November 11, 2011 · 0 Comments
By Howard Friel:
When the International Energy Agency issued its 2011 World Energy Outlook Wednesday, Andrew Revkin, on his Dot.Earth blog for the New York Times, focused his comments on the IEA’s findings about global energy use while ignoring what the energy agency said about climate change, which was this: “On planned policies, rising fossil energy use will lead to irreversible and potentially catastrophic climate change.” Revkin’s headline merely read: “Energy Forecast: Fracking in China, Nuclear Uncertain, CO2 Up.”
Indeed, of about three dozen news items reported by the Common Dreams web site to date in 2011 that are tied specifically to an equal number of published climate science reports, Revkin reported on only two. Overall, Revkin’s blog is a climate-science desert, and his own views about the nature of the threat of climate change in many respects run contrary to what the published science has reported.
For the sake of economy, here is a partial list of climate-science reports posted on Common Dreams this year, but not on Revkin’s Dot.Earth:
January 9: “Canadian Study Sees Global Warming for Centuries” (Reuters, citing a study published in Nature Geoscience).
January 14: “Climate Change Could Happen Much Faster than Previously Thought” (The Telegraph/UK, citing a study at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research).
February 4: “Mass Tree Deaths Prompt Fears of Amazon ‘Climate Tipping Point,’” (Guardian, citing a study published in Science).
April 4: “Glaciers Melting at Fastest Rate in 350 Years, Study Finds” (Independent, citing a study by scientists at the University of Exeter and Stockholm University).
May 3: “Report: Arctic Warming May Raise Global Sea Levels Five Feet” (Reuters, citing a study by scientists at the Oslo-based Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program).
May 29: “Ocean Acidification is Latest Manifestation of Global Warming” (The Observer/UK, citing a study by scientists at the Marine Institute at the U.K.’s Plymouth University).
June 26: “Warming Oceans Cause Largest Movement of Marine Species in Two Million Years” (The Telegraph/U.K., citing scientists working at the Climate Change and European Marine Ecosystems Research Project).
July 12: “Climate Change Could Kill One in 10 Species by the End of the Century” (Independent, citing a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences).
July 21: “UN Says Climate Change Threatens World Security” (Agence France Presse, citing a report issued by the U.N. Environment Program).
July 25: “Melting Arctic Ice Releasing Banned Toxins, Warn Scientists” (Guardian, citing a study published in Nature Climate Change).
September 11: “Coral Reefs ‘Will Be Gone by End of the Century,’” (Independent, citing work done at the United Nations University Institute for Water, Environment, and Health).
September 11: “Arctic Ice Cover Hits Historic Low Due to Global Warming, Says Scientists” (Agence France Presse, citing a study by scientists at the University of Bremen’s Institute of Environmental Physics).
September 14: “Dire Warming over Arctic Sea Ice Melt” (The Telegraph/UK, citing a report issued by the U.S. National Snow and Ice Data Center).
October 26: “World’s Fastest Growing Populations Increasingly Vulnerable to the Impacts of Climate Change—4th Global Atlas Reports” (Guardian, citing a report issued by Maplecroft, a U.K. research institute).
November 4: “Greenhouse Gases Rise by Record Amount” (Associated Press, citing a report issued by the U.S. Department of Energy).
While Revkin declined to cover these climate-science items, he also neglected to report studies issued in 2011 showing a growing link between climate change and the incidence of extreme weather events, even while denying frequently on Dot.Earth that no such link can be established. Here are some of the reports and studies that Revkin ignored:
January 28: “Arctic Defrost Dumping Snow on U.S. and Europe” (Inter Press Service, citing scientists from Environment Canada, Colorado University’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research, Germany’s Academy of Sciences, Humanities and Literature, and NOAA/Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory).
April 26: “Report: Climate Change Worsens Western Water Woes” (Associated Press, citing a report issued by the U.S. Interior Department).
May 7: “World’s Farmers Feel the Effects of a Hotter Planet,” (National Public Radio, citing a study published in Science).
May 20: “Climate Change Blamed for Record Mississippi Floods” (Environment News Service, citing scientists and adaptation experts participating in a teleconference held by the Union of Concerned Scientists).
June 9: “Hot America? Climate Scientists Say ‘Get Used To It’” (National Public Radio, citing a study published in Climate Change Letters).
June 16: “Extreme Weather Events Unprecedented, Scientists Say” (Associated Press, citing scientists at the National Climatic Data Center in Asheville, North Carolina).
June 28: “Storm Warnings: Extreme Weather is a Product of Climate Change” (Scientific American).
While ignoring these and other reports indicating that human-induced climate change is accompanied by an increase in extreme weather events, Revkin claims that no such climate-linked increase can be established. Thus, last month, in October 2011, Revkin congratulated climate scientist Gavin Schmidt for his Climate Communication Prize from the American Geophysical Union by citing Schmidt as a standard-bearer on debunking the notion that the global increase in extreme weather events is linked to climate change.
However, like the reports and studies listed above, Revkin ignored the two papers published in Nature about which Schmidt was writing, both of which reported a link between the increase in extreme weather events and climate change. And contrary to Revkin’s message—Schmidt appeared merely to detail the scientific complexity of attributing extreme weather events to climate change—Schmidt praised the scientific rigor of the two Nature studies as applied to the question of extreme weather events and climate change.
To substantiate these points, key passages are reproduced below. Here is Revkin commenting, and thereafter quoting Schmidt:
[Revkin] While many of his colleagues are (appropriately) quick to point out hype from those aiming to undermine public confidence in climate science, Schmidt has been unafraid also to note that reality on important issues―from tipping points to extreme weather―is not always convenient for greenhouse campaigners. Here’s the core of a valuable post he wrote on extreme weather in a warming climate:
[Schmidt] Let’s start with some very basic, but oft-confused points:
Not all extremes are the same. Discussions of “changes in extremes” in general without specifying exactly what is being discussed are meaningless. A tornado is an extreme event, but one whose causes, sensitivity to change and impacts have nothing to do with those related to an ice storm, or a heat wave or cold air outbreak or a drought.
There is no theory or result that indicates that climate change increases extremes in general. This is a corollary of the previous statement―each kind of extreme needs to be looked at specifically―and often regionally as well.
Some extremes will become more common in future (and some less so). We will discuss the specifics below.
Attribution of extremes is hard. There are limited observational data to start with, insufficient testing of climate model simulations of extremes, and (so far) limited assessment of model projections. (“A Deserved Award for Gavin Schmidt of RealClimate and NASA,” Dot.Earth, October 18, 2011.)
These remarks functioned as an introduction, or the context, to Schmidt’s assessement of the two studies published in Nature.
In the first Nature study reviewed by Schmidt, the researchers found a link between human-induced climate warming and heavy precipitation events/floods in England and Wales. They wrote: “The precise magnitude of the anthropogenic contribution remains uncertain, but in nine out of ten cases our model results indicate that twentieth-century anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions increased the risk of floods occurring in England and Wales in autumn 2000 by more than 20%, and in two out of three cases by more than 90%.” (“Anthropogenic Greenhouse Gas Contribution to Flood Risk in England and Wales in Autumn 2000,” Nature, February 16, 2001.)
In the second Nature study assessed by Schmidt, the researchers of that study concluded that the incidence of extreme weather events linked to global warming might be understated. They wrote: “Here we show that human-induced increases in greenhouse gases have contributed to the observed intensification of heavy precipitation events found over approximately two-thirds of data-covered parts of Northern Hemisphere land areas.” The scientists concluded further that “changes in extreme precipitation projected by models … may be underestimated because models seem to underestimate the observed increase in heavy precipitation with warming.” (“Human Contribution to More-Intense Precipitation Extremes,” Nature, February 16, 2011.)
In the same Web post from which Revkin quoted him, Schmidt noted the scientific rigor underlying the two Nature studies: “Both papers were submitted in March last year, prior to the 2010 floods in Pakistan, Australia, Brazil or the Philippines, and so did not deal with any of the data or issues associated with those floods. However, while questions of attribution come up whenever something weird happens to the weather, these papers demonstrate clearly that the instant pop-attributions we are always being asked for are just not very sensible. It takes an enormous amount of work to do these kinds of tests, and they just can’t be done instantly. As they are done more often though, we will develop a better sense for the kinds of events that we can say something about, and those we can’t.” (“Going to Extremes,” RealClimate, February 17, 2011.)
While Schmidt’s comments seem muted, I don’t believe they can be used to support Revkin’s claim that there is little evidence to support the connection between an increase in extreme weather events and climate change. Furthermore, Revkin clearly should have disclosed that Schmidt’s comments were issued in response to two studies, rigorous by Schmidt’s standards, and published in Nature, that found a link between the extreme weather events investigated and climate change. And Revkin’s blog post on Schmidt, from October 2011, came after Revkin had ignored the reports and studies on climate change and extreme weather events that I just listed above from Common Dreams.
It is also inconvenient for Revkin that the findings of the two Nature studies appeared to be consistent with what James Hansen wrote in his 2010 book, Storms of My Grandchildren: “Global warming does increase the intensity of droughts and heat waves, and thus the area of forest fires. However, because a warmer atmosphere holds more water vapor, global warming must also increase the intensity of the other extreme of the hydrologic cycle—meaning heavier rains, more extreme floods, and more intense storms driven by latent heat, including thunderstorms, tornadoes, and tropical storms.” Hansen concluded that “both extremes”—extreme heat/droughts and heavy rains/floods—“increase with global warming.” (Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity, Bloomsbury, 2010, p. xv.)
Even the very few studies from the list of studies reported by Common Dreams that Revkin did cover in his Dot.Earth blog were problematically reported by him. For example, two months ago, in September, Agence France Presse reported on a study issued by scientists at the University of Bremen’s Institute of Environmental Physics, including as follows:
The area covered by Arctic sea ice reached its lowest point this week since the start of satellite observations in 1972, German researchers announced.
“On September 8, the extent of the Arctic sea ice was 4.240 million square kilometers. This is a new historic minimum,” said Georg Heygster, head of the Physical Analysis of Remote Sensing Images unit at the University of Bremen’s Institute of Environmental Physics….
“The sea ice retreat can no more be explained with the natural variability from one year to the next, caused by weather influence,” Heygster said in a statement released by the university.
“Climate models show, rather, that the reduction is related to the man-made global warming which, due to the albedo effect, is particularly pronounced in the Arctic.” (“Arctic Ice Cover Hits Historic Low, Due to Global Warming, Say Scientists,” Agence France Presse, September 11, 2011.)
On Dot.Earth on September 12, Revkin noted this study as follows: “One research group, at the University of Bremen, concluded last week that the ice this year retreated to a new record low for the era of satellite monitoring. But other ice-analysis teams, including the National Snow and Ice Data Center, have not yet made their determinations.” This was the extent of Revkin’s comments about the study from the University of Bremen. Yet, Revkin never mentioned the report issued two days later by the National Snow and Ice Data Center (NSIDC), as he implied that he would. And about what the NSIDC found, the Telegraph/UK reported: “Sea-ice coverage across the Arctic Ocean has dwindled to its second-lowest level since satellite records started in 1979, the National Snow and Ice Data Centre said, days after another study [the one from the University of Bremen] said ice melt was at its worst levels ever.” (“Dire Warning Over Arctic Sea Ice Melt,” The Telegraph/UK, September 14, 2011.)
In a similar fashion, Revkin also took note of data issued in May 2011 by the International Energy Agency (IEA), which reported as follows, according to the Guardian: “Greenhouse gas emissions increased by a record amount last year, to the highest carbon output in history, putting hopes of holding global warming to safe levels all but out of reach, according to unpublished estimates from the International Energy Agency. The shock rise means the goal of preventing a temperature rise of more than 2 degrees Celsius—which scientists say is the threshold for potentially ‘dangerous climate change’—is likely to be just ‘a nice Utopia,’ according to Fatih Birol, chief economist of the IEA.” (“Worst Ever Carbon Emissions Leave Climate on the Brink,” Guardian, May 30, 2011.)
In a blog post blandly titled, “Tracking Economy, CO2 Emissions Hit New High” (May 30), here’s how Revkin reported the same story: “The International Energy Agency has reported that global emissions of carbon dioxide from energy use, tracking the recovering world economy, hit a new high of 30.6 billion metric tons of the gas last year. (Emissions from deforestation and activities like cement manufacturing are not included.) That’s 5 percent above the previous peak, measured in 2008…. In a distributed statement, Fatih Birol, chief economist at the energy agency and the director of the annual World Energy Outlook, said that trends in emissions meant the world was running out of time if leaders were serious about meeting targets pledged in recent sessions of climate treaty negotiations.” Note the decontextualized, bare-bones reporting with respect to the impact of the record carbon dioxide emissions on the crucial 2°C target.
I hope to further document in the near future how Revkin largely bypasses the published climate science in his Dot.Earth blog in the New York Times, while holding views about climate change that are not supported by the climate science that he ignores.
Howard Friel is author most recently of The Lomborg Deception: Setting the Record Straight about Global Warming (Yale University Press, 2010), and is author (with Richard Falk) of The Record of the Paper: How The New York Times Misreports US Foreign Policy(Verso, 2004) and Israel-Palestine on Record: How The New York Times Misreports Conflict in the Middle East (Verso, 2007).