Wednesday, December 31, 2008

An open letter to Israel

This is coming out later than I intended because it took rather longer than I expected to gather all the links. Most of them are to previous posts of mine, which I did because a number of those posts themselves had more than one relevant link and time just didn't permit taking that extra step of looking at all of those to see which ones were relevant and still live.

The news from Gaza continues bad, the fighting - or, since it's said that calling thing by their right names is the beginning of wisdom, the aerial assault against a mostly defenseless populace - goes on into a fifth day as Israel continues to attack the people of Gaza in its "war to the bitter end" against Hamas, one it is refusing to allow the international press in to witness for itself.

My own response to this is the following, what you, if you wish, can consider to be an open letter to the state of Israel:

Israel, I write to you as someone who has never, not once, questioned your right to exist. Someone who for nearly 40 years now has advocated the "two-state" solution of mutual recognition between Israel and an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. Someone who, that is, would like to address you as a friend - but cannot. Cannot because you have made it impossible for me to be anything other than a dedicated foe of the course you have set, a course of war, of bigotry, of colonialism, of oppression. You have demonstrated for anyone with eyes to see and ears to hear that you do not want peace except the cold, deadly "peace" of domination and control.

The fact is, you have for years done everything you could to avoid a settlement that would involve surrendering your military and economic control of Palestinian lands.

You have sought to undermine any possibility of moderation among more radical Palestinians by undertaking provocative actions when any signs of such moderation emerge and then have used the very success of that strategy to delay or freeze talks.

You have sought to undermine every sign of moderation or accommodation even among elected Palestinian officials, labeling whatever they have done as not enough to satisfy your demands. That's been clear for over 15 years: In September 1993, Yassir Arafat, writing as head of the PLO, sent a letter to then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin saying, specifically and in so many words, that the PLO "recognizes the right of the State of Israel to exist in peace and security." Such recognition, you had insisted for years on end, was the one thing you required to advance to a settlement. But when it came, you said it wasn't enough. Later, you actively set out to undermine the authority of the Palestinian Authority. You demanded elections among the Palestinians but when Hamas did well in them and got a role in the government, you labeled it a "terrorist" government, said it made negotiations impossible, and openly set out to overthrow it.

You have repeatedly set conditions on negotiations that you knew were all but impossible to meet, including demanding a complete end to all attacks and the "dismantling" of radical groups - a goal that for all your efforts and all your might you yourself have not come close to accomplishing despite more than 40 years of trying. Indeed, those conditions were ones you believed could not be met, demanded not to secure negotiations but to avoid them. And when Palestinian security forces did try to contain attacks on Israel, you denied them the tools to do it while still demanding they succeed as a precondition to any advance toward a settlement.

When negotiations did occur, you made supposedly "generous" but thoroughly deceitful offers that you knew in advance would not, could not, be accepted and then used that refusal as a basis to falsely claim there was no "partner for peace." You promised as part of negotiations you would halt settlements on the West Bank. You lied.

Your "unilateral withdrawal" from Gaza was not a withdrawal at all in any meaningful sense of the word, it was the creation of a gulag, one surrounded by Israeli military forces, one whose every exit and entrance and whose airspace and ports are controlled by the IDF. Presented as some grand gesture for peace, it was no such thing: Then-Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called it "a mortal blow" that would "bring to an end" Palestinian dreams of nationhood. Its purpose was to "freeze Palestinian statehood indefinitely," to, in one of those grand lies at which Israel has become adept, deny your obligations under international law and "dispel the claims regarding Israel's responsibility for the Palestinians in the Gaza Strip," while simultaneously tightening your grip on the West Bank.

You have engaged in illegal and immoral assassination. You have killed peaceful protesters with apparent impunity. You have used Palestinians as human shields, illegal under international law.

You have persistently dehumanized Palestinians including engaging in routine degradation and humiliation at border crossings. You have illegally destroyed Palestinian homes and illegally expropriated Palestinian lands. You have immorally institutionalized discrimination against Palestinians in the West Bank to the point where even the roads have become an expression of apartheid.

You have engaged in illegal and immoral collective punishment including actively trying to blockade and starve the people of Gaza into submission, leaving them drastically short of food and supplies, with stocks of vital items now "either very low or nonexistent," according to the UN. Even fuel and spare parts to maintain basic public services are mostly unavailable, leaving 60% of the population with running water only once every five to seven days. And this week, you illegally rammed a boat in international waters that was attempting to deliver food and medicine despite your illegal and inhumane blockade.

You have thumbed your nose at the International Court of Justice when it condemned your illegal "separation fence." You claimed that what happened on the West Bank was an "internal Israeli matter," a perhaps unintentional but still clear declaration of your intentions for the region.

You have labeled any press criticism as "anti-Semitic" even though that coverage has been so one-sided that media accounts describe it as a period of "calm" when no Israelis are dying - even though Palestinians continue to be killed.

Oh, and yes, the deaths, let's talk about the deaths. During the period from the beginning of October 2000 through the end of November 2008, you killed more than four times as many Palestinians as Palestinians killed Israelis, and all the while you insisted that every Israeli death, even of a soldier, even as the result of an attack on what would clearly be a military target, was the result of an act of "terrorism" while every Palestinian death, even if it was clearly an unarmed civilian, was the result of "necessary self-defense." In the most recent fighting, nearly 100 times as many Palestinians have been killed as Israelis: pushing 400 versus 4. Nearly 2000 more have been wounded. Some individual Palestinian families have had more killed than all of Israeli society. You killed nearly 20 times as many Palestinians in the first three days of the attack as Israelis had been killed by Hamas rockets in the preceding eight years.

And through all of it, across the years, you have demanded that the Palestinians promise to permanently, completely, stop all attacks on Israel and Israelis and formally recognize Israel as a precondition to even seriously discussing a settlement - even though you know, you must know, how could you not know, that doing so would strip Palestinians of the one thing they have to offer in negotiations, that is, a guarantee of security. Even when you got your recognition, it made no difference to you. Your demand, that is, is that Palestinians cease being an opposition, cease being a party to negotiations, and instead approach you as supplicants, begging for scraps from your table. Your desire, that is, your desire in all of this across all these years, is, in the words of former Israeli Defense Force chief of staff Moshe Ya’alon, "to sear deep into the consciousness of Palestinians that they are a defeated people." To dominate. To control. To be free to oppress.

After all that, after all of that, you have the effrontery, the arrogance, the hubris, the chutzpah, the utter appalling gall, to present yourself as if you were the victim? That is both unbelievable and quite literally unforgivable.

I have said it before, I have said it for 40 years, I firmly believe, that two states, Israel and Palestine, living in mutual recognition, is the best available course, the one that offers the best hope of doing justice and promising security to both peoples. It is beyond tragic that that is precisely the course you are determined to avoid.

You perhaps have noticed how many times I have used the words "illegal" and "immoral." That was out of necessity as so much of what you have done these past few decades - and continue to do now - fits both descriptions. I can only hope that at some point you decide, or discover the need, to return to the ranks of civilized nations. In the meantime, I can only regret your having become enraptured by blood and power and urge my own nation to refuse to continue to support it.

Your once and I hope future friend,

Monday, December 29, 2008

It's getting colder out there, Part Two

On Friday, the Washington Post described how
[s]tates from Rhode Island to California are being forced to curtail Medicaid, the government health insurance program for the poor, as they struggle to cope with the deteriorating economy. ...

Already, 19 states ... and the District of Columbia have lowered payments to hospitals and nursing homes, eliminated coverage for some treatments, and forced some recipients out of the insurance program completely.

Many are halting payments for health-care services not required by the federal government, such as physical therapy, eyeglasses, hearing aids and hospice care. A few states are requiring poor patients to chip in more toward their care. ...

[U]ncertainty over how much [federal] help may come, and when it might arrive, is prompting many states to make the biggest reductions to their Medicaid programs in years - and in some cases, ever.
Medicaid has real limitations: For one thing, contrary to common notion, being poor does not qualify you for assistance unless you fit a "designated eligibility group." The result is that even with the program, an estimated 35% of poor Americans (and 29% of the "near poor," those with incomes up to double poverty level) still have no health insurance of any sort. (See Figure 5 at this link to a report of the Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured) Nonetheless, it is the nations largest source of government health insurance, covering about 59 million Americans in 2007.

And now there are these cutbacks, with even more states expecting to make even deeper cuts in 2009, which are happening at a time of increasing unemployment (and attendant loss of job-related health insurance), which means even more people are going to need the help - and it may not be there.

I wonder if this is something else Mr. Flickinger thinks will be good news in the long run. After all, it will rationalize out all - well, at least some of - the redundant people. Because, you know, "If they'd rather die, they had better do it and decrease the surplus population."

It's getting cold out there, Part One

A few weeks ago, I noted an article that reported that by the end of November, there had already been a record number of commercial bankruptcies in the US, and the year wasn't even over. I also quoted from that article an economist who said he
expects a wave of retail bankruptcies in the first quarter of 2009, as struggling businesses run out of gas after hanging on for the holiday shopping season.
The intervening time has only made things look even worse. Bloomberg News reported today that
U.S. retailers face a wave of store closings, bankruptcies and takeovers starting next month as holiday sales are shaping up to be the worst in 40 years. ...

More than a dozen retailers, including Circuit City Stores Inc., Linens ‘n Things Inc., Sharper Image Corp. and Steve & Barry’s LLC, have sought bankruptcy protection this year as the credit squeeze and recession drained sales. Investors will start seeing a wide variety of chains seeking bankruptcy protection in February when they file financial reports, said Burt Flickinger.

“You’ll see department stores, specialty stores, discount stores, grocery stores, drugstores, major chains either multi-regionally or nationally go out,” Flickinger, managing director of Strategic Resource Group, a retail-industry consulting firm in New York, said today in a Bloomberg Radio interview. “There are a number that are real causes for concern.” ...

Retailers’ fourth-quarter earnings may fall 19 percent on average, the seventh consecutive quarterly decline, according to Ken Perkins, president of Retail Metrics, a Swampscott, Massachusetts-based consulting firm.
The Commerce Department says the US economy shrank at an annual rate of 0.5% in the third quarter of 2008, it's worst performance since 2001 - and economists expect it will continue to shrink for an additional three quarters. Personally, barring some massive public investment in the economy and one far bigger than what has been proposed, I think they're being optimistic.

Footnote: Flickinger said that in the long run, this is will help the retail industry.
“We’ll be going from a Dickens-esque worst of times this December to the best of times in future Decembers because we’ll rationalize out all the redundant retailers and retail space in shopping centers,” Flickinger said.
Yup. Shuttered stores, disrupted communities, bankruptcies, people losing their jobs, their incomes, their health insurance, even their homes - it's all good news if you'll only look at the long-run big picture for business. Yup, indeed.

We already knew this

Updated But still, it's good to have it confirmed that the blithering, mouth-breathing, drool-mottled idiots of the right have no clue what the hell they are talking about. Again.

Under the tutelage of the anti-sex wingnut fanatics, the federal government established programs that now spend $200 million a year promoting abstinence, including having people sign so-called virginity pledges.

According to a new study published in the professional journal Pediatrics, those pledges don't do a damn thing. (A .pdf version of the entire article is available at this link.)
In this study, researchers compared the sexual behavior of 289 teenagers who reported taking a virginity pledge in a 1996 national survey to 645 non-pledgers who were matched on more than 100 factors, such as religious beliefs and attitudes toward sex and birth control.

The results showed that five years after taking the virginity pledge:

- 82% of pledgers denied ever having taken the pledge.
- Pledgers and matched non-pledgers did not differ in rates of premarital sex, sexually transmitted disease, and oral and anal sex behaviors.
- Pledgers had 0.1 fewer sexual partners in the past year but did not differ from non-pledgers in the number of lifetime sexual partners and the age of first sex.
That is, there was no real difference one way or the other. So was this just a matter or people going "Oh, yeah, sure, I'll sign, what the heck" but without any commitment? Perhaps. But there was one statistically-significant difference between the signers and the non-signers:
The study showed that fewer pledgers used birth control or condoms in the past year or any form of birth control the last time they had sex.
That is, they were every bit as likely to have sex, as soon, with as many people - but less likely to use birth control , in fact 10 percentage points less likely, leading to a greater risk of that bane of every right-thinking conservative moralistic blowhard, teenage pregnancy.

Why are we expected to listen to these people?

Footnote: KTK at Lean Left takes a look at a much wider field and reaches much the same conclusion, although expressed as a statement and let's just say somewhat less politely.

Updated to include the 10 percentage points info and its link.

There will be more

I will have something to say about the Israeli attack on Gaza tomorrow. For the moment, I am just going to quote a small part of something I said nearly five years ago, in January 2004:
I have been consistently critical of Israel in regard to its face-off with the Palestinians. I do that for several reasons. One is that the underlying principle is that I genuinely believe - and have believed for over 30 years - that the Palestinians have every bit as much right to a land of their own as the Israelis do and that mutual recognition between Israel and an independent Palestinian state is, barring a miraculous reconciliation, the best available, the most just, solution for long-term peace and stability.

I also believe that Israel has become less interested in a solution that does not involve maintaining its dominance over the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights.
And I believe now that Israel's actions in the years since, including this bloody attack, have only served to confirm that judgment. Israel is not engaged in defense, it is engaged in a form of colonialism.

I'll also note here for the sake of my ego that more than three and a-half years after I wrote that, Henry Siegman, the former director of the US/Middle East Project at the Council on Foreign Relations (1994-2006) and former head of the American Jewish Congress (1978-1994), which would seem safely establishment credentials, said this in the London Review of Books:
[A]ll previous peace initiatives have got nowhere for a reason that neither Bush nor the EU has had the political courage to acknowledge. That reason is the consensus reached long ago by Israel’s decision-making elites that Israel will never allow the emergence of a Palestinian state which denies it effective military and economic control of the West Bank.
I expect I will make further reference to that same article.

Not another global warming post!

Um, yeah, 'fraid so. But it's a short one. The BBC said today that
[t]he past year has been one of the most devastating ever in terms of natural disasters, one of the world's biggest re-insurance companies has said. ...

Although there were fewer "loss-producing events" in 2008 than in the previous year, the impact of natural disasters was higher, said Munich Re in its annual assessment.

More than 220,000 people died in events like cyclones, earthquakes and flooding, the most since 2004, the year of the Asian tsunami.

Meanwhile, overall global losses totalled about $200bn (£137bn), with uninsured losses totalling $45bn, about 50% more than in 2007.
Which made 2008 the third most expensive year on record, trailing only 1995 (the year of the Kobe earthquake in Japan) and 2005 (the year of Hurricane Katrina.)

Company officials said the results showed the effects of global warming and said
world leaders must put in place "effective and binding rules on CO2 emissions" to curb climate change and ensure that "future generations do not have to live with weather scenarios that are difficult to control".
I'm not offering Munich Re as experts on climatology, even though it does have a Geo Risks Research division. Rather, I'm using the data to point out that those who try to deny global warming by claiming that severe weather events are not increasing over time are simply wrong. That every year does not set a new record is irrelevant, just as is the lack of a new all-time temperature record every year. The prediction of global warming models is not that the trend over time is necessarily to more storms but rather to more severe storms.

With the inclusion of 2008, it means two of the three most destructive years on record have happened in the last four years. Which should at minimum give the denialists who make the argument in question pause - but of course it won't. Denialism recognizes no heresies.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

A different subject

I'm yet again dipping into the pile of comments I've recently made on other blogs to post here. It does kinda feel like cheating; why, I'm not sure since cross-posting is certainly a common practice - so why not cross-comment-to-posting?

Anyway, one of the good folks at Lean Left posted some email exchanges from last year between himself and a friend who died of cancer this past October. He - the poster - asked people to honor the friend's request in that exchange and have a discussion about the right to die. I made a few comments; the only changes here are the addition of the links to info about the Zygmaniak case and correction of typos.
As Ted [the friend] noted, the legal and ethical issue often isn’t the right to suicide, it’s the right to assisted suicide. I say the answer to that doesn’t relate to “if” but to “under what conditions.” This is my take on the ethical (not the legal) side:

Does a mentally-competent person have to right to take their own life? Yes.

Given that, if unable to carry it out themselves in a way to minimize suffering, does that person have the right to ask another for help? Yes.

Given both of those and assuming their own conscience allows it, does that second party have the right to help? Yes.

Given all of those, does that second party have the right to refuse to help? Yes.

The sticker, of course, is the “mentally-competent” part. For example, I was brought up Catholic and I remember being taught at one point that the Church no longer regarded suicide as a sin on the grounds that life was such a previous gift of God that no sane person would willingly surrender it. But that becomes a catch-22 because it means that attempting suicide is proof that you aren’t mentally competent to make the decision to attempt suicide.

Which is why I included that last point above: If that second party believes the suicidal person is not thinking clearly or is acting out of a bout of clinical depression or similar cause, I’d say not only can they refuse, but they are morally and ethically obligated to do so.

This has been a conviction of mine of long-standing. I was tangentially involved in the case of Lester Zygmaniak, who in 1973 performed a mercy killing of his brother George. It could reasonably be called an assisted suicide because George had repeatedly asked Lester to kill him.

George had been in a motorcycle accident that left him in a great deal of pain and, doctors said, permanently and irreversibly paralyzed from the neck down. He repeatedly asked his doctors why they wouldn’t just let him die and begged Lester to put him out of his misery.

Ultimately, Lester smuggled a shotgun into the hospital, asked George one more time if he was sure this is what he wanted, and on getting an affirmative response, shot George in the head, killing him instantly. (Sidebar: Note that “minimizing suffering” does not necessarily mean the use of medications.) He then waited in the room until the police came. He was charged with first degree murder.

At his trial, his lawyer pleaded temporary insanity, a defense that rarely works. But the jury took just two and a-half hours to both acquit Lester and to find his sanity had returned, thus freeing him. I said at the time - and I still think - that I didn’t for a minute believe the jury actually believed the temporary insanity claim; rather that, given the circumstances, they took the attitude “no damn way we’re sending that boy to jail for who knows how many years.”

Precisely because the issue of assisted suicide is fraught with matters of conscience and judgment, it’s an area where people surely can disagree and agree to disagree - but for that very reason I think it’s an issue where we need to be extremely cautious in setting legal limits that would criminalize actions undertaken willingly and in good conscience by all directly involved.
My "tangential involvement" is that I was slightly acquainted with the defense attorney in the case and in an unrelated discussion (about Vietnam and draft resistance) shortly before the shooting I had said that I thought people were becoming more sympathetic to the idea that "life must be worth living to be life" or words to that effect.

In response to my comment, the poster said he "mostly liked" my framework, but would like some additional person involved who was not directly involved/related to the person wishing to die. "I can see how that could become cumbersome in some cases," he said, but added that he was concerned about possible abuse.
I understand your desire for the involvement of a disinterested party, I do[, I replied]. It’s the reluctance to make assisted suicide seem too easy to get and do, an outcome I doubt anyone would favor. (And I’ll note that by “second party” I didn’t mean it necessarily was one individual; perhaps “outside party or parties” in place of “second party” would have been better.)

But again in terms of the ethics involved and not the legalities, I wonder, who would that third person be? How would you locate them? Consider the case of George Zygmaniak. What uninvolved third party could he have approached and how would they have been involved? And should a disinterested party have a say in the ethical aspects of what may well be the most intensely personal decision any of us could ever make?

In terms of the legalities, on the other hand, I could see a provision in a law about assisted suicide that would require an examination by some appropriate professional to determine that the person who wishes to end their life is mentally competent to understand the nature and consequences of their decision. But again, that is about competence, not ethics.

At the same time, I think the potential for abuse is rather small since even with an assisted suicide law, never mind without one, the possibility of being tried for murder if questions arise is quite real. Again referring to the Zygmaniak case, if the jury hadn’t been convinced that what Lester did was actually an act of mercy that was desired by George, Lester would very likely have been convicted of first degree murder.
After giving it a good deal of thought about whether I wanted to or not, I added one more comment to give an emotional as well as a philosophical context to my beliefs:
A footnote to this: I think folks here know that I’m not much of one for going into personal experiences. I’ll offer a heckuva lotta personal opinions but not a lot of “this is what happened in my life.” But I’ll do it in this case because I have a somewhat personal connection to this issue, not direct, but the connection is there.

Part of that is the fact that I’m subject to what I call dark spells, some of which have been long enough and dark enough that I understand the temptation to suicide as well as the need to try to wait it out to see if some light returns. You know the saying “so low I have to reach up to touch bottom?” Know that there are worse places, places where it seems there is no bottom and the sinking will never end.

The other has to do with the death of my mother, which was in 1986. She was at that point a brittle diabetic with end-stage renal disease. She had been in and out of the hospital several times over the preceding months and each time there was the possibility it would be her last. On this occasion, on top of everything else, she had a trach tube (so she couldn’t speak). We’d gotten her a little pad so she could write things out - but she suffered a string of TIAs (transient ischemic attacks, sometimes called mini-strokes) that left her hands unable to write the words her brain was screaming at them.

One day, I was standing at her bedside. One of her doctors and my father were across the room, talking. My mother looked at me and mouthed what I believe - but do not know - were the words “pull the plug.” I shook my head no. Wide-eyed with distress, she very clearly mouthed “Why?” I said “I can’t.” Not with my father and the doctor - both of who would try to physically prevent me - in the same room. Upset and unhappy, she turned her head away from me.

I intended to return later that day, when we would be alone, and ask her if she did say what I thought she said and if she meant what she appeared to mean. If the answer was yes, I would have done it. There is no question about that.

She slipped into a coma later that afternoon, before I could get back. She died two days later.

It was and remains one of the biggest regrets of my life that my mother may have died believing that I, who alone of all the people in her life would have been willing to fulfill that final request (as she surely knew), failed her.

So yeah, I have considered the ethics and emotions of both suicide and assisted suicide - from both sides of the situation.
I always thought that the people who work suicide prevention hot lines should be people who've been there, i.e., people who at some point might have been on the other side of that line. It's a cliché but it's true that generally, it is a terrible idea to tell someone considering suicide "You've got your whole life ahead of you!" since that's exactly the problem. But what you can say, and what thinking to myself I believe got me through on one occasion, is "Just hang on until tomorrow and see how you feel then." True, they may not feel any different.

Then again, maybe they will.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Getting hot under the collar

One last bit, really, just this one, before I switch topics to something else. I'll note in case I haven't before that the reasons for posting these here is that it's a cheap way to get a post and I thought the links might prove useful to others. (By the way, the reason I use the term "denialist" and call the practice "denialism" is because all they really have to go on is a type of religious faith. Facts don't move them.)

MMFA had another item about media coverage of global warming and of course the comments section brought out the denialists. Naturally, I just had to get involved. The issue this time was the so-called "Medieval Warm Period."

(Noted for the record: The responses below are slightly edited from the originals for clarity and to add a couple of links. The unedited originals, along with all other comments, are here.)
Oh sigh, the so-called "Medieval Warm Period" strikes again.

the warmest period in record was the 13th century

No, it wasn't. Period.

In fact, the MWP very likely did not exist except as a temporary reversal of an overall cooling trend, a reversal that was limited to parts of the Northern Hemisphere. And while there is some data that indicates that area might have been as warm then as it was in the early 20th century, about a hundred years ago, there is nothing to say it was anywhere near as warm as now. NOAA says "the late 20th and early 21st centuries are likely the warmest period the Earth has seen in at least 1200 years."

The 2001 IPCC report summarized current knowledge this way: "Current evidence does not support globally synchronous periods of anomalous cold or warmth over this time frame, and the conventional terms of 'Little Ice Age' and 'Medieval Warm Period' appear to have limited utility in describing trends in hemispheric or global mean temperature changes in past centuries."

Certainly we've learned a lot since then but it hasn't helped the skeptics. In fact, in October, at the 2008 Joint Meeting of the Geological Society of America, two geologists presented a paper arguing that "several glaciers in western North America were advancing during the Medieval Warm Period," which would mean either that it was actually cooler then than now or, as other evidence indicates, any warming was regional, not worldwide.

And should it be necessary to point out that whatever the precise truth of the climate of 700 years ago, we do not live 700 years ago? That the world we inhabit is nothing like medieval Europe and attempting to draw present-day sociological lessons about growth and plenty from that period is just downright silly?

technology will allow us to cope

It might help - that is, if it's technologies such as renewable energy and conservation.
Twenty minutes later (before my reply), that same commenter put up a link to this article in The Register, an online magazine about technology. It referred to a recently-released study that argued that global warming may stall for several years due to a cooling forcing arising from a cyclical shift in ocean currents. The author used that to attack the whole idea of global warming before going after a temperature study that questioned the Medieval Warm Period.
At the top, let me say I am familiar with The Register; it is on a list of publications I check from time to time about technological issues. But that very familiarity enables me to say I do not regard it as an unbiased source.

It's also worth noting that everything that author Steven Goddard has on the site is the same thing: nit-picking at data points to disprove global warming. And in this case he essentially argues that NASA - more particularly, Dr. James Hansen - is deliberately falsifying data to indicate continued warming. That is a very serious charge which of course he didn't dare make directly, but I defy anyone to read the article and reasonably reach a different conclusion.

By the way, back in August he used totally invalid methodology in a failed attempt to claim NASA data showing a large-scale loss of Arctic ice was skewed and got ruthlessly debunked by the very source he cited.

So neither the source nor the author can be considered unbiased on the issue. (In fact, there appears to be something of a mystery as to just who this Steven Goddard is.)

And last before getting to the article, in the above comment (i.e., the link to the article) we see again how the denialists pluck one single article out of one single source making one single claim about one set of data and tossing that up as if it were a crushing rejoinder to the whole notion of global warming.

With that, to the article:

First, the very link Goddard cites about the study that "reignited the debate" about global warming by predicting a period of slightly cooler temperatures quotes the study as saying that this cyclical change in ocean currents would "temporarily offset the projected anthropogenic warming" for maybe a decade. (Emphasis added.) Despite Goddard's attempt to distort the finding, they are not predicting an end to global warming but only a stall in it. What's more, the authors themselves say they used "a simple approach" that only used one set of data.

(By the way, Nature is a peer-reviewed journal which has published other studies related to global warming. For example, in November, it had a study that indicated that the rise in carbon dioxide in the oceans "could increase the volume of oxygen-depleted 'dead zones' in tropical oceans by as much as 50% before the end of the century." In December, in its "Nature Reports," it had an article on what's been learned about climate change in 2008. None of it is beneficial to Goddard's arguments.)

Then Goddard compares graphs of temperature records, one done by the UK Meteorological Office's (popularly known simply as the Met) Hadley Centre for Climate Prediction and Research and another by NASA, claiming the former shows the world is "not much warmer now than it was than it was in 1878 or 1941" while NASA's shows "worldwide temperatures increasing at a record pace - and nearly a full degree warmer than 1880." That is a patently deceptive description: The apparent difference in the slope of the graphs is due entirely to the difference in scale on the Y (vertical) axis. When you look at the actual numbers charted, you'll see that the Met's graph says the difference between 1940 and now is about 0.4 degrees and NASA's says it is about 0.45 degrees - and the difference between 1880 and now is about 0.7 degrees for the Met and 0.75 degrees for NASA. So according to Goddard, 0.7 degrees is "not much warmer" but 0.75 degrees is "nearly a full degree." He clearly is stretching and distorting words to reach a wrong but for him convenient conclusion.

He then challenges NASA's reevaluation of 70 years of earlier data by claiming it's statistically ridiculous, but he's the one that's absurd: "From a statistical viewpoint, data recalculation should cause each year to have a 50/50 probability of going either up or down." That's true if and only if any adjustments are correcting previous, randomly-distributed errors. If the need for such corrections arises from a systematic error, there is no reason to assume a 50/50 distribution.

He can't even get the math right: He says the corrections show a 55/15 distribution toward what would show increased recent warming and says the odds against that are a trillion to one - only to have to admit it's actually about a million to one; he was off by six orders of magnitude.

He can't even get the source right: It turns out the adjustments were made by an agency of NOAA, not NASA.

And all that is without even going to the second page.

Conclusion: The article is trash.

Footnote: Before Goddard or anyone else tries to use info from the Met again, they might check out its website, particularly its "Climate Change Facts."
And finally, a second denialist offered this link as "a cogent read." (Be aware that for some reason I've not been able to determine, the link takes you to the wrong page. At that page, use the link to the right for the "hockey stick" post, which will work - even though the URL is as far as I can tell identical to the one here.)
Sometimes I wonder if the denialists actually read and understand the sources they cite. The piece at the link at least cites more than one source, unusual for denialists, but it still for the most part uses data more than a decade old and trots out the standard accusations that anything showing global warming is "spurious," "politicized," even fradulent, and exists solely to "fit some policy agendas." In short, global warming science is all part of some huge conspiracy driven by NASA or the UN or the IPCC or "Big Science" or environmentalists or the Illuminati or, well, by somebody.

You want fraudulent analysis? I'll show you fraudulent analysis. Look at Figures 3 and 4 at the link, designed to refute temperature data that challenged the idea of the MWP. Figure 3 is the original graph of the data. Figure 4 is a supposed "correction" of the data with a label pointing to peaks in the year 1400-1500 range reading "20th century no longer highest." But note that Figure 4, the "corrected" version, stops at 1950. If it had included the remaining 50 years of the century, as Figure 3 did with numbers based on actual temperature readings, the 20th century still would have been warmer even after the "corrections."

That is another trick of the denialists: Picking whatever time frame is convenient for them: You want to say it was warmer at some time in the past? Just ignore the last 50 years of hard data.

It is also at best dishonest to proceed as if the study graphed in Figure 3 (and a follow-up a year later by a team lead by the same researcher, Michael Mann) are the only sources questioning the MWP.
This is patently false. Nearly a dozen model-based and proxy-based reconstructions of Northern Hemisphere mean temperature by different groups all suggest that late 20th century warmth is anomalous in a long-term (multi-century to millennial) context.
In fact, looking at the graphs of all of those studies clearly marks the "corrected" one used here as an outlier. And that, too - that is, using a known outlier as reliable, even conclusive, data - is dishonest.

But even beyond that, the corrections themselves are interesting: Our other denialist here in these comments at MMFA linked to a piece that challenged corrections to earlier data on the grounds that most of them pointed to increased evidence for global warming and that, the author there insisted, was statistically absurd. Yet here we have a case where every claimed correction runs in one direction, that of proving the existence of a MWP. So we have two cases trying to deny global warming, the second of which uses an argument the first calls ridiculous.

(I also can't help but notice that the "corrections" for the period in question seem to consist mostly of running across the top of the larger error bars on the original graph.)

My earlier statement stands: "The MWP very likely did not exist except as a temporary reversal of an overall cooling trend, a reversal that was limited to parts of the Northern Hemisphere. And while there is some data that indicates that limited area might have been as warm then as it was in the early 20th century, about a hundred years ago, there is nothing to say it was anywhere near as warm as now."

The author of the linked piece blandly asserts that the MWP is "a well-established phenomenon ... during which global temperature conditions were warmer than those at present," but since that is exactly what is as issue, it can't be taken seriously as an argument any more than can his use of an IPCC graph from 1996 (funny how the IPCC becomes a reliable source when it serves his ends) since the climate study he spends the rest of the time trying to shoot down postdates that graph by two years.

In other words, it can be taken as seriously as the rest of the post.

A few last things:

- The first source cited, Dr. David Deming, is a notorious anti-global warming fanatic who considers global warming "pseudo-scientific mumbo-jumbo" and the very concept of environmentalism "anti-scientific." He is associated with two rightwing think tanks and he has been blessed with op-ed space in the Washington Times and Investors Business Daily. One of those think tanks is the National Center for Policy Analysis, which says its goal
is to develop and promote private alternatives to government regulation and control, solving problems by relying on the strength of the competitive, entrepreneurial private sector.
That is, "the magic of the marketplace" solves everything. Something with which the US has had a fair amount of experience these past few months.

Deming's most recent appearance in the media was a couple of weeks back, in a FauxNews hit piece on an AP article that had suggested we're running out of time to act on global warming. Deming called the AP piece laughable, a "polemic ... propaganda" that was (know your audience, 'cause you want them to keep calling you) "not fair and balanced."

- The committee before which he testified in December 2006 in the quoted passage was chaired at the time by Sen. James Inhofe, whose views on the issue I expect you know. The hearing was held for the specific and avowed purpose of getting testimony from every skeptic Inhofe could find. During his testimony, Deming actually argued that humans should emit more carbon dioxide as a hedge against a future ice age.

- Finally, the blogger himself, one Andrew Bostom, is a rightwing hack who is a frequent contributor to American Thinker and to David Horowitz's FrontPageMag which I almost typed as FrontPageRag but decided against it. Bostom is best known for writing books devoted to "proving" that Islam is both inherently anti-Semitic and permanently devoted to brutal, violent conquering of and bloody, oppressive rule over, non-Muslims. In a post right before the linked one he called the naming of John Holdren as Obama's chief science adviser "Climate Scientology Jihad" that "puts our economy and our security at risk" and insisted we need more "energy development (coal, natural gas, oil) now." (Emphasis in original.)

If you want to understand his perspective, consider it adequate to note that Pam Atlas, the space cadet who actually claimed to have proved that Barack Obama was the illegitimate son of Malcolm X, appears to get wet just thinking about him.

Sort of a self-reinforcing circle jerk of denialists. One I find quite unpersuasive.
Should I be surprised that in the two to three days since, I have gotten no further response from any denialists? Maybe not.

But - but - but - the snow!

Okay, so it appears I can't get away from the global warming kick just yet. On Thursday, the Washington Post reported that
[t]he United States faces the possibility of much more rapid climate change by the end of the century than previous studies have suggested, according to a new report led by the U.S. Geological Survey.

The survey - which was commissioned by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program and issued this month - expands on the 2007 findings of the United Nations Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change. Looking at factors such as rapid sea ice loss in the Arctic and prolonged drought in the Southwest, the new assessment suggests that earlier projections may have underestimated the climatic shifts that could take place by 2100. ...

Thirty-two scientists from federal and non-federal institutions contributed to the report, which took nearly two years to complete. The Climate Change Science Program, which was established in 1990, coordinates the climate research of 13 different federal agencies. ...

In one of the report's most worrisome findings, the agency estimates that in light of recent ice sheet melting, global sea level rise could be as much as four feet by 2100. The IPCC had projected a sea level rise of no more than 1.5 feet by that time, but satellite data over the past two years show the world's major ice sheets are melting much more rapidly than previously thought. The Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are now losing an average of 48 cubic miles of ice a year, equivalent to twice the amount of ice that exists in the Alps.
That IPCC estimate accounted only for sea level rise from warming of ocean waters, not from glacial melt. Because an earlier prediction had tried to estimate the effects of melt, the later estimate of a maximum rise of 1.5 feet was lower than the previous one, which lead to a lot of inappropriate and scientifically-nonsensical smirking among global warming denialists. But as Konrad Steffen, lead author on the study's chapter on ice sheets, notes, much more now is understood about "lubrication," where melt gets under ice sheets, making it easier for them to move and thus accelerating loss of those sheets to the ocean.

The report also considered droughts. It concluded that while it can't yet be said if human activity is responsible for current drought conditions in the southwest US, "nearly all" of 24 computer models examined concluded that the North American Southwest, which includes Mexico, is already transitioning to a more arid climate. Richard Seager of Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory said that
such conditions would probably include prolonged droughts lasting more than a decade.
The study did say that abrupt, massive releases of methane from melting permafrost and the shutdown of the Atlantic Ocean circulation are unlikely to happen before 2100 - but I was under the impression that was already to general belief, so that's not really reassuring.

In fact, in an unplanned demonstration of the vapidity of those who would deny the warming has to do with human activities and yes some of them do still exist, Ed Brook, the lead author of the methane chapter, said that the amount of methane escaping from natural sources "could possibly double" by the end of the century - but that would still be less than the current level of human-produced methane emissions, thus poking a finger in the eye of those who try to divorce methane production from human activity.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Is it over yet?

Forgive my silence of the past few days, it's just that this really was a bah, humbug Christmas.

We tried, we really did try, in the days leading up to it. I put on Christmas music (I have a cd of classical music about Christmas that I like a lot), we had some egg nog, we watched two versions of "A Christmas Carol" and watched "A Christmas Story" twice. I even put up some decorations. My wife made lasagna and her great fudge.

But the spirit just wasn't there. We've been hit with thousands of dollars in unanticipated expenses since October, piling up just as my job - which is tourist-based - was winding down until the spring. Checking the local papers gets the response "Excuse me? What is this 'job' thing of which you speak?" When my wife got told on Christmas Eve that her hours were being cut by about 20% as of January 1, well, that just kinda did it.

Yeah, it's a sob story but I wanted to dump it on someone and you folks are the easiest. And no, I'm not asking for anything; there is no tip jar or such, I just wanted to "say" it "out loud." As long as this thing doesn't cost me anything other than my time and the electricity to run the computer, I don't intend to ask for anything.

Except readers. That would be nice.

Footnote, Of Course: I understand why a lot of things like wage cuts take place around this time; a lot of businesses have fiscal years that coincide with the calendar year so what would be the first pay period of the new year would be the first one under the new budget.

What I can't understand is why people have to be told at this time of year. We know goddam well that the decision to make these cuts in hours (my wife is not the only one affected) was made at least weeks ago, when the budget for the new year was set, not just a day or two ago. So why in heaven's name can't people be told about this when the decision is made so they'll have time to prepare for the cut in income?

I've only been able to come up with one possibility: Management is afraid people will use the lead time to find other work and quit before the cuts go into effect and this way they're hoping for "shock and awe" to keep that from happening. In other words, it's just another example of fucking selfishness.

Oh, one last thing: It appears that the managers at my wife's workplace are not having their pay cut. There was some talk that they were going to have to forego their bonuses, but since by definition a bonus is not part of base pay and so should not be something you count on, I say BFD.

Why Rick Warren will not be uninvited

Rick Warren is a bigot and a homophobe who has compared same sex marriage to pedophilia, incest, and polygamy. He uses the code word of calling homosexuality a "lifestyle" and referred to it as a matter of having "a lack of self-control.” He refused to let gays join his church.

He not only opposes abortion rights, he has compared abortion to the Holocaust and defenders of choice to Holocaust deniers.

His much-touted AIDS program in Africa focuses on treatment while ignoring prevention except to emphasize “abstinence” while rejecting sex education and safe-sex efforts such as distributing condoms. According to Warren himself, it has a top priority of “saving” non-Christians.

He denies evolution and has even bizarrely claimed that homosexuality is proof evolution doesn't exist.

He openly acknowledges that the only difference between himself and ranting jackass James Dobson is “a matter of tone” and when asked was unable to cite a single doctrinal difference.

And in response to criticism of the decision to invite him to give the benediction at Obama's inauguration, he accused his critics of "hate-speech" and "Christophobia."

That criticism came largely, but by no means exclusively, from advocates of LGBT rights and same-sex marriage, who are understandably outraged that the response to their advocacy for, and work on behalf of, Obama is an obvious slap in the face.

That paragon of rectitude and even-handedness the Wall Street Journal called that response "hyperpartisan invective" and "moralized intolerance." But in the course of doing so, it noted that the left "is putting down a marker" and "will monitor whether the new President deserves their continued support after the Warren-blessed Inauguration." That is, the left is saying that its continued support of Obama is not unconditional and it expects something in return for its political and financial support of Obama's campaign. Which, I say, would be a damn good thing. (The WSJ's observation was expressed with a tsk-tsk air, as if expecting something in return for support was something of which the WSJ editorial staff could not even conceive - but that's not the point here.)

So why in the light of all that is there zero chance that Warren will be uninvited?

I already said why, way way back in June, in regard to the FISA debate and Obama's thoroughgoing flip-flop. In response to a question at TalkingPointsMemo as to why would the Dems go along with the rightwing changes to FISA, I said
Because they don't see a downside. They see this as taking FISA off the table as something that could be used to accuse them of being "soft on terrorism" while expecting that the people who are now objecting will, come November, vote for them anyway because "god forbid the GOPpers should win." It is cynical in the extreme, but it has worked so far: How many of us are still intending to not vote for Dems because of their failure to stop the war?
So. how many of the left did refuse to vote for Barack Obama because of his vote on FISA? And how many on the left now are going to withdraw their support of Obama, how many will vote only for actual progressive candidates (whether Dem or, more likely, independent) in the future, because of his smackdown of LGBT folks?

The fact is, the Dems don't see a downside in kicking us in the teeth. They don't see a downside in catering to the right. Because they are confident - and, based on the track record, with good reason - that we will just suck it up, dust ourselves off, put on ice packs and bandages, and say "please, Sir, may I have another?" And they will continue to oblige that request until we make it undeniably clear that there is a price they will pay for it.

Which will happen who knows when but if it does you'd better pack a heavy woolen coat if you're planning a trip to hell.

We are so screwed.

Footnote: I want to add that contrary to some defenses of the invitation I've heard, this is not "reaching across the aisle" or "the same thing as talking to Iran."

No, dammit, it's not. Obama having a meeting with Warren, staging some White House prayer breakfast thingy on “Bridging the Divide” with left and right religious figures invited, giving some of those “united we stand” speeches he’s so good it, those would be in the same vein as talking with Iran. Inviting Warren to give the benediction at Obama's inaugural, actively promoting Warren's image as a national figure, goes way beyond “reaching out.”

Oh, and I got the cartoon from James at The Mahatma X Files but it was originally done by political cartoonist Mike Flugennock.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

A cheap way to get a post that warms the heart

It seems that Lou Dobbs made the same asinine statement as Neil Cavuto, asking "What's that global warming deal?" because of some early-season winter-type weather. Media Matters for America spotlighted his idiocy, leading to, as it always does, a lot of comments about global warming featuring the denialists and the ignorant coming out to run through the same tired talking points and discredited claims that get trotted out every time the subject comes up.

Against my better judgment, I got sucked in again. So to make it worth my while and because it can include some perhaps handy responses for others to use, I'm going to post here my side of the exchanges. (As part of that, I'm going to include here some links to background information which I didn't include in the original comments.) I'll note, as I always do when doing something like this, this is not completely fair to the other party because you don't see their full side, only the parts to which I respond. But frankly, in this case I really don't care first because the arguments I quote really are all they had to offer and second because I'm just tired of the bullshit and baloney and see no reason to offer it more space than necessary to reply.

If you want to see the entire set of exchanges, all comments from all people, go to the MMFA site. The link for the item is here and the link to the comments is here.

Okay. It started with one denialist trying out the "it's all natural cycles" nonsense. To which I said this:
I refuse to get into another long-winded exchange with a GWD, but I will go this one round.

Of course there are natural cycles of warming and cooling. That is old stuff, long established and well known. Coming on like this is some dramatic insight that groups like the IPCC and other researchers have failed to take into account is simply silly. The issue, bluntly, is not the presence of natural cycles but our addition to those cycles.

There is no model of solar activity that can account for more than about half the warming seen over the past several decades. That is, even theoretically the sun can account for, at most, half of the global warming we've experienced since the 1940s, likely less, possibly a great deal less. That is simply an undisputed fact.

Which means that saying the warming we've seen is "not caused by human intervention" is flat-out wrong - and the sun's affect, again at most, is on how fast that warming is occurring and will occur, not on if.

And do we really have to go through the "we used to talk about an ice age" business again? There never was a scientific consensus about global cooling. In the '70s there were some who said an ice age could come "if current trends continue" while many others insisted - accurately - that this was just a temporary dip in an overall warming trend. Now, however, there is a consensus about global warming by any rational understanding of the word "consensus" rather than the denialist one which would require every single scientist in every single scientific discipline to agree. (It took over 15 years for most physicists to accept relativity; indeed some never did. So I guess there was no "consensus" on that, either.)

Human-caused global warming is a fact. Period.
His "reply" repeated the assertion about "so many variables" leading to "warming and cooling trends through-out history" and claimed that "termites can account for over 40% of the methane and bovines another 10%."
Don't compare the theories of relativity with global warming---it won't fly

The comparison that I made flies perfectly: The denialists insist that there is "no consensus" about global warming because not every single scientist agrees. The fact is that some physicists went to their deathbeds convinced relativity was wrong. So by the denialists' argument, there was never a "consensus" about relativity so we should doubt its reality.

(I'll note in passing that the lists of dissenting voices the denialists produce invariably include physicians, engineers, and so on, in addition to any actual climatologists they can dig up, which is why I referred to a requirement of "every single scientist in every single scientific discipline.")

As for termites, the claim they account for 40% of the methane appears to be from a single source 26 years ago.* The current accepted figure is no more than 5%. Other main sources are rice cultivation, domestic grazing animals, landfills, coal mining, and oil and gas extraction. All of which - including those bovines which for some odd reason you regard as unconnected to human activity - are human-caused sources.

(Parenthetically, this can serve an example one of those possible feed-back loops climatologists worry about: Termites do not like the cold. So human-caused warming allows termites to expand their natural range which allows them to multiply which leads to more termite-produced methane which leads to more warming which leads to an expanded range which and so on.)

And again, please skip both the "oh, my, it's so complex" business as if the factors to which you are referring (whatever they are, you specify none) have not been taken into account. As for the "cycles" business, already raised, already refuted in the very post to which you were supposedly replying.

As a final note because again I'm determined to avoid getting into another long argument refuting yet again the long-refuted blather of the denialists, I would have been more impressed with your scholarship if you had bothered to find out how to spell Charlie Rangel's name correctly.
In further non-response, he said (all are direct quotes):

- i did indeed juxtapose too ledders inn chux nam
- there can be no conclusion on any issue if consensus is the barometer
- We can go back and forth on the termite issue
- bovines, although ranched intensely, do exist enmass outside of human development
- Your feed-back loop argument is self-defeating

He then cited as examples of the solar system "and its effect on climate" the Earth's tilt, "pockets of debris which cause the yearly Plaesedies(?) showers" which "deflect solar rays," and changes in the Sun before "speculating" about other "stuff" leaving debris that "alters temperatures."
This is my last on this because I think my basic point that all we're seeing is retreads of long-refuted arguments is well enough established.

So in order:

- Revealingly, you tried to ridicule my reference to your spelling of Charlie Rangel's name as "Rangle" instead of just chalking it up to a typo. Which says to me it wasn't a typo, you actually didn't know how to spell his name. If we can't trust you with the small things - like knowing or finding out how to spell the name of a well-known person - how can we trust you with the big things?

- Of course you can reach an agreement in science by consensus because, contrary to common opinion, consensus means general or widespread agreement, not necessarily universal agreement, within a group. There is a consensus among climatologists about global warming: It is quite real and as one researcher put it just the other day, the data shows "a clear human fingerprint." He went on to say "We really can't claim anymore that it's natural variations that are driving these very large changes that we are seeing in our in the climate system."

- Bovines do exist outside human development, but their numbers are in the tens of millions** while those that are domesticated - some of which couldn't survive without human attention, some of which would never have existed without human intervention - number something over 1.5 billion. You're correct that bovines are thought to account for about 10% of methane production - but since the vast majority of those animals are domesticated ones being used by and for humans, that would make human activity responsible for the vast majority of that 10%.

- Self-defeating? Don't be silly. It was an example of how our actions could result in generating a cycle that would worsen global warming over time even without any further human impact.

- To be more precise, the Earth's tilt is actually just under 23.5 degrees. Yes, that tilt does vary between 22.5 and 24 degrees - over a 40,000 year cycle. Yes, it's relevant to a discussion of natural changes in climate over time - but it's utterly irrelevant to a discussion of the impact of global warming over the next century or so, a period of time equal to one-quarter of one percent of that tilt cycle.

- I assume you mean the Perseids, but yes, they along with the Leonids, the Lyrids, the Geminids, and the other major and minor meteor showers over the course of the year involve the Earth passing though clouds of debris - specifically, debris from old comets. There is a (disputed) contention that during such showers, surface temperature drops. But we need not be concerned with that here, nor with your mention of low solar activity or your "speculation" about other debris, because even if we give full credence to the argument, they would tend to cause cooling, not heating, so the only conclusion that could be drawn is that human effect on the climate is even greater than was thought and is being tamped down by other factors.

- Finally and centrally, your last contention (about changes in the planet's crust) relates back to your earlier one that the Earth "is capable of reversing diabolical trends and has done so for millenia." Again, true enough except that millennia vastly understates the time frames involved. Yes, the Earth's climate has and surely could again make adjustments, come to a new equilibrium, take whatever we throw at it and survive - over near-geologic time scales. When we look back at the history of natural climate change, say from the beginning to the end of an ice age, we're talking changes and adjustments taking tens of thousands of years.

Suppose that adjustment, that new equilibrium between release and absorption of greenhouse gases, took just a thousand years. Do you think human society could survive a thousand years of climate disruption? A thousand years of inundated former coastlines? A thousand years of baked or salt-soaked former cropland? A thousand years of flood followed by drought followed by flood? A thousand years of resource wars and hundreds of millions of desperate ecological refugees?

The question is not can the Earth adapt, it can. The question is not can the climate find a new equilibrium, it can. The question is not will the planet survive, it will. The question is if we will. And if so, at what cost.
Which was, he came back, an "epic monologue" that "sounds a lot like a sandwich-board doomsday prophecy." And again, as denialists are wont to do, he switched arguments without acknowledging his previous ones had been shot down. There was no later mention of "global cooling" mythology, no further discussion of termites or bovines, no more references to the Earth's tilt, no more arguing about what constitutes consensus or the effect of "debris." Instead, he raised entirely new arguments after I'd said I wouldn't respond further.

One was to suddenly collapse the time frame involved, saying he hasn't seen "the massive destruction or even the impending massive destruction caused by global warming." (This was despite having earlier said in trying to deflate global warming with references to natural cycles that he hadn't specified any time frames, i.e., they were unimportant to the argument. And if the "massive destruction" is "impending" or not depends strictly on your definition of the word. I will likely not live to see the really serious effects setting in. But my nephews will.)

Another was to say the hurricane peak of 2005 hasn't been surpassed "which goes against logic if global warming persists." (No, it doesn't, no more than it goes against logic to say the world is warming because the all-time temperature record set in 1998 hasn't been beaten repeatedly.)

And a third was to wave the banner of "bumper-crops of vegetables across landscapes previously dominated by early frost and late springs," calling that "an evolving planet's gift to a overgrown population." (More than four years ago, research indicated that predicted global warming over the next century could slash production of rice, the world's more important single crop, by half. And the IPCC reports took the lengthened growing season in temperate zones into account, concluding that production would increase at first, but that would be temporary, as "climbing temperatures and water shortages will ultimately lead to sharp reductions.")

I let all of that pass because I'd said I was done with the discussion, but I did add this postscript:
Just as a clarification: I thought it would have been clear from the context, but perhaps it wasn't. When I said "The question is if we will [survive]," I was referring, as I specifically had in the preceding paragraph, to human society, not the human species. (Yes, I know not all human societies are the same but the point stands as a generalized assertion. Leave the nit-picking to the real wackos.)

By the way, the last ice age peaked about 20,000 years ago and is generally held to have ended about 10,000 years ago. Since there is evidence of housing structures of bones and/or wood covered with animal hides some 44,000 years ago, [your] description of people of the last ice age as "simple creatures unable to build structures to ward off the weather" seems, let's call it, overdrawn.
I also noted that the end of the quote from the scientist who referred to "a clear human fingerprint" was garbled, but that's how it was in the original BBC article.

Enough with him. But someone else on the same thread said he could identify with Dobbs' nonsense because he was digging out from under 18 inches of snow and the temperature was something like 25 degrees below normal. (I'm assuming that was Fahrenheit.) So I answered:
I think I speak for some others here when I say I hope you're being sarcastic, I hope you're not agreeing that one unseasonably cold spell undermines the case for global warming.

If by chance you're serious, be aware that worldwide, 2008 will go down as the 10th warmest year on record since record-collection began in 1850.

Be aware, too, that the 11 warmest years on record have occurred over last 13 years.

Be aware that the warming trend over past 50 years is double that over the past 100 years - that is, not only is the world warming, the rate of warming is increasing.

And be aware, finally, that one of the baseline predictions of global warming is more extreme weather patterns. Hotter hots, colder colds, fewer but more severe storms.

So in fact it could be argued that your experience of early heavy snow with temperatures 25 below normal is a confirmation of global warming, not a refutation of it.

But in fact it's not: Global warming is about the trends, the patterns, and one event in isolation neither confirms nor denies it. Be aware of that, too.
Finally, there was one other, the truly wild-eyed denialist of the bunch, who even sneered at the very concept of "facts," saying "You can use all kinds of facts to prove all kinds of things that are only half true." This one called global warming "another WMD, a lie," and "not about pollution." (I will give props for the "another WMD" line.)

Which got this from me (with some overlap with other comments):
The tide is turning quickly

Just like with evolution, where "scientists are turning against" this "collapsing" theory. How are things on that front?

They use scientific terms like: likely, most likely and maybe and potentially. The IPCC link says they are only 90% sure.

"Only" 90%? The term there is "highly likely" and that's the highest level of probability any reputable researcher would put on any prediction not verified by controlled laboratory study. It is as confident as science gets. In fact, in the social sciences, which are not as subject to rigid controls as the "hard" sciences, even in laboratory conditions the goal is 95% probability, not 100%. Your own words undermine your entire argument. (And by the way, how did "90% sure" become "not even half right?")

this coming winter

And yet again we have the Dobbs/Cavuto argument that a cold winter refutes global warming. A baseline prediction of global warming is more extreme weather. Harder, colder winters do not refute global warming, indeed they are entirely consistent with it. (And again I have to add the observation that no one event either confirms or denies global warming; one cold winter no more refutes it than one hot summer confirms it. However, the fact that the 11 warmest years on record worldwide have occurred in the last 13 years certainly does, in the cautious words of a good scientist, "tend to confirm" the idea.)

I do not miss the smoggy 50’s, 60’s and 70’s

Maybe you will. The kind of particulate air pollution to which you refer is a cooling forcing; in fact it's what lead to the temporary cooling period around then which generated the notion among a handful of scientists that "if trends continue" we could see a new ice age - and why, when we started cleaning up the environment, that short-term cooling trend vanished.

socialist agendas

I knew that had to be in there somewhere. The ill-informed denialists like you seem to always imagine the boogeyman of a hidden "socialist agenda" is behind everything you don't like.

Remember I said this: Climate goes in cycles.

Really? Wow, we never knew that before. I bet not a single climatologist has taken that into account in considering global warming. Jeez, this changes everything!
I hope some folks can find something useful in all that.

Footnote: In gathering links for this post, I came across this from this past July, which I missed at the time:
Explorer Dennis Schmitt found an island nearly two years ago near Greenland.

Such a discovery would usually elicit curiosity, even wonder perhaps, but it evoked mixed feelings for the explorer.

Y'see, no one had known it was an island. It was thought to be a peninsula of Greenland. But the ice has melted enough to show it to be a separate island.

*I haven't included a link here because the only references I found to the 1982 paper were in footnotes to later papers. But the study, by P. R. Zimmerman, et al., was called "Termites: a potentially large source of atmospheric methane, carbon dioxide and molecular hydrogen" and appeared in Science 218, 563-565.

**I found no figure for the number of wild bovines; the figure of tens of millions is my own very liberal estimate based on finding estimates for the numbers of the most common sorts of wild bovines.

Friday, December 19, 2008

RIP x2

Two deaths I wanted to note today:

1. Majel Barrett-Roddenberry died Thursday morning at the age of 76. Thoroughly underplaying the reticent Christina Chapel, thoroughly overplaying the flamboyant, sensual Lwaxana Troi, and thoroughly disembodily playing almost every Star Trek computer ever ('Working."), she saw the enterprise (and the Enterprise) through from the beginning - and isn't done yet: She'll be the voice of the computer in the upcoming Star Trek movie coming out next year, having completed her voiceover work before she died.

2. Also on Thursday, Mark Felt, famed as the "Deep Throat" of the Watergate scandal, died at his home in California. He was 95. As the Washington Post story makes clear, he was no leftist; he approved wiretapping Martin Luther King, Jr., and even had been convicted of being involved in illegal "black bag jobs" against the Weather Underground. (Convicted for government violation of civil rights? How's that for a contrast with now?) Nonetheless, I stand by what I said when his identity was revealed in 2005:
Mark Felt is a genuine American hero, a whistleblower extraordinaire, a man who saw wrongdoing and, knowing that "regular channels" would accomplish nothing, took risks to get that information out and help get that wrongdoing undone. That is what honorable people are supposed to do and for having done it, he deserves our thanks and our praise.
Whatever else he may have thought, done, or been, there was that time when he saw a wrong and did what he could to right it. And for that, I will remember his name with respect.

I'm just a hunka hunka burnin' love

Or so they say.

Okay, there are more reasons why Cavuto's vapid blathering is more than just bitterly amusing.

It comes at a time when US military and intelligence services are concerned about the national security implications of climate change. A time when even leading denialist China is admitting there is a problem.

And a time when evidence that global warming is already having serious and larger-than-expected impacts in the polar regions is growing almost by the day. Now, those effects have
for the first time been attributed directly to human activities, according to a study. ...

In 2007, the UN's climate change body presented strong scientific evidence the rise in average global temperature is mostly due to human activities. ...

At the time, there was not sufficient evidence to say this for sure about the Arctic and Antarctic.

Now that gap in research has been plugged, according to scientists who carried out a detailed analysis of temperature variations at both poles.
The study was actually quite straightforward: It examined records of actual temperature changes and compared them with two sets of climate models, one of which assumed there was a human influence that the other assumed there wasn't. The best fit of the data matched the former set. Thus,
"We're able for the first time to directly attribute warming in both the Arctic and the Antarctic to human influences," said Nathan Gillett of the University of East Anglia, in Britain, who led the study.
Peter Stott, another of the researchers involved in the study, said demonstrating an human effect on Antarctica was the most significant conclusion.
"In the recent IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) report for example," he said, "it wasn't possible to make a statement about the Antarctic because such a study had not been done at that point.

"But nevertheless when you do that you see a clear human fingerprint in the observed data. We really can't claim anymore that it's natural variations that are driving these very large changes that we are seeing in our in the climate system."
One of the reasons Antarctica was key is that even though it's more than 1.4 times the size of the US, it has just 20 weather stations.
Scientists can see that the warmer parts of Antarctica, including the Western Antarctic and Antarctic Peninsula, which juts north toward South America and is home to millions of seals and penguins and other birds, are seeing temperature increases.

But the frigid East Antarctic, with ice 2,226 metres[, nearly 1.4 miles,] thick, has seen no significant change in air temperature during the past 50 years - in fact it has shown evidence of cooling - and this has made overall conclusions about the greenhouse gas effect inconclusive.
But this study showed an "overall warming" of the continent, even if the degree of warming varied widely from one region to another, and was able to, in the words of Andrew Monaghan of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, "demonstrate convincingly" that human activities contributed to that warming.

Monaghan also noted that despite the Anarctic Peninsula having seen one of the largest increases in average monthly temperature of any place on Earth - up to 3oC or 5.4oF since the 1950s - that average monthly temperature is still ranges from 1oC (34oF) down to -15oC (5oF).
"We won't see anything catastrophic in the next century if things continue at the current rate. But the melt could accelerate," Monaghan said.
If the Arctic is any indication, that last caveat is a wise one. On Tuesday came word that
[s]cientists have found the first unequivocal evidence that the Arctic region is warming at a faster rate than the rest of the world at least a decade before it was predicted to happen.

Climate-change researchers have found that air temperatures in the region are higher than would be normally expected during the autumn because the increased melting of the summer Arctic sea ice is accumulating heat in the ocean. The phenomenon, known as Arctic amplification, was not expected to be seen for at least another 10 or 15 years and the findings will further raise concerns that the Arctic has already passed the climatic tipping-point towards ice-free summers, beyond which it may not recover. ...

[I]n a study to be presented ... to the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union in San Francisco, scientists will show that Arctic amplification has been under way for the past five years, and it will continue to intensify Arctic warming for the foreseeable future.
This was in the wake of the news in October that
[t]he thickness of Arctic sea ice "plummeted" last winter, thinning by as much as 49 centimetres (1.6ft) in some regions, satellite data has revealed. ...

Sea ice in the Arctic shrank to its smallest size on record in September 2007, when it extended across an area of just 4.13 million sq km (1.59 million sq miles), beating the previous record low of 5.32 million sq km, measured in 2005.

The team from [University College London]'s Centre for Polar Observation and Modelling - part of the UK's National Centre for Earth Observation - found that last winter the ice had thinned by an average of 26cm (0.9ft) below the 2002-2008 winter average.
So not only is the area covered by the ice shrinking, the thickness of the remaining ice is, as well - that is, the total volume of winter sea ice is now known to be declining.
Temperature readings for this October were significantly higher than normal across the entire Arctic region – between 3C and 5C [5.4oF - 9oF] above average – but some areas were dramatically higher. In the Beaufort Sea, north of Alaska, for instance, near-surface air temperatures were more than 7C [nearly 13oF] higher than normal for this time of year. The scientists believe the only reasonable explanation for such high autumn readings is that the ocean heat accumulated during the summer because of the loss of sea ice is being released back into the atmosphere from the sea before winter sea ice has chance to reform.
The result is that the first Arctic ice-free summer might not come in 60 or 70 years, as formerly predicted, but could come within 20 years.

This is a perfect example of the sort of self-reinforcing feed-back loop that climatologists fear could both dramatically accelerate the time frame of, and worsen, global warming: The high albido (reflectivity of heat) of ice and snow reflects some of the sun's warmth back toward space while the low albido of sea water tends to absorb it. So human actions generate warming which lessens Arctic ice. The open water absorbs heat from the sun. As the suns sets for the season, that stored warmth is released back into the environment, where it interferes with ice formation, which leads to more open water come the following summer, which leads to more heat absorption, which leads to more and so on.

I'm sure it's not necessary to note, but I will, that the extra heat being released does not just stay in the Arctic and changes there can't be isolated from changes elsewhere. Remember Barry Commoner's First Law of Ecology: "Everything is connected to everything else."

Footnote: One of the more perspicacious observations about the "debate" over global warming was made by Professor Phil Jones of the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, one of the researchers on the Antarctica study. He said:
I still think that a number of people, including some politicians, are reluctant to accept the evidence or to do anything about it until we specifically come down to saying that one particular event was caused by humans like a serious flood somewhere or even a heatwave.

Until we get down to smaller scale events in both time and space I still think there will be people doubting the evidence.
That is, just like there were for so long people, people with vested interests, who denied that tobacco was connected to heart disease or lung cancer or emphysema because it couldn't be shown that this particular heart attack or this particular lung cancer or this particular case of emphysema was caused by smoking.

Another Footnote: Last month a group calling itself the U.S. Climate Action Partnership, a coalition of corporations and co-opted environmental groups, called for federal legislation establishing
a mandatory cap-and-trade system to limit the release of carbon dioxide from burning fossil fuels and other greenhouse gases.
While I certainly don't oppose cap-and-trade, I fear it will have little impact on global warming and is more a basis to tell ourselves (more pointedly, for corporations to tell us) that something is being done when little is.

There are a couple of variations of cap-and-trade, but they're pretty much the same. The basic idea is that the government sets a ceiling on the amount of CO2 plants can emit. Plants that exceed that limit would have to buy credits covering the difference while those plants that are below the limit could sell credits equal to that difference. The underlying claim is that it brings the magic of the marketplace to bear on environmental concerns by making it more profitable to lower emissions. Advocates point to its successes with acid rain as proof of the concept.

There are two serious flaws there: One is that the case of acid rain is not analogous. In that case, the issue was the local concentration of sulfur dioxide in the atmosphere. Spreading out the production of sulfur dioxide emissions, which is what cap-and-trade did, reduces acid rain by reducing local concentrations. In the case of CO2 and global warming, it's the total amount produced that's important; simply spreading our output more evenly over the country will not help.

The other is more subtle and strikes at the heart of our national problem in facing the issue: The program works only so long as it's more profitable to pay the costs of reducing your pollution than it is to pay the costs of continuing to pollute. And there is absolutely no guarantee that will be the case either in any individual example or for an industry as a whole. Cap-and-trade turns pollution - and therefore its human, ecological, and economic impacts - from something to be minimized into just another market commodity subject to the whims of short-term corporate profit-seeking. Which strikes me on principle as being ethically and environmentally a very bad idea.

The only way - the only way - a cap-and-trade system can work against global warming is if there are continuous reductions in the ceilings allowed, reductions that much be deep, must be rapid, and must be strictly enforced. And bluntly, I have absolutely no faith whatsoever that any of those three requirements will be met in the face of denialism and corporate profit-hunger.

One More Footnote: An excellent source for keeping up with climate change news is DeSmogBlog, which served as the source of some of the above links.
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