Redefining Humanity

By Sheril Kirshenbaum | April 23, 2010 11:02 am

573px-DavidbrainWhat is it, exactly, that distinguishes us from other species?

So begins a recent article by UT professor Michael Webber, who offers an interesting take on a subject that’s long been debated. He suggests that what makes us human is the way we manipulate energy:

I contend that what really separates humans from all the other species is that we are the only ones to manipulate energy. The First Law of Thermodynamics tells us that energy has many forms (for example, chemical, thermal, kinetic, electrical, atomic, radiant) and that we can convert from one form to another. And though all species benefit from the natural conversion of radiant energy (for example, sunlight) into chemical energy (derived from, for example, photosynthesis), humans are the only species that will specifically manipulate energy from one form to another — for example converting chemical energy (fuels) to thermal energy (heat) or mechanical energy (motion).

And, thus, a new definition of humanity is born: Humans intentionally manipulate energy.

With this in mind, Webber argues that we ought to accept responsibility for its negative effects. In other words, his definition implores us to be better stewards of this pale blue dot. It’s a perspective I like very much. Go read the full article here.

MORE ABOUT: Michael Webber

Comments (55)

  1. GM

    What about the Second Law?

  2. Pete

    This is the kind of perspective that offers hope. I like it too and I think he may be right.

  3. Guy

    Were we not human prior to the invention of a way to make fire? I think this definition is a big shaky.

    Our dominion over other species is what separates us from them. We can choose to do them considerable harm or help them, but we usually don’t give them the same power over us.

  4. Woody Tanaka

    “What is it, exactly, that distinguishes us from other species?”

    My guess is that humans are the only species to ask such a silly question.

    (The actual answer, of course, is the inability to successfully interbreed with the others is what distinguishes us from other species… the same thing that separates any one species from all the others.)

    And other species also specifically convert energy from one form to another. I’m thinking, just off the top of my head, of the Japanese honeybees that swarm invading hornets and beat their wing muscles until the heat generated by the action cooks the hornet to death. This would fit the bill, I’d say. (I.e., converting mechanical energy (motion of wing muscles) to thermal energy (heat))

  5. Nullius in Verba

    “converting chemical energy (fuels) to thermal energy (heat) or mechanical energy (motion).”

    The bombardier beetle.

    Or ‘food’ as ‘fuel’.

    “only humans intentionally pollute”

    He’s joking, surely?

  6. Eric the Leaf

    The problem with such definitions is that, as we have seen, they invite questions of utility. It is probably more productive to view those qualities most developed (rather than unique) in humans—including tool use and abstract communication—as a means for gaining energy subsidies. The focus then becomes the process of energy acquisition, dispersion, renewal, and related population dynamics—real human ecology–rather than a simplistic and linear focus on environmental impacts. These ideas are not particularly new—they are simply not given much attention. I submit that this approach yields more insight than Mr. Webber’s definition.

  7. GM

    Eric the Leaf @6

    Very well said. Now if it was possible to get this really very simple message to be the focus of environmental activists and science-to-public communicators then we could actually be talking about something meaningful here. But that’s not the case unfortuantely

  8. Eric the Leaf

    Indeed, GM, it is not the case. And the lack of such focus weakens their argument and narrows their frame. Thus, the obsession with techno-fixes and, at the extreme, geoengineering.

    For all the science blogs and science journalism about us, human ecology has taken a back seat and environmental and “energy” activism is couched almost exclusively in terms of pollution and climate change, rather than the interplay between population, resources, and energy flow. It is, as you have stated previously, as if climate change were the only, or most important, sustainability issue of the century. Because most science bloggers, certainly on this site, implicitly subscribe to the growth dynamic (note the posts on the Dow), they also implicitly support business-as-usual, which is ultimately unsustainable. The term “resilience” is now being used to replace sustainability, since the latter has outworn its utility. The next, most overused term in the lexicon will be “resilience.”

  9. moptop

    “What about the Second Law?”

    What is this supposed to mean? Seriously, you ask this as a rhetorical question, so you probably think you are making some kind of self evident point, but I don’t get it. What about the Second Law?

  10. moptop

    You guys love playing with definitions, that is for sure. If you can control the definitions, you can control the policy. For instance, you define a polar bear not just genetically, but based on the diet and habitat it exploits. By this definition, polar bears of the last ice age went extinct during the Holocene Optimum, and the polar bear of the Holocene Optimum went extinct during cooling that has largely continued since. This polar bear is of course doomed. Either it is doomed by the next ice age, or it is doomed by the next warming. There has never been any such thing as a flat climate, except, I guess, in Camelot, where “winter exits March the 2nd on the dot.”

    The game is getting old. Instead of fudging with definitions, why not work on presenting solid evidence? Why not present the case in a step by step way, instead of resting on a conjecture that an undoubted property of CO2 leads inexorably to a significantly warmer planet. There are steps between the conjecture and the proof that just have not been explained with objections answered.

    And “Shut up, you don’t know what you are talking about and are incapable of understanding the science” is not an answer.

  11. moptop

    If you guys are really going to regain the initiative, you need to step out of your emotional arguments and enter the realm of rational thought, because appeal to emotion on this is only appealing to your own choir.

    I think AGW is a total fraud and has most aspects of a religion, if I thought it were true, I would change my opinion on actions that are required. I already want to be a good steward of Planet Earth. Trying to tell me that I am lying about my own state of mind gets you nowhere, as you may surmise if you think about it for a minute. The way to change my mind is with rational argument. Make any argument for intelligent design and I will come up with a de novo take down of it. You guys can’t even articulate defenses for the simplest objections without attacking the motivations or intelligence or qualifications of the questioner. Look at the polls, Cap and Trade is all but dead. You guys have to change tactics, or, alternatively, you could admit to yourselves that all you really care about is that little frisson of superiority you feel by rejecting out of hand any questioning of your beliefs by calling yourself smart and your opponent stupid.

    However; here is my prediction of your response to this post, out of hand rejection followed by some rhetorical flourish, usually in the form of a rhetorical question. It just isn’t working for you, so you must be getting something else out of it, that is my opinion anyway.

  12. GM

    9. moptop Says:
    April 24th, 2010 at 6:47 am
    “What about the Second Law?”
    What is this supposed to mean? Seriously, you ask this as a rhetorical question, so you probably think you are making some kind of self evident point, but I don’t get it. What about the Second Law?

    It means that if you want to be taking a big-picture look at the nature and state of humanity, the Second Law is the place to start

  13. V.O.R.

    “You guys have to change tactics, or, alternatively, you could admit to yourselves that all you really care about is that little frisson of superiority you feel by rejecting out of hand any questioning of your beliefs by calling yourself smart and your opponent stupid.”

    Why do you advocate a double standard?

    “However; here is my prediction of your response to this post, out of hand rejection followed by some rhetorical flourish, usually in the form of a rhetorical question.”

    I win, right? All three at once!

  14. Guy

    “You guys can’t even articulate defenses for the simplest objections without attacking the motivations or intelligence or qualifications of the questioner.”

    False and hypocritical.

  15. moptop

    VOR,
    That was pretty funny.

    “False and hypocritical”

    I guess you sure showed me.

    “It means that if you want to be taking a big-picture look at the nature and state of humanity, the Second Law is the place to start”

    Yeah, in the long run we’ll all be dead. So what? I don’t think you have thought your whole “Second Law” think through very deeply.

  16. Guy

    “I guess you sure showed me.”

    Sane people generally don’t write huge essays about the obvious.

    You have a right to your own opinion but not your own facts. Get real about the issues then we can discuss them in a rational manor.

  17. moptop

    “You have a right to your own opinion but not your own facts. ”

    Well, in a normal debate, you would point out where I am factually incorrect and why, yet you don’t. You just assert that I am making things up based on your credibility as a blog commenter.

    “Sane people generally don’t write huge essays about the obvious.”

    I guess by “Sane people” you mean the choir you are preaching to? My whole post was about getting beyond that, but you obviously think that anybody who disagrees with you is insane. That is a sure way to win people over.

  18. moptop

    Have you noticed a couple of things? “Deniers are winning in the polls”; Don’t think that’s unimportant,nd “deniers” are generally willing to explain and defend their ideas? You claim the planet is “in the balance,” and yet you can’t be bothered to explain your ideas coherently. That is all I want, a coherent explanation of your position, with objects acknowledged, if not answered.

    I am an indefatigable climate commenter, yet I have never seen the above done anywhere. Sort of makes me suspect that you guys can’t do it.

  19. moptop

    “objects” should have been “objections”

    Preview would be a nice feature.

  20. Guy

    @moptop,

    You still seem to be stuck in the past and wanting to continue the debate what has already proven to be true. We don’t have time for that kind of nonsense. We need to start discussing and working on the solutions to a very real problem.

    If you’re interested in solutions to AGW then we have something to discuss otherwise you’re just wasting everyone’s time.

  21. moptop

    “You still seem to be stuck in the past and wanting to continue the debate what has already proven to be true. ”

    Well then, it shouldn’t be too much trouble to provide a recap. Look what just happened you your climate bill. Pretending that the argument is over and everybody agrees with you is, well, the best word is “denial”, because you don’t have enough people to summon the political will to get it done. Telling people the debate is over based on your opinion will convince exactly nobody who isn’t already convinced. If your best explanation is, as it seems to be, “shut up,” well don’t expect a lot of political traction.

  22. Guy

    @moptop,

    I have no illusions about your delusions. Yes, climate denial is still here but that doesn’t change the fact that AGW is real. I’m only interested in discussing solutions, not rehashing an old debate. You can talk about your denial delusions all you like, but I certainly will not be playing that game of endless back and forth. We simple don’t have time for that nonsense.

  23. Guy

    “simple” should be “simply” (yes, we need a preview button)

  24. moptop

    I guess you lose then, whatever.

  25. GM

    18. moptop Says:
    April 26th, 2010 at 6:48 am
    Have you noticed a couple of things? “Deniers are winning in the polls”; Don’t think that’s unimportant,nd “deniers” are generally willing to explain and defend their ideas? You claim the planet is “in the balance,” and yet you can’t be bothered to explain your ideas coherently. That is all I want, a coherent explanation of your position, with objects acknowledged, if not answered.

    Coherent and detailed explanations have been given many times and at great length. There are thousands of research articles, 3000-page IPCC reports, RealClimate blogs, etc. I think that what you are asking is explanations understandable to people who know nothing about basic science because they were to lazy/dumb to learn it in school (if they were taught it to begin with). In that case it is understandable why you find the deniers rethoric more appealing

  26. Nullius in Verba

    GM,

    Yes, there are thousands of research articles, but virtually none of them contain coherent and detailed explanations. Most are along the lines of if the AGW models are true then these consequences should apply, or are on other issues entirely. The few research articles that do address the issue are based on dubious sources, make unsupported assumptions or speculations, or lack sufficient detail to replicate/check the studies. Which incidentally implies that nobody has checked them.

    The IPCC reports don’t actually explain the evidence for AGW – they only make reference to the conclusions of other papers, which in turn make reference to other papers, which, so we are told should anyone be able to to penetrate this maze of paper, would ultimately explain the reasoning behind the belief. The reason nobody seems to realise this is that virtually nobody has ever read the things – people just cite them. You have absolutely no idea what the arguments behind the IPCC reports say about the mechanism of the greenhouse effect – you just take their word for it, and demand that everybody else do too.

    “I think that what you are asking is explanations understandable to people who know nothing about basic science because they were to lazy/dumb to learn it in school (if they were taught it to begin with).”

    None of you was ever taught this science at school. It isn’t basic. It’s extremely complicated. I’ve read the science, and I can tell you even the scientists often struggle to explain the details of the effects. (I was recently looking at a case where Gavin at RealClimate made a total dog’s dinner of one bit, and in the end had to admit he’d got it wrong.) And that’s just the little bits they have some understanding of – the climate is so vast and complicated, the mathematics involved so difficult, that the vast majority of it is still a complete mystery to us. So if you think you understand it, I can assure you that you are totally wrong.

    Can you (without looking it up) explain how the effects of turbulence in the Navier-Stokes equation is accurately solved for by using grid spacings of 100s of kilometres? Can you explain how variations in the moist adiabatic lapse rate affect greenhouse warming across polar and equatorial conditions? Can you explain why the surface of Venus is so hot, and what drives the windstorms there, even though very little sunlight penetrates the clouds? (And no, it isn’t because the atmosphere is nearly pure CO2.) Can you explain how clouds form, and how much low-level ionisation affects it? Can you explain how the diffusion equation would give a square-root dependence on forcing period of penetration depth of temperature changes into the oceans? Or what it means for potential global warming?

    Do you really understand it?

    So what is your belief founded on? A bunch of oversimplified and often incorrect explanations that you don’t even realise aren’t the complete story, and a huge pile of Argument from Authority. And you get angry when people point out that you don’t know and can’t explain the actual science, that all you can do is point helplessly to a pile of books you’ve never read.

    It would be something else if you admitted it was too complicated to explain and you took it on trust. It would be vastly better if you sat down to explain the science to anyone who wanted to know. But when you avoid answering the questions, try to pretend that it’s simple, and people have to be “lazy/dumb” not to know it, when we know that it’s not and they don’t… well, we will be inclined not to trust what you say.

    That’s why millions of people are increasingly turning off to this hypothesis of climate doom. You lost the benefit of the doubt with things like Climategate, and now all the deceptions are coming home to roost. In ten years time, global warming will be a joke, or forgotten. Just another Malthusian scare story. You’ll just have to invent another one.

  27. moptop

    “You guys can’t even articulate defenses for the simplest objections without attacking the motivations or intelligence or qualifications of the questioner” – moptop

    “False and hypocritical” Guy

    “I think that what you are asking is explanations understandable to people who know nothing about basic science because they were to lazy/dumb to learn it in school” – GM

    Draw your own conclusions.

  28. gillt

    Webber: “And though all species benefit from the natural conversion of radiant energy (for example, sunlight) into chemical energy (derived from, for example, photosynthesis), humans are the only species that will specifically manipulate energy from one form to another — for example converting chemical energy (fuels) to thermal energy (heat) or mechanical energy (motion).”

    Then according to Webber this sentence is wrong. Plants specifically manipulate radiant energy into chemical energy in a process called photosynthesis. All because I said specifically manipulates instead of naturally convert. He’s playing word games.

    All Webber has managed to say is that photosynthesis is natural because plants do it and burning oil is specific and manipulative because humans do it. Webber hasn’t defined anything; he’s just running around in metaphoric circles.

  29. Guy

    “Do you really understand it?”

    You don’t need to know how to work out all the complex equations that make nuclear reactions possible, but you can accept the fact that we can produce a nuclear reaction. The same holds true for big-bang theory and host of other scientific theories; most people just accept them because the there is a group of experts that has validated them.

    If we had to take the time to make everyone a qualified expert on everything we would have no time for taking action. Huge asteroid heading for earth? ‘Oh lets just educate everyone on asteroid trajectory equations before we decide on what action to take.’ That is essentially what you are saying; that we have to make everyone climate experts before taking action on global warming.

  30. Nullius in Verba

    #29,

    “most people just accept them because the there is a group of experts that has validated them.”

    Thank you. It’s very nice of you to say so.

    As I’ve said before, when people are not claiming the authority of science, they can believe things for whatever reason they like. They can use heuristics and rules of thumb, reasonable assumptions, personal preferences, political ideologies, religion, tradition, what their friends down at the pub say, or advertising. People can, and they do. And a lot of the time, it works out for them.

    But it is also perfectly reasonable that other people can believe differently – using different heuristics, authorities, whatever. They’re not “lazy/dumb” for doing so.

    The reason we allow all opinions their voice is because we know that the experts are frequently wrong, the consensus often in error. It is a safeguard against that, in that it ensures wrong theories get knocked down swiftly, and we gain evidence for the credibility of good theories through them being continually tested. That’s how we make progress.

    Huge asteroid heading for Earth? We need to pay trillions in other people’s money to astronomers to research it? Fine, but why won’t you let anyone else look through your telescope? Why do we keep finding errors in the few scraps of your calculations we’ve gleaned? Have you ever actually seen this asteroid, or is it a prediction of a computer model? How can you possibly have the measurement precision to be able to predict chaotic orbits? And how many other bodies are there up there that you don’t know about, the gravity of any one of which could throw your predictions off track?

    OK, lets take it seriously. The first thing we need to do is to make monitoring this threat the job of a professional multi-disciplinary team, everything out in the open, checked, audited, re-examined, using the best possible equipment and instruments, the best algorithms, the most rigorously validated software – rather than a part-time effort by a handful of disorganised academics working outside their fields who won’t share data, tell anybody how their code works, or acknowledge obvious errors. Using a bunch of shonky instruments that are badly maintained, poorly recorded, get moved about, sited next to stuff known to distort the results, and require heaven knows what adjustments and processing to fix all the errors, fill in all the gaps and get anything usable out of them.

    Can you imagine, if an asteroid really was headed for Earth, that they wouldn’t devote all the scientific resources they had got to tracking it? Do you really think somebody could get away with saying they had “lost the data”? Or that the asteroid-tracking software they used was their own personal property? Or “why should I give it to you when you’ll only try to find something wrong with it?”

    Truly, I don’t think even they really believe in it. Or they’d be panicking at the mess they were making and demanding someone take it off their hands, that it’s too big for them.

    Go read HARRY_READ_ME and tell me that’s how someone would really respond to the asteroid. If you believe that, you’re even more cynical than me.

  31. GM

    Nullius in Verba: I will not bother to explain all the holes in your reasoning as it makes little sense for me to waste time that’s better spent doing actual science on another fruitless attempt to educate the uneducatable. I will simply say that when I mention that the public is too ignorant of basic science this includes an even more profound ignorance of how and why science works, and morons brainwashed by the denial machine like you are a great example of that

  32. moptop

    “You guys can’t even articulate defenses for the simplest objections without attacking the motivations or intelligence or qualifications of the questioner” – moptop

    “Morons brainwashed by the denial machine like you are a great example of that” – GM

  33. GM

    Yes, because 99% of the time there is something wrong with one, or (typically) all of those things, and I am tired of wasting my time trying to explain stuff that should be obvious to people who still had functioning brains. The fact is that the vast majority of people do not care about facts and logic, or how science works, or even what is true too begin with. It is a major cognitive deficiency of our species and we will reap the consequences in the not so distant future. There is little that can be done at this point.

    As I said, there is little point arguing with idiots who claim that we’re getting “trillions of dollars of research funding” (where exactly did this figure come out is not clear to me, and it’s not the first time I see some brain dead lunatic throw it into the discussion) or that there is some vast conspiracy out there among scientists (among scientists in the US, UK, all of Europe, Russia, China, India, Japan, etc.? How exactly does that work out? Most of these people didn’t even know each other before 1989 and a lot of the science involved predates the fall of the curtain; what about the graduate students who do most of the work and who presumably come into the game without being part of the conspiracy – why has none of them spoken out?) or even that the math behind global warming models is “extremely complicated” (which can come only from someone who has never been around any actual high level math), and so on.

  34. moptop

    “As I said, there is little point arguing with idiots who claim that we’re getting ‘trillions of dollars of research funding'”

    I have never seen that claim. I have seen the claim, which I will be happy to substantiate for you, that proposed actions on climate change will cost trillions. If anything, I think climatology is underfunded.

    “why has none of them spoken out?”

    Well, I guess if you choose to ignore them, you can make claims like the above. Here is a posting from Dr Judith Curry, of Georgia Tech. I know she will hate seeing her name used in this context, but she has published research putatively linking Hurricanes to AGW.

    http://www.collide-a-scape.com/2010/04/23/an-inconvenient-provocateur/

    Judith Curry is not the only one either. It is just that you have a method. When somebody says something you disagree with, you simply shut them out of your conciousness. It is called “Confirmation Bias” and it will overpower this post even though I have presented evidence from somebody who has both sterling qualifications and believes the hypothesis of AGW.

    As for Russian scientists, you really don’t keep up much with them, do you? The Chinese are probably hoping for a warming because during historical warm times, what is now desert in China was woodlands and lakes. But you wouldn’t know that because you are not allowed to look at peer reviewed studies which do not further carry the political imprimatur of as small cabal of ‘scientists’ who had a stranglehold on certain journals, and discussed the ruthless use of this power in the… da daa duh daaaaa! Climategate emails.

  35. moptop

    “why has none of them spoken out?”

    Well there are two possibilities for how the Climategate emails got leaked. One of them is an Ocean’s Eleven type plot to hack into multiple computers and sort through thousands of documents, producing only emails, documents and source code which narrowly relate to one area, the other is that they were leaked by an insider after being assembled for an FOI request which the CRU illegally, as it turned out, refused. If you read Keith Briffa’s emails, you might come to the suspicion that it was he.

  36. Guy

    @moptop,

    #34,35,

    Climategate has already been investigated and been answered; no it doesn’t undo the AGW reality.

    So how does this discussion work towards a solution?

  37. moptop

    I told you that your confirmation bias would keep you from reading what Dr Curry said about Climategate, and I was right. Nobody really knows what the “reality” is due to their “sloppy data”, “cherry picked proxies”, and “inadequate statistical methods.”

  38. moptop

    By the way, the “investigation” focused narrowly on outright fraud. Plagiarism, sheer manufacture of data, and did not explore any of the questions raised about the science itself, which is Dr Curry’s point. Cherry picking was not addressed, nor were statistical methods, both issues which the leaked Climategate emails raised.

  39. Nullius in Verba

    GM,

    #31 – That answer was brilliant! An absolute classic! “You are wrong for excellent scientific reasons that I choose not to explain or let anybody know what they are.” Totally unanswerable. You defeat me completely!

    Guy,

    #36 – If you’re talking about the official investigations, then no, it hasn’t been investigated, or answered. All the enquiries were very careful to define the scope of their terms of reference to exclude anything that would pose a problem, and carefully failed to examine any of the areas of contention.

    To take just one of dozens of examples, show me where in any of the enquiry reports they address the question of Tom Wigley confirming that Doug Keenan was correct in his assertions, the ones that led to Jones’ collaborator being investigated for scientific fraud? Or where the evidence that supposedly clears him is? Can you show me the bit where they set out the implications that has for temperature record adjustments, as relied upon by the IPCC, or the sensitivity calculations derived from that temperature record?

    We can all download the files and see for ourselves, so an enquiry that doesn’t address any of the substantive issues obviously isn’t going to convince anyone. And Climategate isn’t the only problem they’ve got. Sceptics existed before it came out, and they had already amassed piles of problems with AGW science from the public sources even before we got this peek behind the curtain.

    You can’t bypass or sidestep the issue any more. First you have to show that there’s a problem – and that its serious enough that we need to do something major about it – before you can move on to discussing solutions (with our money). You haven’t done that. The debate has never been “over”.

  40. Guy

    @Nullius in Verba,

    I’ve seen you make some intelligent arguments in these discussions so it’s disheartening to see that you’ve been scammed by the denial machine. If smart people can be fooled by dis-informers then where does that leave us with the majority of people who are scientific illiterates? Will they be oblivious until we’re already past the time when we could have done something?

  41. moptop

    “been scammed by the denial machine”

    Before you answer or don’t answer this post, consider that the Earth is in the Balance before you decide that it is not worth the effort.

    What exactly did NIV say in his post that was factually incorrect or logically invalid?

  42. GM

    As I have said numerous times in this blog, global warming isn’t even the major sustainability issue we face, and what we do about all of the ones we have to deal with does not change at all whether we take global warming seriously (which we should) or not.

  43. Guy

    @GM,

    Yes, I know it’s not the only issue we face. Our current farming/food/water model is unsustainable. There’s no way it can continue to support us at the current rate of over-use. That doesn’t mean that we should just give up on figuring out a way to beat the odds.

  44. Nullius in Verba

    Guy,

    How can you be so sure which of us is misinformed?

    Well, OK then. I’ll help you out. Here’s what you have to do: in summary – take it seriously.

    First – take the serious sceptics seriously. Give them all the data. Give them all the code. Help them understand it. Hide nothing. Be transparent about your reasons for doing what you do. Go into the science in enough detail that the sceptics can reproduce every step, every calculation, every deduction. And if they find gaps or flaws, devote extra time to filling and fixing them. Because from a scientific point of view, sceptics are your best friends. They will find your errors and test your logic and make the science solid. If you can convince them, that will convince a lot of other people. Cut out everything that is dubious, disproven, or inessential. Even (especially!) if it appears to support your case. And put it all on the web, so anyone can get a compact summary of the actual correct science, and drill down into as far as they need to satisfy them.

    And stop with the exaggerated scaremongering crap. It doesn’t help.

    Second – take the science seriously. Fund a proper temperature monitoring network; make sure it’s got accurate regularly-calibrated instruments, sited properly, with automated record collection taken more than twice a day, with redundancy, consistency checks, inspections, maintenance, and decent database management. Have the world’s best statisticians do the processing, with everything out in the open. Have software engineers make the data and code robust, documented, open and transparent, with configuration control and full V&V. Fill in the gaps in ocean monitoring, set up comprehensive lidar networks to monitor the high altitude atmosphere. Bring the tree ring surveys up to date, and extend them. And make sure every scrap of data is published (even the bits that don’t get used or went wrong), all the code is published, so anybody can reproduce every detail at the click of a button, and see how it was done.

    Third – practice what you preach. All those celebrities and politicians and bureaucrats should stop lecturing ordinary people living in welfare accommodation to save energy while they fly in personal jets to climate conferences in Bali, lounge around in huge houses with heated pools, consume luxuries enough to feed a dozen African villages and turning the heating/air conditioning up to ‘tropical’. Carbon offsets don’t count. If you really believe it, stop using energy. Act like you believe it.

    The next climate get-together where they plan how they’re going to charge the rest of us money for using energy – if its not done by teleconference then don’t tell me they’re being serious.

    Fourth – go nuclear, and don’t muck about. Start building a few hundred nuclear power stations, immediately. Fund massive research into safer, cheaper, more efficient designs – and make sure they know they’re expected to deliver. Clear away all the bureaucracy and protesters and interminable planning enquiries, because they’re your only viable technology right now. France has proved that it’s possible. Waste and proliferation are solvable problems, and are far easier/cheaper than you claim global warming is going to be. If you’re serious, and this really is an emergency, then why aren’t you acting like it? Remove the need for coal as fast as you possibly can.

    Fifth – go all out to get the developing world up to Western standards of prosperity. Because they’ll need the wealth to be able to adapt, to find solutions, to rebuild. Desperately poor people are too busy trying to survive to worry about the environment – nature is a rich person’s interest. Expend that capital building something worthwhile. Build in resilience and failure tolerance to your new infrastructure, and into your society. And understand that you don’t make the developing world rich by giving them all the developed world’s money. You can only do it by teaching them how to create wealth too. Education, education, education.

    And education in the West too. You say the problem is the general public is too thick to understand your elite thought – “scientifically illiterate” as you say. So teach them Science. And I don’t mean that Cargo Cult science you get in schools today, relying on scientific ‘authority’ and ‘Wakalixes’, I mean real scientific method, so that people cannot get fooled by the fraudsters. And then live up to those standards. Teach them. And if they struggle to learn, don’t give up on them, find a better way to teach them. It doesn’t require the techniques of experimental method, or all the heavy maths, or the conclusions of scientific research to understand the principles and the method. Falsifiability, replicability, integrity, attention to detail, open-mindedness, checking assumptions, taking nobody’s word for it.

    It’s not going to happen, sadly. Doom is always on the horizon. And when we get there, there”s always another horizon.

    And nobody is about to do anything that might stop it.

  45. GM

    If something is unsustainable, i.e. it is exceeding the long-term carrying capacity of the environment, then the only way to make it sustainable is to bring it within the carrying capacity of the environment. You can try to sustain it for a little bit longer by artificially increasing the carrying capacity of the environment by drawing on capital, but ultimately it will collapse.

    “Beating the odds” will mean finding a way to persuade people to understand the above and take the actions dictated by it

  46. moptop

    ““Beating the odds” will mean finding a way to persuade people to understand”

    By any means other than discussing the underlying reasononing, which is verboten.

  47. moptop

    Talking to you guys is like trying to wake somebody up who is enjoying a nice dream.

  48. Guy

    @Nullius in Verba,

    #44,

    There is no time for convincing those with vested interest in fossil fuels that global warming is real. These people don’t want to listen to anything “alarmists” have to say. The only reasonable course of action is to work on solutions without their support. If they don’t like it tough.

  49. moptop

    “The only reasonable course of action is to work on solutions without their support. If they don’t like it tough” – Guy

    Here’s your problem, you need a political majority to do this kind of stuff, to get that you need to convince voters that you are right. You are not going to do that by telling them they are stupid and corrupt. You have tried this for years and your support is going down, not up. Somebody needs to find a way to put the story together in an understandable way, and they need to take on objections, not pretend they don’t exist, which rules out RealClimate. Yeah it’s a big job. The fact that nobody will take it on just makes me doubt that there is anything there. Plus the fact that you can see Al Gore’s house from space.

    BTW, I don’t have an “vested interest” in fossil fuels. I don’t know where you guys get that stuff. Al Gore and Obama’s Chicago business cronies (Chicago Climate Exchange http://www.chicagoclimatex.com/ ) have a vested interest in Cap and Trade though. They think the market is going to be ten trillion dollars. So there are vested interests on both sides, which means that you can’t use the “vested interest” argument to sort out who is right.

  50. GM

    I don’t know where you guys get that stuff. Al Gore and Obama’s Chicago business cronies (Chicago Climate Exchange http://www.chicagoclimatex.com/ ) have a vested interest in Cap and Trade though

    Nobody who actually understand the seriousness of the situation is taking Cap & Trade seriously. Cap & Trade is a market mechanism that has been proposed in order to fit the fight against global warming into the current socio-economic framework. We need to substitute the current socio-economic framework with something else that actually works. So where exactly is the economic motivation here?

  51. moptop

    “We need to substitute the current socio-economic framework with something else that actually works.” – GM

    Are you suggesting that we get rid of democracy? And this is easier than explaining the science and dealing with objections in order to muster the political will? Or were you for overthrowing the “current socio-economic framework” before you ever heard of Global Warming? Just curious.

  52. Nullius in Verba

    Guy,

    #48 “There is no time for convincing those with vested interest in fossil fuels that global warming is real. These people don’t want to listen to anything “alarmists” have to say.”

    Everybody has a vested interested in fossil fuels, in that it makes long and healthy lives, prosperity, enough food, warmth, and materials to make our comfortable lives possible. A large part of the difference between an African village and New York is the availability of cheap energy. If you don’t want to live like in an African village, you have a vested interest.

    But I assume you’re referring to the fossil fuel conspiracy theory. To which I can only say that these people listen very carefully to what alarmists say – partly because there’s a lot of profit in it that they’d like a part of, partly because it affects their planning of the development of resources, and partly because they live on this planet too.

    The problem for the alarmists is that, being very relevant to their business, they have actually invested the time to find out about it beyond the superficial presentation. They know about geology and oceanography. They understand physics, and survey statistics, and the practical difficulties of collecting data in the field over large areas. They know that it is never simple, the data is never clean, and the conclusions never unambiguous. And they are very well used to people in their industry ginning up fake data or playing statistical tricks to make an investment opportunity look better than it is, and all the many ways you can spot that and determine the truth. Statistics as used in business is rather different to the rather more gentle academic practice of the art.

    So obviously a lot of geologists and meteorologists and oceanographers and so on, many of who are employed in the energy industry, have realised that the case for CAGW is suspect, and as any remotely ethical person would do, have been kicking up about it.

    Regarding the supposed motivation for ignoring CAGW, (as if anyone with any sense would,) it would be very easy to buy the oil companies off. The demand for energy stays the same, but the supply shrinks, and the price rockets. They have a government-enforced monopoly on energy production via the permit system, with prices controlled to remain far above the market level. That would, of course, devastate the economy (if they applied it with enough force to make a real difference to emissions); but it would devastate the oil industry far less than it would their customers, who have to pay for it. More money for less work: – sounds perfect. All you have to do to keep them happy is give them a slice of the profits.

    But despite this, many people in the energy industry who understood what was going on still stood up and objected. Because damaging the economy damages everybody – being less damaged by it than others does not make it good. And they wanted their customers to know, when they got hit by sky-high bills from which the energy companies would make huge profits, that they fought against it. Blame the government, not the oil companies.

    Perhaps having established their credentials, or more likely having found the politics too hot, most of them have now given up and have jumped on the Carbon-Cartel bandwagon. I’m not impressed. People sometimes tell me that even Exxon have now acknowledged the truth of global warming, as if that was supposed to convince me. As if I had got my opinions from Exxon-funded press statements; as if I used the same flawed Argument from Authority approach they did and would believe whatever Exxon said.

    The vast majority of scepticism today is from people not involved with the fossil fuel industry, and in no way influenced by them. They doubt because of what the climate research community say, and don’t say. They doubt because, while they might not all be able to follow the intricacies of atmospheric physics, they can spot the many signs of deception when they see them. They doubt because they can see where there are gaps or errors in the argument.

    And when I can see an error in the technical argument, you can say what you like about the vested interests of the person who first pointed it out – it makes not a whit of difference. The error is there. It hasn’t been fixed. I’m not about to believe what I know to be wrong.

    It is, I accept, a different question for those without the technical qualifications to be really sure. My position here is that when people are not claiming to speak for science, they can believe for whatever reasons they like. I don’t have a problem with people believing in AGW because of argument from authority, so long as they understand that this is why they believe, and that it isn’t a method backed by science. By the same principle, though, people can disbelieve for unscientific reasons, too. And they are morally and intellectually no worse than the first lot for doing so.

    Working on solutions without our support is fine. Working on solutions in which you force us to support you, with our money through your taxes, with our actions through your laws and regulations, that’s a problem. History is littered with people who thought they needed to force everybody else to do what they said, for the common good. They were absolutely convinced that they were right. And yes, maybe one of these days one of them will be right. But to cope with the vast majority who are wrong, we have these safeguards of democracy and liberty and free speech. It’s not perfect, but what is?

  53. GM

    1. You do not live in a democracy, contrary to what you think

    2. If we are to avoid overshoot and collapse, we need to restrain ourselves. The current version of democracy we have is incompatible with such a goal

  54. moptop

    ” The current version of democracy we have is incompatible with such a goal”

    So then, it is easier to change our system of govt than it is to explain in clear language the case for catastrophic global warming? Climatologists use the same mathematics as everybody else. Michael Mann’s hockey stick is based on mathematics developed for engineers. I knew an engineer who work on vibrational analysis for jet engines that probably used it all the time. I don’t think it is any coincidence that “denialism” is rampant among engineers.

    Any society that does not agree with your vision of social order, no matter how it is structured, clearly cannot be a democracy? Does that make you feel “ronery”

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xh_9QhRzJEs

  55. moptop

    Sorry, I guess that video hit too close to home. But there is a saying around the skeptical blogosphere, scratch a warmie, find a lefty.

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About Sheril Kirshenbaum

Sheril Kirshenbaum is a research scientist with the Webber Energy Group at the University of Texas at Austin's Center for International Energy and Environmental Policy where she works on projects to enhance public understanding of energy issues as they relate to food, oceans, and culture. She is involved in conservation initiatives across levels of government, working to improve communication between scientists, policymakers, and the public. Sheril is the author of The Science of Kissing, which explores one of humanity's fondest pastimes. She also co-authored Unscientific America: How Scientific Illiteracy Threatens Our Future with Chris Mooney, chosen by Library Journal as one of the Best Sci-Tech Books of 2009 and named by President Obama's science advisor John Holdren as his top recommended read. Sheril contributes to popular publications including Newsweek, The Washington Post, Discover Magazine, and The Nation, frequently covering topics that bridge science and society from climate change to genetically modified foods. Her writing is featured in the anthology The Best American Science Writing 2010. In 2006 Sheril served as a legislative Knauss science fellow on Capitol Hill with Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) where she was involved in energy, climate, and ocean policy. She also has experience working on pop radio and her work has been published in Science, Fisheries Bulletin, Oecologia, and Issues in Science and Technology. In 2007, she helped to found Science Debate; an initiative encouraging candidates to debate science research and innovation issues on the campaign trail. Previously, Sheril was a research associate at Duke University's Nicholas School of the Environment and has served as a Fellow with the Center for Biodiversity and Conservation at the American Museum of Natural History and as a Howard Hughes Research Fellow. She has contributed reports to The Nature Conservancy and provided assistance on international protected area projects. Sheril serves as a science advisor to NPR's Science Friday and its nonprofit partner, Science Friday Initiative. She also serves on the program committee for the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). She speaks regularly around the country to audiences at universities, federal agencies, and museums and has been a guest on such programs as The Today Show and The Daily Rundown on MSNBC. Sheril is a graduate of Tufts University and holds two masters of science degrees in marine biology and marine policy from the University of Maine. She co-hosts The Intersection on Discover blogs with Chris Mooney and has contributed to DeSmogBlog, Talking Science, Wired Science and Seed. She was born in Suffern, New York and is also a musician. Sheril lives in Austin, Texas with her husband David Lowry. Interested in booking Sheril Kirshenbaum to speak at your next event? Contact Hachette Speakers Bureau 866.376.6591 info@hachettespeakersbureau.com For more information, visit her website or email Sheril at srkirshenbaum@yahoo.com.

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