Dr. Ricky Rood's Climate Change Blog

Attribution Metaphor

By: RickyRood, 03:30 PM GMT del 25 Marzo 2009

Attribution Metaphor:

Last week I was at a meeting of the Friendship Collaborative which is an organization dedicated to “Building bridges between science and faith.” The premise at the foundation of Friendship Collaborative is that there is common concern about maintaining a sustainable environment, and that faith and science have much in common. Related to the Friendship Collaborative is an emerging group Creation Care for Pastors.

During the meeting there was much discussion about the communication of climate change. There are a number of metaphors that are used to describe the greenhouse effect. A common one is the example of a greenhouse or, equivalently, a car left in the sunlight. In this example the visible radiation of the Sun goes through the glass, and it heats the dashboard, the carpet, and the upholstery. The hot surfaces in the car then emit infrared (or thermal) radiation at a wavelength that does not propagate so easily through the glass. The car gets very hot. A small crack in the window allows heat to escape through the motion of air. This is both a relevant and imperfect analogy of the greenhouse effect in the Earth’s climate. (An aside … please do not leave children and pets in the sun heated car. It’s dangerous and far too common! Unattended Children and Cars).

Another useful metaphor of the greenhouse effect is that of a blanket. In some ways I like this metaphor better. The basic idea is that a greenhouse gas like carbon dioxide acts like a blanket; it holds heat near the surface of the Earth. We all have an intuitive feeling that if we are cold and put on more clothes or a blanket then we will get warmer. This assumes that we, humans, are a source of heat. The blanket then holds the heat closer to our bodies for a while.

These metaphors for the greenhouse effect are often accepted in conversation. When we think about the attribution of warming of the Earth’s climate to greenhouse gases we generally don’t have as easy a metaphor. Generally our metaphor relies on “fingerprinting;” that is, the “shape” of the warming is different if the warming is caused by the Sun changing as compared with warming by more carbon dioxide. (I wrote a series on attribution about a year ago. Here is one on Fingerprinting: An Introduction). This metaphor remains complex, and I think it safe to say that some rely on “just having faith that the complex science has been done correctly.”

The following metaphor occurs to me. To my knowledge it is novel, but before I claim it, I’d like to know if any others have heard this metaphor … and, of course, does it make sense?

Imagine that you are a healthy person in a room and you are cold. You have multiple choices on how to get warm. You can put on a sweater or a blanket. You can turn up the heat. You can exercise. There are other more complex strategies.

Consider the two most straightforward approaches. Turning up the heat or putting on a blanket. It seems intuitive that it is straightforward to measure which strategy the person in the room chooses. If the heat is turned up, then the temperature goes up everywhere. (Plus there would be other changes in, for example, air flow.) If the person uses the blanket the temperature only goes up near the person. Plus, in fact, if you could measure it, the temperature outside of the blanket would go down a little because the person’s heat would not get into the room. For the most part, however, if the person uses the blanket the temperature in the room will not change. The possibility of attribution of why the person gets warmer is, in fact, relatively easy to determine in these two cases. The mechanism could be posted as a hypothesis and checked.

Make sense? Improve it?

r


Attribution Blogs

Attribution of Climate Change

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Attribution Metaphor

By: RickyRood, 03:30 PM GMT del 25 Marzo 2009

Attribution Metaphor:

Last week I was at a meeting of the Friendship Collaborative which is an organization dedicated to “Building bridges between science and faith.” The premise at the foundation of Friendship Collaborative is that there is common concern about maintaining a sustainable environment, and that faith and science have much in common. Related to the Friendship Collaborative is an emerging group Creation Care for Pastors.

During the meeting there was much discussion about the communication of climate change. There are a number of metaphors that are used to describe the greenhouse effect. A common one is the example of a greenhouse or, equivalently, a car left in the sunlight. In this example the visible radiation of the Sun goes through the glass, and it heats the dashboard, the carpet, and the upholstery. The hot surfaces in the car then emit infrared (or thermal) radiation at a wavelength that does not propagate so easily through the glass. The car gets very hot. A small crack in the window allows heat to escape through the motion of air. This is both a relevant and imperfect analogy of the greenhouse effect in the Earth’s climate. (An aside … please do not leave children and pets in the sun heated car. It’s dangerous and far too common! Unattended Children and Cars).

Another useful metaphor of the greenhouse effect is that of a blanket. In some ways I like this metaphor better. The basic idea is that a greenhouse gas like carbon dioxide acts like a blanket; it holds heat near the surface of the Earth. We all have an intuitive feeling that if we are cold and put on more clothes or a blanket then we will get warmer. This assumes that we, humans, are a source of heat. The blanket then holds the heat closer to our bodies for a while.

These metaphors for the greenhouse effect are often accepted in conversation. When we think about the attribution of warming of the Earth’s climate to greenhouse gases we generally don’t have as easy a metaphor. Generally our metaphor relies on “fingerprinting;” that is, the “shape” of the warming is different if the warming is caused by the Sun changing as compared with warming by more carbon dioxide. (I wrote a series on attribution about a year ago. Here is one on Fingerprinting: An Introduction). This metaphor remains complex, and I think it safe to say that some rely on “just having faith that the complex science has been done correctly.”

The following metaphor occurs to me. To my knowledge it is novel, but before I claim it, I’d like to know if any others have heard this metaphor … and, of course, does it make sense?

Imagine that you are a healthy person in a room and you are cold. You have multiple choices on how to get warm. You can put on a sweater or a blanket. You can turn up the heat. You can exercise. There are other more complex strategies.

Consider the two most straightforward approaches. Turning up the heat or putting on a blanket. It seems intuitive that it is straightforward to measure which strategy the person in the room chooses. If the heat is turned up, then the temperature goes up everywhere. (Plus there would be other changes in, for example, air flow.) If the person uses the blanket the temperature only goes up near the person. Plus, in fact, if you could measure it, the temperature outside of the blanket would go down a little because the person’s heat would not get into the room. For the most part, however, if the person uses the blanket the temperature in the room will not change. The possibility of attribution of why the person gets warmer is, in fact, relatively easy to determine in these two cases. The mechanism could be posted as a hypothesis and checked.

Make sense? Improve it?

r


Attribution Blogs

Attribution of Climate Change

Updated: 09:49 PM GMT del 05 Ottobre 2010

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Sea Level Update:

By: RickyRood, 03:27 AM GMT del 18 Marzo 2009

Sea Level Update:

For the final blog entry of 2008, I wrote about what I thought would be the important science questions that needed to be addressed by climate change science in the next four years. In that blog I had at the top of the list the melting of land ice was probably underestimated, and hence, sea level rise was underestimated.

Sea level rise comes from both the warming on the sea water and the addition of water to the ocean from melting ice on the land. Looking into the future, the pressing question is what will happen to the ice sheets in Greenland and Antarctica. In general this discussion divides the land ice into three parts, Greenland, West Antarctica and East Antarctica. The volume of water in Greenland is equal to about 6-7 meters of sea level rise. West Antarctica is about 5 meters and East Antarctica about 65 meters. The good news is that East Antarctica is the most stable of these ice sheets.

As we learn more about how ice melts we find two pieces of news. The first is that as we reveal on a mechanistic level the melting processes, these processes all tell us ice melts more rapidly and more complexly than say an ice cube sitting in a warm room. As ice forms water and the water flows through the ice, the water carries heat and accelerates melting relative to the effects of air alone. The second thing we have learned is that without contact with sea water, the melting of land ice still takes a very long time. Hence, we, or at least I, have more and more reason to believe that we will not suddenly see 5 or 10 meters of sea level rise.

Last week there was a meeting in Copenhagen, International Scientific Congress on Climate Change. This was one of several meetings leading up to the Conference of the Parties 15, Dec 7 – Dec 18, 2009.

At the Scientific Congress last week there was an update on sea level rise. Here is the press release. The observations of sea level rise remain at more than 3 millimeters per year, which is the rate observed in the final decade of the 1990s. This rate is higher than the average for the 20th century as a whole. Simple multiplication of this rate for 100 years gives an estimate of 300 millimeters, or 30 centimeters, about a third of meter, about one foot. This amount is in the middle of the IPCC projections.

As noted above, the new knowledge of how land ice melts suggest that we have both underestimated the rate of melt and that total collapse of an ice sheet, say 5 meters of sea level rise, is unlikely. With this the experts who study ice melting and sea level rise are saying, with confidence, that the IPCC projections are lower limits. Currently, researchers are converging on a number on the order of one meter as the amount of sea level rise to expect in the next hundred years. This will have significant impact, as with storm surges, it opens up much more land (and cities) to additional flooding. One hundred year floods are likely to become 10 year floods or perhaps 1 year floods.

It is important to understand that much of this sea level rise is already “built into the system.” That is, the amount of warming that we are already committed to will lead to sea level rise. On a time scale of about 100 years, if we were to reduce substantively our greenhouse gas emissions we could have a mitigating effect on sea level rise. However, as reported at the International Scientific Congress on Climate Change and many other places, our emission rates currently exceed the “business as usual” scenario of the IPCC. ( Key Messages).

r

Some Icy Blogs

Learning about Land Ice

Warm Snow

Fast Ice

The End of Ice?

Vanity Alert … excess vanity alert

A few years ago I lived in Maryland and wrote, perhaps, an essay on learning from the mistakes of forecasts. I sold this essay to the Bay Weekly. They were saving it until there was a snow storm in Washington, D.C. It’s been years, but it was published the week before last. Lessons of the Storm

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Science, Belief and the Volcano:

By: RickyRood, 06:59 PM GMT del 08 Marzo 2009

Science, Belief and the Volcano:

In January 2008 there was an article in the National Geographic called the The Gods Must Be Restless. The author, Andrew Marshall, describes Mbah Marijan, who has the job of satisfying the ogre that inhabits the volcano Merapi in Indonesia. The volcano is about to explode, the government has ordered an evacuation and Marijan is not convinced. Quoting the article:

“The alerts are merely guesses by men at far remove from the spirit of the volcano. The lava dome collapse? ‘That’s what the experts say,’ he (Marijan) says, smiling. ‘But an idiot like me can’t see any change from yesterday.’ ”

This past year one of the most interesting books I read was called The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great America Dust Bowl, by Timothy Egan. The Dust Bowl was a period in the 1930s in the U.S. when people in the Panhandle of Texas were shoveling away morning dust drifts to get out of their house. They were dying of dust pneumonia and eating tumbleweed and road kill. There was drought. The drought, however, came on top of years of agricultural policy that plowed under the prairie to grow wheat. People had spread all over semi-arid grasslands under the promise that nurturing the Earth would be rewarded with sustaining water – and that rain followed the rails. The rhetoric and the discourse of the mid to late 1930s included the belief that people and their plows, the actions of individuals where too minuscule to cause the scope and the wrath of darkening, suffocating, house-covering dust storms. It was radical science to replant the grassland.

Science is the evidence-based generation of knowledge. Knowledge is not certainty. Science defines a process of observation and testing. Science provides a method for checking; it requires that results be confirmed by independent investigators; it requires anonymous reviews by, often, competitors. This process both confirms results and finds errors. We strive to converge to a coherent body of knowledge.

Like Marijan the ogre master, scientists, the practitioners of science, are a human mixture of their experiences, their beliefs, their religions, their wants, their needs, and their selves. The practitioner of science, however, has a commitment to questioning, testing, and review. This is a humbling experience. Copernicus concludes that we, the people of the Earth, are not the center of the universe, surrounded by objects traveling in divine, perfect circular orbits. Darwin places humans within the nature of all of the beasts of the world. Freud ties our behavior to deep, harsh self-motivation. Einstein shows that our frame of reference, our very point of view, determines our perception of even the definable physics of our universe. (See Outgrowing Self-Deception by Gardner Murphy.)

Humans do have the ability to observe, explore, accumulate, preserve, and pass on a collected body of knowledge. From the beginning, there were those who felt that evidence-based knowledge uncovered by investigation by humans could be a threat - a threat to what we believe or, perhaps, what we want. Evidence raises the potential encumbrances of responsibility. There are those for whom the evidence-based approach to climate change is irrelevant. There are those who accept the evidence, and entwine that evidence into beliefs that are far more important to them, personally, than the tangible impact on the physical and biological world. It is natural for there to be people skeptical of the body of knowledge that the climate has changed and will continue to change because of things that we do. There is little value in an evidence-based argument to convince this skeptical community otherwise; positions are much more deeply rooted than a compendium of observations of the natural world.

Marijan is a man of influence; undoubtedly successful, with an evolved body of knowledge. The government official in Indonesia is, therefore, faced with two bodies of knowledge, Marijan’s and that from observations of the volcano, Merapi. This is always the case, and it should not be the basis of inaction. Those with the belief in the science-based body of knowledge are encumbered with the responsibility of acting based on this knowledge. Problems must be addressed. This moves away from the simplicity of scientific investigation to the complexities of leadership.

Once again quoting the article The Gods Must Be Restless:

“Two days later, the lava dome collapses. Traffic grinds to a halt in downtown Yogyakarta as motorists gape at the scorching avalanche of rocks rushing down Merapi’s western flank – away from Marijan’s village. Thanks to the timely evacuation , nobody is hurt.”

r


Figure 1: Building in Comanche National Grasslands, August 2008. The National Grasslands came from replanting efforts to stabilize the Great Plains during the Dust Bowl. ( National Grasslands Primer)


Related Blogs

Essay on Climate Change

Opinions and Anecdotal Evidence

Broadcast Meteorologists and Climate Change

Updated: 08:52 PM GMT del 08 Marzo 2009

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Broadcasting Climate

By: RickyRood, 06:47 PM GMT del 04 Marzo 2009

Broadcast Meteorologists and Climate Change:


A few blogs away I wrote something of an essay, Opinions and Anecdotal Evidence. That blog was an analysis of the recent flurry of media coverage of global warming. That flurry seemed to be motivated by the change in administration being accompanied with a repositioning of the role of science in the federal government and the persistent cold weather in the northeastern U.S. One of the parts of my discussion mentioned results of polls of professionals who identify themselves as meteorologists. That is, those who call themselves climatologists overwhelmingly agree with the basic conclusion that the Earth will warm as a consequence of the activities of humans (97%). The number of meteorologists who agree with that basic conclusion is far smaller (64%). (Mongabay.com report of Poll, Doran and Zimmerman, Examining the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change). I noted, anecdotally, that amongst broadcast meteorologists there is a high level of skepticism about the basic conclusions of climate change.

Writing this blog has been a very expanding experience. Some time ago a broadcast meteorologist from Huntsville, Alabama, Danny Satterfield, contacted me. We have continued a discussion over the past view months. Recently he sent me some links to The 36th Conference on Broadcast Meteorology. Within this meeting were a number of talks on climate change and the broadcast meteorologist. Here are links to a few of the talks at that meeting.

Uncertainty about uncertainties! Richard N. Berler, KGNS TV, Laredo, TX

Climate Change. Educating yourself and your viewers Dan Satterfield, WHNT-TV Huntsville, Huntsville, AL

Climate change: What we think we think Sean Sublette, WSET Television, Lynchburg, VA

Communicating climate change: a new NEEF/COMET initiative Victoria C. Johnson, UCAR/COMET, Boulder, CO; and D. Sliter and J. P. Lamos

YouSpeak: Broadcast Meteorologists' Attitudes about Climate Change Kris M. Wilson, Emory Univ., Austin, TX


First let me say that it is a fact that the world of academic and government researchers in weather and climate does not often overlap with the world of those who are practicing weather forecasters and, especially, the world of broadcast meteorologists. In the American Meteorological Society (AMS) the disconnection between these different constituencies of the Society sometimes becomes apparent. In these presentations one place they become apparent is in Sublette’s presentation. Sublette poses a couple of the Statements of the AMS on Hurricane Forecasts and Climate Change. He then asks the question of whether or not the broadcasts meteorologists agree with the basic conclusions of these statements. The answers are far different for the two questions, with the vast majority agreeing with the basics of the statement on hurricane forecasts and a less distinct majority disagreeing on the basics of the climate change statement. Sublette then probes the relationship between political convictions and opinions on climate change. I will advocate that you look at the presentation yourself, but it is easy to conclude that there is not a liberal leaning in the broadcast meteorologists who responded to Sublette’s survey.

Similar in spirit to Sublette’s presentation is the presentation of Kris Wilson. Both presenters used survey techniques and surveyed responses to particular statements. In Wilson’s presentation he asked broadcast meteorologists to respond to the IPCC statement that “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal.” and to John Coleman’s statement that “Global Warming is a Scam.” The spread of answers across strongly disagree to strongly agree was remarkably even. There was, however, consistency, with the largest number, not the majority, agreeing with the IPCC statement and disagreeing with John Coleman. Note, that only the question about warming being unequivocal was asked; the question of attribution was not asked. If you go through these talks, you will find that the attribution question raises majority disagreement.

An issue that comes forward is the role of uncertainty, with Wilson again concluding that scientific uncertainty is the most cited reason that broadcast meteorologists are skeptical of the conclusions of the research community. It is interesting to see in this series of talks both the presence of political beliefs and the use of uncertainty to maintain a position. (Old blog on uncertainty). This is suggestive of a lack of objectivity in evaluating the information at hand.

With regard to evaluating the information at hand, I mention the Distinguished University Professorship Lecture by my colleague Joyce Penner. This lecture looks systematically at the arguments posed as contrary to the IPCC conclusions of global warming with attribution to the industry of humans. An interesting theme that follows from the talk is that many of arguments that are posed as contrary use information that is taken in isolation. That is, the person making the argument makes a choice of valuing one piece of information at the expense of other pieces of information. I have seen this time and again in both scientific and non-scientific arguments. It is an interesting attribute of humans, and much like my behavior in not wanting to open the statements of my retirement account.

Returning to the presentations from the AMS meeting, in his talk Danny Satterfield is an advocate for education on climate change. He points out the political nature and the emotions of the subject. He and others in the conference point out the tensions of avoiding the controversial subject of climate change as on air content while at the same time being the general scientific voice of the station. He points out educational sources that he has found useful, including new to me, the AMS Environmental Science Seminar Series. And finally, he notes, a series of meetings bringing together the research community and broadcast meteorologists by the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media.

r


P.S. This blog appeared a couple of days after above. Bob Ryan is TV Weather Guru in D.C., and a past president of the AMS. He talks about the subject as a (high profile) insider. Bob Ryan on Climate Change

Updated: 07:07 PM GMT del 05 Marzo 2009

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Broadcasting Climate

By: RickyRood, 06:47 PM GMT del 04 Marzo 2009

Broadcast Meteorologists and Climate Change:


A few blogs away I wrote something of an essay, Opinions and Anecdotal Evidence. That blog was an analysis of the recent flurry of media coverage of global warming. That flurry seemed to be motivated by the change in administration being accompanied with a repositioning of the role of science in the federal government and the persistent cold weather in the northeastern U.S. One of the parts of my discussion mentioned results of polls of professionals who identify themselves as meteorologists. That is, those who call themselves climatologists overwhelmingly agree with the basic conclusion that the Earth will warm as a consequence of the activities of humans (97%). The number of meteorologists who agree with that basic conclusion is far smaller (64%). (Mongabay.com report of Poll, Doran and Zimmerman, Examining the Scientific Consensus on Climate Change). I noted, anecdotally, that amongst broadcast meteorologists there is a high level of skepticism about the basic conclusions of climate change.

Writing this blog has been a very expanding experience. Some time ago a broadcast meteorologist from Huntsville, Alabama, Danny Satterfield, contacted me. We have continued a discussion over the past view months. Recently he sent me some links to The 36th Conference on Broadcast Meteorology. Within this meeting were a number of talks on climate change and the broadcast meteorologist. Here are links to a few of the talks at that meeting.

Uncertainty about uncertainties! Richard N. Berler, KGNS TV, Laredo, TX

Climate Change. Educating yourself and your viewers Dan Satterfield, WHNT-TV Huntsville, Huntsville, AL

Climate change: What we think we think Sean Sublette, WSET Television, Lynchburg, VA

Communicating climate change: a new NEEF/COMET initiative Victoria C. Johnson, UCAR/COMET, Boulder, CO; and D. Sliter and J. P. Lamos

YouSpeak: Broadcast Meteorologists' Attitudes about Climate Change Kris M. Wilson, Emory Univ., Austin, TX


First let me say that it is a fact that the world of academic and government researchers in weather and climate does not often overlap with the world of those who are practicing weather forecasters and, especially, the world of broadcast meteorologists. In the American Meteorological Society (AMS) the disconnection between these different constituencies of the Society sometimes becomes apparent. In these presentations one place they become apparent is in Sublette’s presentation. Sublette poses a couple of the Statements of the AMS on Hurricane Forecasts and Climate Change. He then asks the question of whether or not the broadcasts meteorologists agree with the basic conclusions of these statements. The answers are far different for the two questions, with the vast majority agreeing with the basics of the statement on hurricane forecasts and a less distinct majority disagreeing on the basics of the climate change statement. Sublette then probes the relationship between political convictions and opinions on climate change. I will advocate that you look at the presentation yourself, but it is easy to conclude that there is not a liberal leaning in the broadcast meteorologists who responded to Sublette’s survey.

Similar in spirit to Sublette’s presentation is the presentation of Kris Wilson. Both presenters used survey techniques and surveyed responses to particular statements. In Wilson’s presentation he asked broadcast meteorologists to respond to the IPCC statement that “Warming of the climate system is unequivocal.” and to John Coleman’s statement that “Global Warming is a Scam.” The spread of answers across strongly disagree to strongly agree was remarkably even. There was, however, consistency, with the largest number, not the majority, agreeing with the IPCC statement and disagreeing with John Coleman. Note, that only the question about warming being unequivocal was asked; the question of attribution was not asked. If you go through these talks, you will find that the attribution question raises majority disagreement.

An issue that comes forward is the role of uncertainty, with Wilson again concluding that scientific uncertainty is the most cited reason that broadcast meteorologists are skeptical of the conclusions of the research community. It is interesting to see in this series of talks both the presence of political beliefs and the use of uncertainty to maintain a position. (Old blog on uncertainty). This is suggestive of a lack of objectivity in evaluating the information at hand.

With regard to evaluating the information at hand, I mention the Distinguished University Professorship Lecture by my colleague Joyce Penner. This lecture looks systematically at the arguments posed as contrary to the IPCC conclusions of global warming with attribution to the industry of humans. An interesting theme that follows from the talk is that many of arguments that are posed as contrary use information that is taken in isolation. That is, the person making the argument makes a choice of valuing one piece of information at the expense of other pieces of information. I have seen this time and again in both scientific and non-scientific arguments. It is an interesting attribute of humans, and much like my behavior in not wanting to open the statements of my retirement account.

Returning to the presentations from the AMS meeting, in his talk Danny Satterfield is an advocate for education on climate change. He points out the political nature and the emotions of the subject. He and others in the conference point out the tensions of avoiding the controversial subject of climate change as on air content while at the same time being the general scientific voice of the station. He points out educational sources that he has found useful, including new to me, the AMS Environmental Science Seminar Series. And finally, he notes, a series of meetings bringing together the research community and broadcast meteorologists by the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media.

r

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About RickyRood

I'm a professor at U Michigan and lead a course on climate change problem solving. These articles often come from and contribute to the course.

RickyRood's Recent Photos

Clouds in the lee of the Rockies at sunset.
Clouds in the lee of the Rockies at sunset.
Clouds in the lee of the Rockies at sunset.
Clouds in the lee of the Rockies at sunset.