Arquivo mensal: junho 2010

>Climate Fears Turn to Doubts Among Britons (N.Y. Times)

Published: May 24, 2010

LONDON — Last month hundreds of environmental activists crammed into an auditorium here to ponder an anguished question: If the scientific consensus on climate change has not changed, why have so many people turned away from the idea that human activity is warming the planet?

Nowhere has this shift in public opinion been more striking than in Britain, where climate change was until this year such a popular priority that in 2008 Parliament enshrined targets for emissions cuts as national law. But since then, the country has evolved into a home base for a thriving group of climate skeptics who have dominated news reports in recent months, apparently convincing many that the threat of warming is vastly exaggerated.

A survey in February by the BBC found that only 26 percent of Britons believed that “climate change is happening and is now established as largely manmade,” down from 41 percent in November 2009. A poll conducted for the German magazine Der Spiegel found that 42 percent of Germans feared global warming, down from 62 percent four years earlier.

And London’s Science Museum recently announced that a permanent exhibit scheduled to open later this year would be called the Climate Science Gallery — not the Climate Change Gallery as had previously been planned.

“Before, I thought, ‘Oh my God, this climate change problem is just dreadful,’ ” said Jillian Leddra, 50, a musician who was shopping in London on a recent lunch hour. “But now I have my doubts, and I’m wondering if it’s been overhyped.”

Perhaps sensing that climate is now a political nonstarter, David Cameron, Britain’s new Conservative prime minister, was “strangely muted” on the issue in a recent pre-election debate, as The Daily Telegraph put it, though it had previously been one of his passions.

And a poll in January of the personal priorities of 141 Conservative Party candidates deemed capable of victory in the recent election found that “reducing Britain’s carbon footprint” was the least important of the 19 issues presented to them.

Politicians and activists say such attitudes will make it harder to pass legislation like a fuel tax increase and to persuade people to make sacrifices to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“Legitimacy has shifted to the side of the climate skeptics, and that is a big, big problem,” Ben Stewart, a spokesman for Greenpeace, said at the meeting of environmentalists here. “This is happening in the context of overwhelming scientific agreement that climate change is real and a threat. But the poll figures are going through the floor.”

The lack of fervor about climate change is also true of the United States, where action on climate and emissions reduction is still very much a work in progress, and concern about global warming was never as strong as in Europe. A March Gallup poll found that 48 percent of Americans believed that the seriousness of global warming was “generally exaggerated,” up from 41 percent a year ago.

Here in Britain, the change has been driven by the news media’s intensive coverage of a series of climate science controversies unearthed and highlighted by skeptics since November. These include the unauthorized release of e-mail messages from prominent British climate scientists at the University of East Anglia that skeptics cited as evidence that researchers were overstating the evidence for global warming and the discovery of errors in a United Nations climate report.

Two independent reviews later found no evidence that the East Anglia researchers had actively distorted climate data, but heavy press coverage had already left an impression that the scientists had schemed to repress data. Then there was the unusually cold winter in Northern Europe and the United States, which may have reinforced a perception that the Earth was not warming. (Data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, a United States agency, show that globally, this winter was the fifth warmest in history.)

Asked about his views on global warming on a recent evening, Brian George, a 30-year-old builder from southeast London, mused, “It was extremely cold in January, wasn’t it?”

In a telephone interview, Nicholas Stern, a former chief economist at the World Bank and a climate change expert, said that the shift in opinion “hadn’t helped” efforts to come up with strong policy in a number of countries. But he predicted that it would be overcome, not least because the science was so clear on the warming trend.

“I don’t think it will be problematic in the long run,” he said, adding that in Britain, at least, politicians “are ahead of the public anyway.” Indeed, once Mr. Cameron became prime minister, he vowed to run “the greenest government in our history” and proposed projects like a more efficient national electricity grid.

Scientists have meanwhile awakened to the public’s misgivings and are increasingly fighting back. An editorial in the prestigious journal Nature said climate deniers were using “every means at their disposal to undermine science and scientists” and urged scientists to counterattack. Scientists in France, the Netherlands and the United States have signed open letters affirming their trust in climate change evidence, including one published on May 7 in the journal Science.

In March, Simon L. Lewis, an expert on rain forests at the University of Leeds in Britain, filed a 30-page complaint with the nation’s Press Complaints Commission against The Times of London, accusing it of publishing “inaccurate, misleading or distorted information” about climate change, his own research and remarks he had made to a reporter.

“I was most annoyed that there seemed to be a pattern of pushing the idea that there were a number of serious mistakes in the I.P.C.C. report, when most were fairly innocuous, or not mistakes at all,” said Dr. Lewis, referring to the report by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

Meanwhile, groups like the wildlife organization WWF have posted articles like “How to Talk to a Climate Skeptic,” providing stock answers to doubting friends and relatives, on their Web sites.

It is unclear whether such actions are enough to win back a segment of the public that has eagerly consumed a series of revelations that were published prominently in right-leaning newspapers like The Times of London and The Telegraph and then repeated around the world.

In January, for example, The Times chastised the United Nations climate panel for an errant and unsupported projection that glaciers in the Himalayas could disappear by 2035. The United Nations ultimately apologized for including the estimate, which was mentioned in passing within a 3,000-page report in 2007.

Then came articles contending that the 2007 report was inaccurate on a host of other issues, including African drought, the portion of the Netherlands below sea level, and the economic impact of severe storms. Officials from the climate panel said the articles’ claims either were false or reflected minor errors like faulty citations that in no way diluted the evidence that climate change is real and caused by human activity.

Stefan Rahmstorf, a professor at the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, successfully demanded in February that some German newspapers remove misleading articles from their Web sites. But such reports have become so common that he “wouldn’t bother” to pursue most cases now, he added.

The public is left to struggle with the salvos between the two sides. “I’m still concerned about climate change, but it’s become very confusing,” said Sandra Lawson, 32, as she ran errands near Hyde Park.

*   *   *

A response to the article above appeared at the Climate progress blog: “Brulle: ‘The NY Times doesn’t need to go to European conferences to find out why public opinion on climate change has shifted…. Just look in the mirror.‘” Access the post here.

>Climate sceptics rally to expose ‘myth’ (BBC)

By Roger Harrabin
Environment analyst, BBC News
21 May 2010

In the Grand Ballroom Of Chicago’s Magnificent Mile Hotel, dinner was over.

Beef, of course. A great pink hunk of it from the American Mid-West.

At the world’s biggest gathering of climate change sceptics, organised by the right-wing Heartland Institute, vegetarians were an endangered species.

Wine flowed and blood coursed during a rousing address from Heartland’s libertarian president Joseph Bast. Climate change is being used by governments to oppress the people, he believes.

After years of opposing government rules on smoking and the environment, Mr Bast now aims to forge a global movement of climate sceptics to end the “myth” that humans are endangering the atmosphere.

He urged the audience to spread the word among their families, friends and work colleagues that climate science is too uncertain to guide government policy, and that plans for climate laws in the US would bankrupt the nation.

“We just didn’t realise in those days how important and controversial this would all become” – Professor Roy Spencer, University of Alabama

In turn, he introduced an all-American hero, Harrison Schmitt, one of the last people to walk on the Moon and still going strong.

Mr Schmitt trained as a geologist and like some other geologists believes that climate change is part of a natural fluctuation. He’s also a former Republican Senator and he made the case that the American constitution contains no powers for government to legislate CO2.

The audience, containing some international faces, but mostly American libertarians and Republicans, loved the small-government message.

They cheered when a member of the audience demanded that the “Climategate criminals” – the scientists behind the University of East Anglia (UEA) hacked emails – should be jailed for fraud.


And the fervour reached a peak when the reluctant hero, Steve McIntyre, shambled on to the stage.

Mr McIntyre is the retired mining engineer who started enquiring into climate statistics as a hobby and whose requests for raw data from the UEA led to a chain of events which have thrown climate science into turmoil.

The crowd rose to applaud him to the stage in recognition of his extraordinary statistical battle to disprove the “Hockey Stick” graph that had become an emblem of man-made global warming.

There was a moment of anticipation as Mr McIntyre stood nervously before the podium – a lugubrious bear of a man resembling a character from Garrison Keillor’s Lake Wobegon.

Steve McIntyre has worked to “break” the hockey stick

“I’m not used to speaking in front of such big crowds,” he mumbled. And he winced a little when one emotional admirer blurted that he had travelled 10,000 miles from South Africa for the thrill of hearing him speak.

But then came a sudden and unexpected anti-climax. Mr McIntyre urged the audience to support the battle for open source data on climate change – but then he counselled them to stop clamouring for the blood of the e-mailers. McIntyre does not want them jailed, or even punished. He just wants them to say they are sorry.

The audience disappointment was tangible – like a houndpack denied the kill.

Mr McIntyre then advised sceptics to stop insisting that the Hockey Stick is a fraud. It is understandable for scientists to present their data in a graphic way to “sell” their message, he said. He understood why they had done it. But their motives were irrelevant.

The standard of evidence required to prove fraud over the Hockey Stick was needlessly high, he said. All that was needed was an acknowledgement by the science authorities that the Hockey Stick was wrong.

Political associations

This was clearly not the sort of emollient message the sceptics expected from one of their heavy hitters. And the speech slipped further into climate pacifism when Mr McIntyre confessed that he did not share the libertarian tendencies of many in the ballroom.

As a Canadian, he said, he was brought up to believe that governments should govern on behalf of the people – so if CO2 were reckoned to be dangerous, it would be the duty of politicians to make laws to cut emissions.

The quiet man said he thought that the work of his climate-statistical website was probably done. He sat down to one-handed applause.

Not so much of a call to arms as a whispered advice to the adversary to lay down his weapons and depart the battlefield.

His message of climate conciliation was reinforced by Tom Harris, founder of the International Climate Science Coalition.

He says he’s not a right-winger, and he told the conference that many scientists sharing his political views had misgivings about establishment climate theory, but would not speak out for fear of being associated with their political opponents or with the fossil fuel industry.

Indeed some moderate climate sceptics told me they have shunned this conference for fear of being publicly associated with a highly-politicised group.

And Sonia Boehmer Christiansen, the British-based climate agnostic (her term), brought to a juddering halt an impassioned anti-government breakfast discussion with a warning to libertarians that they would never win the policy argument on climate unless they could carry people from the Left with them.

Governments needed taxes, she said – and energy taxes – were an efficient way of gathering them.

Cloud effect

Even some right-wingers agreed the need to review the language of scam and fraud. Professor Roy Spencer, for instance, is a climate sceptic scientist from the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

But when I asked him about the future of Professor Phil Jones, the man of the heart of the UEA e-mail affair, he said he had some sympathy.

“He says he’s not very organised. I’m not very organised myself,” said Professor Spencer. “If you asked me to find original data from 20 years ago I’d have great difficulty too.

“We just didn’t realise in those days how important and controversial this would all become – now it would just all be stored on computer. Phil Jones has been looking at climate records for a very long time. Frankly our data set agrees with his, so unless we are all making the same mistake we’re not likely to find out anything new from the data anyway.”

Professor Spencer admits that he is regarded by orthodox climate scientists as a renegade. But as a very conservative Christian he is at home here, and his views carry weight at this meeting.

Like most climate sceptic scientists, he accepts that CO2 is a warming gas – this is basic physics, he says, and very hard to dispute.

But he says his studies on incoming and outgoing Earth radiation measured by satellites suggest that changes in cloudiness are mitigating warming caused by CO2.

He thinks all the world’s climate modellers are wrong to assume that the Earth’s natural systems will augment warming from CO2, and he hopes that a forthcoming paper will prove his case.

He admits that he has been wrong often enough to know it’s easy to be wrong on a subject as complex as the climate. But he says that means the modellers can all be wrong, too.

The key question for the future, he said, was the one that has been asked for the past 30 years with inconclusive answers – how sensitive will the climate be to a doubling of CO2?

‘Climate resilience’

The godfather of climate scepticism Richard Lindzen, professor of meteorology at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), has been pre-occupied with this question for decades.

He is a member of the US National Academy of Sciences and a former lead author for the IPCC. But he is immensely controversial and his views run directly counter to those of his institute, which, he says, is looking forward to his retirement.

He has been accused of ignoring recent developments in science.

He believes CO2 is probably keeping the Earth warmer than it would otherwise be, but says he is more convinced than ever that the climate will prove increasingly resilient to extra CO2.

He thinks that this greenhouse gas will not increase temperature much more than 1C in total because the positive feedbacks predicted by computer models will not occur.

The final word of this conference – part counter-orthodox science brainstorm, part political rally – was left to a man who is not a scientist at all, Christopher Monckton, former adviser to Mrs Thatcher, now the darling of climate sceptics worldwide.

In a bravura performance he had the audience roaring at his mocking impersonation of “railway engineer Rajendra Pachauri – the Casey Jones of climate change”; hissing with pantomime fury at the “scandal” of Climategate, then emotionally applauding the American troops who have given their lives for the freedom that their political masters are surrendering to the global socialist tyranny of global warming.

His closing words were delivered in a weeping whisper, a soft prayer of praise to the American constitution and individual liberty.

As the ecstatic crowd filtered out I pointed one delegate to a copy of the Wall Street Journal on the table. A front page paragraph noted that April had been the warmest on record.

“So what?” he shrugged. “So what?”

>O futebol na terra do homem cordial

Fundação Getúlio Vargas abre as portas para o futebol e discute a relação do esporte com a sociedade, a literatura, a museologia e o cinema.

Thiago Camelo
Ciência Hoje, 02/06/2010

Estádio lotado. Um esporte que se confunde com as nossas emoções mais profundas e, por isso, ajuda a entender quem somos (foto: CC BY-NC 2.0 / Yan Boechat).

Kaká, Ronaldinho, Pelé e Tostão. Craques brasileiros, ídolos. Alguns mitos. Mitos com uma singularidade: têm apelidos de gente comum, diminutivos carinhosos. O que poderia ser apenas uma engraçada coincidência é, na verdade, prática repetida à exaustão com milhares de jogadores brasileiros. Então, fica a pergunta: o que será que os inhos no final do nome dos nossos ídolos dizem sobre o Brasil?

Para o ensaísta, compositor, pianista e – também – fã de futebol José Miguel Wisnik, os apelidos dos ídolos dizem muito sobre o que somos.

Os apelidos dos jogadores de futebol 
– Ronaldinho, Robinho, Jairzinho – 
dizem sobre como somos

Em um debate na sexta-feira passada que uniu futebol e ciências sociais e humanas na Fundação Getúlio Vargas (FGV – RJ), o autor do livro Veneno remédio (2008), obra que traça as linhas de encontro e desencontro entre o futebol e os hábitos dos brasileiros, disse:

– A gente não abre mão de chamar nossos heróis de forma infantil. É a nossa clássica mistura do privado e do público, como explica Sérgio Buarque em Raízes do Brasil. Temos medo de assumir responsabilidades. Não somos como os europeus. Quando eles entram em campo, vemos um desfile de sobrenomes.

Wisnik, que estava na mesa junto com o mediador Bernardo Buarque de Hollanda, era só parte de um evento. Durante todo o dia, falou-se também de temas como o Museu do Futebol, em São Paulo, e a relação do cinema com o esporte.

Dribles em palavras

É inegável, no entanto, que o ponto forte do dia foi a manhã, quando Wisnik falou. Quem já o viu dissertar, seja sobre música, política e outros assuntos, sabe o dom que o ensaísta tem com a palavra. E sabe também a sua capacidade – nada leviana – de fazer a ligação de tudo com qualquer coisa. Ouvindo-o, acreditamos que o mundo é feito de conexões.

Assim, a comparação do homem cordial (aquele que pretere as formalidades), de Sérgio Buarque, com o modo que o brasileiro trata o futebol não soa forçada. Também vai bem a analogia entre Macunaíma e Garrincha, “um avatar do personagem de Mário de Andrade”, segundo Wisnik.

Em época de Copa do Mundo, não houve como fugir da pergunta: qual seria o Brasil representado pela seleção de Dunga?

Wisnik responde no vídeo abaixo.

Um museu popular

Na mesa da tarde, foi a vez da diretora do Museu do Futebol, Clara Azevedo, contar sua experiência em São Paulo: tocar um museu destinado à preservação do esporte num lugar que se intitula ‘país do futebol’. E mais: organizar a empreitada dentro do estádio do Pacaembu, casa informal do Corinthians, o maior clube da cidade.

“É muito legal ter um museu sobre futebol 
dentro de um estádio. É a história 
acontecendo debaixo do seu nariz”

– É muito legal ter um museu sobre futebol dentro de um estádio. É a história acontecendo debaixo do seu nariz. Em jogos menores, o estádio funciona junto com o jogo, dá para sentir a vibração da arquibancada – conta Clara, que tem de lidar com algumas críticas. – Muita gente diz que o museu usa só tecnologia, que é um museu sem acervo. Acho isso uma besteira.

Oferta de acervo, aliás, é o que não falta ao Museu do Futebol. Clara diz que vários colecionadores já quiseram deixar aos cuidados dela suas preciosidades, que variam de “15 chaveiros do Corinthians” a “fotos antigas de jogos de futebol”.

A diretora do Museu de Futebol, Clara Azevedo, fala em evento na FGV. Para ela, o futebol permite que as pessoas vão ao museu e opinem com o sentimento de entender sobre o que estão falando (foto: Thiago Camelo).

A diretora acha a questão delicada, já que não pode lidar com tanta demanda para conservação de objetos. Mas avisa que anota todos os pedidos e, otimista, pondera:

– No fundo, é uma questão positiva. Porque em nenhum outro museu acontece de ter gente oferecendo peças de modo gratuito. É sinal de que o país tem uma preocupação com a memória.

A bola na tela

Na última mesa, estavam os professores Hernani Heffner e Victor de Melo, ambos para falar sobre os filmes que têm o futebol como temática. O cerne do discurso dos dois foram “as dificuldades” – os contratempos técnicos de se realizar um filme sobre futebol, esporte tão imprevisível que não comportaria o cinema – e a já conhecida incapacidade de se conservar películas no Brasil. (Esta última ‘dificuldade’ soa irônica num espaço em que, logo antes, a curadora do Museu do Futebol dera o seu relato sobre futebol e memória.)

Outra curiosidade, e agora sobre o evento como um todo, foi o assunto insistente nas três mesas: a imprevisibilidade do futebol e como ela afeta a área de interesse dos palestrantes. São muitos os relatos, mas fica a citação de Wisnik – o homem que acha o elo entre qualquer tema – do trecho da letra de O futebol, de Chico Buarque, que canta o que a mágica do drible pode fazer com a vida.

parábola do homem comum
roçando o céu
senhor chapéu

Thiago Camelo
Ciência Hoje On-line