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Climate Literacy Primer

Via The Intersection blog, Chris Mooney made me aware of a great brochure (pdf) from NOAA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, that gives some basic climate science literacy information. It’s a great introduction to the multifaceted complexities of climate science, how climate works, how it’s measured, and how humans effect it.

It starts out with a great definition of a “climate-literate person.”

A climate-literate person:

  • understands the essential principles of Earth’s climate system
  • knows how to assess scientifically credible information about climate
  • communicates about climate and climate change in a meaningful way
  • is able to make informed and responsible decisions with regard to actions that may affect climate.

It continues with information about why climate science literacy matters (and why science literacy in general matters), how climate science is an ongoing process, and how we can know what is scientifically correct.

The main points explained in the brochure are the following:

CLIMATE LITERACY: The Essential Principles of Climate Science

  1. The Sun is the primary source of energy for Earths climate system.
  2. Climate is regulated by complex interactions among components of the Earth system.
  3. Life on Earth depends on, is shaped by, and affects climate.
  4. Climate varies over space and time through both natural and man-made processes.
  5. Our understanding of the climate system is improved through observations, theoretical studies, and modeling.
  6. Human activities are impacting the climate system.
  7. Climate change will have consequences for the Earth system and human lives.

There’s plenty of detail for each point given and the explanations are clear, giving a solid foundation for learning more about climate science and actually understanding the climate issues that are affecting (and will affect) our lives.

Chris Mooney wonders…

But anyway, it is interesting to contemplate whether climate “skeptics” take issue with any of these basics, or whether they are indeed “climate science literate” by this standard. For after all, the complicated data and “hockey stick” type issues that “skeptics” seem to seize upon don’t appear to have much to do with these basics; and yet these basics are all you need to know that global warming is a serious concern and that we stand to get fried.

(ed. …and by “skeptics” he means “deniers”… hence the sarcasm quotes)

I’ve heard and read plenty from deniers who plainly lack a basic understanding of the science and who enthusiastically ride the denier bandwagon regardless of where it leads… whether it’s something as silly as offering a big snowstorm in Montana as evidence against global warming, using a few out-of-context comments by some climate scientists to decry the state of scientific research, or claiming that a lone scientist with a new way of looking at data has overturned decades of climate research. The bandwagon in question is propelled by politically-created excrement.

Here’s one of my favorite parts from the brochure.

CLIMATE SCIENCE LITERACY IS A PART OF SCIENCE LITERACY.

“Science, mathematics, and technology have a profound impact on our individual lives and our culture. They play a role in almost all human endeavors, and they affect how we relate to one another and the world around us. . . . Science Literacy enables us to make sense of real-world phenomena, informs our personal and social decisions, and serves as a foundation for a lifetime of learning.”

From the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Atlas of Science Literacy, Volume 2, Project 2061.

The fruits of science are all around us, yet the state of science literacy in our country is horrifyingly low. Not only do we have people who don’t understand science or how it works, but we have the much more harmful group of people who think they understand how science works and who think they have an understanding of scientific issues, but are hopelessly lost in an ideological quagmire created by politics, religion, or other insidious cultural influences.

Climate science denialism is a perfect example of how anti-scientific ideology mucks with the real issues in ways that will create tangible consequences. It’s not just a matter of philosophical differences (you go your way and I’ll go mine). It’s a matter of the actual, physical consequences of promoting actions (or non-actions, as the case may be) that would lead to the degradation of our environment (you can’t go your way and I can’t go mine… since you borked it all up, thank you very much).

There is no “your way” and “my way” when it comes to the habitability of this planet. There’s simply an “our way” because just like the anti-intellectual, anti-science deniers, I’m stuck on this planet. It’s my home. It’s where I keep my stuff. It’s where all my friends and family live. It’s where my daughter lives and will continue to live after I’m gone.

The anti-science crowd puts lives at risk. They put our country at risk. They put our world at risk. Whether it’s the climate science deniers, anti-vaxxers, homeopathy pushers, or the myriad of other pseudo-scientific proponents, it all boils down to a lack of understanding of (or a deliberate rejection of) science.

…and that affects us all.

Jerry Coyne’s talk at the AAI convention

When Craig and I attended the Atheist Alliance International convention in Burbank this year in October, one of the speakers on Saturday was Jerry Coyne, author of Why Evolution is True. He gave an entertaining and informative talk summarizing the evidence for evolution and was probably one of my favorite speakers at the convention.

I came across the YouTube link to his talk again today, watched it, and thought I’d share. It’s about 57 minutes long, which includes a question and answer session at the end.

Well worth the viewing time!

Dale McGowan on the Santa Claus issue

Dale McGowan (Parenting Beyond Belief and Raising Freethinkers) posts on The Meming of Life blog about Santa Claus being the “ultimate dry run” for questions about God’s existence.

In part…

By allowing our children to participate in the Santa myth and find their own way out of it through skeptical inquiry, we give them a priceless opportunity to see a mass cultural illusion first from the inside, then from the outside. A very casual line of post-Santa questioning can lead kids to recognize how completely we all can snow ourselves if the enticements are attractive enough. Such a lesson, viewed from the top of the hill after exiting a belief system under their own power, can gird kids against the best efforts of the evangelists – and far better than secondhand knowledge could ever hope to do.

My daughter is eight years old and has plied me with numerous questions about Santa, which I’ve handled much as Dale has handled his children’s questions. She hasn’t brought it up in a couple months (oddly enough), but I’m pretty sure she’s very close to the point where she’s going to determine that Santa is fictional. I’m also pretty sure that she’ll handle it just the way Dale’s son handled it.

We’ve had discussions about God, religion, and what other people believe. She knows I’m an atheist, but also knows that many people believe many different things and that she’s allowed to make up her own mind. She’s been to a Christian pre-school and has been to a church “music camp” for the past two years in the summer, so she’s been exposed to religion and Jesus and God. When my wife asked her if she believed in God, her response was that she was too young to know one way or the other. I thought that was an exceptionally reasonable answer for an 8-year-old.

Now we’ll see how the Santa thing plays out.

Santa is like Jesus

Ancient Sumerians found it annoying

The Onion generally has great satire and this piece about the Sumerians looking on in confusion as the Christian god creates the world is no exception. It’s simply brilliant!

It starts off with this:

Members of the earth’s earliest known civilization, the Sumerians, looked on in shock and confusion some 6,000 years ago as God, the Lord Almighty, created Heaven and Earth.

According to recently excavated clay tablets inscribed with cuneiform script, thousands of Sumerians—the first humans to establish systems of writing, agriculture, and government—were working on their sophisticated irrigation systems when the Father of All Creation reached down from the ether and blew the divine spirit of life into their thriving civilization.

From there, it just gets better.

The conclusion:

According to the cuneiform tablets, Sumerians found God’s most puzzling act to be the creation from dust of the first two human beings.

“These two people made in his image do not know how to communicate, lack skills in both mathematics and farming, and have the intellectual capacity of an infant,” one Sumerian philosopher wrote. “They must be the creation of a complete idiot.”

It’s amazing how well-written satire can so dramatically (and clearly) point out the silliness of the young Earth creationist mindset.

I’m sure the Sumerians would have agreed.

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PZ Myers re: The science of evolution

PZ Myers responded to another absurdist email that chastised him about promoting the theory of evolution. The emailer says "to have a degree or degrees in biology and to still believe in Darwinian theory, shows ignorance in the worst degree." PZ’s response was spot on and included this beautiful bit…

The science points ineluctably to evolution as a fact, as the mechanism for biological change over time. The only people who argue otherwise, and that includes those ‘sciences’ [sic] you claim have concluded that the theory is false, are ideologues who have had their brains addled by non-scientific presuppositions, and who have decided that their fallacious traditional myths must supersede observation and evidence.

Perfect.

Help Alabama students learn real science

On The Axis of Evo blog, Colin Purrington points out that Alabama puts a disclaimer sticker into the front of its science textbooks… since 1996. He’d like it to stop. I’d like it to stop. You should like it to stop.

Here’s what Colin is trying to do.

So I’d like your help in advertising this silliness so that the media might care, which it currently doesn’t: I want to collect high-quality photographs of students showing the disclaimer but who are also doing something like eye-rolling, gagging, or vomiting. Or just expressions of honest disbelief on his/her face while the student holds the book open to the offending disclaimer.  Anyone in Alabama who might be able to help me out? I’d normally nudge friends at Alabama Citizens for Science Education, but its web site (http://www.alscience.org/) seems expired. Perhaps they were besieged by an angry mob with pitchforks.  God help them.

Send me your photographs, science fans. Do it for the children.

If you can help out, or know someone who can, contact Colin via his website.

Here’s the sticker in question…

Alabama Science Book Dislcaimer Sticker

LOLCats version of a Crocoduck!

Saw this. Laughed out loud. Had to share it.

OWLCAT - why evolution is so interesting

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Tim Minchin – Storm

I saw this months ago, but listened to it again and wanted to share it.

Tim Minchin performs his beat poem titled “Storm.” Don’t let “beat poem” put you off. This is such a wonderfully entertaining, funny, and insightful nine minutes that you won’t regret it!

How is ClimateGate like Creationism?

The “ClimateGate” email “scandal” about climate change reminds me very much about the manufactured controversy about evolution and Charles Darwin. How so?

In the case of evolution, deniers will frequently make accusations that Darwin was racist, or misogynistic, or anti-Semitic as “evidence” that evolution by natural selection is unreliable (or untrue). Whether those claims about Darwin are true or not is debatable, but even if they were all true, it has zero effect on the validity of the theory of evolution by natural selection.

Scientific theories are based on facts, not the personalities of researchers.

With “ClimateGate,” deniers focus on a small number of cherry-picked, old emails from a few climate scientists, take them out of context, twist (or misunderstand) their meanings, point out some crankiness on the part of the scientists, and claim that they somehow debunk and discredit decades of climate research and mountains of evidence compiled and analyzed by hundreds (or thousands?) of other climate scientists.

It’s absurd thinking of the highest degree.

Jesus and Mo and Socratic Dialogue

Jesus and Mo address the issue of the “New Atheists”… sort of.

JesusAndMo20091208

More on this later.

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