Posted by: Barry Bickmore | April 15, 2012

“Greatest Snow on Earth” Disappearing

Judy Fahys at The Salt Lake Tribune has a great story about how Utah is losing it’s snowpack due to climate change.  The story is based on a new scientific paper by Rob Gillies, Utah’s state climatologist, and colleagues at Utah State University.  This is very bad news in a state so well known for its ski industry, and even worse news in an arid region with a fast growing population.

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  1. A new “denier”?

    James Lovelock, the maverick scientist who became a guru to the environmental movement with his “Gaia” theory of the Earth as a single organism, has admitted to being “alarmist” about climate change and says other environmental commentators, such as Al Gore, were too.

    “The problem is we don’t know what the climate is doing. We thought we knew 20 years ago. That led to some alarmist books – mine included – because it looked clear-cut, but it hasn’t happened,” Lovelock said.
    “The climate is doing its usual tricks. There’s nothing much really happening yet. We were supposed to be halfway toward a frying world now,” he said.
    “The world has not warmed up very much since the millennium. Twelve years is a reasonable time… it (the temperature) has stayed almost constant, whereas it should have been rising — carbon dioxide is rising, no question about that,” he added.
    He pointed to Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” and Tim Flannery’s “The Weather Makers” as other examples of “alarmist” forecasts of the future.

    • Hi Charles,

      Can there be any doubt that Lovelock was “alarmist”? For Pete’s sake, he once said that global warming would wipe out 80% of the population by 2100. Can you find where any scientists who actually specialize in climate issues made such a claim? I don’t think so.

      See this:

      • 1) So would you apply the terms truth changed/liar to Al Gore? How would you characterize Dr. James Hansen?

        2) AGW theory says warming leads to more humidity in the air (thus the positive feedback without which there would be no cause for alarm). I am at a loss to understand how this supports the notion that Utah will have less rain/snow. The theory predicts that exact opposite. It seems to me that people who support such notions are doing exactly what Lovelock admits he was doing.

        • 1) What evidence do you have that either one is even in the same league as Lovelock, in terms of being “alarmist”? Can you point me to where they have been shown to be wrong? (I know of some instances where Gore sort of focused on the more extreme end of possible consequences, where he could have used better examples, and so on, but he was at least in the ballpark of what the scientists have been saying.)

          2) Good question. This is a little complicated, but I’ll try to break it down.

          Over the ocean, you evaporate more water into the air, but there’s still water left over at the surface (because it’s the ocean). That water eventually comes out in the form of precipitation, so some places on the land do get wetter. Global AVERAGE precipitation would indeed increase.

          But the problem for a place like the Southwest is that air masses from the Pacific have to go over several mountain ranges to get there, and this causes most of the water to drop out. That’s one reason why the Southwest is a desert.

          Meanwhile, global warming also causes air circulation patterns to shift, so some places get wetter, and others get dryer, just because of that.

          On the land in areas where it’s already somewhat dry, hotter temperatures mean that more moisture is evaporated from the soil, exacerbating droughts years when less precipitation falls.

          The situation in Utah is a bit different. The climate models project that Utah is right on the borderline between the area that will almost certainly get dryer (the Southwest) and the area that will almost certainly get wetter (North of us). So it’s not a change in total precipitation that will get us. The problem here is that when the temperatures get hotter, more of the precipitation comes down as rain, rather than snow. That’s not just bad for the ski industry. Our water supply depends on snowpack, because as it slowly melts in the Spring, a lot of it seeps into the groundwater system and keeps coming out into the rivers long after all the snow has melted. If the precipitation comes down more as rain, or even if it melts off too quickly in the Spring, more of the water just runs off on the surface, rather than replenishing the groundwater supply.

          Hope that helps.

          • Barry,

            1) Al Gore claimed that New York would be under 20 ft of water by the end of the century. Sounds a little alarmist to me. I’ll find you some Hansen quotes.

            2) “Global AVERAGE precipitation would indeed increase.”

            Yes, the mid to high latitudes become a little more like the tropics and a little less like the arctic. [That certainly sounds scary.]

            Beyond that you are “hand waving”. There is no climate model that has been shown to have any predictive power globally let alone regionally. Models are not like experiments that support physical theory.

            With AGW Utah’s weather is more likely than not to become a little warmer and wetter just like any other mid latitude location.

            • Hi Charles,

              1) My understanding is that Gore didn’t give a specific time frame–just said “the near future,” whatever that means. That said, I agree that this is one of the instances where he was focusing on the most extreme scenarios. See this:


              2) Wow. Climate models have NO predictive power? This is absolute nonsense. Between this extreme and “the models are perfect” is quite a bit of middle ground. For example, way back in the 80′s, Hansen’s models predicted the globe would warm. It has. And even though the models he used were overly simple, the trend he calculated for the last couple decades isn’t wildly off, if you factor in the forcing that has actually taken place.

              And in any case, as the article I linked noted, there is already a trend toward less snowpack in Utah. That’s what the article was about–not bulk precipitation trends. As I said, the bulk precipitation looks like it could go either way in Utah, so there probably won’t be that big of a change in that department.

            • Al Gore claimed that if the NWAIS and Greenland melted the sea levels would rise 20m.

              True or false?

              Now, since that is actually TRUE, if the sea levels rose 20m, would much of florida coastline and large parts New York Cuty be under water?

  2. Barry,

    1) Al Gore “In The Near Future”. You’re right, he implied it would happen even sooner than the end of the century. [I don't think most people interpret "in the near future" to be 100yrs or more.]

    2) Well yes, I agree climate models do have predictive power if you give them credit for a wide enough result range. Predict 2-3x warming, warming turns out to be x (just like the first half of the century), wow, what a great model! That may be enough for you but I find it lacking compared to the physical sciences.

    3) Yes, the Tribune article actually didn’t say precipitation was projected to decrease by the models given AGW. Only that given an AGW assumption there would be less snow and more rain, a projection I do not find difficult to believe.

    So why did you say this:

    “and even worse news in an arid region with a fast growing population.”

    Seems to imply less precipitation. You could have pointed out that under an AGW assumption the planet would be receiving even more precipitation and that assuming Utah shares in the increase the future looks bright.

    • Hi Charles,

      1) I’m not a big Gore fan. I think he emphasizes extremes for rhetorical effect, but by the same token his comments are careful enough that he doesn’t generally say things that are blatantly untrue. He’s not even in the same universe as Lovelock.

      2) The models are what they are. If the modelers give us projections and appropriate error bars that are not infinitely large, and reality tends to stay within those error bars (which it has so far,) then we have some basis for assessing risk. Personally, I don’t put much stock in model projections in terms of exactly how fast warming will occur, but the paleoclimate evidence gives some independent methods for estimating the range of final outcomes (which are consistent with those projected by the models).

      3) As for my comment about the snowpack decrease being bad news in an arid region, see my reply to you above at 9:05 pm on April 23, 2012. Thanks for bringing it up. I wasn’t very clear about it, and the Trib article didn’t really mention it.

      • Barry, please see my posts below yours. The OP hasn’t said where Al Gore said that and you may have been merely making the assumption that as clear a statement of what was said must be correct, but it may well be that you know where Al Gore said “in the near future”.

        Can you find it?

        • Hi Wow,

          I got it from here:

          I’ve never seen the movie.

          • Sorry, Barry. All that has is hearsay:

            “His narration tells the audience that, due to global warming, melting ice could release enough water to cause at 20-foot rise in sea level “in the near future.””

            But, as given in the only link I could see to a TRANSCRIPT of the movie, he never says that. Everyone is SAYING he said that, but never where.

          • Maybe you can watch the movie and find where he says that and print up the time at which this was said.

            Rather than relying on someone who says he said it.

            After all, if I were to say he DIDN’T say this, is this proof it was never said?

            • Fair enough. It’s on the On Demand service from my cable provider, so maybe I’ll watch it.

            • Aye, I don’t know that it WASN’T said, but all I’ve seen is someone saying it was said.

              And, more oddly, it’s ALWAYS the same phraseology and placement in the quoter’s statement.

              Either they know PRECISELY where it says this, or it’s just parroting some “accepted wisdom”. Given that there’s never yet been someone who could say, along with the quote, where it says, I tend to believing the latter over the former.

              Don’t you find if oddly humorous that you “know” that Al said that, but don’t know how? It’s weird how us humans can forget HOW we know something. But now I’m talking epistomology…

          • Found a trace of it, yet, Barry?

          • Have you seen it yet, Barry?

            • Not yet.

            • Could just be a meme. When 100 people have repeated it, in quotes, then the 101st person thinks “if it were wrong, then someone would have said”.

    • “Al Gore “In The Near Future”. You’re right, he implied it would happen even sooner than the end of the century”

      So since he didn’t say “even sooner than the end of the century” you have to pretend that he meant that. You really are unable to join up neurons, aren’t you.

      And here’s a transcript:

      Doesn’t appear in there. So where does he say “in the near future”?

    • From that transcript:

      “Impact of 20 Foot Rise in Sea Level
      In 1992 they measured this amount of melting in Greenland. 10 years later this is what happened. And here is the melting from 2005. Tony Blair’s scientific advisor has said that because of what is happening in Greenland right now, the map of the world will have to be redrawn. If Greenland broke up and melted, or if half of Greenland and half of West Antarctica broke up and melted, this is what would happen to the sea level in Florida. This is what would happen in the San Francisco Bay”

      Now, where is your claim substantiated in reality?

      • I’ve checked the video – Gore never gives a date for the breakup of West Antartica / Greenland or 20 ft of sea-level rise.
        It can be argued, however, that since he shows animations of coastal areas being submerged and includes current structures or populations, it’s implied that it’s not too far in the future.

        For a potential catastrophe of that magnitude, I don’t think it’s enough to not mention a date, especially if you’re showing how the current areas would look under 20ft of water.
        He should have indicated, if he is aware, that the best guesstimates of that much rise would be several hundred years.

        • How old is London?

          And if you need to put pictures of cities, why would you have an artists impression of “Futureworld cityscape, Megaplex 1″ to illustrate?

          The statement was: If Greenland and the WAIS melted, the seas would be X feet higher.

          He didn’t give a date because we don’t have a date for that.

          Just like I can say with 100% confidence that you will die, but I can’t give a date, or that I can say with extreme confidence that if you jump off the top floor of the Empire State building, you’ll die, but I don’t have to give a date for that either.

        • I also think it illustrative that so many reporters reported this as if fact, complete with quote marks and every indication that it was a literal quote from that precise work.

          Yet it didn’t exist.

          It’s also illustrative when you note how many people just swallowed it and were CONVINCED it was true, even though they’d not seen it themselves.

          A true echo chamber.

          From those who DEMAND to be called “Skeptics”…

  3. Yawn.

    Those poor resorts. What ever shall we do…

    Not worth a new tax or regulation to maybe, possibly, help some resorts.

    • Yawn. Denier-in-residence has nothing to say and says it.

      I guess they hate paying taxes. Go to Somalia, no tax there!

      • Oh ouch, more ad-homs. They are so irresistibly convincing.

        It does you little good to insult me for pointing out this is about the weakest basis in arguing for change you could possibly find.

        • Since you don’t want convincing, you already “know” the “truth”, what, exactly is the problem with an ad-hom on a denier-in-residence like you?

          PS accurate description is not an ad hom. Even if it’s not flattering to the barnpot who doesn’t like being exposed as a fraud.

          • This is my point. You violate a generally accepted rule of public debate. Namely, it is the topic, not the person (who he is or whatever his motives might be), to be discussed.

            If you want to throw around insults and deride those whom you’ve already deemed unworthy of more elevated conversation, I really have nothing more to say to you.

            • No, you don’t HAVE a point. Your post here was merely a chance to whine and pretend you’re being persecuted.

              You had NOTHING to say and said it.

            • Because you choose to ignore it doesn’t make it nothing. Pretty much by definition saying something isn’t nothing.

            • Because there’s nothing there to consider, I choose to ignore it.

          • PS

            Accuracy is irrelevant. It could be as true as the sky is blue but it is still an ad-hom. It’s RELEVANCY. And generally, personal traits and even other opinions or positions are irrelevant except when you’re trying to use guilt-by-association and other logical fallacies to bolster your position. You’re trying to pigeon hole me into a position you readily dismiss, ignoring what I actually said. You don’t want to discuss the topic, you want to put a label on me so you can dismiss anything I say. This is the epitome of an ad-hominem. You might as well shout, “I’m not listening cause you’re a stupid stupid head”, it amounts to the same thing.

            • Nope, accuracy is extremely relevant as to why you claim something to be an ad hom all the time when it isn’t.

              Because you wish to pretend that the little boy hasn’t told everyone you’re buck naked and idiotic.

            • No, it’s not. Your ignorance and arrogance is glaring in the face of the truth. I shall attempt to educate you again. The first example of an ad-hom in Wikipedia is “You can’t believe John when he says the proposed policy would help the economy. He doesn’t even have a job.”

              The second statement can be 100% true and it’s still an ad-hom. It’s irrelevant to the logic or facts and attacks a personal trait instead of the subject at hand. Further it violates Robert’s Rules, Number 43 (the most widely used procedure base for public discussion).

              “It is not allowable to arraign the motives of a member, but the nature or consequences of a measure may be condemned in strong terms. It is not the man, but the measure, that is the subject of debate.”

              Which is essentially a rule against ad-homs during the debate.

              It is uncouth and not appropriate in civilized debate regardless of how true or accurate you believe it to be.

            • Let’s leave off this part of the discussion, please.

              None said he didn’t think reducing emissions was worth it to save some ski resorts. Wow thinks that wasn’t an intelligent comment, presumably because ski resort health wasn’t the only issue discussed in the linked article, and certainly not the only issue affected by climate change. Wow went on to imply that None drops trollish comments on blogs about climate change because he hates taxes–not because of any particular analysis of facts. None objects that this is an “ad hominem” against him.

              The whole thing is sort of pointless, since:

              1) None didn’t actually make an argument. He just said he didn’t care much about ski resorts.

              2) Wow’s comments were simply insults–not “ad hominems”. Ad hominems are ARGUMENTS, and Wow was not using the insults to argue for or against any particular proposition, as far as I can tell.

              3) While I appreciate a good insult, they lose their novelty after a while.

            • Look Barry, you present evidence that climate change may negatively impact Utah’s ski industry. Essentially you’re inferring an argument of the costs of climate change, presumably to support carbon regulations and other such “solutions”. The water angle is the minor point since, presumably, we aren’t even talking about totals as that’s not the topic of the article, only possible location changes in where precipitation falls due to the shift in rain/snow balance. But that’s admitted pure speculation on their part anyway.

              Counter claim, even if true, Utah’s ski industry is not worth the hassle in new regulation to prevent climate change to preserve it. That is, indeed, an argument against the purported evidence in the context of AGW and carbon regulation.

              It’s not “nothing”, nor is it “didn’t actually make an argument”. You apparently simply don’t want to argue the point. Fine, but in that case I don’t know why you bothered to mention it at all. Argument by denial of the existence of opposition not an intellectually honest argument.

              It’s all mildly interesting we’re seeing some change in Utah, but the angle of “impact to Utahns in order to inspire them to support carbon regulations” is weak to non-existent. You seemingly tried to manufacture this angle.

              I find your distinction between simple insults and ad-homs as unfounded.

              From the same Wikipedia article cited earlier.

              “Abusive ad hominem (also called personal abuse or personal attacks) usually involves insulting or belittling one’s opponent in order to attack his claim or invalidate his argument…”

              Clearly it is widely recognized that insults are a common form of ad-hom.

              Further, what motive is there to use insults if it isn’t used as a weapon to posture, position, or otherwise claim some form of superiority over the other person? Why would you need to do that unless there is some contestable position or point? That contestable position or point is an argument.

              I also note that you chose not to mention the most egregious insults/ad-homs in your summary of events. Such as “denier”, “move to Somalia” is innuendo of being an anarchist, innuendo of “barnpot” and “fraud”. I object to the idea that is is valid to use ad-homs against “deniers”, a rather bigoted notion. Which completely explains his argument style – that it’s okay to be intellectually dishonest against certain classes of people once identified.

              This is a poor omission. The one you actually picked to mention, the notion that “I hate taxes”, I find less objectionable, though it is not true either.

              “Wow was not using the insults to argue for or against any particular proposition, as far as I can tell. ”

              What is the proposition at stake? Fundamentally, the ability to argue arguments on this forum. Wow’s argument on this proposition is essentially that I have no valid arguments on any matter discussed here. And he made it through belittlement and insults.

            • Indeed, most people who cry and whine about ad hom don’t know what it is.

              An insult is not an ad hom.

              Since None has produced absolutely nothing, there was no need for any argument, therefore the insult was NEVER able to be an ad hom.

              An ad hom ALSO requires that the order of the argument be the incorrectness of the post with only the evidence of that insult as proof. Not the other way around:

              “You’re wrong, you’re so wrong it’s obvious you’re an idiot”.

              Since this is producing the “you are an idiot” as a conclusion this is not ad hom.

              And also not if the evidence is elsewhere:

              “You’ve been wrong every single time before, you’re obviously an idiot. Why on earth should we believe you have it right this time?”

              And not if the only argument is yourself:

              “You ask us to trust you, but here you’ve been caught in a lie, so why should we believe a liar like you?”

            • None,

              You’re reading quite a bit into my tiny post. In fact, I would never argue that saving the ski industry (even on a global scale) is sufficient reason to aggressively lower carbon emissions. I wouldn’t even argue that future water problems in Utah are sufficient reason. However, local impacts like that are interesting news to locals, and I merely passed on some interesting news. “Local” impacts add up to “regional” and “global” impacts, though, so I would not say that such things are irrelevant to a discussion of the costs and benefits of emission controls. But just because some factoid is “relevant” to a particular point does not mean that point is being argued every time the factoid is mentioned.

              Your statement that the issue of rain/snow ratio is “admitted pure speculation on their part” is false, however. The article mentioned that a fairly sizable shift has already been measured, so inferring that a warming climate will continue to do what it has already been doing is more than “pure speculation,” I would say.

              Wikipedia does indeed say that ad hominems frequently involve insults made “in order to attack [an opponent's] claim or invalidate his argument….” But Wow never drew the conclusion that any argument of yours was wrong because of some personal fault on your part. Once again, you are addressing an argument that nobody made.

              This is a minor, technical point, anyway. When you go around using terms like “ad hominem” incorrectly, it provides an opening for someone to steer the conversation into a pointless discussion of how you don’t even know what an “ad hominem” is. That’s what Wow did to you, and if you’re smart, you’ll just let it go and avoid a similar mistake in the future. I’m just trying to help a brother out, here. This particular mistake is quite common, so by telling you that Wow is right about that particular point, I don’t mean to imply anything about your intelligence.

              Finally, you object that I didn’t repeat every insult Wow made against you in my summary. Do you really think that was necessary? I indicated that I thought Wow was going over the top on the insults, asked him to leave off, and that was it. You’ll find that I don’t moderate the discussion here that much, unless I think some crackpot is using it as a forum. And even then I don’t take down their comments–I just ask them to buzz off. My philosophy is that I don’t want to suck ALL the guilty pleasure out of arguing with people over the Internet so I put up with a few insults and even “ad hominems”, but my patience is not inexhaustible.

              If my philosophy on blog comment moderation does not suit you, you are welcome to find greener pastures, but I certainly don’t mean to encourage you to leave by anything I’ve said here. I don’t happen to agree with your point of view, but I am far from being offended by anything you’ve said, so I welcome your future comments–even mildly sarcastic comments like the one that set off this little row.

              P.S., You’ll notice that by continuing the pointless discussion about “ad hominem” you have allowed Wow to launch into a treatise on hypothetical statements about some hypothetical person being an “idiot”. In other words, he’s insulting you without having to explicitly insult you. Let’s move on, guys.

  4. “you have allowed Wow to launch into a treatise on hypothetical statements about some hypothetical person being an “idiot”. In other words, he’s insulting you without having to explicitly insult you”

    Well, as far as I’ve been able to tell, it’s ABSOLUTELY FINE to insult someone as long as you don’t specify the person. It’s only ever wrong to insult and specify the person.

    Since IMO this is the ONLY PROPER way to insult someone, since this gives them the opportunity for self defence, I don’t do it that way and make it specific, with specific examples of where my proposition is sourced from (so that if I’m misreading something, that can be clarified and corrected).

    However, since the meme is that you CAN’T be specific and that all my attempts to enable a defence of themselves only ever gets me a whining post about “ad hom!”, I decided to give it a go.

    It is at least, hence to me possible to downgrade myself to weasel rhetoric here, possible to use it as a vehicle to get the general problem fixed too.

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