Texas National Guardsmen assist residents affected by flooding caused by Hurricane Harvey onto a military vehicle in Houston, Aug. 27. Army National Guard / Lt. Zachary West
There are certain climate change-related factors that we can, with great confidence, say worsened the flooding.
Sea level rise attributable to climate change (some is due to coastal subsidence due to human disturbance e.g. oil drilling) is more than half a foot over the past few decades.
That means that the storm surge was a half foot higher than it would have been just decades ago, meaning far more flooding and destruction.
In addition to that, sea surface temperatures in the region have risen about 0.5C (close to 1F) over the past few decades, from roughly 30C (86F) to 30.5C (87F), which contributed to the very warm sea surface temperatures (30.5-31 C or 87-88F). There is a simple thermodynamic relationship known as the Clausius-Clapeyron equation that tells us there is a roughly 3 percent increase in average atmospheric moisture content for each 0.5C (~1F) of warming. Sea surface temperatures in the area where Harvey intensified were 0.5-1C warmer than current-day average temperatures, which translates to 1-1.5C warmer than the "average" temperatures a few decades ago. That means 3-5 percent more moisture in the atmosphere.
That large amount of moisture meant the potential for much greater rainfalls and greater flooding.
The combination of coastal flooding and heavy rainfall is responsible for the devastating flooding that Houston is experiencing.
Not only are the surface waters of the Gulf unusually warm right now, but there is a deep layer of warm water that Harvey was able to feed upon when it intensified at near record pace as it neared the coast. Human-caused warming is penetrating down into the ocean warming not just the surface but creating deeper layers of warm water in the Gulf and elsewhere.
So Harvey was almost certainly more intense than it would have been in the absence of human- caused warming, which means stronger winds, more wind damage and a larger storm surge (as an example of how this works, we have shown that climate change has led to a dramatic increase in storm surge risk in New York City, making devastating events like Superstorm Sandy more likely.
Finally, the more tenuous but potentially relevant climate factors: Part of what has made Harvey such a devastating storm is the way it has stalled right near the coast, continuing to pummel Houston and surrounding regions with a seemingly endless deluge which will likely top out at nearly 4 feet of rainfall over a several days-long period before it is done.
The stalling is due to very weak prevailing winds which are failing to steer the storm off to sea, allowing it to spin around and wobble back and forth like a top with no direction. This pattern, in turn, is associated with a greatly expanded subtropical high pressure system over much of the U.S. right now, with the jet stream pushed well to the north. This pattern of subtropical expansion is predicted in model simulations of human-caused climate change.
More tenuous, but possibly relevant still, is the fact that very persistent, nearly "stationary" summer weather patterns of this sort, where weather anomalies (both high pressure dry hot regions and low-pressure stormy/rainy regions) stay locked in place for many days at a time, appears to be favored by human-caused climate change. We recently published on this phenomenon:
In conclusion, while we cannot say climate change "caused" hurricane Harvey (that is an ill-posed question), we can say that it exacerbate several characteristics of the storm in a way that greatly increased the risk of damage and loss of life.
Climate change worsened the impact of Hurricane Harvey.
By Michael E. Mann, Susan Joy Hassol and Tom Toles
It is easy to understand why advocates for climate action have become somewhat dispirited in recent months. In the space of less than a year, we've seen the U.S. go from playing a leading role in international climate negotiations to now being the only nation in the world to renege on its commitment to the 2015 Paris climate accord.
It is in this environment of defeat and despair that we've witnessed a dramatic rise in the prominence of climate doomism—commentary that portrays climate change not just as a threat that requires an urgent response but also as an essentially lost cause, a hopeless fight. Some of the more egregious examples can be found among fringe characters such as ecologist Guy McPherson—a doomist cult hero who insists that exponential climate change likely will render human beings and all other species extinct within 10 years.
Climate Doomsday Essay 'Is Exactly What We Don't Need' https://t.co/rPhsJqs3yG @greenpeaceusa @SierraClub @foe_us @MichaelEMann @350— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1499952025.0
Such rhetoric is in many ways as pernicious as outright climate change denial, for it leads us down the same path of inaction. Whether climate change is a hoax (as President Trump has asserted) or beyond our control (as McPherson insists), there would obviously be no reason to cut carbon emissions.
Doomist narratives, albeit of a more nuanced and subtle variety, are now starting to appear in respected, mainstream venues, written by otherwise able and thoughtful journalists. In this vein comes a recent New York Magazine article The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace-Wells.
It is important to be up front about the risks of unmitigated climate change, and it is critical to keep in mind the potential for unpleasant surprises and worst-case scenarios, the so-called fat tail of risk. It is, moreover, appropriate to criticize those who understate the risks. But there is also a danger in overstatement that presents the problem as unsolvable and future outcomes as inevitable.
The New York magazine article paints an overly bleak picture, arguing that climate change could render the Earth uninhabitable by the end of this century. Its opening story about the "flooding" of a seed vault in Norway leaves out that one of the vault's creators told NPR "there was really no flood." It exaggerates the near-term threat of climate "feedbacks" involving the release of frozen methane. It mischaracterizes one recent study as demonstrating that the globe is warming "more than twice as fast as scientists had thought," when in fact the study in question simply showed that one dataset that had tended to show less warming than other datasets has now been brought in line with the others after some problems were corrected for. The warming of the globe is progressing as models predicted. And that is plenty bad enough.
The evidence that climate change is a serious challenge that we must tackle now is very clear. There is no need to overstate it, particularly when it feeds a paralyzing narrative of doom and hopelessness. Some seem to think that people need to be shocked and frightened to get them to engage with climate change. But research shows that the most motivating emotions are worry, interest and hope. Importantly, fear does not motivate, and appealing to it is often counter-productive as it tends to distance people from the problem, leading them to disengage, doubt and even dismiss it.
It is important to communicate both the threat and the opportunity in the climate challenge. Those paying attention are worried, and should be, but there are also reasons for hope. The active engagement of many cities, states and corporations, and the commitments of virtually every nation (minus one) is a very hopeful sign. The rapid movement in the global energy market towards cleaner options is another. Experts are laying out pathways to avoid disastrous levels of climate change and clearly expressing the urgency of action. There is still time to avoid the worst outcomes, if we act boldly now, not out of fear, but out of confidence that the future is largely in our hands.
Michael E. Mann is distinguished professor of atmospheric science at Pennsylvania State University and director of the Penn State Earth System Science Center. Susan Joy Hassol is the director of Climate Communication LLC. Tom Toles is the editorial cartoonist for The Post.
Florida has shown a dedicated investment in solar energy in recent years, leading it to become the third most popular state in the country for solar installations. Because of this, a number of new companies have popped up across the state, leaving it difficult for consumers to narrow the best solar companies in Florida.
In this article, we'll introduce you to the top 10 Florida solar installers so you can make the best decision for your home's clean energy needs.
Our Picks for Top Florida Solar Companies
- Sunpro Solar
- Solar Source
- Goldin Solar
- Solar Bear
- Blue Raven Solar
- Unicity Solar
- May Electric Solar
For many Florida homeowners, the decision to go with one provider over another comes down to solar panel costs. Interested in seeing how much you would pay to install a solar system on your roof? Fill out the form below to get a free, no-obligation quote from a top Florida solar installer that services your area.
Comparing Top Florida Installers
Florida is the perfect example of bigger solar companies not always being better.
Industry giants like SunPower and Sunpro Solar may top our list, but a large number of local providers in Florida have decades of experience tailored to the climate of the state. Some customers with older roofs may prefer to work with technicians experienced in preventing rain or wind damage, for example. Whether you're looking for a nationally recognized top solar company or a family-owned installer, pay special attention to each provider's customer service and warranties, which are of particular importance in Florida.
SunPower has been an industry leader since 1985, designing all-in-one residential and commercial solutions backed by personalized customer service and the industry's most comprehensive warranty. Over 35 years of professional solar experience makes SunPower one of the most trusted solar installers available in Florida. Offering both an online design studio and virtual consultations, SunPower has an industry-leading process that provides customers with reliable installations of custom-designed solar energy and backup solar battery systems.
Sunpro Solar is another national solar provider with an excellent track record in Florida. Sunpro has a proven history and reputation for providing attentive service, long-lasting warranties and comprehensive solar solutions. We recommend Sunpro if you're looking for top-notch customer care throughout the entire lifespan of your solar panels.
The first installer on our list that operates solely within Florida, Solar Source is a favorite solar company of local roofers, builders and homeowners. A commitment to top-quality products, exceptional service and reliable support has earned the company many positive reviews from customers. In a region frequently hit by tropical storms and severe weather, this solar installer offers 37 years of expertise you can trust to install your system securely.
SunVena is another one of the most local Florida solar installers. SunVena's goal is to deliver an exceptional solar experience without any lengthy, confusing sales pitches. An educational, friendly and simple process is essential in making customers feel comfortable in making a sizable investment; SunVena's stellar customer reviews prove the company has this down pat.
Goldin Solar is a young company that has made a quick impact. Since 2014, its installations have generated over 65 million kWh of energy, helped homeowners save over $8 million in electric bills and offset over 100 million tons of emissions. With $0-down financing options, comprehensive energy storage solutions and exceptional customer reviews, we expect Goldin Solar to quickly rise in the ranks of the best solar companies in Florida.
This family business has grown from serving just the Orlando and Tampa Bay areas to the entire state. Solar Bear evolved from home energy contracting into renewable energy services, now offering solar PV, storage, solar thermal and even geothermal heat pumps in Florida. The most reviewed solar provider in the state, customers can trust Solar Bear's transparency in its business practices. For customers looking to support local, family-owned businesses without sacrificing quality, Solar Bear may be the option for you.
Blue Raven Solar
Recently purchased by industry titan SunPower for its promising growth, Blue Raven Solar still operates in Florida, along with 16 other states. The company offers innovative financing models structured with $0-down and flexible payment methods, making it an exceptional choice for customers interested in solar financing and a low solar panel payback period.
Solar-Ray is a local solar installer committed to superior customer service and providing the best PV equipment available at the lowest price possible. A preferred solar service provider of Duke Energy, Orange County Public Schools, Orlando Utility Commission and the University of Central Florida, Solar-Ray has 14 years of local knowledge and experience to ensure Floridians secure the maximum value from their solar investment.
Unicity Solar's focus on providing customers with simple, affordable solar panel systems has made it a leader in Florida's renewable energy space. Unicity's strengths come in providing some of the best solar panels in the industry and guaranteeing 25 years of no-cost warranty protection for all products and installations. The Unicity Guarantee makes the company an ideal choice for Florida residents primarily concerned about the longevity of their solar power system.
May Electric Solar
Our final best Florida solar installer is May Electric, which is local to Central Florida. Founded in 2004, May Electric has grown into a full-service solar installer rooted in values of quality workmanship and solar industry expertise. Offering comprehensive warranties, product assurance and high-quality customer relations, May Electric has yet to receive a review below a five-star rating on its Better Business Bureau profile.
How We Chose the Best Solar Companies in Florida
There are a number of factors that differentiate the quality and benefits offered by different solar providers. These are some of the considerations we used to evaluate the best Florida solar companies.
Different solar companies may provide varying services. We understand that every customer has unique energy needs, so we tend to favor companies that offer a breadth of services and product options. Before speaking to a company, consider add-ons you may be interested in like backup solar batteries, panel monitoring services, home energy efficiency packages and electric vehicle chargers.
We checked out each company's solar installation process, but when doing your own due diligence and meeting with consultants from various solar companies, we recommend asking questions such as: What kind of customizations can you expect? Does the provider hire subcontractors or install with in-house technicians? How often will you be updated on the status of permits and other paperwork? These answers can further inform you on how knowledgeable the company is.
Florida is one of the most popular states for solar panels, so there are a lot of regional providers to choose from. You can narrow down your search by looking for the best solar installer near you. If you live in Miami, it doesn't do you much good to research a solar company that's active only in Jacksonville. The companies discussed in this article have wide service ranges, so you're more likely to find one that fits your needs.
Pricing and Financing
The initial cost of solar panel installation can be significant. Some solar companies are certainly more affordable than others, and you can also ask about solar financing options that are available through your installer. Some companies on our list, like Blue Raven Solar and Goldin Solar, focus their businesses on catering to customers who prioritize flexible financing.
To guarantee that the renewable energy provider you select is reputable and has both the integrity and the expertise you require, we've assessed each company's status in the industry. The simplest way to do this is to check to see whether the company has North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners (NABCEP) technicians or belongs to the Solar Energy Industries Association (SEIA) or other industry groups.
Types of Panels
To make sure you have a wide variety of options to choose from, our researchers looked into the types of panels and products our top Florida solar companies offer. If you're interested in learning more, during your consultation, don't hesitate to inquire about a company's tech portfolio and see if it is certified to install leading brands like Tesla, Enphase or Panasonic.
Rebates and Tax Credits
Most top solar providers give guidance navigating different savings opportunities you're eligible for. The reputable solar providers on this list offer assistance in applying for the federal solar tax credit and local incentives.
Going solar is a big investment, but a warranty can help you trust that your system will work for decades. A lot of solar providers provide a 25-year warranty on their technology and workmanship, but you'll definitely want to ask about this on the front end.
Cost of Solar in Florida
We found the current cost of solar in Florida to be about $2.53 per watt. This means that, after the federal tax credit is applied, a 5-kW system would cost around $9,361 and a 10-kW system would cost around $18,722.
Floridians can also use the following incentives and solar tax exemptions to reduce costs:
|Florida Solar Incentive||Florida Solar Incentive Overview|
|Net Metering||Net energy metering (NEM) credits solar panel owners for any excess electricity fed back to the energy grid. In Florida, Duke Energy and Florida Power & Light offer the best net metering programs.|
|Florida offers exemptions from the 6% sales tax when you purchase a solar energy system.|
|Installing solar panels increases your property's value, but tax exemptions in Florida allow customers to avoid paying local property taxes on that added value.|
|With the PACE program, loans are available to fund the cost of solar in certain areas, sometimes in full.|
How to Find the Best Solar Installer in Florida
Given the high number of solar panel companies operating in Florida, it can be difficult to find one that stands out for your needs. This is why we advise readers to get quotes from several competing companies. Not only can you see the benefits each offers in its proposals, but you can secure the most competitive price available in the crowded Florida market.
To start getting free, no-obligation quotes from the best solar companies in Florida, fill out the 30-second form below.
Karsten Neumeister is a writer and renewable energy specialist with a background in writing and the humanities. Before joining EcoWatch, Karsten worked in the energy sector of New Orleans, focusing on renewable energy policy and technology. A lover of music and the outdoors, Karsten might be found rock climbing, canoeing or writing songs when away from the workplace.
It's an honor to address this group of distinguished faculty, proud parents, supportive family members and friends.
We're gathered here in this idyllic location to celebrate the accomplishments of these young adults as they successfully complete one great challenge and prepare for others to come.
So please join me in congratulating Green Mountain College's (GMC) Class of 2017.
I'm especially honored to be giving the commencement speech at Green Mountain College for at least two reasons.
First of all, this is my home—broadly speaking.
I grew up in the foothills of the Green Mountains. Well, those of us in the slightly less "green" state of Massachusetts call them the Berkshires—but it is the same mountain range, the same magical small corner of the world.
Growing up in the town of Amherst, Massachusetts 100 miles southeast of here, I gained an appreciation for the wonder of nature hiking those mountains, wading in those streams, bicycling up and down those same hills.
I was an avid cyclist—though I didn't rack up the 4,000 miles a year that your president does.
Really? 4,000 miles a year President Allen?? [looking at him]
Have you tallied the carbon footprint of all of that respiration? I did (the nerd in me couldn't possibly resist). It's 95 entire kilograms of CO2 equivalent.
I hope that's been accounted for in GMC's carbon footprint estimates.
But let me get back on message…
The other reason I am so delighted to be here has to do with what Green Mountain College represents. Even the name of the college seems to speak unapologetically to its vision and its mission.
And GMC proudly advertises itself as "First in Sustainability."
Now talk is cheap of course. But GMC—and its students and graduates—haven't just talked the talk. They've walked the walk.
In this year's graduating class, for example, is a young woman named Keeley Titus. Keeley resided on the "sustainability floor" of her residence hall, which is built around locally raised food.
I have to say, I just love this story.
Keeley bottle-fed from birth two Nigerian dwarf goats named Margaret and Rose who reside at the college's farm. She's fed them 4 times a day. They are now old enough that Keely can produce fresh milk and cheese from them.
Keeley came to GMC because she wasn't interested in conventional programs focusing on big ag. She wanted to learn how to replicate sustainable food systems at the smaller mid-scale.
As Keeley notes, "I think that's the way we're moving as a country."
I think she's right. But only because of the efforts by her and other young leaders who are driven by the vision of a sustainable future—a vision undoubtedly nurtured by their experiences here at GMC.
For over two decades, this college has demonstrated an unmatched commitment to environmental, social and economic sustainability.
Amazingly, with an enrollment of only about 800 students (for the record—that's roughly the same size as my high school), the college offers majors in Environmental Studies, Renewable Energy & Ecological Design, Wilderness & Outdoor Therapy, Sustainable Agriculture & Food Production, Animal Conservation & Care and numerous minor options in the environmental and sustainability space. Students can also design their own majors.
But even more impressive is the way the college integrates the theme of environmental sustainability throughout students' educational experience via its unique Environmental Liberal Arts curriculum.
Students of all majors learn about the importance of social and ecological sustainability through coursework that stresses critical thinking, analysis and written expression.
And outside of class, the learning continues in the form of outings and field trips, and service learning projects.
This integrated focus creates a shared sense of purpose—because here, the environment is 100 percent relevant to every field.
The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education awarded Green Mountain College the Campus Sustainability Leadership Award in 2007 for—and I quote:
"Commitment to environmental sustainability in its governance and administration, curriculum and research, operations, campus culture, and community outreach."
Green Mountain was named an EPA Energy Star Showcase Campus.
That GMC has received such accolades is not incidental.
Let me stress, once again, that GMC walks the walk. It recognizes:
1. Little Things Add Up! Like the recent campus-wide retrofitting of light fixtures and students have installed a wind turbine to power the campus green house and solar panel on the roof of the student center.
2. Student Engagement is Critical: Through the Student Campus Greening Fund (SCGF) every GMC student contributes $30 from the college activities fee. Students design projects and submit proposals. Awards are based on a student vote. SCGF money has been used to install bike racks, purchase recycling bins, use bio-diesel in campus maintenance equipment and upgrade the alternative energy systems that power the farm greenhouse.
3. We Need to Think Big: Seven years ago, GMC opened a new combined heat and power biomass plant costing $5.8m.
4. Commitments Must be Actionable: In 2011, GMC became climate neutral. Only the second college in the nation to achieve this goal, and the first to do so through a significant reduction in on-site emissions achieved through efficiency, adoption of clean energy, and purchase of quantifiable local carbon offsets.
5. Peer Pressure Works: GMC's achievement of carbon neutrality in 2011 was followed by Colby College of Maine in 2013, and late last year, close-by Middlebury College.
In the end, though, it really comes down to the people. GMC's faculty are of course top notch and include leading thinkers, educators and practitioners in the sustainability space.
But it's truly the students who make GMC so special.
In recent years, GMC students have done internships with the Boston Aquarium, the Nature Conservancy, the United Nations, the Office of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders.
They've done internships with Green Mountain Power and Duke Energy. Yes—sometimes change can come from within.
And so many of GMCs graduates are now working productively in the area of environmental sustainability.
Take for example Joe Bossen, class of 2008. As a student, he experimented with small community-based coop. After graduation he founded a company called "Vermont Bean Crafters"—as Joe puts it "joyfully serving the tastiest in local, organic and plant-based food."
Joe was named Vermont Young Entrepreneur of the Year by the Vermont Small Business Association in 2014.
Some of us grew up being told it's not easy being green.
But Joe is shining example that, with a bit of creativity, you can excel in both business and sustainability in today's world.
Or take Allan Coutinho—one of last year's graduates. Allan is a Brazilian native who was attracted by GMC's mission of social and environmental sustainability. He crafted a self-designed major that merged his interests in education and sustainable development. And he was the head of GMC's award-winning delegation to the UN's Model United Nations program.
He is now pursuing graduate studies at Harvard. He has said he doesn't think another school would have given him so many opportunities. And I suspect he's right about that.
Here are what a few other GMC graduates are doing today:
Kim Barrett—class of 2014, director of Kehoe Green Mountain Conservation Camp in Vermont.
Tori Knoss—class of 2012, naturalist, Pacific Whale Foundation, Maui, Hawaii.
Cory Cheever—class of 2008, environmental educator, Vermont Institute of Natural Science.
Keith Drinkwine—class of 2010, assistant director of Camps, Parks, & Forest, N.Y. State Dept. of Environmental Conservation.
Mindy Blank—class of 2010, adjunct professor of Environmental Studies at GMC. She participated in the history-making COP21 climate meeting in Paris in December 2015. She has also worked for the International Energy Agency helping countries accelerate the deployment of renewable energy.
The list goes on. And an impressive list it is.
At a time when our environment is most imperiled, your work—class of 2017—is more important than ever.
Now, let me regale you with a story about my own college experience.
In 1984, after graduating from Amherst High School, I headed off to Berkeley.
To demonstrate against the policies of Ronald Reagan, you ask?
To participate in sit-ins protesting Apartheid in South Africa, you ask?
Alas, no, I didn't go to protest or demonstrate.
I went there to study applied math and physics among some of the world's leading experts.
And ironically, it was that path turned out to be the one that would lead me toward confrontation and battle.
I would go on to study theoretical physics in graduate school and to move into the then-burgeoning field of climate research.
My path of discovery would ultimately lead to me to publish the now iconic "Hockey Stick" curve in the late 1990s.
The curve tells an unmistakable story, namely that the current warming spike is unprecedented as far back as we can go. Our continued burning of fossil fuels is the culprit.
And fossil fuel interests and front groups and politicians doing their bidding attacked it—and me.
Despite the numerous independent confirmations of my findings by the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and dozens of other assessments, the effort to discredit this research—and to discredit me personally—has continued.
I was initially reluctant about being at the center of the fractious societal debate over human-caused climate change.
But I have ultimately come to embrace that role. I have become convinced that there is no more noble pursuit we can engage in than to seek to insure that policy is informed by an objective assessment of scientific evidence.
That evidence now shows us that we face a stark choice, between a future with a little more climate change that we will still have to adapt to and cope with, and one with catastrophic climate change that will threaten the future of life as we know it.
And so here we are, at a crossroads.
Let me be blunt.
Never before have we witnessed science under the kind of assault it is being subject to right now in this country.
Nor have we witnessed an assault on the environment like the one we are witnessing in the current political atmosphere.
I will borrow and adapt—for our current time and place—the words of Martin Niemöller, a prominent Protestant pastor who emerged as an outspoken public foe of Adolf Hitler and spent the last seven years of Nazi rule in concentration camps:
First they came for the immigrants and I did not speak out—
Because I was not an immigrant.
Then they came for the scientists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a scientist.
Then they came for the environmentalists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not an environmentalist.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Friends, let this not be our legacy.
Those of us who care about science and the role that science plays in our larger public discourse and those who care about environmental stewardship and a sustainable path forward must now make our voices heard.
Become involved. They are so many ways to speak out and to influence the dialogue. So many ways we can engage constructively with governmental, civic and corporate institutions in the realms of education, public policy and industry.
Past GMC graduates have gone on to become community planners, environmental lawyers, and directors of nonprofit organizations. Many now work for state and federal agencies or educational institutions.
Let me go just a bit further: Let me ask each of you to change the world for the better.
I am confident you will.
Godspeed to you all.
I coined the term "Serengeti Strategy" in my 2012 book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars. It's meant to describe how industry special interests and their patrons in power single out individual researchers or teams of scientists for attack, in much the same way lions of the Serengeti single out an individual zebra from the herd. In numbers, after all, there is strength, while individuals and small groups are far more vulnerable—and the purpose is two-fold: to undermine the credibility of wider scientific consensus and to discourage other researchers from sticking out their necks and participating in the public discourse over matters of policy-relevant science.
Science vs. white nationalist tabloids https://t.co/iSnreEWl3A via @EcoWatch https://t.co/9eHTco0Ile— Climate Nexus (@Climate Nexus)1486593124.0
When it comes to attacks on climate scientists specifically, this strategy follows a familiar script. On the eve of a critical Congressional vote, hearing or climate policy summit, a late-breaking "scandal" suddenly erupts. Individual scientists are typically charged with claims of misconduct, fraud or data manipulation and soon enough, right-wing blogs, climate-denying websites and the conservative establishment media are trumpeting the accusations. In time, more objective media outlets are forced to cover the uproar, lending it credibility and oxygen, even as it is responsibly dissected.
With the public conversation hijacked, meaningful progress on climate policy is blunted and the vested interests seeking to maintain our current addition to fossil fuels prevail.
The latest example of this strategy began unfolding earlier this month when David Rose, an opinion writer for the British tabloid The Daily Mail—known for misrepresentations of climate change and serial attacks on climate scientists—published a commentary attacking Tom Karl, the recently retired director of the National Centers for Environmental Information at the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and a scientist for whom I have deep respect. Rose accused Karl and his co-authors of having "manipulated global warming data" in a 2015 study published in the journal Science. These charges were built entirely on an interview with a single disgruntled former NOAA employee, John Bates.
3 Reasons the Mail on Sunday’s Climate Claims Are Bogus https://t.co/zkdfValuOH @dotearth @ClimateDesk @FAOclimate— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1486594212.0
Rose's charges and Bates' allegations have since withered under scrutiny by journalists—and by the wider scientific community, which quickly noted that the findings of the 2015 Science paper have been independently and repeatedly, verified by other researchers. Bates' secondary claims that data from the Science paper had not been properly archived and that it was "rushed" to publication, have also fallen apart.
Still, the mission of this latest disinformation campaign has been accomplished and with its mooring in technical details too remote for casual news consumers to fully investigate, the headlines will nonetheless create additional drag on any well-meaning efforts to address climate change.
As a climate scientist, I should know. I've found myself at the center of such episodes more than once, as a result of what's become known as the iconic "hockey stick" diagram that my co-authors and I had published in the late 1990s—a graphic display of the data that made plain the unprecedented rate of global warming. While the hockey stick is hardly the basis of the case for human-caused climate change, the visually compelling character of the graphic has made it—and indeed me—a target of climate change deniers for years.
A version of the so-called hockey-stick diagram, made famous by the author—and attacked by his critics.
In the fall of 2003, just days before a critical U.S. Senate resolution to acknowledge the threat of human-caused climate change, an article in the journal Energy & Environment—regarded by many as a haven for climate skeptics —engaged in unsubstantiated attacks of the hockey stick. A group with ties to the fossil fuel industry published an op-ed trumpeting those criticisms in USA Today on the morning of the Senate vote. Sen. James Inhofe, the Oklahoma Republican who has described climate change as "the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people," gleefully read the article aloud during the Senate floor debate. While the critique on the hockey stick would soon be summarily dismissed, it served the short-term purpose of hijacking the discussion and the bill did not pass.
My co-author Tom Toles (the Pulitzer-winning editorial cartoonist for the Washington Post) and I put it this way in the concluding chapter of our new book, The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics and Driving Us Crazy.
In the current presidential contest, we could not have a more stark choice before us, between a candidate who rejects the overwhelming evidence that climate change is happening and a candidate who embraces the role of a price on carbon and incentives for renewable energy.
If you care about the planet, the choice would seem clear.
If the appropriate catch-phrase for the 1992 election was "It's The Economy Stupid!," then this time around it ought to be "It's the PLANET stupid!."
A Toles cartoon used in the Madhouse Effect conveys the point masterfully:
Preventing dangerous climate change remains a daunting challenge, but we've made some real progress in the past few years. Global carbon emissions are actually on the decline, renewable energy is dramatically on the rise, and we achieved a monumental international agreement in Paris last December that promises to help steer us onto a path that just may avert dangerous 2C planetary warming.
A pair of Toles cartoons from the Madhouse Effect conveys both the auspicious nature of these developments and their fragility in the current political environment:
In this next election, we need to decide whether we are going to build on the successes of the Obama administration—which has used a combination of bold executive actions and international diplomacy to achieve action on climate change even in the presence of intransigence, denial and outright hostility from congressional republicans—or whether we are going to retreat back into the energy-equivalent of the stone age, continuing to degrade our planet through the profligate burning of increasingly dangerous fossil carbon even as the rest of the world moves forward, embracing the renewable energy revolution destined to be the hallmark of the 21st century.
Once again, the decision comes down to a single election that is now just weeks away. In the first presidential debate, though the moderator disappointingly failed to ask a question about was is arguably the single most critical issue facing human civilization today—human-caused climate change—the Democratic nominee for President, Hillary Clinton, forced the issue herself by calling out Donald Trump for his denial of climate change, noting that he, for example, in a past tweet dismissed climate change as a hoax perpetrated by the Chinese (indeed Trump has posted at least a half-dozen climate change-denying tweets over the past few years).
Seemingly recognizing how self-discrediting it is to deny a phenomenon that people are now witnessing in their everyday lives, Trump denied having made the claim. But realizing that the damning evidence was available for everyone to see (via a tweet that remains in Trump's twitter feed), his campaign sought to quickly clarify the next day that, despite what he might have stated in the past, he no longer believes climate change to be a hoax. Progress, right? Unfortunately not. Consider, for context, this Toles cartoon from the book:
The Trump campaign, it turns out, simply gave us a bait-and-switch, attempting to pivot from one patently absurd climate change denial talking point ("it's not happening!") to a seemingly more palatable, albeit equally indefensible one ("it's natural, not human-caused!").To be clear, Donald Trump and his campaign still firmly rejects the scientific evidence that climate change is human-caused, opposing the only action (a reduction of fossil fuel burning) that can save us from ever-more dangerous climate change impacts. A cartoon drawn exclusively for the Madhouse Effect captures the Trump worldview:
History will judge us by what we chose to do at the crucial moment in time. A group of scientists, including myself, have consequently decided that we must speak out about the irreparable harm that would be done by a climate change-denying, anti-science-driven Trump presidency. We have encouraged other members of the scientific community to join us:
It would nevertheless be a mistake to consider the problem to be limited to the Republican standard-bearer. It penetrates far more deeply. Whether to even accept the overwhelming evidence that climate change is real and human-caused has become a partisan political issue, thanks in large parts to the efforts of bad actors like the Koch Brothers to poison both our atmosphere and our public discourse. In the toxic environment that exists in today's Republican party, even the most conservative Republican incumbents are subjected to well-funded primary challenges if they choose to admit that climate change is real and an issue we must contend with.
The one thing that every American voter can do to try to change that is to (a) vote in the upcoming election, and (b) vote CLIMATE, not just at the top of the ticket, but all the way down.
The future of this planet could quite literally lie in the balance.
Earlier this month, my co-author Tom Toles (the Pulitzer-winning editorial cartoonist for The Washington Post) and I published our new book, The Madhouse Effect: How Climate Change Denial Is Threatening Our Planet, Destroying Our Politics, and Driving Us Crazy.
Tom and I had a commentary excerpting parts of the book in Sunday's The Washington Post. In addition to calling out the most prominent current climate change denier of them all—Donald Trump, we profiled eight other leading climate change deniers in the world of politics, individuals whom—as the commentary notes—have been responsible for "clouding the climate change debate" and stalling action by participating in "a campaign of deliberate misinformation."
The Washington Post
Among the rogues gallery of leading climate change deniers are (from left to right, top to bottom): Congressman Joe Barton (R-TX), fossil fuel shill Steve Milloy, media mogul Rupert Murdoch, self-styled "Skeptical Environmentalist" Bjorn Lomborg, scientist-turned-denier-for-hire Fred Singer, the inimitable Sarah Palin, conservative funders Charles and David Koch (aka the Koch Brothers), and "swift-boat" architect Marc Morano.
Among other notable honorable mentions is U.S. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.). Though Inhofe didn't make the rogues gallery above, he gets the attention he deserves in book.
From Chapter 6 of the book, "Hypocrisy, They Name is Climate Change Denial":
Consider Republican Senator James Inhofe of Oklahoma, a recipient of extensive funding over the years from the fossil fuel interests including ExxonMobil and the Koch Brothers. He is perhaps best known for declaring that climate change is the "greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people" and for introducing a snowball on the U.S. Senate floor as ostensible proof against global warming.
And Inhofe, of course, gets the full TTT (Tom Toles Treatment):
When it comes to hypocrisy and irony, Inhofe is truly king. Under the heading of "you can't make this stuff up," there is, for example, this particular episode that we recount in the book:
Back in July 2011, Inhofe was selected as keynote speaker at the Heartland Institute's annual global warming denier "conference." He had to cancel out at the last minute however. He had grown ill swimming in a lake back in his home state of Oklahoma. The lake was suffering from an algal bloom as a result of the unprecedented heat and drought that Oklahoma experienced that summer—an event that scientists have determined was tied to climate change.
Though he quipped afterward, "the environment strikes back," he was obviously undeterred in his climate change-denying ways, remaining one of the most prominent advocates for fossil fuel interests in the U.S. Senate.
Which, finally, brings us to Inhofe's hometown newspaper, The Oklahoman, named the "Worst Newspaper in America," by the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) for "conformance to the right-wing political views" of the paper's owners and its "alleged racist hiring practices" among other things.
The Oklahoman has an unusually atrocious record on all things environment. As CJR notes:
Where else can you find a big-city editorial page—run by a Christian Coalition devotee plucked from Washington D.C.'s right-wing Free Congress Foundation—that not only demonizes ... environmentalists ...
And it hardly comes as a surprise that The Oklahoman, like Inhofe, is a major promoter of climate change denialism, acting as thinly veiled advocates for the fossil fuel lobby that dominates their state rather than a conduit of objective news for their readers.
So how low could they go, you might ask? This is how low.
Stan Glantz has been called the "Ralph Nader of the anti-tobacco movement." He has led the effort to expose how tobacco interests hid the detrimental effects of their product on human health from the public and has advocated staunchly for policies to reduce smoking.
Glantz has explicitly likened the fossil fuel industry's campaign to deny the science of human-caused climate change to the earlier campaign by the tobacco industry to deny the adverse health impacts of their product. Same modus operandi, even some of the same paid deniers-for-hire, like Fred Singer listed in the rogues gallery above.
Just last week, Glantz published a new high-profile study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) exposing how yet another industry tried to hide the adverse health impacts of their product. Glantz and colleagues found internal documents revealing that the junk food industry paid scientists to "play down the link between sugar and heart disease and promote saturated fat as the culprit instead."
#Sugar Industry Paid Harvard Scientists to Shift Blame to Fat https://t.co/MjBEsyE0z3 @UCSUSA @ewg @markhymanmd @Healthy_Child @foodandwater— EcoWatch (@EcoWatch)1473880629.0
So, how does The Oklahoman cover this development? You guessed it: by turning the entire matter on its head, attempting to use it as an opportunity to blame the government rather than the powerful corporate interests who were exposed by Glantz's research. And, for good measure, they attempt to use the episode to attack the science of climate change!
Indeed, they attack me specifically, resurrecting untruthful climate change denier talking points about the the discredited 'climategate' affair, and the widely debunked attacks on the famous "hockey stick" curve my co-authors and I published in the late 1990s (if you want to learn the truth behind all of this, consider reading my previous book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars).
It is possible that such a twisted viewpoint, wherein an obvious example of industry malfeasance is used to attack the scientific community, including climate scientists specifically, could arise purely from profound ignorance, rather than cynicism and malice. Yes, anything is possible.
But in the end, we see that Hypocrisy: Thy Name is Truly Climate Change Denial. Thy Nickname might just be The Oklahoman.
Michael Mann is Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at Pennsylvania State University and author of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, Dire Predictions: Understanding Climate Change, and just out in September, The Madhouse Effect, with The Washington Post editorial cartoonist Tom Toles.
Several weeks ago, on June 17, I provided testimony about the threat of human-caused climate change to the Democratic Party Platform drafting committee in Phoenix, Arizona. Fittingly, my testimony was just one day before record heat struck Phoenix.
At the beginning of my testimony, I made the point, using slightly lofty language appropriate for the occasion, that the impacts of climate change are now so profound that we no longer need sophisticated signal-detection machinery to see them:
I am a climate scientist and have spent much of my career with my head buried in climate model output and observational climate data, trying to tease out the signal of human-caused climate change.
What is disconcerting to me and so many of my colleagues is that these tools that we've spent years developing increasingly are unnecessary because we can see the impacts of climate change playing out in real time on our television screens in the 24 hour news cycle.
Regardless of how you measure the impacts of climate change—whether it be food, water, health, national security, our economy—climate change is already taking a great toll. And we see that tool in the damage done by more extreme floods, like the floods we've seen over the past year in Texas and in South Carolina. We see it in the devastating combination of sea level rise and more destructive hurricanes which has led to calamities like "Superstorm" Sandy and what is now the perennial flooding of Miami beach. We see it in the unprecedented drought, like that which continues to afflict California, a doubling in the area of wildfire, fire burning in the western U.S. and indeed, in the record heat we may see this weekend in phoenix.
The signal of climate change is no longer subtle. It is obvious.
My point—that we don't need sophisticated techniques to identify the human fingerprint present in e.g. the doubling of extreme heat or the tripling (in fact) of western wildfire that we have seen in the U.S. in recent decades, ought to be clear to any honest observer.
It would be absurd to conclude that I was arguing that climate models and climate data are no longer necessary in climate science, especially given that they continue to form the bread and butter of my own scientific research (I've published over a dozen scientific articles using climate models and climate data during the past year alone).
So you can imagine my shock—yes, shock—that climate change deniers and conservative media outlets that serve as mouthpieces for them, would seek to convince their readers of just that.
It is an instructive ontological exercise to follow this particular affair—from its inception through the latest developments, sort of like observing a deviant version of the game "telephone" (or "Chinese whispers" for British readers) wherein the participants are actually trying to distort the message as it is passed along from one person to the next.
Milloy, who actually calls himself the "junk man" with no apparent sense of irony, is a denier-for-hire who happily takes money from tobacco interests, chemical interests and of course fossil fuel interests to do their dirty work, attacking seemingly any scientist whose findings threaten their financial bottom line.
Milloy frequently publishes columns in the notorious Washington Times. Which brings us to the next stage of the affair ...
Later that same day, the Washington Times—a paper founded by Rev. Sun Myung Moon of the Unification Church, ran a piece by one Valerie Richardson entitled Michael Mann, scientist: Data 'increasingly unnecessary' because 'we can see climate change.'
Somehow "tools" have become "data." It almost seems like they're going out of their way to misrepresent my statements, doesn't it?
Almost as if to demonstrate that they too have absolutely no sense of irony, the Washington Times referred to me in the piece as a "Leading climate doomsayer" (the Unification Church, you see, is often considered a doomsday cult). The Washington Times also happens to be closely tied to ALEC—a Koch Brothers-funded organization that promotes climate change denialism and subverts efforts to incentivize renewable energy.
Understand that we have now gone all the way from what I actually said (that climate change impacts have become so profound now that we often don't need fancy techniques to see them) to something so patently absurd I couldn't possibly have said it (that we don't need data to measure global warming).
Witness now, after a two week hiatus, the hand-off from the Koch Brothers to the Scaife Foundations, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, to be specific, which was founded by the now-deceased Richard Mellon Scaife. On July 13, the Tribune-Review perpetuated the smear with a climate change-denying editorial containing the farcical howler "[Mann] says facts no longer are necessary to substantiate the climate change story line." Just when you thought the distortion couldn't get more egregious ...
One day later, on July 14, the execrable Tribune op-ed was republished on the right wing website GOPUSA, a website connected to—you guessed it—Richard Mellon Scaife (though a bit of detective work is required to connect the dots).
Oil baron Richard Mellon Scaife and his empire were behind what Hillary Clinton famously referred to as the "vast right-wing conspiracy" to take down her husband, President Bill Clinton (for the record, she was correct).
Certainly, you're thinking, it must be a coincidence that nearly every player in this latest episode seems to be tied in some way to either the Koch Brothers or Scaife Foundations.
Or maybe not so much ...
Richard Mellon Scaife and the Scaife Family Foundations are, along with the Koch Brothers, the greatest private funders of climate change denialism, having stepped up their funding in recent years as fossil fuel corporations like ExxonMobil have come under increased scrutiny for their funding of climate change denial.
As I discuss in my book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars about the attacks against me by climate change deniers looking to discredit the iconic "Hockey Stick" graph my co-authors and I published in the late 1990s (p. 64):
Wealthy privately held corporations and foundations with close interests in, or ties to, the fossil fuel industry, such as Koch Industries and the Scaife Foundations, have become increasingly active funders of the climate change denial campaign in recent years. Unlike publicly traded companies such as ExxonMobil, these private outfits can hide their finances from public view, and they remain largely invulnerable to outside pressure. In recent years, as ExxonMobil has been pressured by politicians on both sides of the aisle to withdraw from funding the climate change denial movement, Koch and Scaife have stepped up, contributing millions of dollars to the effort.
Koch funding played a major role in the faux scandal known as "climategate" which involved the misrepresentation of scientists based on out-of-context quotes (sound familiar?) taken from emails of theirs that had been stolen off a university computer server in the UK (p. 220):
One report showed that twenty or so organizations funded at least in part by Koch Industries had "repeatedly rebroadcast, referenced and appeared as media spokespeople" in stories about climategate.
Meanwhile, the Scaifes funded many of the personal attacks intended to discredit me and the "Hockey Stick" (p. 228):
In mid-January 2010, a group known as the National Center for Public Policy Research (NCPPR), which receives funding from the Scaife Foundations, led a campaign to have my NSF grants revoked. The perverse premise was that I was somehow pocketing millions of dollars of "Obama" stimulus money simply because I was a coinvestigator on several recently funded NSF grants. These absurd distortions were--no surprise--promoted by Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and others of similar persuasion.
and (p. 229):
Two Scaife-funded groups.. the Southeastern Legal Foundation and the Landmark Legal Foundation, had swung into action. The latter had already sued the University of Massachusetts and University of Arizona to obtain copies of my personal e-mails with my two hockey stick coauthors, while in May 2010 the former demanded extensive information from the NSF regarding grants that had been made to me as well as to several of my colleagues at Penn State, the University of Chicago, the University of Washington, the University of Arizona, and Columbia University.
It began to strike me as curious that so many of the demands that I be investigated could be traced back to organizations with ties to the Scaife Foundations. The Commonwealth Foundation, a Pennsylvania organization that is the recipient of considerable Scaife largess, for example, had been pressuring Penn State University to fire me since climategate broke in late November 2009. It managed to get the sympathetic Republican chair of the Pennsylvania state senate education committee to threaten to hold Penn State's funding hostage until "appropriate action is taken by the university against associate [sic] professor Michael Mann." Indeed, it was the Commonwealth Foundation attacks that essentially forced Penn State to launch its initial inquiry into the various allegations against me in December 2009 (similar inquiries and investigations of CRU scientists were initiated in the United Kingdom). The Commonwealth Foundation kept the pressure on for months through a barrage of press conferences and press releases attacking me personally and criticizing Penn State for its supposed "whitewash" treatment of any number of supposed offenses. It also ran daily attack ads against me in our university newspaper The Collegian for an entire week in January and helped organize a protest rally against me on campus. It is likely that these attacks forced Penn State's hand yet again, leading it, following the completion of the initial inquiry in February 2010, to move to a formal investigation, despite having found no evidence of misconduct in the initial inquiry phase.
What is the take-home message here?
As we head into the 2016 presidential election, it is clear that polluting interests and other bad actors are mobilized. They are doing their best to continue the attacks on science and scientists whose findings threaten their bottom line, to distract the public, to promote climate change denial propaganda and to support politicians who will support their agenda of denial and inaction.
The best defense is to study the positions of the candidates and make sure that climate action is at the top of your agenda when you go to the voting booth this fall.
Fossil fuel companies have been misleading the public and policymakers about the risks of their products for decades. These corporations should obviously be held accountable.
It's odd that we aren't able to discuss this straightforwardly. After all, accountability is common for other industries. When companies mislead the public about the health effects of the drugs they market, for instance, we hold them accountable.
Similarly, when asbestos manufacturers misled the public about the cancers their product caused, they were held accountable. When Enron misled its customers and shareholders, it was held accountable. And when we learned that Volkswagen cheated consumers by secretly embedding an emissions control "kill switch" in it's diesel vehicles, citizens and government officials swung into action to hold the company accountable.
Most significantly, when we discovered that the tobacco industry hid information about the addictive nature and deadly toll of cigarettes and systematically engaged in a decades-long campaign to misinform the public, we held the industry accountable.
As early as the late 1970s, executives at fossil fuel companies were well aware that burning oil, gas and coal could cause irreversible and dangerous climate change. Indeed, as early as 1981, ExxonMobil was weighing whether or not to develop carbon-intense gas reserves off the coast of Indonesia because of the climate risks associated with the project.
ExxonMobil and other fossil fuel companies chose, however, to suppress what its own scientists knew. From 1979 to 1983, the American Petroleum Institute operated a scientific task force to study climate change. According to a researcher who worked on the project, it was taken out of scientists' hands and quickly buried—and forgotten—until reporters rediscovered it just last year.
Public agencies and university scientists were also tracking climate change around this same, of course, and the first high-profile climate hearings in the U.S. Congress occurred around 1988. That's when fossil fuel industry lobbyists and executives started pouring more money into front groups and advocacy campaigns aimed at spreading doubt about climate science and blocking action to reduce emissions.
Leonard Bernstein, an ExxonMobil scientist who advised one of the industry's public policy groups in the mid-1990s attempted to set the companies straight on climate science. He was rebuffed.
Despite executives' claims to the contrary, many oil and coal companies continue to support groups like the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), which spreads misinformation about climate science to state legislators, but denies that it denies climate science. And in the past few months, we've learned that now-bankrupt coal giant Alpha Natural Resources was funding a lawyer who has carved out a niche for harassing climate scientists.
Consider in this regard the deeply deceptive recent WSJ op-ed by David B. Rivkin Jr., who writes for the National Review and is a principal attorney in the fossil fuel industry attacks on the Environmental Protection Agency clean power plan, and Andrew M. Grossman, who represents the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI), an organization with long-established ties to both the fossil fuel industry and the tobacco industry before it, including its ongoing affiliation with Chris Horner, the very lawyer Alpha was funding to attack climate scientists.
The main defense Rivkin and Grossman muster in the face of calls to hold companies accountable for funding deceptive campaigns about their products is that under the First Amendment, the government cannot prevent them or the groups they work with from speaking out.
No doubt. But when state and U.S. prosecutors successfully sued the tobacco companies for systematically misleading the public about the risks their products caused, no one's free speech rights were infringed. Instead, tobacco companies agreed to pay states for health care costs associated with their products, just as Volkswagen will have to pay its customers and other people who suffered from its deceptions.
The fossil fuel industry can and should be held accountable in the same way. And indeed, thousands of Americans are calling on state attorneys general and the Department of Justice to act.
Rivkin and Grossman also peddle falsehoods about me specifically. For example, they launder a popular myth in climate change denier circles that the famous "Hockey Stick" curve which my co-authors and I published sixteen years ago is "an artifact of [our] statistical methods." The claim is flatly untrue.
Our key finding, that the recent warming trend is unprecedented over at least the past 1,000 years, has not only been overwhelmingly affirmed by more than a dozen subsequent studies, but has been vastly strengthened. There is now widespread consensus in the scientific community that recent warmth is unprecedented over an even longer time frame (for the full story behind fossil fuel industry-funded attacks on me and the hockey stick, read my book The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars).
Perhaps more to the point, Rivkin and Grossman completely mislead readers about why CEI and the National Review are being sued by me. The lawsuit is not about their political stances or even their feelings or beliefs about climate policy or climate science. It focuses instead on their clients false, defamatory and libelous accusations that my work is fraudulent.
Indeed, given their affiliations with groups that have regularly attacked climate scientists, it's quite galling to see Rivkin and Grossman compare themselves to Galileo Galilei, the famous Italian scientist who bravely insisted that the Earth orbited the Sun and not the other way around. Such ironic attempts by climate change deniers, anti-vaxxers and other science critics to usurp the mantle of legitimate scientific skepticism is so commonplace it has a name—the Galileo Gambit.
So let's be clear about the facts: Galileo had the courage to speak truth to the powerful interests of his day in the Roman Catholic Church, just as two generations of scientists have tried to speak truth about climate change to executives and lobbyists in the fossil fuel industry.
The Catholic Church declared Galileo a heretic and placed him under house arrest. Oil industry lobbyists don't have that kind of power, thankfully, so they merely suppressed internal climate research and started funding groups like CEI to publicly attack independent climate researchers, instead.
If he were alive today, Galileo would be appalled to witness industry shills attempt to wrap themselves in his legacy. He would not be on the side of powerful fossil fuel interests who fund attacks on scientific research; perhaps this time, ironically, he would be on the side of his Pope and the scientists whose council he regularly seeks, who respect facts and evidence and recognize the reality we live in for what it is.
Michael Mann is Distinguished Professor of Atmospheric Science at Pennsylvania State University and author of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines and the recently updated and expanded Dire Predictions: Understanding Climate Change.
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In the wake of the COP 21 UN climate summit in Paris, a number of important questions still remain unanswered. Take for example the commitment reached by the 197 participating nations to limit warming below the "dangerous" level of 2C relative to pre-industrial time (neglecting for the time being the aspirational goal of a substantially lower 1.5C limit acknowledged in recognition of the danger posed to low-lying island nations). The question immediately arises: How much time do we have until we reach the danger zone? How close are we to the 2C warming limit?
It has been widely reported that 2015 will be the first year where temperatures climbed to 1C above the pre-industrial. That might make it seem like we've got quite a ways to go until we breach the 2C limit. But the claim is wrong. We exceeded 1C warming more than a decade ago. The problem is that here, and elsewhere, an inappropriate baseline has been invoked for defining the "pre-industrial." The warming was measured relative to the average over the latter half of the 19th century (1850-1900). In other words, the base year implicitly used to define "pre-industrial" conditions is 1875, the mid-point of that interval. Yet the industrial revolution and the rise in atmospheric CO2 concentrations associated with it, began more than a century earlier.
Unfortunately, even the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has fallen victim to this problematic convention in their latest (5th) assessment report. The key graphic (Fig. 1 below) in the Summary for Policy Makers ("SPM") of the report measures net anthropogenic (i.e. human-generated) carbon emissions and the resulting warming that can be expected. Both the emissions and warming and measured relative to an 1870 baseline.
The various future emissions scenarios are called "RCP"s (for "Representative Concentration Pathways") and they reflect varying assumptions regarding our future efforts to limit carbon emissions. The "RCP 2.6" scenario (dark blue), the most aggressive of the scenarios (from the standpoint of ramping down carbon emissions), corresponds to limiting net carbon emissions to about 3000 Gigatons (3 trillion tons) of CO2. We've already burned through about 2,000 Gigatons, i.e. we have expended two thirds of our apparent "carbon budget."
Achieving those limits in emissions would in turn limit maximum atmospheric CO2 concentrations to just under 450 parts per million ("ppm"). Pre-industrial levels were about 280 ppm. Current levels are just above 400 ppm and increasing by about 2.1 ppm per year. At that rate, we'll reach 450 ppm in a little over two decades. So obviously we need to reduce our carbon emissions rather rapidly if we are to avoid crossing the 450 ppm threshold.
The IPCC graphic suggests that keeping net CO2 emissions below 3 trillion tons—and thereby stabilizing maximum CO2 concentrations below 450 ppm—would likely keep warming below the "dangerous" 2C limit. Unfortunately, that conclusion is overly optimistic because, once again, it relies on the use of an artificially warm, too-recent baseline for defining the pre-industrial period.
To better understand the problem, consider this graph (Fig. 2 below) from an article my colleagues and I published in the American Meteorological Society's Journal of Climate back in 2013.
Source: Schurer et al (2013)
The graph shows the warming of the Northern Hemisphere (in degrees C) due to human-generated greenhouse gases ("GHG") alone, as estimated by the various climate models used in the IPCC 5th assessment report (the black curve—the "multimodel mean" is the average over all of the climate model simulations that were done). The graph has been annotated to indicate the warming observed by 1800 and 1900. It is evident that roughly 0.3C greenhouse warming had already taken place by 1900, and roughly 0.2C warming by 1870. While that might seem like a minor amount of warming, it has significant implications for the challenge we face in stabilizing warming below 2C, let alone 1.5C, as we shall see below.
Just out in Science is a new article by Tom Karl of NOAA's National Climatic Data Center and colleagues driving another stake through the heart of the supposed “hiatus” or “pause,” i.e. what I like to call the “Faux Pause.”
I expect this article will be attacked by climate change deniers who are unhappy to see the demise of a narrative they helped frame, a narrative that arguably took hold due in part to the “seepage” of contrarian framing into mainstream climate science discourse.
Photo credit: Shutterstock
Because the discussion of this matter has become so confused and misleading, it is worth clarifying what there is and is not evidence for. As I have commented numerous times before, there never was any "pause" or "hiatus" in global warming. There is evidence, however, for a modest, temporary slowdown in surface warming through the early part of this decade.
As my colleagues and I discussed in our own article in Science earlier this year (see my commentary at #RealClimate about the article), that slowdown appears to have been tied to an interdecadal period (through at least 2012) of more La Nina like conditions, stronger trade winds in the Pacific and greater burial of heat beneath the ocean surface.
Does the new article contradict evidence for the slowdown? Upon closer inspection, the answer seems to be no. The authors include the post-slowdown years of 2013 and 2014 which (particularly with 2014) have been warmed by a transition to more El Nino-like conditions.
It is also worth noting that the authors compare recent warming to a baseline warming trend over the latter half of the 20th century. Yet that combines an interval (1950s-1970s) of little or no warming (due primarily to the cooling effect of industry-generated sulphate aerosol pollutants) with a post-Clean Air Act interval (late 1970s-2000) where greenhouse warming dominated.
That late 20th century interval is arguably the more relevant period for comparison, and relative to that period, there was indeed a subsequent short-term slowdown. The temporary slowdown is an interesting feature in its own right as it is relevant to the matter of decadal climate forecasting. But it never contradicted the unabated nature of human-caused warming.
To the extent this latest study adds yet another nail to the “warming pause”/“warming hiatus” coffin, I feel it is a useful contribution to the literature and to the larger discourse over human-caused climate change.
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