Volcanic vs. Man-made Climate Change


01-MtStHelens-eruptionThere are two key questions we need to answer before we can judge how man-made CO2 generation compares to well-observed effects of big volcanoes. “The Little Ice Age” was the first well-studied and documented rapid climate change, and it lasted about 300 years. It decimated Europe, and almost became an extinction event for struggling pioneer New England colonists.

The Tambora volcanic event seems to have been involved.

  • (1) How much of the Little Ice Age might have been caused by human activity, and how much by volcano?
  • (2) If volcanic activity can change the weather, then at what point can we say for sure human activity may serve as a man-made replacement for extraordinary volcanism?

In this article, we’ll compare the outputs of each phenomenon, and look into other components which have been fingered as contributing to climate change. Illustrated and referenced.

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Obama Says Texas Wildfires Linked to Climate Change

PolitiFact analyzed President Obama’s September 26 comment at a fundraising event, in which he said, “I mean, has anybody been watching the debates lately? You’ve got a governor whose state is on fire denying climate change.”

If you’re not familiar with PolitiFact, you can check out political claims at PolitiFact.com the same way and for the same reason we check out viral online rumors at Snopes.com. If you have an interest in the subject matter you should read the full PolitiFact article. It’s a good read and not that dense.

I found PolitiFact did a good job on their in-depth analysis of the President’s remark, which some White House aides dismissed as a tongue in cheek wise crack. After all, Perry is on record of being a climate-change denier, even as his state was ravaged by some of the worst fires on record – 3.8 million acres, to be exact.

PolitiFact rated the Obama statement “Half-True.” Cutting to the chase, scientists do not think it is good science to attribute a single event to a long-range phenomenon:

However, climate-change experts have also long urged caution in assuming that particular weather events are caused or influenced by climate change.

Consider a June 2011 paper published by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change, an independent research organization. In the paper — titled “Extreme Weather and Climate Change Understanding the Link, Managing the Risk” — co-authors Daniel G. Huber and Jay Gulledge write that “when we ask whether climate change ‘caused’ a particular event, we pose a fundamentally unanswerable question.” In fact, they say it is “nonsense” to debate a direct climatological link between a single event and the long-term rise in the global average surface temperature.

The reason, Huber and Gulledge write, is the distinction between “climate” — a long-term pattern that averages many weather events over the years — and a particular weather event.

So we cannot say that any one specific forest fire, wildfire or hurricane is directly caused by climate change. What we CAN do is observe the long-range pattern of those events, and compare that to regional historical data. We can even say that increasing average temperatures may be expected to increase the incidence and severity of the events.

What no one can prove is that any one specific Texas fire was caused by global warming. Anyone can claim that it could have occurred anyway.

What they cannot say is that a long-range increasing trend in such events cannot be related to climate change. As long-range temperatures rise, average humidity goes down, long-range rainfall decreases, and any firefighter or forest ranger can guarantee us there will be more fires. Do the math.

Fine, but is there any evidence this incendiary uptrend is already occurring? The Pew study cited by PolitiFact addresses a fact of life already well known to residents of Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico, for example:

“There is a well-documented link between the earlier start of spring, higher summer temperatures, and drier conditions during summer and fall — that is, climate change — and a dramatic increase in wildfire activity in the western U.S. since the late 1980s,” he said. “These observations reveal an increase in fire risk due to climate change.”

So climate-change deniers aren’t off the hook. Are there are other phenomenon which ARE directly related to climate change? Yes. Rising sea levels, for example, are already the cumulative global result of many individual events as snowpack, glaciers and icecaps melt in the mountains, on the fjords, and at Earth’s poles.

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Science Denial and the Texas Board of Education

In another century and simpler time (1999) I wrote my signature article about the Kansas Board of Education (KBOE)  — dissecting our massive modern schism between science and biblical literalism. We didn’t even have the term “science denial” in those comparatively innocent days.

Darwin’s world of science clashes once again with the recidivist views of those who would turn the pages of the world body of knowledge back to the Roman Catholic Inquisition of 1615.  That nearly executed Galileo for  heliocentric blasphemy.

How have we fared since? We deplore all sorts of agenda-driven rhetoric when the source is the Taliban extremism of Mideastern Islamic fatwas.  We somehow condone it as just another opinion if it comes from Christian fundamentalism and Holy Roller biblical literalism.

American regional sectarianism is celebrated with equal parts amusement and proof of our rich cultural tradition of diversity and tolerance, but no one so far has seriously suggested the private religious beliefs of one or more of those regional cults should drive national government policy.

Nor has anyone yet seriously challenged Thomas Jefferson who wrote, “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State” [Wikipedia]

Libertarians preach that “this kind of [science-oriented] government interference is intolerable”, yet their evangelical supporters have brought interference in education and dumbing-down of our children to a whole new level.

Daniel Patrick Moynihan famously  quipped “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” He’s currently enjoying a well-deserved revival.

As commentators in science, media and education note with alarm, we find GOP frontrunner candidates Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann on record as questioning both global warming and evolution itself. Evangelical Texas governor and presidential candidate Rick Perry told a school child on national TV that evolution was a theory that has “got some gaps.” So as to avoid conveying the false impression that Texas encourages the same science education that propelled America into the post-Sputnik Age of the 1950’s, he claims schoolchildren there are taught both “theories” as if both have equal credibility. There’s grave danger that science denial will actually storm through the doors of the White House in 2012.

The respected conservative Dr. Charles Krauthammer (a political commentator and Harvard-trained physician presumably well grounded in science) stated yesterday on Inside Washington that Global Warming has to be looked at seriously, but is still a theory. Qualifying that, he explained that man-made CO2 injection into the atmosphere is geologically unprecedented, but Earth has self-healing counter-mechanisms such as carbon sequestration (all true enough) … so we should look at the phenomenon more carefully before investing trillions in greener energy resources.

“I’m perturbed when I hear Republicans talk about Evolution as a theory like Keynesian economics,” Krauthammer says. Scientists say “it’s so” of global warming and Krauthammer says “it probably is,” but he questions the scientific models predicting the scope and intensity of potential disaster.

That may work in practice, but it won’t hold up in theory.

To the anti-science Republican Party that invented the “if it walks like a duck” theory of fact validation, it would seem the “it’s just a theory” dismissal of global warming would be more plausible if the polar cap were icing over, the Northwest Passage refroze, polar bears were thriving on an ice floe paradise, ocean levels were dropping, air quality was as good as Mauna Kea’s globally, and Phoenix was hitting summertime highs of 86.

In a bizarrely dangerous reversal of separation of church and state, science education is now politicized to a degree that wouldn’t have been tolerated a decade ago or two. Covering this epidemic was this morning’s PBS “Need to Know,” which presented a short section on the herculean effort of the Texas Board of Education (SBOE) to rewrite history and science in the Texas classroom.

Episode #168H Duration: 56:46 STEREO
TEXAS TEXTBOOKS – Despite Governor Perry’s statement that Texas schools teach evolution and creationism, Texas recently voted not to add creationism or intelligent design to its science texts. But the actions of the state’s school board continue to be closely watched by the nation. NTK caught up with the Board last May, as it was considering changes to be made in its social studies curriculum – changes that critics said inserted politics and religious beliefs into textbooks. Shot in Austin, Mt Pleasant and Bryan Texas. Interviews include Don McLeroy (SBOE), Thomas Raitliff (SBOE), and Kathy Miller (TX Freedom Network).

For anyone who has followed science denial for the last decade, there is little new in the theory of revisionism here, but the level of micro-management has escalated in the choice of religiously “correct” science and history and even in the choice of English textbook words used to describe those studies.

For example, SBOE members objected to the frequent textbook use of the word “propaganda” to describe U.S. Government efforts to rally public support for the World War I and II war efforts. To them, “propaganda” only connotes the sort of lies the bad guys promoted in wartime Germany, Japan and the Soviet Union, or anything President Obama says. The SBOE voted to substitute a neutral word like “public information” in Texas history books.

PROPAGANDA: Official government communications to the public that are designed to influence opinion. The information may be true or false, but it is always carefully selected for its political effect. — Dictionary.com

“Propaganda” is also used to educate about the need for rationing, conservation, job creation and other vital public concerns. It is a legitimate dictionary word with a rich historical backdrop. In point of fact, a government information campaign to “Buy War Bonds” is propaganda whether we approve or not.   As for the negative connotation of the word, maybe it hits too close to home. That is exactly what the SBOE is doing, and it must be stopped.

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