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Corbett’s top energy adviser skeptical about climate science

Patrick Henderson is Governor Corbett's Energy Executive.

Marie Cusick/ StateImpact Pennsylvania

Patrick Henderson is Governor Corbett's Energy Executive.

Governor Corbett’s top adviser on energy issues calls climate change an “evolving science” saying, “reasonable, studious individuals may still be searching for a consensus.”

Patrick Henderson was appointed by Corbett to be Pennsylvania’s Energy Executive in 2011. The Philadelphia Inquirer has called him “one of the most powerful people in Harrisburg you don’t know about.”

In an October 2013 interview with StateImpact Pennsylvania, Henderson acknowledged man-made climate change exists but called it an “evolving science.”

“We’re getting more information. We’re getting more facts,” he said. “We need to be pragmatic and practical in what our solutions are.”

Henderson declined to comment for this story, but he frequently comments on the StateImpact Pennsylvania website.

He left a message under our story on Wednesday about Corbett’s nominee to head the Department of Environmental Protection, Chris Abruzzo, who said he was unaware climate change can cause harm and sees no need for Pennsylvania to adopt new policies to address it.

Here is Henderson’s comment:

U.S. carbon emissions at a 20-year low, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

A 29% increase in ice cover across the globe compared to a year ago.

An emerging consensus among climate change scientists that there has been a pause in global warming since 1997, with some predicting a global cooling trend.

2013 – the fewest number of hurricanes in…31 years. And 8 years since the last major hurricane made landfall in the United States…the longest stretch since before
the Civil War.

Don’t fear though…we have discredited climate changer Michael Mann on speed email to tell you that this is NOT a complex issue upon which reasonable, studious individuals may still be searching for a consensus.

Patrick Henderson, Energy Executive
Governor’s Office

We fact-checked his statements. Here is where the science stands:

U.S. carbon emissions at a 20-year low, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration

This is true, when it comes to U.S. energy-related carbon emissions. However, because carbon dioxide (CO2) is mixed globally and on average persists in the atmosphere for more than a century, the global carbon trend is what matters.

In 2012, global CO2 emissions hit a record high. CO2 concentrations in the global atmosphere have risen every year since measurements began in 1958.

A 29% increase in ice cover across the globe compared to a year ago

It’s true that Antarctica (south pole) ice has increased this year. In the Arctic Ocean (north pole) the ice is below average levels. Global sea ice forms each winter and melts each summer. Overall, the long-term global ice trend is negative.

“The tiny gain in Antarctica’s ice is an interesting puzzle for scientists,” said National Snow and Ice Data Center lead scientist Ted Scambos in an October 2013 press release. “The rapid loss of ice in the Arctic should be ringing alarm bells for everyone.”

The Arctic is viewed as more important for regulating the climate. All of the seventh lowest summer ice minimums there have occurred in the last seven years, and 2012 set the all-time record low. This year has not been as warm, so the ice did not melt as much, but it is was still below normal.

Over time, the average summer ice around Antarctica has increased slightly, while the the summer ice in the Arctic Ocean has declined dramatically.

[There is] an emerging consensus among climate change scientists that there has been a pause in global warming since 1997, with some predicting a global cooling trend

The world’s scientists are not predicting a global cooling trend, quite the opposite.

The latest assessment from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects global temperatures to rise. “Most aspects of climate change will persist for many centuries even if CO2 emissions are stopped,” the authors write.

Climate scientists have certainly seen a slowing in the rate of increase in global temperatures, however it is important to note that temperatures have not gone down. Global average temperatures remain high.

Scientists say the lack of significant warming at the Earth’s surface in the past decade or so is likely due to the natural cycles of the climate. Meanwhile this “pause” has been accompanied by a sharp increase of heat stored in deep oceans. Scientists expect temperatures to swing back up again soon.

2013 – the fewest number of hurricanes in…31 years. And 8 years since the last major hurricane made landfall in the United States…the longest stretch since before the Civil War

This year was the quietest season for Atlantic hurricanes in 31 years. The number of hurricanes (both in the Atlantic, and globally) can vary dramatically from year to year. The latest IPCC report (p. 5) shows scientists have a low level of confidence in predicting future long-term trends in intense hurricane activity.

It’s also important to understand the definition of a major hurricane, which refers to Category 3 or higher. Hurricane categories only refer to wind speeds. They do not describe the overall damage a storm can cause. “Superstorm” Sandy was technically a post-tropical cyclone when it made landfall in the United States last fall. It still delivered a deadly storm surge, killing more than 100 people in the U.S. and causing billions of dollars in damage.

Why does Henderson call climate scientist and distinguished Penn State University professor of meteorology Michael Mann “discredited”?

It’s not clear. However, he may be referring to Mann’s role in a 2009 incident involving approximately 1,000 stolen emails from the University of East Anglia’s Climate Research Unit.

The emails included exchanges between some of the world’s most prominent climate scientists, including Mann. Taken out of context, some of the exchanges cast doubt on the integrity of Mann’s work. A series of investigations found no evidence of wrongdoing, and Mann is currently involved in a defamation lawsuit against two blogs which have attacked his work.

In January 2013, Penn State University honored Mann with a distinguished professorship in its College of Earth and Mineral Sciences. In September, the National Wildlife Federation honored him with its Conservation Achievement Award for Science. In its October issue, Bloomberg Markets magazine named him to its 50 Most Influential people list.

Mann calls Henderson’s comment “appalling.”

“It is beneath the dignity of any public official claiming to represent the people of this great commonwealth,” he writes in an email. “I hope the Governor will distance himself from this comment. I expect an apology from Mr. Henderson.”

Bottom line

Scientists say there is natural variability in the climate system, but human-induced warming is clear and poses significant risks.

Bob Henson is a meteorologist with the University Corporation for Atmospheric Research in Boulder, Colorado.

“Because of natural weather conditions, we wouldn’t expect to see climate change impacts in every part of the world every year,” he writes in a email.  ”But over the long term, we can expect rising temperatures, more frequent and longer heat waves, and rising sea levels to pose major challenges to society.”

 

 

 

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