It’s Not Just Your Car, It’s Your Religion

From the Statesman a few weeks ago; freedom to park considered equivalent to freedom of worship in Texas. Thanks to neighbor Jose for the tip:

The Texas Lawyer’s blog Tex Parte had an interesting item today about a Southwest Austin church suing the city over a parking lot permit. Leaders of Hope in the City, a 7-year-old nondenominational church, are claiming a burden on their “free exercise of religion”.

the city, citing environmental restrictions, has failed to issue the church a parking-lot-expansion permit

This parking lot space sits on sacred Austin ground: the Barton Springs watershed. This could turn into a holy war.

Yet Barton Springs Eternal.

Fun with Dot Earth

Demonstrating that web polling is different from scientific consensus, and exposing the toxicity that still lurks out there for what it is, have a look at a most interesting if somewhat disconcerting conversation on Dot Earth about the AGU position on climate change.

I’m happy with my contributions to the thread, especially comment #207, which I think summarizes why Revkin’s approach in the parent article didn’t work, as any usenet veteran could have predicted.

National Climate Teach-In Jan 30/31 (USA)

There’s a group called Focus the Nation that is trying to move climate change into American schools and universities. They are holding a national teach-in this week, and many institutions appear to be participating.

Here is the widget to find your nearest event. I will at least be attending the “2 % solution” presentation here tomorrow evening, and will try to find out about the teach-in at UT.

I’m a bit discouraged that I didn’t find out about this effort except through the university-wide events calendar; neither the departmental channels nor blog channels gave me any clue.

Still the approach here seems promising. I hope this event has been more visible to students than it was to me.

From their “About” page:

In the next few years, we as a nation will make, or fail to make, critical decisions regarding global warming pollution and clean technology investments. These decisions will have far-reaching and irreversible impacts on the lives of today’s students and the lives of their children. At this moment in time, we owe our young people at least a day of focused discussion about global warming solutions for America.

Focus the Nation is organizing a national teach-in on global warming solutions for America—creating a dialogue at over a thousand colleges, universities, high schools, middle schools, places of worship, civic organizations and businesses, and directly engaging millions of students and citizens with the nation’s decision-makers. Focus the Nation will culminate January 31st, 2008 in simultaneous educational symposia held across the country. Our intent is to move America beyond fatalism to a determination to face up to this civilizational challenge, the challenge of our generation.

Focus the Nation is an educational initiative, but we also promote civic engagement. Each Focus team will invite local, state and federal political leaders and decision-makers to come to campus and participate in a non-partisan, round-table discussion of global warming solutions. US Senators and members of congress, state representatives, mayors and city councilors, all will be receiving dozens of invitations to speak about global warming, from over a thousand institutions nation-wide. Every institution will also vote on their top five national priorities for global warming action, producing a campus and citizen endorsed policy agenda for 2008.

Currently over 1000 institutions, mostly colleges and universities, have signed on to participate, and dozens of college and university Presidents have endorsed the initiative. To maximize both education and civic engagement, Focus the Nation has four key components:

NATIONAL TEACH-IN: On January 31st , thousands of students on every campus, millions of students nationwide, participate in workshops and panels, brainstorming global warming solutions. Are you with us? Are your faculty supporting you? Ask ten, twenty, fifty faculty to stand up as educators on behalf of your future. They will say yes. To make this happen, start with the sample teach-in.

Update: I hope your experience was better than mine. The UT never got the stream working.

(Younger people had much more elaborate theories than old people. Old people: “I often have trouble getting Flash to work”; young people: “for some reason it’s defaulting to Windows Media rather than Flash; there’s too many people connecting; finally (this one really doesn’t work for me but it’s the consensus process at work) it’s defaulting to Windows Media because too many people are connecting…)

Anyway, except for the hardly surprising fact gleaned from informal conversation than earnest young greenies tend to be innumerate, (there was a great deal of talk in the bull session they tried to pull together in lieu of the webcast about selling special backpacks with solar panels mounted on them; also there is some project about the 9th ward in New Orleans that “Fergie has lent her name to” that has a lot of “star power”) I have nothing to report.

I hate to say we’re doomed but if the UT experience is any indication we’re in big trouble.

The whole thing was rushed, ill-planned, and poorly promoted. I guess it’s best that it was ill-promoted; else more people would have been inconvenienced.

If a top 20 CS school can’t pull this sort of thing off, I have to wonder about the other 1399 schools. Anyone have more success than we did?

Anyway I presently have no more idea what the content of the presentation was than I did this morning.

How Not to Communicate Quantitatively

OK, UNEP doesn’t want me to livelink to their map pages without their permission, and I’m going to have to be scrupulous about such things. But I think this partial clipping is fair use in an act of criticism.

The page on which this image is found is a spectacularly bad presentation because it titles both the article and the graphic with the unfortunate text “Temperature increases 2001-2005“. If this were an accurate label this would be a map of truly terrifying proportions. In fact I am relieved to report that it is merely (one hopes) a very severe and disap

pointing error, as the caption below the map, in small print and somewhat opaque language essentially acknowledges, as follows:

Increases in annual temperatures for a recent five-year period relative to 1951–1980. Warming is widespread, generally greater over land than over oceans, and… (etc.)

Will every reader notice that “relative to 1951-1980” Will everyone who notices it be able to confidently explain what it means? Does, say, your aunt understand “five year period relative to three decade period?”

The title is misleadingly wrong. It should be captioned “temperature changes since mid-century” or something like that. Sowing such confusion is hardly a good idea.

ohmmmm, yeah, that URL?

(rolls eyes)

If anyone has any information on whom to contact at UNEP to correct this problem I would be much obliged.

Update: I submitted this in their feedback form:

The title of the page, the legend of the map and the URL are all seriously misleading in the same way. One could easily be misled into thinking that the image shows the increase in temperature over a five year period. The caption makes this explicit, but not so clearly as to outweigh the potential damage done by the title, legend and URL. A much better title would be “2001-2005 temperatures compared to 1951-1980”. I strongly urge you to repair the misleading title in all its manifestations.

Feel free to join in. The feedback link is right on the map page.

Update: It’s fixed! See comments.

Ocean’s Biological Deserts Expanding

In weakly stratified or highly mixed ocean waters nutrients mix up from the deep forming the base of the food chain.

In places where the ocean is strongly heated from above and away from intense currents, very little of these bottom nutrients are recycled, and these form regions of the ocean that support very little sea life.

Of course, increased warming from above makes surface water lighter; hence increases the stratification and suppresses the upwelling of nutrients. Could this be a negative consequence of global warming?

Possibly so, apparently:

Climate-ecosystem models predict that global warming will exacerbate ocean desert expansion, but not this quickly, Polovina notes. During the past 9 years, gyre deserts expanded 10 to 25 times faster than modeled. The trend feels solid to other scientists. “Everything seems to hold together,” says SeaWiFS project scientist Charles McClain of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, who was not affiliated with the study. A variety of oceanographic observations and modeling is consistent with warming driving the expansion of the gyres and their low-productivity waters, he says.

Emphasis added. Chalk up another one for the “worse than expected” column. Of course in the absence of bias, you would expect literally half of everything to be worse than expected! (The other half would be better.) It’s not a field of my expertise but still, a tenfold error!

Such an error in rate estimation looks to this casual onlooker to be a big deal.

That’s an odd sort of model and needn’t reflect too harshly on the main GCM efforts, but I definitely think this particular effort should go back to the drawing board!

Climate Models: Best Hope of Policy Gradualism

There’s much to consider in Ray Pierrehumbert’s latest posting on RealClimate, “The Debate is Just Beginning on the Cretaceous“. For now I’d like to focus on Ray Ladbury’s comment #22. Ray L says something much like I’ve been saying, though he expresses it somewhat differently. Logically, I have argued that the less you believe the models, the more you should support vigorous (ok, ok, I’ll say it, “draconian“) policy to restrain emissions.

Here is how Ray L explains it:

Excellent post as usual. The seeming glee that denialists sieze upon any result that could be interpreted as calling model results into question has always amused me. The empirical data are sufficient to establish that warming is occurring. The fact that nobody can construct even a semblance of a scientific model that explains these data without anthropogenic CO2 being the driver establishes convincingly the cause. And the paleoclimate is sufficient to establish that the consequences of rapid, significant warming can be severe indeed. The models are the only tools we have that could LIMIT how much we should be concerned. Right now it is the models that are suggesting scenarios by which we could limit the consequences of climate change without significantly harming our global economy. If the models are wrong, the upside risk of climate change cannot be limited, and arguments for draconiam measures are strengthened rather than weakened. That is why I keep telling responsible skeptics that the models are the best friends they have.

Drought and Nukes

I mentioned this last August: nuclear plants are thirsty. Though they help with the carbon problem, they are also vulnerable to climate shifts. (The article I referenced then seems to have expired.)

(Why are newspapers so silly? I am sure that paid archives achieve less for them than ongoing advertisements. The NY Times seems to have figured it out…)

Here’s another article in the same vein: the southeastern drought is causing power shortages over there by shutting down nukes. Let’s hope that this eases before the summer cooling season kicks in.

AAAS Supports Science Debate

American Association for the Advancement of Science today announced that it has joined a major effort to mount a presidential debate on science, technology and the economy.

“It’s a new, global knowledge economy. Dealing with that is going to be a pretty major policy question for the next president – one that affects the pocketbook of every American. When you add global warming, the healthcare crisis, biotechnology, and transportation, it starts looking like many of the major issues the next president will face are not being seriously debated,” said Otto. “That’s why a leading organization like the AAAS, the world’s largest general scientific society, is signing onto our citizen initiative.”

(emphasis added)