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2017 SkS Weekly Climate Change & Global Warming News Roundup #48

Posted on 2 December 2017 by John Hartz

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

Editor's Pick

Climate Change Panel Talks ‘Hope and Despair’

Harvard Panel 

David Wallace-Wells, Cam Webb, Nancy Knowlton, and Nikhil Advani speak Wednesday evening at a panel discussion hosted by the Harvard University Center for the Environment. AMY Y. LI

Climate change researchers, professors, and journalists debated how best to present the severity of climate change to the public Wednesday evening at an event hosted by the Harvard University Center for the Environment.

The discussion, titled “Hope and Despair: Communicating an Uncertain Future,” was held in the Geological Lecture Hall. Elizabeth M. Wolkovich, an assistant professor in the Department of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, moderated a discussion about how to best motivate the public to take action on climate change.

David Wallace-Wells, who is the deputy editor of the New York Magazine and wrote the article “The Uninhabitable Earth” this year, advocated the use of fear about the planet’s future as a way to inspire more people to become “climate agents.”

“I think that there is real value in scaring people,” Wallace-Wells said. “When I talk to colleagues it just seems so obvious to me that when you think about the relatively well-off Western world, that complacency about climate is just a much bigger problem than fatalism about climate.”/em>

Nancy Knowlton, chair for Marine Science at the Smithsonian Institution, said she thinks it is more effective to be optimistic about humanity’s ability to stave off disaster.

“I’ve had many, many students come up to me after talks about optimism or the Earth Optimism Summit that we ran in Washington saying ‘you know, this was incredibly empowering, I now really want to go out and work on solving this problem. I almost left the field of conservation because I thought there was nothing I could do,’” Knowlton said. “I do feel that it is absolutely essential to talk about what’s working, why it’s working, in addition to providing this very scary context.”

Climate Change Panel Talks ‘Hope and Despair’ by Yasmin Luthra & Aidan F Ryan, The Harvard Crimson, Nov 30, 2017 

Links posted on Facebook

Sun Nov 26, 2017

Mon Nov 27, 2017

Tue Nov 28, 2017

Wed Nov 29, 2017

Thu Nov 30, 2017

Fri Dec 1, 2017, 2017

Sat Dec 2, 2017, 2017

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Comments 1 to 9:

  1. Good article. You don't want to exaggerate, like claiming the earth will become like venus, and ruin credibility of science, or have false optimism either, that ignores unpleasant realities.

    Just give people the facts. Climate change is serious, and while probabilities of some of the worst aspects ( like several metres of sea level rise this century) appear low at this stage, because consequences are so severe, we cannot gamble, and must take action. I call this measured scariness, with all the facts on the table in an adult way.Treat the public like adults, and hopefully they will respond like adults.

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  2. The comments posted after the hope and despair article are interesting. Totally fact free, politicised, gut reaction, sneering, venting of anger.You wont convince half of those climate sceptics, but may convince those near the middle of the bell curve.

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  3. Nigelj 

    Those are not skeptics. If skepticism was their bag they would apply an equal level of scrutiny to the “research“ they base their conclusions on and any/all research that points in another direction.

    Their behavior fits better within the definition of cynicis. To title them skeptics is an insult to those of us who are genuinely inquisitive and love nothing more than gaining new knowledge by discovering we were wrong about some. 

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  4. Thiristaer, fair comment. Cynics, denialists.

    The cynics like to feel they have some special insight that makes them superior, like people who believe in conspiracy theories. They do not. They are either dumb, or intellectually lazy and mostly terribly insecure and deeply afraid to admit they were wrong, so they get locked into beliefs regardless of reality.

    A good read on genuine healthy scepticism "Skeptic, by Michael Shermer"

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  5. Should we use fear, optimism, facts, or something else to motivate people to do everything in their power to rape the planet less hard? The proof is in the pudding. When someone figures out the right message, we'll see everyone around them slashing their individual carbon footprints, in a steadily expanding circle. We'll see fossil fuel companies getting worried as they notice their business cratering in particular geographic areas, and looking for ways to restore demand. As I have never heard of this occurring - there is no community in the developed world where people en masse have adopted low-carbon behaviors across the board, and the behavior pattern is spreading relentlessly outward - then it is likely that nobody on this panel or anywhere else has any evidence-based idea of how to present climate change to the public. We might as well speculate on the best strategy for curing Huntington's disease (a disease that nobody knows how to cure yet), when we're still at the stage of reiki, homeopathy, leeches, and purgatives.

    The melting glaciers don't care whether people are optimistic, pessimistic, despairing, dismissive, or hopeful, because emotions don't affect the rate of warming. Only actions do. Individuals who experience the full range of emotional reactions to climate change messaging continue to climb in their automobiles every morning, and book holiday flights regularly. You can see how people are acting by glancing at any highway or airport. Each airliner (a carbon-spewing flying fossil fuel tank) probably carries the full range of opinions on climate change. Look around the pages of your Facebook friends - how many are festooned with largely unwitting photographic boasts of how hard they raped the planet on their last holiday trip? Even many so-called climate activists continue to engage in the fossil-fueled gang-rape of the planet. People have somehow mastered the trick of compartmentalizing their personal assaults on the climate off from whatever they may believe about the climate.

    As the election of Donald Trump should have made abundantly clear, government cannot be relied upon exclusively to solve the problem for us. The great hope of the environmental movement - that we can bypass the individual, who is the unit of climate change causation, and invoke collective magic - has played into the hands of the oligarchs who long ago perfected the formula for capturing the regulators. Unfortunately for the biosphere and its human and non-human residents, the environmental movement has focused almost exclusively on obtaining government regulations, when this is perhaps the easiest strategy for oligarchs to counter.

    So forget trying to motivate people with optimism or fear. We need a good healthy dose of moral outrage. When you see someone raping the planet with their automobiles, holiday trips, etc., react to them the same way you would react to seeing someone doing something that is morally outrageous (such as killing a kitten). As a culture, we care more about the welfare of individual kittens (even though domestic cats are nowhere near endangered as a species) than we care about the welfare of the biosphere on which cats and every other known living thing depends.

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  6. Daniel Mocsny @5, what you say is pretty interesting, but the environmental movement does spend a lot of time suggesting things individuals can do to change their lifestyles (regardless of what government does or doesn't do). For example reducing consumption, using low energy lighbulbs, theres a large list of things, but the point is you can only repeat this so many times, and its more or less a finite list well known by now. We can't force this onto people. Anyway this is why enviromentalists concentrate also on what governments could do as well.

    The problem is often cost related. Electric cars have been just out of cost reach of many people, and even if you are worried about climate change, it's a big thing to find money for an electric car. This is of course now changing as prices drop, and the technology improves, and we may be near a tipping point of exponential growth in  this technology.

    There's much sensible government can do to help electric cars, and other issues, such as small subsidies, recharging stations, carbon fee and dividend schemes. It seems clear to me fixing the climate issue is ideally a combination of private individual action, corporate action and some government action, in a partnership approach. This is idealistic, but when I'm convinced of something, it's important to spell out the proper way. Of course as you correctly say the "oligarchs have captured the regulators", but we cannot simply accept that is how it must be. It has to change somehow, and I suspect it will change and presidencies and congress change towards people more prepared to confront the issue. The point is idealism has it's place, as does consideration of the full picture on what everybody should do on the climate issue, or we loose a rational and positive path forwards, and any semblance of a coherent overall plan.

    I like your moral outrage point, and it is something that can work well at an individual sort of level. But we are still left with figuring out  the best way of communicating the science, and the risks posed to humanity. Personally I think the IPCC have done a good job at a technical level, and it's hard to see how their reports could be fundamentally better or radically different, in approach and style. Scaremongering has no place in technical reports, although risks should certainly be underlined boldly.

    Perhaps it's more up to scientists in the media, and also politicians and business people to help spread the message. They can talk more freely than the iPCC. Scientists have done ok, but are not trained public relations people. Messages from politicians and business have been mixed, and often non existent from these two groups.So you see we haven't really delivered the message all that well in the past in some respects. I think if a few of these people started talking about the risks of climate change,in a cool way but emphasising the high level of risk it would help. Of course there are 101 reasons why they are reluctant, but perhaps its time they looked at their moral bottom lines.

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  7. Daniel Mocsny,

    Selling/promoting 'climate action' needs more than a 'better marketing spin'. In fact marketing spin can be understood to be part of the problem. Raising awareness and better understanding is often easily challenged by misleading marketing that tempts people to prefer to believe an unjustified claim supporting a Private Interest.

    The real problem is the lack of a Good Objective (lack of morality/ethics) that obviously/undeniably develops when people are freer to believe anything that suits their personal interest and do whatever they desire.

    As John Stuart Mill warned in “On Liberty” ... “If society lets a considerable number of its members grow up mere children, incapable of being acted on by rational consideration of distant motives, society has itself to blame for the consequences.”

    And the 1987 UN report “Our Common Future” pointedly identified the political-economic problem as follows:
    “25. Many present efforts to guard and maintain human progress, to meet human needs, and to realize human ambitions are simply unsustainable - in both the rich and poor nations. They draw too heavily, too quickly, on already overdrawn environmental resource accounts to be affordable far into the future without bankrupting those accounts. They may show profit on the balance sheets of our generation, but our children will inherit the losses. We borrow environmental capital from future generations with no intention or prospect of repaying. They may damn us for our spendthrift ways, but they can never collect on our debt to them. We act as we do because we can get away with it: future generations do not vote; they have no political or financial power; they cannot challenge our decisions.
    “26. But the results of the present profligacy are rapidly closing the options for future generations. Most of today's decision makers will be dead before the planet feels; the heavier effects of acid precipitation, global warming, ozone depletion, or widespread desertification and species loss. Most of the young voters of today will still be alive. In the Commission's hearings it was the young, those who have the most to lose, who were the harshest critics of the planet's present management.”

    Economists mainly get their applications of theory like Adam Smith's, Milton Friedman's, and Say's Law wrong because they 'presume' that the damaging potential of self-interest will be effectively managed by more freedom of people to think and do as they please. They ignore the undeniable reality of the damaging results that develop when people with harmful Private Interests are allowed to compete for popularity or profitability. The nuttiest of them are totally deluded acolytes of the fairy tale spinners like Ayn Rand. They believe that any collective action that would restrict individual freedom to is poisonous. They fundamentally incorrectly believe that collective social leadership through government (and I would add business leadership) is only ever a bad thing.

    My understanding of the problem is that people who get away with behaving less acceptably will have a competitive advantage. There is ample evidence of that axiom in politics, economics and sports. And the answer in every case is responsible restriction of what can be gotten away with through collective support of Good Responsible Leadership/Winning. And in every case of the pursuit of the development of that collective desire for Good Leadership/Winning there is the constant challenge by Private Interests gaming things to be able to Win by behaving less acceptably. Even in Sports, there is the constant need for new rules and monitoring and penalizing to try to ensure that Good Behaviour is the only behaviour competing to Win Rewards (some competitors always try to figure out ways to Legally behave less acceptably - leading to the need for new rules including actions to expel the cheaters who generate the need for new rules from the competitions).

    Moral/Ethical outrage should be focused on raising awareness and understanding of the unacceptability of fundamentalist believers in that 'Freedom to believe and do as you please', especially focusing on exposing damaging reality of the groups of Fundamentalist Freedom Fighters who try to Win by gathering support through damaging misleading marketing to encourage people to be greedier and less tolerant. Those groups refer to themselves as Uniting the Right and claim to be Conservative (they hope to get the votes of support from easily impressed people who fundamentally support 'Conservative' without really thinking about what they are actually supporting. Those groups carefully appeal for votes of support from clearly harmful Private Interests, being careful not to push away people with harmful Private Interests who may choose not to support Other Harmful Private Interests. They make it clear that their only hope of Winning is to vote to support each other's understandably unacceptable Private Interests.

    A more important action is the positive raising of awareness and understanding of the Good Objectives that need to be understood to be the aspirations of human activity, the Public Interest. It is very difficult to argue against the value of the Public Interest in developing lasting improvements for all of humanity, including (especially) future generations. However, it is very easy for people to be temporarily be tempted to be Tribal Regional pursuers, especially if they do not have a solid understanding of what is truly valuable. The response to the increased understanding of climate science is a excellent case study proving how easily people can be tempted to consider their convenience and lower cost of personal enjoyment in their lifetime to be Worthy of being Balanced with consideration of the unsustainability of those ways of living or the damage they cause that Others have to deal with. The political-economic misleading marketing response to improved understanding of climate science has proven the power of regional and tribal Private Interest (incorrectly but effectively being claimed to be regional and tribal Public Interests, as if any sub-group of humanity can claim their sub-group interests from their perspective are valid Public Interests. That is obviously absurd since it leads to the nonsense that any individual's Private Interests can be declared to be the Public Interest ... but that absurdity of individual Private Interest being the Public Interest is the flawed core of the beliefs of many Fighters for Freedom, especially those constantly wrong economists).

    The best presentation of the detailed requirements of the Good Objectives of human activity is the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The SDGs are the result of many decades of detailed collective global investigation into better understanding the reality of human activities that started in the 1960s. The SDGs include Climate Action. But they make it clear that climate action alone is rather irrelevant. Achieving climate action can even be understood to be easier to do as the other SDGs are achieved, and vice versa.

    So the best action is raising awareness and understanding of the importance of all leaders in business and politics being evaluated for their worthiness of their Leadership position based on the honesty and amount of effort to raise general public awareness and better understanding of the importance of achieving all of the SDGs, especially the importance of responsible limitation of pursuits of Private Interests to ensure the most rapid achievement of the Public Interest of the SDGs.

    Discouraging people from trying to secretively or 'Regionally Legally' temporarily Win by getting away with Private Interest actions that are contrary to achieving the Global Public Interest will require the ability to penalize anyone who can be shown to have acted in a way that is contrary to the Global Public Interest. That means the end of National Sovereignty on matters that affect the achievement of the Global Public Interest. There are already global sanctions on Nations that are attempted to be carefully targeted at the offending people who try to hide within a nation.

    That concept of justified removal/bypassing of sovereignty simply needs to be extended to penalize all of the people who try to Win through actions that are contrary to achieving the SDGs. Any nation that fails to properly limit the actions within its influence, because they '(paraphrasing John Stuart Mill) let a considerable number of their population grow up mere children, incapable of being acted on by rational consideration of distant motives, being easily tempted by harmful Private Interests' does not deserve sovereign freedom from Global actions targeting the unacceptable actions attempting to be gotten away with. And the response to Team Trump's irresponsible action plans regarding climate impacts shows that global support exists to pursue targeted penalties on 'Regionally Legal Unacceptable Winning'.

    Support for penalties on actions that are contrary to the Global Public Interest SDGs exists in the USA and many other nations. But growth of popularity is restricted by the powerful temptation/addiction to the dogmatic and undeniably wrong belief that more Freedom is will develop lasting Good Results. And the resistance to raised awareness and acceptance of that understanding is fuelled by the magnitude of development in the wrong direction that must be 'corrected'.

    The support for the changes required by climate science could be increased by connecting the support for all of the SDGs. Anyone who shows any interest in any one of the SDGs (or any part of any one of the SDGs), should be able to extend their understanding to the importance of achieving all of the SDGs, including climate action. The result would be the opposite of the Unite the Right gathering up of people with harmful Private Interests. It would be the Uniting of all of the people with Private Interests in achieving part of the SDGs to support all other pursuers of SDGs. An example would be ending the in-fighting between 'people wanting to help improve things for the less fortunate' and 'people wanting to reduce the harm done by the burning of fossil fuels'. The less fortunate can only be sustainably helped by actions that do not increase or prolong the burning of fossil fuels. It would also reduce arguments about 'total population' and 'impacts of human activity' since reducing the impacts of the highest impacting people allows for more people to live decently with acceptable total impact, and the other SDGs include actions to limit total population.

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  8. "Economists mainly get their applications of theory like Adam Smith's, Milton Friedman's, and Say's Law wrong because they 'presume' that the damaging potential of self-interest will be effectively managed by more freedom of people to think and do as they please.........The nuttiest of them are totally deluded acolytes of the fairy tale spinners like Ayn Rand."

    An interesting example is Alan Greenspan, head of the American Federal reserve leading up to the global financial crash, acolyte of Ayn Rand and Milton Friedman, and believer that financial markets self regulate, and that housing bubbles cannot happen. After the crash, he admitted he was wrong about all these things, but the political establishment and media said "hush" we cant talk about Greenspan, bury it all fast.

    So unfortunately important lessons (important information) from important people gets missed and when information is confused, poor decisions follow..

    Greenspan's statements here.  and here

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  9. Addendum. While Greenspans views were reported in some media, coverage was limited, and the political and economic establishment were largely silent on them.

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