More Australian Weather Records Tumble

The Big Dry Down Under just got a whole lot drier. The first three months of 2009 in the already parched Murray Darling basin had the least amount of rainfall since Australian weather records began 117 years ago.

This massive drainage supports $9 billion in agriculture but has been hammered by what some are calling the worst drought in 1000 years. Authorities in Australia make no bones about the cause of this freaky weather.

"We've had big droughts before and big floods before, but what we didn't have was climate change," said Rob Freeman, the chief executive of the Murray-Darling Basin Authority.

The Murray Darling is home to 2 million people who may not even have enough water to survive in the future. "I'd be loath to say that critical human needs will always be secure", warned Freeman.

The recent rainfall record was not the only smashed. Water inputs for three-year period ending March 2009 were less than half of the previous record from the great drought of 1943-1946.

The drainage is so dry that Lake Alexandrina at the mouth of the Murray River is now two feet below sea level. The parched lakebed high in natural sulfides is now exposed to air and oxidizing into sulfuric acid – devastating local ecosystems.

While droughts are normal in Australia, there has never been one as hot as this.

The killer heat wave in January claimed more than 370 lives – more than double the number lost during the worst wildfires in Australian history this February.

Unprecedented temperatures peaked over 45 degrees in Melbourne and averaged 12 to 15 degrees above normal throughout the State of Victoria.

While so-called climate skeptics maintain that climate change is a hoax or a big mistake, Australian firefighters who faced the grim task of battling the worst bush blazes ever came away with a different conclusion.

In an open letter the Australian Prime Minister, the firefighters union called for urgent government action to curb carbon emissions and control climate change:

"Firefighters work in conditions that most of the public try to flee. We often put our lives on the line. We understand that our job is dangerous by its very nature. However, we are gravely concerned that current federal and state government policies seem destined to ensure a repeat of the recent tragic events… Given the Federal Government’s dismal greenhouse gas emissions cut of 5 per cent, the science suggests we are well on the way to guaranteeing that somewhere in the country there will be an almost annual repeat of the recent disaster and more frequent extreme weather events."

Hard to argue with experience like that.

As the Big Dry becomes even drier, there is yet another opportunity to see climate change in action by simply looking out the window. Australia is rapidly becoming a time machine to visit what our warmer world will look like.


STV is a Bad Fit for Canada

As a long-time advocate of electoral reform, with a heavy heart that I must advise my fellow British Columbians to vote against BC-STV on the May 12th.

BC-STV or “single transferable vote” is a bad fit for Canada, and if adopted here could become a mistake repeated in other provinces with potentially disastrous consequences.

The reason is that STV has an extremely poor record of representing the diversity that Canada is so renowned for, and may in fact lead to even less women being elected than our disgraced “first past the post” system that routinely returns only one in five elected female representatives.

If you watch this video of the Ontario Citizens Assembly process, you will see something that the BC citizens assembly never did. Professor David Farrell of the University of Dublin and authour of the textbook for both the BC and Ontario citizens assembly processes was asked specifically about STV and women during the deliberations in Ontario.

Professor Farrell states clearly that: “there is still this forlorn hope among STV proponents that you are going to find [more women elected under STV someday but unfortunately Ireland and Malta as the only two countries that use single transferable vote are historically right at the bottom of the heap in terms of the representation of women, so it is just not working.

So why would the BC citizens assembly recommend a system that is even worse in terms of representing gender equity (and ethnic diversity) than our current system? Perhaps because they were never directly presented with this important information. Incredibly, gender equity was never part of the mandate of the citizen’s assembly.

This country exemplifies and celebrates diversity more than any other nation on Earth. There may be places that STV would be a better fit, but that place is not Canada.

Malta under STV elects less than 10% women, far worse than even our notoriously gender biased first past the post system. If we are going to bring in the first major electoral reform in North America, why would we want to start with a system that in many ways important to the Canadian character could be even worse than what we want to replace?

Many of these failings of STV flow from the notoriously adversarial system it uses to elect local representatives. In a single riding, literally dozens of candidates must compete for your attention, often of course by slagging their opponents.

People from the even the same political party are in direct competition against each other on a ballot that can be the size of a table cloth. Personalities like Don Cherry prevail. Those like Lester Pearson do not. It is little wonder such a gong show model attracts or elects such a paltry number of female candidates.

Likewise according to Professor Farrell, STV has a poor record of representing minority groups – another core Canadian value – in comparison to list systems like “mixed member proportional representation” (MMP).

So how did we end up in this mess? It is worth reflecting on flawed decision process imposed on the BC Citizen's Assembly in the final days of their determination. After months of mind-numbing expert presentations to lay members, the final crucial decisions were crammed into only two weekend sessions.

The enormous investment of time and effort meant there was little doubt the assembly was going to rightly recommend change. There was also a strong feeling among assembly members that they wanted to present a unanimous recommendation for an alternative model – either STV or the much more established model of MMP that has a comparatively stellar record of representing women and diversity.

In these final days, exhausted members were apparently faced with a small number of representatives (strangely from northern BC that will be very poorly served by STV) who made it clear they would block consensus if the recommendation was the MMP.

The rest is unfortunately history. In spite of the fact that fully 80% of public submissions instead supported some form of MMP, four years and two referenda later we are still stuck with a single choice: STV or nothing.

The good news is that there substantial and growing appetite for electoral reform in BC. The STV referendum in 2005 received 57% support. This was in spite of the fact that 64% of British Columbians knew “nothing” or “very little” about STV according to a Ipsos-Reid poll at the time. A second poll by Nordic Research Group poll on the eve of that referendum showed that only 37% of respondents could even name STV.

This was not for lack of trying. The BC government had mailed a 20-page explanation of STV to all 1.5 million households in the province, followed by a second mailing from the BC Referendum office.

British Columbians were voting for change. They were not voting for STV.

However, the many good people now working hard to promote STV maintain that this may be our last chance for electoral reform in BC. This is simply not true.

Five years ago it was a difficult to find more than a handful of people actively engaged on reforming our electoral system. We have since come a very long way in raising public awareness. Electoral reform is now inevitable in Canada, whether our politicians want it or not.

There is also an bizarre sentiment that STV is somehow a road to MMP. This is nonsense. If you find yourself standing at the front of a church about to be married to someone other than your true love, the time to call of the wedding is now - not after you have bought a house and had three children.

Once we change our electoral system, we will be committed to several election cycles before it can again be changed again. Untangling the mistakes flowing from the final days of citizen’s assembly process 20 years from now will be exponentially more difficult.

We soon will have had two referenda on STV. If this second one again fails, proponents of STV must admit this model is truly a loser and throw their admirable determination behind the alternative MMP model, also developed by the citizen’s assembly.

Incredibly, in spite of two referenda and hundreds of public submissions in support of it, this model has never been presented as a choice to the people of British Columbia.

Change must come to our electoral system. But not change that may make gender and minority representation in Canadian politics even worse.

Mitchell Anderson is a freelance writer based in Vancouver. His late mother Doris Anderson, the former President of Fair Vote Canada, a strongly opposed STV.


Wilkins Ice Sheet Lost to Climate Change

The latest massive piece of evidence of climate change appeared this weekend - about the size of Jamaica.

The Wilkins ice shelf off the coast of Antarctica finally disintegrated after decades of melting due to global warming. Last year it shrank by 700 square miles of area or about 14% of its size. This huge shelf was held in place by a thread of remaining ice only 500 metres wide.

The Wilkins is by far the largest ice shelf to break away so far and scientists naturally worry that this is a sign of things to come. The southern continent has warmed by 3 degrees Celsius in the last 50 years and the pace is picking up steam

The collapse comes the same weekend as a new study from the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) showing one third of all Antarctic sea ice will disappear by the end of the century.

The report found that ice coverage on the Antarctic Peninsula alone has decreased by 27,000 square kilometres in the past 50 years.

Early numbers put out by SCAR suggest the collapse of Antarctic sea-ice not only pushes up anticipated sea level rises but will threaten the numbers of native animal species including emperor penguins, humpback whales and several fish species.

Their research also shows sea temperatures in the Southern Ocean are rising faster than in other oceans, and that ice melts in the Antarctic Peninsula and Western Ice Shelf will be greater and more rapid than expected.

"Ice shelves the size of small countries are crumbling away and the latest evidence from the Antarctic is showing that the effects of global warming there are increasing in magnitude," said Rob Nicoll of the Antarctic and Southern Oceans Initiative of the WWF.

Scientists were clealry surprised by how fast Wilkins fell apart. “It’s amazing how the ice has ruptured,” said David Vaughan, a glaciologist with the British Antarctic Survey. “Two days ago it was intact.” Wilkins

The connection with climate change is obvious to researchers who have been studying the area for years. Dr. Vaughan said the breakup up of Wilkins was a "really strong indication that warming is having an effect".

Wilkins was already floating so the latest breakup will not directly affect global sea levels. However researchers believe that land-based glaciers that were held back by the Wilkins ice sheet will now advance more quickly into the ocean.

Researchers last month doubled their estimates for global sea level rise by the end f the century. Places in Northern hemisphere like New York City will be particularly hard hit due to uneven distribution of rising waters and changing ocean currents in the Atlantic.

The new Obama Administration is taking a refreshingly frank view of these changes rather than the years of delay and denial that defined the Bush Whitehouse.

US Interior Secretary Ken Salazar released a statement about the Wilkins collapse saying it "demonstrates once again the profound effects our planet is already experiencing, more rapidly than previously thought, as a consequence of climate change".

This urgent sentiment is echoed by his boss. President Omaba told cheering throngs gathered at Prague Castle this weekend:

"To protect our planet, now is the time to change the way that we use energy. Together we must confront climate change by ending the world's dependency on fossil fuels by tapping the power from the sources of energy like the wind and the sun and calling upon all nations to do their part. And I pledge to you that in this global effort the US is now ready to lead."

What a difference an election makes. Lets hope its not too late for Antarctica, or the world.


Spin Over Substance in the Oil Patch

Posteriors are puckering throughout the Alberta oil patch as long-overdue climate and green economy legislation moves through the US Congress.

The provincial government has responded by hiring Washington lobbyists at $500,000 per year to try and ensure whatever bill gets passed is so watered down that does not impact the dirtiest oil on Earth.

Premier Ed Stelmach of course frames it differently: "There's so much at stake for Alberta, and we'll be applying a full-court press not only on elected officials but also on the U. S. administration. It's important that Alberta has a way of ensuring the right information gets to the policy-makers and the decision-makers."

What he is worried about is that meaningful cap and trade legislation would further undermine the already marginal economics of the massive tar sands operation.

The foreign market for synthetic crude includes only one country: the United States. Who knew that one day America would move price carbon emissions? Apparently not the operators that have invested billions into the bitumen boondoggle only to see oil prices collapse and cap and trade legislation that will hit the tar sands like a two by four.

Saying this colossal capitial project is exposed on carbon pricing is a mild understatement. Synthetic crude produces at least three times the emissions as conventional oil. These emissions will increase as shallow deposits are exhausted and production moves to non-mining methods. Tar sands emissions already exceed those of 145 nations on Earth.

Any way you slice it, the cap and trade carbon pricing system moving its way through Washington may turn the tar sands into an investment quagmire.

Signs of trouble are already brewing in oil-addled Alberta. An over reliance on the tar sands mean the once-booming economy is going to contract 2% this year. The government is going to run a whopping $1.4 billion deficit for the fiscal year that just ended.

A recent report from the University of Calgary warns that a fixation on oil is leading to massive deficits and draconian government cutbacks not seen in twenty years.

"We criticize (the government) for allowing its budget to become so heavily dependent on volatile, energy-related revenues--that is a high-risk strategy; it has been tried before and has failed, with dire consequences," the report states. "It is a mistake the Alberta government must recognize and take steps to avoid as quickly as possible."

Interestingly, the highly touted “carbon capture” (CCS) solution for the tar sands has also been widely rejected by the marketplace. Nine out of twenty oil companies picked by the Alberta government to access a massive $2 billion fund to develop this dubious technology have since pulled their bids.

Such tar sands heavy weights as Suncor, Syncrude, ConocoPhillips and StatoilHydro decided this “solution” wasn’t worth their investment dollars, even if the taxpayer was also shelling out billions. This outcome is consistent with a secret government memo last year that said that CCS had very limited application for tar sands operations.

That of course has not stopped the Alberta or Canadian government from continuing to talk up the idea, particularly with the US administration. You can the bet the recent influx of public lobbying dollars into Washington will only amp up the decibels.

What’s that spinning sound I hear?


Climate Change a Hoax After All

I'm sorry. What more can I say?

It was just revealed that so-called climate change actually is a hoax, perpetrated by that fiend Al Gore.

Numerous luminaries in the scientific community owned up with their own mea culpas when the gigantic ruse was revealed on this day, April 1, 2009.

With the exception of a few visionaries, virtually every scientist on Earth was taken in by the former Vice President’s compelling power point presentation. The humiliation was palpable.

“I am deeply ashamed for having unwittingly perpetuated such a massive fraud on the governments of the world,” said Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, Chair of the IPCC, calling the grand climate hoax a “cunning deception spanning decades”.

“I have to admit, Al got me good,” said NASA’s Dr. James Hansen as he packed up his personal belongings at his office at the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York. “Despite my decades of experience in climate modeling and satellite meteorology, I would just get mesmerized whenever Gore started showing me all those fancy charts and tables. The man is a real Svengali.”

In another stunning development, a clearly chagrinned Nobel Committee revoked the peace prize granted to Gore and the IPCC in 2007, and instead honored the signatories of the Oregon Petition whose remarkable insights eclipsed that of the entire scientific community.

Reached for comment, Al Gore was clearly unrepentant of his heinous acts: “As long as I can remember, my only goal in life has been to destroy free-market capitalism and replace it with global totalitarian socialism. But it seemed that traditional methods, such as guerrilla warfare, were proving unsuccessful. Then, one day in 1988, as I was strolling through the halls of my giant mansion, it hit me: carbon dioxide.

For a full report of these stunning developments, see this article in the Christian Science Monitor.

I extend my heartfelt apologies to those visionary skeptics who, as it turns out, were right all along.

Our Friend CO2

One of the stupider arguments making the rounds in the media is that “carbon-dioxide-is-not-pollution– it’s life”.

In fact, the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) produced a hilarious commercial saying just that.

Friendly footage shows how CO2 comes from little girls blowing dandelion seeds, and prancing gazelles. Then cue the ominous music: “now some politicians want to label carbon dioxide a pollutant – imagine if they succeed. What would our lives be like then?

Perhaps a bit of back-story is in order. The CEI has received a whopping $2,005,000 from ExxonMobil since 1998. Their point person on climate change is the notorious Myron Ebell who is so pathologically pro-oil he once claimed that good gas mileage is a mass killer.

So what are the CEI (and their funders in the fossil fuel industry) so worried about? After decades of the atmosphere being used as a free dumping ground for astronomical amounts of carbon dioxide, the federal government is finally considering putting some regulations on our friend CO2.

It is no surprise that this proposed policy is about as popular with Big Oil as a fart in a diving bell.

The fight around CO2 regulation has been brewing for a long while. Back in 2007, the US Supreme Court found the EPA was negligent in not listing CO2 as a legally defined “pollutant” under the Clean Air Act. This designation would trigger long overdue regulation of carbon emissions – something the Bush Whitehouse was predictably opposed to.

Years of delay ensued where essentially nothing happened, other than climate change became exponentially worse. Interestingly, Myron Ebell of the CEI was accused of colluding with the Bush Whitehouse to discredit elements within the EPA that wanted to move forward with CO2 regulation.

Pitted against this immovable object was a seemingly unstoppable force. Barack Obama was elected President, and change ostensibly came to Washington.

Just last month the EPA finally submitted their carbon dioxide determination to the Whitehouse, deciding that CO2 meets the legal definition of “pollution” based on the well-known impacts climate change will have on human welfare, and almost everything else on the planet.

This is a first step on a long road towards recognizing that using the atmosphere as an unregulated dumping ground for CO2 is not only dangerous, but unfair to the taxpayer who will have to pick up the tab as our climate chickens come home to roost.

While CO2 does not stink or make your eyes burn – it is definitely dangerous in the amounts now emitted around the world:

  • Climate change from burning fossil fuels has been identified by experts as a greater threat to humanity than global terrorism.
  • Leading researchers testified before Congress just last month that large parts of the United States may be rendered an uninhabitable wasteland – perhaps within the next ninety years.
  • Dr. Nina Fedoroff, the chief scientist for the US State Department testified last week that carbon-driven climate change could leave one billion in famine in only forty years.

Historic CO2 concentrationsAll this is being driven by ballooning levels of CO2 that have not been seen in the Earth’s atmosphere for at least the last 800,000 years.

If all that isn’t dangerous, I don’t know what is.

Rather than reinventing the wheel, why not use legislation already on the books?

The venerable Clean Air Act remains one of the most powerful tools to begin making polluters pay for the well-known impacts of climate change.

But then, what polluter wants to pay for anything? Big Coal and the oil industry are pushing back hard.

Last year, the coal industry threw $45 million at a public relations campaign, and more than $10 million on lobbying. This was largely to promote the fiction of “clean coal” to the pubic, the media and lawmakers.

Hence the ridiculous argument being puffed up in the popular press that CO2 is merely a harmless gas exhaled by little girls and gazelles.

For the record, no one is disputing that historic levels of CO2 are essential for life as we know it. It is routinely added in greenhouses (and grow-ops) to boost production.

But as they say, a little dab will do ya. Too much of a good thing, be it water, whiskey or botox will kill you. The trick is knowing how much is too much.

Of course the fossil fuel industry would like the bartender to keep pouring a long while yet. And as with any drunk, rational conversation is not always possible. Sometimes the best way to keep the party going is denying there is a problem.

You can therefore expect to hear much more nonsense from the fossil fuel lobby about our invisible, harmless friend CO2.


NASA Reneges on Transparency - Still No DSCOVR Documents

It was welcome news last month when Congress committed $9 million to refurbish the long-overdue Deep Space Climate Observatory

(DSCOVR). Good start. So how about some information to go with it?

Desmog blog readers will recall the long and fruitless quest to wring documents out of NASA about the bizarre story of the DSCOVR spacecraft. This $100 million instrument was fully completed eight years ago yet has been sitting in a box in Maryland ever since.

DSCOVR was designed to directly measure climate change for the first time ever by observing our warming planet from the unique vantage of the Lagrange Point - one million miles towards the Sun.

The climate denial industry has been regularly harping on the unreliability of low Earth orbit satellite data for years. Strange then, how the very experiment that could resolve such issues was mothballed – over the strenuous objections of dozens of leading researchers.

I struggled for over a year to extract any kind of internal documents from NASA using the Freedom of Information Act and got nowhere. After 11 months of stonewalling, the space agency elected to withhold an unknown number of documents due to some very bizarre rationales. I appealed later in 2007 and was also turned down.

Then Barack Obama was elected President of the United States.... One of his first actions, only one day after inauguration was to issue a memorandum to the heads of every federal agency directing them to err on the side of disclosure and openness. The legally binding statement ordered among other things that:

The Freedom of Information Act should be administered with a clear presumption: In the face of doubt, openness prevails. The Government should not keep information confidential merely because public officials might be embarrassed by disclosure, because errors and failures might be revealed, or because of speculative or abstract fears. Nondisclosure should never be based on an effort to protect the personal interests of Government officials at the expense of those they are supposed to serve.

What a breath of fresh air. I decided to take President Obama at his word and re-submit my FOIA request to NASA the next day.

To make it easy on the beleaguered space agency, I kept the wording almost identical. In effect, all they would have to do is look at the already collected documents from my original request, glance at the presidential directive from Mr. Obama and release most or all of the long-withheld documents.

So what happened next? Absolutely nothing.

More than two months have gone by and I haven’t heard a peep from NASA in spite of numerous emails asking for an update on the status of my request. Maybe they didn’t get the memo…

Alas there was another directive just last week from the new Attorney General Eric Holder, overturning a draconian directive from John Ashcroft in the wake of 9-11. This new policy again instructs the heads of all federal agencies to pull back the veil of secrecy that has plagued the US government for years. Specifically, this policy states:

“The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), 5 U.S.C. § 552, reflects our nation's fundamental commitment to open government. This memorandum is meant to underscore that commitment and to ensure that it is realized in practice.”

Holder also makes it clear that hiding behind legal technicalities is unacceptable:

“An agency should not withhold records merely because it can demonstrate, as a technical matter, that the records fall within the scope of a FOIA exemption.”

That bureaucratic game playing is a thing of the past:

“FOIA professionals should be mindful of their obligation to work "in a spirit of cooperation" with FOIA requesters, as President Obama has directed. Unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles have no place in the "new era of open Government" that the President has proclaimed.”

The Attorney General also demands that requests be handled as quickly as possible:

“When information not previously disclosed is requested, agencies should make it a priority to respond in a timely manner. Timely disclosure of information is an essential component of transparency. Long delays should not be viewed as an inevitable and insurmountable consequence of high demand.”

In light of all that, my question to NASA is quite simply: where are my documents??

I have been more than patient for the last two months, filed a very modest request that does not require any additional document searches, and have made several failed attempts to get an update on the status of FOIA request FOIA-09-070.

The ball is your court NASA. What do you have to hide?


Slavery, George Will and Light Bulbs

History is punctuated by tipping points. And at each of these transitions there are those resistant to change – raising their voices in support of they way things were or spreading fear about the emerging new era.

William J. Grayson was a respected lawyer, politician and poet in 19th Century South Carolina. Of impeccable American pedigree, his father was aide-de-camp to George Washington during the War of Independence. On the eve of the civil war, he bravely spoke out against the secessionist movement that was so popular in his home state.

Grayson was also a vocal defender of slavery, stating in 1855:

“What more can be required of Slavery, in reference to the negro, than has been done? It has made him, from a savage, an orderly and efficient labourer. It supports him in comfort and peace. It restrains his vices. It improves his mind, morals and manners. It instructs him in Christian knowledge.”

History is a cruel judge. The many prominent citizens of the day resistant to abolishing the ancient and accepted practice of buying and selling humans are now seen a greatly diminished light.

Into that storied company strides George Will of the Washington Post. Graduating from Princeton with a Ph.D in politics, he is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, author of numerous award-winning books, a former instructor at Harvard. As a commentator, scholar and journalist, he has achieved virtually everything that can be in his many chosen fields of endeavor.

And like William J. Grayson, Mr. Will finds himself squarely on the wrong side of a defining shift in history. As the world makes its first tentative steps to deal with our collective climate crisis, Will is instead lending his considerable credibility to resisting that change.

There is no doubt that fossil fuels - like slavery– have provided a cheap and convenient source of energy. And like slavery, it is long-established norm that is rapidly becoming morally indefensible.

Virtually the entire scientific community is speaking in unison when they warn of famine, drought, mass displacements, global instability, and an impoverished future unless we take concrete and immediate steps to wean our economy off a reliance on fossil fuels. Dealing with climate change is abolition equivalent of the 21st. century.

Such fundamental shifts in society are difficult enough without specious arguments from prominent opinion leaders like Mr. Will questioning even the scientific imperative for change.

Yet Will has done just that, holding forth on subjects well outside his areas of expertise such as sea ice and polar meteorology. He has embarrassed himself and the Washington Post by publishing clearly erroneous claims about our changing climate, then repeating those claims when challenged even by the very scientists that collected the data he was misrepresenting.

His latest straw man are light bulbs. In an article this week, Mr. Will descends into anecdotal arguments of how compact florescent light bulbs don’t last as long as they should, are difficult to dispose of, and somehow all this is the fault of our government’s reckless haste to move on climate change.

That anyone of Mr. Will’s stature could seriously accuse government of pell-mell panic on climate change is quite simply laughable.

For over almost two decades, the scientific community has been hectoring world leaders that carbon emissions pose a real and immediate danger to society, global security and the economy. They have stated clearly and repeatedly that the longer we wait, the more difficult and tragic will be the outcome.carbon emisisons

And for years, carbon emissions have marched relentlessly upwards - recently accelerating beyond even the worst case scenarios considered by the IPCC.Leaders meet, words are spoken, nothing changes.

Beyond the obvious economic, political and technical challenges of shifting the world away from fossil fuels, is perhaps the greatest challenge of all: public opinion.

The voting and consuming public remains scandalously ill informed about our emerging understanding of climate science. This makes the hill far steeper for those few political leaders willing to blaze a way forward into a new era.

George Will and the Washington Post are shamefully culpable in this situation. They have contributed to inaction at the very moment of history when action is imperative.

There is no doubt that Mr. Will, like William J. Grayson, is a distinguished and accomplished citizen. And like his predecessor of the 1800’s, people a hundred years from now may instead remember him only for being on the wrong side of history.


David Bellamy Gets It Completely Wrong on Climate Change Science

There’s another strong contender for the Christopher Booker Prize for Bullshit Reportage of Climate Science.

The latest challenger is David Bellamy, a former BBC broadcaster who has been holding forth on his rather hostile views on climate science.

In a video interview with a British newspaper, he calls peer-reviewed journals as “the last thing I would use now.”


If Bellamy has indeed written off the entire scientific community, where is he getting his information to back up his remarkable claims that carbon emissions are not driving climate change?

Hard to say… George Monbiot does an admirable job of trying to unravel Bellamy’s convoluted arguments in an article last week. Let’s try and follow the faint trail of breadcrumbs dropped by the UK’s leading climate change denier.

Among other things, Bellamy maintains that a much warmer climate 2,000 years ago allowed Romans to produce “very very good red wine up in the Scottish borders.”

True? Ah…no. Here is a map of the extent of historical wine production in the UK including both the Roman and Medieval periods, published by Richard Selley, author of The Winelands of Britain.Vineyards of UK

The good news (if you can call it that) is that Scotland may be promising vineyard habitat by the end of the century due to ballooning emissions of fossil fuels.

The “fine wine” argument instead buttresses the already colossal amount of evidence that the kind of climate change we are now witnessing eclipses anything seen in the historical record.

Bellamy also contends that the famous graph produced by Dr. Michael Mann had been “taken apart and proven to be a fiddle” - a charming turn of phrase but of course entirely wrong.

The so-called “hockey stick” graph has been recalculated several times using updated data and always shows the same thing: that the climate we are experiencing now is warmer that anything in recorded history. According to the US National Academies of Science assessment of this “controversy”:

The basic conclusion of Mann et al. (1998,1999) was that the late 20th century warmth in the Northern Hemisphere was unprecedented during at least the last 1,000 years. This conclusion has subsequently been supported by an array of evidence that includes both additional large-scale surface temperature reconstructions and pronounced changes in a variety of local proxy indicators, such as melting on icecaps and the retreat of glaciers around the world, which in many cases appear to be unprecedented during at least the last 2,000 years.

Bellamy may instead be referring to a fraudulent graph produced by a German high school teacher that was cribbed from an early draft by the IPCC way back in 1900. This cut and paste fakery involved phony temperature scales, extended timelines and amusing claims that the fake graph was correct and the entire IPCC process was wrong. It was also promoted to many schools in Germany.

For a knee-slapping account of this flim-flammery see this account from Realclimate.org.

Bellamy also repeats a favorite refrain of climate deniers that the ice core data shows a lag between temperature increases and CO2 increases. According to him, this indicates the link between CO2 and temperature is all a bunch of hooey.

First of all, ice core data from Greenland and Antarctica dating back many hundreds of thousands of years shows that global temperatures move in lock step with atmospheric CO2 concentrations. Obviously, there is a very strong link between the two.

Secondly, scientists are not maintaining that ancient increases in temperature were initiated by increasing CO2.

For one thing, mastodons or our ancient primate ancestors did not drive cars or excavate and burn massive amounts of coal – that is something we are doing for the first time in geologic history. Prehistoric temperature increases were instead started by changes in the Sun’s output or the Earth’s orbit, and then amplified up to five times by the release of carbon in positive feedbacks like melting permafrost or CO2 release from warming oceans.

Third, this extensive ice core record is not something we should take comfort from. We are already seeing evidence of dangerous positive feedbacks which may lead to runaway climate change, whether we in the future decide to drastically reduce CO2 emissions or not. Once we start the train moving, it may pick up speed up even as we try and put on the brakes.

Speaking of ice, Bellamy also claimed in a letter to the New Scientist in 2005 that many of the world’s glaciers “are not shrinking but in fact are growing ... 555 of all the 625 glaciers under observation by the World Glacier Monitoring Service in Zurich, Switzerland, have been growing since 1980"

His nemesis George Monbiot took the time to contact World Glacier Monitoring Service and read them Bellamy’s letter. Their response? "This is complete bullshit…Despite his scientific reputation, he makes all the mistakes that are possible."

It gets worse. Turns out that Bellamy’s “source” likely originated from a website hosted by none other than S. Fred Singer. This professional denier who has worked on behalf of the CFC, tobacco, and oil industries was ostensibly citing a “paper published in Science in 1989", stating that 55% of glaciers were growing.

Monbiot tried to find such a paper but it does not exist. This phony claim about growing graciers has been making the rounds on the internet for years and was finally put to bed by Desmog Blog last July.

It also turns out that Bellamy apparently meant to type “55%” but missed the shift key and got 555 instead. Bellamy later admitted to a “glitch of the electronics” regarding his letter to the New Scientist, yet never requested a correction be published.

So much for the robust case against climate science.


The Heartland Institute's Skeptic Handbook - Get Out the Shovel...

Most climate denial material is all over the map so it is a pleasant change to have a nice clear target.

I am talking about the "Skeptic’s Handbook" that the notorious Heartland Institute is helpfully printing 150,000 copies of for distribution across the US including 850 journalists, 26,000 schools, “19,000 leaders and politicians”.

The mass printing of this climate propaganda piece is being funded by an “anonymous donor”. It is odd that “someone” feels strongly enough to shell out that kind of money but also wants their identity concealed. We do know that the Heartland Institute has been bankrolled to the tune of $676,000 from ExxonMobil since 1998. Nuff said.

It is also interesting that this latest product of the denial machine is washing over the nation less than a month after the US government released their Climate Change Literacy brochure – cosigned by 13 federal agencies and 24 educational and scientific partners.

Membership in the supposed climate change conspiracy now includes such well known eco-freaks as the Department of Defense, the Department of the Interior and the US Forest Service.

The handbook itself is hilariously illogical. It coaches “skeptics” to avoid talking about the evidence of changing climate - for obvious reasons presumably. According to them, something may be heating things up, its just not carbon dioxide. Independent thinkers are instead counseled to follow these four cookbook points:

  • The greenhouse signature is missing
  • Ice Cores do not support carbon as a driver of climate change
  • Temperatures are not rising
  • Carbon dioxide is doing almost all the warming it can do.

All of these points are either entirely wrong or grossly misleading. Lets get out the shovel and start unloading this pile of manure.

The greenhouse signature is missing

Flat out wrong.

There is a clear signature that greenhouse gases are warming the atmosphere and has been for years. If you thought that the scientific community had picked over this issue pretty carefully for about 100 years, you would be right. Hundreds of studies have looked at this question using mathematical analysis, laboratory studies and atmospheric observation. Modeling based on this data agrees very well with what we are seeing.

There are several drivers of temperature change on Earth, including atmospheric sulfatesclimate model, volcanic ash, fluctuations in the ozone layer, changes in the Sun and greenhouse gases. Here’s what the modeling and direct observations shows:

The “missing hotspot” argument is also a favourite red herring that pops up perennially from deniers like a game of whack-a-mole.

First of all, the hotspot is not missing. Secondly, is not a signature of the greenhouse effect, it is the signature of warming from any source.

As a matter of fact, the warming profile of the atmosphere is exactly what you would expect from the greenhouse effect due to carbon emissions – namely a hotter lower atmosphere and a colder stratosphere.

Sorry deniers – that one is tossed in the tank yet again.

Ice Cores do not support carbon as a driver

Grossly misleading. Ice core data shows a very strong link between atmospheric carbon and global temperatures. What the deniers are harping on is that it appears that carbon does not start the warming, it only amplifies it.

atmospheric carbon signatureBelieve me, this is nothing to take comfort from. Ice core data dating back hundreds of thousands of years clearly shows that once warming is started due to regular fluctuations in the Earth’s orbit or solar output, it leads to massive increases in atmospheric CO2 from melting permafrost and release from the oceans. This in turn leads to positive feedbacks that amplify warming by up to five times.

The difference now is that we are jump-starting warming by dumping huge amounts of ancient carbon into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels. This is already leading to positive feedbacks like melting permafrost, and increased forest fires.

The other scary difference is that scientists believe that this time we may push past tipping points like melting the Greenland ice sheet that the planet has not seen in a long, long time. Sound like a good idea? Maybe we shouldn’t give it a try.

It is also amussing that deniers say that atmospheric carbon dioxide has nothing to do with warming, while also maintaining that it does, but it dosn't matter. You try and figure out what they are saying - I can't.

Temperatures are not rising

Politely put, this is complete crap. The clear trend is upwards and has been since about 1900 with a large increase since 1980. global temperaturesHere is the latest world land temperature graph from NASA – decide for yourself whether things are getting chillier.

What climate deniers love to do is cherry pick the data by starting counting in 1998 – the warmest year in the history of meteorology and one of the strongest El Nino years on record.

Another hoary old myth is the urban heat island effect – that weather stations that used to be far off in the country are now in the city surrounded by pavement and air conditioners. Believe it or not, scientists actually thought of that.

Still don’t believe the entire scientific community? Have a look at the latest graph of global temperatures for both land and oceans. Not many air conditioners floating around sea.

land ocean temperaturesCarbon dioxide is doing almost all the warming it can do

Absolutely false. Saying increased atmospheric carbon is not going to make a difference is like suggesting that throwing more wood on a fire will not make it bigger.

It is true that high school physics shows that CO2 warming in the atmosphere follows a logarithmic relationship – meaning that heating from increasing CO2 does not follow a straight line. That is precisely why scientists instead talk about an atmospheric doubling of CO2 (yes, they’ve thought of that tooprehistoric atmospheric CO2).

Climate models predict that every additional doubling will lead to global warming of about 3°C – but some estimates put it as high as 6°C. I guess we’ll find out…

In the last 150 years, we have increased atmospheric carbon from 280 ppm to 385 ppm, and the pace is picking up speed. We are on track to hit 530 ppm by 2050.

To see what all these numbers mean, have a look at this animation from the Bjerknes Centre for Climate Research in Norway.

Of course a real scientist making such baseless arguments among their peers would be laughed out of the room. That is why you will never ever see climate deniers make their claims in the scientific literature – only in the mainstream media. Meanwhile the voting public remains dangerously confused by this garbage. As they say, tick tock goes the clock.

The Denier’s Handbook was written not by a practicing researcher of course, but by a woman named Jo Nova whose past vocations included hosting of children’s program in Australia and touring Australia with a science circus sponsored by Shell Oil. Interesting, her former funder (the oil company) is no longer denying the link between carbon emissions and climate change in their communications with kids. Maybe she didn't get the memo.

She has at least one science-related publication to her credit: Serious Science Party Tricks ($14.95 AUD plus $2.50 postage). It does not directly relate to atmospheric chemistry however. It instead documents how to:

“Do the funniest, silliest, and most surprising tricks with things like paper, balloons, straws and flour. Simple, quick, easy and stunning. An activity book to keep you engrossed for hours!”

Hardly peer-reviewed stuff. I do not mean to disparage children’s literature, but these patently false claims are going to be distributed to 16,000 decision-makers and politicians and frankly she is asking for it.

It is also interesting that almost all of these augments seem to originate from our “rocket scientist” friend David Evans. Real climate scientists in Australia were tearing their hair out when he kept popping up in the media Down-Under claiming to have an expertise in climate science. FYI – he has not published one single peer-reviewed paper in the field.

For some excellent critiques of these old and erroneous talking points see the blog of Dr. Barry Brook, a climate scientist from the University of Adelaide, and Dr. David Karoly at the University of Melbourne. There are good eviscerations of Nova's "arguments" here.

The old field of climate science misinformation blooms anew – well fertilized by ““anonymous donors” and of course the fossil fuel industry.


Death to the CBC!

Lorne Gunter recently vented his spleen about the CBC, and the National Post blowhard is clearly feeling a little threatened by the beleaguered national broadcaster.

"The CBC will never be able to exorcize its left-wing missionary zeal -- for global warming, for Islam, for big government, Barack Obama, multiculturalism, public health care, human rights commissions and so on. And it could never survive on private donations or ad revenues. So the only thing to do with Mother Corp is to pull down its office buildings and stations and pour salt in their foundations."

Besides the other perceived sins of zeal for Islam, Obama and public health care, Gunter has the gall to call for the abolition of our seventy-three year old national network due to their comparatively impeccable coverage of climate science.

I am flummoxed by my inability to describe just how dishonest and absurd Gunter’s argument is. Bear with me as I struggle to scale this seemingly insurmountable peak.

Desmog Blog readers know well how we feel about the monotonously inaccurate coverage by the National Post about the scientific understanding of climate change. I struggled to itemize all the factual errors in one single article by Gunter and could not do the subject justice in under 800 words.

On the suggestion of a Desmog Blog reader, I happily nominateChristopher Booker Prize d Mr. Gunter for the Christopher Booker Prize for Bullshit Reportage of Climate Science, sponsored by George Monbiot and the Guardian. Godspeed Mr. Gunter – I am rooting for you.

His employer, the National Post felt it important to send reporters to the climate deniers conference in New York, sponsored by the hilariously unethical Heartland Institute. In contrast, they neglected to send correspondents to either the UN Climate conference in Poznan Poland, or the recent gathering of 2.500 of world’s leading climate scientists in Denmark.

I could go on but you get the point. I make no claim of being a brilliant researcher, but I must say unearthing the abundant errors in the work of Mr. Gunter and other staffers at the Post has been like shooting fish in a barrel with a RPG.

Now why would that be? Professional journalists are typically superb at research, fact checking and correctly citing sources – assuming they want to. In deference to their obvious skills as media veterans, one can only ask the pregnant question: are they instead willfully misleading their readers?

Which brings us to the end game of Mr. Gunter’s latest offering to his readers. There is more at play than the obvious irony of Gunter calling for the biblical destruction of the CBC due to their accurate reportage of climate science.

Canwest graphHis employer Canwest Global Communications has raked up a crushing debt of $3.7 billion. Their share price languishes around $0.30 – after plummeting more than 97% in value in the last two years.

After two humiliating meetings with impatient creditors, their latest deadline to pony up interest payments of $30 million is April 7. What to do?

Rather than cutting costs, selling assets, or running a responsible and profitable business, CanWest has instead hired a close confident of Prime Minster Stephen Harper to negotiate some manner of structural bailout for the beleaguered media empire.

A deal straight out of the PMO would likely take the form of sweeping tax breaks or gutting regulations that would be music to the ears of Lorne Gunter and his ilk.

Meanwhile, the CBC, that has irritated and enraged the Harper government by responsibly representing climate science to the Canadian Public, has been allowed to hit the ground with a splat. Just today they announced the elimination of 800 staff positions and the sale of $125 million in assets just to keep the doors open.

No wonder.

Last year they revealed the Harper government was not being truthful when they shoveled $2.5 billion of taxpayers dollars towards the baseless band-aid of carbon capture to alleviate massive emissions from the Alberta tar sands.

Harper himself is a receptive audience for the type of climate tripe trotted out almost daily by the National Post. He referred to Kyoto a “socialist scheme designed to suck money out of wealthy nations”. This remarkable story was also broken by the CBC.

The CBC also did fine work revealing the inner workings of the Denial Machine – perhaps the most sinister public relations campaign in history, and very reason this blog was started.

And where does the rubber hit the road in such a PR campaign? Nothing as clumsy or obvious as a full page ad paid for by oil companies.

Instead it manifests in columns such as those obediently penned by the likes of Lorne Gunter, referencing the work of “a cadre of scientists who share the industry's views of climate science… trained in public relations so they can help convince journalists, politicians and the public that the risk of global warming is too uncertain to justify controls on greenhouse gases.

Back to Lorne Gunter’s rant against the CBC. He is not merely angling on behalf of his employer in the high-stakes backroom lobbying now going on in Ottawa.

He is also campaigning in his column that one the finest foils to the dangerous drivel produced by himself and others around climate science should be dispensed with by our oil-friendly Prime Minister.

I doubt Mr. Gunter cares that much about the CBC’s coverage of Obama, healthcare or Islam. Like a teenage boy hoping to nonchalantly buy condoms at the neighborhood drug store, he has arrived at the cashier with some pop, magazines and toothpaste.

What he and the rest of the denial machine are threatened by is responsible accurate reporting on climate science – something the CBC has proven dangerously accomplished at.

Keep an eye on April 7. With such an oily regime in Ottawa, Mr. Gunter may soon get his wish.


Saying Sorry is Hard to Do (Maybe I Can Help)

Lorne Gunter was wrong.

How can it be? For someone that has spread such a load of manure about climate science, it was interesting he owned up to two token errors in an otherwise typical anti-climate rant last week.

It was such a minor mea culpa however, we thought we should help him with bigger stuff. After all, the National Post has become such a sad excuse for a newspaper they don’t belong to any press council in Canada. This means that the reading public doesn’t even have a professional body to complain to.

So here we go Lorne – a quick jaunt through some of the whoppers in a single column earlier this month. If you or your editors want to take a crack at fact checking or properly citing your sources, there is something called “internet” that might help. Maybe you can try this on your own next time, assuming that’s something you want to bother with.

On March 9, Gunter proclaimed that William Happer was not a climate denier but an expert on “the interactions of visible and infrared radiation with gases”. Sounds like he has some valuable expertise on climate change.

Wrong. Happer is not a climate scientist at all. He even said so himself. His main research focus is using MRIs to image lungs.

Is he a climate denier? You be the judge. In spite of having no apparent peer-reviewed publications on climate science, he felt qualified to give testimony to the US senate on the subject.

Real climate scientists were not amused. Dr. Bill Chameides, the Dean of Earth and Ocean Sciences at Duke University wrote an excellent rebuttal to the load of dung dished out by Happer in his testimony to US lawmakers.

Another significant citiation point conveniently omitted by Gunter is that Happer is also Chair of the George C. Marshall Institute, which has received more than $700,000 from ExxonMobil. Of course, a ten second Google search by Gunter might be too much to ask of a professional journalist like himself.

Which brings us to another whopper by Gunter “The significance of Prof. Happer's statement is not that it proves global warming is false, but rather that it shows there is no consensus among respected scientists.”

So Gunter’s thesis hinges on the erroneous testimony of a single non-climate scientist, who works for an organization that has received $715,000 from ExxonMobil since 1998?

Let’s move along. There is a lot of ground to cover in this forest of errors and misinformation.

Gunter says: The feedback from atmospheric water vapor is “close to zero and may even be negative”.

Not true. Have a look at this peer-reviewed paper published last year on that very subject.

Gunter says: "additional increments of CO2 will cause relatively less direct warming because we already have so much CO2 ... that it has blocked most of the infrared radiation that it can."

This old red herring is regularly trotted out by deniers and has no scientific basis.

Gunter says: “Over the past decade, while carbon dioxide concentrations have continued to grow, there has been "a slight cooling," according to Happer. Any warming in recent decades, then, "seems to be due mostly to natural causes, not to increasing levels of carbon dioxide."NASA Temperature Graph

That is garbage. This peer-reviewed paper from last year is the latest to debunk the old chestnut of "global cooling".

Also, have a look at this global temperature graph just released by NASA and decide for yourself if the world is getting warmer or not.

Gunter says: “Kanya Kusano, program director at the Earth Simulator at the Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, called the IPCC's warming theories "an unprovable hypothesis."

He seems to be arguing that Japan’s leading scientists question climate science.

That’s strange. The National Academies of Science of eleven countries co-signed this declaration on climate change, including Japan.

Gunter references a “University of Wisconsin study that shows global temperatures have at least flat-lined during the past decade and that that trend could continue for another 30 years.” So climate change is nothing to worry about?

Not quite. Here is text of the actual paper Gunter is talking about.

Far from casting doubt on climate change, the authors conclude by stating:

“If the role of internal variability in the climate system is as large as this analysis would seem to suggest, warming over the 21st century may well be larger than that predicted by the current generation of models, given the propensity of those models to underestimate climate internal variability. “

Wow. My fingers are getting tired and that is just one of his articles. If he had to print corrections every week, there would be no room for new (or very old) deceptions, omissions or outright lies about climate science.