CATEGORY: Climate

Newsmax has misrepresented the OISM’s Global Warming Petition Project 18 times since May 2008

Newsmax’s coverage of the Global Warming Petition Project is consistently biased and inaccurate.

For other posts in this series: click here for data and debunking, here for GWPP mentions by US politicians, and here for conservative/libertarian media references.

Newsmax Logo (credit: Newsmax.com)

Newsmax Logo (credit: Newsmax.com)

On May 19, 2008, the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine published their latest version of the Global Warming Petition Project (GWPP). The GWPP has collected 31,487 signatures from people whom the organizers claim are each qualified to have an informed opinion on the subject of industrial climate disruption1 (aka global warming or climate change). S&R demonstrated that this was not the case back in 2010 and we’ve been running updates to the original investigation since October, 2015.

Since the GWPP was updated in May 2008, libertarian and conservative media outlets have been spreading the GWPP’s false narrative – that there are more so-called “scientists” who reject industrial climate disruption than there are scientists convinced by nearly 200 years of science and overwhelming data that climate disruption is real.

S&R recently identified the following as the top 15 conservative and libertarian news outlets.

  1. Fox News (foxnews.com)
  2. Drudge Report (drudgereport.com)
  3. Independent Journal Review (ijreview.com)
  4. The Blaze (theblaze.com)
  5. Wall Street Journal (wsj.com)
  6. Breitbart (breitbart.com)
  7. New York Post (nypost.com)
  8. Newsmax (newsmax.com)
  9. The Daily Caller (dailycaller.com)
  10. Pajamas Media/Instapundit (pjmedia.com)
  11. WND/World Net Daily (wnd.com)
  12. The Washington Times (washingtontimes.com)
  13. Western Journalism (westernjournalism.com)
  14. Hot Air (hotair.com)
  15. National Review Online (nationalreview.com)

The sites that have been struck out have been the subject of previous S&R reports. Newsmax reporters and columnists referenced the GWPP 16 times between May 2008 and December 2014. In addition, two native advertisements masquerading as Newsmax articles ran from November 2014 until late 2015 or Early 2016. These 18 mentions make Newsmax the second most prolific purveyor of GWPP misinformation.

Early mentions by Phil Brennan

On the day that the OISM published the GWPP, May 19, 2008, only two of the top 15 conservative media sites ran with the story – Newsmax and WND (formerly WorldNetDaily). Phil Brennan a Newsmax commentator who died in 2014 at the age of 87, wrote that first column, as well as three more in the following months.

In his first column, Brennan incorrectly identified “31,072 Americans with university degrees in science” as scientists. As S&R detailed previously, a math teacher isn’t a scientist even if she has a Bachelor of Science degree in mathematics. Similarly, a stay-at-home dad with a veterinary degree isn’t a scientist either. Furthermore, Arthur Robinson, president of the OISM and primary organizer of the GWPP, has never publicly disclosed his criteria for deciding which university degrees are qualified to have an informed opinion on climate science vs. those that do not, even when explicitly asked to do so.

In this early article we see the genesis of the GWPP’s false, anti-consensus narrative that has come to dominate conservative and libertarian media sites. Brennan writes that Robinson’s goal with the GWPP is “to demonstrate that the claim of ‘settled science’ and an overwhelming ‘consensus’ in favor of the hypothesis of human-caused global warming and consequent climate damage is wrong.” And Brennan incorrectly claims that the GWPP “shows that no such consensus or settled science exists.” S&R has shown that the GWPP’s counter-consensus claims are false regardless of how the signatures are analyzed – by comparison to the total number of degrees conferred, by comparison to the total employment in the GWPP’s selected fields, and by comparison to the total membership in professional organizations.

Finally, Brennan wrote that the precursor to the GWPP, the Oregon Petition, was distributed in 2001, when in actuality the signatures were gathered in 1997 and 1998. The most likely explanation for this mistake is laziness or faulty memory on the part of an octogenarian, but when easily verifiedfacts like this are missed or go uncorrected, it does raise concerns about whether or not Brennan’s “facts” can be trusted.

About a month later, Brennan published his second column on the subject of the GWPP. In this case, Brennan spent most of his column creating straw men, engaging in an illogical ad hominem argument against Al Gore, and spouting climate change “facts” that are actually wrong (and that were widely known to be wrong in 2008 when Brennan wrote them). In this commentary, Brennan writes that Gore is only “allegedly credible” and goes on to say that Gore “insists that the [climate] science is settled,” supposedly flying “in the face of the 31,000 plus scientists who have signed statements that declared his theory humbug.”

S. Fred Singer, tobacco scientist-for-hire (credit: guardian.com)

S. Fred Singer, tobacco scientist-for-hire (credit: guardian.com)

Brennan’s last two columns on the subject of the GWPP were on July 3rd and July 7th, 2009, and they present two slightly different versions of a single interview with climate disruption denier and former scientist-for-hire for the tobacco industry, S. Fred Singer. In both cases, Brennan repeats Singer’s comments about the GWPP:

‘When you have 31,000 scientists signing the Oregon petition saying they disagree with the current wisdom that humans are producing increased warming, it speaks for itself. It’s true that the 31,000 are not all climate scientists. There are not that many [climate scientists] in the world.

However, it does show you that the science is not settled.’

By July 2009, climate realists2 knew that the GWPP’s counter-consensus narrative was false. Given Singer has spent the last ten to twenty years focused on denying the reality of industrial climate disruption, it’s very unlikely that he was unaware of the many serious criticisms of the GWPP.

Furthermore, Singer is not a trustworthy source. He has made a career of denying science on behalf of U.S. corporations and industry groups. For example, he was paid $20,000 by the Alexis de Toqueville Institution for the production of a pro-tobacco research paper that he then promoted with members of Congress. And Singer claimed in 2001 that he hadn’t been supported by an oil company in 20 years, yet ExxonMobil donated $10,000 to the Science and Environmental Policy Project (SEPP) that Singer founded in 1990 and ran until January, 2015. There are many more examples of Singer’s dishonesty in the exhaustively researched “Merchants of Doubt,” by Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway.

GWPP in Climategate and Deepwater Horizon commentaries

In late 2009, a several thousand cherry-picked private emails sent between climate scientists were illegally published by a hacker. This event came to be known as “Climategate,” and even though seven different investigations performed by multiple universities and government organizations in two different countries cleared the scientists of any wrongdoing, Climategate continues to be a thorn in the sides of climate scientists.

Muir-Russel panel review of the "Climategate" emails.

Muir-Russel panel review of the “Climategate” emails.

Shortly after the publication of the emails, David Limbaugh wrote a commentary that took the Obama administration to task, specifically Obama’s press secretary, Robert Gibbs. While the commentary falsely accuses climate scientists of fraud and spins conspiracy theories about the scientists’ motives, Limbaugh manages to indirectly mention the GWPP too. Limbaugh wrote

The intellectually honest can’t deny there is widespread debate over the existence of man-made catastrophic global warming. More than 31,000 scientists, 9,000 of whom have Ph.D.s, signed a petition urging our government to reject the Kyoto Protocol….

As mentioned above, S&R published our initial debunking of the GWPP in August, 2009, and S&R was not the first site to describe the GWPP’s many fatal flaws. The fact that the GWPP signers are not all scientists and that the GWPP presents a false narrative are easily found and understood by anyone who bothers to look, and Limbaugh should have. It is difficult to say whether Limbaugh’s “intellectually honest” insult is a result of personal bias, lack of experience reporting on climate, or hypocrisy. What is certain is that he presented factually inaccurate information, and as a result he did his readers a disservice.

Newsmax published another Climategate-focused commentary on January 3, 2010. While there is no byline for the commentary, it focuses on an interview with the former director of the National Hurricane Center, 84-year old retired meteorologist Neil Frank. Frank is quoted as saying that

Several years ago two scientists at the University of Oregon became so concerned about the overemphasis on man-made global warming that they put a statement on their Web site and asked for people’s endorsement; 32,000 have signed the petition, including more than 9,000 Ph.Ds.

Photo of OISM facility in Cave Junction, Oregon (credit: OISM.org)

Photo of OISM facility in Cave Junction, Oregon (credit: OISM.org)

Frank is referring to the GWPP, but he got his facts wrong. S&R investigated the associations of OISM’s faculty (several of whom are deceased) and of the GWPP’s primary organizer, Arthur Robinson. We found no association with the University of Oregon. The OISM itself is based in Cave Junction, Oregon (photo at right), so it’s possible that Frank was merely confused about their association.

Another commentator for Newsmax, David A. Patten, mentioned the GWPP and Robinson directly in a August 21, 2010 commentary on the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. Patten’s entire commentary is an example of sloppy and illogical thinking (specifically the non-sequitor logical fallacy, since it doesn’t follow that the Earth’s response to industrial emissions of greenhouse gasses will have any relationship to the Gulf of Mexico’s response to an oil spill), including fact that Patten interviewed Robinson, who has no identifiable expertise in either oil spills or the biology of the Gulf of Mexico. The only apparent reason to interview Robinson is because he’s a “tireless promotor” of the GWPP’s false anti-consensus narrative, and Patten was repeating that narrative in his commentary.

Four years and a United Nations climate conference later…

Following Paten’s commentary, there are no mentions of the GWPP outside of reader comments until Cheryl K. Chumley writes about it on May 20, 2014, over four years later. In an article titled “Climate Change Remains Unsettled, Say 31,072 Scientists,” Chumley presents a litany of debunked myths, biased information, and logical fallacies as fact, yet she wasn’t even able to get the number of signatures correct – 31,487 as of August 2008, nearly six years earlier. And as with nearly every mention of the GWPP, Chumley misrepresents the signers as “31,072 U.S. scientists” and claims that more than “9,000 of the petition’s signatories have a Ph.D. in a scientific field.”
As S&R has pointed out repeatedly, just because someone has a minimum Bachelors of Science degree in a field doesn’t mean that a) that person is a scientist or b) that the field has anything to do with climate. And while the GWPP’s organizers claims that 9,029 PhDs signed the petition, they don’t provide a breakdown of how many signers in each field had PhDs. Given that the vast majority of GWPP signers are not climate experts, it’s very likely that the vast majority of PhD signers are not climate experts.

There is often a spike in articles casting doubts on the reality of industrial climate disruption in the weeks leading up to a major United Nations climate conference. Mentions of the GWPP spiked in late October, 2010, about a month before a UN climate conference took place in Cancun, Mexico. The first of these was a short October 26, 2014 article titled “Global Warming is Fake? These 7 Scientists Think Humans Are Not to Blame.” In this article Karen Ridder mentions the GWPP before naming the seven scientists. But in a break from previous Newsmax articles and commentaries, Ridder wrote that the signatures represented “people self-identifying as ‘scientists’ who opposed the idea of energy rationing proposed by the Kyoto Treaty….” In addition, Ridder pointed out that the GWPP has faced criticism because “some say the people who signed the petition were not qualified to make such a statement.”

The next day, Newsmax ran another short article pointing readers at seven websites that deny the reality of industrial climate disruption. Number 6 is the GWPP, and the Newsmax summary repeats the common misconception that the GWPP signers are all scientists. And on the next day, October 28, Greg Richter pointed Newsmax readers to a Fox News interview of John Coleman by Megyn Kelly. S&R has already addressed this interview in our investigation of Fox’s mentions of the GWPP.

Finally, Newsmax published an article by Jerry Shaw during the UN conference. Shaw’s article not only led with a screenshot from the GWPP’s website but also claimed that the GWPP’s false anti-consensus narrative was the top key argument against global warming. And again, Shaw misidentified the signers of the GWPP as “scientists.”

Alana Marie Burke’s GWPP series

On December 18 and 22, 2014, Alana Marie Burke published a series of four articles that investigated the GWPP. They are titled:

Each of Burke’s articles repeats the incorrect claim that the GWPP signers are all scientists, and each article has many examples of subtly misleading language. But each of her articles also points out that the GWPP has its critics.

In her first article, Burke asks what the purpose of the GWPP is and then quotes Robinson repeating his usual, false anti-consensus narrative. She also writes that the signatures represent “qualified Americans,” a statement that is questionable at best. And she writes that the signatures “seem to demonstrate that there is a lack of consensus on the issue.” Yet she again points out that the GWPP has been widely criticized.

In her second article, Burke writes that the purpose of the petition was to show that “there is not a true consensus on the science of global warming,” repeating the GWPP’s false narrative. Yet the bulk of the article is devoted to criticisms of the GWPP by organizations such as the New York Times, the Huffington Post, and Bill Moyers’ company. She accurately points out that the GWPP “has been declared flawed, fake, and full of misleading claims” by its critics.

Burke’s third article is largely a set of Tweets both supporting and criticizing the GWPP. In her introduction to the list of Tweets, however, Burke sets up the reader with a “on the one hand, on the other hand” style that favors the GWPP’s false narrative by giving it the benefit of the doubt. She also mistakenly identifies the signers of the GWPP as all having “advanced degrees related to science.” The term “advanced degree” only applies to those signers who have Master’s degrees or PhDs. Slightly more than a third of signers actually have Bachelors degrees in a scientific field.

In her last article, however, she went the farthest and wrote that “the petition does seem to have achieved one of its main goals: to refute claims that there is a 97 percent scientific consensus on the science of global warming.” Given that most of the signers are not climate experts and that the total number of signatures represent a tiny minority of the people who could have signed the GWPP, Burke’s claim is false. Yet again she spent most of the article on petitions that supposedly counter the GWPP’s.

All in all, her articles are overwhelmingly favorable to the GWPP. In every case she repeats the false, anti-consensus narrative that Robinson and his allies have been spreading since 2008, and in every case she structures her article to give the GWPP or its supporters the first and last word. Yet as inaccurate and biased as her articles are, they also represent the closest thing to fair and accurate journalism published by Newsmax to date.

Deceptive sponsored content by Tom Luongo

Tom Luongo's "native advertising" masquerading as a Newsmax investigative report.

Tom Luongo’s “native advertising” masquerading as a Newsmax investigative report.

Burke’s articles were the last ones published by Newsmax to mention the GWPP. But they weren’t the last articles published on Newsmax. That dubious honor belongs to three related “articles” written by former University of Florida chemist turned investment advisor, trader, and Newsmax editor Tom Luongo. The problem with the articles is that none of them is an example of journalism – each is an example of “native advertising” (aka “promoted posts” or “sponsored content”). The headlines are written to imply that what follows is the result of investigative journalism: “Banned ‘White Paper’ Proves Global Warming is a Dirty Scam,” “Scientist Confesses: “Global Warming a $22 Billion Scam,” and an alternative version of the second advertisement that is subtitled “A Breaking Report from Newsmax Media” (see image) In this case, Luongo was selling discounted memberships to his “Cold Truth Initiative,” and he even wanted to send you a copy of John Casey’s Dark Winter “(a $29 value)”, a book that supposedly exposes the grand climate conspiracy and predicts the end of the civilization for any nation that is unprepared. In fact, one of the promoted posts written by Luongo is nearly 7600 words long, 6000 of which are the usual half-truths, deceptions, misinformation, and logical fallacies used to deny the reality of industrial climate disruption. The last 1600 words are nothing more than a long winded advertisement.

These native advertisements showed up online for the first time in November, 2014. When S&R originally discovered them in April 2015 (while researching a post criticizing the editorial board of the Colorado Springs Gazette for misinforming their readers), the advertisements appeared to have been published the prior day. S&R later discovered that Google searches always indicated that the advertisements had been published the day before the Google search was conducted. However, this deceptive dating of the advertisements stopped sometime between early November, 2015 and February 2016.

Luongo refers to the GWPP without mentioning it by name in both advertisements. In both cases he falsely implies that the petition was signed in response to the Tweet by President Obama that said “97% of scientists agree: climate change is real, man-made and dangerous.” Luongo went so far in one as to write that the petition was signed “in outrage.”

The GWPP was published in May, 2008. President Obama’s “97%” Tweet was sent on May 16, 2013, five years after the GWPP was published. Barring time travel, it is not possible for the signatures to have been gathered in response to an event that hadn’t happened yet. Luongo has either made a gross error or he’s lying. Combined with the deceptive way that the advertisements were disguised as authentic Newsmax articles, it’s clear that no-one can trust the so-called facts that pepper Luongo’s three Newsmax advertisements.

Since May 2008, Newsmax has published 18 articles, commentaries, and sponsored content (aka advertising masquerading as original Newsmax reporting) that mention or reference the Global Warming Petition Project. Each time, Newsmax repeated one or both of the false claims that underlie the GWPP – that everyone who signed the petition is qualified to have an expert opinion on the subject of climate science, and that the number of signatures demonstrates that there isn’t actually a consensus on the reality of industrial climate disruption. In only a few cases were critics of the GWPP’s narrative even mentioned.

As we’ve seen, most of the articles have errors of fact that could have been corrected with a quick Google search, by either the authors or the Newsmax editors responsible for publishing the articles. And in every case, Newsmax’s publications are clearly biased in favor of the GWPP’s false claims and false narrative. That Newsmax has published such biased and inaccurate misinformation 18 times makes it the second most prolific spreader of the GWPP’s false narrative among the top 15 conservative/libertarian media sites.

Notes

  1. Industrial climate disruption, aka global warming or anthropogenic climate change, is a scientific theory that climate change is occurring, that industrial emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are the dominant cause of those changes, and that the changes will be disruptive to global ecosystems and human societies.
  2. Climate realists are individuals who accept the scientific theory, backed by 180 years of discover and overwhelming data, that industrial climate disruption is real. Individuals who deny the evidence often claim the term “realist,” but it is a misnomer.
Climate2

Five more conservative media sites have misrepresented OISM’s Global Warming Petition Project

The Independent Journal Review, The Blaze, the Wall Street Journal, Breitbart.com, and the New York Post have collectively misrepresented the Global Warming Petition Project eight times since 2008.

Comparison between total U.S. Department of Education Bachelor of Science degrees and Global Warming Petition Project data derived from the Qualifications of Signers page (accessed 8/22/2015)

Comparison between total U.S. Department of Education Bachelor of Science degrees and Global Warming Petition Project data derived from the Qualifications of Signers page (accessed 8/22/2015)

For other posts in this series: click here for data and debunking, here for GWPP mentions by US politicians, and here for conservative/libertarian media references.

In 2008, the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine published their latest version of the Global Warming Petition Project (GWPP). Since then, libertarian and conservative media outlets have played a key part in spreading a false narrative created by the GWPP – that there are more so-called “scientists” who reject industrial climate disruption1 than there are scientists convinced by nearly 200 years of science and overwhelming data that climate disruption is real.

S&R recently identified the following as the top 15 conservative and libertarian news outlets.

  1. Fox News (foxnews.com)
  2. Drudge Report (drudgereport.com)
  3. Independent Journal Review (ijreview.com)
  4. The Blaze (theblaze.com)
  5. Wall Street Journal (wsj.com)
  6. Breitbart (breitbart.com)
  7. New York Post (nypost.com)
  8. Newsmax (newsmax.com)
  9. The Daily Caller (dailycaller.com)
  10. Pajamas Media/Instapundit (pjmedia.com)
  11. WND/World Net Daily (wnd.com)
  12. The Washington Times (washingtontimes.com)
  13. Western Journalism (westernjournalism.com)
  14. Hot Air (hotair.com)
  15. National Review Online (nationalreview.com)

S&R has already addressed mentions of the GWPP by the three that have been struck through. The next five most popular news outlets (bold above) are the Independent Journal Review (IJReview), The Blaze, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), Breitbart.com, and the New York Post (NYP). Collectively, these five news outlets were responsible for eight separate mentions of the GWPP since 2008 and one notable mention of the previous version of the GWPP, the Oregon Petition, in 2005. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Climate

Daily Caller gets it wrong on global warming spending

Michael Bastasch’s shallow and oversimplified reading of federal spending for climate disruption vs. border security misleads his audience.

CATEGORY: ClimateAn article in the Daily Caller on October 28 incorrectly claimed that the federal government was spending twice as much to address industrial climate disruption as it was spending on border security. In the process, the author of the article, Michael Bastasch, misrepresented both the 2014 Department of Homeland Security budget and the federal climate change expenditures for 2013. Continue reading

CATEGORY: Climate

Climate Science for Everyone: How much heat can the air and ocean store?

CATEGORY: ClimateTo read other articles in this series, click here.

Let’s look at how much energy the oceans can store compared to the energy storage of the atmosphere.

One way to describe the amount of energy that something can store is called “specific heat.” This is essentially the amount of energy required to heat up a mass of a material by a certain temperature. In our case, we’ll use 1 kg heated by by 1 degree Celsius (1.8° F) because those are the international standards.

The specific heat of air is about 1158 J/(kg*C) while the specific heat of seawater is about 3850 J/(kg*C), where a Joule is a standard measurement of energy. We can see that air has a specific heat a little more than 3x smaller than that of water. But we know from our day-to-day experience that water is a lot denser than air is, and that will matter a great deal to our calculations. (For reference, one Joule is about the amount of energy you need to expend to lift one pound 9 inches.)

While we could go through a huge amount of geometry to estimate how much air and seawater there is on the Earth, but there’s an easier way – use the measurements of experts. for example, this paper calculated that the total mass of the atmosphere is about 5.14 x 1018 kg, while the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has calculated that the total volume of the world’s oceans is about 1.34 x 10^18 m3. In order to get the total mass of the world’s oceans we need an estimate of the density of seawater, which I found at this MIT link – 1027 kg/m3 (other sources have similar values).

Using this, we can multiply the mass of the atmosphere times the specific heat of the air to calculate what the total heat capacity of the atmosphere is:

5.14\times 10^{18} kg\cdot 1158\frac{J}{kg*C} = 5.95\times 10^{21}\frac{J}{C} (Eqn. 1)

In other words, it takes about 5.95 x 1021 Joules to raise the temperature of the atmosphere one degree Celsius.

For ocean we need to add one step – multiplying the volume of the water by its density to get the total mass of the ocean

1.3410^{18} m^3\cdot 1027\frac{kg}{m^3}\cdot 3850\frac{J}{kg*C} = 5.30\times 10^{24}\frac{J}{C} (Eqn. 2)

This shows that the heat capacity of the oceans is about 1000x larger than the heat capacity of the Earth’s atmosphere.

So why do we care? First, it helps to explain why we care about El Nino and La Nina cycles in the Pacific Ocean. If you’re unfamiliar with the terms, La Nina is a massive upwelling of cold water in the Pacific that, because ocean water has a much higher heat capacity than air, cools off the entire planet and affects weather patterns. El Nino is a massive pool of hot water in the Pacific that does the opposite – it dumps heat stored in the ocean back into the atmosphere, warming the globe and affecting weather patterns. Nearly all the energy absorbed by the Pacific Ocean during La Nina periods will eventually be emitted back into the atmosphere during El Nino periods.

Second, the heat capacity of the world’s oceans helps to explain why scientists are so interested in how much energy has been stored in the ocean. Since total ocean heat capacity is about 1000x greater than total atmosphere, it means that a barely measurable temperature increase in the ocean (1/1000th of a degree C) could drive a massive spike in global air temperature (1 degree C).

The difference between measured global surface temperature from various sources and the temperatures adjusted to remove the influence of El Nino, volcanoes, and the solar cycle. Note that the massive 1997/1998 El Nino spike is nearly completely the result of ocean El Nino dumping stored energy into the atmosphere. (Image Credit: Skeptical Science)

Lastly, we care because it demonstrates just why the average global temperature hasn’t been warming as fast over the last several years. We’ve had more La Nina cycles since 1998 than we’ve had El Nino cycles, and that means the Pacific ocean is storing more energy.

El Nino Southern Oscillation index.

The problem with this, however, is that it means that energy is going to come back OUT of the ocean again eventually. And when (not if) that happens next, the average global temperature will spike.

CATEGORY: Climate

A survey of climate science, crowdsourced

John Cook, editor of the climate website SkepticalScience.com and Climate Communication Fellow for the Global Change Institute at the University of Queensland, Australia, is conducting a crowd-sourced online survey of 12,000 climate papers. S&R was approached by Cook to participate by posting a link to the survey website at the University of Queensland.

According to Cook, anyone who volunteers to participate will be given 10 random abstracts and asked to rate each one according to whether it endorses, is neutral, or rejects the consensus position on global warming. According to his announcement at SkS on May 2, Cook has contacted 58 different climate blogs, half of which are “skeptic” blogs, in order to attract the widest variety of perspectives in the volunteers. Cook wrote the following in his email to S&R earlier today asking us to participate

The survey involves rating 10 randomly selected abstracts and is expected to take 15 minutes. Participants may sign up to receive the final results of the survey (de-individuated so no individual’s data will be published). No other personal information is required (and email is optional). Participants may elect to discontinue the survey at any point and results are only recorded if the survey is completed. Participant ratings are confidential and all data will be de-individuated in the final results so no individual ratings will be published.

S&R recommends that anyone who has a spare 15 minutes participates in the survey. Here’s the link:

http://survey.gci.uq.edu.au/survey.php?c=GGB5IS4BFOO0

On behalf of Cook and his co-authors, S&R thanks you for your time.

CATEGORY: Climate

Climate and agriculture: Wheatless in Hampstead

According to an article in yesterday’s Independent, the weather in Britain, especially England, has been so lousy that the UK is set to go from a wheat exporter to a wheat importer for the first time in a decade. The culprit here, if there is only one, appears to be the long spell of cold temperatures we’ve had this winter, on top of what can only be called a terrible year of weather. First we had a severe drought in the spring, and then the rains came thundering down, so then we had a lot of flooding, pretty much all over the country. Then this ridiculously cold and long winter. So grain harvests have been ruined. Actually, not just grain harvests—the folks at Riverford Farms out in Devon, who supply us with our vegetables, have had a pretty bad winter for vegetables, on top of a pretty bad year last year. Of course, this is nothing compared with the wheat problem that Egypt faces. But still, it’s indicative of a pretty unfavorable trend.

And it’s put even more pressure on farmers, who have recently also seen near-record livestock losses due to unusually cold and stormy winter weather, and the continual squeeze from the supermarkets that respective Labour and coalition governments appear unwilling to address. To make matters worse, spring plantings are going to be late, and small. We’ve just had the coldest March in 50 years, after the coldest February ever recorded. As The Independent states:

The poor harvest represents the lowest wheat crop since 1985 and means the country will be a net importer of the grain this crop year for the first time since 2001. The NFU predicts next crop year – July 2013 to June 2014 – will be another year of net wheat imports, the first time this has happened in consecutive years since the start of the 1980s.

But while farmers will lose hundreds of millions of pounds and the fragile economy will suffer, British consumers are only like to see a small increase, if any, in the price of a loaf.

“Wheat only represents about a tenth of the cost of a loaf and energy costs and packaging probably have as large an impact on price,” says NFU chief economist Phil Bicknell. “But the wheat price is determined by global supply, rather than UK supply, and the price has actually dipped in the last few days.”

For sure, it’s been a very bad couple of years for British farming. As The Independent, which has been doing good reporting work in this area for some time, reminds us:

Britain’s farmers are facing the third poor harvest on the run as the coldest March in 50 years plays havoc with crop planting–already significantly down because of last year’s wet weather.

With the cold snap set to continue through April, farmers say crops such as potatoes, peas, tomatoes and ornamental flowers have either not been planted, are not growing or are being stunted by the lack of light.

This follows low winter planting levels of cereal crops–a fifth down on last year because of the wet weather. A shortage of spring seed is adding to the problems.

Lower UK crop yields will make UK consumers more reliant on imports and the vagaries of the international markets, which could push up prices. Livestock farmers have been struggling to cope for some time with feed shortages due to poor grass growth in the summer, and continuing snow hampering deliveries.

But wait—how can prices be going down? Aren’t global wheat stocks declining? Well, yes, but it depends on how you look at the world. Stocks are declining on a per capita basis, especially in the developing world where grains count for a lot. But global wheat production actually wasn’t too bad in 2012, in spite of severe drought conditions in a number of wheat-producing areas, because of the increase in planted acreage in other regions. In the US, for example, Minnesota and North Dakota had record wheat harvests. And wheat prices, like those of many commodities, are global—hence the recent weakening. The UN FAO report last month actually forecasts an uptick in wheat production in 2013, in part because of an increase in planting in Europe. However, this forecast was made a month ago, before Britain and Northern Europe had a month of such bad weather. It snowed in both London and Berlin last week. The next FAO forecast comes out on 11 April—it’s entirely possible there will be some negative revisions to 2013 estimates.

Moreover, consumption trends continue to outpace production trends for grain in general, although global consumption did fall in 2012. So what happens if the significant droughts that have been afflicting the United States, Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Australia continue—as it appears they will? Fortunately, there has been no real drought in China, which had a record grain harvest in 2012 (but was still among the top ten grain importers globally). Meanwhile, the trend towards great consumption looks set to continue—simple demographics, after all. This means that global grain stocks will continue to be stressed. Grain stocks worldwide currently stand at 423 million tons—which covers 68 days of consumption. This isn’t a record low level—but it’s close, being just six days longer than the record low that preceded the 2007-2008 grain crisis.

So much turns on the current global droughts, and whether they look likely to persist. In the US, things look a bit better than they did last summer, but not at all great—half the country is still affected by significant aridity. Here’s the most recent US drought monitor, and it sure doesn’t look a whole lot better than it did a year ago in that Midwestern region that supplies so much grain. Texas is a basket case, of course, but jeez, look at Nebraska. Globally, while the Ukraine looks better, Russia and Kazakhstan sure do not. And Australia? Don’t ask. Rainfall deficiencies (as they’re called) have been declining, which is the positive news, one supposes. But really, it’s no change of any substance after the hottest summer on record. Wheat production declined 27% from 2011/2012, and there’s no reason to expect any near-term improvement, even though the USDA, strangely enough, is calling for just that.

We continue to balance precariously. We saw what happened in 2008 when that balance was distorted. It’s only a matter of time before the balance gets distorted again, and there’s not much that Monsanto is going to be able to do about it. Meanwhile, I’m just going to hope that things dry out here a bit so that a reasonably normal spring planting season can still take place. But I’m not getting my hopes up.

CATEGORY: LeisureTravel2

Uganda Journal: a walk to the well

The well at Nakagongo sits in a low valley, with a web of trails that lead down to it from the surrounding hillsides. It’s not an especially grueling walk and not especially steep, but it’s a five-minute hike downhill from the road. On days like today, when it rained for a couple hours in the morning, the dirt path gets muddy. We also have to step over a pretty angry stream of ants.

Well01

About three hundred adults and eight hundred children are serviced by the well, which is nothing more than a clean natural spring surrounded by a cement basin. The basin seems to be draining well today–the water at the bottom is only ankle deep, although Deb has seen it back up almost to the output pipe. The ground around is a mucky mess.

Well02

Families have to walk from as far as forty-five minutes a day to collect water in five-gallon plastic containers. Once someone arrives, he or she might have to wait as long as half an hour before they have the chance to fill up. The villagers may then balance the jugs on their heads so they can carry jugs in each hand, too. Enterprising boys have set up a business where they’ll load their bikes with water and take them to the houses of people who can afford to pay for delivery.

At home, villagers use the water for cooking, cleaning, and bathing.

WaitingForWater

During the dry season, when the well dries up, villagers have to walk to another water source that’s an additional hour away.

To say I am thankful for indoor plumbing seems like a trite understatement. Seeing the well might be the most profound reminder of just how different life is for much of the world than it is for us in America and in other developed nations. This is everyday life for these villagers, and yet it is so far removed from my own life that it might well as be a different century or a different planet as a different continent and country.

Certainly America has its share of drought–I think of the summer of 2011 when much of the cornbelt baked–but water generally flows pretty freely…at least freely enough that most of us still take it for granted, although climatologists could offer some disheartening insight into that, I’m sure. I can walk into three rooms in my home that have running water, and that’s not counting the baseboard heat I have. Some of these people have to walk for forty-five minutes.

Think about that when you turn on the tap.

The 2012 Colorado wildfires were predicted; now, understanding why they're happening

The national media and much of America is watching the Colorado wildfire drama in rapt, apocalyptic fascination. For those who are just now recognizing the scope of the disaster, S&R has been writing about this (and predicting it) for some time now. If you’d like to better understand the causes of the explosion of wildfires in the summer of 2012, here’s a quick set of links to  get you caught up.

Why is Colorado on fire? Climate effects aren't always as obvious as the weather…

Colorado’s massive High Park fire has jumped the Poudre River and is beginning to menace Fort Collins in earnest. This is very bad news. Some experts fear the blaze won’t be contained before fall and if you live anywhere to the east of it you’re probably quite worried, and for good reason. You might well be concerned if you live south or west, too.

Back in March, Tom Yulsman of the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism warned us that this could happen. Continue reading

Vanishing act: Drought and unseasonable warmth sends Colorado’s snowpack into freefall

by Tom Yulsman

Except for the shoulders of Longs Peak and other mountains in the distance, almost no snow is evident in this picture taken above Gem Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park last Friday. The lake sits at 8,830 feet. (PHOTO: Courtesy Tom Yulsman)

Continue reading

S&R and the marketplace of ideas: yes, Dorothy, sometimes people disagree…in public, even!

Earlier this morning Chris offered up a post entitled “Why are environmentalists missing a mild-weather opportunity?” It raises a pragmatic point about how the climate “debate” plays out in the public sphere and is well worth a read. Go ahead – I’ll wait.

Predictably – and by “predictably,” I mean that last night I e-mailed our climate guru, Brian Angliss, and said “when Chris’s post lands, here’s what’s going to happen,” and it has played out as though I had scripted it; the denialists have jumped on the post in an attempt to cast Chris and the rest of the S&R staff as “hypocrites.” One prominent anti-science type wants you to believe that the message is “we know weather isn’t climate, but let’s lie to people anyway!”

Like I say, as predicted.

The truth is that Chris’s post is part of a larger context. Continue reading

Heartland's email screen captures raise more questions, provide no answers

On February 24, 10 days after multiple internal documents from a Heartland Institute Board meeting were published on the web, The Heartland Institute posted redacted screen captures of some of the emails that had been sent to Peter Gleick’s spoofed email address. These emails show that there are some discrepancies between the files Heartland transmitted and those that were later published. The emails also show how easy it was for Gleick to impersonate a member of Heartland’s Board. Continue reading

And the Nobel Prize for Sticking Your Fingers in Your Ears and Yelling "I Can't Hear You" Goes To….

Case 1: In 1997 a prominent scientist made a bet with a colleague over a complex black hole issue that physicists were trying to figure out. This bet was very public and given the egos involved in the field of advanced quantum science, the stakes were huge.

Case 2: In a climate-related thread on S&R, a “skeptic” was asked point-blank: “What evidence would you accept that global warming is real? What tests would you have to see, in order to change your view?” This is a straight-up establishment of terms for consideration of any scientific question: what is evidence in favor of the hypothesis and what evidence disproves the hypothesis? Continue reading

Why America has more education and less to show for it than ever before

I hope you made the time to read Wufnik’s post from Friday. Entitled “Surrounded by people ‘educated far beyond their capacity to undertake analytical thought,’” his analysis of our culture’s “active willingness to be deceived” represents one of the iconic moments in S&R’s history. If you didn’t see it yet, go read it now.

In addition to the questions the post explicitly addresses, it also raises other critical issues that deserve equally rigorous treatment. One point for further consideration, for instance, lies in his use of the word “educated.” I don’t think it’s terribly controversial to suggest that our society is, by a variety of metrics, more educated than perhaps any society in history. Those metrics would include factors like “number of people who attended college.” At the same time, we are significantly less educated if we pay more attention to factors like the much harder to quantify “capacity for critical thought.” Continue reading

The 2010 Climate B.S.* of the Year Award

Welcome to the 2010 Climate B.S. of the Year Award.

2010 saw widespread and growing evidence of rapidly warming global climate and strengthening scientific understanding of how humans are contributing to climate change. Yet on the policy front, little happened to stem the growing emissions of greenhouse gases or to help societies prepare for increasingly severe negative climate impacts, including now unavoidable changes in temperature, rainfall patterns, sea-level rise, snowpack, glacial extent, Arctic sea ice, and more. These physical impacts will lead to sharply increased disease, military and economic instabilities, food and water shortages, and extreme weather events, among other things. Without appropriate risk management action, the United States will be hit hard. There is no safe haven. Yet confusion and uncertainty about climate change remain high in the minds of too many members of the public and Congress.

Why? In large part because of a concerted, coordinated, aggressive campaign by a small group of well-funded climate change deniers and contrarians focused on intentionally misleading the public and policymakers with bad science about climate change. Much of this effort is based on intentional falsehoods, misrepresentations, inflated uncertainties, and pure and utter B.S. about climate science. These efforts have been successful in sowing confusion and delaying action – just as the same tactics were successful in delaying efforts to tackle tobacco’s health risks.

To counter this campaign of disinformation, we are issuing the first in what may become a series of awards for the most egregious Climate B.S.* of the Year. Continue reading

Nota Bene #114: Big Star

“The radio makes hideous sounds.” Who said it? Continue reading

Heartland distorts AMS climate survey results, paper

The Heartland Institute, an organization known to have pushed a pro-tobacco, “smoking is safe” agenda in the 1990s on behalf of Phillip Morris and that now pushes climate disruption denial, released a short “news” article on February 1 titled “Meteorologists Reject U.N.’s Global Warming Claims.” The article distorts the survey it purports to be reporting on and ignores the associated Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society (BAMS) paper’s conclusions in favor of Heartland’s political position. Continue reading

It's Climategate 2.0! (…not)

In December, the Goddard Institute for Space Sciences (GISS) published over 200 pages of internal emails as required by a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by the Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI). The emails involved how the GISS handled responding to a number of requests for information, data, and code from Steve McIntyre, founder of the climate disruption-denier website ClimateAudit.org. Clearly there was no metaphorical “smoking gun” in the emails, because the CEI didn’t crow about a likely Climategate 2.0 following the emails’ release.

However, today it appeared that Judicial Watch and number of large climate denier blogs didn’t get the memo. Continue reading

9/11 happened on Obama's watch! GOP noise machine already hard at work on the history books of the future

Something wicked this way comes.

There are a number of problems with these assertions, not the least of which is that when Saudi terrorists started flying hijacked jets into large buildings on September 11, 2001, George W. Bush had been president of the United States for the better part of eight months. The lapses in memory noted above are all striking, but especially so in the case of Giuliani, who was, from September 11 until he dropped out of the presidential race on January 30, 2008 (a span of roughly 2,332 days, if my math is accurate), unable to say so much as “hello” without somehow shoehorning “9/11” into the conversation. Continue reading