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Posted at 02:45 PM ET, 01/05/2011

Climate Lens: Politics, hype, and science

Do your politics impact your view of climate change science? Do gloom and doom predictions alter your opinions? Some recent articles in the LA Times and Nature explore these fascinating questions.


The LA Times story, which profiles MIT scientist Kerry Emanuel in a case study of the linkage between political affiliation and beliefs in man-made global warming, begins:

According to the conventional wisdom that liberals accept climate change and conservatives don't, Kerry Emanuel is an oxymoron.
Emanuel sees himself as a conservative. He believes marriage is between a man and a woman. He backs a strong military. He almost always votes Republican and admires Ronald Reagan.
Emanuel is also a highly regarded professor of atmospheric science at MIT. And based on his work on hurricanes and the research of his peers, Emanuel has concluded that the scientific data show a powerful link between greenhouse gas emissions and climate change.

The article goes on to discuss the evolution of Emanuel's scientific thinking and, most recently, his politics. Some of the themes in this article are to similar those published in the Boston Globe last year about Emanuel and fellow Bostonian climate scientist Richard Lindzen.

The article closes with Emanuel saying: "I am a rare example of a Republican scientist, but I am seriously thinking about changing affiliation owing to the Republicans' increasingly anti-science stance." (Others who hold that opinion might find this video amusing from "Countdown with Keith Olbermann", h/t Steve Tracton).


"The use of dire predictions to encourage action on climate change may be backfiring and increasing doubt that greenhouse gases from human activities are causing global warming," begins a controversial story in Nature by Matt Kaplan.

But progressive climate blogger Joe Romm, a strong advocate for communicating science-based warnings of the severe consequences of global warming if we don't act, says not so fast. He argues the study this statement is based upon, which examines psychological responses to global warming messages, analyzes a sample "hardly comprehensive or representative of America" (citing the Washington Post)." And, after dissecting the study, Romm finds:

If people want to draw conclusions from the small sample of this study, then it would seem to be telling us:
1. The message that does work is we face Hell and High Water if we don't act but fortunately much of the technology we need to solve this problem already exists.
2. The message that doesn't work is that the problem is so hopeless science doesn't even know where to start.

The second message certainly doesn't work in making snow forecasts...


* The Northeast Regional Climate Center (NRCC) reports five cities in New England - Boston, Hartford (CT), Caribou (ME), Providence (RI) and Concord (NH) - had their warmest year (2010) on record. But it was the fifth warmest year on record for the Northeast region, as a whole.

* The United Kingdom had its second coldest December since 1659 according to preliminary data posted on the BBC's weather blog. Some might be tempted to use this as evidence to question global warming but recall Andrew posted yesterday 2010 globally was likely either the warmest or second warmest on record.

* Environmental studies scholar Roger Pielke Jr. blogs about a new study written by him and colleagues that finds: "the detection or attribution of an anthropogenic signal in tropical cyclone loss data is extremely unlikely to occur over periods of several decades (and even longer)." In plain English, this means it's likely to take a long time before global warming will change hurricanes enough to detect a clear impact (from global warming) on life and property.

* The National Snow and Ice Data Center reports Arctic sea ice extent during December was the lowest on record (for the month).

Climate Lens is a guided aggregation of recent climate change science news and voices for those interested in the intersection of weather, climate, politics, and the environment.

By  |  02:45 PM ET, 01/05/2011

Categories:  Climate Change, Climate Change

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