Thursday, November 10, 2016

Hawaiian climate: it's not changing the way you expect--it's getting scarier

Much of what you’ve heard about the Hawai`i impacts of climate change may be false. It could be worse than what you’ve heard. 

Example: It’s probably not going to be drier everywhere, as many have suggested in recent years. In fact, according to a new paper, it’s more likely to get more extreme everywhere—kind of like American politics. 

Although “Hawaii is renowned for its generally pleasant weather, anticipated climate change over the present century will likely present significant challenges for its inhabitants,” says the paper, published by the American Meteorological Society.

Kevin Hamilton, of the University of Hawai`i’s International Pacific Research Center, said the best research indicates it’s likely to get wetter in wet areas, but drier in dry areas—deepening the divisions between the different zones of the Islands. IPRC is part of the university's School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology.

“We expect generally more rainfall on the windward sides and less on the leeward sides.  Combined with increased evaporation from the warmer surface this could lead to particularly dry conditions in places that are already feeling water stress, such as west central Maui,” said Hamilton, the retired director of the IPRC, in an email. 

Hamilton and co-authors Chunxi Zhang, Yuqing Wang and Axel Lauer just published their latest data in the Journal of Climate. It is entitled, Dynamical Downscaling of the Climate for the Hawaiian Islands. Part II: Projection for the Late Twenty-First Century

Their work also anticipates warmer weather in the Hawaiian uplands. 

“The surface air will warm significantly and the warming will be substantially more pronounced at high topographic elevations,” Hamilton said in an email. 

That has significant impacts, for example, for Hawaiian upland forest habitats. Previous research suggests that warming high mountains will increase upland mosquito populations, with direct impacts on native birds. Mosquitoes carry avian disease like avian malaria and pox.

“While published research on climate-related stress has concentrated on a limited number of species, it is likely that climate change in Hawaii will threaten many species and perturb terrestrial and coastal ecosystems, with unfortunate effects on the state’s remarkable contribution to global biodiversity,” the authors wrote.

Another issue: If drier areas get drier, they’ll be in greater need of irrigation to support agriculture, landscaping and other uses. That water will need to be diverted from the wetter areas. Water issues are intensely political matters in the Islands, and this suggests they’ll continue to be problematic for policy-makers.  

“Available surface and groundwater resources are scarce enough that water use restrictions are common in some areas during droughts, while agricultural demands for groundwater have sparked a history of public controversy and litigation,” the authors wrote.

Extreme weather events are likely to increase, Hamilton and his team wrote, like the big Manoa, O`ahu, flood of 2004, and this year’s Iao Valley flood, both of which caused massive damage costing into the tens of millions of dollars.

The IPRC group is continuing to fine-tune its data, but Hamilton said its climate models, when compared with past weather conditions, are accurately representing what’s been happening. And one of the warnings from the models are that apparent trends may not reflect what will happen in the future.

For example, while the models predict the drying trend in Hilo that has been seen in recent years, that may not continue. The models predict Hilo will get significantly wetter later in this century.

If you’re interested in detailed analyses, here are links to the group’s previous paper and the current paper.

© Jan TenBruggencate

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Monsanto and Mother Jones agree(!): NYTimes lying with GMO statistics

Are we finally sick and tired of people twisting facts to suit their agendas—even when they’re agendas we agree with?

New York Times writer Danny Hakim walked into a storm of criticism, even though he was just doing what so many have done for so long. 

He wrote a big takedown of the GMO industry, which it is perfectly possible to do without lying. 

But The Times, which published his story Sunday, did a classic smear job. It was so obvious, and so wrong, that it makes you wonder whether anyone at the New York Times is editing its science writers.

Now it turns out that folks all over the map have attacked the sloppy reporting—really all over the map. From Mother Jones to Monsanto.

Hakim set up a straw man—GMOs were supposed to increase crop yields more than non-GMOs.

Then he cherrypicked data to slap it down.

Predictably, Monsanto objected. Here is a Huffington Post piece by a Monsanto vice-president.
Here are Monsanto’s data for environmentally comparable areas of Ontario, Canada, and France: 

“Overall, (corn) yields increased from 113 bushels per acre in 1997 to 170 bushels per acre in 2015, an increase of 51 percent. In France during the same period, the increase in yields was only about 10.5 percent.”

Hakim missed that, but gratuitously threw in some “confirming” statistics. 

“Herbicide use is coming down in France while it’s coming up in the U.S.,” Hakim said in an NPR interview associated with his research.

He ignores two huge facts.

First, France's herbicide use may be down somewhat over time, but it's still equivalent, pound for pound, to North American use.

And second, France's fungicide and insecticide use--calculated at weight per acre--is many times the level used on North American crops.

Can we agree that those are massive facts in this discussion? The French use more pesticide than the U.S. How do you miss that unless you’re intentionally missing it?  

Particularly, how do you miss it if you've conducted, and announce it in your second paragraph, "an extensive examination by The New York Times."

I’ve actually talked to actual American Midwest farmers. They’re spraying far less than they used to.
And based on the French example, the French non-GMO farmer is spraying far more for insect pests than the GMO farmer.

Don’t take my word for this stuff. 

Folks on all sides of the political and environmental spectrum have gone after the Times for bad science reporting. 

Mother Jones, the left-wing journal, is far, very far, from friendly to the GMO industry. It’s a regular, persistent thorn in Monsanto’s side. 

But even Mother Jones attacked Hakim’s work, in an article entitled, “How to mislead with statistics.” 

Was there intent on the part of the New York Times to deceive? Mother Jones writer Kevin Drum thinks so: 

“If you click on the chart pack in the Times story, you will actually find charts showing raw volume of pesticide use in the US and France. However, they're shown in two different charts, using different units, and broken up into different categories. If you were deliberately trying to make a comparison nearly impossible, this is how you'd do it.”

And Grist, another pro-environment site, also attacked the Times piece.

Both Grist and Mother Jones argued against the assumption that American farmers are uneducated, stupid, and prone to make costly errors in judgment.

“It would be a shame if we on the liberal coasts decided the technology was useless just because we have a hard time seeing the benefits that are clear to Midwestern farmers,” write Grist’s Nathaniel Johnson.

And here's the Mother Jones comment along a similar line.

“The story was pretty shallow in its use of statistics. It assumed that you can compare different countries without controlling for anything (different soils, climates, crops, etc.). And it seemed to suggest that American farmers must be idiots, because they keep buying GMO seeds even though they're worthless.”

Let me just say, if you’re the New York Times, “Ouch.”

The good news, is that this example may suggest there's a crack in the armor of ends-justifies-means reporting. 

Let's have these conversations, but let's cut the self-serving prevarication and have the discussions on the basis of facts we can agree on.

© Jan TenBruggencate 2016