Year 4, Month 1, Day 5: They Seek The Truth, Before They Can Die

The Capitol Times (Madison, WI) has a nuanced discussion of climate denial in the educational system. What’s happening in WI is happening everywhere.

The far right dominates the world of “climate change denial,” which Wikipedia defines as: “A set of organized attempts to downplay, deny or dismiss the scientific consensus on the extent of global warming, its significance, and its connection to human behavior, especially for commercial or ideological reasons.”

You don’t even need to leave the state to find one of the nation’s leading practitioners. In a PBS “Frontline” program titled “Climate of Doubt” that aired in October, U.S. Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Menomonee Falls, argued that scientists have failed to convince Congress about global warming.

Which brings me to Casey Meehan, born in Janesville and educated at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. For six years, Meehan taught high school psychology and history in the Janesville and Monona Grove school districts before returning to UW-Madison to pursue a Ph.D. in education.

Meehan has just finished his dissertation on how climate change is taught in Wisconsin schools. You might not be surprised by his conclusion: Unlike most subjects on which there is scientific consensus, with climate change the human role typically is taught as an open question.

Meehan’s initial focus upon returning to school was environmental education, but he says he noticed that not much had been written about the teaching of climate change.

“I started thinking more about how climate change is such an ideologically polarizing topic, and I was just curious about how schools were dealing with that,” he told me in an interview. “How are they teaching this topic that the public thinks a range of things about, but scientists think something very specifically about?”

Yup. December 31:

Once upon a time, political conservatives were simply cautious people who feared change — especially change that threatened their economic security or social position, as witness their early opposition to such mainstays of American society as Social Security. But somehow over the past few decades, conservatism has become resistant, not to change, but to reality itself. While this is evident in their responses to issues like marriage equality and immigration policy, nowhere does it do so much harm as in the politicized discussion of the climate crisis.

Thanks to the Right’s relentless demonization of scientists and environmentalists, even the most anodyne statements about the natural world are now considered too controversial for free discussion in schools, as demonstrated by Casey Meehan’s illuminating study of the problems Wisconsin teachers face in addressing climate change. The fact that educators cannot address scientific reality in their classrooms without risking parental backlash is a sad commentary on the scientific literacy in America — and a demonstration that conservatism has become a grotesque parody of its former self.

Warren Senders


Year 3, Month 7, Day 29: (Facepalm)

The Greenville Online (NC) notes that young conservatives are sad:

On the Facebook page for the group Young Evangelicals for Climate Change, there’s a classic satirical “LOLchart,” except in this case the numbers are real.

A map of the United States is supposed to be colored blue wherever temperatures have been cooler than normal, and orange wherever they’ve been warmer than usual.

It’s a useless distinction, because the entire map is orange — June capped the country’s warmest 12 months on record.

This, of course, doesn’t itself prove that humans have provoked profound global climate change, and in the political football that often erupts over the subject, the skeptics tend to discount such maps, while believers note them with alarm.

Some younger conservatives, however, have grown increasingly uneasy with the presumption that they hew to the skeptical line of the Republican Party, and some evangelicals in particular are looking for ways to embrace the science and steward the planet.

As far as political representation goes, they’re mostly on their own.

What happens, in Paul Greene’s observation, is that many of the loudest voices drawing a bead on climate change come off as world-is-crumbling alarmists, which is a turn-off to many conservatives.

What’s missing is the calmer, conservative voice of reason. Some Republicans have tried it, but without much success: Voters hear a leftist/screaming/Al Gore point of view, he says.

For Greene, an attorney, former intern for a Republican congressman and board member for TreesGreenville, the party’s sprint to the right is exasperating.

“That hasn’t made me vote Democratic yet, but that certainly isn’t pushing the electoral options into my worldview,” Greene said.

Oh, for fuck’s sake. Grow up, why don’cha? Sent July 18:

As global warming intensifies and America bakes under anomalous heat waves, young conservatives who are paying attention to environmental issues will need to reject the stereotypes exemplified in Paul Greene’s pat dismissal of a “leftist/screaming/Al Gore point of view.” Given that scientists’ predictions of climate change have generally erred by underestimating the likely extent of the problem, those so-called “climate alarmists” are rapidly emerging as the people who had it right all along.

Al Gore is an American politician with enough understanding of basic science to recognize that the country he loves is in for a world of hurt as the greenhouse effect intensifies, and enough sense of responsibility to take the initiative and do something about it. It wasn’t environmental activists who cast the former VP as a “screaming leftist”, but right-wing commentators like Rush Limbaugh, who’s as wrong on climate as he is on countless other issues.

Warren Senders

Year 3, Month 1, Day 6: I Can Haz Latin?

The New York Times reports on the hunt for whoever it was that leaked the CRU emails:

Some have noted that in 2009, the online trickster used the initials R.C. and linked to a zip file named “FOI2009,” an apparent reference to Freedom of Information statutes in both Britain and the United States.

(Much of the criticism of climate scientists at the University of East Anglia centered on delays in responding to Freedom of Information requests, usually from climate skeptics, for access to all of their data and even their e-mails.)

This time, he signed his blog comments simply as “FOIA,” a common nickname for the leaker in online discussions of the e-mail affair.

Myron Ebell, director of energy and global warming policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute in Washington and a frequent spokesman for climate change skeptics, said the encryption of the file had challenged his thinking on FOIA’s identity.

Previously, he said, he had assumed the leaker was an employee of the University of East Anglia who had been troubled by the denial of requests for the prompt public release of scientists’ full data and e-mails under Britain’s Freedom of Information Act.

But a principled commitment to open information is not in keeping with an encrypted file, Mr. Ebell said. So he suspects a different kind of intelligence is at work.

“It is very suggestive of someone who has thought through how to cause the con men at the C.R.U. the maximum possible anxiety,” he said, referring to the Climate Research Unit at the University of East Anglia. “It is like knowing your building has a bomb in it that could be detonated at any time.”

I know this one won’t be published, but it felt pretty good to write. Sent January 2:

To gain insight into what contemporary “conservatives” are doing and thinking, just look at the accusations they level at others. While this habit is ingrained in Republican political strategists, and can be found in their remarks on issues across the full policy spectrum, it is spectacularly on display when it comes to the GOP’s rejection of the science of climate change. Who better to claim that climatologists manipulate numbers and information for financial gain than Texas Governor Rick Perry, whose administration raised crass, pecuniary data-mining to Cheney-esque levels? Who better to malign scientists as deceitful frauds than Newt Gingrich, primus inter pares in the Republican mendacity sweeps? When a spokesman for the Competitive Enterprise Institute calls climate scientists “con men,” it’s just another example of projection.

Unfortunately, the he-said/she-said stenography that passes for reportage in much of today’s media gives more credit to outlandish claims than to their refutation.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 6, Day 27: We Used To Use These On Mountainsides.

The Christian Science Monitor addresses the study of decreasing snow mass in the Rockies:

A blend of natural climate swings and global warming appears to be driving a long-term decline in snowpack along the Rocky Mountains rarely seen in the past 800 years.

In the process, and perhaps more important for the future, the dominant driver behind available snowpack along the continental spine appears to be shifting from precipitation to temperature, according to a study published Friday in the journal Science.

If this shift holds, the study’s team adds, it could represent a change that would accelerate the loss of the West’s natural freshwater reservoirs – if long-term average temperatures continue to rise with increasing levels of industrial greenhouse gases, as most climate scientists are convinced they will.

Ski the Rocky Mountains while you can, kids.

Sent June 12:

There aren’t a great many surprises in the new study of the Rocky Mountains’ shrinking snowpack. Rather, we find evidence that supports hundreds of other studies in the confirmation of a troubling planetary trend. The Earth is warming; human beings are causing it with emissions of greenhouse gases; it’s going to affect ecosystems all around the world in complex and disruptive ways. The Rocky Mountains are one such area, and their decreasing snow mass is going to have significant effects on the water usage patterns of the entire American West. It is a tragedy in the making, exacerbated by an ideologically-based refusal of “conservatives” to acknowledge scientific reality and its implications. In fact, self-styled conservatives are the real radicals when it comes to climate: by advocating a rapid transformation of the Earth’s atmosphere to unexplored extremes, they’re endangering all of us. That’s not conservatism, that’s reckless insanity.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 6, Day 1: I Wanna Go To Andorra

The Guardian (UK) notes that the US armed forces are actively preparing for the problems of climate change:

Federal legislation to combat climate change is quashed for the foreseeable future, scuttled by congressional climate cranks who allege the climate-science jury is still out. What’s become clear is that, for some, the jury will always be out. We can’t stack scientific facts high enough to hop over the fortified ideological walls they’ve erected around themselves. Fortunately, though, a four-star trump card waits in the wings: the US national security apparatus.

The comments are priceless. Sent May 20:

The cognitive dissonance involved in being a modern-day Republican is extreme, and it will no doubt be further exacerbated by the conclusions drawn by the United States military on the dangers posed by climate change. With a record that includes decades of posturing about “deferring to the generals” on defense issues, the GOP is now in a bit of a box when it comes to responding to the armed forces’ consensus on the strategic consequences of the greenhouse effect. Forced by the exigencies of Republican primary elections to deny simultaneously both scientific evidence and the advice of their military leaders, these anti-science legislators have an impossible needle to thread. Were the issues involved not ones of such great moment, the dilemma of contemporary conservatives would be irresistibly comical. Alas, this is no laughing matter — an assessment bolstered by every single strategic analysis of climate change and its epiphenomena.

Warren Senders

Month 6, Day 6: Grandpa, What Did You Do In The War On The Environment?

Time Magazine ran a column by Strobe Talbott and William Antholis basically pointing out that there are many wonderful and intellectually consistent reasons for conservatives to agree that climate change is a threat and we should do something about it. Of course, conservatives never will.

Talbott and Antholis are entirely correct that climate change upends the notion of bequeathing prosperity to our posterity. Our money and possessions will be useless on an uninhabitable planet. Alas, there are two reasons why conservatives cannot follow their advice. First is the fact that conservative politicians have allied with fundamentalist religious leaders who uniformly embrace both Young Earth Creationism and the notion of an Apocalypse, a relationship exemplified by Reagan’s Interior Secretary James Watt, who memorably said, “We don’t have to protect the environment, the Second Coming is at hand.” The second is simply that it is essentially impossible for a conservative politician to admit error in matters of policy (personal behavior is a different story). This inability to recognize the need for a change in position may well prevent passage of climate legislation, thereby leaving a heritage of ignorance and environmental devastation to our grandchildren.

Warren Senders