Greens vs. Science: Is Climate Change Already Here? I'll Take That Bet!

July 8, 2011

Update at end of blog (July 11, 9am)

Over at the Sightline Institute, they're unhappy with the Seattle Times story on the weather, lamenting that the Times "won't link it to climate change." Washington is warming, Sightline says, and we're already feeling the impact.

The article acknowledges scientific certainty that average temperatures in Washington have risen half a degree. Yes, it acknowledges that the United States has seen a 1.5 degree increase over the last thirty years. Yes, it says: if you’re among the people who feels like Seattle is getting warmer, you’re right. Things are getting wetter and weirder.

The blog says it is the Times' "responsibility" to link the current weather to climate change. Sightline even laments that a dissenting point of view was even offered in the story, arguing that giving another viewpoint is a "public disservice" because, after all, "over 97 percent of climate scientists agree on climate change."

Now, we believe the CO2 represents a future risk to the environment, but we also believe in sticking to the science rather than distorting it to suit a political agenda.

So, here's our bet: we challenge Sightline to find one climate scientist at the UW Department of Atmospheric Sciences who says recent weather patterns (unusually hot in 2009 or unusually cold in 2011), are the result of anthropogenic climate change. I'll give you until the end of the day on Tuesday to find someone.

If I lose, I'll send $50 to the charity of their choice. If I win, they send $50 to KIVA.ORG, to fund entrepreneurs in developing countries.

I'll start by offering three examples of UW climate scientists and researchers saying the opposite.

"We can't see the global-warming signature in terms of a decline in snowpack."
Mark Stoelinga, professor UW Atmospheric Sciences Department discussing snowpack trends in the Northwest, Seattle Times, August 6, 2008

"How many times have you heard that severe windstorms and heavy rains will increase in the Northwest under global climate change? The truth is, there is no strong evidence for these claims and the whole matter is being actively researched. Some portions of the Northwest have had more rain and wind during the past decades, some less."
Cliff Mass, professor, UW Atmospheric Science Department discussing claims that recent weather is being influenced by climate change, Seattle Times, January 12, 2009

"...changes in extreme events are an area of active research as it is these types of events that tend to stress our infrastructure and natural systems. Over the last 25 years, some areas of Washington have seen an increase in extreme precipitation but we cannot say that this is due to climate change."
Laura Whiteley Binder, UW Climate Impacts Group, King County Executive Dow Constantine's chat on climate policy, April 18, 2011

Remember, Sightline doesn't claim that climate change will cause future impacts, they are claiming that we are already seeing impacts, which is not backed by science. They do this in the hope it will support their particular political agenda. Saying, "we expect to see impacts in the future" is not a way to promote policies that would justify, in the words of one environmental advocate, "turning our whole economy in a new direction."

Sticking to the science is tough, but if we are going to responsibly address our environmental challenges, we have to be honest about the science and base our policies on the real "consensus" and not one that is invented, exaggerated and, ultimately, false.


Cliff Mass at the University of Washington had a different take on the Seattle Times story. At his blog, he notes that the Seattle weather data used by the Times to demonstrate the trends are not consistent with other local rain gauges and temperature stations. He notes that using just one station to draw conclusions can be misleading.

Read the whole piece here.

So, not only is it unclear that carbon emissions are responsible for recent weather, it isn't even clear that recent weather has been all that different.

I should also add this amendment to the bet: the bet needs to be accepted by noon on Monday. I realized the folks at Sightline could simply look for a professor to back their claim and then accept the bet once they had one, but duck the bet if they couldn't. A rational, albeit disingenuous, strategy.

I hope they will accept the bet. There is too much loose and idle talk about climate policy and we need to be held accountable for inaccurate, but politically comfortable, claims.