How and Why

Ever since Tamino linked to me, essentially tripling my blog hits, it’s become obvious that a lot of my readers and regular commenters are very knowledgable in this issue – more than a few are actually scientists who study climate change.

This has been absolutely fantastic. Whenever I have an inkling of a scientific question, five or six people immediately provide me with further information and links. I’m considering compiling all the questions I have (the answers to which are obviously common knowledge, but researching them is almost impossible as over half the Google hits are from places like the Heartland Institute or Climate Depot, trying to explain how it’s all a big conspiracy) and putting them in a post one day.

This summer, I’ve been reading and researching an incredible amount about climate change, and have even m0re books, websites, and PDFs waiting for my attention. This is what I want to study one day, and every new discovery I make or mechanism I understand is just so cool.

However, I don’t want to lose sight of what this blog is about. I don’t want to get into debates about proxy reconstructions or climate models when I don’t even know calculus yet. I don’t want to try to disprove Steve McIntyre. I don’t want to try to write like Tamino or RealClimate. One day, maybe, and I’m certainly reading that kind of material. But I don’t want to be writing that kind of material, pretending that I know what I’m talking about when I usually don’t.

I’m not a scientist. I’m not even of voting age, and don’t have the educational qualifications to earn anything more than minimum wage. But if climate change is indeed a problem, we have limited time. I’m not going to wait until I know everything about the science and then write about that. While I’m learning the science, I’m going to write about what I do know.

The ultimate purpose of ClimateSight is and always has been to find, expose, and eliminate the discrepancies between scientific knowledge and public knowledge regarding climate change. As it wasn’t too long ago that I knew only what Al Gore and the newspaper told me, and as I’m surrounded by people in that situation in my day-to-day life, I believe I have a very intimate connection to what average non-scientists think about climate change, and why.

A lot of people believe that there are two, fairly equal, competing sides in the scientific community regarding whether or not humans are causing climate change. I believe this stems overwhelmingly from a sense of artificial balance in the media.

A lot of people will read an editorial written by someone who thinks the world isn’t warming, or that humans aren’t causing it, and believe them totally because it seems logical and the more credible sources don’t usually write editorials.

A lot of people seem to think that the scientific question of whether or not human-caused climate change is a physical reality is a personal opinion.

And almost everyone needs to know how to assess credibility and how to find the more credible sources.

I don’t believe that the public decision of whether or not climate change is a problem will really be influenced by technical arguments, regarding a single method or report, between blogs. I don’t believe that these two blogging sides will ever really convince each other. I’m certainly not interested in convincing anyone who has their mind firmly made up. I don’t think we’ll get anywhere, and it won’t really make a difference in the end result.

I believe the answer lies in an informed public. When people know where to get accurate and credible information about climate change, when they know who is and is not worth listening to, when they stop trying to figure out the science themselves and instead decide which scientific sources they will rely on…..then I believe the public will finally either demand swift and dramatic action against climate change, or set it aside as a non-problem.

As someone very connected to the public opinion, I strongly feel that the first outcome is far more likely. Maybe I’m biased, or maybe I’m just hoping too much. But I believe that people generally care about the future, and that the current policy of waffling around the issue of climate change is in direct contradiction to what people would demand if they were fully informed about what the prevailing scientific opinion actually is.

But either decision will only happen if and when the public becomes fully informed, especially about the nature of science and risk management. Our society lives in a democracy, which is a luxury many people in this world, and especially in history, do not enjoy. However, a democracy can easily be misled, and for it to work properly, a fully informed electorate is essential.

And that’s what I’m trying to do here.

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27 thoughts on “How and Why

  1. So the fully informed electorate wouldn’t be interested in discussions of methods, but just need to be told what the consensus opinion is among scientists?
    [Not to be told…..but to be taught how to find out for themselves, without going into methods and such.]

  2. Have you read Unscientific America by Chris Mooney and Sheril Kirshenbaum, on the crisis of scientific illiteracy? It changed my view and has caused me to try even harder to educate the general public on this issue.

    BTW, you and your site are EXACTLY what Mooney and Kirshenbaum claim is desperately needed in the US.

    Not of voting age in Canada? Does that mean you are under 18? You are amazingly elegant in your presentations for your age (more so than me!) and I can only hope that one day somebody like you sits in one of my classes.
    [Thanks for the kind words, Scott. Yes, I am under 18, about to be a high school senior – although that’s a very American way of saying it, in Canada we just say grade 12. -Kate]

  3. OK, here’s what I’d like – I’d like you to have a non-informed commuting friend, Pat, who’s stuck inside a car for an hour or so. I’d like you to give Pat a CD of the audio of Greg Craven’s YouTube videos, send Pat off to work/school with it, then the next day (or week or whatever) ask what Pat now thinks; because (imo) Craven is EXCELLENT at explaining how to think about science, what science is, how not to be hoodwinked, how not to be arrogant, etc.

    But that’s just me; I’d like to know how his talks come across to someone who _doesn’t_ have a science background or any particular interest that way (yet).

    I’m ready to nominate Craven for the Nobel Planet Prize, if I can figure out who to send the email to.

    • Fully agree with all of that. I believe that Greg Craven has done a tremendous job in working towards this goal, and that if everyone in our society watched his videos/read his book, the world would be a much better place.

  4. I agree the key is an informed public. Blogs are one way to inform, but as you note it tends to further inform those who already are. This is why it has been important to me to not only provide good information, but also maintain a prominent position in search engine returns for key terms like glacier mass balance and glacier retreat. This does take time away from peer review publishing, but both the research and the outreach are essential.
    http://www.nichols.edu/departments/glacier/

  5. …then I believe the public will finally either demand swift and dramatic action against climate change, or set it aside as a non-problem.

    My money would be on the middle ground. But then I suppose everyone will have a different opinion on what swift and dramatic action actually is.

    As you’ve elucidated in earlier posts, AGW is a very politicized issue so I have a hard time envisioning broad public support until such a time as the issue is less politicized. Bills may be passed during left-wing rule but there’s no guarantee they’ll stand.

    Perhaps Bjørn Lomborg’s Copenhagen panel with a focus on technology-led policy response will help:

    http://fixtheclimate.com/component-1/the-result-prioritization/

    Galiana and Green paper

    With carbon pricing only playing an ancillary role (rather than being the central focus) this might be policy that any political party could support.
    [I certainly wouldn’t support geoengineering and adaptation alone, not when we still had time for mitigation. -Kate]

  6. Your how to assess credibility post has a weak ranking system in my opinion. Putting universities and organizations at the top is flawed, as it is basically encouraging groupthink. I kind of know what you mean, but I would still take a single expert in a specific field over a peer-reviewed paper or even an organizational statement, which may not have reviewed every detail as thoroughly, or perhaps a small detail is outside its area of expertise.

    For example, the Baliunas 2003 paper was peer-reviewed(later some editors said it should not have passed this peer review,) but one scientist named David Black complained about how his work was being misused.

    Not just Baliunas, but later his work was again used in two other peer-reviewed papers Moberg et al. (2005) or Juckes et al. (2006). Now I would trust David Black’s conclusions on the use of winds and plankton as a proxy for temperature or precipitation(I have no idea what that conclusion is), but you have the peer-reviewed paper rated higher in your pyramid of credibility.
    [Straight from the post: “Keep in mind that this is only a guideline. The sources in the middle, especially, could be shuffled around based on the situation.” I realize you like loopholes, but please realize that both my credibility spectrum and my comment policy are not so set in stone that they’ll trump common sense. -Kate]

  7. Is MikeN is referring to Soon & Baliunas 2003?

    That paper was only approved because Soon and Baliunas had specifically sent their paper to Chris de Freitas who was an editor at Climate Research. Chris de Freitas was known for opposing curbs on carbon dioxide emissions. He published the paper despite objections from other editors. Two of the editors of Climate Reseach started to recieve numerous complaints from leading members of the scientific community. When these complaints intensified some of the editors approached Chris de Fritas. Fritas accused the objecting editors of ‘a mix of a witch-hunt and the Spanish Inquisition’. Soon mainstream climate scientists fought back. Thirteen scientists wrote what is often called a “devastating critique” of Baliunas’s work in the AGU’s peer-review publication Eos. These 13 scientists were authors of the papers Baliunas and Soon cited refuted her interpretation of their work. After seeing the critique, Climate Research editor-in-chief Hans von Storch decided he had to write an editorial describing the current status of peer review at the journal. But when Storch’s editorial was blocked by Chris de Fritas he resigned. Several other Climate Research editors followed Storch’s lead and subsequently resigned over the Soon and Baliunas paper. Eventually journal publisher Otto Kinne admitted that the paper suffered from serious flaws, basically agreeing with its critics.

    Peer review is a necessary, but not sufficient, requirement for quality work, especially when the review is rigged by a denialist editor.

  8. Joel:

    AGW is a very politicized issue so I have a hard time envisioning broad public support until such a time as the issue is less politicized.

    You’re getting it backwards. You’re saying that we should fudge the laws of physics to make them agree with public opinion.

    How about, um, changing public opinion to make it agree with the laws of physics?

    That might be a better idea, because one can’t actually change the laws of physics.

    bi

  9. I certainly wouldn’t support geoengineering and adaptation alone, not when we still had time for mitigation.

    Fair enough, but at the end of the day its the bean counters who will influence policy decisions the most, scientists are only one part of the equation.

  10. frankbi, you’re not making a lot of sense. If you re-read what I said you’ll see my main thrust is that AGW must be de-politicized. Do you have an issue with this concept?

    Right-wing individuals/institutions/parties would not have a problem acknowledging AGW if it didn’t come with all the economic regulation attached (as our host has previously written about here.)

    Australia recently passed the Renewable Energy Target Bill with the support of the 2 major parties where as the cap and trade portion currently has no chance of passing. A conservative party will have extreme difficulty instituting restrictive economic legislation but at the same can spend billions on energy research, war, space exploration, etc. That’s why policy should be framed in a positive way (see comments above) rather than a punitive negative way.

  11. Joel:

    at the end of the day its the bean counters who will influence policy decisions the most,

    What on earth are you talking about? How will “the bean counters” make it hard or impossible to implement cap-and-trade?

    bi

  12. Joel:

    frankbi, you’re not making a lot of sense. If you re-read what I said you’ll see my main thrust is that AGW must be de-politicized.

    So you’re saying that pandering to people’s politics is a way to “de-politicize” something?

    bi

  13. As Kate and Joal have stated (and Craven also in his video series) herein lies the problem:

    Right-wing individuals/institutions/parties would not have a problem acknowledging AGW if it didn’t come with all the economic regulation attached (as our host has previously written about here.)

    Read Moody’s book: The Republican War on Science and it is easy to see how this issue (along with many others) became so politicized so quickly. This same “debate” happened with the cause of the ozone destruction but fortunately a relatively cheap solution was offered so all nations were able to sign the Montreal Protocol.

    So in the end, it comes to down to good old-fashioned $$$ that motivates folks to ignore the obvious evidence for AGW. As a parent of two small children, I often wonder what the world would be like if we treated the world as our child instead of as our bank account.

  14. One of the many difficulties which are evident with the politics of climate change is that it is an issue where compromise is rather besides the point. Either human interventions in the make up of the atmosphere effect the climate in a pernicious manner or they do not. There is not much in the way of a grey area. In a similar manner we are going to stabilize the levels of green house gases in the atmosphere or we will not. However in this question of mitigation many (of those who are opposing action to regulate emissions and change our energy infrastructure) argue that because one nation acting alone can’t achieve the goal of halting the growth of the various GHGs that action is therefore futile. It seems obvious to me that this is a wrongheaded opinion. By saying this I am not saying that mitigation will be easy. But the most difficult part of the problem of mitigation lies in persuading sufficient numbers of people to support an effective plan of action. That is what is difficult. The actions that follow, and the technical tasks that await a solution are nothing when measured against the political problems.

    Patrick

  15. So you’re saying that pandering to people’s politics is a way to “de-politicize” something?

    Yes.

    Science doesn’t compromise. Politics must. There is more than one way to achieve a goal.

    In the words of UN climate chief Yvo de Boer:

    “I think that a major shortcoming of Kyoto was that the official delegation came back with a treaty they knew was never going to make it through the (US) Senate. And this time I have the feeling that the communication is much stronger, that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, through John Kerry, is really expressing strongly what they feel needs to be done in Copenhagen.”

    http://en.cop15.dk/news/view+news?newsid=876

  16. Joel:

    Science doesn’t compromise. Politics must.

    You keep saying that, and then advocating that one should compromise science to accommodate people’s politics.

    There is more than one way to achieve a goal.

    And you say after repeatedly touting your way as the One True Way?

    Bluetwinky:

    But the most difficult part of the problem of mitigation lies in persuading sufficient numbers of people to support an effective plan of action. That is what is difficult.

    That’s the tricky part, isn’t it? Of course, one shortcut is to persuade sufficient numbers of Congressmen to support an effective plan of action. Obviously, this is just a short-term goal at best — the long-term goal will be to get enough of the general population to think scientifically, and to find ways to counter the noise that’s being deliberately injected into the public dialogue by inactivist lobbies.

    bi

  17. Frankbi, now you’re just being argumentative.

    Where did I say science should be compromised? Acknowledging the science does not mean there is only one possible plan of action.

    Where did I say my way was the only way? I was offering up alternatives. Did you even read any of the links I posted? There are many options considered.

    In fact you probably know there are prominent climate scientists opposed to the currently proposed cap and trade plans. I’m assuming I don’t have to dig out the relevant links for you?

    I understand your anger at inactivists, but I don’t think lack of action can all be attributed to them. Heck, the cap and trade plan didn’t pass the Australian senate partly because the Greens didn’t think the cuts were high enough! What did I say about compromise again?

  18. Joel:

    Frankbi, now you’re just being argumentative.

    What’s that supposed to mean, and is that supposed to be bad or what?

    I was offering up alternatives. Did you even read any of the links I posted?

    Yeah, I did, and they’re all about only one “alternative”, namely Lomborg’s proposal.

    Where are the other “alternatives” you were “offering up”, and why don’t I see them?

    In fact you probably know there are prominent climate scientists opposed to the currently proposed cap and trade plans.

    Global warming is about science, not scientists. Is the science opposed to cap-and-trade?

    bi

  19. Sorry for the hijack Kate….

    frankbi, I said you were being argumentative because you seem to be disagreeing with everything I write, and sometimes things I didn’t even write. (For instance, fudging the laws of physics? How did you ever come up with that?).

    Getting back to Kate’s inital post, my argument is that even if everyone (and this is being insanely optimistic) were sufficiently convinced of AGW, not everyone is going to want to act on it in the same way. I’m going to hijack Pielke Jr’s paraphrase from Walter Lippmann: “Democracy is not about getting everyone to think alike, but it is about getting people who think differently to act alike.” I’m interested in climate policy that will weather any incumbent government and survive any AGW doubt. From Swanson to Keenlyside we have possibilities of a short term cessation in warming. Latif is still going on about it. Can climate bills facing resistance from political parties and the general public survive a decade of that?

    I’m sure you dislike that I would link to anything involving Lomborg. Well, even if you don’t agree with his conclusions, he did involve 3 Nobel Prize winning economists and peer-reviewed economic papers of authors from: the University of Texas, McGill University, University of Venice, State University of New York, Ohio State University, CRA International, German Institute for Economic Research, Wesleyan University, Vrije Universiteit and many others. You can read these papers and listen to the viewpoints of these individual economic experts & academics.

    Is the science opposed to cap-and-trade? Haha, that made me laugh. Of course the answer is no. But then you have to also ask, does the science support cap-and-trade? The strongest answer you could give to this would be maybe. I mean what stabilisation target is science telling us to aim for these days? I honestly lose track. I’ve seen anything from 300 to 550 ppm. How effective will the US bill be after all the concessions made? Is it better than just a straight carbon tax? What influence will it have in Copenhagen? Hard to tell as there’s a good chance it won’t pass this year.

    I’ll finish up by saying that since I’m not American (Canadian/Australian) I don’t feel strongly for or against the currently proposed US legislation but I’m sure it will do some good. It can setup a framework for moving forward. I just don’t think it will be the panacea some will hope it to be. After all, how can you argue with organisations like this? http://www.climatesos.org/ =)
    [If it works, I’m good with it. My main priority is that we actually cut GHG emissions – whether we do that through cap-and-trade, new technology, CSS, or anything else. I think your mission is a noble one and has a much better chance of being effective than many of the things we’ve already tried. – Kate]

  20. Cutting GHGs will be hard with a cap and trade bill, or any bill that allows offsets. Right now China produces HFCs and then collects money to burn them, letting the payer collect offsets. It’s not too hard to increase your GHG production and then reduce it to collect offsets.
    Joe Romm referred to these as rip-offsets.

    Cutting overall GHGs will be hard, since China is the leading emitter, and rising fast. A 20% cut by the rest of the wrol will be about equal to new emissions in China in the next 8 years or so.
    [Keep in mind the per-capita emissions, however – China is the largest emitter almost entirely because they have so many people.]

  21. Joel, I’d like to ask you again:

    You said you offered up “alternatives” other than Lomborg’s proposal. So, again, where are the other “alternatives” you were “offering up”, and why don’t I see them?

    bi

  22. There are many proposals listed here:

    http://fixtheclimate.com/component-1/the-result-prioritization/

    None of them were written by Lomborg. I don’t necessarily agree with his ranking or prioritisation. I quite like number 2.

    In general I’d prefer a slowly rising carbon tax with strict control on where the money could be spent so that it didn’t turn into a giant government slush fund. Controlling a cap and trade system will always be difficult. A minimum price and a possible ceiling must be enacted to prevent market manipulation. An entire financial services market is created. Carbon credit fraud is not uncommon.

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