Take that, climate-deniers!

Climatologist Michael Mann is fed up. Actually, he’s been fed up a long time, given that he’s been the subject of mean-spirited investigations and slander for years now. We probably need more of this kind of rebuttal:

These are just lies, regurgitation of dishonest smears that have been manufactured by fossil fuel industry-funded climate change deniers, and those who do their bidding by lying to the public about the science.

Mann wrote that in an op-ed for the Vail Daily. It’s not the New York Times, but that’s the point. The climatology community needs to respond every time some ignorant editor agrees to print anything that distorts the facts about anthropogenic climate change and the scientists who devote their lives to studying it. And not just in the big venues read by the chattering classes.

The author of the offending letter that got Mann’s goat is one Martin Hertzberg, who claims to be a scientists, but keeps writing things like “The entire theory that ‘greenhouse gases’ in the atmosphere can reradiate energy back to the Earth and thus cause more heating, has been proven to violate the laws of thermodynamics, and thus to be completely devoid of physical reality.” [Citation, please.]

We can ramble on on these here science-oriented blogs ’til the cows come home (or the chicken come home to roost, or some such metaphor), but the battle needs to be waged on the streets, so to speak. As much as the Internet is vital medium, papers like the Vail Daily (circ. around 15,000) aren’t small potatoes. For millions of Americans, they are where the action is and we shouldn’t ignore them.

Scientific literacy and climate concern: An inverse relationship?

This story has been around a while, but I haven’t been blogging much lately so I am only getting around to it now.

“..the most scientifically literate and numerate subjects were slightly less likely, not more, to see climate change as a serious threat than the least scientifically literate and numerate ones.”

So says a new paper. Troubling findings. Something’s not quite right, and am hoping to nail it down. “The Tragedy of the Risk-Perception Commons: Culture Conflict, Rationality Conflict, and Climate Change,” by Harvard’s Dan Kahan et al. tested a sufficiently large sample size of Americans on basic science questions — questions that anyone with a high-school education should be able to answer correctly — and matched them up against the level of concern each had about climate change. The more science they knew the less worried they were. Huh.

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Surprise! Clouds have a cooling effect

Drawing attention to misinformed pseudoskeptical analyses of peer-reviewed climatology studies is usually counterproductive. But in this case, it’s worth mentioning because the author makes such a common mistake that exploring the error might actually help shed light on the why so many people are easily led astray.

ResearchBlogging.orgThe offender is Anthony Watts, who is arguably (depending on how much weight you assign to blog popularity polls) among the most influential anti-science bloggers out there. His error was to confuse (or conflate, to use a fancier term beloved by social scientists) a direct effect with a feedback.

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Change is the one constant

Fill in the blanks:

It is customary in the popular media and in many journal articles to cite a projected _________ figure as if it were a given, a figure so certain that it could virtually be used for long-range planning purposes. But we must carefully examine the assumptions behind such projections. And forecasts that ________ is going to level off or decline this century have been based on the assumption that the developing world will necessarily follow the path of the industrialized world. That is far from a sure bet.

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The narrow mind of Greenpeace

Way back when I was just a novice environmentalist, Greenpeace seemed like a good idea. It published a decent newsletter, was drawing attention to otherwise neglected issues, and, while understandably suspicious of technology, seemed to have more than a grudging respect for science as a tool to preserve those things worse preserving. It was one of the few NGOs that received what little I could afford to donate to charitable causes. I don’t regret supporting them in the 80s, and not just because I shared the group’s desire to save the whales.

I still want to save the whales. I no longer support Greenpeace.
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The last word (for now) on shale gas

Debating the merits and dangers of fracking shale gas has become a major obession of those who worry about energy and the climate. Yale’s e360’s latest contribution comes in the form a forum that includes a wide variety of perspectives pro and con.

For me, the wisest observation, and the one that really trumps all others, comes from Kevin Anderson, who directs the Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research’s energy program:

… the only responsible action with regard to shale gas, or any “new” unconventional fossil fuel, is to keep it in the ground — at least until there is a meaningful global emissions cap forcing substitution. In the absence of such an emissions cap, and in our energy hungry world, shale gas will only be combusted in addition to coal — not as a substitution, as many analysts have naively suggested.

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The stick sets the beat

The title of this post won’t mean much until you read this contribution to The Conversation, a new and laudable attempt by climatologists to get out the message that time’s a wastin,’ folks. Here’s a taste:

We’re only a few decades away from a major tipping point, plus or minus only about a decade. The rate at which the ice sheets would melt is fairly uncertain, but not the result that says we are very close to a tipping point committing to such melt and breakdown.

Is it irresponsible or “alarmist” of climatologists to point this out? The science brief for policy is not to prescribe policies, but to point out the implications of pursuing or not pursuing particular courses of action.

Pointing out that we are close to one of the largest tipping points imaginable in the climate system is well within the remit of science. It’s not alarmist to describe the threat accurately; it’s alarming if the political and social culture can’t absorb this.

There’s nothing new or surprising in the way of science in this Conversation. But it’s high time we started having it. As David Roberts at Grist points out, today’s most optimistic outlook for emissions reductions leaves us far short of safe:

Source: BP Energy Outlook 2030.

Sometimes, even television has its uses

This video, a selection of TV news clips that serve to illustrate Bill McKibben’s recent op-ed on climate change denial, has already made the rounds, but as it deserves as wide an audience as possible, I’ll do my bit.

It’s also noteworthy because the op-ed marked a first for McKibben: the use of a snarky, satirical tone. Until now, he’s been a upbeat cheerleader for climate change activists. Sooner or later, it would, we all get tired of banging our head against a wall and have to lash out at idiocy.