Category: Global Warming

In the Climate Debate, The Misunderstanding Is Mutual

By Chris Mooney | July 6, 2011 11:02 am

My latest DeSmogBlog post is about how climate skeptics basically seem to believe that their opponents are driven by socialism and communism. We aren’t, of course–duh–but it is fascinating to listen to how they explain this, in their own words.

The piece starts like this:

So recently, I’ve watched a few videos from the Heartland Institute conference on “Restoring the Scientific Method”—and it has been a fascinating experience.

I point you, for instance, to this session on public policy, and especially the Q&A starting at minute 56. (Also watch Marc Morano from minute 38 to minute 56, the dude is nothing if not entertaining.) Once the audience questions start coming for the panel, I was rather surprised to hear that most were basically about…uh, communism. And in response, the panelists—and especially Christopher Horner—were quite affirmative that the real reason that we, the “left,” want to restrict greenhouse gas emissions is that we want to hobble economies, redistribute wealth, and restrict individual freedoms.

“You can believe this is about the climate, and many people do,” said Horner. “But it’s not a reasonable belief.” Horner went on to argue that “it’s probably about what they’ve claimed they really want.” For many “luminaries” of the environment movement, Horner continued, “economic growth is not the cure, it’s the disease.”

You can read the full piece here.

Greenpeace Confirms ExxonMobil Funded Climate Deniers, But Change May Be Coming

By The Intersection | July 1, 2011 6:12 pm

This is a guest post by Jamie L. Vernon, Ph.D., a research scientist and policy wonk, who encourages the scientific community to get engaged in the policy-making process

The winds of change may be a blowin’.

A report from Greenpeace, U.S.A. has confirmed that ExxonMobil has been funding several prominent groups that have openly challenged the science behind global warming.  The report largely focuses on grants provided to Dr. Willie Soon, a prominent climate denier.  It reveals an elaborate “scientific” enterprise designed to distort the science of climate change.  While Greenpeace focuses on findings that support their assertion that climate denialism has been historically sponsored by “Big Coal and Big Oil,” Leslie Kaufman over at the New York Times’ Green blog has uncovered a more optimistic side of the story.

Kaufman reports that ExxonMobil has followed through on a promise made to shareholders in 2008 not to fund groups that have become a “distraction” in the climate debate.  According to her article, ExxonMobil has cut off funding to Dr. Soon and others.  I’m not quick to praise ExxonMobil for these decisions because the motivation seems to be largely due to negative press rather than a genuine commitment to environmental issues.  However, I was heartened by comments from Alan Jeffers, an ExxonMobil spokesperson who said, “I am not prepared to talk about the individual grant requirements, but if their positions are distracting to how we are going to meet the energy needs of the world, then we didn’t want to fund them.”

In light of the fact that several prominent Republican politicians have recently come out in support of the science behind anthropogenic global warming, it seems that the political currents may be turning in the right direction.  Two of the top Republican Presidential candidates, Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman, have individually commented that humans are contributing to the problem.  In addition, popular conservative Republican and New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie, has expressed similar sentiments.  It’s a good thing, too, because a recent Stanford poll reveals that the American public prefers political candidates who believe that humans have contributed to global warming and that the nation should move away from fossil fuels by investing in renewable sources of energy.

I have expressed my optimism on this issue throughout my posts here at the Intersection.  It seems to me that America is moving toward a political environment where we might be able to establish a green energy plan for the future.  Chris, however, is much more skeptical.

Let’s just hope for the best.

Follow Jamie Vernon on Twitter or read occasional posts at his personal blog, “American SciCo.”


New Science From the NCDC Makes It More Difficult To Communicate Climate Change

By The Intersection | June 27, 2011 1:00 pm

This is a guest post by Jamie L. Vernon, Ph.D., a research scientist and policy wonk, who encourages the scientific community to get engaged in the policy-making process

Many of us were shocked by the horrific tornado outbreaks that occurred this spring.  And, yes, parts of the country are currently experiencing record high temperatures this summer, like never-before-seen temperatures as high as 117 degrees Fahrenheit in Amarillo Childress, Texas.  If I was a scaremonger, I might use these events to argue the case for anthropogenic global warming.  However, the science doesn’t necessarily support this argument, so I do not participate in such behavior.  The science predicts that extreme weather events will be more likely and more often, but for now it is difficult to say whether we have reached the point at which those predictions are becoming reality.

To complicate things further, the science behind climate change occasionally presents information that, at first glance, appears to be contradictory to the concept of global warming.  Case in point, NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center (NCDC) recently released the “new temperature normals.”  These figures represent the average temperatures taken over the last 30 years.  Surely, you’ve seen your local weatherman mention the normal high and normal low for the day.  Usually this is accompanied by how the rainfall for the month compares to the average.  The new calculations have provided some misleading results, when looking at them from a global warming perspective.

Dan Satterfield is a Certified Broadcast Meteorologist, which means he has a background in atmospheric physics.  This makes him a rare breed among meteorologists, a real scientist.  Dan writes on his blog at the AGU Blogosphere, that the country is definitely getting hotter, but the way we present the data may mislead some people.  According to Dan, calculations from the NCDC show that the new normal temperatures in the northern areas of North America have increased.  These increases are most pronounced during the winter and nights.  This trend has been predicted and was expected by scientists based on the phenomenon of global warming.

One result that was expected by the scientists but will most likely be confusing to the public is that “normal” summer temperatures in parts of Oklahoma and Texas have actually dropped slightly.  The reason?  Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Environment, Global Warming

Do Scientific Literacy and Numeracy Worsen Climate Denial?

By Chris Mooney | June 24, 2011 10:04 am

Once again, Dan Kahan and his colleagues at Yale are out with a paper that dramatically challenges–using scientific data–much of what we would like to believe about the relationship between knowing more about science, and accepting science on contested issues. The paper is entitled “The Tragedy of the Risk-Perception Commons: Cultural Conflict, Rationality Conflict, and Climate Change.”

The brilliant maneuver in this study is to do a survey that not only measures whether people accept climate science, but correlates that with their scores on standard scientific literacy questions and tests of numeracy–the ability to think mathematically. Here’s the abstract:

The conventional explanation for controversy over climate change emphasizes impediments to public understanding: limited popular knowledge of science, the inability of ordinary citizens to assess technical information, and the resulting widespread use of unreliable cognitive heuristics to assess risk. A large survey of U.S. adults (N = 1540) found little support for this account. On the whole, the most scientifically literate and numerate subjects were slightly less likely, not more, to see climate change as a serious threat than the least scientifically literate and numerate ones. More importantly, greater scientific literacy and numeracy were associated with greater cultural polarization: respondents predisposed by their values to dismiss climate change evidence became more dismissive, and those predisposed by their values to credit such evidence more concerned, as science literacy and numeracy increased. We suggest that this evidence reflects a conflict between two levels of rationality: the individual level, which is characterized by citizens’ effective use of their knowledge and reasoning capacities to form risk perceptions that express their cultural commitments; and the collective level, which is characterized by citizens’ failure to converge on the best available scientific evidence on how to promote their common welfare. Dispelling this “tragedy of the risk-perception commons,” we argue, should be understood as the central aim of the science of science communication.

I plan to blog about several aspects of this paper, as its findings are so central to everything I’m trying to get across these days. For now, I’m just flagging it. I think it is an absolute must read.

Al Gore and the Enlightenment Ethic

By Chris Mooney | June 23, 2011 1:18 pm

Everybody is talking, and rightly so, about the big Al Gore piece in Rolling Stone on science, reason, and the climate crisis. And it is, indeed, quite a tour de force. Gore is not only a charismatic leader (now that he’s not running for president), he’s a great writer.

Nevertheless, I’m afraid to say that Gore is operating, big time, in liberal Enlightenment mode–precisely what I critiqued in The American Prospect. Let’s give some examples of Gore’s Enlightenment rhetoric:

Admittedly, the contest over global warming is a challenge for the referee because it’s a tag-team match, a real free-for-all. In one corner of the ring are Science and Reason. In the other corner: Poisonous Polluters and Right-wing Ideologues.


We haven’t gone nuts — but the “conversation of democracy” has become so deeply dysfunctional that our ability to make intelligent collective decisions has been seriously impaired. Throughout American history, we relied on the vibrancy of our public square — and the quality of our democratic discourse — to make better decisions than most nations in the history of the world. But we are now routinely making really bad decisions that completely ignore the best available evidence of what is true and what is false. When the distinction between truth and falsehood is systematically attacked without shame or consequence — when a great nation makes crucially important decisions on the basis of completely false information that is no longer adequately filtered through the fact-checking function of a healthy and honest public discussion — the public interest is severely damaged.

I agree with one part of Gore’s message whole heartedly. We really have lost our grip on reality and this really is endangering our politics and our civilization. Without facts, we’re  screwed. We’re dysfunctional.

But I don’t agree with Gore’s account of why this happened. He blames the “powerful.” He blames the “Polluters.” He blames the media. But most of all, for him it’s special interests–money in politics, money in the fossil fuel industry, is blocking our progress and sowing misinformation.

Gore seems to assume that if these pernicious effects were vanquished–or controlled by better policy–then the “public interest” would triumph again and we would all rally around it–just as we would all embrace the same facts again. But that just isn’t true.

The truth is that we are psychologically programmed not to accept the facts; and moreover, we don’t all want the same things–liberals and conservatives, in particular, have different value systems and psychological needs. And liberals, in particular, need to think that society can be rational, and that science can fix our problems–and that if it isn’t working out that way, it must be due to some kind of wrongdoing or nefariousness.

But alas, while our state of dysfunction is very real, the cause is not some evil Machiavellian group of special interests (an argument that works less and less well, by the way, as more and more fossil fuel companies become supporters of climate action). No: the cause lies within ourselves, and our brains.

How Global Warming Affects Weather: Why Can’t We Get the Story Right?

By Chris Mooney | June 20, 2011 10:48 am

Joe Romm is upset by this recent John Broder piece on climate and extreme weather, entitled “Scientists See More Deadly Weather, but Dispute the Cause.” So am I. There are such better ways to tell this complex, but still important story.

There are three fundamental points here that every story on this topic should get across:

1) No single weather event is  caused by climate change; climate is defined as the sum total of weather, so the effect of a climate change on weather is only detectable in the aggregate statistics.

2) For some types of severe weather, such as tornadoes, the science doesn’t currently allow us to say that global warming is making them worse. So that shouldn’t be stated.

3) Nevertheless, global warming represents a key change operating in background of all weather—there’s more overall heat. This is certain to have a wide array of consequences—like a greater risk of heat waves, and more intense precipitation events–and indeed, some of those are already being detected.

Is that hard?

For another good explanation see here.


Reality Bites: How the Reality Based Community Has Shifted Left

By Chris Mooney | June 14, 2011 10:05 am

I’m going to be focusing on my latest American Prospect piece and its implications–but the new URL is here. I guess it changed for web purposes.

I also got the cover image wrong so here is the right one.

Meanwhile I note that the central personage with whom I begin the article, Kerry Emanuel of MIT, recently had a great letter in the Boston Globe, debunking Jeff Jacoby, who had rewritten some skeptic talking points as a column. Here’s Emanuel:

Assessing and dealing with climate risk in an environment of highly uncertain science and expensive options is challenging enough without having to entertain the flippancy of your columnist. There is no scientific basis for his certainty that we have nothing to worry about.

It’s that old point about not being certain about uncertainty….unwarranted certainty is not a good thing on such a complex issue.

My New Feature Story in the American Prospect: "The Reality Gap"

By Chris Mooney | June 13, 2011 12:46 pm

How do you explain the current factual and scientific divide that separates the two U.S. political parties today? In the latest American Prospect, I’ve taken a stab.

The explanation isn’t simple–there are many moving parts–but also some key fundamentals: 1) Democrats have vastly more Ph.D.s and experts, and seem to be more factually correct about contested issues; 2) Republicans nevertheless have enough of their own experts and aren’t giving up; 3) neither Democrats nor Republicans are inherently anti-science or anti-expertise, but they rely on these for very different reasons, and do not both share the “Enlightenment ethic” of using science and reason to forge a better society; 4) all this is set against a rightward shifting political backdrop since about 1970; 5) all of the foregoing, in combination with psychology and media, leave us with a “postmodern” discourse that helps nobody.  Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness,” writ large.

Anyway, that’s the very, very brief rundown. Here’s how the piece opens:

In March, it was Kerry Emanuel’s turn to do what so many of his colleagues have done before: defend their knowledge and expertise against congressional Republicans. Read More

Santorum on Limbaugh: Climate Change Is a "Scheme" for "More Government"

By The Intersection | June 9, 2011 9:57 pm

by Jon Winsor

No surprise, but Rick Santorum appeared on Rush Limbaugh today and made an effort to scoop up Mitt’s lost support:

The argument is a familiar kind, which I’ll have more to say about in the coming days:

“To me this is an opportunity for the left to create — it’s really a beautifully concocted scheme because they know that the earth is gonna cool and warm. It’s been on a warming trend so they said, ‘Oh, let’s take advantage of that and say that we need the government to come in and regulate your life some more because it’s getting warmer.'”

“It’s just an excuse for more government control of your life…”


Really Depressing Polling Data on Global Warming Beliefs

By Chris Mooney | June 8, 2011 1:10 pm

Anthony Leiserowitz of Yale is out with new polling data on the public and climate, including asking a question that hasn’t been asked before: “To the best of your knowledge, what proportion of climate scientists think that global warming is caused mostly by human activities?” Here are the (dismal) results:

81 to 100 % (of climate scientists) — 15 % (of Americans)
61 to 80 % — 18 %
41 to 60 % — 18 %
21 to 40 % — 12 %
0 to 20 % — 7 %
Don’t know enough to say — 32 %

In other words, Americans are all over the map on this question, with no idea as to the strength of the scientific consensus. Or to put it another way–the vast majority of the public is either giving the wrong answer, or doesn’t know the answer.


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