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When their research has social implications, how should climate scientists get involved?

Posted on 4 September 2014 by John Abraham

First, at the end of this post is a question to my readers wherein I ask for feedback. So, please read to the end.

Most scientists go into their studies because they want to understand the world. They want to know why things happen; also how to describe phenomena, both mathematically and logically. But, as scientists carry out their research, often their findings have large social implications. What do they do when that happens?

Well traditionally, scientists just “stick to the facts” and report. They try to avoid making recommendations, policy or otherwise, that are relevant to the findings. But, as we see the social implications of various issues grow larger (environmental, energy, medical, etc.) it becomes harder for scientists to sit out in more public discussions about what should be done. In fact, researchers who have a clear handle on the issue and the pros and cons of different choices have very valuable perspectives to provide society.

But what does involvement look like? For some scientists, it may be helping reporters gather information for stories that may appear online, in print, radio, or television. In another manifestation, it might be writing for themselves (like my blog here at the Guardian). Others may write books, meet with legislators, or partake in public demonstrations.

Each of these levels of engagement has professional risks. We scientists need to protect our professional reputations. That reputation requires that we are completely objective in our science. As a scientist becomes more engaged in advocacy, they risk being viewed by their colleagues as non-objective in their science.

Of course, this isn’t true. It is possible (and easy) to convey the science but also convey the importance of taking action. I do this on a daily basis. But I will go further here. It is essential for scientists to speak out. With the necessary expertise to make informed decisions, it is out obligation to society. Of course, each scientist has to decide how to become engaged. We don’t get many kudos for engagement, it takes time and money out of our research, you will never get tenured for having a more public presence, and you will likely receive po)rly-writen hate mail – but it still is needed for informed decision making.

One very public activity some scientists engage in is public events and demonstrations. A large such event is going to occur this September in New York (September 21 – the Peoples’ Climate March). Just a few days before the UN Climate Summit, the Climate March hopes to bring thousands of people from faith, business, health, agriculture, and science communities together. Scientists will certainly be there – and those scientists should be lauded. I am encouraging my colleagues to participate in events like this.

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Comments 1 to 37:

  1. The question mentioned in the first paragraph is adressed at newspaper readers. I know this is not the place to comment general issues - but: I for one do seriously not like this kind of "cooperation" with news outlets. Keep this kind of citation work to the News Roundups.

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  2. At a minimum, scientists should witness the social transformation that needs to occur by becoming living examples. It is truly disconcerting to find scientists saying one thing while living the exact opposite. For instance, the AGU fall meetings continue to serve animal foods and the 2014 meeting makes no mention whatsoever of diet in the "sustainability" section on its web site.

    How is that sustainable? Do we not understand the implications of the projected doubling of the consumption of animal foods by 2030?

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  3. Saileshrao @ 2.

    While I agree with 'leading by example' I would argue that the expectation of leadership regarding the 'changes of human activity that are being better understood to be required' needs to be highest for the ones who are benefiting the most from an identified unacceptable activity, as well as from all 'leaders of humanity'.

    Another consideration is the rate of impact created by a behaviour. Modest consumption of animal based foods is sustainable. However, base on the best current understanding "Beef" could be eliminated from the meals at a meeting addressing this sustainability related issue.

    However, I would argue that the sustainability of human activity is the subject of just about any meeting of wealthy and powerful people. The requirement would be for the richest and for all political leaders, including opposition leaders, to 'lead by example' by not eating beef and severely limiting their activities to things that minimize the burning of buried hydrocarbons.

    Leadership is required of all our 'leaders', even the rich ones who do not wish to 'accept what is being better understood to be required to lead to a sustainable better future for all'. Those who got rich and powerful by getting away with popularizing actions contrary to that direction of development, and who want to prolong and maximize the benefit they can get in those better understood to be unacceptable ways, are the ones who really need to change their minds and ways.

    The scientist's most important job is to continue to improve the understanding of what is going on, including efforts to effectiovely improve the understanding and awareness of the general population. The leader's job is to accept what the science indicates and support the changing of minds in the general population. And a rich person's job is to lead toward a better future for all in accordance with the developing better understanding of what that requires, even if it requires them to be 'less rich compared to others'.

    So any expectation for a climate scientist's actions as examples of how to live needs to be a stronger expectation of every leader and leadership hopeful, and of every wealthy person.

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  4. Sailsharo: On both of your posts you are off topic, the "moralizing" is not the topic. The topic is balancing of one's training with one's concern, and the value of that concern.

    I do think scientists who are seriously at the forefront of understanding and that find an important reason for concern are brave in committing their livelihood to the issue. However, there is the question of funding, scientific inquiry into subjects of social concern are not often funded by private industry, they are funded by governments. If so, then there is a conflict of interest built into their work; the more important their findings the better funding that they may establish, and thus a tendency to overstate, and it may be systemic. It's kind of a built in reason and mechanics to conspire.  

    True contrarians may have a valid point in this argument, hence, scientists should make very certain of their understanding, and commitment to action on a concern.

    I am always thankful for their activism on climate, it is much to subtle for the public to understand without deep understanding, yet is it may be critical to global civil conduct resulting from unsustainable development.

    As you may know, I think we will handle this OK, but we, the public, must understand the depth of the problem to instill sufficient motivation to establish necessary developments.

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  5. saileshrao @2:

    1)  Much of the Earth's territory can sustain a beef or mutton industry while being too dry, or having soil quality too poor, to be cropped.  Running cattle in those territories does not reduce food production.  It enhances it.  Therefore there is no basis to eliminate meat from the human diet for the purpose of sustainability.  (The same does not apply to grain fed meat products.)

    2)  Reducing cattle production is a very long way down the list of priorities for mitigating climate change.  Making it front and center on the basis of "consistency" merely advertizes to interested (and hostile) observers that concern about global warming is wedded to a hair shirt view of human existence, where every luxury must be forgone for the cause.  As such, it paints us untruly as fanatics, and people hostile to human flourishing.

    As somebody who is neither fanatical, and fervently wishes for human flourishing, I resent attempts to hijack concern about global warming for other causes.  In particular I resent it because no matter how helpfull it is for those "other causes", it is harmful to the prospects fo getting real mitigation happening.

    If you want to be a vegetarian - I'm fine with that.  If you think we all should be vegetarians - fine.  Argue your case.  But do not try to use AGW as a stalking hour for issues that are periferally related at best.

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  6. In my comment @3, I forgot to include the link to the scientific research basis of my contention that if any meat consumption was to be stopped at meetindgs as a show of leadership, beef should be the meat consumption that is stopped. See Here.

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  7. Tom Curtis @5:

    A truly insightful comment.  One which many science communicators should heed.  Often opposition to such wedded social, economic or political notions is mistakenly characterized as opposition to science. 

    When science communicators like the author depart from strictly communicating science and advocating for or against potential solutions their scientific qualification does not follow with their departure.  As such they should sould not expect to rely on their scientific qualification to add merit to their non-scientific communications.


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  8. Tom Curtis,

    The term 'human flourishing' you used is open to interpretation and requires clarification.

    Activity by a 'fluorishing sub-set of humanity in a moment of geological time' that cannot be continued indefinitely by humanity through the hundreds of millions of years this amazing planet is likely to be habitable, and that does not have all of humanity living decent lives, is not sustainable.

    Such 'development' is what has been occurring and it is not really 'human flourishing'. It is something very different from what that term could imply. 'Flash in the Pan' would be a more appropriate term than 'flourishing' for the types of development that have been occurring.

    I agree that climate science research and advocacy needs to focus on the climate science. But it is important to understand that climate science is integrated with the other fields of improving understanding of what is going on that indicate the need to significantly change what is considered to be acceptable development of human activity and what is required of 'leaders of humanity', with all those who are 'reasearching and reporting to constantly improve the understanding of what is going on' as essential parts of that leadership.

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  9. One Planet Only Forever @3:
    I agree that the expectation of exemplary action applies to all leaders, but as the primary prognosticators of environmental disruption, climate scientists bear a great responsibility. People watch what scientists do, especially at well-attended scientific gatherings such as the AGU Fall meetings, and not merely what scientists say.

    From an energy conversion standpoint, beef is perhaps the worst, with efficiencies of less than 2% for the conversion from plant calories input to meat calories output. However, all animal foods average about 4%, when we take into account all meats, eggs, dairy, etc., combined. Please see, e.g., Chapter 7, of the textbook, "Energy and the New Reality" by L. Danny Harvey. Animal foods are undoubtedly energy hogs, accounting for a majority of the energy use among all human activities.

    Pluvial @4:
    I'm merely pointing out the ineffectiveness of scientific communications that will occur when the communicators are not acting in accordance with what they say, especially at well-attended scientific gatherings.

    Tom Curtis @5:
    For starters, 98% of the meat produced in the US is grain-finished. But even if we determine that meat consumption can be sustained at, say, 50%, of current levels, we need to understand that such a worldwide reduction requires a substantial number of present meat consumers to eschew it altogether.

    Take for example, tobacco consumption. The percentage of smokers declined in the US by 50% over the past 49 years since the Surgeon General began the anti-smoking campaign, and yet worldwide consumption of tobacco did not reach its peak until 2010 and is miles from reaching 50% of the consumption of 1965.

    Indeed, if everybody in the world consumed meat like Americans do today, world production of meat would need to triple instantly. That would mean converting all the forests of the world into livestock production facilities right away. Surely, we all agree that would have adverse implications for the planet's climate..

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  10. Smith @7, I think you may be reading too much into my comment.  Had saileshrao suggested that the AGU should run its meetings on a carbon neutral basis by making planning choices that minimized emissions (eg, holding the meeting in a carbon neutral city), and paying for the sequestration of any carbon emissions resulting from the meeting (including those from the consumption of beef), I would have supported that wholeheartedly.  Instead he focussed on meat consumption only, ignoring the far greater emissions from air travel, and power consumption for the meeting.  His focus suggests that reducing carbon emissions is a side show for him, used only as a stalking horse for his real issues - and that is what I objected to.

    With regard to scientists speaking out on global warming, I am definitely in favour.  It is often argued that they should remain silent so as to not jeopardize the perception (ie, their reputation for) impartiality.  However "silence is consent".  When scientistific research shows the prospect of grave harms to society, a scientist who does not speak up is consenting to those harms.  When policy is inadequate to meet the challenge, scientists who do not speak up consent to the current inadequate policy, an its consequenses.  Such scientists are surrendering the reality of objectivity for its perception.

    This does not mean scientists should grab banners and start marching on the Whitehouse.  It is quite clear that the obligation to speak up as a scientist extends only over their area of expertise.  That means all scientists have an obligation to publicly speak up when they see science misrepresented in the media, or on blogs they actively read.  It extends beyond that, however, because expertise knows no sharp boundaries.  A scientist whose work shows a distinct probability of a seasonally uninhabitable tropics with unmitigated climate change is quite within their perogatives to point out that economic models that show only minor net harms in that circumstance are rubbish.  

    Beyond that, scientists do not cease being citizens (which to my mind is - just - a higher calling).  They have an obligation to form a view and express it even in areas where their expertise is not just germaine, but not even clearly relevant.  Thus a physicist is quite entitled to form a view as to which is better, a carbon tax or a cap and trade scheme even though they have no relevant expertise to distinguish between them.  When expressing a view on the subject, however, they should be quite clear that they are talking only as a citizen and that their expertise gives them no special incite on the topic.  

    The idea that scientists cannot advocate for a particular solution because their expertise is not immediately germaine if carried out consistently means that nobody should advocate for any policy.  Certainly not scientists whose expertise is not in policy, but not economists or social scientists whose expertise does not allow them to assess the actual harms from outcomes.  It also means that even politicians and journalists, who are very much not expert on the topic, should remain silent.

    Clearly a "democracy" in which no-one should express an opinion is an absurdity.  That being the case, the idea that scientists have somehow signed away their rights to be vocal citizens is also absurd.

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  11. saileshrao @9, it may well be the case that the Earth cannot be supplied with meat at high levels of consumption even if we avoid grain feeding.  However, as far as climate change policy goes, I do not need to know that or consider it.  I need only require that all products (including meat) have a carbon tax imposed on them based on their CO2e emissions.  If meat consumption is then too great a burden in emissions, meat will become correspondingly more expensive relative to grains, reducing consumption.  Grainfed meat will become relatively more expensive at a much faster rate.

    As carbon emissions are not the only relevant issue with regard to meat, you are quite entitled to also argue for further taxes on grain fed to livestock (for example), with the tax going in foreign aid in food supply projects (either direct food aid in famine areas, or in aiding agricultural development); or such other subsidiary policy as you think suitable.  That is not an issue that the AGU needs to pay attention to on the grounds of consistency, nor an issue that is on topic at this site.  For the issue that is relevant to the AGU and here, your focus is wrong.

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  12. Tom Curtis @10:

    Having seen the kinds of shenanigans that goes on in the carbon "offsets" market, I'm glad that the AGU doesn't participate in it. I'm also cognizant of the necessity that scientists have to get together once a year to network and learn from each other. Since scientists are busy people, I therefore consider air travel to be a necessity as well.

    However, I respectfully disagree that the deliberate consumption of animal foods during the course of the AGU fall meeting is a necessity, by any stretch of the imagination. There are plenty of nourishing, low-impact, plant-based foods locally available in the San Francisco Bay area for the AGU to provide its Fall meeting attendees. If the attendees wish to go out and dine on steaks and lobsters, that's their prerogative, but providing such fare at the official meeting undermines our communications efforts tremendously.

    The SF Bay area is also in the grips of a tremendous drought and there is an ongoing "Ditch The Dairy" campaign on BART trains and stations, pointing out the huge water footprint of dairy, with each gallon of milk being the equivalent of 27 daily showers.

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  13. One Planet Only Forever @8, a policy or vision of "flourishing" that is not sustainable cannot be a long term policy.  It expends (social, environmental, or economic) capital.  Once that is exhausted, those doing so will revert to a worse state than if they had never spent the capital unless the expenditure has been in the nature of an investment.  The current expenditure of our fossil fuel capital an be so regarded.  It has allowed a flourishing or wealth, technology, medicine, art, science and food production such as have never before been seen.  The investment will only pay off, however, if we an secure the gains (or a significant part of them) by putting the energy consumption invovled onto a sustainable footing.  That is, if we switch from fossil fuel to renewable energy.

    It is evident that fossil fuels are not the only captial expenditure involved in industrialization.  We are in danger of killing the ocean from overfishing.  We are also in danger of destroying the worlds forests, and of over populating in general.  Clearly we need to put population, food supply and drawing of ocean and forest resources also on a sustainable footing.  A sustainable footing, however, need not mean reducing resource acces (or population) to preindustrial or early industrial levels anymore than a sustainable basis for energy requires reducing total energy consumption.  Our investment of capital may "pay of", allowing a sustainable basis with much higher than preindustrial populations, resource access from forests and oceans, etc.

    Further, I am a quasi-optimist on this point.  I am an avid reader of science fiction, and as a youth I was promised the stars.  I will not see them, but I hope some future descendants of our civilization will.  That is an investment worth expending capital on.  I am quasi-optimistic on this because while I hope we take up that bold adventure, we may fail.  Our investment may not be enough.  However, in that case, our descendants will "enjoy" a life not much different than if we do not even try.  If we retreat to mere sustainability as a goal, eschewing all investments to go to new levels of sustainability; we will retreat to a dark age in which populations will be too low to sustain either our current level of technological achievement, or even our globalist aspirations (which does not equal aspirations for a single world government).  

    Given your name, you are not going to agree with me on this.  Fine, but neither am I going to give up my vision:

    Per ardua, ad astra

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  14. Circling back to John's points in the blog post, I'm struck by how we're lead to treat certain scientific discoveries as exceptional and warranting discussion of whether it's at all appropriate for researchers to make any connection to the world outside the lab.

    Imagining that we were just now discovering the virtues of seatbelts, it's rather bizarre to think that a researcher forming the conclusion that unrestrained occupants of vehicles are at risk of injury should not report that finding along with the perfectly obvious observation that some kind of restraint system might be warranted. Yet in the case of climate change there's an exceptional demand that researchers not mention the obvious knock-on effects of their findings. 

    So rather than wonder about whether and how scientists should form connections to society at large with their research, I'm left wondering why we should become accustomed at all to the idea they should not. 

    The answer to this is rather obvious, as it was with automobile safety and the brief struggle over restraint systems and the like: research with policy implications is treated as exceptional, something demanding that scientists volunteer to remain muzzled. As soon as the question of expenditures or changes of social or personal habits enters the picture, scientists are apparently supposed to detect this and retreat into their laboratories. 

    It's better not to create exceptions or perhaps more to the point be trained into creating exceptions, when it comes to scientists being free to offer their expert advice. 

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  15. doug_bostrom@14:

    That's a good analogy. While I agree with you that scientists studying the virtues of seatbelt should be expected to advocate for the wearing of seatbelt restraint systems, such advocacy always carries more weight when the scientists are routinely wearing seatbelts themselves, especially when they are attending a "Virtues of Seatbelts" conference.

    If the conference organizers proclaim it a virtue NOT to wear seatbelts to the world at large, then that would undermine the collective advocacy of the scientists.

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  16. saileshrao...  But, by the same right, whether or not a scientists changes his/her lifestyle based on the results of their research actually has no bearing on the data they collect and present.

    One does not have to follow the other. A chain-smoking doctor may have less influence on their patient's behavior when they suggest they stop smoking, but it doesn't change the fact that smoking cause cancer.

    I side with Tom, with his statements about a carbon tax. Forced or imposed behavioral changes (supply side) usually just don't have much lasting impact. A carbon tax (demand side) would place a market value on the damage that comes from carbon emissions, and thus would have far reaching – and long lasting – influence on a broader range of consumer behavior. 

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  17. add:

    When people complain about Al Gore flying in corporate jets, my response is generally, "So... then... vote for a carbon tax that's going to double the fuel costs on his flights." 

    Al Gore flying in a corporate jet has no bearing on the reality of climate change. AGU serving meat products during their lecture series doesn't either. 

    Behaviors will change in a significant way when we get carbon priced in the marketplace.

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  18. Tom Curtis @ 13,

    We are in close agreement. I also am optimistic (not even quasi), that properly motivated human ingenuity can develop continuously better sustainable ways of living. However, I see the current market system as a failing system that will only continue to fail.

    Waiting for drastic resource access pressures or totally unacceptable damage to accumulate to the point of actually negatively affecting the few most wealthy and powerful before such genious is tapped into and rewarded will not lead to success. History has proven it is cheaper and easier for those who get the benefit to be able to use a non-renewable resource rather than fully recycle those materials, or cause damage, or do things in a riskier way (riskier to others - protection from consequences to themselves if something goes wrong). The competetive advantage of those who get away with those types of development rather than the 'less profitable for them in their moment' actions towards sustainable ways of living are the problem. The motivation system needs to change.

    I also look forward to the day that humanity can spread the gift of sustainably living as part of a robust diversity of life on other planets. And I agree with efforts to develop the ability to leave our planet. However, we should not go beyond this planet until humanity as a whole has figured out how to live sustainably, keeping unsustainable and damaging actions from being popular and profitable.

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  19. Rob Honeycutt @16 and 17:

    I'm not as concerned about the chain smoking doctor having less influence over his smoking patients. I'm concerned that the AMA annual meeting is officially encouraging chain smoking during the conference, making ALL doctors less effective in the anti-smoking campaign.

    Imagine if at the AGU fall meeting, all attendees ritualistically revved their rental car engines for an hour at a stretch, three times a day. And then complained that the general public is not taking climate scientists seriously on greenhouse gas emissions.

    Serving animal foods at the AGU fall meeting is a worse display of frivolity from a lifecycle emissions standpoint.

    A carbon tax sends a message that well-to-do people, such as Al Gore and climate scientists, can continue with their profligate consumption, but it is the riff-raff, the poor people, who should be cutting down on their consumption. As such, I respectfully submit that it is politically impossible to implement it.

    A carbon tax with dividends is more palatable politically, but that just continues the orgy of consumption that brought us all these environmental catastrophes in the first place, because this policy has been shown to "grow the economy" in every analysis that I've seen.

    Therefore, there is no way out of our predicament but to change ourselves from within. We have no option but to pare down our consumption voluntarily without waiting for external price signals or Big Brother to modulate our behavior. At the minimum, we need to restrain ourselves in public gatherings for 4 days at the AGU annual fall meeting once a year, or risk being taken not too seriously.

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  20. saileshrao... "A carbon tax sends a message that well-to-do people, such as Al Gore and climate scientists, can continue with their profligate consumption, but it is the riff-raff, the poor people, who should be cutting down on their consumption."

    I think this is absolutely wrong. What it means is that the well-to-do have the greatest incentive to change. In fact, it's already the case that it's easier for people of means to, say, build a LEED certified home or purchase a Tesla and charge it with the solar panels the put on the roof of their home.

    But at the same time, carbon taxes that are paid by those who polute the most will ease the impacts on any rising cost of energy that result from taxation.

    Tax and dividend certainly would not "continue the orgy of consumption." In fact, quite the opposite. It's likely the only viable approach to changing broad national behaviors that produce carbon emissions.

    With regards to voluntary participation, the example I always use is the use of plastic grocery bags in California. We had decades of outreach, education, news stories, etc, etc, on the impacts of using plastic grocery bags. But volunary participation was limited even with people who agreed that it was a serious problem! But the first day the law went into place that said retailers had to charge 10 cents for a shopping bag, that was the day everyone changed. Now, here where I live, everyone uses reusable shopping bags.

    Simple taxation works wonders to alter broad consumer behavior.

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  21. Rob Honeycutt @20

    Re: "Simple taxation works wonders to alter broad consumer behavior."

    I don't see governments all over the world and the corporations who control them in our capitalist system foregoing the constant economic growth paradigm anytime soon. Therefore taxation policies that alter peoples' behavior so that they become net contributors to ecosystems instead of net consumers is a distant dream. This is not as easy a problem as getting people to switch to reusable shopping bags, which is why governments have been punting on this issue for the past two decades.

    We're facing the same intractable problem worldwide that Gandhi faced in India in 1915: an entrenched power structure that is utterly impervious to reason. Gandhi tackled it with voluntary grassroots actions.

    Besides, why wait to do the right thing at AGU meetings just because we haven't yet received price signals not to do the wrong thing? The IPCC AR5, Chapter 11, is unequivocal that the consumption of animal foods at present levels is unsustainable. Please take a look at Fig. 11.9 to see the land use component and the energy flow of animal food products vs. the land still remaining as pristine forest and the energy flow of plant food products. That figure illustrates why Nature has a loaded gun pointed at our heads, saying, "Change your conduct or it's your life!". And those stats are from 2000 and it has only gotten worse since then!

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  22. Personally, most of those I know, regardless of their political persuasion, understand and accept the basic mainstream science. While this is interesting, it leaves a lot of room for social/public policy choices and decisions. I'd rather start hearing more about the range of options and trade-offs with respect to individual choices and decisions, neighborhood/local planning, as well as State and Federal options.

    If enough people are responding at individual and local levels, we can drag the higher levels of social architecture along for the ride. Too many are interested in working on national and state level politics, without much attention to their personal and local level decisions and options. Too many view this as a black or white issue that one political "side" has the monopoly on. As in most such issues the reality is closer to being that there is one side that is generally much less wrong about what the science says. In fact, there are many traditionally fiscally conservative  public policy positions, such as revenue neutral carbon taxes, that ahould, and probably will, play vitally important roles in addressing AGW climate change adaptation and mitigation.

    We will never get past the "should we do something" stage and fully into the "what should we do" stage, if we don't start defining the options that everyone has at each level of decision making.  

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  23. saileshrao @19, a reasonable estimate for revving car engines for an hour is 5 liters of petrol consumed (based on a 1.8 liter, 4 cylinder engine), with CO2 emmisions of 11.5 Kg.  That in turn is half the CO2e emissions of 1 kg of grass fed beef, which comes in at 19.2 Kg per live kg of beef for the worst category (grass fed) in the Midwestern USA.  Even serving 500 g steaks means the beef is comparable to just one hours of "revved engines", and for the more reasonable 350 or 200 g steaks, the advantage is entirely with the beef.  Of course, the calculations above do not include CO2 generated in transporting and cooking the beef, but nor does it include that in transporting, refening and than further transporting the petrol.

    Of course, there is just one banquet at an AGU, and you propose an equivalent of 15 hours revved engines as the CO2 equivalent of that banquet.  Clearly you are not arguing this from science, or anything approaching a factual basis.

    Further, the AGU already advertizes its attempts to support sutainability, mostly through its choice of convention center which will by itself reduce emissions generated from the meeting by a greater amount than eliminating beef from the menu.  They further recommend that attendee's use the BART transport system, which will save CO2 emmissions more than that of a steak meal for each round trip.  These steps are visible, more effective, readilly associated with a concern regarding CO2 emissions and do not advertize a hair shirt mentality in the same way that banning beef from the banquet would do.   That later point, however, makes them insufficient from saileshao's point of view.

    saileshao @21, "foregoing the constant economic growth paradigm" is not necessary to tackle climate change and should not be coupled to reducing CO2 emissions as a strategy.  Doing so merely encumbers the later making it far less politically achievable.  Once again, hooking your particular political agenda to concern about AGW acts only to the detriment of the later and is not the strategy that shoud be pursued by those whose primary concern is ensuring AGW is controlled.

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  24. Tom Curtis @23:

    The carbon cycle is not the only biogeophysical cycle that humans have altered among the planetary life support systems. As a member of AGU, I'm concerned about all the cycles that we have messed up, not just the carbon cycle.

    As Prof. Will Steffen said, "Climate change is one of many global changes that are destabilising our planetary life support system. It is ultimately a question of core values. Can we change our core values rapidly enough – and decisively enough – to halt our slide towards collapse? That is humanity’s most important question in the 21st century!"

    As scientists, we are very good at rationalizing any set of core values, but then we should expect the general public to get very good at ignoring our pet peeves.

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  25. saileshrao... If you're an AGU member and are genuinely interested in this issue, then I'd suggest you approach the Moscone Center people about it. AGU is not a caterer, nor does AGU even select a caterer, for the events. Whoever does event organizing at AGU is, likely, merely selecting which services the Moscone Center offers. It's unlikely AGU has an option to choose an outside catering service for events. That would be the exclusive service of Moscone Center.

    That said, this is San Francisco. I would imagine the management at Moscone Center would be open to hearing your suggestions about offering low carbon meal packages for events. Only at that point would AGU even have the option to do what you're suggesting they do.

    If you think it's an important issue, it's certainly within your power to help make it happen.

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  26. Rob Honeycutt @25:

    The Moscone Center caterer, SAVOR Catering, has already assured me that if the AGU Fall Meeting planning committee wishes to organize an entirely locally sourced, plant-based, Vegan Fall meeting, they are ready and able to do that.

    The decision is squarely with the AGU planning committee now. I have already written to every member of the AGU Fall Meeting planning committee and have received no replies whatsoever from any of them. I have reluctantly concluded that there seems to be some kind of blockage in our mental processes when it comes to connecting our personal habits with the environmental catastrophes that we study.

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  27. Give them a chance, saileshrao. Your issue is likely number 228 of 1000 other things they have to get done in preparation for the December meetings. And I wouldn't be surprised if the decision on catering was made months ago, and this year can't be changed one way or another. 

    You need to have patience and tenacity for the things you believe are important. 

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  28. Rob Honeycutt @27:

    Will do, I'll send the AGU Fall Meeting planning committee another reminder today. The caterers actually gave me the impression that I was the first one from the AGU to contact them and wanted to know details on what we're looking for, breakfasts, breaks, lunch, dinner, etc.

    Thank you all for your encouragement, support and stimulating discussions on Skeptical Science. We'll get through this together...


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  29. saileshrao @26:

    " entirely locally sourced, plant-based, Vegan Fall meeting..."

    (My emphasis)

    Apparently not even eggs, a low carbon, low ecological impact food if ever there was one are acceptable.  That underlines the point that saileshao is pursuing this agenda for ideological rather than scientific or ethical reasons.

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  30. Tom Curtis @29:

    I was also under the impression that eggs and milk are low-impact foods and was lacto-ovo-vegetarian until 6 years ago before I realized that those are "low-impact" foods only because of how we did the accounting. The chickens that lay the eggs and the male chicks that are ground up as by-products of the egg industry are all being accounted for by the chicken nugget consumers and the cows that produce the milk are all being accounted for by the hamburger eaters. India has a proliferation of cattle (320 million heads of cattle vs. 90 million in the US) which are literally eating up the forests, because a lot of Indians drink milk, but not many  consume beef and averse to the killing of cattle.

    The egg and dairy consumers depend upon chicken and beef consumers to clean up after them or else their foods have higher impact than chicken and beef consumption itself.

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  31. Here's the letter I sent today to all members of the AGU 2014 Fall Meeting Planning Committee...

    Subject: Core Values at the AGU 2014 Fall Meeting

    Dear Dr. Rousseau and Distinguished Members of the AGU Fall Meeting Planning Committee,

    Prof. Will Steffen of ANU wrote recently,

    "Climate change is one of many global changes that are destabilising our planetary life support system. It is ultimately a question of core values. Can we change our core values rapidly enough – and decisively enough – to halt our slide towards collapse? That is humanity’s most important question in the 21st century!"

    Fortunately, we can begin to exemplify and promote the decisive changes in core values that Prof. Steffen is referring to, during the AGU Fall Meeting this December. The caterers at the Moscone Center, Savor Catering, have assured me that they can certainly provide all locally-sourced, organic, plant-based, Vegan foods during the AGU 2014 Fall Meeting.

    Please have the appropriate staff at AGU contact Robert Duncan ([email address redacted]) or Denise Roque ([email address redacted]) to work out the details. And please let them know that I would be happy to assist them in any way possible to make this happen.

    Thanking you for your kind consideration,
    Yours truly,
    Sailesh Rao.
    Executive Director, Climate Healers Initiative for Transformation
    3145 E Chandler Blvd #110-233
    Phoenix, AZ 85048

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Please cease and desist from conducting your campaign re the food to be served at the AGU Fall meeting on the SkS website. Any further posts by you on this matter will be summarily deleted. 

    Please note that posting comments here at SkS is a privilege, not a right.  This privilege can be rescinded if the posting individual treats adherence to the Comments Policy as optional, rather than the mandatory condition of participating in this online forum.

    Please take the time to review the policy and ensure future comments are in full compliance with it.  Thanks for your understanding and compliance in this matter.

    [Dikran Marsupial] email addresses redacted

  32. saileshrao...  I have to say, at this point I'm rather disappointed in this whole exchange. 

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  33. saileshrao @30...  Your post there is little more than speculation used to justify your position. Skeptical Science is a website that expects people to substantiate their positions with data and research. AGU people would, presumably, also be far more compelled to listen to what you have to say if you were to present substantive data rather than just a quote that you interpret to validate what you say.

    Having been vegetarian (ovo-lacto) for some 35 years, I'm not completely against your position, but I would expect a far more substantive presentation of facts before supporting what you're doing.

    As it stands, AGU does a great deal many other things that justify their stance on "core values" already. If you want to see them add veganism to that list, present hard data on how much of an impact changing their catering would have. And part of that would always entail being prepared to prove to yourself that your position may be weaker than you want to believe.

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  34. Rob, given that saileshrao has been asked to cease and desist, for the sake of fairness, so ought we.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Spot on.

  35. Agreed.

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  36. Saileshrao, it is considered bad netiquette to publically post people's E-mail addresses on web sites without their permission as it increases the amount of spam they get.  Unfortunately many spammers have programs to "harvest" E-mail addresses from web pages.

    I note that you omitted your own E-mail address...

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    Moderator Response:

    [Dikran Marsupial] Good point, I have redacted the email addresses.

  37. Sapient Fridge@36: Good point, sorry for not cutting those out.

    Moderator@31: I'm unable to access the Comments Policy link as it is behind an authentication firewall.

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    Moderator Response:

    [JH] Click here to access the SkS Comments Policy. 

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