Saturday, April 13, 2013

Bovine Excrement & Global Warming


I will get to the topic at hand but first, a moment of silence .......... <that's enough> because last Friday Jonathan Winters passed away. In his honor, I've pinned a video of he and Dean Martin to the blog to remember his greatness, and give a little chuckle to all those who spent the weekend bleary-eyed doing taxes. For you Millennials who don't recognize the other guy in the video, that is Dean Martin who was of course the founder of Men's Warehouse.

Jonathan Winters was a brilliant comedian of a thousand voices. Only 27 actually took up residence inside his head at any one time according to staffers at Bellevue. No matter which personality was home, the man was truly a gift to humanity. He could ad lib on almost any subject. I wish he were here to help explain in his own special way what exactly happened to the 16th Amendment. That's the one that makes us all go crazy to meet the filing deadline. I'm sure he'd have quite a bit to say about that. For you Boomers who weren't born yet, the 16th Amendment is the one that says in it's entirety:
"The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration."
That's it. That's the whole Amendment. I'd love to hear Jonathan explain how we moved from those 30 words to the present 6,000 pages and 500 million words. It's so complex we spend $6BN annually processing our returns. Ninety percent of the populace today have to use a tax professional or tax software to process their returns.

And now to the point of the blog, it would have really been great if Jonathan Winters could explain Climate Change. Like the tax code, understanding Climate Change requires us to listen to others who know more than us. We have to try and decipher the meaning of the technical writings so we can plan and avoid any negative forecast impact. But like all things, wisdom begins with understanding. The problem is understanding gets really difficult for us when we start listening to unqualified on-line writers who give us their interpretations of technical reports, whether its the tax code or Climate Change.

The Press

Last week you might have picked up on the scientific study that used long-range climate change models and layered those results on top of 20 day moving average temperature ranges to predict the future world-wide impact on grape growing. The study received quite a bit of publicity when that last bastion of all truth, the on-line Guardian, reported: "A study has found sharp declines in wine production from Bordeaux, Rhone and Tuscany, as well as California’s Napa Valley and Chile by 2050." That story line seemed to be repeated over and over and over and over by media and bloggers around the world.

When I saw the news reports last week, I did what apparently few others in the media did. I actually read the complete report. The news reports identified the Napa AVA as an expected place where change would take place, yet prominent on page one of the report was this sentence:

"Current suitability is projected to be retained in smaller areas of current wine-producing regions, especially at upper elevations and in coastal areas."
What is often missed in the laypersons discussion of climate change is the lack of homogeneity in the regional consequences of that change. As it relates to coastal areas, the ocean moderates change and the report did point that out. So what about the Napa AVA? What I discovered actually reading the report was there was not one mention of the Napa AVA in the report whatsoever.

The media coverage on this report is nothing short of revolting and a sad commentary on the decline of news organizations who now struggle against free news on the internet, and grapple to define their own revenue models to find ways to pay their professional reporters. Today we don't have to wait for tomorrow's paper. We can read all the unsubstantiated feckless attempts from unpaid writers and get their uninformed scoop ahead of the truth.

Sadly that grief is compounded now by other respected for-profit media outlets who in their haste to keep up with "I want it now consumers," repeat the same drivel without independent verification. In the "if you can't beat them, join them" line of thinking, much like the gossip rags in the checkout lanes at grocery stores, many reporters today in mainstream media are paid for the impact of a story as measured by clicks, social media impact, coverage by other outlets, etc.. With the struggle for profitability, there is less editorial oversight reviewing reporter accuracy than ever before. (Editorial Note: None of the above is to insinuate anything negative about bloggers who always present researched opinion.)

The Report

While this study purports to be unbiased, it should be said the supporters and authors of the report all share a similar green bias. The report lists several groups like the Environmental Defense Fund, Conservation International, and the Center for Large Landscape Conservation. There are references within to changes in wildlife migration and populations which seem to be outside the general scope of the report and my guess were probably included to satisfy a supporter.

I prefer science over subjective studies which use science as a club instead of a map which could be used to positively evolve our world. The benefits of the positive discussion on global change ensuing from this study, do not justify the means employed to create it.

This report is scientific sensationalism. Is it accurate? Who knows? It's an attempt to popularize and politicize a point of view. Why do you think the report was overlaid against a popular world consumer luxury product like wine instead of rutabagas? Rather than come up with a hypothesis and expose that to unbiased observation, measurement, testing and modification of the hypothesis, this report appears to start with a political objective and then pulls in scientific facts and models to support the preordained conclusion. That should throw complete doubt on the actual findings, in the same way a report on underage drinking funded by WSWA should be completely dismissed.

To my thinking, this report on world climate change isn't even newsworthy. Its a repetition of information that's already been out there in several forms for many many years. No new science has been put forth or even purported to have been discovered in the report.

The synopsis in my read is that we are entering a period of global weather change. OK so far ..... Change wont be homogeneous and will be impacted by other variables such as elevation, regional urbanization, and shifts in other biological adaptation within any ecosystem. Got that .... The report pointed out a fair amount of agreement within the climate change models used; a little more agreement in the Western US and less in Europe. Not particularly noteworthy to me ...... As it relates to viticulture itself, the report also notes other issues can impact the actual outcome of climate change such as advances in the application of water and the genetic alteration of clones to make plants more drought resistant. .....Well duh!....  

My Conclusions

Finally unless I am missing something, the conclusions  - even if unbiased should be held in doubt since the Central Valley of California isn't even noted as a current region suitable for grape growing on the map to the left. As I understand the color scheme, current suitability in growing regions is indicated by red. That big foot-shaped area in the middle of the map isn't in red and of course the Central Valley is the largest producer of wine in the U.S.A.. I think we can all agree The Big Valley is suitable today for winegrape production. I acknowledge I'm not a geography major, but I do better with primary color identification and in Kindergarten I discovered pinkish isn't red.

  • The reporting on this study was nothing short of bovine excrement. 
  • The demise of the Napa AVA reported by the press as being supported in this report is simply false. In fact, the report is consistent with most climate reports I've seen that suggest moderated changes in coastal appellations.
  • Given the supporters and authors bias, the results have to be called into question.
  • Hijacking science to politicize any political end isn't science. Even if the end result is the shaping of public opinion in a positive way to protect the earth, the means aren't justified.
  • Recognizing that the average life of a vineyard is maybe 30 years, actually starting a replanting program as some of the news articles suggest  - to make sure you are ready in 40 years for the heat is nothing short of ridiculous.
  • Whether you believe climate change is real or not, you probably do believe the earth is worth protecting. Water use is a big issue today and in an area like California that already has periods of drought, finding ways of conserving water is something we should all support. If California were to enter a long period of reduced snow accumulation in the Sierra's for instance, the Central Valley could be inhospitable for growing almost everything and there could be a consequence for Napa if greater restrictions were to be placed on pumping.
  • I wish Jonathan Winters would have done the reporting of this study instead of the press. It would have at least been funny, and might have been more accurate.

That's a lot to cover this week but I am curious about your reactions. Please join the site, log in and offer your perspective pro or con. I'd really like to hear your perspectives on the state of the press and your views of the report.


  1. I like how you put this. We should not ignore good and sensible research and learn from it to make adjustments. If the information is sound and we react in a reasonable manner, that is good. The Humpty Dumpty view is not useful.

    Living on Long Island and paying close attention to the wine industry here, there are some climatic things of note and there have been positive changes and negative ones. For a climate on the edge of ripening for Cabernet Sauvignon, warmer is not a bad thing. But the more frequent storms can be a touch problematic! Sandy has made changes out here that I am not sure will go back to "normal". The tides are still much higher than before Sandy. For some local roads, checking the tide charts is recommended! This was not the case a year ago.

    Hurricanes before harvest can be quite challenging, though one recent hurricane vintage provided stunning wines for those producers that were patient. I believe it was 2005 but may have been 2003. It's not good that the storms are getting so frequent that I can't remember the biggies!

    1. Thanks NobleWines. My point is 1) The press has really lost it's impartiality. Freedom of the press is turning into chaos of the present in this akward period where the interwebs have disrupted the revenue model. I'm begining to think is we move to a model where only pay sites present real news in an informed way, will that mean you need be wealthy to hear about real news? Do we need the Government to play a role in supporting a National News service so the average Joe/Jane can get news .... another NPR? I shudder at the consequences of that path

      2) I read a blogger who I respect talk about those ignoring this report as "ignoring science," as if all science is truth and this report is truth. Science is a path to knowledge and knowledge a path to wisdom. More and more I see our scientists - who should be unbiased in their preparation of real research, taking an activist role in trying to move public opinion. I am for good science and that includes all the discussion on Climate Change.

      Think how powerful a report would be if we could look at it as fact, knowing the research was without bias, and the proceedures carried out in a way that made the results virtually impossible to ignore. We could still debate but the weight of that kind of science is much stronger than the kind carried out here.

    2. Here is a nice article outlining Michel Chapoutiers views on the report about Climate Change and wine. I think he and Randall Grahm have some very common views, both feel irrigation has negative effects to the vine.

      A fine little pull-quote from him:
      ‘The scientific community in this study is holding the truth hostage,’ Chapoutier said. ‘I am in no way a global warming denier, and am shocked not by the study itself, but by its conclusions.’

  2. Replies
    1. Thank you Josh. Appreciate the Kudos. This one took me a little longer than normal in research. I hope it's helpful to the discussion on Activist Science and the Press which are both moving in directions that aren't positive for us.

  3. Excellent and spot-on, but misses the insight that the argument isn't really about "climate change" but rather merely proxy for another front in the class warfare fight. These latter day Elmer Gantry's are not overly concerned with climate change - the goal is social justice (in this case economic) as bent through the optics of the agitprop's authors and backers.

    And as noted, complicit and along for the ride is the media and as importantly a feckless public possessing poor critical thinking or abstract reasoning skills given lack of debate or alternative viewpoints in their education. A Pozzo and Lucky "Godot" relationship if there ever was one.

    Or, as the late sage Frank Zappa once opined; "People, we is dumb all over".

    1. RobC. Thank you for signing in. I tried to leave out my own general feelings of the rationale for Activist Science. While its worth noting, I was attempting to put together a balanced view of two colliding and negative events. Certainly motive is something to discuss over a glass of wine, but I tried to leave that out in this post so this didn't turn into a dispute about my motives for calling this out. I'd rather discuss the topic instead of the people to the extent possible.

      (PS .... I have to go look up Godot and agitprop. Them are real college words! Thanks again for the interesting post.)

    2. True, and a noble goal. But motivations can't be decoupled when evaluating the rhetoric of the authors and the actions of the media.

      Rational, informed people know that yes, climate changes globally and locally over time. But its extent and the ability for society to modulate it in meaningful ways gets lost in the false choices sensationally presented in pursuit of both "justice" and click-through ad revenue.

      But this is neither new nor surprising. Because in many ways this debate continues the circle of screeds from Malthus to Paul Erlich which were also once eagerly embraced as absolute truths during their eras.

      Ida Tarbell had it right when she stated late in life that "muckraking", was ultimately desensitizing and counter to the goals of influencing the minds of those truly in need of change.

    3. RobC -I agree motivations have to be considered. I treaded lightly on that noting a green bias in the authors and supporters of the paper, but haven't completely dismissed the voracity of the findings. The organizations participaring demonstrate a likely bias in the findings, but I wouldn't want to comment more by saying the results are wrong or specifically what their motivations might be.

      I wanted to be careful to stay out of the back and forth discussion that can get heated about Climate Change. I appreciate a good debate, but for whatever reason, people get side-tracked on that topic and it soon breaks down into "I-know-you-are-but-what-am-I" type debate.

  4. Note: I had a call from somone who didn't want to engage here, and in the course of the discussion, we talked a little about water conservation and the efforts that have been taken in my lifetime to move from flooding, to drip, and now even biological means by which water use is lessened in vineyards.

    I am aware depending on the region, the water needed to produce a gallon of wine can be embarassingly high. To my point in the Conclusion section - whether we believe in Climate Change or not, who in California wants to ignore water use? We can't afford to waste water even now let alone tomorrow should the snow pack remain permanently impaired in California.

    I would love to see an enhanced discussion at some point on all the advancements that have taken place on water conservation in vineyards, and see some of the farmers out there share the things you are going to lower water use. That kind of sharing is normal between wine-making neighbors and growers, but seldom makes it to the press.

    Wouldn't it be great to publicise the positive things that are being done and the studies that are undertaken by real scientists that are and will continue to have a positive impact on our planet?

  5. A good actual factual review of the study. Something not found written by journalist. And I think you read W. Blake Gray, whose analysis is "if a npr type says it, it must be true". And he castigated those of us who don't worry about Napa, as damn atheists in a world of godly liberalism. I wish wine bloggers would learn to write about wine or take a year or 2 of geology and earth science at a university before opining suchly.

    Speaking of universities, I have an idea on how to dampen the ever-rising costs of college. Wage caps on tenured professors. No wage over $150,000. The student loan game, now co-opted by Federal Uncle Joe, is just another way for the Joe to funnel money from the taxpayer/Chinese lender, to the privileged class. And Ibama says he is a champion of the working class. Hah. Oh, yeah, what about wine? If climate really did start to change enough to affect Napa or Bordeaux, then UC Davis et al will isolate better clones of the same varietal for the new climate. Kind of like Luther Burbank.

    1. Thanks for the comments Donn. Always direct and interesting. I am going to address education and immigration in next weeks Blog so please weigh in on that one.


Please sign into the community to post. Common-sense guidelines apply: Disagree with author but offer your own thoughts. Disagree with other posters but please attack the post versus the person.

Flaming, spamming, off-topic posts, advertising and offensive posts that would not be suitable for work will probably be deleted. Drunken posts will be forwarded to your mother.