30 July 2012

What do Rachel Carson, James Hanson, and the Authors of "Merchants of Doubt" have in common?

Do those names mean much of anything to you? What about Michael Mann, Kevin Trenberth, Phil Jones, or Katharine Hayhoe?

These are names that you really should get to know. They're people who, almost to a person, have had to deal with near daily persecution because they have stood up for you, your children, your grand children, and every future generation of human beings. They could all have already given up, backed away from the confrontations, and gone quietly back to the work that they started out doing. After all, they didn't sign up for this.

But instead they have stood up to powerful coalitions of corporate special interests, gullible and greedy politicians, and outright nut jobs, in an effort to convince us to protect the future of our civilization.

That's what this is really all about you know.  It's not about "saving the planet", it's about saving ourselves.

Earth will survive everything that we've done to it perfectly well. It will still be here, orbiting the Sun for billions more years. And if the species that manages to adapt to all of the rapid changes we're creating here is gregarious, then a future civilization might exist. Who knows, it may even involve humans.

Right now though, we're behaving like a bad bacterial infection, something I've just recently survived. In a matter of hours I went from feeling fine to the brink of death from septic shock. The bacteria were winning, and I'm not nearly as tough as our planet is, so I was about to fail at surviving. Fortunately for me our modern civilization has produced the correct drugs, and they were available where I was when I got sick, so I made it.
Cover of
Cover via Amazon

The Earth is doing pretty much the same thing my body did, heating up as a reaction to the spreading pollution and damage. Much like my body, the heating is having side effects for more benign systems. For me it began spreading destruction to my muscles, my joints, my nerves, many of my vital organs, and even my brain. The analogy between my body and our planet is fairly obvious isn't it? When I was running a fever of 105°F (that's 40.6°C to the rest of the world) all kinds of things were being destroyed. Months later I'm still in physical therapy trying to rebuild things that were destroyed during that week of high fever. Many things will never be the same, my body has been changed.

The planet has an expected lifespan of about 12 billion years, assuming it's destroyed by the sun as expected in about 7.5 billion years. So mapping the planet's expected life span to mine, a week for the planet is about 3.1 million years. So the 30 thousand years or so it would take to pretty much completely clean up the environmental mess we're creating and restore the carbon balance should be slightly over 5 seconds in Earth life terms. A planetary length sneeze. Please note that 30 thousand years is about 5 times as long as we've had a documented civilization.

When my temperature rose by about 3.5°C it dang near killed me. Our business as usual approach to modifying the Earth's atmosphere should raise the temperature by twice that. So far, we've raised the planet's average temperature by 1.5°C. We've got another 5.5°C to go.

This summer has been a practical lesson to North America. Until recently we've been somewhat exempt from the horrors the rest of the world has faced. We're just over half way through the year, and so far we've gotten record heat, buckling road beds, burning forests (and cities), evaporating rivers and lakes, storms more violent than most of us have ever seen, species of fish showing up in the wrong places, ice sheets melting, floods, landslides, coastal property being washed into the ocean, and species going extinct at unimaginable rates. Now it looks like we'll be losing as much as 70% of our grain crop as well.

That's the (pardon the phrase) warm up session. Raising the average temperature on the planet is like that fever I had, it's causing fairly normal things to become more extreme.

What does all that word salad have to do with those names I asked about? Those are just a few of the names of people who have been being stomped on, threatened, harassed, sued, defamed, and stalked because they are trying to warn all of us about what's happening.

And who is being so mean to these scientists? (You did know they're scientists, right?)

It's a relatively small group of people who don't want us to take the necessary actions to save ourselves, not until they've squeezed the last bit of money out of all of us, not until they're absolutely forced to fess up and take responsibility for their part in what's happening. They insist that we delay making the changes we must make so that we can:
  • keep living,
  • be healthy,
  • have food security,
  • have safe places to live,
  • try to make a brighter future for our kids.
For many of us, that's the number one goal, for our kids to have it better than we did.

Storms of My Grandchildren
Storms of My Grandchildren (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
That "relatively small group of people", the people who put profit over your safety, have hired people to fuzz things up, to delay action, to prevent us from saving ourselves until they've squeezed the last red cent out of us. All of that beating upon the scientists are just part of the delaying tactics. And it's worked.

We have known for 20 years what the Koch Foundation funded Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature (BEST)
team has just confirmed (yet again). The planet is warming, the climate is becoming weirder, and we're causing it. Convening the study cost us another  two years of prevented action. I'm sure the Koch folks think it was money well spent.

Admittedly we didn't know the detail in the late 1980's the way we know it now, but we knew enough that in 1992 the world's governments got the picture, got together, and promised to take joint action. And in 2000 we in the USA took a turn for the totally selfish and told the rest of the planet to go f*ck itself. Here we are, 12 years later pretending to be surprised that things are breaking bad all over.

English: A comparison between the 1988 global ...
English: A comparison between the 1988 global mean temperature projections shown by James Hansen in his 1988 congressional testimony and the subsequent observations. Scenario A assumes rapid exponential growth of GHGs and includes no large volcanic eruptions. Scenario B has continued moderate increase in the rate of GHG emissions and includes three large volcanic eruptions. Scenario C assumes GHGs were to stop increasing after 2000. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Oh, by the way, that 12 year stall tactic we used? That locked us in for another 0.5°C no matter how fast we react. The problem with the carbon budget is that it's cumulative, so the bigger the pile of carbon we shove into the sky, the longer it takes to get it back out, and the more extreme our efforts to correct the balance  must become.

Since the 1960's we've known that this was coming. I finally understood what was happening in the mid-1980s. James Hansen realized the dangers much earlier and by 1988 was testifying before the US Congress, warning of what was coming. Pretty soon he began being vilified. Gag orders followed.

But the evidence kept piling up, and the people who profited from our energy intensive ways of life started worrying that they might lose money. So they took action.

Estimated climate forcings between 1850 and 2000
Estimated climate forcings between 1850 and 2000 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
They learned from other big companies, the ones that sell consumer items that will kill, or at the very least sicken you. They learned how to confuse people enough that they won't act to save themselves. Just spread doubt. Claim the experts weren't. Hire people who will say anything for money to make the confusion worse.

I know from personal experience the kinds of stupidity that is being aimed at our scientists daily. Threats, rants, crazy stuff, many encouraged by media figures or "think tanks". But these scientists still persist, they continue, trying to keep us from collapsing our own civilization. Trying to keep the future bright.

Merchants of Doubt
Merchants of Doubt (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Naomi Oreskes began to see what was happening. It looked familiar. She did her research and put a solid picture together explaining what was going on, triggering harassment and denigration. It got to be so clear that she switched from academic lectures to publishing a book about the subject.

When the world scientific establishment came out in a unified position that we absolutely had to do something to address the impending crisis, Michael Mann ended up directly in the line of fire, as did Phil Jones and Kevin Trenberth. The focus of hatred piled against them is a matter of public record.

Katharine Hayhoe had the temerity to be open, clear, and public about the facts, and even worked with her husband (an Evangelical leader) to help reconcile religious conflicts that were developing within their faith community. Name calling, harassment, and even some implied death threats suddenly arrived from people she had never met or even heard of prior to speaking out.

Philip Conkling at the Island Institute recently posted an article that describes the sorts of things these folks have had to put up with so far. It's a short, one might even say terse, summary of how large, rich businesses have reacted to perceived threats to their profits. His observations in "Rachel Carson, James Hanson and the Merchants of Doubt" provides a short, easily understood review of how some industries ("Corporate Persons" to some) react to scientific findings that will put a kink in their bottom line.

Mr. Conkling is a much better writer than I, so I recommend you visit the original blog postinghttp://www.workingwaterfront.com/articles/Rachel-Carson-James-Hanson-and-the-Merchants-of-Doubt/14951/. Once he's done explaining it to you, it will be easier to understand why he says: "The next time someone tries to convince you the science of climate change is uncertain, use your own senses—your eyes, nose and skin—and act on your own common sense."

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20 July 2012

Little Green Footballs - Mass Murder in Colorado Prompts Full-on Right Wing Victimhood Binge

If you have ever played any version of Dungeons and Dragons, the shrieker is probably the best analog to the far right wing region of the Blogosphere. Have a look at how people are falling all over themselves to disavow any connection to the Aurora theatre shooter.

Little Green Footballs - Mass Murder in Colorado Prompts Full-on Right Wing Victimhood Binge

'via Blog this'

The world is being treated to fact free knee jerk reactions from all sides, in their race to get the first tweet/post/interview, lots of calories have been burnt in leaping to conclusions, dodging responsibility, and general bad journalism on the part of some, and more calories spent on hysterical shouting.

Information about the shooter and the circumstances do not appear to have anything to do with politics in the US. In fact, information available at the moment provides very nearly zero indication of a motive.

Time to slow down and find out some facts before burning someone at the stake.

While you're waiting, have a look at decent, thoughtful reporting from serious journalists: