Weather, Climate and “Facts”
This is a blog frankly I’m not crazy about writing, but the recent firestorm that started last week with the launch of an initiative called “Forecast the Facts” coincident with the annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society in New Orleans compels me to weigh in. The “Forecast the Facts” (FTF)
stated goal is “. . . nothing short of changing how the entire profession of meteorology tackles the issue of climate change” which has included a listing of those TV weathercasters/meteorologists who they (Daniel Souweine is the director) feel are “deniers” or misrepresent the “facts” of climate change and human caused (anthropogenic) global warming (AGW). So what are the “facts”?
First the FACTS about what happened at the annual meeting of the American Meteorological Society last week. Full disclosure I have been a Member (and elected Fellow) and active participant of the AMS in many boards, commissioner and past president since my student member days of about 45 years ago. The AMS is the largest scientific and professional society of its type in the world. The governing body of the AMS is the Council of the Society, most of whose members and AMS president are elected by the 14,000 individuals members of the Society. An open, democratic process. The various statements of the Society cover areas of science NOT politics and policy varying from science education to mobile homes to water resources, weather forecasts and yes climate change.
The FACT is that every scientific based statement of the AMS is reviewed at a minimum every 5 years. If the science-based statement is no longer relevant, it may be dropped or, as in the case of important statements such as the statement on climate change, it is reviewed and updated as necessary. The current statement on climate change is undergoing such a review by a panel of scientists and was on the agenda of the 2012 AMS Council Meeting in New Orleans. FACT all the boards, committee, AMS Council meetings are fully open to any AMS Member. A representative from FtF was at the AMS Council meeting last week and, as I was told, (yes second hand . . . not a fact) raised his hand and asked to speak. The AMS President, as in all open meetings, recognized him (AMS Member or representing FtF who knew, there are 14,000 AMS members). He then did offer his opinion that the forthcoming updated AMS Statement on climate change should be very proactive against the so-called broadcast weathercasters/meteorologists “deniers”. AMS President John Malay (yes again full disclosure I am a past president and friend of John) was cordial but said the Council scientific discussion of the statement was not the place for what is an “agenda” or “policy”’ based statement [yes, again my words not John’s]. So with that as a background, where are we in this “debate” and what are the FACTS?
“Deniers”, “tree huggers”, “right wingers”, “socialists”, “conspirators”, “extremists”, “fanatics” . . . well that covers a lot of the terms hurled back and forth by various groups that do have a variety of motivations be they political, policy, economic or even religious. Unfortunately, the science and most scientists are lost in the middle and, as I know, many sometimes feel as though they are being drawn and quartered by both sides of the AGW “debate” which, unfortunately, has become as polarized as much of our society these days. Anyway, what are the “FACTS” from my perspective?
Climate change “skeptics”. Every scientist I know is a “skeptic”. It’s the way science works. You observe, question, seek answers, test, form ideas, sure argue about results of experiments and conclusions and sometimes your ideas or results are shown to be incorrect. So what? We should all be skeptics. We should all seek more information and knowledge and not be drawn, or seek out only to those who agree with our ideas, be they science, political, whatever. Let’s drop the lightning rod labels above being thrown from opposite sides of the river of knowledge and understanding.
I personally know many of the broadcasters who have been singled out as “deniers” by FtF and I would prefer to say they are AGW agnostics. Certainly not in the religious sense (“not going there. . . wouldn’t be prudent”) but in the broad philosophical sense “The English term "agnostic" is derived from the Greek "agnostos," which means, "to not know." That some in the disbeliever or not knowing camp say that global warming science is a “hoax” or part of some global cabal of scientists working on political agendas to change the world is frankly outrageous. In the climate /global change, discussion “hoax” should also be thrown into the trash bin of incendiary words that are not part of science. I personally know many of the eminent scientists such as Warren Washington, Tom Karl, Richard Somerville, and many more. Their personal integrity and objectivity as scientists are beyond reproach. The fact is to suggest they are part of a “hoax” is just plain wrong. Other oft-citied “skeptics” such as Richard Lindzen and Pat Michaels, while they may disagree with the IPCC process and magnitude of the global changes, certainly do not feel it is a “hoax”
“Fact” is a pretty strong word in science. The “facts” of Sir Isaac Newton’s famous laws of motion don’t quite work on the scale of quantum physics. But then, much of what we accept as a “facts” don’t work there either. Science is a continuum. The “fact” that the earth was the center of the universe, widely accepted before Copernicus work and paper in 1543. Let’s just say that human caused global and climate changes are sure not “facts” but the evidence is sure showing up more and more my dear Watson. Is the science “settled” (another one of those lightning rod words)? Of course not. But the science is strong. As Sherlock Holmes, let’s follow the footprints, our human footprints.
NASA MODIS image 12/31/2003
See any human impact on the land and water in this image from about 400 miles? Notice any difference in land use along the I-95 corridor? A “hoax” from space?
Has the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere increased in the last 150 years?
The famous Keeling Curve. Scientist Charles David Keeling was presented the National Medal of Science by President George W. Bush in 2002 for his work.
Since about the 1700s burning of fossil fuels has released about ½ trillion tons of carbon into the atmosphere . . . 500, 000, 0000 tons and the concentration of CO2 has increased today by almost 40% from 300 years ago. Solid science and solid observations or a “hoax”?
Minimum extent of arctic sea ice since 1972
Changes in ocean acidity in last 300 years. Data from Global Ocean Data Analysis Project
So what does this all have to do with the firestorm that FtF has created? I’m afraid, whatever the good intentions on trying to show the scientific misstatements, it has only created more polarization on the topic. We can learn by discussing and understanding and frankly putting our agendas, biases, personal beliefs, economic theories, politics, etc. on the table first and not using my science as a Piñata to confuse the public. I would hope thoughtful discussion leading to better decisions is still possible. Maybe I'm still a dreamer but I hope not. My friend and broadcast colleague John Toohey-Morales and I wrote about this in a guest editorial
“Outing” so called “deniers” with selective quotes almost falls into the camp of those political agendists who also cherry pick data or a sentence from a scientific report to support their agenda. I have written before that “Nature has no Agenda”. The world, our climate is changing. Climate, the globe, the earth, our lives are not static; change is part of time, part of who and what we are and where we live. Do we choose to accept these changes without changing ourselves? Ah, my dear Watson that is the question.
What should we do . . . what should you do? How about stop yelling at each other for one thing. Learn more. Keep an open mind. Yes be a “skeptic”. What don’t we know and why? What will happen to our world and our grandchildren's world in the future as the chemical changes now taking place in the atmosphere and ocean continue? Sure, dramatic climate/environment/earth changes have happened in the past. Ask a dinosaur about the K-T boundary and the Chicxulub crater. Unlike our long extinct reptilian friends we have consciousness of our world. We have science to help us understand what will happen. And finally learn a bit more. Read really interesting and thought provoking articles and books about science, politics and policy and climate change. Two favorites. The Forgiving Air and The Climate Fix. At least look at a few of the links I’ve provided. I’m sure some of my colleagues have different views and I look forward to their blogs . Blogs with a different view? Well maybe not a FACT, but at least a hope. We can all still learn and help our future generations participate in the critical decisions ahead by enlightenment rather than continuing to yell.