Climate change: The time for talk is over

The Internet is a huge thing. I try to stay abreast of world and current events, but without a positronic brain, I sometimes miss things.

Today came to my attention an article that was posted at reddit three years ago, and a stunning commentary by an ecological scientist. You know, the real thing – with degrees and experience and stuff, not just 45 minutes of reading something on Fox News.

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It needs to be shared.

The article at Business Insider carries the lede, “Two of the world’s most prestigious science academies say there’s clear evidence that humans are causing the climate to change.”

What’s more impressive was the comment left by user /u/tired_of_nonsense, which I replicate here with the writer’s express permission. If you care about this island Earth we live on, it’s worth the read, in full.

Throwaway for a real scientist here. I’d make my name, research area, and organization openly available, but the fact of the matter is that I don’t like getting death threats.

I’m a perpetual lurker, but I’m tired of looking through the nonsense that gets posted by a subset of the community on these types of posts. It’s extremely predictable.

  • Ten years ago, you were telling us that the climate wasn’t changing.
  • Five years ago, you were telling us that climate change wasn’t anthropogenic in origin.
  • Now, you’re telling us that anthropogenic climate change might be real, but it’s certainly not a bad thing.
  • I’m pretty sure that five years from now you’ll be admitting it’s a bad thing, but saying that you have no obligation to mitigate the effects.

You know why you’re changing your story so often? It’s because you guys are armchair quarterbacks scientists. You took some science classes in high school twenty years ago and you’re pretty sure it must be mostly the same now. I mean, chemical reactions follow static laws and stuff, or something, right? Okay, you’re rusty, but you read a few dozen blog posts each year. Maybe a book or two if you’re feeling motivated. Certainly, you listen to the radio and that’s plenty good enough.

I’m sorry, but it’s needs to be said: you’re full of it.

I’m at the Ocean Sciences Meeting in Honolulu, sponsored by ASLO, TOS, and AGU. I was just at a tutorial session on the IPCC AR5 report a few days ago. The most recent IPCC report was prepared by ~300 scientists with the help of ~50 editors. These people reviewed over 9000 climate change articles to prepare their report, and their report received over 50,000 comments to improve it’s quality and accuracy. I know you’ll jump all over me for guesstimating these numbers, but I’m not going to waste more of my time looking it up. You can find the exact numbers if you really want them, and I know you argue just to be contrary.

Let’s be honest here. These climate change scientists do climate science for a living. Surprise! Articles. Presentations. Workshops. Conferences. Staying late for science. Working on the weekends for science. All of those crappy holidays like Presidents’ Day? The ones you look forward to for that day off of work? Those aren’t holidays. Those are the days when the undergrads stay home and the scientists can work without distractions.

Now take a second before you drop your knowledge bomb on this page and remind me again… What’s your day job? When was the last time you read through an entire scholarly article on climate change? How many climate change journals can you name? How many conferences have you attended? Have you ever had coffee or a beer with a group of colleagues who study climate change? Are you sick of these inane questions yet?

I’m a scientist that studies how ecological systems respond to climate change. I would never presume to tell a climate scientist that their models are crap. I just don’t have the depth of knowledge to critically assess their work and point out their flaws. And that’s fair, because they don’t have the depth of knowledge in my area to point out my flaws. Yet, here we are, with deniers and apologists with orders of magnitude less scientific expertise, attempting to argue about climate change.

I mean, there’s so much nonsense here just from the ecology side of things:

User /u/nixonrichard [+1] writes:

Using the word “degradation” implies a value judgement on the condition of an environment. Is there any scientific proof that the existence of a mountaintop is superior to the absence of a mountain top? Your comment and sentiment smacks of naturalistic preference which is a value judgement on your part, and not any fundamental scientific principle.

You know, like /u/nixonrichard thinks that’s a profound thought or something. But it’s nonsense, because there are scientists who do exactly that. Search “mountain ecosystem services” on Google Scholar and that won’t even be the tip of the iceberg. Search “ecosystem services” if you want more of the iceberg. It’s like /u/nixonrichard doesn’t know that people study mountain ecosystems… or how to value ecosystems… or how to balance environmental and economic concerns… Yet, here /u/nixonrichard is, arguing about climate change.

Another example. Look at /u/el__duderino with this pearl of wisdom:

Climate change isn’t inherently degradation. It is change. Change hurts some species, helps others, and over time creates new species.

Again, someone who knows just enough about the climate debate to say something vaguely intelligent-sounding, but not enough to actually say something useful. One could search for review papers on the effects of climate change on ecological systems via Google Scholar, but it would be hard work actually reading one.

TL;DR’s:

  1. rapid environmental change hurts most species and that’s why biodiversity is crashing
  2. rapid environmental change helps some species, but I didn’t know you liked toxic algal blooms that much
  3. evolution can occur on rapid timescales, but it’ll take millions of years for meaningful speciation to replace what we’re losing in a matter of decades.

But you know, I really pity people like /u/nixonrichard and /u/el__duderino . It must be hard taking your car to 100 mechanics before you get to one that tells you your brakes are working just fine. It must be hard going to 100 doctors before you find the one that tells you your cholesterol level is healthy. No, I’m just kidding. People like /u/nixonrichard and /u/el__duderino treat scientific disciplines as one of the few occupations where an advanced degree, decades of training, mathematical and statistical expertise, and terabytes of data are equivalent with a passing familiarity with right-wing or industry talking points.

I’d like to leave you with two final thoughts.

First, I know that many in this community are going to think, “okay, you might be right, but why do you need to be such an ******** about it?” This isn’t about intellectual elitism. This isn’t about silencing dissent. This is about being fed up. The human race is on a long road trip and the deniers and apologists are the backseat drivers. They don’t like how the road trip is going but, rather than help navigating, they’re stuck kicking the driver’s seat and complaining about how long things are taking. I’d kick them out of the car, but we’re all locked in together. The best I can do is give them a whack on the side of the head.

Second, I hope that anyone with a sincere interest in learning about climate change continues to ask questions. Asking critical questions is an important part of the learning process and the scientific endeavor and should always be encouraged. Just remember that “do mountaintops provide essential ecosystem services?” is a question and “mountaintop ecosystem services are not a fundamental scientific principle” is a ridiculous and uninformed statement. Questions are good, especially when they’re critical. Statements of fact without citations or expertise is intellectual masturbation – just without the intellect.

Toodles. I’m going to bed now so that I can listen to, look at, and talk about science for another 12 hours tomorrow. Have fun at the office.

Edit: I checked back in to see whether the nonsense comments had been downvoted and was surprised to see my post up here. Feel free to use or adapt this if you want. Thanks for the editing suggestions as well. I just wanted to follow up to a few general comments and I’m sorry that I don’t have the time to discuss this in more detail.

“What can I do if I’m not a scientist?”

  • You can make changes in your lifestyle – no matter how small – if you want to feel morally absolved, as long as you recognize that large societal changes are necessary to combat the problem in meaningful ways.
  • You can work, volunteer, or donate to organizations that are fighting the good fight while you and I are busy at our day jobs.
  • You can remind your friends and family that they’re doctors, librarians, or bartenders in the friendliest of ways.
  • You can foster curiosity in your children, nieces, and nephews – encourage them to study STEM disciplines, even if it’s just for the sake of scientific literacy.

The one major addition I would add to the standard responses is that scientists need political and economic support. We have a general consensus on the trajectory of the planet, but we’re still working out the details in several areas. We’re trying to downscale models to regions. We’re trying to build management and mitigation plans. We’re trying to study how to balance environmental and economic services. Personally, part of what I do is look at how global, regional, and local coral reef patterns of biodiversity and environmental conditions may lead to coral reefs persisting in the future. Help us by voting for, donating to, and volunteering for politicians that can provide the cover to pursue this topic in greater detail. We don’t have all of the answers yet and we freely admit that, but we need your help to do so.

Importantly, don’t feel like you can’t be a part of the solution because you don’t understand the science. I’ve forgotten everything I’ve learned about economics in undergrad, but that doesn’t stop me from 1) voting for politicians that support policies that appear to have statistical backing aligning with my personal values, 2) making microloans that help sustainable development in developing countries, or 3) voting with my wallet by being careful about the food, clothing, and household goods I purchase. I don’t begrudge the fact that I’m not doing significant economics research, or working at the World Bank, or for the US Federal Reserve. We’ve all chosen our career paths and have the opportunity to contribute to society professionally and personally in unique ways. With respect to climate change – I only work on the ecological aspect of climate change, which means I rely on atmospheric and ocean scientists for models and engineers and social scientists for solutions. We need everyone!

Just try your best to ensure that your corner of the world is in better shape for the next generation when you’re done borrowing it.

t-minus 30 minutes to science

Accepting the reality of human-caused climate change and taking what steps we can to mitigate or at the very least slow it down is an important part of building a world that works for everyone… and every thing.
I’ve posted this before, but it merits inclusion here again, with thanks to Humon.
Gaia
If we don’t do what we need to do now, we’ll be gone – and the Earth won’t miss us.
The Old Wolf has spoken.
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The Overview Effect: Seeing Earth from the Outside

Writer Frank White coined the term “The Overview Effect” to describe the deep changes that astronauts experience once they see Earth from space. He said, “In 1968, Apollo 8 went to the Moon. They didn’t land, but they did circle the Moon; I was watching it on television and at a certain point one of the astronauts casually said: we are going to turn the camera around and show you the Earth. And he did. And that was the first time I had ever seen the planet hanging in space like that. And it was profound.”

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Apollo 8: Earthrise. ©Nasa

Astronaut Edgar D. Mitchell said,

“You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.”

But you don’t need to have gone into space to have obtained that awareness; some forward-thinking individuals divined the importance of our island earth from their armchairs. In 1948, British astrophysicist Fred Hoyle predicted the change of viewpoint when he said,

“Once a photograph of the Earth, taken from outside, is available, we shall, in an emotional sense, acquire an additional dimension… Once let the sheer isolation of the Earth become plain to every man, whatever his nationality or creed, and a new idea as powerful as any in history will be let loose.”

Subsequent to Apollo 11, Hoyle spoke at a NASA scientific banquet and said,

“You have noticed how, quite suddenly, everybody has become seriously concerned to protect the natural environment. It happened almost overnight, and one can understand how one can ask the question, ‘Where did this idea come from?’ You could say, of course, from biologists, from conservationists, from ecologists, but after all, they’ve really been saying these things for many years past, and previously they’ve never even got on base. Something new has happened to create a worldwide awareness of our planet as a unique and precious place. It seems to me more than a coincidence that this awareness should have happened at exactly the moment man took his first step into space.”

A recent short documentary, Overview, collects statements from many astronauts who have had this unique experience.

With his famous essay on “The Pale Blue Dot,” Carl Sagan captured the essence of this effect, without himself ever having been in space physically, although he probably plumbed the universe more deeply in his mind than the vast body of humanity.

Pale_Blue_Dot

“… Look again at that dot. That’s here. That’s home. That’s us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every “superstar,” every “supreme leader,” every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors, so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds. Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light.

Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known…”.
– Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space

Recently published at YouTube was a video of the final message of Wubbo Johannes Ockels (March 28, 1946 – May 18, 2014), who was a Dutch physicist and an astronaut of the European Space Agency (ESA), riding on Space Shuttle STS-61-A, and becoming the first Dutch citizen in space. After his astronaut career, Ockels was professor of Aerospace for Sustainable Engineering and Technology at the Delft University of Technology. On May 29, 2013 it was announced that Ockels had an aggressive form of kidney cancer (renal cell carcinoma) with a metastasis in his pleural cavity, and a life expectancy of one to two years. He died from complications of cancer on May 18, 2014, one day after making this video.

A transcript in English of Dr. Ockels’ remarks follows.

“We need some luck. Some other spacecraft. Something, because with what we have now, it’s going to be finished. As an astronaut, you feel excluded to a particular group of people. And those are the people in the majority. They are you, not being aware of the danger in which you live.

But now suppose I’m going to change all of you. Suppose I can transfer the experience which I have to you. Then you would go out and see the earth, and you would see the blue sky, not the blue sky which you see when you go outside; in space you see that you are the only one. The only planet. You have no spare. And so you have to take care of this one only planet.

Our earth has cancer. I have cancer too. And most people with cancer, they die. When in fact, everybody will die. If we make enough people to continuously survive mankind on the earth, we need to conserve our own planet, and you when you have the spirit and the insight and the attitude of an astronaut, you start to love the earth in a way that other people can’t. And if you really love something, you don’t want to lose it.

You know, my wife, she doesn’t want to lose me. She wants to do everything to let me stay alive. That’s the love and attitude which human kind should have to the earth. We do not have 50% of our roofs covered with solar. We do not have more than half of our cars electric. We certainly do not have a production in which there is a reasonable amount of material recycled. We don’t have all these things.

And then the question comes, ” OK, well what’s wrong?” Well, what’s wrong is the mindset. I’m sure, but I can’t claim it, but when I heard 18 April 2013 that I had a very bad cancer, damn kidney cancer, and also changed into a sarcomatoid, which means that, you know, which to slip through all kinds of things [by this he meant metastasis], and this, the doctor, beautiful doctor, and he said you have a fair amount of time. And of course each time I asked him, “what does ‘fair’ mean?” and then he was not very accurate, but he said, “Well, months, maybe a year.”

I got over a year, a good year, because I believed that the good future, and I believed, you know, you can do things with the power, with the mind power. We, we people coming from the same molecules out of one bloody strong star which bursted out, we who have developed over billions of years, life, life, is made by we, we humanity are so strong that we can save the earth – but we also can destroy it. Even a small thing does something.

The overwhelming burden of experience from those who have been outside the Earth’s atmosphere is that this little planet we live on is the only home we have, and we need to take care of it. Even if you happen to be a person of faith, taking the chiliastic view that we don’t need to worry about the Earth because God is going to come down and take care of everything strikes me as irresponsible, and unfair to future generations. Western Artist Stan Lynde captured my own sentiments decades ago:

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While efforts are being made by forward-thinking individuals to reduce the damage we’re doing to our planet, there is still much to be done. We owe it to future generations to make a difference now. “Drill, baby, drill” just doesn’t do it for me.

The Old Wolf has spoken.