Ag Weather Forum

Don't Handcuff Climate Change Research

Bryce Anderson
By  Bryce Anderson , DTN Senior Ag Meteorologist
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The subject of climate change research became a controversial issue this past week in the Nebraska legislature, when a state senator ordered that a study on climate change effects for Nebraska agriculture, energy and natural resource impact should not include any research into human involvement. Posted below is an Omaha World-Herald article on this controversy, titled "State Climate Change Study May Go Begging For Scientists" written by World-Herald reporter Nancy Gaarder. I have highlighted some key sentences in the article. Following the article, I have some more detail on this issue.--Bryce

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LINCOLN — Nebraska may be poised to conduct a climate change study that its own scientists don't want to be associated with.

The state's drought and climate task force wrestled Wednesday with the awkward job of developing a study on the impact of climate change in Nebraska but possibly excluding the role of humans in changing the climate.

The study is to be completed next year and cost no more than $44,000.

The Legislature approved the study this year and handed the task to Nebraska's already-existing Climate Assessment and Response Committee, a governor-appointed group that mostly advises the state on drought issues.

The sticking point in Wednesday's discussion, beyond the lack of money and time for the study, was what the Legislature meant when it voted to limit the study to “cyclical” climate change.

The word “cyclical” was added to the legislation by State Sen. Beau McCoy, a Republican who represents western Douglas County and is a candidate for governor. McCoy could not be reached late Wednesday.

Last April, during debate on the bill, McCoy said: “I don't subscribe to global warming. I think there are normal, cyclical changes.”

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Ken Haar of Malcolm, a Democrat and the leading environmental voice in the Legislature, wanted something broader.

Haar said after the meeting that his intent was to include all aspects of climate change. He said that any analysis that rejected science and excluded the role of humans would make the state “look stupid.”

“???'Let's just embrace ignorance, and let our children deal with the consequences.' That's what that sounds like,” he said.

University of Nebraska-Lincoln (UNL) scientists at the meeting said they wouldn't participate in the climate study if it excludes the influence of humans. Some said they wouldn't be willing to ask others to consider doing the study, either.

Mark Svoboda, a climatologist with the university's acclaimed National Drought Mitigation Center, said he would not be comfortable circulating a study proposal to his peers if it excluded the role of humans.

“Personally, I would not send it out,” Svoboda said.

Similarly, Martha Shulski, climatologist and director of the High Plains Regional Climate Center, told the committee that the study's scope will determine her staff's potential involvement.

“If it's only natural (causes), but not human, we would not be interested,” she said.

Both centers are housed at UNL.

Bobbie Kriz-Wickham, who heads the drought and climate task force, told her colleagues that it's her understanding, after reviewing the floor debate and final version of the bill, that the Legislature intended the study to focus on cyclical weather events.

Scientifically, weather is a narrow term applying to individual events such as storms, tornadoes and cold fronts. Climate is the broader, longer-term pattern.

A definition limited to weather concerned the scientists, some of whom were members of the committee, others who were there to advise it.

For one thing, “cyclical” isn't a scientific term, said Barbara Mayes, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service.

“You won't get a credible response,” she said.

As written, the proposed study asks for a report on “cyclical climate change in Nebraska” and a review of “historical climate variability and change; climate projections; and possible impacts.”

The committee asked Kriz-Wickham to revise the study proposal and define cyclical.

Asked after the meeting whether “cyclical” includes or excludes human influences on climate change, Kriz-Wickham declined to answer and instead referred to the Legislature's floor debate and final bill.

Kriz-Wickham is the assistant director of the Department of Agriculture, which answers to the Governor's Office. The climate committee also is under the umbrella of the Governor's Office.

Sue Roush, spokeswoman for Gov. Dave Heineman, said his office does not plan to become directly involved in defining “cyclical.” She said Heineman believes that should be left to the committee.

For now, it's clear that the state and university career employees advising the committee are wary of becoming involved with the study.

“I don't want my name on something ... and be used as a political pawn,” Al Dutcher, Nebraska state climatologist, told the committee.

-end of article-

Some additional details here. The question may be asked--"Why does not including human impact on climate change make this study so useless (for lack of a better word)?" The answer is not a simple one, but it is important in understanding moment research and its parameters.

The major point is this--you cannot cherry pick data. You cannot assume that, just because you've run analysis on temperatures over a set period of time, that you can formally announce that all of the climate trends that you see with that data can be pigeonholed into either entirely natural variability or entirely human influence. And, to go ahead and do analysis and state positively one way or another ignores the fact that you have to try to analyze and break apart the relative contributions of natural climate variability and human involvement in that data set or long term trend.

There's more detail that could be added--but this is the big point. If you want to do research, you cannot handcuff the effort. That leads to erroneous conclusions which can have possibly disastrous consequences.




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Bryce Anderson
10/29/2013 | 1:19 PM CDT
I'm going to close comment on this blog item. Thanks all.
Bonnie Dukowitz
10/29/2013 | 1:05 PM CDT
My point is that scientific research needs to be sound science, whether the financial support is from any legislative body or from private contributers of any group. I do agree with the article and have simply expressed that there is much more of a problem than a single Legislator. I have no clue as to why one would mention TEA.
Jay Mcginnis
10/29/2013 | 6:45 AM CDT
Right Bonnie, in the world of TEA climate change would be addressed by private donations and private business like Exxon, BP, Koch brothers and other concerned corporations. There's a plan! I feel much safer with their sound research! How much are you donating to them?
Bonnie Dukowitz
10/29/2013 | 6:10 AM CDT
You are correct Bryce as to the Legislator. Not to minimize your concern, however, private, special interest donations are also a huge issue and obstruction to sound research and science.
Bryce Anderson
10/28/2013 | 2:47 PM CDT
It is a tough environment to do research in right now, when legislators make a decision on what can and cannot be investigated and analyzed.
Jay Mcginnis
10/28/2013 | 11:43 AM CDT
Amazing how far this issue has gone, deniers are the same in all forms of addictions and fossil fuel is no different. I know some severe alcoholics and even one heroine addict and the responses of excuses sound so much the same! Photo voltaic (solar electricity) is now under a dollar per watt, cheaper then coal burning plants but no one discusses this! My co-op electric company wants nothing to do with promoting electric cars because they are sistered with an oil company (hey thats what they told me, I didn't know that till they told me). We put a man on the moon and could attack this problem the same way but denial has become so entrenched that we will continue this until we are no more. The ancients on Easter Island built huge stone gods to worship to prevent their society from collapse, not paying attention to reality they just kept business as usual....... wonder what they thought when they chopped down the very last tree??? Maybe their politicians/priests convinced them that that would issue in the second coming? Don't worry guys humans can't destroy themselves,,, right??? Don't listen to the "flawed, biased, leaky email science" and cut that last tree down!!!!
Bryce Anderson
10/28/2013 | 7:05 AM CDT
The issue again is that a state legislator took it upon himself to set limits on a climate change research project. That's not how science is done.
Bonnie Dukowitz
10/27/2013 | 7:54 PM CDT
I agree Bryce, Unfortunatly, Unbiased and uninfluenced research in any area, I believe, is next to impossible. It just seems to be an assault against specific groups, depending on the topic of discussion.
Bryce Anderson
10/27/2013 | 11:11 AM CDT
A survey of 68 climate papers published between 1965 and 1979 found that 62 percent of those papers predicted warming in the future. Just 10 percent of the papers published in that time period predicted cooling. That is a 6 to 1 ratio--or six times as many research papers--which predicted warming. Regarding the parameters: As mentioned in the article and in some previous discussion items, an inquiry which does not include all the parameters--in this case, climate change in a time when there has been a steady increase in carbon dioxide addition to the atmosphere--amounts to not doing research at all.
10/27/2013 | 10:34 AM CDT
If Nebraska wants a certain study done a certain way, and are the ones paying for it, who are the scientists to question? The stated limits will stay with the results. And yes they were beating the ice age drums. They didn't get as far with it as they are today. No doubt its all about money.
Bryce Anderson
10/27/2013 | 6:20 AM CDT
The idea that climate scientists were predicting a new ice age some 35 years ago is incorrect. They did not. Regarding research funding--science looks at all the variables in a given project. To do that requires funding. It also requires that there are no arbitrary boundaries set on that project--in this instance, prohibiting scientists from studying carbon dioxide levels and their role in future climate trends.
10/26/2013 | 10:30 PM CDT
Bruce, can you remember back in the 70's when the scientists were trying to convince the masses that the planet was heading back to the ice ages. Now we are headed the other way? Thank You Nebraska!! Two things stick out. 1:The mad scientists aren't interested in studies that don't promote their agenda. 2: The mad scientists don't work for chump change. A few weeks ago you had a blog that said global temps were flat the last 15 yrs. It was hard, but the mad scientists were force to face it but refuse to believe it. I agree with tumbleweed. Mothball this BS. All they want is money.
Bryce Anderson
10/26/2013 | 9:32 PM CDT
The carbon dioxide component in relation to climate change effect is the key detail which the Nebraska scientists were forbidden--forbidden--to study.
Paul Beiser
10/26/2013 | 9:11 PM CDT
I can't wait for a lawyer to sue on behalf of dinosaurs cause some caveman lit a torch a couple hundred thousand years ago. Until we have another thousand or so years of real data... all the core samples and speculation called science is just bunk. Who says carbon dioxide is a bad thing? Last time I checked there is more plant life and food on this planet than ever before. Life is good if you just live it and get over the fact that al gore cashed in and not many other people got as rich as he did by scaring people.
Bryce Anderson
10/26/2013 | 7:38 PM CDT
Questions and reaction to extreme events in the past several years appear to indicate that there is a great deal of interest in additional climate change research--provided that the scope of inquiry is not limited beforehand. Meanwhile--another research project looking at Arctic temperatures shows that the Arctic is the warmest the region has been in 44-THOUSAND years and possibly the warmest in 120,000 years. The level of warmth is described as "outside...known natural variability, and it has to be due to increased greenhouse gases in the atmosphere."
TX Tumbleweed
10/26/2013 | 12:39 PM CDT
The pendulum always swings back, and America has seen the evidence that this field of "science" is overburdened with mis-educated PhDs AND charlatans, who have no qualms manipulating data that doesn't come out to fit their political agenda. Personally, I believe the field should be mothballed for a decade for a cooling-off, reeducation period. Decades of political influence have rendered most of their endeavor terribly tainted and suspect. Credible scientific studies can't begin with a foregone conclusion, namely, that Homo sapien is the culprit. In other words, WE the People (who are paying for these "studies") no longer trust "science". You can thank Al Gore and his PA toadies for that.
Bryce Anderson
10/26/2013 | 8:21 AM CDT
The issue is that a legislator tried to restrict the scope of research. To not look at the possible impact of the additional carbon dioxide that has been put into the atmosphere--and how that might in turn affect the workings of weather cycles--is incomplete and basically amounts to not doing research at all.
10/26/2013 | 6:10 AM CDT
Two points. This legislation seems to mirror what has been going on thus far on climate change where there has been an agenda to blame humans for all changes in climate patterns. Politics will kill the human race and destroy the world long before changes in climate.