Technology as Communication

The relationship between technology and climate change is complex and multi-faceted. It was technology, in the form of fossil fuel combustion, that got us into this problem. Many uninformed politicians hold out hope that technology will miraculously save us in the future, so we can continue burning fossil fuels at our current rate. However, if we keep going along with such an attitude, risky geoengineering technologies may be required to keep the warming at a tolerable level.

However, we should never throw our hands in the air and give up, because we can always prevent the warming from getting worse. 2 C warming would be bad, but 3 or 4 C would be much worse, and 5 or 6 C would be devastating. We already possess many low-carbon, or even zero-carbon, forms of energy that could begin to replace the fossil fuel economy. The only thing missing is political will, and the only reason it’s missing, in my opinion, is that not enough people understand the magnitude and urgency of the problem.

Here is where technology comes in again – for purposes of communication. We live in an age of information and global interconnection, so ideas can travel at an unprecedented rate. It’s one thing for scientists to write an article about climate change and distribute it online, but there are many other, more engaging, forms of communication that harness today’s software and graphic technologies. Let’s look at a few recent examples.

Data clearly shows that the world is warming, but spreadsheets of temperature measurements are a little dry for public consumption. Graphs are better, but still cater to people with very specific kinds of intelligence. Since not everyone likes math, the climate team at NASA compressed all of their data into a 26-second video that shows changes in surface temperature anomalies (deviations from the average) from 1880 to 2010. The sudden warming over the past few decades even catches me by surprise.

Take a look – red is warm and blue is cool:

A more interactive visual expression of data comes from Penn State University. In this Flash application, you can play around with the amount of warming, latitude range, and type of crop, and see how yields change both with and without adaptation (changing farming practices to suit the warmer climate). Try it out here. A similar approach, where the user has control over the data selection, has been adopted by NOAA’s Climate Services website. Scroll down to “Climate Dashboard”, and you can compare temperature, carbon dioxide levels, energy from the sun, sea level, and Arctic sea ice on any timescale from 1880 to the present.

Even static images can be effective expressions of data. Take a look at this infographic, which examines the social dimensions of climate change. It does a great job of showing the problem we face: public understanding depends on media coverage, which doesn’t accurately reflect the scientific consensus. Click for a larger version:

Global Warming - the debate

Finally, a new computer game called Fate of the World allows you to try your hand at solving climate change. It adopts the same data and projections used by scientists to demonstrate to users what we can expect in the coming century, and how that changes based on our actions. Changing our lightbulbs and riding our bikes isn’t going to be enough, and, as PC Gamer discovered, even pulling out all the stops – nuclear power, a smart grid, cap-and-trade – doesn’t get us home free. You can buy the game for about $10 here (PC only, a Mac version is coming in April). I haven’t tried this game, but it looks pretty interesting – sort of like Civilization. Here is the trailer:

Take a look at these non-traditional forms of communication. Pass them along, and make your own if you’re so inclined. We need all the help we can get.

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42 thoughts on “Technology as Communication

  1. The graphs on the scientific consensus and public perception are stunning, but don’t you think some of the problem here is skepticism caused by past alarms that turned out to be far from true?

    Think of all the prediction in Population Bomb that did not turn out to be true or the acid rain debate from a few years ago.

    I think you have an uphill battle to show why it is different this time and also just how the little that man can do one way or the other can really make a difference.

    John

    • “Think of all the prediction in Population Bomb that did not turn out to be true or the acid rain debate from a few years ago.”

      You think so?
      Surely the bomb still ticking away.
      We have just added some more time to the fuse and pushed the problem onto future generations.

      Acid rain was a problem, the reason it isn’t such a problem now is because people reacted to the alarm and did something to reduce pollutants.

  2. Ummm, John – your point is almost a denialist one. The Millennium bug, CFCs, DDT, population, lead in petrol, nuclear war, acid rain etc. All were legitimate worries, some still are, but in each case actions were taken to avert the danger, some deliberate, some not so. As a consequence the dangers were either avoided or, as in over-population, just temporarily avoided at the cost of making the eventual reckoning more extreme. Had action not been taken the dangers would have come to pass.

    If somebody pointed out 60 years ago that houses were firetraps and that “alarmism” meant that a whole lot of rules got brought in to make them less flammable, install smoke detectors etc would that mean that because there are less house fires these days that the “skepticism caused by past alarms that turned out to be far from true” was valid? Of course not, but this sort of argument is routinely dragged out by some who should know better.

    No doubt you know that, in actuality, houses were fire traps and regulations mitigated the danger…

    • But Nick, he has a point — at the time the Montreal treaty was negotiated, some folks were very alarmed indeed: no good substitutes for CFCs would be found, poor people most in need of affordable refrigeration would suffer the most, and the economy would suffer… nothing of which happened.

      Currently we see similar alarmism, with the added One World Government touch borrowed from the Elders of Zion. Nah, I think I’ll be sceptical…

    • I agree – and there’s a wealth of information there. Thanks for the link!

      In the context of ClimateSight the climate-specific page might be of more interest.

      The first animation currently listed details recent (February 2011) information about the possible future impact of climate change on the ozone layer — warning that although the Montreal Protocol* seems to have been effective to date, recovery may be jeopardised by ‘possible unintended consequences of proposals to deliberately add compounds to the atmosphere to counteract warming due to heat-trapping gases’.

      *Note for climate change deniers and free market libertarian nutjobs: the Montreal Protocol is an example of successful governmental action in the face of a known threat to our planet.

  3. Nick,

    I think the mix of issues you have there illustrates the problem.

    Y2K was averted and we had the biggest jump in productivity ever [I think] in the last decade because almost everyone upgraded their computer systems. This was in fact a global problem that was solved.

    I am not sure we can say that the threat of nuclear war has been averted, in fact I fear rouge nations having nukes a lot more than when it was just the USSR having us in a stand off. Thus it is a continuing problem and perhaps one more worthy of our attention.

    The issue of damage from CFC’s and issue of acid rain turned out to be more like the warnings about massive famines in the 1990’s. We still have concerns, have taken cautious steps of prevention but still have to wait and see how serious they were [that is why I mentioned acid rain].

    Lead and other particulate matter in gasoline is no different than how we have handled smoke from leaves and rice here in the Sacramento valley: When there are too many people in one area you have to take actions to make mandatory reductions. These are problems where you have a specific cause and a specific solution.

    Where I think you have the closest corollary to global warming is with the population projections: IF someone had said we would have six billion people on the planet at the end of the 20th Century when I was a kid the thought would have been unthinkable based on all we were being told: It would have brought massive famines, rampant disease and over-crowding.

    Well, we passed the six billion mark and continue to grow and feed more and more people each and every year. On the solution side, if we really thought it was going to become deadly in the near future, how much difference would a state like California taking its population growth to zero make in the big picture?

    So you have two problems: Folks don’t really believe the problem is as big as everyone says that it is as we can see from the charts above, AND they are not sure taking the kinds of steps that are suggested are going to make a real difference if it is a problem.

    John

    You seem to be making the case that population growth and its consequences weren’t as bad as initial predictions suggested. However, so far in the scientific community, climate change has been progressing much faster than initial projections suggested. Just take a look at the IPCC reports over time, and also compare them to current observations. You say the two situations are the same but in fact they are opposite. I really hope you’re right, though. -Kate

    • John Stoo:
      “Well, we passed the six billion mark and continue to grow and feed more and more people each and every year.”

      That ignores the long term damage that the industrial agriculture is having and it ignores the fact that many people are in poverty despite there being plenty of food to feed them.

      Humanity usually solves one problem and in the process create a new one.
      Biodiversity is reducing, extinctions continue and humans are less capable of surviving disease outbreaks without drugs and technology.
      So it may look rosy, but that is because we continually push the inevitable crunch into some future point in time.
      Burning bridges along the way.

    • “Folks don’t really believe the problem is as big as everyone says…”

      Incorrect. Most people don’t have the capacity to take it in, they are genetically programmed to think about themselves and to survive. It takes some effort to think beyond what your genetics is telling you and people don’t like making the effort.

  4. [Third attempt – can’t seem to get my posts to ‘take’ (so much for technology curing problems – the more they complicate the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drains!)]

    Although I agree that the lack of political will is down to, as you suggest, not enough people understanding the magnitude and urgency of the problem, the root cause for this is, in my pessimistic opinion, because those with vested interests in ‘business as usual’ have already won the public relations battle, and have therefore created a lose scenario for everyone (including, ironically, themselves).

    On the positive side: I do like that NASA warming video, it makes the point very well. And, as a gamer, I’m definitely going to give Fate of the World a go – thanks very much for the heads-up on that! (I’m downloading it now). I see that the vendor suggests giving the game as a gift to others, which is a cool way to spread the word. I’ll be seeing if it’s any good first, before I do that, though ;)

    • P.S. I’ve played the first scenario of ‘Fate of the World‘ a couple of times now, and have written a review of it.

      P.P.S. The link on the ‘Global Warming – The Debate’ graphic in your article results (for me at least) in Acrobat Reader telling me that ‘the file is damaged and cannot be repaired’ (once again, so much for technological solutions to problems caused by technology…).

      In Chrome (which has its own PDF reader) it’s working fine…is anyone else with an Acrobat plug-in having this problem? -Kate

    • PS I’ve played the first scenario of ‘Fate of the World‘ a couple of times now, and have written a review of it.

      PPS The link on the ‘Global Warming – The Debate’ graphic in your article results (for me at least) in Acrobat Reader telling me that ‘the file is damaged and cannot be repaired’ (once again, so much for technological solutions to problems caused by technology…).

      PPPS Intriguing: my ‘failure to post’ problems only occur when I’m logged into my WordPress account. How bizarre. (What was I just saying about technology?)

  5. Ummm (again) John.

    You didn’t understand what I wrote. Briefly, your point was that scepticism about threats was warranted because past alarmism (so-called for rhetorical pejorative purposes) allegedly “turned out to be far from true”.

    My point was that, in the past, far sighted people saw a threat and did something about it thus avoiding the threat. You seemed to agree that this was a good strategy by referring to the very positive consequences of dealing with the Millennium bug ahead of the Millennium.

    You go a bit awry when you talk about population. What you were doing was only looking at one aspect of the problem.

    At the time (1968) when “The Population Bomb” (BTW, did you know Ehrlich’s preferred title was “Population, Resources, and Environment”?) was written one of the reason for the predictions of approaching famine was a recognition that the way we were feeding the 3.6 billion then was with the use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides which were ultimately derived from oil, of which conventional reserves were such that they could diminish soon – hence no (or very expensive fertiliser) – hence starvation.

    We found new, harder to extract, oil resources and converted a lot of forest land into fields. These were “one time only” solutions. We cannot do them again and now, in addition to the new peaking of oil, we have a lot more carbon emissions to contend with.

    We temporarily solved the population bomb only to make the eventual explosion much larger. To revisit my firetrap house analogy, we could have solved the flammability issue by coating everything with asbestos at the cost of an epidemic of mesotheliomas a couple of decades later.

    “Folks don’t really believe the problem is as big as everyone says that it is”

    That’s largely because of way too many people giving the views of the anti-alarmists credence. The dangerously complacent are the biggest threat we have today.

    Incidentally, when Ehrlich published his book, the share of Earth’s land surface each human had was a square about 170 metres on a side. Nowadays, it’s under 145 metres.

    • Nick,

      You were right is describing how Ehrlich approached the problem of population, but in the end he was wrong, not because we found more oil [which we did] nor because we cut down a lot more trees [which we did not].

      The change that threw out all of his predictions was primarily the result of one man’s breakthroughs: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norman_Borlaug

      Mr. Borlaug changed the world for the better and no one in the 1950’s or 60’s could have even guessed how this would happen. This is why people are not a problem: They are the solution!

      John

      • Shorter John Stoos:
        Finding better ways to convert non-renewable petroleum into food completely solves the population problem forever.

        Seriously, Malthusian population concerns, including Ehrlich’s, have consistently been made in light of the current level of technology. Malthus’s original work was published during the earliest days of the Industrial Revolution, in the low-energy pre-fossil-fuel context. Deploying fossil fuels puts things off, certainly – but it doesn’t solve the problem, and it doesn’t last as long as it could have since we used the excuse to grow. When Ehrlich wrote the Population Bomb, it was pre-Green Revolution – another fossil-fueled initiative… but the boost from the Green Revolution wasn’t as substantial as that of the Industrial Revolution, and population and demand continues to grow.

        “Hey, don’t worry, we’ve always innovated our way out in the past, we’ll figure something out now!” is an irresponsible way to be a steward of the future, now, isn’t it? (Especially because everyone who considers that argument convincing won’t see a problem, and thus won’t be motivated to actually do the innovating needed to solve it.) I’d rather not gamble on innovation, especially since it’s always, in the past, been dependent upon discovering a new source of energy – essentially supply-side agriculture, if you think about it.

      • Brian,

        There is a difference between being foolish and ignoring the lessons from the past, in this case lessons about our needed humility in terms of predicting the future.

        Here is another commonsense example: When city planners did their work in the early 1900’s they could project the population growth of our major cities and one of the problems that baffled them was what could possibly be done with all of the horse shit that they would need to dispose of. Obviously the automobile changed all that.

        John

      • When city planners did their work in the early 1900′s they could project the population growth of our major cities and one of the problems that baffled them was what could possibly be done with all of the horse shit that they would need to dispose of. Obviously the automobile changed all that.

        “Thus solving the problem forever!”

        I, Nick, and Frank all get it – replacing one problem with another isn’t a solution, it just puts off real action. The automobile, as it exists as a solution to horse crap piles, obviously has its own problems – it is fueled using a non-renewable resource. So even if you completely ignore the carbon problem (which was explained in terms of horse crap by none other than Richard Alley, by the way), the solution is by no means permanent, as oil eventually runs out.

        In financial terms, we were running out of cash reserves as our expenses kept growing beyond our income. Then someone found a huge sack of cash under the sofa, and we used the opportunity… to not cut our expenses, and they’ve in fact kept growing, while our true income hasn’t really changed. (Even if you ignore the massive fossil-fuel dependence of the Green Revolution and view it entirely as income, it leveled off – by analogy, increasing revenue but only to a point, while expenses just. keep. growing.)

        The only way to truly solve this issue is to live within our means. Since supplies are limited based on physics, we can’t solve this problem by increasing supply. We have to reduce demand. That ultimately means population stabilization within the Earth’s carrying capacity.

        This is pretty much inescapable when you look at the world, unless you feel like gambling with everyone’s future. Which seems to me to be the height of irresponsibility and authoritarianism (since people not involved in deciding to gamble have to reap the consequences). That is just plain bad stewardship. And before you go all Gen 1:28 on me, multiplying by 1 is still multiplying.

      • Brian,

        I still think you are missing the main point that I am trying to make: It is often difficult know our limits going forward.

        Mr. Erlich could not imagine how we could feed six billion people with what was known in the middle of the last century, but now we know it can be done. Today you and I would struggle to imagine and certainly could not explain how the world could feed fifteen billion people if that is where we end up in a hundred years. But can we say that the limits that we know are the limits we must live with? History has shown us that this is simply not true.

        Or take Los Angeles as an example: Could any city planners of the 1800’s have imagined putting fifteen million people in that small area? Not hardly and yet it has happened. It has caused problem that are very serious like air pollution, but we have addressed that in ways that could not have been imagined just fifty years ago: Think about what a 1960’s auto engineer would think of a new Honda when it comes to emissions and power.

        I think that I mentioned hydrogen above but the new “solution” might just be solar, but not the inefficient way we have tried to use it to date. What if one of our grandkids figures out a way to beam massive amounts of power from solar stations in space, where real large amounts can be generated 24/7 to receiving stations on the earth? That would certainly change our concept of limits.

        Anyway, just some food for thought as we ponder the future.

        John

      • John,

        Oh, I understand your point quite clearly. I just think you’re wrong – as well as utterly irresponsible if you aren’t considering the same possibility.

        First, you rely completely on some massive gamble paying off in the future – for sake of a name, we’ll call this “fairy dust”. Ooh, if only we could discover and master fairy dust, it’d solve our problems forever! In fact, I believe we WILL discover fairy dust, and just in time to save our collective arses too! No, I don’t have any reason to suspect this is the case, and I can’t even tell you what science is most promising in the search for fairy dust, I can only tell you that it’ll happen! And pay no attention to the fact that no one’s ever found evidence of fairy dust, and that several lines of evidence point to the exact nature of the problem and demonstrate the need for demand-side solutions.

        Second, by encouraging people to not worry and believe as you do in fairy dust, you’re discouraging them from actively finding the solutions in the first place. Even if the solution *IS* fairy dust – I don’t need to worry about it because “someone” will find it. Just like I don’t worry about the dirty dishes in the sink because “someone” will do them. My roommate believes as I do. Sooner or later, someone will solve the problem forever.

        Third, you seem to ignore our arguments about time scale. It’s endearing when a puppy only seems to think in terms of “never” and “forever”, but troubling when someone tries to set policy based on the same. A problem that is ‘solved’ by tapping into a limited resource only solves the problem so long as that resource lasts. (The Green Revolution relies in ridiculous amounts on petroleum.) The same reasoning applies if you consider waste disposal space as a “resource” (in your horse crap example, it was “solved” by shifting the waste products of our “horses” from the streets to the sky – and guess what’s “filling up“?

        (As per comment policy, I chose a link for impact, but it’s based on Allen et al 2009 and Meinshausen et al 2009, both in Nature 458.)

        Fundamentally, this does not “change our concept of limits” as you suggest, but rather just postpones the limit by increasing supply. And since that increase is necessarily temporary (in the case of limited resources) or subject to its own limits (conservation of energy), if we just use it as an excuse to *keep growing*, all that happens is we have an even bigger population to collapse when we run up against the new limit. THIS is Nick’s point.

        MY point is that thinking the way you’re putting forward hamstrings the rest of us from actually working on the problem, since it undermines support – and does so through unsubstantiated claims. You have no basis for credibility here, as you aren’t an expert in any of the related field. To be fair, I’m not an expert in this field either – my expertise lies in pscyhology, with enough physics to spot elementary BS – but I at least am listening to the experts and revise my opinions accordingly.

        Frank’s point is that you’re not noticing this – and that you should be. If you’re screaming towards a cliff in a car, and hoping that sometime between here and the precipice the car spontaneously grows wings, it’s technically possible, but it would be the height of irresponsibility to do so with other people in the car, especially if they don’t have a say in your decision. Every day we delay turning the wheel or stepping on the brakes is a day we’re going faster, which only makes the necessary turning or braking all that much harder.

        Judging from your website, you put your trust in God for all things. Tell me, if you’re ill, do you visit a doctor and follow his instructions? Do you counsel your congregation to do the same thing? Or, do you inform them, with absolute certainty, them that God will solve everything through some unknowable miracle sometime in the future, before the illness gets really bad, and disregard what the doctor’s telling you because God always saves you in the end (assuming it isn’t His plan for you to die)? The situation is directly analogous to what you’re proposing here, except that God “works in mysterious ways,” while we have a pretty good understanding of how physical systems work.

        In a less mocking tone, I’m glad you mentioned hydrogen, because that’s one of the potential avenues of research being looked into (in our search for fairy dust). It’s folly to consider that for transportation for a number of reasons, though – most notably, the need to compress and ship hydrogen and build a new fuel distribution infrastructure tend to preclude it replacing gasoline for transportation except in niche circumstances (example: Reykjavik’s demonstration fuel-cell city buses, which ignore the distribution and shipping problem by housing the buses at a geothermal plant that produces the hydrogen. This is, of course, a local solution that can’t be generalized unless you too live on a geothermal motherlode.). It does make sense to use it instead of coal when coking steel; this doesn’t involve transporting the hydrogen and thus plausibly bypasses the problem associated with transportation.

      • Brian,

        You may try to dismiss what I am saying but I have history on my side: What I am describing has happened over and over again AND such forward thinking has not prevented these advances but encouraged them.

        I really think you are underestimating the possibilities of hydrogen and there will be two important factors that drive it forward: 1) It is pollution free. 2) We will need something in abundance to replace fossil fuels as time goes by.

        Trusting God and using the means that he has provided to bless us are not contradictory. In fact it has been the trust that people put in God in western civilization that have given us many of the advances that we enjoy.

        John

        Hydrogen is not necessarily pollution free. Where are you going to get the hydrogen? -Kate

  6. You again did not understand.

    I wrote “the way we were feeding the 3.6 billion then was with the use of artificial fertilisers and pesticides which were ultimately derived from oil…

    and

    We found new, harder to extract, oil resources and converted a lot of forest land into fields. These were “one time only” solutions. “

    Although I implied it, perhaps I should have clearly stated that the Borlaug “Green revolution” was another one time only solution that has ended up leaving us with a bigger explosion due.

    The Green Revolution depended, and still does, on large inputs of fossil fuel derived fertilisers.

    As for your comment about us not cutting down trees, where on earth do you get your info? You can even see on Google Earth timelines how huge area of forest have been cleared (to expand food production) both for ranching beef cattle and growing crops such as soya that they depend on.

    You wrote:

    Mr. Borlaug changed the world for the better

    No, he did not. His simplistic methods temporarily put off the explosion at the cost of making it much worse in the longer run.

    • Nick,

      I think you misunderstand the impact of what Mr. Borlaug did in two important ways: First it is much more than a ‘one-time’ fix, it changes the way we grow food far into the future.

      Secondly and more importantly, it illustrates how human ingenuity can solve problems with solutions we simply cannot predict. I often told my children that had we sat around on our porches in the 1850’s in London we would have talked about not IF pollution causes people to die, but just how many people died that year from the pollution caused by wood and coal fires used for heat and cooking. None of us would have said, well maybe we should discover oil and use it instead. Today we are focused on the pollution caused by oil because that is what we now use: What will replace it? I suspect it will be something none of us have even conceived of yet.

      As far as forests, I am speaking about how we have treated them in our nation because it is the pattern we will see over and over again in the world as more countries develop. In the 19th Century we cut down about one-hundred million acres of trees for fuel and farmland. As our transportation systems improved and we moved to coal and oil for heat and energy we no longer needed as much land and we began to reforest our land.

      [citations needed – there are more trees in the US today than there were when the nation was founded]

      John

      • John Stoos, your argument is as follows:

        Premise: We can find creative ways to solve problems.
        Conclusion: Therefore, we shouldn’t be trying to solve this problem (of fossil fuel-produced global warming).
        Conclusion: Therefore, this problem doesn’t exist.

        I think, instead of putting my trust in some blatantly incoherent ‘argument’, I’ll prefer to put my trust in the collective wisdom of scientists.

        frank

      • @ John:
        “[…]Today we are focused on the pollution caused by oil because that is what we now use: What will replace it? I suspect it will be something none of us have even conceived of yet. […]”

        That’s entirely possible; with the assumption implicit that the pollution from ‘oil+’ being potentially even more dangerous…

        “As far as forests, I am speaking about how we have treated them in our nation… ”

        Errm… correct me if I’m wrong, but we have a global situation here, not a national one.

      • Frank,

        I never drew that conclusion from that premise. I even used the issues of Los Angeles smog and agricultural burning here in northern California as examples.

        And yes Colin, we do face global challenges as well as national ones, so it is important for us to remember what our priorities are: We often see people as the problem rather than as the solution. They can certainly be both, but I would rather focus on the later.

        John

      • John Stoos, I reiterate:

        your argument is as follows:

        Premise: We can find creative ways to solve problems.
        Conclusion: Therefore, we shouldn’t be trying to solve this problem (of fossil fuel-produced global warming).
        Conclusion: Therefore, this problem doesn’t exist.

        You replied:

        I never drew that conclusion from that premise.

        Actually you did:

        don’t you think some of the problem here is skepticism caused by past alarms that turned out to be far from true?

        And you’re doing it again:

        We often see people as the problem rather than as the solution. They can certainly be both, but I would rather focus on the later.

        This is nonsense. A “solution” by its very definition serves to solve, um, a problem. How can you meaningfully speak of a “solution” without recognizing the “problem” it solves?

        Your proposed approach to solving global warming is basically to

        (1) downplay or ignore the global warming problem
        (2) turn a blind eye to all the solutions that already exist — wind power, solar power, and stuff — and
        (3) pray to the Gods of Freedom that a random future “solution” will magically spring up from nowhere and make everyone happy.

        Like Brian D, I call bull on this ‘method’. And your argument is still incoherent.

        frank

  7. Frank,

    Quite honestly your attempt to show I was speaking nonsense really makes no sense but that is off topic.

    I never downplayed global warming nor said we should ignore it: I have simply said that it might be difficult to see what solutions might present themselves in the future.

    As to your solutions, there must be a lot to this “stuff” you refer to and I would like to hear more because you are not going to replace fossil fuels with wind and solar.

    If I had to find a solution with today’s technologies I would build LOTS of nuclear plants that could produce the power needed to make lots of hydrogen which can provide us with a means of pollution free transportation. Something you cannot achieve with wind and solar.

    John

  8. Don’t feed the trolls.

    Back on-topic:

    The three communication examples Kate offers are each flawed, and are, in my opinion, good examples of how technology is sometimes its own worst enemy.

    1. A ‘highly-rated’ YouTube comment on the NASA clip says “Why do you think they pic 1880 as a starting point? It was COLD.”

    People who want to dismiss attempts at communication such as this will find reasons to do so.

    2. The ‘Global warming – the debate’ graphic unnecessarily employs an overly-complex digital format that is not copyable by some (this reader, at least); this limits the ability to distribute it.

    This is an example of the poor use of technology on the part of the maker of the original: there is no reason to use a PDF for an image — better by far to use a more portable format such as JPG or PNG.

    3. The game ‘The Fate of the World‘ can too easily be dismissed as a toy that is unrelated to ‘the real world’ (whatever that is for you).

    While it is based upon academic research, the (indie) developers freely admit that it had to be rushed to market to generate the funds for future development (so if you want to see it improved, go buy a copy anyway!). The current implementation is no better than a late beta and is, sadly, riddled with bugs.

  9. Back on topic, John Mashey pointed out a great youtube at NOAA.

    Colin, I think your remark 1. is unfair. The video started at 1880 because that’s when the GISS data started. It was even colder before that… but you wouldn’t be able to find decent global coverage for those years to base a video on. The remark you quote is typical denialist BS.

  10. Martin – that’s not my remark! A ‘highly-rated’ YouTube comment on the NASA clip says “Why do you think they pic 1880 as a starting point? It was COLD.”

    I agree completely that this is typical denialist bullshit. (My ‘highly rated’ note was intended as irony). My apologies for not having phrased the comment more clearly.

    People who want to dismiss attempts at communication such as this will find reasons to do so. And then they’ll get their mates to vote their denialist shite up so it’s prominent.

    Re: Time history of atmospheric carbon dioxide from 800,000 years ago until January, 2009 – that presents a stunning argument. (Cue deniers protesting ‘but there’s only a tiny bit of CO2 in the atmosphere so it can’t have any real effect, and besides it’s good for plants’.)

    I came across a GIF on the NOAA site last year that presents something similar.

    • Colin, point taken. What I thought unfair was your characterization of the NASA clip as ‘flawed’ communication (or was that irony too? But you have to start at some date… what am I missing?)

      • I see what you mean, Martin. I’ll try again…

        Let me say straight off that I think that that NASA clip is perhaps one of the best examples of the use of technology to communicate the reality of climate change I’ve ever seen. One especially good feature is that, at only 26 seconds, it’s short enough that there isn’t really enough time for the viewer’s attention to wander. It’s also short enough to encourage people to take the time to watch it (and to watch it again, assisting reinforcement).

        The main flaw I see in it is the way in which it is presented in its ‘native’ state (for the current state of the Internet), ie on YouTube. Admittedly, approaching this clip from the Climatesight article above, one probably only gets to see it presented on YouTube when trying to access the original video clip to distribute it — but this is something that many Internet users will naturally want to do when presented with a message he or she wishes to spread.

        YouTube is a medium that allows viewers’ comments to influence the presentation itself. In this example, an otherwise superb message, a simple transmission of the facts, is effectively sabotaged by a user comment that implies a ‘cherry-picking’ bias in the presentation. This comment is prominent as it has been ‘voted up’ (by either cronies or the clueless) such that it is ‘pinned’ close to the video.

        To elaborate: click on the YouTube icon at the bottom right of the video frame: this takes you here. Below the video is a section headed ‘Highest Rated Comments’ — it’s the (current) second of these that I got the ‘COLD’ quote from. The points made in this user comment all seem to be perfectly reasonable objections that, I would suggest, it would be really difficult for most people to recognise as typical denier BS.

        In short: the technology that facilitates the communication also enables its meaning and impact to be twisted.

        Now, if this video were to be presented as a television advert, that would be another matter, as no alternative views could be imposed upon it by those who might wish to twist its meaning. (If I had a few grand I could spare, I’d be tempted to pursue this idea!)

        Actually, YouTube isn’t its original location. I linked in the article to a NASA page that originally published it as a QuickTime video – it looks like it was included with a news release. Andrew Revkin posted the file on his YouTube channel, and I chose to use that source because I could directly embed it in the post, increasing the chance that people would watch it. Sorry for any confusion. -Kate

      • OK Colin, now I get what you mean. But note that your argument is (as Kate pointed out) with Andy Revkin, whose blog I haven’t visited for a long time as I find its lack of meaningful moderation off-putting and exasperating. Competent moderation is possible as this blog shows. Don’t blame technology, blame Andy :-)

  11. Despite of what has been written here we have to face the Climate changes that are happening around us. We can notice sudden weather changes that can be hardly predicted. Rapidly decreasing biodiversity in some parts of the Planet is something we cannot deny. What else do you need to know? The way we can mitigate the impact of human’s activity on environment is lying on our shoulders and we have to react quickly.

  12. I disagree with Colin Reynolds with respect to the item 2, ‘Global warming – the debate’ graphic.

    (Actually I do not like the proprietary and complex PDF format and I like the free and simpler PNG format better, but, in this case…)
    In the PDF file, we can recognize texts as ASCII codes (as I read it with a free software ‘xpdf’). PNG or JPEG image files are just aggregation of pixels, and high intelligence is necessary to recognize characters in them. Also, if these image files are made with normal dot density, small-sized characters will not be recognizable. If we use very high dot density, the file size will be large.

    I admit that these problems arise because of the use of very different font sizes together, which practice is not usually recommendable. But this combination may be effective in some special cases, e.g. if it is one of many posters on the wall of a large hall and if interested visitors can come close to it.

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