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climate science

Satire is a beautiful thing

Amazingly enough, there are still people who claim to understand the science behind global warming, yet make the mistake of thinking localized cold temperatures, such as the recent snowstorms in the Eastern United States, are somehow a refutation of global warming. It’s almost as if they don’t understand the meaning of the key word “global.”

Jon Stewart captures it (and mocks it) perfectly in this Daily Show clip.

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
Unusually Large Snowstorm

That bit makes fun of the “local versus global” aspect of global warming denialism and it is amusing, but at its heart is a serious issue… the denialist combination of ignorance and arrogance fueled by political and/or religious ideology. It’s a combination that inspires deniers to manufacture evidence, take evidence out of context, twist and distort evidence, and cherry pick evidence in their attempts to bolster their cause.

What makes it worse is that the denialist propaganda seems to be having its intended effect. Despite overwhelming evidence showing that our planet is warming faster than what natural cycles would indicate and that the warming is strongly affected by human activity, fewer and fewer people accept the science. What makes the denialist position so successful? Is it because their “evidence” is valid? …because their position is somehow warranted? Or is it, perhaps, that climate science is complicated… and therefore boring to a lot of people? Could it be that it takes too much effort to research the basics in order to gain a modicum of understanding of the science? …that real science is hard?

Here’s a hint. It’s not because denialist “evidence” is valid (and yes, the scare quotes are warranted).

Certainly, it’s far, far easier to look out the window at an above-average snowfall and conclude that no warming is occurring… and if that nicely-boxed conclusion is spruced up by your strongly-held ideology or by a level of (perhaps understandable) apathy that makes you susceptible to the loud voices of denialism, then it’s fairly easy to consider the matter closed and ignore any further evidence to the contrary.

That’s the scary result of politics trying to invalidate science… or religion trying to invalidate science. People get bad information and then they get the idea that there’s a controversy (where none should exist), or they start to think that scientists are full of crap, or that a biologist is the same as an astrophysicist (ie… a scientist is a scientist is a scientist), or that politicians have some sort of special “in” when it comes to the truth. People start to think that the scientific process is broken, or that a single mistake invalidates years (or even decades) of research, or that a scientist in a bitchy mood indicates that scientists are corrupt, or that scientists should be automatons who never get cranky when quote-mined by some junk-science-peddling politician.

The denialists’ position against global warming science is political, pure and simple. It can be summarized by the idea that, because the fix would be a hassle (or expensive), they want nothing to do with it. On that foundation is built their structure of misinformation… with twists, distortions, and lies… that only continues to stand because they yell loudly, they yell repeatedly, and they yell authoritatively. They do it with a self-righteous arrogance, implying that anyone who disagrees is not only wrong, but unpatriotic and stupid… perhaps socialist, too. They set up towering straw men to burn to the ground with their trite arguments, paying no mind to whether the argument is scientifically valid.

Despite all the denialists’ blustering, the thing they lack is truth. Perhaps truth isn’t important to them as long as they get their way, but truth is the intended destination of science.

The scientific process is self-correcting. Mistakes are sometimes made, but through the process, those mistakes are found and corrected. Science moves on, leaving behind an understanding of our world that is just a little bit better than before. That’s what science does. It moves. It progresses. It refuses to settle. It refuses to stop.

…and all the denialist blustering in the world won’t keep it from moving ahead.

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.


“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.