19 October 2014

How Climate Science Gets Tossed Around and Misrepresented

Exactly, xkcd! Thank you.

A couple of things this week helped me finally grasp that the field of climate change science is like any other human endeavour -- rife with human foibles, especially greed and ego.

First up, from Climate Parents, a little tale of greed (profit before integrity) [emphasis in original]:
Two major publishers have drafted new social studies textbooks for K-12 students in Texas that are filled with misinformation about climate change. Since Texas is the ... second largest buyer of textbooks [in the United States], books produced for the state are often sold nationwide.  
Among [the] egregious errors, the draft textbooks from McGraw-Hill and Pearson assert there is an active dispute among scientists about the primary cause of climate change. The climate change-denying Heartland Institute is given equal footing with the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which integrates the work of thousands of credentialed, peer-reviewed scientists. 
McGraw-Hill and Pearson need to correct the many factual errors about climate change before its books are presented to the Board for final approval. Otherwise, students across the country could be denied accurate information about the biggest global challenge their generation will face.  
The publishers are responding to pressure from climate deniers on the Board of Education, who are determined to stop students from learning the overwhelming scientific consensus on climate change. It's crucial that we send a strong message right away that censoring climate science in order to sell books is unethical and an unacceptable disservice to students, and must be corrected.
You can sign their petition here, asking McGraw-Hill and Pearson to, you know, tell students the truth. (I'd hate to see what their science textbooks have to say about climate change!)

Next up, here's a tale of ego before integrity -- and science by haiku (which is a shortcut to misunderstandings). It seems the climate change blogosphere has been lit up with the story of a Twitter lynch mob at a recent fancy dancy scientific meeting. 

As a nonscientist who doesn't even make it onto the cartoon up top, it's been fascinating for me (while recuperating from the flu) to watch the perps and their groupies cry foul. "He hit me back first" sort of stuff. I figure if you're going to dish it out via Twitter, you'd better be able to take it in complete paragraphs. 

Anyway, it sure seems to be a case of the new (climate modellers) trying to oust the old (field scientists) -- a territorial thing? An ego thing? The only humour I've found in the whole sordid affair is that the main tweeter has two degrees, both in ... can you guess? Math. (See cartoon above.)

Here's an example of how the science got tossed around and misrepresented. 

The head honcho tweeter tweeted: So and so "clearly states that there is no physics behind his extrapolations." But here's how someone who was in attendance heard the same Q&A: Such and such "raised his hand to ask 'Is any of this based on Physics?' to which So and so replied 'no' referring to the fact that it is collected observational data." See the dangerous difference between what was communicated at the meeting and what was communicated in 140 characters? 

Perhaps those precious mathematical modellers are simply so high up there on their pedestals of purity that data collected through years of field studies is piffle to them -- even if it's data that, if extrapolated properly (and that's where peer review and scientific debate -- not condescending tweets -- come in), is quite foreboding. 

Man, talk about bursting my balloon. After all these years of thinking that scientists were somehow superior to us lowly humanities types, it turns out they're just human, too. 


12 October 2014

Throwing in the Towel on Climate Change? Not Yet, Thanks to Shane Koyczan

I have been sick for two weeks, laid low by a tenacious flu bug that's had me on a roller coaster of sore throats, coughing fits, horrifying headaches, plugged up ears (and still the autumns rains were thunderous!), dizziness, clumsiness and fatigue ... huge, life-sucking fatigue. 

I haven't felt this sick in, well, maybe never. It sure has boosted my empathy for those with chronic illnesses, and it's given me greater admiration for my hubby, who has been battling chronic fatigue syndrome for many, many years. 

In the middle of all this, I had a breakdown. Cried and cried for hours. Realized how useless this little effort at raising climate change awareness has been ... how puny all of my efforts have been in the face of the enormity and all-pervasiveness of the climate change emergency. 

Yes, you could call it a pitiful self-pity party. But it was probably more a sudden and traumatic acceptance of how many (thousands or millions) more people we need in this fight. 

I was ready to throw in the towel. I decided that this would be my last blog post. Ever. (Okay, stop with the applause. ;-)

Then, I received this. Shane Koyczan's Shoulders



How can I give up now? I am part of that collective Atlas holding up the world. It's not the time for anyone to give up, it's time for more people to join in. (Which reminds me of another time I thought it was the end of this blog.)

And about that F-bomb, which some have said will keep this spoken word poem from going viral, Shane has this to say:
The fact that the world is more concerned with a single word over the fact that our planet is in crisis, just shows how completely lost we are. Every day we are subjected to images and articles of intense violence... but still we choose to object to a word that describes our feelings about the situation, rather than the actual situation itself. Our planet is dying... I can think of no more appropriate time to use this word... I can think of no better word to describe the immeasurable scope of despair and frustration I feel toward our treatment of the planet.
(Shane has discovered something I realized a couple of years ago ... that people are adamant -- they don't want to feel bad. They would rather their children die a horrible death in the future than have to feel bad today thinking about it. Alas, there is much to be done.)

05 October 2014

A Damn Good Idea - Let's Cancel Debt and Get to Work on Climate Change

The blog-o-sphere is still filled with rants by lazy or ignorant bloggers and commenters spewing their misunderstandings of the science (and economics) of climate change along with evidence of their complete unwillingness to triangulate the research and check some facts on their own. Instead they just steal sound bites from the primo denier blogs while accusing anyone who cares about the world of being in on the grand deception.

(Sheesh, how long will it take for deniers to get it through their thick skulls that the climate is changing? No, Ross, the warming didn't stop 17.85 years ago ... the warming has continued and the oceans have taken up the extra heat, which means that the heat hasn't been registering as an increase in global average temperature at the Earth's surface.)

So it is a great gift and a relief when something comes into my inbox that is a fabulously good idea! 

In Cancel developing countries' debt in exchange for climate change action, The Guardian asks "As the effects of climate change worsen and developing countries bear the brunt, could debt relief be a way to finance climate action?"

We had the Kyoto Protocol Clean Development Mechanism, but its true success has been questioned because it relied on carbon offsets. We have the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Green Climate Fund, but aside from France (merci, vous autres!), nations are not racing to fill its coffers  to help developing nations with the costs of climate change mitigation and adaptation, and there are concerns about involving private sector financing.  

But what if we all just recognized the climate change emergency we're in, said "Holy shit!" and decided we'd all better get on with doing things differently? What if we all just decreed that all debt was forgiven -- bam! With one caveat: that any and all existing debt repayment funds would have to be redirected and applied to helping that nation, state or province, town / city / village, or household get to zero carbon emissions as rapidly as possible. 

Oh sure, I know, that's pie in the sky mixed with a complete ignorance (at least I admit mine) of how the economy makes any sense at all. (Hey, if economist Ross McKitrick can keep passing himself off as some sort of expert on climate change, then I have the right to talk economics.) But here's the thing. The economy is going to tank anyway if we don't head it toward zero carbon and fast.

Civilization, which is based on the steady food production that agriculture gives us, which is based on the stable climate we've had over the last 10,000 years or so, is going to crumble around us. 

At the September 23, 2014 UN Climate Summit in New York City, IPCC chair Rajendra Pachauri said, "The longer we wait the higher the risk of severe, widespread and irreversible impacts: food and water shortages, increased poverty, forced migrations that could increase the risk of violent conflict, extreme droughts and floods, the collapse of ice sheets that flood our coastal cities - and a steady rise in our death toll, especially among the world's poorest."

Now I know that people such as Canada's prime minister, Stephen Harper, don't believe that any of these impacts will affect them (and apparently these people don't care if these impacts hit their children and grandchildren). If they do admit the existence of climate change to themselves, you just know they're adding, "But I'm not poor, so no problemo!"

But the really crazy part is that these people hide behind economics when they don't understand the economic realities of mitigating climate change. Pachauri also said, "We are told that limiting climate change will be too expensive. It will not. But wait until you get the bill for inaction. There are costs of taking action – but they are nothing compared to the cost of inaction."

If we have a giant jubilee debt forgiveness campaign and let everyone direct their money toward retrofitting the world for the transformation to zero carbon, no one will be able to say that safeguarding the future is too expensive.

28 September 2014

Hey, Look! We've Done This Before! Our Greatest Human Venture Ever ... Innovating to Zero Carbon

Today, all I want to do is share this movie with you. It was just created by someone I love and respect deeply for his passionate commitment to safeguarding the future. And it says Look! We've done this before! 

We (and especially the United States of America) have spent billions to tackle huge issues, employed thousands, and succeeded. So why do we think that retrofitting the world's energy systems can't be done? Look! We've done this before. Sure, sometimes out of conceit and hubris. Sometimes for what seemed in hindsight like evil purposes. And sometimes for the good of humanity. But we have taken on mammoth challenges in the past and triumphed.

Way back during Selfish &%$#@! Week, I wrote: "People who are working to slow global warming and to mitigate the climate change emergency are people who know that any 'costs' involved in doing this will be miniscule compared to what it will cost if we don't stave off climate catastrophe."

But it's more than that. Making the leap to the Golden Era of Perpetual Energy is going to be a colossal benefit to the global economy -- the biggest ever! We have to stop seeing and describing this transformation as a cost. Every time a coal-fired power generation plant is built, it's seen as an economic benefit because it provides employment. Every time a new gas or oil well is dug, it's considered an economic benefit because jobs are created. When an oil tanker spills its oily guts all over a coastline, it's seen as an economic benefit because it creates employment.

So as you're watching this short movie, try to get a sense of how many people were employed in the Apollo Program, the Manhattan Project and the Marshall Plan. And then think to yourself, "Hey, look! We've done this before!"

21 September 2014

The Largest Action Ever on Climate Change is Calling for No Action at All

Used with permission

Ah, the bliss of ignorance. Oh, but that I were able to get excited about the People's Climate March, "the largest climate march in history," today. But I just can't, not when the march is actually calling for nothing more than, well, for people to march.  

I don't like being cynical, but there's far too much evidence this time that the whole thing is about good P.R., not about safeguarding the future or convincing governments to take urgent action on climate change (or especially outlining what that urgent action could be). 

Keep in mind that back in June of of this year, Climate Action Network (CAN) International, representing 900 organizations in 100 countries, many or most of them in the more vulnerable regions, released the best-ever climate emergency response position statement: a limit of 1.5ºC or less, not the deadly 2ºC "target"; greenhouse gas emissions declining by next year, 2015; and a rapid transition to 100% clean, renewable energy  in other words, achieving a zero-carbon economy  by 2050 or sooner. 

But no one in the Global North is promoting the CAN International position statement. Why is that? Indeed, it almost seems as though this march was designed to divert our attention from CAN's demands of our governments — demands that could actually make a difference.

To wit:
"Perfect Timing World leaders will be gathered in NYC for a landmark U.N. climate meeting — just the right moment for big public pressure."
Oh really? No, world leaders are meeting on Tuesday, so they won't be "gathered in NYC" on Sunday, like a bunch of conventioneers showing up early for a bit of debauchery before a conference. Timing-wise, Monday's Flood Wall Street march might have a bit more impact.
"Massive Scale We'll peacefully flood the streets in historic numbers, both in New York City and in solidarity events around the world."
Um, I thought George Dubya Bush taught us that peacefully marching in the streets is worth nothing and accomplishes nothing. Millions of us held candlelight vigils begging him not to illegally invade Iraq, but he laughed and snubbed his nose at us and went in anyway, making life hell for millions of Iraqis as well as American and British soldiers. Oh, and just to make sure we understand what the organizers mean by "peacefully": "NOTE: This march route was set after several months of negotiating with the New York Police Department...."
"Unprecedented Collaboration - Over 1,500 (!) businesses, unions, faith groups, schools, social justice groups, environmental groups and more, all working together.... We want to make sure the People's Climate March tells the story of today's climate movement in all its parts — so we're trying something new, and arranging the contingents of the march in a way that helps us thread our many messages together."
I've been told they're paying young people from as far away as Toronto to attend to create that collaboration. And I notice they're keeping the LGBTQ community as far away from the kids and families as they can, without insulting the Indigenous peoples and those impacted by Hurricane Sandy who are at the head of the parade, er, march. 

I mean, come on! Why wouldn't we want scientists to walk with political people, and musicians to walk with beekeepers? Is there to be no cross-pollinization at this march? And if you're an ordinary businessperson (not part of a Clean and Green Business), you're hooped, because there's nowhere that you belong. (Unless you're a Woman ... they come after the Domestic Workers, who are up there at the front with the Indigenous peoples.)
Centered on Justice - Committed to principles of environmental justice and equality — representing the communities that are being hit the hardest by climate change.
If we're going to talk about those hardest hit, where are the anti-poverty groups? And the representatives from whole nations in Africa and the Pacific that are losing their ability to grow food? ("International" is at the back of the line, where they'll stay, I suppose.) Who is representing the millions of other-than-human species who are dying out or having to shift latitudes to survive? (Animals, nature, species are not on the list.) 

And not to be unkind or insensitive, but is there something about the living and working conditions of domestic workers in the United States that I'm not aware of? Are nannies in Philadelphia being impacted by climate change more than other Philadephians, for example?
"With our future on the line and the whole world watching, we'll take a stand to bend the course of history. We'll take to the streets to demand the world we know is within our reach: a world with an economy that works for people and the planet; a world safe from the ravages of climate change; a world with good jobs, clean air and water, and healthy communities."
Here is how a cynic would parse that one:

With our future (oh, your future? not the future of all humanity and most life on the planet?) on the line (that's an overly calm way to say we're heading for global climate catastrophe) and the whole world watching (ah, there it is, that's what this is all about — a perverse, collective narcissism), we'll take a stand (kinda funny when they're supposed to be marching) to bend the course of history (did I already mention narcissism?). We'll take to the streets (the streets the New York Police Department can contain nicely) to demand the world we know is within our reach (a rather ungrammatically awkward tall order): a world with an economy that works for people and the planet blah blah blah.... (Do these organizers not realize that we've been asking for all this for decades, possibly centuries? Do they not understand how international climate change negotiations work?)

Well, at least I'm not the only cynic about this People's Climate March.

Arun Gupta writes in Counterpunch: "I've never been to a protest march that advertised in the New York City subway. That spent $220,000 on posters inviting Wall Street bankers to join a march to save the planet, according to one source. That claims you can change world history in an afternoon after walking the dog and eating brunch." What does he find most troubling? "Having worked on Madison Avenue for nearly a decade, I can smell a P.R. and marketing campaign a mile away. That's what the People's Climate March looks to be."

Cory Morningstar, at Wrong Kind of Green, says: "The People's Climate March and supporting discourse is about protecting capitalism, not protecting the world's most vulnerable people from climate change. [It] is a mobilization campaign created by Avaaz and 350.org, with 350.org at the forefront. The oligarchs do not bankroll such a mobilization (via millions of dollars funnelled through foundations) without reason."

Anne Petermann, writing for Daily Kos, agrees that there is no call for action: "So, what are the demands of the march? There are none. That's right. The march will simply bring together an estimated 200,000 people to march through the streets of New York and then… There will be no rally, no speakers, and no strong political demands. Just people showing up with the overarching message that the world's leaders should take action on climate change. Why no solid demands?"

Quincy Saul writes in Truthout: "No Target: The march is a U-turn through Times Square, beginning at a monument to genocide (Columbus Circle) and ending ... in the middle of nowhere. Here in New York City where the ruling class of the whole world has made their diverse headquarters, the march will target none of them. The march will not even go near the United Nations, its ostensible symbolic target. No Demands: Again, to attract the largest number of people, the march has rallied around the lowest common denominator — in this case, nothing. Not only are there no demands, but there is in fact no content at all to the politics of the march ...."

But I'm sure that if it doesn't rain too hard and nobody's dog gets stepped on, it will be a nice event.