Year 2, Month 6, Day 23: The Last Trump — A Competitive Sport?

June 9: Mitt Romney’s tactical waffling on climate change has lots of Republicans up in arms. The idiot wing of the GOP (which is almost the entire party by now) is terribly upset. Mitt is going to keep plugging away at this; he’ll alienate the teabaggers, but I think he’s hoping to attract disaffected Independent environmentalist free-market libertarians, both of whom are certainly watching his campaign with interest at this point.

The New York Daily News mentions Romney as a counterpoint to Rick “Google” Santorum:

“I believe the Earth gets warmer, and I also believe the Earth gets cooler,” Santorum said. “And I think history points out that it does that. The idea that man, through the production of carbon dioxide – which is a trace gas in the atmosphere, and the man-made part of that trace gas is itself a trace gas – is somehow responsible for climate change is, I think, just patently absurd .”

He then said the issue was an “opportunity for the left” to take more government control.

“It’s been on a warming trend so they said, ‘Oh, let’s take advantage of that and say that we need the government to come in and regulate your life some more because it’s getting warmer.’ It’s just an excuse for more government control of your life.”

The issue of climate change has been heating up the 2012 GOP race.

Presidential hopeful Mitt Romney made headlines earlier this month when he broke from far-right orthodoxy and said he believes humans are partially responsible for climate change.

I had a sudden realization about these assholes, and incorporated it into this letter, which went out on June 9:

There is hardly anything that can bring down the wrath of modern Republicans than acknowledging fact-based, testable scientific reality. Enter Mitt Romney, who wants to bring the climate change debate to the table in the upcoming primary season. While Mitt doesn’t actually think we should do anything about the greatest threat human civilization has ever faced, his willingness to entertain the notion that carefully executed scientific research might have something to tell us is in itself a notion utterly repellent to Tea-party Republicans. The GOP’s anti-intellectual core is also overwhelmingly likely to believe in the Biblical Armageddon, suggesting that their rejection of climate science may be nothing more than eschatological jealousy; if civilization is going to end, they want to be certain their team gets the credit. Those of us who would like the human race to endure and thrive for eons to come, however, are watching with appalled fascination.

Year 2, Month 5, Day 27: What Matters Is That He Could See That Far!

The Wegman Report, used by Republican politicians to justify inaction on climate change, has been withdrawn by the journal which originally published it, following revelations that the whole thing was both filled with errors and substantially plagiarized. Heh heh heh.

Evidence of plagiarism and complaints about the peer-review process have led a statistics journal to retract a federally funded study that condemned scientific support for global warming.

The study, which appeared in 2008 in the journal Computational Statistics and Data Analysis, was headed by statistician Edward Wegman of George Mason University in Fairfax, Va. Its analysis was an outgrowth of a controversial congressional report that Wegman headed in 2006. The “Wegman Report” suggested climate scientists colluded in their studies and questioned whether global warming was real. The report has since become a touchstone among climate change naysayers.

The journal publisher’s legal team “has decided to retract the study,” said CSDA journal editor Stanley Azen of the University of Southern California, following complaints of plagiarism. A November review by three plagiarism experts of the 2006 congressional report for USA TODAY also concluded that portions contained text from Wikipedia and textbooks. The journal study, co-authored by Wegman student Yasmin Said, detailed part of the congressional report’s analysis.

A commenter at Daily Kos put the idea into my head about Ken Cuccinelli’s dilemma, and I decided to put it into a letter. Sent May 16:

So the “Wegman Report” from George Mason University turns out to be both flawed and plagiarized. This poses a problem for Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, whose harassment of climate scientist Michael Mann is predicated on Mann’s funding from the University of Virginia. Given that George Mason University receives extensive state and federal support, it’s inescapable: Edward Wegman’s academic misconduct qualifies as a misuse of public funds, and we may confidently expect Mr. Cuccinelli to pursue legal action against Wegman and GMU. Let’s pause a minute to let the hilarity subside, and remember that George Mason University also receives substantial funding from the notorious Koch brothers, well-known supporters of climate-change denialism. While Republican legislators are unlikely to repudiate the Wegman report, perhaps this scandal might inspire our more ignorant politicians to do some of their own science homework, rather than relying on the grownup version of a term-paper service.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 4, Day 7: Down Under De Nile

The Sydney Morning Herald has an excellent piece on the problems faced by scientists when they try and talk to politicians:

But scepticism, and outright denialism, is in the ascendancy since last November’s mid-term elections. So it was perhaps unsurprising that the expert pleas fell on deaf ears. A Louisiana Republican accused scientists presenting evidence of human influence on climate of holding ”elitist, arrogant views”. Another insisted that ”we should not put the US economy into a straitjacket because of a theory that hasn’t been proven”.

The scientific champions were equally vehement. One Democrat equated the bill to an attempt to repeal gravity, while another hauled a tower of published climate investigations to the meeting and argued that if Copernicus, Galileo, Newton and Einstein were testifying, Republicans would still not accept the science until Antarctica had melted.

Californian heavyweight Henry Waxman called Republicans a ”party of science deniers” and declared that they ”can’t cure cancer by passing a bill that declares smoking safe. And they can’t stop climate change by declaring it a hoax.

Yup. Got that right.

This letter gave me the chance to use the word “apothegm,” which always makes me feel rather grand.

Sent March 29:

The relationship between science and politics has always been confused and problematic, for the quest for truth and the quest for power are two very different things. Scientific integrity is built upon the willingness of each practitioner to change his or her mind when carefully examined evidence demands it. Political integrity, contrariwise, is summed up by Simon Cameron’s apothegm: “An honest politician is one who, when he is bought, will stay bought.” And nowhere in modern life is the science/politics equation more fraught with consequences than in the non-debate over climate change, currently happening both in the United States and Australia. The scientific evidence for anthropogenic global warming is overwhelming and universally accepted; a few contrarian voices are amplified by disproportionate media attention to create the impression that the “science isn’t settled.” And our petroleum-owned politicians can stay bought, maintaining their “integrity” by ignoring genuine evidence if it’s ideologically inconvenient.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 3, Day 23: Ignorance Vs. Attendance

The Pasadena Star-News has a pretty good article on the recent study from NASA that subtracts most of the non-human drivers of climate change from the equation and finds (surprise!) that we clever apes are in fact responsible.

The crucial paragraphs are buried, of course:

Michael Ghil, a distinguished professor of climate dynamics at UCLA familiar with the research calls the graph “pretty striking.”

But while he says the study “adds another brick in the edifice of the scientific evidence,” he warns, “it’s not going to convince people who don’t want to be convinced.”

“The political controversy about action to be taken is fairly independent of accumulated scientific evidence. The evidence for anthropogenic effects is there,” he said.

Sent March 14, in between watching the disaster in Japan and feeding my daughter and her friend some snacks.

The findings of the JPL study make it clearer that human activity, in particular our relentless transferal of carbon into the atmosphere, is the prime driver of global warming. To anyone who’s followed climate science over the past several decades, this conclusion is hardly surprising — but a disturbing proportion of Americans no longer trust or understand science and scientific method. Even if we ignore the climate crisis, a national loss of scientific literacy is a tragic choking of our hopes for a prosperous future. But when the consequences of runaway climate change are factored into the picture, it’s an intellectual as well as an environmental catastrophe. When ideology supersedes fact, it’s a recipe for disaster. Our nation’s citizens and policymakers cannot afford ignorance’s long-term consequences. Those who derive financial reward or political capital from distorting scientific facts act against the best interests of our nation and our species.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 2, Day 12: Raisin’ My Lonely Dental Floss

Sally Mauk, in the Montana Missoulian, writes about a climatologist who spoke recently at the University of Montana. Naturally, he’s plenty worried. Also naturally, the dimwits in the comment section are full of the usual crap.

After I wrote the letter, I located the LTE link and was informed that the paper only prints letters from within their print circulation area. So I sent it anyway, but registered as a commenter and posted this there. I assume that I’ll be shouted at and told I’m a brainwashed follower of algore.

The conundrum of climate change requires action and understanding on a variety of fronts. For us to realize the gravity of the situation requires re-calibrating our own thinking, focusing more on the long-term consequences of our actions than we’ve ever considered. Our industry and business sectors must accomplish the same transformation, moving from the pervasive paradigm of quarterly profits as indicators of corporate health to a value system that encourages generational continuity rather than growth for its own sake (which Edward Abbey rightly described as “the ideology of the cancer cell.”). And our government must provide a regulatory authority which makes these changes possible, which is why the current anti-EPA legislation is an exceptionally bad idea. Given that it’s riddled with “climate zombies” who reject science and the evidence of experts, it’s a fair bet that no law regulating atmospheric pollutants will emerge from the current Congress. Meanwhile, we all need to learn from the scientists who’ve been studying it for decades; our skepticism is better saved for the oil-industry apparatchiks who daily tell us that climate change isn’t happening.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 2, Day 5: Keep ’em Ignorant!

The Attleboro Sun-Chronicle (MA) runs a fairly standard “hey, it’s snowing! Does that mean global warming is bunk?” piece, replete with a quote from an Accuweather denialist at the end.

So-called “climate skeptics” are fond of pointing out extreme snowfalls as somehow “disproving” the whole notion of global warming, thereby demonstrating the dismal state of science education in our country. A warmer atmosphere means that more water evaporates and turns into precipitation, be it rain, snow, hail or any of the peculiar combinations for which Massachusetts is rightly famed. The science of evaporation is hardly controversial — and the science behind the greenhouse effect has been firmly established for many decades. One of the first predictions of climatic instability as a consequence of increased atmospheric CO2 appeared in Popular Mechanics — in 1953! — and climatologists have been refining their analyses ever since. But most “climate skeptics” are unworthy of the term; a skeptic is one who relies on evidence and understanding, while the current crop of naysayers wear their ignorance of basic scientific concepts as a badge of honor.

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 2, Day 3: Who Needs Experts When We Can Just Look Out The Window?

The Vancouver Times-Colonist points out that winter storms don’t disprove climate change. Since the headline (“Winter storms don’t undermine global warming science, climate experts say”) includes the phrase “experts say,” I am confidently expecting a barrage of “why would we trust them damn experts” comments, but I may be disappointed. Actually I couldn’t see any comments at all; perhaps the Times-Colonist doesn’t allow them? Anyway, rather than mock the deniers, I’m trying to be diagnostic.

Those who deny the existence of global climate change are caught in several all-too-human problems. One is the question of timescale; climatic shifts, while accelerating rapidly due to the greenhouse effect, are still too slow for most people to perceive (and by the time they’re happening fast enough for us to notice, it’ll be too late to do anything about it). Then there’s our inability to grasp the statistics of probability (since global warming doesn’t cause any single storm, flood, drought or weather event, but makes such events more likely everywhere). This innumeracy is part and parcel of the larger crisis of scientific ignorance; how can we understand all the crazy weather we’re having unless we know enough chemistry and physics to figure out how evaporation works? And finally, of course, is the sad fact that we in the developed world consider abandoning our conveniences a fate worse than death.

Warren Senders

Look Who’s Running The Country!

Representative Jack Kingston (R-GA) on Bill Maher’s show:

Year 2, Month 1, Day 29: Talk To The Scientists, Mike.

Randall Parkinson and Scott Mandia take on columnist Mike Thomas’s volleys of idiocy in the Orlando Sentinel. It is excellent to see actual scientists doing this work; Mandia and Parkinson are both smart and dedicated people.

I am informed that this letter has been published. Yay, me.

As Parkinson and Mandia point out, our media’s relentless preoccupation with short-term phenomena has made it all but impossible for the general public to become well informed about the slow-motion disaster of climate change. When broadcasters and columnists offer an anomalous snowfall as “proof” that global warming isn’t happening, they are contributing to a climate of ignorance and irresponsibility. When that same media plays the game of false equivalency, where each genuinely worried climate scientist is “balanced” by at least two spokespeople from petroleum-funded conservative think tanks, they are acting recklessly and endangering all of us. What we need is education; a population that understands a few basic principles of science won’t be so easily misled. What we get, of course, is something different and much more damaging. As our warming world makes climate change’s effects ever harder to ignore, will our media begin trying to keep pace with reality?

Warren Senders

Month 12, Day 24: I’m Glad I Don’t Understand Science, Because If I Understood It, I’d Be Less Likely To Be A Jackass

The New York Times runs a long and fascinating biographical piece on Charles Keeling, the guy who did the half-century’s worth of atmospheric CO2 measurements that provide us insight into our predicament. It isn’t always this easy to find a theme for a letter; I am grateful to the Gray Lady.

After I got this written I saw that it was 149 words. So I added the “oy.”

It is a tragic commentary on a forty-year decline in scientific literacy in America that the work of Charles Keeling is so egregiously misinterpreted by conservative legislators and a significant fraction of the general public. At a time when we need greater understanding of science and scientific method, we are instead offered the scriptural rationalization that since global warming is mentioned nowhere in the Bible, it cannot exist. At a time when we need unity of purpose in combating one of the most significant threats humanity has ever faced, we are instead offered the blustery hyperpartisanship of incoming committee chairmen who eagerly anticipate hindering the researchers who are our first line of defense. At a time when we need wisdom and farsightedness to recognize the implications of Dr. Keeling’s fifty meticulous years of work, we are instead offered folly, measured out in quarterly profit margins and two-year electoral cycles. Oy.

Warren Senders