Saturday, January 30, 2010

Parental love, and walking the talk

We love our children. Even the "climate change is a hoax" (despite the mountain of evidence) folks.
"Having a child is like living with your heart outside your body for the rest of your life."

And we want our children to look up to us, to respect us.

So shouldn't we be respecting them?

When I hear climate action skeptics talk about their children, I think of a mother who loved her children, and told them so, often; hugged them, held them.

But she didn't always get around to feeding them.

So yes, we love our kids - but in what way? It'd be a poor kind of love, if it didn't encompass acting to nurture and protect them.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Exchange with George Rebane

I've had an exchange with local contrarian George Rebane this past week, that I found illuminating - he turns out to be one of those fellows who holds a contrarian view (that "it's the sun [that's been causing the observed global warming]") (which is false - Ed.), and leads you to believe that he's holding it for scholarly reasons, but when you ask what evidence he's basing it on, that he finds most persuasive, unilaterally decides there's no point in pursuing the dialogue.

Here's where it started (I asked what science info sources he relied on, and what sources he'd recommend to others); then it played out on his blog (where it started out nebulous and "like soft snow", but clarified as the exchange progressed.)

He has grandchildren.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Tree Q&A tonight re ordinance etc, Nevada City Planning Commission

Saw this in The Union. Here's the tree ordinance (City Hall mailed it to me just now).

If you can't make the meeting (630pm tonight, City Hall), and you have a Q about Nevada City trees, ask in the comments below; I'll try to get you an answer.

Update: there's now an updated URL for The Union's updated story about tonight's meeting. It has the same title, but a new date and a few extra sentences; and it sheds the (3) comments from the previous version of the story.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Quotemongering on climate

Homage to the articulate: (a club to which, sadly, your host does not belong)

On niceness:
If you find "scientists" who buck the consensus and say that 2+2=5 and you go around saying it must be somewhere around 4.5, you really can't expect a lot of respect from the fourists. If it is "arrogant" or "rude" or "abusive" to be correct, science becomes impossible. You paint me in the corner where it is my obligation to stand up and be counted.
Like many of our opposition, you are a nice fellow. Indeed, we are getting quite grumpy while some of you are having a great time. So you may on the whole be nicer than we are by now.
Of course they are polite. You are a success story for them.

On expertise:
Trusting your weatherman on long-term climate issues is like trusting your nephew who knows how to logon to Facebook, download music, and find porn to rebuild and manage your company's servers.
RTFR before you strap the megaphone on is always good policy.
As long as you claim no training, make no substantive argument, and refer us to no publication that summarizes your position, let me direct you to the remaining 99.9999% of the internet as a suitable venue for your opinions.
When all about you who have a clue
Are telling you that you missed something
And ignoring what you say
And you are calm and confident
Maybe there's somthin you don't know
To be clear, I’m not advocating respect for authority, but respect for expertise.
The whole point here is that there IS agreement among the people who actually DO understand the material.
“Rookie Syndrome.” Raw trainee shepherds would arrive in camp, look at sheep for a couple days, and then start to argue with the experienced hands.
In any complex field, such domain expertise is essential to form a qualified opinion. And in most such fields, Rookie Syndrome — armchair quarterbacking — is common.
...we cannot, as laypeople, responsibly wade into an area in which we are not expert and expect to settle expert controversies.
If we’re not qualified, we should not promote our opinions. If we are qualified, we should attempt to convince our fellow experts in the relevant peer-reviewed literature — not skip peer review to make popular appeals in the popular (skeptical) press.(*)

"Rules of legitimacy" for non-experts speaking about science:
Where both scientific domain expertise and expert consensus exist, [true] skeptics are (at best) straight science journalists. We can report the consensus, communicate findings in their proper context — and that’s it.
Skeptical resources spent on mainstream science journalism are resources taken away from our core mandate (pseudoscience and the paranormal — a mandate no one else has), although science popularization is of course valuable in itself when done responsibly.(from What, If Anything, Can [true] Skeptics Say About Science?)
Mooney's comments are consistent with the findings of scientists in those fields. The [others'] claims are not. One needs a higher level of understanding to dispute the findings of specialists in a field, than one needs merely to acknowledge their findings.

On bad faith:
Until [inactivist] proposes his own solution, he has the luxury of saying he believes the science while trashing people who actually propose doing the hard job of actually making serious proposal based on the science

On intuition:
one major purpose of science is to overcome intuitive but incorrect understandings of nature. If nature were always intuitive, science would be among the basket-weaving disciplines.
The problem with intuition is that it's based on experience, and not many of us have direct experience with evolution, not to mention quantum physics.
our moral intuitions evolved to deal with problems within our community, rather than with the impact of our actions on those far away. Resources like the atmosphere and the oceans seemed unlimited, and we have had no inhibitions against making the fullest use of them.
On cognitive pitfalls:
...which shows a profound lack of sense of scale.
On the press:
Where the media are bored by a topic, the public is implicitly informed that the topic is unimportant. There is no proper word for doom when that word only appears on page thirteen.
On footprint focus:
I would like to see a stake driven into the heart of this “you can make a difference” meme; or into the notion that we can do this through voluntary or community action.
I’d like clear direction about the most active, high leverage political and social initiatives that deserve immediate focus. There is so much information, so many initiatives, so many causes…but surely the 80/20 rule applies, and we would be well served by focusing on the very few events where we get the greatest impact for our effort.
On "carrot" communication:
embarking on a course of action predicated on some sort of "don't worry, be happy" spin version of the issue is in fact MORE likely to fail. First, it will be hard to mobilize people if they are not persuaded that it is a serious issue, and second, they will lose their conviction fairly quickly if the message keeps being "switched" on them over time...
On the propriety of scientists acting as activists:
Science, properly construed, is neutral, and the main goal of the scientific community must be to protect that neutrality. The question is what is the right thing for an individual scientist or a scientific community to do when society's relationship to that neutral science goes awry.

I found most of the above quotes from Michael Tobis's blog In It For The Gold, both in the posts and in the comments; others are from Romm's Climate Progress, others...?
(On my to-do list is a bookmarklet that'll let me capture the page and the referrer along with the quote; until then, Google them (here?) to find their origin)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Reflections on workshop yesterday, and Wild and Scenic as a whole

Quick post.

Jamie and May from did a workshop yesterday afternoon, again at City Hall. The presentation was pretty much a report of "here was our goal, here's what we did and how we went about it, and here's what happened", along with showing a couple of the short videos they'd had made - i.e., it was a retrospective.

(which was a little frustrating to me, since my interest is in what we do moving forward; but, as one member of the audience made clear via her use of the Q&A bandwidth, it's hard to make a discussion like that work, in a venue where you can't have the "law of two feet" working for you.)

The movement's goal was to burn 350 into peoples' minds, and give that position (keep atmospheric CO2 levels below 350 ppm) more support - to relieve pressure (from the less-informed) on the negotiators at Copenhagen. And it did help, though obviously not to a make-or-break extent.

They didn't try to deliver a msg of "doom if over 350" since they felt the public already understood that (I disagree; again, see the "Tobis distribution" figure), instead it was more of a "happy society under 350" one.
(with lots of bicycles, which IMO is iffy, a tribalism trigger point)

They did some very smart things - they used students, who have a stake in the future and work for cheap, and they used Google, Facebook etc to find existing groups (enviro and others) in all countries and worked through them, and didn't go in overbearingly saying "our issue is more important than yours", instead they'd say "and along with your message, can you also deliver this one" (which is important to you because...) - i.e. the most direct effective route wasn't a straight line.

So - they did a great job for the goal that they had. But again, I was listening and thinking "how is this applicable to *other* climate goals?" (narrowing the Tobis distribution, instilling epistemological immune systems (ie pseudoscience bullshit detectors), etc) and wasn't sure that much of it *was* re-usable that way - it was more geared toward "if you're doing a [generic raise-public-awareness-of-something environmental] campaign, here's a way that worked"; which implicitly downgrades climate change to just another environmental issue. Which is the beef I have with SYRCL, and the Wild and Scenic film fest as a whole...more another time.

IMO the assumption too many non-climate-science people seem to have, is that this *is* just another environmental issue. They don't grasp the nature and drive of the organized resistance, nor the consequences if we fall short, nor the need to convey the urgency - which, IMO, can't be done in a happy-happy way any more than a war can be sold that way.

20-20 hindsight - and climate workshop today, 2pm, city hall

From The Union, via Nevada County Voices -
Nevada City resident, KVMR radio host and writer Michael Stone traveled to the United Nations' Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December. Stone will host a discussion about what he observed in Copenhagen and how that can be translated into daily life.

When asked, what is the single most important thing humans can do to lessen their impact on the planet, he said:

“As a culture, keep the oil in the ground...It's way bigger than light bulbs.”

Stone's discussion is set from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 17, at Nevada City Hall. No festival pass is needed.

It's great that this is happening; it would have been great, if it had been announced at the end of today's screening of The Age of Stupid. Thanks to The Union for getting the word out, where I was able to run across it.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Reflecting on No Impact Man Q&A at Wild and Scenic Film Festival

Colin Beavan is here for the festival, and spoke this morning in our City Council chambers about his book, his approach and his experiences interacting with the public.

He is a very appealing man, with a very appealing speaking style - in that he doesn't have one, he just talks to us, and not from a one-up position, it's as if he doesn't have an ounce of social dominance in him. And it's clear that his unassuming attitude, his disinterest in conflict, lets him touch people that head-butters can't.

(But in large part I think that this is because personal-action folks don't pose a threat to the fossil fuel status quo; I'm pretty sure if he became one, their PR machines could mount as effective an offense against him as they've done against others.)

His message: that the no-impact lifestyle enriched his family's life; that he's not encouraging people to be like him, he's encouraging them to be like his wife Michelle, who was willing to explore and be open to the journey; that the goal isn't to move forward not making mistakes, it's to act and to try.

But he was uncomfortably naive about the opposition, saying his blog was "one of the few places" where the commenters still argued about the reality of climate change; and he viewed it as a good thing, that they were doing so.

he's such a sweet guy, with such an appealing story, that you hate to tell him he's wrong, or throw spanners in the mental works. He'd fit in well here in Nevada City.

Qs I would have liked to ask - or rather, Qs I'd like to know the answers to:

* how he reconciles his encouragement to others to take personal carbon-footprint action, with the harsh reality of single-action bias - i.e., that the personal action risks being taken at the expense of the actions that are most needed, namely getting people clued in about the threat we're up against and about the curtailment of freedoms that we're laying in place, if we keep putting off the creditors. (and that what's most needed is govt regulations to shift the economic playing field to encourage&reward desirable actions.)

* whether it's more effective - in terms of shifting the cultural amoeba - to try to reach and redirect someone who's at the leading fringe of a pseudopod headed toward amoebic disaster, or whether it's better to cut your losses & marginalize his actions, tag them as alien/harmful/socially-deviant, immunize the rest of the amoeba against them - and perhaps even set him up as a stereotype of social undesirability.

(This being, of course, something that Beavan would never do...but I have a feeling something much like it sits in the pro-disaster folks' toolbox, showing signs of wear.)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Richard Alley on state of science on climate change

If you want to know the state of the science on climate change, your best source is a reputable climate scientist who's prominent in the field.

Why one that's reputable and prominent? Because "if you’re just learning from deviant views without understanding what the literature says, you’re probably going to be misled." (*)

And the "prominence" should be within the science community, since press coverage is skewed as Tobis illustrates in his graph in here. And for heaven's sake, don't trust TV weathercasters on climate, since as a class they're seriously afflicted with Dunning-Kruger syndrome.

Climatologist Richard Alley - an excellent speaker - gave an accessible and very well received talk summing up state of the science on CO2 & climate - "The Biggest Control Knob: Carbon Dioxide in Earth's Climate History" - at last month's American Geophysical Union meeting in SF (video here, via AGU's "videos" page, but it wouldn't stream for me*), and short climate science videos featuring him are in the "To What Degree?" climate section of the National Science Foundation's site. But, last I tried, these videos wouldn't play for me either.

However, it turns out that the the NSF videos (and audios, which require less bandwidth) are also here, where they worked fine.

I highly recommend them.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Attn U.C. students, parents, alumni - investigating UC Regents

...or they will be, with your help.
Everyone in California is touched by this story and we need your help to spread the word and the link: to any students or alumni of the U.C. system.
Pass it on.
...this investigation proposes to determine to what degree (if any) the current regents have been spinning public money intended to finance education into a source of financial leverage (and income) for friends, business partners, and themselves.

National-award winning investigative reporter Peter Byrne will lead a team of forensic investigators, including R.V. Scheide of the Sacramento News & Review, as it unravels the complex web of financial connections that bind the Regents into an Investor’s Club.
Since money's been tight, I've been a benchwarmer for the last year or so; but this one's worth ponying up for.

JeffP? George Rebane? Tony Waters? who else has UC ties and wants to see a light shined on what these folks are doing?

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Sacramento Bee sales: clueless or duped?

When I pass the Bee newsstand, what I can see of their news determines whether I buy.

See today's Bee hopefully awaiting purchasers. See almost half its above-the-fold real estate obscured by advertising. Expect sales to people like me to drop 40%.

Could it be related to this mid-December observation on Sierra Voices?
...overheard a clerk in a local grocery store talking to a customer who wondered why there was no Sacramento Bee on the newsstand:

"It wasn’t delivered today. Since The Union took over delivery of the Bee, it’s been a problem..."

Monday, January 04, 2010

Shame and honor

I was talking with a neighbor this morning, who observed that we hardly ever hear these invoked anymore. They should be.

"It is in the interest of everyone on a ship at sea, be they communist or jihadist, butcher or vegan, that the ship not sink. Why are the words we use to think about our collective future so adversarial?" (*)

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Randy Olson, on teaching (and learning)

Really good teaching sooner or later involves a certain amount of pain. Whether it's the pain of tedious work or the pain of stinging criticism, seeking a totally pain-free education is kind of wishful thinking.
- from Don't Be Such a Scientist, p. 157.