Climate vs. Weather … the difference matters.

SINCE PEOPLE on teevee STOLE MY local THUNDER …. here’s my take:

After a winter ice storm ravaged Southwest Oklahoma this month, it left some – who already may have been skeptical – wondering whether the concept of global warming – or climate change – could even be real.  Scientists who are studying the phenomenon, however, are not in disagreement … they say it’s a reality.

While disputes seem to arise over whether it is a manmade occurrence, the issue of whether it is happening is not hotly contested by climate research scientists.
Since the weather has been cold, some may question how there possibly could be global ‘warming,’ but Cameron University Professor of Physical Sciences Kurtis Koll, Ph.D. says that may be because there is a misunderstanding about what weather is and what climate is.  “Weather is a short term meteorological event, perhaps a day-to-day event, in a local area,” he said.  “As the saying goes, ‘If you don’t like the weather in Oklahoma, hang around five minutes.”  Koll says weather – itself – is inherently changeable.  “It can change suddenly.  It’s not long term.  Even with microclimates in a given place, that microclimate is still a part of the weather,” he said.

For example, Koll says there’s something called a “heat dome.”  Cities can create their own heat dome through the asphalt after the sun has warmed it and heat has been captured.  “But, still … that’s part of weather.”  Climate, says Koll, is different.  “Any changes are more subtle and long term,” he said.  “Oklahoma, for example, may have its own particular climate regionally – it may be drier in the panhandle and moister in th eastern part of the state.  But, that’s not a global occurrence, necessarily.”

Global warming means just that … a “global” warming.  Scientists measuring this warming, Koll says, are coming to a consensus about just how much.  While there is not a current official global standard for measuring this process, University of Oklahoma NOAA Cooperative Instructor for Mesoscale Meteorological Studies (CIMMS) and George Lynn Cross Research Professor Peter Lamb, Ph.D. says they are working on just that.  “There is no real (standard) equation to measure climate,” he said.  But, he says the closest thing to it may be the measuring of pollutant levels in the atmosphere.  He says equipment used to keep track of climate varies in age, so they’re working to adjust to that reality.  “We’re working on a standard math procedure to calculate it (that everyone can agree on),” he said.

Koll addresses the confusion about global warming by comparing it to our recent ice storm.  “When people started to hear that there may be an issue with the water, people panicked,” he said.  “Others, still, thought the city was crying wolf and that it wasn’t a reality.”  Just last week, there was, in fact, an issue with the water plant, but what Mayor John Purcell asked was that the city, and its surrounding areas, pull together for a short time in an effort to conserve water until the issue was resolved.  It certainly was no prank, but still managed to cause a bit of confusion.  “The prospect of no water panicked citizens,” said Koll.  “With education, some will take advantage, and others won’t.”  He says the current effort to reduce the effect of carbon emissions is akin to that.  “Conservation is an effort to do just that … ‘conserve.”

Climate change is more subtle than an abrupt shift in weather, Koll says.  “What is the source of greenhouse gas? Is it industrial? Is it natural? Each side will point fingers at each other, but change is inevitable,” he said.  “Just like human beings, the earth changes, and I personally believe it’s good stewardship to do our best to conserve our resources,” he said, “no matter the cause of climate change.”

“We’re currently in an interglacial period, between ice ages,” Koll said.  “We’re going through a natural warming period as it is.  Climate models may show a one or two degree climate change which may, in turn, cause changes to the weather.  There was an average temperature change between 1995-2005 where temperatures seemed to grow at a faster rate.  And, an increase in ocean temperatures also could contribute to warming temperatures,” said Koll.  “In a desire to use a more general term, the ‘global’ part (of global warming) – by most people – is misunderstood,” said Lamb.

Lamb says the so-called “Climategate” controversy in which a university researcher’s email exchanges with colleagues this year was hacked and printed in many major news outlets was unfortunate and misunderstood.  Pennsylvania State University Department of Meteorology Researcher Michael Mann, Ph.D. was at the center of the email “storm.”  Just this month he was exonerated on all charges but one spelled out by reporter John M. Broder in a New York Times article: “Whether his behavior undermined public faith in the science of climate change.”
The university itself conducted a panel study fo his research and determined he was keeping within the ethical scientific standards.  In the inquiry report, the university reported: “From among these 377 emails, the inquiry committee focused on 47 emails that were deemed relevant.”

Confusion during “Climategate” seemed to arise when climate researchers were discussing mathematical data.  “They were not falsifying data; they were trying to construct an understandable graph for those who were not experts in the field,” the panel wrote.  “The so-called ‘trick’ was nothing more than a statistical method to bring two or more different kinds of data sets together in a legitimate fashion by a technique that has been reviewed by a broad array of peers in the field,” they concluded.  The report goes on to give examples in quantum mechanics where the term “trick” is used.  “Science often involves different groups who have very different points of view, arguing for the intellectual dominance of their viewpoint.”  While one side sees the emails as sinister, “The other side sees these as nothing more than private discussions of scientists engaged in a hotly debated topic of enormous social impact,” the report said.

But, what about the so-called “Big Freeze” that others are discussing?  Well, in a Dec. 2009 interview with Charles Q. Choi of LiveScience, isotope biogeochemist William Patterson at the University of Saskatchewan, Canada, said: “This kind of scenario would not discount evidence pointing toward global warming – after all, it leans on the Greenland ice sheet melting.  We could say that global warming could lead to dramatic cooling … This should serve as further warning rather than a pass,” he told LiveScience.

“As excess amounts of snow and ice melt, it spreads a lens of cold, fresh water on top of warm salt water.  The fresh water doesn’t sink, and since warming could produce excess melting, as a part of the great conveyor belt (part of ocean circulation) it could cause cooling in the North Atlantic … it’s ironic,” said Lamb.

So, what about greenhouse gases? Koll says greenhouse gases can be both natural and manmade, but we shouldn’t discount either.  “Around the time ‘Earth Day’ was created, there was a great focus on water.  It’s easy to see water pollution,” said Koll.  “But, it’s something that happens over many years, not all at once.”  Because of studies of water pollution, and advancements in science, the world now has a global standard for measuring water contaminants and bacteria in water.

But, why is it cold outside if there’s global warming?  “Because, that’s ‘weather.’ Because it’s winter … it’s supposed to be cold,” said Koll.  “But, just as you maintain your home, or your car, we – as human beings – have been challenged in literature, and history, and politics to be good stewards, or to save money, or to improve ourselves.  As things change … we have to adapt.”

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Should the Washington Post Have Rejected Sarah Palin’s Op-Ed?

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Future former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin wrote an op-ed piece for the Washington Post today, in which she roundly dismissed the idea of cap-and-trade.  The piece is generating quite a lot of discussion, including rebuttals from John Kerry and Sarah Palin From Several Months Ago.

Leaving aside the merits of present-day Sarah Palin’s argument, two of the responses to her piece got my attention.  First, HuffPo’s Art Brodsky posited the publication of Palin’s essay as further evidence of the decline of the Washington Post:

How does the Post regain its equilibrium? How does it recover not only from this disaster but also from the dismissal of popular blogger Dan Froomkin, whose sacking led to great protests from the readers the Post execs didn’t think existed?

Why, by putting the soon-to-be ex-gov on the op-ed page, one of the prime places of real estate left in the newspaper world? Not to put too fine a point on it — is there any sane person left over in the Post management?

I found the question intriguing, but not for the reasons brodsky gives.  Agree with her or not, cop to her expertise or not, Palin’s interconnectedness with energy policy is indisputable, making her voice newsworthy.

What I found interesting was this take, from my old stomping grounds, Politics Daily:

Palin Op-Ed Blasts Obama: A Prelude to 2012?

In case anyone doubts the presidential ambition of her save-the-economy essay, the last words should clear things up: “Yes we can. Just not with Barack Obama’s energy cap-and-tax plan.” Sarah Palin is serving notice that it’s a long while till 2012, with plenty of time to repair an image or, for that matter, create an entirely different one.

This reminded me of 2 incidents during the 2008 Presidential campaign, in whichthe New York Times rejected op-ed pieces from candidates.  The first rejected op-ed was from the Clinton campaign, a decision with which I disagreed.  The 2nd was from the McCain campaign, using the same rationale under stronger circumstances.

In both cases, the Times objected because they judged that each piece essentially consisted of little more than a campaign press release.

By this standard, if you buy Politics Daily’s premise, the Washington Post could be seen as simply renting its op-ed page to the Palin ’12 campaign for free.  It’s an interesting, but thin, premise.

Rather than attacking Palin’s standing or expertise, Brodsky might have been better served making his point on the merits of the piece.  While she attacks the idea of cap and trade that she campaigned on months ago, she presents absolutely no alternative to that policy’s central purpose, fighting global climate change.  As John Kerry points out, she fails to address it at all.

Does this fit in with the Washington Post’s editorial guidelines for op-ed pieces?  Let’s see:

Among the things we look for are timeliness (is it pegged to something in the news?), resonance (is it something that will interest Post readers?) and freshness of perspective (is it an argument we haven’t heard many times before?). You don’t need to have special expertise in a topic. But explaining how your background or experience informs your point of view can make for a more effective op-ed. You also don’t need to have an important title — and having an important title doesn’t mean we’ll publish your op-ed. In fact, because we realize that senators, business leaders, heads of state and the like have access to various platforms where they can express their views, we hold them to a particularly high standard when considering whether to publish them in The Post.

While Brodsky’s premise is wildly overstated, it’s tough to argue that Palin’s piece meets this bar, and tougher to argue that her clickability didn’t play a major part in the Post’s decision to carry it.

On the other hand, in the HuffPo and Politics Daily articles, both authors make the observation/assumption that Palin likely used a ghostwriter in composing the WaPo piece. This may be ignorance on my part, but I don’t think that’s a fair assumption. While it is quite common for politicians to use ghostwriters for memoirs and speeches, I’ve read nothing to indicate this is true of op-ed pieces. Even if it is a fair assumption, it isn’t one I see made about other politicians’ op-ed pieces. Either it’s commonplace, and not worth mentioning, or it isn’t, and thus worth checking.

I asked Governor Palin, via Twitter, if she could confirm that she had written the piece. She hasn’t responded, as she probably gets a million tweets an hour, but it was worth a shot. In any case, it was an insulting assumption, made without basis. It’s the kind of thing that feeds into Palin’s persecution complex, whereas criticism on the merits would be more than sufficient.

Science Czar John Holdren, You’re on My Radar

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There’s a narrative developing on the right about Barack Obama’s new Science and Technology czar, John Holdren, that posits him as a cross between Aldous Huxley, L. Ron Hubbard, and their own  nightmare vision of Al Gore.

At issue are excerpts from a 1977 book, “Ecoscience: Population, Resources, Environment,” which was co-written by Holdren with Anne H. Ehrlich and Paul R. Ehrlich.  Excerpts from the book are being touted by Michelle Malkin, and a host of other right-wing blogs.  This is the “liftoff” phase of a new meme-let, part of the broader “WTF with all the czars?” narrative.  (For now, I won’t get into why they decided to use “Czars” as the title.  Why not “Pharoahs” or “Capos?” Both cooler.)

Moe Lane zeroes in in a passage that he says cuts at both sides of the aisle: Continue reading