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How to Make the Noise Stop

by Kirsten Sanford, Jan 30 2009

You know what? I’m tired.

I’m tired of people yelling at each other from opposite sides of the fence. Pick a side! Pick a side! I’m right! You’re wrong!

It doesn’t matter what the issue is these days. Everyone has an opinion whether or not it is well-informed, and that opinion is chained to the concrete slab in the ground that defines an issue. And, like dogs protecting a house, the barks are loud. Intimidating.

The chances of breaking that chain or moving the concrete are slim. So, how do you stop the barking? Drown it out with barking of your own? Adding to the noise just increases the din that drowns out reason.

Do you keep walking past the house until you can’t hear the noise, until the barking stops on its own? Just being there provokes the dog’s angry response.

So, what do you choose? And, why?

This past week, I asked Twitter whether or not people thought the public’s interest in global warming had cooled. I had just read a NYT article reporting on polled data suggesting such a trend. The responses I received were quite interesting.

Now I know that Twitter is by no means a random sample of people. Most of the individuals on Twitter are tech savvy information junkies, which slants the population right off the bat. Secondly, the wording I used was meant to get peoples’ attention. Using ‘global warming’ instead of the new, less evocative term ‘climate change’ immediately catches the eye of the opinionated.

My first, entirely unscientific result was that the population within Twitter who responded to my question paralleled the poll results. People are much more concerned about the economy and job stability these days than whether or not the ice sheets might melt someday. This all seems to jive quite well with the human “hierarchy of needs” developed by a guy named Abraham Mazlow, wherein physiological needs must be met before people can attend to their psychological growth. When we were in times of economic plenty, people had more time to consider global issues like the environment and climate change, and to potentially make changes in their lives according to a certain perspective. Now, with jobs on the line, people are more self-interested, and less likely to be concerned about global issues.

However, the season could also be a factor in the waning climatological interest. Most places are too cold right now for people to be thinking about the more generalized (and less extreme) warming trend that has been measured around the globe. Also, with the economy and the US Presidential transition taking up time/space in the media for the past few months, it may just have fallen off of peoples’ radar.

The second result of my request was an onslaught of anthropogenic global warming deniers. What people believe wasn’t even part of my question. Yet, here they were telling me in no uncertain terms that human-induced climate change is a bunch of hogwash. Maybe in their own way, they were answering my question in the negative. Obviously, the issue has not cooled for some.

Working in science communications, I think it is very important to tell a correct tale, and to help people understand what is going to affect their lives. Somehow, the climate issue has been compounded beyond reporting the facts as they appear into an emotional and politically divided issue. There doesn’t seem to be a way to discuss the science anymore without triggering someone’s hot button.

The scientific debates of the climatologists have expanded into battles that include the meteorologists, the geologists, the pundits, and Joe Blow. The media hasn’t helped. There is a glut of misinformation, and misleading and politically biased content, which makes discerning the accurate reporting more difficult than it should be. Who do you turn to when the path isn’t clear? Who do you trust? It seems that most people turn to their ideological roots. They go home.

Home is comfortable and safe, making it a difficult place from which to move people. People resent the attempt to move them. Do you know many people who react well to being told that they are wrong? It’s hard to even find that quality among scientists.

So, how do we stop the reactionary defense of an ideological stance?

I suggest that we change the topic entirely.

Shall we leave the science of the climate to the scientists, and get to work on more pressing issues? This is not a new idea. It has already seen some success in redirecing peoples’ energies. Suddenly, climate change has been replaced with topics like energy independence and transfer of renewable technologies to developing nations.

By changing the climate change topic, which has an arguably pessimistic, end-of-the-world tone into a more positive, results-based discussion, the din has softened to mere clamour.

Where else can the topic be changed, and how?

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40 Responses to “How to Make the Noise Stop”

  1. MadScientist says:

    Oil and gas will not last forever; even without an impending doom due to climate change there is still a need to develop alternative energy sources. Don’t imagine that all the research and technological development will happen in the last, say, 10 years of oil and gas. There needs to be a shift away from fossil fuels and the sooner the better. It would appear that the only economically viable means of achieving a shift in power production is to tax the fossil fuels and use the proceeds to fund development and deployment of alternatives. Back to reality, politicians tend to spend tax revenue as they please, so I doubt that many nations will have the fortitude to spend fossil fuel taxes only on developing other power sources.

    Things aren’t so simple though; a 250 megawatt turbine which might be installed in a coal-fired power plant is relatively small (well, as size or weight – to – power output). To achieve the same capacity with, say, wind turbines requires much more material (iron, copper, etc) so there are resource issues. Looking at electric cars, they will need a lot more copper than current internal combustion engine cars, not to mention power storage (batteries – lead, manganese, lithium, iron, nickel – what will go into them), so a hydrogen powered combustion engine sounds like a more plausible solution and that brings up the problem of hydrogen supply – will hydrogen be produced by electrolysis of water or by pyrolysis of coal?

    I imagine coal will still be in use as long as there are recoverable reserves; even in an oil and gas free future, it is likely that aircraft will still be fueled by liquid hydrocarbons and in the absence of oil and gas that means cracking coal. Large sea vessels can go nuclear.

    The world also has a population problem and contemporary economic theory promotes the problem: we need more people so that there will be increased consumption of goods and economic growth, and yet more people and … So the world also needs a new economic framework where populations shrink in a steady but controlled fashion; the only alternative would be for ongoing rapid growth until societies begin to collapse. It is time to start looking towards developing genuine sustainable societies rather than promoting the rat race we’re currently in.

    But the most important thing of course is to stay cool and think – don’t get upset because it seems like everyone around is an idiot (chances are, they are!), just hang in there, fight, roar and contribute to the noise! Of course you musn’t forget to keep learning – and to throw out some of your own adopted notions when you see evidence to the contrary.

  2. Cat Girl says:

    There is a guy that I work with who refuses to take any blame for climate change. And that’s exactly what it is – some people don’t want to think that they have to take some responsibility for this. And on top of that, the effects of climate change are subtle and not very obvious on the time scale of a few years.

    So I told him that even if we don’t take the environment into consideration, it is in our best interest to move away from oil and other fossil fuels for two reasons:

    1. As MadScientist said, oil will simply run out eventually.

    2. Politically, it is better if we can produce our own energy within out country. Right now, when we buy gas, we may be putting money in the pockets of people who don’t like us very well. If we produced all or most of our own energy, the oil-producing countries would have less power over us.

    I think it is always important to emphasize that climate change is not the only reason to move away from using oil.

  3. Cambias says:

    I am fundamentally suspicious of anyone who professes concern about climate change yet is not advocating expansion of nuclear power generating. There are far too many people within the movement who have taken on a cultish, apocalyptic fervor which makes me skeptical of their ability to approach the subject rationally.

    I have no doubt the climate is changing — what I do doubt is how much of a crisis it really is, how much we can or should affect it, and whether we should balance the costs of doing so against the risks and benefits.

  4. Mastriani says:

    Where else can the topic be changed, and how?

    Firstly, this is an excellent article, well done. Although it may not withstand empirical scrutiny, all available information shows your position to be accurate on most, if not all, counts.

    My tendency would lean the same direction as MadScientist. In the clean energy/renewable energy discussions, there seems to be some of the same elements as with the climate discussion; a rise in unverifiable information.

    Perhaps one of the Skeptologists could take up the torch on the matters of “clean burning coal”, the economic and environmental impacts of biodiesel, nuclear energy, “alternative energy forms”, etc.

    Is there any viable research towards fusion?

  5. Dr. Kiki, I’m tired too! This was FriendFeed just very recently. I don’t usually go picking fights on Climate Change, to be sure!

    But, this sort of lazy schadenfreude plus Drudge gets at least a sarcastic mumble or two from me.

    http://friendfeed.com/e/fedb45a6-7585-43c0-b098-9e26cfbc3383/This-is-hilarious-they-might-postpone-Al-Gore-s/

    I’m thankful for finding people like Anthony Citrano to help keep the barking to a low din.

    Best — Richard a.k.a. “reechard”

  6. The administration NEEDS this debate to remain unresolved and the issue of controlling climate changed unsolvable in order to maintain the “green jobs” they want to create.

    The scientific industry NEEDS this debate to remain unresolved and the issue of controlling climate changed unsolvable in order to maintain their research dollars.

    When people like NASA’s Dr. John S. Theon and other former high profile individuals in the climate change scene become skeptics, you have to begin to wonder; do humans actually have ANY idea what is going on and, more importantly, do those involved WANT to find an answer?

    With regard to the topic of energy, I have 2 thoughts: 1) we have a president who tells us that we need to turn down our thermostats, yet he keeps his office so hot “you could grow orchids in there” [David Axelrod] and 2) there are plenty of alternatives out there, but they will only flourish in a free-market system.

  7. Rachel says:

    I suggest that Environmentalists change their tactics to fit with the economic times. Back to the three R’s: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Now is the perfect time to suggest that people increase their recycling to lower their municipal garbage expenses (my municipality actually sent around a letter stating that if we did not recycle more, our taxes and trash pickup charges would increase – it worked, our recycling tonnage increased literally overnight!).
    I also suggest that environmentalists NOT argue from the point of “saving the environment” – people are too worried about how they’re going to pay their heating bills right now. Instead suggest that they wear a sweater and lower their thermostat. Add another layer of insulation to the house; lower the temperature on the water heater (and wrap it); the possibilities are practically endless.
    I’ve become a much more environmentally friendly person not because I’m a staunch environmentalist, but because my husband’s hours have been cut in half and my profit sharing check all but evaporated this year. While we still have jobs, we are feeling the recession pinch, and we are in a very large, very full boat. I suggest we make the noise stop by attacking the problem from a very different angle – encouraging environmentalism not by telling people they are being environmentalists, but by telling them how to save their money.

  8. SeanJJordan says:

    Hrm, I think the problem there’s a lot of confusion about climate change is because it’s a very complex issue that doesn’t have a lot of easy answers. The literature is dense and hard for most people to digest, and the advocates for change are generally pushing other environmental agendas as well.

    For example… will recycling help slow climate change? No, it won’t. Recycling metals is a good idea, since they’re in limited supply, and there’s some efficiency in the process. But there’s actually evidence that recycling paper is a wasteful process in terms of energy/output and that it’s better for the environment have a steady supply of new-growth trees sucking carbon dioxide out of the air.

    I tell that to my non-environmentally conscious friends and they say it’s evidence that environmentalism doesn’t work. I tell it to my environmentalist friends, and they tell me my facts are wrong and that recycling is always the best way to go. Neither side really wants to think about it.

    Presently, I’d argue that people are less concerned with the issue not because the topic has changed, but rather because people are looking at their immediate problems (job insecurity, declining assets, credit card balances) and avoiding other topics that are going to bring them down.

  9. Jim Howard says:

    I’ll believe that ”global warming’ ^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H ‘climate change’ is something people can do something about when the ‘global warming’ ^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H ‘climate change’ proponents start acting like its a crisis.

    When Gore scraps his 100 foot house boat (with five jetskis), when Obama turns down the thermostat in the white house and mothballs AF1, and the Democrat party gets solidly behind nuclear power, THEN I’ll take this seriouly.

    Until then ‘global warming’ ^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H ‘climate change’ is just another grant generator for academics and a power grabber for bureaucrats and politicians.

  10. I know Lomborg is heretic to those yelling on one side, but I was deeply struck by his Copenhagen Consensus (sp?) approach – “OK, you have $50 billion [or $500 billion] to fix things on Earth… Where do you spend first?

    Something like $5 billion/year pretty much ends hunger. Ends it. (Yeah, there are local political probs but still..) Global warming/climate change was always way down the list of priorities – even for the committed super-greenies.

    One way for us to ignore the barking dogs (love the analogy!) is to pick a problem, a concrete fixable problem. And fix it. As in..

    Just. Do. Something.

    If you’re doing, you’re less distracted by the noise.

  11. jdcllns says:

    Arguing on the Internet is like being in the Special Olympics. Even if you win, you’re still retarded.

  12. Caermon Durgae says:

    I think you’re right. At this moment we have the gov’t pushing things down our throat in the name of Global Warming or Climate Change or whatever euphimism they’re using this week. People tend to resent that.

    As other people have said here, there are perfectly valid reasons why we should be searching for cleaner energy. Politically, it would free us from our worries in the Middle East and we could tell the Arabs to drink their bloody oil. Financially, it would provide jobs here in the states and promote research that is dearly needed. Third, it is good for the environment. I think anyone who’s flown into the brown mushroom cloud that is LA from the air would agree that pollution is bad. Cleaner skies, lakes and rivers are a good thing.

    The question is how do we get the gov’t or business to listen to us? The funding has to come from somewhere. We need research into nuclear, solar, geothermal and yes even wind power. We need real research, not some crackpot schemes cooked up in order for a con man to make a few bucks.

    It might help if we had a few voicces from the scientific community band together and present a case to the White House. Pledge to not talk about global warming, but to talk about the other, more concrete benefits of alternate energy.

    I’m not a scientist, but I’d be willing to help in any way I could.

  13. Bruce says:

    Human nature is such that only immediate crises receive attention. Governments are throwing trillions of dollars at the economic situation with no evidence that it will result in a positive long-term outcome. On the other hand, almost all scientists with relevant expertise agree with the evidence that global warming is happening, that human activity is primarily to blame, and that the impacts will be significant (ecologically and economically), and yet governments are not taking any serious action.

    Tragically, by the time global warming reaches the immediate crisis stage, where governments are willing to throw trillions of dollars to address the crisis, it will be too late. I’m afraid we’re doomed (how doomed is debatable). Despite the glut of scientific evidence and consensus, we aren’t even at a point were we have unanimous agreement among the public that this is a serious enough problem to approach it as we are approaching the economy.

  14. Mike Neumann says:

    Kirsten,

    Good post. I would probably count as someone who is a skeptic of the ‘skeptics’. I’m all for skepticism, as long as it is genuine skepticism in the spirit of digging for truth, and not just building one’s adversarial case.

    “Green” alternative energy, and alternative modes of transportation, all come with a cost that is never really addressed in the mainstream, because to do so is not popular. Some of your commenters above have lit on some of the downsides of electric vehicles, for example. Batteries, and how to safely dispose of them, is still a huge challenge.

    Until we find a way around the Second Law of Thermodynamics, there’s no free lunch.

    “We don’t know”, is what should be coming from many, if not all, of the proponents of the man made global warming myth.

    Let’s keep looking for the answers, and be willing, as you say, to question what we think we know.

    As for changing the topic, I’m more interested in community planning to include public transportation up front with established right-of-ways. Sprawling areas like Austin, for example, have suffered from intentional lack of growth planning for decades, because those who chose (documented) to fight the growth by NOT planning, in hopes that it would slow developers. The result? Our patchwork of roads.

    But I digress?

  15. Ron Lilek says:

    I agree with the late, great Michael Crichton. The issue of manmade global warming has been politicized; that is, scientific reason has been replaced with agenda-driven evangelism.

    Personally, though, I’d rather see the planet get warmer than the other way around. This may just be nature’s way of adjusting to an increasing human population.

    Of course, I remember when an eminent scientist informed us that the world would end within 35 years due to the irreversible pattern of destruction of oxygen-creating plankton in our oceans.

    That was in 1968. Rumors of mankind’s death have been highly exaggerated.

  16. The Mother says:

    What, leave science to the scientists? What are you thinking? What will the Right do with all their free time?

  17. Scott Schwab says:

    I believe in nature demands balance, and unfortunately for the human race, nature can be a bit drastic when it corrects for an imbalance. Hundreds of years ago Europe’s population was getting to a point where the land could not support it, it also happened to be dense enough for the plague to thrive. Balance was restored after the population was reduced to a sustainable level, with space within the population for the plague to suffer and fade away.

    We know the ice caps are melting; the planet is warming; all from measurable, repeatable, observations. If it is because we are driving too much, keeping the White House to warm, too many active volcanoes, a natural weather cycle, or that the fact that we have six billion people packed onto a small rock, it really does not matter. If we want to avoid or delay nature’s drastic correction of rising oceans flooding our coast, crop belts being moved, and all stresses it will place on society, we have to stop trying to blame someone or something.

    We may never know how we got here, but here we are. Yelling and screaming about it does not get us to safety, only actions will. Some actions will make things worse, some will improve things, but no action leaves us to Mother Nature’s drastic solution.

  18. Sean says:

    I’d like to see the topic changed to, as others have alluded to, something more manageable for the average person. How about clean electric cars? Forget climate change, I’d like to drive one because I wouldn’t be using oil and I’d be less polluting. Air pollution isn’t a good thing regardless of it’s impact on climate change. Climate change is such a huge issue I think it would help to parse the issue into smaller pieces.

    I would really like to fix the mainstream media’s awful science reporting (which often amount to “Boo!”), but that may be a problem even bigger than climate change.

  19. @Ron Lilek, Post 15, re: Michael Crichton:

    “Whenever you hear the ‘consensus of scientists’ agrees on something or other, reach for your wallet, because you’re being had.” – Michael Crichton

  20. Max says:

    “Global Warming” sounds more scientific/falsifiable than “Climate Change” because it makes an actual prediction: that the globe will warm, not cool. What does Climate Change predict, that the climate will change? What else is new? “Man-made Climate Change” is more meaningful.

  21. Mastriani says:

    Anthropogenic Climate Change … the terms already been coined, as the phrase goes.

  22. aaron says:

    When Mr. Crichton speaks of being had, to what is he refering? What are the recent examples of a ‘consensus of scientists’ lining up to mislead the world agenda?

  23. MadScientist says:

    @aaron: You’ll need a medium to summon Crichton’s ghost and ask him. I suspect that he said that because science generally does not rely at all on consensus; even in cases where something cannot be observed directly (such as formation of rocks), scientists may agree on the processes involved and accept the current explanation but they are also aware that their broad agreement does not make the hypothesis correct.

    Perhaps Crichton bothered to read actual publications and was put off by the blatant nonsense. For example, “Attribution of polar warming to human influence” by Gillett et al in Oct 2008 is a case of “our models, which have never been demonstrated to make verifiable predictions, did not model observations; when we put in anthropogenic influences our models still did not make verifiable predictions and therefore the deviations from our model predictions must be proof of human induced warming.”

  24. Max says:

    “Where else can the topic be changed, and how?”

    Well, since “people are much more concerned about the economy,” let’s ask whether climate scientists can understand and predict the climate any better than economists can understand and predict the economy. I’m seeing a lot of parallels, except that economists don’t claim to have a consensus.

  25. MadScientist says:

    @max: hahaha. Coincidentally, I often remark to people that the only model demonstrably worse than a climate model is an economic model; at least a climate model’s results look plausible when you’ve had a few too many beers.

  26. I can’t presently recall the exact quote nor the US president who said it, and I’m not even certain it was a president, but as regards economists, he asked if we couldn’t find a qualified one-handed economist because all those he had consulted ended every piece economic advice with “on the other hand..”

  27. deepfoo says:

    An area to me that needs a rhetoric time out is the economic crisis. Perhaps what is happening now is a natural cycle. It has become a media frenzy, with a great deal of idol smashing, hate mongering and finger pointing. Let’s face it, the media thrives on this, they are crisis whores. The cycle of negative feedback they create is astonishing. That is problem number one, as I think it focuses the light exactly in the wrong spot.

    For many, it seems the economic environment turned from a walled garden of beauty to a toxic waste pile with head spinning speed. That upsets people’s notion of a happy world that worked perfectly until someone else messed up. The truth is it was broken long before it broke. And we all helped break it.

    How did we ever arrive at the idea that borrowers get wealthy? People borrowed more money than they would ever have to buy houses they didn’t need based on a tragically flawed assumption that houses always go up in value. Then, worse, used those homes as ATMs to consume ever more. That is one end of the extreme, but few of us did not fall into this trap in some respect. We rightly blame people for Ponzi schemes. But think about it. The action I just described is in essence a Ponzi scheme people ran on themselves or the future buyer of their home. Now they are insisting someone else pay up as it has all gone to hell. That someone else by the way is yourself and your neighbor, or worse your own children and their children.

    Credit could not have spiraled out of control if we did not all insist on using it at the same time and in size never before seen to rack up fantasy gains. In sum, we all helped mess up. Every one. We need to own that. The CDSs we all now blame for being “financial weapons of mass destruction” as Buffett said rightly, could not have existed if we did not borrow money in the first place. We helped create them, each and every one of them, directly. No one “made” us borrow that money.

    Getting real about this would be a positive step in the right direction. I could go all biblical with the mote/beam thing and on some level it is appropriate here. Taking personal responsibility helps on the perspective front and we need that badly before we make more mistakes. The risk now is insisting on using the government as a cudgel that does more harm than good, deferring the burden to another generation or two. The risk is Smoot-Hawley or worse on multiple levels and that is the very last thing we need. Don’t think that can happen? Consider this. Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac which came out of the last depression ended up being the force that helped do us all in. It seemed like a peachy idea at the time. Think about that.

    What can the average person do? Learn that credit is a powerful force. No matter how small you think your use of it is, in aggregate it is huge. Two-thirds of the economy is what you and I do every day of the week in spending. In some ways it is no different from realizing that personal recycling, though small, has very large benefit collectively. Maybe we need to think of credit and money more like we think about the environment. Small actions add up. Realizing our impact is the key to having us change our attitude and actions.

  28. Ed Troy says:

    I have to admit, I am a hard-core skeptic. That goes double for stuff fed to us by the government.
    This is not the place to get into details about clear falsehoods fed to us by the government and the
    media, but there have been plenty.

    In relation to AGW (Anthropogenic Global Warming), I am a total skeptic. I look at who and
    what is trying to foist this upon us; Al Gore and the UN. I’m sorry, but I am not impressed by Al
    Gore’s scientific credentials (none), and the UN is clearly not a supporter of capitalism (unless
    you include graft and corruption that benefits the members and their relatives) as capitalism. I
    suppose it is, in a way, but not in a way that I see as good. Remember, Al Gore “invented the
    internet”. Yea, right. Also, remember that he flies around the world in private jets, and the
    electric bill on his house, for one month, is more than most people spend in a year! (Now, as an
    experienced pilot, and former aircraft owner, I see nothing wrong with flying around in private
    aircraft. Given the totally ridiculous “security” procedures at airports, and the invonvenience that
    commercial airline travelers have to go through to get on an airline, I would fly myself, or
    charter, like Gore, if I had to travel. Fortunately, I have no need to travel on a regular basis. If I
    did, I would buy another airplane and fly myself, as I used to, before the “age of terror.”)

    Getting back to Al. He claims that this is all ok, because he purchases “carbon credits”. What a
    scam. All that does is put money into the carbon trading “con artists” and the big companies that
    plan to profit, in a HUGE way, from this scam. Generally, buying a carbon credit does the
    ecology no good. It just transfers wealth from one individual to another. It is sort of like a
    situation where the church says pay us some money if you commit a sin, and all will be forgiven.
    The sin was still committed, but the church is richer, and the sinner feels better. But, the sin still
    occurred.

    In the case of AGW, the science is very incomplete, and not very convincing. I suspect that is
    why disbelief in AGW is being treated as something akin to heresy. I still believe that one of the
    reasons that it used to be a sin to translate the Bible into English was because the religious
    “powers to be”, at the time, realized that if the common person could actually read, and
    understand, the Bible, they would cease to be believers.

    We are told that if we don’t adopt absolutely draconian measures, that will inflict severe damage
    to an already fragile economy, the polar bears, and maybe even most of mankind, will become
    extinct! We are constantly reminded that the earth is hotter than it has ever been. We are
    reminded that hurricanes are going to destroy cities as never before. In all of this, nobody
    mentions that Greenland was once, well, green. Nobody mentions that it has been warmer,
    before. It has also been colder, before. And, it will be warmer, and colder, again, in the future.
    Also, nobody seems to mention the fact that CO2 levels have been much higher, in the distant
    past. Or that CO2 has, historically, risen in response to rising temperatures. There is no doubt
    that temperatures are rising. We came out of the little ice age a bit over 100 years ago. Of course
    temperatures have risen coming out of a “little ice age”.

    Also, nobody on the AGW side mentions the fact that plants breath CO2. Enhanced CO2 levels
    tend to benefit plant growth. Also, nobody mentions that if we did have global warming, there
    would be less of a temperature gradient across the tropics and sub-tropics. Less temperature
    gradient there means less severe hurricanes. And, of course, the whole thing about hurricanes is
    ridiculous. Hurricanes have not gotten more severe; it is just that we have gotten less intelligent.
    Build a house on the coast, and, eventually, it will be destroyed by nature. Build a city under sea
    level, and it will, eventually, be destroyed. DUH. New Orleans was a failure of government (and
    citizens), not a sign of AGW. The simple fact is that we have been building much more (and
    more expensive) real estate in dangerous (beachfront) locations. It reminds me of people in
    California who had their home destroyed (yet again) by wildfires. How stupid is the insurance
    company to insure a house that has been destroyed multiple times by wildfires? Clearly, they
    should say to the owner: “OK, your house is worth $700,000. It has been destroyed by fire 2
    times in the last 10 years. You can build, but your insurance payment will be $70,000 per year.” I
    suspect the owner might think about building elsewhere. The same applies to New Orleans.
    Rebuilding is stupid.

    Now, all this being said, I am a HUGE fan of alternative energy. I plan to install solar and wind
    power in my next house. I hope to be able to locate a property that will also allow me to install
    hydro power. If all goes well, I will not only not owe the electric company anything for energy,
    but I will get paid for my excess production. Just think; living well and comfortably, and getting
    paid to do it! I fully support nuclear power. I fully support the PickensPlan. Just think, if we took
    the $800 billion that we pay to the Muslims (mostly Saudi Arabia, a definite enemy) every year,
    and used it to build 400 1 Gigawatt nuclear power plants, we would be almost energy
    independent (except that our cars are not yet powered by electricity.) But, we would be able to
    eliminate virtually all coal electrical plants, and coal is one of the major CO2, and other
    pollutant, producers! If we could only get better battery technology (and we will), we could phase
    out gas burning cars! That would make a huge difference in CO2 levels (while, probably, not
    significant, in terms of AGW.) But, it would free us from the Muslims! (I can hear the song, now.
    “Take this oil and shove it, we ain’t buying it no more….”)

    I will have to put my thoughts and feelings more “together” over the coming months. Once I do, I
    will publish them. But, my bottom line is that I don’t believe the AGW hype. I think it is
    politically motivated, and I think it tends to marginalize the dissenting views, of which there are
    plenty. Science should not marginalize dissenting views. If they are proven to be wrong, fine.
    That is what science is all about. If someone can prove my ideas wrong, I will happily admit that
    I was wrong. But, at this point, AGW is much too politicized to be credible.

  29. Billy says:

    I skipped over all of the comments on here just I do in subjects like global warming. It’s too politicized and overblown by all of the mass-media to have an unbiased, scientific opinion unless I devote WAY too much time to researching the primary-source data. This isn’t like other science/political interfaces like evolution* where the science all says one thing while the people who argue against them are all laypeople. Global warming has scientists on both sides** (though one side a good deal more than the other) and the general public, as usual, is horribly misinformed and/or deliberately misleading.

    Am I alone in saying that we should leave this one to the people with relavant doctorates? I’m a scientist as well, but not in geological processes and I am aware of my limitations and background. I can say with confidence that if a lay person has a strong opinion on this one, it’s not likely very informed.

    *: Side note on this [evolution] issue: we know that there is not a scientific debate on the big picture. The debate is solely among those with inadequate training. I provide this only as contrast to the climate issue which, as stated above, is still being worked out by scientists as well as mindlessly yelling laypeople.

    **: two sides not necessarily being “is it happening” or not. There are other questions like “are we the only major cause” or not, “is this a natural cycle” or not, “will this be a catastrophe” or not, “is this reversible” or not, etc.

  30. Chris says:

    You’re right, Dr. K, that people are entrenched and this has become a political issue more than a scientific one, unfortunately.

    I’ve always thought that trying to sell the general public on “climate change” is a mistake, because “climate change” could mean anything to whomever is doing the speaking, the listening or the interpreting.

    How about we focus the discussion simply and solely on pollution? It’s something everyone understands and it’s something everyone is in favor of reducing. Talk about making everything more efficient and cleaner in order to reduce or eliminate human pollution.

    Right now, people can argue against climate change because it’s based upon computer models and projections. Change the discussion to focus on pollution, something measurable and understandable right now, and then the argument becomes about whether you are in favor of increasing or reducing pollution.

    And anyone left arguing in favor of more pollution will just look silly.

  31. MadScientist says:

    @chris: ‘Climate change’ is *not* based on models and projections – that’s where a lot of the trouble begins. A scheme had been developed to produce a “global mean surface temperature” – the number itself has no great physical significance but as long as it is calculated with consistency (rules don’t change all the time) the hypothesis is that it gives a general indication of whether the globe is warming (or cooling). So, the global mean temperature record provides some measure of current variations in climate. Based on that number alone, the globe has warmed by about 0.8C in the past century. One hypothesis is that most of that warming is due to humans putting CO2 into the air. Unfortunately it is not a hypothesis easily tested (we can’t just stop using fossil fuels for 80 years to see where things go); in such situations valid models can help aid the understanding of what’s going on. I contend that there are no valid models out there. So – is the climate changing? Yes. Is it changing primarily due to human influence? Who knows? Current climate models have a long way to go before convincing anyone but a climate modeler that they have any value. So that’s the science part in a nutshell. Claims of catastrophic heating, whether they turn out to be true or not, are not science.

  32. steve says:

    I dont know, part of me feels like changing the topic means that the idiots have won…

  33. ejdalise says:

    I think the chance for any rational discussion of the subject is already past. Sooooo . . . I suggest we switch to an even more emotionally charged, and related, topic. Underlying the climate change fracas is something few mention, and that is population growth. As long as we’re giving rabbits a run for their money, and as long as we have no natural predators, we are going to promote a decreasing quality of life for all that come after us because of all the ones that are coming after us. Sure, some will point to the possibility of a technological advancement solving our energy needs, but even if the improbable does happen, there are logistic and infrastructure problems associated with continued and unrestrained population growth. The planet will not care one way or another, but we certainly are going to feel the pressure of unrestrained reproduction.

    Not that anyone wants to really discuss it, and if they do, they are sure to point out you could fit all of the people in the world inside the Grand Canyon. At that point once can only hope not to be alive when such a time comes to pass.

  34. sonic says:

    Another way to change the subject is to talk about sustainablity. If we want to continue to eat, for example, it makes sense to use the land in a way that will allow future generations to use the land similarly. The same can be said of forests and timber. (The same could be said of the air…)

  35. MadScientist says:

    @ejdalise: That’s a tough proposition. A likely scenario is that the educated don’t breed like cockroaches but the uneducated continue to spread like the plague. Good luck educating a child when they go home each day to be steeped in the ignorance of their parents. Australia has spent huge amounts of money to encourage unfit mothers to have more children; the full impact of such bad policy should be realized within the next two decades.

    @sonic: sustainability is a huge thing but current economic ideals get in the way. In Australia for example, most people overgraze the land and devastate the usually incredibly thin layer of topsoil. Whenever people tell me that overgrazing is no longer a problem I just laugh in their face because only an idiot can think that the current general practice isn’t severe overgrazing. Intensive agricultural practices also devastate the land; the solution of course is to keep clearing naturally vegetated areas to provide agricultural plots to take the place of the destroyed areas. This is all driven by a simple matter of economics; no one will buy your goods if you use the land in a sustainable manner because you cannot possibly compete with the (oxymoron here) productivity of the competitors. Them: 2 tonnes/hectare – You: 1/2 tonnes/hectare – you’re just not productive. I have been advocating a shrinking population, a reduced economic output, and a move to less intensive/productive agriculture with the aim of a sustainable system. I challenge you to find a single economist on the planet who would think that’s a good idea. Another challenge would be to find a politician who would dare tell people that the economy must shrink and that farming practices must change in such a way that food costs more. I can’t imagine economists changing – after all, they’re the greatest purveyors of the myth that technology will miraculously solve all problems and all with no money invested in research and technological development.

  36. Alfred Dread says:

    Jim Howard you’re a putz.

    Oh yes, and:

    ^H^H^H^H^H^H^H^H

  37. einniv says:

    Re: Climate change. Another aspect to focus on is energy efficiency just for the sake of efficiency. I think people of all mind sets usually see the value in that.

    With respect to what to do about I think it is important to point out that the science does not really dictate an answer to that question. It can help inform the answer but not dictate. I have encountered people who seem opposed to climate change because they think it suggests that a sacred cow for them, unfettered markets, are endangered by the notion of climate change. In a sense they are right since the fact that markets did not foresee the problem is a huge market failure. On the other hand, it doesn’t mean the solutions can’t involve markets.

    My response to these people is to point out that trading carbon permits is very much a market based solution. The problem is that the information people would need to make an economic computation about the carbon effects of the products they buy is not present in any way. A carbon permit market provides that input artificially. I’m not saying that carbon permits are THE WAY ™ to go. I’m just saying that assuaging people’s fear about threats to their sacred cows can be helpful when it comes to climate change.

    Another big area of contention is in the area of economics in general. I don’t have a lot of hope in this area. When you have a field with Nobel prizes to Milton Friedman who believed in unfettered perfectly efficient markets, and Joe Stiglitz and Paul Krugman who think there are a lot of times (if not most times) where markets are very efficient at all, it is going to be hard to say anything definitively.

    Part of the problem is the place where people can find common ground is already there. The vast majority of people believe what they believe because they think it is what is best for humanity/society. They just have vastly different view on how to get there.

    The closest thing to a consensus I have found is that most people think the banksters and their shareholders should “take their medicine” and eat the losses they have incurred. Some believe that there should be additional efforts to help stop the suffering the melt down is causing in the real economy. Others think there is nothing that can be done. Unfortunately there really aren’t any political leaders proposing that route. Not Obama, not McCain and certainly not Bush/Paulson. All of these people are doing/did everything they could think of to make sure the banksters wouldn’t have to take their losses (note: Obama could prove me wrong here as his plans are not announced yet but it doesn’t look promising). There are multiple ways to do it, equity purchases at a fair price (not the inflated price Paulson paid), or orderly bankruptcy (which would require temporary nationalization) for the insolvent banks, etc. But, maybe we can all agree that one way or another the banksters should take their medicine.

  38. sonic says:

    MadScientist-
    I understaand the frustation. I’m not sure that it is as bleak as you suggest, however.
    Are you aware that the yields from organic farming have been found to be as good or better than the yields from nonorganic farming?

    http://www.ns.umich.edu/htdocs/releases/story.php?id=5936

    I agree that there is an ‘economic’ factor, but I think that people will eventually realize there is more to living well than having lots of money. Perhaps the current financial debacle will help move the meter. (I tend to be an optomist…)

  39. chickenfish says:

    Where else can the topic be changed and how? Wrap your head around this one. Recently I was reading some interesting information about our new 10th plant Eris, as well about a brown dwarf existing within our solar system. Apparently ancient myth is meeting recent fact in that this 10th planet has an elliptical orbit which brings it through the solar system affecting the gravity and magnetic fields of all the planets. This affect is best described as a pull of our earth and this pull is heating up the earths mantel causing or helping to cause a warming of our climate. Pollution doesn’t help but considering other, natural factors involved may be interesting.