Sunday, April 20, 2014

Per Capita Davis: We’re suffering a brain freeze


From page A4 | January 16, 2014 | 14 Comments

The headlines were bracing: “Extreme cold grips snowy Northeast” and “Mercury in single digits from Atlanta to Boston,” to name just a couple. The recent freeze that gripped a good portion of the county propelled another new term into our cultural vocabulary — the polar vortex — and had the chattering class’ teeth chattering from cold rather than habit.

The news reports were stunning. Extreme cold extended all the way from Maine to Florida, and at one point every one of the 50 states recorded a temperature below freezing. People died, flights (more than 10,000) were canceled, trains stopped moving, cars skidded and crashed, schools and day care centers closed, workers were told to stay home, everyone was told “don’t leave your home unless you absolutely have to,” hundreds of thousands of homes lost power, pipes burst in the Deep South, and several Geraldo-type newscasters suffered burns while throwing boiling water into the air to show viewers it would instantly turn to snow.

Empirically, it was an epic event, a cold that extended over a swath of territory so wide, with low temperature records falling faster across much of the country, that one would expect discussion in the public square about climate change.

So what were the responses from the scientists, the deniers and the skeptics?

The scientists continued (when asked) to make a distinction between weather and climate, and repeated that, although the number of weird and extreme weather events around the globe appears to be increasing, they are still not comfortable drawing a straight-line cause-and-effect relationship between any one weather event and climate change. They continue to be suspicious, but want people to recognize the difference between “weather” and “climate.”

The global climate, they say, is warming, and they would expect this warming to affect the atmosphere and weather. Cautious as they are, they continue to be uncomfortable ascribing any particular weather event to climate change.

What about the response of the “climate deniers”? Many appear to have been affected by the cold and show classic symptoms of “brain freeze.” Despite years and years of public education on this issue, you still hear people say, “This cold spell totally proves that global warming is a hoax.” There appears to be little reticence from this crowd to make conclusions about climate based on weather events.

What do we hear from the “climate skeptics”? This is interesting. At least one wing of the skeptics community appears to be changing its approach. I listened to Newt Gingrich and an expert from the Heritage Foundation (self-described as “America’s premier think tank”) debate climate change with advocates of actions and policies to reduce carbon emissions.

The argument from these skeptics was, to paraphrase, “Everyone agrees the climate is warming and humans are the cause. But data says global temperature won’t rise as much as previously claimed, so there’s no need to panic and tax carbon or spend billions of dollars on reducing emissions from coal plants or automobiles.

“Climate change is manageable, and instead of treating this as a planet-threatening emergency, we should all calm down and focus on making minor alterations and adaptations.”

It seemed to me to be a complete shift in strategy and one the folks they were debating weren’t really ready for; they still wanted to pound the skeptics for flouting the scientific consensus. Still, if this is a shift, the back-pedaling retreat from complete denial should make some policy options more attainable.

I’m also interested in how fans of Kim Stanley Robinson, our local hero/author, are responding. He finished a “groundbreaking trilogy of eco-thrillers” in 2007 which, in addition to the character plot lines, revolved around “the real-life ramifications of climate change.” I read this trilogy, all 1,593 pages of the paperback editions, and was impressed with how seriously he approached the science.

Although I don’t recall if he used the term “polar vortex” (though Google responds with quite a few hits if one enters “Kim Stanley Robinson polar vortex”) the book’s focus is on the melting of the Arctic ice and Greenland ice sheets and the ensuing atmospheric changes that bring blasts of frigid air (50 degrees below) south to the United States.

Consider the prescience of the Los Angeles Times review printed on the back of the book: “In a world where time and natural resources are rapidly running out, where surveillance is almost total and freedom nearly nonexistent, the forecast looks dark, For, as the last — and most terrible — of natural disasters looms on the horizon, it will take a miracle to stop the clock … the kind only human courage and unimaginable sacrifice can bring about.”

The thing about being right, about looking at the science with a critical eye and making whatever judgment the facts point you to, is that there will be no satisfaction in saying “I told you so” if the predictions of the scientists turn out to be closer to the mark than those of the deniers or the skeptics (even the revisionist skeptics).

— John Mott-Smith is a resident of Davis; this column is published on the first and third Thursdays of each month. Send comments to

John Mott-Smith


Discussion | 14 comments

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  • MLJanuary 14, 2014 - 11:30 am

    I wonder how widely Mr. Mott-Smith reads. There have been so many doomsday predictions that have been proven false, not the least of which... there has been no warming for 17 years! The polar bears, which were supposed to go extinct, are thriving. Climate Change Guru Al Gore wrote on Jan. 13, 2012: "The ice on land is melting at a faster rate and large ice sheets are moving toward the ocean more rapidly. As a result, sea levels are rising worldwide." But the whole world saw the recent Global Warming voyage become trapped in expanding ice sheets. Ice is expanding. Likewise, 5 years ago Gore predicted that we would soon have an "ice free Artic" by 2013. Prediction after prediction have proven false, making Warmists appear to be more religion-based than science-based. On top of this, the Warmists LIED and fudged data to prove their religion. Yes, some Americans still read. OK, OK, you still think I'm wrong-headed. OK. Then how does the IPCC suggest that we stop Global Warming? By building 1,000 nuclear power plants, which produce no CO2. The second economically feasible option is using Natural Gas, which includes the expanded use of fracking. I'd love to hear what Mott-Smith thinks of these two proven, economically feasible options?

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  • PapoJanuary 14, 2014 - 5:05 pm

    17 years ago I wore 1 sweater. Now its 3. Tell me about any WARMING! Go back to the library MR SCIENTIFIC

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  • ontJanuary 17, 2014 - 1:43 am

    "no warming for 17 years" You're cherry picking your "data." Makes it hard to take your criticism of scientists seriously.

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  • MLJanuary 20, 2014 - 9:04 pm

    Even the hallowed IPCC has noted the 15 year "hiatus" in the so-called Global Warming. Some have tried to label it a "pause", while other Warmists speculate that "there is an increased uptake of heat by the oceans". Not very convincing.

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  • MLJanuary 14, 2014 - 11:36 am

    As part of "Cool Davis", this author's group main goals are " helping the community shift to non-fossil fuel vehicles and modes". I'm curious if this author owns a car, and how he gets to Sacramento or Woodland in the winter ... as that would be a very tough trip on a bike.

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  • January 14, 2014 - 11:52 am

    So funny that if you don't buy into the cold north winter this year is caused by global warming theory then you must be a climate denier or a climate skeptic and have brain freeze. Did the author mention that we had a very mild hurricane season this year? No because it doesn't fit the agenda. I say that anyone who might have been brainwashed into buying into climate change by the liberal educators that now rule our schools then maybe you are a climate alarmist.

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  • MLJanuary 15, 2014 - 10:15 am

    When your argument is weak, call names. Maybe Mr. Mott-Smith has read Saul Alinsky's "Rules for Radicals". But I admit following his lead, using the term "Warmist". I wait with baited breath to see what non-fossil fuel modes of transportation working stiffs in Fremont, Oakland, and Fairfield should use to get to work in San Francisco and Cupertino.

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  • MLJanuary 14, 2014 - 2:16 pm

    11:52 AM - I forgot about the hurricane increase that didn't happen. Also, by this year 50,000 island people were supposed to relocate, because the climate was warming, the North and South Poles melted, water levels rose, and low-lying islands were submerged under water. (Did I get that right?) Well, no one has relocated on these island nations. But there has been AMAZING, POSITIVE NEWS! Because of fracking and Natural Gas, we have cut our CO2 emissions by 20 percent! Hoorah! So we met the Kyoto goals, even though we didn't sign it. But the kicker is ... China's increase in CO2 dwarfs our CO2 reductions.

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  • Greg JohnsonJanuary 16, 2014 - 9:55 am

    There are several conundrums with respect to the climate change issue. First, there is a connection with politics which really muddles things. Having a former presidential candidate be the spokesman for the movement (a man who has a carbon footprint larger than Godzilla to boot) is very troublesome. The issue should be first and foremost an issue of science but every liberal, regardless if they've ever taken a science or statistics class, accepts it as indisputable. Another problem is how much power the US has in controlling carbon release. China is huge, in the infancy of their brand of capitalism and does not want to be told what to do. And, also, as the author says, we don't know how far is too far in terms of CO2. There is no "red line". I find the issue uncertain but very frightening considering global growth and industrialization.

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  • ontJanuary 17, 2014 - 1:52 am

    Greg JohnsonJanuary 16, 2014 - 9:55 am: Very Rovian of you to try the old switcheroo and claim the people who accept the scientific consensus are the ones who are being political. RE China, the US has made the biggest CO2 contribution of any country historically and is still with China the biggest emitter so we can’t abdicate our responsibility in the matter. You may also have noticed that practically every consumer item available in our stores these days is made in China.

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  • January 16, 2014 - 12:04 pm

    Good points by Greg. Al Gore has become wealthy on this issue, and he bought beachfront property, so he must not be too worried. And he won't debate anyone of note, which always raises my antenna, and he was a poor student in college. I am not a scientist, so when I read my first scientific paper on Global Warming, I was quite surprised to see the monumental amounts of CO2 released by... the oceans.

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  • ontJanuary 17, 2014 - 1:55 am

    "I was quite surprised to see the monumental amounts of CO2 released by... the oceans" Yes surprising seeing as how the oceans are the biggest CO2 sink around.

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  • STJanuary 16, 2014 - 4:54 pm

    First, ML, Biking to Woodland and Sacramento is a daily commute for many. Perhaps you are just out of shape. And, while Nuclear and Fracking may be 'economically' feasible, they are not particularly human safe. Clean H20 is of grave consequence in CA. Fracking ain't good for that, next, Nuclear can and does radiate regardless of how 'safe' one feels about it, and things like Fukashima keeps poisoning the entire planet on which living creatures depend for survival. So those options need to go away and be replaced with Solar.

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  • MLJanuary 20, 2014 - 5:37 pm

    In 30 years since they added the fancy bike lane to the Causeway. I've seen less than 10 bikes riding on it. Your solution, outside of the personal dig, is impractical.

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