Summary: This post by Prof Curry has something for everyone, at all levels of interest and knowledge. It discusses one of the more timely and serious subjects in the climate debates. If you would like more information after reading these selections (or are still confused, or more confused) see the links at the end of the post. Bottom line: while we bicker about anthropogenic effects on climate, we remain unready for the return of past droughts.
by Judith Curry (Prof Atmosphere Science, GA Inst Tech)
From her website Climate Etc
10 March 2014
Posted here under her Creative Commons license
- The NYT gives a rebuttal to Obama
- Anthropogenic global warming and droughts
- Past California droughts
- The Dust Bowl Returns
- California’s drought is due to politics
- Judith Curry’s reflections
- For More Information
(1) The NYT gives a rebuttal to Obama
A changing climate means that weather-related disasters like droughts, wildfires, storms [and] floods are potentially going to be costlier and they’re going to be harsher.
– Speech by President Obama, 14 February 2014
Justin Gillis of the NY Times responded to the statements made by President Obama in his February 14 visit to California to discuss the drought: “Science linking drought to global warming in dispute“. Excerpt:
In delivering aid to drought-stricken California last week, President Obama and his aides cited the state as an example of what could be in store for much of the rest of the country as human-caused climate change intensifies.
But in doing so, they were pushing at the boundaries of scientific knowledge about the relationship between climate change and drought. While a trend of increasing drought that may be linked to global warming has been documented in some regions, including parts of the Mediterranean and in the Southwestern United States, there is no scientific consensus yet that it is a worldwide phenomenon. Nor is there definitive evidence that it is causing California’s problems.
(2) Anthropogenic global warming and droughts
(a) The main arguments being put forward regarding AGW making the drought worse seem to be put forward by John Holdren and Joe Romm. John Holdren has prepared a document entitled Drought and Climate Change: A Critique of Statements Made by Roger Pielke Jr. The existence of this document is astonishing in itself (Holdren is Director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy) – it was written in response to tweets and blog posts by Pielke Jr (Prof Environmental Studies, U CO-Boulder).
Pielke responds to Holden with “John Holdren’s Epic Fail“, 1 March 2014.
(b) Joe Romm (Center for American Progress) has a follow on post “Climatologist who predicted drought 10 years ago says it may become even more dire“. He lays out the arguments in support of global warming influencing the drought. The arguments aren’t strong, an excerpt:
Summary: In 1939 the great science fiction writer Robert Heinlein created a timeline, the framework within which he wrote many of his greatest stories. On it is the period he called the “crazy years”. While he got the specifics wrong, that description aptly describes our time. We have made the crazy years. It’s our choice, not our destiny. We can change course and put America back on track. We need only choose to do so.
The Crazy Years:
Considerable technical advance during this period, accompanied by a gradual deterioration of mores, orientation, and social institutions, terminating in mass psychoses in the sixth decade, and the interregnum.
— Created by Robert Heinlein in 1939; published in Astounding Science Fiction, May 1940
Crazy years are commonplace in human history. Such as …
- (a) The 14th century were crazy years in Europe, brought about by a combination of massive social and political changes, plus natural catastrophes (e.g., plague and the onset of the Little Ice Age). For a vivid account of this time ee Barbara Tuchman wrote A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century (1978).
- (b) The French called the 1920s the années folles (crazy years), the aftershock of WWI and massive social and political change.
Now we’re in the crazy years of the 21st century, whose exact starting point does not matter (but will become clear to future historians). That we’re in the crazy years is widely recognized, especially among conservatives. Such as this, from Nebuala-award
winning nominated science fiction writer John C. Wright. He read this news story:
The criminal case against the first detainee transferred from Guantanamo Bay for trial in a U.S. civilian court should be thrown out because he was denied the right to a speedy trial, defense lawyers argued on Monday.” (Reuters, 11 January 2010)
… and said this:
May God have mercy on us, I am not making this up. … The state, the military, the court system, is treating an Gitmo terrorist like a criminal defendant rather than like a prisoner of war.
Few, if any, of the prisoners at Gitmo were captured on a battlefield; fewer still are agents of a State. So they are not obviously POWs. Fewest of all were captured committing acts of terrorism, so they are only “accused terrorists”. Hence the need for a trial of some sort. Wright’s comment shows
confident ignorance (unaware of why the Judge acted as he did), but not this the judge’s rule is crazy. (Update: see his explanation in the comments. Pending further clarification, it makes this an even better example of my point He’s an attorney, considering his disagreement with a judge about a technical point of complex law as evidence we’re in the crazy years).
This is a commonplace vignette in America, where both Left and Right substitute mockery for analysis — blindness to the reasoning of their opponents. The equivalent on the Left is labeling as “deniers” all who disagree with their forecasts of climate doom (including those defending the work of the IPCC and major climate agencies). These fetters of the mind are a gift to their leaders, preventing communication which might result in compromise — or even new and larger alliances.
Neither Left or Right focuses on the greater madness affecting us all, to which most Americans assent. Together their confidence, blindness and amnesia (well documented in these posts) lead America into the crazy years.
Summary: The Third Industrial Revolution has arrived. Slowly arrived, but not so slowly that we cannot see its effects. Here we look at one company’s participation in the revolution, and the effects. It’s a lesson of what’s coming, which we pay for with the scarcest of resources: time.
- Nike joins the 3rd industrial revolution
- Looking ahead at the results
- Implications for the 21st century
- For more information
(1) Nike takes a step into the 3rd industrial revolution
The emerging nations have grown through the outsourcing of manufacturing jobs from the developed nations, relying on companies like Nike, and hoping to follow in the footsteps of America, Europe, and Japan. Now they’re ready to transition from low-value-added jobs to those requiring more training and skill. Unfortunately the third industrial revolution has arrived, disrupting this natural evolution — destroying jobs while the resulting unemployment keeps wages low for all workers — both skilled and unskilled.
And of course they lack the unions that boosted wages and improved working conditions in the developed nations. The gains from increasing economic productivity go to the managers and shareholders of the megacorps. Let’s see this process at work…
“Nike to tackle rising Asian labour costs“, Financial Times, 27 June 2013 — Excerpt:
Nike is to tackle rising labour costs at its Asian factories by “engineering the labour out” of its shoe and clothing production as it seeks to defend its profits. Don Blair, Nike’s chief financial officer, said its objective was to reduce the number of people making its products as he highlighted the impact of a sharp increase in wages in Indonesia.
The US sports group and other multinational manufacturers are also battling a sustained rise in Chinese labour costs. Mr Blair said: “I think the longer-term solution to addressing a lot of these labour costs has really been engineering the labour out of the product and that really is with technology and innovation. He cited Nike’s Flyknit running shoe, whose upper part is a machine-knitted yarn. Nike is also using 3D printing technology to make prototype soles for professional athletes.
Cutting factory workers could also reduce Nike’s exposure to criticism over labour practices at its contractors, which has dogged it sporadically since the first big anti-sweatshop campaigns of the 1990s. In January this year activists criticised Nike’s suppliers in Indonesia for seeking exemptions to the minimum wage, which are allowed for companies that cannot afford to raise pay.
Summary: Today we look at one of the most interesting aspects of US politics. The rhetoric about climate by both Left and Right runs hot, pretending to scientific authority. But both sides have abandoned science, except as window-dressing. Here we review one example, comparing the rhetoric with the science. Bad news: millions believe the propaganda of Left and Right. Good news: journalists are slowly seeing the problem, and responding. Conclusion: we’ll have to do better if America is to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
- About “Climate buffoons’ real motives”
- About those droughts
- About the UK floods
- Did global warming cause the polar vortex?
- For More Information
(1) About “Climate buffoons’ real motives”
California’s record-breaking drought. Britain’s record-breaking floods. Australia’s unprecedented heat wave. And the polar vortex, times three.The only thing that matched the degree of extreme weather we saw this past winter was the extreme amount of climate denial that arose in response.
— From “Climate buffoons’ real motives: 5 reasons they still spout debunked garbage“, Lindsay Abrams, Salon, 6 March 2014 — “From greed to idiocy, here’s the true agenda of deniers who still claim climate change isn’t happening”
Quite a righteous opening, but factually challenged. Every week brings many similar articles, all examples of the Left’s abandonment of the IPCC, the major climate agencies, and of climate science.
The Left supported science against the Right when politically useful, then jilted science for more useful if poorly supported alarmists. Science, one of our most powerful tools to understand and shape our world, has few friends in either the Republican or Democratic Parties today (see these polls for scary Republican opinions about climate change). It’s a serious problem, perhaps to have unimaginably horrific consequences.
Let’s review the evidence rebuking Ms Abrams’ alarmist rhetoric.
(2) About those droughts
California and Australia have histories of frequent, severe, and long droughts. Droughts worse and longer than recent ones. More generally, the consensus of climate scientists is clear about the global trend in droughts.
(a) Aspen Global Change Institute’s “Weather and Climate Extremes in a Changing Climate” (CCSP, 2008):
Similarly, long-term trends (1925-2003) of hydrologic droughts based on model derived soil moisture and runoff show that droughts have, for the most part, become shorter, less frequent, and cover a smaller portion of the U. S. over the last century (Andreadis and Lettenmaier, 2006). The main exception is the Southwest and parts of the interior of the West, where increased temperature has led to rising drought trends (Groisman et al. , 2004; Andreadis and Lettenmaier, 2006). The trends averaged over all of North America since 1950 (Figure 2.6) are similar to U.S. trends for the same period, indicating no overall trend.
(b) From page 8 of the IPCC’s “Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation” (SREX, 2012)
There is medium confidence that since the 1950s some regions of the world have experienced a trend to more intense and longer droughts, in particular in southern Europe and West Africa, but in some regions droughts have become less frequent, less intense, or shorter, for example, in central North America and northwestern Australia. [3.5.1]
(c) From the new IPCC AR5, Working Group I, Chapter 2:
Summary: Another in a series about the dying oceans, a severe problem that’s ignored because its solution has no political benefits for the elites running the Left and Right in America. We see the world only as shown to us by the news media. Like the philosophers of Laputa (the flying city Gulliver visited), unable to see anything until our minders bring it to our attention. It’s a sad state for a free people.
by Theo Tait (deputy Editory of The Week)
London Review of Books, 6 March 2014
Reprinted with the permission of the author and LRB
Review of Stung! On Jellyfish Blooms and the Future of the Ocean by Lisa-Ann Gershwin.
Near the end of H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine, the Time Traveller finds himself on a desolate beach in the distant future. Under a lurid red sky, by a slack, oily sea, he is set upon by giant crabs, last survivors in a dying world – ‘foul, slow-stirring monsters’, with ‘vast, ungainly claws smeared with an algal slime’. If Wells were writing that scene today, the jellyfish would be a much better candidate than the crab for the part of the doomsday creature on the terminal beach. According to Lisa-Ann Gershwin’s disturbing book, the jellyfish is an ‘angel of death’, a harbinger of ‘planetary doom’ likely to be the ‘last man standing’ in what she describes as our ‘gelatinous future’.
Jellyfish are immensely old. From the fossil evidence, we know that they dominated the oceans for millions of years before predators with bones or shells or teeth evolved. ‘Through the eons,’ Gerswhin writes, ‘while trilobites and dinosaurs came and went and plants and animals moved onto land and evolved respiratory machinery and mammals evolved bigger and better brains, jellyfish stayed the same.’ With no brain, no heart, no lungs and no gills, they are ‘simple but effective’ – ‘essentially a gelatinous body with one or more mouths for ingesting food, one or more stomachs for digesting food, and usually four or eight gonads for making more jellyfish’. Species of the phylum Cnidaria – the classic jelly – have existed in something close to their current form for at least 565 million years; Ctenophora, the comb jellies, are not much younger.
They survived the ‘big five’ mass extinctions. And now, it seems, they are experiencing a renaissance.
Stung! is a serious monograph, a guide to jellyfish biology and to the recent explosion in jellyfish blooms by an expert in the field. (Gershwin has devoted her working life to marine invertebrates and has discovered more than 150 new species; an American, she is now the director of the Australian Marine Stinger Advisory – ‘Consulting on all aspects of marine stinger management’.) But it’s a serious monograph disguised, quite convincingly, as a monster movie. It begins with a series of horrifying vignettes of jellyfish on the rampage, such as the ‘mass fish-kill’ events suffered by salmon farms. In 1998, a swarm of large Aurelia (the standard moon jelly) moved into Big Glory Bay off New Zealand’s South Island, and killed 56,000 three-kilo salmon in their pens within half an hour. Gershwin describes the incident in terrible detail:
Summary: The calls for war ring again from American pundits and geopolitical experts. No cause is too small, hopeless, or irrelevant to us — threatening war is always the right response, says a loud and influential number of Americans, to maintain our credibility and reputation. They sign a siren song of national decline. No nation, however great, can so dissipate it resources (both physical and political). And eventually they will get the disastrous war they seek.
This is a follow-up to About the Ukraine-Russia conflict. First, know what we don’t know.
A flood of books published this year help us commemorate the centennial of WWI and remember its lessons. A common theme is the stupidity of Europe’s peoples — and their leaders — in 1914, so carelessly sliding into a calamitous war for so little reason.
To see how this happens, read your newspaper. America’s papers overflow with cries for America to threaten (or use) economic and military force in response to Russia’s increasingly assertive actions in its “near abroad” (their version of the Monroe Doctrine zone) — their aggressive moves into other nations (like ours into Afghanistan and Iraq).
These people’s screeds seldom balance risk with the potential gains, or measure the danger of escalation. They seldom assert that US national interests are at stake (that’s seen in the frequency of their calls for belligerence : in Iran, in Yemen, in Sudan, in Libya, in Syria, in Ukraine).
Rather they would deploy US power in pursuit of chimeras like prestige and credibility. In fact no nation can gain such things by routinely threatening force over issues in which it has no substantial interest — except through Nixon’s “Madman Theory” (based on a sentence of advice by Machiavelli), which would bring its own shattering blowback if believed (e.g., forfeiting Western leadership).
These people are the unwitting agents of national decline for America, in two ways. Even when unable to influence policy, they push leaders to greater belligerence in order to avoid “looking weak” (a bad thing in the eyes of foolish people) and losing domestic political support. And occasionally they will get their way, leading America into a new cycle of pointless conflict — diverting our limited resources from pressing domestic needs.
If left unopposed — and they are largely unopposed on the public stage (another parallel with 1914) — they might eventually get the war they seek. I doubt that will turn our well for America (It didn’t work well for Athens).
A quick look at a few of the hawkish squawks
“Formally recognize Ukraine, prepare NATO troops“, Zbigniew Brzezinski and Nathan Gardels, op-ed in the Christian Science Monitor, 3 March 2014 — Brzezinski was Carter’s National Security Advisor. Money paragraph; very coy:
Summary: Scores of posts have documented the difficulty Americans have seeing the world. Of course this affects both Left and Right. But not equally. The Right has more fully exploited the powerful tools of propaganda developed during the past century, both to motivate the faithful and gain support. Unfortunately decades of shifting the Right’s viewpoint has broken its tether to reality, allowing a slide into delusions. Today we see some evidence of this in the polls.
No rejoicing by the Left, please. Schadenfreude, however natural, should be outweighed by the danger this creates for the Republic, that a large fraction of a major party has lost their bearings.
- Poll #1
- Poll #2
- Poll #3
- Other posts about the Right in America
- For More Information
Democrats and Republicans differ on conspiracy theory beliefs, a survey by Public Policy Polling (PPP), 2 April 2013.
Q#1: Do you believe global warming is a hoax? — 58% of GOP say “yes”.
Contrast that with the consensus of climate scientists:
“It is extremely likely (95 – 100% certain) that human activities caused more than half of the observed increase in global mean surface temperature from 1951 to 2010.”
— conclusion of the IPCC’s AR5 Working Group I. For more about this consensus see these studies.
PPP Question#8: Do you believe President Barack Obama is the anti-Christ? — 20% of the GOP say “yes”.
This is a disturbing next step from the “Is Obama not a US citizen” and “Is Obama a Muslim?” questions, whose weirdness we have become accustomed to.
Summary: It’s another world crisis. As usual quite obvious things remain invisible to US geopolitical experts and even diligent readers of the US news media. Here is an attempt to fill in the blanks around the conflict in the Ukraine (putting it in a larger context), with links to useful sources of information about specifics of the conflict. Part one; see part two.
“You just don’t in the 21st Century behave in 19th Century fashion by invading another country on completely trumped up pretext.”
— Secretary of State John Kerry displays awesome hypocrisy on Face the Nation, 2 March 2014
It’s sad to watch the belligerent, often ignorant, US hawks again go hysterical. Before enlisting yourself or your children, please read these useful things to know about the conflict in the Ukraine:
- Our weak response to this (strong rhetoric, weak actions) results from an incoherent grand strategy.
- History suggests that we (American public) don’t know what’s going on. Key facts are hidden from us, or lost amidst the propaganda barrages of both sides.
- Russia is acting according to historical norms. They violate the post-WW2 laws established by the United Nations Charter, …
- just as we have done so many times — and even more frequently since 9-11. Our betrayal since 9-11 of the post-WW2 order we built gives us little credibility in conflicts like Ukraine.
The last point deserves more attention. It’s the “clean hands” doctrine, which provides a useful lens through which to see this conflict:
A person coming to court with a lawsuit or petition for a court order must be free from unfair conduct (have “clean hands” or not have done anything wrong) in regard to the subject matter of the claim. His/her activities not involved in the legal action can be abominable because they are considered irrelevant. (from The Legal Dictionary)
First, there have been ample rumors of covert US involvement in the Ukraine — another chapter in the long list of US programs to destabilize or replace governments hostile to US political or corporate interests. Needless to say, these give us “dirty hands” when complaining about Russia’s violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty.
Summary: Another day, another astonishing bogus crisis (the STEM shortage) in which well-meaning Americans labor against their own interests to further enrich the 1%. The true nuggets of insight in the news media reveal so much, but accomplish nothing unless they spark action.
“Big industry constantly requires a reserve army of unemployed workers for times of overproduction. The main purpose of the bourgeois in relation to the worker is, of course, to have the commodity labour as cheaply as possible, which is only possible when the supply of this commodity is as large as possible in relation to the demand for it …”
— Marx (1847, unpublished work)
“Taking them as a whole, the general movements of wages are exclusively regulated by the expansion and contraction of the industrial reserve army …”
— Marx, Das Kapital (1867)
This is a tale of the New America: the mythical STEM crisis:
- “The STEM Crisis: Reality or Myth?“, Michael Anft, The Chronicle of Higher Education, 11 November 2013
- “The truth about the great American science shortfall“, Karin Klein, op-ed in the Los Angeles Times, 24 February 2014.
It’s an example of how America works in the 21st century: well-meaning but foolish people serving the plutocracy:
- Plutocrats (e.g., Bill Gates) see a need for more cheap workers.
- Create fake scare: a shortage of workers trained in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. STEM! Some seed money, mostly for marketing.
- A thousand organizations — Federal to local schools, charities (e.g., Boy Scouts), businesses — rally to action.
That the shortage of STEM workers was bogus was quite obvious from the start, as Klein explains. It is Econ 101:
Summary: The March 2014 issue of Nature Climate Change has two articles and an editorial discussing the public discussion about the pause in surface atmosphere warming. These are quite sad, showing their tribalism and the modern American unwillingness to accept any responsibility. It’s a wasted opportunity for improvement in handling of this vital issue. These articles are open with free registration.
(a) “Media discourse on the climate slowdown“, Maxwell T. Boykoff — “We must not fall victim to decontextualized and ahistorical media accounting of climate trends.” Excerpt:
Discourses are essentially sets of categories, ideas and concepts that give meaning to phenomena. Maarten Hajer has pointed out that they can “frame certain problems … [and can] dominate the way a society conceptualizes the world”2. Through media representations, framing processes have had important effects on marginalizing some discourses while contributing to the amplification of others.
Boykoff looks at the Right’s use of this issue:
In particular, social movements from the ideological right seized on this notion of a pause or hiatus in the public sphere and amplified claims of a global warming myth in the process.
… even though these outlier claims were overwhelmingly dismissed through mainstream media accounts, coverage served to spotlight contrarian individuals and climate counter-movement pressure-group messages, while influencing larger public opinion. In other words, media attention on the slowdown may have inadvertently swelled the ranks of adherents to contrarian views of wider climate changes. While recent polling has found that the proportion of US citizens who believe that climate change is not happening has increased by 7 percentage points since April 2013, study co-authors Anthony Leiserowitz and Edward Maibach have both commented that media coverage of the pause has contributed to the trends they detected.
In a 2013 study, Shawn Olson and I16 explored the role of climate contrarianism, emitted from actors of the ideological right who have drawn culturally from anti-regulatory, anti-environmental and neoliberal environmental perspectives traced back to the US-based Wise Use movements — coalitions of groups promoting the expansion of private property rights and reduction of government intervention.
Like almost all writings in the climate science literature on this subject, the authors appear blind to similarly political use of this issue by the Left, despite the high profile of such use in the news media (a far higher profile in the mainstream media than the Right’s). Frequently those on the Left make extreme claims for the effects of warming beyond projections of the IPCC or other major climate agencies, plus attribution of normal weather (normal on decadal or generational time scales) to anthropogenic CO2 emissions — misrepresenting or exaggerating the relevant climate science literature.