Illogic

Here’s a great quote from a great article posted on the Nation. Thanks to Tim Lambert for the link.

Yet when it comes to coverage of global warming, we are trapped in the logic of a guerrilla insurgency. The climate scientists have to be right 100 percent of the time, or their 0.01 percent error becomes Glaciergate, and they are frauds. By contrast, the deniers only have to be right 0.01 percent of the time for their narrative–See! The global warming story is falling apart!–to be reinforced by the media.

Another Good TED Talk

Something I’ve been pretty interested in for the past few weeks….geological eras, mass extinctions, and the role of climate change in anoxic events. Enjoy…not that this is very enjoyable stuff, it’s kind of icky in fact, but it is fascinating.

A Good Discussion Starter

How did you become interested in the issue of climate change? What sparked your interest, and why?

For me, it was purely a coincidence. I wanted to get involved in school groups and so I joined the environmental club. I liked a lot of the people in it, and found the discussions very interesting.

Around the same time, my friends and I enjoyed watching the vlogbrothers’ YouTube channel, mostly because they had the same nerdy sense of humour as us. One of the two brothers, Hank Green, ran an environmental technology website called EcoGeek as his day job.

So I was sifting through the archives of EcoGeek and stumbled upon a post about Greg Craven’s Manpollo Project. I watched the embedded first video and was completely hooked. This was exactly the kind of thing I loved – critical thinking, thoughtful discussion with a purpose, lots of science and graphs.

When I caught the flu a few months later, I watched the entire six-hour series over the course of a day. From that point, there was no turning back – I began to research climate change almost every day. I owe my interest/obsession in this topic largely to Greg Craven, and I’m sure I’m not the only one. It’s amazing the ripples one person can make!

What sparked your interest? I’d love to read about it in the comments.

The Antithesis to Nitpicking

Sometimes we have to step back and look at the big picture. We have to remember that not everyone has heard or believed the one about global warming stopping in 1998. Denialists centre around nitpicking and ideas that global warming is a “house of cards”, so we respond the same way: countering all the “mistakes” they claim to have found.

In reality, climate change is an incredibly robust phenomenon that we’ve known about for decades – and the basic physics behind it, for over a century. It’s not some new, shaky discovery. It’s not going to be overturned because scientists at CRU do not always say nice things about their critics.

So I was very pleased when I opened up YouTube today to see that Peter Sinclair’s latest video was all about this big picture. If I had to choose just one of his videos to share with everyone I knew, this would certainly be it. This is the kind of message we need to get out there; this is the kind of angle we need to take.

A Good Batch of News

Today’s batch of news feeds was great. I have not one, but two, posts to comment on from elsewhere in the climate blogosphere.

Firstly, James from The Island of Doubt has written a fantastic article on the new line of denialist attack. This is the best bit:

“Here’s IPCC author Phil Duffy, whose thoughts on the subject inspired mine:

Things happen, but let’s react appropriately. Medical doctors make mistakes every day. (In fact, medical errors in the US alone kill hundreds of people daily–the equivalent of a jumbo-jet crash.) And no doubt many of these errors happen because established procedures are ignored, sometimes knowingly. Does this mean the entire edifice of western medicine is wrong, or prejudiced, or the product of a conspiracy, and should be rejected? Of course not. Furthermore, the medical profession as a whole is still held in high regard, as it should be.

No one worth listening to is calling for a massive inquiry into the science underpinning modern medicine, or the engineering foundations of the car industry. But pseudoskeptics argue that the IPCC is systematically fraudulent simply because a couple of statements among thousands of pages of heavily edited and re-editing (and re-re-edited) documents cite gray literature instead of the peer-reviewed literature that supplied the science in the first place.

Is it controversial among those study such things that 40% of the Amazon is susceptible to drought? No. Is it controversial that Himalayan glaciers are receding? No. Only the way in which that science was presented and attributed was found faulty. To thrown out anthropogenic global warming because of such missteps is the climatological analog of dismissing an entire faculty of medicine because someone correctly diagnosed a patient because of a story they read in New Scientist instead of the medical journal article on which the story was based. Bad judgment? Yes. Fatal error? No.”

And one more:

“This isn’t about censorship. Thanks to the Internet, everyone can find a way to spread their point of view. It’s about applying the same standards to coverage of climate change that “respectable” media apply to fields like sports, business and other fields. Sports bloggers and journalists for major news organizations couldn’t get away with making up baseball statistics for long. They’d be laughed out of the office. Business reporters can’t supply false stock market numbers because that would be a violation of very essence of what they’re supposed to be doing. And yet climate science is somehow different. If you work for theDaily Mail or Telegraph in the UK, or Fox News (or the Washington Post‘s op-ed section) in the U.S., you can say or print anything you want about climatology, without regard for the facts. That should not be tolerated.”

Read the rest of the article here. While you’re at it, see if you can get the New York Times to print it.

James’ last point about censorship leads nicely into the second post I want to discuss. DeSmogBlog is having some problems in the comment section, and plans to tightly moderate comments in the future.

I certainly sympathize with the DeSmogBlog writers. I find that the vast majority of Internet discussions regarding climate change turn into such a food fight that reasonable and insightful discussion falls through the cracks. Well-meaning and fact-checking people are so busy responding to the same old objections, or are so intimidated by trolling commenters (quick poll – who here has been called a Nazi for explaining basic atmospheric science?), that they do not post the wonderfully thought-provoking things that they have to say.

Keeping comments completely open and unmoderated, therefore, is catering to those who wish to waste others’ time, hold nothing back in their criticisms of individuals, and can’t be bothered to check citations before spreading something around. I don’t think it’s necessary to give that kind of discussion any more space. Instead, I wish to cater to those who have insightful (and accurate!) things to say, by providing a supportive community for them to do so. RealClimate sums up my feelings on this topic quite well:

“Comments that accuse as of bad faith, fraud and dishonesty are not ways to move forward any conversation – how can you have a dialog with people who don’t believe a word you say? We choose to try and create a space for genuine conversation, which means weeding out the trolls and the noise. This is an imperfect process, but the alternative is a free-for-all that quickly deteriorates into a food fight. There are plenty of places to indulge in that kind of crap. There are only a few places where it’s not and we are not embarrassed to try to make this site one of them.”

By the sounds of things, DeSmogBlog’s comment policy is going to be much more stringent than mine. I don’t “tightly” moderate comments – on the contrary, there are many remarks that, in retrospect, I realize should never have passed moderation. But I do have two basic rules that I try to adhere to: 1) provide legitimate peer-reviewed citations for your claims (unless they’re common knowledge – I won’t make you cite Fourier and Arrhenius), and 2) refrain from personal attacks, aggression, etc. I like to show when a person’s comment has been deleted, and give a brief explanation why, so readers can see what’s going on without having to go through the agony of actually reading it.

The first complaint when a policy like this is enacted is invariably “censorship!!!!”, and, almost six months later, I still get those complaints. But “censorship” is not an accurate term for such policies. You can still go and say whatever you want about climate change elsewhere – on your own blog, on YouTube, in a national news release. There are infinite other ways to make unsupported claims and spread rumours about people, so filtering them out of my own blog (or RealClimate, or DeSmogBlog) in effort to promote a decent discussion is by no means totalitarian.

Michael Tobis Takes Part 3

I was going to write a Science and Communication, Part 3 post that examined what ClimateGate actually tells us vs what the popular press says about it, and why this chasm between the two exists.

Then Michael Tobis wrote a brilliant post discussing that very topic:

What Was Actually Revealed

  • a rehash of a well-known controversy about how to present tree-ring data
  • frustration about too much attention to substandard scientific papers slipped into the literature by marginally qualified people with nonscientific agendas, and discussions about how to handle that
  • frustration about opposition by filibuster via freedom of information requests
  • a single suggestion about “deleting emails”, without any context, which plausibly does not refer to deleting emails from a server (scientists are probably aware that end users cannot really do this) but rather to deleting them from a response to one of many FOIA requests
  • some sloppy code and a pretty sad but perfectly typical lack of understanding of the advantages of dynamic programming languages
  • a couple of fudge factors explicitly labeled as such probably used in testing, commented out
  • some older data for which CRU is not the originator or primary repository is not in any known dataset at CRU
  • about 985 emails and 1995 other files of no apparent interest to anyone

In other words, (withe the possible exception of the email deletion incident, which I imagine the lawyers are fretting about) the only things remotely unusual here are a direct consequence of the existence of a politically rather than scientifically motivated opposition.

Read the whole post here.

Where to Go for Answers

To all of our new readers, thanks to CBC and StumbleUpon, this is for you!

Most of us don’t read scientific journals. We read the newspaper instead. We read our news feeds. We watch CNN.

These sources, as we know, are fairly low on the credibility spectrum. But how are people like you and I supposed to understand the more credible sources? Scientists don’t seem to speak plain English. And you can’t even read most of their studies without a subscription.

Usually this isn’t much of a problem, because the popular press and the scientific journals say basically the same things – that there’s going to be a lunar eclipse on a certain date, that red meat increases your risk of a heart attack, that a new kind of dinosaur was just discovered.

However, when you start reading about climate change, the newspapers start going crazy.

The world is warming. The warming is caused from the world coming out of an ice age. The warming stopped in 1998. Glaciers are melting. The warming is caused by human activity. The warming is caused by sunspots. The warming is inconsequential. The warming is catastrophic and is going to kill us all. New York is going to be underwater. Scientists faked the whole thing.

As someone who keeps up-to-date with the scientific literature – that is, sources from the top few tiers of the credibility spectrum – I can tell you that it is not under the same confusion as the mass media. There are a lot of myths about climate change that go around the newspapers and the Internet, but were never in any sort of legitimate scientific study. I cannot stress this point enough.

For example, have you heard the one about NASA getting the Y2K bug, and later discovering that the warmest year on record wasn’t 1998, but in fact – whoops – 1934? Global warming must be fake!

Actually, that’s not correct at all. NASA discovered that 1934 was the warmest year on record in the United States. And that “United States” part got dropped in translation somewhere in the blogosphere. Contrary to what American media would have you believe, the United States is not the whole world. It makes up less than 2% of the Earth’s surface. And the warmest year on record globally is either 1998 or 2005, depending on how you measure the Arctic temperatures.

There are dozens of stories like that. So many of the explanations you hear for global warming being natural/nonexistent/a global conspiracy are based on misconceptions, miscommunications, discredited data, or flat-out lies. They were never in the scientific literature. They are not endorsed by the sources at the top of our credibility spectrum. They are, shall we say, urban myths.

But how are we, humble non-scientists, scanning through the newspaper on the way to work each morning, supposed to know that? We need some kind of a link between the scientists and the public. Some journalist who actually knows what they’re talking about, and cites all of their claims with credible sources. Some sort of encyclopedia that will dispel all the myths about climate change.

Luckily, there are many of these encyclopedias. There are a lot of people out there trying to fulfill this very purpose.

One of my favourites is Peter Sinclair’s Climate Denial Crock of the Week video series on YouTube. He debunks common claims like “global warming stopped in 1998”, “global warming is caused by the sun”, and “temperature leads CO2 in the ice cores”. Sinclair is a professional journalist, so all of the videos are well explained, easy to understand, and fun to watch.

Another great source is Coby Beck’s How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic series. These articles cover just about every objection out there. Equally comprehensive is Skeptical Science. They’ve even compressed their explanations into “sound bites”, so you can answer your uncle’s objections in just a few sentences over Thanksgiving dinner.

Some of the sources from the top of our credibility spectrum have also chimed in. Environment Canada has created a fantastic FAQ document about climate change. It covers everything you need to know to wade through YouTube comments or online debates, along with citations you can actually trust.

Finally, Scott Mandia, a regular reader here at ClimateSight and a meteorology professor in New York, has just posted a copy of his presentation to the public about climate change. What I like about this document is that it’s very up-to-date. All of the graphs are the most recent of their kind. It also provides some philosophical perspectives to really sink your teeth into, like an analogy about medical advice, and some memorable quotes at the end.

We shouldn’t have to double-check everything the newspaper says about climate change. But the objections to anthropogenic global warming have such an awful track record that we really should, at least before we go and spread them around. These sources will cover just about everything you need to know.

Activists and Scientists

I’m back from PowerShift, and I had a fantastic time. I attended many workshops – including one on paleoclimatology from Dr Michael Pisaric, in which I had the joys of learning about pack rat middens – but also had time to do a lot of touring and walking. Ontario in the autumn is absolutely beautiful; the bright colours of the oaks and maples are a real novelty to someone like me from the aspen parkland. I visited Parliament Hill several times, took a tour of the central block, and visited the parliamentary cats. I played Irish flute on the U of Ottawa campus.

My one complaint about the conference was that there was too much activism and too little science for my liking. The three science-based workshops that I had starred in my program were all at the same time, so I had to choose only one. And far too many workshops were about learning how to lobby, rather than learning about climate change.

Don’t get me wrong – I am adamant that the Canadian government needs to do more about climate change. However, I feel that I can create more intelligent, respectful, and effective arguments through writing letters or talking to politicians (that is, if they answer my requests for meetings…..) rather than marching around with signs. Dressing up like a polar bear and singing the national anthems of low-lying nations in front of Parliament just isn’t my style. I watched from a distance and petted the cats instead.

I understand that a lot of people immediately realize that climate change is a problem, that it needs to be dealt with, and that our government is not dealing with it (as much as they’d like us to believe that they are). They’re immediately content to start lobbying based on what they know. I prefer to continue to analyse the issue as I urge for action in a more logical and intellectual way.

I think I would enjoy science conferences, rather than activism conferences, regarding climate change. How do you get into those if you’re not a scientist?

Luckily, the reason I came to PowerShift – to give a presentation – was just what I’d hoped for. All the people who liked to lobby went to the “how to protest” workshops, while the people who were more interested in credibility, education, and analysis came to mine. (There were a few people there with green face paint and “Shut Down the Tar Sands” hard hats, but they slunk out partway through.)

Infinite thanks to the regular ClimateSight readers who came to my workshop, and to everyone else in the audience of ~15. The audience was fantastic; everybody there was deeply interested in the issues I covered, and we had a great discussion at the end. And deep thanks to the gentleman who came in at the very end to compliment me on my blog and apologize for having to miss the presentation.

Even if it wasn’t perfectly suited to my interests, PowerShift certainly has inspired a lot of future blog posts, and now that my presentation is over, I’ll have a lot more time on my hands to write. Keep your eyes open for these topics in the coming weeks:

-finding an appropriate name for conservative think tanks

-Canadian climate change politics

-choosing the right course of study