Technical Difficulties

Sorry for the draft climate model post with a broken link. I clicked Preview, WordPress decided to Publish, I yelled at the computer and reverted to Draft. Apparently, in the two seconds the post was published, it found its way into all the RSS feeds and email subscriptions.

The completed post should be up in a day or two. Thanks for your patience.

Winter in the Woods

Do not burn yourself out. Be as I am – a reluctant enthusiast… a part time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic. Save the other half of yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it is still there. So get out there and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains. Run the rivers, breathe deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stillness, that lovely, mysterious and awesome space. Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to your body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this much: I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those deskbound people with their hearts in a safe deposit box and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators. I promise you this: you will outlive the bastards.

So writes Edward Abbey, in a passage that Ken sent to me nearly two years ago. The quote is now stuck to my fridge, and I abide by it as best I can.

It’s pretty easy to find areas of untouched forest within my city. Living in a floodplain, it’s only practical to leave natural vegetation growing around the rivers – it acts as a natural sponge when the water rises. In the warmer months, hiking in the woods is convenient, particularly because I can bike to the edge of the river. But in the winter, it’s not so easy. The past few months have consistently been about 10 C above normal, though, and today I found a shortcut that made the trip to the woods walkable.

The aspen parkland in winter is strange. Most wildlife travel south or begin hibernating by early October, and no evergreen species grow here naturally. As you walk through the naked branches, it’s easy to think of the woods as desolate. But if you slow down, pay attention, and look around more carefully, you see signs of life in the distance:

Black-capped Chickadee

White-tailed Deer

If you stand still and do your best to look non-threatening, some of the more curious animals might come for a closer inspection:

If you imitate a bird's call well enough, it will come right up to you

A mother deer and her fawn, probably about eight months old

The species that live here year-round are some of the most resilient on the continent. They have survived 40 above and 40 below, near-annual droughts and floods, and 150 years of colonization. The Prairies is a climate of extremes, and life has evolved to thrive in those extremes.

So maybe this isn’t the land I am fighting for – it will probably be able to handle whatever climate change throws at it – but it is the land I love regardless.

Happy Christmas to everyone, and please go out and enjoy the land you’re fighting for, as a gift to yourself.


For a long time I have struggled with what to call the people who insist that climate change is natural/nonexistent/a global conspiracy. “Skeptics” is their preferred term, but I refuse to give such a compliment to those who don’t deserve it. Skepticism is a good thing in science, and it’s not being applied by self-professed “climate skeptics”. This worthy label has been hijacked by those who seek to redefine it.

“Deniers” is more accurate, in my opinion, but I feel uncomfortable using it. I don’t want to appear closed-minded and alienate those who are confused or undecided. Additionally, many people are in the audience of deniers, but aren’t in denial themselves. They repeat the myths they hear from other sources, but you can easily talk them out of their misconceptions using evidence.

I posed this question to some people at AGU. Which word did they use? “Pseudoskeptics” and “misinformants” are both accurate terms, but too difficult for a new reader to understand. My favourite answer, which I think I will adopt, was “contrarians”. Simple, clear, and non-judgmental. It emphasizes what they think, not how they think. Also, it hints that they are going against the majority in the scientific community. Another good suggestion was to say someone is “in denial”, rather than “a denier” – it depersonalizes the accusation.

John Cook, when I asked him this question, turned it around: “What should we call ourselves?” he asked, and I couldn’t come up with an answer. I feel that not being a contrarian is a default position that doesn’t require a qualifier. We are just scientists, communicators, and concerned citizens, and unless we say otherwise you can assume we follow the consensus. (John thinks we should call ourselves “hotties”, but apparently it hasn’t caught on.)

“What should I call myself?” is another puzzler, since I fall into multiple categories. Officially I’m an undergrad student, but I’m also getting into research, which isn’t a required part of undergraduate studies. In some ways I am a journalist too, but I see that as a side project rather than a career goal. So I can’t call myself a scientist, or even a fledgling scientist, but I feel like I’m on that path – a scientist larva, perhaps?



My presentation went very well. The church group was full of kind, educated, and passionate people. It was nice to have an audience that wasn’t full of high school students who thought science was boring!

After the presentation, a woman in the group shared something with me that she found at a conference in Australia just before the Copenhagen summit. I liked it so much that I thought I’d share it here, with her permission.

If the earth
were only a few feet in
diameter, floating a few feet above
a field somewhere, people would come
from everywhere to marvel at it. People would
walk around it marvelling at its big pools of water,
its little pools and the water flowing between the pools.
People would marvel at the bumps on it, and the holes in it,
and they would marvel at the very thin layer of gas surrounding
it and the water suspended in the gas. The people would
marvel at all the creatures walking around the surface of the ball
and at the creatures in the water. The people would declare it
as sacred because it was the only one and they would protect
it so that it would not be hurt. The ball would be the
greatest wonder known and people around would come to
pray to it, to be healed, to gain knowledge, to know
beauty and to wonder how it could be. People
would love it and defend it with their lives
because they would somehow know that
their lives, their own roundness, could
be nothing without it. If the
Earth were only a few
feet in diameter.

-Joe Miller

Self-Taught Climate Science

If you haven’t already guessed, I am a real math and science geek (and rapidly becoming a computer programming geek as well). So, when I got my first taste of quantitative climate analysis from Dana’s articles over at Skeptical Science, I was really interested. It will be a while before my education takes me in that direction, and I’m starting to think I’m not that patient. I would like to learn some relevant physics and programming ahead of time.

Here is my list of plans and resources, roughly in order of priority:

  • Learn Fortran. The majority of code in climate models is written in Fortran, and this probably isn’t going to change any time soon. I have begun studying an online Fortran 77 tutorial, and am finding that learning a second programming language is far easier than the first (Java, in my case). The major concepts are virtually identical – it’s all a case of syntax.
  • Read and do problems from some relevant chapters in my physics textbook that we will not be covering in the course: fluid dynamics and thermodynamics.
  • Follow through, in detail, a derivation of a zero-dimensional energy balance model for the Earth that was kindly sent to me by a reader.
  • Read David Archer’s textbook, Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast. I attempted to read it a year or two ago, but I hadn’t done very much physics yet and consequently became kind of lost (“Electrons are waves?!” the younger Kate said incredulously). Dr. Archer has also posted accompanying video lectures from the University of Chicago course the book is based on, which will help.
  • Try to find a copy of Ray Pierrehumbert’s new book, Principles of Planetary Climate. From what I have heard, this will involve learning some Python.
  • I have several textbooks on loan or second hand, two regarding climate physics, and one about general atmospheric dynamics.

That will probably keep me busy for some time, but I would appreciate recommendations for additions/changes!

    New Year Gratitude

    A very happy 2011 to everyone. I thought I would write a New Year’s post like last year’s.

    ClimateSight wouldn’t exist at all without my very best friend and partner, who, after listening for months to my rambles about climate science and policy, set me up with a blog. Since my first post, he has listened to my ideas and provided many of his own, even though he’s not particularly interested in climatology. He is also a source of balance in my life, keeping me sane when news reports and nasty comments start to overwhelm me.

    Equally deep gratitude goes to the scientist who first sparked my interest in climate, and who continues to be both a mentor and a friend, as well as a library (I promise I’ll return those books sooner or later). You know who you are!

    I have received advice on everything from my comment policy to my course selection from many wise climate bloggers, such as Steve Easterbrook, Michael Tobis, and Tamino, as well as countless others who prefer to read and comment than to write their own blogs – too many to name!

    This year, I have become involved in Skeptical Science, a multi-faceted collaboration of scientists and science enthusiasts concerned about the state of climate change communication. It is an honour to be part of the supportive, enthusiastic community of authors, and the articles they write provide hours of fascinating reading and further research.

    Last but not least, I must thank the readers and commenters over here. I feel that I get more out of this blog than I put in. My thoughts on a topic don’t end when I hit “publish” – that’s just the beginning, as insights and links to further reading invariably appear in the comments.

    I am grateful for more than the people who helped to create this online community, though. I am grateful to live in the age of information when looking up the state of Arctic sea ice takes less than a minute. I am grateful to live in the age of climatology, where the field is expanding throughout virtually every discipline. Finally, strangely enough, I am grateful to live in the age of climate change, to witness this fascinating phenomenon unfold, and (hopefully) to be a part of the generation that stops it in its tracks.

    New Theme!

    Any thoughts on the new theme, “Pilcrow”? I chose it because it’s the most customizable you can get without paying to edit CSS.

    The custom photo header, which I’ve wanted for a long time, is of a gorgeous mixed forest along the Ottawa River in the fall, just outside Parliament.

    Slight Changes in Comment Policy

    I’ve made some tweaks to the comment policy – like all aspects of this blog, it’s a work in progress – and I thought I would share them in a brief post. I’ll make changes in the sidebar, too.

    First and foremost, I’ve decided to stop replacing comments with [inflammatory] – instead, they will not be published at all. This is primarily because it will make it possible to archive comments that have been flagged, both for my own records and to allow easy re-posting if I choose to un-flag (is that a word?) a comment. It will also prevent embarrassment on the part of the author (really, who wants to have it announced that they broke the rules?)

    That said, don’t jump to conclusions if your comment takes some time to appear. I am a full-time student and, while I make an effort to check comments multiple times a day, it doesn’t always happen.

    A lack of appropriate citations in the comment will generally still be noted as before.

    Also, here’s a slight reworking of the rules:

    Cite your statements appropriately – peer-reviewed sources for scientific claims, primary sources for quotes/current events/etc.

    Don’t smear someone’s reputation based on pure speculation. This includes, but is not limited to, climate scientists.

    Please refrain from personal attacks on myself or other commenters. Mean comments about how much you hate this comment policy are also kind of pointless.


    Thanks for your patience. Input is welcome.