It’s the Thought That Counts

It has been discussed by many that our brains are wired on an evolutionary scale, and that the rapid change of society through technological advances has outpaced us, leaving us with many disconnects between what we see every day and what we can actually handle.  In many ways, we might be happier if we lived in small tribes and were closely surrounded by wilderness, instead of surrounded by brick and cement, drive vehicles and get visual stimuli from computer or television screens.   One aspect of this disconnect, that I find quite intriguing, and I think is central to our ability to understand the world we find ourselves in, is what I call and order of magnitude problem.

Think about early man in those hunter gatherer days.  Counting is a base cognitive skill, important for our survival.  But what is that we might count?  You might count the amount of fruit gathered on any particular day, the number of children, or people.  Such numbers might get you into the 100s.  You might count seasonal cycles.  If you were lucky maybe you had 80 of those to count.  You might count lunar cycles.  Getting you to about 1040.  Even this would require some note making, because this is counting over time, and surely you would not sit there and count something that high.  Such cycles of time were the only things worth keeping track of.  We had no need to measure time beyond that.  No need for small units of time such as a second.  It might make sense to come up with some unit of measurement for distance. Something comparable to arm lengths or hand widths…something we might use to size an animal, measure height of people or spears.  When it came to traveling, you might then simply use something like phases of the moon, or number of diurnal cycles.  Once again such counting would leave numbers small.  Occasionally you might find yourself thinking about numbers in terms of fractions.  Maybe something like half a day, or a quarter of an armlength.  For things very small, you probably would no longer use armlength as your standard, but perhaps finger width.  Such techniques are ones that we still use today.

The reality is that if you think about numbers, you probably won’t get very far.  Now do a little exercise for me.  If you think of the number 1000.  How do you think about it, to picture a 1000 of something?  You might think what a $1000 can buy, but money is a fiction that represents a quantity of stuff you can buy which varies depending on what stuff your buying.  If you wanted to actually count, what would you think about.  Maybe 1000 people in a room.  You might have a sense for how big a group that is.  Chances are you won’t get it exactly.  Go down to a 100 and your chances of picturing 100 things gets better.  Now do 10 of something.  Pretty easy.  Now do 1.  Even easier.  Let’s go down another order of magnitude.  Try to think of something that is 0.1.  Here as we move down an order of magnitude we can no longer count whole things.  So think of 1/10th of a person probably gets a bit graphic, so what are you thinking of to imagine 0.1?  For that you now have to think of some standard.  Maybe a mile, an inch, a meter?  Depending on what you choose, you can do okay.  Now try 1/100th.  Again with the right starting point you might do okay, but even dividing by 100 can be hard for someone without a formal education and once we get to 1/1000th our ability to guess at the meaning of that fraction is severely reduced regardless of our starting point.  So if you are keeping track this puts the human mind, on a good day our brains are capable of somewhat accurately sorting out 5 orders of magnitude (10-2 – 103).  However, if we look at the scale of the universe in size we span 52 orders of magnitude from the plank length to the size of the observable universe (please see this very cool interactive graphic that allows you to explore the different spatial scales of the universe).  In terms of time, our quantum clocks can measure up to 1  ten billionth of a second (10-10) .  Meanwhile we know the universe has been around for about 14 billion years (1015 seconds).  If you don’t have trouble digesting such numbers you are a super genius, because everybody should.  Those are just the extremes, but unless you are within that 5 orders of magnitude range I discussed earlier, it makes little difference.  And this is also important because it means that a million miles, might as well be a billion miles in our head.  However, the difference between those two numbers is meaningful.  In science, to consider two numbers like that the same would be to make a grievous error on the order of 100,000%.

Scientists, through years of working with the numbers that shape our world are often better at dealing with these things, but even scientists tend to use conventions to make numbers easier to manage.  There is a reason why you don’t measure the distance from New York City to Boston in inches.  We have developed different units of measurement for distance.  In the old English system we have inches, feet, yards and miles.  In metric, we have prefixes that span numerous orders of magnitude so that we don’t have to always report distance in meters.  For objects in space in our solar system we might use astronomical units to keep those distances in more manageable numbers.  For things outside our solar system, light years.

                  Image of radar reflectivity.

Whatever we measure in science can change over large ranges and change at massively different rates.  Change is rarely linear, but very often exponential.  As a result, we might find ourselves dealing with quantities which very over several orders of magnitude.  In my field a good example for this is radar reflectivity.  You may not be familiar with it, but you’ve certainly seen radar images if you’ve paid attention to the weather.  Higher reflectivities indicate bigger drops and faster rain rates.  Lower reflectivities represent light rain or drizzle.  The difference in size between a drizzle drop and a basic rain drops is no more than a factor of 10, but the reflectivities span over 10- 1,000,000.  Thus, meteorologists convert those reflectivity values using decibels.  The decibel system was initially used for sound given the large range of frequency for sound waves, but now is a common tool for expressing values that vary over several orders of magnitude by taking the logarithm (base 10) of the value. This reduces the number to its order of magnitude.  For example, instead of 106 if I take the logarithm with base 10 of that number I get 6.  And 6 is much easier to wrap our heads around than 1,000,000.  I know I’ve gotten kind of technical here with this example, but the point is that nature, as we’re discovering, does not conform to the numbers our brains had to deal with when we evolved.  And most scientists, while they might have some understanding of the microscopic or macroscopic numbers and the wide ranges of values science employs, to objectively analyze and come to some meaningful conclusions we very often have to be able to visually see those numbers between about 0.01 and 1000.

You might say that such numbers make little difference to most of us unless we are in science, but let’s talk about where our everyday lives might be impacted.  First let’s start with the population of the world.  There are 7 billion people.  Try to wrap your head around that number.   Is your soul mate really just one in a billion?  Could such a large group of people create an environmental disaster? How many bodies could certain countries throw at you in a war? About 700 million, globally, live in abject poverty.  Do the numbers seem so voluminous that it’s easier to ignore human suffering, or make you feel defeated before you try?

What about some of the more important educational and scientific controversies that still exist today? Evolution has been happening for several billion years, but many would like to believe that we’ve been around for only 6000 years.  Religious dogma aside, isn’t it possible that part of the reason that some people resist what science clearly demonstrates is because we are talking about a length of time that few can relate to?  The vastness of time threatens to humble us all as blips in a universe far older than we can fathom. And its size and origin similarly attacks our human conceit at being the grandest and cleverest design in a creator’s eye.

                                         The Geologic Time Scale

Vast amounts of people also create vast sums of money.  Billionaires have almost unimaginable wealth that people still commonly believe that can obtain too.  Politicians and media constantly throw large dollar values in our faces to intimidate us.  When one wants to high light wasteful spending we can put point to something costing 100’s of millions of dollars and we shudder at such an amount being wasted.  Forgetting that with 100 million taxpayers, something in the 100’s of millions is costing us a handful of dollars a year.  I have seen the tactic used frequently.  Once again we might on some level realizes that a 100 million, 10 billion, and a trillion dollars are different, but they are all unimaginably large sums of money that in the battle for what’s important and what’s not, they can all be seen as being on equal footing. The idea that public television and radio need to be cut for austerity is quite simply a joke when compared to a 10% increase in defense spending if anybody thinks that’s going to balance the budget.

One might argue that the microscopic matters very little (no pun intended), but I do think an appreciation for that scale is valuable, if for no other reason helping us appreciation the vast variation of scales that make up our known universe.  Scientists often take very small numbers that might exist for pollutants or toxicity in foods or water, and change the unites of those numbers so that they are bigger.  I understand why, because of course we don’t want to underwhelm in those situations, but maybe it’s also a problem that we continue to cater to this limited range of numbers that our minds most easily manage.   It’s probably best to start incrementally, and perhaps a good example of how we can begin is with time.  John Zande over at his blog, The Superstitious Naked Ape, offers up a good first step towards our lack of comfortability with numbers outside of our “sweet spot”.  The start of our counting of years begins with the birth of Christ, but this is a religious and faith based reason to start the counting of the years.  Why not use Thai’s bone which is our earliest evidence of careful astronomical observations of the sun and moon over a 3 ½ year period.   Instead of the year 2017, it would instead be 15,017.

                                                                          Thai’s bone

It might seem like an arbitrary difference, but I think it would give us a better feel for the vastness of time, and a better appreciation for the numbers that shape the universe we’ve come to know.  Since there seems to be little stopping the advance of science in technology, perhaps we better find more ways to help these brains, made for a different time, catch up.

I, Science

Around the nation tomorrow, there will be marches for science.  Why should that be so?  We might understand marches for women, or marches for a minority group, but why should scientists march?  We make only 5% of the population, it’s clearly a small proportion of the workforce.  I am sure I could build a compelling scholarly argument for the importance of science, but rather than go about it mechanically, I’ve decided to talk more about my relationship with science and why it’s so important to me.

Like many children I enjoyed books with different animals and learning about their characteristics.  I remember watching many an episode of Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom.  I had a book on whales that I love to read a lot, and one on dinosaurs.  I remember learning about the different planets.  I found the colors of the planets, the sun, so stunning.  Different atmospheric compositions led to vastly different looks.  I marveled at the thought of looking up at the red sky of Mars.  I used to capture a variety of insects in jars.  And while I would certainly not encourage such behavior from my child without proper care and the hopes of setting it free, I marveled at the structure and behavior of such creatures.  When I look back on these memories, I have hard time imagining every child not being like this.  Maybe it was a precursor to what I would eventually become, but there seems nothing so natural as wanting to observe the world around us and learn about it and wonder how it works.  How can one not marvel at the array of colors that nature provides?  How can we not wonder at the flight of some creature and the scurrying of others?  How can we not be fascinated by the massive size of the blue whale, to the little aphid that seems but a speck in your hand?  I am certainly not an expert in child behavior, but I have watched enough children to know what observers they are.  And while they may not understand all they see, they are constantly looking.  It seems to me the essence of science lies in the very heart of who we are as humans.

From at least my early elementary age, I remember being fascinated by thunderstorms.  Seeing the lightning streak across the sky was nature’s fireworks and I loved every minute of it.  Often peeking out the window at night, and occasionally sneak out at night so it under the ledge of our house to watch the thunderstorms.  My very first introduction to meteorology was in grade 6 when we learned about different cloud types and how different cloud types could often be predictors to the type of weather that was coming your way.  For some reason I found that fascinating, but I know there was also an aesthetic quality to clouds that I found beautiful.  Their variety of shapes and colors depending on the position of the sun.  To this day I still look up at them and they seem almost beautifully magical floating there.  My first real act as an atmospheric scientist at around adolescent to early teens.  I say this because my observations were recorded mentally over probably a couple of years.  Thunderstorms in the prairie of Alberta are seen a long way off and I noticed that when a line of bubbling cumulonimbus clouds was on the horizon the wind was always blowing towards the clouds, yet the clouds kept getting closer.  After enough observation I saw this as simply a fact, and knew when to tell my family to prepare for thunderstorms.  Often adults would question me, saying “you’re wrong kid, the wind is blowing the other way”.  Of course I wouldn’t learn why this was the case until university, but it gave me some pride to recognize patterns in such a way.

My mother was always good at supporting me asking questions, and even better at showing me how to find those answers.  In those days it was the library.  How easily today I could have looked up the answer as to why wind blows towards the thunderstorms before they come to you. Kids today really have it so much easier, but they also have to deal with a lot more misinformation than I had to deal with in a library.   She taught me a lot about research and to look for answers in multiple places to make sure there was some consensus.  Though she didn’t have an advanced degree, she was always one to have questions herself and research the answers before forming an opinion.  Although she never said so explicitly, I think it was important more to see that our own senses are not enough to really understand how things work, and having information from other sources can help us answer our questions and make better sense about what we see.

When I look back, the ingredients it took for me to become a scientist seem rather organic.  Parents who encouraged questions and were curious themselves, made science feel like it was no extra effort.  School was effort at times, and I didn’t understand everything easily, but it never stopped me from finding it all quite interesting.  My favorite subject in high school was actually biology.  I loved learning especially about organ systems.  The way the body works and maintains itself still amazes me to this day.  So while there may be some combination of genetics that works in my favor, I find it hard to understand how we aren’t all scientists.  Not by profession, but just by nature.  I think, that regardless of my job, science would be a part of my life.  It has already helped me immensely in understanding so much and answering so many questions, and knowing that there is always more to learn is rejuvenating because it means that maybe I will learn something and it will change my whole outlook.  It means that what I do today, because of what I have learned, might be something that I never saw myself doing before.  I used to think that it was sad that I could not learn everything there was to know.  Beyond the impossibility of that task, I think life would go stale quickly if there wasn’t newness.  Science may not bring certainty, but it does bring to the fore previously unknown possibilities and who can say that does not make life more fulfilling?

Some people think that science removes mystery from the world and thus makes it less exciting.  It was in the 8th grade that I decided to become a meteorologist.  I can tell you that a thunderstorm today excites me to less than it did when I was a child.  In fact now, when I look at a thunderstorms I see equations and physical laws floating around like code from the Matrix.  I see into the cloud and in my head see interactions between droplets and crystals that I never saw when I was a child.  I understand the magnitude of the forces that meet to produce this wonder of nature, and I feel the weight and power of it, in a way I never could have as a child.  It is like the difference between falling in love with someone, and the deep intimacy and friendship that you develop after you’ve known that someone for many years.  It is love with depth, it brings a lasting feeling of happiness and well being.

Somewhere a child has nowhere to turn for answers to the questions they have.  Somewhere a child is told not to ask questions, or is simply told what their parents say is the truth of things, and that questions are dangerous.  Somewhere parents have decided that their girl shouldn’t be educated, or that science is not for girls.  Somewhere a teacher doesn’t understand science themselves and thus kills the joy of curiosity and learning in their students.  Somewhere a group of politicians have decided that memorization-based exams are the important metrics to determine funding.  Somewhere a television show is making scientists seem irrelevant and worthy of ridicule for finding excitement in discovery. Somewhere a journalist is completely misrepresenting a scientist’s findings.  Somewhere a government is denying the findings of scientists to help rich people make more money.

These things make me sad.  I see no reasons why we can’t be a society that is constantly asking questions.  We have a tool for answering those questions that we know is reliable.  It is so pervasive now that we don’t even recognize all the ways it shapes our lives. If we supported that scientist in all of us, the one who first makes their appearance at the earliest of ages, the power and value of this tool would be immense.  It helps us ethically and morally.  It helps us fight oppression and inequality.  Science is the only thing that has no politics, no religion, no race or culture.  It truly is for everyone, and in everyone.

I see the March for Science as not just a political statement.  It is about showing the value for curiosity, for education, for discovery, and for wonder that we seem to be losing.  Our government has become one which seems to think it has nothing to learn.  One where opinion is as valid as fact.  One where there is no consequence for lying.  I don’t blame Trump for this alone, he may be the penultimate in this dangerous attitude, but it has been bleeding into our society for some time.  The March for Science is a march for progress.  A march that shows we care about our fellow human, and that we value science as a means to reduce suffering in the world.

I say all this, not because I am a scientist and I worry about my job.  I say this because it is my lived experience.  I say this because we all intrinsically know that change is the only truth in this universe, and that time makes a fool of the arrogant who think they have nothing more to learn.  I say this because history is full of the darkness that follows when we rest our futures on superstition and falsehoods.  Finally, I say this because I do think there is significant evidence that human-induced climate change is the scientific issue of our time, and threatens our very existence.  It challenges us like no other issue, because it cannot be solved by one nation.  It cannot be “felt” on a day to day basis.  It is the essence of science because it takes us beyond the narrow field of view that we each individually possess and asks to widen the lens and reach out into space and time, and think big.  If we cannot do that, the story of humanity becomes a tragedy.  I, for one, refuse to let it be, because I know we can do better.

 

Of the Many and the One

In late spring thaws or pouring rain,
The water finds its way from peak to base,
With gravity and a groove it is turned,
First one way and then another,
Splitting here or there as chance permits,
So many thrills, with rills, and spills,
Into braided streams and channels,
Until all the many choices become one.

And where that mighty mouth,
Dares a salty kiss on majestic sea,
It slows its approach out of respect,
And unloads grain upon grain,
Until a bed is made for them both,
And the river does tease with dendritic hands,
The ocean ebbs and flows with delight,
In brackish ecstasy they become one.

In winter bare does the tree invite,
A labyrinthine exercise for the eyes,
From small sprout it begins to climb,
Branch to branch, twig to twig,
Steadily, always going out on a limb,
Spreading high and wide, leaves unfurling,
All to catch those golden rays of sun,
The majestic sylvan purpose is one.

Darkened skies heavy with bloated drops,
An ominous base hovers over thirsty land,
Millions of electrons bully others away,
Full of potential an army charges out,
Their leader searches from something positive,
It sends one battalion here, one there,
A more covert operation you’ll never see,
And in a flash, power surges in finding the one.

And as I sat and pondered these things,
I looked ahead at the decisions before me,
And those that were far behind,
Would one different turn have changed me?
And what decision should I make next,
Not knowing where I might be sent?
Are all the many branches of possibility,
Just an illusion that lead to an outcome of one?

Opposition and Divisiveness

This is going to be a little bit of a rant, so if it seems like I forgot to breathe at times, don’t worry I assure you I’m alright. 🙂

We’ve all heard the tone of those who voted for Trump, maybe they were third party voters, or didn’t vote at all “let’s give him a chance”, “let’s see how he does”, “I am going to support him since he’s my president”.  As nauseating as this can be, there is something worse to me that’s driving me up the wall.

“You’re being divisive”.

This is hard for me to understand.  Look, there is no question that we are a nation very much divided right now, and we need to, somehow, try to unite as a people.  There is no question about that.  During the past 8 years I heard people say all sorts of ridiculous things about Obama being a socialist, death panels, taking away everybody’s guns, and host of fabricated tales mean to discredit the president and his administration.  I tried presenting counter information without name calling.  I did not see their disagreement as divisive, just somebody who wasn’t informed or had a different point of view.  I never accused anybody of being divisive.

Now all of a sudden everybody on the right is concerned about how divided this nation is, and at that by opposing Trump’s terrible ideas we are being divisive.  When the right said they didn’t like the ACA, did anybody tell them to shut up they are being divisive?  That they aren’t helping?  To get behind the president?

I am a scientist.  I try to base my opinions based on something, and defend my point of view.  Sometimes my information isn’t the best and I own up to it.  But when my disagreement is being labeled as divisiveness, this is pure distortion and I will not take ownership of that label.  I’m not being derisive to people personally, but I will challenge ideas that I think are harmful.  And these people who label me as being divisive were never calling out people on their own side for the same behavior.  I mean if you know a large portion of the country is pro-choice…shouldn’t you tell your pro-life friend to stop posting videos of bloody fetuses on Facebook?  Never seen that happen once.  Never seen a Republican tell the birther’s they were being divisive.  I’ve never seen a Republican ever tell another Republican they are being divisive for posting something that the other side disagrees with.  But all of a sudden liberals are all divisive.  We are the ones causing division.

It’s not divisive to make abortion illegal, to normalize sexual assault, to call scientific consensus a hoax, to label illegal aliens as drug dealers and rapists, to build a giant wall, to freeze immigration on refugees if they are Muslim, to say gay people can’t marry the people they love, to say you are going to lock up your political opponent in jail….an entire campaign run entirely on divisiveness.

And because I not only resist those notions, but can defend those positions with evidence and statistics, that is deemed divisive.

Look, I am not saying their aren’t a great deal of liberals calling people names, or calling Trump names gets us nowhere and is arguably divisive.  But posting tips for activism, pointing out hypocrisy, presenting one’s viewpoint in a reasoned manner should not be seen as divisiveness.  One person, who dropped me off of Facebook, even told me that my divisiveness was of the kind that would lead to war.  And this was somebody who told me that she doesn’t vote for any party that doesn’t support banning abortion and told me Trump would restore morality to the country.

So I’m not sure what you want from me.  If it’s silence, that isn’t going to happen.  I am going to keep presenting what I think are informative and well-argued articles, and I am still going to reasonably explain why I think a certain action or ideology is wrong.  People act like I don’t spend a great deal of time trying to understand other points of view, I’ve reached across the aisle more than anybody has reached across to me to understand my point of view and I’ve actually adjusted a number of my positions on issues as a result of it.

So when somebody who denies the existence of climate change is put in charge of the EPA, or a white nationalist is put on the National Security Council, or a completely unqualified person is put in charge of the Department of Education and you are silent about it.  You are the one being divisive.  You are the one who voted for someone who used divisiveness as a tactic to win your support.  I am speaking out because you won’t, because I feel we will all lose at the hands of the people in charge of government.

And in the end, if you still think that’s being divisive, well then I can accept that, because I have no business being on the side of someone who, if they find my viewpoint disagreeable, can’t engage in civic discourse about it.  I still bear you no ill will, but I have a country to worry about and I really don’t have time for your hypocritical judgment.

Rant over.

Climate Scientists Embarrassed but Thankful for People on Internet Telling Them About the Sun

In a surprise reversal of position, numerous climate scientists now say they could be all wrong about climate change, thanks to a plucky group of public skeptics who have spent numerous hours on the internet reading articles by people not associated with the climate research in any way.  For years climate researchers have failed to listen to these pleas for reason and understanding.  Much to the chagrin of the climate community, a major misstep has been brought to light, climate researchers have forgotten to take into account the sun in the now shaky theory about human-induced climate change.

The moment of truth came Dec. 9th when an article that was reporting 2016 was shaping up to be the hottest year on record when a commenter who goes by the name “drillbaby” said the warming we are seeing is caused by the sun.  We were able to track down this commenter as internet climate expert and full-time real estate agent, Derek Laskin, to ask him how this revelation came to him.  “It really was the stuff of stories the way I was inspired,” exclaimed an excited and proud Laskin, “it was a cool morning, but the sun was out, and I noticed that throughout the day things started to get warmer.  That’s when I came upon this article about climate change and global warming, where the scientists are blaming on carbon dioxide from fossil fuels, but based on my experience on how the sun seemed to be working, I decided to comment on this article to suggest that maybe we shouldn’t be looking at carbon dioxide, and that the sun is responsible for the warming.”

This comment may have been missed by the climate science community if not for a bit a random luck.  Climate researcher, Dr. Mike Hulme, received a text message from his sister who happened in the article that simply read “Holy shit, some guy commented on an article and mentioned the sun!  I’ve never heard you talk about the sun before in telling me about your work.  WTF!?”  The word spread at the speed of light in the scientific community, and while some resistance remains to this new development, the change has been visible and scientists are now contemplating a spectrum of new ideas in regards to the warming we are seeing.  We had a chance to go to King’s College in London to talk to Hulme.  “Needless to say I am shocked.,” said a shaken Hulme, ” All those years in school studying weather and climate, and nobody ever brought up this glowing orb in the sky called the sun.  I’ll admit it made the physics of climate somewhat implausible, but you know we tend to respect our teachers and believe what they tell us without every going through that process of discovery on our own.  I am just glad that we have internet commenters like drillbaby to clue us in to important things we have missed.”

When asked why some researchers are still resistant to this very pervasive idea of the sun causing warming, Hulme replied “Well I have no idea why they would prefer to remain in the dark as it were, but I guess most scientists care more about money, and it’s a tragedy really.  But I have no other explanation.  I will say that there really is a lot of confusion right now and so some scientists are reticent about changing their views yet until all the information comes out.  Currently we are still mining internet comments and finding out all sorts of things we previously did not know.  As it turns out there are many people who haven’t spent years studying atmospheric physics and research climate data who are writing some pretty in depth articles about how we got it all wrong.”  We then asked Hulme if there was anything else these internet comments were shedding important light on.  “Absolutely,” responded Hulme, “Quite a lot really, but one thing stands out.  As it turns out there are many people saying that the climate has actually changed naturally over the course of Earth’s history and there really is no need to worry.  Apparently if things change naturally any suggestion that changes may be enhanced or made more severe unnaturally is a pointless argument.  I’ve even changed my views about gun control.  People die naturally, thus homicide is irrelevant.  I’m just going to retire early and hang out with my Scottish Terrier”

Silence ensued for a few minutes as the exasperated Hulme simply shook his head in quiet contemplation.  I then asked him about the field of paleoclimatology that looks at how climate has changed in the past.  Hulme looked up at me wild-eyed and said, “Don’t you understand, it’s all been a lie? We missed the part about the sun and so you can’t trust any of our understanding about past climate either!  Honestly how can you trust us or anything we say ever again?!”

The Sun, featured here in the upper right.  The missing piece of the global warming puzzle, previously missed by scientists.
The Sun, featured here in the upper right. The missing piece of the global warming puzzle, previously missed by scientists.

We left the sobbing Hulme, but there still seemed to be some questions.  Previously computers models had demonstrated the warming could only be explained with the additional CO2 going into the atmosphere, and not by natural causes alone.  What then were those computer models even showing?  We sat down with a distraught Dr. Michael Mann at his office at Penn State University to ask him.  “We’ve all been taken aback by this sun thing, and it’s really made us look more carefully at the qualifications of the people involved in this research.  Models are really complex and most of us don’t really understand it.  As it turns out those who make these models don’t have years of experience studying computational fluid dynamics, but are rather out of work video game designers.  Apparently it’s quite common to randomize things in a video game, and this is apparently what the designers were doing – just randomly throwing in some false warming into the models.  Overall it’s pretty disappointing that we missed the sun in our models.  Right now I’m in the processing of going through my old syllabi that I have from my many years in college to make sure that there was no section called “the sun”.  If not, I think I have grounds to ask for a refund on my tuition.”

Finally, we asked Mann when the climate research community would have an official statement to make to the public they lied to all these years.  Mann, like Hulme, said there are many more internet comments to troll through, but he did say this “Right now I’d just like to say thank you to all those who persevered through perhaps 6 or 7 articles from right wing media outlets and were still able to find time to post their well-defended comments underneath articles with our nonsensical babbling which represents, to be honest, some of the shoddiest science mankind has ever seen.”

The Good News and The Bad News on Climate Change

On Friday, at my university, we were fortunate enough to have a very well know climate science researcher speak, Michael Mann.  IF the name sounds familiar it’s because he was the one that produced the famous “Hockey Stick” graph that appeared in the peer-reviewed Geophysical Research Letters journal in 1999 (I wonder how many graphs have their own Wikipedia page!).  The graph of course was much maligned by climate change deniers funded by various lobbying groups, but has since that time proven to be quite accurate and verified by other researchers.  His was also among the e-mails leaked in the scandal called “climategate” which, despite the spin of deniers from out of context e-mail excerpts, has been debunked by the scientific community.  It was a great opportunity to hear from someone who has been at the heart of promoting scientific research on climate change, while also dealing with a great deal of political controversy and pseudo-science promoters who try to claim human-induced climate change is a hoax.  Like many climate scientists he has reached a point where he no longer finds it very useful to reach out to the public with facts and figures.  Numerous research articles have concluded that now, views on climate change are governed by political ideology rather than directly arguing with the science behind human-induced climate change.  I found the talk quite illuminating since I too have reached the same conclusion that scientific evidence seems to carry little weight when having discussions with people about the issue.  I also found it illuminating to learn more about the political state of affairs in the U.S. right now, so I wanted to share some good news and bad news takeaways for those of you concerned about our Earth.

The Good News

One thing that I thought was a good take away is that if you are a person debating or discussing this topic with a friend, relative, stranger whatever, that talking about the scientific consensus is probably the most helpful thing you can do.  Obviously there are always going to be contrary people, but for many there is still a misconception that this is a split issue, and research demonstrates that a lot of minds are changed by pointing out how much consensus there really is.  For more conservatively minded people reminding them that there are more economic benefits to doing something to not doing something, and that climate change also represents a national security issue is also important.  Fortunately there is already a faction of the military addressing climate change from this perspective.

The other bit of good news is that there is a great deal of plans in place by scientists and engineers to start dealing with climate change.  Basically the scientific community is prepared, and are simply waiting for the political will to be able to spring into action.

Michael Mann also said there are a lot of Republican members of congress who are closeted climate change supporters.  They accept the scientific evidence and feel that it is important to do something about it.  Why are they in the closet, well they have learned the lesson of Bob Inglis.  He was a SC congressman who served from 2005-2011 and came out for doing something about climate change from an evangelical Christian perspective.  He said the scientists were right and as Christians we should be caring for God’s creation.  If you are a Christian this is a valid position to take and is supported by scripture.  Bob Inglis ended up losing by a landslide in the Republican primary as his opponent was support by the Koch brothers.  Michael Mann and Bob Inglis are good friends and so I believe this political inside information to be plausible and valid.  In some ways by releasing him like that, conservative America has opened up a can of worms and Mr. Inglis now promotes doing something about climate change from both a Republican and Christian viewpoint.

The Bad News

Well the bad news is also related to the good news.  It makes me concerned, not only that the massive money of the Koch Brothers and energy companies lobbying against solid science is preventing us from taking action that will help this planet, but also that we have so many Republican people in congress without the political courage to stand up to the money.  It seems if they all banded together I am not sure what the likes of the Koch Brothers could do, if all of a sudden all of those people in congress lost their next elections suddenly. It would sort of “show their hand”.  I guess it upsets me that the people we elect can be so intellectually dishonest and live with themselves.

I asked Michael Mann what the political tipping point would be to make all these Republican congress people come out the proverbial closet.  He said that it would take the Republican party to crash and burn in this next election.  Only by losing the executive branch and the senate (and possibly the house) would make them turn around and start to support more environmental concerns.  The problem is that this election is looking a lot closer than it should be.  A small margin of victory by Clinton isn’t going to cut it.

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What is clear is that whatever your political stance, climate change is in your best interest and it behooves you to vote for politicians who do have the courage to fight for this planet.  Given Gary Johnson, and Trump’s stance on climate, these are really not viable options.  And most importantly make sure you vote for people in the senate and the house who accept the scientific consensus on climate change as well.

Finally I also want to help promote Michael Mann’s new book.  It gives a much more in depth discussion than my little summary here.  He also teamed up with a satirical cartoonist from the Washington Post who provides some good humor throughout the book.  The book address things like ethics, politics, the money and ideologies behind climate science deniers, logical fallacies, and of course some basics about the science.  I highly recommend it.

 

 

 

The book discusses tipping point in the climate system which are points which there is no quick return from and can lead to rapid disaster.

Hooked on a Feeling

I don’t plan on making this a long one, but there are some times when you see something where all you can think is Yes.  Yes. Yes, yes, and yes.  Yes.  Yes.  That’s the problem.  That is THEEEEE problem. Yes. We have lots of other problems, but we can’t start to solve those problems until we address this one.  It is not uniquely U.S., but we certainly have a lot of it here.  And it is not uniquely Republican, but they have made it a central theme to their party platform.  If you haven’t watched John Oliver’s piece from “This Week Tonight” on the RNC national convention you should.  For those with less time, I encourage you to start at about 3:39.  And for those with even less time I encourage you to watch when they start talking to Newt Gingrich.  I love that old Newt entirely gave the game away.  I am don’t like the fact that there are far too many in this nature who don’t see that.  For those with even less time I will give you the quotes of the night:

Newt: “The average American, I will bet you this morning does not think crime is down, does not think they are safer…”

Anchor: “But it is…we are safer…and it is down.”

Newt: “No that’s your view”.

Anchor: “Those are facts”

Newt: in articulate mumbling and then “…but what I said is also a fact”

John Oliver “NO IT ISN”T! No it isn’t! It’s only a fact, that that’s a feeling people have”

After John Oliver makes some great points they go back to Newt.

Newt: “The current view is that liberals have a whole set of statistics that theoretically may be right, but it’s not where human beings are.”

The reporter argues that his accusation of liberals using these numbers is partisan, but she explains that the numbers come from the FBI, and that’s not a partisan source.

Newt: “But what I said is equally true, people feel more threatened…”

Anchor: “Yes they FEEL it…but the facts don’t support it”

Newt: “As a political candidate, I’ll go with how people feel and I’ll let you go with the theoreticians”.

The fact that a major politician feels his feelings = facts is a problem.

The fact that politicians feel that their role is to appeal to feelings and not facts is a problem.

The fact that politicians intensify and exploit those feelings and manipulate us because of them is a problem.

And while this CNN anchor (sorry I don’t my anchors that well as I avoid the major news channels like the plague) is doing a tremendous job pointing out the flaws in Newt’s arguments, the media frequently also appeals to our feelings and not facts as well.  This is also a problem.

Imagine politicians and media if you presented us with actual information, and actual facts, and we determined our own feelings.  But then we’d be more powerful and government would actually have to answer to the people.  And the poor media would be relegated to actually watching over both us, making sure we remained informed and making sure the people making the decisions remained honest.

Drug users and petty thieves fill our jails, but this crime against humanity continues unabated.