Bush solution to global warming: Put facts in the deep freeze

According to Andrew Revkin writing in the New York Times, “The top climate scientist at NASA says the Bush administration has tried to stop him from speaking out since he gave a lecture last month calling for prompt reductions in emissions of greenhouse gases linked to global warming.” Having reviewed a number of books on the subject, I know Dr. James Hansen by reputation and consider this one of the most egregious attacks in the Bush administration’s ongoing war on science.

Revkin continues: “The scientist, James E. Hansen, longtime director of the agency’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said in an interview that officials at NASA headquarters had ordered the public affairs staff to review his coming lectures, papers, postings on the Goddard Web site and requests for interviews from journalists.

“Dr. Hansen said he would ignore the restrictions. ‘They feel their job is to be this censor of information going out to the public,’ he said.”

Dr. Hansen is not an idealogue or an alarmist. He is a scientist who has been following the evidence wherever it leads. The administration’s efforts to silence him are not only a disgrace but a long-term threat to our national security. There is a serious climate-driven geo-political storm ahead, and that threatens our national security in the long run even more than Al Qaeda does in the immediate future.

Read the rest of Revkin’s article here.

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14 thoughts on “Bush solution to global warming: Put facts in the deep freeze”

  1. First, a two degree rise in average global temperature is enormous. We are already seeing signs that the ice sheets in Greenland have begun melting at an alarming rate. According to the current issue of the highly respected New Scientist magazine, they contain enough ice to raise sea level world wide by six meters — 20 feet. Even a five-foot rise is certainly a significant increase in sea level, and it appears we’ll be very lucky if we can keep it to that in the remaining years of this century.

    With a two degree change in average temperature (which means much larger changes in some places like the Arctic), world-wide weather patterns and, worse, ocean currents, are likely to change significantly. So are patterns of agriculture.

    People will survive, but can you imagine the political havoc that will occur if coastal cities and low-lying islands around the world start disappearing, or if the Gulf Stream shuts down? These are the kinds of worst-case scenarios that are beginning to seem possible based on reasonable projections. I’m not saying they will happen, but even the best case scenarios are worrisome enough.

    One of the books I’ve cited, The Little Ice Age, does an excellent job of explaining what trends we have already seen as a result of the industrial revolution and what is likely to come. Those changes are a lot more signifcant that you seem to realize. Get that book and read it. It’s a fascinating history as well as an eye-opening way to assess the present and future.

    Another book, The Change in the Weather, gives an excellent overall picture of the view from 1999. The changes since then are more worrisome than the author projected.

    To get an idea of how geopolitics might be affected by climate change, read The Coming Storm. It’s speculative but not outrageous. I think we need to consider it as a warning of correctable problems.

    My specific knowledge is limited here, so all I can tell you is where I would look if I had to make political decisions. You’ll find quite a range of books at The Science Shelf Weather and Climate links page.

    I don’t think there’s any more mileage in following this up on this blog, although I would invite you to e-mail me from my Science Shelf web site after you have read the books. I appreciate your open minded questioning. Now I’m saying, “Don’t rely on my limited knowledge. Read more for yourself.” And be both open-minded and skeptical of all claims made by people with axes to grind.

    The only axe I’m grinding is respect for the scientific process and honest data.

    Fred Bortz — Science and technology books for young readers (www.fredbortz.com) and Science book reviews (www.scienceshelf.com)

  2. This is what I am not understanding. The last interglacial period was several degrees higher than it currently is right now. Even after 120 so odd years of industrial revolution, the current temperatures have barely risen. Even if the temperatures do go up as high as the last interglacial period, which does not seem to be happening, I do not see how that would harm us. If our ancestors were able to survive in a world like that, then we should have no trouble at all. Even if the temperature does rise by as little as 2 degrees, we will be fine, we will still be here, life may be a little tougher, but it will go on.

  3. I certainly don’t rely on what celebrities say on TV talk shows.

    I do rely on credible scientists reporting analysis in peer-reviewed journals and then speaking in public forums so that the scientific conclusions are available to voters and policy-makers. The most significant scientific dispute I have seen about the data for 2005 is that perhaps it is not significantly warmer than the previous record setter, 1998. I’m not an authority on how good records have been in the past, but scientists who measure such things as global average temperatures always report uncertainties and don’t claim records unless the differences are statistically significant. The consider all kinds of variations, including limits to the instruments, the selection of sites in the datasets, changes in urbanization, etc. In short, they consider everything that reasonable people might use to discredit their conclusions.

    Even with all that, the conclusions are remarkable. I am drawing this from memory, so it may be slightly off, but I think it is true that five of the ten warmest years of the twentieth century came in the 1990s, and the years since then have continued the pattern.

    I believe it is irresponsible for people to distort or obfuscate the value of the emerging scientific consensus just because they have ideological or economic reasons to advocate the status quo. It allows people to indulge in wishful thinking instead of facing the real possibility of problems ahead.

    Your message seems more like wishful thinking than ideology, but don’t tell me I’m predicting gloom and doom because I think we need to face what science is revealing to us. I’m an optimist, and I have confidence that we can understand this problem and figure out the best way to deal with it. I’m against gloom and doom, which is why I favor paying attention to possible problems and acting to avoid them.

    To get a sense of my attitude, read my book for young readers entitled Catastrophe! Great Engineering Failure–and Success, a Selector’s Choice on the National Science Teachers Association list of Outstanding Science Trade Books for Children for 1996. When I sign the book, I usually include this message: “Respect the power of failure–and succeed!” I’d say that’s a message of confidence in the future, not doom and gloom.

    The book begins with the true story behind “Murphy’s Law,” which, when interpreted according to the original Murphy is that you can succeed by paying attention to what may go wrong and addressing it. What can go wrong will go wrong — unless you act to avoid it.

    As far as considering the past interglacial period, the current conclusions are pointing to dramatically faster changes in global climate in recent years than at any times in Earth’s history, except for periods around “tipping points.” That’s what experts are beginning to say.

    As a non-expert but a voter who is concerned about the future of our nation and the world, this is what I want my government to know: The signs of failure are beginning to appear, so it’s time to respect what the data are telling us and act accordingly. Catastrophes are not inevitable if we pay attention to the warning signs.

    Fred Bortz — Science and technology books for young readers (www.fredbortz.com) and Science book reviews (www.scienceshelf.com)

  4. You point out that climate change has trends, whereas weather change has trends too. Recently on Oprah, DiCaprio said that the current weather is a result of Global Warming, which is an absolute false. I am sure that you would not agree with someone just because they are a celebrity, you seem to read a lot and can at least make some pretty good valid points as opposed to these people who just say what their told to.

    Scientists can go back hundreds of thousands if not millions of years and look at cyclical weather patterns. They can never tell how long they will last or when exactly they begin, but they do know at the least that we are currently in one. It has happened before and just because it is happening again now does not mean humans are the cause of it.

    You also pointed out that 2005 was the hottest year on record. How long have we been taking accurate temperature readings? Not very long, and they are not all that accurate, especially as you continue to go back into the records. I am sure that there are times before the little ice age when it was just as hot as it is now. Also, other interglacial periods have been hotter than even now, and the world is still fine. Look at this website for more info and temperature cilmate in the last interglacial period.

    You can do more research on this topic too.

    People predicting gloom and doom are just trying to strike fear into people, and its really quite humurous. I bet after the last Ice Age huge chuncks of ice broke apart, and the sea rose dramatically, so what, its a cycle. Weather, climate, solar, geological, even evolution etc., they all have cycles, and just because were in one right now that tends towards the harder side does not mean it is caused by us.

    There are records in Mesopotamia pertaining to huge floods that took place, about the same time as Noah’s Ark in the bible. Even though the whole world did not flood of course, it was a horrific flood in that part of the world, and it was not caused by humans but by nature.

    People like to blame calamities and disasters on something, and I guess its just easier to say its global warming or God. The fact of the matter is that we live in an abrupt and very dangerous world where any number of catastrophies can happen at any moment. A meteor or super volcano being one of the most dangerous, along with earth losing its magnetic field. I would be more worried about those issues than global warming or God causing the end of the world. When I pertain to God I just refer to people believing its the end times.

  5. The question is not really how we can predict, but how well.

    Science will always be limited, but I can list innumerable fields where our ability to predict has gotten better and better. This is certainly the case with weather and climate modeling. We have increasing amounts of data, improving computer models, and a great increase in raw computing power.

    Among the most interesting of the many books on weather and climate I have reviewed or added to The Science Shelf archive over the past several years is The Little Ice Age: How Climate Made History, 1300-1850 by Brian Fagan (Basic Books, 2000). It’s more about history and culture than science, but it gives a good insight into how scientists have determined climate trends and what the implications are for the rest of this century.

    In my opinion, probably the best popular book on the subject of climate modeling from a scientific perspective is The Change in the Weather by William K. Stevens (Delacorte, 1999). Even though that book is now more than six years old, it still is a great point to start understanding both the predictive power and the limitations of current science.

    The thing that concerns me most is that the most extreme scenarios discussed in 1999-2000 are now considered much more plausible as the science gets better, i. e. improvements in predictive power, better data, better computational tools and models, and less uncertainty. No one hopes the worst case scenarios come true, but refusing to consider them will not make them less probable.

    As I have said several times, I think Chris Mooney’s The Republican War on Science has a lot to commend it, even if it is quite partisan. One of its strongest points is the discussion of how ideologues misrepresent the scientific process, especially the role of uncertainty, to cast doubt on a growing consensus that they do not want to accept. These days, the ideologues doing that are mostly Republicans, but Democrats have been guilty of similar practices in the past. No matter who does it, the result is the muddling of the solid scientific consensus that good policy-makers need to consider.

    When that happens, everyone loses.

  6. I wanted to see what you thought of constant change that takes place currently but also in the past, and how we can’t predict a single thing.

    When calamatous changes caused world wide extinctions in earth’s history, humans were not around. The earth has had times where it was not healthy, and many species died and it is only through blind luck that we even exist to talk about it. The current ecosystem of the world is completely different than it was even 50,000 years ago. Deserts, forests, grasslands, rivers and vast lakes have either dissapeared or been replaced by something completely different. The next ice age is forecasted to begin sometime in the next few thousand years.

    My question is this. As complex as the earth is, and given its past history of major fluctuations, how can any human have any conceivable idea of how the earth really works when we can’t even forecast the weather and natural disasters. When we can forecast the weather on a daily basis accurately, predict earthquakes and volcanoes, sun spots and tsunamis, then maybe we’ll have a clue as to who is really right and who is really wrong, but our technology is far to primitive to know what is really the driving force. My guess is that the earth will still be here millions of years from now, we may not, but species as a whole will continue to thrive.

  7. … would cite Michael Crichton’s State of Fear in this discussion.

    I am hardly an ideologue, though I have a point of view. Most of all, I respect science and the process. In this case, the scientific consensus earns my respect after years of reading with an open mind.

    I’ll leave it to better people than I to dispute your claims point by point, but my reading list includes many books that are not at all ideological as well as some that are. I read Chris Mooney’s The Republican War on Science skeptically, and my review, though positive, does not buy into the entire thesis. Whether or not there is a war on science is not the point. Science is being mangled by ideologues on the right (which you seem to deny), just as it has been mangled by left-wing ideologues in the past.

    Science knows no ideology. Hansen has a point of view shaped by science. So do I. That doesn’t make me an ideologue.

    Fred Bortz — Science and technology books for young readers (www.fredbortz.com) and Science book reviews (www.scienceshelf.com)

  8. In Michael Crighton’s latest novel, ‘State Of Fear’, he weaves into his story enough factual data to produce the desired effect of getting the already skeptical silent majority of readers to realize that global warming is a big, fat hoax.

    Yes, that’s right – global warming is a fraud. If you’re willing to suspend disbelief for a second, consider the following:

    1) Most scientists do not believe human activities threaten to disrupt the Earth’s climate. Many worry that it *might*, but those worries have less to do with fact and much more to do with belief.
    2) The most reliable temperature data show no global warming trend. If our records from 1880 onward show global warming tied perfectly to CO2 emissions, then why did 1940-1970 see a linear decrease in global temperatures? The answer is, we don’t know why, just as we can’t say with *any* scientific certainty that global warming exists or is caused by humans.
    3) Global computer models are too crude to predict future climate changes.
    4) The IPCC did not prove that human activities are causing global warming.
    5) A modest amount of global warming, should it occur, would be beneficial to the natural world and to human civilization.
    6) Quickly reducing our greenhouse gas emissions would be costly and would not stop global warming.
    7) The best strategy to pursue is one of “no regrets.” [I say this on global warming, but a “no regrets” CO2 policy would be equally beneficial to deforestation]

    If the topic is of interest to you, read the below pieces and let me know if you agree or disagree; either way I’ll still love you, but do yourself and your readers a favor and don’t presume that

    a)the scientific community is in agreement on this issue; or
    b)Bush is acting in anything other than a completely rational, responsible, informed way.

    -Chris Zaharias


  9. The quotation from the New York Times ends, then I state that I, the blogger, know Hansen by reputation from much reading on the subject.

    If you read my reviews, you will see they focus on the science, not the personalities or the politics. You, on the other hand, seem to think that a personal attack changes the facts. The attempt to gag Hansen is apparently a result of his reporting that 2005 was the hottest year on record and suggesting that perhaps it is time to re-evaluate policies that are not addressing a concern that becomes more urgent every year.

    Fred Bortz — Science and technology books for young readers (www.fredbortz.com) and Science book reviews (www.scienceshelf.com)

  10. There are many excellent scientists who believe that the climate is not a model. Hansen is not one of them, apparently, since he believes in turning the economy upside down based upon highly variable and fudged results of climate models. That is fine as long as he speaks for himself and not an agency of a government that takes a more cautious, less hair-trigger approach to climate models.

    May I suggest that New York Times claiming to “know a scientist by reputation” then using that purported acquaintance to launch an attack against someone who was already his political enemy, does not amount to a hill of soybeans. This is simply more of the same which you can read from the New York Times going back any number of years to before the 2000 election. The NYT has become an echo chamber for the choir of true believers to attack any and all policies of the Bush administration. If you want to surprise someone with a NYT article, link to one that supports the Bush administration. Many of your readers would fall out of their chairs and have a coronary!

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