Archive for the ‘Science’ Category

Some rambling thoughts on creation care

Thursday, January 13th, 2011

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.
The world and all its people belong to him.

Psalm 24:1 (New Living Translation)

I remember my dad telling me that although he spent most of his waking hours in the bush as a child, he never saw a deer in the Shell Lake area until he was an adult.  That’s because he was born in 1919.  That was before the introduction of game laws based on conservation biology.  The early settlers basically shot any animals they could, and as a consequence wildlife populations were reduced to dangerously low levels.

Fast forward 80-odd years, and every fall I go back out to the Shell Lake area and hunt in the area my dad spent his childhood in.  I typically see several deer in a day of hunting.

So why are there so many more deer in that area now than when Dad was a boy?  There are probably several factors at play, including warmer winters with less snowfall, but I believe the most significant to be the introduction of science-based wildlife management.  Game laws were introduced, setting limits and seasons, and subsequently the populations of most game animals are at much higher levels now than they were 80 years ago.

As in most other jurisdictions in the developed world, Saskatchewan has moved from an era of exploitation to one of conservation and active management of those species considered most desirable by humans.  More recently the trend has been to ecosystem-based management, which takes a more holistic view of the connections between wildlife and their environment, instead of trying to manage individual species in isolation.

Considering those advances in natural resource management, it always amazes me when I encounter people who think that deer are endangered, or that all most of our forests should be preserved in parks without ever seeing axe or saw, instead of being sustainably managed for products that people require.

I guess my thinking on the topic is largely influenced by my Christian faith.  My belief in God as creator (albeit over millions of years rather than a literal 7 days)* of this beautiful earth doesn’t leave room for selfish exploitation.  I suppose that makes me an environmentalist.  I also believe that humans have a special role in God’s creation, and it’s OK to use the rich resources for our needs (and yes, for our wants).  I suppose that makes me pro-development.  A word that ties together those two concepts is stewardship.  I believe that this beautiful world isn’t ours to rape and pillage,  but it is God’s creation, and we ought to be good stewards of it.

* NOTE: Terminology of intelligent design, theistic evolution etc. aside, yes I believe that the God of the Bible is behind it all, and sustains it all.  However I don’t see Genesis as science.

Climate B.S. Award – with a Canadian honourable mention

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

The Skeptical Science website has announced the 2010 Climate B.S. (Bad Science) Award.  Their four runners-up were:

Fifth Place. Climate B.S. and misrepresentations presented by Fox “News.”
Fourth Place. Misleading or false testimony to Congress and policymakers about climate change.
Third Place. The false claim that a single weather event, such as a huge snowstorm in Washington, D.C., proves there is no global warming.
Second Place. The claim that the “Climategate” emails meant that global warming was a hoax, or was criminal, as Senator Inhofe tried to argue. In fact, it was none of these things (though the British police are still investigating the illegal hacking of a British university’s computer system and the theft of the emails).

And their top choice was

the following set of B.S.: “There has been no warming since 1998” [or 2000, or…], “the earth is cooling,” “global warming is natural,” and “humans are too insignificant to affect the climate.” Such statements are all nonsense and important for the general public to understand properly.

Click here for the full post.

I think the list is well thought out, but with the inclusion of Fox News and Congress, it is obviously U.S.-centred.

Therefore I would like to suggest a Canadian honourable mention: Coverage of Climate Change by the National Post in 2010 was B.S. (Bad Science).

The National Post’s opinion section mounted a full frontal attack on climate science in 2010.  Leading the charge was Lawrence Solomon.  A typical example was his December 30 column “75 climate scientists think humans contribute to global warming”, where he grossly mis-represents an online survey of Earth scientists.  Solomon’s National Post article can be found here and the original survey report can be found here.

The poll showed that as researchers’ expertise increases, so does their agreement with the question, “Do you think human activity is a significant contributing factor in changing mean global temperatures?”.  Solomon seizes on the fact that the category of “Climatologists who are active publishers on climate change” only resulted in 77 respondents to that question, with 75 (about 97%) answering in the affirmative, to come up with the headline of his article.  Personally I think it is significant that although, according to a 2008 Gallup poll, only slightly over half of the general public would answer the question in the affirmative, 82% of the 3,146 earth scientists who responded to the survey answered in the affirmative, and that the percentage keeps rising as respondents’ knowledge and expertise in the field increases, right up to the highly specialized category that annoys Solomon so much.

However being an online survey, this study did have flaws. And this is where Solomon’s real duplicity is shown.  The study that is actually used more often to back up the claim that 97% of climatologists support the AGW theory was reported in a peer-reviewed article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) titled “Expert credibility in climate change” (Anderegg et al. 2010).  Solomon makes no mention of it in his column.

In addition to more articles by Solomon, other B.S. opinion columns in the National Post were written by Lorne Gunter and Rex Murphy (a writer with whom I have agreed on other science-related subjects such as Canada’s sustainable seal harvest).

The reader comments following each of these stories are heavily dominated by AGW skeptics repeating the same tired arguments (they changed the name from global warming to climate change, it’s cooling, the “Climategate” email hack proves that it’s a conspiracy, etc.).

However, in fairness, I must also point to an excellent article by Jonathan Kay in the National Post, where he argues that global warming deniers are a liability to the conservative cause.  So despite the Bad Science they served up in 2010, there may still be hope for that newspaper in 2011.

2010 weather in Saskatchewan and Canada – and some thoughts on global climate

Saturday, January 1st, 2011

Late in 2010 Environment Canada issued its annual Canada’s Top Ten Weather Stories, and Saskatchewan is featured in two of the stories. Garnering 1/5 of the country’s weather stories is not bad for a province with about 1/35th of the country’s population.

The Saskatchewan stories are:

#3. From Dry to Drenched on the Prairies; and

# 6. Saskatchewan’s Summer of Storms.

I live in Saskatchewan, and I can verify that where I live had a cool and wet summer.  In fact I have had discussions with a couple of people this year who used that fact to argue that global warming is a hoax.  So why do I continue to agree with the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) view?  I guess it’s because I recognize the fact that although Saskatchewan is relatively big,  it’s a small fraction of the planet’s surface.  In fact I have no problem believing Environment Canada when they state in the article that, “In 63 years of weather reporting, 2010 was the nation’s warmest ever with milder weather throughout the year. It featured the warmest winter and spring ever, the third warmest summer and the second warmest fall.”

Environment Canada has some really neat graphics if one digs around their website for them.  Like this one showing Winter 2009/2010 (warmest on record):

Winter temperature anomalies - Saskatchewan was the cool spot

And then there’s this graphic of Spring 2010 (warmest on record):

And this graphic of Summer 2010 (3rd warmest on record):

And this graphic showing Autumn 2010 (2nd warmest on record):

All four of those temperature anomaly maps show that although most of Canada, and especially the far north, was much warmer than normal, the southern half of Saskatchewan tended to be slightly below average.  This kind of information helps me to understand the difference between annual temperatures at a provincial vs. national scale.

And of course Canada comprises a relatively small proportion of the globe, so it isn’t safe to infer that just because Environment Canada informs us that our nation had the warmest year on record means that 2010 was the warmest year on record globally.  It will probably take the climatologists awhile to analyze the global data, but I am interested in seeing the results.  Who knows, perhaps the analysis might provide support to the theory that the globe is cooling – it must be, after all New York City had a big snowfall.

Invasion of the Giant Hogweed (not Cow Parsnip)

Wednesday, July 14th, 2010

Yesterday I came across a news story about an invasive plant called the Giant Hogweed (Heracleum mantegazzianum).  Then this evening CTV News had a story about the Giant Hogweed.  It sounds like a nasty weed, partly because of its effect on the native ecosystems but also for health reasons, and it is spreading across Canada.

This species has been beneath my radar all these years, but I thought the pictures looked familiar.

Sure enough, it’s in the same genus as Cow Parsnip (Heracleum maximum).  That’s the species that grew in the bush down the hill from our house near Shell Lake when I was a kid.  Having a hollow stem, it made great pea-shooters.  Or chokecherry shooters.  I remember some chokecherry wars involving my brothers Marv and Dan together with our cousins Dennis, Dave and Ken.  They were brutal, but fun.  I also remember how angry Mom was the day I filled the pocket of my good shirt full of ripe chokecherries and stained it beyond the power of any detergent.

But getting back to the Giant Hogweed … it too has a hollow stem, but the sap is toxic.  I don’t know if its range has expanded to Shell Lake, but obviously using it for chokecherry wars would not be a good idea.

Another thing I discovered in the news article linked above is that the band Genesis had a 1971 song about the Giant Hogweed.

These have been a couple of days of botanical discoveries.

Soggy Saskatchewan weather

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

CBC News is reporting that some Saskatchewan rural municipalities are declaring themselves “agricultural disaster areas” because it’s too wet for the farmers to complete their seeding.  I think my brother-in-law Gary is still only half finished seeding and might agree that the Birch Hills area could fit in that category.

This map from Agriculture Canada gives the story about the amount of precipitation our area has received this spring.

Percent of Average Precipitation - Prairie Region - April 1 to Jun 9, 2010The dark blue colour represents areas that have received more than twice as much precipitation as normal since April 1.  Click on the image for legend and more graphs from Agriculture Canada (ironically in a section they call Drought Watch).

While on the topic of weather, apparently this spring (March though May according to Environment Canada) was the warmest spring on record across Canada, following after the warmest winter on record.

I find local weather a fascinating subject.  Perhaps equally as fascinating as global climate.

Selling the sealing news

Monday, May 17th, 2010

Out of fairness to the news media, most of the news stories that I’ve seen about this year’s annual seal hunt have been accompanied by pictures of legally huntable seals, not the whitecoat pups.  However some, such as Canwest News Service, just can’t resist selling their stories with pictures of cute baby seals, the kind that haven’t been legal to hunt for more than a quarter-century.

It’s strange how the media never seems to accompany stories about the roasting chicken sold in the supermarket with pictures of fluffy yellow chicks.


Canadian seal hunt information/misinformation

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

Spend any amount of time surfing the web for information about Canada’s annual seal hunt, and you will find statements such as:

  • The harvest is unsustainable and is endangering the harp seal population
  • The seal harvest provides such low economic return for sealers that it is not an economically viable industry.
  • The seal harvest is loosely monitored and Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) doesn’t punish illegal hunting activity or practices.
  • The Canadian government allows sealers to harvest whitecoat seals.
  • There is no relationship between the seal population and the abundance of cod stocks.
  • Seals are being skinned alive
  • The club – or hakapik – is an inhumane tool that has no place in today’s world.
  • Fisheries and Oceans Canada provides subsidies for the seal harvest.
  • Canadian harvesting practices are worse and more inhumane compared to other countries.

Fisheries and Oceans Canada has responses to those claims here, as well as a lot of other information about the seal harvest at their “Seals and Sealing in Canada” website.

Climate science and media

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

It’s been a couple of months since I posted anything about climate change, so I guess it’s about time.

In January, NASA released its analysis of land and ocean temperature analysis for 2009, and declared the year in a statistical tie for the 2nd-warmest year on record, and the period 2000-2009 the warmest decade on record.  Unlike my post of December 15 I haven’t bothered to produce my own updated graph, but here is one produced by NASA.  (Instead of absolute temperature this shows temperature anomaly, where zero is the average for the period 1951 to 1980).

Maybe I’m missing something, but it certainly appears to me that a warming trend is occurring.

However, Les MacPherson wrote in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix a few days ago, “Even the leading alarmists now are compelled to admit what already was apparent to anyone who looked at the record, namely that there has been no global warming for the last 15 years.”

Les MacPherson has confirmed to me by email that the “leading alarmists” referred to is Dr. Phil Jones, one of the climate change researchers whose emails were hacked at the University of East Anglia recently, and the admission was made in a  BBC interview.  Here is what was actually said:

Q – Do you agree that from 1995 to the present there has been no statistically-significant global warming?

A – Yes, but only just. I also calculated the trend for the period 1995 to 2009. This trend (0.12C per decade) is positive, but not significant at the 95% significance level. The positive trend is quite close to the significance level. Achieving statistical significance in scientific terms is much more likely for longer periods, and much less likely for shorter periods.

I’m not going to get into the concept of statistical significance, whether at the 95% or any other level, and perhaps Les MacPherson is being totally without guile in his interpretation, but I would respectfully suggest that not everyone examining the record is  finding it “apparent” that “there has been no global warming for the last 15 years.”

I’m siding with the scientist rather than the opinion columnist on this one.

Scientists and statisticians and their tricks

Wednesday, December 16th, 2009

In the weeks since the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia, UK was hacked into, a lot of pundits  have been declaring the stolen emails to be the final nail in the coffin of climate change science.

One of the most damning emails was sent in November 1999 by Dr. Phil Jones, where he discusses using a “trick”,

“I’ve just completed Mike’s Nature trick of adding in the real temps to each series for the last 20 years (ie from 1981 onwards) and from 1961 for Keith’s to hide the decline.”

As shocking as that revelation is, Oxford University Press actually published a textbook in 2002 with the title, “Teaching Statistics: A Bag of Tricks” (click on image at left for more information or to order).

There must be a word ending in -gate to describe this statistical skulduggery.

It’s cold outside – must be global cooling

Tuesday, December 15th, 2009

With the bone-chilling cold snap that we’ve been having here in the Canadian Prairies for most of December, it is obvious that the earth is cooling.  Here is a graph that I produced using NASA data, that provides all the proof needed:


But on second thought, I’m remembering that November was an unusually warm month.  So the earth was obviously warming back then.

But on third thought, maybe both of the above statements are confusing weather with climate, if we accept the following definition:

Climate in a narrow sense is usually defined as the “average weather,” or more rigorously, as the statistical description in terms of the mean and variability of relevant quantities over a period of time ranging from months to thousands or millions of years. The classical period is 30 years, as defined by the World Meteorological Organization. These quantities are most often surface variables such as temperature, precipitation, and wind. Climate in a wider sense is the state, including a statistical description, of the climate system.

If climate requires averaging over decades, perhaps graphing four years isn’t enough.  I’ve decided to add on another 124 years:

Global temperatures 1880 to 2008.

Maybe I’ll stop worrying about that global cooling trend.