Priorities

I’m sick of all the politics surrounding climate science.

I wish it could go back to just being science, the way it was in the 1970s, without all these people trying to sabotage it for us. I wish we could concentrate on the joy and fascination we feel when we learn about the climate system, without having to deal with hate mail and quotes taken out of context.

I’m tired of the game of Broken Telephone in science journalism, the game that somehow always allows Fox News to make claims like “melting Arctic sea ice isn’t caused by warming temperatures”. I’m tired of the outright falsehoods that are permitted to circulate around the world, in respected publications, without consequences.

I’m tired of unnecessary investigations into the integrity of climatology researchers and organizations. I’m tired of the accusations of “whitewash” when these investigations invariably come up clear. I’m tired of scientists being portrayed as frauds if they don’t achieve a 100% success rate in their projections.

I’m tired of the politicians that attempt to subject innocent scientists to criminal prosecution. They’re so unwilling to accept the reality of anthropogenic global climate change that they think scientific fraud on an unprecedented scale is more likely than well-established properties of physics playing out as expected. It frightens and astounds me that people with such an upside-down understanding of the scientific process hold immense power in the American government.

I first became interested in climate science because of the science, not because of all the politics surrounding it. The earliest thing I can remember sparking my interest is learning about the different isotopes of oxygen, and how they can be used to reconstruct temperature.

These days, however, it’s nearly impossible to learn about climate science without running into silly arguments and widespread misconceptions and stubborn denialism. I started writing this blog so that I would have an outlet to keep myself sane as I waded through all the muddle. As time went on, an element of public education developed, along with priceless learning opportunities and collaboration. This blog has grown to so much more than I ever anticipated.

I don’t really have the heart to read Naomi Oreskes’ new book quite yet, or to re-read Climate Cover-Up, or to scroll down to the comment section when CBC publishes online articles about climate change. I know what a dire situation we are in, not only ecologically and climatologically, but also socially – in terms of public understanding and science communication. I know what a mess we’re in, and I don’t need reminding. I don’t know how we’re going to get out of the mess, but I try to do my part by continuing to pour my sociological musings into this sanity-inducing and morale-raising outlet.

I just want to work my way through David Archer’s book, Global Warming: Understanding the Forecast, and learn how to use all the atmospheric science equations within it. I want to download papers from Nature and Science and read them on the bus. I want to keep a close eye on the “Advanced” versions of Skeptical Science rebuttals, because isn’t it just amazing that we have a simple logarithmic equation for the relationship between radiative forcing and atmospheric CO2 concentration?

Many people might find it strange that I see straight science as a break, some sort of retreat from that which is more difficult to stomach. But then, we’re in a strange situation here.

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17 thoughts on “Priorities

  1. Kate: Your passion and prose make me proud to be a fellow-Canadian. Older guys like me need your energy. Keep up the good work.

  2. Hi Kate,

    You wrote “I’m tired of the politicians that attempt to subject innocent scientists to criminal prosecution… It frightens and astounds me that people with such an upside-down understanding of the scientific process hold immense power in the American government.”

    The situation is becoming so dangerous that I really believe normal human politeness and any respect we still give to opponents in “debate” is no longer an optimal survival strategy. Considered, rational, reasonable words from climate science are not working. I believe all suitable scientists need to match the thug tactics of the dangerous power-mongers – both those in government and the media.

    We need to call these people out loud on their bullshit. We need to consistently, in public, frequently and loudly identify these people as dangerous, ignorant, short sighted, stupid, gullible, irrational, liars, deceivers, mad or whatever they are.

    While these people continue to misrepresent themselves in the public’s view as best buddies, aiming to save their money and freedom by claiming there is a colossal waste of money on fake science and incompetent scientists solving non-existent problems while ushering in a world government so the people can be taxed to death, people are going to fall for their devious crafted rhetoric.

    My Dad used to say bullshit will always baffle brains and the propaganda these people come out with usually sounds, to the ordinary Joe, more plausible than the truth. A scientist, speaking science, cannot win against a skilled rhetorician unless they toughen up for all our sakes and start fighting fire with fire.

  3. Perhaps something to cheer you up slightly: by a whisker, climate denier Tony Abbott has been kept out of power in Australia:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2010/sep/07/labor-julia-gillard-form-minority-government-australia

    And, in making a deal with the greens, it looks like there’s some scope for serious climate policy in Australia. Also, it would seem there’s plenty of pressure for climate action from many Australians.

    Anyone from Oz reading this care to comment?

  4. Blah. I love it when the shills and the plastic sceptics turn up to resurrect zombies in wave after wave. Bring it on! More of it! Come and get some! The reading over coffee in the morning of a denier’s lie crashing and burning, eviscerated and impaled, is ambrosia to this mere mortal … ;)

    Pre-HTML-formatted links and Warming 101 help as well.

  5. Kate,

    You do know that David Archer’s lectures have been posted on You Tube by U of Chicago? As his introductory climatology text is used for the class (what else?) I am sure you’ll enjoy them.

    Patrick

  6. Hi Kate

    Picking up on Dan Olner’s post, as a displaced Aussie my perspective is not current, but I do follow things and hear from family and colleagues.

    Former PM Kevin Rudd dithered on emissions trading and climate policy in general, I suspect under pressure from his home state of Queensland (which is a hotbed of both young earth creationists and AGW deniers) as well as members of his own party representing areas with energy industries (e.g. coal mining, oil and gas – the Labor Party is formally associated with organized labour unions, so potential job losses are always a hot button issue), so he was outsed by his own party, seeing Julia Gillard take the country to an election. A hung parliament was the result (‘minority govt’ in Canadian terms), but with enough independent MPs willing to horse trade that an informal coalition was on offer. 2 green MPs, one formally with the Federal Green party, the other unaligned, gave support to Gillard’s Labor Party last week.

    Today, one conservative rural MP from Queensland sided with the conservative opposition parties (a formal coalition of 2 parties, containing some staunch AGW deniers, but also some that accept AGW), but the other 2 remaining independent nominally conservative MPs signed a formal agreement to support the Labor govt on supply bills (i.e. the Federal budget and other motions to do with govt function that are considered confidence motions) for 3 years. All the independent MPs have retained the right to vote on other bills ‘on conscience’, but Gillard’s govt has promised to consult prior to any bills being tabled in parliament.

    What does this mean for AGW measures in Australia? It seems likely that the Australian govt will now take some serious measures (there is a cabinet-level committe on ‘Climate change, environment & the arts’), but an emissions trading scheme is not necessarily what will ensue. Alternative energy solutions, especially in regional (rural) Australia will get a big boost from a new regional focus in Federal govt and through a A$1.4 Billion regional development fund (and other budget allocations). The idea is to stop the drain of people out of regional towns and cities into the big urban centres (Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane). This should have a positive affect on sustainability of rural communities, and have benefits for reducing energy use and intensive use of point energy production such as coal-fired power stations – but there are no specific measures in the agreement with the conservative independent MPs about climate change. But there are many unknowns – and Gillard’s govt has a nominal majority of one seat.

    Federal Labor under Gillard is more left than under Rudd, and certainly more ‘green’ than Australia would have been under Abbott, but the left side of politics is not necessarily more ‘green’; the role of the green MPs will be critical but tempered by the interests of the other 2 independent MPs needed to stay in government, whose focus is social justice for indigenous Australians and economic development in regional areas, as well as parliamentary reform.

    The agreement is here: http://resources.news.com.au/files/2010/09/07/1225915/542989-final-agreement-with-the-independents.pdf

  7. Another fine post, Kate. What you refer to as ‘broken telephone’ I would refer to as ‘chinese whispers’ – but then if you had referred to it as that I would probably not have followed the link to find out more…

    The phrase ‘chinese whispers’ is probably not politically correct – but then it seems to me that political correctness is what’s got us into another fine mess in the first place. I’m with Nick – it’s past time that science found a way to describe a spade as an earth-moving utensil without falling foul of the dogma sponsored by those with the vested interests.

    Who needs a paradigm shift when you can buy a pig in a poke, anyway? Oh, that’s right, we’d still believe the sun orbits the earth without them things, I nearly forgot.

    Waffling, sorry. Must be past my bedtime.

  8. Continuing the discussion of Australian climate politics… I think the two things which most weakened Rudd on climate were the lackluster outcome from Copenhagen and the situation in the Australian Senate, where Labor did not have a majority, and its climate policy kept being voted down by the Greens as not enough, and by the Liberals as too much. Climate was then put on hold as an issue, early this year, pending action from the rest of the world.

    I wouldn’t want to overstate the significance of this for subsequent events (Rudd’s deposition by his deputy Gillard, Gillard calling an immediate election and only hanging on after much dealmaking with independents). I’d say it’s the main reason why the Green vote made such a leap – so that the Greens will now control the Senate and had to be part of the deal in the lower house, as well. There were definitely people who would have voted Labor rather than Green if the climate policy had not been diluted. But Gillard’s coup resulted from two things. First, the traditional powerbrokers were always ready to do this if Rudd failed to stay on top of the polls. Second, I suspect that the proposed mining tax was meant to be a populist substitute for the climate issue, something to distinguish Labor from the opposition. But it went so badly, there was such a fight from the miners and the conservative media, that it provided the powerbrokers with an excuse for their coup. Though they supposedly advised Rudd to drop the climate issue anyway… What I say about the inner workings shouldn’t in any way be taken as authoritative, that’s just my attempt to decode cause and effect.

    It remains to be seen where Australian climate policy proceeds from here. The struggle to get an emissions trading scheme through was so protracted and ultimately unsuccessful (Rudd and his climate minister Penny Wong were politically very unlucky – they had a deal with the opposition to get it through the Senate, and then the opposition leader was deposed in a party room leadership challenge where he lost by one vote), that the idea of a carbon tax may gain some traction, just because it sounds simpler. There’s also talk of renewable energy, especially in country Australia, and a likelihood of ‘green pork’ for rural areas in general, since getting rural Australia a slice of power again, after a period dominated by the urban parties, was the decisive issue for the independents, in choosing whether to back Gillard or Abbott.

  9. Kate, your post gives me some hope.

    I was think recently about what distinguishes climate sites like Skeptical Science and RealClimate from sites like WUWT and it is that (often, not always) the writers display a real awe at what is being discovered. For a moment, there is a “gee-whiz” quality like young boys and girls doing a new physics project. You never get that on denialist sites, they are pretty glum reading really, and are usually attacking a scientist or advocating “libertarian” economics.

    That is often the key to communicating science. The best teachers are those who can get across their enthusiasm for the subject.

    Speaking about scientists and enthusiams: Stephen Schneider left us a legacy – this brilliant question and answer session with a studio of (fairly benign) Australian climate contrarians. This only aired 2 days ago.

    http://news.sbs.com.au/insight/episode/index/id/302

  10. I know you are tired, so am I.
    But, have you actually done anything personally that does reduce your carbon footprint ?
    I think you have, so have I and so have many other people.
    We need a website where the simple things to reduce carbon footprints can be reported by the thousands of people who actually rolled up their sleeves a little bit and did something about the problem. It does not have to be big or expensive or geoengeneering. Simple small things are just as effective. These actions will impress the other people and the politicians more than any further discussions or arguments.
    That will encourage a lot more people to follow the examples. Reading more books and science papers, which I have done, does not really help at all. We need action now AND we need the actions taken to be publicized .
    So, here is part of what I have done.
    My clothes dryer broke six years ago and I never fixed it. Zero effort. We hang the clothes up to dry either outside or inside depending on the weather.
    I replaced all my light bulbs that are used a lot with compact low energy lamps. Zero effort again, I only replaced the bulbs that burned out. Again this was done over about 6 years.
    I bought a high efficiency wood stove and reduced my gas bill considerably. Not a perfect solution but better than before and the CO2 from the stove is not fossil CO2. Small effort, somewhat large cost ~1000 dollars and the work for the installation of the woodstove and removal of the useless fire place that was 110 percent inefficient, it actually cooled off the house when it was lit.
    I now drive a 1997 SAAB 900 2.3 liter and I learnt to tune it and drive it so it uses 6.2 liters per 100 km in summer and about 6.8 liters in winter. Not earth shattering but better than my BMW or my truck that I used to drive. I also drive a lot less.
    And so on it goes. This is not all I’ve done and I plan to do more. I can show that this does not reduce my standard of living or anybody else’s and does not need to cost a fortune. So far, I think, I’m ahead or break even when I spread the 1000 dollars over 10 years.
    Act now, do some simple things that actually reduce your fossil carbon footprint and spread the news!

  11. @Kate,
    “It frightens and astounds me that people with such an upside-down understanding of the scientific process hold immense power in the American government.”
    Carl Sagan had the same thoughts:
    “We have designed our civilization based on science and technology and at the same time arranged things so that almost no one understands anything at all about science and technology. This is a clear prescription for disaster.” [1]

    1- http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Carl_Sagan

  12. My company offered a home-working scheme this year and I grabbed it. I now go to the office only 1 day in 5, so I have reduced my petrol comumption by 80%.

    It has its drawbacks – there are more distractions at home than at the office and you miss the stimulation of colleagues. However, it does also mean lower bills, no commute stress and a lower carbon footprint.

    I would advise anyone to consider working from home when you can.

  13. Re: Joseph Sobry

    “My clothes dryer broke six years ago and I never fixed it. Zero effort. We hang the clothes up to dry either outside or inside depending on the weather.”

    That’s actually a big energy saver. Those tumble dryers eat electricity.

    I have posted some of my tips on my blog.
    Including the use of eco paints in some rooms.

  14. On a (kind of if you now what I mesn) positive note about the scientific method and climate science…

    Petermann Ice Island – Now There Are Two
    http://www.science20.com/chatter_box/petermann_ice_island_now_there_are_two

    “Petermann Ice Island (2010) has now broken into two parts.
    […]
    The importance of the Petermann Glacier calving to climate science is not so much that it happened, but that it was predicted to happen. Quite a few predictions were made by people working independently as individuals or groups and using different techniques for prediction.
    […]
    The incontestable fact that the calving was predicted using the scientific method – and that it happened – is a public demonstration of the power of science to predict the future. This evidence of the validity of the scientific method should be enough to convince any rational person that when climate scientists from the world’s nations agree that the world’s climate is changing, then it is changing.”

    I’ve been posting this everywhere. Sorry if I’m repeating myself, but it’s important to put the successes in science out there, especially related to predictions.

    (P.S. Kate, I was joking further up the comments…. well, kind of… I think…hmmmmm…)

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