Thursday, December 02, 2010

Speaking up as a citizen - KVMR climate commentary tonight

There was an impassioned - but IMO misguided - commentary on KVMR's science show Soundings, day before yesterday. I asked to respond with a 3 minute commentary on KVMR News, and Paul Emery graciously consented and recorded it today; it will air tonight. You'll be entertained if you listen (live or later) - my lips don't behave well when chilly, so it has the distinct auditory aura of a mouthful of marbles. Or you can just read it, below.
1. I didn't credit Teresa Nielsen Hayden for her "extremely interesting ancient times" big picture, which is flat out wonderful, nor presidential science advisor John Holdren for his "car with bad brakes headed toward a cliff in the fog" metaphor - I was trying to keep it a) flowing and b) under 3 minutes w/o speaking like an auctioneer.
Update, upon listening: more like a Yugo trying to run at 40 below.
2. I don't know 100% that the Climate Science Rapid Response Team promises to provide information
and commentary to journalists, or just information; I'm 90% sure the former though.)
3. Pre-emptive apologies for disappointing a certain local contrarian; when I'd met him, I'd
(verbally) brandished my Harvard PhD in an attempt to convey that I might actually have some idea what I'm talking about. Let's just say it turned out to be a bad move, apparently never to be forgotten; I have learned from it.
4. Partial apologies to Mr. Stahler, whose commentary I was responding to, since I don't directly address most of his points here - IMO it was something of a Gish Gallop, not amenable to a substantive 3 minute rebuttal. AGU-related advice to same, based on last year: attend plenary sessions, which can be excellent for conveying the big picture.
The commentary:
This is Anna Haynes with a Free Speech message about climate science and climate action - and about the big picture.

Some people don't think the science on climate justifies urgent action - and don't want the scientists themselves to speak up about it.

This raises some basic questions.

Should we use science to inform climate policy? I'd say yes - to do otherwise is to act from ignorance.

Does climate science tell us exactly what the future holds, or even exactly what the current reality is?
No, never; science is about the weight of evidence and probabilities and getting ever closer to the truth - not about certainty.

Does the lack of certainty mean it has nothing useful to tell us? No, since it does give information on the severity and likelihood of the dangers we create for ourselves and generations to come, the longer we wait to curb our greenhouse gas emissions.

To wait for certainty is misguided - When you're "in a car with bad brakes driving toward a cliff in the fog" (*), with your children in the back seat, a good parent does not keep their foot on the gas.

Should scientists themselves go before the public and explain the risks we're running? I'd say yes - ideally they could stay in the lab & do their science & leave the communication to others, but with today's journalism of false balance, or worse yet, journalism snookered by industry public relations, as responsible citizens, scientists need to speak up. They have children too.

Do some actions pose their own risks? Yes, but they're much more tractable than global climate destabilization.

But why listen to me, I'm no climate expert - you need a reliable source. Ideally that'd be the media, but it hasn't covered climate well. This may improve, with the Climate Science Rapid Response Team, a group of working climate scientists who've gathered to fight back against misinformation - they're now a resource for journalists who want reliable climate information and commentary.

But what about for the public - for you and me, now? For us the Rapid Response Team recommends a website that uses science to assess dubious climate claims.
The site they recommend is

People can get caught up in details, so let's keep the big picture in mind:

We are "ancestral peoples"; "this is the very dawn of the world. We're hardly more than an eyeblink away from the fall of Troy - and scarcely an interglaciation removed from the Altamira cave painters. We live in extremely interesting ancient times." We need to be "earnest and ingenious and brave, as befits ancestral peoples" (link) ...

- and make our descendants proud.


Don Pelton said...


Congratulations on a concise and lucid statement. You should be proud of that. I hope it was heard.

Anonymous said...

Have you got any feedback yet on your commentary? How was it?

-- frank

Anna Haynes said...

(oops, I guess this post didn't need to have comment moderation on - sorry.)

Frank: aside from the fact that I sounded retarded, IMO it was pretty good.
I feel kind of bad about not crediting Teresa N-H for the big picture, when talking; I wish there was a way to embed links in speech.