Sunday, July 30, 2006

Why you aren't doing anything about global warming.

There is no doubt we are in an unprecedented predicament with rapid climate change on our doorstep. No scientific doubt:

For example, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change - an international group of hundreds of climate scientists - concluded in 2001 that "there is new and stronger evidence that most of the observed warming observed over the last 50 years is attributable to human activities." :::[ABCNews]

That important consensus was arrived upon in 2001, yet five years later we are bogged even deeper down in the quagmire of fossil fuel dependence, as our economies spew out more greenhousgaseses stressing the atmosphere into a series of worsening positive feedback loops from which, ultimately, there is a point of no return. We are facing the possibility of throwing our earth's natural cycles out of balance and destroying the climate that best sustains us, that we have evolved in, yet emissions reductions from the US and Australia, the world's biggest economy, and one of the biggest coal and gas exporters are further away than ever.


It's a question that our grandchildren will ask of us so, if only for that reason, it bears thinking about. The reason for business-as-usual in the face of scientific consensus of the harm is that a long and sustained campaign of misinformation about climate science by the fossil fuel companies has been waged for 15 years. It has been designed to confuse the public into accepting their proposition that switching from their product will cause economic disaster; don't risk it for unclear science.

So the Big Lie rides on. How do they get away with it? I believe they play on the public's poor understanding of science, exploiting the potential confusion in meanings between "scientific consensus" and "consensus", for one example. Scientific consensus is the collective judgment, position, and opinion of scientists in a particular field of science at a particular time. This consensus is normally achieved through communication at conferences, the process of publication, and peer review. :::[Wikipedia/scientific consensus]. This is different to common garden consensus, or consensus vulgaris: agreement in the judgment or opinion reached by a group as a whole. :::[]. There is no explicit channel for establishing and communicating consensus implied in this definition, and that is what the PR fossil fuel groups omit when they claim that there indeed are climate scientists who dissent from the consensus. Joe Public hears some climate scientists saying, "look there has been a scientific consensus since 2001", and he sees some fossil fuel shill saying, "look Joe, I'm a scientist, and I dissent from these other scientists on man-made global warming, so logically, how can there be consensus?" The problem is that Joe Public is not responding with, "oh, that's very interesting, what peer-reviewed publication can I read about your research in?" because Joe isn't a scientist.

This gap in understanding is the classic domain the practitioners of oil industry lobby group love to inhabit and they have their exploitation of it down to a black art. One of them, Patrick Michaels, has his hand caught in the coal-industry cooky jar, or at least Colorado's electric cooperative Intermountain Rural Electric Association's: :::[Making Money By Feeding Confusion Over Global Warming]

The letter also says that in February of this year, IREA contributed $100,000 to Patrick Michaels, a professor of environmental sciences at the University of Virginia.

Michaels is one of about a dozen academics who for years have cast doubt on the science surrounding global warming while downplaying the scientifically accepted idea that humans are causing it.

"We have had many apocalypses through the ages that haven't shown up, and this is likely to be another one," Michaels said on CNN earlier this year.

'Michaels said on CNN', note, not in Nature, Science, PNAS or Physical Review Letters. The Professor's audience was not intended to be scientists, but consumers of energy. Also note, it is likely he said it in January. Boy did he have a good February. Took the gap, and scored.

The gap he took, I call this one apocalypso reincarnatis, refers to events like the ozone hole scare where scientists warned that CFCs were eating our ozone layer, increasing concentrations of harmful UV rays. The public remembers the scares of the 80s, and is aware that the problem has norecededed, but is rarely cognisant of the fact that CFCs were banned. Michaels is not saying, 'the reason why we turned around the problem is because we listened to the scientists and modified how we did business'. Truthful and complete disclosure is not worth a quick $100,000 in a good February.

In this case the disgrace is compounded by the fact that the co-operatives customers, 133,000 member-owners, were not told that IREA had given such a substantial sum to Michaels. Nasty, but this sort of practice has been going on for 15 years:

Experts and journalists, however, who have documented a 15-year campaign funded by major companies in the fossil fuel industry to cast doubt on global warming science say the intent is to create confusion.

"This coal industry disinformation campaign is a repeat of a similar campaign launched in the early 1990s by Western Fuels and other coal interests," said Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author Ross Gelbspan.

Gelbspan says that continued efforts to confuse the public are "particularly sinister" given that they follow "by almost 10 years the conclusion of more than 2,000 scientists from 100 countries in what is the largest and most rigorously peer-reviewed scientific collaboration in history."

So that is why you aren't doing anything; you have been lied to and are confused. What should Joe Public do? He/she is not a scientist, but she/he is an energy consumer, and has rights; one being the right to not unwittingly buy goods and services that do not occasion harm predictable by the seller, in this case to the consumer's descendants.

The day is fast approaching when energy consumers can't claim ignorance of climate change, much like smokers can't claim ignorance of smoking related diseases today despite the misinformation campaigns of the past by big tobacco. The first species to be extinguished by global warming will be the climate change denialists and global warming skeptics, we can be sure of that. The sooner the better, for the rest of us. And our's. And their's.

And the way Joe Public can bring that day forward faster, whenever they see or read a skeptical scientist like Patrick Michaels, or Richard Lindzen, or Joe Spencer, is to note the media they use and see whether the research they quote is published in a peer-reviewed scientific publication. If this information is missing then the program or article is possibly nothing more than advertorial for fossil fuel and should be judged with that probability in mind. More conscientious consumers can communicate with editors and publishers expressing displeasure at having their intelligence insulted.

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