Friday, May 2, 2008

dogwood winter

Here in eastern Kentucky folks have a name for each of the cold snaps that occur during the general spring warm up. A couple of weeks ago, we had a cold snap that everyone referred to as "redbud winter," then it was back to 70 degree afternoons, until the current cold snap which folks call "dogwood winter." Of course we will see more warm spring weather, and our next cold snap will be "blackberry winter" when the blackberries are in bloom later in May. The presence of these well known and commonly used phrases demonstrates ordinary people's awareness that even though the passage from winter through spring to summer heat is inevitable, there will be short, transitory periods every year that recall winter's chill.

I bring up this common folk knowledge about recurrence of cold snaps on the way to summer, as a preface to a new scientific report published in Nature, that was summarized in the New York Times May 1 . New efforts to refine the process of climate modeling and to make decade long predictions for climate, predict a possible decade of cooling within the longer term upward trend of global warming.

The authors of the study "stressed that the pause in warming represented only a temporary blunting of the centuries of rising temperatures that scientists have projected if carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases continue accumulating in the atmosphere."

Should the model be correct and our next decade be cooler, how will this affect long term goals to deal with the larger warming trends? Social and political will to deal with and prepare for a warming world are weak now. What happens should the short term consequences of warming lessen?


E. R. Dunhill said...

I think any reduction in symptoms will yield a further loss of momentum.
I increasingly feel that the environmental movement has again taken up the wrong message by putting global warming at the forefront of discussion. We need to foment a broader shift in thinking, and we need to stop fighting with people about why this is a good idea. I read in the blog lines and hear friends and family repeat over and over phrases like "we should work for people not nature" or "we shouldn't be worshipping the planet". Clearly the fundamental idea that good stewardship of the environment promotes a healthy, dignified way of life for people is getting lost. People who accept global warming are inclined to keep doing their part, while those who refuse to accept the idea won't. I'm concerned that many well-meaning people are wrongly confusing Al Gore and Democratic politics with environmentalism. We have to throw water on this fire.
There's no denying the human impacts of degraded water quality; of sulfur, NOx, and particulate air pollution; of famine; and of toxic metals and volatile organic wastes. Moreover, people can see first-hand the benefits of local environmental solutions in their own communities. Environmentalism is very much about people.
I think serious environmentalists need to emphasize conservation and sustainability as services to the local community, and as human rights. We also need to redouble our efforts to find common ground with existing organizations. Mitigating global warming needs to remain an earnest and urgent effort, but perhaps a less visible part of the message.

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

Some questions:

What percent of greenhouse gases are attributable to human activity?

How many degrees rise in average global temperature since accurate records have been kept?

If we view "climate change" as a result of relatively recent human activity, how can models based on long-term historic data be considered accurate for predicting the future?

The suthors recognize "internal climate variability" in their paper. How do they know that it "masks" human induced climate change?

If the model can't replicate conditions over Central Africa, how can it predict conditions in North America which are impacted by conditions in Central Africa?

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

"People who accept global warming are inclined to keep doing their part, while those who refuse to accept the idea won't."

ERD: I take exception to this statement. Good stewardship of the land and water has nothing to do with one's attitude toward global warming.

On one side you have Hollywood starlettes jetting around the globe posing with starving children supposedly victims of global warming and on the other hand you have farmers who likely reject the global warming rhetoric planting windbreaks and erosion buffers while trying to produce food for the world. Which of the two is the better environmental steward?

E. R. Dunhill said...

First, I would argue that your "Hollywood starlettes" don't actually accept the idea of global warming. They accept the bandwagon, the benefit concerts, and the photo-ops.
Second, I feel that I was clear about the need to divorce environmentalism from global warming, and on the point that there are lots of conservation measures that have nothing to do with global warming.

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

ERD: Probably right on the first count. On the second -- there is a difference between environmentalism and conservation as well. The first seems to be characterized by extreme positions focused on preservation and retro-civilization while the second is best described as wise use of resources (which implies sustainability).

Yes, you were clear about divorcing the two issues. It was the statement quoted with which I take exception.

E. R. Dunhill said...

You're absolutely right about that being a poorly-phrased statement. It would be better said:
Those who are serious about global warming will continue to try to do something about it, while those who are put-off by global warming are unlikely to be swayed by it.
As for the definition of environmentalism, I use the term as a broad and loosely consolidated catch-all. It's a loaded word, and I find that many people I would describe as environmentalists (because they value or work to improve some aspect of environmental quality) bristle at the term.
For instance, I was once in an environmental studies class in which two other students nearly went to blows over the use of hunting to control white-tail populations. One of them was a hooks-and-barrels guy, the other a deep-ecologist. I would describe both of these philosophies or methodologies as subsets of environmentalism.
I also know, study with, and work with dozens of people who call themselves environmentalists who have no interest in extreme or fringe ideas. I think the term has legitimately evolved beyond the connotations it developed in the 1970s and 1980s, but I do appreciate your position. I believe the most important thing is for people to focus on issues and solutions.

Pat Jenkins said...

sue would not such tradition references to temperature change, happening for many generations, dispell the idea we are going through an abnormal period?

Sue said...

Those are good questions, Chris. All of which have already been answered by the scientists, and anyone can find them at RealClimate, as well as many other of the science blogs that keep archives of posts on the specifics of climate change.

Sue said...

Pat J -- what those traditional phrases tell us, is that it is perfectly normal for there to be periods of coolness within longer range warming trends. That is, "blackberry winter" in May doe not mean that hotter weather of summer is not going to come.

Chris McClure aka Panhandle Poet said...

Sue: I find this to be a relevant graph from a credible source called The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. When people speak only of the period since 1980 they are missing something that I believe is relevant.

Sue said...

Yes, Chris, I've seen that NOAA data, as has every climate scientist in the world. And they use it to support their point as any one who spends any time reading the science of climate change can see for themselves. That point being that industrialization (which began in 1750 when a way to pump water out of coal mines was invented, and really kicked into high gear in 1860), and the burning of fossil fuels which defines industrialization has consistently contributed the warming of the planet. As the graph you have linked to so clearly demonstrates. Just because the public only became aware of the idea of global warming in the 1980's does not mean that the scientists think it started then.

Sue said...

Chris, you might want to check out NOAA's guide to climate science, at Pay particular attention to page 9.