The year the earth bit back: top climate stories of 2012

2012Amidst the blizzard of year-end roundups, here’s one you have to read in full — a joint effort put together by a diverse group of bloggers and scientists: Angela Fritz, Eli Rabett, Emilee Pierce, Greg Laden, Joe Romm, John Abraham, Laurence Lewis, Leo Hickman, Michael Mann, Michael Tobis, Paul Douglas, Scott Mandia, Scott Brophy, Stephan Lewandowsky, Tenney Naumer and yours truly. Lead author Greg Laden explains:

A group of us, all interested in climate science, put together a list of the most notable, often, most worrying, climate-related stories of the year, along with a few links that will allow you to explore the stories in more detail. We did not try to make this a “top ten” list, because it is rather silly to fit the news, or the science, or the stuff the Earth does in a given year into an arbitrary number of events. (What if we had 12 fingers, and “10” was equal to 6+6? Then there would always be 12 things, not 10, on everyone’s list. Makes no sense.) We ended up with 18 items, but note that some of these things are related to each other in a way that would allow us to lump them or split them in different ways. See this post by Joe Romm for a more integrated approach to the year’s events. Also, see what Jeff Masters did here. We only included one non-climate (but related) item to illustrate the larger number of social, cultural, and political things that happened this year. For instance, because of some of the things on this list, Americans are more likely than they were in previous years to accept the possibility that science has something to say about the Earth’s climate and the changes we have experienced or that may be in the future; journalists are starting to take a new look at their own misplaced “objective” stance as well. Also, more politicians are starting to run for office on a pro-science pro-environment platform than has been the case for quite some time.

A failing of this list is that although non-US based people contributed, and it is somewhat global in its scope, it is a bit American based. This is partly because a few of the big stories happened here this year, but also, because the underlying theme really is the realisation that climate change is not something of the future, but rather, something of the present, and key lessons learned in that important area of study happened in the American West (fires) the South and Midwest (droughts, crop failures, closing of river ways) and Northeast (Sandy). But many of the items listed here were indeed global, such as extreme heat and extreme cold caused by meteorological changes linked to warming, and of course, drought is widespread.

Continue reading “The year the earth bit back: top climate stories of 2012”

Smoke on the water


On Monday there was a haze over the Canterbury plains. It looked like someone was burning scrub to the west. Today’s MODIS Image Of The Day shows the source. The image captured on Feb 8th shows that smoke travelled from the Victorian fires (red dots top left — click image to see larger version) across the Tasman and over the South Island. Last weekend was also notably warm on the east coast, as air already warmed by Australia’s heatwave reached NZ and experienced additional heating due to the fohn effect when crossing the Southern Alps. The smoke followed along…

PS: For those not familiar with the local geography, the distance from Melbourne to Christchurch is roughly the same as London to Moscow, or Houston to New York.[Hat tip: MH]

[Deep Purple]

Fires (which burn brightly)


The sheer scale of the Victorian bushfire tragedy (over 170 dead at the time of writing: BBC coverage here) is apparent in this false colour satellite image from NASA’s Earth Observatory, captured on Feb 9th. Melbourne is at the top of the bay bottom left, and two large brown areas are the extensive burnt areas centred round Kinglake (left) and Marysville (right) in the Barry Mountains. Red boxes mark active fires, and in some of those boxes bright orange colours show intense heat, probably flames. To be visible from satellite, those fires must be enormous.

The Australian Bureau of Meteorology has updated its statement on the heatwave [PDF], prompting further commentary by Barry Brooks. For me, the money quote is this:

[…] a colleague at BOM pointed out just how exceptional this event was:

“Given that this was the hottest day on record on top of the driest start to a year on record on top of the longest driest drought on record on top of the hottest drought on record the implications are clear… It is clear to me that climate change is now becoming such a strong contributor to these hitherto unimaginable events that the language starts to change from one of “climate change increased the chances of an event” to “without climate change this event could not have occured”.

Jeff Masters at Weather Underground also adds his thoughts. The Herald has details on how to make donations to support fire victims.

[Procol Harum]

The denial twist

hansen.jpg James Hansen [CV], the most outspoken climate scientist in the world, has been stirring up something of a furore. Invited by the Democrats to speak in Washington on the 20th anniversary of his famous 1988 testimony to Congress on the dangers of global warming, he used to opportunity to complain about the funding of climate disinformation campaigns by fossil fuel companies [full text]:

Special interests have blocked transition to our renewable energy future. Instead of moving heavily into renewable energies, fossil companies choose to spread doubt about global warming, as tobacco companies discredited the smoking-cancer link. Methods are sophisticated, including funding to help shape school textbook discussions of global warming. CEOs of fossil energy companies know what they are doing and are aware of long-term consequences of continued business as usual. In my opinion, these CEOs should be tried for high crimes against humanity and nature. Conviction of ExxonMobil and Peabody Coal CEOs will be no consolation, if we pass on a runaway climate to our children.

Prosecuted for “high crimes against humanity and nature”. That’s a pretty radical view and not surprisingly the climate disinformers have been hard at work trying to rubbish the idea – and Hansen and his work.

Continue reading “The denial twist”

RTFR, Jack

homer.jpg The old sea dog at the helm of our little flotilla of climate cranks has fired a broadside at the NIWA scientists involved in the preparation of this week’s revised climate projections for New Zealand. Yes, step forward Rear Admiral Jack Welch, who’s in fine bombastic form (perhaps he’s been taking lessons from Heartland’s J Bast Esq.) in a media release from the NZ CSC. According to Jack, “NIWA scientists have become political propagandists”:

The State Services Commission should investigate whether scientists of NIWA have crossed the boundary into politics with their sudden flurry of advocacy for action on so-called global warming at a time when the Government is struggling to gain support in Parliament for its Emissions Trading Scheme Bill. This today from the chairman of the New Zealand Climate Science Coalition, Rear Admiral Jack Welch. “This flurry of advocacy has all the hallmarks of political spin, which has appalled the scientists associated with our coalition. Worse, NIWA is breaching the principles of good science by not qualifying its climate predictions with appropriate disclaimers.

Oh, the shock and the shame. Bow your heads, ye Nobel prizewinners, because the Admiral has spoken. He continues:

“Projections of future climate are not predictions, but speculation. They come from global climate models that have not been verified, so their output is merely conjecture. This is recognised across the Tasman, where the Australian CSIRO attaches a disclaimer to all its reports, such as this one on a report from the Queensland Government: ‘This report relates to climate change scenarios based on computer modelling. Models involve simplifications of the real physical processes that are not fully understood. Accordingly, no responsibility will be accepted by CSIRO or the Queensland Government for the accuracy of forecasts or predictions inferred from this report or for any person’s interpretations, deductions, conclusions or actions in reliance in this report.’

Unfortunately for the Rear Admiral, here’s what it says on page 2 of the report he’s complaining about:

As explained in the report, developing projections of future climate changes is still subject to significant uncertainty. The authors have used the best available information in preparing this report, and have interpreted this information exercising all reasonable skill and care. Nevertheless none of the organisations involved in its preparation accept any liability, whether direct, indirect or consequential, arising out of the provision of information in this report.

And a little bit later, in the executive summary (p xiii):

A definitive single quantitative prediction of how much a particular climatic element (eg, heavy rainfall intensity) will change over coming decades is not feasible. This is because the rate of climate change will depend on future global emissions of greenhouse gases, which in turn depend on global social, economic and environmental policies and development. Incomplete scientific knowledge about some of the processes governing the climate, and natural year-to- year variability, also contribute to uncertainty in projections for the future.

Seems to cover all of Jack’s points, and we haven’t even started reading the main body of the report (which is well worth reading in full).

Read The Flaming Report, Jack, before rushing to the media to complain about it. Sadly, I don’t think you bothered. I hope and expect that you will issue an equally speedy apology.

But I’m not holding my breath.