Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Setting the record straight on climate change: experts respond to Wall Street Journal editorial

Trend from 1961-1990 in the Karl-Knight heat wave index, which tracks the warmest average minimum temperature over three consecutive nights in a year. Gutowski et al. 2008 via climatecommunication.org

From The Wall Street Journal, 1 February 2012:

Do you consult your dentist on your heart condition? In science, as in any area, reputations are based on knowledge and expertise in a field, and on published, peer-reviewed work. If you need surgery, you want a highly experienced expert in the field who has done a large number of the proposed operations.

On January 27, the Wall Street Journal published an op-ed on climate change by the climate science equivalent of dentists practicing cardiology. While accomplished in their own fields, most of these authors have no expertise in climate science. The few authors who have such expertise are known to have extreme views that are out of step with nearly every other climate expert. This happens in nearly every field of science. For example, there is a retrovirus expert who does not accept that HIV causes AIDS. And it is instructive to recall that a few scientists continued to state that smoking did not cause cancer, long after that was settled science.

Climate experts know that the long-term warming trend has not abated in the past decade. In fact, it was the warmest decade on record. Observations show unequivocally that our planet is getting hotter. And computer models have recently shown that during periods when there is a smaller increase of surface temperatures, warming is occurring elsewhere in the climate system, typically in the deep ocean. Such periods are a relatively common climate phenomenon, are consistent with our physical understanding of how the climate system works, and certainly do not invalidate our understanding of human-induced warming or the models used to simulate that warming. Thus, climate experts also know what one of us, Kevin Trenberth, actually meant by the out-of-context, misrepresented quote used in the op-ed. Mr. Trenberth was lamenting the inadequacy of observing systems to fully monitor warming trends in the deep ocean and other aspects of the short-term variations that always occur, together with the long-term human-induced warming trend.

The National Academy of Sciences of the U.S. (set up by President Lincoln to advise on scientific issues), as well as major National Academies of Science around the world and every other authoritative body of scientists active in climate research have stated that the science is clear: the world is heating up and humans are primarily responsible. Impacts are already apparent and will increase. Reducing future impacts will require significant reductions in emissions of heat-trapping gases.

Research shows that more than 97 percent of scientists actively publishing in the field agree that climate change is real and human caused. It would be an act of recklessness for any political leader to disregard the weight of evidence and ignore the enormous risks that climate change clearly poses. In addition, there is very clear evidence that investing in the transition to a low-carbon economy will not only allow the world to avoid the worst risks of climate change, but could also drive decades of economic growth. Just what the doctor ordered.


Kevin Trenberth, Sc.D, Distinguished Senior Scientist, Climate Analysis Section, National Center for Atmospheric Research

Richard Somerville, PhD, Distinguished Professor, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego

Katharine Hayhoe, PhD, Director, Climate Science Center, Texas Tech University

Rasmus Benestad, PhD, Senior Scientist, The Norwegian Meteorological Institute

Gerald Meehl, PhD, Senior Scientist, Climate and Global Dynamics Division, National Center for Atmospheric Research

Michael Oppenheimer, PhD, Professor of Geosciences; Director, Program in Science, Technology and Environmental Policy, Princeton University

Peter Gleick, PhD, co-founder and president, Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security

Michael C. MacCracken, PhD, Chief Scientist, Climate Institute, Washington DC

Michael Mann, PhD, Director, Earth System Science Center, Pennsylvania State University

Steven Running, PhD, Professor, Director, Numerical Terradynamic Simulation Group, University of Montana

Robert Corell, PhD, Chair, Arctic Climate Impact Assessment; Principal, Global Environment Technology Foundation

Dennis Ojima, PhD, Professor, Senior Research Scientist, and Head of the Dept. of Interior’s Climate Science Center at Colorado State University

Josh Willis, PhD, Climate Scientist, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory

Matthew England, PhD, Professor, Joint Director of the Climate Change Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Australia

Ken Caldeira, PhD, Atmospheric Scientist, Dept. of Global Ecology, Carnegie Institution

Warren Washington, PhD, Senior Scientist, National Center for Atmospheric Research

Terry L. Root, PhD, Senior Fellow, Woods Institute for the Environment, Stanford University

David Karoly, PhD, ARC Federation Fellow and Professor, University of Melbourne, Australia

Jeffrey Kiehl, PhD, Senior Scientist, Climate and Global Dynamics Division, National Center for Atmospheric Research

Donald Wuebbles, PhD, Professor of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Illinois

Camille Parmesan, PhD, Professor of Biology, University of Texas; Professor of Global Change Biology, Marine Institute, University of Plymouth, UK

Simon Donner, PhD, Assistant Professor, Department of Geography, University of British Columbia, Canada

Barrett N. Rock, PhD, Professor, Complex Systems Research Center and Department of Natural Resources, University of New Hampshire

David Griggs, PhD, Professor and Director, Monash Sustainability Institute, Monash University, Australia

Roger N. Jones, PhD, Professor, Professorial Research Fellow, Centre for Strategic Economic Studies, Victoria University, Australia

William L. Chameides, PhD, Dean and Professor, School of the Environment, Duke University

Gary Yohe, PhD, Professor, Economics and Environmental Studies, Wesleyan University, CT

Robert Watson, PhD, Chief Scientific Advisor to the UK Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs; Chair of Environmental Sciences, University of East Anglia

Steven Sherwood, PhD, Director, Climate Change Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia

Chris Rapley, PhD, Professor of Climate Science, University College London, UK

Joan Kleypas, PhD, Scientist, Climate and Global Dynamics Division, National Center for Atmospheric Research

James J. McCarthy, PhD, Professor of Biological Oceanography, Harvard University

Stefan Rahmstorf, PhD, Professor of Physics of the Oceans, Potsdam University, Germany

Julia Cole, PhD, Professor, Geosciences and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Arizona

William H. Schlesinger, PhD, President, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies

Jonathan Overpeck, PhD, Professor of Geosciences and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Arizona

Eric Rignot, PhD, Senior Research Scientist, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory; Professor of Earth System Science, University of California, Irvine

Wolfgang Cramer, Professor of Global Ecology, Mediterranean Institute for Biodiversity and Ecology, CNRS, Aix-en-Provence, France

Setting the Record Straight on Climate Change: Experts Respond

Monday, February 6, 2012

Remembering Roger Boisjoly: He tried to stop the Challenger launch

Engineer Roger Boisjoly examines a model of the O-Rings, used to bring the Space Shuttle into orbit, at a meeting of senior executives and academic representatives in Rye, New York in September 1991. AP

I had the opportunity to see Roger Boisjoly speak at M.I.T. back in January 1987. The event got almost no promotion; I found out only because I had friends in the Aero/Astro program (Course 16). The controversy over the Strategic Defense Initiative, a.k.a. “Star Wars”, had been raging for a couple of years, and space tech had become politicized. (Full disclosure: yours truly was in AFROTC.) My impression was that the Boisjoly talk was not entirely approved by the M.I.T. administration.

In any case, the lecture hall was packed. Boisjoly related the events that led to the fatal decision to launch in spite of clear evidence against it. Here’s a summary of that talk: Roger Boisjoly on the Challenger Disaster.

A few moments stand out in my memory. When the VP of engineering said, “We need to take off our Engineering hats and put on our Management hats”; when his friend, at T+60, said, “We just dodged a bullet” and said a prayer of thanks; when Boisjoly hung his head and wept for a little while.

All of this made a big impression on a young electrical engineer, about business ethics, the government, and defense contracting. If faced with a similar ethical test, I always hoped that I’d be as courageous as Boisjoly.

By Howard Berkes
6 February 2012

Roger Boisjoly was a booster rocket engineer at NASA contractor Morton Thiokol in Utah in January, 1986, when he and four colleagues became embroiled in the fatal decision to launch the Space Shuttle Challenger.

Boisjoly was also one of two confidential sources quoted by NPR three weeks later in the first detailed report about the Challenger launch decision, and the stiff resistance by Boisjoly and other Thiokol engineers.

The experience both haunted and inspired Boisjoly in the decades that followed.

We learned this weekend from this story in The New York Times that Boisjoly died last month in Utah at age 73.

Bulky, bald and tall, Boisjoly was an imposing figure, especially when armed with data. He found disturbing the data he reviewed about the booster rockets that would lift Challenger into space. Six months before the Challenger explosion, he predicted "a catastrophe of the highest order" involving "loss of human life" in a memo to managers at Thiokol.

The problem, Boisjoly wrote, was the elastic seals at the joints of the multi-stage booster rockets. They tended to stiffen and unseal in cold weather and NASA's ambitious shuttle launch schedule included winter lift-offs with risky temperatures, even in Florida.

On 27 January 1986, the forecast for the next morning at the Kennedy Space Center included a launch-time temperature as low as 30 degrees Fahrenheit. NASA had never launched in temperatures that cold and Boisjoly and his four colleagues at Thiokol headquarters in Utah concluded it would be too dangerous to launch.

Three weeks later, he told NPR's Daniel Zwerdling in an unrecorded and confidential interview, "I fought like Hell to stop that launch. I'm so torn up inside I can hardly talk about it, even now."

But Boisjoly did talk about it in a hotel room in Alabama, revealing for the first time the details of that effort to keep Challenger on the launch pad. He asked that he not be named but he agreed to be quoted anonymously. As he spoke with Zwerdling, a second engineer revealed the same details to me under the same conditions at his home in Brigham City, Utah.

Boisjoly's family agreed to release him from our pledge of confidentiality so that his efforts to get the truth out can be widely known.

"We all knew what the implication was without actually coming out and saying it," a tearful Boisjoly told Zwerdling in 1986. "We all knew if the seals failed the shuttle would blow up." […]

Remembering Roger Boisjoly: He Tried To Stop Shuttle Challenger Launch