Tag archive for AGU

Jerry Brown challenges Trump on climate

In a fiery speech on science, climate, and policy at the American Geophysical Union today, Gov. Jerry Brown challenged the “miasma of nonsense” from the incoming Trump administration on climate questions and promised the thousands of earth scientists in the audience that the state of California would support their work.

“Never has so much power been lodged in so few hands,” Brown said to the scientists. “But it’s not about this politician or that politician. It’s about big oil, big financial institutions. We need to mobilize all your efforts as truth tellers to fight back.”


Brown’s pugilistic rhetoric inspired several standing ovations from the scientists, who are being attacked in the right wing press. The incoming administration has already sent a questionnaire to the Department of Energy asking for the names of scientists working on climate issues — an implicit threat of a witchhunt (Politico).

“The time has never been more urgent or your work never more important. The climate is changing, temperatures are rising, oceans are becoming more acidified, habitats are under stress – the world is facing tremendous danger,” said Brown at the American Geophysical Union’s annual fall meeting in San Francisco. “We’ve got a lot of firepower. We’ve got the scientists, we’ve got the universities, we have the national labs and we have the political clout and sophistication for the battle – and we will persevere. Have no doubt about that.”

Brown reminded the scientists that California has a long history of taking the lead on questions of the environment — with clean air standards from the California Air Resources Board that were eventually adopted by the Obama administration for the nation, for example. He spoke of signing memorandums of understanding with over 100 nations, states, and provinces (for more detail see the statement from his office).

I’ve never seen a more inspiring speech given at the AGU (and I’ve seen many, from the likes of James Hansen, Lonnie Thompson, et al).

“This is a big fight,” Brown said, and made it clear that he welcomed the fight. He even promised that if the incoming administration “turns off the satellites, that California will launch its own damn satellite. We’re going to collect that data.” (From the Sacramento Bee story, the best I’ve seen on the speech.)

But one of the most interesting turns (which has not been reported as of yet) came when the former Jesuit acolyte Brown reminded the scientists of the spiritual vice of “tepidity.” He went on to suggest that by “reduction ad absurdum” the incoming administration will make ridiculous its own dismissal of climate change.

He scoffed at right-wing “clowns in the media,” calling out Brietbart by name, for claiming that global warming is due to “cow farts.”

“Eventually the truth will prevail,” Governor Brown continued. “This is not a battle of one day or one election. This is a long-term slog into the future and you are there, the foot soldiers of change and understanding and scientific collaboration.”

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No uninteresting things: Chesterton and Redmond

There are no uninteresting things, only uninterested people.

I've seen a lot of talks on a lot of specific topics, mostly climatological, at scientific conferences, but at the AGU's fall meeting this year was lucky to hear a talk in honor of a great scientist named John Tyndall given by the wonderfully eloquent and generous Kelly Redmond of the Desert Research Institute.

This talk included plenty of science, but ranged much more widely than most, and had not just fact to offer but also inspiration. It even touched the heart. While I'm trying to find out if the video version is readily available to the general public, as I think it should be, let me quote for Google's sake some of its highpoints, including an aphorism Redmond came across in high school, from G.K. Chesterton.

There are no uninteresting things, only uninterested people. 

(Redmond actually improved it a little: Chesteron's original is a little more plodding.) 


Words to live by — as an individual, a scientist, and a journalist. Here's Kelly. I'm a big fan. 


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If climate change is dangerous, can’t a scientist say so? (Hansen’s keynote address at the AGU 2013)

Back in l988, physicist/climatologist James Hansen told Congress that that we had begun to change the earth's atmosphere. This was during a heat wave in Washington, and his testimony made headlines. That's rare for a scientist of any sort. 

"Global warming has began, Expert tells Senate" reported the NYTimes. 

"It's time to stop waffling so much and say that the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here," [Hansen] told a Senate panel. He added that it was "99 per cent certain" that the warming trend was not a case of natural variation.

He testified: 

''Global warming has reached a level such that we can ascribe with a high degree of confidence a cause and effect relationship between the greenhouse effect and observed warming. It is already happening now.''. 

Since then the Kyoto Protocol — an international pact that grew out of a UN effort to begin a global conversation about climate change — has come and gone. The goal at that time was "stablization of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere at a level that would prevent dangerous anthropogenic interference with the cimate system."  

We have not yet succeeded in avoiding this oncoming disaster, and Hansen's views are not unique among scientists. A poll conducted by Naomi Orestes of UC San Diego found a 97% consensus of climatologists on the basic facts of global warming, and the fundamental idea that heating the atmosphere and the oceans poses serious risks to our civilization. .

Yet no matter how many times Hansen states the scientific argument, American culture continues to shrug off his warnings, and silence him when he speaks out. 

This month he revealed he and a formidable group of collaborators cannot publish a study warning of the consequences of inaction on climate in the in the most estemmed of public science journals, PNAS [an outlet associated with the National Academy of Sciences]. 

Hansen gave the keynote speech to a crowd of of perhaps 2500 scientists at the American Geophysical Union fall meeting in San Francisco. The speech ranged from the potential extinction of the Monarch butterfly to the threat to coastal cities around thew world, and included numerous attempts to puncture our shield of denial. At one point Hansen pointed out that energy departments at the state and federal level publish graphs showing fossil fuel extraction skyrocketing, and emissions too, indefinitely, "as if that had to happen."

"Isn't there such a thing as free will?" he said. "It's still possible for us to get on another path, but not if we don't try to do it." 

Hansen went on to recount his struggles with the PNAS, which unlike most science publications makes its papers freely available to the public He mentioned that the paper that he and his esteemed colleagues, eventually published elsewhere was repeatedly slapped down for "normative" language. 

For, in other words, for suggesting that we should act to defuse the threat of global warming. 

"It tooks us three years to publish this paper, and part of the reason was that we submitted it to PNAS, And although it got the highest ratings by the referees, the editor gave it to the editorial board, and they insisted that we remove "normative statements" from the paper." 

Hansen smiled, but not happily. 

"Which is a little strange. It seems to me that pointing out the implictions of science should not be prohibited," Hansen said, in his dry, matter of fact, Midwestern voice. "It got to the point with one anonymous board member reviewer that even the word "dangerous" was considered "normative." 

He laughed — exasperated. And showed us a telling graph


He ponted out that instead of trying to reduce carbon extraction and output, politicians from both parties were "falling all over themselves" to take credit for more fossil fuel extraction, which would only add to the peril. His frustration was evident, and he appeared weary. The ambitious speech seemed to go over the heads of the crowd at times, and he suggested at the conclusion that just as he was struggling to communicate the crisis, we were struggling too, to understand it.

Here's perhaps the simplest form of this plea for action on global warming: 


A pic/quote from one of the early titans in the field, tweeted from the conclusion of another excellent talk — by RealClimater Gavin Schmidt — on the difficulty of moving the needle on this issue. 

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Terrifying geoengineering ideas: Ray Pierrehumbert at AGU

At his much-lauded (and deservedly so) AGU lecture on Successful Predictions (of global warming, a brief history) the delightfully witty Ray Pierrehumbert was asked about the feasibility of geo-engineering. His answer deserves quoting in full, in a text-searchable form:

I see lots of [geo-engineering ideas] that are feasible, but they all terrify me. (Except for schemes for taking CO2 out of the atmosphere, which some people refer to as geo-engineering. Those I find relatively benign, because they put the climate back in the state it was in before we started messing with it.) The feasible geo-engineering schemes that scare me are the crazy ideas to make artificial volcanoes and put sulphate aerosols into the stratosphere.

The reason I think they are barking mad is that you have to assume that we will continue influencing the climate for 10,000 years. You have to renew the aerosols every two years or so. So you're assuming that somehow society will stay together for the next 10,000 years to jam up these aerosols longer than there have been human civilizations, practically. And if you ever stop, than the aerosols go away in a couple of years and you're hit with the full force of global warming…unfortunately, I think the sulphate aerosol injection schemes are probably economically feasible. You don't have to inject too much up there, but it puts the world in a state I call Damocles World. It's like [living in a world forever under] the Sword of Damocles.

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Atmospheric River press conference at AGU 2012

This press conference at the AGU (American Geophysical Union's fall meeting) this year is brilliantly timed, coming just two years after a series of big AR storms surprised Southern California, and a week or so after one hit Northern California. 

Improving forecasts of “Pineapple Expresses”
Monday, 3 December
1:30 p.m.

NOAA scientists and colleagues are installing the first of four permanent “atmospheric river
observatories” in coastal California this month, to better monitor and predict the impacts of landfalling atmospheric rivers. These powerful winter systems, sometimes called “pineapple express” storms, can cause destructive floods and debris flows, and can also fill the state’s reservoirs. The coastal observatories – custom arrays of instruments installed in collaboration with the California Department of Water Resources – will give weather forecasters, emergency managers and water resource experts detailed information about incoming storms. The move to install the observatories comes after several winters of testing, during which the scientists determined the most effective arrays of instruments for collecting information useful for decision makers.

F. Martin (“Marty”) Ralph, research meteorologist and chief of the Water Cycle Branch,
Physical Sciences Division of NOAA Earth System Research Laboratory;
Mike Anderson, California State Climatologist, California Department of Water Resources;
Kevin Baker, Meteorologist-in-Charge (MIC) of the San Francisco Bay area National Weather
Service forecast office;
Michael Dettinger, research hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey and a research
associate with the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California.

Session: GC14B


I know just the question I'm going to ask, too…

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Toles on crazy Italians who jail earthquake scientists

A "Tsketch" from Toles: 


Here's the background. Interesting that the AGU took a position on the issue.

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Is it too late to stop climate change? (the Onion)

Reporting from Geneva, the Not the New York Times:

A new report from the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warned Monday that global warming is likely to become completely irreversible if no successful effort is made to slow down the trend before 2006.

Unless greenhouse-gas emissions are drastically reduced by then, the report concludes, it will be too late to avoid inflicting a grave environmental catastrophe upon future generations.

"We have absolutely no time to waste," said Dr. William Tumminelli, lead author of the report…

It's a joke, but as usual these secret satirists get it exactly right.

Let me offer an example, from my recent trip to the ginormous annual American Geophysical Union meeting in San Francisco, where the Moscone Center is invaded every December by 18,000 scientists.

At perhaps the biggest press conference this year, with James Hansen, the world's pre-eminent climatologist, Ken Caldeira, a leading expert on ocean acidification, and Eelco Rohling, a European paleoclimatology expert, I think most of the reporters asked the irreversibility question.

Probably the most published of scientific reporters, Seth Borenstein of the Associated Press, began by asking the panel if we have passed the tipping point of global warming. 

(Interestingly, he asked the question but didn't write about Hansen's warning at this conference, if his Twitter stream can be trusted.)

Perhaps the veteran AP reporter considered it old news. Hansen has been staying the same thing at nearly every one of the American Geophysical Union conferences I've attended, going back to 2007, which is that the situation is dead serious and "we simply can't afford to burn all the fossil fuels."

But it wasn't just Borenstein. The Independent, The Nation, and another reporter, each in his own way, asked the same basic question.  

For Hansen, the question misses the point. Even we have tipped over into a new climate regime, as seems obvious to most Americans, we can still choose to moderate the damage. 

Or not. 

[Hansen in the press room at the AGU, talking to enterprising Steve Connor of The Independent

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Researchers find high levels of mercury in CA coastal fog

This is the story I found at this year's fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union — how fog off California's coastal coast may be importing mercury from the ocean on to the land. 

The team, led by chemist Peter Weiss-Penzias, reported finding "very high" levels of mercury, a neurotoxin, in the fog, according to a paper presented Thursday to a geophysical science conference in San Francisco on Thursday.

"These are unheard of levels for methylmercury," said Weiss-Penzias. "People have measured methylmercury downstream from old mercury mines, where the bugs [microbes] have to convert inorganic mercury in sediment into methylmercury, and the highest levels they found were four parts per trillion. Well, our highest levels were 10 parts per trillion."

Weiss-Penzias suggested that it's possible that there is a "wash-out" — a sort of invisible bathtub ring of methylmercury left behind by the fog. That's where he hopes to take his research next. 

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“Hockey Stick” scientist Mann’s letter in the WSJ

Michael Mann has been pilloried by climate change denialists for showing in a clear graphic form that the climate is as warm now as it has been in a thousand years. At the AGU this year, he pointed out that his critics have been refuted by numerous investigations, and mentioned a letter published today in the WSJ, which includes the statement: 

After my colleagues and I had our emails stolen and posted online in November 2009, attacks from climate contrarians were subsequently shot down by investigations from two universities, the National Science Foundation, two federal agencies and several media outlets. Contrarians declared that those institutions were part of an imagined global-warming conspiracy.


Meanwhile the hockey stick itself is beginning to look a little quaint: at the AGU this year, James Hansen hints that he will show that current global temps are the highest they've been in a million years. 

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Climate scientists not pushing back against denialism, says American Geophysical Union

A story Sunday in the Los Angeles Times reported that climate scientists were joining in an effort to "push back" against a rise tide of climate change denial. The story said that Monday the American Geophysical Union would announce an effort by 700 scientists to "speak out as experts."

But today the AGU said no, they were organizing no such effort, simply making climate scientists available to answer questions by email, as they had last year, and would again.

"In contrast to what has been reported in the LA Times and elsewhere, there is no campaign by AGU against climate sceptics or congressional conservatives," [said] Christine McEntee, Executive Director and CEO of the American Geophysical Union.

But the story got a ton of publicity: Maybe the public (or the media) wants such a push back?

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