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2016 SkS Weekly Climate Change & Global Warming News Roundup #52

Posted on 24 December 2016 by John Hartz

In Memoriam

Piers Sellers

Piers J. Sellers on a mission to the International Space Station in May 2010. Credit NASA, via Reuters

Piers Sellers, a British-born climate scientist for NASA who remained optimistic about the fate of the Earth despite the grim climate change models he oversaw and who gained American citizenship to fulfill a childhood dream of becoming an astronaut, died Dec. 23 in Houston. He was 61.

The death was confirmed in a statement by NASA Administrator Charles Bolden. Dr. Sellers, who had been diagnosed with Stage 4 pancreatic cancer in October 2015, went public with his diagnosis in a New York Times column in January 2016. He wrote that while he had hoped he would see solutions to the problem of climate change in his lifetime, he was devoted to continuing his climate research until he died.

“There is no convincing, demonstrated reason to believe that our evolving future will be worse than our present, assuming careful management of the challenges and risks,” he wrote, sounding a note of optimism in spite of increasingly drastic changes in the global temperature and precipitation patterns that he studied. “History is replete with examples of us humans getting out of tight spots.”

Piers Sellers, climate scientist turned astronaut, dies at 61 by Harrison Smith, Health & Sciences, Washington Post, Dec 23, 2016

A chronological listing of the news articles posted on the Skeptical Science Facebook page during the past week.

Sun Dec 18, 2016

Mon Dec 19, 2016

Tue Dec 20, 2016

Wed Dec 21, 2016

Thu Dec 22, 2016

Fri Dec 23, 2016

Sat Dec 24, 2016

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Comments 1 to 6:

  1. Please fix the typo: It's "in memoriam".

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Done. Thank you.

  2. Piers changed my mind about the astronauts. I think his legacy is representative of latest generation (1990s and 2000s) of astronauts: explorers and scientists who not only do not deny basic laws of physics but came to apreciate the beauty of said laws that came about to create such unique beautiful planet as Eartth.

    That vision contrasts starkly with a legacy of an average astroanut of Apollo era (up to 1980s); mainly military pilots - "heroes" and "warriors" whose "gravity defying" acts entitled them in their mind to defy all laws of physics and science in general. Recall that many former astronauts have been the signatories of infamous Oregon petition, and some smaller similar anti-science petition singed by veteran NASA astronauts. Never mind that that science (starting from Konstantin Tsiolkovsky) was essential in constructing a survivable vessel on top of a firy missile, their role was objectively just of experimental rabbits, even if they like to view themselves as "heroes". Never mind their total disregard to the intergenerational ethics by boasting their "hero" statuses while degrading the planet for future generations. What a pitiful chapter of human history they are!

    Piers, you've done a tremendous service to us scientists not only with your contribution to climate science but, with your personal example, you've reversed the negative image of astronauts. Let's hope the other astronauts (if there is a need for manned flights in future) do follow your ethics.

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  3. chriskoz @2, I think you may be giving astronauts a bad rap.  Specifically, NASA lists 45 active and 294 former astronauts.  Of those, eight signed the letter from 49 NASA employees, and Buzz Aldrin (who did not sign) has also expressed "skepticism" about AGW.  That makes a total of just 9 out of 339, or 2.65% of current or former astronauts who are AGW "skeptics".

    They do, however, all appear to come from Skylab missions, or earlier.  That is, the most recent experience as an astronaut of a person I know to have signed or made a statement indicating "skepticism" about AGW was in 1979.

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  4. Thanks for that Tom. Rounded off that says that 97% of ex-Astronauts aren't skeptical. :-)

    And an interesting observation. Those few were all from the generation of steely-eyed rocketmen.

    Also maybe the experience of the space-station generation had an important difference. They spent a lot of time looking at the Earth, in detail. Whereas the lunar-race generation, for them it was the blue-marble, in the distance. Perhaps rather idealised. They didn't get to spend weeks on end looking at night lights, pollution hazes, fires in the Arctic etc. They may have only got a more superficial, rose-colored-glasses look at the Earth.

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  5. Glenn Tamblyn @4, it may indicate that 97% aren't "skeptical", but it does not tell us how many accept the science of climate change.  Many may be merely agnostic, and some may be "skeptical" but not have said so publicly.  So we should not read too much into it.  On the other hand, an AGW "skeptic" trying to find consolation from the fact that "many astronauts" support their position clearly needs to start looking at denominators.

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  6. An excellent summary of the weeks highlights.  Thank you.  I would also alert your readers to another highlight, in HuffPo.  The more information, the more ammunition, if you know what I mean.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Thank you for the positive feedback and for the recommendation. 

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