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Steve Lunetta: Baby, it’s cold outside

Posted: January 13, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: January 13, 2014 2:00 a.m.

My nephew from Mississippi put out a Facebook post that said his pipes were frozen. Let me repeat that: Mississippi.

The recent polar vortex sure has brought us some unusual weather.

Of course, if anyone makes mention of global warming in this context, they are immediately shouted down as a “hater” and “unscientific.” Climate change is the more accurate term and it fits perfectly whether the temperature goes up or down.

Which is what temperature does. All by itself.

One area that can use a bit more exploration is the effect that climate change is having on living organisms. In April, the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) will be releasing a report that states as many as 30 percent of the Earth’s species are endangered by climate change.

Yowzers. Thirty percent. I hope Giants fans are part of that number.

I recently got a chance to meet an expert in the field of biology who has an excellent understanding of this topic. Jim Steele is director emeritus of the Sierra Nevada Field Campus of San Francisco State University and author of the book “Landscapes & Cycles: An Environmentalist’s Journey to Climate Skepticism” (available on Amazon).

Besides being a nice fellow, Jim is really smart. He is one of a growing number of scientists who are looking critically at the data put forth by the IPCC and assorted publications (like “Nature”) and questioning the methods and validity of not only the data but the conclusions drawn from that data.

For example, in one of the chapters of Jim’s book entitled “Landscape Change not Climate Change,” Jim discusses the odd case of the Parmesan Butterfly Effect.

Dr. Camille Parmesan is a widely respected biologist who claimed butterflies in the Southern California were migrating northward. Parmesan argued that the migration of the butterflies was due to climate change connected to man-made carbon emissions.

Parmesan declared “these butterflies were shifting their entire range over the past century northward and upward, which is the simplest possible link you could have with warming” (Science Watch, 2010).

Why, its something that even a politician could understand!

As such, she became a darling of the Clinton Administration, was invited to the White House, and was one of four biologists to participate in the IPCC’s third global climate assessment. Yes, her career took off like a shot.

Only one minor problem. Parmesan’s work was deeply flawed.

As Steele explains, Parmesan based many of her conclusions on an increasing global average temperature she believed was pushing animals north and up.

But animals don’t care about global average temps — only local maximum temps. For example, most of California’s maximum temperatures never exceeded the temps measured in the 1940s as seen at Yosemite National Park.

Add to that the fact that butterflies require extra warmth, which enhances their survival. Warm climates speed caterpillar development, digestion, and growth. This means that global warming (OK, call it climate change) would have just the opposite effect on the butterflies.

Jim elaborates further that many of the populations that Parmesan reported as extinct due to global warming in the 1990s have now reappeared and are thriving. But, unlike the attention given the so-called extinctions, the good news has never been published until Steele’s book.

So something else seemed to be going on that Parmesan missed.

Conservationists for years had been agonizing over the extinction of butterfly species long before climate change. They blamed this on suburban sprawl, “habitat loss, degradation, and fragmentation, recognizing additional negative effects from fire management practice.”

In fact, most of the extinctions reported in SoCal had happened by the ‘70s, long before the carbon dioxide alarm bell was rung.

So why is this important? As species died off, it shifted the statistical center of the butterfly’s range northward, making it appear as if the bugs were migrating.

This created what Steele calls a “statistical fairytale” of climate-change-induced migration that Parmesan was all too happy to report in the journal “Nature.”

And that is not all. When Steele asked Dr. Parmesan for her data to review and attempt to reproduce, she refused to share the data. But after more discussion, she agreed to collaborate with Jim.

However, after three years of waiting, he has yet to see a single iota of data to review.

Jim Steele’s story is simply one piece in the overall puzzle. Other significant issues lay buried in the climate change treasure chest, but anyone who tries to examine this “gold” more closely is shouted down as a heretic.

Will the IPCC’s report on species extinction be tainted by concerns about the honesty and integrity of the data that supports it? Probably not. There are few brave enough to challenge the current dogma.

In the world of science, it’s tough to be frozen out of the discussion. And baby, its cold outside.

Steve Lunetta is a resident of Santa Clarita and is stocking up on both suntan lotion and snow shoes. He can be reached at


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