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.

Feeling the Bern, Taking a Stand, and Zealotry

Bernie Sanders is my guy.  He is a true politician no question and to see he is without strategy would be incorrect, but that strategy I think is an honorable one.  He is trying to have important conversation about real problems that are impacting this country.  He puts forth solutions to those problems.  They are from the perspective of democratic socialism.  As a Canadian I adore democratic socialism, but I can tolerate people having different points of view on the matter.  There are those who have different political ideas.  I would love to see more politicians like Bernie Sanders coming from different sides of the political spectrum.  Actually they exist in the likes of candidates like Gary Johnson and Jill Stein but for a large part, well you know what kind of candidates we got this election cycle – panderers, double-talkers, hypocrites, liars, and those who are ethically questionable at best.  It’s a real problem.  Should we all fall in love with, what I think is at least a good model of a politician.  While my heart tells me yes, I know it’s only because I agree with him.  In the end, for many, it’s still a hard thing to do if you disagree with his ideas.  As I wrote before, among his qualities, ideas and principles I admire is that he tries to be inclusive.  He has reached out to evangelicals, he has spoken in some very conservative areas that some democrats dare not go, and he has even tried to empathize and connect with Trump supporters.

So why should such a man have supporters who are much more extreme than the man himself?  As I’ve watched his message reach people and move people there is no question that he is reaching many people on both an intellectual level and an emotional level.  Ultimately, Bernie like any politicians does play to people’s emotions too.  And there is nothing wrong with that.  While I do think he also have some very intellectual things to say, he knows that to move a large group of people in favor of your ideas it isn’t all going to be done with logical arguments.  It’s going to have to start with emotion.  Many of the things that Bernie Sanders talks about are things you should be mad about, are things you should worry, are things you should be passionate about.  But as I’ve watched people “feeling the bern” over the course of his primary run it’s been interesting to see how many Bernie supporters have become very similar to Trump supporters.   I know I am going to get backlash for saying that.  But many pundits, writers, and just people in general have noted how much anger one gets any time there is criticism of Bernie.  First I’d like to say that I’m not criticizing Bernie, I’m criticizing a portion of supporters who worry me a little bit.  Now let me also qualify when I say “like Trump supporters” I am not saying that you’re racist, misogynist, or stupid.  It should also be noted that such a generalization of Trump supporters is not that helpful, but I am speaking in terms of stereotypes intentionally.  What I mean by “like Trump supporters” is quite simply zealotry.  A zealot is a dangerous thing, regardless of how righteous the cause.  You can be 100% right about something and still be a dangerous person.  If you’re in a state where you cannot be reasoned with or compromise, if you’re in a state where you are willing to go to any length for your cause, if you are in a state where someone is quite simply for you or against you just because they disagree with a portion of your argument, that’s a dangerous place to be and it can be extremely destructive.

I have seen the emergence of the Bernie or Bust movement and I honestly find that movement a little troubling.  People have chosen to take their stand.  Taking a stand at times is very important, but I think we need to ask ourselves, whenever we take that stand, “what do we hope to gain?”, “what is the best way to make my stand?”  and “what are the consequences of taking that stand?”  I truly believe that Trump is an extremely dangerous man to have as president.  His policies, if enacted jeopardize religious freedom, increase the suffering for the poor, minorities, and women. Refusing to vote Democrat carries that consequence.  Are we ready to hand over the judiciary branch to the conservative platform?  Refusing to vote Democrat carries that consequence.  And there are a lot of important issues that get decided by the Supreme Court as we have seen over the past decade.  We know how important the supreme court has been for issues like gay marriage, the ability for public teachers to unionize, gerrymandering, affirmative action and health care. And who knows what decisions might get overturned.  Roe vs. Wade?  Marriage equality?  I am not trying to convince you through fear but only ask that we all carry these ideas in our heads and understand the full weight of our decision.  Also can we not make changes even if Bernie doesn’t get elected?  Can we support more grass roots candidates for the legislative branch?  At the municipal or state level?  Can we do a better job of participating in mid-term elections?  Does the DNC really think they need to make changes when most establishment politicians are already rich, and even when not in the majority still enjoy a great deal of wealth and power? Again maybe Bernie or Bust is the best call right now, but I see less and less reasoning and weighing of the evidence by Bernie supporters as this primary comes to a close and it looks like Bernie will not be the choice to run as president for the Democratic Party.  So again I only ask that we carefully weigh the pros and cons of sticking by our guns at all costs.  Bernie was never going to be our savior.  At best he is sowing the seeds of some positive change and if he became president we could see those seeds grow a little bit more, but we would still be a long way from seeing the flowers bloom.

Bernie_Sanders

There may come in a day where a large majority of us are happy with a more democratic socialist way of life, and today is not the day.  And I’m not trying to just single out Bernie Sanders fans here, it just seems interesting that what started as one of the most thoughtful, passionate, and intellectual movements and devolved into something that it should not in a country that has real problems and needs to work together to solve them.  Continuing on a path of divisiveness and stereotyping the other side doesn’t lead to revolution, it leads to civil war, and I’d rather take a peaceful piecemeal progression towards a better way of life than a bloody one, which by the way, in the end, your side might actually lose.  The idea behind a democracy is not one of…”hey we won…suck it you losers who disagree.” Whoever become President becomes leader of the country, of which, regardless of our political views, we are all citizens and have the right to be treated with humanity and civility by that leader.  We also must demonstrate that towards each other.  Does attacking Trump supporters really teach them a lesson, sway them towards reason or a better way of government?  The most important quality, to me, of Bernie Sanders besides his ideas is his principles for inclusion.  If we truly support Bernie Sanders, I think we must carry that torch more than any other if this country is going to reverse our decline in quality of life and heal a nation which continues to grow ever more divided.

Why you should feel the Bern: A non-partisan viewpoint

I don’t often write too much about politics.   I think the main reason is that it has become so seriously flawed that no matter what I think is right or wrong, and I have yet to find a candidate who sincerely represents my views.  More importantly, it is even harder to find a candidate who I feel I can respect.  These two things are different.  But then along came Bernie Sanders.

If you haven’t heard of, you should at least learn about him.  He’s a politician.  He’s a socialist democrat.  As a Canadian I love that about him, but I don’t want this post to be about why I agree with his views, but rather I want to talk about why he should be respected as a politician.  I’ll do my best to keep my views out and just simply state my case for why I think he’s an important politician for both democrats and republicans. So here we go:

  1. He is the most authentic candidate that we’ve had to choose from in a long time.  Alright, maybe Trump rivals Bernie here, but I suspect that is the source of Trump’s popularity right now.  Authenticity is such a refreshing thing to see in a candidate.  Bernie, even before becoming a politician fought for the things he believes in and still does today.  Thought riding right now under the Democratic Party ticket he has been an Independent or alternate party candidate through much of his career and does not tow party lines.  This means he has courage, and courage is something we should expect out of every politician even if we disagree with them.
  2. He doesn’t want to play the system, he wants to dismantle it and turn it into something better. Republican or Democratic I haven’t met anybody who is educated about politics and government who thinks that government is working as efficiently as it should.  Everybody talks about reforming this or that, but no politician talks enough about reforming Washington.  We love shows and movies like House of Cards where we see political wheeling and dealing done in order to affect change, but why should it have to be that way?  What if we as voters actually demanded politicians with integrity and who actually want to serve the people over themselves?
  3. He is addressing income inequality. Income inequality is one of the biggest threats we face in this country and goes hand in hand with many of the social injustices that we still face today as well.  Whether you agree with his solution to dealing with it, this is not something that many Republican candidates even address.  The solution simply isn’t to tell half the population of the country to work harder, given how hard many of them already work.  Even if it was somehow true that all poor people were lazy it would still require some sort of solution to change that state of affairs because as the top 1% continues to siphon money away from the rest of us, we will all start to drift towards that growing portion at the bottom.  Whether you agree with his solution for dealing with the growing income inequality is not the point, but it should be one of the top issues for whoever your candidate of choice is.
  4. He wants to take money out of politics and he lives that creed. There is only one candidate in this election that is not in the pocketbooks of corporate America and that is Bernie Sanders.  In this politifact article they analyze a meme that has been going around showing Hillary Clinton’s top 10 donors compared to Bernie’s over the course of their career and it is quite telling who has the most money and why.  Bernie Sanders has also pledged to not use a SuperPac.  As I mentioned in point 2, he refuses to play the system.  This may eventually lead to his downfall as it is clear that other candidates will raise far more money in the end, and money wins elections in this country.  Republican candidates have already started sucking up to the Koch brothers who have openly said they are willing to spend a billion dollars on a Republican candidate to win the election.  It is estimated that this election cycle will be the most expensive one so far with candidates raising on the order of 10 billion dollars.  Just to put that in perspective that’s the same amount of money to put a quarter of a million college students through their entire 4 years of undergraduate education.  Seems like a steep price to be stuck with a government that doesn’t seem to be doing its job.  We’d probably be much better off with 250,000 people who were debt free and with an education starting out their lives.  The money in politics is literally driving this country into the ground and turning the country into a democracy by name only.
  5. Bernie routinely draws massive crowds. This doesn’t seem that remarkable, but let me tell you why it is.  In reference to my last point he isn’t running his campaign on a whole lot of money.  Thus he hasn’t had nearly the same media coverage as Hillary Clinton or many of the Republican candidates.  Largely he uses social media (Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, etc) and it’s working.  He speaks to a lot of younger people who are facing an uncertain future, high college debt, lower good paying job opportunities, health care, climate change, etc.  He has had massive crowds at his events and still the media gives him little coverage.  Thus he also exposed the media for what it is.  Also a pawn for big business.  It focuses on the money.  It focuses on negative campaigning.  It focuses on gaffs.  It focuses on fundraising.  It focuses on polling.  What it doesn’t do is focus very well on the issues.  Furthermore it doesn’t give equal time to all those who are running for President so the voter can learn how different political philosophies address those issues.  You may remember last national election where Jill Stein who was running for president as a Green Party candidate was not even allowed to enter the debate for President, and was actually arrested by police when she tried to enter.  While the decision to not let them participate was made by the Presidential Debate Commission, the media could have ensured fairness and pressured the commission to let all candidates speak.  When the government is broken and in the pocketbooks of big business, the media is the one that is supposed to be the watch dog.  Unfortunately that watch dog has rich owners and only wants to keep a watch on the money.  In a country of 300 million people you need the media to fairly distribute the message of all candidates to the people so that people have real choices about who to vote for.  Currently this is not done.
  6. Bernie will still be exactly the same should he win the primary. You see it time and time again, a candidate says different things during the primary election to win votes from the extremes of their party and then shifts their views to be more centrist during the national election.  How can we trust such a politician who is clearly pandering to win votes instead of being authentic?
  7. He loves America but is not for American exceptionalism. The idea that America does everything best and that we have nothing to learn from the rest of the world is a dangerous one.  In many of the speeches and interviews that I have seen with Bernie he recognizes that we do a lot of things well but that other countries also do some things well and then we might actually be able to learn some things from them.

I am not sure if Bernie can win, but the fact that he is having so much impact without having a corporate sponsor is impressive.  The large amount of support he is receiving is hopefully a lesson to whoever wins that there is a large population of people in this country who are tired of being left behind while politicians and corporations swim in money while the middle class shrinks away into poverty.  Even if Bernie were to become President he would still have to face a congress that would have a hard time supporting the changes he wants to make, especially since those changes would lighten their own pocketbooks.  As this video indicates he knows that the reform we need can’t come from one man alone.  But Bernie should be an inspiration to all voters, not because of his views but because of the issues he brings to light.  One that weaken our entire political system, and takes away from the people’s will for self-determination.  Bernie shows us that you can get your message out effectively even without large sums of money and that the people are ready for authenticity in a candidate and one that actually seems to be concerned with them instead of their own pocketbooks.  I hope for more candidates that have attitudes like Bernie in the future, not only for President but for the house and the senate, and at all levels of government.  And we need to do a better job and making sure that those are the kinds of candidates we get.  Feel the Bern everyone and participate in your democracy.

He Blinded Me With Science

As a meteorologist and scientist I am very familiar with many pseudoscience arguments and websites like creation science, new age science, anti-climate change arguments, and all the conspiracy theories that go along with it.  My colleague recently turned me on to a little gem of a website.  Somebody has ‘solved’ tornadoes.  I hope you click on the site.  Not only will the guy who owns this WordPress website be excited that he has so many hits, but you will immediately be able to tell that this person isn’t playing with a full deck.  At first I laughed a lot as I read it, but the more I read it, the more I actually started to be impressed.  Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m impressed with the actual ideas here, they are completely wrong, but I was impressed with how much time and thought this person has gone into thinking about the problem.  I don’t want to post any individual blog posts linked here, because I really don’t care to have this person start harassing me, but if you go through a number of them you’ll see that he has talked to some real experts in the field (although it’s unclear about whether he has e-mailed them or actually talked to them personally), he has posts where he has retracted some of his statements and then explained why he retracted them.  He has designed experiments to test his hypothesis as well.  In fact I’m a bit jealous that this guy actually has more blog followers than me.  Did I say jealous?  I meant frightened.  Anyway, what I thought what was really interesting is that here is a very unique belief system which has blossomed into something rather complex.  One that to my knowledge nobody else really believes (at least not yet, or at least I hope not yet) and yet bears much similarity to existing belief systems.  So I thought it might be interesting to deconstruct it a little and see what we get.

At the heart of every belief system is at least one premise that is accepted as true, without being supported by any empirical observations.  Once this is accepted as

From http://www.nc-climate.ncsu.edu

true, much can be built from it.  For instance many religious belief systems accept as fact that there is a God and goes on from there.  Many times of course there are several faulty premises.  It could be that they stem from an original, but it’s hard to say.  Let’s take a look at the one’s that seem to this gentleman’s starting point

Premise 1:  The jet stream is a conscious entity that is thirsty for water and thus tornadoes are a result of the jet stream needing to suck up water.  I guess that makes a tornado a giant straw.

Premise 2:  Moisture is the most important factor in determining density differences in buoyant air. (Actually it’s temperature).

Premise 3:  Meteorology is a cult, and meteorologist simply believe in old and outdated arguments that have never been proved experimentally.

From this all sorts of things are possible.   If you were to accept the first two things as truth you would come up with a very different scenario for how and why thunderstorms and tornadoes form.  The 3rd premise is what then allows him to never have to rethink the first two.  People who could argue intelligently with him and are more knowledgeable are meteorologists and since they are part of a belief based cult they can’t possibly be correct or unbiased.

Another important part of a belief system is the inequality in standards the proponents of the belief system must live up to in comparison to non-believers.  For

From http://static01.nyt.com

instance, those against gay marriage will expect everyone to respect their right to be legally bound in holy matrimony, but do not have to respect the rights of homosexuals.  As is often the case pseudoscience literature like this, the expectation of other is to provide rigorous proof, yet no such proof is given by this gentleman as he espouses his hypothesis about how and why tornadoes form.   At its root I feel this comes from a lack of humility.  To be so sure you are right about something that you are beyond the need for evidence, and that you are beyond the ability of anybody (regarding their experience and expertise) to change your mind is to be so prideful that even Donald Trump would be impressed.  It is also a sad state to be in.  As I’ve argued before since reinforcing beliefs releases dopamine in the brain, over time as the neural pathways become so entrenched into a belief, this person literally will become ill to consider anything else.  The stronger the argument you make, the less likely you will get anywhere.

So what’s the harm in all of this?  Perhaps very little since there is a certain amount of crazy that even the most clueless about the subject won’t buy into.  Nevertheless there is at least enough science jargon on his website that people who are not educated about the issue may think there is controversy and conspiracy.  Just like many who are not educated about climate change think the same way.  There was at least one commenter who reblogged one of his articles saying it was an interesting “new theory”.  I wanted to also introduce this website and blog post as a lead in to a discussion of the age of information (or misinformation) that we live in.  This person has self-published a book for sale on amazon and has done a lot of writing on this subject.  If he had a little bit of money and/or web savvy he could make his site one of the top hits on google when people search for information about tornadoes.  Critical thinking skills are even more important today than they were before the internet to be able to navigate the flood of information that we are faced with on any one subject area.  Anyway, keep well everyone and stay away from thirsty jet streams!