It is time to stop quivering in our boots in pointless fear of the future and just roll up our sleeves and build it.
- Ray Pierrehumbert

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Toward Competent Reporting

The Beeb:

Although a normal monsoon has been forecast for South Asia this year, and rains have begun normally in many parts of the region, people are still anxious about the rainy season that lasts for four months.

Their anxiety has to do with the uncertainties surrounding the timing of the monsoon in recent years.

While the debate continues over the role of climate change, scientists have also been looking at the possible role of soot and urban smog pollution in disrupting this weather system.

Emphasis added. Paraphrase: "Scientists have been debating the respective roles of certain climate forcings and climate change in this instance of climate change."

OK, everybody. These things have different meanings:

anthropogenic climate change
anthropogenic climate forcing
anthropogenic global warming
carbon cycle
carbon dioxide
climate change
global climate change
global change
global warming
greenhouse effect

The best name for "the problem" is "climate disruption", which is shorthand for "dangerous anthropogenic interference in the climate system".

I am not sure I know how to reframe the offending sentence. Admittedly (if I understand their meaning) it is awkward. Perhaps:

"While climate change on the global scale may play a role, scientists have also been looking at the role of local mechanisms such as soot and urban smog in disrupting the monsoon."

The use of the word "debate" was presumably unnecessary and feeds right into denialist tropes.

Another howler:
Ramanathan's result suggested a large reduction of solar radiation at the Earth's surface simultaneous with the warming of the lower atmosphere increases atmospheric "stability". It also slows down the hydrological cycle and reduces rainfall during the monsoon.
"Also"? What does "stability" mean in this context? Oh, I have no idea so I'll put it in quotes.

This is the worst of it though:

"The consequence of these contrasting processes needs to be understood before arriving at conclusions on the aerosol impact on a regional climate system," the INCCA said in its statement.

But one of the experts in the recent UNEP/WMO report, Chien Wang of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) said there was no confusion on the issue.

"I have to indicate that the basic conclusion that black carbon aerosol forcing over South Asia is large enough to perturb the monsoon system is reached by all the studies so far, therefore there is no different opinion here," he told BBC News.

The basic mechanism is agreed, and there is work to be done on quantifying it. There is nothing here resembling what a journalist would call a "debate" which is Wang's point. Such debate is rare in research meteorology. This is not because meteorologist march in lock step on pain of excommunication. It is because meteorology is actually a mature science.

The point about monsoons and aerosols is interesting, but WTF?

Increasingly I think journalism is too important to leave in the hands of journalists.

17 comments:

byron smith said...

Increasingly I think journalism is too important to leave in the hands of journalists.
Indeed - have you heard of The Conversation? It is a new independent, not-for-profit online media organisation in Australia established by the major universities and in which contributors (even to comments) need to have a .edu address, and authors are required to disclose all conflicts of interest. It has only been going for three months, but is already generating a lot of interest.

They have recently completed a fourteen part series called clearing up the climate debate with contributions from a raft of experts (scientists, economists, psychologists).

I think it is a very interesting model and we'll see how it gets on, but I'm currently feeling a little excited about it.

Hank Roberts said...

> local mechanisms such
> as soot and urban smog

That's _weather_ if it's "local" in time and space.

Are they talking about local effects? Or about larger scale and longer term changes in the monsoon, that get kicked off due to soot and smog?

Michael Tobis said...

I think you can call it regional anthropogenic climate change because though it is local it is a persistent forcing.

It's not "local", though, we are talking about alterations in the structure of the entire monsoon.

EliRabett said...

They are all News of the World

Hank Roberts said...

OK, 'regional climate' -- looking with Scholar for
monsoon climate change
for 2011
turns up articles on the Asian, West African, and North American monsoons -- all with variables like soil moisture and snowpack that won't change back when our actions change.

Hank Roberts said...

> The Conversation
Regrettably there seems to be the typical one guy per thread who's got his own personal physics and won't stop talking about it. As usual if more than one of the nitwits tried to dominate a thread it would be obvious their unique notions contradict one another. But seems to me The Conversation has met the fate of many other blogs, its threads are becoming useless because they're full of "Anything but the IPCC" comments.


> Monsoon

"Maximum oceanic warming at intermediate depth (300–800m) is found to exceed that of the sea surface by the second half of the 21st century under RCP3-PD. This intermediate-depth warming persists for centuries even after surface temperatures have returned to present-day values, with potential consequences for marine ecosystems, oceanic methane hydrates, and ice-shelf stability. Due to an enhanced land-ocean temperature contrast, all scenarios yield an intensification of monsoon rainfall under global warming."
http://www.earth-syst-dynam.net/2/25/2011/esd-2-25-2011.pdf
Earth Syst. Dynam., 2, 25–35, 2011
www.earth-syst-dynam.net/2/25/2011/
doi:10.5194/esd-2-25-2011

byron smith said...

re The Conversation
Yes, it seems like the denier bots have found the site and sourced some .edu email accounts. But the quality of the articles themselves is still considerably higher than the rest of the Australian media (dominated by Murdoch, who sets the tone even where he's not calling the tune).

Paul Kelly said...

Once again we see the forcing comes from carbon soot, not CO2. Once again I commend climate activists to focus 100% of their effort on carbon soot.

The view is that agreement, or at least understanding, on climate issues must precede energy transformation and that climate must be the preeminent definer and driver of action is counter factual and counterproductive. The only question to ask anybody is, "Would there be a benefit to an as rapid as possible movement away from carbon fuels?” If the answer is yes, and a very large majority does say yes, a discussion of climate is unnecessary. The necessary conversation is not why, but how.

The information - knowledge - understanding deficit model as the cause of inaction has pretty much been shot down by the social sciences. Climate as the definer and driver of action suffers from two deficiencies. It requires political majorities nationally and globally for implementation. How long are you willing to wait for that?

Aaron said...

The proper shorthand term for "the problem" is SNAFU.

So far, it is not a normal Asian monsoon. It is raining places where it should be snowing. My guess is that this monsoon will be more like last year's monsoon.


Situation Normal . . .

Hank Roberts said...

> we see the forcing comes from
> carbon soot, not CO2.

Sanity check, please?

Michael Tobis said...

Sanity check per request; quick browse through google images turned this up, which looks right. Reference to IPCC will turn up something similar if not identical.

In some circles, soot is talked about more than CO2, but that isn't the same thing. Wish it were, but sorry, no.

byron smith said...

That figure is from IPCC AR4 WG1 chapter 2.

It is also the perfect figure that I was looking for in a discussion on another blog. Excellent!

Paul Kelly said...

Would "a forcing comes from
carbon soot" rather than "the forcing..." saved a sanity check?

I commend a focus on soot mostly so that activists can experience success. Join the soot circles MT mentioned.

Steve Bloom said...

Nope. There really is no substitute for doing enough homework to actually know what you're talking about.

CO2 remains the lion's share of the problem, and no credible circle that I'm aware of thinks otherwise.

byron smith said...

Here is an example of what Paul is talking about (I think).

I, however, agree that unless we maintain a relentless focus on CO2, then we're messing about at the edges, not simply because CO2 contributes the lion's share of forcing, but because of its incredibly long atmospheric residence. A very significant portion of carbon is "forever" on any timescale relevant to humans.

Stephen Leahy said...

Michael I think you were too hard on the Beeb. It is an awkward and confusing piece to be sure - but it is also a pretty technical topic with differing opinions. Ramanathan, for example, is always pushing carbon black as a significant climate forcer.

At least the Beeb put their toe in the right pond. With some help Navin will do better next time.

Michael Tobis said...

Stephen, I disagree. The piece seems designed to portray division and controversy where there is none.