Weather or not it’s proof of climate change…

It’s cooled down a bit lately, but the last few weeks have seen the worst of what Summer offers in and around the Beltway.  A massive windstorm knocked out power in Alexandria, and heat indexes made mowing the lawn such and incredibly dangerous activity that it was to be avoided at all costs. (That’s the story we’ll go with.)

What does it all mean?  For some it’s unequivocal evidence of man-made climate change:

During their recent coverage of winter storms, Fox News has repeatedly mocked former Vice President Al Gore and cited the cold and snowy weather to attempt to discredit global warming. Fox News and other right-wing media routinely use snow to cast doubt on global warming, and internal emails from Fox News’ Washington bureau show that in the past Fox employees have been instructed to question climate science.

Wait, wait, no, I’m sorry, that’s an old Media Matters story, back when the eighteen feet of snow dumped on the Eastern seaboard was just “weather.”  There’s a difference, you see, between weather and climate, so a cold winter doesn’t mean anything for those looking to disprove global warming.

Yet this week, the anti-Keystone XL organization sent an email to their subscriber list highlighting the recent heat wave as evidence that radical environmental change is afoot.  Their leader, Bill McKibben, sarcastically needled global warming skeptics in the Daily Beast:

Please don’t sweat the 2,132 new high temperature marks in June—remember, climate change is a hoax…  On Friday, for instance, Washington set all-time heat records (one observer described it as like “being in a giant wet mouth, except six degrees warmer”), and then shortly after dinner a storm for the ages blew through—first there was five minutes of high wind, blowing dust and debris (and tumbleweeds? surely some tumbleweeds), followed by an explosive display of thunder and lightning that left millions without power.

That’s, whose big idea was to fund a giant ice sculpture on the steps of the U.S. Capitol spelling out the word “HOAX.”  You see, they were going to disprove climate skeptics by melting ice in July.  That was before they slammed on the brakes – ostensibly because they would appear insensitive to people suffering the heat wave, but more likely because it was just a really silly idea.

You can’t spend the winter preaching that weather and climate are different things, then using the summer heat to support the need for environmental action.  That’s not a scientific argument, that’s political hackery – though, come to think of there’s probably more money in simple hackery.

The era of the Citizen-[INSERT PROFESSION HERE]

First, came the citizen-journalists – the bloggers in their pajamas whose reporting overturned Walter Cronkite’s old chair and dumped out Dan Rather.

Then came the citizen-politicos – the self-organizing crusaders who organized largely online but made a difference in the real world, giving alternating advantages to the left in 2006 and 2008 and the right in 2010.

And now come… the citizen scientists.  An English gas worker has discovered four new planets by analyzing public data at his home computer.  No telescope, no university observatory, no office – just a proficiency for math and the love of the game.  It’s legit, too, as the University of California has given the discovery a seal of approval.

This may explain why people have been slow to support environmental regulations with drastic economic impacts.  The previous argument – “Trust us!  We’re SCIENTISTS!” – can’t carry weight.


Everyone quit breathing!

The Obama administration is expected to name carbon dioxide a pollutant today – which makes it easier to regulate without Congressional approval.  According to second grade science class, carbon dioxide is one of the essential ingredients for life – plants need it for photosynthesis.   Still, too much of anything is bad, which begs the question of whether dihydrogen monoxide – a substance which can now be found on over three quarters of the Earth’s surface – is next:

Gaian dictator?

“When will people learn: Democracy doesn’t work!” – Homer Simpson (a Barack Obama voter)

A bunch of scientists got together and determined that a single multi-billionaire could probably fund a project to combat climate change by spraying sulfur particles in the atmosphere. It is, of course, controversial even among scientist; some theorize that this “solution” may destroy the ozone layer. (“Egon, this reminds me of that time you tried to drill a hole in your head.”)

But beyond the technical challenges, talk turned to what practical issues would arise in building a global consensus for any such undertaking. As New Scientist correspondent Fred Pearce reported:

“Some enthusiasts for geo-engineering – or eco-hacking, as some have taken to calling it – said we might one day have to ignore democratic niceties in order to get the job done.

Democratic processes are not “niceties” – they are government systems that prevent oppression.

Environmentalists may make the argument that Homer Simpson made – that ignoring the will of the people may be necessary to follow a path that promotes an overall good for mankind. But considering that they can’t even agree on which path that is, let’s not burn the Constitution just yet.

Buy More Science! is a group of scientific research groups, trade organizations, academic institutions, and similar groups that invites site visitors to submit science-related questions, which are then posed to the candidates. Obama has answered, and drawn glowing praise.

Quoted on, ScienceDebate CEO Shawn Otto called his responses “very substantive for this point in the campaign, and surprisingly detailed… A lot of the scientists I’ve spoken to are pleased with the level of substance and detail.”

What wisdom has Obama dispensed? Let’s look at some of his musings on science policy:
Read the full Q&A session here:

  • “My administration will increase funding for basic research in physical and life sciences, mathematics, and engineering at a rate that would double basic research budgets over the next decade.”
  • “I have proposed programs that, taken together, will increase federal investment in the clean energy research, development, and deployment to $150 billion over ten years.”
  • “As president, I will lift the current administration’s ban on federal funding of research on embryonic stem cell lines created after August 9, 2001 through executive order, and I will ensure that all research on stem cells is conducted ethically and with rigorous oversight.”

Notice a trend?

Putting aside the question of where the money would come from given the current state of our national finances, where would the money go to? Probably research groups, trade organizations, and academic institutions. I’m sure partners, would get their share.

All in the name of science, of course.