Form of Argument: Adventures in Rhetoric

By: Dr. Ricky Rood , 4:59 AM GMT on March 09, 2012

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Form of Argument: Adventures in Rhetoric

In 2009 I received some questions from Westview High School in San Diego, California (see here). A few weeks ago I heard from the same teacher, Bob Whitney, and he was curious about how I would respond to the issues raised in this posting on Rogues and Scholars. This is a long exchange of postings between two engineers, Burt Rutan and Brian Angliss.

In my blog, for better or worse, I have tended away from engaging in the type of discussions that are represented by this exchange. A couple of reasons: One, this line of argument that works to discredit climate change is at this point political, and as I argued here, engagement in this argument is not productive. Two, while it is necessary to address the factual inaccuracies that are stated in this type of discussion, it has been done repeatedly and well by many others (look around, for instance, at Real Climate). That said – what do you say to students who have the discussion between Rutan and Angliss at hand and want to make sense of it all?

When I look at the words used by Rutan, I see words anchored around fraud, dishonesty, alarmist - this is an argument that relies on discredit and personal attacks. Such an attack quickly raises the emotion and takes the discussion away from a knowledge base. It is the sort of attack that has become pervasive in our political conversation in general, and it is an excellent diversionary tactic. It raises the specter of distrust.

I tell students to look for the form of argument. So, first, does it rely on discredit? In this case, it does rely on discredit, and it relies on discrediting thousands of scientists, writing many thousands of papers, over many years, from many countries. It is fundamentally conspiratorial, and not only is it conspiratorial it requires that many years before climate change emerged as an important environmental problem, that the foundation for the conspiracy was being laid down. To me, this lacks any credibility in reason, but if conspiratorial beliefs are held, then it is virtually impossible to provide convincing counterarguments to the person who holds those beliefs. If the form of argument relies on conspiracy, then it is immediately suspect.

One way to address, rationally, issues of dishonesty and conspiracy is to seek external review and, ultimately, judgment. The body of climate science research has been subject to extensive external review. Governments, the National Academy (here as well), non-climate-science scientists, and lawyers have reviewed climate science. They have all affirmed the results to be well founded and based on proper scientific investigation. The studies have documented that scientists have foibles and that peer review captures the vast majority of errors and prejudices and that there are no fundamental shortcomings in the conclusions that the Earth has, at its surface, on average, warmed and with virtual certainty will continue to warm. But if you dismiss climate science on the principle of conspiratorial malfeasance, then it is simple to dismiss external review. If you stand on only your own review and have the foundation to dismiss all external review because of conspiracy, then you are always right. Hence there is no discussion. There is no possible way forward for the student other than looking at the evidence and behavior and form of argument and standing as judge.

Does the argument rely on invoking moral levers of trust and distrust based on the belief of conspiratorial fraud?

Does the argument pull out single pieces of information and ignore other pieces of information? Does the argument rely on planting belief and disbelief by reaching for metaphors outside of the field? Does the argument assert that broad claims are made when there is no evidence to support such assertion?

So for the student – you have to think about the whole, not just isolated points that are meant to be provocative and planted to grow on an emotional state fueled by claims of amoral behavior.

Yes, carbon dioxide acts as a fertilizer, but is that the complete story of the vigor of plants? Is there any denial of this role of carbon dioxide in the climate literature? Can you find quantitative, science-based studies of the carbon dioxide fertilization effect?

Yes, there was a lot of carbon dioxide when there were dinosaurs; it was warm – what is the relevance of that argument? Does that establish that carbon dioxide is not a pollutant? Can’t things that are natural also be a pollutant? Isn’t that why we don’t want mine tailings in our drinking water? Isn’t that why we manage our sewage?

There is a wealth of information out there. There are ways to analyze that information, to evaluate its validity. If this sort of argument is encumbering, then there is a need to synthesize, personally, that information to form defensible conclusions.

If you look at the form of argument that relies on emotion, picks out pieces of information to support the argument, ignores pieces of information that do not support the argument, paints moods by long reaching metaphors, and ultimately relies on a belief that a field is corrupt, and that corruption requires a conspiratorial organization extending across decades and all nations – if that is the form of argument, then how is that robust? How is that believable? It is a prejudicial form of argument directed only at making someone believe the person making the argument; it is not seeking knowledge-based understanding.

That’s how I would look at that discussion.

r



Figure 1: A summary figure I use after I walk through about 10 lectures on the basics of climate science and global warming.

If you made it here - Here are links to a PDF and a Powerpoint Slide Show that includes several viewgraphs on thinking about arguments that are frequently raised in the political argument opposing the science of climate change. (They are each about 5 MB).

PDF

PPS


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Quoting Neapolitan:
Wow, still another GBCW post from Oss?

Anyway, found this at the Washington Post's Capital Weather Gang blog:

Warmest astronomical winter on record in Washington, D.C.

The winter of 2011-2012, by the astronomical definition, was the warmest on record in Washington, D.C. according to the National Weather Service.

The average temperature was 45.6 degrees, nearly two degrees above the previous record holder of 1989-90, when the average temperature was 43.7 degrees. Records have been maintained since 1871.

Remarkably, Washington only logged 24 days when temperatures reached 32 or lower, the fewest such days on record.

- - -

The exceptionally warm winter follows a number of other notably warm seasons in Washington in the last two years:

* Astronomical spring in 2010 was the warmest on record

* Meteorological summer in 2010 was the hottest on record

* Astronomical summer in 2010 was the second hottest on record

* Meteorological summer in 2011 was the second hottest on record


The Capital Gang, incredibly scientific.

When I posted this last year your comment was "regional" , could it be as stated below that
"hot heads alarmists" like McKibben only like
to the mention the data that agrees with there
distorted agenda.



December 2010 update: Second coldest since 1659

Paul Hudson | 16:54 UK time, Tuesday, 4 January 2011

Met Office provisional figures show that December 2010 with a mean CET temperature of -0.7C was the second coldest since records began in 1659, beaten only by December 1890 which had a mean of -0.8C.

The diagram below shows how the month ranks with other cold Decembers, a truly memorable month climatologically.


Link



We shall see. Cold intensifying at the pole http://www.weatherbell.com/jb/?p=1064, and down under no less ready to throw the warmers a bone just yet http://www.theage.com.au/travel/travel-news/snow-a rrives-two-months-early-20110412-1dbng.html.

Of course this is just weather, until we get the first heatwave, then get ready for the news items *sigh*



by Bill McKibben, via Huffington Post


My bet is he’ll talk about what’s he’s called his “all of the above” energy policy — about how America has drilled a record number of oil and gas wells during his administration, about how fracking technology has spread around the country. He’ll laud sun and wind, but as supplements to gas and oil, not replacements.

And to make it especially painful to ranchers, indigenous people, and assorted environmentalists, he may do it while standing next to pipe waiting to be laid for the southern half of the Keystone Pipeline, an enterprise he has promised to “expedite.”


Amidst the many environmental disappointments of the Obama administration — the fizzled Copenhagen conference, the opening of vast swathes of the Arctic to drilling and huge stretches of federal land across the northern Plains to coal-mining, the failure to work for climate legislation in the Senate, the shameful blocking of regulations to control ozone — the president has done one somewhat brave thing. He responded to the largest outpouring of environmental enthusiasm so far this millennium and denied a permit for the main Keystone XL pipe from Canada’s tar sands to the Gulf of Mexico.

Cynics said he did so just to avoid disappointing young people before the election, and pointed out that he invited pipeline proponent Transcanada to reapply for the permit. It’s hard not to wonder if those cynics might be right, now that he’s going to Oklahoma to laud the southern half of the project just as Transcanada executives have requested.





POLL-Growing number of Americans see country on wrong track
Wed Mar 9, 2011 4:33pm GMT
Print | Single Page[-] Text [+]WASHINGTON, March 9 (Reuters) - Americans, who are suffering from high gasoline prices, believe the United States is on the wrong track by a large margin, in a fresh challenge for President Barack Obama, a Reuters/Ipsos poll said on Wednesday.
The proportion of Americans who believe the country is on the right track dropped 7 points in the past month to 31 percent, and 64 percent think the country is on the wrong track.

It was the highest number of people in an Ipsos poll who believe the country is going in the wrong direction since Obama took office in January 2009.




Link
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Quoting NeapolitanFan:
Arctic ice identical to 17 years ago and temps are cooler than 17 years ago. Must be that dreaded global warming:

Link
Nah, just that dreaded Goddard, the d00d who has a clear and demonstrable lack of ethics or knowledge. But keep listening to him!

Ice area this year maxed out at 13.67 million km2. Why, to find more ice than that at the maximum, one would have to go all the way back to 2010, when it peaked at 13.81 million km2! Or 2009 (13.85 million km2)! Or 2008 (13.90 million km2)!

Silly denialists. Silly, silly denialists...
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 14368
Quoting NeapolitanFan:
I've always questioned the ability of man to calculate, to any degree of accuracy, the average global temperature. Now I've discovered the method. For historical purposes, Phil Jones, of Climategate fame, calculated the entire average temp of the Southern Hemisphere using one thermometer. No wonder it's so easy. Can't vouch for the accuracy, though.

Link
Apparently the fictional Mr. Goddard is unaware of the statistical term "margin of error", and/or he's blind to the error shading on that graph, and/or he's simply lying (again) to his gullible readers. I go with 'D': all of the above.
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 14368
Remember a few of the Rules of DenialWorld:

--Research funded in part by government grants is not just wrong, but criminally fraudulent. However, research funded by fossil fuel interests is almost certainly okay.

--Proxy data that support AGWT are inaccurate, invalid, and based on an inadequate number of samples. Meanwhile, proxy data that seem to support some other theory are absolutely beyond question.

--Ground- and space-based thermometers that show warming are inaccurate, poorly-sited, uncalibrated, and invalid. But thermometers that show any cooling whatsoever are beyond question or repute.

--People with doctorate-level degrees in climate sciences are uneducated fools and pawns of the fraudsters. However, bodybuilders and one-time small-market TV weather readers with no degrees and/or zero formal learning in the climate sciences are unquestioned experts, so long as they deny AGWT.

--There's no such thing as consensus; the fact that 97% of practicing climatologists and 100% of national and international scientific bodies support AGWT means absolutely nothing. The ten thousand or so dead people, fictional characters, and assorted other non-scientists who signed the Oregon Petition, however, are fundamental proof that the planet isn't warming.

--Increasing multiple widespread heat waves and droughts and floods and severe storms and such are just weather. Snow in Alaska, however, is evidence of cooling.

--Any long-term temperature graph of the planet shows short-term up-and-down variations that are part of an unmistakable long-term upward trend merely reflect the urban heat island effect and/or fraud. However, the downward short-term dips on those graphs are a sure sign of global cooling.
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 14368
Quoting greentortuloni:
If you want to continue this argument (which I really don't), please answer Birthmarks question: what is your mechanism for the heating?, i.e. how do you explain the rapid heating and ice loss?
Ummm...I think...well, Watts says...er, sunspots...no, wait, cloud forcing...but it snowed in Montana this week...natural cycles...or maybe...aw, heck: Al Gore is fat, so there!!!
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 14368
Quoting NeapolitanFan:
>Here's another IPCC "scientist" seeing the light. He states unequivocally that there is no evidence that any human-cause CO2 emissions have any effect on climate, harmful or otherwise. And it's peer reviewed! What a joke. Peer review is something akin to letting convicts decide on whether another convict should be granted parole.

Link
As Brian was kind enough to point out, Dr. Gray has a degree in chemistry--something he put to use during a long career as a coal industry researcher. Gray has never published a peer-reviewed article on climate science. He has published articles on coal, but the most recent of those was two decades ago. In short, then, Gray is a non-practicing, non-publishing scientist in a field unrelated to climate who lives off of his fossil fuel industry pension and speaking fees for the fossil fuel-funded Heartland Institute. I realize that makes him an 'expert' in Denial World, but it doesn't mean much in the real world.

(And, FWIW, Gray's constant claim of being an "expert reviewer on every IPCC paper" is something only about a million others can brag about; being an "expert reviewer" for the IPCC means a) asking to see a draft report and b) not speaking about it in public until it's released.)
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 14368
Quoting martinitony:


I will only address this statement now.
" Else, there is never causation and no theory is possible."
This is a false statement. I don't mean that you are lying. I mean that you are wrong.
Here is an example. If I heat paper to 451 F it ignites and burns. I can prove that the act of doing this is the cause by running experiments. That is cause and effect.
Think. The reason we run experiments testing a hypotheses is typically because of correlation.We observe something that we believe may be a cause. Then we run experiments to test the hypothesis in order to prove that it wasn't just correlation but was function.
Scientists have sometimes gone years, generations and even centuries believing a hypothesis that was wrong because they were unable to test it.
It is currently very difficult to test the CO2 global warming hypothesis because the world would have to be the experiment. I am not trying to set up an impossible situation, but just having correlation is not proof.


I never said correlation was proof. On the other hand, you stated that correlation was not proof of anything.. I understood your point to be that all the correlation that exists bewteen global warming theory and observed evidence is meaningless.

This was in response to your posting a graph with a statistically meaningless surge of thin briny ice (menaingless incomparison the years of data showing a decline.)

So now i am confused. What was your point with the graph in light of your truism that correlation doesn't equal proof?

You then noted the need for repeatability in science and how difficult it is to test global warming for that. It is a fair point philosophically. You used the example of heating paper and burning paper.

First, as per your example of cracks in the sidewalka nd the sun, what you have shown is correlation, not cause. It seems like cause/effect because 1) you have a much denser set of statistics (i.e. time divided so that hypothetical causes have to line up temperaly with effects in a 100% correlation which is very difficult if it were random) and 2) you have a mechanism in mind.

You already know that this result is accepted part of theory. But it isn't so obvious, remember caloric and all that Greek garbage? No one accepts correlation as theory without mechanism.

This is where global warming comes in: it is a theory not a set of statistics because ti provides a mechanism: CO2. The mechanism is repeatable and 'proven' as much as anything can be.

You on the other hand 1) don't provide mechanism and 2) don't counter the mechanism that is provided. You merely state "oh, well correlation isn't proof so therefore the theory is wrong."

This is why I didn't state correlation as a fact by itself... however correlation is hugely indicative of mechanism. You know this because you , like everyone else, makes millions of decisions everyday based on correlation + mechanism.

In summary, global warming theory provides mechanism plus evidence, not just 'historical record' but in fact an anomolous variation from historical record: the speed of warming is unprecedented.

If you want to continue this argument (which I really don't), please answer Birthmarks question: what is your mechanism for the heating?, i.e. how do you explain the rapid heating and ice loss?
Member Since: June 5, 2006 Posts: 0 Comments: 1220
Dr. Vincent Gray has a Ph.D. in physical chemistry from Cambridge University after studies on incendiary bomb fluids made from aluminum soaps. Dr. Gray has never been published in a peer-reviewed journal on the subject of climate change.
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The Historic Anomalous Temperature Event of March 2012

Member Since: November 22, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1755
Quoting Neapolitan:

More from the press release,

"It was the warmest decade ever recorded for global land surface, sea surface and for every continent.

"Most parts of Canada, Alaska, Greenland, Asia and northern Africa recorded temperatures for the decade between 1°C and 3°C above the 1961-1990 average.

Nearly 90% of the countries involved in the assessment experienced their warmest decade on record."

Member Since: November 22, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1755
..the cooling is going to start any day now.
Member Since: July 3, 2005 Posts: 433 Comments: 132798
This just came over the internets--not that it'll come as a shock to anyone who's been watching and reading:

2001-2010 warmest decade on record: WMO

"Climate change has accelerated in the past decade, the UN weather agency said Friday, releasing data showing that 2001 to 2010 was the warmest decade on record.

The 10-year period was also marked by extreme levels of rain or snowfall, leading to significant flooding on all continents, while droughts affected parts of East Africa and North America.

"The decade 2001-2010 was the warmest since records began in 1850, with global land and sea surface temperatures estimated at 0.46 degrees Celsius above the long term average of 14.0 degrees Celsius (57.2 degrees Fahrenheit)," said the World Meteorological Organisation.

Nine of the 10 years also counted among the 10 warmest on record, it added, noting that "climate change accelerated" during the first decade of the 21st century.

The trend continued in 2011, which was the warmest year on record despite La Nina -- a weather pattern which has a cooling effect.

The average temperature in 2011 was 0.40 degrees Celsius above the long term average, said the WMO.

"This 2011 annual assessment confirms the findings of the previous WMO annual statements that climate change is happening now and is not some distant future threat," said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud.

"The world is warming because of human activities and this is resulting in far-reaching and potentially irreversible impacts on our Earth, atmosphere and oceans," he added.

The UN weather agency noted that during the decade, "numerous weather and climate extremes affected almost every part of the globe with flooding, droughts, cyclones, heat waves and cold waves."

Historical floods hit Eastern Europe in 2001 and 2005, Africa in 2008, Asia and Australia in 2010.

Global precipitation -- including rain or snow -- reached the second highest average since 1901. THe highest average was recorded for the decade 1951-1960.

Meanwhile for the North Atlantic basin, the 10 years marked the highest level of tropical cyclone activity, including Hurricane Katrina which struck the United States in 2005 and Cyclone Nargis which hit Myanmar in 2008."
Member Since: November 8, 2009 Posts: 4 Comments: 14368
"How to Avoid the Truth About Climate Change" - Dr. Barry Bickmore

www.youtube.com (Link)




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Quoting NeapolitanFan:
Here are the CRU hacks predicting the end of snow. I can't believe you don't remember this hilarity. You really need to do some research before you get hysterical.

Link


Here is quote of Anthony Watts from the very same article that you cite: "At least they didn’t claim that UK snowfall was in a “death spiral”."

Seems that you are having a bit of a problem understanding what Anthony Watts said. That is completely understandable. Many of us have that exact same problem. ;-)
Member Since: August 24, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 4932
Thanks for all the patience you show for deniers.

I was a statistician (now retired)working on issues of dendrochemistry in Taxodium distichum. Therefore I read a good deal of dendrochronology and actually presented some papers at meetings in the 1990's.

You're right on the mark as far as I can tell.

thanks again for your substantive responses.

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New Brunswick shatters weather records
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Weather records continue to fall on P.E.I.
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Record highs reached throughout Nova Scotia
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Member Since: November 22, 2010 Posts: 0 Comments: 1755
It's not difficult to prove AGW at all. We emit CO2 by using fossil-based carbon sources. CO2 has been proven to be a greenhouse gas due to its interactions with infrared radiation. Ergo we are causing AGW. Simple.
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Quoting NeapolitanFan:


The charts I posted show the exact opposite of NOAA's questionable data. When scientists can't even agree on the basic data, it ain't science, my friend.


Oh! You mean those





charts?
Member Since: January 2, 2006 Posts: 133 Comments: 20554
Quoting Birthmark:

Speaking of wrong statements, the above is absolutely wrong.

Based on what we know about the properties of CO2 and how those properties will react in the atmosphere under various circumstances, a series of predictions can be made. In fact, a series of predictions have been made.

These predictions have been reasonably successful. Not perfect, of course, but perfection isn't required.

So if the current warming is not largely attributable to CO2, then it is something very much like CO2. However, if the cause isn't largely CO2 then the cause must somehow cancel out what we know about CO2 whilst simultaneously mimicing the effects of CO2. That seems to be a pretty daunting task.

In any event, I think you and I both know which way Occam's Razor cuts on this one. ;)


Your remarks are nonsense. A proof absolutely requires perfection. "Seems to be"and "something very much like" are laughable as phrases that might be found in a scientific proof. You should stick to your graphs and other exhibits.
Member Since: July 29, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 970
Quoting greentortuloni:


I can't beleive I'm replying.. but since I am stuck here for 10 mintues:

Your point about causation and correlation is well known and applies to anything. Stretching your point to cover the statistical well known correlations between evidence and global warming theory is simply the wrong use of the correlation/causation argument. Else, there is never causation and no theory is possible.

Second I referred to denialists as denialists ebcause i thought that was the PCI term. Call it whatever you want. Not interested.

Third, you have not answered any of the points above, namely what is the mechanism for all the melting ice and other myriad physical evidence of global warming.

Fourth, yes the earth has seen many swings and cycles. NONE have been this fast and NONE when the population was so internetworked and living at the edge of the ecosystem envelope.

Finally, so in the end, based on your rebuttal, I take it that you admit your post of the graphic and your prior arguments are void. (You have admitted that at least twice yourself if you go back and read your posts carefully.)

Now, I don't even lurk anymore, seeing as I can't resist answering.


I will only address this statement now.
" Else, there is never causation and no theory is possible."
This is a false statement. I don't mean that you are lying. I mean that you are wrong.
Here is an example. If I heat paper to 451 F it ignites and burns. I can prove that the act of doing this is the cause by running experiments. That is cause and effect.
Think. The reason we run experiments testing a hypotheses is typically because of correlation.We observe something that we believe may be a cause. Then we run experiments to test the hypothesis in order to prove that it wasn't just correlation but was function.
Scientists have sometimes gone years, generations and even centuries believing a hypothesis that was wrong because they were unable to test it.
It is currently very difficult to test the CO2 global warming hypothesis because the world would have to be the experiment. I am not trying to set up an impossible situation, but just having correlation is not proof.
Member Since: July 29, 2009 Posts: 0 Comments: 970
Quoting martinitony:


Patterns, correlation and regression.

The Earth has been cooling for billions of years.

The Earth has been warming for Hundreds of years.

The Earth has been stable, temperature wise, for about a dozen years.

The above statements, I think you will agree are all true.

I walk down the street. I observe cracks in the sidewalk. The sun is shining. Cracks in the sidewalk cause the sun to shine.(From my statistics professor, 1967) The cracks are still there and the sun still shines. Confirmation from me today.

Okay, I think you get my drift. If you are honest you will not take exception to the above statements to discredit what I am about to say, because what's above is not really at dispute. There is no straw man here. There is just a simple argument that perhaps the warming trend has no relation (or very little relation) in fact to anything that man is doing but rather that the ups, downs and flat areas are part of a much bigger picture that we can't or won't see.

I have learned that correlation is not proof of anything. You need to determine regression which means a function. Yes, it is possible that ice can be melting in one place and not another and that in total the system is warming, but it is also possible that the opposite is true, a cooling system with ice melting in some part of it.

Using terms such as denialist to discredit what I have just said only suggests to me that the argument being presented by that person is inferior. There are far too many PHDs skeptical of AGW for me to blindly accept many of the arguments presented so far. The denialist will claim that these skeptics are paid shills. I know that is not true and I know far more money is pouring into the "green" promotors from this government than the energy industry.

Therefore, make your arguments and answer the skeptics challenges without claims of denialism.




I can't beleive I'm replying.. but since I am stuck here for 10 mintues:

Your point about causation and correlation is well known and applies to anything. Stretching your point to cover the statistical well known correlations between evidence and global warming theory is simply the wrong use of the correlation/causation argument. Else, there is never causation and no theory is possible.

Second I referred to denialists as denialists ebcause i thought that was the PCI term. Call it whatever you want. Not interested.

Third, you have not answered any of the points above, namely what is the mechanism for all the melting ice and other myriad physical evidence of global warming.

Fourth, yes the earth has seen many swings and cycles. NONE have been this fast and NONE when the population was so internetworked and living at the edge of the ecosystem envelope.

Finally, so in the end, based on your rebuttal, I take it that you admit your post of the graphic and your prior arguments are void. (You have admitted that at least twice yourself if you go back and read your posts carefully.)

Now, I don't even lurk anymore, seeing as I can't resist answering.
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About RickyRood

I'm a professor at U Michigan and lead a course on climate change problem solving. These articles often come from and contribute to the course.

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Clouds in the lee of the Rockies at sunset.
Clouds in the lee of the Rockies at sunset.
Clouds in the lee of the Rockies at sunset.
Clouds in the lee of the Rockies at sunset.