Monday, February 20, 2017

The Climate Change indicator, water

As I write, the worst possible candidate to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) just got installed. It is terrible because it is via the EPA we get our legal authority to address Climate Change on a scale that will matter. States can do much, but it’s the feds that create a level playing field. So, Pruitt’s political (not scientific) confirmation could be a serious problem for our life support system. #ScienceMatters

Climate Change is affected by our politics in the sense that politics can affect humanity’s collective response to this crisis. But, at the end of the day, it is climate indicators, climate feedback mechanisms in our environment, that will determine whether we are making progress or not.
Basically, climate change indicators are things like:

Please check these indicators soon, for we do not know how much longer they will exist on the EPA’s website.

Indicators are kinda like those tubes and monitors that are hooked up to you after you’ve had a life-threatening accident. If there are loud beeps from any one of those indicators, you are going to need a nurse Johnny-on-the-spot.

I want to make a point about the changes in our water, which constitutes many of the indicators above. The importance of our water goes far beyond our current state of dysfunctional politics.


Water, as you know, exists in three states on our planet: liquid, gas (vapor), or solid (ice). When it’s not present in any of these forms we have a drought, desert, or a lifeless space. #WaterIsLife
Here are some interesting data about water in our Northeast region, from GLISA a NOAA Risa team :
  • ·         “From 1973 to 2010, annual average ice coverage on the Great Lakes declined by 71%.”
  • ·         “The amount of precipitation falling in the heaviest 1% of storms increased by 37% in the Midwest and 71% in the Northeast from 1958 to 2012.”

So, let’s talk about the liquid form for a moment. That recent California dam crisis offers a teaching moment about a particular water infrastructure, but also all our infrastructures, because it talks about planning, about how infrastructure change must be tailored to the local predictions of Climate Change. Decisions for this dam should have been made years ago because now everyone is freaking about displacing 200,000 people and trying to figure out if the drought is over. No, the drought isn’t over and, no, the aquifers that will be needed for more droughts a-coming are not being replenished. But they could have been recharged if the dam had been redesigned properly. It’s not just that damn dam, it’s all our infrastructure.

Our infrastructures—dams, bridges, waste water systems, gas pipelines, electric grids, etc.—are old and they were designed for a world that wasn’t feeling the consequences of Climate Change. Our infrastructures here in the Northeast haven’t had to deal with the dramatic droughts of the West; instead, heavy precipitation (snow and rain) at a 71% increase since 1958 presents many problems with sewage overflows and damages due to increased flash flooding.

The article (below) is great for understanding some of the key issues about addressing Climate Changing because it gets to more of the particulars than merely updating old structures. Our infrastructures of the future have to be ready for the climate disruptions that are already different from the calmer climate when those structures were first designed. The public needs to be more aware of how our infrastructures—which are now key to our survival because there are so many of us who need food, waste removal, communication, and transportation. Oftentimes, when our infrastructures fail, they do so dramatically, because so many people are dependent on them.

What California’s Dam Crisis Says About the Changing Climate After five years of record-setting drought, much of California is being pummeled by an extremely wet winter. The disaster unfolding at Oroville, where precipitation is more than double the average, is the latest reminder that the United States needs a climate-smart upgrade of our water management systems. In the West, much of our water infrastructure is old. Oroville Dam, north of Sacramento, was completed in 1968, nearly a half a century ago. Other major components of our water system are generations older, and maintenance has not been a priority. The damage to Oroville Dam, where the primary spillway developed a giant gash and the emergency spillway threatened to erode, illustrates the hazard of relying on aging infrastructure to protect us from extreme weather. But age and upkeep are not the only problems. Our water system was designed and built in an old climate, one in which extremely warm years were less common and snowpack was more reliable. Here in the West, we use the same dams and reservoirs for both water storage and flood control, so during the wet season, reservoir managers continuously balance the dual pressures of storing as much water as possible for the dry summer and releasing sufficient water to create room for the next storm. (February 14, 2017) New York Times [more on Climate Change in our area]

Ice cover

A dramatic shift in Great Lakes ice cover due to Climate Change could have profound changes to lake levels, weather, snow, shipping, nuclear power cooling, fishing, and the entire ecosystem. There’s more on this story here.  Also, this is interesting:

Climate shifts affecting Great Lakes ice cover The mild winter across the Great Lakes is producing below average ice cover once again. As of Sunday, 13.5 percent of the Great Lakes is covered with ice according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. That’s well below the historical median of about 30 percent for this week of the year, according to the Canadian Ice Service. (February 13, 2017) MPR News [more on Great Lakes and Climate Change in our area]


As of this writing, there is still official climate data from which the public and their government can work from. For example, check graphs and maps that show observed and modeled data for ROCHESTER, NY. This information comes from the U.S. Climate Resilience Toolkit, which “is a website designed to help people find and use tools, information, and subject matter expertise to build climate resilience. The Toolkit offers information from all across the U.S. federal government in one easy-to-use location.”

This information from our government may not always be there. Data and public information from our government is disappearing in a cloud of denial and an ideology that still thinks the only way business can survive is to treat our environment as their free and unrestricted sewer.

I am continually reminded of Dr. Sagan’s warning: “Anything else you're interested in is not going to happen if you can't breathe the air and drink the water. Don't sit this one out. Do something. You are by accident of fate alive at an absolutely critical moment in the history of our planet.”

Time passes.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

The warming poles of Climate Change

Feeling a compulsion to continually acknowledge the fact that human-caused Climate Change is happening? It’s understandable. Our last US election has resurrected the pathetic chimera of climate denial. It’s a tragedy. Our attention to the problem at hand, that our climate is warming quickly, has been hijacked.

Now we worry for our latest immigrants. For we are all are immigrants. I’m Famine Irish, myself, and only differ from those misaligned today by the trumped-up Travel Ban but for the vagaries of time. At a recent rally in Rochester against the so-called ban, I felt compelled to read before a gathering of hundreds the entire poem, "The New Colossus", whose lines "Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” everyone knows.  

Now we worry for indigenous peoples whose temporary victory at the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), following fire-hosing of our fellow Americans in freezing weather, captured the nation’s and world’s attention. We worry for those who have worked all their lives to qualify for Medicare and Social Security. We worry for our youth whose understanding of science is in jeopardy. We worry for the common decency we expect towards our fellow citizens and allies around the world because all that now hangs on the irrational behavior of our so-called leader.

Bizarre money-drunk politics has reinvigorated hate, prejudice, xenophobia, and a great distain for environmental regulations, dragging along with it all this climate denial BS. Science had put a lid on this immoral and anti-science ideology years ago. But this scourge has reared its ugly head, fueled, in part, by fossil-fuel money.  

While this tempest steals our attention, both geological poles of our planet are undergoing extreme changes due to warming. It’s quite possible that celestial beings far away, even if they didn’t know anything about our precious blue orb, would probably notice our polar ice caps changing. “Hey look over there at that little planet in the Local Group, its polar caps are dwindling instead of increasing as we would expect from its present orbit. Something must be causing its greenhouse gasses to increase. Hmmmm.”   

First, the Artic, where we know Climate Change is the cause:

The Winter of Blazing Discontent Continues in the Arctic Weird. Strange. Extreme. Unprecedented. These are some of the words that describe what’s been happening in the Arctic over the past year as surge after surge of warm air have stalled, and at times reversed, sea ice pack growth. And the unfortunate string of superlatives is set to continue this week. Arctic sea ice is already sitting at a record low for this time of year and a powerful North Atlantic storm is expected to open the flood gates and send more warmth pouring into the region from the lower latitudes. By Thursday, it could reach up to 50°F above normal. In absolute temperature, that’s near the freezing point and could further spur a decline in sea ice. (February 6, 2017) Climate Central [more on Climate Change in our area]

Next, the big crack in an Antarctica ice shelf, which may not be caused by Climate Change, but it is still expected to greatly threaten the stability of the ice shelf, which “… could also significantly change the landscape of the Antarctic peninsula.”

A Crack in an Antarctic Ice Shelf Grew 17 Miles in the Last Two Months A rapidly advancing crack in Antarctica’s fourth-largest ice shelf has scientists concerned that it is getting close to a full break. The rift has accelerated this year in an area already vulnerable to warming temperatures. Since December, the crack has grown by the length of about five football fields each day. The crack in Larsen C now reaches over 100 miles in length, and some parts of it are as wide as two miles. The tip of the rift is currently only about 20 miles from reaching the other end of the ice shelf. Once the crack reaches all the way across the ice shelf, the break will create one of the largest icebergs ever recorded, according to Project Midas, a research team that has been monitoring the rift since 2014. Because of the amount of stress the crack is placing on the remaining 20 miles of the shelf, the team expects the break soon. (February 7, 2017) New York Times [more on Climate Change in our area]

Even some conservatives are concerned. They’ve marched out their own proposal for taking immediate climate action:

A Conservative Case for Climate Action CRAZY as it may sound, this is the perfect time to enact a sensible policy to address the dangerous threat of climate change. Before you call us nuts, hear us out. During his eight years in office, President Obama regularly warned of the very real dangers of global warming, but he did not sign any meaningful domestic legislation to address the problem, largely because he and Congress did not see eye to eye. Instead, Mr. Obama left us with a grab bag of regulations aimed at reducing carbon emissions, often established by executive order. In comes President Trump, who seems much less concerned about the risks of climate change, and more worried about how excessive regulation impedes economic growth and depresses living standards. As Democrats are learning the hard way, it is all too easy for a new administration to reverse the executive orders of its predecessors. (February 8, 2017) New York Times [more on Climate Change in our area]

(Actually, it DOESN’T sound CRAZY that some US conservatives are concerned about Climate Change and urge their party to address this crisis. It doesn’t sound crazy that intelligent people find the science behind Climate Change compelling. It DOES sound CRAZY to think environmental regulations should be rolled back and the free market (which, by the way, was instrumental in causing Climate Change) be allowed to take over. The political parties will disagree about how to address Climate Change, but both political parties should NOT disagree that Climate Change is happening because that is CRAZY! Also, as long as I’ve stolen your attention from this article’s main thesis: Those inclined to pin their hopes on "The Conservative Case for Carbon Dividends," for addressing Climate Change, because this is the most we are likely to get from a wrong-headed ideology, should remember that the free market system cannot fix Climate Change. Climate Change is deeply complex and will affect all aspects of our life support system, including our infrastructure, our individual health, our social stability, and our ability to adapt to the heat already built up in our climate system. While a carbon dividend will go far in slowing down human-cause greenhouse gas emissions, it is far short of a complete plan to address Climate Change. Our politics need to get their priorities straight.) #ScienceMatters

(Ok, back to my main point.) Since Trump has taken office, the poles of our political spectrum have deeply widened. A charge from the extreme wing on climate denial in our government suggests that the US and the rest of the nations were duped into signing the Paris Agreement. The facts behind this trumped-up conspiracy have been roundly refuted by folks who actually know what they are talking about. But, still, the specter of another Climategate which attempts to lie our country out of the Paris Agreement and sow more doubt into climate science is chilling.
  • ·         Climate Change, Science, NOAA Falsely Maligned by Tabloid Spin As a result of human activities, primarily the burning of fossil fuels, the planet is warming. Those who deny this fact have pointed to a supposed “pause” in warming to justify opposition to climate action. In 2015, a study led by NOAA’s Tom Karl was published in Science that flatly refuted the idea of a “pause.” It is one of many. But its high profile made it a target for attack. On Saturday, a feature in the UK’s Mail on Sunday by David Rose makes outrageous claims that were already disproven as the paper version hit stands, and that he has already had to in part correct. Rose, who has a history of inaccurate reporting, spins a scandal out of a letter by a former NOAA employee published on a climate change denial blog. The letter makes accusations of wrongdoing in the methodology and data archiving procedures used in the study. These accusations have already been shown to be faulty. Even if they were true, the implications have been blown out of proportion by Rose. Rebuttals were published in record time, as within minutes there was a tweet describing the story as “so wrong its hard to know where to start”:  (Climate Nexus)
  • ·         Factcheck: Mail on Sunday’s ‘astonishing evidence’ about global temperature rise This is a guest post by Zeke Hausfather, a climate scientist and energy systems analyst at Berkeley Earth, an independent temperature analysis project. In an article in today’s Mail on Sunday, David Rose makes the extraordinary claim that “world leaders were duped into investing billions over manipulated global warming data”, accusing the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of manipulating the data to show more warming in a 2015 study by Tom Karl and coauthors. What he fails to mention is that the new NOAA results have been validated by independent data from satellites, buoys and Argo floats and that many other independent groups, including Berkeley Earth and the UK’s Met Office Hadley Centre, get effectively the same results. (February 5, 2017) Carbon Brief [more on Climate Change in our area]
  • ·         Contested NOAA paper had no influence on Paris climate deal Envoys from US, EU, Russia and South Africa reject claims that one piece of research in June 2015 shaped flagship UN climate pact Did a “landmark paper that exaggerated global warming” trick 195 governments into signing the Paris climate deal? That’s the bold claim in a Mail on Sunday article that, at time of writing, had been shared 36,000 times and boasted 1,600 comments. It’s a strong allegation, directed at a study from the reputable National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), and one that was pounced upon by climate sceptic lawmakers in the US. “The Obama administration pushed their costly climate agenda at the expense of scientific integrity,” tweeted congressman Lamar Smith, a Republican who says climate science is bunkum. (February 6, 2017) Climate Home [more on Climate Change in our area]

While the US again ties itself up in climate denial, forever grubbing for ‘gotcha points’ in studies, articles, and discussion, the world worries.

These important words about understanding Climate Change by world renowned science communicator Dr. David Suzuki are worth noting. The US public and the media cannot just cherry-pick news and information about the complex issue of Climate Change. Climate Change, as much as possible, needs to be understood and communicated in the fullness of its impact and the exactness of its science.

Science is the most useful tool we have to adapt to climate change and avoid its worst outcomes. But it requires critical thinking and a big-picture perspective to ensure we consider all available evidence. With so many people scrolling through social media feeds for news rather than reading entire articles, facts and clarity can become elusive. It's up to us all -- media and consumers alike -- to dig deeper for the full story. (February 8, 2017, Understanding Climate Change Means Reading Beyond Headlines (Huffington Post)

Of course, physics always wins out. But will our attention have been turned away just long enough to relinquish any control we might have had over our destiny?

Time passes. 

Monday, February 06, 2017

The Trump Effect on Climate Change

Fears that Trump’s anti-environmental harangues would turn out to be reality once he got installed as President have come to pass. His spate of executive orders challenging known science and prudent care of our environment threatens to disrupt decades of national and international efforts to address Climate Change. A national frenzy, whether orchestrated purposely or not, is now in play in the form of the disturbing dazzle of the Donald’ antics, designed to steal away the public’s and the media’s attention. From this point on, one of the unknown unknowns (things we didn’t even know we didn’t know) confounding the planning for Climate Change is now unfolding, a tipping point of sorts that might be called the Trump Effect on Climate Change. The excrement has collided with the rotary oscillator: 

Since the inauguration:
  • ·         EPA airbrushes climate webpage as Pruitt nears confirmation US federal environment agency has quietly removed a reference to UN climate cooperation from its website Scott Pruitt is on his way to approval as Donald Trump’s environment chief after Republican senators waved him through a committee vote on Thursday. The controversial choice, who as Oklahoma attorney general sued the Environmental Protection Agency he is about to lead, got through despite a Democrat boycott. He is expected to pass a full senate vote next week. Even before he takes up the position, mentions of climate cooperation have been scrubbed from the EPA website, in a clear signal of intent from the new US administration. (January 3, 2017) Climate Home
  • ·         Top download from any federal site right now is Park Service report on climate change The events of the past week have been worrying to advocates of government action on climate change, with the removal of climate priorities from the White House website, the order to freeze all Environmental Protection Agency contracts and the inauguration of a president who said he is “not a big believer” in the fact that humans have played a role in changing Earth's climate. But these events have also been very good for website traffic. According to data from, which tracks Web traffic on all .gov websites, several pages related to climate change have been extremely popular in the week since President Trump's inauguration. (January 27, 2017) The Washington Post [more on Climate Change and Environmental Education in our area]
  • ·         U.S. will change course on climate policy, says former EPA transition head The United States will switch course on climate change and pull out of a global pact to cut emissions, said Myron Ebell, who headed U.S. President Donald Trump's Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) transition team until his inauguration. Ebell is the director of global warming and international environmental policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, a U.S. conservative think tank, and helped to guide the EPA's transition after Trump was elected in November until he was sworn in on Jan. 20. Trump, a climate skeptic, campaigned on a pledge to boost the U.S. oil and gas drilling and coal mining industries by reducing regulation. (January 30, 2017) Reuters [more on Climate Change in our area]
  • ·         Impact of EPA freeze on Holley vacant homes One of several executive orders President Trump signed earlier this week included a freeze on the Environmental Protection Agency. That meant all contracts and grants being issued were put on hold. Now we're learning that freeze has been lifted. But people living in Holley are worried about the impact on a push to occupy eight vacant homes. As Rachel Spotts reports, we’re talking about the site of the Diaz Chemical spill back in 2002. After the spill, many neighbors left their homes, in fear they had been contaminated. A few years later, the EPA bought the abandoned homes, and neighbors say it’s been a battle ever since. (January 27, 2017) WHEC Rochester [more on Environmental Health and Brownfields in our area]
  • ·         Trump Wants to Downplay Global Warming. Louisiana Won’t Let Him “Mother Nature is threatening to kick our people out.” On a recent morning in Baton Rouge, a thousand miles from where Senate Democrats were jousting with Donald Trump’s nominee to run the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency about whether humans are warming the planet, the future of U.S. climate policy was being crafted in a small room in the east wing of the Louisiana Capitol. The state’s 7,700-mile shoreline is disappearing at the fastest rate in the country. Officials had gathered to consider a method of deciding which communities to save—and which to abandon to the Gulf of Mexico. Bren Haase, chief of planning for the Coastal Protection and Restoration Authority (CPRA), was presenting his team’s updated Coastal Master Plan. Five years in the making and comprising 6,000 pages of text and appendices, the document details $50 billion in investments over five decades in ridges, barrier islands, and marsh creation. Tucked into the plan was a number whose significance surpasses all others: 14 feet, the height beyond which Haase’s agency has concluded homes couldn’t feasibly be elevated. (January 26, 2017) Bloomberg [more on Climate Change in our area]
  • ·         Official: Trump wants to slash EPA workforce, budget The former head of President Donald Trump's transition team at the Environmental Protection Agency said Thursday he expects the new administration to seek significant budget and staff cuts. Myron Ebell said in an interview with The Associated Press that Trump is likely to seek significant reductions to the agency's workforce — currently about 15,000 employees nationwide. Ebell, who left the transition team last week, declined to discuss specific numbers of EPA staff that could be targeted for pink slips. Asked what he would personally like to see, however, Ebell said slashing the agency's size by about half would be a good start. (January 27, 2017) AP [more on Environmental Health and Brownfields and Environmental Health in our area]
  • ·         Global Warning: 24 hours on the climate change frontline as Trump becomes president – as it happened With climate change deniers moving into the White House, the Guardian is spending 24 hours focusing climate change happening now. After reporting from Europe, Africa, the Middle East and the Americas, we’re now focusing on how warming temperatures will affect the Asia-Pacific region  Our partner, Univision News, is hosting a parallel event in Spanish today. Follow it here  The Tumblr community is joining us with personal posts about climate change. See them here We’re just a few hours from Donald Trump being inaugurated as the president of the United States, and we’re signing off from our 24-hour Global Warning live blog: a marathon effort from our Guardian offices in London, New York and Sydney, as well as our correspondents dotted around the globe. What we’ve seen, as we’ve travelled around the world, is that regardless of what climate deniers (yes, deniers) like Trump may say about the science, the stark reality is that it is happening now. (January 20, 2017) The Guardian [more on Climate Change in our area]

Though much data are factored into climate models, scientists would have been exceptionally imaginative to think of a scenario much worse than business as usual. In climate models, there are predicted ranges from where scientists characterize a world were humanity addresses Climate Change to a dismal scenario where humanity does not. In the best situation, we would change our behavior, experience some uncomfortable warming because of the inherent lag time of greenhouse gasses in our climate system, but eventually adapt and live sustainably. In the worst case scenario, business as usual, we’d find ourselves continuing to burn fossil fuels, trying to adapt to the warming, but eventually failing because the consequences of Climate Change would overwhelm us.

The Trump Effect is where there is a concerted effort to back-peddle on what little humanity has already achieved towards solving this complicated, existential threat. It’s an extreme-business-as-usual scenario at odds with science itself. The Trump Effect threatens to plow most of the fossil fuels in the ground up into the air—a scenario scientists have described as game over. The Trump Effect threatens to cause massive economic conflicts among nations as most nations favor renewable energy with new technology, while the most powerful nation insists on old, dirty technology. The Trump Effect increases the likelihood of massive social unrest as nations fight amongst each other for enough food to eat and potable water to drink. The Trump Effect is beyond business as usual because it is a spectacular ratcheting up of climate warming along with tying our hands from even attempting to adapt. It is an ultra-form of the Backfire Effect “When your deepest convictions are challenged by contradictory evidence, your beliefs get stronger.”

Now, our governmental environment and scientific agencies will be offering less stability instead of more; less cooperation between nations on Climate Change instead of more; more volatility in the world market, instead of less; less faith in our already mediocre media (as Trump has declared war on the media), instead of more, and less guidance by science, instead of more. 

Trump’s anti-environmental enactments already have US scientists trying to defend their own jobs and years of painstaking, peer-reviewed facts. Things have reached such fevered pitch that scientist are now going to march on Washington, DC on Earth Day.

The March for Science is Set to Happen on Earth Day Scientists officially have a date where they’ll be taking to the streets. The March for Science has been scheduled for Saturday, April 22 in Washington, D.C. A growing constellation of marches are also scheduled for that day in cities across the U.S. What began as a Reddit conversation has grown into a movement of scientists and science lovers standing up for evidenced-based policy making and inclusivity in the science community.   The date of the march isn’t just an average Saturday. April 22 is Earth Day, first celebrated in 1970. The original Earth Day is seen by many as a turning point in the environmental movement. The year itself also marks a major turning point for the U.S. government and environmental policy. In 1970, Richard Nixon signed the Environmental Protection Agency into existence and it began operating that December. (February 1, 2017) Climate Central 

Many people may think a march by scientists is bad idea. Scientists in the thousands, carrying signs, shouting and chanting? Really? Really. We must remember that this anti-science, climate denial thing, is happening within the US, not the rest of the world. If we who know better don’t stand up for science, we demonstrate to the world that all of us here in the United States find anti-science a viable intellectual option. It ain’t. What is happening in the United States, being bullied by climate deniers, needs to get out to the world. We need to demonstrate that the rest of us (most of us) haven’t given up our principles and respect for science just because it pisses off those whose view of reality is clouded by ideology. BTW: Scientists are NOT the ones politicizing this. Scientists would rather do their wonky lab-and-field jobs—which is now critical to our collective survival.

We can speculate about how the Trump Effect came about. We can try to imagine how to convince people who are just thrilled that Trump has thrown a monkey wrench into science and politics as usual:

How to bridge the political divide with better moral arguments “In this divisive and polarized era how do you bridge the political divide between left and right? How do you persuade the people on the other side to see things your way? New research by sociologist Robb Willer and psychologist Matthew Feinberg suggests that the answer is in learning how to cross something they call the empathy gap.” (November 4, 2016, You Are Not So Smart Podcast)

And while this psychological-aisle-crossing may be helpful for understanding the communication problem going on with Climate Change, it’s unlikely to effect a necessary shift in attitudes. Ultimately, if both sides of the Climate Change issue don’t accept mainstream, 97% peer-reviewed, climate science, then it’s a pointless exercise. There’s no giving ground on science, even if we wanted to.

The Trump Effect is now in play and we will have to deal with it, ready or not.

Time passes.