IPCC physical science Summary for Policymakers: 95% certain that human activity is dominating climate disruption

[Update: several clarifications have been added in the best case scenario section.]

The complete, 2500 pages long Working Group One (WG1) report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) has been published. While the devil is often in the details buried deep in those 2500 pages, the Summary for Policymakers (SPM) is a distillation of the key scientific findings that the WG1 authors and every national government agree upon. As such, the SPM is an inherently conservative1 summary of the science. Continue reading

Lance Armstrong and Superstorm Sandy were both doped

This house was floated off its foundation by Sandy. Fairfield Beach, CT. (Genevieve Reilly/Fairfield Citizen)

If you’re a cycling enthusiast, you’re no doubt aware that Lance Armstrong was recently stripped of all of his Tour de France wins because the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency found evidence of doping. While there are some questions that remain unanswered in the case and there are certainly reasonable criticisms that can be levied against the USADA’s investigation, the scientific evidence appears to be overwhelming.

But I’m not here to talk about Lance Armstrong. Instead, there’s another example where the scientific evidence of doping is overwhelming even though there are a few reasonable criticisms and a few unanswered questions – the doping of Superstorm Sandy by the performance enhancer known as industrial climate disruption (aka global warming or climate change).

Industrial climate disruption increases the amount of heat stored in the Earth’s oceans and atmosphere. When the oceans heat up, they expand, raising sea level. When a warmer ocean and atmosphere melts ice caps (as is happening in Antarctica and Greenland), sea level rises even more. And when sea levels rise, the storm surge that accompanies large storms like Sandy (and Hurricane Katrina) is that much higher than it would have been without a storm surge sea level rise.

But there is another effect of industrial climate disruption that doped sea level rise specifically in the region hardest hit by Sandy. The region of the east cost between Cape Hatteras, North Carolina and Boston, Massachusetts appears to be a “hot spot” for local sea level rise that is driven in part by the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Current (AMOC), of which the Gulf Stream is part. When the AMOC speeds up, local sea level drops, and vice-versa. Recently, industrial climate disruption has warmed the air over Greenland enough to significantly increase the amount of freshwater entering the North Atlantic. More fresh water makes the North Atlantic less salty, and thus less dense. Since the AMOC is driven in large part by the warm, salty Gulf Stream cooling and sinking in the North Atlantic, adding lots of fresh water to the Gulf Stream will make it sink slower, and thus slow down the AMOC, leading to sea level rise in the region hit by Sandy that was, according to the paper linked above, 3-4x larger than the global average sea level rise.

Surface temperatures using data from NASA GISS.

There’s a third way that industrial climate disruption enhanced Sandy’s performance, and this is related directly to the warmer oceans. Hurricanes derive their energy from the ocean, and the warmer the ocean is under the storm, the more powerful the hurricane can become. Not all hurricanes become powerful storms over hot water because other factors matter too, but no hurricane can get large and/or powerful without ocean heat. The Atlantic Ocean has become, on average, between 0.9 and 3.6 °F (0.5 to 2 °C) warmer in the area traversed by Sandy over the period from the early 1900’s to the last decade during the months of November and December. This extra ocean heat boosted Sandy’s performance dramatically.

Warmer oceans due to industrial climate disruption also mean more water vapor in the air (over the ocean, anyway), and that means more intense rainfall. And there’s evidence that the dramatic drop in Arctic ice cover changes weather patterns across North America. One of those changes is more common “atmospheric blocking” pattern, which is part of what Sandy fused with to become a superstorm in the first place.

Critics claim that Sandy wasn’t caused by industrial climate disruption. Lance Armstrong’s seven Tour de France wins weren’t caused by his doping, after all. But he was still stripped of his wins because the doping made it much more likely he’d win.

Industrial climate disruption may not have caused Sandy, but it made Sandy more likely and more devastating. And until we stop emitting greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide into the Earth’s atmosphere, industrial climate disruption will continue to dope up hurricanes, droughts, floods, wildfires, and more.

Milloy's latest climate op-ed riddled with errors

Today, the Washington Times ran an op-ed by science-denier-for-hire Steve Milloy titled “2012 GOP guide to the climate debate.” Based on the number of errors and irrelevancies masquerading as serious concerns I discovered while reading it, the Washington Times should have titled the op-ed “How to lie to voters about climate disruption.”

Here’s a brief rundown of all the problems I found. I’ll be dealing with a few of the worse errors in greater depth in a follow-up post.


  1. “Al Gore and his enviros duck debating so-called ‘climate skeptics.'” – So debates like Dessler vs. Lindzen or Lambert vs. Monckton don’t count? It’s true that debates like these are rare, but that’s because debating a climate disruption denier is about as effective as debating evolution with a young-earth creationist or a proponent of “intelligent design.”
  2. Continue reading

Gravity-measuring satellites and GPS confirm Greenland ice melting, affecting more of Greenland Ice Sheet

Over the last decade or so, scientists have tracked a significant loss of ice from the Greenland Ice Sheet (GIS). While some of that loss has been as a direct result of surface melting, most of it presently appears to be a result of warmer ocean waters melting the ice tongues that stretch out into fjords. Essentially, the warmer water melts the bottom of the glacier and makes it more likely to break up, and as the ice tongue breaks up, the glacier behind the tongue starts to move faster, dumping yet more ice into the ocean.

There has been a significant amount of study of the GIS, and multiple independent lines of evidence have shown that Greenland’s glaciers are thinning and thus losing mass. These include satellite radar altimetry, the GRACE gravity mapping satellites, and both airborne and satellite laser altimetry. Now a peer-reviewed paper published in March shows that another analysis of GRACE and new GPS data has found that mass loss has spread from the warmer southeast coast to the comparably cooler northwest coast, significantly increasing the amount of Greenland coastline affected by mass loss. Continue reading

Motivating climate action: Last Chance – Preserving Life on Earth


In the introduction to Last Chance – Preserving Life on Earth, author Larry J. Schweiger, the CEO of the National Wildlife Federation, comes right out and says that he’s not trying to change minds with this book. Instead, it’s his hope that the book will motivate millions of people to transform their concerns over global warming into activism.

There are three sections to the book that can be summarized as follows. First, the latest science says that disruptions due to climate change will be worse and happen faster than the best estimates of even a couple of years ago. Second, there are a few global ecosystems that are more sensitive than even average, and there are people who don’t want you to know that and who actively work to keep you ignorant of the facts. And third, there are a few things we can do to help ourselves and the Earth.

Continue reading

The Weekly Carboholic: Climate disruption lowering Juneau sea level



There’s a few reasons that I prefer the phrase “climate disruption” over “global warming” or even “climate change.” One of those reasons is that “climate disruption” describes what’s happening around the world in a way that people immediately understand – the climate they’ve grown accustomed to is going to be disrupted in some fashion, but not necessarily in a way that’s immediately obvious. One place that’s historically warm and wet could turn hot and even wetter (something that might reasonably be predicted by your average climate layperson) while another area could actually cool off and dry out as a result of climate disruption. The effects of climate disruption may be counter intuitive, thus the term “disruption.”

One such place that is facing a counter intuitive disruption is Juneau, the state capital of Alaska. As local glaciers melt rapidly, the sea level around the city is actually falling instead of rising. Continue reading

The Weekly Carboholic: California report recommends changes to adapt to rising sea level



Limit development in low-lying coastal areas. Consider abandoning existing development in coastal areas likely to be affected by sea level rise. Require structures built along the coast to be able to adapt to higher sea levels. Discontinue federally subsidized flood insurance for existing property in low-lying coastal areas. Those are some of the recommendations made last week in the first report by California’s Climate Action Team and reported by the LA Times. Continue reading

The Weekly Carboholic: Pew poll says climate lowest priority, but results are curious



A poll conducted by the Pew Research Center in early January says that, of the priorities listed in the poll, “dealing with global warming” was dead last, with only 30% of respondents declaring it a “top priority.” This was below other issues such as the economy, jobs, fixing Medicare, crime, and the environment. But as is so often the case with polls, the devil is in the details and the methodology. For example, climate disruption is certainly an environmental issue, yet the issues are polled separately. And when you broaden the poll results beyond just the “top priority” category to include “important but lower priority,” global warming attracts support of 67% of the poll’s respondents. Continue reading

The Weekly Carboholic: Distributed nuclear a cheaper nuclear solution?



It’s been just over a year since I launched the Weekly Carboholic in late 2008, and I had grand plans to write up something special to mark the anniversary and the new year. Instead I took three weeks off from writing the Carbo and dumped my time into writing about the Tennessee Valley Authority’s coal ash sludge spill. But we’re back as of this week, although we may be a little hit-and-miss through February. Continue reading

The Weekly Carboholic: So much for the "1970s cooling consensus" myth


Most scientists and activists who understand the realities of anthropogenic global warming (AGW) have heard it repeatedly – climate scientists are wrong about global heating this time because they were wrong about global cooling in the 1970’s. Ignore for a moment the obvious logical fallacy here and focus instead on the claim that there was supposedly a scientific consensus in the 1970s that, due to global temperature data, the Earth was about to go into a new ice age. This claim by deniers is clearly verifiable, and that’s exactly what a team of researchers led by National Climatic Data Center climatologist Thomas C. Peterson has done. The team’s results revealed something surprising, given how widespread the “cooling consensus” claim is among climate skeptics and deniers: only 10% of related journal papers published between 1965 and 1979 supported a global cooling hypothesis – and 62% of papers supported the idea of global heating. Continue reading

The Weekly Carboholic: traditional media errs on latest permafrost study


Scientists are understandably concerned about the impact that thawing and decaying permafrost will have on the world’s climate. Methane is a more potent greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (CO2), and there’s a massive amount of organic matter stored in the world’s permafrost, up to 1/6 the entire amount of carbon in the atmosphere just in North America’s permafrost, never mind offshore methane hydrates and permafrost in Asia that is already showing signs of melting. Continue reading

The Weekly Carboholic: "heat island" effect is minimal


One of the more common arguments you hear from global heating deniers and skeptics is that the urban heat island effect is causing global temperature measurements to look a lot hotter than they actually are. This is such a powerful argument because there is some truth to it – when you plop down a new road or build a town around what used to be a rural National Weather Service temperature monitoring station, there’s going to be a major uptick in the temperature that station measures. Skeptics like Anthony Watts of Wattsupwiththat.wordpress.com have spent a great deal of time documenting situations where new roads, new construction, even the addition of an asphalt walkway to a gas grill could be responsible for spurious temperature readings out of weather stations. However, the argument that global heating is all a misunderstanding of the urban heat island effect took a hit recently with the release of a new study that finds temperatures measured in established cities trend nearly identically to rural temperatures. Continue reading

The Weekly Carboholic: a bit of everything


Due to the large size of this week’s Carboholic, I’ve busted it up into sections for readability.


When you’re talking about Antarctica and global heating, there are some serious problems. The few satellites that are in polar orbits to monitor the poles can’t directly detect how thick the ice shelf is, or what the salinity and temperature of the water beneath the ice shelf is. Floating sensor buoys can’t get beneath the ice shelves and are rather limited in their operational depth. And sending people out to drill deep holes and manually measure temperature and salinity is far too expensive and dangerous. And given that what the water under floating ice shelves is doing may be key to understanding how Antarctica will respond to global heating, the problems represent serious limitations. Which is why the key to understanding what’s happening immediately around and beneath the Antarctic ice shelves may well be elephant seals. Continue reading

The Weekly Carboholic: anti-oil speculator resolution useless political theater


On June 26, the United States House of Representatives passed HR 6377, a resolution that requires the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) to use all of its authority, including emergency powers if appropriate, to manage energy commodities. The resolution passed the House 402-19.

This resolution is political theater. Not only are resolutions in general effectively meaningless, this resolution tells the CFTC to use its regulatory powers to stop illegal activities it’s already supposed to be blocking (“excessive speculation, price distortion, sudden or unreasonable fluctuations or unwarranted changes in prices, or other unlawful activity…”). Continue reading

The Weekly Carboholic: Not a drop to drink…


People without water will do anything – Wendon, The Ice Pirates (1984)

Deprived of water, people die within days of dehydration. So do livestock. Crops wither and, if the fields produce at all, the yields are cut dramatically from normal. And now we’re beginning to hear stern warnings about the availability of cheap potable water.

“We once assumed that water is free, air is free and power is cheap. The latter is clearly no longer true and we are increasingly realising the truth about water,” argued MIT Sloan School of Management Professor Sarah Slaughter in a May 2008 paper. Continue reading

The Weekly Carboholic: Study says dams reduced sea level rise


Image Source: US Bureau of Reclamation

Dams exist to store massive amounts of water, water that may be used for flood control, irrigation, human consumption, or even electricity generation. And dams are very, very good at storing water. So good, in fact, that a new study from Taiwan’s National Central University says that dams slowed sea level rise over the 20th century. From the Nature blurb about the story:

By damming rivers, humans have masked the full extent of surging sea levels, a new study finds. Sea levels have risen by an average of 16 centimetres since 1930, and they would have risen by an additional three centimeteres but for the water tucked away in manmade reservoirs last century, not carefully tallied until now.

Continue reading

The Weekly Carboholic

Today I’m starting up a regular feature, the Weekly Carboholic, where I’ll be pointing out interesting nuggets of global heating information from around the world. The information will range from new websites of interest, global-heating news, renewable energy technologies, businesses doing global heating-responsible investment, etc. Enjoy!

The BBC reported this week that new geophysical research has shown that the IPCC’s estimated sea level rise may be half of what can really be expected. The IPCC estimated earlier this year that the sea level rise from thermal expansion of the oceans and glacial melting was likely to be no more than 81 cm (32 inches), but the new research suggests that during prior transitions from an ice age to a warmer period, the average sea level rise per century was more like 163 cm (64 inches), double the IPCC estimate. This goes along with news earlier this year that the Antarctic Ross Ice Shelf and Greenland’s glaciers are a) melting much faster than expected and b) the new data from both was too late for inclusion in the IPCC estimates. Continue reading