Posts Tagged ‘climate change’

We’re called climate hawks now — pass it on

October 20, 2010

In foreign policy a hawk is someone who, as Donald Rumsfeld used to put it, “leans forward,” someone who’s not afraid to flex America’s considerable muscle, someone who takes a proactive attitude toward gathering dangers. Whatever you think about foreign policy, is that not the appropriate attitude to take toward the climate threat? Does it not evoke a visceral sense of both peril and resolve, the crucial missing elements in America’s climate response?

Read David Roberts. And then SCREEE! to your heart’s content.


The double bind of global warming

October 7, 2010

Anthropologist Kim Fortun is wicked smart. I’m trying to power through her book Advocacy After Bhopal on the advice of a researcher I queried in my quest to find the right graduate school. (So naturally I’ve stopped to blog…)

Dig the following, on logical paradoxes operating in the real world, p. 12:

A classic example is the statement that a therapist might make to a patient, or a parent to a child: “I want you to disobey me.” To obey the statement is to disobey it; to disobey it requires obeyance. The contradiction is produced by the condensation of messages of different logical types in one experiential fold, from which there is n o escape. [Anthropologist George] Bateson was particularly interested in double binds produced by family interaction. I want to understand the double binds produced by environmental crisis within globalization.  Read the rest of this entry »

Want: Ray Kurzweil to proselytize about climate change

August 25, 2010

Greetings to my new readers from Pharyngula. I’m glad to have struck your fancy. I’ll try to keep it interesting for you.

Enough, please.

In my Kurzweil/geoengineering post, I made the definitive claim that Ray Kurzweil’s vision of uploading consciousness into computers would never happen. I also linked his dream to an allegedly oppressive over-emphasis on technological solutions to the serious global problem of climate change.

In general, my commenters challenged me to back up my talk. Ryan McGivern in particular questioned what Kurzweil has to do with marginalized groups or with fetishizing technology. McGivern seems like a fellow traveler, and I feel obliged to answer him, at least in part. So let’s see if I can clarify my position a little. Read the rest of this entry »

Addressing climate change is about preserving freedom

August 20, 2010

I finished George Lakoff’s book Whose Freedom? this week, and I have to ask: why aren’t cimate activists talking left, right and center about freedom?

Lakoff’s argument is that there are two competing conceptions of freedom in the minds of Americans. There’s the narrow conception endorsed by the radical right, in which freedom requires only the absence of government interference, and there’s the wider conception endorsed by the left, in which freedom demands material well-being for all. Some people explicitly favor one version of freedom or the other, but many people carry both conceptions of freedom. The correct framing can activate either conception. Radical conservatives have been highly effective at framing issues in terms of narrow, negative freedom. The left has to work just as hard to reframe the issues in terms of expansive, positive freedom. Reframing requires constant repetition (so expect to hear me talking a lot about freedom in coming weeks). Read the rest of this entry »

The climate change shit is hitting the fan

August 10, 2010

People, forgive me for interrupting our regularly scheduled programming on sex differences, but shit is out of whack in the world right now.

You’ve heard that Russia is in the grip of a monster heave wave that may have killed 15,000 people already? That wildfires are possibly kicking up radioactive smoke from Chernobyl? That the country has banned wheat exports for the rest of the year? You’ve heard that in Pakistan, intense seasonal monsoons have left 1,600 dead and 2 million homeless in what they’re calling “Pakistan’s Katrina“? You’ve read about the landslide in China that killed 700? (Make that 1,100.)

It’s all connected, my friends. Read the rest of this entry »

What not to say at a climate change meetup

July 27, 2010

If we take climate change seriously, we have to acknowledge that it’s going to take away a lot of the control we have over our lives, including the circumstances of our deaths. So why aren’t we angry?

From my first ever guest blog post, at

Read the whole thing. I dare you.

I’m talking about drawing a line in the sand, Dude

July 23, 2010

Here’s writer and activist Alex Steffen commenting on the official death of the carbon cap:

We already know what the next big battleground in this fight will be: the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA, it’s worth remembering, has the right — confirmed by the U.S Supreme Court — to regulate greenhouse gasses as a pollutant under the Clean Air Act. That makes it both our next best hope… and the neoconservatives’ next target.

The stakes are high. The EPA has enormous capacity to create change, if the President were to direct it and act boldly. A recent study suggests that better Federal regulations on electricity generation, auto standards, landfills and appliances could spur a 22% reduction in greenhouse gasses by 2030. That figure, however, almost certainly low-balls the Federal government’s total capacity to make change, especially if it ties in policies that impact land use and transportation (not just fuel standards for cars). A climate-focused EPA, backed by a clean energy and smart-growth focused Administration, might actually do significantly more to build a thriving bright green economy than a milquetoast climate bill.

That’s why the minions of coal, oil and car companies are already gunning for the EPA, and we can bet that we have yet to see the full force of their hate machine turned on the EPA and its allies. That’s why it’s absolutely critical that the EPA not only be lobbied and pressured, but defended.

I’ll have to look into Steffen’s numbers. The World Resources Institute published a report this week saying that if federal and state governments really tried, we could get part of the way toward the 17 percent emissions reduction from 2005 levels Obama pledged in Copenhagen last December, and anything less than an ambitious push would bring us far short of that goal.

Here’s a handy chart:

Either way, Steffen’s strategy sounds like a good one: Celebrate the EPA.

There ought to be a nationwide effort to celebrate the EPA and tell memorable stories of its successes. That effort should include strategic communications work in the next few months, pitching magazines and TV shows that have long lead-times to cover the anniversary, and offering helpful resources for telling one of America’s greatest success stories. (One thing in particular that ought to be done immediately is gathering interviews with old-guard Republicans who helped create the EPA; getting it on the record that this was a bi-partisan achievement, and something Americans of all stripes can support.)

So let it be done.

“The average temperature of the planet for the next several thousand years will be determined this century—by those of us living today.”

July 23, 2010

That’s the dire pronouncement of my former Sci Am colleague David Biello in his writeup of a National Research Council report issued last week, which I’ll use as an excuse to take stock of where we stand on climate change. The NRC put a different twist on climate projections by estimating not how much warming we’re in for, but what impacts a given amount of warming will have on the environment.

According to the report, for every degree Celsius of warming, impacts include:

* A 5 to 15 percent lower yield for some crops, including corn in Africa and the U.S., and wheat in India
* A 3 to 10 percent increase in heavy rainfall globally
* A 5 to 10 percent drop in rainfall in southwestern North America, southern Africa and the Mediterranean, among other precipitation changes
* A 5 to 10 percent change (increases in some regions, decreases in others) in stream flow in many river basins globally
* A 15 to 25 percent decrease in the extent of Arctic Ocean sea ice

Here’s what the IPCC projected in 2007:

The average surface temperature of the Earth is likely to increase by 2 to 11.5°F (1.1-6.4°C) by the end of the 21st century, relative to 1980-1990, with a best estimate of 3.2 to 7.2°F (1.8-4.0°C) (see Figure 1). The average rate of warming over each inhabited continent is very likely to be at least twice as large as that experienced during the 20th century.

So, to take heavy rainfall as an example, that’s a best estimate of a 10 to 72 percent increase globally. In case you’ve forgotten, Tennessee experienced a 1,000-year flood in early May (see the red streak below), killing 21 and causing an estimated $1.5 billion-plus in damages.

Climate change was surely a major contributor to the flooding, according to Kevin Trenberth, head of the Climate Analysis Section at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, who was quoted back in June on Climate Progress (emphasis CP’s):

I find it systematically tends to get underplayed and it often gets underplayed by my fellow scientists. Because one of the opening statements, which I’m sure you’ve probably heard is “Well you can’t attribute a single event to climate change.” But there is a systematic influence on all of these weather events now-a-days because of the fact that there is this extra water vapor lurking around in the atmosphere than there used to be say 30 years ago. It’s about a 4% extra amount, it invigorates the storms, it provides plenty of moisture for these storms and it’s unfortunate that the public is not associating these with the fact that this is one manifestation of climate change. And the prospects are that these kinds of things will only get bigger and worse in the future.

For good measure, please keep in mind too that 2010 is on pace to be the warmest year since record keeping began in 1880.

Surely the wise leaders of business and industry who foresaw the implosion of the housing bubble will save us from choking on our own emissions, right? Oh, wait. No. This week Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) officially ruled out the possibility of a carbon cap, saying, “we know we don’t have the votes.”

Scroll down this page for a little video on how Obama and his team squandered the opportunity for serious action on climate change.

More in my next post.

Tierney, science and the masculinist POV

July 15, 2010

Let me expand a little on the abbreviated critique of John Tierney in my last post. Back when his “more men than women are really, really good at math and science” story was making the rounds on the science blogs and Twitter, Chris Mims pointed out how bad Tierney is on climate change. See here and here. I tweeted something to the effect that Tierney thinks men make good mathematicians but bad climate scientists.

I think Tierney’s schizophrenia captures something significant about how conservative men of a certain age process science. Like the late Pops Minkel, they overvalue logic, certainty and control. Their paradigms for science are 20th century particle physics and the space program. To them, the scientific method is to pick apart the world, put it back together with new bits added and then build a really impressive machine based on the new bits. If you can’t put back together what you’ve picked apart, then it’s not science.

That’s why I’d be willing to bet there’s a strong correlation between where men like Tierney stand on climate change and where they stand on string theory. String theory tells us we live in one corner of a vast multiverse but gives us no sure way to confirm that belief. Climate science tells us Earth is warming dangerously but can’t give us reproducible, particle physics-style experiments to tell us so. They both frustrate the notion that an individual mind acting in isolation can solve any scientific problem.

What would Richard Feynman say? That’s what a Tierney type might ask himself when grappling with string theory or climate change. The individual human (read: white male) mind can solve any problem worth solving, after all, if only one is smart (read: male) enough. Hence the fetishization of Feynman, who was really, really good at solving math and science problems. We know Feynman expressed doubt that string theory was on the right track. And Freeman Dyson came as close to expressing Feynman’s views on climate change as we’re likely to get. (Although consulting the Ouija board would be soooo Feynman of us.)

String theory and climate change affirm an uncomfortable truth for the Tierney type: all we can do in the face of these problems is to accept the collective judgment of the experts who’ve immersed themselves in the relevant subject matter. As with God, you can’t prove string theory or the course of climate change beyond the nth decimal point of doubt. All you can do is have faith in your fellow beings and hang on for the ride.