Bruce Melton : Kick the Climate Deniers off the Island

The Greenwood Acres fishing pier on Lake Buchanan, west of Burnet, Texas. Photo by Bruce Melton / The Rag Blog.

The climate science is certain:
Time to kick the deniers off the island

In just eight years, permanent climate conditions across the North American Southwest (including Austin) will be comparable to the worst megadrought in 1,000 years.

By Bruce Melton | The Rag Blog | August 15, 2013

AUSTIN, Texas — The science is certain, but the deniers are just as certain that their pseudo science is certain. Getting the last few deniers to agree with 97 percent of climate scientists though — is that a good use of resources? We have the vast majority of the public on our side — isn’t that enough votes?

We can kick the deniers off the island. This is not a mean-spirited thing — far from it. It’s about the optimal path for resource-deprived situations.

The denier crowd is no longer a viable voting block. We need to be focusing on the rest of us. Very few understand the extreme nature of the most recent findings in climate science and the relative ease with which our climate pollution problem can be solved. Environmentally aware voices today advocate for Kyoto Era policies. But Kyoto Era policies were created in the early 1990s.

The psychology of denial is a tricky thing to overcome. It’s not about what we think it is about. It’s not about “their science” being as good as ours in their eyes. It’s deeper than that and involves social upbringing, false intuition, authority figures, geography, gender, and religion. Because “believers” control the voting block it no longer matters why deniers disbelieve. We no longer need to change their minds.

Because of the dwindling number of deniers, their opinions are no longer relevant. The only thing that has a chance of changing their minds is time or personal experience — so says the global warming psychology literature. We can influence neither of those, so why waste valuable time and resources? In just eight years, permanent climate conditions across the North American Southwest (including Austin) will be comparable to the worst megadrought in 1,000 years. (1)

This megadrought has now begun. In Austin we are suffering from a devastating long-term drought, but only four of the last eight years in Austin have seen significantly below normal rainfall (less than 0.5 inches below average). In the Highland Lakes watershed at San Angelo, where the water comes from to fill our lakes that are at 36 percent of capacity, only three of the last eight years saw significantly below normal rainfall. Yet inflows to the lakes have fallen below the 1950s Drought of Record levels four times in the last eight years. How can this be?

A longer growing season soaks up more soil moisture and leaves less for the springs to create inflows into the lakes. More numerous bigger rainfall events and fewer smaller rainfall events happening already mean that dry periods are longer. When it does rain, more soaks in and less runs off.

Winters are warm enough now that many species do not go dormant any longer (in Central Texas). They keep using groundwater through the winter and leave less to create inflows into the lakes. Evaporation is disproportional to warmth. A little warmth equals a lot more evaporation; more evaporation creates a drier atmosphere allowing it to get warmer creating a feedback loop.

Inflows to the Highland Lakes during the drought of record were 14 percent more than what we have seen today. They were more during the Drought of Record.

  • 1947 to 1956: 10,333,493 acre feet
  • 2003 to 2112: 9,070,919 acre feet

(This does not include the drought buster year of 1957 with 4.4 million acre feet of inflow.)

Plus, during the Drought of Record, LCRA was releasing 460,000 acre feet of water annually above what they release today because of hydroelectric generation. If hydroelectric releases similar to LCRA’s hydroelectric generation era were made today, in 2011 lake levels would have been far lower than they were in the 1950s and today the lakes would be completely dry. LCRA quit making hydroelectric releases in the late 1970s and early 80s as coal- and natural gas-fired power plants came on line.

But the biggest surprise is that rainfall in Austin is 7 percent more than it was in 1990. Yet, inflows to the lakes are far, far below the average of the previous 50 years. Drought can be perpetuated even with greater rainfall.

Climate scientists have been telling us these things will happen for decades, and now they are happening. It shouldn’t be counterintuitive, but the denier and delayer crowd has effectively killed discussion about anything except whether or not global warming exists from a high school greenhouse effect point of view.

We need to be focusing on the level of “belief” of the “believers.” It’s a business decision. We can fire the deniers. It might not be the “right” thing to do, but we do not have time to be so kind. As a bonus however, we can preserve our relationships with deniers by ignoring the topic like they do. It’s ok, we have enough votes.

The amount of resources needed to convince the denier and delayer gang is disproportionally large compared to the fine-tuning of the message that needs to be delivered to “believers.” Time is short. We are likely too far gone to forego major tipping points like the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, desertification of the interior of continents, and a 50 GT methane outburst from clathrates. Now we need to prevent our climate from crossing even more severe thresholds.

Solution requirements are much larger today than in the Kyoto Era. We were supposed to have reduced our emissions to 1987 levels by 2012 to prevent dangerous climate change. Instead we have increased emissions by 57 percent. Since 1987 we have emitted 81 percent of all greenhouse gases emitted from the beginning of mankind’s emissions until 1987.

Greater than 100 percent emissions reductions are now needed to prevent “extremely dangerous climate change.” (2) Spending all of our time trying to convince a few deniers that climate change is real is not a good use of limited time or resources.

The public needs to know the ease with which we can “treat” climate pollution. The 2 percent global gross domestic product cost of dealing with climate pollution advocated by most economists over the last decade is the same as we spend on advertising every year; or the annual U.S. military budget not counting wars; or the yearly costs of the Clean Air Act or the Clean Water Act; or the costs of normal weather losses every year in the U.S. alone not counting climate enhanced events. It is one quarter the annual cost of health care in the U.S. averaged from 2000 to 2009 — before Obamacare went into effect.

But the latest research leaves the science of the mid-2000s in its dust. The Stanford/Cornell Plan for a fossil fuel-free New York State suggests that New York build a new alternative energy infrastructure at a cost of a bit more than $500 billion by 2030. Beginning in 2030, the savings and profits — above a fossil fuel economy in New York State — are $114 billion per year. This pays off the investment in less than five years. Savings and profits then only increase with time relative to the ever-increasing costs of a fossil fuel infrastructure.(3)

[Bruce Melton, a regular contributor to The Rag Blog, is a professional engineer, environmental researcher, filmmaker, and author in Austin, Texas. Information on Melton’s new book, Climate Discovery Chronicles, as well as more climate change writing, climate science outreach, and critical environmental issue documentary films can be found on his website and at climatediscovery.com. Melton’s Climate Change Now Initiative has applied for nonprofit 501(c)(3) status. Read more articles by Bruce Melton on The Rag Blog.]

References:

(1) In just eight years, permanent climate conditions across the North American Southwest will be comparable to the worst megadrought in 1,000 years — Evaluation of work from NOAA and Columbia Earth Institute (Seager 2012) for Truthout.org. Melton, Worst Drought in 1,000 Years Could Begin in Eight Years, Truthout.org, Feb. 21, 2013.
 http://truth-out.org/news/item/14655-worse-drought-in-1000-years-could-begin-in-eight-years
Seager et al., Projections of declining surface water availability for the southwestern United States, Nature Climate Change, December 2012, page 5, last paragraph.
Abstract: http://www.nature.com/nclimate/journal/vaop/ncurrent/full/nclimate1787.html
NOAA: 
 http://www.ldeo.columbia.edu/res/div/ocp/glodech/research11%20SW%20water%20surface.html
Earth Institute press release: http://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2012/12/23/smaller-colorado-river-projected-for-coming-decades-study-says/
 
(2) Extremely dangerous climate change, two degrees C: 550, 450, 350 and 300 ppm CO2 — Morrigan, Target Atmospheric GHG Concentrations Why Humanity Should Aim for 350 ppm CO2e, University of California Santa Barbara, 2010.
http://www.global.ucsb.edu/climateproject/papers/
Ramanthan, On avoiding dangerous anthropogenic interference with the climate system: Formidable challenges ahead, Proceedings of the National Academy of Science of the United States of America, 2008.
http://www.pnas.org/content/105/38/14245.full.pdf+html
Hansen et al., Target Atmospheric CO2, Where Should Humanity Aim, Open Atmospheric Science Journal, NASA, November 2008.  
http://pubs.giss.nasa.gov/abstracts/2008/Hansen_etal.html
IPCC 2007, Contribution of Working Group III to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change,, B. Metz, O.R. Davidson, P.R. Bosch, R. Dave, L.A. Meyer (eds), Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, Chapter 13, Policies, Instruments and Co-operative Arrangements.
IPCC 2001, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Third Assessment Report, Climate Change 2001: The Scientific Basis, Technical Summary.  
http://www.grida.no/publications/other/ipcc_tar/
 
(3)A Fossil Fuel Free New York State — Melton, A Fossil Fuel Free New York State by 2050: An in-depth look at Stanford and Cornell’s 100 percent alternative energy road map for New York state, Truthout.org, May 26, 2013.  
http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/16540-a-fossil-fuel-free-new-york-state-by-2050
Jacobson et al., Examining the feasibility of converting New York State’s all-purpose energy infrastructure to one using wind, water, and sunlight, Energy Policy 57 (2013) 585-601.
http://www.stanford.edu/group/efmh/jacobson/Articles/I/NewYorkWWSEnPolicy.pdf

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8 Responses to Bruce Melton : Kick the Climate Deniers off the Island

  1. Anonymous says:

    Bruce, its game, set match right? 97% of scientists get it. The vast majority of the public are on your side. Why are you wasting time talking about kicking the deniers off the island? With stats like that, why even take time to “fire the deniers”. Just implement your plan. The politicians are all for it. The media is whoring out for it. So just freaking do it!!

    Ummm, except you cant .. right? Given how weak and small the deniers are, you spend a lot of time trying to blame them for the lack of action on dealing with climate change. I am afraid that you are now a denier and I am about to kick you off the island and into the sea of reality.

    No matter which side of the science you come down on .. one thing we all agree on is that governments all over the globe in partnership with huge corporations around the globe will be given the task of addressing climate change. And that of course requires people, of every political stripe, to give up significant amounts of money and personal freedom to these governments and corporations.

    Its a matter of trust, or more precisely, lack of trust. Whether its simply incompetence, or greed, or corruption, the majority of people including every political outlook,from every part of the country, understand vividly that the bureaucrats in DC and board rooms around the globe, are not to be trusted to get important things done or to be fair or even to be effective.

    We are not just talking about right wingers here, we are talking about the majority of Americans. And with each passing day our 24 hour media brings us yet another incident that highlights the greed, incompetence and corruption of wall street, the UN, and the US government.

    Your problem Bruce isn’t the deniers of your science. Its the fear that everyday citizens have that they will give up fistfuls of money and tons of freedoms to solve this problem and still see no progress made on climate change. And that kind of problem you cannot address with more statistics or more research studies.

    – Extremist2TheDHS

  2. Extremist2theDHS:

    The solutions to the climate pollution problem will literally make it rain money.

    If!!!! More of us start talking about reality. The December 2012 Stanford/Cornell plan for a fossil fuel free New York state suggests a $500 billion investment by 2030 for New York state to switch to an alternative energy infrastructure. Beginning in 2030, savings and profits in New York, above those from a fossil fuel infrastructure, are $114 billion per year paying off the investment in less than five years. Savings and profits increase after 2030 every year because of the rising costs of fossil fuels and their indirect effects. – A money hurricane.
    http://www.truth-out.org/news/item/16540-a-fossil-fuel-free-new-york-state-by-2050

    This boat “The Island Conundrum” (Climate change outreach) is indeed a very tough one to sail. The “kicking off” concept is new and it is based on efficiency. Put the money where it does the most good. We need every tool we can get. A few recent viral Facebookings show that a public avalanche of sentiment can be quite effective in persuading politicians. Gore’s Climate Reality Project is leading this way too by hyper suggesting personal action and interaction.

    In the end, because of all the things you have mentioned and more, the only thing that will likely make a difference is a climate catastrophe of global proportions. Poll after poll shows support of environmental issues, including the most important environmental issue, to be in the low single digits. Awareness is increasing with the increasing climate enhanced or wholly caused weather extremes, but this awareness is Kyoto Era and does not reflect that since the 1992 UNFCCC in Rio mankind has emitted 81 percent as many greenhouse gases as were emitted from the beginning of emitting up until then.

    How are we supposed to overcome the bottom ranking or next to bottom ranking of the environment and climate change on the list of importance? The answer (short of that global climate catastrophe) is by trying new ideas and being efficient with the ones we implement. I do not like this idea one bit, it is not fair to all, but what we are doing obviously is not working. Please suggest a better course. The Island Conundrum is foundering.

    MeltOn

  3. Anonymous says:

    I offer myself as a good example of the challenge climate change proponents face. I am not an adherent of either sides relentless “facts” and figures. I understand that the reality lies somewhere in between. I believe that the earth cannot take all that we do to it in the name of “living” and not be affected. The earth is changing, will continue to change, and its likely getting hotter and will get hotter still.

    But, I dont see a ‘workable’ solution. Is there a scientific solution .. sure, on paper. Moving paper theories into execution requires people. But, your challenge, is that the people who have to be empowered to resolve the issue are primarily interested in their own power, status and wealth. Governments and corporate boards all over the globe, including my own country, are run by petty, partisan, greedy, corrupt and often just incompetent people.

    People are sick of watching the food fight in DC. Watching wall street crash the economy and walk away without so much as a rebuke. Watching the daily round of doublespeak and lies from liars that we see paraded on media. Watching endless wars that seem to do nothing but lead to more wars.

    I am afraid you are a victim of those in power crying wolf. We are sick of hearing about the next crisis that is about to engulf our citizens, i.e. terrorists, healthcare, spending/debt, education, etc and in the end, we (citizens) pay more, but the problem doesnt go away. We are numb to it, as we should be.

    I don’t even think a global climate crisis will resolve the issue. The handling of it will be full of fraud, waste, corruption doublespeak, and deceptions. It will just bring about more bickering and likely, armed conflict, even inside the US.

    The unprepared will perish and the prepared will survive. I would focus my efforts on getting people prepared. I do this by learning how to use less electricity so that I can generate a significant part of my own electricity needs, and how to feed myself from my own resources. I dont consider myself a prepper, just someone who feels better being prepared than being surprised.

    Honestly, I think the mold is already cast. I dont see a way to stop what you are trying to stop. Sorry to be a bummer, but that is my opinion.

    – Extremist2TheDHS

  4. Anonymous says:

    I offer myself as a good example of the challenge climate change proponents face. I am not an adherent of either sides relentless “facts” and figures. I understand that the reality lies somewhere in between. I believe that the earth cannot take all that we do to it in the name of “living” and not be affected. The earth is changing, will continue to change, and its likely getting hotter and will get hotter still.

    But, I dont see a ‘workable’ solution. Is there a scientific solution .. sure, on paper. Moving paper theories into execution requires people. But, your challenge, is that the people who have to be empowered to resolve the issue are primarily interested in their own power, status and wealth. Governments and corporate boards all over the globe, including my own country, are run by petty, partisan, greedy, corrupt and often just incompetent people.

    People are sick of watching the food fight in DC. Watching wall street crash the economy and walk away without so much as a rebuke. Watching the daily round of doublespeak and lies from liars that we see paraded on media. Watching endless wars that seem to do nothing but lead to more wars.

    I am afraid you are a victim of those in power crying wolf. We are sick of hearing about the next crisis that is about to engulf our citizens, i.e. terrorists, healthcare, spending/debt, education, etc and in the end, we (citizens) pay more, but the problem doesnt go away. We are numb to it, as we should be.

    I don’t even think a global climate crisis will resolve the issue. The handling of it will be full of fraud, waste, corruption doublespeak, and deceptions. It will just bring about more bickering and likely, armed conflict, even inside the US.

    The unprepared will perish and the prepared will survive. I would focus my efforts on getting people prepared. I do this by learning how to use less electricity so that I can generate a significant part of my own electricity needs, and how to feed myself from my own resources. I dont consider myself a prepper, just someone who feels better being prepared than being surprised.

    Honestly, I think the mold is already cast. I dont see a way to stop what you are trying to stop. Sorry to be a bummer, but that is my opinion.

    – Extremist2TheDHS

  5. I like to call what you speak of as the “David Letterman Effect.” Even though Letterman is an old goat, it sounds better than “we are doomed.” It’s a classic psychological reaction to a situation where one feels powerless and overwhelmed. And if you are not a watcher, this is Letterman’s standard response to CC and it may be that this concept is entirely valid; certainly if we continue to do nothing.

    Preparation for the future is a great thing to be doing with respect to most anything. Some of my posting on http://climatediscovery.com even talks about how to adapt to a warmer climate with vegetable gardening in Texas, where in our old climate normally hardy plants are shriveled leaving only the okra to survive.

    Another thing you mentioned needs addressed, “the reality lies somewhere in between.” This “reality” has been influenced by the very things you speak of—The Money. Climate Change is much worse than portrayed in the media if one believes what peer reviewed work says. And peer reviewed work btw, speaks conservatively of the magnitude of the problems. Academic journals do not like their authors to be wrong. If they are wrong, the authors see their work perish as the journals refuse to publish them.

    The media (generally, even though mostly owned by big money) strives to report both sides of a story fairly. This “fairness comes not only from the Ten Commandments, but from “The Fairness Act” and even “The Equal Time Act.” Both are regulatory products of the golden age of journalism that mandated “fairness” in the media and both are either extinct or largely disregarded today. But the “treat your neighbor as you would treat yourself” concept lives on in journalism.

    Both sides of the story are given equal weight in reporting even though the side of the vested interests has been proven over and over to be invalid. The media does not have the skills to tell which side speaks the truth so, as they were trained, they report both sides. With most issues this technique works pretty well. But science is not like most issues. Issues are generally belief-based, science is not.

    Hang in there, I really appreciate you taking the time to comment. There is a way to get this boat safely to shore, your comments help me and those like me to tune our outreach to the greatest degree.

  6. Anonymous says:

    But science is not like most issues. Issues are generally belief-based, science is not.
    Scientific results outside the research arena and academia are used by policy makers to further a social or political agenda. (i.e. science is subordinated to issues)

    Thanks to our wonderful public education system, most people have the scientific acumen and critical thinking skills of a gnat. People are belief oriented and perception is their reality.

    The only way to get the “boat to shore”, is to coerce enough people into complying with policies, that once completed and forced upon the public, will bear little resemblance to the actual science. Coercion, combined with corruption and deception, strips away apathy like sandpaper. Once enough apathy is removed, fear is no longer constrained. Anger and resentment will flash much like a balloon explodes when it finally meets a sharp object with enough force.

    The explosion may not be about climate change exactly, but it wont matter. The climate change “boat” will be swamped before it ever gets close to shore.

    – Extremist2TheDHS

  7. Exactly: Issues are belief based, science is fact based. This is the grand challenge that is unique to climate science whereas most other disciplines of science continue to see the credibility that all science deserves, All other disciplines counsel is considered fact (or the best thinking related to current knowledge on fact), whereas large parts of the general public treat climate science as just another opinion.

    The global warming psychology literature tells us something a little different about the capacity of the general public to assimilate complicated science facts. While their technical ability to understand the details is low, their overall capacity to understand generally is high if the science is presented fairly with plain language.

    Coercion from the top with policy and regulatory criteria is one way, but overcoming false propaganda is another. Policy and regulation disregard deniers and believers universally. The point of this article is that valid and true propaganda (science outreach) can be focused on “believers” to make the task more efficient and achieve appropriate action without mental violence (regulatory and policy coercion).

    Row, row, row. Row the boat ashore. Hallelujah.

    Bruce MeltOn

  8. Correction: In the article it says in Austin and San Angelo, only 4 of the last 8 years and 3 of the last 8 years have seen significantly below normal rainfall. A little further work on these stats shows that it is 3 and 4 of the last 12 (twelve!) years.
    BMelton

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