January 2017

Much of my news comes from The Daily Climate, whose wonderful subscription service clues me in to what's going on each day. Another great source of stories (and commentaries) comes from my friend Jim Poyser, at Apocadocs.


January, 2017


  • A climate change economist sounds the alarm.: By Mark Buchanan Bloomberg View
    • Some people who study climate change believe that addressing it later would be better than taking drastic measures immediately. Now, though, one of this group's most influential members appears to have changed his mind.
  • Stated Clerk issues letter to Trump on refugees, immigrants:
    • Presbyterians profess a faith in Christ, whose parents were forced to flee with him to Egypt when he was an infant to save him from King Herod. Knowing our Lord was once a refugee, faithful Presbyterians have been writing church policy urging the welcome of refugees and demanding higher annual admissions into the United States since the refugee crisis of World War II. Presbyterians have a mission presence in many refugee-sending countries, including Syria and Lebanon, where we have been present since 1823. Our relationship with people of faith and communities in these countries gives us knowledge of the root causes of the flight of refugees and further cements a commitment to welcome.
    • Presbyterians through decades of policy have demanded humane treatment of people of all nationalities and faiths who find themselves within our borders. We have challenged our government when it neglects to acknowledge the refugee status of those fleeing persecution. We have pushed for due process at the border and we continue to petition for immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented persons.
    • As a Presbyterian I acknowledge my immigrant ancestors and my new immigrant sisters and brothers. I also respect that we came uninvited to a land already occupied by people. This creates a sense of humility about my citizenship that shapes my views on those who seek a place here. I hope you will find this helpful. I especially hope it will inform you on your policies going forward.


  • The leaks coming out of the Trump White House cast the president as a clueless child: Washington Post
    • [ael: remember — he's a clueless child — but a clueless child with the nuclear codes….]
  • How the World Passed a Carbon Threshold and Why It Matters:
    • Last year marked the first time in several million years that atmospheric concentrations of CO2 passed 400 parts per million. By looking at what Earth’s climate was like in previous eras of high CO2 levels, scientists are getting a sobering picture of where we are headed.
  • How 21 kids could keep climate websites from going completely dark: there are now a very special group of 21 young Americans, ages nine to 20, who are throwing a sizable wrench in the Trump administration's plans. Their lawsuit against the federal government and fossil fuel companies seeks to hold them accountable for failing to adequately address human-caused global warming despite widespread knowledge of the risks.
    • On Wednesday, lawyers for the young plaintiffs hit the government and fossil fuel industry with a letter that could make it much harder for the Trump administration to take websites offline without archiving them. The students' lawyers delivered a legal preservation notice to fossil fuel companies such as ExxonMobil, industry trade associations and the federal government. Because the case is extremely expansive in scope — it seeks to prove that the government and energy industry knew about the dangers of burning fossil fuels for decades, yet continued to promote a fossil fuel-based energy system — any destruction or hiding of scientific evidence by the Trump administration could threaten the students' ability to make their case.
    • "The U.S. Department of Justice and Sidley Austin are required by law to preserve all documents, including electronically stored information, that could be relevant to our 21 youth plaintiffs' case against the Trump Administration,” said Julia Olson, executive director of Our Children’s Trust and attorney for the plaintiffs, in a statement. Sidley Austin is the law firm representing the private sector defendants, which also include trade groups for oil and gas companies.
    • “We are concerned with the new administration’s immediate maneuver to remove important climate change information from the public domain and, based on recent media reports, we are concerned about how deep the scrubbing effort will go." "Destroying evidence is illegal and we just put these new U.S. Defendants and the Industry Defendants on notice that they are barred from doing so," Olson said.
  • Wyoming proposal would require utilities to use fossil fuels
    • A group of Wyoming lawmakers is bucking the U.S. trend of supporting renewable energy with a plan to do the opposite: Fine utilities if they provide energy produced by wind or the sun. Blustery Wyoming ranks among the top states for wind-energy potential, but the coal, oil and natural gas industries are the backbone of the state's economy.
  • Here’s One Way Trump’s Team Could Manipulate Government Data: It has plans to recalculate the social cost of carbon, which has been called “the most important number you’ve never heard of.”
    • Scientists do think there needs to be more research, and the National Academy of Sciences recently released a new report offering recommendations for updating the standard. If it’s recalculated using the latest research, the cost of carbon would be even higher.
    • To recalculate this number at a lower rate, Trump-appointed scientists would need to perform some statistical gymnastics, though there are ways to attack certain aspects of the calculation that could significantly lower it. For instance, they could mess with the discount rate or try to limit the geographic scope of the analysis to only account for how climate change will affect America, rather than account for the global cost. Any attempt to stop using the social cost of carbon would be illegal and is sure to face legal action. A reassessment of the cost based on shoddy science would likely face the same. Either way, it’s likely to be a battle.
  • The company that wants to build the controversial Keystone XL oil pipeline says it has submitted a new permit application to the U.S. State Department. National Public Radio.
    • The TransCanada announcement came just two days after President Trump took executive actions to speed the approval process for both the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines. The Keystone XL is an important project for Canada's oil sands companies because it would transport their crude from rural Alberta to Steele City, Neb. From there, existing pipes would move it to the Gulf Coast where crude can fetch higher prices, either from local refineries or on the world market.
  • Reports on climate change have disappeared from the State Department website: Multiple climate-related reports have disappeared from the State Department’s website within the past few days. It’s the latest news in a week marked by reports of increasing oversight of federal agencies, including their communication around scientific issues.
    • Archived versions of the State Department’s website as it appeared under the Obama administration indicate that links to climate reports no longer appear on the Web pages for both the Bureau of Oceans and International Environmental and Scientific Affairs and the Office of Global Change. Links to pages on other environmental issues, such as marine conservation, remain intact.
  • Irish lawmakers vote to divest from fossil fuels: Ireland could become the first country in the world to fully divest its sovereign wealth fund from fossil fuels, after a parliamentary vote on Thursday. Lawmakers split 90 to 53 in favour of ditching coal, oil and gas holdings from the €8 billion (US$9bn) Ireland Strategic Investment Fund. The bill, brought by independent representative Thomas Pringle, is expected to pass into law in the next few months after consideration by the finance committee. “National governments have an essential role to play in backing up their Paris pledges by ensuring public funds are well placed to support the clean energy transition, and protected from the inevitable decline of the fossil fuel industry,” said Pringle.
  • Trump Owns Stake In Hotly Disputed $3.8 Billion Oil Pipeline, Conflict Of Interest Looms:
    • [Update: A spokeswoman for Donald Trump says Trump sold off his stake in Energy Transfer Partners, the company building the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Trump team would not say whether he had sold his stake in Phillips 66, which holds a quarter share of the pipeline.]
  • Edmund Burke has some thoughts we should keep in mind, given Trump:
    • All men that are ruined, are ruined on the side of their natural propensities.
    • Falsehood and delusion are allowed in no case whatever: But, as in the exercise of all the virtues, there is an economy of truth. It is a sort of temperance, by which a man speaks truth with measure that he may speak it the longer.
    • Manners are of more importance than laws. The law can touch us here and there, now and then. Manners are what vex or soothe, corrupt or purify, exalt or debase, barbarize or refine us, by a constant, steady, uniform, insensible operation like that of the air we breathe in.
    • Whenever a separation is made between liberty and justice, neither, in my opinion, is safe.
    • The people never give up their liberties but under some delusion.
    • People crushed by law, have no hopes but from power. If laws are their enemies, they will be enemies to laws; and those who have much to hope and nothing to lose, will always be dangerous.
    • I take toleration to be a part of religion. I do not know which I would sacrifice; I would keep them both: it is not necessary that I should sacrifice either.
    • There is, however, a limit at which forbearance ceases to be a virtue.
    • [ael: I was looking for this one:] All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. [but found that it's disputed.] Good discussion of alternative sources, however.
  • Dan Rather sounds the alarm: 'Now is a time when none of us can afford to remain seated or silent': We must all stand up to be counted. History will demand to know which side were you on. This is not a question of politics or party or even policy. This is a question about the very fundamentals of our beautiful experiment in a pluralistic democracy ruled by law.


  • Thanks to Trump, the Doomsday Clock Advances Toward Midnight:
    • Our organization, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, is marking the 70th anniversary of its Doomsday Clock on Thursday by moving it 30 seconds closer to midnight. In 2016, the global security landscape darkened as the international community failed to come to grips with humanity’s most pressing threats: nuclear weapons and climate change. Making matters worse, the United States now has a president who has promised to impede progress on both of those fronts. Never before has the Bulletin decided to advance the clock largely because of the statements of a single person. But when that person is the new president of the United States, his words matter.
    • But Mr. Trump’s statements and actions have been unsettling. He has made ill-considered comments about expanding and even deploying the American nuclear arsenal. He has expressed disbelief in the scientific consensus on global warming. He has shown a troubling propensity to discount or reject expert advice related to international security. And his nominees to head the Energy Department, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Office of Management and the Budget have disputed or questioned climate change.
  • Trump mandates EPA studies, data undergo review by political staff before release:
    • The communications director for President Donald Trump's transition team at EPA, Doug Ericksen, said Wednesday the review extends to all existing content on the federal agency's website, including details of scientific evidence showing that the Earth's climate is warming and man-made carbon emissions are to blame.
    • William K. Reilly, who was EPA administrator under Republican President George H.W. Bush, said what seems to be happening with science at the agency is "going down a very dark road." The EPA's 14-page scientific integrity document, enacted during the Obama administration, describes how scientific studies were to be conducted and reviewed in the agency. It said scientific studies should eventually be communicated to the public, the media and Congress "uncompromised by political or other interference."
    • For example, he said EPA employees aren't clear whether they can direct contractors who handle all of California's Superfund sites. Some EPA employees have taken to their own social media accounts to say what's happening inside the agency, despite fears of retaliation. "There's a strong sense of resistance," Blumenfeld said.
  • Trump officials suspend plan to delete EPA climate web pages: "We've been told to stand down," an EPA employee told E&E News today. That new directive comes after staff were told yesterday to remove the agency's climate change page from its website, worrying climate change activists and sending data specialists scrambling to download files.
    • The backlash that erupted after reports surfaced last night that the climate page would be eliminated may have prompted administration officials to change course. News of the plans was first reported last night by Reuters. EPA's press office did not respond to requests for comment today.
    • The controversy over the climate change page comes after EPA was directed to halt its social media and scale back communications with the press. The Trump administration removed the White House climate change website on its first day in office. EPA career staffers, former agency employees and environmentalists view the changes as a troubling sign of how the new administration plans to deal with climate change policies and the agency's workforce.
    • "Scientific integrity is incredibly important, and keeping that integrity ensures that decisions are made in the right way," she said. "Muzzling science, detracting from education and transparency and free and open ideas sharing is a very disturbing turn in the way our democracy operates."
  • Climate Change March to Descend on Washington in April: The next People's Climate March is being organized to protest President Trump's agenda of attacking climate action and promoting fossil fuel development.
    • Climate activist Bill McKibben, the co-founder of 350.org, wrote in a story in Rolling Stone magazine that the purpose of the march was "to show the election didn't cancel physics."
    • "Politicians need to be reminded, even as they do the bidding of the industry, that the rest of us are watching," McKibben wrote, noting that the march will take place on the 100th day of the Trump administration. "His early surge can't be avoided, but it can be slowed."
  • Are scientists going to march on Washington? One participant in the exchange, University of Texas Health Science Center postdoctoral fellow Jonathan Berman, took the conversation to heart. In short order, the march had a Facebook page (whose membership swelled from 200 people on Tuesday night to more than 300,000 by Wednesday evening), a Twitter handle, a website, two co-chairs, Berman and science writer and public health researcher Caroline Weinberg, and a Google form through which interested researchers could sign up to help.


  • Trump administration tells EPA to cut climate page from website: sources: The employees were notified by EPA officials on Tuesday that the administration had instructed EPA's communications team to remove the website's climate change page, which contains links to scientific global warming research, as well as detailed data on emissions. The page could go down as early as Wednesday, the sources said. "If the website goes dark, years of work we have done on climate change will disappear," one of the EPA staffers told Reuters, who added some employees were scrambling to save some of the information housed on the website, or convince the Trump administration to preserve parts of it.
  • Trump bans agencies from 'providing updates on social media or to reporters.': The Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture have been placed under de facto gag orders by the Trump administration, according to documents obtained by news organizations.


  • One of the last Obama-era climate reports had a troubling update about the rising seas: A new report, released by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on the last day of Barack Obama’s presidency, presents a series of updated estimates for future sea-level rise, both in the United States and worldwide. It suggests that, under extreme future climate change, global sea levels could rise by more than eight feet by the end of the century — one of the highest estimates yet to be presented in a federal report.
  • Donald Trump plans to 'reform' the way environmental agency uses science, report claims:
    • The new claim comes just days after the first thing on the new White House was an energy policy that called for the EPA to focus primarily on clean air and water, and not on its climate change activity. That same document didn't mention global warming at all – and neither does any other post on the administration's website.
    • "Unless major reforms of the agency's use of science and economics are achieved, EPA will be able to return to its bad old ways as soon as an establishment administration takes office," the document reads, according to the website Axios. The document was written by Myrion Ebell, the site claimed, who has aggressively opposed climate change activists and has been central in the Trump transition team.
  • Donald Trump promises that he will 'unlock the mysteries of space' as President: President Trump is expected to shift Nasa away from doing any of its work in tracking and responding to climate change and global warming – and instead focus on heading to deep space
  • CDC quietly cancels long-planned climate summit: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quietly and abruptly canceled a major climate change summit scheduled for next month shortly after Donald Trump was elected president, according to emails sent to those scheduled to speak. ClimateWire.
  • Organisms created with synthetic DNA pave way for entirely new life forms: Floyd Romesberg and his team at the Scripps Research Institute in California expanded the genetic code from four letters to six by adding two new molecules they call X and Y and adding them to the bugs’ genetic makeup. The microbes are modified to absorb the new genetic material which the scientists make separately and then feed to the cells.
  • EPA Freezes Grants, Tells Employees Not To Talk About It, Sources Say: It’s unclear whether the freeze is temporary or indefinite.
    • EPA staff has been instructed to freeze all its grants ― an extensive program that includes funding for research, redevelopment of former industrial sites, air quality monitoring and education, among other things ― and told not to discuss this order with anyone outside the agency, according to a Hill source with knowledge of the situation.
  • We broke the Panama Papers story. Here's how to investigate Donald Trump: Donald Trump is now president. This challenges many of us, not least members of the press. Countless reporters are still shaken and stunned by how he singled out a CNN reporter, one of the most respected news outlets in the world, to attack and humiliate him during his first press conference since winning the elections. Worryingly, none of his fellow journalists in the room stood up for him at the time.
    • The Panama Papers has showed that a formerly unthinkable project of collaboration can work. When we shared the data of the papers with a team of 400 reporters worldwide, we brought together a vast number of investigative reporters who typically compete which each other. The main reason why our newspaper, the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, shared the story with competitors was simply that it was too big and too important to do alone.
  • Political Suppression of Science: Lessons from Canada: Canadian scientists are lending support to worried American peers.
    • In Toronto, Canadian researchers are archiving US climate data, and University of Pennsylvania collective DataRescue is organizing events across the United States that harness volunteers to move climate and environmental data to private and international servers. To many, this activity may seem like an overreaction. But for some Canadian scientists, firsthand experience with government suppression of science makes these threats all too real. That the White House website, taken over by the Trump administration on Friday, now makes no mention of climate change, further supports these worries.
    • During the 10-year term of Canadian Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, some government scientists were unable to publish their research or talk to the public without minders; research was defunded or blocked; and invaluable data archives dating back a century were destroyed in acts dubbed “libricide.” Reports were literally tossed into dumpsters.
    • So now, in the United States, scientists are learning from the Canadian experience—and also their own during the George W. Bush years, which saw censorship, distortion, and manipulation of science on unprecedented levels, says Michael Halpern, deputy director of the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union of Concerned Scientists. Those dark times pushed former president Barack Obama to take steps to strengthen protections for scientific integrity—steps Halpern says he hopes will hold. Earlier this month, for instance, the US Department of Energy (DOE) published its revised scientific integrity policy, which states that “all scientists, engineers, or others supported by DOE are free and encouraged to share their scientific findings and views.”
    • In Canada, scientists are now working more freely, partly because the PIPSC successfully bargained with the new Canadian government, led by Liberal Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, to include in federal scientists’ contracts their right to speak freely about their research. And now those scientists are offering solidarity to their American colleagues, who are facing an uncertain future during the new Trump administration. MacDonald says: “Much like they supported us during our battle with the Harper government, we’ll be standing with them.”
  • Global warming never 'paused' and could soon accelerate, warns Nasa scientist: Dr Gavin Schmidt, director of Nasa’s Goddard Institute of Space Studies, describes suggestions that climate change had slowed down or stopped as ‘delusional’ and ‘bunk’
    • The idea that global warming “paused” has been comprehensively refuted by the record warm temperatures over the last three years – and the rate of increase could soon start to accelerate, a leading Nasa scientist has warned. Dr Gavin Schmidt, director of Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said some people had been “confused” by temperatures that were below the average rate of increase, mistaking what was simply a blip as the sign of a long-term trend.
  • Government 'tried to bury' its own alarming report on climate change: Exclusive: The five-yearly assessment of what will happen to the UK as the world warms says one of an array of potential threats is the ‘significant risk’ to supplies of food
    • It said “urgent action” should be taken to address overheating in homes, public buildings and cities generally, and called for further research into the effect on workers’ productivity. The Government also recognised that climate change “will present significant risks to the availability and supply of food in the UK”, the report said, partly because of extreme weather in some of the world’s main food-growing regions.


  • Climate change will hurt crops more than it helps them, study suggests: Previous studies have suggested a “nonlinear behavior of U.S. [crop] yields,” said Bernhard Schauberger, a PhD student and researcher at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research. One study suggested that in temperatures above 86 degrees, crops suddenly experience strong declines, he noted.
  • Toyota, Shell Among Giants Betting $10.7 Billion on Hydrogen: Toyota Motor Corp. and four of its biggest car-making peers are joining oil and gas giants including Royal Dutch Shell Plc and Total SA with plans to invest a combined 10 billion euros ($10.7 billion) in hydrogen-related products within five years.
    • In all, 13 energy, transport and industrial companies are forming a hydrogen council to consult with policy makers and highlight its benefits to the public as the world seeks to switch from dirtier energy sources, according to a joint statement issued from Davos, Switzerland. The wager demonstrates that batteries aren’t the only way to reduce pollution from cars, homes and utilities that are contributing to climate change.
  • Unrelenting Global Warming Sends Sea Ice to Record Low, As Scientists Feel Heat, Too: Unrelenting warmth during what should be the iciest time of year sent global sea ice extent to a record low last month, the National Snow and Ice Data Center said on Friday, with both polar ice caps at a record-low extent every single day of the month. Compared to the average from 1981 to 2010, the area of ice missing in the Arctic was about the size of Texas and Arizona combined; in the Antarctic, it was bigger than Alaska, according to the NSIDC.
    • After Trump's election, a senior NASA official expressed concern in an internal email that the Earth Sciences division would have its funding cut, and Trump adviser Bob Walker, a former House Science Committee chair, has said he believed NASA should end its climate monitoring programs, which he calls "politically correct environmental monitoring." Christopher Shank, the leader of Trump's NASA transition team, is policy director for the House Science Committee, which has doggedly questioned the climate work of NOAA and NASA scientists.
  • Temperatures Are Soaring at the North Pole . . . Again: For the second year in a row, the Arctic is facing a late December heat wave (at least by Arctic winter standards). Temperatures are forecast to soar about 50°F above normal, which would bring them near the freezing point at the North Pole.


  • Review process for Energy East pipeline faces legal challenge: Transition Initiative Kenora's motion to be filed to the National Energy Board quasi-judicial body comes one day after the board formally assigned three replacement members for Energy East's review. The review was thrown into chaos last year after revelations that panel members met privately with a company consultant, prompting the entire panel to step down in September.
  • Climate Action, Clean Energy Key to U.S. Prosperity, Business Leaders Urge Trump: More than 600 U.S. companies and investors have signed an open letter asking President-elect Donald Trump and other political leaders to support policies and investments in a low-carbon future. They also urged Trump to keep America in the Paris climate agreement.
    • http://www.lowcarbonusa.org/
    • The letter was orchestrated by Ceres, the World Wildlife Fund and six other sustainability and environmental groups. It has now been signed by more than 530 companies, including Allianz, Johnson & Johnson and SolarCity. Collectively, these businesses have nearly $1.15 trillion in annual revenue, are located across 44 states and employ about 1.8 million people. Many have taken steps to reduce their emissions and invest in clean energy; some participants, such as Adobe and Ikea, have even committed to running 100 percent on renewable energy.


  • New analysis: global sea ice suffered major losses in 2016:
    The relationship between September sea ice extent (1953 to 2015) and cumulative CO2 emissions since 1850. Grey diamonds represent individual satellite data values; circles are pre-satellite era values; the solid red line shows the 30-year running average. The dotted red line indicates a linear relationship of 3 square meters per metric ton of CO2. (Source: D. Notz, Max Planck Institute for Meteorology via NSIDC)
  • What climate skeptics taught me about global warming:
    • Provoked by their questions, I began to dig. And I unearthed a notion that is rarely mentioned in the global warming debate: Science actually has a method for establishing that one thing causes another. Scientists don’t have to vote on the issue — the 97% consensus of climate scientists who believe that humans cause warming is telling, but only one part of a broader process. And for those who want to honestly weigh their skepticism in context of the evidence, there is a way.
    • And while Hill and Doll and the American Cancer Society were in agreement by 1954, even in the late 1950s high level critics remained, including the esteemed statistician Ronald Fisher, who pronounced himself “extremely skeptical of the claim that decisive evidence has been obtained.” Fisher also smoked, preached libertarian political views, and was an advisor to the Tobacco Manufacturers Standing Committee. He was not happy about the idea that scientists should inject “propaganda” onto an unsuspecting public. Especially because he believed the science was wrong. To illustrate Hill and Doll’s folly, Fisher tore apart their data, highlighting discrepancies between cancer rates in cigarette, cigar, and pipe smokers. He described how much of the increase in cancers could be ascribed to improved methods of detection. And he inaugurated the study of spurious correlations, showing that Doll and Hill’s methods would directly tie an increase in the import of apples to an increase in the divorce rate.
    • In 1965, [Hill] formally proposed a solution. Hill recognized that there are more ways to support causation that finding that two variables track. In fact, Hill identified nine separate strands of ‘proof’, each of which makes an independent case for or against causation. The list of nine aspects — and I’ll go into details below — are now called Hill’s Criteria.

What went on: 2016

What went on: 2015

What went on: 2014

RClimate Examples

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