I didn’t come of age in the 60s and early 70s, but I know my history. I know that the U.S. fractured over the Vietnam war and the Civil Rights movement. I know that Americans took sides on the home front and that this turned kitchen tables, universities, and streets into battle zones. Families and friendships were torn asunder. Entrenched values and norms were challenged. Yes, it was a turbulent time. But the the passions and stakes were high. Such is the messy, unpredictable landscape of social change.
As Jefferson Airplane sang in 1969:
Look what’s happening out in the streets
Got a revolution Got to revolution
I am certain I would not have been on the sidelines. Read More
My eight year-old son is not a disinterested sports fan. He knows as much about European soccer as I do (which is zilch), but when we’re in a barbershop for 15 minutes and Manchester is playing Barcelona, he asks me who we should root for. Ditto for the NBA All-Star game, which I let him stay up to watch (just the first half) this year. “Who do we want to win?” he asked me. Part of this stems from natural childhood competitiveness, but I’m sure it mostly owes to that tribal part of our evolutionary heritage. We are a species that defines ourselves by our alliances. Are you a Republican or a Democrat, a Yankee fan or a loyal member of the Red Sox Nation?
Why should science and environmental debates be any different than sports? Look at the different tribes of secular skeptics that have formed in recent years, for example. Team Militant Atheist, led by the hard-charging PZ Myers and Richard Dawkins, play in-your-face ball, especially with anyone who suggests that atheism and science can coexist. Are you with them or are you with Team Spiritual Atheism, who are okay with experiences that have a “sacred” or religious quality to them? If you play in that world, you probably feel compelled to choose sides.
The climate change arena is another us/them venue. Read More
In a perfect world, every conversation we have about childhood vaccines, GMOs, alternative medicine, and global warming would be based on a set of facts agreed on by a majority of scientists working in those spheres. But we don’t live in a perfect world, so many conversations on the aforementioned subjects are often driven by emotion, ideology and politics.
For example, when I talk to some really smart friends who are opposed to biotechnology, I hear about Monsanto and how GMOs are not natural. I try to have a calm, rational, evidence-based discussion with them, but nothing I say really matters.
I have a similar experience with those who embrace unproven alternative health therapies. If they have already started dabbling in that world, then the chances of us engaging rationally in a science-based discussion are virtually nil, for reasons that Steven Novella explains here. (If you want me to save you time, the short answer is the power of personal experience.)
Sure, there are plenty of people in the respective anti-vaxx and anti-GMO orbits who point to various studies that back up their beliefs. It doesn’t matter that such research has largely been badly skewed, called into question, or taken out of context. It’s the veneer of science that counts.
The dynamics that govern most discussion of climate science are no different. Yet there is this persistent hope that one day reason will win over those who cling to the belief that man-made climate change is a manufactured issue. Read More
Just a decade ago, ‘adaptation’ was something of a dirty word in the climate arena — an insinuation that nations could continue with business as usual and deal with the mess later.
That’s Olive Heffernan, reminiscing several months ago in Nature. She goes on to say:
But greenhouse-gas emissions are increasing at an unprecedented rate and countries have failed to negotiate a successor to the Kyoto Protocol climate treaty. That stark reality has forced climate researchers and policy-makers to explore ways to weather some of the inevitable changes.
Heffernan’s piece is all about current approaches and projects that aim to make the world more resilient to climate change. (Another reason why the resilience concept is in tune with the times.) She quotes Jon Barnett, a political geographer at the University of Melbourne in Australia:
As progress to reduce emissions has slowed in most countries, there has been a turn towards adaptation.
I’m such a piker that I always think it’s neat when 10 or 20 people retweet me. Occasionally, when the planets are aligned, several dozen will retweet a piece of mine or something interesting I may have said in 160 characters.
Incredibly, that was the facile theme of Piers Morgan’s latest (ridiculous) foray into the climate debate. Can somebody at CNN please bring Morgan into the 21st century? We are no longer debating whether global warming is real or not. That train has left the station.
And CNN having two activists on opposite ends of the spectrum holding forth on this does not advance the debate we should be having, which is: What energy policies would help us get off fossil fuels as fast as possible. Here’s the inane (and mercifully short) exchange, if you can stand it.
UPDATE: Randy Olson on why debating Marc Morano is “a no win situation.”
As you undoubtedly heard, climate change was mentioned prominently by President Obama in his second inaugural speech. Greens are applauding the strong words but based on his record (or lack thereof) on the climate issue (some believe he is unfairly maligned), and his lofty (unfulfilled) 2008 promises, many are taking a wait-and-see approach.
Meanwhile, what to make of the President’s surprising elevation of climate change into the public discourse? Let’s game out a few of the possibilities. Fair warning: What follows is a mixed metaphor palooza. Read More
If I call you anti-science, which discourse might that be related to? The one on climate change, evolution, biotechnology, or vaccines? Because the term is flung around so freely, who can tell. That was the point I tried making with this recent post.
More importantly, is slagging you as anti-science a constructive way to have a conversation? In fact, it’s likely a conversation stopper.
Such is the case with any term that has become politically loaded. Like “denier.” I was reminded of this yet again via Andrew Revkin and a twitter exchange he had with some folks who cling to the “denier” usage in the climate debate. For a one-stop shop summation of the back-and-forth, along with some excellent commentary, read this post by Dan Kahan at his Cultural Cognition site.
Everybody knows the global politics of climate change are leading nowhere. If the futile UN-sponsored talks illustrates one thing, it is that no country is willing to make economic sacrifices to reduce its carbon emissions. Roger Pielke Jr. calls this the iron law of climate policy. It’s proving ironclad.
That essentially leaves us with one option: Getting off fossil fuels altogether. Right now, such a prospect is not looking good. We seem to be flush with oil and gas these days–and the foreseeable future. That puts us on a collision course with climate disaster. So what do we do?
There are two camps that claim to have the answer. One of them believes that nuclear power is the only viable substitute for coal, which remains cheap, plentiful and the primary greenhouse gas responsible for cooking the planet. The other camp believes that renewable energy puts us on a true path to a sustainable planet. Which of these camps offers the best way to kick our carbon addiction?
That’s the subject of a new piece I have up at Slate.
One of the most trenchant observers of the science/policy interface is Daniel Sarewitz, co-director of Arizona State University’s Consortium for Science, Policy & Outcomes. Since 2009, Sarewitz has been a regular columnist for the journal Nature. He writes for both general and specialized audiences. His insightful essays, on everything from the politics of climate change to the science versus religion fracas, often provoke heated debate. I suppose that’s to be expected, given the charged terrain he navigates.
I had a brief Q & A with Sarewitz this week (via email), related to several of his Nature columns, including his latest in the current issue.
KK: You have a new piece out in Nature that takes a dim view of those who mix science and politics. You argue that the science community has come to be seen as too closely allied with the Democratic party. But haven’t there always been politically active scientists?
DS: I don’t take a dim view of mixing science and politics at all. I take a dim view of pretending that you’re not mixing them when you really are. I’m a Democrat, probably far left of much of the party, and I think it’s great for scientists to participate in politics. Just like it’s great for other citizens. What I don’t think is that one can legitimately hide behind one’s identity as a scientist in taking a position that is fundamentally a political one.