View Full Version : The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic

Peter Lemkin
08-02-2012, 03:55 PM
Op-Ed Contributor NYT
The Conversion of a Climate-Change Skeptic
Published: July 28, 2012

CALL me a converted skeptic. Three years ago I identified problems in previous climate studies that, in my mind, threw doubt on the very existence of global warming. Last year, following an intensive research effort involving a dozen scientists, I concluded that global warming was real and that the prior estimates of the rate of warming were correct. I’m now going a step further: Humans are almost entirely the cause.

My total turnaround, in such a short time, is the result of careful and objective analysis by the Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature project, which I founded with my daughter Elizabeth. Our results show that the average temperature of the earth’s land has risen by two and a half degrees Fahrenheit over the past 250 years, including an increase of one and a half degrees over the most recent 50 years. Moreover, it appears likely that essentially all of this increase results from the human emission of greenhouse gases.

These findings are stronger than those of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the United Nations group that defines the scientific and diplomatic consensus on global warming. In its 2007 report, the I.P.C.C. concluded only that most of the warming of the prior 50 years could be attributed to humans. It was possible, according to the I.P.C.C. consensus statement, that the warming before 1956 could be because of changes in solar activity, and that even a substantial part of the more recent warming could be natural.

Our Berkeley Earth approach used sophisticated statistical methods developed largely by our lead scientist, Robert Rohde, which allowed us to determine earth land temperature much further back in time. We carefully studied issues raised by skeptics: biases from urban heating (we duplicated our results using rural data alone), from data selection (prior groups selected fewer than 20 percent of the available temperature stations; we used virtually 100 percent), from poor station quality (we separately analyzed good stations and poor ones) and from human intervention and data adjustment (our work is completely automated and hands-off). In our papers we demonstrate that none of these potentially troublesome effects unduly biased our conclusions.

The historic temperature pattern we observed has abrupt dips that match the emissions of known explosive volcanic eruptions; the particulates from such events reflect sunlight, make for beautiful sunsets and cool the earth’s surface for a few years. There are small, rapid variations attributable to El Niño and other ocean currents such as the Gulf Stream; because of such oscillations, the “flattening” of the recent temperature rise that some people claim is not, in our view, statistically significant. What has caused the gradual but systematic rise of two and a half degrees? We tried fitting the shape to simple math functions (exponentials, polynomials), to solar activity and even to rising functions like world population. By far the best match was to the record of atmospheric carbon dioxide, measured from atmospheric samples and air trapped in polar ice.

Just as important, our record is long enough that we could search for the fingerprint of solar variability, based on the historical record of sunspots. That fingerprint is absent. Although the I.P.C.C. allowed for the possibility that variations in sunlight could have ended the “Little Ice Age,” a period of cooling from the 14th century to about 1850, our data argues strongly that the temperature rise of the past 250 years cannot be attributed to solar changes. This conclusion is, in retrospect, not too surprising; we’ve learned from satellite measurements that solar activity changes the brightness of the sun very little.

How definite is the attribution to humans? The carbon dioxide curve gives a better match than anything else we’ve tried. Its magnitude is consistent with the calculated greenhouse effect — extra warming from trapped heat radiation. These facts don’t prove causality and they shouldn’t end skepticism, but they raise the bar: to be considered seriously, an alternative explanation must match the data at least as well as carbon dioxide does. Adding methane, a second greenhouse gas, to our analysis doesn’t change the results. Moreover, our analysis does not depend on large, complex global climate models, the huge computer programs that are notorious for their hidden assumptions and adjustable parameters. Our result is based simply on the close agreement between the shape of the observed temperature rise and the known greenhouse gas increase.

It’s a scientist’s duty to be properly skeptical. I still find that much, if not most, of what is attributed to climate change is speculative, exaggerated or just plain wrong. I’ve analyzed some of the most alarmist claims, and my skepticism about them hasn’t changed.

Hurricane Katrina cannot be attributed to global warming. The number of hurricanes hitting the United States has been going down, not up; likewise for intense tornadoes. Polar bears aren’t dying from receding ice, and the Himalayan glaciers aren’t going to melt by 2035. And it’s possible that we are currently no warmer than we were a thousand years ago, during the “Medieval Warm Period” or “Medieval Optimum,” an interval of warm conditions known from historical records and indirect evidence like tree rings. And the recent warm spell in the United States happens to be more than offset by cooling elsewhere in the world, so its link to “global” warming is weaker than tenuous.

The careful analysis by our team is laid out in five scientific papers now online at BerkeleyEarth.org. That site also shows our chart of temperature from 1753 to the present, with its clear fingerprint of volcanoes and carbon dioxide, but containing no component that matches solar activity. Four of our papers have undergone extensive scrutiny by the scientific community, and the newest, a paper with the analysis of the human component, is now posted, along with the data and computer programs used. Such transparency is the heart of the scientific method; if you find our conclusions implausible, tell us of any errors of data or analysis.

What about the future? As carbon dioxide emissions increase, the temperature should continue to rise. I expect the rate of warming to proceed at a steady pace, about one and a half degrees over land in the next 50 years, less if the oceans are included. But if China continues its rapid economic growth (it has averaged 10 percent per year over the last 20 years) and its vast use of coal (it typically adds one new gigawatt per month), then that same warming could take place in less than 20 years.

Science is that narrow realm of knowledge that, in principle, is universally accepted. I embarked on this analysis to answer questions that, to my mind, had not been answered. I hope that the Berkeley Earth analysis will help settle the scientific debate regarding global warming and its human causes. Then comes the difficult part: agreeing across the political and diplomatic spectrum about what can and should be done.

Richard A. Muller, a professor of physics at the University of California, Berkeley, and a former MacArthur Foundation fellow, is the author, most recently, of “Energy for Future Presidents: The Science Behind the Headlines.”

Peter Lemkin
08-02-2012, 09:09 PM
AMY GOODMAN: "Global Warming’s Terrifying New Math", that’s the name of a Rolling Stone piece that’s written by Bill McKibben. He is the Co-founder and Director of 350.org. He joins us now from Vermont. Bill, welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about global warming, where it stands today, what needs to be done.

BILL MCKIBBEN: Well, look, we’re really seeing this summer, around the world, despite what Dr. Muller was peddling a minute ago, what climate change looks like in its early stages. And it’s been a pretty scary summer, not just here in this country where we’re seeing epic heat and drought, but up on Greenland, maybe the most important place in the world where the science and the actualities of what’s going on are sort of clearer day by day by day. We’re seeing record melts, we’re seeing snow turning to water and soaking up more of the sun’s heat. It has been a ragged summer. And the point of this piece in Rolling Stone which, oddly enough, though it’s fairly mathematical, has gone kind of viral, the point of it is, we now know enough to know what the future holds unless we change fast. The piece points out that scientists have long told us that if we want to stay below two degrees warming, which is what every government in the world, even the most conservative, have adopted as the bottom line, we can only burn 565 more gigatons of carbon. Unfortunately, a new analysis by a bunch of U.K. financial analysts, showed that the fossil fuel industry and those countries that kind of operate like the fossil fuel industry, you know, Venezuela or Kuwait have in their reserves, 2795 gigatons of carbon in there, coal and gas and oil. That’s still below ground, but economically, it’s essentially above ground. They’re borrowing against it, their share prices are based on it. Unless we change things very dramatically, it’s going to get burned and we are going to overwhelm the climate system.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill McKibben, your...

BILL MCKIBBEN: And so, we are going to need to stand up to that industry. That’s the bottom line.

AMY GOODMAN: Your assessment of Dr. Muller’s conversion, as he describes it, now saying that global warming is human-caused?

BILL MCKIBBEN: Scientifically, it’s not very interesting because, you know, most scientists figured it out 20 years ago. All he has done is confirm their work. Politically, it is interesting because we’re reaching the point where even the kind of industry-funded deniers can’t with a straight face, say that it’s not warming. In fact, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, two weeks ago, probably more importantly, said, Yes, forget all the things that my predecessors have said about how global warming was a hoax. Global warming is real, and we’re causing it. He then went on to say, but it’s an engineering problem with engineering solutions, and the example that he gave was, if we need to move our crop production areas, we will. By crop production areas, I think, he means what the rest of us call farms, and if you look at an atlas, there is really not a lot of room to move them. You can’t take an Iowa cornfield where we’re not going to grow any corn this year because of the heat and drought, and somehow transplant it up to the melting Arctic tundra because when you get up there, there is no soil. What needs to be adapted is not our crop production areas. What needs to be adapted are the business plans of the fossil fuel industry. They need to stop exploring for more hydrocarbons, they need to stop warping our democracy by buying off the House and the Senate, and instead, we need to put a — I mean, the most obvious thing to do, what every economist now for 20 years has been saying...

AMY GOODMAN: Five seconds.

BILL MCKIBBEN: ...is put a stiff price on carbon to reflect the damage that it does. And that’s one of the things we work on at 350.org.

Magda Hassan
08-02-2012, 09:48 PM
No more funding from the Koch Bothers for this man.

Greg Burnham
08-02-2012, 09:49 PM
Test your knowledge and common sense in this simple 10-question test.

Caution: This section contains sound science, not media hype, and may therefore contain material not suitable
for young people trying to get a good grade in political correctness.



Ed Jewett
08-04-2012, 07:25 PM
Confessions of a Recovering Environmentalist


Published in the January/February 2012 (http://www.orionmagazine.org/index.php/mag/issue/6597/) issue of Orion magazine


found at http://robinwestenra.blogspot.com/

Dawn Meredith
08-04-2012, 08:54 PM
Test your knowledge and common sense in this simple 10-question test.

Caution: This section contains sound science, not media hype, and may therefore contain material not suitable
for young people trying to get a good grade in political correctness.



I got 8/10 right.

Even when I did not "agree" with the answer ...:)

Bob Gaebler
09-23-2012, 08:12 PM
The Muller study endorses a Robert Rhode interpretation, of existing data, to conclude AGW is valid, back to the 1700s.

Of course, I have heard of fire, clearing of forests, factories, wars, cars, chainsaws, abuse of sequestered carbon fuel media, aversion to cyclic carbon fuel media, and pollution, which accelerates CO2 and other GHG emissions, while hindering CO2 respiration, so I was good, already.

I could see, how CO2 normally maxes out, at 280 ppm, at the peak, of any Pleistocene or our current Holocene Epoch interglacial thermal optimum, but CO2 is rocketing up, through 400 ppm, today, headed for over 1000 ppm, looks like. So I suspect no "Animal" Global Warming or "Alien" Global Warming. Those online pics of animals, with chainsaws are fabbed, I say.

Which leaves us wondering what Muller wanted, since his study didn't get published in a vet-zine. It turns out, Muller does NOT believe climate change is affected, by warming, even though the trends should be clear, from certainty more heat and water in the climate system is producing changes, including an increase, in natural disasters.

Published, concurrently, with Muller 2012 was Muller's hardbound natural gas tome, which makes sense, since those Koch Brothers are going to want to go fracking, to chase homeowners off their land, so their property can get flipped, during the course of about 5% of all gas wells leaking, right away, to 50% leakage, over the productive life, of these high-polluting public nuisances.

Peter Lemkin
10-29-2012, 07:33 PM
With me here in Oregon, we’re joined by Greg Jones, climate scientist and professor of environmental studies at Southern Oregon University in Ashland. And joining us by Democracy Now! video stream is Bill McKibben, co-founder and director of 350.org. He’s author of numerous books, including Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. On November 7th, 350.org is launching a 20-city nationwide tour called "Do the Math" to connect the dots between extreme weather, climate change and the fossil fuel industry.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Let’s start with Bill McKibben. Bill, you’ve just made it back to Vermont, to your home. Can you talk about the significance of what the East Coast is facing right now?

BILL McKIBBEN: Well, I think, Amy, that the first thing is this is a storm of really historic proportion. It’s really like something we haven’t seen before. It’s half, again, the size of Texas. It’s coming across water that’s near record warmth as it makes its way up the East Coast. Apparently we’re seeing lower pressures north of Cape Hatteras than have been ever recorded before. The storm surge, which is going to be the very worst part of this storm, is being driven by that huge size and expanse of the storm, but of course it comes in on water that’s already somewhat higher than it would have been in the past because of sea level rise. It’s—it’s a monster. It’s—Frankenstorm, frankly, is not only a catchy name; in many ways, it’s the right name for it. This thing is stitched together from elements natural and unnatural, and it seems poised to cause real havoc. The governor of Connecticut said yesterday, "The last time we saw anything like this was never." And I think that’s about right.

AMY GOODMAN: There certainly was a lack of discussion, to put it mildly, in the presidential debates around the issue of climate change.


AMY GOODMAN: I don’t think it was raised at all in the three debates.

BILL McKIBBEN: How do you think Mitt Romney is feeling this morning for having the one mention he’s made the whole time? His big laugh line at the Republican convention was how silly it was for Obama to be talking about slowing the rise of the oceans. I’d say that’s—wins pretty much every prize for ironic right now.

There has been a pervading climate silence. We’re doing our best to break that. Yesterday afternoon, there was a demonstration in Times Square, a sort of giant dot to connect the dots with all the other climate trouble around the world. Overnight, continuing in Boston, there’s a week-long vigil outside Government Center to try and get the Senate candidates there to address the issue of climate change.

It’s incredibly important that we not only—I mean, first priority is obviously people’s safety and assisting relief efforts in every possible way, but it’s also really important that everybody, even those who aren’t in the kind of path of this storm, reflect about what it means that in the warmest year in U.S. history, when we’ve seen the warmest month, July, of any month in a year in U.S. history, in a year when we saw, essentially, summer sea ice in the Arctic just vanish before our eyes, what it means that we’re now seeing storms of this unprecedented magnitude. If there was ever a wake-up call, this is it.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me play the clip you’re referring to of Mitt Romney at the Republican convention in Tampa.

MITT ROMNEY: President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the oceans and to heal the planet. My promise is to help you and your family.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Mitt Romney at the conventions, but—at the Republican convention. But again, when it came to the presidential debate, neither President Obama nor Mitt Romney raised the issue of climate change. I wanted to bring Greg Jones, climate scientist and professor of environmental studies here at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, into the conversation. The connection between the superstorm we’re seeing and climate change?

GREG JONES: Well, this is clearly a very unique event. And I—as a climate scientist, to some degree, I kind of worry that these type of unique events are clearly more frequent in the future. We have the conditions that have produced something that could be very damaging for the East Coast of the United States, and I often wonder why we don’t seem more of them. But, you know, the question is, today is, is that where we are in terms of our climate science understanding of these things, the rarity of this event is what makes it very unique. And I think all of the conditions came together to produce a superstorm. And we’ve had a few that have been close to this, but given the number of people involved and the location where it’s coming onshore, it’s a very problematic event.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill McKibben, what do you think has to happen now? You have been traveling the world, warning people, working with organizations around the issue of climate change. Do you feel like the kind of organizing you’re doing has an effect? I mean, you see these three presidential debates. Tens of millions of people watch them. They sort of define the discourse in this country. And yet, not raised in any—it’s not only the candidates don’t raise them, the reporters who are the moderators of these debates don’t raise the issue.

BILL McKIBBEN: Look, we’re up against the most powerful and richest industry on earth, and the status quo is their friend, and they want nothing to change. And until we’re able to force them to the table, as it were, very little will happen in Washington or elsewhere. That’s why we launched this huge tour, beginning the night after the election, not coincidentally, in Seattle and continuing around the country. You can find out about it at math.350.org. But the point is that we really finally need to have this reckoning. Either the fossil fuel industry keeps pouring carbon into the atmosphere and we keep seeing this kind of event, or we take some action.

Here’s the thing always to remember. The crazy changes that we’re seeing now, the—you know, the fact that we broke the Arctic this summer, the fact that the oceans are 30 percent more acid, that’s all that’s all happened when you raise the temperature of the earth one degree. The same scientists who told us that was going to happen are confident that the temperature will go up four degrees, maybe five, unless we get off coal and gas and oil very quickly. And to do that, you know, it’s nice to talk to Washington, but in certain ways Washington has turned into customer service for the fossil fuel industry. It’s time to take on that industry directly.

Not time today. Time today is to take care of people all up and down the East Coast, to work in the relief efforts, to get the message out as this storm heads north. We in Vermont, knowing from last year, from last year’s superstorm, Irene, have a pretty good idea of just how traumatic this is going to be. So the short-term effort is all about people. But the slightly longer-term effort is to make sure that we’re not creating a world where this kind of thing happens over and over and over again.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill, you mentioned that the storm is made up of elements both natural and unnatural. What do you mean by that?

BILL McKIBBEN: Well, look, I mean, global warming doesn’t cause hurricanes. We’ve always had hurricanes. Hurricanes cause when a wave, tropical wave, comes off the coast of Africa and moves on to warm water and the wind shear is low enough to let it form a circulation, and so on and so forth. But we’re producing conditions like record warm temperatures in seawater that make it easier for this sort of thing to get, in this case, you know, up the Atlantic with a head of steam. We’re making—we’re raising the sea levels. And when that happens, it means that whatever storm surge comes in comes in from a higher level than it would have before. We’re seeing—and there are a meteorologists—although I don’t think this is well studied enough yet to really say it conclusively, there are people saying that things like the huge amount of open water in the Arctic have been changing patterns, of big wind current patterns, across the continent that may be contributing to these blocking pressure areas and things that we’re seeing. But, to me, that, at this point, is still mostly speculation.

What really is different is that there is more moisture and more energy in this narrow envelope of atmosphere. And that energy expresses itself in all kind of ways. That’s why we get these record rainfalls now, time after time. I mean, last year, it was Irene and then Lee directly after that. This year, this storm, they’re saying, could be a thousand-year rainfall event across the mid-Atlantic. I think that means more rain than you’d expect to see in a thousand years. But I could pretty much—I’d be willing to bet that it won’t be long before we see another one of them, because we’re changing the odds. By changing the earth, we change the odds.

And one thing for all of us to remember today, even as we deal with the horror on the East Coast, is that this is exactly the kind of horror people have been dealing with all over the world. Twenty million people were dislocated by flood in Pakistan two years ago. There are people with kind of existential fears about whether their nations will survive the rise of sea level. We’re seeing horrific drought not just in the Midwest, but in much of the rest of the world. This is the biggest thing that’s ever happened on earth, climate change, and our response has to be the same kind of magnitude.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill McKibben, why are you waiting ’til after the presidential election to have your 20-city tour raising the issue, calling it "Do the Math"?

BILL McKIBBEN: Well, I mean, we’ve been involved as we can be in the political fight, but we don’t want this issue to go away when elections are over. Even if Barack Obama wins, we do not want everybody to just, "Oh, well, he’ll take care of it." That’s what happened four years ago. What we want is for—no matter who wins and no matter who wins in the Senate and the House, we want to put the fossil fuel industry front and center and put real pressure on them. We’re going to try and launch a divestment movement that looks like the one around South Africa a quarter-century ago. We’re going to be bringing home the math that I described in a piece in Rolling Stone this summer that went kind of viral, explaining that the fossil fuel industry already has five times more carbon in its inventory than even the most conservative government thinks would be safe to burn. And every day, they go out looking for more. This is a rogue industry now. I mean, if Sandy is a rogue storm, then, say, Exxon is a rogue industry. They, in their inventory alone, have more than 7 percent of the carbon necessary to take us past two degrees. They’re outlaws not against the laws of the state, but against the laws of physics. And you begin to see the results of that when you look around events like today’s.

AMY GOODMAN: Bill McKibben, I want to thank you for being with us. And very quickly, how are people in Vermont preparing? I mean, when—when Hurricane Irene hit, it ended up not being a very big deal in New York, but it ended up being a massive catastrophe for your state, for Vermont. What’s happening? How are you preparing here?

BILL McKIBBEN: [inaudible] in Vermont in a very long time. We’re expecting to lose power and have very strong winds. I think, selfishly, those of us in Vermont are just almost psychologically—I’m—you know, we really, really, a year later, don’t need to be the center of this storm. We don’t wish it on anybody else, but, you know, physically and psychologically, Vermont’s barely recovered from Irene. And we have some incredible sense of sympathy for the people who are getting hammered hardest by Sandy this time around.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you, Bill McKibben, for being with us, founder of 350.org, speaking to us from his home in Vermont. When we come back, we’ll stay with Greg Jones, climate scientist, professor of environmental studies here at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, and we’ll be joined by meteorologist Jeff Masters. Stay with us.