Posts Tagged Climate Change


Way back in 1977, Laura Shaw, a 12 year-old, won her class science fair, in Cranford, N. J, with an experiment about the so-called “greenhouse effect”.  She filled two identical vessels with water and a thermometer. Then, Ms. Shaw covered one with plastic wrap, and turned a lamp on them.

After a period of time, the vessel with the plastic wrap registered a higher temperature than the uncovered one.  She surmised that the plastic wrap created the same effect as carbon dioxide, which traps reflected heat from the Sun, thus warming the Earth.

You or I might have thought that our children were young geniuses to have found that relationship, between a plastic cover and global warming; however, Ms. Shaw had some expert assistance.  As it turns out, her father is Henry Shaw, and at that time, he was one of the Exxon scientists who were specifically researching the effects of global warming—more specifically, that which was caused by carbon dioxide, created by man-made emissions.

Exxon (now ExxonMobil) was aware of climate change as early as 1977, eleven years before the problem became known by the general public.  In fact, besides formulating various climate models, the oil company also outfitted a tanker to study how much CO2 was absorbed by the oceans.  And, in July of 1977, Exxon’s senior scientist, James Black, delivered a sobering message on the topic.

Mr. Black advised Exxon’s executive management committee that: “… there is general scientific agreement that the most likely manner in which mankind is influencing the global climate is through carbon dioxide release from the burning of fossil fuels.”  One year later, he warned the same group that there was general scientific agreement that the “…doubling of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere would influence global warming by two or three degrees.”  Black than suggested—now in 1978, mind you—that mankind had a five to ten year window in which to make hard decisions, since energy strategies might become critical.  Exxon needed to act!

Rather than make the hard decisions—developing cleaner-burning fuels, teaming with the coal industry to follow suit, and considering renewable energy–Exxon, Chevron, Mobil, Shell, BP, and Peabody Coal, just stuck their collective heads in the sand.  They formed a the American Petroleum Institute, a non-profit organization to manage the disinformation of declaring that “Climate Change is a Hoax”.  In fact, they hired the same public relations firm that Big Tobacco had hired to deny tobacco’s link to lung cancer, some years before.

To use the old cliche about Nero fiddling while Rome burned would be a very serious understatement.  Considering that five of those energy companies were in the Standard and Poor’s 500, money was of little consequence, especially when it comes to fighting for the Industry’s very survival.

Energy lobbyists convinced Washington not to sign the Kyoto Protocol, from the U. N. Framework Convention on Climate Change (as of 1990 emission levels).  As one of world’s two biggest polluters, along with China, it is imperative that the U. S. ratify the Protocol, set meaningful CO2 reduction goals—and stick to them!  Will there be more success this week—now 25 years later?

Currently, both Houses of the U. S. Congress, have appointed loyal climate change deniers, from oil-dependent states, to head the various committees that are supposed to oversee science and the environment:

  • Senator James M. Imhofe (R-OK) is Chairman of the House Committee on the Environment.  Last February, Senator Inhofe brought a snowball into the Senate Chamber under the false assumption that that proved that “Climate Change is a Hoax!”  (Remember the API Mission Statement?)  On the contrary, however, the snowball merely demonstrated the opposite, as described in a prior blog post:
  • Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX), and also a GOP candidate for President, heads the Sub-Committee on Space, Science and Competition.  Cruz’ sub-committee delayed the updated NASA satellites, which provide vital weather information worldwide.  Smart move, huh?
  • And, Congressman Lamar S. Smith (R-TX) is Chairman of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.  When faced with broad testimony by earth scientists that man is definitely accelerating global warming, Smith began investigating the scientists, and thus taking them away from their important research.  Attacking the messengers, in other words.

Oddly enough, when those who deny Climate Change wish to provide their own “expert” scientific testimony, they have turned to Wei-Hock Soon.  Although Dr. Soon is a respected scientist, he is currently employed by the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.  Over the past decade, Dr. Soon’s research and his funding ($1.2 million) have come largely from fossil fuel interests.  Some of that funding has allegedly been linked to Southern Company (a large utility) and the Charles G. Koch Charitable Foundation.  (Mr. Koch is a co-owner of Koch Industries, a very large privately-owned energy company.)

Aside from all of the claims and counter-claims, on both sides of the Climate Change issue, there is basic evidence all around us:  melting glaciers; rising tides; wildfires and droughts worldwide; erratic weather patterns; etc.  And the idea that Big Energy interests would seek “expert” opinion from an astrophysicist, on matters pertaining to earth sciences, is simply ludicrous.  So, if the probable cause behind climate change was so obvious to 12 year-old Laura Shaw, way back in 1977, why can’t many in the U. S. Congress, Big Energy and other climate change deniers still realize that today?

NOTE:  For readers who wish more detailed information on Exxon, its Energy Industry co-conspirators and Climate Change, the attached report, from the Union of Concerned Scientists, should prove quite informative:




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Dr. Naomi Oreskes is a Professor of the History of Science and an Affiliated Professor of Earth and Planetary Sciences at Harvard University.  She had written an essay ten years ago, in Science Magazine, titled:  ”The Scientific Consensus of Climate Change”, in which she asserted that there is a consensus among scientists that human activity has caused Global Warming.

The mere inclusion of the word “consensus” riled many on the “Right” who have always claimed that the Science of Climate Change has not been settled.  If that claim sounds familiar, it has been used by other efforts in the past to fight any sort of environmental regulation.  The various industries that were fighting the idea of a scientific consensus, have poured a lot of money into lobbying Congress to block Regulation, and misrepresenting the facts.

When Dr. Oreskes was researching a book she was writing on Oceanography, she did a search of 938 peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals for the prior ten years, searching for how many disagreed with her finding, with regard to Climate Change over the past fifty years.  There were exactly:  Zero.  That also matches the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s report, titled:  “Climate change threatens irreversible and dangerous impacts, but options exist to limit its effects”.

Various industries, such as Auto, Chemical, Energy, Real Estate Development, etc. have been fighting the conclusion that Climate Change is man-made for years.  Even Christine Todd Whitman (R-NJ), when she was Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, which overseas the Environment, after a review of Climate Change reports, said that the Science was still unsettled.  That’s when Dr. Oreskes realized the importance of the issue:  that it was more of a question of Economics than Science. That’s when the idea for a Si-Fi book came to mind.

Recently, Naomi Oreskes, along with Mr. Erik Conway, Science Historian at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology, co-authored a book:  “The Collapse of Western Civilization: A View From the Future.”  In it, Oreskes and Conway discuss Global Climate Change from the point of view of the Narrator in the year 2,393 who concludes that, in the 21st century, the forces of climate denial prevailed.  So, the two apparently consider that to be 300 years after the Planet would have reached the point-of-no-return.

As Dr. Oreskes notes in the linked interview from the NY Times, the future perspective provides a certain poetic license, which allows them to have the leeway to suggest what the future might hold for our descendants:

Generally, history is written from a backward perspective; however, by writing it as Science Fiction. Oreskes and Conway can avoid the political aspects of those who disregard the Science–and its dire consequences–in order to focus on Profits.  But, when you think about it, the true ramifications of the Global Climate Change debate is really not about today or yesterday; but rather, what kind of a Planet do we leave to the future generations.

NOTE:    In the linked Times interview, Dr. Oreskes points-out that there are not any Climate Scientists among the “Experts” included in the various groups that are fighting any linkage between Human Activity and Global Warming.


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Just recently, I read two articles about Tidal Change.  This is a problem what will only get worse as the Polar Icecap and Glaciers continue to melt.  A good review of the coastal flooding problem is contained in a prior Post on this Blog, “Sand Castles and Railroad Tracks”,  The two recent articles, however, reflect how two groups of seemingly intelligent people can have totally divergent ideas as to how to solve coastal flooding problem.

The Dutch people are perhaps universally regarded as having the longest and most successful solutions for the coastal flooding problem.  They had better, since more than 50% of Holland is below sea level.  In fact, the Dutch have been so successful that many of them no longer take the threat as seriously as in the past.

Also, the importance of combating rising tides is not as instilled into the Children of Holland as in prior years   Fewer Dutch are studying the Environmental Sciences in the Universities or applying for jobs in the field.  The linked article, from the NY Times, is as follows: .

The Dutch have found a way to create an interest in the coastal sciences, provide a basic understanding and make it fun to learn all at the same time–through children competing in beach sand castle building.  The people of America’s State of North Carolina, however, are taking a totally opposite and narrow-minded approach.  Although this article pertains to just some of the barrier islands of North Carolina, it also suggests how many Americans look at the Environment and the need to take action now.

In this case, property owners who have invested large amounts of money to build or buy homes on these islands, which are off the coast of North Carolina, are basically hiding their heads in the sand.  In the Blog Post (above), I paraphrased the words David Gessner, a writer who traveled with Orrin Pikey, a Coastal Geologist and Professor Emeritus at Duke University–also in North Carolina–who suggests that building homes on barrier islands is like the children’s’ sand castles, which will be washed away overnight, or building homes on the railroad tracks.  Like the train, the coastal tide will surely be along sometime to reclaim its land.

In North Carolina, rather than respond in a rational manner, they are manipulating the statistics so that the long-term impact of coastal flooding–an increase of approximately 39 inches by the year 2100–it appears that the State Legislature is trying to wish the coastal threat away.  The linked article, from the Washington Post, is as follows:


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A little child, on a beach vacation, was building a sand castle down near the shoreline.  Now, it might have really looked like a castle or, perhaps more like a fort.  Well, the very next day, when the child returned to the beach, they looked for the castle, where it should have been–but, they could not find it.  So, they proceeded to re-build it, bigger and better than ever.  On the third day, once again, the castle was gone.  So, the child realized that…perhaps a sand castle was just not meant to be in that spot on the beach.  Hmmm.

I grew up in the Atlantic City, NJ. Area, and currently live in the South Florida; so, I am well aware of changes in the shoreline, from high tide-to low and additionally the pull of a full moon.  The force of the wind with major storms, especially Hurricanes, can be quite devastating to beachside towns.

It has been one year since Mega-Storm Hurricane Sandy wrecked havoc up-and-down the East Coast, from Florida to Nova Scotia.  The actual winds from Sandy were not especially high, as hurricanes go; however, it’s shear size, and the storm surge being at high tide, and during a full moon, just added to the problem.  But, there might be other factors, such as the layout of streets, that only the trained observer could notice.

I saw David Gessner being interviewed on TV about a week ago and found his recent story, in Outside Magazine, quite fascinating,  In Outside, Mr. Gessner writes about a trip that he made with Orrin Pikey, a Coastal Geologist and Professor Emeritus at Duke University.  Professor Pikey is affectionately known as “The Prophet” for his early campaign against re-building on “barrier islands” (and other low-lying areas) and accurately predicting specific problem areas–and causes.

Besides the obvious–wind, tides, full moon, etc.–the damage that Sandy caused was also due to all of these factors simultaneously coming together for the storm surge that flooded towns, disrupted power and re-claimed considerable amounts of it’s shoreline territory.  But, there’s more. Professor Pikey’s very specific comments about parts of New York City and New Jersey might be especially alarming to some coastal residents.

Read the linked article to learn more.  I have always wondered why we spend the money, dredging-up sand to replenish beaches, repairing roads and buildings, only to wonder if they will survive the next “Big One”.  And, in time, we do it all over again.

At the same time, while many people try to deflect or minimize storms, Professor Pikey’s approach is to “Abandon”.  He says that re-building where you know that Nature will come again is like Building on the Railroad Tracks.  Maybe that Small Child was right in realizing the inevitable when they stopped re-building the Sand Castle.

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After Hurricane Sandy clobbered the Northeast Coast last year, there was a considerable amount of concern expressed about what would happen if it were even worse.  Shortly thereafter, we were visiting South Jersey over Thanksgiving and we realized that the force of the storm was strengthened by the fact that it hit around High Tide.  In my teens, living in the town next to Atlantic City, I can recall once when the Ocean met the Bay.  When you live on an island, that can be somewhat disconcerting.

Then, in yesterday’s newspaper, there were two articles along these lines.  In the latest edition of Rolling Stone, “Goodbye, Miami”, Jeff Goodell compares it to the lost continent of Atlantis.  Well, we have already seen numerous , similar articles, even with maps of where the land in Florida would be in 50 or 100 years.

Just like the Scientific Community found after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, that City is build on low-lying land that should still be wetlands.  Likewise, I cannot say how many times, after a major storm, when beaches eroded, the Army Corp of Engineers was called-in to dredge-up sand and erect other “Walls against Nature”.  In essence, the Oceans were taking back what rightfully belongs to them–and we were fighting Nature.

It gets especially sad when you consider the considerable amount of development that has been built all along the Atlantic Coast, and even more so, when you consider the fact that many of the inhabitants are retirees–Senior Citizens.  For instance, many of the condo parking lots, along Miami Beach, are actually built below normal high tide level.   So, if their cars won’t go after a storm, does the City and Country have enough buses to evacuate everyone?  Many portions of Miami Beach flood during High Tide, even on sunny days.  Hey, much of Houston is built below Sea Level; so, it’s not just an East Coast problem.

The other article that I saw in the Herald yesterday was about the well-known Dean of the University of Miami School of Architecture, relinquishing her administrative duties in order to teach and work on architectural changes due to rising oceans and climate change.  Most school children have heard about the little boy (perhaps girl, now), in Holland, who saved the countryside by putting his/her finger in the dike.  So, architects and scientists are certainly addressing the problems.

Several decades back, the Dutch Government built a high-tech system of levies to keep the seawater out.  But, in the United States, our political leaders are not much for thinking ahead.  And,  since any costly projects will effect the budget during their tenure; but, the projects won’t be completed until years later.  So, our Government “Leaders” often leave problems to the next officeholder, who also might opt to pass it to the next guy/gal to do the right thing.

But, there is hope. Just on one web site, there are several articles written by various teams taking different approaches and, obviously, what might protect against the oceans in New York might not work in stemming the cresting rivers in Calgary or Eastern Europe. Sharing ideas–in order to protect people and cities makes perfectly good sense.  Remember that barrier islands, wetlands, river deltas, etc. were created by Nature to protect us.  Let’s do our part!

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As many of us celebrate this Independence Day Holiday–one of the major ones in the US Calendar–there are some who will not be relaxing at home, going to beaches or parks, with their families. They are answering a Call to Duty. Let’s hope for their safe return.

By now, you have undoubtedly seen the clips of the unbelievable fires in Colorado or the “Tropical Storm” that caused so much havoc along the East Coast. Firefighters from around the Western US are “relaxing” (HA!) in Colorado. Utility company workers from along the Eastern US are “vacationing”, along with their trucks and equipment, in the Mid-Atlantic or Northeastern States.

In the past, we have seen such “Camaraderie in Disasters” before. Forest fires and Earthquakes in California, 9/11 in New York City, Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans, Tornados in the Mid-West and Southwest.  Firefighters, Utility Workers, First Responders, National Guard, etc. go where they are Called to Action.  I can recall driving home, from Miami to Ft. Lauderdale, after Hurricane Andrew, and seeing a convoy of some 20-25 Georgia Power Trucks having a police escort into town. It was truly like the Cavalry had arrived.

As you sit-down for your Holiday Feast, give some thought to those who have “better (MORE IMPORTANT) things to do”. And, with much of the Country facing temperatures hovering near 100 degrees, the work of these men and women should truly be appreciated. Next time, it might be in your Home Town!

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