Monday, September 23, 2013

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, everybody. At least, according to the French Revolutionary calendar that was adopted in France right after the Revolution. It was used from 1793 until 1805. Read more here. One purpose of the calendar was to produce a scientifically-based calendar system.

Part of the scientific basis is that it was modeled after nature, after the seasons and the phenomena associated with them, rather than arbitrary months invented by human governments. For example, March used to be the first month, but Roman emperors added January and February, apparently for purposes of tax revenue. Because the Romans stuck two months onto the beginning of the year, the names of the months now make no sense. “September” means seventh, “October” means eighth, “November” means ninth, and “December” means tenth. But the French Revolutionary Calendar begins very close to the Autumnal Equinox, which was actually yesterday. The seasons, and the movements of the Earth relative to the sun, dictate this calendar.

The French Revolutionary Calendar is also based on the moon. Each of the twelve months has thirty days, consistent with the phases of the moon. Twelve months therefore have 360 days; the remaining five days were special days added to the end of the year. Today is the first day of Vendémiaire, that is, the month of grape harvest.

The traditional religious calendar had feast days of the saints. The French Revolution swept religion aside and established non-theistic science as its basis. Their calendar named each day after (in most cases) plants, although many were named after animals or farm implements. For example, today is raisin, or grape. I guess the revolutionaries had their priorities straight, didn’t they.

The Revolutionary Calendar was just one way of rethinking the world. The scientists of the French Revolution also produced the metric system, which is not only still used but has been expanded. The metric system is based on nature. For example, they said the meter was one-ten-millionth the distance from the equator to the North Pole. (They were pretty close.) It was also based on powers of ten. Instead of 16 ounces in a pound and 2000 pounds in a ton, or 5280 feet in a mile, there were 10 millimeters in a centimeter, 100 centimeters in a meter, and 1000 meters in a kilometer. And it is based on water, also. A milliliter is one cubic centimeter (cc). A milliliter of water weighs one gram. A calorie is the amount of heat that can raise the temperature of 1 cc of water 1 degree Celsius. Water freezes at 0 and boils at 100. How nicely it all fits together. No wonder scientists have used the metric system for a long time. And every major country other than the United States uses the metric system. As scientists continue to explore the very large and very distant and very small and very brief, they have expanded the metric system to 24 orders of magnitude both ways from the base. There are a million million million million yoctoseconds in a second, and a million million million million meters in a yottameter. The French revolutionaries did not imagine this possibility. Now the metric system has spread around the world, while the Revolutionary Calendar has been largely forgotten.

The Revolutionary Calendar is certainly not the only one based on nature. The Jewish calendar begins with the Month of Nisan in spring.

The reason I like to observe the Revolutionary Calendar, in addition to the regular calendar, is that it helps to fit my thinking into the cycles of nature. It helps me realize that we are part of nature, rather than being masters over it. Just as we cannot force the sea to not rise (see my earlier blog entry), we cannot force January 1 to be the first day of the year in anything other than an artificial sense. We have to start thinking of ourselves as part of the mesh of nature, of evolution, of ecology.

So happy 1 Vendémiaire, everybody!

Don’t forget to check the preceding entries about the climate change workshop this past weekend.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Climate Change Workshop, part 8.

Kevin Kloesel, the director of the Oklahoma Climatological Survey, began our final afternoon session. He noted a mismatch between what scientists know and what policy-makers are doing. The National Academies, as authorized by Congress, have published reports based on peer-reviewed research. Scientists criticize one another's work, Kloesel noted, more severely than even the climate deniers, so these reports are reliable.

There are four reports. The Science Panel report shows the evidence that global climate change is real and humans are causing a lot of it. And continued data gathering is essential to improve our predictions. Pilots, for example, need weather data in order to fly their planes. Senator Inhofe, a pilot, knows this, but chooses to ignore the role of data in climate science. He would crash if he flew his plane the same way he is trying to fly the country. The science panel indicated that we pretty much know what the average results of global warming will be, but it is difficult to predict the extreme events. Also, predictions have different consequences for different people, just as a 40 percent chance of rain might mean different things to someone taking a short walk and to someone planning an outdoor wedding.

The Limiting Panel report recommended prompt and sustained research efforts. Their recommendation is important because of course the scientists on the Science Panel are going to say "give us more money for research." But the Limiting Panel examined how much research and development money we will need in order to meet emissions reductions targets. Greatly reducing emissions will cost a lot of money, but we might be able to afford a more limited goal. This panel recommended setting an economy-wide cost of carbon. This recommendation has already been rejected by politicians. But this panel pointed out that every day that we wait to take action, the more drastic and expensive the solution will have to be. Also, there are always tradeoffs. For example, do we use the land for growing biofuels or food? In Oklahoma, competing interests include tribal hegemony. Even international relations could involve tradeoffs. If we put big mirrors in outer space to shade the Earth, what will China think? What would we think if they did it?

The Adapting panel report dealt with what we can do to adapt to whatever amount of global warming will prove to be inevitable. We already have is a warning system for tornadoes, but we have nothing like this for long-term climate events. What contingency plans should we make in case our predictions are wrong, especially for high-impact low-probability events? Will this require planetary cooperation, or perhaps even global governance structures? Some politicians, especially from cowboy states, would rather take any chance at global catastrophe rather than to take advice from the United Nations.

The Informing panel report dealt with how to make masses of information available in a useful form.

There is no getting around the fact that rich Americans will have to reduce our carbon emissions, rather than encouraging the poor of the world to increase, in order to achieve fairness and sustainability. Right now, the carbon footprint of people in developing nations is increasing. For example, we cannot tell the people of India, "We will keep using air conditioning but you should not."

Prospicience is the art of looking ahead, said Kloesel. We have, he said, barely begun to ask what we are on Earth to do. Why should we send missions to Mars while ignoring the monitoring of our own planet? How can we leave a good world for our grandchildren? In his book Senator Inhofe talks a lot about the world his grandchildren will live in, despite the fact that he ignores the truth about global warming which will make the world a disrupted and chaotic world for those grandchildren. What can we do when our leaders only pretend to care about their grandchildren's world? (Dr. Kloesel did not say that Inhofe was only pretending to care.) If our leaders think, "what has posterity ever done for me?" We all left the workshop with this question unanswered.

Climate Change Workshop, part 7.

The global climate change workshop for teachers in Oklahoma and Texas, sponsored by Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education (OESE) and the Oklahoma Climatological Survey, continues. This time our topic was global warming education. On the second half of the Sunday morning session, our first speaker was Bob Melton, who works on science curriculum for the Putnam City public schools in Oklahoma. He is also a national officer in the National Association of Biology Teachers.

Bob began by explaining that teaching about climate change is a political act. Apparently his experiences have been different from those of the participants, which I reported yesterday: some parents have actually told Bob that teaching about global warming undermines students' faith in God. And of course there are also the infamous statements by Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, who considers global warming science to be a deliberate hoax perpetrated by scientists. We watched a television interview of Inhofe in which he said this very thing. This interview made quite a number of us a little upset as we watched it. Scientists such as Lara Souza and myself know certainly that we are not hoax perpetrators, and we feel personally libeled by Inhofe. Bob also showed us a video of some federal politicians who are willing to investigate UFOs but will not even consider global warming.

Then Bob showed us the Next Generation Science Standards, which will soon be the national standards for science education, except in states like Oklahoma and Texas that declare that the laws of nature are different in our states than in the rest of the world. In Texas, carbon dioxide does not absorb long-wave radiation. In Oklahoma, global warming cannot happen; we just ain't-a-gonna permit it. But most states will probably accept the new standards. These standards say little directly and openly about global warming, but all the major components of global warming science are integrated into it, including the expectation that students will get to participate in scientific inquiry about climate processes. Each state makes its own decision; and all politics are local; therefore if a majority of citizens in a state believe that global warming is equivalent to atheism, global warming will not be taught. Bob's energetic presentation got all of us educators excited to continue our work.

Danny Mattox, a middle school educator, introduced the teachers to a hands-on classroom activity to simulate the effects of sea level rise. The participants used trays, modeling clay, and rocks to create continents. Danny poured in colored water to create "oceans" and poured "snow" (sodium polyacrylate) on the continents. When the participants sprayed some of the water from the oceans onto the continents, gooey "glaciers" formed, and the sea level (visible against the side of the tray) fell. This is a student-friendly demonstration that glaciation causes sea levels to fall. Then participants scooped out the glaciers and dropped them into the oceans, which caused the sea levels to rise.

Then Danny explained how different proxies, such as carbon and oxygen isotopes, can be used to reconstruct past climate. Then he provided evidence, from his own research, that the Trail of Tears (in particular, the Choctaw Removal) occurred during an El Nino event, which caused a very cold winter and contributed to the massive deaths of Natives--weather making an already cruel act perpetrated by the U.S. government even worse. I encouraged him to continue and publish this research.

Climate Change Workshop, part 6.

The climate change workshop for teachers, sponsored by Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education (OESE) and the Oklahoma Climatological Survey continues this morning.

The first two presentations were about phenology. Phenology is the seasonal pattern of biological processes: the time of year that trees burst their buds, that animals hibernate or migrate, etc. Phenological data are particularly valuable to a study of global warming because the organisms integrate many physical factors. How do you measure temperature? Average maximum temperature? Average minimum temperature? Threshold temperatures? But you can let the organisms themselves do the measuring. If global warming causes winter to be shorter and warmer, and spring to come earlier, perhaps the best way to measure this is to quantify the budburst date of deciduous trees or the flowering date of herbaceous plants.

I was the first presenter. I had enough time for some introductory perambulations. I told them where they could get more information about my work. And I reported what some of us had talked about over breakfast: what needs to be done to prevent global warming? My conclusion was that there was no single thing that could be done. Denialists like to consider each proposed solution--alternative energy, energy efficiency, etc.--and say that each of them are insufficient to solve the problem. They pick off each solution individually, without considering that the combined efforts on all of these things may solve the problem. But in order for us to do all of these things, we need a whole new attitude: we need to desire to be frugal with our use of resources, to recycle, to drive smaller cars. It requires a change of attitude. We can model these attitudes to people around us, many of whom may began imitating us (when they see that we are doing these things joyously) or at least no longer considering us to be quite as weird as they might have previously. But even more fundamentally, we need to think of ourselves as caretakers rather than owners not only of the Earth but of everything, even sheets of paper or plastic bottles. They are not ours to use as much as we wish; we are only the stewards of these "resources." This attitude is expressed well in the musical Nanyehi, which is based on the life of the Cherokee leader Nancy Ward (my ancestor). A white man from South Carolina tried to claim some Cherokee land, and he had the piece of paper from the colonial government of South Carolina to prove that he was the owner. When some Cherokee warriors found him, they were astonished that anyone could own land. They sang, in the musical, "This land is not our land/We're only passin' through/It don't belong to us/It don't belong to you!"

I told the group about my work with spring budburst of 22 Oklahoma deciduous tree species. Most of these species opened their buds earlier, some as much as 2 days earlier per year (compared to the typical pattern of budburst occurring 2 days earlier per decade). That is, the phenological effects of global warming are happening up to ten times faster in Oklahoma than in other parts of North America. But one species (the silver maple, Acer saccharinum) opened its buds later. The reason was not the warmer temperatures in the spring, but the heat wave and drought in the summer, which damaged the buds.

Trees cannot keep opening their buds earlier and earlier forever. How far can the trend to earlier budburst continue? If winters are too warm, some tree species will have a later budburst, not an earlier one, because cold temperatures in winter are necessary to break down inhibitors. How much winter cooling is necessary to break down those inhibitors? I have begun research to help answer these questions.

The second presenter is Dr. Lara Souza of the University of Oklahoma and the Oklahoma Biological Survey. What happens when species experience global warming? They could either stay where they are and adapt (either through natural selection or acclimatization); go extinct; or migrate to other locations with cooler temperatures.

Consider some examples. Camille Parmesan and associates showed that some British butterflies moved north during the twentieth century. They gathered their data from insect collections, in which the date and location are recorded. Another study, by Lenoir and associates, showed that most but not all species of mountain plant species shifted their distributional range to higher elevations. You can download the Lenoir data from Science (these data are open access, unlike many of the articles in Science) and have students compare the average elevation in the early vs. the late twentieth century for each species, either by making a graph or by doing a simple statistical analysis (paired-t test). The Rocky Mountain Biological Laboratory, at about 10,000 feet elevation in the Rockies, also has an excellent data set about the first day in spring at which many species of birds and mammals became active; this data set stretches back to 1974. Some, but not all species, have become active much earlier in the spring in the past forty years. Another study, by Eric Post and associates, show that the phenological patterns of arctic tundra plants have shifted dramatically, while those of caribou have not changed as much, which means that many caribou food plants are no longer available (or have older, less nutritional foliage) when the caribou need them. Therefore the caribou have fewer surviving offspring. A study by Laura Burkle and associates showed that flowering times of numerous plant species have shifted over the last 120 years, and that this has resulted in the loss of pollinator associations in many cases.

Lara then told us how students can contribute their own data to, or work with data sets made available by, the National Phenological Network. There are also some citizen-science projects being done, including common garden experiments where people in different places plant the same plants, and keep track of their phenological responses. With the example of lilacs, people all over the country have planted not just lilacs but exactly the same breed of lilacs so that they can make direct comparisons of the same breed of plant in very different geographic locations. (There are some limitations. For example, lilacs do not grow well in Oklahoma.) Students can participate in these citizen-science projects and contribute their data to a national database.

This morning the participants learned about both a whole new way of understanding and teaching about global warming.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Climate Change Workshop, part 5.

Nicole Colston, a graduate student at Oklahoma State University, gave the Saturday evening presentation at the climate change workshop sponsored by Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education and the Oklahoma Climatological Survey. She got a master's degree in communication and held faculty positions as a debate coach. Then she found that she was really interested in climate change arguments, but recognized that she needed to know the science. So she came to OSU for a doctoral program in environmental science but is also a teaching assistant for in teacher education.

Nicole had been told that there were no schoolteachers who talked about climate change in class; but she found over a hundred even in her single survey. Nicole's survey showed that 81 of 125 respondents had experienced no "pushback" against teaching about global warming. This was about the same number who reported no pushback against teaching that the sun is the center of the solar system. Nevertheless, it is Nicole's personal crusade (and one of mine) to try to counteract climate change misinformation, primarily because it is deliberate misinformation. It is not sincere misunderstanding. As some writers have pointed out, there is an organize climate change denial (political) machine which, among other things, distributes free books to school superintendents saying that global warming is a hoax. These books are often quite openly abusive, e.g., a teacher shooting at Al Gore with a shotgun as he runs away with a pack of polar bears. Books supporting global warming do not, to my knowledge, use these kinds of tactics. You will find that Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway is firm but calm in tone and amply documented. Despite the barrage of misinformation, and the huge amounts of money spent by the Koch Brothers and the anonymous donor who funds about half the budget of the Heartland Institute, polls indicate (said Nicole) that 80 percent of Americans believe that humans are causing global warming.

Nicole then mentioned a number of resources and pieces of advice about how to help students understand global warming and how to avoid myths. For example, in Oklahoma, it does more harm than good to frame global warming in terms of criticizing the use of oil. (I do this, but for college students; it might be counterproductive for middle school students.) Also, don't pour on too much science; if students are confused, they may just disregard the subject and keep thinking what their parents and preachers have told them.

In order for climate science to make a difference in the world, it will need enthusiastic spokespeople like Nicole Colston.

Climate Change Workshop, part 4.

I continue to report from the Climate Change Workshop sponsored by Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education (OESE) and the Oklahoma Climatological Survey, helping about 30 middle and high school teachers figure out how to teach about global warming.

As the afternoon session began, Dr. Julie Angle, an education professor at Oklahoma State University, led a discussion about the goals of science education. When we teach students about global warming, we do not want to preach the environmental gospel to them, but to use global climate change as an example of a topic that we can explore by the methods of scientific inquiry. Let the global warming denialists do the preaching.

Julie, who was chosen by the Oklahoma legislature to be on the school textbook selection committee, pointed out that science is both reliable and tentative. These two terms sound like they contradict one another, but actually it is the tentative nature of science that makes it reliable. Because science is tentative, its mistakes can be corrected by new evidence, and that's why it is reliable. Science also requires creative thinking; a computer (such as they are now) cannot do science. Julie led us through discussions about numerous other characteristics of science.

One of the activities that Julie led was for the participants to look at (fake) cancelled checks and make hypotheses about the story behind the checks. No group looked at all of the checks. Because no single group had all the information, they came up with, and debated, contradictory explanations for the story line, and even debated whether some of the checks were related to the story or not.

Then Monica Deming, a student working at the Climatological Survey, handed out simulated wood cores (real ones would have been too fragile). Tree cores are cylinders of wood removed horizontally from a tree trunk by a hollow drill known as a borer. Trees produce a new ring of wood each year. If you count the rings, you can tell how old the tree is. (That is, except in trees in which the heartwood rots away.) A thick ring means that the growing season was good, for example a lot of rain, so that the tree produced a lot of wood; a thin ring indicates a bad year. The pattern of thick and thin wood layers is therefore a record of growing conditions over decades or even centuries. But not every tree is equally valuable as a climatic record. A tree whose roots grow in a spring may produce thick rings every year, regardless of whether or not droughts have occurred.

First, you have to calculate a correlation between ring width and rainfall for years in which rainfall was measured. Participants constructed their own graphs of ring width as a function of rainfall, from which they could calculate a slope. Once you have the slope, you can calculate rainfall for years too far in the past for any rainfall records to exist. Sometimes you can go pretty far into the past; the oldest tree known, a bristlecone pine in the White Mountains of California, just recently discovered, is 5,062 years old. Of course, you have to correct for the age of the tree at the time the wood was produced; rings produced when the tree is young are thicker than those produced when the tree is old. This makes sense because a thick ring with a small circumference has about the same amount of wood as a thin ring with a large circumference.

Then Danny Mattox, a middle school teacher, and Andrea Melvin, an education specialist at Mesonet, showed us some online resources available for teaching climate change, everything from and to data sites.

During a round table discussion, we found that the teachers have not encountered difficulty in teaching about global warming. However much our political and business leaders disapprove of climate science, the teachers encounter mostly apathy from students, and only occasionally have students who refuse to consider the reality of climate change. Nor have the teachers experienced opposition from school administrators. To me, this was a surprising result. The only explanation we could think of, as we discussed it, was that climate change will become as controversial a topic in schools as evolution is now, sometime in the future. It might mean that the teachers are ready to start getting their students to discover the evidence of global warming before the problem of denialism has a chance to grow.

I have to admit that my experience has been similar. Many of my Oklahoma college students oppose evolution, but only a few oppose climate science. At least for now, the denialist views espoused so vigorously by Senator Inhofe are apparently not of great interest to the newer generation. In fact, the teachers told me, the students seem to be excited to actually do a few things, such as recycling and driving smaller cars, that will help to reduce carbon emissions. Dare I hope that there is some some hope for the future, at least in Oklahoma?

Climate Change Workshop, part 3.

And now for something different. Instead of listening to talking heads, no matter how interesting they are, the participants will get on computers and actually work with climatological data, under the guidance of Brad Illston, a research associate at Oklahoma Mesonet, a service provided by the Oklahoma Climatological Survey. This is one of the finest repositories of meteorological information in the country. No other state, as far as I know, has as much data so easily accessible in such a visual format.

Mark Twain referred to "lies, damned lies, and statistics." Statistics can be abused. Brad explained how to use them honestly. But even when used honestly, statistics can be misleading. Averages can be misleading, even if honest. I recall hearing of an old Kansas farmer who said, "In fifty years of farming, I've only seen two average years." So it helps to use not just averages but also some estimate of variability as the standard deviation. If most of the years had been close to average, that Kansas farmer would have seen a small standard deviation. Oklahoma City and San Diego have the same average annual temperature, but the temperatures in OKC are much more variable, a fact constantly confirmed by exchanges of text messages between me and my La Jolla sister.

Another example of being confused by statistics is, what do we mean by a hundred-year flood? It means that, every year, there is a one percent chance of it occurring. It does not mean such floods occur every hundred years, on the dot. As it turns out, the odds of at least one such flood occurring in 100 years is not 100 percent, but 63.4 percent.

The participants then went to the computers to access and use some real Mesonet data. The data are very user-friendly. You can easily graph annual changes in temperature for any year, or for many years on the same graph. Just by looking at the graph, you can see that winter is the season that has the most year-to-year variability (or even day-to-day variability) in Oklahoma. Also, you can access a beautiful color map that indicates soil moisture in August 2011, during a severe drought. Not all of Oklahoma was experiencing a drought; you can see which areas were very dry compared to a long-term average (in red) or wetter than normal (in green). The map is mostly red, but there are green spots. The Oklahoma Mesonet therefore not only makes available a great deal of data in a very organized fashion, but you can construct almost any graph that you might want.

Alek Krautmann works for the Southern Climate Impact Planning Program (SCIPP), which unites meteorological agencies in Oklahoma and Louisiana. Their particular focus is weather disasters. Since 2000, Oklahoma has had 36 federally-declared disasters, the most of any state. Not only are there more weather disaster events now than in the past, but we are becoming more sensitive to them. We have so many more buildings and highways built in hurricane areas, but without any greater mitigation measures, such as building barriers. Not only that, but the way we build our urban and suburban areas can make the disasters worse. We now have so much land paved with concrete and asphalt that the rain that does fall has little chance to penetrate into the ground. In contrast, a forest can help to prevent floods.

A big storm can have a long-term effect on demographic patterns: the 1900 Galveston hurricane may have made Houston the large population hub that it is today. Big weather disasters can have a major impact on ecosystem services, which are the free services that ecosystems provide to us, and which are difficult (but not impossible) to translate into dollars. In addition, the impact of a weather event depends largely on when it occurs. A drought during corn pollination season can cause crop failure even if it is relatively brief. Weather disasters can have numerous indirect effects; for example, droughts cause blue-green bacterial blooms in lakes, which makes the lake water poisonous to come in contact. Major flooding, such as the Mississippi River basin floods of 1993, have a disproportional impact on low-income families who live where the land is cheap, for example on floodplains.

You can monitor drought conditions at a website maintained at the University of Nebraska with funding from federal agencies. You can get past data and the website is updated weekly.

Weather disasters can also test our altruism. If every community along a river builds levees, in an understandable desire to protect their own properties, then there will be a much greater volume of water running downstream, vastly increasing the risk that downstream levees will be overtopped or destroyed.

I would like to end with a book recommendation. The Control of Nature by John McPhee documents three examples of hubris, in which we humans think we can control nature. One of the examples is how we are trying to force the Mississippi River to stay in its present channel, even while we are creating conditions that will ultimately cause it to jump its banks and create a new delta.

Climate Change Workshop, part 2.

Saturday morning, after a good cafeteria breakfast (the OU Biological Station is famous for its food), and everyone is in a good mood to start the first full day of the climate change workshop sponsored by Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education (OESE) and the Oklahoma Climatological Survey. About 30 middle school and high school teachers are participating.

"Welcome to the second most unpopular talk in Oklahoma," said Gary McManus, Associate State Climatologist (the most unpopular talk was one about how Texas beat Oklahoma in football) as he began our first session. Since there is so much opposition to climate science in Oklahoma, he always tells his audiences (which can range from environmental groups to petroleum engineers) that he is just going to present the facts; he is not, he said, a scientist telling people how to live their lives. (In contrast, I am a scientist who does tell people how to live their lives.) The Oklahoma Climatological Survey remained neutral on climate change until the 2007 International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, which made climate change undeniable, and they finally had to take a stand.

Climate change, driven largely by human activity, is a consensus position of all the major scientific organizations in the world, and of nearly all climatologists. One occasionally sees lists of "thousands of scientists" who dispute global warming, but these lists often have a lot of petroleum geologists on them. Not that petroleum geologists are not scientists, but their job is to get oil for us to burn. Being good people, petroleum geologists and engineers do not want to believe that their jobs are putting the world in danger.

Global warming does not affect only the averages, but the extreme weather events. But it is these extremes that people notice. In Oklahoma, 2011 had the hottest summer on record, not just for Oklahoma but for any state, as measured by the number of days on which the temperature exceeded 100 F. In some places in southwestern Oklahoma, there were over 100 such days in 2011. But late winter 2011 also had the lowest temperatures recorded in state history.  These are the events that catch people's attention. We have had long droughts, but when it rains, it often rains very heavily. But we need to pay attention to the averages, lest our views are determined solely by the extremes.

Climatologists use computer models to estimate global temperature, based on information about sunspots, volcanic eruptions, etc. (For example, volcanoes eject smog and cool the Earth.) Models that use only natural processes (e.g., not including carbon from human activity) fit the observed temperature patterns from the 19th century, but in the twentieth century global temperatures increased far beyond what the "natural" temperature would have been.

But quite apart from temperature measurements, there are thousands of independent lines of evidence to confirm that global warming is occurring: the arctic ice is melting; spring is coming earlier; species migration patterns are changing, etc. We will encounter more of this evidence in later sessions, especially on Sunday the 22nd.

Some of the evidence can be misinterpreted by those who are inclined to do so. The upper atmosphere is getting cooler. Does this contradict global warming? No, because the carbon dioxide in the lower atmosphere is trapping the heat in the lower atmosphere, which makes the upper atmosphere cooler. Also, if you choose your years correctly, you can "prove" global warming has stopped. Global temperatures decreased from 1998 to 2000, for example. Denialists can extrapolate this into the future and conclude that we will all be freezing in a few decades. But this is invalid; it is just like saying that, if you paid a big bill from your checking account, causing the balance to decrease for a few days, then you will obviously be bankrupt within a year.

The Earth is losing its air conditioning system, said McManus. It is the arctic sea ice that is the a/c system for the Northern Hemisphere; it cools the Earth when it melts. The ice is melting rapidly, reducing its ability to absorb future heat from the Earth's atmosphere.

Climate scientists use estimates and projections, and sometimes these projections are wrong. But in most cases, the climatologists have underestimated the problem: sea ice is melting faster than the earlier IPCC reports had predicted. Furthermore, much of the remaining ice is new ice rather than old ice, which means that it cracks and crumbles more easily--and melts more easily--than old ice. Oh, and by the way, global warming is occurring more rapidly than even the most extreme prediction that the IPCC made back in 2007. The truly extreme results will be felt at the end of the 21st century, when we will all be dead, but our descendants at that time will, I suspect, hate us for the carbon we have foisted upon them.

The hottest day in Oklahoma on record was August 12, 1936, where some places reached 120 degrees. The difference between then and now is that we have a lot more hot days now than there were back then, even though we have had no days quite as hot as that August day in 1936.

If our rain comes in short intense bursts rather than frequent rains, we could have the anomalous result that we would have more total rainfall but less of it penetrating usefully down into the soil and aquifers!

Some people might actually benefit from global warming. Can you imagine, perhaps, that Oklahoma will mostly raise tumbleweeds, while Russia might become the wine capital of the world? The Russians might welcome global warming (unless they get a repeat of 2010, in which drought and heat made them lose much of their wheat crop).

We cannot easily predict what global warming will do to Oklahoma. Eastern Canada will get wetter, the Southwest will get drier, but it could become either drier or wetter in Oklahoma, halfway between the two easily-predictable geographical extremes.

A great deal of the information Gary presented to us is very useful to physics and chemistry teachers. It is not necessary to understand the absorption spectrum of the atmosphere in order to understand global warming; but if physics and chemistry teachers are introducing students to absorption spectra anyway, why not use the atmospheric absorption spectrum as a real, and very important, example?

The weather almost never gradually changes. Our long heat wave in Oklahoma ended suddenly just today, for example. Many of us wished that we could have part of our workshop outdoors, in the beautiful cool morning, but this is not possible. What would Gary do? Point to the blue sky and say, look at the invisible carbon dioxide?

One final thought. High school students may grow weary of learning the science of global warming. How can you engage them? Try this. "America produces a huge amount of greenhouse gas, but much of the resulting drought and famine will occur in Africa. Is that fair?" So, if you are not "into" environmental issues, just remember that (as I have elsewhere written), the environment is the medium through which we relate to other people.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Climate Change Workshop, part 1.

It is Friday night, and the Climate Change Workshop is about to begin. It is sponsored by Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education (OESE) and the Oklahoma Climatological Survey. About 30 high school teachers and several instructors are waiting for the introductory session to begin. For many years OESE has led teachers' workshops about evolution; this is our first year to address climate change. Even though Oklahoma is famous as the place that is most hostile to climate change science, there are a lot of Oklahomans (and some Texans are here too) whose views are not at all represented by the famously anti-scientific views espoused by our two Senators, Inhofe and Coburn.

Climate change is a controversial topic. Not because of the science--the science is beyond dispute: the climate is changing and humans are causing the major portion of this change. It is a political controversy, mainly because if we reduce our carbon emissions, the fossil fuel industries will earn less money. As a matter of fact, I heard on the news just today that the federal government wants to require higher standards of air quality for new power plants. Loud objections came from the conservatives. What was their argument? It was that reducing carbon emissions would hurt the profits of the coal companies. No mention was made about the profits of utilities, or profits of alternative energy companies, or the costs paid by citizens, or the effect on the economy as a whole. Just the coal companies, as if the purpose of the United States is to make coal companies rich. The conservatives had nothing whatsoever to say about environmental consequences of climate change.

Our first session was led by Dr. Kevin Kloesel, director of the Climatological Survey. His job is challenging and interesting: Oklahoma is the most conservative state in the country. Every county voted Republican in both of the last presidential elections. And conservatives overwhelmingly oppose what climatologists like him say about global climate change. He began by inviting all the teachers to contact the Survey whenever they have questions, since there is no way a three-day workshop can tell you everything.

Climate, Kloesel said, does not exist. You cannot feel climate. Only weather exists. Climate is a large-scale long-term average of weather. But if you use averages, you are ignoring a great deal of variability. Oklahoma City and Charlotte, North Carolina, have the same average annual temperature, but the climates are very different. Kevin got all the teachers to imagine situations in which an average does not adequately reflect what their classes are actually like. For example, the average score on Exam 2 in your class may increase over the average score on Exam 1, even though for some students scores may decrease. Similarly, global warming is occurring on the average, even though in some places it is not or even getting cooler.

Kevin used a lot of lively metaphors to explain the basic concepts. Carbon has a budget of input and output just like a bank account. And Earth's carbon budget is not in balance. The Keeling curve shows a consistent increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide. There is no debate about this even among the climate denialists. And we can find out how much carbon dioxide there was in the air thousands of years ago because atmospheric gases are trapped in ancient ice, just like old food can get trapped in the ice in your freezer. That's how we know that the atmosphere has more carbon dioxide now than any time in the last several hundred thousand years.

Most climatologists believe that most global warming has been caused by humans. But, Kevin said, suppose that only one percent of the warming is caused by humans. But even if there is only a one percent risk that humans are causing global climate change, then we should do something about it. After all, there is only a tiny risk that your house will burn down, but you get your house insured, don't you? Why do we insure our houses--why do banks require mortgage holders to insure their houses--against a tiny risk of fire, and not "take out Earth insurance" for a much larger risk that our activities are putting the Earth at risk? Even if the risk is much lower than what most climate scientists think it actually is.

Carbon dioxide production per person actually leveled off from 1970 to 2000, largely because of energy conservation, especially the increase in fuel efficiency. Then in 2000 we went on a binge of carbon emission, especially from coal-fired power plants. But we have already seen that we can reduce our emissions by energy efficiency.

Scientists use data sets to understand current conditions and to make projections. But people outside of science may think that there is nothing wrong with taking just a couple of data points and projecting from them. So if, anywhere or anytime, temperatures decrease, some people can point to that as evidence that global warming is not occurring. For example, the eastern United States was cooler than normal this spring; and in Washington D. C. they assumed that if it is cooler in D. C. then it must be cooler in the whole world. The same thing happened in Europe. But in nearly all the rest of the world, 2013 was a hotter year than usual. Our lawmakers in D. C. stick their heads out the window and say "it's not hot" and ignore the rest of the world. July 2013 was cool in Oklahoma, but in the rest of the world it was a hot July.

Where is the extra carbon dioxide coming from? The carbon-14 content of the atmosphere is decreasing. Carbon-14 decreases over time by radioactive decay. This means that the new carbon dioxide is  from old sources--that is, fossil fuels.

So there are some things we know for certain. We know carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas and it is increasing and that most of this increase comes from fossil fuels.

A problem hanging over all of this is that the problems of global warming do not fit into the 2, 4, or 6 year time frame that politicians care about. It is ignored in favor of more immediate political crises. As I write, the main news from Washington is whether the Republicans will threaten to shut the government down unless the Democratic majority in the Senate destroys Obamacare. They have created an artificial crisis and it is taking up everybody's attention. In such conditions of continuous artificial crisis, how can the real long-term crisis of global climate change even be discussed?

Dr. Kloesel left us with a very clear sense that, despite some uncertainties of climate science, there are enough things of which we are absolutely certain that there is no doubt that we must take action.

Our workshop will continue tomorrow morning. I will report on it at that time. Good night.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Live Blog from the Climate Workshop This Weekend

I hope to "live blog" from the Climate Change Workshop this weekend at the University of Oklahoma Biological Station. Sponsored by Oklahomans for Excellence in Science Education (OESE) and the Oklahoma Climatological Survey, this workshop will acquaint high school teachers with the basic facts about climate change and introduce active learning experiences they can use with their students. For many years OESE has held evolution workshops, but we recognized that climate change is just as controversial a topic as evolution, if not more so, and teachers really want some help in approaching this topic. Last year I "live-blogged" from the OESE evolution workshop; see here. Want some straight and clear information about climate change? Check us out starting Friday evening September 20.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Two new videos

Two new videos you might enjoy:

Darwin speculates on the origin of music as a fitness indicator in sexual selection:

Darwin explains the Genesis story of Jacob and the heterozy-goats in terms of genetics:

Don't miss the essay posted below.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Six Things We Know

One of the articles in the August 2 issue of Science that I wrote about earlier (Wheeler, Tim, and Joachim von Braun. “Climate change impacts on global food security.” Science 341: 508-513 (2013)) did end up with a list of six things we know that will happen to global food security as a result of global warming. This is concise and direct enough it could be put on little cards that could be distributed to Congressional representatives who would then ignore them. I wish to quote directly from the Science article here (page 512):

1. Climate change impacts on food security will be worst in countries already suffering high levels of hunger and will worsen over time.

2. The consequences for global undernutrition and malnutrition of doing nothing in response to climate change are potentially large and will increase over time.

3. Food inequalities will increase, from local to global levels, because the degree of climate change and the extent of its effects on people will differ from one part of the world to another, from one community to the next, and between rural and urban areas.

4. People and communities who are vulnerable to the effects of extreme weather now will become more vulnerable in the future and less resilient to climate shocks.

5. There is a commitment to climate change of 20 to 30 years into the future as a result of past emissions of greenhouse gases that necessitates immediate adaptation actions to address global food insecurity over the next two to three decades.

6. Extreme weather events are likely to become more frequent in the future and will increase risks and uncertainties within the global food system.

These nearly certain consequences of global warming are of interest not only to scientists but to everyone (and this should include religious people) who claims to care about what happens to people around the world. Do you care about people starving in Africa? If so, get ready: There will be more Africans starving as a result of carbon emissions to which they contribute very very very little. The full text articles are available only to subscribers, but I suspect the staff of Science will not be too upset if you copy and distribute the above six points (with appropriate attribution) to others.

Friday, September 6, 2013

New YouTube videos

I have just posted two new YouTube videos. On the StanEvolve channel, I posted the third of three interviews of Glen Kuban at the Paluxy River in Texas, where we examine dinosaur trackways. On the Darwinandthebible channel, I posted a video of Charles Darwin explaining not only how the story of Noah and the Ark cannot be literally true but also how a literal interpretation destroys its meaning. Please don't forget to take a look at the two essays below.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Charge, Y'all

I think it was 1977. I remember watching President Jimmy Carter on television giving a speech about how America needed to conserve energy and develop energy-efficient technologies. The main reason, back then, was to lessen our dependence on middle east oil. The first oil embargo had just occurred the previous year. No one thought much back then about the problems associated with domestic production and export of American oil overseas, or global warming. This was still eleven years before James Hansen’s testimony to Al Gore’s committee in the Senate. Carter made a convincing case regarding a crucially important issue. True, back then there wasn’t much we could do—solar energy and generation of methane from cow manure were just in their infancy—and the message most of us took away from Carter’s speech was that we should put on sweaters at home in the winter (as Johnny Cash told us) and not put up Christmas lights.

Jimmy Carter was and is a nice guy, and understands the important issues. What he had trouble doing was stirring us up to take the initiative. One of the networks wanted to have a response right after his message. Today, news channels wish to have Republican extremists say how badly Barack Obama’s proposals will lead us down the path to communist dictatorship. But back in 1977, this network (I forget which) chose to have a mild and good-natured response to Jimmy Carter from cartoonist Pat Oliphant. Oliphant drew a cartoon during the speech and showed it on television right afterward. In the cartoon, Carter was dressed in a Civil War uniform, held up a sword, and said, “Charge, y’all.” The message was that Carter was right but had failed to inspire us to charge against the enemy, which was our waste of energy.

I fear that much of the scientific work on global warming has a similar effect. A recent issue of Science (August 2) had a whole section devoted to climate change. (You can search for issues and articles here.) As I looked through these articles, I got the feeling that they were saying the same things over and over that have been said for years. The article by Noah Diffenbaugh and Chris Field presented results of yet another computer simulation that said global warming is now occurring at the same magnitude that it has at any time during the last 65 million years, but a thousand times faster. This is causing distribution ranges of species to shift by up to a kilometer per year. Almost all land areas are already experiencing more extreme heat waves, droughts, and storms (more frequent and more intense). These are extremely important things. But I have heard them before and they were presented in cool scientific precision. The article by Craig Moritz and Rosa Agudo indicated that many species will become extinct from global climate change, unless they are generalists or unless they find refugia. Once again, a good article but nothing particularly new. The article by Tim Wheeler and Joachim von Braun indicated that climate change could disrupt food production in certain areas, particularly those areas that already have food production vulnerability, where even short-term disruptions could cause massive problems. They concluded that we need to invest in agricultural systems that are resilient to climate change. This sounds like Lester Brown in 1995 to me.

These were great articles, but somehow they seemed to me like the prolonged and painful contemplation of the obvious.

We say the same things over and over, with new data and models, and we say it in dispassionate terms, so that climate change deniers cannot call us alarmists. But consider these two things. First, the climate change deniers call us all alarmists no matter what. They consider Chris Field, not just Bill McKibben, to be an alarmist. Second, the conservative leaders of the House and Senate simply ignore everything we say. I mean this literally. Texas Representative Lamar Smith (guess which party) wants to change the peer review process, fearing that scientific research is straying too far from the conservative agenda. He called his proposal the “High Quality Research Act,” implying that the (to him) dismal quality of American research would be improved if we all did the kind of research that the Heartland Institute does. See Science, 3 May 2013, page 534. Furthermore, Lamar Smith believes that we have no need for Clean Air Act regulations. Democratic lawmakers got hold of a stack of scientific papers that demonstrated the need for such regulations in the interest of public health. Smith simply ignored them. This photo, provided by the Democratic staff of the House of Representatives, appeared in Science on 9 August 2013, page 604. Smith simply acted as if the papers were not there.

            This is not the worst example. The North Carolina state senate voted that the rate of sea level change should be calculated in a linear, not curvilinear, fashion. That is, they were telling the ocean to not rise any faster in the future than it is now. They are delusional.

            So what should we do? We could write more scientific articles. I am about to start work on one myself, about earlier budburst in deciduous trees associated with warmer temperatures. But we can write yet another pile of scientific articles, and conservative lawmakers will once again just pretend that they are not there, and then, like old King Canute, order the sea to not rise (as in this image from James Baldwin’s Fifty Famous Stories Retold).

But scientists already know about global warming, and the opponents will just ignore our work. We already know enough to know what to do. I’m not sure if I’m ready to go out and get myself arrested during a protest like Bill McKibben or, for that matter, like James Hansen (see Science, 3 May 2013, page 540). But I am certainly going to do more than lecture my students about global warming. I have started requiring them to calculate their carbon footprints and compare them with people from other countries. When it gets personal, they might take notice.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

War, Peace, and Human Nature Again

So, what were you all doing this past weekend while the world was waiting to hear whether the U.S. would attack Syria? As for me, I was at the Cherokee National Holiday in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. My family and I got to listen to a very funny Cherokee storyteller, the incomparable Richard Lewis, and take a brief tour of a reconstructed Cherokee village in the style of the eighteenth century, before most of the tribe adopted white American building styles.

And then in the evening we went to the nearby state university to see a performance of a musical based on the life of my 6th-great-grandmother, a Cherokee woman named Nanyehi, also known as Nancy Ward, who is the most powerful woman in the history of Cherokee tribal government. First she distinguished herself as a war hero. She insisted on accompanying her husband to the Battle of Taliwa in 1755, between the Cherokee and Muskogee tribes. When her husband was killed, she took his rifle and killed the man who had killed her husband, then rallied the Cherokees to a decisive victory. She was given a position of power that allowed her supreme authority to decide the fate of captives and of prisoners of war.

And though a war hero, Nanyehi consistently chose to either release captives or to adopt them into the tribe. This brought her into continual conflict with her cousin, the war leader Dragging Canoe. Throughout this musical, Nanyehi’s path of peace and Dragging Canoe’s path of war came into conflict. It is the same conflict that the world has seen throughout history, and that we see today in our struggle to decide what to do about Bashar al-Assad, the dictator of Syria. It also brings important and evolved components of human nature into sharp contrast.

First let me tell you about the musical Nanyehi, directed by free-lance director Nick Sweet, with music by composer Becky Hobbs (see the website). Both have many credits to their names, but this musical must be the pinnacle of their careers. This is without question the best musical I have ever seen, and this includes Broadway performances of Jersey Boys and Phantom and I think it is even better than 1776. Every aspect of this production, from the quality of the performers (whether as singers or acrobats), most of them local, to the structure and dialogue of each scene, to the beauty of the music, is spectacular. The drama is utterly compelling. I have never cared so deeply and shed as many tears for characters in a play or movie as I did for all the characters in this musical, except for the ones who were evil. Perhaps most importantly, this musical is about a person and a story that is not well known outside of the Cherokee tribe, and not known very well even by most Cherokees. Nick Sweet has outdone his 2002 production, Trail of Tears, and this is no small accomplishment. I believe this musical deserves a permanent place in the hall of fame of American creative productions.

It is difficult to pick out just one thing that is most compelling about this musical, but I think I can do so. The main characters are portrayed as complex human beings. Over and over again, Nanyehi’s path of peace and Dragging Canoe’s path of war come into conflict, and in no case is it clear which one is right. Dragging Canoe is absolutely not portrayed as an evil warrior interfering with Nanyehi’s pursuit of holy peace. They both make decisions that end up causing an immense amount of trouble. Some of Dragging Canoe’s warlike decisions resulted in unnecessary bloodshed, but this is also true of some of Nanyehi’s peaceful decisions. She pardoned a white American prisoner, and in return for this act of mercy the white Americans slaughtered a Cherokee city. Who was right, Dragging Canoe or Nanyehi? To me, the climax point was when Nanyehi surveyed her slaughtered fellow Cherokees, and a white American found her and decided to shoot her also. Dragging Canoe shot him before he could kill Nanyehi. Nanyehi decided to spare the wounded white American. I do not know and I suspect that no one will ever know whether this was the right decision. (I don’t even know whether it really happened, though this musical has inspired me to read as much as I can about Nanyehi, and I may someday find out.) Both the instinct of war and the capacity for peace are part of evolved human nature. They never neutralize each other; they are both always present, always next to one another like strands of color in marble. And so it is to this very day. Should we blast the hell out of Bashar al-Assad? Clearly he and his inner circle deserve annihilation. But will the consequences bring even more suffering?

But this much is clear to me. Peace and prosperity are possible only if both parties consider one another to be humans. Nanyehi pointed out, over and over, that for every enemy warrior you kill, you leave a widow and orphans and bereaved parents. Of course, Dragging Canoe knew this, but he considered it more important to avenge attacks than to forgive them; bereavement of survivors is an unfortunate price to be paid. But what happens when an enemy does not consider you to even be a human? There was a clear example of this in the musical. That example was none other than the government of the United States. It was the American army that slaughtered Cherokee villages and used treachery to do so. Nanyehi died in 1822 and did not live to see the Indian Removal Act of 1830 and to see it brutally carried out on the Cherokee beginning in 1835 in the Trail of Tears (which the Muskogee, Chickasaws, and Choctaws also suffered). According to the character in the musical, this would have broken Nanyehi’s heart and perhaps made her give up her faith in the path of peace, had she known of it. But even in the Trail of Tears, there was some decency mixed with the total evil. President Andrew Jackson, whose life the Cherokees had once saved, even defied the U.S. Supreme Court in order to force the Cherokees out of their land. By order of this commander in chief, Cherokees were put into concentration camps before being put on a forced march. I consider President Jackson to be purely evil and his image on our $20 bill, perhaps the image seen most by the rest of the world, is a national shame. But the general who actually carried out the removal, Gen. Winfield Scott, was as merciful as his orders allowed him to be, and he mourned the suffering of the Cherokees. Jackson did not consider Cherokees to be human. Gen. Scott did.

What better thing can be said about a performance, whether a musical, a movie, or a play, than that it grasps our minds and forces us to face the important, even if insoluble, questions about our own evolved human nature? And the best performance does this without making us depressed. The circumstances around the gradual conquest of the Cherokees are enough to make anyone (not just any Cherokee) depressed, but from this depression we are inspired by spirits of indomitable hope, none better than Nanyehi.