Gravity's Rainbow

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Figures Lie and Liars Figure – On Discussing Climate Change with Relatives

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Many of my relatives don’t believe that climate change is occurring.  As a scientist interested in what climate change means for the ecosystems humans rely on, this is a mite frustrating.

One of my aunts is actually interested in learning more.  In our last discussion, I realized that a lot of things that I think of as “climate change common knowledge” most definitely are not, so I sent her the IGBP’s climate change index and a slideshow from the EPA on climate change indicators.

Her response reminded me that communicating science is really, really challenging.   I’m going to answer my aunt here in a series of relatively short posts.  I’m doing this publicly because a lot of people share my aunt’s concerns, questions, and misconceptions and I’m hoping some of my readers will add to the discussion.

The first of her concerns I’ll cover is a common one: Money.

Senator James Inhofe doesn't get science or science funding

In more than one of our discussions, she’s echoed Senator James Inhofe’s position that climate change is all a hoax perpetuated by money-grubbing scientists.  I’m not sure I’ve been able to totally disabuse her of the notion that scientists are rolling in money from NSF grants (really, grants do not add millions to your salary, or really even add to it at all in many cases), but I think my own experiences as a scientist have at least shown her that not all scientists come from Inhofe’s imaginary world.

A somewhat separate, but related concern she has is that

our government is not willing to spend money and spend it wisely on real scientific studies that are not and cannot be influenced by corporate entities.

Ironically, my aunt uses this statement to reinforce her skepticism of climate change.  Why ironic? Because the “global warming controversy” was largely created by fossil fuel interests and political pressure has mostly been used to silence science that showed evidence for global climate change, not to silence scientists that disagree with climate change.  As for her claim that “government is not willing to spend money and spend it wisely on real scientific studies,” the US government spends about $2 billion a year on climate change science.  Considering the magnitude of the problem facing us, $2 billion a year probably isn’t enough, but it certainly isn’t an amount small enough to accuse the government of being unwilling to spend money on climate change research.  I imagine most scientists could find an example of climate change research that they believe shouldn’t have been funded, but I expect you’ll find merely a handful of loonies that agree that the vast majority of climate  change studies were unwise to perform or that they weren’t “real” scientific studies.

The government is spending money on good, peer-reviewed, as-objective-as-it-gets science, and that science supports climate change. Fossil fuel interests, on the other hand, are spending money to create a controversy and keep their own profits high.

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4 Comments

  1. I don’t think the effort to educate folks is worthless, but I just don’t think the majority of people, no matter how much education is done, have the capability of understanding far-field, non-local problems. It’s simply not software built into most human brains, and it usually cannot be installed, in my experience.

    The fear of having to change lifestyle significantly and also massive amounts of corporate propaganda also influence this, but the problem is I believe mostly intractable.

    That’s a rather bleak view, but my view on this is that we are pretty much doomed. My thoughts on possible human extinction keep vacillating, but I’ve no doubt at all that there’ll be at least 90-90% fewer of us 500 years hence.

    Don’t get me wrong; I’ve always been one for fighting the long defeat, Galadriel-style, but in the past few years this fight has just taken too much of my mental time and created too much frustration, especially after I realized that what was going to occur was inevitable. And that it will be a self-revenge that these people cause to occur to themselves and their ancestors also appeals — in a petty way, I admit — to my adoration for retribution, even if self-administered.

    I admire the people who are still fighting, but I’m content of just making fun from the sidelines, these days. Not helpful, but help, well, doesn’t.

    This had some good information, though, that might appeal to the non-savvy:

    http://journals.democraticunderground.com/CrisisPapers/252

    • I don’t think most people will be convinced by this, or even many people. But I do think my aunt might change her mind. Since I’m already having the conversation with her, I might as well make it public in the hopes that it may change someone else’s mind.

      It is worth asking whether even convincing my aunt is worth it. How can one more person that thinks the world is in big trouble help?

      • If there is an intellectual war to be won, it’ll be won person to person.

        I happen to think the war is already lost. I just enjoy filling the “Statler & Waldorf” role, more for my own bitter amusement than any hope of helping.

        But I still admire people who are trying. On net, more correct knowledge is a positive thing. I doubt it will hurt, that is to say. There is always the opportunity cost that your time might be spent better elsewhere, but that’s the case with anything we do.

        Now I’m just rambling. :-)

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