Cliff 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His citation for this statement is a 2012 report for the IPCC, which (like all IPCC reports) was as much as 7-10 years out of date by the time it was published.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.
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.'”
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.”
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.
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.