Sunday, May 23, 2010

Quick report on Shibatani talk on climate change & Sierra water resource management, at Fri May 21 Sierra Club meeting

(The talk was announced here (fixed link))

We need climate communication that tells citizens what they need to know, to make informed and responsible decisions.

But as with just about all communication on climate that's gone on in this county, I found Friday's talk frustrating - largely because it was a talk on what Shibatani has to offer, not on what we-the-public need to know; and he's a hydrology consultant for organizations like NID, so his talk was geared toward their issues. Its two themes were uncertainty and the need for adaptation - I didn't hear much if anything about topics like the following: the fossil-fuel-funded effort to confuse the public about climate, evaluating whose interpretation of the science to trust, ocean acidification, weather vs climate, the difference in robustness of global vs. regional predictions, insurance against risk, uncertainty not being our friend, signal vs. noise, the "bathtub" metaphor, lag time (largely due to the persistence of CO2 in the atmosphere), the fossil-fuel-funded effort to stop AB32, mitigation (prevention) as economically far preferable to adaptation, or where we-the-public should be focusing our efforts.

The talk was aimed at water managers, not at citizens.

...and from the content of the Q&A, IMO the citizens badly need to hear what the talk didn't deliver; "straining at the mosquito while the elephant is running wild" comes naturally when you're in an "act-locally"-oriented mindset, but if it's not countered, it's going to trample us.

And a fair amount of disinformation did slip in - primarily but not entirely in the "uncertainty of climate models" section, since to emphasize what's uncertain without also addressing what's robust & why, doesn't serve the audience well. And I heard mention of cooling in the last 10 years, when actually we've just had thehottest 12-month period in recorded history (plus heat's still going into the ocean (img)). And the talk implied that the climate threat's been oversold, when in fact it's been undersold.

Recommended for those who don't think CO2 is as important as it's cracked up to be: Richard Alley's "CO2- the biggest control knob" AGU lecture.

I also got the impression this was a talk by a consultant (tone: "this topic is complex so if you can't follow it, you need me") not by an educator (tone: "here are the important things for you to know"); though others may have come away with a different impression.

A good general presentation on climate change is the Hayhoe slideshow, followed by Krugman's climate economics and Begley's what-we-should-do, & then as needed, Coby Beck, or the EPA "CO2 endangerment" responses to comments (pdf for now), for addressing commonly held (and promulgated) misbeliefs.

(E.g. to counter the monckton/sppi "29 year temp rise has undershot the IPCC prediction" graph (top one here) from the talk, you can go to EPA Response (4-26) (pdf) ( "Two recent studies have addressed whether recent temperature trends are consistent with model runs, and both...find that the recent trends are well within model variability." )
(plus, as mentioned above, the oceans - where most of the heat goes - have continued to warm.)

This isn't an issue we can afford to stay uninformed about.

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