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Texas climate scientists: On global warming, the science is solid

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"Texas climate scientists: On global warming, the science is solid"

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Recent events “do not alter the conclusions that humans have taken over from nature as the dominant influence on our climate”

Contrary to what one might read in newspapers, the science of climate change is strong. Our own work and the immense body of independent research conducted around the world leaves no doubt regarding the following key points:

* The global climate is changing….

* Human activities produce heat-trapping gases….

* Heat-trapping gases are very likely responsible for most of the warming observed over the past half century….

* The higher the levels of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere, the higher the risk of potentially dangerous consequences for humans and our environment.

That’s from a Houston Chronicle op-ed by these leading Texas climate scientists:

Andrew Dessler, professor of atmospheric sciences, Texas A&M University; Katharine Hayhoe, research associate professor of atmospheric sciences, Texas Tech University; Charles Jackson, research scientist, Institute for Geophysics, The University of Texas at Austin; Gerald North, distinguished professor of atmospheric sciences, Texas A&M University; Andr© Droxler, professor of earth science and director of the Center for the Study of Environment and Society, Rice University; and Rong Fu, professor, Jackson School of Geosciences, The University of Texas at Austin.

The full piece is the kind of strong defense of the science we should be seeing more of in response to antiscience attacks both at a national and state level (see Texas state climatologist disputes state’s anti-science petition: Greenhouse gases “clearly present a danger to the public welfare“).  I’ll excerpt it at length:

In recent months, e-mails stolen from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit in the United Kingdom and errors in one of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s reports have caused a flurry of questions about the validity of climate change science.

These issues have led several states, including Texas, to challenge the Environmental Protection Agency’s finding that heat-trapping gases like carbon dioxide (also known as greenhouse gases) are a threat to human health.

However, Texas’ challenge to the EPA’s endangerment finding on carbon dioxide contains very little science. Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott admitted that the state did not consult any climate scientists, including the many here in the state, before putting together the challenge to the EPA. Instead, the footnotes in the document reveal that the state relied mainly on British newspaper articles to make its case.

Contrary to what one might read in newspapers, the science of climate change is strong. Our own work and the immense body of independent research conducted around the world leaves no doubt regarding the following key points:

“¢ “¢”‰The global climate is changing.

A 1.5-degree Fahrenheit increase in global temperature over the past century has been documented by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Numerous lines of physical evidence around the world, from melting ice sheets and rising sea levels to shifting seasons and earlier onset of spring, provide overwhelming independent confirmation of rising temperatures.

Measurements indicate that the first decade of the 2000s was the warmest on record, followed by the 1990s and the 1980s. And despite the cold and snowy winter we’ve experienced here in Texas, satellite measurements show that, worldwide, January 2010 was one of the hottest months in that record.

“¢ “¢”‰Human activities produce heat-trapping gases.

Any time we burn a carbon-containing fuel such as coal or natural gas or oil, it releases carbon dioxide into the air. Carbon dioxide can be measured coming out of the tailpipe of our cars or the smokestacks of our factories. Other heat-trapping gases, such as methane and nitrous oxide, are also produced by agriculture and waste disposal. The effect of these gases on heat energy in the atmosphere is well understood, including factors such as the amplification of the warming by increases in humidity.

“¢ “¢”‰Heat-trapping gases are very likely responsible for most of the warming observed over the past half century.

There is no question that natural causes, such as changes in energy from the sun, natural cycles and volcanoes, continue to affect temperature today. Human activity has also increased the amounts of tiny, light-scattering particles within the atmosphere. But despite years of intensive observations of the Earth system, no one has been able to propose a credible alternative mechanism that can explain the present-day warming without heat-trapping gases produced by human activities.

“¢ “¢”‰The higher the levels of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere, the higher the risk of potentially dangerous consequences for humans and our environment.

A recent federal report, “Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States,” commissioned in 2008 by the George W. Bush administration, presents a clear picture of how climate change is expected to affect our society, our economy and our natural resources. Rising sea levels threaten our coasts; increasing weather variability, including heat waves, droughts, heavy rainfall events and even winter storms, affect our infrastructure, energy and even our health.

The reality of these key points is not just our opinion. The national academies of science of 32 nations, and every major scientific organization in the United States whose members include climate experts, have issued statements endorsing these points. The entire faculty of the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at Texas A&M as well as the Climate System Science group at the University of Texas have issued their own statements endorsing these views (atmo.tamu.edu/weather-and-climate/climate-change-statement; www.ig.utexas.edu/jsg/css/statement.html). In fact, to the best of our knowledge, there are no climate scientists in Texas who disagree with the mainstream view of climate science….

[N]one of the errors or allegations of misbehavior undermine the science behind any of the statements made above. In particular, they do not alter the conclusions that humans have taken over from nature as the dominant influence on our climate.

Hear!  Hear!

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16 Responses to Texas climate scientists: On global warming, the science is solid

  1. Jeff Huggins says:

    So, what is ExxonMobil going to do about the climate change problem in a genuinely substantial, timely and responsible way?

    And, what is The New York Times going to do when it comes to reporting about the issue, prominently, including ExxonMobil’s irresponsibility and shenanigans so far?

    And, what are CJR and etc. going to do about the fact that the media’s coverage is not nearly sufficient or of such quality as the situation demands?

    And, what are WE going to do to make sure that ExxonMobil, The New York Times, CJR, and etc. do their jobs responsibly on this issue?

    By the way, the use of ExxonMobil products alone generates well over One Trillion Pounds of CO2 each year, and that’s not even including their immense generation of CO2 and other GHGs from internal operations. Indeed, the use of ExxonMobil products each year generates so much CO2 that it weighs more than the entire weight of the human species on Earth … in other words, more than all 6.8 billion of us weigh, combined!

    Also, the op-ed mentions that CO2 “can be measured coming out of the tailpipe of our cars”. Well, although this wasn’t the main focus of the op-ed, I must say that they put that gently and ambiguously. Let’s be clearer: One gallon of gasoline, when burned in a car, generates between 19 pounds and 20 pounds of CO2. In other words, when you drive, CO2 literally “POURS” out of your tailpipe. Most of what comes out of your tailpipe is CO2. If you don’t believe me, ask the American Chemical Society, any decent chemist, the IPCC, McKinsey & Company, The New York Times, and even Starbucks (who has published the number of their brochures on the issue). It’s basic chemistry.

    Bravo to the Texas scientists!

    Be Well,

    Jeff

  2. Dean says:

    “the footnotes in the document reveal that the state relied mainly on British newspaper articles to make its case.”

    Gray literature! Gray literature! Or maybe a lack of gray matter?

  3. mike roddy says:

    Texas scientists are really well positioned to lead here. While it’s easy to mock the politics of the place, there have always been brilliant scientists in Texas. I lived in Texas in my early childhood, and it’s one of those places that stays with you.

    The reason we need these climatologists now is for Texans’ best qualities: courage and plain speaking. Too many scientists around the world defer to detailed sets of data when they are attacked by deniers. This isn’t really necessary, since the science has been very clear for some time now, and the deniers don’t care about the science anyway. What we need is plain speaking, with a little stubborn combativeness thrown in. Many of us have forgotten how to do that.

    If you pussyfoot around with your opinions in Texas, they will jump all over you. That’s why I loved Ann Richards, among others. Take up the flag here, Texas scientists, for all of us. Not only do you have the right qualities, you are in the belly of the beast. The fight will be that much tougher, but more exhilerating, too. I’d rather fight a Rick Perry than a John Kyl any day.

  4. Craig says:

    I am so relieved to see scientists push back against the disinformation campaign. And to explain the science so clearly and concisely.

    There seems to be four main hurdles preventing climate scientists from directly taking their case to the public.

    1) A tendency on the part of scientists to speak a language that is not easily accessible to the general public
    2) A tendency to couch their findings in ambiguous language that leaves the public questioning the strength of the evidence
    3) A resistance to speak out due to a belief that their colleagues will scorn their “popularization” of science (the “Carl Sagan phenomenon”)
    4) Witnessing the way fellow scientists, such as Michael Mann and James Hansen, have been demonized by the anti-science crowd

    I have no real advice to offer on the first two points. As for the third, I would ask them to deeply explore their conscience. The research they have conducted and the findings they have published are deeply disturbing. Now many of them must decide what they choose to do with that data.

    The public trusts scientists. Polls clearly demonstrate that. And at this stage of the game, after years of relentless propaganda and disinformation (see the book Climate Cover-Up, the blog desmogblog.com, numerous posts on this site, etc.), the only people who are capable of cutting through the fog of confusion are scientists themselves.

    As for the fourth point: I would be acting hypocritically if I said scientists should ignore the slander they surely face. It takes tremendous courage to stand up to these well organized smear campaigns. And as a non-scientist, I don’t have to make that decision. All I can say to the wavering scientist is that if you choose to act, you will have the support of millions of citizens like me. And you will be rewarded with the knowledge that when you recognized a threat, you choose to act.

  5. Jeff Huggins says:

    A Moral Responsibility

    In case this isn’t clear by now, scientists DO have a moral responsibility, as humans who are aware of something vitally important, TO speak out on this issue. And loudly.

    On an issue such as this (global warming), of this immensity, the moral responsibility — I’d call it an obligation — TO speak out far outweighs the self-imposed convention to keep scientific understanding away from … away from … away from … well away from what, exactly? Away from anything that can be deemed as “controversial” by the media or public.

    Scientists have an obligation to speak out on this. Period. The problem isn’t with scientists who DO speak out. Instead, the real problem is with scientists who don’t speak out.

    Scientists should have been writing many more of these sorts of pieces years ago, and the media should be covering them MUCH more.

    Cheers,

    Jeff

  6. johna says:

    Experts haven’t kept silent in TX, but segments of the public have a deep capacity to ignore. In ’07 the faculty of Texas A&M’s Atmos Sci department issued this statement agreeing with IPCC findings –

    Atmospheric Sciences Climate Change Statement

    1. It is virtually certain that the climate is warming, and that it has warmed by about 0.7 deg. C over the last 100 years.
    2. It is very likely that humans are responsible for most of the recent warming.
    3. If we do nothing to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases, future warming will likely be at least two degrees Celsius over the next century.
    4. Such a climate change brings with it a risk of serious adverse impacts on our environment and society.

    The sig list is long – the whole faculty. That undercuts the propoganda drumbeat that scientists are still ‘debating’ main conclusions or that a ‘shift’ in scientific opinion is happening.

  7. Jeff Huggins says:

    Simple Direct Question For Bill Keller (of The New York Times)

    Bill, why does The New York Times’ news coverage not convey to the public — clearly and prominently and credibly — the basic notion that the vast, vast, vast majority of the genuine scientific community agrees that global warming is real, that humans are the primary influence, and that we’ll have immense problems if we keep putting GHGs into the atmosphere?

    I’m not talking about occasional editorials or about a couple of columnists, or about an occasional guest op-ed piece. No, I’m talking about The Times’ central job, presumably, which is to provide news that serves the public good.

    Here we have all these scientists, in Texas, asserting their agreement. Late last year, the AAAS sent a letter signed by 17 of the U.S.’s leading scientific organizations, to members of the Senate, on the matter — and you didn’t cover it. Just a week or so ago, ClimateProgress published a list of all the many, many scientific organizations worldwide that agree that global warming is real and so forth. The American Chemical Society has a strong statement on the matter, and they’ve had it for at least a couple years now. And etc. etc.

    Yet, as far as I remember, there has not been a single prominent, excellent, compelling front-page article listing all these organizations and making this vital point clearly. In all this time! Let alone having such an article periodically, with compelling updates. Why not? What are YOU missing?

    I’d like to pose the same question to Andy Revkin. And to the Times’ Public Editor. And indeed to Paul Krugman and to Thomas Friedman and to everyone else who gets a paycheck from The Times.

    What’s up?

    Bill, you’ve heard of the front page, of course. I’ve read some of your writing about it. And, that’s where you carry the many ExxonMobil advertorials, remember. Yes, that’s the place. You know what a front page is. So use it!

    I should think that you folks would be embarrassed that someone from the general public needs to point out these problems. I mean really.

    Check out the latest list of ALL the bona fide scientific organizations that agree on the reality and importance of global warming. Then, analyze your front page for the last two years. Do you see even one article that makes the point clearly AND that lists the organizations and their statements? Even one?

    Who, from The Times, is going to write in and apologize (that’s what’s needed at this point, among other things) to humankind? Who will it be? It should be you, Bill.

    I would hope that The Times will get its act together, starting tomorrow morning.

    Be Well,

    Jeff

  8. mike alexy says:

    “the footnotes in the document reveal that the state relied mainly on British newspaper articles to make its case.”

    I haven’t read the case filing, so I will accept the preceeding statement as accurate and complete.

    And, I don’t believe the Texas AG is stupid or incompetent as regards the law.

    Makes one wonder, what were the true reasons and goals for the filing against the EPA? Why would they file using only weak, non-primary supporting material?

  9. Richard Brenne says:

    Upon touring the Alamo (including the mission, museum, gift shop, IMAX, hologram show and car rental) and having had about enough of Texas bragging, my brother-in-law said, “This makes me proud to be from Connecticut.”

    I’ve often felt that way given what has come out of Texas including any number of Bushes, Roves, Cheneys and their resulting father-son oil wars. (The family business set up Hussein in his family business then Hussein tried taking out Bush and Bush tried taking out Hussein but failed and his son did. Isn’t that the script from The Godfather? And how did we get Fredo as president?) Maybe the state hovering around last in most important metrics from education through most kinds of pollution shouldn’t be providing us with our presidents.

    Yet I’ve often congratulated those in Austin for being such a progressive place when there’s no other progressive place for 650 miles, I told Molly Ivins (in front of 2000 people) that I went to see the movie “National Treasure” because I thought it was about her, I feel the same about Jim Hightower and each of these scientists.

    It is ironic that oil money from the Rice estate and throughout the Texas land-grant university system has built such scientific and academic excellence that these extremely credentialed scientists can speak about so plainly and courageously, as Mike Roddy says.

    And by the way, going back to the Siberian methane release that got more or less capped by DotEarth and RealClimate (who I’m afraid will be proven not to have that authority when methane release accelerates to dangerous and probably deadly levels at a time and place of its choosing), Mike Roddy was like Bruce Lee taking on dozen of SuperNinja deniers and with evidence, logic and a stronger interdisciplinary perspective than anyone else added more value to the DotEarth and RealClimate comments than about all other commenters combined. If that’s a little bit of Texan in you, Mike, bring it on.

    And let the best of Texas courage and strength continue with each of you outstanding scientists and all the rest of us as well.

  10. Lewis Cleverdon says:

    It’s very good to read so clear and concise an overview of the scientific case for global warming being irrefutably anthropogenic, particularly coming from senior scientists in Texas, the archetypal oil-funded state.

    However, beside this accurate statement:
    “despite years of intensive observations of the Earth system, no one has been able to propose a credible alternative mechanism that can explain the present-day warming without heat-trapping gases produced by human activities.”

    there is a further requirement for anyone attempting to refute the anthropogenic nature of global warming: beside an alternative mechanism to explain the present day warming without human outputs of heat trapping gasses,
    they must also explain just what is the mechanism that prevents each of the diverse heat trapping gasses we’ve released from causing its part of precisely the warming that is observed, as the laws of physics declare they should.

    I should like to see “The Houston Declaration” (?) printed up in large clear type on A3 paper, overlying an image of a droughted land with a starved African and her child, near the desiccated remains of a cow.

    That sort of easily displayed juxtaposition of the accurate science with the genocidal consequences of denialism needs to be widely presented in all wealthy nations, but perhaps particularly in the US with its current official policy of tacit appeasement of the fossil lobby and its dismal failure to effectively discredit denialism.

    For ‘guerrilla postering’ in choice locations I can recommend Elmer’s Glue — it really wants to stay put and it gets deeply attached to any paper it’s given . . .

    Regards,

    Lewis

  11. Andy Gunther says:

    I encourage all CP readers to prepare their own op-ed pieces and submit them to your newspaper and many others. I did so from my office in Oakland, CA, and much to my surprise had my article picked up by the Kansas City Star (http://voices.kansascity.com/node/7625). I am also partnering with a colleague in Kentucky to deliver a revised version of this article to the main paper in Louisville.

    We must be persistent in delivering our knowledge and its implications to our fellow citizens. If we are all active, we can overwhelm the deniers disinformation machine. You can obtain the guidelines and addresses for many opinion editors at http://www.theopedproject.org/.

  12. mike roddy says:

    Richard Brenne, #9, thanks for your compliments. Those posts of mine on methane meant a lot to me, and it’s heartwarming to see that somebody was paying attention.

    I loved Molly Ivins, too, and wished I could have had a chance to meet her. I’ve got relatives like her and Ann Richards down in South Texas, and they’re a unique bunch. I guess we’re all still recovering from the Bush years, but they are down there, too.

    And I always read and learn from your posts, too, so your comments had extra punch.

  13. Jeff Huggins says:

    And While You Folks Are Talking Texas

    As an aside, given that some of you folks are talking Texas, I should point out that the Academy Award folks made a big mistake when they didn’t include Farrah Fawcett in their segment remembering entertainers who died last year. She was — and I’m not afraid to say this — an excellent actress in some of her later work and, also, she had a great heart as far as I can tell. In any case, I was sad and disappointed to hear that the Academy folks did not include her in their remembrance.

    OK Texans, now it’s time to give the “boot” to ExxonMobil (figuratively speaking, of course).

    Cheers,

    Jeff

  14. Phila says:

    My only problem with this op-ed is that I wish they’d explained why “human activities” don’t include breathing. It’s an absurd argument, granted, but it’s a very common one among people who don’t understand the science. And it’s very commonly overlooked in rebuttals by scientists. I really don’t think it’s possible to overemphasize science’s understanding of carbon isotopes, sources vs. sinks, etc. In my experience, these concepts are a huge sticking point for people.

  15. Andrew Dessler says:

    I appreciate the kind words from everybody. It is quite a change from the comments on the Chronicle website. I would second the suggestion that everyone write op-eds and letters to the editor for your local papers (focus on your local paper — the New York Times and Washington Post are probably not going to print your submission). I think op-eds and LTEs are an underutilized tool in the public relations battle over climate change. And you will be surprised at how frequently your stuff gets published. You’ll also be unpleasantly amazed at the crazy e-mails you’ll get in response.

  16. Ron DeLorme says:

    I would be more persuaded by the Atmospheric Sciences Climate Change Statement if it quantified the statements. Examples of quantified statements would be a weather report which gives a numerical percentage of the liklihood or rain or an election poll which gives the margin of error. Terms like “virtually certain”, “very likely”, and “a risk” are, to me, ambiguous and unscientific.