President Obama explains the science behind climate change and extreme weather

Plus climatologist Trenberth and meteorologist Masters on NPR

Media Matters has the story, and then I’ll post an NPR interview of two leading experts:

Earlier in the day, we highlighted Rep. Steve King’s absurd conclusion that snow disproves climate change.  Addressing a crowd at the annual CPAC conference, King said “It’s tough to make an argument when the evidence is all around us with a snowy white wonder in a crystal cathedral.”  This sort of inane logic is what scores political points among conservative activists.  Challenging science seems to be the conservative movement’s equivalent to speaking truth to power.  But the conclusion is tragically flawed.

At a town hall in Nevada this morning, President Obama directly addressed the issue:

Obama: First of all, we just got five feet of snow in Washington and so everybody’s like-a lot of the people who are opponents of climate change, they say “see, look at that.  There’s all this snow on the ground, you know, this doesn’t mean anything.”  I want to just be clear that the science of climate change doesn’t mean that every place is getting warmer. It means the planet as a whole is getting warmer.  But what it may mean is, for example, Vancouver which supposed to be getting snow during the Olympics, suddenly is at 55 degrees and Dallas suddenly is getting seven inches of snow.  The idea is that the planet as a whole get warmer, you start seeing changing weather patterns and that creates more violent storm systems, more unpredictable weather, so any single place might end up being warmer. Another place might end up being a little bit cooler.  There might end up being more precipitation in the air. More monsoons, more hurricanes, more tornadoes, more drought in some places, floods in other places.

NPR ran a good interview with NCAR’s Kevin Trenberth, and uber-meteorologist, Jeff Masters (audio here)

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:  With snow blanketing much of the country, the topic of global warming has become the butt of jokes. Climate skeptics built an igloo in Washington, D.C. during last weeks storm and dedicated it to former Vice President Al Gore, who’s become the public face of climate change. There was also a YouTube video called “12 Inches of Global Warming” that showed snowplows driving through a blizzard.For scientists who study the climate, it’s all a bit much. As NPRs Christopher Joyce reports, they’re trying to dig out.

CHRISTOPHER JOYCE: Snowed-in Washington is where much of the political debate over climate change happens. So it did not go unnoticed when a Washington think-tank that advocates climate action had to postpone a climate meeting last week because of inclement weather.

That kind of irony isnt lost on climate scientists. Most don’t see a contradiction between a warming world and lots of snow. Heres Kevin Trenberth, a prominent climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado.

Mr. KEVIN TRENBERTH (Scientist, National Center for Atmospheric Research): The fact that the oceans are warmer now than they were, say, 30 years ago, means there’s about, on average, 4 percent more water vapor lurking around over the oceans than there was, say, in the 1970s.

JOYCE: Warmer water means more water vapor rises up into the air. And what goes up, must come down.

Mr. TRENBERTH: So one of the consequences of a warming ocean near a coastline like the East Coast and Washington, D.C., for instance, is that you can get dumped on with more snow, partly as a consequence of global warming.

JOYCE: And Trenberth notes that you don’t need very cold temperatures to get big snow. In fact, when the mercury drops too low, it may be too cold to snow.

There’s something else fiddling with the weather this year: a strong El Nino. That’s the weather pattern that, every few years, raises itself up out of the western Pacific Ocean and blows east to the Americas. It brings heavy rains and storms to California and the South and Southeast. It also pushes high-altitude jet streams farther south, which brings colder air with them.

Trenberth also says El Nino can lock in weather patterns like a meteorological highway, so that storms keep coming down the same track. True, those storms have been big ones – record breakers. But meteorologist Jeff Masters, with the Web site Weather Underground, says it’s average temperatures — not snowfall — that really measure climate change.

Mr. JEFF MASTERS (Meteorologist): Because if it’s cold enough to snow, you will get snow. We still have winter, even though the temperatures have warmed on average, oh, about 1 degree Fahrenheit over the past 100 years.

JOYCE: Masters says that 1 degree average warming is not enough to eliminate winter or storms. A storm is part of what scientists classify as weather. Weather is largely influenced by local conditions and changes week to week. It’s fickle, fraught with wild ups and downs.

Climate is the long-term trend of atmospheric conditions across large regions, even the whole planet. Changes in climate are slow and measured in decades, not weeks.

Masters and most climate scientists say a warming climate would be expected to affect the weather, sometimes drastically, but exactly where and when is hard to predict.

Mr. MASTERS: In that kind of a climate, youll have more frequent extreme events, heat waves and so on. But again, none of those individual events is proof in itself that the climate is changing.

JOYCE: Climate scientists say they can’t prove any single weather event is due to climate change. Thus, they say, Katrina or the heat wave in Vancouver that’s dogging the Olympics isn’t proof that climate change is happening. Nor can eastern and southern snowstorms prove that it’s not.

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42 Responses to President Obama explains the science behind climate change and extreme weather

  1. fj2 says:

    Great explanation! Really important that the President keeps hammering away at this.

  2. Dano says:

    Now of course the troglodytes will have another reason for their hate speech. If there were just some way to make them look like troglodytes when they speak….



  3. Leif says:

    “4 percent more water vapor lurking around over the oceans than there was, say, in the 1970s.”

    Give me a clue as to how much water we are talking about when we say “4% more water vapor. If I were to venture a guess, I would say that represented the water in Lake Superior. Given the state of general scientific knowledge most folks might think of a swimming pool or two. The truth is that they nor I have a clue.

  4. Rabid Doomsayer says:

    “Yes we can” is not enough
    Time for “yes we will”

    Compromise is often good. But when one party responds to an offer by moving further away, the time for compromise has passed.

    Time to lay out the legislation and put it to a vote. Force them to actually filibuster, not just run away because they threaten to filibuster.

    The Republicans are afraid of the Tea Baggers show them that fear is misplaced and that they should be afraid of everyone else.

  5. Craig says:

    It is encouraging to hear the President talk about the science of climate change. This is the first time that I have heard him address it in detail. Two suggestions I have for him though:

    1) Sit down with one of his scientific advisors, preferably one gifted at political communication, and make the message more succinct. For example, “Scientists tell us that as the planet warms, the air will hold more moisture. So is it surprising that D.C got four feet of snow? Not at all. In fact, such a huge dumping of snow is yet another piece of evidence that the world is warming.” But I guess it’s just good to see him pushing back against the anti-science misinformers.

    2) Immediately pivot to the clean energy race message. For example, “But even if you doubt the overwhelming scientific evidence that the planet is warming, even if you want to argue with the melting glaciers and shrinking ice caps, I can tell you who doesn’t share those doubts: the Europeans and the Chinese. They are racing ahead to create the clean energy economy of the future and the millions of jobs it will generate. So if we don’t act, and act now, America will be left behind.” In fairness, I didn’t read the whole text of his speech. Maybe he did hit this point.

    Anyways, that is my humble advice for the President.

  6. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    I’m sorry the Obama didn’t see any need even for this eight sentence outline until he was seeking support for democrats in an election. What he said was useful, but he made no links to policy –
    neither to the need of a war-footing switch to gas-fired power and non-fossil energies,
    nor to a US carbon cap bill as the means both to accelerate those energies’ deployment within the US,
    and as the requisite contribution to agreeing a global climate treaty, without whose global cap on emissions the supposedly ‘displaced’ fossil fuels would simply be bought and burned by bidders in other nations.

    It is to be hoped that this statement was not just electioneering but rather was the start of a turn away from the futile policy of appeasement of the fossil fuel lobby.



  7. Zan says:

    Well, bravo you and Obama. Glad to see that hee gets it and explains it beautifully.

  8. Richard Brenne says:

    Great! A tiny nit to pick with NPR in the transcript is that both are Doctors, not Misters. Kevin’s PhD, like Joe’s, is from MIT; Jeff’s, unlike Joe’s, from the University of Michigan.

  9. Frank Nies says:

    Big change from the permanent dustbowl forecast 13 months ago. The southwest is cold and soaked.

  10. Jeff Huggins says:

    In that clip, Obama didn’t really explain the science behind climate change, of course. I applaud what he did explain, and he did it very well, but it was an explanation of the difference between climate, specific weather events, and etc., and of the changing-weather-pattern aspect of climate change.

    The reason I say that is this:

    In my view, Obama SHOULD use his sincere and plain-speaking style TO explain the basics of climate change science to the public, in plain English, with metaphors and examples and “how we know” stuff. That is something that he SHOULD do. SOON.

    When he doesn’t do that, then the public doesn’t perceive the solidness of his concern or of what he is saying when he expresses concern. In order for Obama to RESPECT science, and to come across as though he does, and to show that he knows what he’s talking about, he SHOULD be able to make a clean and sensible and correct explanation, in plain English.

    Of course, before he tries that, he should talk to all the experts and make sure that he CAN do that correctly and well. (Was it Friedman who went on David Letterman and gave an explanation of climate change that was bungled and wrong, even after all the writing that he had already done on the matter? Well, that’s something to be avoided!)

    This does not mean that Obama needs to become a full-time expert on the subject, or an atmospheric chemist, or etc. He can (and should) have scientists at his side ready to respond to the super-difficult questions. But, in his prepared or impromptu talks, Obama ought to be able to explain to the public, clearly, the main dynamics that cause climate change. His opponents — the folks that say that it’s not real — can’t give sound explanations for that stance.

    Again, Obama should start providing the “whole” explanation, at the level of the simple basics. It can be done in two minutes. But, to be clear, that’s not what he did here. Here, he explained a few differences. He didn’t explain the central causes and “how we know”. That’s what he should start doing, soon, and frequently. He should show the people that he knows what he’s talking about (as he normally does, in my view) and that he’s serious.

    By the way, he is CERTAINLY plenty intelligent to understand the basic drivers of climate change. He is, to be sure, a brilliant guy. So, he just has to make sure he covers all the key basics and aspects in preparation with his key scientific advisors, and then practice explaining it in plain English, and then test that explanation with a few folks, and then some more practice, and then go for it.

    Be Well,


  11. A swing to intensifying extremes is what can be predicted for the Southwest, long dry spells interupted by periods of extreme drenching. What’s happening now is typical for El Nino years, more moisture in the Southwest.

    Meanwhile, it’s beautiful and sunny in Seattle, in the middle of February, when it’s supposed to be gray and wet. Also what happens in an El Nino year.

    And it’s not El Nino or global warming. El Nino is a big pump that releases heat stored up in the world’s largest solar collector, the Pacific Ocean. And greater heat is just what we’re storing up in the oceans. El Nino releases heat as water vapor that carries along the storm tracks. Big snows happen that water vapor hits cold air masses. The east coast got globally warmed on, no matter what the scientifically ignorant say.

  12. Phila says:

    most climate scientists say a warming climate would be expected to affect the weather

    “Most” climate scientists? Where are the ones who argue that a warming climate would not be expected to affect the weather?

  13. Jeff Huggins says:

    Dear Scientists and Engineers: Help Inform Your Fellow Humans: A Contest!

    SADLY, the nation’s most mammoth-like, profitable, and stubborn-minded company does not seem to want you, or the rest of the public, to know and understand certain basic figures about itself and its products.

    FORTUNATELY, however, they do proudly pronounce a figure that allows a very good approximation of what we should all know and should want to know.

    BUT, to get from the rather cryptic figure they provide to the basic figure the public should know requires a few calculations. Hence, the public NEEDS YOUR HELP!

    The question is this:

    When we use ExxonMobil products (in their normal use, as ExxonMobil wants us to do), how much CO2 is generated by those products in one year?

    THAT is something that the public should know and should want to know.

    But, alas, ExxonMobil doesn’t seem to want to say. I’ve tried! They tell us all sorts of other figures—for example, how much CO2 they say we can reduce if we inflate our tires correctly, use ExxonMobil motor oil, and so forth—but they don’t seem to want to say how much CO2 their own products generate when we use them normally.

    Odd and secretive, yes, but that seems to be the case with them.

    But here is a figure they DO provide: In their “2008 Financial & Operating Review” (the most recent one currently posted on their website), on page 3, under the heading “Superior 2008 Results”, they proudly pronounce the following:

    “Total liquids production and natural gas production available for sale of 3.9 million oil-equivalent barrels per day.”

    So, here is a real opportunity to help inform your fellow human beings, i.e., the “contest”: Starting with the figure that ExxonMobil provides, please make a decent estimate of the total CO2 generated when ExxonMobil products are actually used in their end uses (in this case, for the year 2008).

    For simplicity, consistency, and easy understandability, please provide the answer in terms of pounds of CO2 generated that year. We all know what a pound is, and we all know what a year is, so those units should be good for public consumption.

    Of course, most chemical engineers, chemists, and many other scientists, as well as many college students and many high school students, will be able to see that a roughly decent estimate is possible. What we’re looking for are estimates, not precision and perfection.

    For starters, and to help people along who don’t already know some of these things:

    A standard barrel of oil contains 42 gallons. Now, as people in the industry know, because of density changes, changes during refining, and so forth, the refined products of a barrel of oil, along with some additives, add to more than 42 gallons. So, for estimating purposes, use whatever figure you’d like: either the rough 42 gallons per barrel or a more accurate estimate, if you have access to one.

    There are, last I heard, 365 days in a year.

    One gallon of gasoline generates between 19 and 20 pounds of CO2 when used as fuel in a car. As most of you will know, gasoline is not the only product refined from a barrel of oil, and natural gas itself contains yet a different mixture of hydrocarbons. So, for example, there are gasoline, jet fuel, diesel fuel, and so forth, and there is natural gas (the latter from natural gas wells), and a number of other products. Most of the products are used as fuels, but a fairly small fraction (by volume) aren’t. And, of the fuels, each fuel generates a moderately different amount of CO2. But again, the point is not perfect precision. Use whatever estimates you have access to, and whatever expertise your background provides.

    For example, as the most rough estimate, one could simply take …

    3.9 x 365 x 42 x 1,000,000 x 19.5

    That would be a basic, very rough, unadjusted estimate. It’s a big number. Call it the Terrible Trillion.

    So, please, scientists and engineers, can you provide a slightly or moderately more informed number, incorporating an adjustment or two to any number you think needs adjusting?

    Anyone who provides an estimate before ExxonMobil is willing to share the actual number will have the honor of beating the nation’s most profitable company at telling the public a KEY piece of information that the public should know but that ExxonMobil seems to be very shy to tell. In other words, you can share the honor that ExxonMobil will probably never be able to reclaim and doesn’t deserve at this point. Shame on them.

    FYI, here is the link to ExxonMobil’s “2008 Financial & Operating Review”. If this link doesn’t work, you can get there easily via their website, through the section for investors.


    (By the way, for clarity’s sake, the above question and figure don’t consider the CO2 generated within ExxonMobil’s own operations, e.g., production and logistics and refining. That is another very large number. If anyone has a decent estimate of that number, please also let us know. But, please, let’s not confuse the two numbers. Thanks.)

    Ready, set, GO!

    (That said, this is not a race. The more estimates, the better!)

    Be Well,


  14. johna says:

    3. Leif asks an interesting question – how much is that extra 4% ?
    . . . At any given time, the atmosphere contains about 13,000 km3 water,
    . . . annual water movement through the atmosphere that results in 111,000 km3 being precipitated upon land.

    Land percentage is nearly 30% and assume like rainfall everywhere -> ~ 370,000 km^3 annual precipitation over land+ocean. Take 4% to get ~14,800 km^3/ year extra water.
    . . .

    So, the annual extra pptn falling is nearly the volume of 1.5 Superiors or 2X that of Michigan+Huron.

  15. luminous beauty says:

    Stephen Schneider was on Talk of the Nation Science Friday yesterday; surrounded by journalists and guns a-blazing.

    Chris Mooney gets a question in from the audience.

  16. Bill W says:

    If we could somehow get that Trenberth-Masters piece aired on Fox, we might actually reach the people who need convincing. Sigh.

  17. Brewster says:

    Unfortunately, it wouldn’t work, Bill.

    GlennBeck would have a fit, and GlennBeck’s fit would be broadcast all over Faux News and YouTube repeatedly, while the original message would be forgotten.

  18. fj2 says:

    For all those who predicting negative impacts from The President’s speech: Bring them on!

  19. Mike#22 says:

    Obama has the advantage here, he is telling the truth–and the other side is not.

    Eventually the facts will win, as they already have in most other countries.

    I think we are watching mass political suicide by the Republicans. They are saying over and over that the science is wrong–they’ve staked their credibility on this one issue. Big dumb mistake. This will cost them far more than Nixon’s plumbers ever did.

  20. fj2 says:

    Telling the truth about the facts is the small part. He is setting the stage to combat the climate change crisis. This is about survival.

  21. prokaryote says:

    Jeff Huggins, i saw your posts on information. Let me suggest to write this in another sense. Somehow caps locks and and the way of presentation has not the effect here which you aim for.

    I even have a hard time reading those posts stuffed with caps and uncommen way to present text. Have a look on the climate project and several related topics to best present and write content. Collect all the infos on a seperate page and point the user there. Just my impression but i thought i let you know.

    And it’s not just 1 company, people who use fossils (almost everybody) and a lot of other companys. Show solution and highlight those who change the way they use energy. Of course a topic should cover the denialist aswell.

  22. fj2 says:

    American industry must be re-purposed to build wind, solar, and innovate as never believed possible.

    American education must seek out and empower the most expedient and effective ways to bring the people of this country together up to speed such as leveraging the likes of MIT’s OpenCourseware originally funded by DARPA with a mass infusion of capital and even more advanced practices and distributed human capital synergies in our schools, universities, and communities.

    Great inexpensive, safe, practical, high-performance, and zero eco-footprint transit such as small vehicle transit must be designed, developed, and broadly implemented to provide the new high-mobility infrastructure for American industry to effectively beat back this crisis as well as a complete transportation solution and global replicable model for broad dissemination.

    Freeing up the vast space wasted by cars in our cities and elsewhere urban farming must go viral to lead the way for suburban farming as well and all efforts greatly decreasing the cost-of-living while increasing the quality-of-life and providing full employment for a skilled, motivated, highly energized citizenry in essentially a wartime economy.

    This will be a wartime economy not to kill but, to build a new civilization by the most benevolent means necessary and, it will be amazing!

  23. Leif says:

    Johna, # 14: Thank you. You are my MAN of the day. I could not ask for a clearer estimate. With that much extra water vapor in the air extra snow fall in the winter or deluge in the SW where it is still warm, should not surprise even the Anti- Science Faction. I would think that the “What goes up, must come down” theory still applies even on FOX if we can break into there “Fair an Balanced” news cycle.

  24. fj2 says:

    23. Leif, ” . . . FOX . . . ”

    Most people go to doctors when they have a medical emergency.

    And, most go to scientists for information on the science-based threat to survival.

  25. Leif says:

    fj2, # 24: Just hoping that FOX would accept the theory of “What goes up, must come down.” I know “science” would have a problem with that statement given escape velocity, capillary action, etc., but hay, we are talking a closed system here, and 1.5 times the volume of water in Lake Superior. We are just looking for general understanding. We can cover some of the subtleties in the second term.

    What do you say, FOX? Does “what goes up must come down” still work for you or is that too “scientific” and need some “finessing.”

  26. fj2 says:

    The Trenberth, Joyce, and Masters discussion is really good, to the point, and clean but a couple of issues seem problematic.

    1. Joyce: “Changes in climate are slow and measured in decades, not weeks.”

    With the rapid acceleration of the crisis it seems that changes in climate can be measured in years. It may even be possible that major dramatic change can take place in a decade or two especially, if extreme feedback systems are brought into play.

    2. Joyce: “Climate scientists say they can’t prove any single weather event is due to climate change.”

    This statement is just a bit too agnostic. Clustering of highly unusual, improbable, and especially extreme events should be considered indicative of climate change unless other direct causes can be readily identified.

  27. fj2 says:

    25. Leif,

    Patient: “I can’t breathe and I am spitting up blood.”

    Doctor: “You have lung cancer.”

    Patient: “What should I do?”

    Doctor: “Stop smoking and let me treat you.”

  28. Fred Teal says:

    fj2 #22 Right on. But before this can happen, a lot of people are going to have to look into the abyss. How can we make that view seem plausible when it’s so bad. Motivation was easy in WWII after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor. How can we present dire global warming consequences without looking like a bunch of nuts?

  29. fj2 says:

    #28. Fred Teal, ” . . . looking like a bunch of nuts?”

    Why should we worry about looking like a bunch of nuts?

    Hunters and fishermen see this stuff happening before their eyes.

    This is a major concern of ski resorts which are not on very high mountains and ranges.

    Countries are losing and have lost glaciers crucial to their water supplies.

    The global starvation rate is increasing after decreasing for many years.

    This is a major concern of insurance companies which are heavily exposed especially, coasts where most people live.

    Industries further creating confusion about climate change are heavily exposed to litigation on a scale greater than that of tobacco and asbestos industries.

  30. Fred Teal says:

    fj2 You get dismissed easily if you appear to be a “nut”. The consequences you mention are only impacting a few in this and other developed countries. People can easily deny when most of them have not had any direct, severe experience of the consequences of global warming. It is easy to ignore the misery of those in third world nations. For that matter, I am not sure just how responsive we were to the victims of Katrina. I am not really afraid of looking like a nut. What I really fear is inadequacy, i.e. a badly framed message.

  31. Roger says:

    We need mass education on the reality of AGW, and I’m grateful that Obama is beginning to message. Please sign this petition at
    My curent gripe is with the meteorologists, again! The general public usually just listens to their local weather, and is clueless about the difference between weather and climate.
    I just had a little back and forth with Harvey Leonard, chief meterologist on ABC, Boston. Several weeks ago all the local weathermen misjudged a storm, calling for snow, and ended up instead with rain, due to marine air blowing back from a warmer ocean. So I posed the question to Harvey that perhaps the forecast was wrong because of the failure to factor in the global warming effects of a warmer ocean.
    Well, it was so nice of him to reply to me, a peon, who is obvviously quite ignorant! He assured me that we’re actually in a cooling period, and that “those who say the debate is over are being narrow-minded” (sorry folks, we’re all narrow-minded here, esp. our fearless leader who’s editting this blog!)In addition,he comments that the climate has always varied, and the IPCC’s conclusions have been brought into great doubt for fudging data.
    Considering that the National Meteorology Association supports the scientific conclusions of the reality of global warming, the lack of understanding of the local weathermen is appalling. In Denmark the weathermen routinely analyze the weather to access if there is, or isn’t, a GW correlation. I would like Obama to issue an executive order that all meteorologists must connect the dots!

  32. Jeff Huggins says:

    Roger (Comment 31), that’s amazing, shocking, and concerning. Weathermen (or women) at major stations in major population centers — indeed, in this case, in the land of Harvard and MIT and Boston U and so forth — who don’t get it and don’t understand the science!? Yikes!

    Why don’t the Harvard and MIT and etc. folks make a stink about it? Really. The universities are being MUCH too silent on these matters, as if they are just playing a game or something. Universities, speak up! Students, speak up! Although I respect Harvard a lot, and went there as you know, my respect for all universities will be diminishing if, as time goes by, they don’t start speaking up a lot more than they have been doing so far. After all, what are science, education, analysis, and wisdom for if we don’t use them to protect things like the climate itself?????

    Even from a narrow corporate standpoint, I’m amazed that ABC isn’t “with it”, scientifically. After all, Disney owns ABC, and Disney’s theme parks and international businesses are going to be diminished and threatened as climate change takes place. Do you realize what warmer weather, more moisture in the atmosphere, less predictable weather, more vigorous storms, and so forth will do to Walt Disney World’s business (and I was once an exec there, so I have at least some context), and to Disney Cruise Line’s business, and even to Disney’s international consumer businesses (as discomfort with the U.S. grows, if we ignore our responsibilities as a country to deal with climate change)? In my view, Disney’s businesses may well be “hard hit” if and as climate change progresses. ABC should wise up for a number of reasons. That weatherperson should get up to speed on the science and start reporting responsibly, or else (if I were ABC and Disney) I’d get rid of him, soon.

    Good luck, Roger. Thanks for the informative comment.



  33. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Roger – for precisely the reason that people listen to them daily I’d expect the weathermen working for media corporations
    (that have deflected concern over the real climate threat for over two decades)
    mostly to have been recruited with their denialist views, or at least with their reliable subservience to corporate policy, as a nescessary condition for employment.

    To put it the other way round, I wonder how many US TV weathermen have come out on air in support of the climate science, and have kept their jobs for over a year afterwards ?



  34. fj2 says:

    30. Fred Teal, “What I really fear is inadequacy, i.e. a badly framed message.”

    The President is one to emulate and what he did in that little talk above is excellent.

    Learn as much as you can about the climate crisis and try and think about in in the simplest terms and the simplest ways to explain it. Science writers try to find the simplest metaphors for explaining what might seem to be complex subjects.

    Think about this stuff and how it fits together and try to be secure in your understanding of how it makes sense. And, when you talk to other people try to work the ideas through with them also being honest in your approach and include the forces and influences of disinformation and the tremendous things that are at stake and it is extremely dangerous that this stuff is being blown off so pervasively because large scale action cannot start soon enough.

    One working attitude among science and scientists is that it you don’t understand something well if you can’t explain it simply.

    I saw Eugene Wigner say that about quantum mechanics years ago to a packed hall at a Columbia Physics colloquia. “You have macroscopic quantum effects that you can see first hand and practically feel yet there is not a simple theory . . .” Richard Feynman designed Feynman Diagrams essentially a very simple high school level graphical user (GUI) interface for explaining quantum electro dynamics (QED) an extremely complex subject to explain mathematically. Francis Crick and James Watson used simple physical models built with ping pong balls to figure out the structure of DNA, one of the most important scientific discoveries of our age. While they were in their state of discovery their fellow scientists made fun of them using toys to explain this very serious science. (“The Double Helix,” James Watson).

    If you live near a major university or where there are scientists doing geoscience and other stuff involving global warming go over and talk to them. See what they are doing first hand if possible. You may find that most scientists are quite accessible and are willing to talk about stuff much more than normal people.

    Columbia’s Earth Institute is also a good place to nose around either on the web or in person if convenient and it is relatively easy to get into talks. Columbia’s Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory has an open house every October with lectures at their very scenic site overlooking the Hudson River near the George Washington Bridge. In the summer many scientists work in shorts and sandals. is a great site packed with information as is Joe Romm’s excellent book “Hell and High Water” and his highly energetic committment but, there’s a lot of noise and probably best to get away from errant off-topic complexity as much as possible.

    There is a kind of human positivity bias and it’s probably best to feed off it as much as possible in the most rational passionate way. The climate change crisis is the most serious situation ever facing human civilization and we have to deal with it in the best possible way.

    Hope this mouthful helps.

  35. fj2 says:

    30. Fred Teal, (continued) “What I really fear is inadequacy, i.e. a badly framed message.”

    This guide from Columbia University’s Center For Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED) might speak directly to your needs.

    Joe might also be useful as a link or download from (if it this has not already been set up)
    Disclaimer: It looks good but I have not read it yet.
    The Psychology of Climate Change Communication
    A Guide for Scientists, Journalists, Eductators, Political Aides, and the Interested Public

  36. Yogi -One says:

    @6 Lewis Cleverdon says: It is to be hoped that this statement was not just electioneering but rather was the start of a turn away from the futile policy of appeasement of the fossil fuel lobby.

    Unfortunately I have given up on Obama. He simply figures out what his audience on a given day wants to hear, then he says it. The gist of the statement from Obama here is not to teach anyone in the audience anything (as pointed out, this particular audience knows it already, and he knows they know it), but to say “look people, I understand it.”

    And he does understand it.

    But he doesn’t do anything about it.

    This has been his pattern from day one in office. We elected him because he gave great speeches convincing us that he “gets it.” He got a Nobel Prize, not because of any real accomplishment, but because his speeches convinced the world that he “gets it.”

    But his political process is a joke.

    Exxon has nothing to fear from Obama, and neither does Goldman Sachs.

    He has perfected the art of saying the right things, then doing the wrong things.

    At least with George Bush, his words were as stupid and disastrous as his actions.

    Obama doesn’t even have that level of consistency.

    We’re on our own, and Washington doesn’t give a rat’s butt about helping us. I’m sorry it’s that way, it will have terrible consequences, but the political process in DC is so corrupted, that if anything at all gets done, it will be way too little, way too late.

    And the President is not blameless. If he was willing to do a little more head-banging, to actually put up a fight for the good causes, he could have got more accomplished.

    But at this point, I’m wondering whose side he’s really on. He’s beginning to look more and more like a double agent, another stand-in meant to distract the public and serve his corporate masters.

  37. SecularAnimist says:

    If you read the NPR transcript carefully, you will notice that NPR’s Christopher Joyce never, at any point, says outright that anthropogenic climate change is actually really happening.

    The reality of AGW is consistently and repeatedly characterized as a “debate”, with the “political” aspect emphasized.

    The only conclusion that NPR states, supported by carefully selected soundbites from Masters and Trenberth, is that extreme weather events of various sorts can neither “prove” nor “disprove” the reality of AGW. So, let the “debate” go on.

    This is typical of the corporate-funded cowardice and dishonesty of National rePublican Radio.

  38. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    Yogi-one – while I tend share your assessment, having no preferable US president in view for at least 7 years, I’m inclined to encourage the piling of popular pressure onto this one, even if the prospects of him thereby becoming both honest and effective appear to be receding.

    Without his effective contribution to the requisite global climate treaty, during his first term, we’ll not access the global emissions pathway to respect the 2.0C ceiling and we’ll thus face catastrophic climate destabilization. So, while local actions are laudable, without BHO being pressured into playing his part, they are most likely in vain.

    One such extra straw of pressure is to remark that to date he’s made quite such a lousy SNAFU job of the unprecedented opportunities he’s been granted, (eg reform of Wall St, spending of $700Bn stimulus, meeting Kyoto terms de facto and wooing China, etc) that he may prove to be both the first and the last Affro-American president of the 21st century.



  39. Jim Prall says:

    I think President Obama deserves some credit on the climate front, for several reasons: he included firm language about the need to act on climate in his campaign; all his statements on the topic have a ring of hearing what the scientists are saying. His choices for administrative nominations and appointments have been stellar, including Chu, Lubchenco, Holdren, Jackson at EPA – all strong proponents of action on climate change. There was a lot to make up for in the leftovers of Bush’s aggressive pursuit of the “Republican War on Science” as Mooney named it.
    The Supreme Court ruling finding that the EPA had the authority to make a finding on CO2 as hazardous to human health and well-being under the Clean Air Act opened a door, and Obama set the stage for the EPA to put forward just such an “endangerment finding”. This ruling gives the administration the authority to regulate CO2 emissions without any new legislation (if they can manage the political reaction); that option gives proponents of bills like Waxman-Markey a bargaining chip: pass new legislation on greenhouse emissions giving Congress final say over targets, caps, and terms, or else the EPA will be able to act on its own, leaving Congress out of the loop.
    This is precisely why Sen. Murkowski is pushing for the Senate to reject the EPA finding – aiming to remove that leverage and return the status quo of congressional gridlock, perpetual threats of filibuster, etc.
    I’ve wondered whether Obama could have gotten a climate and energy bill through the Senate in ’09 if he had put that first on his agenda ahead of health care, but clearly that was a key priority for him as well. I think he or his team might have imagined they could put a whole *two* bills through the Senate in ’09 – before the town hall meeting screaming matches, “death panels”, tea parties, and of course millions in corporate ad campaigns.
    Obama has proposed some tactical compromises – funding ‘clean coal’ projects and agreeing to new nuclear, but those are the realities of being a politician.
    To say that Obama takes climate change lightly and is no more helpful than any politician in the thrall of corporate donors does not do him justice, in my mind. He shows genuine openness to real science, and has made a climate bill a priority; the problem is the Senate’s filibuster rule and the willingness of all 40 GOP members to use it against any climate (or health care) bill of any description. Bipartisan compromise, or resorting to reconciliation to pass a bill with less than 60 Senate votes? Those appear to be the choices.

  40. fj2 says:

    38. Lewis Cleverdon, NPR agnostic on global warming.

    Yes. This has to be a conspiracy to prevent the proper functioning of government necessary to address the extreme emergency presented by human-caused climate change. This subversion of due process. This is treason.

    The science is there and this is the reality. This is not a political question or an opinion. This is reality.

    The controversy is why can’t we act? Is the corruption so deep that it prevents us from meeting this emergency head on?

  41. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    I’d say that the obstruction of action is more subtle than the well evidenced corruption of fossil fuel interests funding increasingly aggressive denialism from blogs to WSJ to the senate –

    American rates of consumption of world resources rest on a unique unearned advantage, namely the petrodollar. Apart from China, a substantial fraction of developing countries’ entire foreign currency earnings go to pay for their fossil fuel imports, in dollars, meaning that they not only have to obtain the dollar in massive quantities, they also have to produce the exportable cash crops & manufactured goods for sale at whatever wealthy countries will pay for them. (“Free” Trade it ain’t).

    Thus the end of the unquestioned dominance of oil markets (via their legal constraint under a global climate treaty) is the end of market confidence in the unearned advantage granted to America by the petrodollar. It seems fair to assume that this dynamic is widely recognized across the US political establishment, which is consequently selfishly loth to properly address the climate issue.

    The tragedy is that the failure to act (and offering a GHG cut of just 3.67% by 2020 off 1990 contingent on a senate bill is inaction in all but name) is not only diminishing America’s prospects as opportunities are lost; it is also imposing genocidal future outcomes via unprecedented drought and famine hitting poor countries and over-complex societies alike.

    I’ve no doubt at all that if Obama now chose to lead firmly and creatively on the climate issue, starting by describing to the public the dire urgency of initiating a global reform of GHG abuse, we should still have a good chance of avoiding irreversible catastrophic climate destabilization.

    But Obama will have to find the courage of perceived necessity to adopt that change of course.



  42. fj2 says:

    41. Lewis Cleverdon, re: “petrodollar”

    Not sure what is meant by the importance of the petrodollar.

    In any case, past successes here in the US seem have been based on formidable American industry and innovation which now have to be skewed toward the good economic sense of close integration with the natural environment providing services for free, which is an extreme advantage.