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Unpolitical Science:

The LA Times reports on an interview with Energy Secretary Steven Chu, a Nobel-winning physicist, about the threat climate change poses to California.

Reporting from Washington -- California's farms and vineyards could vanish by the end of the century, and its major cities could be in jeopardy, if Americans do not act to slow the advance of global warming, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said Tuesday. . . .

"I don't think the American public has gripped in its gut what could happen," he said. "We're looking at a scenario where there's no more agriculture in California." And, he added, "I don't actually see how they can keep their cities going" either.

These are fairly apocalyptic predictions. The problem, as Roger Pielke Jr. notes at Prometheus, is that Chu's claims are not supported by available climate science. There are plenty of studies identifying potential negative impacts in California from climate change, such as this one linked by Sean Hecht at Environmental & Law, yet I am not aware of any that could support the claim that climate change threatens to end all agriculture in California.

For years we've heard complaints about how the Bush Administration waged a "war on science" by, among other things, distorting or misrepresenting scientific findings in order to support its policy positions. If the LA Times accurately reported on Chu's remarks, it seems like Obama Administration officials are already doing the same thing (and even before John Holdren is confirmed).

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. Unpolitical Science:
  2. The Holdren Pick:
Dave D. (mail):
..This is just a taste of what's in store from these folks. It's going to be a long, but interesting, four years.
2.4.2009 10:39pm
maggie:
Just wait till they try to pass gun control laws and see how the science is misrepresented then. Same ole same ole. Some change huh!
2.4.2009 10:49pm
EricH (mail):
I'll alert the media.

They love stories like this where elected officials (seemingly) politicize science.

Don't they?
2.4.2009 10:53pm
Moneyrunner43 (www):
This is more than a little bizarre.

I was walking to lunch a few days ago in downtown Norfolk when a street corner preacher with a huge sign began bellowing that we must repent or be doomed. I believe that he has been recruited by the Obama administration for a high government position, nicely balancing tax cheats with global warming religious nut cases.

Elections have consequences and Liberals have been telling us that Obama is really a centrist. If Steven Chu is someone's idea of a centrist, I'm Dolly Parton.

While the central states have had dozens of people killed and hundreds are out of power because of ice storms. While most of the US is going to freeze tonight, while much of England is paralyzed by snow and Dutchmen are skating on frozen canals for the first time in two decades, Steven Chu is sounding the global warming alarm by predicting an end to agriculture in California if we don't mend our heathen ways. According to the LA Times:



California's farms and vineyards could vanish by the end of the century, and its major cities could be in jeopardy, if Americans do not act to slow the advance of global warming, Secretary of Energy Steven Chu said Tuesday.





I'm assuming that Chu is not off his medication and his speech was vetted by the same people who checked out Tom Daschle to make sure he was squeaky clean. If so, he is a frightening look at the people we have fondling the levers of power in Washington for the next four years … if the country lasts that long.

I say "if the country lasts that long" because we have been assured by the same people who don't want to waste a good crisis that the financial end is nigh and we face a catastophe if we don't pass the stimulus bill, and that 500 million Americans are losing their jobs [per Nancy Pelosi].

I have been wrong; this is not Chicago politics. Chicago works in its own bizarre way. This is Haight-Ashbury politics on crack.
2.4.2009 10:53pm
24AheadDotCom (mail) (www):
For those who want an earlier, more ranty version of this post, see this (note that the AP removed some bias from the second version of the linked article).

It's a shame that those who get a lot of traffic aren't willing to urge their readers to ask politicians real questions on video with the intention of uploading their response to video sharing sites. Because, asking Chu about this could make for interesting watching.
2.4.2009 10:53pm
Anon Y. Mous:

For years we've heard complaints about how the Bush Administration waged a "war on science" by, among other things, distorting or misrepresenting scientific findings in order to support its policy positions. If the LA Times accurately reported on Chu's remarks, it seems like Obama Administration officials are already doing the same thing (and even before John Holdren is confirmed).


I would be interested in hearing an example of the Bush Administration making a claim that is even in the same league as this nonsense. It would be accurate to say that the Obama Administration is doing the same thing that the Bush Administration was accused of.
2.4.2009 10:57pm
Elliot123 (mail):
We have moved from the scientific method to being "gripped in the gut?" Is that change we can believe in?
2.4.2009 11:13pm
James Mapes (mail) (www):
I'm sorry, I'm a little confused. Are you disputing the idea that climate change could drastically affect Californian agriculture or are you just nit-picking word usage like "vanish"?

I mean, I can understand the word usage problem, but the former is just a little confusing - hence my request for clarification. Because man, a word like "vanish", that's pretty strong. On the other hand, there are tons of historical examples of rich agriculture regions being turned into desert because of over-farming and changes in water patterns - the same kind of stuff that might come out of the huge cities and changing climate of today's California. The Fertile Crescent, for one.

So I guess it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me to say that that idea is ridiculous - especially not when a government agency like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration warn that "changes in surface temperature, rainfall, and sea level are largely irreversible for more than 1,000 years after carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are completely stopped." I mean, seems pretty clear to me - problems today could cause a drastic change tomorrow - and 1,000 years of the kind of record droughts California's been having lately would hurt agriculture there a lot.

But vanish? I agree. That's pretty bad word choice.
2.4.2009 11:21pm
Eli Rabett (www):
Given that California ag is critically dependent on snowpack, as the CA water resources board says:

One of the most critical impacts for California water management may be the projected reduction in the Sierra Nevada snowpack -- California's largest surface "reservoir." Snowmelt currently provides an annual average of 15 million acre-feet of water, slowly released between April and July each year. Much of the state's water infrastructure was designed to capture the slow spring runoff and deliver it during the drier summer and fall months. Based upon historical data and modeling, DWR projects that the Sierra snowpack will experience a 25 to 40 percent reduction from its historic average by 2050. Climate change is also anticipated to bring warmer storms that result in less snowfall at lower elevations, reducing the total snowpack.


it ain't gonna be a bowl of cherries. The linked white paper is interesting on many grounds
2.4.2009 11:23pm
Moneyrunner43 (www):

"changes in surface temperature, rainfall, and sea level are largely irreversible for more than 1,000 years after carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions are completely stopped."


I saw that too. So it's too late for Cali. And we're doomed even if we repent.

By the way, would you mind not exhaling? You're killing my planet.
2.4.2009 11:25pm
James Mapes (mail) (www):
"So it's too late for Cali. And we're doomed even if we repent."

Now come on, mr. Moneyrunner - just because we've made some mistakes is no reason to give up now! Keep on being an environmentalist!

Besides, hopefully someday we'll be able to get the planet back to the point where the both of us exhaling keeps trees alive. Isn't that worth fighting for?
2.4.2009 11:28pm
RPT (mail):
Who knew there were so many legal scientists on this blog? No information required to just disagree!
2.4.2009 11:32pm
John Burgess (mail) (www):
Clearly, there's a solution for California and its agriculture.

I propose a $1,000 tax on politicians or actors speaking on public issues about which they have more opinion than factual information.

A special levy of 10% of the gross could be levied on films or TV programs purporting apocalypse unless clearly labeled as 'Science Fiction' or 'Horror'.

A punitive levy of 300% would be made on the income derived from public speaking by the above politicians/actors, with a double-plus ungood levy of 1000% imposed on anything referencing Al Gore's science.

The income from these levies will be used to purchase, operate, and maintain desalination plants up and down the coast, but primarily off shore urban clusters with the highest demand--for efficiency, doncha know.
2.4.2009 11:34pm
LM (mail):
We know he can't be right, so saying it makes him crazy or a liar. Since we know he's either crazy or lying, what he's saying can't be right.
2.4.2009 11:41pm
LM (mail):
Jonathan Adler,

For years we've heard complaints about how the Bush Administration waged a "war on science" by, among other things, distorting or misrepresenting scientific findings in order to support its policy positions. If the LA Times accurately reported on Chu's remarks, it seems like Obama Administration officials are already doing the same thing (and even before John Holdren is confirmed).

Actually, I believe the objections were that non-scientist political appointees suppressed or changed scientific findings, not, as here, that we disagreed with or just didn't like what a scientist had to say.
2.4.2009 11:47pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
I do have problems with the idea that agriculture will disappear in CA due to global warming. Maybe be reduced, but vanish? I think that is indicia of scare tactics, somewhat akin to Gore's 20 foot rise in the oceans.

Not that water and snow pack is not an issue. I talked with a client today up at Lake Tahoe who has an invention that needs snow to operate, and there is no snow to demo it on up there right now. And last year was bad too. But keep in mind that even the current snow pack would be sufficient for a lot of agriculture in CA - if there weren't so many people on the coasts who needed it. And I suspect that one of the things that he is assuming is that the CA population will continue to grow at its historic rate, and will thus take increasing amounts of water from agriculture. And, of course, the business environment has gotten so bad in CA that businesses are fleeing right now to better business environments.

Of course, maybe the reason that there is less snowpack this year and last is that at least this winter seems a bit colder in much of the country than usual.

Also note that he is just looking at CA agriculture. I would think that overall, rain and snow should increase, at least a little, if global temperatures rise, since warmer air can carry more moisture. So, I would suggest that if water available to CA were to drop with global warming, then it would likely increase elsewhere, and lead to more agriculture there. And that is what is really important - global agriculture, not just that of one state in one country. Global warming is also likely to open up at least some of the frozen stretches of both Canada and Russia/Siberia for farming, and given the shape of the continents, there could be a significant overall global gain of farmland as a result.
2.4.2009 11:53pm
SecurityGeek:
I'm glad a lawyer is telling me to disregard a statement from a Nobel-laureate because the latter is publicizing science.

Most legal-lay-people are humble enough to use a disclaimer like IANAL when discussing legal concepts. Law professors need no such disclaimer, because they are experts in everything. It's like the PoMo lit-crit idiots claiming "everything is text and therefore can be analyzed like a Borges novel". Prof. Adler must believe that every field of study is actually a sub-field of the law.

Awesome. I am gonna love this blog for the next eight years.
2.4.2009 11:58pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
Actually, I believe the objections were that non-scientist political appointees suppressed or changed scientific findings, not, as here, that we disagreed with or just didn't like what a scientist had to say.
Note though, we are talking about a scientist opining well out of his area of expertise. I know that physicists think that since all science is based ultimately on physics, they can be experts at all of it, but...

In any case, at least he isn't going to make the type of basic errors that someone like Gore with no scientific training tends to make (and in Gore's case, apparently does routinely), such as ignoring all the limitations and assumptions when looking at scientific papers and reports.
2.4.2009 11:58pm
John (mail):
Isn't warm weather and CO2 good for plants?

And surely, by the end of the century California will be extracting all the fresh water it needs from the oceans.
2.5.2009 12:13am
TRE:
Chu's Nobel prize apparently deals with light, lasers, photons etc. If you can explain how it somehow makes him an expert on the environment I'd like to hear it.
2.5.2009 12:22am
ll (mail):
1. Chu's a Nobel Prize winner, that makes him expert in everything.

2. The Southwest, presumably including California, had an epic drought approx. 1100 to 1300. It did end. How would that one be different.
2.5.2009 12:33am
James Mapes (mail) (www):
Just to chime in on a misconception, global warming is a bad term to use. Climate change is better - increased CO2 in the atmosphere will lead to more heat trapped in the atmosphere, yes, and that will manifest as warmer spring/summers, longer and drier droughts, and more powerful storm - but it also means colder winters and larger winter storm. Weather is a system driven by heat - more heat will drive it harder.

Hence, climate change is dangerous to the global food supply on the whole. There may be benefits - certainly a bit more food grown farther North - but I don't think it's compensation for the crops lost to more extreme weather.
2.5.2009 12:43am
Redlands (mail):

2. The Southwest, presumably including California, had an epic drought approx. 1100 to 1300. It did end. How would that one be different.



Not different at all. The Zunis, who were very advanced scientifically and artistically, proved conclusively that the Navajos were responsible for that 200 year drought.
2.5.2009 12:50am
James Mapes (mail) (www):
Actually, to correct myself, I confused myself at some point previous. Climate change rise of global temperature won't mean more extreme snow fall - just drought, storms, and saturation of CO2 sinks. My mistake.
2.5.2009 12:54am
LM (mail):
BH,

Note though, we are talking about a scientist opining well out of his area of expertise.

"[W]ell out of his area of expertise"? "Out," sure, but my idea of "well out" would be something like a physicist opining on genetics. As if. Anyway, point taken, and I agree he doesn't get the same presumption of expertise an equally competent scientist in the relevant fields would. Just more than almost everyone else.
2.5.2009 1:07am
AlanDownunder (mail):

In a worst case, Chu said, up to 90% of the Sierra snowpack could disappear, all but eliminating a natural storage system for water vital to agriculture.

"I don't think the American public has gripped in its gut what could happen," he said. "We're looking at a scenario where there's no more agriculture in California."


Dear Jonathan,

To

{assist your impaired powers of comprehension}
{expose your clumsy hand at misrepresentation}

I have bolded some relevant words from the LA Times article that you were

{kind}
{dumb}

enough to link to.
2.5.2009 1:26am
trad and anon:
"[W]ell out of his area of expertise"? "Out," sure, but my idea of "well out" would be something like a physicist opining on genetics. As if. Anyway, point taken, and I agree he doesn't get the same presumption of expertise an equally competent scientist in the relevant fields would. Just more than almost everyone else.
I think laser cooling has about as much to do with climatology as genetics does. Its relevance to the likely impact of global climate change on California's agriculture industry is even less: at least genetics could tell you something about our potential future ability to use GMO's that could survive a drier climate. He doesn't seem much more qualified to pontificate on this issue than anyone else with a general understanding of science but no background in climatology.

I was actually confused about the choice of Chu: he's spent the bulk of his adult studying quantum physics. He's also spent the past few years running a lab at Berkeley. How exactly does this make him qualified to be in charge of setting regulations for maintaining efficient energy markets, or of maintaining security in the transportation of nuclear materials? But at least he seems to have paid his taxes.

And I am a liberal, an Obama supporter, and not a climate change denialist.
2.5.2009 1:33am
Sean Hecht (mail) (www):
Jonathan,
Here's a slightly edited version of my response to you from our Environment and Law blog (since our brand new blog has many fewer readers, of course!).

I actually interpreted Dr. Chu's statements differently - and not as scientific prediction. I took the agriculture comment to mean that among the scenarios the state is looking at is one in which our agricultural industries collapse (presumably from a worst-case impacts scenario coupled with a failure of our government, infrastructure, and industry to adapt). I did not think either that he literally meant that we would have no more agriculture in the state (how could he have meant that?), or that that scenario was a "prediction" rather than a worst-case hypothetical. And I interpreted the "cities" remark as a general, if hyperbolic, comment about the serious challenges our cities will face in the long term because of the unsustainability of water supply and other issues, rather than a prediction that our cities would literally depopulate and become ghost cities. But I can see how the comments could be interpreted otherwise in the context provided by the reporter. And perhaps you would quarrel with his decision to discuss a worst-case scenario, even if my intepretation of his meaning is correct.

There's no reason to overstate the likely impacts of climate change, as the predicted range of impacts, particularly in a place like California, is pretty startling anyway. At a minimum, we will likely have trouble growing crops like wine grapes, tree nuts, and stone fruit where they have been cultivated in the past. And the water impacts will be enormous: even the low range of the likely decrease in snowpack means that our primary means of water storage will be sharply decreased, in an environment where water supply for both ag and urban uses is precarious. But I believe we will adapt, even if it means significant changes in our practices or even shifts in population centers over the long term. It's also clear that the less the climate changes, the less we will need to resort to adaptation measures that will be really disruptive, and the less the most vulnerable among us will have to suffer.

In the unlikely event Dr. Chu's remarks were meant as you interpret them, that would be troubling. If he meant what I thought he did, and people read the comments the way you did nonetheless - as I now suspect many probably will, evidenced by your comment here - that's unfortunate. I hope he is more careful in his choice of words (or of interviewers, if that is the problem) in the future. But I don't believe he is distorting the science here.
Sean
2.5.2009 1:35am
krs:
If Steven Chu is someone's idea of a centrist, I'm Dolly Parton

The problem with anonymous blog comments is that it's not at all obvious whether you are or aren't Dolly Parton.

Probability is against it, but you may well be very similar to Dolly Parton for all we know.
2.5.2009 1:36am
josil (mail):
Steven Chu has left his research work well behind him as he has found a new occupation as a commentator on public policy, slightly less hysterical than Al Gore...but equally trustworthy. Personally, as a scientist speaking beyond his realm, I believe the oceans will rise and fall, land in California will experience drought and excess precipitation (but not at the same time), and a meteor will strike the earth someplace, sometime. I'd estimate the probability of these events coming to pass at nearly 1.
2.5.2009 2:25am
Steve:
It won't literally vanish! Great catch.
2.5.2009 2:31am
Spence:
Hey, AlanDownUnder, you might be on to something. Let me just try this out:

In a worst case, Darwinian evolution could be wrong, and God may have created the species.


Nope, that hasn't worked. One more try:

In a worst case, the Large Hadron Collider could create a black hole. We're looking at a scenario where the planet becomes about one centimetre across.


How disappointing. Apparently it turns out that the words "worst case", "could" and "scenario" don't convert pseudoscientific garbage into credible commentary, after all.
2.5.2009 4:35am
David Welker (www):
AlanDownunder,

Excellent point. You probably could be more polite in making it though.
2.5.2009 4:45am
pireader (mail):
Professor Adler --

You're usually scrupulously careful and fair-minded, so I'm a little surprised at how you wrote this post.

"Chu's claims are not supported by available climate science"

Until last month, Steven Chu was director of the Lawrence Berkeley national laboratory. In that role, he sponsored and supervised the work of a group of climate change researchers led by Norman Miller. For the past 5 years, they have been publishing analyses saying more-or-less what Chu told the LA Times.

To my knowledge, their findings are not regarded as extreme or controversial in the field of climate-change research. In any case, they've been reported in publications, conference proceedings and the popular press.

"These are fairly apocalyptic predictions"

Yes, they are. But they were presented--in the research and in Chu's remarks--as the "worst case". And they flow pretty directly from a worst case where climate change threatens snowpack formation in the Sierras, the main source of California's water.

As somebody pointed out above, perhaps California agriculture would not literally "vanish" if snowpack accumulation declined permanently by 70% ... but there wouldn't be much left. And the cities would be in trouble too, just as as Chu said.

So what are you challenging? That snowpack accumulation could fall so drastically? That the consequences would be so dire? Or what?

"[I]t seems like Obama Administration officials are already" ... waging a ... " 'war on science' by, among other things, distorting or misrepresenting scientific findings in order to support its policy positions"

Chu's lab does scientific research. Chu cites its its findings, substantially accurately. And you respond by accusing him of bad faith. Wow.

You link to a Roger Pielke post. Read on down into the comments, where Pielke, to his credit, rebukes a commenter for attacking Chu personally. Pielke stayed resolutely classy ... take a lesson from him on this one.
2.5.2009 6:25am
David Warner:
Actually, I think this falls under the category of EV's useful speculation, i.e. that effective planning takes into account risks both likely and unlikely.
2.5.2009 6:48am
Federal Dog:
Yet another good reason to roll your eyes when anyone's political opinion is prefaced by the words: "The Nobel Prize-winning" anything.
2.5.2009 7:21am
Floridan:
Bruce Hayden: "Global warming is also likely to open up at least some of the frozen stretches of both Canada and Russia/Siberia for farming, and given the shape of the continents, there could be a significant overall global gain of farmland as a result."

Oh, OK. No problem then.
2.5.2009 7:48am
EricPWJohnson (mail):
If Dr Chu is refering to the growing loss of water - he maybe is 100 years too soon but he left himself 100 years to play with.

California is surrounded by desert, encroached upon each year due to natural causes

What Cr Chu maybe refering to is the more we take vegitation and redistribute water for mass crops, the more encroachment - COULD - COULD encur

However, the time tables of what nature and urban sprawl affect this process is uncertain, in fact the causation is still questioned.

Introducing Global warming into the mix is problematic - however his statement is theorectically sound that (AND I DONT BELIEVE IN GLOBAL WARMING) global warming would/could threaten California very quickly (Nevada, Salt Lake City as well)
2.5.2009 7:58am
Just Me:
Here's a report from those commies at the California Energy Commission, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and something called the Western Regional Climate Center. I quote:

Projections indicate an alarming decrease of 70 to 90 percent in Sierra Nevada snowpack by the end of this century. This would dramatically impact the availability of water for urban and agricultural uses. It could also reduce the amount of power generated and affect winter recreation.

At risk would be California's $30 billion agriculture industry that provides half the country's fruits and vegetables. Increasing temperature is expected to affect wine grape quality, reduce chill hours needed by fruit and nut trees for proper bud setting, and stress dairy cows, thus reducing milk production. Threats to agriculture such as an expanding range of agricultural weeds and an increase in pests, may also be exacerbated.


This sounds strangely like Chu's remarks. I guess they are supported by the science!
2.5.2009 8:22am
Just Me:
Here's a report from those commies at the California Energy Commission, the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, and something called the Western Regional Climate Center. I quote:

Projections indicate an alarming decrease of 70 to 90 percent in Sierra Nevada snowpack by the end of this century. This would dramatically impact the availability of water for urban and agricultural uses. It could also reduce the amount of power generated and affect winter recreation.

At risk would be California's $30 billion agriculture industry that provides half the country's fruits and vegetables. Increasing temperature is expected to affect wine grape quality, reduce chill hours needed by fruit and nut trees for proper bud setting, and stress dairy cows, thus reducing milk production. Threats to agriculture such as an expanding range of agricultural weeds and an increase in pests, may also be exacerbated.


This sounds strangely like Chu's remarks. I guess they are supported by the science!
2.5.2009 8:22am
Happyshooter:
Will Mother Gaia forgive us and stop the raised heat and killing of the cities if we show her we are sorry?

Perhaps some form of public sorrow? I propose bands of the faithful walk from city to city whipping themselves as they walk.

I know that showing sorrow in this manner is a new idea, but one I feel may have some promise.
2.5.2009 8:41am
Oren:
These are fairly apocalyptic predictions for the end of the century. 90 years is a long time.
2.5.2009 8:52am
Sarcastro (www):
B-but it's cold in places!

Moreover, I've read like two websites on the issue. This makes me qualified to say that whatever this guy says is wrong. Maybe someday I'll even site an oil company study I saw once!

Also, I disagree with this guy, so this is proof that the Nobel Prize is only given to liberals, who should be ignored.
2.5.2009 8:52am
bornyesterday (mail) (www):
Why worry? California is supposed to be hit by the Big One and drop off into the ocean before the end of the century, isn't it?

@Spence - re: AlanDownUnder - your sentences aren't at all comparable to Chu's. Scientifically speaking, if worst case predictions of global warming are true, then it is absolutely true that California will turn to desert. Scientifically speaking, the LHC cannot produce collisions of high enough energy to create black holes. Your first example is so patently not parallel that it just boggles my mind. As someone with a degree in science, it's posts like yours that make me sympathize with the VC-ers for all the people who post their opinions of how the law works when they have no education in law.
2.5.2009 9:04am
AlanDownunder (mail):
I'll accept a chastening for lack of civility. It was unfair to single Jonathan out when I was as much steamed up by all the ignorant piling on.

Chu, if he cared, is owed a few apologies, most of all from those comparing him to the Deutsches who peppered the Bush administration.

Spence can have his chastening for facile false equivalence.

Biology says nothing about God. The scientific method is avowedly unable to address the supernatural.

Black hole was outside the range of respectable scientific prediction, whereas a 90% snowpack loss is inside the range; something that ought to 'grip anyone in the gut'.
2.5.2009 9:05am
Jonathan H. Adler (mail) (www):
Nobody disputes that climate change will have an effect on water supplies and agriculture, and that some of these effects could be substantial and quite negative. I've written papers about the former (which I blogged about here). These impacts can be discussed by without resort to hyperbole or misrepresentation. Given Chu's scientific background and expertise, I think it is reasonable to hold him to a high standard in this regard. I also think that it is worth noting this sort of thing because it helps illustrate that the politicization of science through spin and misrepresentation is endemic, and not a partisan phenomenon.

JHA
2.5.2009 9:13am
NaG (mail):
So, worst case scenario, California's farmers will need to import some water. Like Las Vegas. Or someone needs to develop cheaper and more efficient desalinization procedures to convert seawater into fresh water. Ow, that really hit me in the gut, there.

What bugs me about a lot of these "predictions" is that the scientists universally assume that humans will just sit there and do absolutely nothing while something changes.
2.5.2009 9:17am
alkali (mail):
It is outrageous that Chu overlooks the fact that desertification of California farmlands will be an enormous boon for cactus farmers.
2.5.2009 9:20am
Anderson (mail):
Worth saying twice, Just Me.

Also, it's disappointing that Prof. Adler is roundly refuted and doesn't have the grace to admit it. I have sometimes wondered whether any of his work on environmental law is associated with any particular clients, foundations, etc.
2.5.2009 9:24am
Bart (mail):

For years we've heard complaints about how the Bush Administration waged a "war on science" by, among other things, distorting or misrepresenting scientific findings in order to support its policy positions. If the LA Times accurately reported on Chu's remarks, it seems like Obama Administration officials are already doing the same thing (and even before John Holdren is confirmed).

Show me a comparable fiction being advanced as "science" by the Bush Administration. In fact, Mr. Bush was accused of a "war on science" for declining to follow similar fictions advanced as "science" by the bureaucracy and outside NGOs.
2.5.2009 9:36am
Sarcastro (www):
It is Unscientific to be anything other than a boring policy wonk. To be an advocate in any way shape or form is clear evidence you are wrong. Unless you agree with me.

And to discuss a worst case scenario is exactly the same thing as censoring studies that disagree with you!
2.5.2009 9:37am
Spence:
Thank you, bornyesterday and AlanDownUnder, for showing me how little you know about science.

Yes, the religious one was tongue-in-cheek and extreme - but the black hole one is much, much less so.

AlanDownUnder, you are quite wrong on your statement regarding black holes. The Large Hadron Collider could, theoretically, create black holes greater than the minimum requirement for a meaningful black hole (i.e., with a radius equal to the higher-dimensional Planck scale). However, two points: it is extremely unlikely to occur, and even if it did, there are other reasons why it is irrelevant (the black hole would dissipate before it could grow).

This is a direct comparison. Chu cites something extremely unlikely to occur (loss of snowpack) and ignores the fact that other reasons why it is irrelevant (e.g. construction of desalination plants or better management of the hydrological cycle). Also bear in mind that snowpack is not simply a function of temperature - but both precipitation and temperature, and climate models presently lack skill and predicting precipitation at any scale.

Sorry if my reductio ad absurdum was beneath your standards for humour, but as I said before, "could" does not excuse pseudoscientific garbage, either on black holes or climate change.
2.5.2009 9:46am
Just Me:
Prof. Adler, this is beneath you. Your post doesn't hold Chu to a higher standard, it says "For years we've heard complaints about how the Bush Administration waged a "war on science" by, among other things, distorting or misrepresenting scientific findings in order to support its policy positions. If the LA Times accurately reported on Chu's remarks, it seems like Obama Administration officials are already doing the same thing"

The same thing, really? Under the Bush administration, some science communications were controlled by a 24 year old political appointee with no science background and a fraudulent resume. Is that really the same as what Chu has done? Even if some of Chu's statement is hyperbolic (but the core claim of 90% loss of Sierra Nevada snowpack is at the upper end of the predictions), it doesn't compare with what happened under Bush.

And as far as "nobody disputes that climate change will have an effect on water supplies and agriculture, and that some of these effects could be substantial and quite negative," do you even read your own comment threads.

(I'll try not to double post this time!)
2.5.2009 9:48am
Sarcastro (www):
[Spence, I gotta take issue with your analogy.

there are NO current theoretical models that involve a dangerous sized BH in the LHC. What Chu indicated is within a number of climate models, if the posts above are any indication.

Sure, there is a small chance that the current physics models are wrong, there always is. But to parallel that with the odds a model is obeyed, except to an extreme of it's prediction is completely different.

As to your attacking the model, I don't have the expertise to know it's accuracy. But pseudoscience? I think a lot of scientists would have issue with your comparing them to bigfoot hunters or mediums.]
2.5.2009 9:52am
RomeoW (mail):
"As to your attacking the model, I don't have the expertise to know it's accuracy. But pseudoscience? I think a lot of scientists would have issue with your comparing them to bigfoot hunters or mediums.]"

Trust me, in 20 years they'll be regarded as mediums. Actually, a good percentage of folks aren't buying the hype anymore, but they are just the rubes of oil company scientists, the fools.

There are hurricanes, it must be climate change!! It's hot in August, must be climate change. Look at this picture of the cute bear, the poor cutie pie bear on the ice sheet, floating...floating to his death...all hail climate change!!! We have seasons, it must be climate change! I've linked to a web site, it must be climate change! Every single last possible scientist believes in climate change, it must be killing the planet! huh? you don't agree? You foolish poster, you have not the knowledge as I, educated foolish poster. Now bow down to my hilarity.
2.5.2009 10:00am
Kevin P. (mail):

Projections indicate an alarming decrease of 70 to 90
percent in Sierra Nevada snowpack by the end of this
century.


What is the basis for this statement? I followed the links provided to:
and cannot find it.
2.5.2009 10:00am
A.S.:
Just me: This sounds strangely like Chu's remarks. I guess they are supported by the science!

Did you even read what you posted? What you posted sounds nothing like Chu's remarks.

For example, the linked report says that "wine grape quality" may be "affect[ed]". Chu says that California vineyards could vanish. Do you not understand the difference between the two statements?

The linked report in no way supports Chu's apocalyptic predictions. Chu is, as most climate change alarmists are, engaging in politics of fear.
2.5.2009 10:02am
Kevin P. (mail):
2.5.2009 10:07am
Just Me:


Projections indicate an alarming decrease of 70 to 90 percent in Sierra Nevada snowpack by the end of this century.

What is the basis for this statement? I followed the links provided to:
and cannot find it.


I don't know exactly; the IPCC documents are very long. But if you go here and read Chapter 14 on North America, you find this paragraph:

Warming, and changes in the form, timing and amount of precipitation, will very likely lead to earlier melting and significant reductions in snowpack in the western mountains by the middle of the 21st century (high confidence) (Loukas et al., 2002; Leung and Qian, 2003; Miller et al., 2003; Mote et al., 2003; Hayhoe et al., 2004). In projections for mountain snowmelt-dominated watersheds, snowmelt runoff advances, winter and early spring flows increase (raising flooding potential), and summer flows decrease substantially (Kim et al., 2002; Loukas et al., 2002; Snyder et al., 2002; Leung and Qian, 2003; Miller et al., 2003; Mote et al., 2003; Christensen et al., 2004; Merritt et al., 2005). Over-allocated water systems of the western U.S. and Canada, such as the Columbia River, that rely on capturing snowmelt runoff, will be especially vulnerable (see Box 14.2).

Perhaps if you chase down those references you'll find the actual numbers. But I don't know for sure.
2.5.2009 10:12am
Just Me:
A.S., yes, let's compare:

Chu: In a worst case, Chu said, up to 90% of the Sierra snowpack could disappear, all but eliminating a natural storage system for water vital to agriculture.

Report: Projections indicate an alarming decrease of 70 to 90 percent in Sierra Nevada snowpack by the end of this century. This would dramatically impact the availability of water for urban and agricultural uses.

Chu: "I don't think the American public has gripped in its gut what could happen," he said. "We're looking at a scenario where there's no more agriculture in California."

Report: At risk would be California's $30 billion agriculture industry that provides half the country's fruits and vegetables.

You're right, nothing to see here, move along.
2.5.2009 10:19am
Bob from Ohio (mail):

I am gonna love this blog for the next eight years


Four.
2.5.2009 10:22am
Bob from Ohio (mail):

I have sometimes wondered whether any of his work on environmental law is associated with any particular clients, foundations, etc.


Where is the money in science research on climate? Who gets it?

It is those who issue reports predicting the end of snow pack in California and the rise of the oceans. It are those who issue reports that change is "irreversible".

Its not sceptics who get the grants.

So why do you think Alter is a paid hack but Chu and the others are totally disinterested?
2.5.2009 10:28am
Sarcastro (www):

Its not sceptics who get the grants.


Stupid Bush administration and their climate change agenda!
2.5.2009 10:37am
Mark Buehner (mail):

Projections indicate an alarming decrease of 70 to 90 percent in Sierra Nevada snowpack by the end of this century.

Emphasis mine. If projections were reality my 401k wouldn't be so funny. These models all assume their conclusions. Any contradictory data is simply finessed into the model, but the hypothesis is never reexamined. That is not science.

And this agriculture nonsense is really silly. It's like projecting that because of the rate of highway expansion, within the next hundred years a highway is going to be built directly through a grade school. It doesn't factor in human response.
2.5.2009 10:41am
Sarcastro (www):
Scientists should really stop projecting things and start proving stuff! And where's my flying car?

Mark Buehner knows is Climate science. He's studied the models, and knows how they treat contradictory data. That's why he can speak with such authority.
2.5.2009 10:45am
Mark Buehner (mail):
The nice thing about declaring climate change irreversible is that it pins down people on their predictions. This way when I'm still enjoying Napa wine in a hundred years (surely we'll all live forever by then, right?), these pin heads won't be claiming "Thank god we stopped it in time! No need to thank me!"
2.5.2009 10:46am
Abdul Abulbul Amir (mail):


Just to chime in on a misconception, global warming is a bad term to use. Climate change is better - increased CO2 in the atmosphere will lead to more heat trapped in the atmosphere, yes, and that will manifest as warmer spring/summers, longer and drier droughts, and more powerful storm - but it also means colder winters and larger winter storm. Weather is a system driven by heat - more heat will drive it harder.


Emphasis added. The weather system is driven by heat differential. If the temperature were uniform across the planet there would be no weather variation. Since global warming predicts more warming at the poles than at the equator, then if true there will be less temperature differential and therefore fewer powerful storms.
2.5.2009 10:46am
genob:
So after standing next to the rubble of the World Trade Center and the bodies of thousands of real dead Americans, George Bush is accused of whipping up unreasonable fear in order to "force" Democrats to do things like pass the Patriot Act, vote to go to war in Iraq, decline to declare waterboarding as torture, etc.

Turns out the outrage was because they saw him taking their favorite play out of their playbook. Oceans will rise 20 feet, agriculture will end, cities will go thirsty, 500 million americans will lose their jobs in the next 30 days, a "catastrophe" is imminent unless you agree to build a dog park in Chula Vista and endow Planned Parenthood. All will come to pass unless you blindly follow Nancy, Barack and Harry.

Makes one long for FDR when the only thing we had to fear was fear itself...

Fearmongering, extortion. Change.
2.5.2009 10:57am
Mark Buehner (mail):

Mark Buehner knows is Climate science. He's studied the models, and knows how they treat contradictory data. That's why he can speak with such authority.

Sarcastro knows Mark Buehner. He goes through his trash to determine his background and level of knowledge on all manner of subjects.

These predictins are always fun, but why not put your money where your mouth is? If California wine is doomed, its a sure thing that stocking your basement with it now will earn you a fortune down the road. I don't see Sarcastro or Steven Chu cornering the market on Napa wine. Odd.
2.5.2009 10:57am
Spence:
Sacastro - thanks for the respectful response :)

You are correct in that no credible theoretical models predict dangerous black holes from the LHC. And, indeed, I did not say they did. The standard model predicts very little chance of a black hole, the extended models predicts a small chance of a micro black hole, which would not be dangerous.

I would say no credible climate model can predict what will happen to the CA snowpack. Why? Because no model has been shown to have skill in both precipitation and temperature on local scales.

Consider this. Imagine we could send back in time our latest climate model and computer, together with privileged knowledge of natural 20th century forcings, back to 1900, and let them run the model. How much useful information would this yield, on a local scale, in determining water management? (Bear in mind we do not have this privileged information for the 21st century)

Hydrologist Demetris Koutsoyiannis asked exactly this question in his paper, Koutsoyiannis et al, On the Credibility of Climate Models, published in Hydrological Sciences Journal Aug 2008. You can find a free online copy of the paper here (click on "full text"). Looking at the paper, one of the locations he checks is - Colfax, CA! How apt.

How did the climate models perform in meaningful predictions of local, climate scale temperature and precipitation? How useful were they to our chums in 1900? I'll quote Demetris here (note English is his second language...):

At the annual and the climatic (30-year) scales, GCM interpolated series are irrelevant to reality.


The huge negative values of coefficients of efficiency show that model predictions are much poorer than an elementary prediction based on the time average. This makes future climate projections at the examined locations not credible.


So, I would modify your statement somewhat. No credible models predict dangerous black holes from the LHC. And no credible models predict a loss of snowpack in CA.
2.5.2009 10:58am
Adler Colleague:
Anyone attending the March 8-10 Heartland Conference in the Apple?

Just to inject some "science" into this argument.
2.5.2009 11:02am
Sarcastro (www):
[Spence BH physics was at one time my bailiwick, so I have trouble resisting when someone posts on it. But usually such posts are too well-reasoned to post as Sarcastro proper :-)

I still have some trouble with your parallel, since with the LHC, there are some credible models, while you contend that there are no credible climate models.

So it's like you're saying "a four-colored cow is as odd as a pink pushmepullyou." True, but a bit of a misleading parallel IMO.

Though, for what it's worth, you have convinced me that using local climate predictions is pretty sensationalist.]
2.5.2009 11:10am
A.S.:
Chu: "I don't think the American public has gripped in its gut what could happen," he said. "We're looking at a scenario where there's no more agriculture in California."

Report: At risk would be California's $30 billion agriculture industry that provides half the country's fruits and vegetables.


Thanks for providing additional evidence to my point.

Chu says that there is some realistic scenarion "where there's no more agriculture in California". The report provides no support for that statement, as it merely claims that the industry would be at some (undefined amount of) risk. How much risk? $1 billion in losses? $5 billion in losses? Who knows. But there's nothing in that statement that provides any support for the statement that the entire $30 billion industry would disappear.

Again, it's the politics of fear.
2.5.2009 11:16am
Just Me:

The weather system is driven by heat differential. If the temperature were uniform across the planet there would be no weather variation. Since global warming predicts more warming at the poles than at the equator, then if true there will be less temperature differential and therefore fewer powerful storms.


Your first sentence is true, but your conclusion doesn't follow. Don't forget about the (much stronger) vertical temperature differential in the troposphere. That will still be there. Since a warmer surface temperature means more moisture in the air, the vertical temperature differential will drive more and more powerful storms.
2.5.2009 11:18am
Francis (mail):
I just love the way that the rock-ribbed conservatives on this blog assume that the most radical extremist unscientific left-wing version of climate change is that held by the mainstream.

Climate Change caused New Orleans to drown! uh, no. no one storm can be blamed on climate change.

Does anyone here besides me actually know any California water law or anything about California's water infrastructure? Doesn't show.

1. California is entering its third year of severe drought. Storage levels in the critical reservoirs are alarmingly low. Is the drought the fault of climate change? Scientifically, too soon to tell. The drought is consistent, however, with some very rough modeling being done that is trying to apply gcc models to the State.

2. California's water infrastructure is finely tuned to operate within a very narrow range of assumptions about the weather. (as one might imagine -- building unneeded facilities is expensive and makes voters cranky.) One key assumption involves the melt rate of the snowpack in the eastern mountain ranges. There is already an observable change in that melt rate. This means that Californians need to spend very large sums of money to build new dams simply in order to capture the exact same amount of water.

3. As a result of inadequate regulation of many kinds of discharges, but especially ag water runoff, the Bay Delta ecosystem is dying. The problem is that the Delta is a kind of enormous switching yard in which water gets dumped in from various points, and pulled out by enormous pumps in the south for delivery to farms and cities.

4. In times of shortage, farms get hit hard. Even under California's oh-so-lefty legal system (actually less than one might think), people insist that there be water in their taps every day. A farmer can always lose a year.

5. then there's the impact of the Endangered Species Act, the effect of increased volatility in water delivery on planting decisions, etc. etc.

6. So will climate change cause the end of California agriculture? Depends what you mean by "cause". If Californians as a whole fail to recognize that they need to make major and expensive changes to their water infrastructure, then the ag industry is going to be very different by 2050. Looking back from 2050, people should recognize that one critical factor in that change was the failure of the citizens to respond to the impacts on the state of global climate change.
2.5.2009 11:21am
Jonathan H. Adler (mail) (www):
Just Me, AlanDownUnder, etc. --

Reread the post. I did not criticize Chu for citing a high-end, worst case scenario for snowpack loss. Rather, I criticized him for suggesting that climate change would mean "no more agriculture." The former claim may involve cherry-picking, which is defensible if presented properly, the latter claim is ridiculous. The former claim, if contestable, is at least supported by various model predictions. The latter claim is not. (See, for example, the discussion of agriculture in the California report I cited above. The report summarizes the available literature, emphasizing negative effects, and comes nowhere close to suggesting "no more agriculture." (And saying that it could have negative effects on the industry is not the same as saying "no more " agriculture).

As for the Bush Administration, it is certainly true that there were awful abuses in the Bush Administration. I've written about some of them. But some of the examples of the supposed "war on science" are nothing more than the Administration's spinning or misrepresentation of scientific evidence, as with regard to stem cell lines, the alleged abortion-breast cancer link, and so on, or misrepresentations of science by the likes of Sen. Inhofe. I don't know about all of you, but I hold Nobel laureate scientists who oversaw substantial climate-related research to a higher standard than Senators.

JHA
2.5.2009 11:22am
Mark Buehner (mail):
Get your Sierra talk in now, a big storm is about to hit that will probably pushe the snowpack back to average. Just like last year. The Sierra is great for climate change because it relies on a couple of big storms a year, so if theyre 'late' its a disaster and California is a desert. The gift that will keep on giving (at least until it inevitably snows).

Personally, i've been charting local temperatures since July. By my projections temps will average 50 below zero by this August. Also daylight will only be 20 minutes long.
2.5.2009 11:25am
Sarcastro (www):

But some of the examples of the supposed "war on science" are nothing more than the Administration's spinning or misrepresentation of scientific evidence

So it's totally cool to make an equivalence between everything the Bush Administration did to science and this one sensationalist thing this new science guy said!
2.5.2009 11:26am
Just Me:

Chu says that there is some realistic scenarion "where there's no more agriculture in California". The report provides no support for that statement, as it merely claims that the industry would be at some (undefined amount of) risk. How much risk? $1 billion in losses? $5 billion in losses? Who knows. But there's nothing in that statement that provides any support for the statement that the entire $30 billion industry would disappear.


We don't know what scenario Chu was talking about because of the way the interview has been edited. He may well have been talking about the worst-case scenario where the snowpack decreases by 90%. And you're right, the report doesn't correlate the percentage risk with percentage snowpack loss. So what? It may well be that studies have shown that losing 90% of the Sierra snowpack will devastate California agriculture. I don't know, and neither do you. In any case, Chu's statement is completely consistent with that report.

And of course, that's not the only report out there, it's just the first I could easily find on the web. Maybe you could do a little homework and see what the other reports say? I posted a link to one of the IPCC reports upthread. Why don't you go read it and track down some of the references. You might learn something.
2.5.2009 11:26am
Just Me:
Prof. Adler, reread the last paragraph of your post (the only one I object to) where you explicitly say that the Obama administration appears to be waging a war on science like the Bush administration did. Surely you know that the evidence points to just about the polar opposite! Where's the evidence that George Deutschs are running around the administration re-editing the writing of professional scientists?

You're right, Chu appears to have made an extreme statement. Of course we don't know exactly what was said, and what the reporter cherry-picked, or what context was eliminated. You seem to be drawing a pretty extreme conclusion from those remarks.
2.5.2009 11:35am
Spence:
Sarcastro,

Firstly, my apologies for misspelling your handle in my last post. (D'oh)

Secondly, it is true that all analogies are imperfect, and if you stretch them far enough, they will break. I'd argue my analogy is "fit for purpose" in two narrow areas:

1. People scaremongering using "scientific" predictions
2. People using inappropriate scientific models to do so

Beyond this narrow remit, my analogy might break down. If I spent longer thinking about it, I could probably come up with a more appropriate example, but since I suffer from acute lazy-itis, so I think that's all you're going to get!

Of course, countering these points is achieved quite differently. In the case of the LHC, where we have credible models, we can use these to counter the erroneous models. That makes life (relatively) easy. Of course, the alleged risk (planetry destruction) does raise the stakes somewhat.

In the case of climate, people are using models which are valid for one purpose, for another purpose which they are not valid for. This is actually more subtle and more difficult to counter, especially as you say, when we have no better models, and limited historical data.

It should be noted though that a respected climate scientist (Roger Pielke Jr) has questioned Chu's comments. Whilst it would be wrong to just take Pielke's word for it (that would be an appeal to authority), it should at least set the sceptic senses tingling and justify further investigation.
2.5.2009 11:36am
Colorado Steve (mail):
It's pretty simple. As Richard Feynman noted years ago, a scientist owes the public his unbiased and least speculative judgment of scientific facts. One can be a scientist or a politician, but not both. Chu appears to have become a politician.
2.5.2009 11:38am
Spence:
Something missing from my previous post - the original author's comment above reminded me of an important third aspect to my analogy.

There is a disconnect from the prediction to the consequences, as the consequences are confounded with external factors.

For example, in my original statement I just said "black holes could appear" - some credible models do predict just this, but the consequences (destruction of the planet) are disconnected from the prediction, because of the short life of the black hole.

Likewise, in the original post here, the consequences of Chu's worst case scenarios (collapse of agriculture / cities) are also going to be confounded by other factors (human ingenuity, etc).

Perhaps I'm starting to like my original analogy more than I thought :)
2.5.2009 11:43am
Tony Tutins (mail):
So, worst case scenario, California's farmers will need to import some water.

Any ideas from where?

Frankly, in the third drought year, the Great Lakes are starting to look more and more tempting. How about building a water pipeline from Chicago to Sacramento, as part of the stimulus package?

As far as climate change goes, a friend visiting from Switzerland suggests going there now, before the glaciers disappear altogether. The Swiss are already covering them to prevent evaporation.
2.5.2009 11:51am
wohjr (mail):
@ Mark-


2007 Sierra snowpack was 40-60% of average. I know because I actually hiked through them. Stream crossings were a mere hop-across and many of the high passes were passable in early June, a rare occurance. 2008 was a similarly low year. I can provide link if you would like to dispute, but as I said- I was actually up there in the mountains, talking to rangers. The larger point is that year-to-year fluctuations are not especially reliable in assessing the long-term impacts of climate change (or as some like to say- climate weirding). Just because it is cold today in Albany, NY doesn't mean its all bunk. To say 'oh, its snowing today so I don't need to worry' or 'well humans will figure it out when the time comes' isn't taking a lot of responsibility, is it?
2.5.2009 11:55am
John Moore (www):
To infer anything about climate change from the last 3 years of Sierra Snowpack is absurd. Climate has many cycles that are a lot longer than three years.

For example, the Pacific Decadal Oscillation, is as its name suggests, decadal in period. And, surprise, we are just exiting the phase of the PDO correlated with low winter precip in the western US.

ENSO (El Nino, etc) has shorter cycles but also significant impact on rainfall.

About once a month I attend a briefing (by a research Climatologist) on Arizona hydrology and predictions. Lots of long and short term data is correlated. When the subject of AGW is brought up, the response is always snickers from presenter and audience.
2.5.2009 12:22pm
Anderson (mail):
There may be no water available for California agriculture, but that does not mean that California agriculture will "vanish."

The state could always turn to cactus crops.
2.5.2009 12:28pm
comatus (mail):
Current levels of population and ag industry in California are untenable, and we have known this for 40 years at least. Los Angeles has 10 million people living in a hole in the desert, and is continually shocked that they have air quality issues and water shortages. The Central Valley federal water management was a convenient place to stash displaced Okies, themselves victims of government-sponsored climatological error. It doesn't take the religious conversion to climate change to see that California as now envisaged is a facade that cannot last. Change is good.

California agriculture was a holocaust to traditional farming in the rest of the country. Farmers near cities, who had for generations grown and sold regional produce there, were forced either off the land or into large-scale single crops at the mercy of commodity speculation. Government-controlled freight and water rates that made Calfornia produce economically viable wiped out a system of marketing and a way of life in the nation east of Eden.

The CaliDream is an aberration on meteorological, social and economic levels. If government wants to take a hand in ameliorating its looming crisis, a good start would be to find sustainable new lives for something over half of California's population. They're not going to volunteer.
2.5.2009 12:31pm
arbitraryaardvark (mail) (www):
Assuming a rate of technological change equal to or greater than the last 90 years, I think it's plausible to think really good wines could come right from the laboratory without having to use grapes, and that the market for california grapes, as more than a hobbyist thing, could vanish, with napa valley being paved over for suburbs and malls. Perhaps there's a similar projection for california's marijuana crop.
2.5.2009 12:58pm
furious (mail) (www):
Nobel Laureate..

Yassir Arafat was a laureate, too. Let's dig'em up and re-animate him for his views on warming. Worked for prof' climatologist Al Gore.

Ever driven across the mid-lower Central Valley and Imperial County and seen what the uncultivated areas looks like (the Moon)? Absent the aqueducts they'd be able to farm scrub and tumbleweeds, maybe.
2.5.2009 1:02pm
Jestak (mail):
It should be noted though that a respected climate scientist (Roger Pielke Jr) has questioned Chu's comments.

Roger Pielke, Jr., isn't a climate scientist of any kind, respected or otherwise. His degrees are in political science and public policy. He has some authority on the subject of public policy as regards science He has no qualifications to comment as an expert on the science of the issue, and he has in fact been caught misrepresenting the science by Coby Beck and others.

Now, Roger Pielke, Sr., his father, is a meteorologist, who is plenty willing to opine about climate science. He seems to be well outside the scientific mainstream on the issue, although he denies being a "greenhouse skeptic."
2.5.2009 1:08pm
Splunge:
I've met Chu. He's kind of a showboater, likes the limelight a trifle too much for my taste. I'm not surprised he went into administration, and then into government, and makes public statements more notable for their colorful forcefulness than their nuance and precision.

A cautious scientist exceedingly careful about what he implies he is not. Doesn't make him wrong, but I wouldn't give him any special credit because he has PhD after his name.
2.5.2009 1:09pm
Dave N (mail):
Adding to what arbitraryaardvark just said, given technological changes, in the future we might be able to desalinate water more efficiently--and then that thing to the west of California (I think it's called the Pacific Ocean) would supply all the water California could ever need.
2.5.2009 1:10pm
Jestak (mail):
Its not sceptics who get the grants.

Actually, climate skeptics get plenty of grants. Read some of Richard Lindzen's papers. All you have to read, actually, is the footnote where he discloses his funding. He gets all kinds of grants from the NSF, NASA, and other government agencies who are supposedly so biased in their grant-giving. And Lindzen is Skeptic #1, insofar as genuine credentials and scientific prestige go. If there were any genuine bias in grant-giving, he'd be the first one targeted.
2.5.2009 1:11pm
sonicfrog (mail) (www):
I just blogged about this very topic a few days ago. Comatus is spot on. Forget about projecting the extreme water shortages that we might face a hundred years from now... it's already happening in the here and now! The state is not supplying enough water to meet demand.

The aquifers in the Central Valley are receding. Many small cities have had to import bottled water for drinking water because the local well has gone dry.

One of my customers runs an ag spraying company that provides services to many farms on the west side of the valley. Two of their largest customers went out of business last year due to lack of water. One customer tried to survive by drilling a new well. The first one was dry. The second did hit a source of water. But the farmer, after spending a million a piece to drill each well, had no money left to pay his employees and went belly up. My customer normally has lost of work at this time of year for growing prep. This year she has nothing. And the well at her house also went dry. Luckily she was able to lower the pump to get more water out of her existing well. My mate's mom is not so lucky. She also uses a well to supply the water to her house. In February she's drilling a new one. Her well is going dry.

The environmental lobby has forced a locals dam to release water to help bring back salmon to a local river. This means less water for farms and local communities.

The state has completely neglected it's responsibility to maintain and expand the water infrastructure to meet the needs of the people. We have been trying for over fifty years to get the state to invest in water storage, build more dams, improve the canal system that moves water across the state, but have had absolutely no success. And now, when it's needed, more than ever, there is no money to do so. The politicians are paralyzed with fear of ticking some or other special interest group off. As with the financial system, the water system is going bankrupt.
2.5.2009 1:33pm
Spence:

Roger Pielke, Jr., isn't a climate scientist of any kind, respected or otherwise. His degrees are in political science and public policy

Oh wow, I'd been told that VC was the place for intellectual debate. I guess you can't control your commentators though.

So, we're judging people by their primary degrees, and not the field they are currently active in? Well, that rules out people like James Hansen (physics, astronomy, mathematics), Gavin Schmidt (mathematics)... can I suggest my counter-points show that your method of judging a "climate scientist" is perhaps not ideal?

Pielke Jr is active (publishing) in the field of risks associated with climate change, with particular expertise in hurricanes. He is very familiar with the primary literature - that comes across from his writings. He is also (generally) objective and thoughtful in his commentary, with little bias (unusual in this polemic field). I think that makes him worth listening to, but I stress (as I did in my original post), that does not necessarily make him right. Your mileage may vary.

Incidentally, Pielke's experience in public policy is a second reason to pay attention to his commentary on the current administration.

But then we see this:

he has in fact been caught misrepresenting the science by Coby Beck and others.

Tell me, how does Coby Beck stand up in the manner in which you judged Roger Pielke Jr? Or are we suddenly interested in the evidence now, rather than the ad hominem line you started out on?
2.5.2009 1:43pm
Thomas_Holsinger:
I expect to see Democratic contentions that global warming will cause the San Andreas Fault to slip so forcefully that all of California will sink into the ocean. With a $40 billion annual budget controlling guns being the only way to prevent this from happening.
2.5.2009 1:59pm
David Welker (www):
Jonathan Adler,

Let me ask a purely rhetorical question:

Have you ever had a conversation with an actual human being. Like in person? Have you ever been less precise than you could have? Have you ever said anything capable of multiple interpretations in such a conversation?

Let us look at Chu's comments, which were not precisely crafted. We are talking about a spontaneous interview here. We are also talking about reading a selective set of quotations in an interview. I would love to see the interview transcript, to see what sort of context it add.

Anyway, let us apply the principle of charity in interpretation and see what we can get.


"We're looking at a scenario where there's no more agriculture in California [on the scale we have now.]"



"I don't actually see how they can keep their cities going [like they are now.]"


See, given that this is is a spontaneous conversation, I think the charitable interpretation is an entirely plausible interpretation of what he meant. In fact, not only is this a plausible interpretation, it really is the only reasonable one.

Think about the 90% number that Chu provides for the amount of snowpack that would be lost. Well, there still would be 10% of the snow pack left. Presumably, with that level of snowpack, California could support some level of agriculture. Clearly, Chu wasn't trying assert that 10% is equivalent to zero. He wasn't saying that 10% of the current level of snowpack couldn't support even one agricultural field.

What Chu was saying is that, if the worst case scenario's are accurate, the effects will be devastatingly different from the status quo.

So, I have a question for you Adler. You do not deny that there is evidence for the worst case scenarios (i.e. 90% loss of snowpack in the Sierras).

Do you believe that such a loss of snowpack would represent a crisis? That even if it would not end all agriculture, it would mean "no more agriculture on the scale we have now" and that it would even make it difficult to provide adequate water for California cities, given their current size and demands?

Uultimately, Chu here isn't politicizing science at all here. He just did not craft his words as precisely as he could have. His words are capable of multiple interpretations. In this case, you are interpreting Chu in an uncharitable way. One that happens to advance your own intellectual agenda. You have been trying to draw an equivalence between Republicans and Democrats with respect to the politicization of science for a long time now.

But, if you think about it, your interpretation is absolutely absurd. Chu obviously was not stating that you could not even support a single agricultural field with 10% of the snowpack in the Sierras.

I would strongly suggest that, as a general matter, even though one interpretation of someone's words might advance your intellectual agenda more than another, that you consider alternative more charitable interpretations before going on the attack.
2.5.2009 2:26pm
Roger Schlafly (www):
What Chu was saying is that, if the worst case scenario's are accurate, the effects will be devastatingly different from the status quo.
That will be true regardless of the CO2 emissions, and it is an idiotic and misleading comment to make. Chu knows better than this. He is distorting the science for political purposes.

Yes, the climate may change. Vineyards are currently located in places that are best for growing grapes. If the climate changes, then those places will will also change. Maybe they will change for the better.
2.5.2009 2:34pm
David Welker (www):

I don't know about all of you, but I hold Nobel laureate scientists who oversaw substantial climate-related research to a higher standard than Senators.


Holding people to high standards does not mean refusing to consider alternative interpretations of their words.

I hold academics who choose to cling onto interpretations that just happen to advance their ideological agenda to high standards. One of those high standards is to ask whether or not they are considering alternative interpretations and context.

Has Adler considered alternative (in this case more reasonable) interpretations?
No.

Strike One.

Has Adler considered the possibility that the reporter might not be mentioning critical context that Chu provided in the interview?
No.

Strike Two.

I think that if we hold Adler to a high standard, he doesn't come out looking that great in this particular situation.
2.5.2009 2:36pm
wfjag:

SecurityGeek:
I'm glad a lawyer is telling me to disregard a statement from a Nobel-laureate because the latter is publicizing science.

William Shockley was a Nobel-laureate in physics, too.
2.5.2009 2:39pm
David Welker (www):
Roger Schlafly,


That will be true regardless of the CO2 emissions, and it is an idiotic and misleading comment to make. Chu knows better than this. He is distorting the science for political purposes.


Can you elaborate on this a little more. I am not sure I understand what you are saying.
2.5.2009 2:39pm
Jonathan H. Adler (mail) (www):
Mr. Welker --

According to the LA Times this was a half-hour interview on administration policy, not a casual conversation. Having done well over one hundred such interviews in the past 15 years, I don't think it is unreasonable to expect an administration official to speak with greater precision when speaking to the media. Government officials are generally expected to choose their words carefully during lengthy interviews.

Did I consider context was missing or Chu was misquoted? Yes. My comparison to the Bush Administration's misstatements were premised on the accuracy of the story.
For years we've heard complaints about how the Bush Administration waged a "war on science" by, among other things, distorting or misrepresenting scientific findings in order to support its policy positions. If the LA Times accurately reported on Chu's remarks, it seems like Obama Administration officials are already doing the same thing [i.e. "distorting or misrepresenting scientific findings in order to support its policy positions"]


I certainly think that climate change could have dramatic effects on snowpack and water availability, have made this argument in print, and argued that this threat requires dramatic changes in water policy. If anything, Chu's comments would support my policy prescriptions for addressing the impact of climate change on water.

Just Me, et al.,
Re: Deutsch

I was comparing Chu's actions to Bush Administration misrepresentations of science, not every last thing the Bush Administration did. Further, I certainly think that the statements of a Cabinet Secretary are more significant when evaluating an administration than the idiotic actions of a low-level flunkie like George Deutsch (whose actions I have also criticized before).

JHA
2.5.2009 3:02pm
TM Lutas (mail) (www):
Permit me to inject a bit of fact into the bloviation. Carlsbad, CA has fully permitted a desalinization plant that is projected to sell water at $950 per acre foot. Current water authorities are paying on average $700 an acre foot. The plant will start construction in 2009 and is projected to start operations in 2011.

There is a current ceiling to water prices in CA of $950 an acre foot (the amount of water necessary to cover 1 acre to a depth of 1 foot). As technology improves, this will likely drop further. At a certain point desalinization will become cheaper for CA coastal cities than fighting water wars with the farmers and urban water demand for mountain water will shrink significantly so long as snowpack water stays above the desalinization cost.

Climate change may reduce natural water availability but we're always going to be able to purify it from the ocean. Secretary Chu is either being dishonest or is ignorant of the state of the art.
2.5.2009 3:34pm
Elliot123 (mail):
"I'm glad a lawyer is telling me to disregard a statement from a Nobel-laureate because the latter is publicizing science.

Most legal-lay-people are humble enough to use a disclaimer like IANAL when discussing legal concepts. Law professors need no such disclaimer, because they are experts in everything. It's like the PoMo lit-crit idiots claiming "everything is text and therefore can be analyzed like a Borges novel". Prof. Adler must believe that every field of study is actually a sub-field of the law."


It reminds me of all the various professions represented in condemning Nobel laureate James Watsons's statements on race and IQ. I don't remember any disclaimers. Did Nobel laureate Al Gore comment?
2.5.2009 4:18pm
David Welker (www):
Mr. Adler,

A couple of quick points.

(1)
You are right that I was too quick to not acknowledge that you recognized that the problem could be possible weaknesses in the LA Times reporting. Of course, normally I wouldn't say that reporting out of context is "inaccurate" per se since it is inevitable that, given strict word limits, even honest reporting is going to lack some context that goes to meaning. But, I will, applying the principle of charity in interpretation (and by the way, being charitable in interpretation is a lot harder than it sounds!), accept your point about accuracy as being an acknowledgment of possible context problems. You did not give this point as much emphasis as I would personally prefer, but that is a minor quibble.

(2)


According to the LA Times this was a half-hour interview on administration policy, not a casual conversation. Having done well over one hundred such interviews in the past 15 years, I don't think it is unreasonable to expect an administration official to speak with greater precision when speaking to the media. Government officials are generally expected to choose their words carefully during lengthy interviews.


I will agree with you that, assuming there are no major context problems involved in with this news report, that Chu should have chosen his words more carefully so as to avoid misinterpretation.

But even still, failure to choose words carefully is a very different mistake from purposely politicizing science. Even extremely experienced politicians sometimes fail to choose their words carefully. That one is a government official of some sort does not mean that you will not sometimes (even in media interviews) fail to be as clear as you could be, just as we all are, to different degrees, not always as clear as we could be. I would also take into consideration that this is Chu's first post in a truly high position. (Not that being director of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory should be dismissed. But you would expect the level of scrutiny for someone who is thought to speak for the administration, like a Secretary of Energy, to be much higher than that of a director of a national laboratory.)

So, while I will detract strike two (my assertion that you failed to consider the possibility of context problems with respect to the reporting) I still believe you should have considered alternative interpretations and your accusation that Chu was politicizing science was rash.

Failure to be as clear as you might is a truly minor offense. Trying to politicize science (that is, to corrupt the search for scientific truth for political gain) is a truly major offense. That you did not give enough consideration that this sort of thing could be a truly minor offense rather than a major offense is something I think could be improved.
2.5.2009 4:22pm
LM (mail):
Enough bickering over so-called "climate change." Scientists are like witch doctors when they pretend empirical analysis can predict future outcomes. If we're going to discuss apocalyptic forecasts, let's at least limit it to those based on rigorous, bias-free methodologies. Like what will happen when we cut and run from Iraq.
2.5.2009 5:42pm
Opher Banarie (mail) (www):
If agriculture were to end in California, it would be because we've paved over all the open soil and not due to global warming.

(And, btw, if there is global warming, wouldn't that make Montana the produce grower of North America? It's not like we'd all starve.)
2.5.2009 5:49pm
John Moore (www):
Let's not forget that Los Angeles is in a desert, with only 150% of the rain of Phoenix.
2.5.2009 6:24pm
Harry Eagar (mail):
Eli, do you get that snowpack is irrelevant over any time period longer than a few months?

Apparently not.

Available water = rainfall - evaporation - infiltration (until you dig a well and pump it back out) + accumulated groundwater from the last Ice Age (think Oglalla aquifer). This holds for any period of a few years or more.

It does not matter whether the water is frozen or not, as long as it warms up enough to melt the frozen water at some point during the year.

If it doesn't, then you'll be in an Ice Age again in California and, indeed, agriculture will be finished.

Nobel Prizes ain't worth what they used to be.
2.5.2009 6:39pm
AlanDownunder (mail):
Maybe the President should announce a War on Climate Change. Then, anything less strident than Chu would be unpatriotic.
2.5.2009 8:19pm
bikeguy (mail):
Bush's War on Science an invention of the press. Obama's team has been in play for a couple of weeks. They have almost four more years to produce more unprovable, unscientific pablum like Chu's. There is not a spec of credible evidence that "climate change" is anything other than part of the normal cycle of weather on our planet. Credible scientific theories predict outcomes.

Libs believe otherwise because their primary source of scientific analysis is the media.
2.5.2009 8:34pm
TokyoTom (mail):
For years we've heard complaints about how the Bush Administration waged a "war on science" by, among other things, distorting or misrepresenting scientific findings in order to support its policy positions. If the LA Times accurately reported on Chu's remarks, it seems like Obama Administration officials are already doing the same thing


1. Jon, I'll agree with you that it appears that Chu was exaggerating, or at least emphasizing worst cases. But anyone who reads what HAS BEEN HAPPENING in California and elsewhere out West (in the reports that you and others link to) cannot help but to come out concerned about the stress on water, agriculture, cities, wildlife and wildfires from current trends, much less projections of them, and see the need for institutional changes needed to prepare for and adapt to those changes.

But while I'm not excusing exaggeration, I'll note that even if Chu IS doing so, calling attention for the need to ADAPT and possibly mitigate is not at all the "same thing" as Bush administration efforts - so well parrotted by inquiring minds here - to underplay climate change risks by pretending that little or nothing is happening. One leaves us actually confronting risks (even if we opt not to mitigate, we are still made aware of a need to adapt), while the other denies them.

2. Next, it's a bit surprising that, even though you are well aware of climate risks and needs to adapt - as you (and others like David Zetland at Aguanomics) have been calling for greater development of markets in water rights, for example, to improve pricing signals and allocation to most valuable uses it - you fail to refer to either your specific recommendations or to a general need to discuss institutional challenges, and the role of government in addressing them. Why waste the opportunity?
2.5.2009 10:04pm
Moneyrunner43 (www):
I had to smile. Several of the people defending Chu are doing so by accusing the LA Times of misquoting or misrepresenting him. How droll.

Sarcastro2: Who believes that lying LA Times, the bootlicker for Big Oil?

Would you please stop breathing and destroying my planet?
2.5.2009 10:32pm
NickM (mail) (www):
Relax. California will turn itself into Thunderdome due to purely human factors long before the climate changes.

Nick
2.5.2009 10:33pm
TokyoTom (mail):
Available water = rainfall - evaporation - infiltration (until you dig a well and pump it back out) + accumulated groundwater from the last Ice Age (think Oglalla aquifer). This holds for any period of a few years or more. It does not matter whether the water is frozen or not, as long as it warms up enough to melt the frozen water at some point during the year.


Harry, you seem to have forgotten this little thing called "gravity" that makes snowmelt and rain run off into rivers and thence to the sea. If it gets that far, then don't you need to subtract it from available fresh water, too?

If the Sierra Nevada snowpacks continue to melt away earlier and earlier, this leaves little for when farmers (and fish need it), as the study cited by JHA notes:
California is already observing a decline of total snow accumulation on April 1 (and water content in the snow, especially in lower-elevation areas)—an important measure for water managers. Moreover, spring runoff comes earlier and a decreasing fraction of total runoff occurs in the spring. Over the past 100 years, the fraction of the annual runoff that occurs during April--July has decreased by 23 percent for the Sacramento basin and 19 percent for the San Joaquin basin. This indicates that a greater percentage of the annual runoff is occurring outside the traditional snowmelt season possibly as a result of an earlier onset of the snow
melt. If the snowmelt season continues to migrate to earlier times in the year, it would reduce the amount of runoff that could be stored in man-made reservoirs for later use, because runoff would occur during times when flood control requirements mandate release of water from reservoirs during the (wet) winter season.


One possible solution? Many more dams, obviously, to catch the early runoff. As a good libertarian, I hope you're with me in insisting that government/taxpayers should not be building those dams, but that city dwellers and farmers should negotiate among themselves who pays for their costs (including lost farmland, homes etc.) and who gets the benefits.
2.5.2009 10:56pm
TokyoTom (mail):
"Frankly, in the third drought year, the Great Lakes are starting to look more and more tempting."

Tony, you seem not to have noticed that the level of the Great Lakes have been falling, adversely affecting lake-going vessel traffic, etc. and, as result, residents up there have already been signalling that they are not very interested in allowing water sales.
2.5.2009 10:59pm
Michael B (mail):
Science. The subject is science, together with the intimation that high expectations within an Obama administration were warranted, even after Holdren and Browner were picked. (***)

And yet, the latest BHO op-ed reflects the fact he can't so much as articulate a rationale for his (alleged) "stimulus" initiative in a cogent and genuinely explanatory manner - opting instead, once again, for campaign rhetoric in lieu of a transparent explanation.

If anyone has access to his blackberry you might remind him the campaign and the election, both, are over. On the international front, and on the domestic front, he's becoming more of a caricature than an executive in a democratic republic willing to more responsibly face his constituencies. So much so that one might begin to anticipate a Saturday morning cartoon titled something along the lines of Obama and Katie, wherein Barack Obama and Katie Couric are primary characters, together with supporting caricatures from the administration and others among the MSM.

Change! Barely two weeks into this administration and a Saturday morning feature cartoon seems entirely plausible.

*** Of course we're also told - by the MSM and the administration - that ethics remains a high priority as well, despite Solis, despite Daschle, despite Killefer, despite Geithner.
2.5.2009 11:37pm
Michael B (mail):
One applicable link.
2.5.2009 11:39pm
M. Simon (mail) (www):
I think I can confidently predict that if the oxygen in the atmosphere is reduced to under 1% a lot of people will have trouble breathing.

OTOH if CO2 is reduced below 200 ppm some plants will be in trouble. A lot of them if we go below 90 ppm.

Scared yet? Why not. It could happen: worst case.
2.6.2009 12:46am
AlanDownunder (mail):

I don't know about all of you, but I hold Nobel laureate scientists who oversaw substantial climate-related research to a higher standard than Senators.


A guy gives us a worst case scenario, which implies a best case scenario and the ball park in between. It is extremely obtuse not to catch that implication.

Sub-Nobel standards are copping a belting.
2.6.2009 6:26am
Spence:
Francis,

Your comments were quite interesting. To follow up on some of these:


Does anyone here besides me actually know any California water law or anything about California's water infrastructure? Doesn't show.

I suspect you're right here. I know "a little" about hydrology, but not a great deal, and I know less than that about (specifically) Californian hydrology.


1. California is entering its third year of severe drought. Storage levels in the critical reservoirs are alarmingly low. Is the drought the fault of climate change? Scientifically, too soon to tell. The drought is consistent, however, with some very rough modeling being done that is trying to apply gcc models to the State.

This seems to be a bit of a stretch. My understanding (and I'm sure you'll be quick to correct me if I'm wrong!) is that Californian water supply is tied somewhat to the ENSO ocean circulation patterns. El Nino years bring rain, La Nina years bring drought. During 2001-2005 we had mainly El Nino conditions, but since then we've had a lot of La Nina conditions. If this natural variation explains the last three years rather well, doesn't Occam's razor rather remove the need to invoke climate change? It should also be noted that the decadal variation (PDO) has recently swung to the cold side, suggesting La Nina's will become more prevelant in the near future (although whether that will swing back in 2 years or fifty years, I wouldn't like to guess). I hope blinkered focus on climate change does not cause this important factor to be overlooked.


2. California's water infrastructure is finely tuned to operate within a very narrow range of assumptions about the weather. (as one might imagine -- building unneeded facilities is expensive and makes voters cranky.)

This interested me. In projections for future assumptions about weather, do you know if scaling behaviour in the hydrological cycle is accounted for?(i.e., the Hurst phenomenon) It seems to me the geography of the area makes it a prime candidate for this type of scaling behaviour, which is known to cause clustering of extreme events (cf. the Roda Nilometer).

It strikes me here people are being quick to blame global warming for something which appears, at first glance, to be entirely consistent with natural variability, with problems exacerbated by a tight reign on spending.
2.6.2009 9:37am
Michael Ejercito (mail) (www):
Even if climate change were to threaten all of California's agriculture, all we have to do is merely increase the amount of dust in the upper atmosphere. The TTAPS study that was conducted in the early '80's showed that dust in the upper atmosphere can reduce temperatures down on the surface.

Since global warming predicts more warming at the poles than at the equator, then if true there will be less temperature differential and therefore fewer powerful storms.

This is true.
2.6.2009 2:58pm
Michael B (mail):
The IPCC Under the Microscope, a list of 50 articles that seriously question the credibility and integrity of the IPCC's activities and claims

As to the subject of global temperature differentials, a book I've only today placed on my to-order list at Amazon, but one which comes recommended and has received five-star reviews, Climate of Extremes: Global Warming Science They Don't Want You to Know
2.6.2009 5:04pm
courtwatcher:
Harry Eagar,
Despite your condescending and mocking tone, you really have no idea what you are talking about. In California, we rely on snowpack as our primary means of water storage to get us through our dry season in the summer. There is no dispute that if the snow melts earlier, or if more precipitation in the Sierra falls as rain, our water supply for agriculture and urban areas will be diminished, as it will be impossible to store all that water anywhere for use during the summer and fall. Building new dams (controversial anyway) would solve only a fraction of the anticipated problem. The problem has already been observed, and state planning agencies are already trying to figure out how to address it, but there is no easy answer.
2.6.2009 5:05pm
Curt (mail):
Several posters have brought up the projections of 70-90% reductions in Sierra snow pack, implying in the process that this would mean comparable reductions in water available for agriculture and urban use. This is incredibly misleading, as Harry Eagar pointed out.

"Just Me" provided a link (twice!). In reading the material at the link, I noticed the following quote:


No significant change in precipitation is projected for California by any of the emission scenarios.


So all that these projections are talking about is more precipitation as rain than snow, and earlier melt of the "remaining" snow. We are not talking about less water available for the system.

And given that California's reservoirs are designed for multi-year water storage -- most took many years to fill when they were built, and this is how we can make it through a multi-year drought -- the possible effects of heavier earlier runoff are pretty minimal, and only exist when the reservoirs are already full. This could cause reduced ability to get through a multi-year drought, but would be easily mitigated by increased storage capacity along the aqueducts to the delivery points. But the end of (mass) agriculture and big cities in California?
2.6.2009 6:56pm
Howard Whitney (mail):
No one can argue with me(j). I am a California Water Scientist with over 25-years experience.

No major water supply projects have been constructed for over 40-years and the population has doubled. Also, during the last 40-years, more water is allocated to the environment. During a "normal" year, the total supply (including imports) is about 194 million acre-feet (Maf) which is about 63 trillion gallons. Of this, 83Maf is allocated: 9Maf urban, 34Maf agricultural and 39Maf environmental (for the fish, critters and plants).

In general, most all of California aquifers are in over-draft condition during all hydrological conditions (wet, normal and drought). The water crisis in California has existed for over 30-years and has progressively gotten worse.

Desal at ~1,000/acre-foot is clearly not the answer. We would need to build coal power plants like China to make that work. Allocating less water to the environment is not possible. In fact, we need to increase environmental releases. To do this, we need to build more reservoirs and recharge the aquifers. We have known this for my entire career. What has saved California (so far) from total disaster is the dominating PDO warm phase from ~1993 to 2006. Increased conservation and reuse has also helped, however, any further gains in these areas will only be minimal.

It appears we are entering a PDO cool phase, so drought conditions should become more common over the next decade or more. This will have a compounding effect and will devastate the economy and environment in California. Wild salmon might not make it. In my opinion this disaster is unavoidable.

The California water crisis is due to the lack of popular support and political will to invest in mega-scale water supply projects. I'll leave the specific blame game to be debated by you shysters.

Assuming no impact from AGW (people caused climate change), we are at the edge of the abyss. Even if the sky is falling AGW scenarios do not come true, Dr. Chu's prediction may be optimistic. The cynic in me thinks that the people of this state and the nation needs the external threat of the climate change hype (and in my opinion, it is hype at this point) to provide the popular support and political will to construct more dams and basin-wide recharge projects. Given CEQA, it should only take about 25-years to break ground. That's OK because we are broke anyhow.
2.6.2009 7:39pm
courtwatcher:
Curt, your view that "the possible effects of heavier earlier runoff are pretty minimal" is not shared by California's Department of Water Resources - hardly a bastion of environmentalists: Climate Change White Paper
One of the most critical impacts for California water management may be the projected reduction in the Sierra Nevada snowpack -- California's largest surface
"reservoir." Snowmelt currently provides an annual average of 15 million acre-feet of water, slowly released between April and July each year. Much of the state's water infrastructure was designed to capture the slow spring runoff and deliver it during the drier summer and fall months.

(from p.4)

Nor do these scientists agree with you:
ESTIMATED IMPACTS OF CLIMATE WARMING ON CALIFORNIA WATER AVAILABILITY
Even most scenarios with increased precipitation
result in less available water because of the current storage systems' inability to catch increased winter streamflow in compensation for reduced summer runoff.


Do you have contrary evidence?
2.6.2009 7:39pm
Curt:
courtwatcher -- Your first source provides no numbers in this area, and sounds like a great plea for more funding (which I think they should get, BTW). It also, by its wording, tends to leave readers with the impression that reductions in spring snowpack lead to proportional reductions in available water (but doesn't explicitly say so).

The second source projects decreases of water available to the (present) engineered water system of 6%, 6%, 11%, and 16% for the warming scenarios that do not alter total precipitation (<=2% change). While these numbers would be problematic, they do not come close to Chu's doomsday scenarios. And these projections assume, as they state, that none of the increase in wet-season (to April 1) runoff could be captured, which they then admit is probably an unreasonably pessimistic assumption.

Take the present storm hitting California (which I drove through last night, delaying this response). With the reservoirs low as they are now, it matters barely at all whether the runoff from the storm occurs now in February, or is delayed until April or later. This is not an uncommon situation, and it significantly invalidates their pessimistic assumption.

As I mentioned before, it would be different if the reservoirs were already "full" -- to the point where further rises could not be tolerated for flood control reasons. Then added early runoff could be lost to the water system. Even this is far from an insoluble problem, though. It would not even require damming more Sierra valleys -- additional storage reservoirs along the aqueducts and greater carrying capacity of the aqueducts could greatly ameliorate this. It is not an insoluble problem by any means.
2.7.2009 3:14pm

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