Tag Archives: Climate Change

Climate Change Perspectives

27 Jul

Courtesy Marquil at EmpireWire.com

Barbrady Science

16 Nov

A BBC documentary television series called “Frozen Planet” will soon air on the Discovery Network here in the U.S.

Well, most of it will.

U.S. audiences will not be shown the last episode, which looks at the threat posed by man to the natural world.

It is feared a show that preaches global warming could upset viewers in the U.S., where around half of people do not believe in climate change.

The Daily  Mail points out that 53% of self-identify Republicans refuse to believe the science establishing that humans contribute to global climate change, and the number leaps to 70% among the so-called “tea party” ultra-right wing.

Sir David Attenborough presents and authors the series, the seventh episode of which, entitled ‘On Thin Ice’, looks at how the planet’s ice is changing and what it means not only to the animals and people at the Poles but also the rest of the planet.

How about that. Only 32% of Americans support the Tea Party movement, which is perceived favorably by 28% of Americans. Only 29% of Americans self-identify as Republicans. Most Americans (38%) self-identify as “independent”.

I don’t quite understand, then, why a small minority of Americans gets to drive the nation’s scientific bus over the cliffs of ignorance.

The Power of Ignorance

6 May

A new Gallup poll says 51% of Americans support the new misguided yet brilliantly executed Arizona immigration law. By providing Arizona cops the same power as those of dictatorial France (which we should not fear, universal healthcare supporters have told us), and powers to check what was already mandated by the feds in 1952, this law creatively turns the Left’s “undocumented worker” reframing on its head by asking for those very papers that don’t exist. Its ironic, ingenious, and has already had its intended effect: putting Immigration Reform back on the national agenda. Its also flat wrong, and the product of our vigorous and stridently ignorant culture.

That 51% of Americans support that law is as useless of a statistic as the poll that indicates 49% of Americans like the new healthcare law. The number of Americans that have read either law could fit in the Congressional staff lunch room . . .  and probably includes few lawmakers. I haven’t read either law and neither have you. We are all entitled to our opinions but not our own facts. And we argue about and disagree on those facts, as a society, because we are so ignorant of them.

When it comes to knowledge of this subject, politicians themselves are the smartest around. Much derision was heaped on the Republican Party for having the page length of the healthcare bill as a key criticism. While this was obviously a play to the simplemindedness of its base, the small nugget of truth contained in that criticism is that those Republican lawmakers had no idea what they were voting for . . . and neither did their Democratic counterparts. It was only after the bill became law that we learned national healthcare costs will rise by $300 billion over 10 years, not drop as supposed.

By itself, this ignorance is of little consequence, and a matter of debate for centuries by insulated ivory tower types and The-Revolution-Is-Here anarchists. But in the 21st Century, this ignorance has become downright dangerous: to ourselves, to society, and to our planet. Why? Because now our ignorance has been paired with unprecedented Choice.

My great-grandfather’s generation had ignorance of the global world but plenty of knowledge about their own neighborhood and lives. This has been supplanted by greater knowledge of global triviality, but significant ignorance of matters of import locally and in the wider world. Where do my $1.99/pound Tops chicken breasts come from? What were those chickens fed? What kind of waste stream has to exist to create chicken for $1.99 a pound? When my great-grandfather bought chickens at the Broadway Market (from another great-grandfather who owned Albrecht’s Chicken Stand), this wasn’t a question that needed asking.

Rapid technological advancement and globalization has sped this process. I drive my car wholly ignorant of the cost (economic, labor, environmental) to put fuel in it. That a new Gulf oil spill would reignite this discussion, decades after the Exxon Valdez, is sad. I can affect freshwater quality in Thailand by buying cheap frozen shrimp at the grocery store. I can put my neighbor out of business by choosing one brand over another. The list of examples is endless.

As our republic insists on being morphed into a democracy, this ignorance cum choice problem grows. Time was, government policy was insulated from the ignorance of the masses by the appointed Senate and Electoral College. It was less than 100 years ago that US Senators were unelected, and a check on the House’s ignorant populism. As George Will pointed out, the Electoral College used to be a similar check, until democratization made it an anachronistic hiccup on the road to an Al Gore presidency. Politicians’ career-savyy choice to adhere to the ignorant masses produce Arizona immigration laws and NY State budget catastrophes. The people of Arizona want the illegals out . . . without considering why they have low construction costs, or asking where their freshly picked strawberries come from. New Yorkers want to spend $20K per pupil in schools, keep every park open, lay off zero workers, have arts and cultural funding, and have a property tax rebate . . . without asking where the money comes from. The most extreme example is the referendum culture in California, which directly produces policy from the “wisdom” of crowds.

As our choices – political, economic, and social – have increased, no requirement to become more knowledgeable has followed. We are two year old children throwing temper tantrums in the china shop of our world, and there is no parent to intervene. I can buy 82 different kinds of diapers at Walmart so I can damn well decide what sort of health insurance exchange is best suited to drive down costs for middle income American workers.

Both parties and both sides of the political spectrum gain by playing to the country’s ignorance, and use the shredding of that ignorance as a campaign tool. PETA shows images of calves with their legs cut off in the hopes you won’t want to eat veal anymore. Abortion opponents are getting state laws on the books to require ultrasounds before abortions – the idea, of course, is that women are willing to kill a blob of cells but not a picture of a baby with a beating heart. Pro-choice advocates, predictably, hate this idea. Nearly 50 million abortions have occurred in the last 37 years, 20 million since Bill Clinton said he wanted to make it “rare.” Should not women facing this choice, the direst and worst of choices, have the full knowledge ahead of time? That Pro-Choice groups would generally oppose such laws, or providing women information before making a choice, is perhaps the purest example of  the problem that exists on all levels.

Thomas Friedman called a spade a spade this week. He said we:

have to stop messing around with idiotic “drill, baby, drill” nostrums, feel-good Earth Day concerts and the paralyzing notion that the American people are not prepared to do anything serious to change our energy mix.

One side wants to drill ignorant of the costs. The other is trying to convince the public that a couple new lightbulbs and a little composting will save the planet. The massive ignorance of the actual effort it will take to reshape our society is only matched by the new power of the individual American to keep making the problem worse.

Al Gore as Skeptic

20 Nov

At some point being a climate change advocate turned into a matter of faith. Perhaps its because the climate deniers choose not to “believe” in climate change, and thus the frame has been co-opted into a belief vs non-belief structure. Perhaps its because the evidence of climate change is not obvious, and either hidden in far off places (the arctic), or buried in layman-unfriendly scientific papers. Faith is an assurance of things one can not see.

However it happened, this faith-based advocacy has led to a streamlined sales pitch that identifies “unbelievers” as ignorant knuckle-dragging “deniers.” The meme goes something like this: “You don’t want to give up your F-250 pick up truck because you don’t believe in climate change.” Or “If you believed in climate change you’d support solar energy subsidies.” Or “Why don’t you compost and reduce your carbon footprint – do you deny climate change?”

Somewhere along the line, “believing” in climate change got lumped into endorsing a specific solution: reducing our carbon, and specifically CO2, footprint. Can’t have one without the other. To question the usefulness, scientific backing, or efficacy of setting an arbitrary 350 ppm CO2 goal is to question climate change altogether. 

Under this tortured logic, may I present to you Al Gore, Climate Change Skeptic.

Al Gore Quote

Newsweek recently ran an extended, largely positive, profile of Al Gore and his current climate change advocacy efforts. He’s written a new book. He’s training others to give the Inconvenient Truth lecture. And he has quietly held summits of experts in various fields and asked uncomfortable science based questions. Some of the results are surprising in their intellectual honesty and non-partisan conclusions.

Here’s one nugget: 40% of our CO2 increase since the 1800’s is attributable to deforestation. Even now, it accounts for more for of the CO2 buildup (23%) than all the world’s cars and trucks. Farmers mulching and not-tilling would sequester 12 percent of all emissions. Further soil management could grab another 15 percent, and reduce our CO2 ppm count by 50. The logical conclusion to this?

“If we feed the biology and manage grasslands appropriately, we could sequester as much carbon as we emit,” says Timothy LaSalle, CEO of the Rodale Institute, who presented at two summits. 

Why isn’t this solution given more air time? According to Gore’s advisors, who tried to downplay the findings – the political cost. Tell people we can manage our farms and forests to eliminate emissions issues, and they’d stop buying Prius’ and agitating for mass transit. And the tree-huggers wonder why the knuckle-dragging deniers say all this climate change talk is more about controlling behavior than helping the environment. . . .

Here’s another nugget: we’re still figuring out what causes climate change. Or to be more specific, we’re reordering the relative effects of various greenhouse gases. Scientists at the Goddard Institute of NASA reported in Science that methane accounts for 27%, halocarbons 8%, black sooty carbon 12%, CO 7%, and CO2 . . . 43%. 43% of the effect but nearly 100% of the public discussion. Never mind that targeting CO2 is the most cost intensive to reduce, and that “removing one ton of black carbon will have the same effect as removing 2,000 to 3,000 tons of CO2.” Where does black carbon come from? Highly regulatable diesel engines, fixed by a $250 filter. Methane emissions could similarly be cut by filters on highly regulatable oil wells. Forget tax incentives and regulations – the United States could BUY AND GIVE AWAY these filters for every diesel engine on the planet for a fraction of the cost of the climate change package working its way through Congress or at Copenhagen. Once again, is this about changing and controlling behavior, or pragmatically reducing greenhouse gas emissions?

To his credit, it was Al Gore himself  teased out these solutions and contradictions, and let the science, not politics, lead his way. In this he seems quite unlike his fellow climate change agitators.

So let me present you with a more nuanced, thinking man’s skepticism on climate change, that focuses on two related issues.

First, we don’t know as much about climate change as we think we do. My proof of this is the yearly varied reports of the potential impacts, effects, and how long they will take to occur. Climate is complicated. Something bad is probably happening. We don’t understand enough of why or how that is.

Second, we know even less about our “solutions”  to climate change. Hard to come up with a solution if we are still defining the problem. For proof of this, I don’t need to get all Michael Crichton and pull out eugenics. I can simply look to 15 years ago, when corn-based ethanol was being highly touted, pushed, and subsidized as the solution to not only our shortage of foreign oil, but climate change as well. Wait, you mean to tell me we now understand that corn-based ethanol produces MORE CO2 in its lifecycle than extracting oil from the ground? Oops. The Law of Unintended Consequences appears to be on overdrive as our push for corn-based ethanol not only produces more carbon than it saves, but caused riots in the Third World because of food shortages. 

Many climate change advocate politicians like to refer to the “All of the above” approach, meaning we don’t know what the solution is, so we’ll just fund everything. In a fantasy land of infinite resources, this makes sense. But we don’t live in that world. President Obama is testing its limits now, by running a deficit equal to his 43 predecessors combined, but eventually, the government runs out of borrowing ability. Before the world spends tens of trillions of dollars on solutions to stop global warming (a sum that may be able to lift the entire world out of poverty), don’t policy makers have some obligation to know if the funded solutions will work? We don’t need 100% clarity. But we do need solutions that are not proven detrimental only ten years later.

Bad Sales Job on Climate Change

24 Oct

Today is the International Day of Climate Action. Don’t feel bad, I didn’t know either.

Thousands of Canadians burn tons of fossil fuels to travel to Ottawa to protest climate change . . . only to tragically freeze to death in this pose.

Thousands of Canadians burn tons of fossil fuels to travel to Ottawa to protest climate change . . . only to tragically freeze to death in this pose.

Buffalo had a protest/teach-in today at D’Youville College to spread the word that, like, climate change is totally bad. 

I poke fun not because climate change isn’t a problem, but because the local representatives unfortunately did nothing to break any stereotypes. The Western New York Climate Action Coalition (didn’t know we had one of those either) sponsored the event, titled Buffalo 350, meaning 350 ppm of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Never mind for a second that the 350 number is completely arbitrary, with nary a shred of scientific evidence that 350 is “better” than 300, or 400, or any other number (this is what passes for proof -“science” and Desmond Tutu say 350!). Also ignore for a second that our current CO2 count is 385, that we passed 350 in 1998, and none of us alive will see 350 again.

The problem to focus on right now is the awful, terrible job climate change protestors or environmental activists do selling climate change. Or more specifically, getting the public excited enough, or scared enough, or both, about climate change that they stop throwing out cereal boxes and start recycling them.

The protestors today made the classic mistake: explaining that hurricanes, droughts and blizzards are the product of current levels of CO2, and just you wait, things will get worse. Call it the Inconvenient Truth mistake. I wish I could prove this to you, but unfortunately YNN Buffalo (where I saw the WNYCAC rep on the teevee) does not yet have a website 6 months after creation. But that’s another story.

Everyone repeat after me. “Weather is not climate!” Weather is today. Climate is long term. Climate change did not cause the droughts in the south east last year. Global warming did not cause Katrina. Climate change may be causing massive snowpack melt and the melting of the ice caps, but even that is tricky – pack ice has been increasing lately. The point is, you can’t look at any specific thing today to see proof of climate change. We need to look long term.

Climate change may well be bad, and has some man-made component, but when Al Gore said the earth would heat up, massive hurricanes would hit, and the seas would rise, people checked the thermometer. This summer, they discovered it was 1) cold, and 2) we had no hurricanes. The lack of hurricanes was the biggest non-story story this year.

This all comes on the heels of a new poll that show fewer and fewer Americans believe there is evidence of global warming. Said Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press:

“It’s a combination of poor communication by scientists, a lousy summer in the Eastern United States, people mixing up weather and climate and a full-court press by public relations firms and lobby groups trying to instill a sense of uncertainty and confusion in the public.”

Yeah, I think its more the former. And the people mixing up weather and climate include the advocates. The problem with selling climate change with hurricanes is that when there are no hurricanes, then there must not be climate change.

The cause is not hopeless. Think how easily the frame “climate change” has been substituted for “global warming.” Because, of course, not everywhere will get warmer. Some places will get colder. Glaciers on Iceland today grow while glaciers in Glacier National Park shrink. But while we are still fighting the change, rather than preparing for its coming, the sales job has to get better.