PBS Covers Sea Ice Minimum

September 24, 2012

Very informative interview here with Walt Meier of the National Snow and Ice Data Center.

No false balance in this account. Just a scientist telling us what we, as a species, know about the astonishing pace of change on our home planet.

We’ve seen Exxon-Mobil signal they are officially throwing in the towel on denying that greenhouse gases will warm the climate. Company CEO Rex Tillerson tells us that climate change is “an engineering problem” that we can “adapt to”. So look for that to emerge as a meme among climate deniers who may be chastened after coming elections, (or climate disasters, whichever comes first).

But, a warning – as the inevitable recognition that all is not well sets in, be on the lookout for another variety of science denial tailored to the “Left Behind” crowd. Climate Change, in this formulation,  is not a result of greenhouse gases, but rather comes from God’s anger with the gay, muslim, socialist rays emanating from the White House, New York, and Los Angeles.

And it’s not computer modeled, it’s “prophecied”.

To be precise, this comes in several flavors, including one I ran into at a recent speaking event – the new age “earth changes” the “magnetic field is changing Nasa scientists say so” brand, so look out for that one, too.

Right Wing Watch:

Self-proclaimed prophet Cindy Jacobs, who blamed freak bird deaths on the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and predicted that the Obama
administration’s support for LGBT rights will lead to a blizzard and the exposure of a major government scandalwarned Jim Bakker last week that more disasters are coming to America thanks to President Obama’s leadership. Jacobs told Bakker that she prophesied “that God had seen decisions made from our White House that were anti-biblical and that we were going to come into the season of the greatest weather patterns and disasters that we had seen, there were going to be floods and fires and more, and it all happened.”

She claimed that 2011 “historically was the worst year for weather-related disasters in our history, and I was mocked everywhere for that because they don’t understand spiritual things.” “We are going to have more weather disasters, it’s going to come up worse and worse, it’s not going to stop,” Jacobs contended.

I swear the earth shall surely be complete to him or her who shall
be complete,
The earth remains jagged and broken only to him or her who
remains jagged and broken.

I swear there is no greatness or power that does not emulate
those of the earth,
There can be no theory of any account unless it corroborate the
theory of the earth,
No politics, song, religion, behavior, or what not, is of account,
unless it compare with the amplitude of the earth,
Unless it face the exactness, vitality, impartiality, rectitude of the

I swear I begin to see love with sweeter spasms than that which
responds love,
It is that which contains itself, which never invites and never

I swear I begin to see little or nothing in audible words,
All merges toward the presentation of the unspoken meanings
of the earth,
Toward him who sings the songs of the body and of the truths
of the earth,
Toward him who makes the dictionaries of words that print can-
not touch.

I swear I see what is better than to tell the best,
It is always to leave the best untold.

When I undertake to tell the best I find I cannot,
My tongue is ineffectual on its pivots,
My breath will not be obedient to its organs,
I become a dumb man.

~Walt Whitman

News that stays news.

Thanks to the commenters this week who reminded me of my love for this classic. If you don’t know Whitman, there is a piece of your soul out there that you did not know was missing.

Welcome to the Equinox. What’s it like where you are?


Dr. Jennifer Francis of Rutger’s Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences is featured in my sea ice wrap video, which should be out early in the week.

Here is a lecture she gave in January of 2012. Longish, but worth dipping into, as  she summarizes some of the most recent research in regard to the effects of shrinking arctic ice on weather and climate in the temperate latitudes – the so-called “arctic paradox” so beloved by Fox News – “if there’s global warming, why are we having this record snow storm?”.

What she told me in a recent interview was that the sea ice record is not something that we just pay attention to in September – there will, in fact, be reverberations that will make fall and winter “very interesting” around the globe.

UPDATE: Dr Francis has a column today in the Washington Post:

As temperatures over the Arctic Ocean fall with the approach of winter, the extra energy that was absorbed during summer must be released back into the atmosphere before the water can cool to freezing temperatures. Essentially, this loads the atmosphere with a new source of energy—one that affects weather patterns, both locally and on a larger scale. In spring, a similar phenomenon also occurs, but it involves snow cover on northern land areas. Snow has been melting progressively earlier each year; this past June and July it disappeared earlier than ever before. The underlying soil is then exposed to strong spring sun, which allows it to dry and warm earlier – contributing to Arctic amplification in summer months.

The difference in temperature between the Arctic and areas to the south is what drives the jet stream, a fast-moving river of air that encircles the northern hemisphere. As the Arctic warms faster, this temperature difference weakens, as does the west-to-east wind of the jet stream. Just as a river of water tends to meander when it reaches the gentle slopes of coastal plains, a weaker jet stream tends to have steeper north-south waves. Arctic amplification also stretches the northern tips of the waves farther northward, which favors further meandering. Meteorologists know that steeper waves are slower to shift westward.

The weather we experience at mid-latitudes is largely dictated by these waves in the jet stream. The slower the waves move, the longer the weather associated with them will persist. Essentially, “hot,” “dry,” “cold,” and “rainy” are all terms to describe very normal weather conditions. It’s only when those conditions persist in one area for too long that they are dubbed with the names of their extreme alter egos: heat waves, drought, cold spells, and floods. And these kinds of extreme events are precisely what we’ve seen more of in recent years.

Global warming now has a face and a fingerprint that directly touch each of our lives. Rather than just a gradual increase in temperature, we can recognize its influence in a shift toward more extreme weather events. A warmer atmosphere also means a moister atmosphere, so any given storm will have more moisture and energy to work with, increasing the chances of flooding or heavy snows. Arctic amplification adds another mechanism to the mix, making extreme weather more likely. The loss of ice and snow in the far north may load the dice for “stuck” weather patterns, compounding potential risks for our economy, our health, and our security.

It may seem needlessly cruel to dissect the hodgepodge of sociopathically distorted rationalizations and dodges in his recent excruciatingly wrong-headed interview on PBS, but as long as we’ve got him on the table, let’s do it.

Skeptical Science:

When asked to describe his ‘skepticism’ about human-caused global warming, Watts went into a long discussion about his concerns that encroachment of human development near surface temperature stations has introduced a bias into the temperature record.  However, what Watts failed to mention is that the scientific groups who compile the surface temperature record put a great deal of effort into filtering out these sorts of biases.

Watts also failed to mention that there have been many peer-reviewed scientific studiesinvestigating whether these efforts have been successful, and they have almost universally concluded that those extraneous influences on the temperature record have been removed.  For example, Fall et al. (2011) concluded that for all temperature stations classifications with regards to the influence of urban influences, the long-term average global warming trend is the same.

“The lack of a substantial average temperature difference across classes, once the geographical distribution of stations is taken into account, is also consistent with the lack of significant trend differences in average temperatures….average temperature trends were statistically indistinguishable across classes.”

The second author on Fall et al. is a fellow who goes by the name of Anthony Watts.

There are also of course many ‘natural thermometers’ confirming the warming of the globe – rapidly rising seasmelting sea icemelting land ice, etc. (Figure 1).

Read the rest of this entry »

I reported here recently on research showing that climate deniers are more likely to be conspiracy nut jobs. Here’s another video example, as if one was needed.

Bryan Fischer, someone you may not have heard of, but who is a big deal on talk radio in the bible-belt heartland, is not only a climate denier and a creationist crank, but also denies the fundamentals of causation behind the AIDS epidemic. Watch the clip above and count the parallels in AIDS science denial vs climate science denial.

Fischer’s position is that Climate science is a conspiracy by the science literate population (Rick Santorum’s “smart people”) to loot the treasury and impose some kind of clean air tyranny, and concurrently that AIDS is caused by gay behavior and drug use and the government is conspiring to impose some kind of gay agenda on the US .

Fischer is influential in Tea Party and far-right circles.
In other words, he fits right into the mainstream of the modern climate denial/antiscience movement.

Southern Poverty Law Center – HateWatch:

It’s tempting to describe American Family Association spokesman Bryan Fischer as a close-minded, reactionary bigot. But when it comes to embracing fresh ideas that support his beliefs – heck, he pretty much outdoes us all.

Remember when he said that gays were responsible for the Holocaust? Or the time he claimed that states can require public officials to pass religious tests, directly contradicting both a 50-year-old Supreme Court decision and the express wishes of the Founding Fathers themselves? These are not exactly mainstream theories, but, ever open-minded, Fischer adopted them anyway.

And just when you think he’s reached the outermost limits of revisionism, Fischer one-ups himself by promoting a theory so breathtakingly outrageous that it makes his previous claims seem tame.

Well, he’s done it again, declaring during an anti-gay tirade on his radio show Tuesday that there is no connection between the HIV virus and AIDS.

He even had someone to back him up: Peter Duesberg, a professor of molecular and cell biology at the University of California at Berkeley whose hypothesis about AIDS has made him a pariah among his peers.

The New Yorker:

Fischer, who hosts “Focal Point,” a popular Christian radio talk show, is one of the country’s most vocal opponents of what he calls “the homosexual-rights movement.” As he puts it, “A rational culture that cares about its people will, in fact, discriminate against adultery, pedophilia, rape, bestiality, and, yes, homosexual behavior.” His goal is to make this view the official stance of the Republican Party. In April, Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican Presidential nominee, hired an openly gay man, Richard Grenell, to serve as his campaign’s national-security spokesman. The next day, Fischer launched a public attack on Grenell, a Republican foreign-policy expert. After other conservative pundits took up Fischer’s cause, Grenell resigned from the Romney campaign. The resulting controversy helped make gay rights one of the defining social issues of the 2012 campaign.

Hear him go ad-nauseum thru the canon of climate crocks below.

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Above,  the final graph of this year’s record low sea ice minimum for the Arctic. Here are the key points and images related to arctic ice.

A view showing arctic sea ice minimums since 1979, reflecting ice loss in the satellite era. Note that ice loss in either of the record years 2007 and 2012 is almost equal to the total loss from 1979 to 2005 – an accelerating trend.

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Distracting from the news that Arctic sea-ice extent reached a record low on Sept.16 is a widely circulating blog article claiming that at the opposite end of the Earth, Antarctic sea ice is more than making up for the losses.

In the post, climate change skeptic and blogger Steven Goddard states that Antarctic sea ice reached its highest level ever recorded for the 256th day of the calendar year on Sept. 12. He reasons that the Southern Hemisphere must be balancing the warming of the Northern Hemisphere by becoming colder (and thus, net global warming is zero).

The National Snow & Ice Data Center (NSIDC), which tracks sea ice using satellite data, explains on its website why Antarctic ice has weathered global warming more robustly than Arctic ice. Goddard dismisses the explanation, concluding instead, “Antarctic and Arctic ice move opposite each other. NSIDC’s dissonance about this is astonishing.”

Despite its lack of scientific support, Goddard’s post has garnered attention around the Web. In a Forbes.com column about the record high Antarctic sea ice, skeptic James Taylor writes, “Please, nobody tell the mainstream media or they might have to retract some stories and admit they are misrepresenting scientific data.”

But if anyone had asked an actual scientist, they would have learned that a good year for sea ice in the Antarctic in no way nullifies the precipitous drop in Arctic sea-ice levels year after year — or the mounds of other evidence indicating global warming is really happening.

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The Planetary Emergency

September 20, 2012

As you can see from the graphic above (click for larger image), the actual observations of  arctic sea ice melt are far outstripping the climate model predictions of just a few years ago, that the denial-sphere continues to call “alarmist”. Apparently, not alarming enough.

Will be listening in on an NSIDC press update later today, more later.


NEW YORK — Experts warned of a “planetary emergency” due to the unforeseen global consequences of Arctic ice melt, including methane gas released from permafrost regions currently under ice.

Columbia University and the environmental activist group Greenpeace held separate events Wednesday to discuss US government data showing that the Arctic sea ice has shrunk to its smallest surface area since record-keeping began in 1979.

Satellite images show the Arctic ice cap melted to 1.32 million square miles (3.4 million square kilometers) as of September 16, the predicted lowest point for the year, according to data from the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado.

“Between 1979 and 2012, we have a decline of 13 percent per decade in the sea ice, accelerating from six percent between 1979 and 2000,” said oceanographer Wieslaw Maslowski with the US Naval Postgraduate School, speaking at the Greenpeace event.

“If this trend continues we will not have sea ice by the end of this decade,” said Maslowski.

While these figures are worse than the early estimates they come as no surprise to scientists, said NASA climate expert James Hansen, who also spoke at the Greenpeace event.

“We are in a planetary emergency,” said Hansen, decrying “the gap between what is understood by scientific community and what is known by the public.”

Scientists say the earth’s climate has been warming because carbon dioxide and other human-produced gases hinder the planet’s reflection of the sun’s heat back into space, creating a greenhouse effect.

Environmentalists warn that a string of recent extreme weather events around the globe, including deadly typhoons, devastating floods and severe droughts, show urgent action on emission cuts is needed.

The extreme weather include the drought and heat waves that struck the United States in the summer.

One consequence of the melt is the slow but continuous rise in the ocean level that threatens coastal areas.

Another result is the likely release of large amounts of methane — a greenhouse gas — trapped in the permafrost under Greenland’s ice cap, the remains of the region’s organic plant and animal life that were trapped in sediment and later covered by ice sheets in the last Ice Age.

Methane is 25 times more efficient at trapping solar heat than carbon dioxide, and the released gases could in turn add to global warming, which in turn would free up more locked-up carbon.


By the way, you’ll be hearing a lot of the “the ice is growing in Antarctica” crock over the coming days, and the answer of course, is that the tiny, statistically insignificant increase in Antarctic ice cover is being caused by a combination of wind changes due to the ozone hole, and has been anticipated in climate change predictions as a consequence of increased atmospheric moisture, as well. The change is, in any case, not enough to offset the collapse in the north.  Here is the most widely accepted graph of global sea ice area, from the University of Illinois Cryosphere Today.  I’ll more than cover this in an upcoming climate crock video.

In 2003 the United States went to war against Iraq with 80 percent of the US public believing a proposition that was empirically, demonstrably, factually, objectively false. That Saddam Hussien had attacked us on 9/11.

As I pointed out in a post last week, when the news media goes about systematically misinforming or disinforming the public in a democracy, bad things happen.

When bad things happen in the decisions about war and peace in the world’s greatest democracy – you get a two trillion dollar fiasco, the greatest foreign policy blunder in US history, and maybe in the last 2000 years.  When the world’s largest economy is misinformed about the consequences of  a fossil fueled industrial system – we get the largest blunder of the geological epoch – the event that historians 50 millennia from now, if there are any,  will judge us by.

The latest demonstration of how this misinforming process works was provided, depressingly, by PBS, in a spectacularly bone-headed example of the “false balance” style of reporting that passes for journalism in the current age. (“most scientists say the moon is not made of cheese. One man disagrees. We’ll talk to him..at eleven..”)

Bud Ward gives a good play by play in the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media, reposted here in entirety with permission:

Commenters to  public broadcasting’s ‘NewsHour’ site decry a ‘hack piece’ of reporting involving an extensive interview with blogger skeptic and former weathercaster Anthony Watts … and also the several responses by the NewsHour editor and reporter directly involved.

A PBS “NewsHour” broadcast and companion blog posting are raising the kind of rancor generally associated with Fox TV talk-show programming or Wall Street Journal opinion pieces dealing with climate change. The in-coming is primarily from what climate contrarians might dismiss as the “warmist” or “believer” side of the issue, and not from the usual critics of PBS climate broadcasts.

The ruckus started with a blog posting interview with “Watts Up With That” meteorologist and climate contrarian Anthony Watts by NewsHour correspondent Spencer Michels. Michels clearly seemed out of his depth in dealing with specific Watts’s points, in particular those dealing with potential urban heat island effects and with what Watts, unsurprisingly, criticized as inappropriate siting of temperature stations. Michels did not reply to or challenge either of Watts’ questionable claims on those issues, both of which have been long since rebutted in peer-reviewed journals.

News Analysis 

That might raise the question: Why not use veteran science correspondent Miles O’Brien, who NewsHour brought in to cover complex science issues after he and the science staff had been let go by CNN? Climate change is an issue on which O’Brien has done substantial earlier coverage, and it’s a subject he says he is eager to continue reporting on.

There’s an answer to that question, actually. O’Brien said in a phone interview that he is a freelancer with a contract to do 15 science stories a year for NewsHour … specifically excluding climate science. “I’m not in the loop on climate stories,” O’Brien said, characterizing the recent NewsHour broadcast as “a horrible, horrible thing” that he fears reflects badly both on the program and, indirectly, on himself.)

Timeline of Blogs,  Broadcast, More Blogs … Explanations and Apologies

Back to the PBS blog posting and the broadcast piece itself … and to the subsequent somewhat defensive responses, apologies, and retractions from NewsHour’s Hari Sreenivasan and from reporter Michels. The chain of events:

-Reporter Michels posted a blog piece and interview with Watts on September 17 at 4:55 p.m. EDT, prior to the NewsHour’s broadcast of his piece. That initial posting consisted solely of the one-on-one interview with Watts, running about 9-1/2 minutes. Michels said Watts — who he said “doesn’t come across as a true believer or fanatic” — had been recommended for an interview by the Heartland Institute, which Michels described as a leading climate science doubter. Both the 9-1/2 minute video and the full transcript of that interview are available at the site above.

– The actual 10-1/2 minute broadcast that same evening, (at the top of this page) aired around 6:28 p.m. EDT and was posted, again along with a full transcript, about three hours later. That piece dealt substantially with Berkeley physicist Richard Muller’s much-ballyhooed, and controversial, “conversion” from being a skeptic. In that piece, Michels interviewed Watts, Muller and his mathematician daughter, and also Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory scientist William Collins. In that broadcast, Michels several times referred to the vast community of scientists and others accepting the scientific consensus as “believers.” He did not challenge Watts’ seemingly self-serving comments about peer review. Michels in that piece also referred to “the 97 percent of scientists who say that it is real.” He did not challenge Watts’ comments undercutting numerous public opinion surveys suggesting substantial levels of public concern and anxiety, nor ask Watts the basis of his opinions on those surveys.

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