When an august and generally circumspect scientific society pulls together a panel of 13 esteemed scholars for a consensus report, one does not tend to expect this sort of punchy, plain-as-nails writing:
Against this backdrop of natural variation, however, something different is happening. Greenhouse gases have supercharged the climate just as steroids supercharged hitting in Major League Baseball. Over the course of a baseball season in the steroid era, we witnessed more and longer homers, even though we cannot attribute any specific homer to steroids.
That is just about as good as any explanation of specifics versus statistics I have ever read. Maybe the report writers cribbed it from somewhere? Dunno. [Update – Not original. See comments.] But it makes clear why it is inane to ask whether this storm or that drought or those icebergs are due to global warming. It is not as though other current weather events are on some regular, separate schedule that resumes after the global warming-labeled thing blows by. They all are, none are, who cares? It is not single events but statistics on different runs of events that we need to watch. The steroids simile makes the message an easy swallow.
This week the American Association for the Advancement of Science kicked off its "What We Know" campaign to highlight the high certainty and high worry felt among climate experts. The 20-page report, plus footnotes, has no surprises beyond that the AAAS decided to make such a blunt, well-publicized rebuke of the skeptic soldiers against so-called global warming alarmism. Many of us could have written its gist. Of course, AAAS's report says that "As scientists, it is not our role to tell people what they should do." Fat chance that this report will be taken as anything but transparent advice. And it will be a wonder if it changes any time soon the US's political paralysis when it comes doing anything drastic about it such as spending money or government telling private businesses what's what. But it might help.
I am a slave to a format I invented, so the links to the report itself and other material are down below in Grist. By the way, the report's title, What We Know, appears apt. There are no assertions here that tornadoes or hurricanes or storm surges are yet changing their pace due to global warming. What is settled science are such things are shrinking glaciers, summer Arctic sea ice, drought extent, number of hot days compared to cold days, etc. Also in here is a fine discussion of why the low-probability ends of climate futurology, such as the extremes of sea levels rise that might happen but probably won't, are still real threats. It's something like just because your house probably will never burn is no reason not to insure it, it says here.
Before a roundup on news coverage, just one note about the rather punchy, direct style in many of report's passages. They are professional science writing if not journalism. It sounds to be largely one voice. It was doubtful on first read that the panel members wrote it up in separate pieces and then knitted them together more or less as is, edited only for grammar and such IPCC style. Curious about the verbiage, I put the question of final composition to AAAS public affairs chief Ginger Pinholster. She answered:
Hi, Charlie, it really was a group effort. Hunter Cutting was the main science writer on the project. Rob Gould of Brodeur Partners was the architect of the “3Rs” framework. Of the scientific advisory panelists, James McCarthy played a real leadership role – truly Herculean, IMO – but most of the committee members actually made many important contributions.
Hmm. McCarthy, a well-known Harvard professor, is co-chair of the panel. Other names somewhat known to the public and certainly to many tracker readers include Mario Molina, Richard Alley, and Kerry Emanuel. The whole panel list is at the site in Grist below. The blue chip academicians get due credit for the underlying facts and themes but it is satisfying to learn that some non-academics got in on the writing of this report. Their names are not, far as I can see, in the report itself so thank you Ginger for the reply. Rob Gould is managing director of a big consulting group in DC and is an expert on marketing (the 3Rs are the report's "Reality, Risks, and Response" topic list). Hunter Cutting, although I don't recall meeting him, lives in San Francisco and is a real science writer even if it's not quite journalism. Mostly he too is a consultant. He blogs a lot for The Huffington Post. Here is a list of his Huffblogs and a short bio. One in particular is a further example that he writes smoothly and that he takes climate change seriously is this from a few months back: The No-Spin Zone on Climate Change.
- The Guardian – Suzanne Goldenberg: Climate change is putting world at risk of irreversible changes, scientists warn/ AAAS makes rare policy intervention urging US to act swiftly to reduce carbon emissions and lower risks of climate catastrophe ; Fine job, and weaves in mention that the IPCC is to weigh in next week with one of its turgid reports, this on how a changing climate is altering rainfall, heat waves, seal level, fisheries, farming…
- NY Times – Justin Gillis: Scientists Sound Alarm on Climate ; Vignette lede on co-chair, and Nobelist, Mario Molina's career arc that went from obscure atmospheric physics studies to leading this committee's clarion call warning (oh no, wait, but he's not telling people what to do…).
- E&E Publishing – Stephanie Paige Ogburn: Prestigious science society seeks to move dialogue on climate change by releasing 'What We Know' report ; Good to see this out from behind the subscriber pay wall. One source tells Ogburn that the brevity of this report gives it a leg up on IPCC's oceans of data, as they are "hard for the public and policymakers to digest."
- Time Magazine – Bryan Walsh: Scientists Sound the Alarm on Global Warming, But Americans Sleep In…; the sleepy Americans crack arises from a Gallup Poll that Walsh (and the report) cite as evidence how hard some people are to rouse into rational recognition of risks.
- Live Science – Laura Poppick: Climate Change Risks Are Real, Warn Economists and Scientists ; Reported well out of the press briefing, yet it includes this heartfelt yet baffling quote, "From my perspective, you can't say this message enough times and in enough different ways before hoping to get some effect," from AAAS CEO Alan Leshner. Go ahead, you parse it. We know what he meant. But, uh….????
- Inter-Press Service – Jim Lobe: US Scientists Launch Wake-Up Campaign on Climate Change ; Not scintillating, but a diligent gathering of background and example from or pertinent to the report.
- The Weather Channel – Terrell Johnson: Scientists: Let's Change How We Talk About Climate Change ; Love the lede, mainly because it is cut from the same cloth as the hed I put on this post: After years of publishing scientific reports filled with impenetrable jargon and numbering in the thousands of pages – like those released every few years by the IPCC – one group of American scientists have said enough is enough." Exasperation and frustration, that's the angle.
- Salon – Lindsay Abrams: This is the scientific consensus on climate change ; Nicely done, even if it relies largely on credited excerpts rounded up from other agencies.
- Discover Magazine – Tom Yulsman: "What We Know" Climate Report From Leading Science Organization Seeks to Persuade Citizens. #FAIL. I suppose Yulsman expects another pratfall from regular science in the face of the low priority public opinion gives to climate change response. Yulsman does have a fine point – the report, however pithy the prose, had no art budget. No pictures. Some videos, but "not one visualization to help us understand what's happening to our world, not a single photograph to dramatize the impact of climate change on people, not even one little graphic to show a trend in, oh, I don't know, temperature maybe."
And now for something different:
- CATO Institute (blog) Patrick Michaels: AAAS's Guide to Climate Alarmism ; The report says, citing analysis of many studies publicized before, that 97 percent of scientists (in refereed journals, by experts etc.) agree that greenhouse gases are raising global temperatures. Michaels is among scientists in the other 3 percent. Which makes him either like Galileo, or like Lysenko, take your pick.
- Watts Up With That? – Anthony Watts: To AAAS: What we know? Earth hasn't warmed significantly in over a decade, climate models failed to predict this ; sigh…Actually, Watts does not take much time on the report. He puts a plot of the recent. flatter temperature trend in the lower atmosphere above a copy of the AAAS press release. As though the contrast with his reality and AAAS's report will make his readers laugh.