Cliff Mass, Scientific Lies, and the New Climate Deniers

Cliff+Mass-134Cliff Mass is a Professor in the Atmospheric Sciences Department at the University of Washington, and something of a regional weather celebrity. His popular blog is widely read for its accessible explanations of complex local weather events in the southern Salish Sea, and he has been an on-again off-again commentator on local Public Radio stations.

He is also a dangerous new breed of climate skeptic.

Cliff Mass is convinced that anthropogenic global warming is not a big problem, at least not now. He has made a theme of downplaying the role of global warming in extreme weather events, and in exposing what he calls “overzealousness” in the scientific, media, and activist community.

In one recent blog, for example, he denigrated the idea of any connection between extreme weather events and climate. “Unusual extreme weather connected with global warming,” he said. “There is no reason to believe this is true.” His citation for this statement is a 2012 report for the IPCC, which (like all IPCC reports) was as much as 7-10 years out of date by the time it was published. The IPCC is also notoriously conservative, at least partially due to the fact that all 195 member nations have the right to go through summary reports line by line — and then veto anything they don’t like.

The science isn’t on Cliff Mass’ side. This spring, he once again exposed either incompetence or selective reading of the data, when he predicted that the summer 2015 drought wasn’t going to be that big of a deal and called the National Drought Monitor determination that 75% of the state was in moderate to severe drought by May a “completely subjective” finding. He also scoffed at predictions that the summer 2015 fire season in Washington would be a bad one. And look how that turned out.

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Conservative approaches to global warming like that shown by Cliff Mass are a misrepresentation of the actual data, since “new scientific findings are found to be more than twenty times as likely to indicate that global climate disruption is ‘worse than previously expected,’ rather than ‘not as bad as previously expected.'”

Continual Deceptions

Mass is deliberately trying to shift the debate around climate change to a more skeptical, less factual perspective. In 2013, he tried to arrange a discussion between a group of prominent climate contrarians and real climate scientists at the UW, claiming that both sides had some good points. Asked about this plan, Mass said: “[The idea that climate change will cause huge impacts] has taken on some of the traits of orthodoxy in that it can’t be questioned.”

Riiiiight.

Here is another example of his misdirection. In response to the question, “why is the Northwest so warm” during the torrid July of this year (the hottest month ever recorded, both locally and globally, Mass says:

“So what is going on? As I mentioned in some of my previous blogs, any reasonable analysis suggests the warmth is predominantly the result of natural variability.  That is, not being caused by human emissions of greenhouse gases.”

Of course, Mass is right: climate events are not caused by global warming. But critically, they are exacerbated by them. By failing to mention this point, Mass implies to readers that global warming is not implicated in the shattering of high-temperature records that is taking place around the globe.

To explain the heat wave, Mass says:

“What is actually going is an amplification of the upper level wave pattern. Now, drop that at a cocktail party and folks will be impressed [ed: Mass commonly inserts this sort of chest-thumping comment]. The upper level flow, where the jet stream is located, can undulate like a snake, with areas where it slithers northward (a ridge) and others where it projects southward (a trough). During the past year,  we have been stuck in a startling persistent pattern with a ridge over the west and a trough over the east.”

The same deceptive rhetoric is at work here. Mass points out what has caused the record-hot and dry conditions in our region, but fails to mention that global warming (especially in the Arctic) is a primary driving force behind the slowing of the jet stream and a commensurate increase in “blocking” events which cause “persistent patterns” in the jet stream — just what is causing this heatwave and drought.

He then goes on to say: “The bottom line is that there is no reason to expect that global warming would amplify the upper level wave pattern like this.”

This is a lie. Our own DGR Seattle member Max Wilbert interviewed several of the top climate scientists in the world in 2013, including Jennifer Francis of Rutgers and Steve Vavrus of the University of Wisconsin, who are both experts on this issue. Their testimony, shown in this documentary starting at 4 minutes 6 seconds, contradicts Mass. A March 2015 article in the journal Science further backs up this analysis.

global-warming1Self-Centered Motivations

From what he writes, it appears that Cliff Mass cares a lot more about his own comfort than about anything else.

“Although it may not be politically correct to say this, might we find that 2070 weather has some positives,” he writes. “Like a longer hiking season?  Less bugs in the mountains? More pleasant temperatures though most of the year?  Lower winter heating bills?  Less seasonal affective disorder?  Less avalanche injuries?”

He has also called for more dams and river impoundments to be constructed so that water stress will be less on humans, which implies that he is willing to sacrifice salmon, sturgeon, and other beings in order to maintain a stable status quo — while, most importantly, avoiding actually having to challenge industrial civilization and the destruction of the planet.

Luckily, not all the readers of his blog are fooled by his minimizations of global warming. “Sorry doesn’t pass the sniff test,” one writes. “You simply can’t conclude that there is absolutely no effect or influence from the greenhouse effect,” says another. Yet another asks, “Cliff, isn’t this essentially the same climate denying rationale you employed when you discounted… the acidification of Pacific Northwest Waters?” One prominent climate statistician, Grant Foster, has even called Cliff Mass out on his blog for cherrypicking data.

How many deceptions and lies does it take for us to recognize a pattern? This culture, industrial civilization, is killing the planet; stop listening to Cliff Mass and other human-supremacists who attempt to convince you otherwise. To know what is being done by this culture, all you have to do is listen to the land.

Good climate science doesn’t hurt either.

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10 Responses to Cliff Mass, Scientific Lies, and the New Climate Deniers

  1. TeriLyn Brown says:

    OK, I guess I have to disclaim here, first. I believe strongly that man made climate change is happening. And I read Cliff Mass a LOT. I have been keeping a focus on this angle in his blogs and waiting for something like this article. I DO NOT AGREE with your assessment of his blog. He likes to blame the Obama administration for a lot of the meteorological ineptitude around, and I get irritated with that, because that is a product of GOP budget cutting, if you ask me. BUT that said, you are mis-stating his beliefs regarding climate change and it is a dangerous slope you are approaching. Cliff Mass likes to split hairs. He likes science. And when he sees something attributed to climate change that, scientifically, he sees clearly connected to something else, he will say it is not due to climate change. That is not climate denying. That is SCIENCE. When you generalize like this, you are no better than the deniers. Because you are not dealing in facts. You are dealing in belief and propaganda.

  2. Ted Stern says:

    Mass has been consistent in stating a nuanced and scientific view of evidence. He does not deny warning. What he says is that climate science is long range, and you can’t infer global warming events from the weather of individual years. He has issues with the hyperbolic news reporting that ties every oddity of weather to long range climate trends.

    It may be that the extreme conditions we had this summer, and the “Blob” that we had over the last couple of years will both eventually be shown to be clearly in line with overall warming trends.

    But the way science works is that we don’t draw those inferences until they are statistically significant.

    Basically, if you don’t want conservative senators cherry-picking their climate understanding from their local weather, don’t do the same thing with a hot summer.

    Granted, it is harder to make a case for action when the effects won’t be seen for 25 years, but we were able to do something about ozone depletion, which is only now starting to diminish after 30 years.

  3. Mark Collins says:

    Saying Cliff Mass was merely ‘splitting hairs’ and just being a good scientist gives me the sense that you were not noting the science and scientists cited, nor the examples of facile arguments Mass was making, actually found in the article. Especially the idea he floated of cheap gains we might experience with global warming, as well as his poohpoohing the idea of ocean acidification in the pnw and the (obviously apt) predictions of this summers’ ongoing fire season…

  4. LindaJ says:

    If you say Mass is “human-supremacist,” aren’t we all? We have the ability to communicate w/each other in ways we cannot with animals.

    In other words, humans are responsible for climate change. Animals are not.

    Not defending Cliff Mass, bc I do not understand a scientist who is seemingly unwilling to face what many of his colleagues have acknowledged is a catastrophe for all living beings. But I am not in Guy McPherson’s camp either. I do not think we should “write off” the human race while there is still a chance we will figure out how to save our habitat for all who haven’t been wiped out yet.

    • Deep Green Resistance Seattle says:

      No, not all people are human supremacist. Humans are just one form of animal life on this planet, and communication with other life forms isn’t some kind of hokey-pokey; it’s a simple fact of life. Yes, humans (specifically civilized humans) are responsible for global warming. We agree that we should not write off humans, and that all is not lost. Most scientists are clear that 80-100% cuts in carbon emissions by 2030-2050 will lead to gradually declining levels of GHGs and stabilizing climate. Thank you.

  5. Nick Sky says:

    From the first time I heard Cliff speak on KUOW I was annoyed by his downplaying of severity of climate change and the impact it was having on the PNW and beyond.

    When speaking with my friends I could never really call Cliff an out and out denier, but he certainly was actively and frequently downplaying and minimizing the impacts of climate change.

    Like this article, I said that I believed that the approach Cliff used regarding climate change was a new, dangerous (dangerous because it is appealing and requires more knowledge to see though) and growing trend in not fully acknowledging the changes already brought on by climate change and in pushing any real crisis further and further into the future (and also making the crisis seem less dire by offering potential benefits to climate change, that anyone who knows climatology, ecology and etc… know are uncertain at best and even if they do occur they will be overwhelmed by the negative consequences of climate change of a speed and severity that is unprecedented.

  6. Pingback: Why Are Activists and Scientists So Mad at Cliff Mass? | Seattle Weekly

  7. Pingback: Cliff Mass Knows Climate Change Is Real, So Why Are Activists and Scientists So Mad at Him? | Seattle Weekly

  8. Ellen Baker says:

    I’ve been a keen weather watcher in the mountains (living near Mt Baker) for more than 40 years, and I find Cliff Mass’s observations and predictions far more realistic and believable than the perceptions of the many (and often young) residents of the state’s “banana belt” zones that seem to have blinders on where it comes to long-term trends. It’s been very wet in the mountains for the vast majority of the year, and not only did we have snow on Cinco de Mayo we’ve racked up well over 80 inches of rain, and the year’s not over. The map and pictures of fires in the typically dry eastern part of the state – dramatic, but not fair at all where it comes to Mass.

  9. paul jay says:

    Opinions are not the realm of science. We don’t get a vote on the properties of CO2. Scientific statements have to be backed up by experimental data and subject to peer review or they are absolutely worthless. Sorry Cliff.

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