Can’t fool the birds: Migratory birds in North America react to climatic warming

Generally it would be an insult to call someone a bird brain.  We may need to revise that thinking.  In contrast to climate change denialists, 177 species of migratory birds in North America have adjusted their migrations because of a warming climate.  The birds know something the denialists don’t.

The news comes from the National Audubon Society, after analysis of 40 years of bird count data.

Migrations has the story, along with the map that is appearing in U.S. newspapers this week.  Cornell University’s ornithology blog, Round Robin, provides history to the study and a couple more links to science reports.

How will denialists spin this?  It’s difficult for them to claim that the birds have been hornswoggled by inaccurate newspaper accounts, since these are not the birds whose cages are lined with newspapers.

Eastern Meadowlark, photo by FWS/John and Karen Hollingsworth

Eastern Meadowlark, photo by FWS/John and Karen Hollingsworth

We don’t have a canary in a mine warning us, this time.  It’s the meadowlark on the prairie. Will we listen, in time?

Eastern and Western Meadowlark: These popular robin-sized grassland birds form winter flocks and always feed on the ground. Neither species has been wintering farther north over the past 40 years, probably because the quality of northern grasslands is not sufficient to support these birds through the winter. The Eastern Meadowlark is one of Audubon’s Common Birds in Decline; its population has plummeted 72% in population over the last 40 years.

Also see this earlier post, “Plants refuse to listen to climate change skeptics.”

46 Responses to Can’t fool the birds: Migratory birds in North America react to climatic warming

  1. Dan says:

    I did as well, and have put a post up on my blog.


  2. lichanos says:

    You really have to go see IPCC-ar…

    I will look at them, again.


  3. Dan says:

    The atmosphere of Venus is about 96% CO2.

    Right. Sorry for thinking that I mistook you for clueless. I give up.

    You really have to go see IPCC-ar4, and chapters 2 (climate constituents and forcings), 6 (paleoclimate), and 7 (couplings between the climate and biogeochemistry).


  4. lichanos says:

    I don’t get your thought processes. I know little about Venus, but I know it is very different from earth. It certainly is a green house, but is it because of CO2? Is CO2 a trace gas on Venus as it is on earth? In what way are the directly analogous.

    I believe it’s well documented that in previous geologic eras, the CO2 concentration on Earth was approximately 4000ppm. That’s an order of magnitude greater than now. It was warmer then, but HOW much warmer? See my point?

    Calling me clueless when you fail to engage the basic logic of my comments is a sorry commentary on your style of argument and reasoning.

    I didn’t say CO2 would have a big effect, or any effect on warming either. I said, and I meant to say, if CO2 concentrations change, THINGS will change. What will change, and how much is the question. It might have some effect on temperature, but the AGW position posits a rather direct effect, and claims to have divined the exact forcing rate, all this on the basis of modeling and scattershot temperature data, and they claim to predict the future to within a few degrees. Man, I don’t think you’d have much confidence in a money manager who sold you a similar bill of goods.


  5. Dan says:

    Sorry Lichanos,
    I just realized that I missed this:

    Finally, emphatically, I never said that our release of CO2 will have “little or no effect.”

    Great, so we can agree than anthropogenic CO2 is contributing to global warming.

    So what are we arguing about then?


  6. Dan says:

    Case study: Venus. Yep, enough CO2 can create a literal greenhouse. (No, I’m not suggesting CO2 ppm will reach that level, I’m just referencing it to prove the point that the molecule CO2 effects global systems significantly.)

    And you’re still trying to deny that anthropogenic CO2 has an effect?

    Clueless. Utterly clueless.


  7. lichanos says:

    Tsk, tsk…

    First of all, I am not a Republican, if that’s what you are implying Ed. I am a left-democrat. I voted for Al Gore in 2000, and sorely regret that he was kept from office.

    Your use of the word denialism is simply a smear. Trying to place the unconvinced in the camp of Holocaust Deniers and Flat Earthers. Very depressing.

    …boil it down to the simplest premise..?
    I take it that you mean this syllogism:

    1) CO2 is a ‘green house gas’
    2) We are emitting lots of CO2
    3) Therefore, we are creating a green house, i.e., warming the climate.

    I must remind you that some of you have commented that green house gas is something of a misnomer, which I take as evidence that you understand that the system in question is not as simple as you claim.

    The hypothesis is plausible, but of course, when Arrhenius first proposed it, he was ignored because the numbers just didn’t work out. Then the idea was refined to deal with CO2 in the upper atmosphere, and it started to make more sense. But that makes it complicated. And it gets more so…Ice cores, CO2 lagging temperature, are another complication. I harp on this because it is such a simple counter-example, but you think it’s not worth dealing with.

    Finally, emphatically, I never said that our release of CO2 will have “little or no effect.” Everything affects everything else. The devil is in the details. The scientific question is, “Precisely how will it affect things.” Precisely, not, it stands to reason. Precisely, quantitatively.

    I have spent a lot of time arguing with Creationists, so I am mightily amused to be regarded on their level by you, in case you’re wondering why I indulge you! I have also spent a lot of time thinking about the structure of their arguments and the structure of mine, because I truly don’t want to fall into the traps they are in, and in this sort of unstructured, tribal debate, that is a risk. But I must say, after the treatment that you have meted out to me here, I can sympathize with them a bit, though they are full of nonsense.

    Let me close by citing your beloved Dunning-Kruger effect as described by your wiki link:

    1. Incompetent individuals tend to overestimate their own level of skill.
    2. Incompetent individuals fail to recognize genuine skill in others.
    3. Incompetent individuals fail to recognize the extremity of their inadequacy.
    4. If they can be trained to substantially improve their own skill level, these individuals can recognize and acknowledge their own previous lack of skill.

    The truly amusing thing is, your total inability to engage my very simple critiques, your insistence that I am a wild-eyed “denier”, no doubt a republican, and probably a devil worshiper too, leads me to conclude that the DK points 2 & 3 describe you to a ‘T’.


  8. Dan says:

    Okay. Hopefulness is great. But what can you do when you boil it down to the simplest premises (which they accept), and persist in denying the most obvious resulting inference?


  9. Ed Darrell says:


    I have actually been employed by Republicans. On some issues, they were persuaded by the facts, especially in discussion.

    I am ever hopeful.


  10. Dan says:

    Actually… Ed,
    Why are you indulging Lichanos and his denialism? (I object to calling it skepticism.) Even John appears to have referenced the Dunning-Kruger effect and left, and I’ll readily admit he is more familiar with this topic than I am.


  11. Dan says:

    I’m sorry, but how can I take you seriously when you admit that we’re emitting 7 billion tons of a known GHG a year, and yet suggest that this would have little or no effect?

    I really don’t know why Ed is indulging you so much with such a ridiculous premise underlying your comments.


  12. lichanos says:

    Everyone agrees that the AGW debate has become polarized and politicized. I think this has corrupted the entire notion of “mainstream science” in THIS case. We’re not talking Darwinian theory here, or theoretical physics. How many experiments have AGW people done? Come on, they make one prediction: the climate will warm. They measure this with one statistic: global temperature. Changes in flora and fauna patterns may be consistent with this change – they do not constitute proof. No proof of CO2 induced warming certainly – maybe proof of long-term trend in climate. (Might other causes be in play?)

    I wonder if JM understands what science is. It does not consist in deference to some “mainstream.” Certainly not when that “consensus” is primarily politically generated, based on policy “guidance” papers like the one the IPCC puts out that seem to be on a different planet from the actual science papers the IPCC puts out. Consensus discovered by one sociologist who publishes a survey of climate science papers from which derives dubious statistics about “agreement”, defined as what, by whom? Let’s not even talk about the press coverage, always poor on science topics, abysmal on this one.

    I’m not talking about “eddies” and “fringes.” I’m talking about very fundamental issues, simple issues, too tedious for JM to deal with it seems. The big picture is so much more exciting.

    And that’s where we are with warming…
    If the paleo temperature record and the more recent records don’t demonstrate a sustained and clear warming trend, the AGW argument is DOA. Thus there is a constant drumbeat of stories with dire predictions about “ice free polar seas” (that one didn’t pan out this time) and other such things. WHen the predictions are wrong, nobody minds. A new one is trumpeted. But I digress…that’s the popular press. The issue is, I don’t think it’s reasonable to say that a sustained warming trend that will definitely continue has been demonstrated. It’s a very big statistical mess. And IF it WERE proven, there is still the proof that CO2 is the culprit to deal with.

    What are we waiting for?
    Hey, I’m all for reducing fossil fuel consumption, I’ve said that. I’m just arguing about the science of AGW. My personal opinion is that if you push policy on the basis of AGW, you’re going to get incredible resistance, and probably fail. India and China aren’t buying it. And then, if we go into a cool spell, imagine the blowback!!


  13. Ed Darrell says:

    I think John Mashey is trying to determine whether you’ve got a background in the basic sciences that go into the climate change debate, especially in some of the mainstream publications. Why would we worry about that? Because this is mainstream science. It’s easier to be suckered in by the fringe, distracted by eddies and whirlpools out of the way to stretch the analogy, if you don’t know where the mainstream is.

    If we don’t understand the mainstream science, we really can’t say it’s in error. Failing to understand what the science really is, is one of the fatal errors of creationism that we hope no one repeats anywhere else — but which we see repeated only too often. Jeremy Bernstein put it best in his article wondering why physics journal editors didn’t dismiss Einstein as a total crank in 1905. Why not? Because Einstein demonstrated in his papers what the standard models predicted, and he showed clearly where the predictions failed, and where his predictions differed, plus he offered suggestions for experiments along the way that would verify his claims.

    And that’s where we are with warming. In the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, there were crude but good models of what human activities might do to climate. When I was deep into air pollution work, the discussions among the pros was which way the climate would break. Generally it was assumed that there was, then, a bit of a standoff between particulate pollution and other stuff that would contribute to cooling, and greenhouse effect gases that would set off warming. One wag noted that, were we successful in controlling particulate pollution to any significant degree, warming would win by a mile.

    10,000 stack scrubbers later, here we are. Some claim the science is uncertain, but from my perspective of watching for way more than 30 years, the scientists were very accurate. The predicted effects are here, but earlier than anyone had thought back in the 1970s — of course, there is a lot more use of fossil fuel than anyone thought back then, too, and a lot less use of nuclear and other non-carbon-emitting fuels.

    There is also a lot more land destruction than anyone had imagined then.

    So here I sit, watching the birds change their lives, watching the plants change their lives, watching the oceans’ mechanisms desperately trying to achieve a new, though different, equilibrium, exactly as predicted 30 and more years ago — and I have to wonder just what it will take to wake up more people? It took killer fogs to awaken a lot of people to the dangers of air pollution in the 1940s and 1950s. Death tolls of weather-related events in the past five years dwarf those killer fog tolls, though — and still we have people saying “I don’t believe.”

    It’s not religion. It’s not a case of belief. The data on warming are in, and it’s warming. Are you skeptical that CO2 causes all of it? No one said it did. But controlling CO2 offers among the best partial solutions we have to achieving a stasis that won’t cause dramatic and often disastrous disruption of human activities, and the more natural environment. Do we have to establish that CO2 is the chief culprit before we act? No. Why would we?

    That would be rather like saying we have to establish that one species of mosquito spreads all malaria parasites before we can act to prevent malaria with bednets, draining of pools, better medical care, and careful use of insecticides. We’ll likely never establish that, but waiting for more information simply means we’ll lose more lives, unnecessarily.

    Let’s assume for a moment that CO2 is not the culprit at all. Will cutting CO2 help? Most likely. Are there other things we need to do? Definitely.

    What are we waiting for? What possible advantage can we ever gain from failing to act now to reduce CO2 emissions and otherwise combat and mediate the damage from warming?


  14. lichanos says:

    You guys give me a lot of material. First I want to comment on JM’s sociology-based remarks. He seems to think that the route to scientific truth is via a reading list that is approved by him and proper assessment of a critic’s professional and political position.

    Well, for the record, I am not a creationist, I reject consipiracy theorizing of all kinds, and I am a left-liberal who voted for Al Gore. I am extremely sensitive to the possibility of being “taken in” by kook-critics, and it pains me to find myself aligned with people who subscribe to all sorts of weird, right-wing, libertarian, and fringe beliefs, but those are the breaks. Attend to the details of my arguments, not the company you think I keep. I don’t get my informaion from CO2 Science, or Petrodollar subsidized sites, I am not a coal mining engineer, or anything like that, okay?

    By the way, nothing in your comments or your website indicates to me that you have ever critically examined anything to do with this topic. THe website to which you pointed me that deals with AGW Skeptics is a good example of your approach. It assumes the mainstream is settled, because the authorities it recognizes do, and it treats all criticisms, including the one about CO2 lagging temperature, this way:

    A – Here’s the skeptic argument.
    B – Here’s the science.
    C – The skeptics are wrong.

    It never deals with the objections at all.

    Similarly, you imply that my arguments are a denial of the law of thermodynamics, but you never say why. You don’t even know what my arguments are. You simply assume they are nonsense.

    Before I detail my simple objections to AGW, I will comment on Dan’s remarks.

    How is it a big leap?
    Come on, now. The earth is not a simple greenhouse, even JM concedes that. The leap is enormous. The leap involves claiming to understand all inputs and outputs of the system. It is NOT a simple causal chain. Again, if it were, why would GCMs be complex?

    Reductionist approaches are still the foundation…Where is his written? Such approaches are not always a good way to comprehend a complex system. Engineers always use them, but that’s because they are not interested in scientific truth, just getting things to work.

    CO2 emissions are quite large…
    Large compared to what? To the 19th century? The level of CO2 in the atmosphere has been an order of mangintude higher in geological history without a corresponding increase in temperature. Why? Tis needs to be explained?

    My objections are really quite simple:

    AGW advocates engage in “saving the hypothesis.” This is the practice of developing ad hoc explanations to keep a hypothesis plausible when difficulties are encountered. The ad hoc fixes may themselves be plausible and logical, but it should vastly increase one’s level of skepticism about a theory. (Conspiracy theorists ONLY engage in saving the hypothesis. It’s their standard MO.)

    The temperature lag of CO2 in ice cores is a perfect example. The conjecture is that CO2 is a driver of temperature rise. Plausible, it retains heat energy. Ice cores show temperature lagging CO2. This, on the face of it, contradicts the hypothesis. It requires an explanation. Well, there is one: orbital cycles begin the warming with increased solar insolation, causing CO2 to be released, which amplifies and prolongs the rise. Okay, plausible, but where’s the proof?

    Often the proof is in this statement: “We can’t get the temperature rise without the CO2.” We, i.e., the modelers. Nature doesn’t care. Maybe we should say: “Hmmm…greenhouse idea is cool, but this is a bad blow. We don’t know what is going on here.” No, there is always a saving additional hypothesis. Popper would be screaming bloody murder. Read Blaise Pascal’s Introduction to a Treatise on the Vacuum.

    My other major objection is the temperature record. The reconstruction of the record, supposedly veridical, is used to “prove” the hypothesis; the models are calibrated to the record; round and round the circular reasoning goes…

    The hockey stick strikes me as absurd. It has been severely criticized, but the AGW group claims that it is fundamentally sound – they simply assert this. Tree rings, of a specific northern species, are not exactly a robust way to reconstruct temperature at a distance of 2000 years to within a degree or two. The confidence of these people considering the uncertainty of the data they are using is enormous.

    Surface stations, supposedly going back to 1850 or so, are another major element. I am dubious of the statistical corrections of the urban heat island effect, and given the documented issues on surface stations in the USA – see Anthony Watts’ cataloging of every station – I find it hard to credit stations in South America, Africa, India, China, Europe etc. all with being better. And they HAVE to be to get the small changes in global temperature that are being cited. (I mean small in an absolute sense – I know that small changes might be important for the ecosphere.)

    I also find the entire notion of global temperature very puzzling. I have searched in vain for a comparative critique of methods of developing this benchmark statitic, but found none. THere is an infinite variety of ways to derive the metric “global temperature” and each will provide a different answer. That is the nature of gridding operations on sparse data sets. A recent example of this is the much publicized article supposedly demonstrating the warming of Antarctica. This article in Nature provided no new observations – simply a new way of statistically processing existing data. As it happened, it contained some significant errors that have been pointed out.

    Global Temperature is much discussed because it provides a simple metric, very desirable, but not always available. It is NOT the same as total latent heat of the global system – it is simply an arbitrary average of some sort.

    I must stop now. My basic point is that given the state of the data (a friend who is a professor of geology simply shakes his head, “too little data…”) the many elements of the system requiring greater illumination, and the sloppy reasoning employed by AGW advocates in their public statements – they are more careful in peer reviewed articles – I find the claim of certainty regarding AGW extremely dubious.

    Of course, as someone remarked, policy makers can’t wait for scientific proof always. That’s a good point, but I don’t think the science of AGW motivates any good policy. I think there are MANY reasons to reduce the consumption of fossil fuels, but AGW isn’t one of them.


  15. Dan says:

    Reading through Frank’s paper, he’s focusing on the uncertainty of GCMs, clearly. Let’s be honest though — no one is arguing that GCMs are flawless, don’t have margins of error, etc. As he (rightly) argues, the scaling factors of every forcing are not completely understood.

    But he takes that conclusion and exaggerates it to mean that we have no idea whatsoever what could be causing global warming.

    So the bottom line is this: When it comes to future climate, no one knows what they’re talking about. No one. Not the IPCC nor its scientists, not the US National Academy of Sciences, not the NRDC or National Geographic, not the US Congressional House leadership, not me, not you, and certainly not Mr. Albert Gore. Earth’s climate is warming and no one knows exactly why. But there is no falsifiable scientific basis whatever to assert this warming is caused by human-produced greenhouse gasses because current physical theory is too grossly inadequate to establish any cause at all.

    Wow. Any cause at all? Talk about off the reservation. And his basis for this?

    His centerpiece is the observation that uncertainty of other forcings are greater than the calculated increase in forcing of CO2 during the 20th century. Now, I’m no climate scientist, but looking at the figures he mentions in the IPCC, sure, I have to admit that the uncertainties are reasonably big. But none of them are increasing steadily.

    I don’t know, but my first guess is that he’s hoping we’re not looking at the IPCC to fact check his paper. (Or maybe I don’t know what I’m talking about, but please, feel free to explain how.) We clearly seem to have a changing system predominantly in one direction, warming. We know (generally) what forces act in which direction. And we know which ones are changing in strength.

    The only uncertainty I see in conclusion is “how much” and “how quickly” anthropogenic CO2 is changing the atmospheric dynamics.


  16. Ed Darrell says:

    John Mashey, have you looked at Pat Frank’s criticism of the science?

    You can read his paper here:

    (I blogged about the general issue earlier, with a nod to Frank’s paper: )

    It seems to me we’re in the classic public policy fix: We don’t have all the data, but we’re at a place where we have to make choices anyway.

    I wish I had a good answer for Frank. I sorta wish there were some basic error there that would change his conclusions.


  17. Dan says:

    How is it a big leap? The physics is well-known you concede. You also concede that atmospheric CO2 emissions are quite large. It’s a very simple causal chain.

    GCMs, or any approaches by reconstruction of phenomena in simplified systems, are very important IMO. They help show us how complete (or incomplete) our theories about what’s going on in the “real” world are. When you get GCMs with a level of precision roughly matching reality, you know the climate experts have a pretty good idea what’s been going on.

    But John’s right – you don’t need to reconstruct the system to have a pretty good idea of what will effect what. Reductionist approaches are still the foundation for studying the individual components of the system.

    Which still leaves the fact that we know CO2 is a GHG, and we know it’s been and will continue to increase at a steady rate for some time. 1+1=2, or in this case, [a(GHG)]x[b]=[Greenhouse].


  18. John Mashey says:

    1) I asked lichanos if he could say what books he’d read, because I really am interested in why people believe what they believe, whether I agree with them or not.

    2) He couldn’t, or wouldn’t list any books. If he had, and they were new to me, I might even get them to see what I’d learn. I learn the most from people who credibly raise aggressively seem to reject basic laws of physics & chemistry taught to non-science undergraduates, and I encounter that fairly often.

    3) I’ve helped design supercomputers that run GCMs, but GCMs are hardly necessary for knowing AGW is going on, and why. As Spencer Weart’s book describes, people knew that well before modern GCMs and even got roughly-right answers.

    It is enough to know:

    – solar insolation has been roughly constant for a while (modulo minor jiggles from sunspot cycles)

    – GHGs have been increasing [and not just from burning fossil fuels, but from deforestration and other land-use], the Greenhouse Effect is real, if misnamed, and the absorption spectra of GHGs are well-understood. Likewise, carbon isotope (C12/C13 ratio) shows the increase in CO2 is us, and of course, substantive parts of N2O and CH4 increases are us.

    – Hence there is a positive and increasing energy imbalance, which means there’s more heat energy in the Earth+atmosphere. people usually offer a “bathtub” analogy: if more comes in than goes out, sooner or later there’s an overflow.

    – Where? most of the variable heat energy is in the ocean, which means if there’s a key single measurement I’d watch, it’s total Ocean Heat Content. If that ever started trending downward in any significant way, or even flattening, I’d breathe a big sigh of relief, but lacking yearly Pinataubos, I don’t expect to see that.

    – Ocean oscillations (like El Nino) don’t quickly change the total heat content, but they change the rate at which the heat energy gets transferred to the atmosphere, and thus the surface temperatures that everybody measures.

    – Add in a few volcanoes, some effects from aerosols and albedo changes, and some uncertainty from clouds, layered on top of the basic trend, and you gets lots of noise that obscures the basic signal. Many people are confused by noisy time series – tamino’s Open Mind blog has wonderful education examples of the analysis of them.

    American football defensive players are advised:

    “Watch the belt buckle, not the head fakes”,

    i.e., Ocean Heat Content, not the surface temperatures, which inherently jiggle around more … but will sooner or later follow the belt buckle of the ocean.

    – Nobody needs a GCM to know the world will get hotter with the current level. GCMs are used for lots of other things, because for some of us, it matters a lot whether *when* we get sea-level rise, and that the physics not only means a temperature rise, but change in weather patterns, like the coming Southwest drought.

    4) Of course, if one rejects the First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics, and a hundred years of study on the absorption/emission spectra of gasses, it is possible to ignore all this, but that often implies a case of:

    I’ve seen this before: I ask someone what they read when they say they don’t believe GHGs have any effect, and repeats one long-debunked wrong idea after another (which often come from blogs with which I’m familiar). A common answer is an angry “I’ve researched it carefully and I know all I need to” and then I give up trying, as I do now.

    If someone asks the same questions back (which is fair), I’ve already provided some answers at:


  19. lichanos says:

    The physics of C02 and other gases are well known. It is a very big leap from a laboratory experiment to a mind-boggling complex system such as global climate. Nobody denies the facts of how CO2 absorbs or reflects energy. It’s how it behaves, as a trace gas, in a huge system that is in doubt. The causal chain is not at all simple, even for AGW advocates. Otherwise, they would have no need of GCMs.

    (I believe that the original experiments on C02 by Arrhenius appeared to contradict his hypothesis anyway. It didn’t absorb enough energy. This was dealt with later by the AGW modelers.)

    …in case you forget, GCMs of warming trends confirm the derived expectations of climate forcings…

    I could hardly ask for a better statement of why I don’t accept the AGW point of view! Models do not prove anything in this sort of science. They are simply tools for investigation, and poor ones at that. They confirm expectations because they are tweaked. They are never wrong, only in need of improvement. You can’t disprove them, pace Popper. They are never calibrated.


  20. Dan says:

    For all these reasons, but mostly because the scientific arguments about the base data and the mechanism of change seem dubious to me, I “kick against” people who warn of climate change.

    Yet, we’ve known since the 1890’s that CO2 absorbs infrared radiation. We know full well how CO2, methane, H2O, and other molecules in the atmosphere respond to infrared radiation quite well, from experiments in controlled-laboratory settings. And in case you forget, GCMs of warming trends confirm the derived expectations of climate forcings from such activity on atmospheric chemistries.

    You have causation well-defined right there. What is there that’s dubious?


  21. lichanos says:

    If you agree that the damage from climate change needs to be amended…

    I agree that the damage from human development needs to be amended. I am also convinced that local and regional climates can be changed by human activity, and change, or damage, local ecosystems.

    I am unconvinced that the rise in CO2 is a significant cause of global warming. I am not convinced that global warming has been proven as a sustained climate trend. I think focusing on fossil fuel emissions as a threat to the climate is getting the wrong end of the stick. I think efforts to reform the global economy by limiting fossil fuel consumption for purposes of climate change protection are doomed to failure. Human civilization just won’t respond to a distant and potential threat by radically changing its behavior.

    For all these reasons, but mostly because the scientific arguments about the base data and the mechanism of change seem dubious to me, I “kick against” people who warn of climate change.


  22. Ed Darrell says:

    Stupid development is a major contributor to keeping CO2 in the air, instead of in plant matter, in the soil, or in the water. Warming has a variety of causes that need to be worked on. One symbol of success will be declining CO2 rates.

    But if people think that the only way possible to cut CO2 in the air is to cut emissions from fossil fuels, they’re missing a major part of the problem, and they’re not thinking broadly enough on solutions. Similarly, a refusal to even look at the possibility of cutting CO2 emissions is just bull-headed folderol.

    If you agree that the damage from climate change needs to be amended, why are you kicking against those who warn us of climate change?


  23. lichanos says:


    I agree with your comments on the dustbowl for the most part. I would point out, however, that it is well established by geographers that “drought” and the subsequent human and landscape toll is almost always caused by human acitivty in conjunction with reductions, perhaps minor, in rainfall. I think that, actually, is your point.

    Whether the plains typically had less rainfall than during the American settlement, or whether the dustbowl was a period of remarkably reduced reainfall doesn’t invalidate the point. Of course, now they have reverted to heavy agriculture with water pumped from the aquifer; totally unsustainable, of course.

    You provide a long list of locales in which regional evironments are under stress from different forces. Some, e.g. the Aral, are clearly the result of asinine development policies gone awry. Others, e.g. the San Fernando Valley, my hometown, are slightly less asinine policies going awry more slowly, less dramatically. Others, e.g. North Africa, are the result of millenia of human settlement (see George Perkins Marsh, “Man and Nature”) finished off by dysfunctional modern under-development.

    I don’t see what any of this has to do with CO2. I am NOT obsessively focused on CO2 – the proponents of AGW are! That is my point. I agree the planet is being hammered, I rate habitat protection as the NO. 1 environmentalist priority from which everything else flows, and global warming, given my doubts about the observation base and methodology backing up the “theory” is the least of my worries.



  24. Ed Darrell says:

    Your recitation of anecdotes rings true, but that’s not science either. I’ve got one of my own, sort of. In the 1880s, the US gov’t opened up the west to homesteading. People flocked to the empty land, now that the Indians were “removed.” They plowed and raised crops. Then the dust bowl of the 30s came. DROUGHT! Well, not really, it is just that the region reverted to the climate pattern that had prevailed there for centuries, despite the recent moist period. Poor soil husbandry, plowing, led to a disaster.

    No, the region’s climate pattern didn’t “revert.” There was a drought. The land had been overplanted, overplowed, overpopulated. Check out The Worst Hard Times. Great read. It shows what happens when humans screw up big time. It’s a warning.

    What happens to you or to me here or there doesn’t mean that a global pattern is underway. Or that what is underway will keep on indefinitely. And the mechanism that supposedly sustains this for the AGW people, increasing concentration of a single trace gas in the atmosphere, is dubious.

    But what happens in the Texas panhandle, when added to what happens in the San Fernando Valley, in Kansas, in Florida, around the Aral Sea, in Amazonian Brazil, across China, down the Malay Peninsula, on the Steppes of the Caucusus, across North Africa, in Subsaharan Africa, and across Australia, rather indicate a dangerous trend. While this damage is not caused solely by either a surplus or deficit of CO2, it’s part of human damage that adds to global warming.

    An obsessive focus on CO2 seems quirkish, almost fetishist, and I suspect it may get in the way of your seeing the larger picture. We’re hammering the planet, and we need to work hard to try to fix things.


  25. Dan says:

    You’ve read Popper? From your snarky comments confusing hypotheses and assumptions, and a failure to recognize science for science, I find that hard to believe.

    Heck, if you want we can also discuss how this study fits in nicely with Kuhnsian and Bayesian versions of science as well.

    Basically, I’m just trying to figure out how someone who studied epistemology can look at this study and claim “that’s not science.” That’s a real head-scratcher, that is.


  26. lichanos says:


    Yes, I have read much of Popper, and I admire him. I don’t have a list of books on climate science to offer.

    I’m on vacation now, so maybe I’ll respond to JM in detail later. At the moment, I will limit myself to remarking on the unappealing condescension in his comments:

    However, if you actually want to build a coherent framework of knowledge, you might want to read a few good books…

    Uh, no, actually I want an incoherent framework – it’s so much more fun.

    And yes, I like to read good books. I guess all the books I’ve read are bad books, while the ones you read are good ones. Of course, if I read your good books, then I’ll be coherent, but since I’m critical, I obviously lack a sound point of view. Reminds me of some august professors I’ve known: “Hmmm…very, uh, interesting comments…Now go away and read this pile of my books, and then we can talk…” In other words, accept my basic assumptions or there is no dialog.


  27. Dan says:

    No, you don’t “assume”, you hypothesize. And then you collect data to assess whether expected outcomes indeed do occur.

    Correlation and causation, in various studies published on the topic over the years. In this study however, we have corroboration.

    You haven’t read anything on philosophy of science? You said you studied epistemology, and you don’t have a copy of Popper’s most influential book???


  28. John Mashey says:


    Anyone is free to comment all they like, but…

    However, if you actually want to build a coherent framework of knowledge, you might want to read a few good books, because some of what you say does not put your level of knowledge in a good light compared to the strength of your opinions.

    I’d constructively suggest:

    David Archer, “The Long Thaw”, 2008. This is a good general book by a world-class carbon-cycle expert.

    William Ruddiman, “Plows, Plagues, and Petroleum”, 2005. This is also good general book, yet a fine paleo-climate scientist with some interesting hypotheses, and a very good commentary (Chapter 18) on the alternate universe in which CO2 is not a greenhouse gas.

    David Archer, “Global warming – Understanding the Forecast”, 2007, more detailed, a bit more math, used in undergraduate non-science-major courses.

    and finally, Spencer Weart’s “The Discovery of Global Warming (2nd Edition)”, or for a longer version, his American Institute of Physics website:

    You also might want to check out:
    Especially #11. “CO2 lags temperature.”
    Yes, it does, on ice-age exit, which was predicted by Lorius, et al in 1990 on theoretical grounds, but then was confirmed by ice-core records over the next decade.

    That effect (Milankovitch cycle => warming temperature => CO2 outgassing) has nothing to do with the current situation [Milankovitch should be cooling us, not warming, see Ruddiman.]


  29. lichanos says:

    So, we assume globabl warming is occurring, then we look for results that would follow from that. Lo, we find them! Ergo… What about looking for other explanations of climate variation? What about little niggling problems with the climate record, like the fact that C02 lags temperature in the ice core record? Finally, we have the models – nobody seems to try and test them. If they are wrong, well, they just need to be improved. And lo, they are improved. Has anyone tried – been funded – to create a model of the climate system that reproduces the record, horribly inadequate though it is, without assuming C02 as a major driver?

    …the knowledge about how carbon absorbs and retains infrared radiation in the atmosphere. We have a solid demonstration of correlation and causation with that, regarding human activity.

    Correlation, OR causation. Which is it? Besides, you’re begging the whole argument. The argument is not about the physical characteristics of CO2, it’s about how the entire climate system works.

    And no, I don’t have a list of books I’ve read on the topic. Does that mean I can’t comment on it?


  30. Dan says:

    Sorry, reading back over one of your other comments here, I realize you’ve studied philosophy and theory of knowledge. So you don’t have to Google it – just look it up in your copy of Popper’s The Logic of Scientific Discovery, Chapter 10, on “Corroboration, or how a theory stands up to tests”. Compare that section to my description of this study, which I’ll quote myself on:

    In this case, you have the hypothesis that global warming should effect seasonal changes in temperate regions, which should in turn effect the timing of animal behaviors that depend upon seasonal changes. This can be tested by collecting data from various sources.


  31. Dan says:

    Yes, as you say anthropogenic carbon emissions are a fact. So is the knowledge about how carbon absorbs and retains infrared radiation in the atmosphere. We have a solid demonstration of correlation and causation with that, regarding human activity.

    Regarding birds, we have a classical example of the hypothetico-deductive model popularized by Sir Karl Popper. According to it, scientific inquiry proceeds by formulating a hypothesis in a form that could conceivably be falsified by a test on observable data. A test that could and does run contrary to predictions of the hypothesis is taken as a falsification of the hypothesis. A test that could but does not run contrary to the hypothesis corroborates the theory. It is then proposed to compare the explanatory value of competing hypotheses by testing how stringently they are corroborated by their predictions. In this case, you have the hypothesis that global warming should effect seasonal changes in temperate regions, which should in turn effect the timing of animal behaviors that depend upon seasonal changes. This can be tested by collecting data from various sources.

    Go ahead, Google it.


  32. John Mashey says:

    Ed (& lichanos)

    Oops: I forgot: of course, while scientists worry about all the GHGs, some of them (like CH4 and N2O) get taken out of the atmosphere relatively rapidly, while natural CO2 reduction takes a long time. See Figure 2.22 in IPCC AR4, WG I, Chapter 2.

    Put another way, the levels of CH4 and N2O in the atmosphere are approximately proportional to the current emissions levels, whereas CO2 is an integration over 100s of years, at least. While any given CO2 molecule might bounce around, once the CO2 concentration gets high, it takes hard work to bring it down.


  33. John Mashey says:

    Thanks, that helps frame some more suggestions, but one piece I didn’t see was books, which are really important to build a coherent knowledge base before getting into the maelstrom of Blog arguments.

    Can you list a few books you like in this turf? I can make some recommendations, but don’t want to waste your time with ones you’ve already read.

    Dust bowl: yes, mostly human-induced, with recent discussion at Open Mind, among other places. Likewise, many other environmental problems are locally-generated.

    Ed & lichanos:

    No climate scientist I’ve ever talked to thinks that CO2 is the only GHG that matters.

    For instance, Hansen says this, i.e., that we might be able to affect CH4, N2O, and soot faster than we can do anything about CO2.

    Of course, forcings from the major GHGs appear on page 4 of the IPCC AR4 SPM, and the AR4 WG I report has a 100-page chapter 2 about atmospheric constituents.

    People certainly worry about land use and agriculture, not just burning fossil fuels. [Agriculture ~nitrous oxide].

    Of course, right now, a lot of people are much more worried about beetles than birds, i.e., the ones that survive further North than they used to, and will kill a lot of trees. Colorado thinks it will lose every mature lodgepole pine, and the beetles are having a fine time in British Columbia, and starting to work on Western Alberta.


  34. lichanos says:

    John Mashey:

    My academic background includes philosophy, particularly the theory of knowledge. I have a degree in civil engineering, and a graduate degree in geography. I know enough to understand the basic math and the basic theories, but I am not math-literate enough to critique esoteric papers.

    I have worked in the field of environmental engineering for many years. For a long time, I worked for a firm that specialized in creating models of natural water systems. Large systems, entire sections of the northeast seabord, for example. Simulations of hydrodynamic and biological state variables over years, with small time-steps. Custom stuff, written by people with Ph.D.s in oceanography, biology, etc. They were all very skeptical about climate modeling. I saw every day just how little they knew about how well their models were mimicking reality.

    I worked on a project for a while that involved assessing climate and sea level changes for a major metropolitan area. I frequently attended working meetings with climate scientists associated with GISS. I asked questions.

    I have read many reports on warming issued by the IPCC. I read some of the scientific articles outside of the Statement for Policy Makers. I read RealClimate and WattsUpWithThat to get both sides of the argument.

    I consider myself a fervent environmentalists. I want to preserve habitat. I think burning fossil fuels is a bad thing for a lot of reasons, but I’m not convinced global warming is one of them. I think humans affect local and regional climates with cultural development quite a lot.

    I think that reliance on computer modeling is a deep corruption of the scientific method. The politicization of the AGW debate has turned science on its head – now to be a “good” scientist, you must NOT be a skeptic! How whack is that? Environmentalism has become, as Freeman Dyson points out frequently, a world-wide “secular religion.” Mostly a good thing too, but not for science.

    I deal with large data sets all the time. I am well aware of how messy they can be. I deal with people who want to “massage” data all the time, with all the cool statistical functions of GIS – inverse distance weighting, kriging, splining, whatever…I see how bad, mediocre, and good data can be made to say different things, dependent on bias. I see little treatment of this issue by AGW people – the assumption is that they are doing it RIGHT, whatever that means!


    Your recitation of anecdotes rings true, but that’s not science either. I’ve got one of my own, sort of. In the 1880s, the US gov’t opened up the west to homesteading. People flocked to the empty land, now that the Indians were “removed.” They plowed and raised crops. Then the dust bowl of the 30s came. DROUGHT! Well, not really, it is just that the region reverted to the climate pattern that had prevailed there for centuries, despite the recent moist period. Poor soil husbandry, plowing, led to a disaster.

    What happens to you or to me here or there doesn’t mean that a global pattern is underway. Or that what is underway will keep on indefinitely. And the mechanism that supposedly sustains this for the AGW people, increasing concentration of a single trace gas in the atmosphere, is dubious.


  35. Ed Darrell says:

    If the climate turns cold over the next ten years, as many critics of AGW predict, won’t you feel silly?

    It would make me happy, I think. Assuming you’re not talking about a new ice age.

    In the 1960s, when we discussed air pollution, and one of the big questions was how air pollution might affect climate, I was curious.

    In the 1970s, when models showed that control of particulate pollution would probably leave a lot greenhouse gases, and that might lead to global warming with then-unpredicted consequences, I was skeptical (how could we control particulates that well?)

    In the 1970s, when I saw the northward migration of major exotic weeds across the west, I worried. Working in measuring air pollution in several different western states, we discovered our plant keys were out of date — many warm-weather exotics creeping northward, and creeping up the sides of mountains.

    In the 1980s, when warming was predicted by many, I hoped a solution would be found. Our yard in Prince Georges County, Maryland, was attacked by a massive bloom of something that looked like kudzu. The county extension agent assured me it could not be kudzu, since the winters in Prince Georges County prevented its growth. By 1985 the county put out an alert on kudzu, and was formulating plans to fight it with herbicides and manual removal.

    In the 1990s, as I watched warming ravage National Parks I had not yet taken my children to, I worried about whether they would be around for my grandchildren. I found a bloom of kudzu in the heart of Dallas. The county extension agent said kudzu could not survive Dallas winters. In the past three years that bloom was wiped out with the assistance of hungry goats, to aid in the restoration of the site, the old Belmont Hotel.

    In the aughts, as I saw almost-snowless winters leave Yellowstone wildlife decimated, as the shift in bird migration patterns became clear (American robins spending breeding season in Dallas, 500 miles south, because warming had done away with the late spring they depended on in the mountains; hawks taking up year round residence in Texas instead of just passing through, since exotic grasses increased the food supply for small rodents, whose populations rather exploded, etc.) One August I visited Glacier National Park. A retiring ranger said he moved his retirement up because he didn’t want to be there when the last glacier melted. Beautiful, verdant place — alas, verdant where ice used to hamper travel year around. In 2007 weather and climatologists said the famous year-’round snows of Kilimanjaro would be gone by 2015, 2020 at the latest. In 2008, word came from Kilimanjaro that the permanent ice might survive to 2010 at the latest; photos show formerly large ice fields as small remnant, melting patches.

    How would I feel if it turned cold for a decade? I’d feel more hopeful. Silly? Not at all.

    We’ve had cold downturns before in this crisis, you know. We don’t have a Pinatubo to erupt every year, though, so it’s unlikely we’ll get a permanent downturn, nor even a long-lived plateau in rising temperatures, until worldwide action can dramatically change trends.

    Focusing on CO2 is a dangerous thing for anyone to do, by the way. There are other greenhouse gases, and other causes, and other effects. CO2 is only the largest amount of greenhouse gases to worry about. Deforestation is another cause of global warming, through many different paths. Slowing deforestation will cost much less than controlling CO2 emissions, and it might have a larger effect on controlling runaway warming — but with so many nutcases claiming there is nothing to worry about, we can’t get much done in the way of tough decisions that need to be made.

    If we got a cold decade, we’d have a few more minutes to breathe, but we still face the same questions about control of pollution.


  36. John Mashey says:


    I’m interested in why people believe what they believe.

    I’m curious:
    1) Can you say what books on AGW you’ve read?
    2) Do you attend lectures by real climate scientists & ask them questions?
    3) Do you read technical articles about AGW, say like in Science or Nature?
    4) Can you say anything about your background in physics & chemistry & statistics?


  37. mark says:

    From this and altered bird migrations and temperature data and polar ice cover and glacial retreat and vegetation hardiness zones and suchlike phenomena I’m convinced that there has been a warming trend independent of shorter-term temperature fluctuations. No known non-human factor can explain the magnitude of the trend, and modeling can only replicate observations if an anthropogenic factor is included.


  38. lichanos says:


    Are you speaking of carbon injection to the atmosphere? Obviously, that’s a fact. C02 concentration is also rising, yes.

    From this, and altered bird migrations you conclude that we are in a permanent warming trend caused by human industry? This is not good science.


  39. Dan says:

    Oh, it looks like lichanos is trying to ignore the 7-billion-ton-per-year elephant in the room.


  40. lichanos says:

    The climate may be on a warming trend…here. Everywhere? Another story.

    On the other hand, it might not be. Shouldn’t we wait a bit to see if migratory patterns remain changed? There is also a lot of dispute over many aspects of the temperature record. Could other factors affect migratory patterns?

    If climate is warming, that does not mean human activity is necessarily the cause.

    If the climate turns cold over the next ten years, as many critics of AGW predict, won’t you feel silly?


  41. John Mashey says:

    Well, tWell, maybe the birds are just chasing other Northward motions:

    1) Pine beetles chewing their way through British Columbia.

    2) Increase in West Nile in Canada (i.e., mosquitoes).

    and trying to stay ahead of the kudzu, which seems due to make its appearance in Canada within 10-15 years, according to U of Toronto researchers watching it march North (see especially p31-):

    Most of these things are suppressed by cold spells, which are no longer so strong, i.e., their range is not driven so much by average temperature, as by rising minimum temperatures, which of course is a classic AGW signature.

    In addition, as a side-“benefit”, kudzu (like poison ivy) responds better than most plants to increased CO2.

    For some reason, along with the birds, insects and plants don’t seem to care much about Urban Heat Islands, weather stations, and many other arguments why they shouldn’t be moving…


  42. mark says:

    I saw an article in Science some months back discussing timing of great tit (I think) migration in Europe.

    There appear to be several stages of denial:
    1) It’s not getting any warmer!
    2) It’s getting warmer, but that’s part of a natural cycle!
    3) Humans are causing global warming, but it’s okay because a warmer Earth will make life better.


  43. […] Science Global warming is real. As evidence: birds are migrating further and further north. See the Daily Kos (A Seigel) or Millard Fillmore’s Bathtub. […]


  44. Dan says:


    It’s interesting to discuss. I catch ‘em saying there’s no warming, until I point out the changes in plant zones and animal migration. Then they say there’s nothing we can do about it.

    Cognitive dissonance, or rather, inability to experience such dissonance. ;-)


  45. Ed Darrell says:

    It’s interesting to discuss. I catch ’em saying there’s no warming, until I point out the changes in plant zones and animal migration. Then they say there’s nothing we can do about it.

    In short, they deny what they think they can get away with denying. When China’s air clears, they may start believing we can do something more, here. Despite massive strides in pollution control in China over the past decade, most of the denialists who speak up are wont to say things like “China has absolutely no controls on air pollution,” and they try to use that to justify the U.S. doing nothing, as if our pollution goes away because others do it, too.

    It’s a form of argument Kuhn never anticipated in Scientific Revolutions.


  46. blueollie says:

    I think many of the denialists deny the cause of climate change rather than climate change itself; they see it as part of some “natural cycle”.

    They are still wrong (IMHO) though.


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