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Politics, Events, and the Weather: A Collection

By: Dr. Ricky Rood, 5:05 AM GMT on September 29, 2011

Politics, Events, and the Weather: A Collection

I have ended the series on Sustainability and Climate Change – for now (Sustainability 1, Sustainability 2, Sustainability 3, Sustainability 4). The responses to the series were interesting, and I owe a few notes to people who have written to me.

For some time I have been planning to collect together a summary of (not so) recent events. There are a lot of places that you can find information on weather and climate events, so that will not be my primary focus. My focus will be on some of those other things that are important to climate and climate change. Still, though, it is hard to start without some attention to the weather and climate.

Back in June Jeff Master’s had a blog about 2010-2011 being the host of more extreme weather than any year since 1816. Last week I was at a meeting talking about the Billion Dollar Events and the extreme summer of 2011 (see, Chris Burt, Weather.com, Earth and Sky). An extreme and persisting event is the heat and drought, largely associated with Texas and Oklahoma, but spread throughout the southern parts of the U.S. Here is a graphic from NCDC that is gathering a lot of attention right now.

Figure 1: Each dot represents a day where temperatures met or exceeded 100 degrees F.

The number of days in North Central Texas and the South West corner of Oklahoma where the high has been over 100 degrees F exceeds 70. This comes with extended droughts. The drought stands in contrast to the record floods to the north and east of Texas, in both the Missouri and Mississippi Valleys – and the Ohio.

In this potpourri of a blog, I want to now mention the prototype web site climate.gov. This is a rapidly growing NOAA web site that includes Climate Watch magazine. Here is an article on the summer 2011. climate.gov improves the accessibility to many weather and climatic products that are part of NOAA’s portfolio. It also features original summary articles and access to data and educational material.

So I want to take off in two directions from here. The first is on the politicization of climate. Representative Ralph Hall announced that the Science, Space, and Technology Committee will start an investigation into NOAA and whether or not NOAA is forming an “unauthorized” climate service. This is consistent with: 1) A statement from the American Association for the Advancement of Science that the political attack on climate researchers is, effectively, impeding the scientific process and stalling the advancement of science. (Which the readers of my blogs will know is the goal of the political arguments, hence, a successful strategy.) And 2) Forms a thread back to this entry in 2007, and, well, much longer. (Oreskes video: Merchants of Doubt) This has evolved to the point that Scott Mandia has started a Climate Science Legal Defense Fund to which you are welcome to contribute.

Figure 2: Climate Science Legal Defense Fund

The other direction that I wanted to go was in the spirit of climate “prediction.” A La Nina pattern has resumed in the eastern tropical Pacific; the water is colder than normal. For those who are thinking about climate predictions and the use of climate models in planning, the persistent cold eastern tropical Pacific offers opportunity. Experience suggests that the drought in the southern half of the U.S. will persist, and the risk for floods in the Missouri Valley will be higher than normal. Since we are highly sensitized to the events of summer 2011, and seemingly disinclined to paying for disasters, interest should be high in how to use this information to develop resilience and reduce risk - and cost.

Back to the political thread: Over the years I have written about the role of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the U.S. approach to climate change. The recap is that the Supreme Court affirmed that the EPA could regulate carbon dioxide as a pollutant. At one point the Obama Administration was inclined to have the EPA to enforce this notion. There was bipartisan opposition, strongly related to whether or not a state or district had jobs related to fossil fuels. In the absence of policy, regulation is often used as a environmental management tool, and in general, this is not desired by anyone. Throughout 2011 there has been push and pull on the EPA. There was a move led by Senators Mitch McConnell and James Inhoff to stop the EPA from enforcing carbon dioxide regulation, and repealing “a 2009 finding by federal scientists that climate change caused by greenhouse gases endangers human health …”. Though this particular effort failed, “Resistance from Democrats is what caused legislation in Congress to collapse during the first two years of the Obama administration even though the president’s party controlled both the House and Senate at the time.” In a complex set of legal actions the Supreme Court ruled against a set of states who were trying to use federal law to curb greenhouse emissions from electrical utilities. As I understand this issue the Obama Administration sided with the utilities against the state efforts at regulation. The net result of these political machinations is that there is one delay after another in the development of EPA rules, and the focus on the EPA as THE point of regulation.

The point I want to make here is that the persistent political resistance achieves the goal of prohibiting the U.S. from developing a unified approach to climate change. Especially with the economic growth remaining stagnant, there is little political motivation in either party to address climate change. There is not foreseeable development of national policy, and the political process is targeted on delaying or destroying any regulation-based approach. There is resistance to funding federal support to promote alternative energy, with the argument that market forces don’t support the need. Economy trumps climate change. And doesn’t this short-focused, tribal politics, ultimately, hurt our economy and competitiveness?

In response to this situation, no political party takes ownership of the climate-change problem. Organizations such as 350.org are holding the political mantle to take action on climate change, with efforts like last weekend’s Moving Planet.

That’s it for now. There is more. Perhaps it is all best summed up by Gary Trudeau in Doonesbury

Figure 3: Doonesbury, September 25, 2011. From Doonesbury.com


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The views of the author are his/her own and do not necessarily represent the position of The Weather Company or its parent, IBM.