Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Heated exchanges

The battle over climate change seems to be heating up.  If you'll pardon the pun.

I'm taking this as a good sign.  As long as the climate change deniers were able simply to wave their hands and say, "Pfft, it's not happening," and the only ones who reacted were the scientists, it was easy enough for politicians to ignore the whole thing.

And the disinformation campaign worked.  A poll last year showed that 23% of Americans disbelieve in climate change altogether, and another 37% believe the Earth is warming up, but that the shift is unrelated to human activities.  This by itself shows that relying on popular opinion to figure out what's true and what's not is specious reasoning, given that 97% of climate scientists (i.e. the experts) think that climate change is anthropogenic in origin.

[image courtesy of NOAA and the Wikimedia Commons]

Many politicians, however, have been reluctant to go along.  Now, though, their recalcitrance is being shown for what it is, a willful stubbornness that is finally being cast in the harsh light it deserves.  Whether this will put a dent in the numbers of disbelievers remains to be seen; but at least we're getting more than dead silence in the popular media.

First, we have Senator Ted Cruz, chairperson of the Senate Subcommittee on Science and Space, an appointment that has always struck me as putting a weasel in charge of a henhouse.  Cruz appeared on Late Night With Seth Meyers earlier this week, and laid out his ignorance about the endeavor he's supposed to be overseeing thusly:
I just came back from New Hampshire where there's snow and ice everywhere. And my view actually is simple. Debates on this should follow science and should follow data. And many of the alarmists on global warming, they've got a problem because the science doesn't back them up. And in particular, satellite data demonstrate for the last 17 years there's been zero warming, none whatsoever. It's why, you remember how it used to be called global warming, and then magically the theory changed to climate change?
"It's cold outside, so the Earth isn't warming up" is beginning to piss me off as much as the creationists' canard, "if we came from monkeys, how come there are still monkeys?"  Of course, both of these are talking points that appeal to people who don't understand science in general, and who therefore form Cruz's voter base.  But what's interesting is the response to his moronic statement.  Instead of the usual -- which is that the only negative press the story received would be amongst the tree-hugger contingent -- Cruz is getting a shellacking in the popular media.  Kevin Trenberth, a leading climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, has been quoted in dozens of places as calling Cruz's statements "a load of claptrap... absolute bunk."  Slate jumped into the fray, with a piece by astronomer Phil Plait that was pretty unequivocal:
What Cruz said, in its entirety, is what comes out of the south end of a north-facing bull... Cruz is right in one sense; we should follow the science. But the realscience, not the nonsense he’s saying. Real science doesn’t cherry-pick one result that appears (incorrectly) to back up an outrageous claim, but ignore the overwhelming amount of evidence that this claim is dead wrong.
The story was also covered by EOnline, the Washington Examiner, and Vice, although we had the aptly-named Hot Air lauding Cruz for his idiotic stance, and calling all but 3% of working climatologists the "left's climate alarmists" and their data-driven science a "liberal fad."

So you can't win 'em all.  But even Cruz came off well as compared to Florida governor Rick Scott, whose administration has banned state employees from using the words "climate change" and "global warming" in official communications.

Because, you know, if you don't say something, that means it's not happening.

The new rule, which many people (including myself) thought couldn't be serious, was implemented for the first time only two weeks after it was put into place.  Barton Bibler, DEP Land Management Plan Coordinator for the state of Florida, was put on involuntary leave last week for uttering the forbidden words.  A press release from the Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility states:
Mr. Bibler’s official notes on this meeting reflected all of that discussion.  He was directed to remove any hot button issues, especially explicit references to climate change, and then was given a letter of reprimand for supposedly misrepresenting that the ‘official meeting agenda included climate change.’  As he was given the reprimand on March 9th, Mr. Bibler was told to not return to work for two days which would be charged against his personal leave time.
Bibler was told not to return to work until he had filed with the DEP a medical release form from his doctor evaluating him for an unspecified "medical condition and behavior."

Sounds a little Orwellian, doesn't it?  You have to wonder if Bibler is going to find that he has a new doctor, one who works for the Ministry of Truth.

But Scott hasn't had things all his way, either.  On Monday FEMA issued a statement that they would not provide emergency relief money for states that didn't plan ahead for the effects of climate change themselves, which puts Florida squarely in the bullseye, given that when I go upstairs into my attic I've exceeded the elevation gain over the majority of the state.  The new guidelines state:
The challenges posed by climate change, such as more intense storms, frequent heavy precipitation, heat waves, drought, extreme flooding, and higher sea levels, could significantly alter the types and magnitudes of hazards impacting states in the future.  States must assess vulnerability, identify a strategy to guide decisions and investments, and implement actions that will reduce risk, including impacts from a changing climate.
So Scott might want to reconsider his stance, given that a minor sea level rise could result in half of the state he governs being underwater.

All of which leaves me guardedly hopeful.  The science disbelievers still have a strong voice, but at least we're seeing good sense reaching more of the public, given the way these stories have been covered.  I hope the politicians can take action before it's too late; we're already seeing some pretty wild extremes in the weather, including last week's Typhoon Pam, a category-5 storm that flattened every structure on several islands in the nation of Vanuatu and whose death toll is yet to be determined.

But the whole thing puts me in mind of the famous quote from Mohandas Gandhi: "First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you... then you win."

We seem to be on the third step in Gandhi's hierarchy, which should give us all reason for hope.

No comments:

Post a Comment