“The Cold Sun” Heats Debate

February 20, 2012 0 Comments

Last week I started the blog roll with an indication that Winter was not quite over yet. We ended up with a couple of light snowfalls last week and a few more seem to be headed our way as well as colder temps. The reason: the jet stream pattern is changing an getting more active. For most of this Winter we have experienced a (kind-of) split flow in the jet stream. The northern branch stayed in Canada for most of the time and kept the arctic air bottled. The southern branch of the jet stream consisted of some large slow moving “cut-off” storms that never seemed to turn far enough to the north to bring significant precipitation to our area.

Now it looks like the northern branch of the jet stream will become dominant and sink farther south into the country.

Current 6 to 10 day temp outlook

For the next 2 to 3 weeks we could have several storms moving out of the west and taking aim at Wisconsin. It is hard to say how many will make a direct hit on our area, but we will at least have a chance of snow every 2 to 3 days. For this week it looks like an inch or so of snow is possible on Tuesday morning, an inch or two is possible Thursday, and more than a couple inches is possible on Sunday. The next 2 weeks, and maybe through the middle of March, could turn out to be the most active weather we have experienced all Winter. It could also be the longest stretch of below normal temps as it looks like high temps will only be in the 20s from Friday through Sunday of this week and could be a bit colder to start out next week.

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To continue on the discussion from late last week about the documents released from the Heartland Institute, here is an article and interview with Michael Mann of Penn State promoting his new book “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars“. In it he describes what it has been like to be the focus of attention in anthropogenic global warming (AGW) theory, how he has had to learn to fight the war of ideas in the public sphere. It is sad to hear that threats have been made against him, but I should remind everyone that the threats and insults have flown both ways in recent years. Some historical perspectives are needed here as well. When Professor Mann’s famous “hockey stick” paper was published it was something new and it took some time for even the climate community to digest. The method appeared to smooth out past (colder) temperature  analyses of the Little Ice Age and amplify the recent warmer trend. Also recall, that when investigators asked to see all of the supporting documentation (computer code) for the research, Mann denied them. This is the surest way to bring the heat of the public eye upon you – tell someone you have discovered a new and dangerous trend in the climate, but then not provide all of the supporting documentation. Mann is also still hiding his university email correspondences, which is going to keep some pressure upon him. The outside world will forever think he has something bad to hide.

I have spent some time dissecting the animosity in the debate, but reading this recent article crystallized the gulf in perceptions between the two sides. My feeling is that the resistance from the skeptical side of AGW comes not primarily from a refusal to accept scientific methods but from a threat to livelihood, comfort, and wealth. People in the developed world have used fossil fuels to build up a good degree of wealth, comfort, and freedom. Millions of lives and families depend directly upon the industry. Along comes the AGW theorists who says it all has to stop….yesterday! That is an oversimplification of how the policy debate proceeded, but it was the perception. When people have their wealth, livelihood, and freedom threatened (even rather indirectly through treaties like Kyoto), they will react strongly. I am unsure if some of the leading AGW adherents and policy advocates know how the threat feels. After all, they are mostly tenured professors and high level government bureaucrats. They have very good job security. They have reliable income and more benefits than most, including well above average retirement and health benefits. Most people working in fossil fuel industries (not the CEOs) have jobs that are not as stable and they are not so wealthy. It is much more stressful than having tenure at a University. To understand the feelings of people working in private industry a little better (who have consistently taken cuts in benefits and wages – on average – over the last decade), take a look at how many public unions have responded to some cuts in pay and benefits in recent years. There has been a revolt in many instances. It isn’t pleasant having an unstable income. Mann and others should more closely consider the policy actions that are resulting from their work if they want to head off more stress in the future.

Which brings me to someone who seems to have had a change in perspective. There is a huge hullaboo in the German environmental movement recently because a “green activist” is not so certain about AGW anymore. Fritz Vahrenholt has published a book called “The Cold Sun” (Die Kalte Sonne) where he argues against humans being the main driver of climate change and he claims to feel duped about accepting mainstream AGW theory. This is big news because Mr. Vahrenholt is so well known in the environmental community.

This also highlights the previously mentioned themes of the AGW debate quite well. Professor Mann has been the subject of harsh criticism but he should see how Fritz Vahrenheit is being portrayed in various blogs that purport to be the “good guys” (not to be confused with the evil climate change-denying-fossil-fuel-types). Right away he is being portrayed as anti-science and as a tool of big oil. I have also seen some ageism popping up in some past online discussions. Scientists who are skeptical of AGW are often portrayed as old out-of-touch coots.

But what of the public-private wealth dynamic? Fritz Vahrenholt worked for Shell Oil, RePower (wind turbines) and RWE Innogy (renewable energy). Perhaps he has gotten a better perspective on how AGW policy affects the energy industry and the everyday lives of people. Maybe that has factored into his thinking about being a rebel in the AGW debate.

Have a good Monday! Meteorologist Justin Loew.

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