EARTH DAY AND THE HOCKEY STICK: A SINGULAR MESSAGE

22 04 2018

Originally published on J Pratt 27’s blog……

Sorry about the images, no matter how much I shrink them, they won’t fit on the page……  you can view them properly in a separate tab…..

By Michael E. Mann

Credit: Freestylephoto Getty Images

Two decades ago this week a pair of colleagues and I published the original “hockey stick” graph in Nature, which happened to coincide with the Earth Day 1998 observances.

The graph showed Earth’s temperature, relatively stable for 500 years, had spiked upward during the 20th century.

year later we would extend the graph back in time to A.D. 1000, demonstrating this rise was unprecedented over at least the past millennium—as far back as we could go with the data we had.

Original “hockey stick” temperature graph in Nature, 1998. The Y axis shows the Northern hemisphere mean temperature, in degrees Celsius; the zero line corresponds to the 1902 – 1980 mean. Credit: “Global-scale Temperature Patterns and Climate Forcing over the Past Six Centuries,” by Michael E. Mann et al. in Nature, Vol. 392, April 23, 1998

Although I didn’t realize it at the time, publishing the hockey stick would change my life in a fundamental way. I was thrust suddenly into the spotlight. Nearly every major newspaper and television news networkcovered our study. The widespread attention was exhilarating, if not intimidating for a science nerd with little or no experience—or frankly, inclination at the time—in communicating with the public.

Nothing in my training as a scientist could have prepared me for the very public battles I would soon face. The hockey stick told a simple story: There is something unprecedented about the warming we are experiencing today and, by implication, it has something to do with us and our profligate burning of fossil fuels. The story was a threat to companies that profited from fossil fuels, and government officials doing their bidding, all of whom opposed efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. As the vulnerable junior first author of the article (I was a postdoctoral researcher), I found myself in the crosshairs of industry-funded attack dogs looking to discredit the iconic symbol of the human impact on our climate…by discrediting me personally.

The hockey stick temperature reconstruction from 1999 (blue) along with the data record (red) and the 2013 “PAGES2k” temperature reconstruction (green).  Credit: Klaus Bittermann via Wikimedia Commons  (CC BY-SA 4.0) 

In my 2013 book, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines, I gave a name to this modus operandi of science critics: the Serengeti strategy. The term describes how industry special interests and their facilitators single out individual researchers to attack, in much the same way lions of the Serengeti single out an individual zebra from the herd. In numbers there is strength; individuals are far more vulnerable.

The purpose of this strategy, still in force today, is twofold: to undermine the credibility of the science community, thus impairing scientists as messengers and communicators; and to discourage other researchers from raising their heads above the parapet and engaging in public discourse over policy-relevant science. If the aggressors are successful, as I have argued before, we all lose out—in the form of policies that favor special interests over our interests.

As the Serengeti strategy has been deployed against me, I have been vilified on the editorial pages of The Wall Street Journal and other conservative media outlets, and subject to inquisitions by fossil fuel industry–funded senators, congressmen and attorneys general. My e-mails have been stolen, cherry-picked, taken out of context and broadcast widely in an effort to embarrass and discredit me. I have been subject to vexatious, open-records law requests by fossil fuel industry–funded front groups for my personal e-mails and numerous other documents. I have experienced multiple death threats and have endured threats against my family members. All because of the inconvenience my scientific findings posed to powerful and influential special interests.

Yet, in the 20 years since the original hockey stick publication, independent studies again and again have overwhelmingly reaffirmed our findings, including the key conclusion: recent warming is unprecedented over at least the past millennium. The highest scientific body in the U.S., the National Academy of Sciences, affirmed our findings in an exhaustive independent review published in June 2006. Dozens of groups of scientists have independently reproduced, confirmed and extended our findings, including a team of nearly 80 scientists from around the world who in 2013 published their finding in the premier journal Nature Geoscience that recent warmth is unprecedented in at least the past 1,400 years.

The latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the most authoritative and exhaustive assessment of climate science on the planet, concluded recent warmth is likely unprecedented over an even longer time frame than we had concluded. There is tentative evidence, in fact, that the current warming spike is unprecedented in tens of thousands of years.

Of course, the hockey stick is only one of numerous lines of evidence that have led the world’s scientists to conclude climate change is (a) real, (b) caused by burning fossil fuels, along with other human activities and (c) a grave threat if we do nothing about it. There is no legitimate scientific debate on those points, despite the ongoing effort by some people and groups to convince the public otherwise.

Their preferred tactic is to exaggerate the uncertainty in models that project where climate change is heading and argue such uncertainty is a cause for inaction, when precisely the opposite is the case. Arctic sea ice is disappearing faster than the climate models have predicted. The Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets appear prone to collapse sooner than we previously thought—and with that, estimates of the sea level rise we could see by the end of this century have doubled from previous estimates of about three feet to more than six feet. If anything, climate model projections have proved overly conservative; they are certainly not an exaggeration.

Scientists are finding other examples as well. In part as a result of our own work three years ago, there is an emerging consensus—as publicized in recent news accounts—that the “conveyor belt” of ocean circulation may be weakening sooner than we expected. The conveyor delivers warm waters from the tropics to the higher latitudes of the North Atlantic, supporting vibrant fish communities there and moderating climates in western Europe and eastern North America. The earlier melt of Greenland ice, it appears, is freshening the surface waters of the subpolar North Atlantic, inhibiting the sinking of cold, salty water that helps drive the conveyor.

When the hockey stick was first attacked in the late 1990s I was initially reluctant to speak out, but I realized I had to defend myself against a cynical assault on my science and on me. I have come to embrace that role. What more noble cause is there than to fight to preserve our planet for our children and grandchildren?

There is great urgency to act now if we are to avert a dangerous 2- degree Celsius (3.6-degree Fahrenheit) planetary warming. My own recent work suggests the challenge is greater than previously thought. Yet I remain cautiously optimistic we will act in time. Along with many other Americans, I have been inspired by the renewed enthusiasm of our youth, who are demanding action now when it comes to the societal and environmental threats they face. Indeed, I have committed myself to helping insure a future in which we avoid catastrophic climate change. So let me conclude with this exhortation from the epilogue of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars:

“While slowly slipping away, that future is still within the realm of possibility. It is a matter of what path we choose to follow. I hope that my fellow scientists—and concerned individuals everywhere—will join me in the effort to make sure we follow the right one.”

Press link for more: Scientific America

 

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We Need Courage, Not Hope, to Face Climate Change

11 03 2018

Originally posted at onbeing…… I hope this article rhymes with you as well as it did for me.

KATE MARVEL (@DRKATEMARVEL), CONTRIBUTING EDITOR

Kate MarvelAs a climate scientist, I am often asked to talk about hope. Particularly in the current political climate, audiences want to be told that everything will be all right in the end. And, unfortunately, I have a deep-seated need to be liked and a natural tendency to optimism that leads me to accept more speaking invitations than is good for me. Climate change is bleak, the organizers always say. Tell us a happy story. Give us hope. The problem is, I don’t have any.

I used to believe there was hope in science. The fact that we know anything at all is a miracle. For some reason, the whole world is hung on a skeleton made of physics. I found comfort in this structure, in the knowledge that buried under layers of greenery and dirt lies something universal. It is something to know how to cut away the flesh of existence and see the clean white bones underneath. All of us obey the same laws, whether we know them or not.

Look closely, however, and the structure of physics dissolves into uncertainty. We live in a statistical world, in a limit where we experience only one of many possible outcomes. Our clumsy senses perceive only gross aggregates, blind to the roiling chaos underneath. We are limited in our ability to see the underlying stimuli that, en masse, create an event. Temperature, for example, is a state created by the random motions of millions of tiny molecules. We feel heat or cold, not the motion of any individual molecule. When something is heated up, its tiny constituent parts move faster, increasing its internal energy. They do not move at the same speed; some are quick, others slow. But there are billions of them, and in the aggregate their speed dictates their temperature.

The internal energy of molecule motion is turned outward in the form of electromagnetic radiation. Light comes in different flavors. The stuff we see occupies only a tiny portion of a vast electromagnetic spectrum. What we see occupies a tiny portion of a vast electromagnetic spectrum. Light is a wave, of sorts, and the distance between its peaks and troughs determines the energy it carries. Cold, low-energy objects emit stretched waves with long, lazy intervals between peaks. Hot objects radiate at shorter wavelengths.

To have a temperature is to shed light into your surroundings. You have one. The light you give off is invisible to the naked eye. You are shining all the same, incandescent with the power of a hundred-watt bulb. The planet on which you live is illuminated by the visible light of the sun and radiates infrared light to the blackness of space. There is nothing that does not have a temperature. Cold space itself is illuminated by the afterglow of the Big Bang. Even black holes radiate, lit by the strangeness of quantum mechanics. There is nowhere from which light cannot escape.

The same laws that flood the world with light dictate the behavior of a carbon dioxide molecule in the atmosphere. CO2 is transparent to the Sun’s rays. But the planet’s infrared outflow hits a molecule in just such as way as to set it in motion. Carbon dioxide dances when hit by a quantum of such light, arresting the light on its path to space. When the dance stops, the quantum is released back to the atmosphere from which it came. No one feels the consequences of this individual catch-and-release, but the net result of many little dances is an increase in the temperature of the planet. More CO2 molecules mean a warmer atmosphere and a warmer planet. Warm seas fuel hurricanes, warm air bloats with water vapor, the rising sea encroaches on the land. The consequences of tiny random acts echo throughout the world.

I understand the physical world because, at some level, I understand the behavior of every small thing. I know how to assemble a coarse aggregate from the sum of multiple tiny motions. Individual molecules, water droplets, parcels of air, quanta of light: their random movements merge to yield a predictable and understandable whole. But physics is unable to explain the whole of the world in which I live. The planet teems with other people: seven billion fellow damaged creatures. We come together and break apart, seldom adding up to an coherent, predictable whole.

I have lived a fortunate, charmed, loved life. This means I have infinite, gullible faith in the goodness of the individual. But I have none whatsoever in the collective. How else can it be that the sum total of so many tiny acts of kindness is a world incapable of stopping something so eminently stoppable? California burns. Islands and coastlines are smashed by hurricanes. At night the stars are washed out by city lights and the world is illuminated by the flickering ugliness of reality television. We burn coal and oil and gas, heedless of the consequences.

Our laws are changeable and shifting; the laws of physics are fixed. Change is already underway; individual worries and sacrifices have not slowed it. Hope is a creature of privilege: we know that things will be lost, but it is comforting to believe that others will bear the brunt of it.

We are the lucky ones who suffer little tragedies unmoored from the brutality of history. Our loved ones are taken from us one by one through accident or illness, not wholesale by war or natural disaster. But the scale of climate change engulfs even the most fortunate. There is now no weather we haven’t touched, no wilderness immune from our encroaching pressure. The world we once knew is never coming back.

I have no hope that these changes can be reversed. We are inevitably sending our children to live on an unfamiliar planet. But the opposite of hope is not despair. It is grief. Even while resolving to limit the damage, we can mourn. And here, the sheer scale of the problem provides a perverse comfort: we are in this together. The swiftness of the change, its scale and inevitability, binds us into one, broken hearts trapped together under a warming atmosphere.

We need courage, not hope. Grief, after all, is the cost of being alive. We are all fated to live lives shot through with sadness, and are not worth less for it. Courage is the resolve to do well without the assurance of a happy ending. Little molecules, random in their movement, add together to a coherent whole. Little lives do not. But here we are, together on a planet radiating ever more into space where there is no darkness, only light we cannot see.





Watching the Hurricane’s Path

8 09 2017

I can really relate to this latest article by Richard Heinberg….  I still get people saying to me “you’ve been saying this for twenty years, and look, nothing’s happened…” Yet, every day, we are one day closer to the inevitable outcome, just like watching the hurricane coming from your favourite armchair…

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heinbergIt’s an eerie experience. You’ve just heard that another hurricane has formed in the Atlantic, and that it’s headed toward land. You search for NOAA’s National Hurricane Center website so you can see the forecast path for the storm. You’re horrified at the implications, and you bookmark the site. You check in every few hours to see forecast updates. You know in general terms what’s coming—devastation for the lives of thousands, maybe millions of people. Then a few days later you begin to see the sad, shocking photos and videos of destruction.

Thanks to modern science and technology—satellites and computers—we have days of warning before a hurricane hits. That’s extremely helpful: while people can’t move their houses and all their possessions, they can board up windows, stock up on food and water, and perhaps get out of town. Huge storms are far less deadly than they would be if we didn’t have modern weather forecasting.

Science and technology have also enabled us to forecast “storms” of another kind. Using computers and data about population, energy, pollution, natural resources, and economic trends, it’s possible to generate scenarios for the future of industrial civilization. The first group of researchers to do this  in 1972, found that the “base case,” or most likely scenario, showed essentially the collapse of society: in the early-to-middle decades of the 21st century, industrial production would peak and begin to decline sharply; so would food production and (with a lag of a few years) population. For decades scientists have been updating the software and plugging in new and better data, but ever-more-powerful computers keep spitting out the same base-case scenario.

One of the factors the 1972 researchers thought would be of increasing significance was climate change. Now, 45 years later, many thousands of scientists around the world are feeding their supercomputers data on carbon emissions, carbon cycles, carbon sinks, climate sensitivity, climate feedbacks, and more. They likewise see a “hurricane” on the way: we are altering the chemistry of the Earth’s atmosphere and oceans so significantly, and so quickly, that dire consequences are almost certain, if not already here. Later this century we’ll see storms, droughts, heat waves, and wildfires like none on record. Agriculture will likely be impacted severely.

Ever since I read the 1972 report on Limits to Growth, I’ve had that same eerie feeling as when looking at the charts on the NOAA website. Only the feeling is deeper, more pervasive, and (of course) long-lasting. A storm is coming. We should batten down the hatches.

But, 45 years down the line, the storm is no longer far away. In fact, the photos and videos of destruction are starting to come in. No nations have bothered to make sensible efforts to minimize the storm’s impact by reducing fossil fuel consumption, stabilizing population at 1970s levels, or reconfiguring their economy so it doesn’t require continuous growth in resource and energy usage. Why didn’t we do those sensible things, even though we had plenty of warning?

Our failure to respond has a lot to do with the long time lag. We humans are much better at dealing with immediate threats than ones years ahead. In effect, we have an internal discount rate that we apply to possible disasters, depending on their temporal proximity.

Given a long-term threat, some of us are more likely to develop complicated rationales for doing nothing. After all, averting a really big disaster may require substantial inconvenience. Getting out of the way of a hurricane might mean packing up your most treasured belongings, driving a couple of hundred miles, and trying to find a motel that’s not already overbooked (that is, if you are among the fortunate with the resources to do so).  Minimizing the threat of global overshoot might mean changing our entire economic system—from how we grow food to how we get to work and what kind of work we do. Escaping the hurricane engages our survival instincts; we don’t have time to doubt the weatherman. But given a few decades to think about it, we might come up with lots of (ultimately wrongheaded but carefully reasoned nonetheless) reasons why our current economic system is really just fine, and why global overshoot really isn’t a threat.

Those of us who aren’t so good at coming up with such rationalizations are stuck with the eerie feeling that something very bad is about to happen—maybe in Florida this weekend, maybe everywhere before long. Here’s my recommendation, based on a few decades of watching all kinds of storm charts: please pay attention to the weatherman. Stop finding reasons why you really don’t have to change or prepare. Make your way to higher ground. And be sure to help your neighbors.





Is eating no meat actually doing more harm than good?

18 05 2017

I spend more time on the internet arguing wih vegetarians/vegans than any other group of people……  I so wish they would get off their high horses and start supporting farmers who do the right thing…. and that goes for all you meat eaters out there who buy meat from supermarkets….  STOP IT!!

This opinion piece was originally published by Farmdrop on 4th May 2017.


The younger generation are positively redefining the way we see ourselves in relation to food and the environment.

I grew up in the late 1960s and so I consider myself a bit of a hippy. That decade marked a fundamental mind-set shift in the way people saw themselves in relation to the world. At the time, it was difficult to pinpoint where these ideas came from; many of them simply seemed to come through intuition.

I mention this because, for the first time since the late 1960s, I feel like another shift in consciousness is occurring among the younger generation, particularly amongst so called ‘millennials’.

There is a new field of scientific study called epigenetics which shows that all living organisms constantly interact with their external environment and that these influences can prompt changes in gene expression which can be passed down through the generations. Plants, for example, have epigenetic responses to the environment they grow in, as a result of which a plant may have a subtle difference in its genotype from its parents. Even more interestingly, certain epigenetic traits can stay dormant for several generations, only to find full expression at a later time.

So I suspect that the changing shift in consciousness towards food production and sustainability may actually be partly epigenetic. Perhaps the radical energy of the 1960s is now finding expression among millennials, albeit in a slightly different way.

For these reasons, as an organic farmer of almost 45 years, I have never been more optimistic about the future of farming. However, I am growing increasingly concerned about the large number of people turning to diets that may not necessarily be either healthy or sustainable.

If we are to move to a genuinely sustainable food system, then I think we all need to become much better informed about the sustainability or otherwise of different food systems. Only then we will be better placed to challenge the huge amounts of misinformation on so-called sustainable diets which are encouraging people to avoid all meats and animal products, despite the reality that in many (if not most climates and regions) it is difficult to farm in a truly sustainable way without livestock.

What is the problem with food and farming?

It has become a cliché but it’s true: supermarket food is not cheap and comes at a heavy price. The industrial application of nitrogen fertiliser has contaminated our water systems and atmosphere with dangerous nitrates; the subsidised production of fructose corn syrup has driven an increase in obesity and diabetes; and the excessive use of antibiotics in animals has caused a resistance to these drugs amongst humans.

The real problem is that none of the costs of all this damage is charged to the people who use it and, on the other hand, the positive effects of sustainable farming are not supported.

The current policy framework supports a dishonest economic food pricing system, as a result of which, the best business case is for farmers to grow using industrial methods and for retailers to buy the commodity products from industrial farms, process the hell out of them, package them so the consumer knows nothing about their backstory and then make a profit by turning that around.

So we need new incentives and disincentives, which ensure that the polluter pays and those who farm in a truly sustainable way are better rewarded for the benefits they deliver.

But what are the most sustainable farming methods?

There is no doubt that agriculture and farming is one of the most significant contributor towards climate change. Cutting back on the biggest pollutant (man-made fossil fuels) is very important but to actually reverse climate change – take CO2 out of the atmosphere – then we need to change the way we farm, particularly in relation to the way we look after the soil.

This is because organic matter in the soil is a store of carbon, thereby mitigating harmful emissions in the atmosphere. Britain’s soils store around 10 billion tonnes of carbon, which is more than total annual global emissions of carbon dioxide. Moreover, high levels of organic matter are also the basis for soil fertility, releasing nutrients for healthy plant growth and ultimately food. In other words, the amount of organic matter present in the soil is essential, both for combating climate change and ultimately improving our health.

The problem is that industrial farming methods have depleted organic matter in the soils. In the East of England, around 84% of the land’s carbon rich soil has been lost and continues to disappear at a rate of 1 to 2cm per year. That represents an enormous amount of CO2 released into the atmosphere.

Sustainable food systems are therefore about much more than simply avoiding nasty chemicals and antibiotics, they are about building organic matter in the soil through crop rotation and mixed farming practices.

It is possible for farmers to reduce the emissions from agriculture by re-introducing rotations in the way they use their land – introducing a grass and clover phase that builds soil organic matter, which is then grazed by ruminant animals on rotation, who fertilise the soil further, and results in an ability to grow healthy crops.

According to the International Panel on Climate Change, it is estimated that 89% of all agricultural emissions can be mitigated by improving carbon levels in the soil.

How can you have the most healthy and sustainable diet?

Everyone, at least in principle, wants to eat a healthy and sustainable diet, but we are all very confused about how to do it. If you asked 10 people what the most sustainable and healthy way to eat was then you would probably get 10 different answers. A few might say vegetarian or vegan (the numbers eating a vegan diet has increased by 360% in the last decade) but I think that a large scale switch towards vegetarianism may not necessarily be compatible with sustainability.

In my opinion, many people have been led astray by bad science. The tools used by scientific researchers in the past, and whose published papers have prompted changes in people’s diets, were not based on sound science. It was said that red meat and animal fats should be avoided, both because they are unhealthy and because ruminant animals (cows and sheep) are largely responsible for harmful methane emissions.

But it turns out that neither of those positions are necessarily true.

The study that prompted Governments in Britain and the United States to recommend people to reduce their intake of fats was not based on solid evidence. It is this study that encouraged the food industry to replace fats with added sugars, and we are only now understanding the damage these do to our health.

And the studies that recommended a reduction in red meat consumption on grounds of reducing its environmental impact only look at certain factors in isolation rather than the whole food system. Land-use is often considered as bad in all instances, even though raising livestock is sometimes the only productive land use option available. In roughly two thirds of the UK’s agricultural land area is grass and the only way we can turn that into a good soil that stores carbon and grows healthy crops is to have ruminant animals grazing on a rotation system to fertilise the ground.

These flawed assumptions have had significant consequences for the way people eat. Beef production has halved since the 1980s and the consumption of lamb, arguably the most sustainable grass-fed meat for the land, has plummeted. While new evidence is now showing that animals fats are good for our health and cattle grazed in the right way can actually reduce carbon emissions by creating fertile soils.

Where do we go from here?

My message is simple: a healthy diet should work backwards from the most sustainable way to farm, and that ideally means eating the foods produced by mixed farms using crop rotations which include a fertility building phase, usually of grass and clover grazed by cows and sheep, but also pastured pigs and poultry.

Industrial farming has been an extractive industry. We have dined out on the natural capital of the soil that previous generations have laid down for us. We need to fix that because the environment in which a plant or animal is produced goes a long way to determine its nutrient value when consumed by humans.





IT’S THE END OF THE WORLD — HOW DO YOU FEEL?

12 06 2016

Terry Root often goes to sleep at night wondering how she’ll be able to get up the next morning and do it all over again. Then the sun comes up and she forces herself out of bed. She might go for a run to release the pent-up anxiety. Sometimes she cries. Or she’ll commiserate with colleagues, sharing in and validating each other’s angst. What keeps Terry up at night aren’t the usual ailments; it’s not a tyrant boss or broken heart.

The diagnosis: global warming.

A senior fellow at Stanford’s Woods Institute for the Environment, Root has spent the past two decades unraveling the thread between climate change and the eventual mass extinctions of countless species of plants, animals — and, yes, humans. “That’s a tough, tough thing to cope with,” Root says in a weary, jagged voice. There’s more. When the gray-haired bird watcher shares her End of Days findings, she’s often met with personal attacks; naysayers hurl their disagreement and disdain, complete with name-calling and threats from politicians. But the absolute worst part of her job? We’re not listening. “It’s harder than hell to carry that,” says Root.

 

Armageddon aside for a moment, that an acclaimed scientist will say h-e-l-l to a reporter and use words like cope is a sign of changing times. Not only are we living on a warming planet but a progressively emotive one. It started with parents coddling their kids (no more advice to “just suck it up”), then it was emojis (punctuation isn’t enough) and now it’s climatologists tweeting “we’re f’d” and field researchers speaking up about climate depression — or even pretraumatic stress disorder.

There is a paradigm shift taking place in the field of science with the recognition that even the most stoic minds of the world need a way to process their doomsday findings. All of this is fueling a debate that’s raged since before Galileo and until recently landed on one central question: What place does human emotion have in scientific reasoning? But in 2015, there’s another layer that’s been schlepped into the controversial heap: What do you do when your job is to document the end of the world?

But what if the entire goddamned profession gets wiped out in a hurricane? Then what? There’s a growing sense of urgency as worsening environmental catastrophes play out before us. In the midst of what many in the science community — by “many,” we mean upward of 95 percent — are calling a planetary crisis, more researchers are finding that they can’t simply present their data in a vacuum, then go home at the end of the day and crack open a beer. “Scientists are going from these totally objective outsiders into being much more subjective and a part of the community,” says Faith Kearns, an outreach coordinator for the California Institute for Water Resources, which tries to solve drought-related challenges.

Indeed, the façade of total objectivity has deteriorated in recent years alongside intensifying environmental cataclysms. In 2012, Camille Parmesan, who shared a Nobel Prize with Al Gore in 2007 for her climate work, publicly announced her professional depression and frustration with the current political stalemate. Shortly after The Atlantic named Parmesan one of its 27 “Brave Thinkers,” alongside Steve Jobs and Barack Obama, for her efforts to save species, she temporarily left her university job in Texas for a reprieve across the pond. Then last summer, climatologist Jason Box’s tweet — “If even a small fraction of Arctic sea floor carbon is released to the atmosphere, we’re f’d” — went viral, provoking a media frenzy. The public relentlessly chastised him for a) making a definitive statement instead of dealing in the usual probabilities and b) expressing emotion.

And now there’s the website Is This How You Feel?, which publishes handwritten letters from climate scientists expressing their frustrations, fears and hopes. One professor writes, “It’s probably the first time I have ever been asked to say what I feel rather than what I think.” Another scrawls, “I feel exasperation and despair. … I feel vulnerable that by writing this letter I will expose myself to trolling and vitriol.” Joe Duggan, the mohawked Aussie with a nose ring and master’s degree in the growing field of science communications who manages the site, says he’s been shocked at how many responses he’s gotten in the mail: “There is a movement of scientists looking for new ways to connect; they’re emoting in ways they never have before,” he says.

 

Elizabeth Allison turns off the lights. She instructs her students to stack one vertebra on top of the next until their spines are straight and long. Then to focus on the rhythm of their breath. In. And out. In. And out. Acknowledge any feelings or sensations that arise, then let them go. After 15 minutes she slowly guides them back into the present. Feet and hands begin to stir. Eyelids slowly make their way to full attention.

OK, that’s it. See you all next week — and don’t forget your homework assignment is due. After all, this is graduate-level course PAR 6079.

So much for that centuries-old hidden curriculum. From professors like Allison taking students through a guided meditation after a discussion on retreating rainforests to scientists signing up for workshops on compassion and communication to support groups for climatologists, human emotion has wedged itself into every step of the scientific method. Marilyn Cornelius, a Stanford-trained researcher, has found the best way to explore creative solutions for the planet’s woes is to meld behavioral science, biomimicry, meditation and design thinking. Now she works as a consultant, taking energy experts on wilderness retreats and teaching lab coats to connect with themselves and nature. “I made a decision to work on behavior change,” Cornelius says, “because it’s a positive way to work on the climate problem.”

This isn’t just about managing the feelings of scientists, though. Kearns, from the California Institute for Water Resources, acknowledges how painful it can be to watch academics try to relate to everyday folks and has made it her mission to make these interactions less cringe-inducing. The soft-spoken brunette first began thinking about this impasse after some years back she hosted a community workshop on emerging “stay or go” science that weighs whether home owners can — and should — protect their property from increasingly frequent and ferocious wildfires. Her audience was a small northern California community that had recently faced that very dilemma. Fear, anger and helplessness pulsed through the room. “I started to feel their anxiety,” Kearns says. “Our research has an effect on people’s lives. My scientific training hadn’t prepared me to cope with the emotions that come with that.”

But there is still the camp that believes feelings erode credibility and breed bias. It’s the naturalistic fallacy, and it’s the difference between the is and the ought. The philosophy is that facts can’t substantiate value judgments. Science is perhaps the last frontier of neutrality, especially in today’s polarized society. As Philip Handler, former president of the National Academy of Sciences, once said, scientists “best serve public policy by living within the ethics of science, not those of politics.”

 

The seismic sentimental shift among scientists parallels an outpouring of feeling — and narcissism — across American society. Once-detached psychotherapists are hugging their clients, journalists have come to love the personal essay (in fact, it seems like everyone has a story to tell these days), even man-eating corporations are experimenting with emotional leadership. Or think of the impassioned protests around Black Lives Matter, the outrage at sexual abuse and the pleas against social inequality. “There’s been more space in the public realm for bringing up and dealing with emotional stuff, and that has cracked the shell of otherwise very removed scientists,” says Allison, a professor at the California Institute for Integral Studies. Then again, maybe climatologists are more cunning than we give them credit for, and they’re simply taking a page out of their opponents’ playbook.

Indeed, emotions are a powerful tool for those who know how to use them. Which is why those leading the climate-change charge aren’t looking to labs anymore. Instead, eager students are following Cornelius’s path, pursuing studies in contemplative environmentalism or transformational ecology, which looks to shrinks, money and Facebook to protect the planet. With the future of everything at stake, what has traditionally separated science from sentiment is a lot less defined — and perhaps even irrelevant.

But emotions are less predictable than facts and figures. Root remembers giving a talk once at the University of Utah. Afterward a few students came up to ask questions; one young man had tears in his eyes. “Is it really this bad?” he pleaded. Root told him it’s worse. He went on to become an activist and was sent to prison for one of his illegal protests. Root has always felt responsible.

“I’d always thought that facts and the truth would win out; then I realized that wasn’t the case,” Root says.





More videos on ice melt and how doubt about the science is spread

16 02 2015

There is a movie coming out soon called Merchants of Doubt, after the book by the same name, that describes how a 25 year campaign of disinformation, largely by the fossil fuel industry, has successfully distorted the message and left much of the public in deep denial.  The methods used to cast doubt on climate change are the same methods used to cast doubt on cigarettes causing cancer.

The science is settled. There is no longer any debate. Climate change is real, and humans are causing it. They just want you to think there is still doubt.

 





Chris Hedges at The Earth at Risk Conference 2014

3 12 2014

Published on Nov 24, 2014

Interview with Chris Hedges at The Earth at Risk 2014 Conference and the moral imperative of resistance thru non-violent direct action and mass movements of sustained civil disobedience…