were actually risking their careers by finding evidence of global warming, not the other way around.

What can we conclude? Can we trust climate scientists? The answer is that we can trust climate scientists to do valid scientific research in climate change and the science they produce is not directed by the funding source.

If only the deniers could make the same claim.

"New Ice Age" Journalist Speaks Out

The climate change deniers love to roll out false arguments to fool the public. To give them credit, they are very good at doing this and their campaign has been very successful due to their skills. One of their favorite false arguments is that scientists in the 1970s were predicting a new ice age. The deniers pull this out with the claim that scientists were wrong then, so they could be wrong now. Not only is this completely false, but since they know its false, it makes it a lie every time they say it. This issue has been examined in detail and you can see the details here.

But, for the sake of convenience, let me recap. Some climate scientists came to the conclusion that we might be entering a cooling trend in the 1970s and the planet could experience some long-term cooling in the years to follow. Notice, cooling trend and long-term cooling are not the same as an imminent ice age. However, Peter Gwynn, a writer with Newsweek, wrote a 16-paragraph article that ended up as the cover story for that week’s edition of Newsweek. This article was then picked up by other news media and repeated. An imminent ice age was not the scientific consensus, rather something the news media reported.

A reading of the article is quite interesting. For one thing, it wasn’t all that wrong. Look at this plot of temperatures since 1900. There is a definite upward trend in the first half of the 20th century, followed by a pronounced downward trend from the late 1940s through about 1970. The climate scientists of the 1970s were right, the worldwide temperature was falling.

Source: Skeptical Science

This also highlights another false claim of the deniers, the one where they state that the climate goes through cycles. The obvious implication of that statement is since the climate goes through cycles, we are just in a naturally occurring warming cycle. The fact is, the climate actually does go through natural cycles, but we are in a naturally occurring cooling cycle right now. Imagine how much hotter it would be if we were in a natural warming cycle. Of course, we don’t know when this current cooling cycle will end. Stand by for some real good times when that happens.

But, now, the author of that article is speaking out. Peter Gwynn wrote an article where he discusses his original article and what has happened since then. To his credit, Mr. Gwynn takes responsibility for any misrepresentation he might have made and states,

Speaking personally, though, I accept that I didn’t tell the full story back then. Indeed, the issue raises questions about the relationship between science writers and scientists as well as the attitudes toward science of individuals with political agendas.

He also states later in the article,

Here I must admit mea culpa. In retrospect, I was over-enthusiastic in parts of my Newsweek article. Thus, I suggested a connection between the purported global cooling and increases in tornado activity that was unjustified by climate science. I also predicted a forthcoming impact of global cooling on the world’s food production that had scant research to back it.

But, I can’t blame Mr. Gwynn too much and he gives the very reason why. The science at the time was poorly formed. Today, climate science has progressed with remarkable advances. Our understanding of the climate, how it works and what it was like in the past is dramatically different today than it was 40 years ago. There has really been a staggering amount of progress in this regard. Mr. Gwynn was writing in the 1970s and had to write about what was known in the 1970s. He was not at fault for our lack of understanding. I do think, though, that he over represented what the scientific consensus of the day was (see the Skeptical Science link above).

Mr. Gwynn also had a comment in the conclusion that was right on the money,

Climatologist are pessimistic political leaders will take any positive action to compensate for the climatic change, or to even allay its effects.

That, of course, is precisely the situation we are currently in and the fossil fuel industry is spending hundreds of millions of dollars to prevent anything from being done.

Our understanding of climate science can be compared to our understanding of cancer. Are there things about cancer we don’t understand? Yes, you bet there are. Should we throw out all oncologists because of that? No. If you or someone you love has cancer are you going to ignore the doctors and do your own thing? Some people do. Ask Steve Jobs how well that worked out. Oh, yeah. You can’t because he’s dead. Maybe if he had listened to the oncologists (who still don’t understand everything) instead of trying some kind of ‘alternative’ treatment, that wouldn’t be the case. The fact that we don’t know everything does not mean we know nothing.

The same is true for climate science. Do we know everything? Not even close. Should we throw out all of the climate science because the fossil fuel industry finds it troubling? No, not ever. What the deniers want us to do is the equivalent of what Steve Jobs did. Our understanding of climate science has progressed enormously and we understand it much better than ever before. All we are going to do from here on out is to improve our understanding, not throw out what we have already figured out.

Ultimately, the climate is warming and we are going to have to do something about it. Take a look at this figure from NASA and the National Climate Assessment.