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Want to Stand Up for Climate Science? We’re Doing It

Brenda Ekwurzel, Huffington Post
The Los Angeles Times created a minor firestorm in the science blogosphere this week when it reported that 700 members of the American Geophysical Union plan to aggressively take on climate skeptics, including members of Congress.

The AGU — the world’s largest body of Earth scientists — rushed to issue a clarification the next day to explain it was simply relaunching a question and answer service that connects reporters with scientists.

But the L.A. Times article had already taken on a life of its own. Nearly 10,000 people shared it on Facebook and nearly 1,000 sent links on Twitter. An abridged version posted on The Huffington Post generated more than 5,000 comments.

The gist of this overwhelming response was: “Finally, the scientists are speaking out!” But everyone was reacting to news of an “aggressive push” that wasn’t.

The truth is, most scientific societies are reluctant to go beyond issuing formal statements about science-related issues, even in the face of withering attacks on the scientific fields they represent. But there are plenty of scientists who do want to defend their findings and their profession, especially when they come under attack by polluter-funded politicians and partisan talking heads on radio and television.

Recent efforts by the AGU and other scientific societies to help scientists engage with the media and the public are welcome. But scientists have to do more — a lot more.

My organization, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), has been engaged in the sometimes bruising intersection of science, the media and policymaking for decades. And we’ve stepped up our work on climate science communication this year, largely in response to a significant uptick in attacks on the field. While the evidence for climate change has steadily mounted over the last few years, the push back by many oil and coal interests and the think tanks and politicians they bankroll has become ever more shrill, polluting the debate with misinformation and outright lies. The news media, unfortunately, has sometimes been an enabler, providing a forum for polluting industries’ multimillion-dollar disinformation campaign, which mirrors the tobacco industry’s successful campaign to sow public confusion about the link between smoking and cancer.

Brenda Ekwurzel, Ph.D. is a climate scientist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. A widely quoted expert on global warming, Dr. Ekwurzel has appeared on Good Morning America, the O’Reilly Factor, and the Colbert Report. She was formerly on the faculty at the University Arizona and completed her doctorate work at Columbia University’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.
(17 November 2010)

US Researchers Fight to Reclaim Climate Science Message

Suzanne Goldenberg, The Guardian/UK
Two initiatives will provide information for journalists as elections bring strong sceptic presence to new Congress

Hundreds of scientists have signed up to two new campaigns that seek to regain control of the message about climate science.

The two separate efforts come barely a week after midterm elections produced a new Congress that tilts strongly towards climate sceptics.

The American Geophysical Union, the leading climate science organisation, is due to launch a new web service offering journalists accurate scientific information about climate change. The AGU is also working on an iPhone app.

In a separate effort, scientists have recruited 40 colleagues for a “rapid response unit” whose members will give interviews or go on air to relay the science on climate change.

Those involved in both initiatives deny a political agenda, and say their projects were in the works before the Republicans took the house of representatives.
(8 November 2010)

Climate Change: Science’s Fresh Fight to Win Over the Sceptics

Robin McKie, Observer/UK
Hacked emails from climate researchers at the University of East Anglia caused a storm last year. Now scientists say it’s even harder to convince the world of the reality of climate change

This was simply “the worst scientific scandal of a generation” – a bid by researchers to hoodwink the public over global warming and hide evidence showing fossil fuels were not really heating up our planet. These were the dramatic claims made by newspapers, websites and blogs across the globe a year ago this week, following the hacking of emails from a computer at the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia.

Those emails – subsequently posted on a website via a Russian computer server – appeared to show that unit researchers, led by Professor Phil Jones, were working with scientists round the world to suppress data that proved global warming was not happening. One email in which the word “trick” was used by Jones was said to demonstrate he was hiding evidence while others were said to show that scientists were trying to prevent the publication of studies contradicting the idea that carbon emissions were heating up Earth.

The affair – inevitably dubbed climategate – caused considerable controversy at the Copenhagen talks that December.

… In the case of Jones and his colleagues, the impact of the affair was deeply unpleasant. They were inundated with abusive messages including death threats. Jones, one of the world’s most respected climate scientists, lost more than a stone in weight and entertained suicidal thoughts on several occasions, he later admitted. “I was shocked. People said I should go and kill myself. They said that they knew where I lived. They were coming from all over the world.”

Jones survived, however. After standing down as head of his unit, he was reappointed following publication of a series of independent UK reports which backed the integrity of his work and his behaviour and which concluded those examples of “scandal” had been cherry-picked and quoted out of context. Sir Muir Russell, the senior civil servant who led one inquiry, praised the “rigour and honesty” of the unit’s scientists, for example, while another inquiry, chaired by Lord Oxburgh, found “no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice”.

Even more stark were the findings of a separate inquiry in America by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). This report not only endorsed the work of the East Anglian climate researchers, it also strongly attacked US politicians and energy groups who had tried to suggest that the leaked East Anglia emails revealed that humans were not playing a role in warming of the planet.
(14 November 2010)

In Canada It’s a Gov’t Versus Its People on Climate Change

Stephen Leahy, Inter Press Service
UXBRIDGE – The Canadian public is completely at odds with its own government on climate change, a new survey revealed Friday.

A large majority of Canadians want urgent action on climate, including redirecting military expenditures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In sharp contrast, the Stephen Harper-led Conservative minority government used parliamentary trickery to kill pending legislation to reduce emissions that had already been passed by the majority of Canada’s elected representatives.

“This is a real low point in Canadian democracy,” said Andrew Weaver, a climate scientist at the University of Victoria.

“It’s an abuse of democracy like we’ve never seen before in this country,” Weaver told IPS.

Canada has a multi-party parliamentary system. In May, a majority of Canada’s elected members of parliament (MPs) passed Bill C-311, the Climate Change Accountability Act, committing the country to a 25 percent reduction in greenhouse gases by 2020. The only reason Bill C-311 passed is that the anti-climate-action Harper government has just one-third of the votes.

After Bill C-311 was passed, unelected senators in the Canadian Senate were supposed to review and debate its merits and then pass the bill into law as per usual. The Senate’s role is to give pending legislation a second look, offer suggested changes, but not overturn what elected MPs have already voted for.

Instead, Conservative senators successfully engineered a snap vote Tuesday night to kill the bill without notice and without debate when many other senators were not present.

“Whether you supported the bill or not, they prevented any discussion, any debate about it. There should be an election over this,” said an outraged Weaver.
(19 November 2010)

Stuart Stanifor on the Future of Drought

Stuart Staniford, Early Warning
This post is for the purpose of maintaining a list of my blog series on the science of drought and global warming. In order that they were posted:

Terrifying Drought Projections
This was when I had just read a new paper by Aiguo Dai on the projections for the Palmer Drought Severity Index (PDSI) in the IPCC AR4 models: I was pretty freaked out by the paper. This post covers PDSI at a very basic level, and discusses the projections.

Recent History of Drought vs Models
This post looked at the somewhat imperfect fit between AR4 climate models and actual PDSI drought data for recent history.

Extracting Signal From Drought Noise
This post provided a short tutorial on principal component analysis, and illustrated the extraction of the global warming signal and the El-Nino signal from the drought data.

Should you Trust the PDSI?
This post gives a little more detail about how the PDSI is computed, and some comparisons of other indicators of drought.

The Hydrological Cycle Now
Quick background on the hydrological cycle now, and regional distribution of water stress, as context for future projections.
(28 October 2010)
Links at original. Stuart was an early contributor to The Oil Drum. -BA

The Ten Biggest American Cities That Are Running Out Of Water

24/7 Wall St
Some parts of the United States have begun to run low on water. That is probably not much of a surprise to people who live in the arid parts of America that have had water shortages for decades or even centuries. No one who has been to the Badlands in South Dakota would expect to be able to grow crops there.

The water problem is worse than most people realize, particularly in several large cities which are occasionally low on water now and almost certainly face shortfalls in a few years. This is particularly true if the change in global weather patterns substantially alters rainfall amounts in some areas of the US.

24/7 Wall St. looked at an October, 2010 report on water risk by environmental research and sustainability group, Ceres. We also considered a comprehensive July, 2010 report from the National Resources Defense Council which mapped areas at high risk of water shortage conflict. 24/7 Wall St also did its own analysis of water supply and consumption in America’s largest cities, and focused on the thirty largest metropolitan areas. One goal was to identify potential conflicts in regions which might have disputed rights over large supplies of water and the battles that could arise from these disputes. And, 24/7 Wall St. examined geographic areas which have already been plagued by drought and water shortages off and on.

The analysis allowed us to choose ten cities which are likely to face severe shortages in the relatively near-term future. Some of these are likely to be obvious to the reader. The area around Los Angeles was once too dry to sustain the population of a huge city. But, infrastructure was built that allowed water to be pumped in from east of the region. Las Vegas had similar problems.
(29 October 2010)