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February 24 2012

15:00

Want to Improve Science Communication? Start with Bad PowerPoint Habits

In the past three months, I’ve spoken on panels at two scientific mega-conferences—the American Geophysical Union’s Fall Meeting in San Francisco, which draws tens of thousands of scientists, and the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) meeting, which this year was held in Vancouver (and pulls in about eight thousand).

As a science communication trainer and advocate, I’ve noticed much at these events that makes me very hopeful. More so than ever before, these conferences are thronged with panels on how to improve science communication, particularly with respect to pressing concerns like climate change. Indeed, a powerful theme at the AAAS meeting, articulated by organization president Nina Federoff, was that science is under attack—an attack that must be countered, including through direct-to-public communication efforts by scientists themselves (of which the excellent communicator Michael Mann provides a great recent example).

Federoff is absolutely right in her message. Science communication is, indeed, vital—and scientific organizations like AAAS and the AGU are driving a very welcome change in scientific culture with their efforts.

But here’s the thing: While these organizations have the best of intentions, there may be inadvertent aspects of what they do that actually undermine their stated goals. In particular, in this piece I’m going to argue we can make science communication better not only by having lots of panels on the matter, but by changing some very simple and basic things about how scientists present their knowledge at conferences like AGU and AAAS.

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November 28 2011

15:55

Do Developing Nation Journalists Cover Climate Science Better (or at Least Better Than U.S. and U.K. Papers)?

As the European debt crisis scrapes along, there has been talk about the possible need for developing nations, like China and Brazil, to ultimately help bail out some spendthrift “developed” nations.

A new study suggests that maybe they should also help bail out some of our media.

The study comes from James Painter of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University and his colleagues. After looking extensively at climate change coverage in major papers in six nations—the U.S., UK, France, Brazil, China, and India—the paper finds that global warming “skepticism” is “largely an Anglo-Saxon phenomenon.”

Consider a selection of findings:

1.      80 percent of all quotations of climate “skeptics” were in U.S. and U.K. publications.

2.      40 percent of the articles including “skeptic” perspectives were opinion articles, and again, these were much less common in France, Brazil, China and India.

3.      These skeptical opinion articles were clustered in conservative papers in the U.S. and U.K.(Wall Street Journal, Telegraph), but not in the other countries.

4.      In France, Brazil, China, and India, the politics of a paper didn’t relate to the prevalence of climate skepticism. The reality of global warming just isn’t the subject of political dispute in these nations, and their media reflect that.

5.      Overall, “skeptic” perspectives were more likely to be articulated by politicians than by “skeptic” scientists, and politician-skeptic voices were once again overwhelmingly clustered in the U.S. and the U.K.

Here are the papers studied, by country: Brazil (Folha de São Paulo, Estado de São Paulo), China (People’s Daily, Beijing Evening News), France (Le Monde, Le Figaro), India (Times of India, The Hindu). In the U.S., the study examined The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. In the U.K., there was a very extensive look at all ten of the national papers.

Given all of this, I know what you’re really wondering: Which country wins the overall climate journalism responsibility and competence prize?

Drum roll…it’s Brazil, whose papers contained the least climate skepticism. China also didn’t have much, but that’s harder to get too thrilled about, because of course journalists in that country were following the government line.

So here’s a thought experiment: What if we restaffed the Wall Street Journal editorial page with journalists from Brazil? I’d certainly lift a caipirinha to that!

Australia was not included in the study, but you would imagine that it would be more consistent with the U.S.-U.K., “Anglo-Saxon” trend. 

For me, it is tough not to think about this finding in the context of two other major global developments:

1) the increasing dominance of developing countries in clean energy—especially China, but Brazil is a big contender here as well;

2) the increasing competitiveness of developing nations, and especially China and India, in global science and research.

Basically, then, take these new findings about climate skepticism as yet another sign that  countries that used to be in the rearview mirror are now either even with, or passing the U.S. by on the highway to the future.

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September 01 2011

14:35

Communication Fail: Why the IPCC Must Do a Heck of a Lot Better in 2013

Regular readers know I’m pretty critical of the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—particularly when it comes to how this expert body communicates climate science. Basically, my view is that any organization that holds a key climate meeting in Copenhagen in winter is pretty clueless about the politics and public perception of this issue. [See Correction Below.] But even worse is that IPCC has shown far too little investment in communication or public outreach (although lately that is beginning to change), and has handled crisis communication moments—like the Himalayan glaciers flap—terribly.

Now, before I get too many ticked off emails: I know the IPCC is the leading expert source for climate science assessments, and deservedly so. I know that the scientists who volunteer to work on its reports do a heroic job. I recognize and commend all of this. But it simply isn’t enough in this day and age—and it is in the communications sphere where the IPCC’s scientific excellence simply has not been matched.

A new paper in the scientific literature that studies major scientific assessment reports, and their public impact, supports this view. The study in Climatic Change, by Brenda Ekwurzel and Peter Frumhoff of the Union of Concerned Scientists and James McCarthy of Harvard, shows that IPCC-related scandals have received a dramatic level of press attention, coming in second only to IPCC reports themselves in media attention. Furthermore, the paper also suggests that these reports are written in technical language that is likely misinterpreted by public audiences.

The new study shows that when IPCC releases one of its rare and treasured assessment reports, it does get more coverage than other assessment reports released by, say, the National Academy of Sciences or the U.S. government. That’s very appropriate: The IPCC is, after all, the gold standard and its reports are long awaited and endlessly cited.

But consider: The IPCC related “controversy” of late 2009 and early 2010 drew about 1/3 as much total coverage as the 2007 IPCC release of its Fourth Assessment Report, and more total coverage than the release of key assessment reports by the U.S. government and National Academy of Sciences. And I would argue that even this comparison is misleading. Anyone observing politics in this country would have to concede that the IPCC “scandals” have been far more influential than the IPCC’s science, at least over the past half decade.

The new study also looks at how the IPCC communicates its findings: i.e., in technical language that’s likely to be misunderstood. For instance:

When presented with excerpted sentences from the AR4, survey respondents consistently underestimated the certainty implied by extremes, such as “very likely” (>90% probability, according to the guidelines) and “very unlikely” (<10%). Twenty-five per cent of respondents, for example, interpreted “very likely,” as in “average Northern Hemisphere temperatures during the second half of the 20th century were very likely higher than during any other 50-year period in the last 500 years” (IPCC 2007), as meaning less than 70% probability…Thus, IPCC terminology intended to succinctly represent authors’ consensus on the range of probabilities associated with key findings may itself be a significant barrier to understanding for public and policymaker audiences.

The IPCC’s “likely/very likely” language represents a group of scientists trying to use ordinary language to quantify uncertainty. The goal has always been to be as accurate as possible—but how these word choices strike people has been a far less prominent consideration. In other words, IPCC has been communicating for scientists, rather than for audiences.

A new report shows that from 2007 to 2011, the U.S. public showed a 14 % decline in its concern about global warming. That’s a period that was kicked off by an IPCC report announcing that “most” of the global warming we’ve seen is “very likely” caused by human activities.

Which pretty much says it all.

Correction: The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, not the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, organized the Copenhagen summit. My apology for this mistake.

June 22 2011

12:37

Jon Stewart 1, Politifact 0: Fox News Viewers Are The Most Misinformed

I have a lot of respect for political fact checking sites. I think they play a critical role, especially in our misinformation-saturated political and media environment.

However, sometimes these sites fall for the allure of phony bipartisanship. In other words, in an environment in which conservatives are more inaccurate and more misinformed about science and basic policy facts, the “fact checkers” nevertheless feel unduly compelled to correct “liberal” errors too—which is fine, as long as they are really errors.

But sometimes they aren’t. A case in point is Politifact’s recent and deeply misguided attempt to correct Jon Stewart on the topic of…misinformation and Fox News. This is a subject on which we’ve developed some expertise here…my recent post on studies showing that Fox News viewers are more misinformed, on an array of issues, is the most comprehensive such collection that I’m aware of, at least when it comes to public opinion surveys detecting statistical correlations between being misinformed about contested facts and Fox News viewership. I’ve repeatedly asked whether anyone knows of additional studies—including contradictory studies—but none have yet been cited.

Stewart, very much in the vein of my prior post, went on the air with Fox’s Chris Wallace and stated,

"Who are the most consistently misinformed media viewers? The most consistently misinformed? Fox, Fox viewers, consistently, every poll."

My research, and my recent post, most emphatically supports this statement. Indeed, I cited five (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) separate public opinion studies in support of it—although I carefully noted that these studies do not prove causation (e.g., that watching Fox News causes one to be more misinformed). The causal arrow could very well run the other way—believing wrong things could make one more likely to watch Fox News in the first place. 

But the fundamental point is, when it comes to believing political misinformation and watching Fox News, I know of no other studies than these five--though I’d be glad to see additional studies produced. Until then, these five all point in one obvious direction.

“Every poll,” to quote Stewart.

Politifact wasn’t even aware of the studies I’ve cited. Instead, the site’s attempt to debunk Stewart largely relied on misunderstanding what he meant.

What Stewart obviously meant—and what I mean—is that when it comes to politicized, contested issues where the facts have been made murky due to political biases, it is Fox viewers who are the most likely to believe incorrect things—to fall prey to misinformation. A quintessential example of such an issue is global warming, or whether Saddam Hussein’s Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction or was collaborating with Al Qaeda. There are many, many others.

To rebut Stewart’s claim, Politifact relied upon irrelevant and off-point studies. Thus, the site cited a number of Pew surveys that examine basic political literacy and relate it to what kind of media citizens consume. E.g., questions like whether people know “who the vice president is, who the president of Russia is, whether the Chief Justice is conservative, which party controls the U.S. House of Representatives and whether the U.S. has a trade deficit.

Too few citizens know the answers to such basic questions—which is lamentable, but also irrelevant in the current context. These are not contested issues, nor are they skewed by an active misinformation campaign. As a result, on such issues, many Americans may be ill-informed but liberals and conservatives are nevertheless able to agree.

Moreover, on such issues, I would expect cable news viewers of all types to be generally better informed than the general public, because such viewers are, by definition, politically engaged—they care about politics. So they are more likely to know the baseline stuff, whatever channel they watch. (Politifact partly acknowledges the criticism here, but still tries to save face.)

That’s precisely what was found in a study of a related type of media: Right wing talk radio. C. Richard Hofstetter of San Diego State and his colleagues found of right wing radio listeners that “despite the flamboyance of many hosts and messages, audiences nevertheless appear to hold higher levels of information in association with involvement with political talk.” And yet at the same time, the researchers also found that “exposure to conservative talk shows was related to increased misinformation, while exposure to moderate political talk shows was related to decreased levels of political misinformation, after controlling for other variables.” In other words, this study found something very similar to what has been repeatedly found about Fox.

Thus, the bulk of the studies cited by Politifact have nothing to do with whether Fox viewers believe the truth, or falsehoods, on politicized and contested issues. I cannot stress how fundamental a distinction this is. Indeed, it is quite literally a separate issue from the perspective of psychology and neuroscience.

From the point of view of the political brain, whether 2 + 2 = 4, or whether Joe Biden is the vice president, is one type of question. It’s the type of question where there’s no political stake and anyone can agree, because it doesn’t require any emotional sacrifice to do so. It therefore likely engages circuits of “cold reasoning.”

However, whether global warming is human caused is fundamentally different. The latter issue is politicized, and thus engages emotions, identity, and classic pathways of biased reasoning. It therefore likely triggers circuits of “hot reasoning.” (For a study showing why the two are so different with respect to the brain, see here.)

It is of course around contested political facts, and contested scientific facts, where we find active, politically impelled, and emotionally laden misinformation campaigns—and it is in the latter realm that Fox News viewers are clearly more misinformed. Once again, I’ve cited 5 studies to this effect—concerning the Iraq war, the 2010 election, global warming, health care reform, and the Ground Zero Mosque. By contrast, Politifact only cites two of these studies, and attempts to critique one of them (the 2010 election study)—misguidedly to my mind, but who really even cares. It is obvious where the weight of the evidence lies at this point, unless further, relevant studies are brought to bear.

As a result of all of this, Politifact should either produce relevant research to rebut Stewart, or run a far more forthcoming retraction than has been issued so far. Note, however, that the issue grew a tad more complicated last night when Stewart did an excellent segment on all of this, where he both dramatized how much Fox misinformed viewers and yet also kind of conceded Politifact’s point, when he didn’t actually have to. He wasn’t wrong. They were wrong.

When the fact checkers fail—and in this case, they not only failed, they generated a falsehood of their own--they have a special responsibility to self-correct.

June 02 2011

13:44

Will the IPCC Be Ready to Communicate About Its Fifth Assessment Report?

The United Nations' Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is the world authority on the science of climate. But at the same time, it has been increasingly beset by controversies that call into question its approach, and its preparedness, when it comes to communication.

Essentially, the IPCC releases highly technical reports, fairly infrequently, that get an initial flurry of mainstream media attention and then get attacked viciously until the next report comes out. And when attacked, IPCC has opted for an ill advised strategy of “hunkering down,” as Andrew Revkin puts it. Indeed, following “GlacierGate”—when a very real error was found in one of IPCC’s reports—IPCC came off as defensive and was very slow to admit the mistake.

Following the various “-Gates” of 2009 and 2010, a cry went out in many circles that we need to improve climate science communication. As a result, all kinds of communication innovations are now going forward, many of which are ably summarized by Revkin in a recent article in the Bulletin of the World Meteorological Organization (which was central to creating the IPCC itself in 1988).

But where does IPCC fit in the context of this innovation wave? It still seems to be dragging.<!--break--> Revkin reports the following:

As the IPCC prepares its Fifth Assessment Report, it does so with what, to my eye, appears to be an utterly inadequate budget for communicating its findings and responding in an agile way to nonstop public scrutiny facilitated by the Internet. I would love to think that the countries that created the climate panel could also contribute to boosting the panel’s capacity for transparency, responsiveness and outreach.

I made this point recently in an e-mail exchange with three leaders of the climate panel’s next assessment – the chairman, Rajendra K. Pachauri, and Thomas Stocker and Christopher Field, scientists respectively co-leading the reports on climate science and impacts.

They all agreed that more resources and a clear communications strategy are badly needed. “Despite several years of highlighting the need for effective communications and outreach, we have really made very little headway, and I know that we cannot delay action in this area much longer,” Dr. Pachauri wrote. “If we do, it would be at our own peril.”

Since Revkin wrote this, there is at least one positive sign. The IPCC just released a “Communications Strategy,” drafted at its May Abu Dhabi session, which says many of the right things. The organization will apparently be hiring a Senior Communications Manager and trying to coordinate a mechanism for rapid response. And there is much else in the document to praise—but I also note the following:

There are significant resource implications in communicating IPCC work effectively, and the Panel will require regular updates on the financial implications of implementing the strategy. 

Revkin puts it a lot more bluntly: “without more resources from the 194 countries that sponsor the effort, I see scant prospect for concrete improvement.

It appears that the IPCC's Fifth Assessment Report is due out in 2013 and 2014. So basically, the IPCC has about two years to really get together a serious communications mechanism for the moment when it is going to be needed most. Let us hope that the current strategy document is only the beginning, and that dollars will follow good intentions.

The IPCC, like every scientific organization, needs to understand that the work is not over just because you’ve finished doing the science and published it. In fact, the work has only begun.

February 04 2011

02:16

Breaking: Purdue University Cancels Coal Project Thanks To Student Pressure

Today, Purdue University students, community members, faculty, alumni and staff breathed a sigh of relief as the Board of Trustees voted to nix plans to build a new coal boiler on campus.  For nearly a year, a broad coalition including Campuses Beyond Coal fought the university's plans to build a new coal boiler on campus, and today their hard work paid off. 

Prior to today's cancellation, Purdue was the only university in the United States that still planned to expand its coal power plant.  While school officials touted the upgrade as "green", students, activists and community members weren't convinced.  They feared that University officials were keen to cling to the "coal is clean" myth while other universities were leading the shift to cleaner power sources. (The coal industry cooked up the "clean coal" myth and continues trying to convince the public through a $40 million astroturf advertising and PR campaign by organizations like the "American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity".  But the public, especially young people, are seeing right through the industry's propaganda.)

Purdue was initially hesitant to revisit its plans.  But effective grassroots organizers at the university and in the community hosted protests, rallies, and several events to convince the school to move away from its reliance on dirty coal.  <!--break-->

According to Kim Teplinksy, National Campaigner for the Sierra Student Coalition, this is a major victory for the campus and student activist community, but their work is far from complete.  The University is still burning coal on campus - one of 60 U.S. universities that still operates a coal plant.

Purdue has committed to the creation of an Energy Master Plan, but few specifics have emerged.  Teplinsky hopes the process will be open and transparent, and that the University will commit to investing in clean energy and becoming a leader on clean energy both in Indiana, and nationally.

Other universities have recently caught on to the move to nix dirty coal.  Campuses Beyond Coal has already encouraged eleven universities to kick the coal habit, including Penn State and Missouri University of Science and Technology, which has plans to build a geothermal system to power its campus.

Back in Indiana, the community is applauding Purdue for taking this first step, but the Sierra Student Coalition plans to continue advocating for clean energy solutions for the whole campus.  In the short term, the decision not to expand the coal plant will help campus residents breath a little easier -  there will be less SO2, mercury and particulate matter in the atmosphere that would have resulted from the coal pant expansion.  Hopefully Purdue will continue moving away from coal and towards a clean energy future. 

January 17 2011

14:16

Petroleum Geologists and Climate Change, Revisited

The last time I found myself paying attention to the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG)--which calls itself "the world's largest professional geological society"--the year was 2006. At the time, AAPG had caused something of an uproar by giving its "journalism award" to the late Michael Crichton's anti-global warming novel State of Fear. This triggered a variety of criticisms--including this one by the council of the American Quaternary Association, remarking that "In bestowing its 2006 Journalism Award on Crichton, AAPG has crossed the line from  scientific professionalism to political advocacy. In our opinion, the group should be upfront about its new status." (Later, the AAPG changed the prize's name to the "Geosciences in the Media" award, which certainly removes one criticism--if not others.)

You can't say the Crichton award was inconsistent: To this day, AAPG remains an organization that questions the seriousness of human caused climate change.<!--break--> Its website, for instance, has a policy statement on the matter that can be found here; while the language is somewhat careful, there's a clear refusal to endorse mainstream scientific conclusions on anthropogenic causation:

In the last century growth in human populations has increased energy use. This has contributed additional carbon dioxide (CO2) and other gases to the atmosphere. Although the AAPG membership is divided on the degree of influence that anthropogenic CO2 has on recent and potential global temperature increases, the AAPG believes that expansion of scientific climate research into the basic controls on climate is important....

And again: 

Certain climate simulation models predict that the warming trend will continue, as reported through NAS, AGU, AAAS, and AMS. AAPG respects these scientific opinions but wants to add that the current climate warming projections could fall within well-documented natural variations in past climate and observed temperature data....

AAPG also has put out a publication entitled Geological Perspectives on Global Climate Change, edited by Lee Gerhard, William Harrison, and Bernold Hanson. The first chapter is online here. And guess what it concludes about climate change?

Climate drivers are variable in both time and intensity and--regardless of the largely political belief that human consequences on global climate are pronounced--human influences are of comparatively low intensity and take place over short time spans. The nonequilibrium systems that control natural phenomena on earth very likely dwarf man's ability to affect climatic conditions on a global scale.

Why bring all this up?

Well, I recently came across a review of my book Unscientific America (co-authored with Sheril Kirshenbaum) on the AAPG website. The review could not exactly be called loving--our book is labeled  "not only unscientific...but arrogant and unprofessional"--and sure enough, the issue of climate change seems at the heart of the dispute.

The review is by one Bob Shoup, who according to his bio on the website of the conservative Canada Free Press, was previously head of the AAPG's Division of Professional Affairs (DPA). A few of Shoup's Canada Free Press article titles: "Grand Theft Climate" and "Agendaism and Fraud; the Sordid Tale of Climate ‘Science.'" Presumably Shoup does not speak for AAPG simply by penning a book review in what appears to be an AAPG newsletter. However, it's worth nothing that he's not the only person involved with AAPG who didn't like the book, according to his review:

Several months ago, DPA President Dan Tearpock asked me to look at the book Unscientific America. He had bought it hoping to see why science literacy is on the decline in the U.S. and other western countries, and more importantly, what could be done to reverse the trend. Unfortunately, before Dan could get past the introduction he was so mad he threw the book away. Why? I’ll get back to that in a moment.

Once you read the review, it's clear that the "why" involves our strong defense of climate science and climate scientists, and our calls for the latter to speak out about their work and combat misinformation. As Shoup writes:

One of the author’s principal arguments that most Americans are scientifically illiterate is the increasing size of the “science – society divide”. And their evidence for the increasing size of the divide is that most Americans no longer believe in Anthropogenic Global Warming. This incredibly arrogant position assumes that Americans are simply too stupid to understand the science of global warming.

That's a misreading of our book. Yes, we're pro-climate science; but we also make the point that people who resist science on topics like global climate change are often very well "informed" about the subject, in the sense of being quite conversant with the debate and even highly engaged in it. Shoup himself, for example, has written extensively about why he doesn't accept the science of climate. I am certainly not calling him--or anyone else like him--"stupid." This isn't an intellectual problem--it's a political one.

Shoup continues:

The authors argue that the “Climategate” scandal further proves their case that Americans are detached from science. The authors point out that in the scandal following the release of the climate e-mails, the climate science community were accused of withholding information, suppressing dissent, manipulating data, and worse. Instead of pointing out that these accusations flow directly from statements in the e-mails, the authors dismiss this as an attack on scientists by the “right wing media."

"Flow directly" from the emails? That's an interesting choice of language. Note that Shoup doesn't say that the accusations are "fully substantiated by a thorough analysis of the emails"--and of course, they aren't. Any serious analysis (and many have been done) instead shows that the charges rely on taking a few phrases (like "hide the decline") out of context.

Anyways, you can read the whole review here. Presumably Shoup would have liked our book much more if it simply had a different stance on climate change, because he goes on about how scientific illiteracy is indeed a problem. And indeed, it would be great to have AAPG as an ally in the cause of broadening scientific literacy and engagement in our society.

But here's the thing. If you really want to be pro-science, you don't get to pick and choose which science to accept--and climate science's core conclusions are, at this point, part of the essential knowledge base of every citizen. If Shoup and/or AAPG want to take a stand in favor of scientific literacy, they could start by revisiting that position statement that still, to this day, calls mainstream scientific conclusions about human-caused climate change into question.

January 11 2011

22:47

Study: Climate Change Will Continue for 1,000 Years, Even with Zero Emissions

 

It's only early January, and already we're witnessing what could be the most devastating climate change story of the year.  A new study in Nature Geoscience this week shows that even if we go to zero emissions and completely halt our wholesale burning of fossil fuels, climate change will continue for the next 1,000 years. 

If only an "I told you so" directed toward climate change deniers and the fossil fuel lobby could somehow be gratifying in this situation.  Such accusations seem trite and insufficient when faced with the truth that we've had an irreversible impact on our environment. 

The study, conducted by University of Calgary and Environment Canada's climate centre at the University of Victoria is the first full climate model simulation to make predictions 1,000 years into the future.  Dr. Shawn Marshall and his team explore the question: "What if we completely stopped using fossil fuels and put no more CO2 in the atmosphere?  How long would it then take to reverse current climate change trends and will things first become worse?”  Using simulations with the Canadian Earth System Model, the research team explores zero-emissions scenarios if humans completely stop burning fossil fuels in 2010 and 2100 respectively.  

The article shows, devastatingly, that climate change will continue even if we stop our use of fossil fuels immediately.  We've had that much of an impact.<!--break-->

In addition to global temperatures rising by up to 5 degrees, the authors suggest that warming of the intermediate-depth ocean around Antarctica could lead to the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet, which would be associated with a rise in sea levels of at least 4 metres.  In addition, desertification in North Africa will cause drought and food shortages. 

As an Oxfam study previously demonstrated, it will be the Global South that will bear the brunt of devastating climate change impacts and costs.  To understand the discrepancies between the Global North and South, Gillett et al postulate that one reason is inertia of the global ocean and parts of the Southern Hemisphere.  Their inertia means that warming has tended to be slower and more gradual.  Those oceans are only now beginning to warm as a result of CO2 emissions from the last century.  Worryingly, that also means that we can expect warming to continue long into the future. 

In the Northern Hemisphere, Canada and Russia will fare better than the South in terms of the impacts of these cataclysmic changes.  Due to their geographic location, impacts will be less direct and less devastating.  This reality may diminish the urgency by which governments take action.  The authors caution that we should not be fooled, however.  We must act immediately.  We don't have time to be fed lies and propaganda by the fossil fuel lobby. 

An important take-away from the study is that the irreversible way that we have impacted the climate does not demonstrate that action is futile or helpless.  To the contrary, the benefits of immediate action mean that we can mitigate some of these longer term consequences of climate change. 

Read the full study here. The University of Calgary Press release can be found here

Photo credit: Ben Heine.

 

May 19 2010

06:57

McIntyre Disappoints Denier Conference; doesn't call for jailing of scientists

Mining Executive and blogger Steve McIntyre, the darling of so many climate change deniers, surely disapointed the assembled ICCC crowd in Chicago with his dry and relatively reasonable keynote address.  The applause after McIntyre's keynote address was significantly less than when he started because he didn't call for Michael Mann and Phil Jones to go to jail.

Astronaut Harrison Schmidt (why is a former astronaut speaking at a climate conference?), who followed McIntyre, helped to steer the crowd back to the witch-hunt it was promised by conference organizers. Mark Sheppard, writing in the American Thinker, gave this account of Schmidt's remark after McIntyre finished:

This is science, [Schmidt] retorted to a now cheering crowd, and if you want to play that game (tricks, non-disclosure, etc) then you can go somewhere else.  To which more than a few in attendance added:  “To Jail!”

I can think of no better analogy than the hilarious logic used by Monty Python's King Arthur to impress an even more idiotic group of villagers, and magnificently prove that 'she's a witch!'.<!--break-->

McIntyre's hour long keynote on the first night of the conference discussed the history of some rather dry tree ring data discussed in the East Anglia stolen email.  He was welcomed with huge applause, but the crowd cooled over the course of this talk.  As Sheppard said, "Steve stopped quite a bit short of passing judgment". While McIntyre still perpetuated the myth that there is a scandal wrapped up in the emails stolen from East Anglia, this episode shows how the ravings of climate deniers hold no basis in reality.

Sheppard wasn't too happy to hear McIntyre's opinion on the recent attempts by VA Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to leverage himself into Michael Mann's private email exchanges.

McIntyre even slammed Virginia Attorney General Ken Ken Cuccinelli's investigation into Hockey Stick creator Michael Mann, describing Mann’s work as “diligently published” and Cussinelli’s as “abuse of administrative prerogative.”  Not exactly what the crowd was hoping to hear from one its undeniable heroes.

Thank you, Steve McIntyre for this valuable insight into the level of discourse at the 4th annual denial-palooza, sponsored by all the oil companies' favorite think tanks.

05:42

Will Happer To Testify At Congressional Hearing on Climate Science

Will Happer, as chair of the George C. Marshall Institute, will testify Thursday before Rep. Ed Markey's Select committee as the sole GOP witness arguing against the global warming consensus.  Even though Happer, a physicist, has published exactly one paper that discusses climate change, he is apparently the top choice of the GOP to discuss "the ability to present data and information that can guide global warming solutions in a sometimes fierce political landscape."

Professor Will Happer augments his Princeton duties with high-profile climate denial.  Ever since he and Fred Singer claimed that ozone depletion was not happening, Happer has been willing to let his Princeton position and American Physical Union title serve the whims of ExxonMobil's policy goals. 

Happer proudly says "I believe that the increase of CO2 is not a cause for alarm and will be good for mankind." 

He even falsely told a congressional committee: “We evolved as a species when CO2 concentrations were three or four times what they are now”.  Actually, you need to go back hundreds of millions of years to find CO2 levels this high.  Sorry Mr. Happer, your facts might be a bit muddled, but your motivations are clear.<!--break-->

Happer has been on the board of the George C. Marshall Institute since at least 2002, and is currently its director.  The institute receives a sizable portion of its funding from ExxonMobil.  Out of an operating budget of about $800,000, an average of $91,428 per year from 2001-07 comes directly from ExxonMobil.  They also receive $250,000 per year from the Scaife oil fortune, and we see almost half of the Institute is funded by oil money. 

Global warming policy is the institute's largest advocacy program, spending over $200,000 in 2007 and over $300,000 in 2006 on the program.  That program employs former registered Exxon lobbyist William O'Keefe, who previously served as CEO fo the American Petroleum Institute.  Also on the team, Sallie Baliunas who co-authored a paper on climate change with Willie Soon which was sponsored directly by the API, and then refuted by 13 of the authors she cited.

As the chair for the organization Happer has stepped into a central role in the global warming denialosphere.  While some organizations like Competitive Enterprise Institute have renounced funding from ExxonMobil, GMI has been unabashed in its acceptance of oil money.  Consequently, Exxon connections form a tight circle around GMI and Happer.  See this map of connections.

Will this week's climate tesimony be as hilarious as previous weeks?  I doubt Happer will match the absurdity of Hitler-Youth-Monckton at the previous congressional hearing earlier this month, but it will be interesting to see if he makes up more on CO2 levels or pretends to be baffled as to how a mere gas can effect the climate.  Stay tuned.

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