Monthly Archives: December 2009

Obama Announces Climate Deal in Copenhagen

Right now, President Obama is announcing that leaders at the Copenhagen climate summit have reached what the White House calls a “meaningful deal.”

Details are just starting to emerge, but those inside the Bella conference center, including EDF president Fred Krupp, have gotten a first look at the agreement. Fred says:

Today’s agreement leaves the U.S. in control of its own destiny. We have always known that the path to a clean energy economy goes through Washington, D.C. As President Obama said today, strong action on climate change is in America’s national interest.

It’s the Senate’s turn to speak next. Whether we move ahead with a common-sense plan to create new manufacturing jobs in the U.S. and reduce dependence on foreign oil is not up to other countries; it’s up to us. A year from now we can be further ahead or further behind, and the Senate will make the difference.

Today’s agreement takes the first important steps toward true transparency and accountability in an international climate agreement. The sooner the U.S. speaks through Senate legislation, the sooner we can set the terms of engagement for talks to come.”

Posted in International / Read 13 Responses

On “Hackergate”: What the Stolen Emails Say About Climate Science

This post is by staff scientist Lisa Moore and EDF’s chief scientist, Steven Hamburg.

As you know by now, a few weeks ago, hackers stole over a decade’s worth of emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit (CRU). Climate change deniers cherry-picked a few phrases from those emails, took them completely out of context, and claimed that they disprove global warming. Nothing could be further from the truth.

There are already a lot of thorough responses to this manufactured non-scandal, including several RealClimate posts (e.g., here and here); a Nature editorial; statements from leading scientists and professional organizations such as the American Meteorological Society and the American Geophysical Union; an Associated Press analysis; a story in Time magazine; a Washington Post interview of a science historian; and (our favorite) a “Climate Denial Crock of the Week” video from Peter Sinclair, featuring Beavis and Butthead. Because the facts can’t be stated too many times, here’s our own response.

The data showing climate change are solid and overwhelming

The evidence for global warming comes from thousands of thermometer readings over many decades, analyzed independently by different research groups. CRU is one of four agencies that reports global temperature trends. Each of these four—NASA, NOAA, CRU, and the Japan Meteorological Agency (JMA)—works independently of the others to process raw temperature data. Even though they use different methods, all four agencies’ results show marked warming trends over the past several decades:

schelsinger figure

Figure by Dr. Michael Schlesinger, Univ. of Illinois, using results from all four agencies.

You can even do the analysis yourself since the raw data are available online. This sort of independent verification is a hallmark of scientific research. Scientists are always double-checking each other’s work to see if they can replicate the results. When multiple, independent researchers come to similar conclusions, it increases their confidence in their understanding of whatever is being studied. In this case, the data clearly show global warming.

And even beyond all this temperature data, the signs of global warming are everywhere:

  • Satellite data, photographic records, and on-the-ground observations confirm that ice sheets and glaciers are melting.
  • Tide gauges and satellite data show that sea levels are rising.
  • Ground surveys by researchers and citizen scientists, and satellite data, have documented dramatic changes in the geographic ranges and lifecycle timing of Earth’s plants and animals.

As with the temperature record, these datasets have been assembled and analyzed by independent researchers from a variety of specialties. Together, these independent lines of evidence consistently show a rapidly warming world.

What the stolen emails really said

Despite this overwhelming body of evidence, the climate change deniers claim to have proof that global warming is a fraud. Their claim is based on two cherry-picked phrases from the stolen emails, taken wildly out of context. Here they are, with the real story.

In the first email, from 1999, Dr. Phil Jones says “I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trickof adding in the real temps to each series … to hide the decline.” Denialists are latching desperately to “trick” and “hide the decline” in an attempt to nullify the whole body of evidence for global warming. Here’s what they’ve completely misunderstood:

First, as Nature explains, “’trick’ [is] slang for a clever (and legitimate) technique”. In fact, the technique mentioned in the email was published in Nature by Dr. Michael Mann (thus “Mike’s Nature trick”).

Second, what about the “decline”? This refers to the well-known “divergence problem” between tree ring data and actual temperature records. Prior to about 1960, tree ring density tracked temperature change quite well, so scientists considered tree rings a decent proxy for temperature when or where actual measurements were not available. But for reasons scientists are still trying to figure out, tree rings became less responsive to temperature around 1960. In fact, if you compare actual temperatures to tree rings over that time period, the tree ring record appears to decline, even though we know from thermometers that temperatures continued to increase. So it’s wrong to use the tree rings as part of a temperature reconstruction if you know they’re inaccurate. Dr. Jones was “adding in real [temperature data]” to replace those faulty proxies. Nefarious, eh?

The second email that climate change deniers cling to is by Dr. Kevin Trenberth, in which he said, “The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can’t.” Here, Trenberth was lamenting the fact that we don’t have adequate observing systems in place to track the details of how heat is distributed among Earth’s systems over short time periods. In fact, Trenberth has explained this problem at length, for example in this paper [PDF]. Remember that science advances by focusing on what we don’t know. In this case, Trenberth was drawing attention to a gap in our understanding of (and the shortage of available data on) short-term internal climate variation. Don’t mistake a discussion of specific uncertainties for a lack of overall understanding.

There’s also been some discussion of emails that reveal scientists’ frustration about what they felt was harassment by the denier camp. Some of these emails are unseemly or even downright insulting to particular individuals, but ultimately we think these comments are merely a reminder that scientists are human and can say not-so-nice things about other people in private.

The bottom line is that there is absolutely no evidence that these scientists altered data. And even if you completely ignore CRU’s temperature reconstructions, you’re still left with an overwhelming amount of independent evidence that Earth is warming rapidly, and that this trend is due to human activities.

The real scandal is that by intentionally sowing confusion, climate change deniers have delayed action on climate change for a very long time. We owe it to our economy, national security, health, and ecosystems—and to future generations—to ignore these kinds of “nontroversies” and finally pass strong cap-and-trade legislation.

Posted in Science / Read 10 Responses

Forests Might Be the Big Winners in Copenhagen

Negotiators in Copenhagen are still nowhere near a final overall deal, but they are making significant progress on one very important issue — preserving the world’s forests.

Trees absorb carbon dioxide; the destruction of the rain forests is responsible for about 17 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions. That’s why Environmental Defense Fund supports the Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degredation program, better known as REDD.

The 193 countries taking part in the Copenhagen climate summit have been working on a REDD agreement for the past two weeks, and are reportedly very close to a deal.

EDF’s president Fred Krupp told the New York Times:

It is likely to be the most concrete thing that comes out of Copenhagen — and it is a very big thing.

Deforestation is partly a result of poor countries needing the revenue generated from harvesting and selling wood. REDD would provide ways for those countries to make money by conserving their forests instead. Under the program, poor countries would get a new income stream and the world would get more forests. In the U.S., REDD could serve both a political and an economic purpose by helping win support for a clean energy bill with a declining carbon cap. According to the Times:

The agreement is also being closely watched in Congress … Under the cap-and-trade system preferred by Democratic leaders and the Obama administration, companies that cannot meet their greenhouse gas pollution limit could buy extra permits by investing in carbon-reduction programs abroad. Plans to preserve forests under REDD would presumably qualify.

In other good news for the world’s forests, the United States Department of Agriculture just announced that it would join Australia, France, Japan, Norway and the United Kingdom, to provide the initial public funding for a related program called REDD+ (pronounced “red plus”). The program provides funding for poor countries that are trying to plant more trees and expand their forest cover. Assuming the Copenhagen talks produce a deal on REDD+, the coalition will provide $3.5 billion over three years for the effort; the U.S. will put up $1 billion of that.

Posted in International / Read 3 Responses

Clinton Says Lack of Transparency is a “Deal Breaker”

The big news from Copenhagen this morning: U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s announcement that transparency is absolutely necessary for any U.S. participation in financing a global climate change treaty.

Saying the U.S. is “ready to do its part,” Clinton pledged that the U.S. would raise $100 billion a year by 2020 to help poor countries fight climate change — but ONLY if all countries agree to binding and verifiable emissions cuts.

Clinton made the condition crystal clear:

If there is not even a commitment to pursue transparency, that is a kind of deal breaker for us… In the absence of an operational agreement that meets the requirements that I outlined, there will not be that kind of financial commitment, at least from the United States.

Environmental Defense Fund president Fred Krupp applauded Clinton’s speech for its “sharp focus” on the need for transparency in any international climate agreement:

Transparency — knowing whether countries are living up to their commitments — is the linchpin of an effective global effort. The details of how we measure progress and hold countries accountable to their commitments can be worked out over the coming months. The single most critical goal here in Copenhagen is a commitment by all nations to address transparency … The outlines of an agreement are taking shape. But they could be erased if transparency is blocked or diluted.

Assuming all countries do commit to transparency, Clinton says the $100 billion per year would come from a wide variety of sources, including the public and private sectors in the U.S. and other developed nations.

You can watch Clinton’s entire news conference from Copenhagen.

Posted in International, News / Read 2 Responses

Two New Polls on Global Warming

Two new polls released today have some good news for the fight against climate change.

First, according to a USA Today/Gallup poll:

A solid majority of Americans support the idea of a global treaty that would require the United States to reduce significantly greenhouse gas emissions.

The poll found that:

  • 55 percent endorse a binding accord to limit greenhouse gases
  • Two-thirds (66 percent) of young people ages 18 to 29 support an accord

USA Today says the results should provide some encouragement for President Obama as he gets ready for his trip to Copenhagen.

A separate Associated Press-Stanford University poll finds that most Americans think fighting climate change will be good for our economy.

  • 40 percent say U.S. action to slow global warming will create jobs
  • 46 percent say it would boost the economy.
  • Less than one third say it will hurt the economy or result in fewer jobs

AP calls it:

A sign the public is showing more faith in President Barack Obama’s economic arguments for limiting heat-trapping gases than in Republican claims that the actions would kill jobs.

Posted in Policy / Read 9 Responses

Traffic-Related Air Pollution Linked to Higher Miscarriage Rates

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The dangerous link between transportation and public health.

It is well-documented that traffic-related air pollution can lead to increased respiratory problems such as asthma. Several recent studies have also shown that emissions from cars, trucks, buses, and other vehicles can damage health in other ways, too. These include decreased brain function, increased heart attack risk, higher premature death rates, increased childhood allergies [PDF] — and now, higher miscarriage rates.

Specifically, nonsmokers and African American women living near busy roads are statistically more likely to miscarry within the first 20 weeks of pregnancy, according to a new study, “Residential Exposure to Traffic and Spontaneous Abortion,” published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. The study was produced by a team of scientists at the California Environmental Protection Agency, the California Department of Public Health, and the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry.

The authors examined data collected from women in California and found that pregnant African-American women who lived within 50 meters of heavy traffic were three times more likely to miscarry than African-American women who live in low-traffic areas. Nonsmokers living near busy roads were about 50 percent more likely to miscarry.

Though further studies with larger sample sizes are needed to confirm the findings, this study contributes to the mounting evidence on the harmful effects of traffic-related air pollution. It provides one more among a list of reasons to create a transportation system that pollutes much less than today’s system. Federal, state and local transportation policy needs to provide incentives to clean up dirty diesel engines, reduce traffic congestion, offer cleaner transportation choices, and generally create a more efficient and less polluting transportation system for people and freight.

Posted in Cars and Pollution / Comments are closed