Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Wikileaks and the CRU e-mail hack

The latest Wikileaks release presents an important ethical challenge to the climate change blogs and the community as a whole.

Is it ethical to read and blog about the leaked cables, when at the same time condemning the CRU e-mail hack or "Climategate"? In both cases, the subject matter are messages that were i) stolen, ii) intended to be private, and iii) written by government employees. Not to mention that in both cases many of the message can easily be taken out of content.

Is this a false equivalence, or a potential case of hypocrisy?


Monday, November 22, 2010

If a hurricane dies at sea, does anybody count it?

This post from the Capital Weather Gang is a reminder that the lack of Atlantic hurricanes which made landfall this year does not mean it was a tepid hurricane season. The year's tracks are shown at right.

The number of named Atlantic storms (19) and number of hurricanes (12) was twice the long-term average and higher than almost all of the predictions. The difference this year is that no powerful storms struck the U.S. thanks to the response of the upper-level air flow to the El Nino / La Nina oscillation in the Pacific, a subject discussed here before.

The Atlantic hurricane discussion tends to focus almost entirely on the U.S. It is important to remember that not every country was spared. Haiti (above) is still recovering from Hurricane Tomas, in particular the outbreak of cholera caused or exacerbated by the heavy rainfall and flooding just a few weeks ago.


Friday, November 19, 2010

Summary of Caribbean Bleaching in PLoS-One by Eakin et al.

The new paper by Eakin et al. in PLoS-One (open access) summarizes the extent of the 2005 coral bleaching event in the Caribbean, an event discussed at length on Maribo. The paper includes data from dozens of coral reef sites across the Caribbean that were affected by the prolonged period of water water in the late summer and fall of 2005, the same unusual warmth which helped promote the strong Atlantic hurricane season. 

The figures at right give an idea of the scale of the event, and the scale of the data collected by Eakin et al. The top panel shows the heat stress ("degree heating weeks") experienced by reefs across the Caribbean; the lower panel summarize the percent of corals in each region that bleached (data is collected in some cases by counting number of bleaching colonies, in others by estimating the percent of total coral cover that bleached). The figure shows that bleaching tended to be the most extensive in the areas that experienced the greatest heat stress, particularly the core of the "hot spot" in the Lesser Antilles.

We've seen a near repeat of this event in the past few months; the effect of the follow-up event on living coral cover won't be known for some time. From a climate standpoint. The fact that it has happened again five years later is, in itself, remarkable. Eakin et al. report that the sea surface temperatures in the fall of 2005 were the warmest since records began in the mid-1800s. The new record appears to have only lasted five years.


Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The forecast for climate blogs

The previous post drawing analogies between the state of climate blogging and cable news drew a wide variety of responses, some here, some over at the Energy Collective, and some in private e-mails (if such a thing exists). There's no right answer to the question of how to respond to skepticism about well-founded scientific findings. I'm arguing that we may all benefit from taking a deep breath before raising our voices, from thinking about the big picture and not overreacting to every event.

Jon Stewart, whose call for civility inspired my post, compared himself to a climate scientist in an interview last week (thanks Keith):

This is—I‘m not saying—look, I love the voices that I hear on MSNBC. And there‘s a difference between—here‘s what‘s unfair about what I do. This is really what‘s a great—here‘s a great thing that I think is unfair.

You‘re one person with one great voice and sincere—but I‘m a climate scientist. I study weather patterns and climate. You‘re talking about the weather. Maybe these networks are not meant to be viewed in aggregate, but there is an aggregate. There is an effect.

A perfect analogy. Are the climate blogs dealing with the "weather"? Or with the climate?

[UPDATE: to hear other views, Keith Kloor is also asking readers this question]


Monday, November 08, 2010

Climate blogs, cable news and some inconvenient truths

There is a storm brewing in the climate change world. Climate policy efforts are in disarray. There’s a chance that the Congress, energized by new leadership that questions the scientific evidence for climate change, will hold hearings to investigate scientific practices. Climate scientists are preparing to defend their field.

Will the climate blogs help mediate this coming debate? Or amplify it?

I began thinking about this after seeing highlights from the Rally to Restore Sanity. If there is one forum that needs some sanity restoration, it is the climate blogs (science and political ones). Blogs highlight the extremes of the other side. Bloggers call each other names. Bloggers get grandiose and self-righteous.

Yes, absolutely, you can blame the medium. It is impersonal. It is easy to be extreme when the opponent is a collection of pixels and text rather than a living, breathing person. Plus, blogging only works if you have readers. And more controversy equals more page views.

But add it all up, and what do you get?

Cable news. Steve McIntrye as Bill O'Reilly? Joe Romm as Keith Olbermann? Anthony Watts as Glenn Beck? (plus a lot of folks hoping to be Jon Stewart?)

Just as political pundits focus on political maneuvering rather than actual policy debates, many bloggers focus on bashing each other rather than discussing the issues. We do so because it appears that shouting is the best way to get heard. So just as cable news channels have trended towards the extremes and trumped-up scandals to capture the dwindling audience and dwindling advertising dollars, many bloggers end up focusing on the controversies rather than the consensus in part just to stay afloat in a crowded online sea.

If you write nice, reasoned posts, you are less likely to get a gang of dedicated readers. If you insult the skeptics or question the scientists, the readers will come. Michael Tobis has been caught up recently; he wrote a very reasoned critique of misguided uncertainty discussion by another blogger – but it was the vitriol at the end that drew all the attention. The personalities become the subject. The medium becomes the... ok, a Canadian can never get far into a media conversation without quoting Marshall McLuhan. No particular person is to blame for the dynamic and no one is entirely immune. I’ve fallen in myself on a number of occasions.

The question we have to ask is this:

What do we hope to accomplish by blogging? Do we want to play “inside baseball”, or do we want more people to pay attention to the game? I may be wrong, but I’d guess that most of the science bloggers began their blog with an aim to educate people about climate change and to foster discussion on science and policy. Sure, there's some subconscious pleas for attention and what not at work, but I'll trust that bloggers of every stripe honestly believed their blog would improve the public discussion.

Is it working? I'd argue that the escalation of tone is not expanding the conservation conversation [thanks John!] on climate change. Everyone in the room is just shouting louder at each other. There’s no better way to alienate the broader public.

Behind the name calling and vitriol lies some neglected, one might even say inconvenient, truths.

You can think climate “skeptics” (or “alarmists”) are wrong, without thinking they are evil and/or in it for the money.

You can deconstruct an argument, without abusing the source.

You can trust the scientific consensus, but not be an alarmist.

You can agree with many of Joe Romm’s arguments, but disagree with his abrasive style.

You can disagree with Roger Pielke Jr. or Judith Curry most of the time, but agree with them sometimes.

You can know that the East Anglia e-mails have zero impact on the science of climate change and did not warrant one percent of the media coverage, but still be irritated with some of the scientists involved for the tone they used in a few of the messages.

You can agree with public statements by climate scientists about climate action, but think they are the wrong people to make such statements.

You can agree with the findings of a new study, but disagree that the findings are worthy of publicity.

You can trust the scientific consensus on climate change, but not believe that action is necessary. That may not be my personal judgment on the matter but I accept that the decision on climate action is about more than science.

And, yes, you can disagree with this post (and claim I've set up a straw blogger), but still give it some thought.