Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Where can I Find out About Climate Change?

*PLEASE NOTE* This post looks like absolute crap because I linked from several places with different fonts and point size and now it is crazy. Please ask for clarification if you need it. I did not intend for some lines to be HUGE and others tiny... I can't fix it--I've tried. Enough time has been spent on this. Enjoy, however you can. Just try to follow along and go read everything, as I link it. Thanks!

In my last post, I wrote about all of the awful, extreme weather the world has experienced this summer and some of the consequences of that: drownings in China and Pakistan (Pakistan has been so inundated with rains this summer that a fifth of it is under water and there will soon be food shortages--normally there would be planting of various crops in a few weeks, but they can't plant anything as the mud sits in the flooded fields), a chunk of glacier broke off of a flow in Greenland and is bobbing merrily in the Atlantic (a chunk of ice the size of 4 Manhattans), the Urals became a tinder box and went up in flame causing severe pollution in Moscow, etc. etc. etc.

It's bad. It's bad and seems aberrant. This is not the typical cyclic flooding and droughts that the earth experiences as the seasons change. This is much more than that.

Ames, Iowa flooded out with another "10,000 year flood". There was concern about there being enough drinking water. That's happening more and more frequently.

A new reader, Marcie, wrote this in response to my post:

Hi! I just found your blog and hope to follow along. But I wanted to ask you where you are getting your overall information regarding climate change. I have read a few sources of primary information on climate change and found information which is contrary to the message that you seem to have embraced. I'm curious to know more about how you didn't buy much in 2008 and what that included . . . I'll poke around here a bit more . . .

Thanks for asking Marcie. I mostly get my information from links found at Daily Kos, or at a few blogs I regularly visit. The links then send me to university studies or newspaper articles, where their sources are climate scientists or ecologists.

As an example, let's dissect an article from the Daily Kos and we can all see together what the original sources are for the information presented.

Another recent post had me posing the question, Is Global Warming Real? I answered simply that Yes, it is, and then linked to an article at Daily Kos titled, "Global Warming: Are you f***ing scared yet?".

*NOTE* This blog that I'm writing here isn't really for children. I'm speaking to all of you adults out there about the things that I think are important, and silly things too. As we are all adults here, there may be time and cause for some well placed expletives. I think that sometimes that's the appropriate response.

It's like in The Onion when they did their mock up of man landing on the moon:


"Holy living fuck.... Are you fucking believing this? Over," Armstrong radioed back to NASA headquarters nearly 250,000 miles away. "I abso-fucking-lutely am standing on the surface of the fucking moon. I am talking to you from the goddamned fucking moon. Jesus H. Christ in a chicken basket."

"Holy mother of fuck," the first man on the moon added.

I would have found that article written that way to have accurate reportage. Holy shit! is right.

My point being here that I think the Daily Kos title, "Global Warming: Are you f***ing scared yet?" is an apt choice of words.

OK. Let's get to dissecting.

The article has five links. Let's take them one at a time. The Daily Kos links will be written in blue.

The first comes in this paragraph,

Scientists have discovered that the phytoplankton of the oceans has declined by about 40 per cent over the past century, with much of the loss occurring since the 1950s. They believe the change is linked with rising sea temperatures and global warming

That's an alarming charge: 40 %, almost half, of the phytoplankton of the oceans is gone?!

Any way, let's follow the link. Click on "Scientists have discovered" and you will see that you end up at an article in the British newspaper The Independent. If you read the article, you find that the sources of the information it contains are marine biologists from Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia who are citing their three year study. Let's look. I'll quote a bunch of stuff and you can see for yourself.

"If this holds up, something really serious is underway and has been underway for decades. I've been trying to think of a biological change that's bigger than this and I can't think of one," said marine biologist Boris Worm of Canada's Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He said: "If real, it means that the marine ecosystem today looks very different to what it was a few decades ago and a lot of this change is happening way out in the open, blue ocean where we cannot see it. I'm concerned about this finding."


The researchers studied phytoplankton records going back to 1899 when the measure of how much of the green chlorophyll pigment of phytoplankton was present in the upper ocean was monitored regularly. The scientists analysed about half a million measurements taken over the past century in 10 ocean regions, as well as measurements recorded by satellite.

They found that phytoplankton had declined significantly in all but two of the ocean regions at an average global rate of about 1 per cent per year, most of which since the mid 20th Century. They found that this decline correlated with a corresponding rise in sea-surface temperatures – although they cannot prove that warmer oceans caused the decline.

So, they've found that the loss of phytoplankton correlates with rising sea temperatures. They haven't proven cause, but have found an alarming, startling correlation.

Maybe there are natural fluctuations in phytoplankton die off that account for this incredible loss? Yeah, they looked at that.

However, the Dalhousie scientists behind the three-year study said they have taken the natural oscillations of ocean temperatures into account and the overall conclusion of a 40 per cent decline in phytoplankton over the past century still holds true.

"Phytoplankton are the basis of life in the oceans and are essential in maintaining the health of the oceans so we should be concerned about its decline.

"It's a very robust finding and we're very confident of it," said Daniel Boyce, the lead author of the study.

"Phytoplankton is the fuel on which marine ecosystems run. A decline of phytoplankton affects everything up the food chain, including humans," Dr Boyce said.

Phytoplankton is affected by the amount of nutrients the well up from the bottom of the oceans. In the North Atlantic phytoplankton "blooms" naturally in spring and autumn when ocean storms bring nutrients to the surface.

One effect of rising sea temperatures has been to make the water column of some regions nearer the equator more stratified, with warmer water sitting on colder layers of water, making it more difficult for nutrients to reach the phytoplankton at the sea surface.

Warmer seas in tropical regions are also known to have a direct effect on limiting the growth of phytoplankton.

We learn that all of this is significant because:

The study, published in the journal Nature, is the first analysis of its kind and deliberately used data gathered over such a long period of time to eliminate the sort of natural fluctuations in phytoplankton that are known to occur from one decade to the next due to normal oscillations in ocean temperatures, Dr Worm said. "Phytoplankton are a critical part of our planetary life support system. They produce half of the oxygen we breathe, draw down surface CO2 and ultimately support all of our fishes." he said.

So, to summarize the first link in the Daily Kos article: The Independent reports about findings from marine biologists of a Canadian university study that 40% of the phytoplankton that contributes to oxygen production and acts as the start of the food chain in the oceans is gone. All gone. *pfht*

Carrying on.

The second link is here:

Scientists have also released what they described as the "best evidence yet" of rising long-term temperatures. The report is the first to collate 11 different indicators – from air and sea temperatures to melting ice – each one based on between three and seven data sets, dating back to between 1850 and the 1970s.

This link takes you to an article in the British paper The Guardian. Click on "Scientist have also released" and you will see the article. Again, multiple quotes:

Global temperatures in the first half of the year were the hottest since records began more than a century ago, according to two of the world's leading climate research centres.

Records show it is hotter.

Scientists have also released what they described as the "best evidence yet" of rising long-term temperatures. The report is the first to collate 11 different indicators – from air and sea temperatures to melting ice – each one based on between three and seven data sets, dating back to between 1850 and the 1970s.

Indications are from 11 different areas some from as long ago as 1850.

Publishing the newly collated data in London, Peter Stott, the head of climate modelling at the UK Met Office, said despite variations between individual years, the evidence was unequivocal: "When you follow those decade-to-decade trends then you see clearly and unmistakably signs of a warming world".

"That's a very remarkable result, that all those data sets agree," he added. "It's the clearest evidence in one place from a range of different indices."

A scientist acknowledges variations from year to year but shows a clear warming trend over decades.

Despite annual fluctuations, the figures also highlight the clear trend for the 2000s to be hotter than the 1990s, which in turn were clearly warmer than the previous decade, said Stott.

"These numbers are not theory, but fact, indicating that the Earth's climate is moving into uncharted territory," said Rafe Pomerance, a senior fellow at Clean Air Cool Planet, a US group dedicated to helping find solutions to global warming.

There's a clear trend of each decade being hotter than the previous one.

The article then outlines what was looked at:

Seven of the indicators rose over the last few decades, indicating "clear warming trends", although these all included annual fluctuations up and down. One of these was air temperature over land – including data from the Climatic Research Unit at the UEA, whose figures were under scrutiny after hacked emails were posted online in November 2009, but the graphic also included figures from six other research groups all showing the same overall trends despite annual differences.

The other six rising indicators were sea surface temperatures, collected by six groups; ocean heat to 700m depth from seven groups; air temperatures over oceans (five data sets); the tropospheric temperature in the atmosphere up to 1km up (seven); humidity caused by warmer air absorbing more moisture (three); and sea level rise as hotter oceans expand and ice melts (six).

Another four indicators showed declining figures over time, again consistent with global warming: northern hemisphere snow cover (two data sets), Arctic sea ice extent (three); glacier mass loss (four); and the temperature of the stratosphere. This last cooling effect is caused by a decline in ozone in the stratosphere which prevents it absorbing as much ultraviolet radiation from the sun above.

To summarize this point: It's hotter overall around the world, and the trend is that it will continue to be hotter than it was before.

The third link is here:

The hard scientific evidence builds up day after day yet still we do almost nothing. Its nothing less than suicidal, and no matter how deeply you jam your head in the sand the facts will not go away.

If you click on "evidence builds up day after day" it takes you to an article at Ecoworld which is an online news and opinion source that started in 1995. I gotta say, I don't like this source. But then again, here I am just a mom blogger and I think I'm an excellent source--but that's because my links are great.

This article basically cites tables compiled by an MIT atmospheric scientist. They show an obvious warming trend with a flattening out of temperatures for the last ten years. However, this was written in 2008, before recent discoveries.

Here are quotes:

Editor’s Note: Viewing the global temperature records shown on the tables and analysis to follow, one might immediately ask: Even if recent warming may be leveling off since temperature records are arguably flat for the last ten years – what if they aren’t? That is the classic, and not cavalierly dismissed, question from the global warming alarmists. Then again, what if we successfully cool the planet, avoiding climate catastrophe by banning spurious combustion, only to regret that in the process we never developed a fleet of passenger and cargo transport aerospaceplanes, and as a result were unable to spacelift the throw-weight necessary to stop an asteroid from hitting our planet and wiping us out?

Beware of how often you play the “we-do-this-or-we-all-perish” card while relying on the precautionary principle. How often must we transform and reorganize our entire industrial base, just to avoid a plausible, but somewhat (if not extremely) low probability of leaving ourselves vulnerable to certain slaughter? And should we shift our focus away from ridding the air of really noxious pollutants; micro-particulates, sulpher dioxide, carbon monoxide, lead, ozone, just to reduce C02 emissions?

They feel that we may be allowing some harmful pollution at the expense of concentrating solely on CO2 levels. They think this is misguided.

Then they ask what if:

The data in the following set of tables, compiled by Dr. Richard Lindzen, an atmospheric scientist from MIT, only goes back to the mid 19th century; there are only about 150 years of data. Per-WWI data could be skewed. Depending on whether or not that is true, or even so, there is only about a 0.5 (one-half degree) centigrade change in global temperature that is clearly indicated. But what if the recent 25 year rising trend doesn’t fall? What are the 500 year trends, year by year? Do we know? What are the 10,000 year trends?

What if the earth really is warming – what if the data takes another leap, then another, instead of settling back to the 150 year mean? Do we combat this by curtailing and controlling all burning?

Why instead don’t we simply replace more of the 40% of forests that have been lost in the last 150 years, and restore to life 30% of the deserts that have marched forward over the last 150 years? We can plant trees in the cities while we’re at it, to ameliorate the hugely significant additional effect of the urban heat islands of our world’s new mega-cities. Do we strip the last forests to grow biofuel, instead of simply constructing (usually on rooftops) photovoltaic and solar-thermal arrays that consume – by well over two orders of magnitude – far less space? Wouldn’t we rather replace desert with rangeland and farms, and rangeland and farms with forest, and put canopies of green across our cities, rather than regulate all burning?

So, their emphasis is on overall deforestation, pollution etc. They see it as bad.

The next link is here:

In the geological history of the Earth, there have been five periods of great natural extinction that have happened because of geological changes and huge disasters. But now, thanks to humanity's influences, the rate of species' extinction has increased to 1,000 times that of ancient period, and Earth is coming into the sixth extinction period, according to Beijing Daily's report.

One species would disappear per hour on average

According "Nature," more than 1 million species will disappear from this planet 50 years from now, and one species will be extinct per hour on average because of human activities, which is 1000 times faster than ever.

Startling, right? Well, if you follow that link, "In the geological history of the earth", it takes you to an article in The People's Daily which is the online version of the official communist newspaper of China.

That's a crap link! There won't be any critical, open reporting here.

Is it a crap link though? Wouldn't China have a a lot to lose if they acknowledge man made climate change? Wouldn't they have to cut down on the prodigious amount of pollution they're pumping out every day?

Here are quotes:

15,600 species are threatened by extinction How many species there are on our planet anyway? No one could really figure it out. All the estimates of about 1.5 million, 1.7 million and 2 million only include species we have found. Since there are still lots of creatures we have not discovered, the actual number should be much higher. The International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources usually publishes Red Papers on situations of global species. According to the latest paper, 15,600 species are threatened by extinction on the Earth, including 12 percent of birds, 23 percent of animals, 32 percent of amphibians, 25 percent of gymnosperms, 52 percent of cycadopsida, 42 percent of terrapins, 18 percent of sharks and rays and 27 pct of East African fresh water fishes.

If that's accurate, that's a lot.

Five major threats challenge species diversity Experts have summed up five major reasons causing the terrible state of the environment. 1. Loss and destruction of living environment 2. Invasion from exotic creatures 3. Environmental pollution 4. Explosive human population 5. Overuse
Wow, China! That's quite the assessment, seeing as how you contribute to a great deal of these problems. But, wait--aren't American corporations set up in China for the cheap labor and cheap production costs--no pollution controls, etc.? Aren't there economic pressures that contribute to China's pollution?

Any way, I'm thinking of throwing out this whole link. It's too wonky. That's how I read it any way. Which is a shame, because what it says might be perfectly true. But, I don't like this source.

Here's a list of recent headlines at The People's Daily:

Interesting, isn't it? The headlines seem to report bad things--it's not sugar coated, although who knows what the articles say.

Carrying on.

The final link is a positive one:

When you hear the words "mini cows" they sound as if they are the result of someone's daft hobby. But miniature cattle could be the future of environmentally-friendly beef.

Click on "When you hear the words 'mini cows' ". This takes you back to The Guardian for an article about the environmental viability of farming with smaller breeds of cattle. They eat less, produce less methane and can easily be grass fed.

Quotes from the article:

"When I started frittering around with miniature cattle, everyone thought I was nuts," he says. Since the 1940s, US farmers have been breeding cows for size, making them much larger than their British cousins. But with Gradwohl's farm being swallowed up by rising taxes, he had to give up 60 acres of land. He discovered that it is possible to raise 10 miniature cows on five acres, rather than just two full-sized cows, meaning that land could yield up to three times as much beef – but the cows only need one third of the feed.

"These little cows were just right for me," he says. And, given worries about cows' contribution to greenhouse gases, it takes 10 mini cows to produce the amount of methane of one full-sized cow.


Although they sound innovative, mini cows date back to the 1600s, says Gradwohl, when "British farmers developed small breeds because they only had five-acre farms". Now, with a bit of luck, more farmers of the 1.3 billion-strong cattle worldwide might also try them out for size.

Innovation and creativity in many areas can make a difference in pollution levels, nutrition, poverty levels, etc. worldwide.

So, Marcie, that sums up just one article at Daily Kos. That is one source of my reading material. I read all sorts of things from all sorts of places. I also regularly listen to NPR. I can't do it much, but more than I used to, because my kids would hear a story and ask me with their innocent countenances, "What does assassinate mean?" or, "What is genocide?" And although we get into serious, real discussions around here, I want my kids to be happy and not worry about the state of the world. I, as the woman I am, do plenty of that on their behalf.

We are having more and more involved discussions about these matters as they get older and can understand and have more of a context to file the information away.

But, kids get to be kids as far as I'm concerned.

We adults, however, should put away childish things and pay attention. We should try to understand what's going on and seek out information and learn. We should be critical of the voices which are bombarding us daily with competing messages and look at sources directly.

Which brings me to you, Marcie. You said,

"I have read a few sources of primary information on climate change and found information which is contrary to the message that you seem to have embraced."

I think you mean that you have read a few primary sources of information.

What have you read? What is the source? What is it filtered through--Fox News, discredited climate change denialist scientists?

What university studies have you read? What scientific journals?

I think a lot is riding on the human collective paying attention and making some fairly large, all encompassing changes in the very near future. I was feeling sad because I thought we'd already reached a tipping point. But, for the sake of my kids, and their kids, and their kids' kids, we can all act as if we haven't and get some things to change.

If you don't believe that global warming is a real man made phenomenon, would you still acknowledge that less pollution worldwide would be beneficial to all? Would a decrease in oil dependence be good, regardless of carbon output and whether that's bad or not? Would less plastic crap, with or without heavy metals, shipped over here from China be good for our kids' well being--spiritually, intellectually and physically, regardless of the pollution it causes in production in China and in landfills after 6 months or so of ownership here in the states?

Wouldn't some of the results of policies that are based on a global warming model ultimately have a positive effect regardless of whether you believe in global warming or not?

Wouldn't us not crapping up the earth be good?

Tag, you're it, Marcie.

Tell us where you get your information and how.


Marcie said...

Hello Laura!

I will post a few links and sources in the coming days, but I wanted to address the more important issue which was your question at the end, which I will affectionately call "so what?" I'm a mom of little ones too (just turned "The Story" on NPR down in the car on the way home tonight as the story about Middle Eastern warfare got a little graphic for the kiddos) . . . so what do we do personally and what do we pass on to our children?

There are a lot of little things that you touch on in your blog that we have incorporated as well -- little choices about food, clothing, lifestyle. We use cloth diapers. We don't buy new clothing. We have a decent sized garden and live on self-watering property (well and septic). There are bigger choices too, like going against the grain of culture by walking or biking or not commuting at all by starting our own company from home (yeah!). We've chosen to educate our children at home because we see the current school system as breeding the kind of massthink that is devoid of independent thought and innovative solutions (e.g. -- why don't more information and knowledge workers work from home? Wouldn't that save a ton of resources? Our answer is yes, it would, but because school systems are designed to inundate the masses and squash out initiative and lifelong learning in favor of a tame, emasculated society, most people that went through US schooling don't have the discipline to work from home.) But, I digress. It's a personal choice that is difficult -- some days I would rather send the children off and read or knit or do my grocery shopping alone. But we make lifestyle choices to equip our children to think deeply, thoroughly, and to be able to make hard choices. We try to model it for them.

I've enjoyed poking around on the blog and will continue to do so to get fresh ideas for the "so what?" question.

As an interesting side note (my hubby and I are both engineers), we've had some great conversations lately about alternative energy sources and their potential effects on the earth. For example, if wind power were to become blazingly popular and wind farms sprang up everywhere, how might the rotation of the earth be affected as energy from the atmosphere is transferred to the earth? Or if hydropower were developed and extensively used, how might the tides be affected? Just some food for thought. We humans think we know a lot, but we really don't know much at all.

While I suspect that we have some philosophical differences, I appreciate reading your thoughts and ideas. I love free speech and press!

I'll be back soon with squiggly-lined data charts and journal citations, but in the end, I think we're on a similar page about responsibility and the "so what" question.

Over and out.

Laura said...

Glad you left a comment and I look forward to reading about your sources of info. Isn't the energy from wind already transferred to the earth in the form of erosion, waves, etc.? It is already transferred as kinetic energy. How would attaching a wire to it and converting it into electrical energy do anything to the rotation of the earth? Always more questions!! Thanks for visiting!

Anne said...

Interesting post. Thank you for sharing it. I do want to point out that while information from China is suspect since news is very strictly monitored and controlled by its government, there are many within China who fight the good fight to protect natural resources, habitat, species, and the environment. Unless it will shed a good light on China (i.e. Giant Panda birthing facilities) we don't often hear about it.

Sometimes I feel the same can be said here in the US as well. I work for my state's EPA in the Natural Resource Damages program (think Gulf Oil Spill), where government often does not want to acknowledge the extent of damages to wildlife and habitat nor to protect habitat for wildlife's sake. If it's human activity driven, such as fishing, swimming, a walking path through a flower garden, or is a charismatic mega fauna or flora and will make the gov't official look good when restored/protected then we often see support to issue penalties against polluting industry. Yet, if it's just to protect an endangered salamander or creek chub that has no commercial value or people don't see, we have to fight harder to restore its habitat, request that the industry pay and most people don't hear about it.

Regarding Global Warming. I believe it exists. The science has been around for awhile. The arguable points of course, as you have shown, is how/whether humans have accelerated it. I personally, based on the science, believe we have. One of my graduate school professor's studied the impact of carbon sequestration and deforestation. The statistics and graphs show a continued increase in CO2 production in the atmosphere due to a lack of sequestration by plants in part because of deforestations. This is an ongoing study started years ago by other scientists who set up stations in forests in Hawaii, South America, and other places.

In reference to wind and/or alternative energy sources. There may be one form of energy consumption that is a bit cleaner than another but everything generates a waste or creates an attractive nuisance or causes harm to habitat or species in one form or another. Take for instance wind power. Birds and bats have been known to be killed by the blades. When you have a population that is already taxed by disease (white nose syndrome in bats), pollution, or human development adding to it with yet another potential hazard doesn't help restore or maintain healthy populations. I am not arguing against alternative energy sources. Just agreeing and pointing out that there is a lot to think about and learn before accepting the status quo. And that great changes need to continue to be made on everyone's part if we want to see a difference.

On more somewhat unrelated point triggered by a comment Marcie made. First I want to point out that I advocate homeschooling as well as school system schooling (I work in government we have to work both sides ;) However, it always bothers me when people blame schools entirely for this nation's massthink and/or lack of innovation and independent thought. While I don't disagree that some schools engage in questionable and dogmatic teaching practices, it is somewhat anthropologically naive to me when people blame the lack of individual and creative thought on school systems. Not trying to offend. I am probably a bigger advocate for home or alternative schooling than the traditional, however, I believe mass or institutionalized thinking runs deeper than just a school system.

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