Archive for November, 2008

Neither ‘belief’ nor ‘debate’

Monday, November 10th, 2008

Thanks to Brian Thomas, whose <a href="http://carbon-based-ghg.blogspot.com/">Carbon Based blog</a> keeps me informed on many fronts about the many stories in a complex global field, for pointing out this <a href="http://www2.ljworld.com/weblogs/climate-science/2008/nov/08/climate-science—why-dont-we-treat-is-like-other-/">post</a> in the L<a href="http://www2.ljworld.com/">awrence Journal, which addresses the use of the word belief, in relationship to climate change, or the more commonly term- global warming.

In it, Vicky Lytle shares "I am frustrated that when people learn what I do, they often ask– ‘do you believe in climate change?’ Climate change is not a religion. It is a science. There are a lot of things we know about climate change, and there is a lot we still do not know. But, just because we have not solved everything does not mean the rest of it should be ignored."

In the over 40 interviews I did with scientists in researching the issue, not one ever used the word ‘belief’. They talk about the data first. Then they reference ways to test ideas that might help us understand the actual mechanics of climate. And then they reference the theory that is based upon the physics and chemistry that we know.

There was no theory of gravity until Newton came along, yet no one had any doubt about gravity. Once there was a theory, it helped us to engage the physical world with better understanding, and permitted us to exercise some power in relationship to gravity. Yet Newton’s theory was insufficiently sophisticated to say send a rocket to the moon. His theory, and the math related, would have caused you to miss the moon. Yet his theory was incredibly useful, and helped others understand, and then expand that understanding so that the theories of physics and thus gravity got better. Good enough to send large hunks of complicated machinery to other planets much further away.

So in the area of climate, there is the same process today. The question I get asked when people learn about my work in the subject, is ‘what side of the debate are you on?’ Well to have a debate today is just to argue about the veracity of the only theory we have. Given that this one dominant paradigm has the vast majority of data that is coming in verifying it, the debate isn’t. And in fact to really have a debate, we would need another theory to put up against this one. Since we don’t have a competing theory, we don’t have a debate either.

What we have is one good tool to use to predict a large number of complex conditions that loom large for our food and water supply, to say nothing of our planning for energy, transportation, housing etc. The fact that there are some inconsistencies in the data in a very complex system that we live in, and need to understand, does not suggest that we should ignore the theory much less the data.

The science describes a wide range of possibilities, and in keeping with scientific standards, offers a bell curve of probabilities about those. Unfortunately today, the public discourse is still dominated by two extreme points of view that represent the two narrow aspects of that bell curve, and thus the least likely outcomes. In telling the NOAA climate story, we focused on the middle, and what is suggested by those most likely outcomes, as well as the most positive and beneficial actions that can be taken based upon those outcomes. 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“Planet in peril”

Wednesday, November 5th, 2008

Yesterday’s victory by Barack Obama has historical implications. But for the climate change story, not so much. Yes, a new administration will change the national policy on climate, and attack energy in a new way. But this was going to be true of a McCain administration too, albeit in a distinctly different way.

So it begs the question- how different? How far into the century of progress alluded to by Barack Obama will the next year take us? Will the now dominant Democratic party divide itself to its various factions and fight over old turf of regulation and entitlements or will it hew to the unification theme that was clearly resonating for voters?

One thing is clear, from a communication analysis. Only one phrase in the eighteen minutes of eloquence from the President elect referenced the climate issue, arguably by the scales measuring time and planetary space, the largest that face us. And it can be interpreted many ways that don’t reference the environment, nature or any other aspect of climate.

For the planet peril that clearly most dominates at the moment is not a construct of chemistry or physics, but of man. It is economics, and the toolbox of those who have succeeded in its ways, power. Will the forces that have done well in the current economic system be swept up and transformed by the army of hope? Will ‘yes we can’ be directed in ways that crack the walls of those who resist innovation, much less justice? The story of climate can be either the leading example of inclusive reinvention, or a casualty of those that cannot see beyond short term balance sheets.

The answers, of course are in the execution. And the optimism here is that the people that organized, built and ran a campaign that was capable of capturing the Presidency of the most powerful nation on the planet by a candidate that has numerous strikes against him ( black, broken home, middle name Hussien, etc. etc.) can bring that same vision discipline and execution to running a government.

From all indications, those in the climate change space in government are ready to do more, share more and help a proactive policy team go forward.