Burning the Midday Oil

Not one to let physical and economic reality get in the way of a good one-liner, Newt Gingrich recently remarked that the United States could “open up enough oil fields in the next year that the price of oil worldwide would collapse.” But as Sharon Astyk reports on Casaubon’s Book, it can take years to develop such resources. And, as demonstrated by the hurdles that have tripped up the proposed Keystone XL pipeline, getting far-flung crude to the right refineries can be a logistical nightmare. Sharon says that most of the interred oil “won’t be economically viable to extract or move,” and would probably end up in China anyway. Meanwhile, on Class M, new research shows “that the global climate may not be as sensitive to rising atmospheric CO2 levels as everyone has assumed.” In fact, the median rate of temperature increase may be about 20% less. James Hrynyshyn writes, “the lower estimate implies we have one or two more decades than previously thought to play with before hitting the 2 °C mark, which is where most estimates say the bad stuff kicks in.” Also on Class M, James reports that Canada will withdraw from the Kyoto protocol, which despite increased emissions from the U.S. “will meet its modest goals.”


Popular Anti-Science

On Class M, James Hrynyshyn reports a counter-intuitive survey conclusion: people who are more educated about science are less likely to be worried about climate change. The study posits that views on climate change are “cultural” and not purely scientific, making people want to “fit in” to a skeptical mainstream. But James writes, “Surely embracing reality, regardless of the opinions of your peers, is more rational that rejecting it?” Meanwhile Orac impersonates the anti-scientific sentiments of the Republican party on Respectful Insolence, writing “Anthropogenic global warming? Nope! Accepting global warming science displeases our corporate masters and our anti-environmentalist base!” Orac says many veins of anti-science once associated with the far left, such as opposition to vaccines and genetically modified organisms, now run together with the fundamentalism of the far right. And just in case anyone needs a reminder, Coby has the latest data on arctic sea ice for 2011. Coby writes, “this year’s September minimum is the second lowest in the satellite record,” and “at least one analysis found that this year was in fact a new record, exceeding the 2007 low. What? Didn’t the ‘alarmist liberal media’ make sure you heard about that?”

Past and Future Forecasts

Meteorology still depends on a bit of clairvoyance, but in the 19th century many sailors, fishermen, and farmers “had to rely on storm glass, an inexpensive and profoundly inaccurate divining tool.” The mixture of “camphor crystals, potassium nitrate, ammonium chloride, water and alcohol” transitions from “solid to crystalline under circumstances that still aren’t full understood.” Frank Swain has details and pictures on SciencePunk, along with an account of the origin of forecasting in the British Isles. On Class M, James Hrynyshyn considers the complicated effects of clouds on world climate. James writes, “most of the greenhouse effect is related to water vapor,” but with a fixed amount of H2O in the water cycle, only the addition of CO2 to the atmosphere can provoke global warming. As for the clouds, “more clouds could cool the Earth by reflecting more sunlight. But it is also conceivable that more clouds could trap more heat.” And on Greg Laden’s Blog, a NASA project yields a detailed map of global ocean salinity. Greg writes, “Ocean salinity is important because it is linked to the overall climate system. For instance, where evaporation is high, owing to atmospheric conditions, salinity goes up.” Makes us wonder about the 700-year forecast.

Editor Does What’s Right (for Wrong)

On Deltoid, Tim Lambert reports that Wolfgang Wagner, Editor-in-Chief of the journal Remote Sensing, has taken personal responsibility for the publication of a “problematic” paper and resigned his role. Wagner writes, “With this step I would also like to personally protest against how the authors and like-minded climate sceptics have much exaggerated the paper’s conclusions,” in stories such as “New NASA data blow gaping hole in global warming alarmism” (published by Forbes) and “Does NASA data show global warming lost in space?” (published by Fox News). On Class M, James Hrynyshyn asks “Wouldn’t it be great if everyone was as good at admitting their mistakes?” Here’s hoping that Wagner’s move can reduce or reverse public misconceptions arising from promotion of the paper.

Mind the Red Herrings

On Stoat, a new paper says that misinformation causes confusion about otherwise settled climate science, and suggests that the “direct study of misinformation” can potentially “sharpen student critical thinking skills, raise awareness of the processes of science such as peer review, and improve understanding of the basic science.” William M. Connolley looks at more papers in another post, exclaiming “Good grief, the world is full of new science all of a sudden.” Two of the papers offer explanations as to why atmospheric methane levels have not increased as much as expected: it could be “reduced microbial sources in the Northern Hemisphere” and “reduced emissions from rice agriculture in Asia,” or it could be due to changes in fossil fuel emissions. And on Greg Laden’s Blog, the Inspector General of the National Science Foundation concludes Michael E. Mann did not unfairly doctor the “hockey stick graph” of Climategate fame. Greg says this blow to climate change denialists still “won’t have an immediate effect on their use of questionable tactics or their profusion of beliefs that are just too bizarre to believe that they actually hold.”

Fighting Change with Change

i-5f925fdb549b400f1ffbc6519f5e6b02-changebuzz.jpgIf we are to skirt the disasters of pollution, ocean acidification, and climate change, we must change our ways of life. But as Matthew C. Nisbet reports on Framing Science, young people may be less engaged than older generations when it comes to global warming. Citing survey numbers that show young people trust information from the media only slightly more than “information” from Sarah Palin, Matthew writes “news organizations and journalists need to take initiatives to increase their credibility with younger audiences.” Matt also has advice for President Obama, suggesting he “marshal the power of the bully pulpit” to get the nation’s and the world’s attention focused on climate change. On A Few Things Ill Considered, Coby presents a common perspective from a commenter, who says “somebody MUST dumb down this conversation to communicate to the public. Right now I am freezing my tail in lower than normal temps in Texas and worrying over the increase in my energy bill.” And on Casaubon’s Book, Sharon Astyk offers a way to combat global warming and improve public health, by driving a little less whenever we can.

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Endless Frontiers of Science

i-c52f334d7a810c32036501d75d7e32a5-frontbuzz.jpgScience is knowledge, and knowledge can inspire certainty. But certainty, as much a fruit of science, can be its enemy. Whatever wonders may meet the eye, there has always been more to the world. On Oscillator, Christina Agapakis explores the frontiers of synthetic biology, where researchers hope to manufacture “altered proteins or entirely different biological polymers” by creating a “parallel genetic code” that uses four-letter codons instead of three. On Starts With A Bang!, Ethan Siegel recounts two centuries of paradigm shifts, and asks what the next “new” law of nature will be. Can protons decay? Does supersymmetry exist? Are quarks composed of even more elementary particles? And on The Island of Doubt, James Hrynyshyn writes that even the most fundamental tenets of our knowledge have “scientists poking around the edges, looking for flaws in the ointment.” James dismisses the idea “that the science of anthropogenic global warming is ‘settled.’ It isn’t and never will be.”

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