Monday, November 30, 2009

Exeunt Hurricanes

Today was the last day for hurricane season in the Atlantic Basin. Which is not to say there have never been hurricanes in December...but we can have reason to hope for a few more months of relative peace and quiet in the Keys. Winter storms can be nasty sometimes, but one of the things I like about the weather here is that rainy season comes in the summer when it's hot, and the cool of winter (relatively) is mostly dry, so we are usually spared endless days of drizzle and damp. I guess we'll meet again with the hurricane season June 1st next year, and hope not to see a storm before August, if at all. I could get used to these hurricane-free summers.

Unchanging Climate

I find to my surprise the scandal known elsewhere as "Climategate" gets no headlines in the newspapers, or on television in the US. My colleagues who are all agog about a famous golfer's car wreck look at me with incomprehension when I mention the extraordinary series of e-mails leaked from a scientific instituion in Britain. I have always been rather sceptical about claims that humans are to blame for the changing climate, yet the news that in fact numbers have been hidden and manipulated to "prove" human culpability leaves me concerned not elated..

I copied the following e-mails from the Global Research Website in Canada. They are correspondence between scientists in Britain and the US discussing nothing less than lying about climate change and obstructing opposition to their deliberately flawed research. The comments following each e-mail have been added by a commentator either from Global Research or the originator of the e-mails, Britain's Daily Telegraph newspaper- the author is not made clear in the article I copied though the term "Climategate" was coined rather unimaginatively by a climate change sceptic on the Telegraph's staff.

Here are a selection of quotes from the e-mails stolen from computers at the University of East Anglia. Many involve Phil Jones, head of the university's Climatic Research Unit.

From: Phil Jones. To: Many. Nov 16, 1999
"I've just completed Mike's Nature [the science journal] 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."
Critics cite this as evidence that data was manipulated to mask the fact that global temperatures are falling. Prof Jones claims the meaning of "trick" has been misinterpreted

From Phil Jones To: Michael Mann (Pennsylvania State University). July 8, 2004
"I can't see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow — even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!"
The IPCC is the UN body charged with monitoring climate change. The scientists did not want it to consider studies that challenge the view that global warming is genuine and man-made.

From: Kevin Trenberth (US National Center for Atmospheric Research). To: Michael Mann. Oct 12, 2009
"The fact is that we can't account for the lack of warming at the moment and it is a travesty that we can't... Our observing system is inadequate"
Prof Trenberth appears to accept a key argument of global warming sceptics - that there is no evidence temperatures have increased over the past 10 years.

From: Phil Jones. To: Many. March 11, 2003
“I will be emailing the journal to tell them I’m having nothing more to do with it until they rid themselves of this troublesome editor.”
Prof Jones appears to be lobbying for the dismissal of the editor of Climate Research, a scientific journal that published papers downplaying climate change.

From Phil Jones. To: Michael Mann. Date: May 29, 2008
"Can you delete any emails you may have had with Keith re AR4? Keith will do likewise."
Climate change sceptics tried to use Freedom of Information laws to obtain raw climate data submitted to an IPCC report known as AR4. The scientists did not want their email exchanges about the data to be made public.

From: Michael Mann. To: Phil Jones and Gabi Hegerl (University of Edinburgh). Date: Aug 10, 2004
"Phil and I are likely to have to respond to more crap criticisms from the idiots in the near future."
The scientists make no attempt to hide their disdain for climate change sceptics who request more information about their work.

Supporters of "anthropogenic climate change" (climate change caused by human behavior) have responded to these e-mails by pointing out they were obtained illegally, that they illustrate scientific methods in all their every day ugliness, that their authors are excessively passionate, that they don't alter the fact that polar ice caps are melting. However no one denies that the evidence that human activity is causing climate change is now most definitely up in the air.

Even though I have been sceptical myself that humans are responsible I continue to support the notion that better stewardship of the world's resources is critical- be it money, petroleum, clean water, clean air, trees or endangered species. The authors of these e-mails and their flawed scientific approach have made all that much harder to achieve, because in the politically charged atmosphere of economic meltdown and ecological catastrophe in which we live, we have one other source of previously reliable information we can no longer trust. A pox on them.

Thankfully Tortugas

The campground at Fort Jefferson is tucked into the area under the trees in front of the fort. The back of the campground is a little sand dune that spreads out into a fine swimming beach off the west side of the island. The Thanksgiving Day afternoon was lovely and sunny after the rainy start I described yesterday. Air and water temperatures were in the mid 70s (20C) but even I managed to take a swim with a skin on. For day tripping visitors the Dry Tortugas National Park was a chance to get some exercise......and work on their tans in the time honored ways of beach goers everywhere:
Even though white caps churned up by north winds made the deeper waters rough, the worst effects of the cold front were mitigated on the beach which was protected by the walls of the Civil War fort. Indeed it can be said conditions were quite pleasant for people wearing not many clothes: If staring at the water or swimming in it wasn't enough, there was always the chance to kill something:Or to go and look at bird nesting grounds, even though the birds (boobies) are away at this time of year. Bird Key and Long Key (the wooded island in the background) are one of the major booby nesting grounds in the spring months.For me a wander through the fort is always in order, a time to ponder the huge waste of building a brick fort to protect an important harbor, just as rifling was coming of age and cannon were being built that could easily demolish these ineffective walls: Thanksgiving is a national holiday in the US and young members of the Coastguard got a portion of the day off as well. Their ship parked off the Tortugas for a day and they were ferried in to enjoy the beaches. Being organized people they had to wear flower pots on their heads and life jackets for the ride to and from the mother ship. Which gave them an incongruously efficient air in a place that celebrates informality. The Coastguard cutter was anchored quite a ways south of the fort and disappeared before the next morning: We civilians shambled on evading the black clouds that piled up as the cold front pushed south: I tried out some artsy photography involving sea oats and waves: And then I found some rain puddles and bricks. The sky was what auteurs call "pewter' and it made the day rather...pewter-like or leaden. Besides we were all waiting for the main event. And there were sailboats and bricks. And the remains of a washed out campground.
Cultures that don't celebrate Thanksgiving find the New World habit of giving thanks rather quaint. For myself I am always grateful to have escaped the dreary monotony of the Old World so I am quite fond of Thanksgiving. If I could find one I might put a bumper sticker on my Nissan if it read something like" Glad To Be American" or "Cheerfully American." I find all those suggestions of pride to be tempting fate, and rather rude frankly (Matthew 23:12). If it weren't ungrammatical I might like a bumper sticker that read "Thankfully American" or "Hopefully American" but all I ever see on the roads are the repetitive "Proud To Be American" stickers, so I make up for my loss with large portions of food on the anointed day.
I don't think the Puritans who reputedly bellied up to the first Thanksgiving would have thought much of some horseman who showed up to the meal with "Proud To Be A Colonial" branded on the rump of his horse. Pride was not part of the package back then, as wasn't alcohol music dancing or gambling. Gluttony was definitely off the menu, but luckily not many of us are strict historians or else Thanksgiving, even 70 miles out in the middle of the ocean, would not look like this:It would be invidious to discuss my own level of gluttony but happily I had the presence of mind (much to the amusement of my dinner companions) to record the moment for posterity. This was round one, and Puritans be damned as seconds were available for everyone: Ham, turkey, mashed sweet potato, potatoes with a cheese sauce and beans in a casserole, mushrooms in breadcrumbs and stuffing and gravy (and hearts of palm, olives, gherkins and roasted red peppers for a pre-banquet snack) so we didn't suffer at all despite our distance from civilization. We ate apple crumble pies and pumpkin pies and sprayed whipped cream and mixed wine and beer and rum and we invited in two German tourists; confused they were, poor young women, by the concept of gratitude as a national holiday; and two Americans, stranded on a desert island with strange natives. Matt was the youngest member of our party, sixteen and coping manfully with the onslaught of adults:
And quite possibly the oldest participant, his father Jan:I quite like both of them and they seem to like each other so there's something else to be thankful for.

Dan was one of our strays from Maryland, sitting next to Rebecca, a teacher colleague of my wife's. He gets my eternal thanks for introducing me to a delightful elixir called Bud Lime, a beer from the execrable Budweiser school of gnat's piss, made delicious by the addition of lime. Sarah from Fort Lauderdale was Dan's buddy from Up North (she dressed in black on the edge of the picture) and they got together for a little vacation in the Keys. Then they blundered into us. Oh well, Kathy sitting next to Sarah tried manfully to put her at ease. Bud Lime might possibly have helped.
After dinner we did the walk-the-moat-wall-routine around the fort and watched the sun do it's thing.We didn't get far because a sudden gust of wind pulled the out-of-towner's baseball cap off his head. We stood on the wall and made rude comments as we watched the cap fade into oneness with the watery universe. Dan, being from Up North and not at all resigned to his fate, started to undress, which I thought was an extreme reaction to this minor setback. "They have lots of caps for sale in the gift shop," I protested. "I'm going in," he declared like the hero in a disaster movie. And he did, and I don't mind telling you it did cross my mind that jumping off the moat wall is actually illegal. As well as bloody stupid when the water is that cold.He bounded through the waves like a retriever after a favorite tennis ball with the Key Westers huddled on the wall spectating and sucking air through their teeth unable to imagine how cold the water was.Success! I was laughing too hard to hold the camera steady in the half light but clearly he was pleased. The seas were really rough:I found some sandals on the wall and motioned to them as I asked young Matt if he knew whose they were. In classic Key West youthful fashion he shrugged and stared at them with the uninterested eye of a man who is well shod and has no interest in anyone else's footwear problems. " Probably they're Hat Boy's, " he muttered as he turned to check out something, anything more interesting than a damp pair of flip flops. "Hey, Hat Boy!" I called out to the raw pink lump crawling up the beach. "Got your shoes!"
The drama ended, the sun went down...And thus it was a new Key West nickname went into the lexicon. People love to give out nicknames in Key West, it's a way of stamping an identity on someone and Matt's easy application of this eternal southernmost attribute stamped Dan from Maryland as "Hat Boy."...and thus, with a little more wine and rum and stories we concluded Thanksgiving on what used to be called the Gibraltar of the Gulf of Mexico.