Author Archives: Steven Hamburg

Wanted: Sound Climate Science from the House Science Committee

House Committee on Science, Space and Technology Chairman Lamar Smith recently wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post that dangerously distorted the science behind man-made global warming.

It is patently false to suggest, as Chairman Smith did, that there is a “great amount of uncertainty” regarding the fundamental science underlying our understanding of the drivers of climate change. Man-made warming has been confirmed repeatedly by the vast majority of scientific organizations including NASA, the National Academies of Science and the American Meteorological Society. A recent review also reaffirmed that 97% of peer-reviewed scientific publications that address the causes of climate change endorse the consensus that climate change is real and man-made.

Chairman Smith argues that since the US decreased its greenhouse gas emissions between 2005 and 2012 we cannot be responsible for global greenhouse gas emissions. However, carbon dioxide remains in the atmosphere so long the US is responsible for more of the warming we are currently experiencing than any other nation.  In 2011, the United States’ emissions remained the second highest behind only China, a country with more than four times the population of the US.  The US continues to emit significantly more greenhouse gas per person than does any of the larger nations of the world, the few smaller exceptions are major fossil fuel producing countries. The fact that the US is not currently the single largest emitter is no excuse not to lead on addressing climate change.  The logic used by Chairman Smith implies that we should only ask the very largest emitters to clean up criteria air pollution or water pollution across the US. If we utilized that strategy our water and air would not have seen the improvements of the past 40 years, which have reduced death rates and restored the places we cherish.

He also discusses recent findings that temperatures have not warmed significantly in the past 15 years, which is not actually the case – rather several cooler years has reduced the rate of warming, as it has several times over the past decades of rapid warming. As EDF Vice President Nat Keohane recently wrote in response to this finding, this “underscores the fundamental nature of climate change — that we are creating dangerous uncertainties” and there are various explanations for this finding, notably that an unusual amount of heat has been stored in the deep ocean, rather than at the surface.

Chairman Smith also claimed that Hurricane Sandy was not caused by climate change. Scientists, including Kevin Trenberth of the National Center for Atmospheric Research, Bob Corell from the American Meteorological Society and Jeff Masters of Weather Underground and formerly of NOAA, confirm that Sandy’s damage was increased by rising seas, warming oceans, and was consistent with scientists’ climate predictions based on a warming artic. Just as we can’t say that steroids caused any one home run by Barry Bonds, steroids sure helped him hit more and hit them farther, and now climate change is increasing the likelihood of extreme of weather events, giving us weather on steroids.

Lastly Chairman Smith says that greenhouse gas regulations would hurt our economy. He does not account for the economic costs of inaction on climate change that many studies say outweigh the cost of action. Three of the most costly weather disasters in the US, Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy, and the 2012 Midwest drought, have happened in the past 6 years, costing $128 billion, $62 billion and $35 billion respectively. American taxpayers are footing a large portion of this cost including $12 billion from Sandy and $16 billion from Katrina under the National Flood Insurance Program, and $11 billion in crop insurance claims from the 2012 drought. These costs will only continue to increase as the effects of climate change become more apparent.

I appreciate that Chairman Smith is writing about climate change because it is a critical national debate. As chairman of the House Science Committee, however, he should start that discussion by acknowledging the most important and sound scientific facts: Climate change is real, it is caused by pollution from human activity, and it will become increasingly expensive for the US and the world.

Posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, News, Science| 1 Response, comments now closed

New Reports about Weather Disasters, Cost, and Climate Change

Congress just passed a bill to provide more than $50 billion to victims of Hurricane Sandy.

If you think that seems like a lot of money, consider this Hurricane Sandy was just one of the eleven weather disasters in the U.S. last year that caused more than $1 billion each in losses.

For a long time now, the world’s top climate researchers have told us about the strong evidence of links between our weird weather and climate change.

(Of course, here at EDF, we’ve been talking about the links between weird weather and climate change too — as regular readers of Climate 411 know.)

Greenhouse gas pollution traps heat in our atmosphere, which interferes with historic weather patterns – and is resulting in more severe and damaging weather events.

Our particularly awful weather last year has put climate change back in the news:

  • In his Inaugural Address, President Obama talked about the threat of climate change — saying, “Some may still deny the overwhelming judgment of science, but none can avoid the devastating impact of raging fires and crippling drought and more powerful storms.”
  • Two Members of Congress just formed a new bicameral task force on climate change.
  • The World Economic Forum just released its Global Risks Report 2013, which says: “Following a year scarred by extreme weather, from Hurricane Sandy to flooding in China, respondents rated rising greenhouse gas emissions as the third most likely global risk overall.”

How bad was it really? Four other reports — all released in the last few weeks – found that evidence showing the impacts of climate change is piling up.

Two new reports from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) show that both America and the world are warming – by leaps and bounds.

According to NOAA, “By a wide margin, 2012 was the United States’ warmest year on record.”

NOAA’s State of the Climate National Assessment found that the average temperature for the continental U.S. in 2012 was one full degree Fahrenheit higher than the previous warmest year on record – and 3.2 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average.

And NOAA’s State of the Climate Global Analysis found that 2012 was the 36th consecutive year with a global temperature above the 20th century average. That means the last time the global temperature wasn’t above average was in 1976 – when America was celebrating its bicentennial and Jimmy Carter was elected President. Anyone under the age of 35 has never seen a year when the Earth wasn’t hotter than the 20th century average.

NASA also measures global temperatures, and their report also found 2012 to be one of the top 10 hottest years ever for planet Earth.

Why? According to NASA scientist Gavin Schmidt,

The planet is warming. The reason it's warming is because we are pumping increasing amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Let’s go back to NOAA’s data for more frightening statistics from 2012:

  • Every state in the contiguous United States had an above-20th century-average annual temperature. (You can check NOAA’s web page to see which cities broke any records or had their hottest year).
  • July 2012 was the hottest month ever observed in the continental U.S. since we began keeping records in 1880.
  • Nineteen states had their warmest year on record, and another 26 states had one of their ten warmest years since 1880.
  • Temperatures were above the 20th-century average in every month from June 2011 to September 2012 – an unbroken 16-month stretch that we’ve never seen before since we started keeping records.
  • The winter snow cover for the contiguous United States was the third smallest on record, and snowpack totals across the Central and Southern Rockies as of April 2012 were less than half of the 1971-2000 average.

In 2012, America also had the second largest extent of extreme weather events ever recorded in a single year. (A weather event has a variable at the high or low end of the observed historical range.)

And we saw vastly different types of weather extremes at the same time – which is consistent with weird weather linked to climate change. While most of the continental U.S. withered in drought, some areas got drenched — Florida had its wettest summer on record.

Along with Hurricane Sandy, 2012 weather lowlights include:

  • Hurricane Isaac, which caused flooding along the Gulf Coast and killed 9 people.
  • The Derecho storm that caused severe damage in eleven states from Indiana to Maryland.
  • Flooding in and around Duluth, Minnesota, where rivers reached all-time high flood levels.
  • A massive drought that covered more than 60 percent of the country and led to widespread crop failures. Crop prices are now rising because of last year’s drought. Corn, wheat and soybean prices are all up – which means your grocery bills will soon be up too.
  • Wildfires burned more than nine million acres around the West, about 1.5 times the ten year average from 2001 to 2010. A fire near Colorado Springs destroyed almost 350 homes, and New Mexico recorded its largest wildfire ever. Wildfire risk increases when drought is combined with high heat and low levels of humidity.

Now for the really bad news – it’s likely to get worse.

This month, the U.S. government released a first draft of another new report, the National Climate Assessment. More than 300 scientists contributed to writing the report, which warns that the U.S. could warm up to 10 degrees Fahrenheit by the end of the century, unless we take steps now to reduce climate change.

According to the assessment:

Evidence for climate change abounds, from the top of the atmosphere to the depths of the oceans … The sum total of this evidence tells an unambiguous story: The planet is warming.

Unfortunately, the new reports are just the tip of the rapidly-melting iceberg. There’s a lot more evidence of climate change and its effects on our weather — evidence that shows that we need to take serious action to reduce carbon pollution and stop climate change.

Posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Extreme Weather, News, Science| Comments closed

Hot Topic: Climate Change and Our Extreme Weather

Americans have been griping all summer about the weather. It feels hotter than usual this year.

Turns out, that’s because – it is.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) just confirmed that America is enduring the hottest weather in our recorded history.

In fact, the past 12 months have been the warmest 12 months in the continental U.S. since record-keeping began back in 1895.

It’s not a coincidence either. NOAA says the odds of our record heat being a random event — rather than part of a global warming trend — are about 1 in 1.6 million.

How hot is it, really? Consider these facts from NOAA:

  • From June 1st through July 10th of this year, the U.S. broke 147 all-time high-temperature records.
  • In June of 2012, communities across the U.S. broke 2,284 daily maximum temperature records. In the week of July 1st through July 9th of this year, they broke another 2,071.
  • The average temperature in the contiguous United States was 71.2 degrees Fahrenheit this June – two full degrees above the 20th-century average.

Those scary statistics are just for the past six weeks. But our miserable June followed the blistering heat from last year.

Read all about it in NOAA’s new report, State of the Climate in 2011.)

Take a look at this partial list of cities that broke records from June of 2011 through May of 2012:

  • Detroit – 101 degrees (daily record)
  • Syracuse – 101 degrees (daily record)
  • Mitchell, SD – 102 degrees (daily record)
  • Minneapolis – 103 degrees (daily record)
  • Bridgeport, CT – 103 degrees (all-time record)
  • Denver – 105 degrees (all-time record)      
  • Newark– 108 degrees (all-time record)
  • Houston – 109 degrees (all-time record)
  • Miles City, MT – 111 degrees (all-time record)
  • Wichita – 111 degrees (daily record)
  • Little Rock – 114 degrees (all-time record)
  • Childress, TX – 117 degrees (all-time record)

We’ve included some of those temperatures in our newest EDF public service announcement, which is running on the jumbo screen in Times Square. Just in case you’re not in Times Square right now — see the ad here.

The blazing temperatures have led to other problems as well:

  • The U.S. Drought Monitor says more than 56 percent of the contiguous United States is now under drought conditions — the highest level since record-keeping began in 2000.
  • Wildfires destroyed 1.3 million acres in Colorado and across the U.S. last month.
  • Wyoming recorded its driest June ever this year; Colorado and Utah recorded their second-driest Junes.

At the same time:

  • Florida recorded its wettest June ever — thanks in part to Tropical Storm Debby, which dumped more than two feet of rain on some towns, and spawned flash floods and almost two dozen tornadoes.
  • Duluth, Minnesota also had record floods last month.
  • Large parts of the East Coast got hit by a killer Derecho storm that killed more than two dozen people; more than three million lost electricity, some for more than a week.
  • Washington, D.C. broke its record for worst heat wave ever, according to the Washington Post.

Unfortunately, these bad weather trends are not unexpected. For a long time now, the world’s top climate researchers have told us about the strong evidence of links between dangerous weather and climate change.

Here at EDF, we’ve been talking – and blogging – about the issue for a long time. It was barely more than six months ago that we posted about the IPCC report on climate change and extreme weather. Sadly, looking back at the last round of weather disasters gives our current sweltering summer a sense of déjà vu.

Greenhouse gas pollution traps heat in our atmosphere, which interferes with normal weather patterns. That means we can expect more – and probably worse – weird weather in the future.

Climate change doesn’t just mean higher heat. It means more severe and damaging weather events across the country – including more frequent and heavier rains in some areas, increased drought in others, a potential increase in the intensity of hurricanes, and more coastal erosion because of rising sea levels.

Changing weather patterns changes will affect our agriculture, water supplies, health and economy. They’ll affect every American community and, ultimately, every American.

That’s why EDF is dedicated to reducing carbon pollution.

After all the reports, and all the statistics, and all the bad weather –there's no excuse for not fighting climate change.

Posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Extreme Weather, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Science| Comments closed

A Great Day for Science Too: More on the Court Decision Affirming Historic Climate Protections

On good days, the facts prevail — and Tuesday was one of those very good days.

As Fred wrote, on Tuesday the U.S. Court of Appeals for Washington, D.C. issued a unanimous, historic decision upholding EPA’s actions to reduce climate pollution.

In our press release, Fred called it a good day for the “thin layer of atmosphere that sustains life on Earth.”

He’s right of course. But our planet wasn’t the only big winner. It was also a great day for science.

The court roundly rejected challenges to EPA’s science-based finding that greenhouse gas emissions endanger public health and welfare (commonly called the Endangerment Finding).

In the process, the court reaffirmed the importance of having rigorous, independent science as the bedrock of efforts to protect our health and environment.

The court’s eloquent statement speaks for itself:    

EPA simply did here what it and other decision-makers often must do to make a science-based judgment:  it sought out and revised existing scientific evidence to determine whether a particular finding was warranted.  It makes no difference that much of the scientific evidence in large part consisted of “syntheses” of individual studies and research.  . . .  This is how science works.  EPA is not required to re-prove the existence of the atom every time it approaches a scientific question.

(That’s from page 27 of the ruling. I added the emphasis.)

The court dismissed the challenges to the Endangerment Finding as without “merit”, noting that EPA relied upon an “ocean of evidence” including 18,000 peer-reviewed studies. (You can find those quotes on pages 26, 34 and 38 of the decision.)  

In dismissing this challenge the court acted in concert with our long history of relying on science-based evidence — not only to shape our health and environmental protections, but as the foundation of American innovation and ingenuity. 

EPA’s Endangerment Finding is based on an extensive review of climate change research, including assessments of climate research prepared by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences, the United States Global Change Research Program, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

The creation of these assessment reports involved thousands of scientists, reviewing thousands of articles from peer-reviewed research journals.

This massive body of research documents the effects that rising atmospheric concentrations of heat-trapping emissions are having on our climate. It also documents the harm that climate impacts cause to human health and welfare. 

Affirming EPA's reliance on state-of-the-art climate science, the court discussed the substantial evidence supporting EPA’s Endangerment Finding on page 30 of the decision:

To recap, EPA had before it substantial record evidence that anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases “very likely” caused warming of the climate over the last several decades. . .  Relying again upon substantial scientific evidence, EPA determined that anthropogenically induced climate change threatens both public health and public welfare.  It found that extreme weather events, changes in air quality, increases in food- and water-borne pathogens, and increases in temperatures are likely to have adverse health effects … The record also supports EPA’s conclusion that climate change endangers human welfare by creating risk to food production and agriculture, forestry, energy, infrastructure, ecosystems, and wildlife. 

The call from scientists worldwide urging swift action to curb climate-destabilizing emissions has been heard. 

EPA’s efforts to fulfill its statutory responsibility to protect human health and the environment from dangerous pollution have been resoundingly affirmed.   

It is a good day to be a scientist, and an American.

(You can read more about the court cases on our website and in my colleague Megan Ceronsky’s earlier blog on the subject. And stay tuned for more analysis of the historic decisions.)

Posted in Basic Science of Global Warming, Clean Air Act, Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Policy, Science, What Others are Saying| 1 Response, comments now closed

Revenge of the Climate Scientists: 38 Experts Set the WSJ Straight

Two days ago, I wrote about a flawed global warming analysis in the Wall Street Journal.

The paper published an opinion piece, No Need to Panic About Global Warming, written by a small group of scientists and engineers who are global warming skeptics.

Today, the other side was heard from.

The Wall Street Journal published a sharp rebuttal from 38 experts – all of them respected climatologists — who call the authors of the first piece:

[T]he climate-science equivalent of dentists practicing cardiology.

Today's piece points out that most of the authors of the first analysis have no expertise in climate science, although they are accomplished in their own respective fields.

But, as the large group of climate scientists writes today:                   

The National Academy of Sciences of the U.S. (set up by President Abraham Lincoln to advise on scientific issues), as well as major national academies of science around the world and every other authoritative body of scientists active in climate research have stated that the science is clear: The world is heating up and humans are primarily responsible … Research shows that more than 97% of scientists actively publishing in the field agree that climate change is real and human caused. It would be an act of recklessness for any political leader to disregard the weight of evidence and ignore the enormous risks that climate change clearly poses.

I couldn’t agree more.

Posted in Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Science, What Others are Saying| Comments closed

A Flawed Global Warming Analysis in the Wall Street Journal

Last week, The Wall Street Journal published an opinion piece by a few scientists and engineers who believe man-made climate change will have less impact on the environment than the vast majority of the scientific community has concluded it will.

Debate is normal and necessary in science — it occurred even on such questions as whether smoking causes lung cancer — so this disagreement is part of the process. However, people considering this issue should not lose sight of the fact that thousands of scientists studying decades of data have established an extremely strong link between carbon dioxide emissions and rising global temperatures. The underlying physics is well understood. 

Further, hundreds, if not thousands, of peer-reviewed studies indicate that the impact on Earth’s climate will be substantial and dangerous. That is why so many scientific organizations and national academies have concluded climate change is a serious danger.

Many of the specific claims in the Journal piece also have already been definitively laid to rest. As the Union of Concerned Scientists has pointed out:

the authors claim there has been a "lack of warming" for 10 years…. [yet] 2011 was the 35th year in a row in which global temperatures were above the historical average and 2010 and 2005 were the warmest years on record. 

Moreover, every decade since the 1950s has been warmer than the last.

The authors recycle an out-of-context quotation from Kevin Trenberth, distinguished senior scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, to imply that he harbors doubts about warming. As Trenberth has said publicly:

I was not questioning the link between anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions and warming, or even suggesting that recent temperatures are unusual in the context of short-term natural variability.

The authors misuse his words in service of what they call an “inconvenient fact” that is no fact at all. They ignore the multiple streams of scholarship that rebut their claims and point to rising global temperatures caused in large part by anthropogenic emissions.

In truth, climate skeptics may be finding it harder to cling to their doubts. Last year, for example, scientists at the University of California, Berkeley – in a study partially funded by climate skeptics – found that technical issues that skeptics claim skew global warming figures had no meaningful effect on them.

As the Guardian reported:

The Berkeley Earth project compiled more than a billion temperature records dating back to the 1800s from 15 sources around the world and found that the average global land temperature has risen by around 1C since the mid-1950s.

This figure agrees with the estimate arrived at by major groups that maintain official records on the world's climate, including Nasa's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa), and the Met Office's Hadley Centre, with the University of East Anglia, in the UK.

“My hope is that this will win over those people who are properly skeptical,” Richard Muller, a physicist and head of the project, said.

Posted in Greenhouse Gas Emissions, News, Science| 2 Responses, comments now closed
  • About this blog

    Expert to expert commentary on the science, law and economics of climate change.

  • Get blog posts by email

    Subscribe via RSS

  • Meet The Bloggers

    Megan CeronskyMegan Ceronsky
    Attorney

    Nat KeohaneNat Keohane
    Vice President for International Climate

    Ilissa Ocko
    High Meadows Fellow, Office of Chief Scientist

    Peter Zalzal
    Staff Attorney

    Gernot Wagner
    Senior Economist

    Graham McCahan
    Attorney

    Mandy Warner
    Climate & Air Policy Specialist

    Pamela Campos
    Attorney

    Kritee
    High Meadows Scientist

  • Posts by topic

  • Archives