Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Awaiting a Canadian response to Obama's climate speech

For about a decade, the explanation for a lack of coherent Canadian climate policy was the lack of a coherent American climate policy. How could our federal government move forward with actions like regulations, carbon pricing, renewable portfolio standards, international agreements or adaptation plans without our largest trading partner and BFF? 

This argument was literally encoded in Canadian policy by the current government (see page 15):

Given the degree of economic integration with the U.S., we are aligning our climate change approach with that of the U.S. as appropriate, to maximize progress on reducing emissions while maintaining economic competitiveness

Now the U.S has a plan. No, it is not perfect, but it is far more advanced than any plan proposed by any sitting President or Prime Minister.

The ball is in our court. Time for Canada, time for Canadians, to define "as appropriate".



Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Some of Rolling Stone's "10 Dumbest Things Ever Said About Global Warming" are not so dumb

There's no shortage of dumb things said about global warming. Compiling a list of the ten dumbest requires wading though thousands and thousands of inane extrapolations about climate change impacts, butchered explanations of the physics of the climate system, and downright wacky U.S. congressional testimonies that seem to come from an alternative universe.  There was an entire "global warming movie", the Day after Tomorrow, featuring storms that defied the laws of thermodynamics.

Given the full panoply of options out there, it is disappointing to see Rolling Stone's new top-ten list feature the following two entries:

4. Climate change is impossible because "God's still up there." 

8. Safeguarding the climate is "a worldview that elevates the Earth above man." 

These may seem dumb to people who read Rolling Stone, but not to many other people on the planet.

The entries are based on quotes from religious conservative American politicians, all of which essentially argue the climate is outside the human domain. As I've documented multiple times, the view that the climate is beyond human control is not radical. If you take a historical perspective, the opposite is true. The fact that we can change the climate is a relatively new concept, one that counters thousands of years of human culture and belief.

These two of the "dumbest" things are also not unique products of the politicized Western climate change debate. Here's an example from #4:

A close runner-up in this category: In 2009, Rep. John Shimkus (R-Illinois) cited God's post-flood promise to Noah as evidence we shouldn't be worried. "The Earth will end only when God declares it's time to be over," he declared.

Rep. Shimkus' argument about the flood is not an invented Republican talking point. The same argument about the covenant between the Biblical God and Noah (that the seas will not rise again) is made by many elders in Tuvalu and Kiribati, when told that human activity is making the sea rise.

Certainly, we need to fight wholly incorrect statements about climate change. It is important that people appreciate the fake, uncritical and often organized skepticism about climate change out in the ether. And, sure, it is possible that the statements by Rep. Shimkus and the others fall into that category; maybe the statements were carefully designed to tap into the audience's beliefs.

Regardless, many people in many countries honestly agree with those statements. You don't engage new audiences by mocking their core beliefs.


Monday, June 10, 2013

Follow the AGU Chapman "Communicating Climate Science" conference online

This week's Communicating Climate Science: A Historic Look to the Future conference is being web-cast.

It is not an empty gesture. The organizers are trying to mix in questions from the online viewers, sent either via the meeting web-cast site or using the twitter hashtag #climatechapman.

A number of people here, Gavin Schmidt, myself and others, are also tapping out live tweets during the sessions.


Tuesday, June 04, 2013

America's big three: corn, soybeans and wheat

Last night, after a scare from the tough Indiana Pacers, the Miami Heat's "big three" of LeBron, Wade and Bosh advanced to the NBA Finals.

Unlike the other major North American sports, in basketball, it is possible for teams with just three great players to dominate. In baseball, football and hockey, with dozens of players per team each with very defined roles, the presence of three great players alone won't get you to the championship.

U.S. agriculture is a lot like basketball. Over the past few decades, the big three of corn, soybeans and wheat have come to dominate U.S. agricultural land. Yet, as in basketball, the basic parameters of the game have not changed. The court - the amount of land used to grow crops - is the same size it was back in the 1930s, despite the players getting larger and more skilled.

This spring, planting of the big three crops account for an estimated 231 million acres of agricultural land. That is, by my estimate from USDA data, roughly two-thirds of all cropland, and 87% of cropland devoted to major crops (i.e. not fallow or idle). Outside of brief soybean-driven surge in the early 1980s, there is currently a greater amount and proportion of cropland being devoted to corn, soybean and wheat than ever before. The current surge is driven largely by the use of corn for ethanol, as well as the continued demand for soybean and corn for animal feed.

The Heat's opponent in the Finals are the San Antonio Spurs. Though the Spurs have their own big three - Duncan, Parker and Ginobili - the team is best known for its tough coach who makes use of every role player on the bench. It is a true clash in styles. I'll be curious to see who wins.


Monday, June 03, 2013

How scientists can talk about public policy

The latest episode of the Climate Report (mp3), a monthly podcast hosted to Tom Bowman, features a fun interview with yours truly about the risks and benefits of scientists' engaging with public policy.

After opening with a discussion of my own path to research on climate change and coral reefs, we go into details on the value of adopting a 'scientific' approach to policy judgements, the risk of 'stealth' issue advocacy (a term coined by Roger Pielke Jr.), the benefits of communications training, and the importance of engaging with the public without disengaging from science