Friendship Collaborative Update

The University of Michigan, represented by facilitator Howard Hu, hosted a Friendship Collaborative workshop this past Friday at the beautiful Matthaei Botanical Gardens in Ann Arbor, MI. Some great scientific minds were there as well as a number of local and regional evangelical leaders. Why such a gathering? Simply put, to form friendships that will act as bridges of communication between two groups of people which for some time now have fought either passively or actively against each others efforts. Because there are people in both camps with great passion for the cause of environmental stewardship, hopes are high that enough common ground can exists to enable strong cooperation.

Facilitators Carl Safina from the Blue Ocean Institute and Ken Wilson from the Vineyard Church of Ann Arbor both did an excellent job of fostering thought-provoking discussions. Dr. Safina focused on the effects humanity is having on the Earth, concentrating on his personal area of interest, the sea and the life that thrives there. Wilson offered scientists an idea of what a well-informed layperson’s scientific knowledge might look like. He also suggested that the evangelical community should honor the virtue of prudence with respect to climate change science, and both men exhorted all present to work together in hopes of being more effective as environmental stewards.

The event, however, was not all business. As its namesake implies, the Friendship Collaborative seeks to build continuing relationships between environmental scientists and evangelical leaders. This was fostered at the workshop by allowing for a series of roundtable discussions, including lunch, where groups of scientists and evangelicals were able to sit in a relaxed environment and discuss things held in common. All participants in attendance were exceedingly gracious; conversations were honest, but always in good spirit. One common theme mentioned as the entire group reconvened was that of trust between the two groups, which unfortunately are too often polarized.

Just because it’s available, doesn’t mean you have to take it

It’s incredible how often, at least for me, the profound manifests itself in the mundane. Yesterday I was faced with one of those life-altering challenges; the type that changes everything. Having already eaten two of the danishes, one apple and one raspberry, nearly a half-dozen lay on the table before me. A quick surveillance of the room led me to conclude that no one had their eyes set on the treats. As someone who unashamedly will admit to a love of eating, the biggest question initially on my mind was whether #3 would be of the apple or raspberry variety.

Quick venue background: I was at the University of Michigan Friendship Collaborative workshop (which, by the way, I’ll write more about soon). Some great scientific minds were there, including, but in no way limited to, Carl Safina of the Blue Ocean Institute and Ricky Rood from the Atmospheric, Oceanic, and Space Sciences (AOSS) department at the U of M. Also present were a number of local and regional evangelical leaders, including my own pastor, Ken Wilson. Why such a gathering? In a nutshell, to try to form friendships that will act as bridges of communication between two groups of people that are so often unfortunately polarized. Because there are people in both camps with great zeal for the cause of environmental stewardship, I think we can find common ground.

Part of the presentation that struck me was concerning prudence. Prudence is a word that often comes across as old-fashioned or novel at best, and regulatory or curtailing at worst, and this coming from an evangelical! Webster’s dictionary gives four definitions for the word. I’ll focus on two:

1. Skill and good judgment in the use of resources

2. Caution or circumspection as to danger or risk

Concerning the first definition given, does this mind you or anything? Perhaps Genesis 2:15? “The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it (NIV).” As to the second definition, what if there’s even just a chance that global ecosystems are in peril, as most scientists tell us they are? It seems we would be exercising prudence to account for that possibility. What do we have to lose by being open about caring for God’s creation? Putting the two together, perhaps it would be prudent to make good use of our resources, at the risk that they may run out. I’m talking about coal, oil, natural gas…

As for the danishes, it wasn’t easy, but I decided two was enough for me. If only the big decisions never got harder than that…


2008 Global Temperature Review

Global Temperature Trends: 2008 Annual Summation

Originally posted Dec. 16, 2008, with meteorological year data. Updated Jan. 13, 2009, with calendar year data.

Calendar year 2008 was the coolest year since 2000, according to the Goddard Institute for Space Studies analysis [see ref. 1] of surface air temperature measurements. In our analysis, 2008 is the ninth warmest year in the period of instrumental measurements, which extends back to 1880 (left panel of Fig. 1, please scroll down for Fig. 1). The ten warmest years all occur within the 12-year period 1997-2008. The two-standard-deviation (95% confidence) uncertainty in comparing recent years is estimated as 0.05°C [ref. 2], so we can only conclude with confidence that 2008 was somewhere within the range from 7th to 10th warmest year in the record.

The map of global temperature anomalies in 2008 (right panel of Fig. 1), shows that most of the world was either near normal or warmer than in the base period (1951-1980). Eurasia, the Arctic and the Antarctic Peninsula were exceptionally warm, while much of the Pacific Ocean was cooler than the long-term average. The relatively low temperature in the tropical Pacific was due to a strong La Niña that existed in the first half of the year. La Niña and El Niño are opposite phases of a natural oscillation of tropical temperatures, La Niña being the cool phase.

Line plots of mean annual global and low-latitude temperature anomalies since 1880

Line plots of monthly mean global ocean temperature anomaly

Figure 2, below: Seasonal-mean global and low latitude temperature anomalies relative to the 1951-1980 base period. (Click for large GIF or PDF.)  Monthly-mean global-ocean surface temperature anomaly, based on satellite temperature analyses of Reynolds and Smith (ref. 4]. (Click for large GIF or PDF.)

The top of Fig. 2 provides seasonal resolution of global and low latitude surface temperature, and an index that measures the state of the natural tropical temperature oscillation. The figure indicates that the La Niña cool cycle peaked in early 2008. The global effect of the tropical oscillation is made clear by the average temperature anomaly over the global ocean (bottom of Fig. 2). The “El Niño of the century”, in 1997-98, stands out, as well as the recent La Niña.

Figure 3 compares 2008 with the mean for the first seven years of this century. Except for the relatively cool Pacific Ocean, most of the world was either near normal or unusually warm in 2008. The temperature in the United States in 2008 was not much different than the 1951-1980 mean, which makes 2008 cooler than all of the previous years this decade. As shown by the right side of Fig. 3, most of the United States averaged between 0.5 and 1°C warmer than the long-term mean during 2001-2007.

The GISS analysis of global surface temperature, documented in the scientific literature [refs. 1 and 2], incorporates data from three data bases made available monthly: (1) the Global Historical Climatology Network (GHCN) of the National Climate Data Center [ref. 3], (2) the satellite analysis of global sea surface temperature of Reynolds and Smith [ref. 4], and (3) Antarctic records of the Scientific Committee on Antarctic Research (SCAR) [ref. 5].

In the past our procedure has been to run the analysis program upon receipt of all three data sets and make the analysis publicly available immediately. This procedure worked very well from a scientific perspective, with the broad availability of the analysis helping reveal any problems with input data sets. However, because confusion was generated in the media after one of the October 2008 input data sets was found to contain significant flaws (some October station records inadvertently repeated September data in the October data slot), we have instituted a new procedure. The GISS analysis is first made available internally before it is released publicly. If any suspect data are detected, they will be reported back to the data providers for resolution. This process may introduce significant delays. We apologize for any inconvenience due to this delay, but it should reduce the likelihood of instances of future confusion and misinformation.

Note that we provide the rank of global temperature for individual years because there is a high demand for it from journalists and the public. The rank has scientific significance in some cases, e.g., when a new record is established. However, otherwise rank has limited value and can be misleading. As opposed to the rank, Fig. 3 provides much more information about how the 2008 temperature compares with previous years, and why it was a bit cooler (again, note the change in the Pacific Ocean region).

A) Line plot of mean annual global temperature anomalies since 1880, and B) Global map of mean temperature anomalies for 2008 met year

Figure 1

Global maps of temperature anomalies for 2008 and for 2001-2007.

Figure 3, above. Comparison of 2008 (left) temperature anomalies with the mean 2001-2007 (right) anomalies. Notice that a somewhat different color bar has been used than in Figure 1 to show more structure in the right-hand map). (Click for PDF.)

Finally, in response to popular demand, we comment on the likelihood of a near-term global temperature record. Specifically, the question has been asked whether the relatively cool 2008 alters the expectation we expressed in last year’s summary that a new global record was likely within the next 2-3 years (now the next 1-2 years). Response to that query requires consideration of several factors:

Natural dynamical variability:The largest contribution is the Southern Oscillation, the El Niño-La Niña cycle. The Niño 3.4 temperature anomaly (the bottom line in the top panel of Fig. 2), suggests that the La Niña may be almost over, but the anomaly fell back (cooled) to -0.7°C last month (December). It is conceivable that this tropical cycle could dip back into a strong La Niña, as happened, e.g., in 1975. However, for the tropical Pacific to stay in that mode for both 2009 and 2010 would require a longer La Niña phase than has existed in the past half century, so it is unlikely. Indeed, subsurface and surface tropical ocean temperatures suggest that the system is “recharged”, i.e., poised, for the next El Niño, so there is a good chance that one may occur in 2009. Global temperature anomalies tend to lag tropical anomalies by 3-6 months.

Solar irradiance:The solar output remains low (Fig. 4), at the lowest level in the period since satellite measurements began in the late 1970s, and the time since the prior solar minimum is already 12 years, two years longer than the prior two cycles. This has led some people to speculate that we may be entering a “Maunder Minimum” situation, a period of reduced irradiance that could last for decades. Most solar physicists expect the irradiance to begin to pick up in the next several months — there are indications, from the polarity of the few recent sunspots, that the new cycle is beginning.

Line plot of solar irradiance since 1980

Figure 4, below. Solar irradiance through November 2008 from Frohlich and Lean [ref. 8]. (Click for large GIF or PDF.)

However, let’s assume that the solar irradiance does not recover. In that case, the negative forcing, relative to the mean solar irradiance is equivalent to seven years of CO2 increase at current growth rates. So do not look for a new “Little Ice Age” in any case. Assuming that the solar irradiance begins to recover this year, as expected, there is still some effect on the likelihood of a near-term global temperature record due to the unusually prolonged solar minimum. Because of the large thermal inertia of the ocean, the surface temperature response to the 10-12 year solar cycle lags the irradiance variation by 1-2 years. Thus, relative to the mean, i.e, the hypothetical case in which the sun had a constant average irradiance, actual solar irradiance will continue to provide a negative anomaly for the next 2-3 years.

Volcanic aerosols:Colorful sunsets the past several months suggest a non-negligible stratospheric aerosol amount at northern latitudes. Unfortunately, as noted in the 2008 Bjerknes Lecture [ref. 9], the instrument capable of precise measurements of aerosol optical depth depth (SAGE, the Stratospheric Aerosol and Gas Experiment) is sitting on a shelf at Langley Research Center. Stratospheric aerosol amounts are estimated from crude measurements to be moderate. The aerosols from an Aleutian volcano, which is thought to be the primary source, are at relatively low altitude and high latitudes, where they should be mostly flushed out this winter. Their effect in the next two years should be negligible.

Greenhouse gases: Annual growth rate of climate forcing by long-lived greenhouse gases (GHGs) slowed from a peak close to 0.05 W/m2 per year around 1980-85 to about 0.035 W/m2 in recent years due to slowdown of CH4 and CFC growth rates [ref. 6]. Resumed methane growth, if it continued in 2008 as in 2007, adds about 0.005 W/m2. From climate models and empirical analyses, this GHG forcing trend translates into a mean warming rate of ~0.15°C per decade.

Summary:The Southern Oscillation and increasing GHGs continue to be, respectively, the dominant factors affecting interannual and decadal temperature change. Solar irradiance has a non-negligible effect on global temperature [see, e.g., ref. 7, which empirically estimates a somewhat larger solar cycle effect than that estimated by others who have teased a solar effect out of data with different methods]. Given our expectation of the next El Niño beginning in 2009 or 2010, it still seems likely that a new global temperature record will be set within the next 1-2 years, despite the moderate negative effect of the reduced solar irradiance.

Originally released by NASA, more information (references, etc…) can be found here.

back from the arctic

Just getting back from the arctic with various luminaries and a week’s worth of memories to unpack with family and friends. On day five we saw a rare sight at close range: three polar bears on the sea ice after taking a seal for food, with the arctic ivory gull flying around. It was a stunning sight. And a sight that is itself at risk because the ice is melting at a higher rate than expected. We sailed through areas normally shut off from the pack ice, but that’s all changing and it’s the reason polar bears have been placed on the endangered species list. Throughout the trip, I was meditating on Genesis, chapter one: the days of creation. Read the rest of this entry »

the climate of suspicion among American evangelicals

Time arrived with this cover copy a while back: How to Win the War on Global Warming. Shall we confront a brutal fact in evangelical perspective? The thoughtful person on the outside of American Christianity looking in at its dominant form (evangelicalism) has every right to think:Evangelicals have been among the most dismissive of the effort to address global warming. If I am considering the Christian message, I should take this into account. If I support efforts to address climate change now for the sake of the vulnerable poor and future generations, I will be viewed as one of those environmental whackos by evangelicals. Life is stressful enough. I think I’ll get my spirituality on the golf course instead. Read the rest of this entry »

back from ohio and the future mightily encouraged

In one of my other lives, I serve as regional underseer of the Great Lakes Region of Vineyard Churches–about 114 churches in all. We had our regional conference in Cincinatti last week–hence my blogging silence. A wonderful time. We had nearly 200 more in attendance than our previous regional conference, always a good sign. The theme of the conference was 4Ward ’till Kingdom Come, because the theology of the kingdom is the treasure buried in the field of the Vineyard. Read the rest of this entry »

OSU to host friendship collaborative

On Friday May 2, The Ohio State University will host a Friendship Collaborative thanks to the work of Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship leaders like Howard VanCleave on the campus of OSU working with local scientists and evangelical leaders. On Friday about thirty leaders will gather–roughly half being environmental scientists, including Jim Hansen, the NASA expert on climate change–and the other half being local evangelical pastors and leaders. Cal De Witt, Jim Hansen, and Steve Weeks, will present from the scientific perspetive and Ken Wilson from the evangelical pastor perspective. Read the rest of this entry »

Supplement your Creation Care Starter Kit with this!

This website provides access to a great pamphlet about the health effects of different compounds that are becoming scientific buzzwords in and among environmental health research circles. Hopefully, this will help those of you who feel called to delve deeper into the science (and possibly use this as a point of connection with those in the scientific community) of climate change and environmental degradation.

Climate change and those on the margins

Here is an article from Reuters this week. The popular press has picked up on the disproportiantely severe effects of climate change on the world’s poor and indigenous peoples.Minorities the forgotten victims of climate changeMon Mar 10, 2008 9:00pm EDTBy Jeremy LovellLONDON, March 11 (Reuters) – Minorities and indigenous peoplefrequently bear the brunt of the ravages of climate change but alsooften come last on the aid list because they are on the margins ofsociety, a report said on Tuesday.Some are even the victims of efforts to tackle global warming such asclearing tracts of land and forest for growing biofuels, according to”State of the World’s Minorities 2008″ report from Minority RightsGroup International (MRG).”Climate change has finally made it to the top of the internationalagenda at every level but…recognition of the acute difficultiesthat minorities face is often missing,” said MRG’s policy chiefIshbel Matheson.  Read the rest of this entry »

burning coal makes mercury/mercury hurts kids


1. Coal burning power plants release mercury particles into the atmosphere with well documented health effects given the fact that mercury (the stuff in thermometers) is a poison.

2. We have the technology to burn coal cleaner, but it costs more to do so.

3. We tend to want the cheap energy of coal burning power plants without the mercury poisoning, but we’re less concerned about the poisoning effects of mercury if it affects someone else.

4. People with the means to keep coal burning power plants out of their neighborhood, tend to exercise that power.

4. Poor people don’t have much money. Money is power. So they have more coal burning power plants in their neighborhoods. And they and their kids and their unborn babies tend to suffer more harm as a result.

5. If people with power had more coal burning power plants in their own neighborhoods, they would be more likely to insist that we all spend a little more money to build clean power plants.

Am I missing something, or shouldn’t we all insist that no more dirty power plants be built? And that we spend money to clean up the ones that are spewing the mercury over poor people?   Whose children suffer memory loss and greater learning disabilities with all the mercury wrecking havoc in their brains?  One in six children are born at risk of this,  according to the EPA, and most of them are poor kids who can’t move away from the flipping power plants.  Excuse me, I got a little annoyed there.