Monthly Archives: May 2012

Interview with Nobel prize winner Elinor Ostrom on climate change (Integrated Regional Information Networks)

Photo: Indiana University. Elinor Ostrom: A champion of people power

JOHANNESBURG, 25 April 2012 (IRIN) – The governance of natural resources like land, the oceans, rivers and the atmosphere, can affect the impact of some of the world’s biggest crises caused by natural events like droughts and floods. How best to manage those resources has been at the heart of the work by Nobel Prize winner (economics) Elinor Ostrom.

She has been looking at how communities across the world, from developing and rural economies like Nepal and Kenya to developed ones like the USA and Switzerland, manage their commonly shared resources such as fisheries, pasture land and water sustainably.

Ostrom’s faith in the ability of the individual and community to be able to trust each other, take the right course of action and not wait for governments to make the first move is pivotal to her thinking.

Ostrom works with the concept of “polycentrism”, which she developed with her husband Vincent Otsrom. She advocates vesting authority in individuals, communities, local governments, and local NGOs as opposed to concentrating power at global or national levels.

Ostrom recently suggested using this “polycentric approach” to address man-made climate change. She talked to IRIN by email about “polycentrism”, Rio+20, climate change, trust and the power of local action.

QYou have suggested a polycentric approach as opposed to single policies at a global level to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Could you explain how that would work? Do you think a similar approach would work to get all countries and their people to believe in, and adopt, sustainable development?

A: We have modelled the impact of individual actions on climate change incorrectly and need to change the way we think about this problem. When individuals walk a distance rather than driving it, they produce better health for themselves. At the same time that they reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions that they are generating. There are benefits for the individual and small benefits for the globe. When a building owner re-does the way the building is insulated and the heating system, these actions can dramatically change the amount of greenhouse gas emissions made. This has an immediate impact on the neighbourhood of the building as well as on the globe.

When cities and counties decide to rehabilitate their energy systems so as to produce less greenhouse gas emissions, they are reducing the amount of pollution in the local region as well as greenhouse gas emissions on the globe. In other words, the key point is that there are multiple externalities involved for many actions related to greenhouse gas emissions. While in the past the literature has underplayed the importance of local effects, we need to recognize – as more and more individuals, families, communities, and states are seeing – that they will gain a benefit, as well as the globe, and that cumulatively a difference can be made at the global level if a number of small units start taking action. We have a much greater possibility of impacting global change problems if we start locally.

“the solutions that are evolved by local people have a chance of being more imaginative and better ways of solving these problems…”

Q: The earth is our common resource system – yet many countries including China and India feel they also have a right to grow, burn coal to get to where the developed world is – how do you get them out of that frame of mind without compromising the question of equity?

A: We may not be able to convince India and China of all of this. Part of my discouragement with the international negotiations is that we have gotten riveted into battles at the very big level over who caused global change in the first place and who is responsible for correcting [it]. It will take a long time to resolve some of these conflicts. Meanwhile, if we do not take action, the increase to greenhouse gas collection at a global level gets larger and larger. While we cannot solve all aspects of this problem by cumulatively taking action at local levels, we can make a difference, and we should.

Q: Do you think sustainable development did not gain much currency as it was directed at governments and a top-down approach? You think the world is about to repeat that mistake (if you would call it that?) at Rio+20? What would you do – would you ever call such a gathering of governments?

A: Yes, I do think that directing the question of climate change primarily at governments misses the point that actions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions must be taken by individuals, communities, cities, states, residents of entire nations, and the world. Yet, it is important that public officials recognize that there is a role for an international agreement and that they should be working very hard on getting an agreement that establishes international regimes that has a chance to reduce emissions across countries.

Q: You are a great believer in ordinary people’s ability to organize and use their commonly shared resources wisely, but I take it that does not work all the time? But ultimately collective action at the grassroots can force change at the top?

A: I am a believer of the capabilities of people to organize at a local level. That does not mean that they always do. There are a wide variety of collective action problems that exist at a small scale. The important thing is that people at a small scale, who know what the details of the problems are, organize, rather than calling on officials at a much larger scale.

Officials at a larger scale may have many collective-action problems of their own that they need to address. They do not have the detailed information about problems at a small scale that people who are confronting those every day do have. Thus, the solutions that are evolved by local people have a chance of being more imaginative and better ways of solving these problems than allowing them to go unsolved and eventually asking a much larger scale unit to solve it for them.

Q: This approach probably works better in a rural setting where there is a sense of community and of a shared responsibility to take care of their common resources. But how do you get that sense of ownership of the planet in an urban setting?

A: To solve these delicate problems at any scale requires individuals to trust that others are also going to contribute to their solution. Building trust is not something that can be done overnight. Thus, the crucial thing is that successful efforts at a local scale be advertised and well known throughout a developing country.

Developing associations of local communities, where very serious discussions can be held of the problems they are facing and creative ways that some communities, who have faced these problems, have adopted solutions that work. That does not mean that the solutions that work in one environment in a particular country will work in all others, but posing it as a solution that fits a local environment and that the challenge that everyone faces is to know enough about the social-ecological features of the problems they are facing that they can come up with good solutions that fit that local social-ecological system.

Q: I have been covering the recent drought in Niger – I came across people who were going to pack up and leave their village for good… Would that motivate people, countries, governments to take action to reduce emissions? But how do you make people in Europe, the US or Asia think about the people in Niger as their own?

A: There is no simple answer to this question. It is here that churches and NGOs can play a particular role in knowing about the problems being faced by villagers in Niger and other developing countries and trying to help. They can then also write stories about these problems in a way that people in Britain, Europe, and the US may understand better. It is a problem in some cases that officials in developing countries are corrupt, and direct aid to the country may only go into private bank accounts. We have to rethink how we organize governance at multiple scales so as to reduce the likelihood of some individuals having very strong powers and capability of using their public office primarily for private gain.

Q: Do you see the world moving in unison towards sustainability in the next five years? Do you think the world is prepared to take on this question and specially now when we are in a recession?

A: No, I do not see the world moving in unison. I do see some movements around the world that are very encouraging, but they are nowhere the same everywhere. We need to get out of thinking that we have to be moving the same everywhere. We need to be recognizing the complexity of the different problems being faced in a wide diversity of regions of the world. Thus, really great solutions that work in one environment do not work in others. We need to understand why, and figure out ways of helping to learn from good examples as well as bad examples of how to move ahead.

New Classroom Science Standards Up for Review (Dot Earth, N.Y.Times)

May 18, 2012, 11:46 AM


The first substantial update to national science teaching standards in roughly 15 years — and the first including the science of human-driven climate change — is open for public comment through this month. Here’s a short video description:

The effort has been directed by Achieve, an organization created by states and corporate backers eager to boost student performance and prospects as science and technology increasingly drive economies. The final (optional) standards will help guide states in shaping science curricula and requirements.

The foundation for the standards was laid in a National Academy of Sciences report. Other groups involved in the effort are the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the National Science Teachers Association and theCarnegie Corporation of New York, which has provided much of the money.

The standards were drafted by a team of 41 writers from 26 states, range from Bob Friend, a Boeing aerospace engineer, to Ramon Lopez, a physics professor at the University of Texas at Arlington to Rita Januszyk, an elementary school teacher from Willowbrook, Ill.

Click here for middle school standards on weather and climate and here for a section for high schools on managing human environmental impacts, including greenhouse-gas emissions. I like the way each such section links directly to the relevant section of the underlying National Academy of Sciences report — “A Framework for K-12 Science Education: Practices, Crosscutting Concepts, and Core Ideas.”

The National Science Teachers Association has posted heaps of valuable background and context.

Juanita Constible, a wildlife ecologist who’s spent time in Antarctica, has a piece summarizing the climate context at the Web site of the Climate Reality Project. Here’s an excerpt from Constible’s post:

The Next Generation Science Standards lay out core ideas K-12 students should understand about the basics of science – from biology, to physics and chemistry, to earth science. The last national standards were released back in 1996, and manmade climate change wasn’t mentioned. However, the new standards recognize that students need to know human activities are changing our climate. They also recognize that schools are training the next generation of engineers and scientists who can help solve the problem.

In the standards for middle school, for example, one of the core ideas is that “human activities, such as the release of greenhouse gases from burning fossil fuels, are major factors in the current rise in Earth’s mean surface temperature (‘global warming’).” The standards for high school note that “changes in the atmosphere due to human activity have increased carbon dioxide concentrations and thus affect climate.” [Read the rest.]

Explore the standards and weigh in with your reaction, both on the site and here.

Conflict abounds in climate education (The Daily Climate)

Teachers are loath to teach climate science because it exposes them to charges of politicizing the classroom. They have reason to be cautious.

By Lisa Palmer
For the Daily Climate

The battles over teaching climate change science in schools are diverse, myriad and, like teaching evolution, being fought mostly district by district, classroom by classroom.

No-150Unlike evolution, climate change doesn’t have a U.S. Supreme Court ruling requiring that teaching efforts be accurate.

Some recent conflicts around the nation:

  • This spring the Tennessee Legislature passed a bill, with broad, bi-partisan support, to protect teachers who do not agree with accepted climate science and want to teach alternative explanations. Gov. Bill Haslam, acknowledging the veto-proof majority in a press release, allowed the bill to become law without his signature but noted that the measure won’t change state education standards.
  • Last year the southern California town of Los Alamitos, the school board passed but then rescinded a policy identifying climate science as a controversial topic requiring special instructional oversight.
  • Earlier this year an Oklahoma House committee approved a bill permitting teachers to review “scientific weaknesses of existing scientific theories” such as evolution, the origins of life, global warming and human cloning. It remains stuck in the Senate, with the Legislature adjourning this week.
  • A 2007 study found that 20 percent of Colorado’s earth science teachers disagreed that “recent global warming is caused mostly by things people do,” while nearly half agreed that “there is substantial disagreement among scientists about the cause of recent global warming.” Meanwhile in Mesa County, in western Colorado, tea party activists tried to prohibit the teaching of manmade climate change.
  • An earth science teacher in Clifton Park, N.Y., taught a global warming unit but inserted his own view that climate change is not caused by humans. A parent complained, pointing to the New York State Regents science standards, considered among the best in the nation. The teacher relented after the school’s science administrator clarified what was expected according to the standards.

Earlier this year the National Center for Science Education stepped into the climate arena, announcing it would apply techniques it honed in the evolution wars to defend and promote climate science education.

McCaffrey-150“It’s one thing to have climate in the standards and assessments, and another thing altogether to make sure the teachers are well prepared, are not teaching the debate, if they teach about climate change at all, and are using effective practices,” said Mark McCaffrey, the center’s program director. 

The Oakland-based nonprofit’s effort hit a snag in February after Peter Gleick, a prominent scientist recruited to help advise the organization’s climate education effort, disclosed that he had improperly obtained internal strategy documents from the Heartland Institute, a libertarian think tank. Gleick withdrew his nomination to the NCSE’s board a few days before his term was scheduled to begin.

But the Heartland memos show that the institute, known for undermining climate science in political and scientific arenas, is working to influence climate education in schools, too. The budget memos Gleick obtained indicated the group had raised an initial $100,000 for a “global warming curriculum” designed by a part-time consultant at the Department of Energy.

The curriculum, designed for grades 10 through 12, according to the Heartland memos, would emphasize that climate change is a “major scientific controversy” and that models underlying the science are questionable.

Lisa Palmer is a freelance reporter in Maryland. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Nature Climate Change, Fortune, and The Yale Forum, among other outlets. is a foundation-funded news service that covers climate change.

Photos: “No” icon created by Paula Spence for the National Center for Science Education. Photo of Mark McCaffrey courtesy NCSE.

Heartland Institute facing uncertain future as staff depart and cash dries up (The Guardian)

Free-market thinktank’s conference opens in Chicago with president admitting defections are hurting group’s finances

, US environment correspondent, Sunday 20 May 2012 17.09 BST

Leo blog : The Heartland Institute conference billboard in Chicago

The billboard ads comparing climate change believers to the Unabomber Ted Kaczunski. Photograph: The Heartland Institute

The first Heartland Institute conference on climate change in 2008 had all the trappings of a major scientific conclave – minus large numbers of real scientists. Hundreds of climate change contrarians, with a few academics among them, descended into the banquet rooms of a lavish Times Square hotel for what was purported to be a reasoned debate about climate change.

But as the latest Heartland climate conference opens in a Chicago hotel on Monday, the thinktank’s claims to reasoned debate lie in shreds and its financial future remains uncertain.

Heartland’s claims to “stay above the fray” of the climate wars was exploded by a billboard campaign earlier this month comparing climate change believers to the Unabomer Ted Kaczynski, and a document sting last February that revealed a plan to spread doubt among kindergarteners on the existence of climate change.

Along with the damage to its reputation, Heartland’s financial future is also threatened by an exodus of corporate donors as well as key members of staff.

In a fiery blogpost on the Heartland website, the organisation’s president Joseph Bast admitted Heartland’s defectors were “abandoning us in this moment of need”.

Over the last few weeks, Heartland has lost at least $825,000 in expected funds for 2012, or more than 35% of the funds its planned to raise from corporate donors, according to the campaign group Forecast the Facts, which is pushing companies to boycott the organisation.

The organisation has been forced to make up those funds by taking its first publicly acknowledged donations from the coal industry. The main Illinois coal lobby is a last-minute sponsor of this week’s conference, undermining Heartland’s claims to operate independently of fossil fuel interests.

Its entire Washington DC office, barring one staffer, decamped, taking Heartland’s biggest project, involving the insurance industry, with them.

Board directors quit, conference speakers cancelled at short-notice, and associates of long standing demanded Heartland remove their names from its website. The list of conference sponsors shrank by nearly half from 2010, and many of those listed sponsors are just websites operating on the rightwing fringe.

“It’s haemorrhaging,” said Kert Davies, research director of Greenpeace, who has spent years tracking climate contrarian outfits. “Heartland’s true colours finally came through, and now people are jumping ship in quick order.”

It does not look like Heartland is about to adopt a corrective course of action.

In his post, Bast defended the ads, writing: “Our billboard was factual: the Unabomber was motivated by concern over man-made global warming to do the terrible crimes he committed.” He went on to describe climate scientist Michael Mann and activist Bill McKibben as “madmen”.

The public unravelling of Heartland began last February when the scientist Peter Gleick lied to obtain highly sensitive materials, including a list of donors.

The publicity around the donors’ list made it difficult for companies with public commitment to sustainability, such as the General Motors Foundation, to continue funding Heartland. The GM Foundation soon announced it was ending its support of $15,000 a year.

But what had been a gradual collapse gathered pace when Heartland advertised its climate conference with a billboard on a Chicago expressway comparing believers in climate science to the Unabomber.

The slow trickle of departing corporate donors turned into a gusher.

Even Heartland insiders, such as Eli Lehrer, who headed the organisation’s Washington group, found the billboard too extreme. Lehrer, who headed the biggest project within Heartland, on insurance, immediately announced his departure along with six other staff.

“The ad was ill advised,” he said. “I’m a free-market conservative with a long rightwing resumé and most, if not all, of my team fits the same description and of us found it very problematic. Staying with Heartland was simply not workable in the wake of this billboard.”

Heartland took down the billboard within 24 hours, but by then the ad had gone viral.

Lehrer, who maintains the split was amicable, said the billboard had undermined Heartland’s claims to be a serious conservative thinktank.

“It didn’t reflect the seriousness which I want to bring to public policy,” Lehrer said in the telephone interview. “As somebody who deals mostly with insurance I believe all risk have to be taken seriously and there certainly are some important climate and global warming related risks that must be taken account of in the insurance market. Trivialising them is not consistent with free-market thought. Suggesting they are only thought about by people who are crazy is not good for the free market.”

Other Heartland allies came to a similar conclusion. In a letter to Heartland announcing he was backing out from the conference, Ross McKitrick, a Canadian economist wrote: “You can not simultaneously say that you want to promote a debate while equating the other side to terrorists and mass murderers.”

A number of other experts meanwhile began cutting their ties with Heartland, according to a tally kept by a Canadian blogger BigCityLiberal.

Meanwhile, there was growing anger that Bast failed to consult with colleagues before ordering up the Kaczynski attack ads.

Four board members told the Guardian they had not been consulted in advance about the ad. “I did not have prior approval of the billboard and was in favor of discontinuing the billboard when I was made aware of it,” Jeff Judson, a Texas lobbyist and board member wrote in an email.

Could the turmoil and discontent at Heartland eventually prove its undoing? Campaigners would certainly hope so. “We are watching the consequences of organisation that acts quite randomly and that is actually an extremist organisation in the end,” said Davies. “They are not built to be at the hump of the climate denial movement.”

But while more mainstream corporate entities are deserting Heartland, others are stepping into the breach, including the coal lobby and conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation.

Both the Illinois Coal Association and Heritage stepped in to fund this week’s conference, after other corporate donors began backing out in protest at the offensive Kaczynski ad.

Meanwhile, a Greenpeace analysis of the other smaller conference sponsors suggests they have collectively received $5m in funds from Exxon and other oil companies.

The Coal Association and Heritage were not listed on the original conference sponsor list, but appeared to come in about a week or so after the appearance of the offending Kaczynski ad.

Phil Gonet, the chief lobbyist for the 20 coal companies in the association, said he had no qualms about stepping in to fund the Heartland conference.

“We support the work they are doing and so we thought we would finally make a contribution to the organisation,” he said, calling criticism of the ad “moot”, “pointless” and “absurd”.

Gonet went on: “I made a contribution mainly in support of a conference that is designed to make balanced information available to the public on the issue of global warming … In general, the message of the Heartland Institute is something the Illinois Coal Association supports.”

Perspective: Troubled by Interdisciplinarity? (Science)

Career Advice

By Stephanie PfirmanMelissa Begg

April 06, 2012

Do program managers and senior faculty tell you “that idea is not really in my bailiwick, and I’m not sure where else to send you”? Do you spend more time choosing a publication venue than writing your paper? Are you asked to be on committees and panels to provide a “fresh perspective” — and then told you spend too much time on service? Is your e-mail full of correspondence about how to handle overhead, subawards, and subcontracts on collaborative proposals?

If any of these descriptions apply to you, you may be suffering from the pain and inconvenience of interdisciplinarity, one of the fastest-growing problems among researchers today. It’s not a problem that goes away on its own. Rather, it festers if it’s not addressed, diminishing creativity and productivity.

Despite the pain and inconvenience, increasing numbers of scientists are pursuing interdisciplinary career paths, and a growing proportion of research funding opportunities from federal granting agencies is interdisciplinary. In May 2011, 30% to 40% of all requests for proposals from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health explicitly required an interdisciplinary approach.

Interdisciplinarity can be wonderfully rich and rewarding, but there are dangers attendant to choosing this non-traditional route. Interdisciplinary scholars go “out on a limb” and “often must fight for identity, recognition, roles, legitimacy, and standing.” This takes a personal — as well as a professional — toll: While the status of their peers grows with accomplishments within the disciplinary community, interdisciplinary scholars have to “live without the comfort of expertise” and often without the comfort of community. Scholars report that they no longer fit in as well after they leave their disciplinary base.

This connection between research direction and community fit is supported by the 2003 Faculty Worklife Survey conducted by the University of Wisconsin, Madison’s Women in Science and Engineering Leadership Institute. The belief that their colleagues did not perceive their research to be “mainstream” left people feeling more negative about colleagues’ valuation of their research, their respect in the workplace, departmental decision-making, informal departmental interactions, and overall isolation and “fit.”

The messages from a number of recent publications can be distilled to this: Interdisciplinary research doesn’t fit into traditional academic structures. Therefore, if you choose this route, the onus is on you to take additional steps to become aware of the pitfalls and prepare yourself to succeed in this arena.

What kinds of steps are we talking about? Our recommendations include building skills for interdisciplinary collaboration, extending your mentorship team, bolstering your interdisciplinary CV for disciplinary review, and preparing for the complications of writing and submitting interdisciplinary grant proposals.

Recommendations for interdisciplinary scholars

Prepare yourself for new ways of working, thinking, and interacting.

• Specialize within your interdisciplinary research area. Avoid the tendency of many interdisciplinary scholars to branch out too quickly and in too many directions, which can diffuse your impact.

• Focus on your disciplinary strength and skills. It may sound counterintuitive, but in many situations your value as an interdisciplinary colleague is directly proportional to your skills in your own discipline. Keep up with the latest literature and theoretical developments in your disciplinary field so that you will be prepared to apply new knowledge and skills in diverse areas.

• Build core competencies that sustain interdisciplinary research by taking courses or learning on your own. For example, you could take courses that use the case study method to enhance interdisciplinary skills or include practice reviewing interdisciplinary papers and proposals.

• Attend seminars and workshops in other disciplines. Participating in research seminars outside your own department is a great way to expand your thinking, add a new batch of colleagues to your network, and develop expertise in new research areas.

• Seek new mentorship. The old model of one scholar, one mentor is fast becoming a distant memory. Find a mentor or two from beyond your field to help broaden your mindset and approaches.

When preparing manuscripts and grant applications, enhance your credibility as a successful researcher whose work crosses traditional disciplinary boundaries.

• Include a cover letter with your paper or proposal that highlights its interdisciplinary nature and suggests reviewers with complementary expertise so that all of your research aims receive appropriate review.

• Frame research aims to satisfy the needs of both disciplinary-leaning reviewers and interdisciplinary-eager granting agencies. Incorporating conceptual models and grounding your ideas within the disciplines establishes common ground with diverse reviewers.

• Involve respected colleagues with expertise in the techniques you plan to use.

• Try to have at least one publication in each field in which you propose to work. If the work requires an area you haven’t published in, get a letter of support from a well-known investigator in that field offering assistance.

• Start early on budget preparation for collaborative proposals. Most interdisciplinary endeavors are collaborative — and collaborative grant activities have financial implications, with potential revenue losses to departments due to diversion of overhead costs to other units. It may sound like a minor issue, but the most aggravating problem identified in the 2004 report of the National Academies Committee on Facilitating Interdisciplinary Research (CFIR) was the logistics of interdisciplinary research: budget control, institutional cost recovery, space, unit reporting, and award agreements. More than 40% of scholars and provosts picked one of these as the top impediment to interdisciplinary projects. A recent study found that faculty and administrators at universities with overhead-sharing policies reported satisfaction with their policies, and most felt that they indeed helped to foster interdisciplinary science.

• Use the Kulage study to support budget negotiations. Your colleagues and administrators may be resistant at first to innovations like overhead sharing, so showing them evidence of the effectiveness of overhead sharing may help you close the deal and reach an agreement that recognizes and rewards the contributions of the interdisciplinary collaborators involved in your proposal.

It’s never too early to start thinking about tenure and promotion. You need to plan for a portfolio that withstands the scrutiny of discipline-oriented review committees while also allowing you to pursue interdisciplinary interests. You can take steps to prepare yourself for rigorous evaluation by disciplinary and interdisciplinary reviewers.

• Annotate your CV to explain your contributions to collaborative publications and grants. While this task may seem onerous, if you don’t do it, people have to guess, and they often guess wrong. Increasingly, journals require people to clarify their roles in publications, and some institutions now require that CVs articulate not only specific roles but also the percentage of effort devoted to various activities. Use such policies to your advantage.

• Ground your research statement. As with proposals, incorporating conceptual models and explaining connections to key disciplinary theories and approaches helps to contextualize your work for reviewers with diverse backgrounds.

• Seek a spectrum of reviewers. If asked to suggest reviewers to evaluate your work and advise your tenure or promotion review panel, be sure to include experts from multiple departments or from outside of the institution. Choose experts who can address the particular research areas you work in. For example, you might propose one letter writer who could attest to your disciplinary strength. Another might emphasize how another field is using your research. This could broaden the perspective of the review panel and permit consideration of less traditional CVs.

If you’re on the job market, look for institutions and departments that really value interdisciplinarity. In 2004, more than 10% of scholars identified “strategic plans” as the top impediment to interdisciplinary research. Seven years later, some institutions are finally tackling this: Take a look at the case studies of Ohio University and Macalester College in the National Council for Science and the Environment report. Fostering interdisciplinarity is a strategic decision at the institutional level, but integration of interdisciplinarity into departmental missions is key. Check to see if these pieces are in place at the institution you’re thinking of working for. You can use the NIH template for interdisciplinary offer letters as a mental checklist as you discuss expectations with the chair of the search. You don’t want to come across as too demanding, but having this model letter in mind will help you think of questions to ask about the position.

When push comes to shove, department chairs and supervisors often look askance at activities they perceive to be “extra-departmental.” As noted in a 2011 article in the Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences,

There is a significant and growing need for interdisciplinary … scholars to develop, teach, and apply successful problem-solving approaches and to educate the next generation of scholars and professionals. Yet such professionals often work in departments where most of their colleagues are disciplinarians and the reward and incentive system is based on disciplines or is at best multidisciplinary. They need diverse strategies and support to overcome the many difficulties that they face day to day in research, teaching, and administration, as well as over the course of their careers.

Increasingly, institutions are addressing what is perhaps the single most vexing problem identified by the 2004 CFIR report: promotion criteria, which 15% of provosts and faculty members identified as the top impediment. Some institutions have turned to using the Boyer criteria of discovery, integration, application, and teaching, rather than focusing mainly on discovery (often with passing reference to teaching). Beyond these traditional criteria, Boyer’s “integration” criterion, in particular, is important in the evaluation of interdisciplinary research. “Application” can also be important. These are all positive signs that smoother sailing may be ahead.

Interdisciplinary research is laudable and undeniably enriching. But until academia’s reward system catches up to its desire for interdisciplinary collaboration, researchers — especially early-career investigators — must take additional steps to prepare for and protect themselves from choppy waters ahead.


Boyer E.L. (1990) Scholarship reconsidered: Priorities of the professoriate. Jossey-Bass, New York

Clark, S.G., M.M. Steen-Adams, S. Pfirman, R.L. Wallace (2011) Professional Development of Interdisciplinary Environmental Scholars, Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences.

Collins, J.P. (2002). May you live in interesting times: Using multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary programs to cope with change in the life sciences. BioScience 52:75-83.

Committee on Facilitating Interdisciplinary Research (2004). Committee on Facilitating Interdisciplinary Research, National Academy of Sciences, National Academy of Engineering, Institute of Medicine.

Heemskerk, M., K. Wilson, and M. Pavao-Zuckerman. 2003. Conceptual models as tools for communication across disciplines. Conservation Ecology 7(3): 8. [online]

Kulage, K.M., E.L. Larson, and M.D. Begg (2011). Sharing facilities and administrative cost recovery to facilitate interdisciplinary research. Academic Medicine 86: 394-401.

Larson, E.L., T.F. Landers, and M.D. Begg (2011) Building Interdisciplinary Research Models: A Didactic Course to Prepare Interdisciplinary Scholars and Faculty. Clinical and Translational Science (4)1: 38–41.

Lattuca, L.R. (2001). Creating interdisciplinarity: interdisciplinary research and teaching among college and university faculty. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press.

Pfirman, S. and P. Martin (2010). Fostering Interdisciplinary Scholars. Chapter in Oxford Handbook on Interdisciplinarity, Editors: R. Frodeman, J. Thompson Klein, and C. Mitcham, Oxford University Press, 624 pp.

Pfirman, S.; Martin, P.; Danielson, A.; Goodman, R.M.; Steen-Adams, M.; Waggett, C.; Mutter, J.; Rikakis, T.; Fletcher, M.; Berry, L.; Hornbach, D.; Hempel, M.; Morehouse, B.; Southard, R. (2011). Interdisciplinary Hiring and Career Development: Guidance for Individuals and Institutions. National Council for Science and the Environment.

Porter, A.L., Cohen, A.S., Roessner, J.D., and Perreault, M. (2007) Measuring Researcher Interdisciplinarity, Scientometrics, 72(1): 117-147

WISELI (2003) Study of Faculty Worklife at the University of Wisconsin-Madison

Stephanie Pfirman is Hirschorn Professor and co-chair of the environmental science department at Barnard College and a member of Columbia University’s Earth Institute faculty, both in New York City. Melissa Begg is Professor and Vice Dean for Education at the Mailman School of Public Health and Co-Director of the Irving Institute for Clinical and Translational Research at Columbia University in New York.

Bom da Rio+20 é a sociedade, dizem especialistas (O Estado de São Paulo)

JC e-mail 4501, de 21 de Maio de 2012.

A um mês da Rio+20, membros da sociedade civil reunidos em debate ontem (20) em São Paulo disseram que o melhor que se pode esperar da conferência para o desenvolvimento sustentável é que ela sirva para fortalecer a mobilização da sociedade.

“Os temas que estão colocados na Rio+20 – economia verde, governança e erradicação da pobreza – são como recomeçar o mundo. Sem dúvida são coisas que dependem de acordos entre governos, mas temos a sensação de que esses acordos vão demorar cada vez mais. Então é fundamental a sociedade se mobilizar por esses temas, pressionar”, afirmou o pesquisador da USP Pedro Roberto Jacobi, do Programa de Pós Graduação em Ciência Ambiental. Ele falou durante debate no evento Viva a Mata, que celebra o Dia Nacional da Mata Atlântica, no domingo (20).

Jacobi resumiu um sentimento que prevalece na academia, entre organizações não governamentais e até entre os negociadores de alto nível de certo pessimismo que a conferência não resulte em compromissos mais concretos para que o mundo se encaminhe para o tão falado desenvolvimento sustentável.

A comparação inevitável é com a Rio-92, vista como um momento que representou uma mudança de paradigma. “A Rio+20 significa um nada, um vazio. De 92 para cá o que aconteceu foi a não implementação de tudo o que foi acordado. Só que passados 20 anos, temos hoje muito mais dados e certezas de que caminhamos para um desastre ambiental e o que acontece? Nada”, disse João Paulo Capobianco, do Instituto Democracia e Sustentabilidade.

“É uma reunião sem entendimento mínimo sobre o que se espera dela, marcada pela falta de líderes, e que não vai enfrentar nosso pior problema, que é a falta de governança, a incapacidade de implementar acordos que nós mesmos fizemos”,

Para o economista Ricardo Abramovay, também da USP, só uma forte pressão social poderia levar a conferência a alcançar pelo menos uma nova forma de medir e avaliar o crescimento econômico que seja alternativa ao Produto Interno Bruto (PIB). “Precisamos entrar no mérito do que o sistema econômico de fato está oferecendo para a sociedade para podermos julgar se essa oferta aumenta o bem-estar das pessoas ou não e se está comprometendo os serviços ofertados pela natureza ou não.”

Rio+20: ONU lista 56 recomendações para um mundo sustentável (Folha de São Paulo)

JC e-mail 4501, de 21 de Maio de 2012/Folha de São Paulo – 19/5

Documento apresentado no Rio foi preparado por 22 especialistas convocados pelas Nações Unidas.

A ONU lançou, na última sexta-feira (18), no Rio, a versão em português de um relatório com 56 recomendações para que o mundo avance em direção ao desenvolvimento sustentável. O documento, elaborado por 22 especialistas ao longo de um ano e meio, traz sugestões mais ousadas do que aquelas que devem ser acordadas na Rio+20, a conferência da ONU sobre o tema que ocorre em junho na cidade.

Entre as propostas estão o fim dos subsídios aos combustíveis fósseis e a precificação do carbono, com a cobrança, por exemplo, de impostos sobre as emissões de gases do efeito estufa. Espera-se assim estimular a disseminação de tecnologias verdes. “É um relatório com frases e recomendações muito diretas”, diz o embaixador André Corrêa do Lago, negociador-chefe do Brasil para a Rio+20.

Para ele, o documento final do encontro de cúpula da ONU deverá trazer formulações “mais sóbrias”.

Outras medidas sugeridas são a criação de um fundo apoiado por governos, ONGs e empresas para garantir acesso universal à educação primária até 2015 e a inclusão dos temas consumo e desenvolvimento sustentáveis nos currículos escolares.

As recomendações são divididas em três grupos, de acordo com seus objetivos principais. O primeiro visa a capacitar as pessoas a fazerem escolhas sustentáveis; o segundo, a tornar a economia sustentável; e o terceiro, a fortalecer a governança institucional para o desenvolvimento sustentável.

“As pessoas participaram desse painel a título pessoal, ou seja, elas não estavam representando governos. Isso dá mais força [ao documento], porque o painel pode dizer certas coisas que não são consenso [entre os mais de 190 países da ONU]”, diz Corrêa do Lago.

O coordenador do relatório, porém, disse esperar que as recomendações sejam levadas em consideração pelos negociadores da Rio+20. Janos Pasztor citou o estabelecimento de metas numéricas para o desenvolvimento sustentável como uma sugestão que pode ser adotada no curto prazo. O tema está em discussão na Rio+20.

A ex-primeira-ministra da Noruega Gro Brundtland, considerada “mãe” do conceito de desenvolvimento sustentável, participou da elaboração do relatório.

O documento completo pode ser acessado pelo link

José Goldemberg: Cotas raciais – quem ganha, quem perde? (OESP)

JC e-mail 4501, de 21 de Maio de 2012.

José Goldemberg é professor emérito da Universidade de São Paulo. Artigo publicado no jornal O Estado de São Paulo de hoje (21).

O Supremo Tribunal Federal (STF) decidiu recentemente, por unanimidade, que a introdução de cotas raciais no acesso às universidades públicas federais não viola a Constituição da República, seguindo a linha adotada nos Estados Unidos há algumas décadas de introduzir “ações afirmativas” para corrigir injustiças feitas no passado. A decisão flexibiliza a ideia básica de que todos são iguais perante a lei, um dos grandes objetivos da Revolução Francesa.

Ela se origina na visão de que é preciso aceitar a “responsabilidade histórica” dos malefícios causados pela escravidão e compensar, em parte, as vítimas e seus descendentes. A mesma ideia permeia negociações entre países, entre ex-colônias e as nações industrializadas, na área comercial e até nas negociações sobre o clima.

Sucede que, de modo geral, “compensar” povos ou grupos sociais por violências, discriminações e até crimes cometidos no passado raramente ocorreu ao longo da História. Um bom exemplo é o verdadeiro “holocausto” resultante da destruição dos Impérios Inca e Asteca, na América Latina, ou até da destruição de Cartago pelos romanos, que nunca foram objeto de compensações. Se o fossem, a Espanha deveria estar compensando até hoje o que Hernán Cortez fez ao conquistar o México e destruir o Império Asteca.

É perfeitamente aceitável e desejável que grupos discriminados, excluídos ou perseguidos devam ser objeto de tratamento especial pelos setores mais privilegiados da sociedade e do próprio Estado, por meio de assistência social, educação, saúde e criação de oportunidades. Contudo, simplificar a gravidade dos problemas econômicos e sociais que afligem parte da população brasileira, sobretudo os descendentes de escravos, estabelecendo cotas raciais para acesso às universidades públicas do País, parece-nos injustificado e contraprodutivo, porque revela uma falta de compreensão completa do papel que essas instituições de ensino representam.

Universidades públicas e gratuitas atendem apenas a um terço dos estudantes que fazem curso superior no Brasil, que é uma rota importantíssima para a progressão social e o sucesso profissional. As demais universidades são pagas, o que prejudica a parte mais pobre da população estudantil. Essa é uma distorção evidente do sistema universitário do País. Mas o custo do ensino superior é tão elevado que apenas países ricos como a França, a Suécia ou a Alemanha podem oferecer ensino superior gratuito para todos. Não é o nosso caso. Essa é a razão por que existem vestibulares nas universidades públicas, onde a seleção era feita exclusivamente pelo mérito até recentemente.

A decisão recente do Supremo Tribunal Federal deixa de reconhecer o mérito como único critério para admissão em universidades públicas. E abre caminho para a adoção de outras cotas, além das raciais, talvez, no futuro.

Acontece que o sistema universitário tem sérios problemas de qualidade e desempenho, como bem o demonstra o resultado dos exames da Ordem dos Advogados do Brasil (OAB) – garantia da qualidade dos profissionais dessa área -, que reprova sistematicamente a maioria dos que se submetem a ele, o mesmo ocorrendo com os exames na área médica.

Órgãos do governo como a Coordenação de Aperfeiçoamento de Pessoal de Nível Superior (Capes), do Ministério da Educação, ou o Conselho Nacional de Desenvolvimento Científico e Tecnológico (CNPq), do Ministério de Ciência, Tecnologia e Inovação, têm feito esforços para melhorar o desempenho das universidades brasileiras por meio de complexos processos de avaliação, que têm ajudado, mas não se mostraram suficientes.

Esses são mecanismos externos às universidades. Na grande maioria delas, os esforços internos são precários em razão da falta de critérios e de empenho do Ministério da Educação, que escolhe os reitores, alguns dos quais, como os da Universidade de Brasília, iniciaram o processo de criação de cotas raciais como se esse fosse o principal problema das universidades e do ensino superior no Brasil.

O populismo que domina muitas dessas universidades, há décadas, é a principal razão do baixo desempenho das universidades brasileiras na classificação mundial. Somente a Universidade de São Paulo (USP) conseguiu colocar-se entre as melhores 50 nesse ranking.

O problema urgente das universidades brasileiras é, portanto, melhorar de nível, e não resolver problemas de discriminação racial ou corrigir “responsabilidades históricas”, que só poderão ser solucionadas por meio do progresso econômico e educacional básico.

O governo federal parece ter tomado consciência desse problema ao lançar o programa Ciência sem Fronteiras, que se propõe a enviar ao exterior, anualmente, milhares de estudantes universitários, imitando o que o Japão fez no século 19 ou a China no século 20 e foi a base da modernização e do rápido progresso desses países.

Daí o desapontamento com a decisão da Suprema Corte não só por ter sido unânime, mas também por não ter sido objeto de uma tomada de posição de muitos intelectuais formadores de opinião, exceto notáveis exceções, como Eunice R. Durham, Simon Schwartzman, Demétrio Magnoli e poucos outros que se manifestaram sobre a inconveniência da decisão.

O único aspecto positivo na decisão do Supremo Tribunal Federal foi o de que simplesmente aceitou a constitucionalidade das cotas raciais, cabendo aos reitores, em cada universidade, adotá-las e implementá-las.

Há aqui uma oportunidade para que os professores mais esclarecidos assumam a liderança e se esforcem para manter elevado o nível de suas universidades sem descuidar de tornar o acesso pelo mérito mais democrático, e sem a adoção de cotas raciais, como algumas universidades estaduais de São Paulo estão fazendo.

* A equipe do Jornal da Ciência esclarece que o conteúdo e opiniões expressas nos artigos assinados são de responsabilidade do autor e não refletem necessariamente a opinião do jornal.

The Beginning of the End of the Census? (N.Y.Times)


Published: May 19, 2012

THE American Community Survey may be the most important government function you’ve never heard of, and it’s in trouble.

This survey of American households has been around in some form since 1850, either as a longer version of or a richer supplement to the basic decennial census. It tells Americans how poor we are, how rich we are, who is suffering, who is thriving, where people work, what kind of training people need to get jobs, what languages people speak, who uses food stamps, who has access to health care, and so on.

It is, more or less, the country’s primary check for determining how well the government is doing — and in fact what the government will be doing. The survey’s findings help determine how over $400 billion in government funds is distributed each year.

But last week, the Republican-led House voted to eliminate the survey altogether, on the grounds that the government should not be butting its nose into Americans’ homes.

“This is a program that intrudes on people’s lives, just like the Environmental Protection Agency or the bank regulators,” said Daniel Webster, a first-term Republican congressman from Florida who sponsored the relevant legislation.

“We’re spending $70 per person to fill this out. That’s just not cost effective,” he continued, “especially since in the end this is not a scientific survey. It’s a random survey.”

In fact, the randomness of the survey is precisely what makes the survey scientific, statistical experts say.

Each year the Census Bureau polls a representative, randomized sample of about three million American households about demographics, habits, languages spoken, occupation, housing and various other categories. The resulting numbers are released without identifying individuals, and offer current demographic portraits of even the country’s tiniest communities.

It is the largest (and only) data set of its kind and is used across the federal government in formulas that determine how much funding states and communities get for things like education and public health.

For example, a question on flush toilets — one that some politicians like to cite as being especially invasive — is used to help assess groundwater contamination for rural parts of the country that do not have modern waste disposal systems, according to the Census Bureau.

Law enforcement agencies have likewise used the data to predict criminal activities like methamphetamine production.

Their recent vote aside, members of Congress do seem to realize how useful these numbers are. After all, they use the data themselves.

A number of questions on the survey have been added because Congress specifically demanded their inclusion. In 2008, for example, Congress passed a lawrequiring the American Community Survey to add questions about computer and Internet use. Additionally, recent survey data are featured on the Web sites of many representatives who voted to kill the program — including Mr. Webster’s own home page.

The legislation is expected to go to the Senate this week, and all sorts of stakeholders are coming out of the woodwork.

“Knowing what’s happening in our economy is so desperately important to keeping our economy functioning smoothly,” said Maurine Haver, the chief executive and founder of Haver Analytics, a data analysis company. “The reason the Great Recession did not become another Great Depression is because of the more current economic data we have today that we didn’t have in the 1930s.”

She added that having good data about the state of the economy was one of America’s primary competitive advantages. “The Chinese are probably watching all this with glee,” she said, noting that the Chinese government has also opted not to publish economic data on occasion, generally when the news wasn’t good.

Other private companies and industry groups — including the United States Chamber of Commerce, the National Retail Federation and the National Association of Home Builders — are up in arms.

Target recently released a video explaining how it used these census data to determine where to locate new stores. Economic development organizations and otherbusiness groups say they use the numbers to figure out where potential workers are.

Mr. Webster says that businesses should instead be thanking House Republicans for reducing the government’s reach.

“What really promotes business in this country is liberty,” he said, “not demand for information.”

Mr. Webster and other critics have gone so far as to say the American Community Survey is unconstitutional. Of course, the basic decennial census is specifically enumerated in the United States Constitution, and courts have ruled that this longer form of the census survey is constitutional as well.

Some census watchers — like Andrew Reamer, a research professor at the George Washington University Institute of Public Policy — say they do not expect the Senate to agree on fully eliminating the American Community Survey (as well as the Economic Census, which would also be effectively destroyed by the House bill).

Rather, Mr. Reamer suspects, Republicans may hope that when the Senate and House bills go to a conference committee, a final compromise will keep the survey, but make participation in it voluntary. Under current law, participation is mandatory.

If the American Community Survey were made voluntary, experts say, the census would have to spend significantly more money on follow-up phone calls and in-person visits to get enough households to answer.

But Congress also plans to cut the census budget, making such follow-ups prohibitively expensive.

“If it’s voluntary, then we’ll just get bad data,” saidKenneth Prewitt, a former director of the census who is now at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs. “That means businesses will make bad decisions, and government will make bad decisions, which means we won’t even know where we actually are wasting our tax dollars.”

Catherine Rampell is an economics reporter for The New York Times.

Ellen Cantarow: “… bizarre weather that seemed to be sending a meteorological message” (Tom Dispatch)

Tomgram: Ellen Cantarow, The New Eco-Devastation in Rural America

Posted by Ellen Cantarow at 5:25pm, May 20, 2012.

When workers drilling tunnels at Gauley Bridge, West Virginia, began to die, Union Carbide had an answer.  It hadn’t been taking adequate precautions against the inhalation of silica dust, a known danger to workers since the days of ancient Greece.  Instead, in many cases, a company doctor would simply tell the families of the workers that they had died of “tunnelitis,” and a local undertaker would be paid $50 to dispose of each corpse.  A few years later, in 1935, a congressional subcommittee discovered that approximately 700 workers had perished while drilling through Hawk’s Nest Mountain, many of them buried in unmarked graves at the side of the road just outside the tunnel.  The subcommittee concluded that Union Carbide’s project had been accomplished through a “grave and inhuman disregard of all considerations for the health, lives and future of the employees.”

Despite the “Hawk’s Nest Incident” and thousands of Depression-era lawsuits against foundries, mines, and construction companies, silicosis never disappeared.  In the decades since, asTomDispatch authors David Rosner and Jerry Markowitz have repeatedly demonstrated, industry worked tirelessly to label silicosis a “disease of the past,” even while ensuring that it would continue to be a disease of the present.  By the late 1990s, the Columbia University researchers found that from New York to California, from Texas all the way back to West Virginia, millions of workers in foundries, shipyards, mines, and oil refineries, among other industries, were endangered by silica dust.

Today, there’s a new silicosis scare on the horizon and a new eco-nightmare brewing in the far corners of rural America.  Like the Hawk’s Nest disaster it has flown under the radar — until now.

Once upon a time, mining companies tore open hills or bored through or chopped off mountain tops to get at vital resources inside.  They were intent on creating quicker paths through nature’sobstacles, or (as at Gauley Bridge) diverting the flow of mighty rivers. Today, they’re doing it merely to find the raw materials — so-called frac sand — to use in an assault on land several states away.  Multinational corporations are razing ancient hills of sandstone in the Midwest and shipping that silica off to other pastoral settings around the United States.  There, America’s prehistoric patrimony is being used to devastating effect to fracture shale deposits deep within the earth — they call it “hydraulic fracturing” — and causing all manner of environmental havoc.  Not everyone, however, is keen on this “sand rush” and coalitions of small-town farmers, environmentalists, and public health advocates are now beginning to stand firm against the big energy corporations running sand-mining operations in their communities.

Ground zero in this frac-fight is the rural Wisconsin towns to which TomDispatch’s rovingenvironmental reporter Ellen Cantarow traveled this spring to get the biggest domestic environmental story that nobody knows about.  Walking the fields of family farms under siege and talking to the men and women resisting the corporations, Cantarow offers up a shocking report of vital interest.  There’s a battle raging for America’s geological past and ecological future — our fresh food and clean water supplies may hinge on who wins it. Nick Turse

How Rural America Got Fracked

The Environmental Nightmare You Know Nothing About

By Ellen Cantarow

If the world can be seen in a grain of sand, watch out.  As Wisconsinites are learning, there’s money (and misery) in sand — and if you’ve got the right kind, an oil company may soon be at your doorstep.

March in Wisconsin used to mean snow on the ground, temperatures so cold that farmers worried about their cows freezing to death. But as I traveled around rural townships and villages in early March to interview people about frac-sand mining, a little-known cousin of hydraulic fracturing or “fracking,” daytime temperatures soared to nearly 80 degrees — bizarre weather that seemed to be sending a meteorological message.

In this troubling spring, Wisconsin’s prairies and farmland fanned out to undulating hills that cradled the land and its people. Within their embrace, the rackety calls of geese echoed from ice-free ponds, bald eagles wheeled in the sky, and deer leaped in the brush. And for the first time in my life, I heard the thrilling warble of sandhill cranes.

Yet this peaceful rural landscape is swiftly becoming part of a vast assembly line in the corporate race for the last fossil fuels on the planet. The target: the sand in the land of the cranes.

Five hundred million years ago, an ocean surged here, shaping a unique wealth of hills and bluffs that, under mantles of greenery and trees, are sandstone. That sandstone contains a particularly pure form of crystalline silica.  Its grains, perfectly rounded, are strong enough to resist the extreme pressures of the technology called hydraulic fracturing, which pumps vast quantities of that sand, as well as water and chemicals, into ancient shale formations to force out methane and other forms of “natural gas.”

That sand, which props open fractures in the shale, has to come from somewhere.  Without it, the fracking industry would grind to a halt. So big multinational corporations are descending on this bucolic region to cart off its prehistoric sand, which will later be forcefully injected into the earth elsewhere across the country to produce more natural gas.  Geology that has taken millions of years to form is now being transformed into part of a system, a machine, helping to drive global climate change.

“The valleys will be filled… the mountains and hills made level”

Boom times for hydraulic fracturing began in 2008 when new horizontal-drilling methods transformed an industry formerly dependent on strictly vertical boring. Frac-sand mining took off in tandem with this development.

“It’s huge,” said a U.S. Geological Survey mineral commodity specialist in 2009. “I’ve never seen anything like it, the growth. It makes my head spin.” That year, from all U.S. sources, frac-sand producers used or sold over 6.5 million metric tons of sand — about what the Great Pyramid of Giza weighs.  Last month, Wisconsin’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) Senior Manager and Special Projects Coordinator Tom Woletz said corporations were hauling at least 15 million metric tons a year from the state’s hills.

By July 2011, between 22 and 36 frac-sand facilities in Wisconsin were either operating or approved. Seven months later, said Woletz, there were over 60 mines and 45 processing (refinement) plants in operation. “By the time your article appears, these figures will be obsolete,” claims Pat Popple, who in 2008 founded the first group to oppose frac-sand mining, Concerned Chippewa Citizens (now part of The Save the Hills Alliance).

Jerry Lausted, a retired teacher and also a farmer, showed me the tawny ridges of sand that delineated a strip mine near the town of Menomonie where he lives. “If we were looking from the air,” he added, “you’d see ponds in the bottom of the mine where they dump the industrial waste water. If you scan to the left, you’ll see the hills that are going to disappear.”

Those hills are gigantic sponges, absorbing water, filtering it, and providing the region’s aquifer with the purest water imaginable. According to Lausted, sand mining takes its toll on “air quality, water quality and quantity. Recreational aspects of the community are damaged. Property values [are lowered.] But the big thing is, you’re removing the hills that you can’t replace.  They’re a huge water manufacturing factory that Mother Nature gave us, and they’re gone.”

It’s impossible to grasp the scope of the devastation from the road, but aerialvideos and photographs reveal vast, bleak sandy wastelands punctuated with waste ponds and industrial installations where Wisconsin hills once stood.

When corporations apply to counties for mining permits, they must file “reclamation” plans. But Larry Schneider, a retired metallurgist and industrial consultant with a specialized knowledge of mining, calls the reclamation process “an absolute farce.”

Reclamation projects by mining corporations since the 1970s may have made mined areas “look a little less than an absolute wasteland,” he observes. “But did they reintroduce the biodiversity? Did they reintroduce the beauty and the ecology? No.”

Studies bear out his verdict. “Every year,” wrote Mrinal Ghose in the Journal of Scientific and Industrial Research, “large areas are continually becoming unfertile in spite of efforts to grow vegetation on the degraded mined land.”

Awash in promises of corporate jobs and easy money, those who lease and sell their land just shrug. “The landscape is gonna change when it’s all said and done,” says dairy farmer Bobby Schindler, who in 2008 leased his land in Chippewa County to a frac-sand company called Canadian Sand and Proppant. (EOG, the former Enron, has since taken over the lease.) “Instead of being a hill it’s gonna be a valley, but all seeded down, and you’d never know there’s a mine there unless you were familiar with the area.”

Of the mining he adds, “It’s really put a boost to the area. It’s impressive the amount of money that’s exchanging hands.” Eighty-four-year-old Letha Webster, who sold her land 100 miles south of Schindler’s to another mining corporation, Unimin, says that leaving her home of 56 years is “just the price of progress.”

Jamie and Kevin Gregar — both 30-something native Wisconsinites and military veterans — lived in a trailer and saved their money so that they could settle down in a pastoral paradise once Kevin returned from Iraq. In January 2011, they found a dream home near tiny Tunnel City. (The village takes its name from a nearby rail tunnel). “It’s just gorgeous — the hills, the trees, the woodland, the animals,” says Jamie. “It’s perfect.”

Five months after they moved in, she learned that neighbors had leased their land to “a sand mine” company. “What’s a sand mine?” she asked.

Less than a year later, they know all too well.  The Gregars’ land is now surrounded on three sides by an unsightly panorama of mining preparations. Unimin is uprooting trees, gouging out topsoil, and tearing down the nearby hills. “It looks like a disaster zone, like a bomb went off,” Jamie tells me.

When I mention her service to her country, her voice breaks. “I am devastated. We’ve done everything right. We’ve done everything we were supposed to. We just wanted to raise our family in a good location and have good neighbors and to have it taken away from us for something we don’t support…” Her voice trails off in tears.

For Unimin, the village of Tunnel City in Greenfield township was a perfect target. Not only did the land contain the coveted crystalline silica; it was close to a rail spur. No need for the hundreds of diesel trucks that other corporations use to haul sand from mine sites to processing plants. No need, either, for transport from processing plants to rail junctions where hundreds of trains haul frac-sand by the millions of tons each year to fracture other once-rural landscapes. Here, instead, the entire assembly line operates in one industrial zone.

There was also no need for jumping the hurdles zoning laws sometimes erect. Like many Wisconsin towns where a culture of diehard individualism sees zoning as an assault on personal freedom, Greenfield and all its municipalities, including Tunnel City, are unzoned. This allowed the corporation to make deals with individual landowners. For the 8.5 acres where Letha Webster and her husband Gene lived for 56 years, assessed in 2010 at $147,500, Unimin paid $330,000. Overall, between late May and July 2011, it paid $5.3 million for 436 acres with a market value of about $1.1 million.

There was no time for public education about the potential negative possibilities of frac-sand mining: the destruction of the hills, the decline in property values, the danger of silicosis (once considered a strictly occupational lung disease) from blowing silica dust, contamination of ground water from the chemicals used in the processing plants, the blaze of lights all night long, noise from hundreds of train cars, houses shaken by blasting. Ron Koshoshek, a leading environmentalist who works with Wisconsin’s powerful Towns Association to educate townships about the industry, says that “frac-sand mining will virtually end all residential development in rural townships.” The result will be “a large-scale net loss of tax dollars to towns, increasing taxes for those who remain.”

Town-Busting Tactics

Frac-sand corporations count on a combination of naïveté, trust, and incomprehension in rural hamlets that previously dealt with companies no larger than Wisconsin’s local sand and gravel industries. Before 2008, town boards had never handled anything beyond road maintenance and other basic municipal issues.  Today, multinational corporations use their considerable resources to steamroll local councils and win sweetheart deals.  That’s how the residents of Tunnel City got taken to the cleaners.

On July 6, 2011, a Unimin representative ran the first public forum about frac-sand mining in the village.  Other heavily attended and often heated community meetings followed, but given the cascades of cash, the town board chairman’s failure to take a stand against the mining corporation, and Unimin’s aggressiveness, tiny Tunnel City was a David without a slingshot.

Local citizens did manage to get the corporation to agree to give the town $250,000 for the first two million tons mined annually, $50,000 more than its original offer. In exchange, the township agreed that any ordinance it might pass in the future to restrict mining wouldn’t apply to Unimin. Multiply the two million tons of frac-sand tonnage Unimin expects to mine annually starting in 2013 by the $300 a ton the industry makes and you’ll find that the township only gets .0004% of what the company will gross.

For the Gregars, it’s been a nightmare.  Unimin has refused five times to buy their land and no one else wants to live near a sand mine. What weighs most heavily on the couple is the possibility that their children will get silicosis from long-term exposure to dust from the mine sites. “We don’t want our kids to be lab rats for frac-sand mining companies,” says Jamie.

Drew Bradley, Unimin’s senior vice president of operations, waves such fears aside. “I think [citizens] are blowing it out of proportion,” he told a local publication. “There are plenty of silica mines sited close to communities. There have been no concerns exposed there.”

That’s cold comfort to the Gregars. Crystalline silica is a known carcinogen and the cause of silicosis, an irreversible, incurable disease. None of the very few rules applied to sand mining by the state’s Department of Natural Resources (DNR) limit how much silica gets into the air outside of mines. That’s the main concern of those living near the facilities.

So in November 2011, Jamie Gregar and ten other citizens sent a 35-page petitionto the DNR. The petitioners asked the agency to declare respirable crystalline silica a hazardous substance and to monitor it, using a public health protection level set by California’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. The petition relies on studies, including one by the DNR itself, which acknowledge the risk of airborne silica from frac-sand mines for those who live nearby.

The DNR denied the petition, claiming among other things that — contrary to its own study’s findings — current standards are adequate. One of the petition’s signatories, Ron Koshoshek, wasn’t surprised. For 16 years he was a member of, and for nine years chaired, Wisconsin’s Public Intervenor Citizens Advisory Committee.  Created in 1967, its role was to intercede on behalf of the environment, should tensions grow between the DNR’s two roles: environmental protector and corporate licensor. “The DNR,” he says, “is now a permitting agency for development and exploitation of resources.”

In 2010, Cathy Stepp, a confirmed anti-environmentalist who had previously railedagainst the DNR, belittling it as “anti-development, anti-transportation, and pro-garter snakes,” was appointed to head the agency by now-embattled Governor Scott Walker who explained: “I wanted someone with a chamber-of-commerce mentality.”

As for Jamie Gregar, her dreams have been dashed and she’s determined to leave her home. “At this point,” she says, “I don’t think there’s a price we wouldn’t accept.”

Frac-Sand vs. Food

Brian Norberg and his family in Prairie Farm, 137 miles northwest of Tunnel City, paid the ultimate price: he died while trying to mobilize the community against Procore, a subsidiary of the multinational oil and gas corporation Sanjel. The American flag that flies in front of the Norbergs’ house flanks a placard with a large, golden NORBERG, over which pheasants fly against a blue sky.  It’s meant to represent the 1,500 acres the family has farmed for a century.

“When you start talking about industrial mining, to us, you’re violating the land,” Brian’s widow, Lisa, told me one March afternoon over lunch.  She and other members of the family, as well as a friend, had gathered to describe Prairie Farm’s battle with the frac-sanders. “The family has had a really hard time accepting the fact that what we consider a beautiful way to live could be destroyed by big industry.”

Their fight against Procore started in April 2011: Sandy, a lifelong friend and neighbor, arrived with sand samples drillers had excavated from her land, and began enthusiastically describing the benefits of frac-sand mining. “Brian listened for a few minutes,” Lisa recalls. “Then he told her [that]… she and her sand vials could get the heck — that’s a much nicer word than what he used  — off the farm.  Sandy was hoping we would also be excited about jumping on the bandwagon. Brian informed her that our land would be used for the purpose God intended, farming.”

Brian quickly enlisted family and neighbors in an organizing effort against the company. In June 2011, Procore filed a reclamation plan — the first step in the permitting process — with the county’s land and water conservation department. Brian rushed to the county office to request a public hearing, but returned dejected and depressed. “He felt completely defeated that he could not protect the community from them moving in and destroying our lives,” recalls Lisa.

He died of a heart attack less than a day later at the age of 52. The family is convinced his death was a result of the stress caused by the conflict. That stress is certainly all too real.  The frac-sand companies, says family friend Donna Goodlaxson, echoing many others I interviewed for this story, “go from community to community. And one of the things they try to do is pit people in the community against each other.”

Instead of backing off, the Norbergs and other Prairie Farm residents continued Brian’s efforts. At an August 2011 public hearing, the town’s residents directly addressed Procore’s representatives. “What people had to say there was so powerful,” Goodlaxson remembers. “Those guys were blown out of their chairs. They weren’t prepared for us.”

“I think people insinuate that we’re little farmers in a little community and everyone’s an ignorant buffoon,” added Sue Glaser, domestic partner of Brian’s brother Wayne. “They found out in a real short time there was a lot of education behind this.”

“About 80% of the neighborhood was not happy about the potential change to our area,” Lisa adds. “But very few of us knew anything about this industry at [that] time.” To that end, Wisconsin’s Farmers’ Union and its Towns Association organized a day-long conference in December 2011 to help people “deal with this new industry.”

Meanwhile, other towns, alarmed by the explosion of frac-sand mining, were beginning to pass licensing ordinances to regulate the industry. In Wisconsin, counties can challenge zoning but not licensing ordinances, which fall under town police powers.  These, according to Wisconsin law, cannot be overruled by counties or the state. Becky Glass, a Prairie Farm resident and an organizer with Labor Network for Sustainability, calls Wisconsin’s town police powers “the strongest tools towns have to fight or regulate frac-sand mining.” Consider them so many slingshots employed against the corporate Goliaths.

In April 2012, Prairie Farm’s three-man board voted 2 to 1 to pass such an ordinance to regulate any future mining effort in the town. No, such moves won’t stop frac-sand mining in Wisconsin, but they may at least mitigate its harm. Procore finally pulled out because of the resistance, says Glass, adding that the company has since returned with different personnel to try opening a mine near where she lives.

“It takes 1.2 acres per person per year to feed every person in this country,” says Lisa Norberg. “And the little township that I live in, we have 9,000 acres that are for farm use. So if we just close our eyes and bend over and let the mining companies come in, we’ll have thousands of people we can’t feed.”

Food or frac-sand: it’s a decision of vital importance across the country, but one most Americans don’t even realize is being made — largely by multinational corporations and dwindling numbers of yeoman farmers in what some in this country would call “the real America.”  Most of us know nothing about these choices, but if the mining corporations have their way, we will soon enough — when we check out prices at the supermarket or grocery store. We’ll know it too, as global climate change continues to turn Wisconsin winters balmy and supercharge wild weather across the country.

While bucolic landscapes disappear, aquifers are fouled, and countless farms across rural Wisconsin morph into industrial wastelands, Lisa’s sons continue to work the Norberg’s land, just as their father once did. So does Brian’s nephew, 32-year-old Matthew, who took me on a jolting ride across his fields. The next time I’m in town, he assured me, we’ll visit places in the hills where water feeds into springs. Yes, you can drink the water there. It’s still the purest imaginable. Under the circumstances, though, no one knows for how long.

Ellen Cantarow’s work on Israel/Palestine has been widely published for over 30 years. Her long-time concern with climate change has led her to investigate the global depredations of oil and gas corporations atTomDispatch. Many thanks to Wisconsin filmmaker Jim Tittle, whosedocumentary, “The Price of Sand,” will appear in August 2012, and who shared both his interviewees and his time for this article.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter @TomDispatch and join us on Facebook. 

Copyright 2012 Ellen Cantarow

Bill Maher: “… praying away hurricanes is (not) meteorology” (TheHuffington Post)

Bill Maher: Liberty University Is Not A Real School

By  Posted: 05/19/2012 11:10 pm Updated: 05/20/2012 11:18 am

Bill Maher Liberty University

At the end of “Real Time” Friday night, Bill Maher lambasted Liberty University, the Virginia religious university that has become a mandatory stop for Republican presidential candidates. (Watch above.)

“You can’t expect me to believe anything Mitt Romney said last week at Liberty University, because a) he’s a liar and b) Liberty University isn’t really a university,” Maher began. “It’s not like an actual statesman visited a real college. It’s more like the Tupac hologram visited Disneyland and said what he would do as president during the Main Street Electrical Parade.”

Romney delivered Liberty’s commencement speech on May 12.

Maher noted that Liberty teaches “creation science,” and the idea that earth was created 5,000 years ago. “This is a school you flunk out of when you get the answers right,” he joked.

Much as conservatives believe gay marriage cheapens their own vows, “I think a diploma from Liberty cheapens my diploma from a real school,” he continued. “I worked really hard for four years and sold a lot of drugs to get that thing.”

Liberty’s diploma may look real, Maher said, but “when you confuse a church with a school, Maher went on, “it mixes up the things you believe — religion — with the things we know — education. Then you start thinking that creationism is science, and gay aversion is psychology, and praying away hurricanes is meteorology.”

Carta aberta à presidenta Dilma Rousseff – Mudanças climáticas: hora de se recobrar o bom senso

Carta aberta à presidenta Dilma Rousseff
Mudanças climáticas: hora de se recobrar o bom senso
São Paulo, 14 de maio de 2012


A Negação das Mudanças Climáticas e a Direita Organizada – Parte 3 – E o Professor Molion?

by Alexandre Araújo Costa on Sunday, May 20, 2012 at 10:45pm.
Postado no Facebook

Ricardo Felício fez aparição meteórica no programa do Jô Soares e, naturalmente, não se sabe que alcance isso pode ter em termos de sua carreira de militante negador. Como mostramos em dois textos anteriores ( e, academicamente trata-se de alguém com atuação evidentemente limitada, trajetória que não demonstra produtividade acadêmica. Desnudamos, porém, sua vinculação com a direita organizada, seja através da MSIa (vide as outras notas), seja via colaboração direta com o site “midia a mais” (idem), que, por sinal, é citado no Lattes de Ricardo Felício como um dos locais em que ele, deixando é claro a conotação acadêmica do termo, “publica”.

Mas evidentemente Ricardo Felicio não é o único negador brasileiro. Atuante há bem mais tempo, com bem mais trânsito na comunidade acadêmica, ainda envolvido de certo modo com a meteorologia, através do Departamento ao qual é vinculado, na UFAL, o principal negador brasileiro continua a ser o velho Luis Baldicero Molion. Aliás, algumas pessoas me indagaram exatamente da maneira como consta no título (“e o Prof. Molion”?) e este texto visa responder a tal pergunta.

Molion é bastante conhecido na comunidade brasileira de meteorologia. Sempre foi afeito a posições excêntricas e teses que cientificamente poderiam ser chamadas, no mínimo, de marginais (como a influência de vulcões submarinos sobre o El Niño-Oscilação Sul). Sempre foi tido como controvertido e polemista na comunidade, mas quero deixar claro que, conhecendo Molion há certamente mais de uma década e meia, isso parecia ser até um traço simpático. Quero, portanto, deixar claro que este texto aqui, longe de pretender atacar a sua figura ponto de vista pessoal, Ele tem como objetivo expor as movimentações de Molion para além do mundo acadêmico, mas que evidentemente levarão à conclusão de que qualquer ilusão de isenção em torno de suas opiniões seria condescendência para com ele.

Sabe-se que o professor da UFAL tem ministrado um sem-número de palestras nos últimos anos, sempre dedicadas ao mesmo tema, isto é, combater o consenso científico em torno do papel antrópico sobre as mudanças observadas no sistema climático. Não é meu objetivo neste breve texto abordar as questões de mérito, o que fiz com um relativo aprofundamento em e em diversos posts em minha página, mas devo frisar que, longe de representar um negador mais sofisticado, Molion também é grosseiro e desrespeitoso em seus ataques ao restante da comunidade e não preza pela coerência científica, fazendo uso da amálgama variada e inconsistente de pseudo-argumentos negacionistas. Num momento, negando todos os dados observados, diz que não há aquecimento, mas resfriamento; noutro, afirma que há aquecimento, mas que este não é antrópico e que – contrariando novamente tudo que foi medido nas últimas décadas – é um efeito do sol; ou ainda, que estamos diante de algo benéfico.

Especificamente essa combinação de isentar os fatores antrópicos e de afirmar que o aumento da concentração de CO2 é benéfica tem caído como uma luva para que Molion transite confortavelmente junto a um público específico: o do agronegócio e do ruralismo. Afinal, se a pecuária não contribui com emissões de metano e se as emissões de dióxido de carbono (e também de metano) associadas ao desmatamento não são um problema, o discurso de Molion representa um tipo de armadura e escudo pseudo-científicos que o agronegócio precisa. Afinal, se ninguém consegue defender os ruralistas dos crimes perpetrados contra trabalhadores rurais e ambientalistas; se a concentração de terra e renda no campo continua sendo uma mácula revoltante desde os tempos das capitanias em um Brasil que nunca fez uma Reforma Agrária de verdade; se o uso massivo de agrotóxicos e o envenenamento cotidiano de nossas mesas também desperta antipatia do grande público… pelo menos com os argumentos “moliônicos”, o agronegócio e os reis do gado e soja ficam livres de acusações quanto à questão do clima…

E de fato, Molion tem falado muito para esse público. Em 24/06/2008, palestrou no “Seminário Cooplantio” (divulgado pela Rádio Rural em Outra entrevista foi divulgada junto ao SINCAL (Assoc. Nacional dos Sindicatos Rurais das Regiões Produtoras de Café e Leite), vide Em 30/03/2009, outra palestra, ministrada na Fenicafé 2009, com o “tema” “Aquecimento global: mitos e verdades. Quais os efeitos para a agricultura?” No evento afirmou que “o aquecimento global é totalmente questionável e amparado em “imbecilidades” ( Em 01/02/2010, concede entrevista divulgada como “Prof. Molion desfaz falsas acusações contra a pecuária” em MFRural, site que se auto-apresenta como “O MF Rural é um site desenvolvido com a finalidade de facilitar as negociações e promover o encontro entre produtores rurais”. Na home, a chamada é “MF Rural – O Agronegócio passa por aqui!” Em 26/03/2010, ministrou palestra patrocinada pela Câmara especializada de agronomia do CREA-RJ. Na chamada, no site abaixo, diz-se que “o alarmismo ambientalista, assim como o multiculturalismo, o antitabagismo e a “anti-homofobia”, é hoje uma das principais armas utilizadas na construção do poder mundial”
( Em 11/02/2011, foi a vez do Conselho Federal de Medicina Veterinária ( Nele, Molion diz exatamente o que o público quer ouvir, ao afirmar que “a Pecuária, uma das principais atividades econômicas do Brasil, na qual a Medicina Veterinária e Zootecnia atuam diretamente, sofre uma penalização excessiva como agente causador de poluição”. O site complementa, afirmando que “De acordo com dados de Molion, a relação não pode ser justificada, já que os rebanhos estão em crescimento, com aumento de 17 milhões de ruminantes ao ano e, no mesmo período, as taxas de metano seguem estáveis”.

Mas imbatível mesmo é o que está por vir em poucos dias. Em 26/05/2012, conforme divulgado em, Molion palestrará na XV Assembléia do “Foro do Brasil”, organização de direita cujos ataques à Comissão da Verdade, à constitucionalidade das cotas, à “ofensiva indigenista” e cuja defesa do agronegócio e do novo Código Florestal não deixam dúvidas de se tratar do mais duro e radical neo-fascismo tupiniquim. O site anuncia, altissonante, que “você terá oportunidade de saber como os conceitos de aquecimento global e poluição pelo CO2 são uma grande farsa que movimenta bilhões de Euros, beneficiando empresas, e ongs” e que “conhecerá muitas das verdades e a história desse crime que está sendo cometido”.

Quem é esse tal Foro do Brasil? Em 31 de Março (atentem para a data), tinha a idéia de fundar o POP – “Partido Ordem e Progresso” ( Refere-se à “Começão da Inverdade”, para defender torturadores e assassinos. Os links do “Foro do Brasil”, claro, não poderiam deixar de incluir a Associação dos Diplomados da Escola Superior de Guerra, o Blog do conhecido direitista, ator Carlos Vereza, o “Cavaleiro do Templo”, o “Levante-se Brasil”, os delirantes do “Verde:A Nova Cor Do Comunismo”, o site da Monarquia e, é claro, o indefectível “Midia sem Máscara” (aquele pessoal maluco que diz que a Globo e toda a mídia são “de esquerda”, que a universidade é toda “comunista”, etc.) e outros desse naipe…

E novamente fica claro. Há sempre algo por trás do discurso negador das mudanças climáticas, da postura de ignorar todas as evidências concretas, de passar por cima de tudo que se conhece até de leis da Física, dos ataques grosseiros e virulentos à comunidade científica e da tentativa de gerar descrédito junto à opinião pública em relação à Ciência e aos Cientistas. Quem trabalha realmente em busca da verdade científica disputa seu ponto de vista fazendo valer o método. Coleta dados, faz experimentos, desenvolve e usa modelos. Escreve artigos que, se estiverem corretos metodologicamente, serão apreciados e podem servir de evidência. Se aquilo que Molion traz ao que ele chama de “debate” realmente fossem hipóteses científicas, ele teria bastante espaço. A comunidade ainda tem por ele, até de forma condescendente, apreço e respeito (pela pessoa, eu tenho, mas pela conduta, não). Molion foi chamado para, 4 dias após acusar a todos nós de farsantes e desonestos num evento da extrema-direita, discutir sobre “Extremos Climáticos, Zona Costeira e Semi-Árido”, num evento em Natal, do qual também participarei, sobre Mudanças Climáticas e Vulnerabilidade ( Molion seria ouvido na comunidade, se sua postura fosse de fidelidade ao método científico. Mas, assim como no caso de Ricardo Felício, a ciência anda longe. Há muito foi abandonada, em nome da agenda política. O agronegócio e os neo-fascistas, claro, aplaudem.

Soldiers Who Desecrate the Dead See Themselves as Hunters (Science Daily)

ScienceDaily (May 20, 2012) — Modern day soldiers who mutilate enemy corpses or take body-parts as trophies are usually thought to be suffering from the extreme stresses of battle. But, research funded by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC) shows that this sort of misconduct has most often been carried out by fighters who viewed the enemy as racially different from themselves and used images of the hunt to describe their actions.

“The roots of this behaviour lie not in individual psychological disorders,” says Professor Simon Harrison who carried out the study, “but in a social history of racism and in military traditions that use hunting metaphors for war. Although this misconduct is very rare, it has persisted in predictable patterns since the European Enlightenment. This was the period when the first ideologies of race began to appear, classifying some human populations as closer to animals than others.”

European and North American soldiers who have mutilated enemy corpses appear to have drawn racial distinctions of this sort between close and distant enemies. They ‘fought’ their close enemies, and bodies remained untouched after death, but they ‘hunted’ their distant enemies and such bodies became the trophies that demonstrate masculine skill.

Almost always, only enemies viewed as belonging to other ‘races’ have been treated in this way. “This is a specifically racialised form of violence,” suggest Professor Harrison, “and could be considered a type of racially-motivated hate crime specific to military personnel in wartime.”

People tend to associate head-hunting and other trophy-taking with ‘primitive’ warfare. They consider wars fought by professional militaries as rational and humane. However, such contrasts are misleading. The study shows that the symbolic associations between hunting and war that can give rise to abnormal behaviour such as trophy-taking in modern military organisations are remarkably close to those in certain indigenous societies where practices such as head-hunting were a recognised part of the culture.

In both cases, mutilation of the enemy dead occurs when enemies are represented as animals or prey. Parts of the corpse are removed like trophies at ‘the kill’. Metaphors of ‘war-as-hunting’ that lie at the root of such behaviour are still strong in some armed forces in Europe and North America — not only in military training but in the media and in soldiers’ own self-perception.

Professor Harrison gives the example of the Second World War and shows that trophy-taking was rare on the European battlefields but was relatively common in the war in the Pacific, where some Allied soldiers kept skulls of Japanese combatants as mementos or made gifts of their remains to friends back home.

The study also gives a more recent comparison: there have been incidents in Afghanistan in which NATO personnel have desecrated the dead bodies of Taliban combatants but there is no evidence of such misconduct occurring in the conflicts of the former Yugoslavia where NATO forces were much less likely to have considered their opponents racially ‘distant’.

But, it would be wrong to suggest that such behaviour amounts to a tradition. These practices are usually not explicitly taught. Indeed, they seem to be quickly forgotten after the end of wars and veterans often remain unaware of the extent to which they occurred.

Furthermore, attitudes towards the trophies themselves change as the enemy ceases to be the enemy. The study shows how human remains kept by Allied soldiers after the Pacific War became unwanted memory objects over time, which ex-servicemen or their families often donated to museums. In some cases, veterans have made great efforts to seek out the families of Japanese soldiers in order to return their remains and to disconnect themselves from a disturbing past.

Professor Harrison concludes that human trophy-taking is evidence of the power of metaphor in structuring and motivating human behaviour. “It will probably occur, in some form or other, whenever war, hunting and masculinity are conceptually linked,” he says. “Prohibition is clearly not enough to prevent it. We need to recognise the dangers of portraying war in terms of hunting imagery.”

Is there a technological solution to global warming? (The New Yorker)



by , MAY 14, 2012

Geoengineering holds out the promise of artificially reversing recent climate trends, but it entails enormous risks.

Geoengineering holds out the promise of artificially reversing recent climate trends, but it entails enormous risks.

Late in the afternoon on April 2, 1991, Mt. Pinatubo, a volcano on the Philippine island of Luzon, began to rumble with a series of the powerful steam explosions that typically precede an eruption. Pinatubo had been dormant for more than four centuries, and in the volcanological world the mountain had become little more than a footnote. The tremors continued in a steady crescendo for the next two months, until June 15th, when the mountain exploded with enough force to expel molten lava at the speed of six hundred miles an hour. The lava flooded a two-hundred-and-fifty-square-mile area, requiring the evacuation of two hundred thousand people.

Within hours, the plume of gas and ash had penetrated the stratosphere, eventually reaching an altitude of twenty-one miles. Three weeks later, an aerosol cloud had encircled the earth, and it remained for nearly two years. Twenty million metric tons of sulfur dioxide mixed with droplets of water, creating a kind of gaseous mirror, which reflected solar rays back into the sky. Throughout 1992 and 1993, the amount of sunlight that reached the surface of the earth was reduced by more than ten per cent.

The heavy industrial activity of the previous hundred years had caused the earth’s climate to warm by roughly three-quarters of a degree Celsius, helping to make the twentieth century the hottest in at least a thousand years. The eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, however, reduced global temperatures by nearly that much in a single year. It also disrupted patterns of precipitation throughout the planet. It is believed to have influenced events as varied as floods along the Mississippi River in 1993 and, later that year, the drought that devastated the African Sahel. Most people considered the eruption a calamity.

For geophysical scientists, though, Mt. Pinatubo provided the best model in at least a century to help us understand what might happen if humans attempted to ameliorate global warming by deliberately altering the climate of the earth.

For years, even to entertain the possibility of human intervention on such a scale—geoengineering, as the practice is known—has been denounced as hubris. Predicting long-term climatic behavior by using computer models has proved difficult, and the notion of fiddling with the planet’s climate based on the results generated by those models worries even scientists who are fully engaged in the research. “There will be no easy victories, but at some point we are going to have to take the facts seriously,’’ David Keith, a professor of engineering and public policy at Harvard and one of geoengineering’s most thoughtful supporters, told me. “Nonetheless,’’ he added, “it is hyperbolic to say this, but no less true: when you start to reflect light away from the planet, you can easily imagine a chain of events that would extinguish life on earth.”

There is only one reason to consider deploying a scheme with even a tiny chance of causing such a catastrophe: if the risks of not deploying it were clearly higher. No one is yet prepared to make such a calculation, but researchers are moving in that direction. To offer guidance, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (I.P.C.C.) has developed a series of scenarios on global warming. The cheeriest assessment predicts that by the end of the century the earth’s average temperature will rise between 1.1 and 2.9 degrees Celsius. A more pessimistic projection envisages a rise of between 2.4 and 6.4 degrees—far higher than at any time in recorded history. (There are nearly two degrees Fahrenheit in one degree Celsius. A rise of 2.4 to 6.4 degrees Celsius would equal 4.3 to 11.5 degrees Fahrenheit.) Until recently, climate scientists believed that a six-degree rise, the effects of which would be an undeniable disaster, was unlikely. But new data have changed the minds of many. Late last year, Fatih Birol, the chief economist for the International Energy Agency, said that current levels of consumption “put the world perfectly on track for a six-degree Celsius rise in temperature. . . . Everybody, even schoolchildren, knows this will have catastrophic implications for all of us.”

Tens of thousands of wildfires have already been attributed to warming, as have melting glaciers and rising seas. (The warming of the oceans is particularly worrisome; as Arctic ice melts, water that was below the surface becomes exposed to the sun and absorbs more solar energy, which leads to warmer oceans—a loop that could rapidly spin out of control.) Even a two-degree climb in average global temperatures could cause crop failures in parts of the world that can least afford to lose the nourishment. The size of deserts would increase, along with the frequency and intensity of wildfires. Deliberately modifying the earth’s atmosphere would be a desperate gamble with significant risks. Yet the more likely climate change is to cause devastation, the more attractive even the most perilous attempts to mitigate those changes will become.

“We don’t know how bad this is going to be, and we don’t know when it is going to get bad,’’ Ken Caldeira, a climate scientist with the Carnegie Institution, told me. In 2007, Caldeira was a principal contributor to an I.P.C.C. team that won a Nobel Peace Prize. “There are wide variations within the models,’’ he said. “But we had better get ready, because we are running rapidly toward a minefield. We just don’t know where the minefield starts, or how long it will be before we find ourselves in the middle of it.”

The Maldives, a string of islands off the coast of India whose highest point above sea level is eight feet, may be the first nation to drown. In Alaska, entire towns have begun to shift in the loosening permafrost. The Florida economy is highly dependent upon coastal weather patterns; the tide station at Miami Beach has registered an increase of seven inches since 1935, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. One Australian study, published this year in the journal Nature Climate Change, found that a two-degree Celsius rise in the earth’s temperature would be accompanied by a significant spike in the number of lives lost just in Brisbane. Many climate scientists say their biggest fear is that warming could melt the Arctic permafrost—which stretches for thousands of miles across Alaska, Canada, and Siberia. There is twice as much CO2 locked beneath the tundra as there is in the earth’s atmosphere. Melting would release enormous stores of methane, a greenhouse gas nearly thirty times more potent than carbon dioxide. If that happens, as the hydrologist Jane C. S. Long told me when we met recently in her office at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, “it’s game over.”

The Stratospheric Particle Injection for Climate Engineering project, or SPICE, is a British academic consortium that seeks to mimic the actions of volcanoes like Pinatubo by pumping particles of sulfur dioxide, or similar reflective chemicals, into the stratosphere through a twelve-mile-long pipe held aloft by a balloon at one end and tethered, at the other, to a boat anchored at sea.

The consortium consists of three groups. At Bristol University, researchers led by Matt Watson, a professor of geophysics, are trying to determine which particles would have the maximum desired impact with the smallest likelihood of unwanted side effects. Sulfur dioxide produces sulfuric acid, which destroys the ozone layer of the atmosphere; there are similar compounds that might work while proving less environmentally toxic—including synthetic particles that could be created specifically for this purpose. At Cambridge, Hugh Hunt and his team are trying to determine the best way to get those particles into the stratosphere. A third group, at Oxford, has been focussing on the effect such an intervention would likely have on the earth’s climate.

Hunt and I spoke in Cambridge, at Trinity College, where he is a professor of engineering and the Keeper of the Trinity College clock, a renowned timepiece that gains or loses less than a second a month. In his office, dozens of boomerangs dangle from the wall. When I asked about them, he grabbed one and hurled it at my head. “I teach three-dimensional dynamics,’’ he said, flicking his hand in the air to grab it as it returned. Hunt has devoted his intellectual life to the study of mechanical vibration. His Web page is filled with instructive videos about gyroscopes, rings wobbling down rods, and boomerangs.

“I like to demonstrate the way things spin,’’ he said, as he put the boomerang down and picked up an inflated pink balloon attached to a string. “The principle is pretty simple.” Holding the string, Hunt began to bobble the balloon as if it were being tossed by foul weather. “Everything is fine if it is sitting still,’’ he continued, holding the balloon steady. Then he began to wave his arm erratically. “One of the problems is that nothing is going to be still up there. It is going to be moving around. And the question we’ve got is . . . this pipe”—the industrial hose that will convey the particles into the sky—“is going to be under huge stressors.’’ He snapped the string connected to the balloon. “How do you know it’s not going to break? We are really pushing things to the limit in terms of their strength, so it is essential that we get the dynamics of motion right.’’

Most scientists, even those with no interest in personal publicity, are vigorous advocates for their own work. Not this group. “I don’t know how many times I have said this, but the last thing I would ever want is for the project I have been working on to be implemented,’’ Hunt said. “If we have to use these tools, it means something on this planet has gone seriously wrong.’’

Last fall, the SPICE team decided to conduct a brief and uncontroversial pilot study. At least they thought it would be uncontroversial. To demonstrate how they would disperse the sulfur dioxide, they had planned to float a balloon over Norfolk, at an altitude of a kilometre, and send a hundred and fifty litres of water into the air through a hose. After the date and time of the test was announced, in the middle of September, more than fifty organizations signed a petition objecting to the experiment, in part because they fear that even to consider engineering the climate would provide politicians with an excuse for avoiding tough decisions on reducing greenhouse-gas emissions. Opponents of the water test pointed out the many uncertainties in the research (which is precisely why the team wanted to do the experiment). The British government decided to put it off for at least six months.

“When people say we shouldn’t even explore this issue, it scares me,’’ Hunt said. He pointed out that carbon emissions are heavy, and finding a place to deposit them will not be easy. “Roughly speaking, the CO2 we generate weighs three or four times as much as the fuel it comes from.” That means that a short round-trip journey—say, eight hundred miles—by car, using two tanks of gas, produces three hundred kilograms of CO2. “This is ten heavy suitcases from one short trip,’’ Hunt said. “And you have to store it where it can’t evaporate.

“So I have three questions, Where are you going to put it? Who are you going to ask to dispose of this for you? And how much are you reasonably willing to pay them to do it?” he continued. “There is nobody on this planet who can answer any of those questions. There is no established place or technique, and nobody has any idea what it would cost. And we need the answers now.”

Hunt stood up, walked slowly to the window, and gazed at the manicured Trinity College green. “I know this is all unpleasant,’’ he said. “Nobody wants it, but nobody wants to put high doses of poisonous chemicals into their body, either. That is what chemotherapy is, though, and for people suffering from cancer those poisons are often their only hope. Every day, tens of thousands of people take them willingly—because they are very sick or dying. This is how I prefer to look at the possibility of engineering the climate. It isn’t a cure for anything. But it could very well turn out to be the least bad option we are going to have.’’

The notion of modifying the weather dates back at least to the eighteen-thirties, when the American meteorologist James Pollard Espy became known as the Storm King, for his (prescient but widely ridiculed) proposals to stimulate rain by selectively burning forests. More recently, the U.S. government project Stormfury attempted for decades to lessen the force of hurricanes by seeding them with silver iodide. And in 2008 Chinese soldiers fired more than a thousand rockets filled with chemicals at clouds over Beijing to prevent them from raining on the Olympics. The relationship between carbon emissions and the earth’s temperature has been clear for more than a century: in 1908, the Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius suggested that burning fossil fuels might help prevent the coming ice age. In 1965, President Lyndon Johnson received a report from his Science Advisory Committee, titled “Restoring the Quality of Our Environment,” that noted for the first time the potential need to balance increased greenhouse-gas emissions by “raising the albedo, or the reflectivity, of the earth.” The report suggested that such a change could be achieved by spreading small reflective particles over large parts of the ocean.

While such tactics could clearly fail, perhaps the greater concern is what might happen if they succeeded in ways nobody had envisioned. Injecting sulfur dioxide, or particles that perform a similar function, would rapidly lower the temperature of the earth, at relatively little expense—most estimates put the cost at less than ten billion dollars a year. But it would do nothing to halt ocean acidification, which threatens to destroy coral reefs and wipe out an enormous number of aquatic species. The risks of reducing the amount of sunlight that reaches the atmosphere on that scale would be as obvious—and immediate—as the benefits. If such a program were suddenly to fall apart, the earth would be subjected to extremely rapid warming, with nothing to stop it. And while such an effort would cool the globe, it might do so in ways that disrupt the behavior of the Asian and African monsoons, which provide the water that billions of people need to drink and to grow their food.

“Geoengineering” actually refers to two distinct ideas about how to cool the planet. The first, solar-radiation management, focusses on reducing the impact of the sun. Whether by seeding clouds, spreading giant mirrors in the desert, or injecting sulfates into the stratosphere, most such plans seek to replicate the effects of eruptions like Mt. Pinatubo’s. The other approach is less risky, and involves removing carbon directly from the atmosphere and burying it in vast ocean storage beds or deep inside the earth. But without a significant technological advance such projects will be expensive and may take many years to have any significant effect.

There are dozens of versions of each scheme, and they range from plausible to absurd. There have been proposals to send mirrors, sunshades, and parasols into space. Recently, the scientific entrepreneur Nathan Myhrvold, whose company Intellectual Ventures has invested in several geoengineering ideas, said that we could cool the earth by stirring the seas. He has proposed deploying a million plastic tubes, each about a hundred metres long, to roil the water, which would help it trap more CO2. “The ocean is this giant heat sink,’’ he told me. “But it is very cold. The bottom is nearly freezing. If you just stirred the ocean more, you could absorb the excess CO2 and keep the planet cold.” (This is not as crazy as it sounds. In the center of the ocean, wind-driven currents bring fresh water to the surface, so stirring the ocean could transform it into a well-organized storage depot. The new water would absorb more carbon while the old water carried the carbon it has already captured into the deep.)

The Harvard physicist Russell Seitz wants to create what amounts to a giant oceanic bubble bath: bubbles trap air, which brightens them enough to reflect sunlight away from the surface of the earth. Another tactic would require maintaining a fine spray of seawater—the world’s biggest fountain—which would mix with salt to help clouds block sunlight.

The best solution, nearly all scientists agree, would be the simplest: stop burning fossil fuels, which would reduce the amount of carbon we dump into the atmosphere. That fact has been emphasized in virtually every study that addresses the potential effect of climate change on the earth—and there have been many—but none have had a discernible impact on human behavior or government policy. Some climate scientists believe we can accommodate an atmosphere with concentrations of carbon dioxide that are twice the levels of the preindustrial era—about five hundred and fifty parts per million. Others have long claimed that global warming would become dangerous when atmospheric concentrations of carbon rose above three hundred and fifty parts per million. We passed that number years ago. After a decline in 2009, which coincided with the harsh global recession, carbon emissions soared by six per cent in 2010—the largest increase ever recorded. On average, in the past decade, fossil-fuel emissions grew at about three times the rate of growth in the nineteen-nineties.

Although the I.P.C.C., along with scores of other scientific bodies, has declared that the warming of the earth is unequivocal, few countries have demonstrated the political will required to act—perhaps least of all the United States, which consumes more energy than any nation other than China, and, last year, more than it ever had before. The Obama Administration has failed to pass any meaningful climate legislation. Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican nominee, has yet to settle on a clear position. Last year, he said he believed the world was getting warmer—and humans were a cause. By October, he had retreated. “My view is that we don’t know what is causing climate change on this planet,” he said, adding that spending huge sums to try to reduce CO2 emissions “is not the right course for us.” China, which became the world’s largest emitter of greenhouse gases several years ago, constructs a new coal-burning power plant nearly every week. With each passing year, goals become exponentially harder to reach, and global reductions along the lines suggested by the I.P.C.C. seem more like a “pious wish,” to use the words of the Dutch chemist Paul Crutzen, who in 1995 received a Nobel Prize for his work on ozone depletion.

“Most nations now recognize the need to shift to a low-carbon economy, and nothing should divert us from the main priority of reducing global greenhouse gas emissions,’’ Lord Rees of Ludlow wrote in his 2009 forward to a highly influential report on geoengineering released by the Royal Society, Britain’s national academy of sciences. “But if such reductions achieve too little, too late, there will surely be pressure to consider a ‘plan B’—to seek ways to counteract climatic effects of green-house gas emissions.’’

While that pressure is building rapidly, some climate activists oppose even holding discussions about a possible Plan B, arguing, as the Norfolk protesters did in September, that it would be perceived as indirect permission to abandon serious efforts to cut emissions. Many people see geoengineering as a false solution to an existential crisis—akin to encouraging a heart-attack patient to avoid exercise and continue to gobble fatty food while simply doubling his dose of Lipitor. “The scientist’s focus on tinkering with our entire planetary system is not a dynamic new technological and scientific frontier, but an expression of political despair,” Doug Parr, the chief scientist at Greenpeace UK, has written.

During the 1974 Mideast oil crisis, the American engineer Hewitt Crane, then working at S.R.I. International, realized that standard measurements for sources of energy—barrels of oil, tons of coal, gallons of gas, British thermal units—were nearly impossible to compare. At a time when these commodities were being rationed, Crane wondered how people could conserve resources if they couldn’t even measure them. The world was burning through twenty-three thousand gallons of oil every second. It was an astonishing figure, but one that Crane had trouble placing into any useful context.

Crane devised a new measure of energy consumption: a three-dimensional unit he called a cubic mile of oil. One cubic mile of oil would fill a pool that was a mile long, a mile wide, and a mile deep. Today, it takes three cubic miles’ worth of fossil fuels to power the world for a year. That’s a trillion gallons of gas. To replace just one of those cubic miles with a source of energy that will not add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere—nuclear power, for instance—would require the construction of a new atomic plant every week for fifty years; to switch to wind power would mean erecting thousands of windmills each month. It is hard to conceive of a way to replace that much energy with less dramatic alternatives. It is also impossible to talk seriously about climate change without talking about economic development. Climate experts have argued that we ought to stop emitting greenhouse gases within fifty years, but by then the demand for energy could easily be three times what it is today: nine cubic miles of oil.

The planet is getting richer as well as more crowded, and the pressure to produce more energy will become acute long before the end of the century. Predilections of the rich world—constant travel, industrial activity, increasing reliance on meat for protein—require enormous physical resources. Yet many people still hope to solve the problem of climate change just by eliminating greenhouse-gas emissions. “When people talk about bringing emissions to zero, they are talking about something that will never happen,’’ Ken Caldeira told me. “Because that would require a complete alteration in the way humans are built.”

Caldeira began researching geoengineering almost by accident. For much of his career, he has focussed on the implications of ocean acidification. During the nineteen-nineties, he spent a year in the Soviet Union, at the Leningrad lab of Mikhail Budyko, who is considered the founder of physical climatology. It was Budyko, in the nineteen-sixties, who first suggested cooling the earth by putting sulfur particles in the sky.

“In the nineteen-nineties, when I was working at Livermore, we had a meeting in Aspen to discuss the scale of the energy-system transformation needed in order to address the climate problem,’’ Caldeira said. “Among the people who attended was Lowell Wood, a protégé of Edward Teller. Wood is a brilliant but sometimes erratic man . . . lots of ideas, some better than others.” At Aspen, Wood delivered a talk on geoengineering. In the presentation, he explained, as he has many times since, that shielding the earth properly could deflect one or two per cent of the sunlight that reaches the atmosphere. That, he said, would be all it would take to counter the worst effects of warming.

David Keith was in the audience with Caldeira that day in Aspen. Keith now splits his time between Harvard and Calgary, where he runs Carbon Engineering, a company that is developing new technology to capture CO2 from the atmosphere—at a cost that he believes would make it sensible to do so. At the time, though, both men considered Wood’s idea ridiculous. “We said this will never happen,’’ Caldeira recalled. “We were so certain Wood was nuts, because we assumed you can change the global mean temperature, but you will still get seasonal and regional patterns you can’t correct. We were in the back of the room, and neither of us could believe it.”

Caldeira decided to prove his point by running a computer simulation of Wood’s approach. Scenarios for future climate change are almost always developed using powerful three-dimensional models of the earth and its atmosphere. They tend to be most accurate when estimating large numbers, like average global temperatures. Local and regional weather patterns are more difficult to predict, as anyone who has relied on a five-day weather forecast can understand. Still, in 1998 Caldeira tested the idea, and, “much to my surprise, it seemed to work and work well,” he told me. It turned out that reducing sunlight offset the effect of CO2 both regionally and seasonally. Since then, his results have been confirmed by several other groups.

Recently, Caldeira and colleagues at Carnegie and Stanford set out to examine whether the techniques of solar-radiation management would disrupt the sensitive agricultural balance on which the earth depends. Using two models, they simulated climates with carbon-dioxide levels similar to those which exist today. They then doubled those concentrations to reflect levels that would be likely in several decades if current trends continue unabated. Finally, in a third set of simulations, they doubled the CO2 in the atmosphere, but added a layer of sulfate aerosols to the stratosphere, which would deflect about two per cent of incoming sunlight from the earth. The data were then applied to crop models that are commonly used to project future yields. Again, the results were unexpected.

Farm productivity, on average, went up. The models suggested that precipitation would increase in the northern and middle latitudes, and crop yields would grow. In the tropics, though, the results were significantly different. There heat stress would increase, and yields would decline. “Climate change is not so much a reduction in productivity as a redistribution,’’ Caldeira said. “And it is one in which the poorest people on earth get hit the hardest and the rich world benefits”—a phenomenon, he added, that is not new.

“I have two perspectives on what this might mean,’’ he said. “One says: humans are like rats or cockroaches. We are already living from the equator to the Arctic Circle. The weather has already become .7 degrees warmer, and barely anyone has noticed or cares. And, yes, the coral reefs might become extinct, and people from the Seychelles might go hungry. But they have gone hungry in the past, and nobody cared. So basically we will live in our gated communities, and we will have our TV shows and Chicken McNuggets, and we will be O.K. The people who would suffer are the people who always suffer.

“There is another way to look at this, though,’’ he said. “And that is to compare it to the subprime-mortgage crisis, where you saw that a few million bad mortgages led to a five-per-cent drop in gross domestic product throughout the world. Something that was a relatively small knock to the financial system led to a global crisis. And that could certainly be the case with climate change. But five per cent is an interesting figure, because in the Stern Report’’—an often cited review led by the British economist Nicholas Stern, which signalled the alarm about greenhouse-gas emissions by focussing on economics—“they estimated climate change would cost the world five per cent of its G.D.P. Most economists say that solving this problem is one or two per cent of G.D.P. The Clean Water and Clean Air Acts each cost about one per cent of G.D.P.,” Caldeira continued. “We just had a much worse shock to our banking system. And it didn’t even get us to reform the economy in any significant way. So why is the threat of a five-per-cent hit from climate change going to get us to transform the energy system?”

Solar-radiation management, which most reports have agreed is technologically feasible, would provide, at best, a temporary solution to rapid warming—a treatment but not a cure. There are only two ways to genuinely solve the problem: by drastically reducing emissions or by removing the CO2 from the atmosphere. Trees do that every day. They “capture” carbon dioxide in their leaves, metabolize it in the branch system, and store it in their roots. But to do so on a global scale would require turning trillions of tons of greenhouse-gas emissions into a substance that could be stored cheaply and easily underground or in ocean beds.

Until recently, the costs of removing carbon from the atmosphere on that scale have been regarded by economists as prohibitive. CO2 needs to be heated in order to be separated out; using current technology, the expense would rival that of creating an entirely new energy system. Typically, power plants release CO2 into the atmosphere through exhaust systems referred to as flues. The most efficient way we have now to capture CO2 is to remove it from flue gas as the emissions escape. Over the past five years, several research groups—one of which includes David Keith’s company, Carbon Engineering, in Calgary—have developed new techniques to extract carbon from the atmosphere, at costs that may make it economically feasible on a larger scale.

Early this winter, I visited a demonstration project on the campus of S.R.I. International, the Menlo Park institution that is a combination think tank and technological incubator. The project, built by Global Thermostat, looked like a very high-tech elevator or an awfully expensive math problem. “When I called chemical engineers and said I want to do this on a planetary scale, they laughed,’’ Peter Eisenberger, Global Thermostat’s president, told me. In 1996, Eisenberger was appointed the founding director of the Earth Institute, at Columbia University, where he remains a professor of earth and environmental sciences. Before that, he spent a decade running the materials research institute at Princeton University, and nearly as much time at Exxon, in charge of research and development. He believes he has developed a system to capture CO2 from the atmosphere at low heat and potentially at low cost.

The trial project is essentially a five-story brick edifice specially constructed to function like a honeycomb. Global Thermostat coats the bricks with chemicals called amines to draw CO2 from the air and bind with it. The carbon dioxide is then separated with a proprietary method that uses low-temperature heat—something readily available for free, since it is a waste product of many power plants. “Using low-temperature heat changes the equation,’’ Eisenberger said. He is an excitable man with the enthusiasm of a graduate student and the manic gestures of an orchestra conductor. He went on to explain that the amine coating on the bricks binds the CO2 at the molecular level, and the amount it can capture depends on the surface area; honeycombs provide the most surface space possible per square metre.

There are two groups of honey-combs that sit on top of each other. As Eisenberger pointed out, “You can only absorb so much CO2 at once, so when the honeycomb is full it drops into a lower section.” Steam heats and releases the CO2—and the honeycomb rises again. (Currently, carbon dioxide is used commercially in carbonated beverages, brewing, and pneumatic drying systems for packaged food. It is also used in welding. Eisenberger argues that, ideally, carbon waste would be recycled to create an industrial form of photosynthesis, which would help reduce our dependence on fossil fuels.)

Unlike some other scientists engaged in geoengineering, Eisenberger is not bothered by the notion of tinkering with nature. “We have devised a system that introduces no additional threats into the environment,’’ he told me. “And the idea of interfering with benign nature is ridiculous. The Bambi view of nature is totally false. Nature is violent, amoral, and nihilistic. If you look at the history of this planet, you will see cycles of creation and destruction that would offend our morality as human beings. But somehow, because it’s ‘nature,’ it’s supposed to be fine.’’ Eisenberger founded and runs Global Thermostat with Graciela Chichilnisky, an Argentine economist who wrote the plan, adopted in 2005, for the international carbon market that emerged from the Kyoto Climate talks. Edgar Bronfman, Jr., an heir to the Seagram fortune, is Global Thermostat’s biggest investor. (The company is one of the finalists for Richard Branson’s Virgin Earth Challenge prize. In 2007, Branson offered a cash prize of twenty-five million dollars to anyone who could devise a process that would drain large quantities of greenhouse gases from the atmosphere.)

“What is fascinating for me is the way the innovation process has changed,’’ Eisenberger said. “In the past, somebody would make a discovery in a laboratory and say, ‘What can I do with this?’ And now we ask, ‘What do we want to design?,’ because we believe there is powerful enough knowledge to do it. That is what my partner and I did.” The pilot, which began running last year, works on a very small scale, capturing about seven hundred tons of CO2 a year. (By comparison, an automobile puts out about six tons a year.) Eisenberger says that it is important to remember that it took more than a century to assemble the current energy system: coal and gas plants, factories, and the worldwide transportation network that has been responsible for depositing trillions of tons of CO2 into the atmosphere. “We are not going to get it all out of the atmosphere in twenty years,’’ he said. “It will take at least thirty years to do this, but if we start now that is plenty of time. You would just need a source of low-temperature heat—factories anywhere in the world are ideal.” He envisions a network of twenty thousand such devices scattered across the planet. Each would cost about a hundred million dollars—a two-trillion-dollar investment spread out over three decades.

“There is a strong history of the system refusing to accept something new,” Eisenberger said. “People say I am nuts. But it would be surprising if people didn’t call me crazy. Look at the history of innovation! If people don’t call you nuts, then you are doing something wrong.”

After leaving Eisenberger’s demonstration project, I spoke with Curtis Carlson, who, for more than a decade, has been the chairman and chief executive officer of S.R.I. and a leading voice on the future of American innovation. “These geoengineering methods will not be implemented for decades—or ever,” he said. Nonetheless, scientists worry that if methane emissions from the Arctic increase as rapidly as some of the data now suggest, climate intervention isn’t going to be an option. It’s going to be a requirement. “When and where do we have the serious discussion about how to intervene?” Carlson asked. “There are no agreed-upon rules or criteria. There isn’t even a body that could create the rules.”

Over the past three years, a series of increasingly urgent reports—from the Royal Society, in the U.K., the Washington-based Bipartisan Policy Center, and the Government Accountability Office, among other places—have practically begged decision-makers to begin planning for a world in which geoengineering might be their only recourse. As one recent study from the Wilson International Center for Scholars concluded, “At the very least, we need to learn what approaches to avoid even if desperate.”

The most environmentally sound approach to geoengineering is the least palatable politically. “If it becomes necessary to ring the planet with sulfates, why would you do that all at once?’’ Ken Caldeira asked. “If the total amount of climate change that occurs could be neutralized by one Mt. Pinatubo, then doesn’t it make sense to add one per cent this year, two per cent next year, and three per cent the year after that?’’ he said. “Ramp it up slowly, throughout the century, and that way we can monitor what is happening. If we see something at one per cent that seems dangerous, we can easily dial it back. But who is going to do that when we don’t have a visible crisis? Which politician in which country?’’

Unfortunately, the least risky approach politically is also the most dangerous: do nothing until the world is faced with a cataclysm and then slip into a frenzied crisis mode. The political implications of any such action would be impossible to overstate. What would happen, for example, if one country decided to embark on such a program without the agreement of other countries? Or if industrialized nations agreed to inject sulfur particles into the stratosphere and accidentally set off a climate emergency that caused drought in China, India, or Africa?

“Let’s say the Chinese government decides their monsoon strength, upon which hundreds of millions of people rely for sustenance, is weakening,” Caldeira said. “They have reason to believe that making clouds right near the ocean might help, and they started to do that, and the Indians found out and believed—justifiably or not—that it would make their monsoon worse. What happens then? Where do we go to discuss that? We have no mechanism to settle that dispute.”

Most estimates suggest that it could cost a few billion dollars a year to scatter enough sulfur particles in the atmosphere to change the weather patterns of the planet. At that price, any country, most groups, and even some individuals could afford to do it. The technology is open and available—and that makes it more like the Internet than like a national weapons program. The basic principles are widely published; the intellectual property behind nearly every technique lies in the public domain. If the Maldives wanted to send airplanes into the stratosphere to scatter sulfates, who could stop them?

“The odd thing here is that this is a democratizing technology,’’ Nathan Myhrvold told me. “Rich, powerful countries might have invented much of it, but it will be there for anyone to use. People get themselves all balled up into knots over whether this can be done unilaterally or by one group or one nation. Well, guess what. We decide to do much worse than this every day, and we decide unilaterally. We are polluting the earth unilaterally. Whether it’s life-taking decisions, like wars, or something like a trade embargo, the world is about people taking action, not agreeing to take action. And, frankly, the Maldives could say, ‘Fuck you all—we want to stay alive.’ Would you blame them? Wouldn’t any reasonable country do the same?” ♦


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A Student’s Conversation With Michael Mann on Climate Science and Climate Wars (Dot Earth, N.Y.Times)

May 3, 2012, 4:00 PM


Casey Doyle, a student at Warren Wilson College who writes for the Swannanoa Journal, the publication of the school’s Environmental Leadership Center, had the opportunity to speak with the climate scientist Michael Mann when he visited the campus to speak about his book, “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars.”

Here’s their exchange, which counts as a Dot Earth “Book Report” (you are welcome to contribute one as well, when you find some book, new or old, particularly relevant to the discussions on this blog):


In your book, you talk about the importance of the general public being able to understand climate change, and how the hockey stick graph allows for this. When writing your book how did you keep this accessibility in mind and who were your target readers?


I was hoping that the book would be accessible to a pretty broad range of readers because I really wanted to use my personal story as sort of this reluctant and accidental public figure in the debate over climate change, to talk about the bigger issues, the reality of the problem, the threat that it represents, the need to have a good faith discussion about what to do about it. There are aspects of my story that are intrinsically a little technical, and I have to get a little into the science and technical issues, and so I do that briefly in certain places in the book. My hope was that readers who didn’t want to struggle through those sections could more or less skip them, and the rest of the story still remains intact. My hope is that it will be accessible to a lay audience, a non-technical audience.


What did you expect to find when you began your research on climate change?


Well, the work that ultimately led to the so-called Hockey Stick— this reconstruction that demonstrates recent warming to be unprecedented in a long time frame— arose from an effort that really had nothing to do with climate change per se. My colleagues and I were using what we call proxy records, like corals and tree rings, and ice cores to try and extend the climate record back in time so that we could learn more about natural climate variability. As we began to untangle what these data were telling us, it did lead us inescapably to a conclusion that did have implications for climate change, but it really wasn’t what we had set out to try to understand. We were interested in natural climate variations and accidentally found ourselves once again in the center of the climate change debate because of the implications of our findings.


What were some of the biggest surprises you found during your research?


When we tried to reconstruct past climate patterns we learned that there was this interesting relationship between past very large volcanic eruptions and the timing of some of the large El Nino events in past centuries. It actually ended up reinforcing a controversial hypothesis that had been put forward more than two decades ago by a scientist who had argued there was a relationship between tropical volcanic eruptions and El Nino events. But the instrumental record was so short that he was never able to convince people that this was a real relationship… so, by extending the record back in time, one surprise was that we ended up confirming his hypothesis, that there really does appear to be this relationship. And it’s just not academic because it has implications for one of the big uncertainties about climate change. One thing that the various climate models don’t yet agree upon is how climate change will influence the behavior of the El Nino phenomenon. And it turns out that’s really critical if you want to know how regional weather patterns will be influenced and what will happen with Atlantic hurricanes, which is something that at least the coastal regions of North Carolina worry about. Then you actually need to be able to say something about how climate change will influence El Nino, and by studying the past relationship between El Nino and natural factors like volcanic eruptions we could potentially better inform our understanding of how the El Nino phenomenon will respond to climate change. That was probably one surprise, and it turned out having some relevance for certain issues relating to climate change as well.


In your book, you explain your research began with natural climate variability and you said you believed this was a more important aspect to climate change than many scientists thought. How did you start with these ideas and end up where you are today?


My Ph.D. thesis was about natural climate variability. It was specifically about understanding the role of natural oscillations in the climate system that might explain some recent trends. Our foray into analyzing proxy data was to give us a longer data set with which we could explore the persistence of these long-term oscillations. One of my earlier papers showed that in the proxy data was evidence for a 50-70 year time scale oscillation that ended up getting named the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation. It’s the interest in these natural oscillations and what impact they may have on things like hurricanes that led us to investigate these proxy data. But as we started to try to piece together the puzzle of what those data were telling us, they also were telling us about natural variations in temperature in the past and how they compared to the warming trends of the past century. What our reconstruction of temperatures showed was that the recent warming was outside the range of the natural variations that we saw, eventually that we were able to extend back to 1,000 years– that there was no precedent in our entire 1,000 year reconstruction for the warming of the past century. It was clear at that point, once we put together this curve depicting that finding, and it became featured in the IPCC summary for policy makers. It got a name, the Hockey Stick, then it sort of took on a life of its own, and we found ourselves in the middle of the climate change debate.


What is the proxy data used in your studies and why is it being challenged?


In science, there is a very important role for legitimate skepticism and scientists in this field have been debating for decades how reliable different kinds of proxy data are. In fact, just a few months ago I published a paper in the journal Nature Geoscience that demonstrated one potential flaw in using tree rings to estimate past volcanic cooling events. So real scientists are engaged in real skepticism, basically subjecting all findings to appropriate scrutiny and critical analysis, and challenging other scientists in the field to either disprove what you’ve done or validate it independently. That’s how science moves forward, that’s what keeps science progressing, is… what I would call a good faith, honest debate between scientists… To some extent, this good faith debate has been hijacked. This has been true in climate science, but as I describe in the book, it dates back decades to the debate over tobacco and the influence of tobacco products on human health. Whenever the findings of science have found themselves on a collision course with powerful vested interests, unfortunately those interests have seen the need to try to discredit the science. Then we are no longer talking about a good faith debate, we’re not talking about honest scientific skepticism, but what I would call contrarianism or denial. It’s a cynical effort to put forward disingenuous arguments, often to attack the integrity of the scientists themselves to try to discredit their findings, not because of a belief that the science is wrong but because of the threat that the science opposes to vested interests.

We saw this with the debate over tobacco products and lung cancer decades ago, where the tobacco industry did their best to try to discredit the science linking their products with adverse health effects. We saw this with acid rain and ozone depletion, where industry groups and front groups advocating for industry special interests, again did their best to try and discredit the science. Unfortunately, we‘ve seen that in the climate change debate, and it’s not just with our work on Paleoclimate, though I think our work became a touchstone because it was very simple. You didn’t need to understand the physics of how a theoretical climate model works to understand the picture that our hockey stick was telling about the unprecedented nature of climate change; it represented a potent icon and it was attacked.

There were legitimate debates between scientists working in this field about how reliable different kinds of proxy data are and what are the limits, what are the uncertainties, and then there were the dishonest attacks against the science. We experienced both; the good faith back and forth with our scientific colleagues, all of us just interested in figuring out the truth, and we were also subject to attack by those that saw our findings as a threat to particularly fossil fuel interests who don’t want to see the regulation of greenhouse gas emissions.


What do you say to those who accuse you of keeping your research process secretive? Would you regard this process as your intellectual property?


All of our research is out in the public domain, all of our data. Unfortunately, those looking to smear us have made false accusations of us not making the data available, which was just a lie… There are legitimate issues over whether a computer program you have written to implement an algorithm; if you’re talking about a Microsoft or Apple computer, they would defend to the end their right to keep that. You can’t get access to Microsoft’s computer code because they consider it their intellectual property. Scientists for a long time have argued that a code that you write to implement algorithms is your intellectual property, and the National Science Foundation has stood firmly behind that.

When our critics asked us to turn over our computer code, we understood what they were doing: if it was the computer code, they didn’t care, because then it would be something else. It would be our personal emails, and in fact they ended up stealing our personal emails. They weren’t interested in seeing our computer code or trying to independently implement it. They were looking for something to try to discredit us, to be able to say ‘oh look how sloppy their computer code is, they’re not good computer programmers, you shouldn’t trust anything they do.’

We were aware of that and so we didn’t want to go down that slippery slope of saying yes, we’ll turn that over and then pretty soon you’re turning over personal emails, you’re turning over your private diaries. We didn’t want to set a precedent that would allow those looking to smear scientists, to go down this endless road of subjecting scientists to vexatious demands that would basically tie us up — we wouldn’t have any time to even do research any more. Unfortunately that’s what we’ve seen ever since. We’ve seen politicians try to subject us to subpoena all of our private emails. Its part of this cynical effort to discredit scientists, confuse the public, to intimidate scientists.

…But in the end, we even put our computer program out there in the public domain, recognizing that maybe it was going down a slippery slope, because what were they going to demand next? We knew there was nothing wrong with it at all, we put it out there, and what we predicted was exactly what we saw. We didn’t see any discussion, nobody ever even downloaded, as far as I can tell, the code or try to run it, because they didn’t care about the code, they were just looking for something that they could say, ‘oh look, scientists won’t provide this’, and then once you provide it—’oh well they won’t provide this’, and then once you provide that, ‘oh well they won’t provide that.’ And pretty soon what do they want? Do they want you to provide them literally with the dirty laundry from your house? So sadly, scientists have been subjected… to smear campaigns for decades and it is no different in this field. There are all sorts of lies that you can read on the Internet about me and many of my climate science colleagues. I think I’ve been accused of just about everything under the sun, and its part of the life of being a scientist in this field, and having to deal with efforts to impugn your integrity and discredit you


How do you feel now that State Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli’s case against you in the Virginia Supreme Court has been brought to a halt?


On the one hand, we’re glad that the Supreme Court rejected it without merit, in fact they rejected it with prejudice, meaning that he can’t even try to appeal that decision to the court…. So that’s a good development, but what saddens me is the fact that he spent millions of dollars of Virginia taxpayer money and forced the University of Virginia to come up with significant funds themselves, wasted on this witch hunt, wasted on this personal vendetta, this effort that he was using to try to discredit climate science, to do the bidding of the fossil fuel interests that fund his campaigns. All of that money could have been spent on helping Virginians for example, adapt to the impacts that they are already seeing with the Chesapeake Bay from sea level rise and increased coastal erosion.

There are things that can be done to try to adapt to those changes that are already in the pipeline and that we are going to have to contend with because there is nothing we can do about them. We are committed to a certain amount of future climate change even if we curtail our emissions quickly. Wouldn’t it have been great if Virginians had been able to use those millions of dollars productively to deal with the already very real impacts of climate change rather than to bury their heads in the sands because this attorney general wanted to not only discredit us, but send a message to all scientists in Virginia that… if you too decide to talk about the impacts of climate change then you too can be subject to a subpoena from the attorney general? It was a very chilling development and I think Virginians recognized that and I think it was overwhelmingly decried even by newspaper editorial boards that had supported Cuccinelli’s candidacy, that basically called him out for what was transparently an effort to intimidate scientists.


I understand that you have received threats due to your reporting on climate data. Who or what is the threat?


Many climate scientists have received hundreds, and probably now even thousands of threatening emails… attacking us, or using very nasty language to criticize us… Some emails, letters, and phone messages that have been left on my office phone contain thinly veiled threats of violence, death threats. I had an envelope sent to my work address that contained a white powder, obviously it was intended to make we think I had been exposed to anthrax. The FBI had to send that off to the regional lab to test it, and it turns out it was just cornmeal, but using the mail to intimidate in that way is a felony… I’m not sure if they were ever able to track down the person who was responsible, but there are dozens of climate scientists who had been subjected to threats of violence and death threats…. Anytime that the findings of science have come into conflict with the interests of certain industries there has been a fairly nasty effort to try and intimidate the scientists through whatever means possible, and I’ve seen some of the worst aspects of that myself.


Do you in any way regret the fame of the hockey stick graph?


I am often asked the question, if I could go to that point in my career, back in the early 90s where I had made the decision whether to continue on in theoretical physics or to move into this new field of climate research… would I do it differently? And the answer is that I wouldn’t. I mean even though I became this reluctant and accidental public figure in the debate over climate change, over time I’ve learned to embrace the opportunity that has given me to talk to the public about this problem and the threat that it represents, to inform the public discourse on this issue. Frankly, I can’t imagine anything more important that I could be doing with my life than trying to educate the public about the reality of this problem, to do my best to make sure that we make decisions today as far as the environment and in particular carbon emissions, that will preserve the planet for my daughter — I have a six year old daughter — our children and our grandchildren. So no, I wouldn’t do it over because I’ve found myself in a position to try to inform the discussion of what might be the greatest challenge we have ever faced as a civilization, and I consider that a blessing rather than a curse.

Recap a Live Chat on How to Teach Climate Change in the Classroom (



Watch Teachers Endure Balancing Act Over Climate Change Curriculum on PBS. See more from PBS NewsHour.

Post updated 6 p.m. ET May 3.

For the first time, national science standards will include guidelines on how to teach climate change kindergarten through 12th grade students — but how will teachers incorporate the subject into the curriculum?

We had more on this struggle Wednesday on the NewsHour, as part of our Coping with Climate Changeseries.

On Thursday, Hari Sreenivasan chatted here with some of those featured in the broadcast piece. The participants included:

  • Cheryl Manning, who teaches honors earth science and Advanced Placement environmental science at Evergreen High School in Colorado.
  • Susan Buhr, education outreach director at theCooperative Institute for Research in Environmental Sciences (CIRES), University of Colorado, Boulder, where she works on professional development and training for teachers on science topics.

Also, check out the creative ways in which some teachers are already teaching climate science.

Time to tackle ‘last taboo’ of contraception and climate – experts (Alert Net)

29 Feb 2012 11:13

Source: Alertnet // Lisa Anderson

A health worker explains methods of contraception during a reproductive health fair held to mark World Population Day in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, July 11, 2009. REUTERS/John Javellana

By Lisa Anderson

NEW YORK (AlertNet) – Finding a way to put the environmental impact of population and women’s reproductive health more prominently on the climate change agenda is increasingly urgent, experts said in Washington this week.

Suggesting a strong connection between family planning and the environment often risks an explosion in the highly charged political landscape of climate talks, meaning the word “population” is rarely heard, observed speakers on a panel assembled by the Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program (ECSP).

Kavita Ramdas, executive director of Stanford University’s social entrepreneurship program, calls making the link between population and the environment “the last taboo”.

“This connection … needs to be in a place where we can talk thoughtfully about the fact that yes, more people on this planet – and we’ve just crossed 7 billion – does actually put pressure on the planet. And no, it is not just black women or brown women or Chinese women who create that problem,” she told a session on women’s health and climate adaptation strategies.

“In fact, the issues around consumption in the more developed part of the world are profoundly significant. And when you know that every American baby born consumes 40 times as much as every Indian baby born, clearly there is a need to be able to tie those issues together,” she added.

Daniel Schensul, a technical specialist in the climate change, population and development branch of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), noted that adapting to a shifting climate amounts to building resilience in the face of change. “Women’s ability to control fertility, I think, is at the very centre of this,” he said.

Kathleen Mogelgaard, a consultant on the Wilson Center’s ECSP, described universal access to reproductive health as “a win-win opportunity for climate change adaptation”. Compared with other adaptation strategies, family planning is already in demand among women around the world, although many lack access to it, she said.

And it’s relatively inexpensive, she added, requiring only an additional $3.6 billion a year to fully meet women’s reproductive health needs.


Nonetheless, social and political barriers to including population in climate discussions persist, Stanford University’s Ramdas said. Climate experts avoid talking about population issues out of fear they will be labelled racists or eugenicists, and in an effort “not to muddy the waters” surrounding the already delicate subject of climate change, she said.

“At the same time women’s rights activists also have been reluctant to jump into the argument. You can’t discuss contraception without being drawn into a debate about abortion,” she added.

The ECSP’s Mogelgaard noted that population is rarely included in assessments of climate change vulnerability and adaptation. In her experience, climate specialists have a limited understanding of population dynamics and the scale of coming demographic change – such as populations tripling in countries like Malawi by 2050.

And, if they do grasp the issues, they “assume that doing something about population means limiting people’s rights,” she said. “What this says to me is that there is a real need for raising awareness of the connection between population, climate change and reproductive health.”

More academic evidence supporting the connection would help get population considered as a legitimate issue in the climate community, the experts argued. “There hasn’t been enough work that directly shows us that, when a woman’s need for reproductive health is met, how that impacts on adaptation,” Mogelgaard said.

She knows of only one study – “Linking Population, Fertility and Family Planning with Adaptation to Climate Change: Views from Ethiopia”, issued byPopulation Action International (PAI) in October 2009 – that “shows that when women have access to reproductive health they say they are better able to cope with climate change”.

Schensul said UNFPA wants to see population and reproductive health on the June agenda of Rio+20, the U.N. Conference on Sustainable Development. To that end, it is working with partners to “establish a nuanced, evidence-based and human rights-based perspective on the operational links between population, reproductive health and climate change”.

If these inter-related factors remain neglected in climate discussions, “silence around this issue will continue to leave us in a space where the planet and her women will continue to have no voice,” Ramdas warned.

Panetta warns climate change having ‘dramatic impact’ on national security (The Hill)

By Carlo Munoz – 05/04/12 11:30 AM ET

Climate change has had a direct effect on national security, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said this week.

Panetta told an audience at the Environmental Defense Fund that climate change has raised the need for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, hitting national security in the process.

“The area of climate change has a dramatic impact on national security,” Panetta said. “Rising sea levels, severe droughts, the melting of the polar caps, the more frequent and devastating natural disasters all raise demand for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.”

Panetta spoke to the Environmental Defense Fund on Tuesday at an event honoring the Defense Department for advancing clean-energy initiatives.
In recent years, the Defense Department and the services have spearheaded a number of alternative-energy initiatives and seemingly embraced environmentally friendly practices on the battlefield.

President Obama effectively put the Pentagon at the forefront of an ambitious alternative energy strategy during the State of the Union speech in January. The Navy and Air Force have already spent billions to integrate biofuels into their fleets of fighter jets and warships.

Marine Corps combat units in Afghanistan are using mobile solar panels to recharge batteries for their night vision and communications in the field. Solar power is also helping to run a number of Marine Corps combat outposts in the country.

But the Pentagon’s adoption of environmentally sensitive practices was driven more by the department’s dire fiscal situation than politics, Panetta said on Tuesday.

DOD spent roughly $15 billion to fuel its fighters, tanks and ships in 2012, the Defense chief said. The Pentagon spends $50 million on fuel each month to keep combat operations in Afghanistan going, Panetta added.

As oil prices continue to skyrocket, the department “now [faces] a shortfall exceeding $3 billion of higher-than-expected fuel costs this year,” according to Panetta.

In order to dig its way out of that financial hole, DOD has no choice but to look to alternative fuel technologies. Pentagon officials plan to invest more than $1 billion into developing those technologies in fiscal 2013, he said.

However, Republicans on Capitol Hill have taken issue with that decision, arguing the department will be sacrificing needed much-needed combat systems in favor of alternative energy work.

In March, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) claimed the Navy’s ongoing biofuels work was devolving into another “Solyndra situation.”

During a March 13 hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee, McCain compared the now-bankrupt solar-energy company, into which the White House sank $535 million in loan guarantees, to Navy-led efforts in alternative energy.

Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), a member of the House Armed Services subcommittee on Seapower and Projection Forces, took Navy Secretary Ray Mabus to task in February over the service’s plans.

“Shouldn’t we refocus our priorities and make those things our priorities instead of advancing a biofuels market?” Forbes asked at the time.

Before Mabus could respond, the Virginia Republican took a clear shot at the secretary: “You’re not the secretary of the Energy. You’re the secretary of the Navy.”

New issue of the journal Ephemera – Theory and Politics in Organization, on “The atmosphere business”

volume 12, number 1/2 (may 2012)
Steffen Böhm, Anna-Maria Murtola and Sverre Spoelstra The atmosphere business
Mike Childs Privatising the atmosphere: A solution or dangerous con?
Oscar Reyes Carbon markets after Durban
Gökçe Günel A dark art: Field notes on cardon capture and storage policy negotiations at COP17
Patrick Bond Durban’s conference of polluters, market failure and critic failure
Tadzio Mueller The people’s climate summit in Cochabamba: A tragedy in three acts
Larry Lohmann and Steffen Böhm Critiquing carbon markets: A conversation
Robert Fletcher Capitalizing on chaos: Climate change and disaster capitalism
Jerome Whitington The prey of uncertainty: Climate change as opportunity
Ingmar Lippert Carbon classified? Unpacking heterogenous relations inscribed into corporate carbon emissions
Joanna Cabello and Tamra Gilbertson A colonial mechanism to enclose lands: A critical review of two REDD+-focused special issues
Rebecca Pearse Mapping REDD in the Asia-Pacific: Governance, marketisation and contention
Esteve Corbera and Charlotte Friedli Planting trees through the Clean Development Mechanism: A critical assessment
Siddhartha Dabhi The ‘third way’ for climate action
Peter Newell Carbon trading in South Africa: Plus ça change?
David L. Levy Can capitalism survive climate change?

What is the rational response? (London Review of Books)

Vol. 34 No. 10 · 24 May 2012
By Malcolm Bull

A Perfect Moral Storm: The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change by Stephen Gardiner
Oxford, 512 pp, £22.50, July 2011, ISBN 978 0 19 537944 0

For the benefit of anyone who has spent the past decade or so on a different planet, the most frequently asked questions about climate change on this one are as follows. Is it getting warmer? Yes, surface temperatures have risen by 0.8°C from pre-industrial levels. Are humans causing it? Almost certainly. The gases produced by industrialisation and agriculture are known to have an insulating effect, and their concentration in the earth’s atmosphere has increased in line with rising temperatures, while natural causes of global warming have remained constant. Will it get warmer still? Very probably, though no one can accurately predict when or by how much. The 2007 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Report offers a range of projections within which its best estimates are for a temperature rise of somewhere between 1.8°C and 4°C over the course of the 21st century, depending on the level of greenhouse emissions. Is there anything we can do about it? Potentially, yes. If we were to keep emissions to the low end of that spectrum, global warming might just be kept at 2°C or below, and its impacts minimised.

Climate change sceptics are an assortment of cussed old men, mostly without relevant scientific training, who disagree with one or more of these answers. Their aim is scattershot, but they do have some ammunition. The first decade of the 21st century may have been the hottest on record, but global temperatures did not get significantly hotter in the course of the decade as they had in the 1980s and 1990s. There are several possible explanations for this, one of which is the protective effect of sulphate aerosols, another result of industrialisation (Chinese in this case), which may also explain the flattening of the upward secular trend in temperatures from the 1940s to the 1970s. If that’s so, there is no reason to adjust the trend-line, for greenhouse gases stay in the atmosphere a lot longer, and sulphates mask rather than modify their effect.

That said, even though Chinese industrialisation was well advanced in the 1980s, its influence on the climate was not widely anticipated, and anyone looking back at the 1990 IPCC projections on global warming can see that they overestimate temperature rises in the 2000s by some margin (though not the associated environmental impact). This is also an indication of the difficulty of modelling future changes, and given that the range of the 2007 IPCC projections is sufficiently wide for the highest value in the low-emissions scenario (2.9°C) to be 0.5°C above the lowest in the high-emissions scenario (2.4°C), it’s clear that we are some way from quantifying all the variables involved.

Although they often have to give ground on the science, the sceptics have correctly spotted that there is something odd about the discourse around climate change. Public policy debates are rarely concerned with possibilities so remote in time and uncertain in outcome, and when they are, the policies that result are correspondingly tentative. The peculiarity of climate change is that the seemingly natural relationship of policy to time and certainty is inverted: it is precisely because climate change is so uncertain that we have to consider the possibility that it will bring disaster on a global scale, and it is precisely because its impact is long deferred that we must act decisively now.

Are these demands reasonable? They might be if – as James Hansen, one of the founders of climate science, has claimed – it is ‘our last chance to save humanity’. But is it? Any change in temperature will inevitably benefit some species and harm others, so it probably is the last chance to save those adapted only to specific ecological niches dependent on the existing climate. One pro-climate change website helpfully provides parallel columns of the positive and negative impacts: top of the list on the positive side is an increase in the numbers of chinstrap and gentoo penguins; on the negative, the extinction of the European land leech.

What about the impact on human beings? Here, too, the effects of climate change appear ambiguous. In terms of temperature change itself, the World Health Organisation estimates that climate change since the 1970s is already responsible for 140,000 deaths annually. That sounds terrible, but any temperature variation is going to result in excess deaths from either heat or cold, and it is far from clear that the net effect of an increase in temperature will in itself be harmful – it might even be beneficial. As for rises in sea level, the 2007 IPCC projections range from 18 to 59 centimetres – which is not enough to submerge anywhere other than the lowest-lying areas. And with regard to fresh water, everyone agrees that higher temperatures mean higher levels of precipitation, so there should be more water to go round. The 2007 IPCC report acknowledged that climate change reduces per capita water stress, and one recent study suggests that, with a temperature rise of around 2.4°C, water stress would increase for 1.2 billion people by 2100 but decrease for three billion others.

So what is the problem? There are two: differential impacts and high-end uncertainty. Most of the negative consequences will be felt in the earth’s mid-latitudes, already the poorest parts of the world, where secondary effects such as economic disruption, disease, famine and war will be experienced most acutely. Climate change is therefore likely to have a disproportionate impact on the vulnerable and exacerbate existing inequalities. A mid-range increase in global temperatures, which might be quite pleasant in Canada, is potentially disastrous for the population of Bangladesh or Somalia. Rises in sea level will not affect most populations at all, but even a mid-range increase would make the habitats of between sixty and a hundred million additional people liable to flooding by the end of the century. There are millions of chinstrap penguins already, but the European land leech is exceedingly rare.

However, nobody can be confident that the effects of global warming will end there. The lowest value in the high-emissions scenario might be 2.4°C, but the highest is an alarming 6.4°C, and some scientists consider the IPCC unduly cautious. Positive feedback mechanisms – the earth’s reduced albedo (reflectivity), the transformation of carbon sinks into carbon sources, or the release of methane from thawing permafrost – could push temperatures towards the top of the range and so trigger irreversible non-linear changes such as the melting of the polar ice-sheets and the disruption of thermohaline circulation in the world’s oceans. Were all that to happen, much of the planet would be uninhabitable.

What is the rational response? The possibility that climate variation is not anthropogenic, or that it will not get much worse, or that some as yet unknown technological development will mitigate its effects, cannot be wholly discounted. All are unlikely, but each has a probability well above zero. How do these combined independent probabilities compare with the probability that global political initiatives in the next, say, twenty years will make a decisive positive difference to the outcome for future generations? That depends on several conditions being met: that climate change is anthropogenic (almost certain); that it is going to get worse (very probable); that decisive and timely global political action takes place (rather doubtful); that it is sufficiently sustained to be effective (unlikely, if the past twenty years are anything to go by).

Even someone who both accepted anthropogenic global warming and believed that it was possible to do something about it might look at the odds and think that fatalism was the most appropriate response. As long ago as the 1990s, Al Gore admitted that ‘the minimum that is scientifically necessary’ to combat global warming ‘far exceeds the maximum that is politically feasible’, and many now seem to agree. Aside from the spike created by the Copenhagen summit in 2009, newspaper coverage of climate change has been dropping since 2007. Perhaps we should just acknowledge the problem, try not to exacerbate it too much and hope for the best. That, after all, is what most people have decided to do about the nightmare of the previous generation, nuclear weapons, and there is no reliable means of quantifying whether nuclear war is more or less likely than severe climate change, or whether its effects would be more or less destructive.

The real question is whether such fatalism is ethically defensible. The moral argument for preventing further climate change is easily stated. It is not just a matter of protecting the vulnerable from harm, but of taking responsibility for a harm that we in the industrialised North have both caused and benefited from. However, the worst effects of climate change are likely to be experienced by beings from other times, places or species, and as Stephen Gardiner points out, this allows us to rationalise our obligations to suit our inclinations, rather in the way that, in Sense and Sensibility, John Dashwood and his wife Fanny gradually persuade themselves that the large sum of money John had promised to support his stepmother and half-sisters really ought, in the best interests of everyone involved, to be reduced to nothing at all.

Global surveys already show that people who live in countries with high per capita emissions are less inclined to believe that global warming is a serious problem than those who live in hotter, more vulnerable countries with low emissions. But in this case it is not necessarily just a matter of self-interest prevailing over honesty and virtue. Climate change creates what Gardiner calls ‘a perfect moral storm’, within which it is difficult to keep one’s bearings. The key elements of this storm, which he enumerates with admirable – if exhausting – clarity, are problems of agency, the temptation to intergenerational buck-passing, and the inapplicability of existing political theories.

It is no secret that the 1997 Kyoto Protocol, designed to bring the emissions of industrialised countries below their 1990 levels, has been unable to achieve its targets (or only with unexpected help from economic recessions), or that the Copenhagen summit of 2009 failed to reach any meaningful agreement at all. Such failures, according to Gardiner, reflect a fragmentation of agency: while it might be collectively rational for nations to co-operate on climate change, it is individually rational for them not to. Even greater difficulties are presented by what Gardiner calls the ‘pure intergenerational problem’. The current generation has nothing to gain from reducing emissions and every subsequent one has more at stake than its predecessor. In game-theoretical terms, this means that the current generation has no incentive to co-operate even if every other generation were willing to do so, and that the same will be true of the next generation if the present one has failed to co-operate and passed the buck instead. If successive generations were distinct in this way, it would never be rational to do anything about global warming. In practice, of course, they are not distinct, but even if future generations overlap with ours, they can do little for us or to us as far as climate change is concerned, so our relationship with them is effectively non-reciprocal.

How does the difficulty of achieving co-operation between nations relate to that of achieving co-operation across generations? Gardiner opposes the two, arguing that taking nation-states to represent the interests of their citizens in perpetuity effectively excludes the intergenerational aspect of the climate change problem. However, there are good reasons for thinking that the reverse is true. People routinely make sacrifices for their children and grandchildren, and both individuals and governments are far more likely to invest their resources for the benefit of people who are temporally remote but genetically or culturally proximate than they are for their spatially distant coevals. In these cases, the possibility of future-recognition (transmitted forward through family tradition or cultural memory) trumps that of future-reciprocity. And it is the nation, conceived as a community bound together by cross-generational ties that stretch into the future, that functions as the primary vehicle of such recognition.

Paradoxically, therefore, the intergenerational politics of climate change brings us back to the political form seemingly least able to cope with it: the nation-state. For while the fragmentation of space appears to call for supranational institutions to monitor and enforce agreement, fragmentation in time demands national institutions capable of identifying with and aggregating the interests of future generations. Nation-states could act as the self-appointed representatives of future generations of their own citizens, and then (alongside various NGOs like the WWF) lobby some supranational body on their behalf. In this scenario, what climate change most conspicuously undermines is not the nation-state but democracy, for it requires supranational institutions at a time when there is no supranational democracy, and allows that at a national level the interests of future generations might take precedence over those of the current one. Perhaps, as James Lovelock has argued, climate change means that ‘it may be necessary to put democracy on hold for a while.’

Gardiner acknowledges that it is doubtful whether democratic political institutions, with their short time horizons, have the capacity to deal with deferred climate impacts, but it does not occur to him that the ‘tyranny of the contemporary’ of which he complains might be coextensive with democracy itself. In the aftermath of the French Revolution, it was Edmund Burke who argued that society ‘is a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are living, those who are dead and those who are to be born’, and Tom Paine who, ‘contending for the rights of the living’, responded that ‘every generation is, and must be, competent to all the purposes which its occasions require.’ If the absolute rights of the living are a form of tyranny, then their freedom to choose their own government must be called into question as well.

That might sound bizarre, but although the dead and the unborn cannot make choices now, their interests could be registered through a form of what Burke called ‘virtual representation’, in which ‘there is a communion of interests, and a sympathy in feelings and desires between those who act in the name of any description of people, and the people in whose name they act, though the trustees are not actually chosen by them.’ The current generation may of necessity furnish the representatives, but it does not follow that it is in its entirety an appropriate virtual representative of other generations, for it is collectively liable to prefer its own interests to theirs. Other generations will be more adequately represented by that minority best equipped to act for them.

One version of this arrangement would be the Burkean one in which power resides with a natural aristocracy able to mediate between past and future by conserving what is best and passing it on. Its members are conscious of what is due to posterity precisely because they are mindful of what they have received from their ancestors, and do not think it ‘among their rights to cut off the entail or commit waste on the inheritance … hazarding to leave to those who come after them a ruin instead of a habitation’. Without this, according to Burke, ‘the whole chain and continuity of the commonwealth would be broken. No one generation could link with the other.’

As Paine observed, this version of inter-generational politics has a strong bias towards the past, allowing people to govern from the grave and bind future generations for ever. An alternative weighting would be closer to the Leninist idea of a vanguard. Articulated in opposition to those who wanted to fight only ‘for themselves and for their children, and not for some kind of socialism for some future generation’, Lenin’s account of the party as the vanguard of the proletariat was founded on the idea that it embodied their objective class interests in a way they could not yet do themselves. In this manner, as Georg Lukács puts it, ‘the party, on the basis of its knowledge of society in its totality, represents the interests of the whole proletariat (and in doing so mediates the interests of all the oppressed – the future of mankind).’

The virtual representatives of other generations will inevitably have to press their claims against those of the living. In respect of climate change, the way in which they do so will depend largely on the weighting given to past emissions, on the one hand, and future prosperity, on the other. Should the magnitude of past emissions (for which the United States and the EU nations are mostly responsible) have a positive or negative impact on the extent of emissions in the future? And should we discount the costs and benefits that accrue to future generations on the basis that economic growth will probably make them richer than we are? A Burkean would argue that past emissions are irrelevant, and that it is reasonable to discount the future to preserve the comparability and continuity across the generations; a Leninist might say that past emissions extracted value from the lives of future generations, and that any future discounting should be at a zero or negative rate. The Burkean move is liable to have the effect of entrenching the stranglehold of the past over the future: the Leninist creates a dictatorship of the future over the present.

Gardiner himself argues that past emissions do matter, and (it would appear, though he is very cautious here) that the future should not be discounted. But he gives little thought to the far-reaching political implications of these conclusions. Insofar as we move beyond the tyranny of the contemporary, we invite other forms of dictatorship, and the hard-won battle of democracy to exclude its ideological rivals by establishing the present as the temporal locus of sovereignty is under threat. Rather than being able to take its destiny in its own hands, as Paine advocated, the current generation is in danger of becoming the squeezed middle – a victim of the careless excess of the past, yet still obliged to save all its resources for the needs of those to come.

Should this shift in the temporality of political thinking be resisted, or is the need for it an indication that the political forms fostered by industrialisation have proved unsuited to dealing with its consequences, and are now obsolete? With its unavoidable reliance on virtual representation, and its insistence on appropriate deliberation about technical matters beyond the grasp of the uninformed, climate change politics suggests that technocratic government, the contemporary version of Burke’s natural elite, is the only appropriate solution. And yet, with its emphasis on the ‘future of mankind’ and its deployment of backcasting (working backwards from a desired future state to determine what measures are necessary to achieve it), climate change politics has, for all its apocalyptic rhetoric, a distinctively utopian form.

Is this because the emergence of concern about global warming coincided with the failure of Communism? As some climate change sceptics have noted, there was something suspicious about the way that Communism departed stage right moments before climate change entered stage left as the new nemesis of consumer capitalism. Perhaps we should think of climate change as an updated version of the chess-playing Turkish puppet that Walter Benjamin likened to historical materialism operated by the hidden hand of theology, save that historical materialism has now become the wizened hunchback that controls the puppet and has to keep out of sight.

That would be too simplistic. The recognition that actions are liable to have unintended negative consequences is a constant in human affairs, whether mediated through the discourse of theology, economics or environmental science. Such negative consequences provide the phantom opponents against whom we strive and from whom we try to learn. Counter-hegemonic movements invariably seek to harness the latent power of unintended negative consequences to challenge the status quo. But they are not alone in this. All morality is in part an effort to mobilise sentiment to pre-empt negative outcomes, and climate science is just the latest means through which our actions are amplified back to us to create a moral connection with their consequences.

One indication of the distinctively moral nature of the discourse around climate change is the concern Gardiner expresses about treating it as a purely physical problem susceptible to a technical resolution. Those sulphate aerosols, which may be responsible for the stabilisation of global temperatures in the 21st century, could in theory be pumped into the atmosphere indefinitely for the sole purpose of reducing global warming. Any state (or company or individual for that matter) with the requisite resources could do it unilaterally, thus changing the earth’s atmosphere for everyone else. Given that sulphates are themselves a pollutant, this would be a less desirable option than controlling greenhouse emissions, but in the absence of effective action on that front, it might well be a lesser evil than uncontrolled climate change.

Gardiner devotes an entire chapter to warning against any such solution. Lesser evils, he suggests, may still tarnish those who commit them and blight their lives and those of others, rather as Sophie’s life is destroyed by the sacrifice of one child in Sophie’s Choice. The analogy is absurd but revealing, for what Gardiner calls ‘marring evils’ are meta-ethical evils that arise not from the action itself, but from the resulting negative moral assessment of the agent. On this view, the moral failure threatened by sulphate injection, or other forms of geo-engineering, arises not so much from its result, as from the failure of the action as a moral response.

What this reveals is the extent to which climate change is now constructed not as a scientific problem that generates unexpected moral dilemmas, but as an ethical problem that necessarily requires moral solutions. The sceptics are understandably wary of this, and, as Björn Lomborg has argued, we are not generally as moral as climate change ethics assumes, for if we were we might not make climate change our top priority. If we were concerned about polar bears we would start by not shooting them, rather than worrying about how much ice they had left to stand on, and if we were really worried about the global poor, we could help them now rather than helping their descendants at the end of the century, who will probably be a lot better off anyway.

These are in many respects valid arguments, but they miss the point that were it not for climate change, we would be giving even less thought to polar bears, or to the global poor, and would see little connection between our actions and their fate. As Peter Unger’s Living High and Letting Die showed, our customary moral intuitions barely extend to poor foreigners, let alone to their descendants, or to Arctic fauna. It is thanks to climate change that an entire body of political thought has emerged which positions our everyday actions in direct relation to their most distant consequences.

Adam Smith once noted that we are less troubled by the prospect of a hundred million people dying as a result of an earthquake in some distant location than of losing our little finger, but would nevertheless be horrified by the idea we might allow them to die in order to save it. Climate change effectively transforms the former scenario into the latter, and so places unprecedented demands on our moral imagination. Almost every little thing we do contributes to our carbon footprint, which increases greenhouse gases, which could in turn ultimately threaten hundreds of millions of lives in some remote time and place – the uncertainty only adding to the sublime awfulness of our responsibilities.

Contrary to Gardiner’s concerns about moral corruption, climate change does not tempt us to be less moral than we might otherwise be; it invites us to be more moral than we could ever have imagined. Unlike the Dashwoods, we never knew how many relatives we had. Climate ethics is not morality applied but morality discovered, a new chapter in the moral education of mankind. It may tell us things we do not wish to know (about democracy, perhaps), but the future development of humanity may depend on what, if anything, it can teach us.

Seca gera guerra por água no sertão do Nordeste (O Globo/

17/05/2012  |
Estiagem já atinge população de 1.100 municípios da região, que já teve furtos e até morte.

Considerada a pior dos últimos 50 anos em alguns estados do Nordeste, a seca está provocando um confronto que só se imaginaria no futuro: a guerra pela água. Em Pernambuco, essa luta já começou com tiros, morte e exploração da miséria. Protestos desesperados são registrados não só lá, mas em várias regiões do semiárido, onde a estiagem já se alastra por 1.100 municípios. A população pede providências imediatas dos governos para amenizar os efeitos devastadores. A situação só não é pior já que as famílias contam com os programas sociais, como o Bolsa Família. Como observam agricultores, a preocupação no momento é maior com os animais, que estão morrendo de sede e fome, do que com as pessoas.

Na beira das estradas que conduzem ao sertão, o verde não mais existe. Ao longo das BRs 232 e 110, em Pernambuco, carroças puxadas a jumentos magros tomam conta das margens em busca de água. Nos 100 quilômetros de extensão da PE 360, que liga os municípios sertanejos de Ibimirim e Floresta, há 28 pontilhões sob os quais os córregos corriam fortes. Hoje, estão todos secos. Até mesmo o leito do Riacho do Navio – que ganhou fama na voz do cantor Luiz Gonzaga – esturricou. Na última quinta-feira, bois magros tentavam em vão matar a sede e tudo que encontravam era uma poça de lama escura naquele conhecido afluente do rio Pajeú.

Em Pernambuco, 66 municípios do sertão e do agreste estão em estado de emergência reconhecido. O quadro tende a se agravar já que a temporada de chuva está encerrada e os conflitos aumentam. Em Bodocó, no início do mês, o agricultor João Batista Cardoso foi cobrar abastecimento regular na sede local da Companhia Pernambucana de Saneamento (Compesa) e acabou morto. João Batista se desentendeu com o chefe do escritório da estatal, José Laércio Menezes Angelim, que disparou o tiro e hoje está foragido.

 “Pipeiros” distribuem água em troca de votos

Outra face cruel para as vítimas da seca é a exploração: se no passado eram os coronéis que manipulavam currais eleitorais distribuindo água, hoje as denúncias recaem sobre ‘pipeiros’, geralmente candidatos a vereador e seus cabos eleitorais, donos dos caminhões de água. A situação está tão grave que o governo decidiu rastrear todos os carros-pipa que circulam na caatinga. A Compesa começou a fazer operações para conter também o furto da água. Prevista para durar três meses, as ações contam até com helicóptero.

Até a última quinta-feira, foram detectados treze pontos suspeitos, com registro de desvio para campos irrigados. A água roubada do estado também abastecia reservatórios para carregar pipas e até mesmo um tanque com 50 mil peixes em Ouricuri. Segundo a Compesa, a perseguição aos furtos é para garantir água a 200 mil famílias.

— As barragens ficaram secas, o povo está com sede, mas o carro leva água para colher voto. Os donos dos caminhões ganham por dois lados: recebem do governo e o voto do povo. As pessoas prejudicadas não reclamam porque têm medo. Há culpa tanto do estado quanto do município – reclamou Francisco da Silva, sindicalista da região.

De acordo com o secretário de Agricultura, Ranilson Ramos, há 800 pipas rodando a caatinga, para atender as famílias.

Na Bahia, a seca é considerada a pior dos últimos 50 anos. A longa estiagem no estado já levou 234 dos 407 municípios baianos a decretar estado de emergência. O governo estadual já reconheceu a emergência em 220.

A seca está devastando as lavouras baianas e afetando a pecuária. Os preços dispararam: o quilo do feijão, por exemplo, aumentou 40% este ano. Em Salvador já custa R$ 8.

No Piauí, 152 municípios do semiárido, onde vivem 750 mil pessoas, estão sofrendo. No estado, um caminhão-pipa de até 15 mil litros de água não sai por menos de R$ 120 e as perdas das lavouras de milho, feijão e mandioca foram de 100% – contabilizou o presidente da Federação dos Trabalhadores na Agricultura (Fetag), Evandro Luz.

— A população padece de sede. Muita gente está há 40 dias sem água porque não tem dinheiro para comprar. Plantações inteiras foram perdidas – afirmou Luz.

Os presidentes dos Sindicatos dos Trabalhadores Rurais pediram à Central Nacional de Abastecimento cestas básicas para as famílias enfrentarem a fome.

No estado, não há chuva forte desde julho. Por falta de alimentos, pequenos criadores estão soltando o gado para que os animais procurem água e pasto.

— Vivemos a maior seca de nossa história — disse Wilson Martins, governador do Piauí, que em abril participou da reunião com a presidente Dilma Rousseff, que liberou R$2,7 bilhões para minorar os efeitos da estiagem e anunciou a Bolsa Seca de R$400. Segundo a Fetag, os recursos ainda não chegaram.

A reportagem é de Letícia Lins e Efrém Ribeiro e publicada pelo jornal O Globo, 12-05-2012.

Heartland Institute’s digital billboards make bombastic comparisons (+video) (The Christian Science Monitor)

New billboards designed by the Heartland Institute compare climate scientists to the Unabomber, and other mass murderers. Climate scientists and other writers respond.

By Stephanie Pappas, LiveScience / May 7, 2012

This billboard displayed in the Chicago area compared climate scientists to Ted Kaczynski, an anti-industrial mail bomber whose explosives murdered three and injured 23 more over two decades.

Image taken from

Update, 5:23 p.m Eastern Time: In a statement by Heartland president Joseph Bast, the organization announced that it will be taking down the Unabomber billboard after only 24 hours. Bast wrote that the billboard was an “experiment” meant to “turn the tables” on climate-change advocates. 
“We know that our billboard angered and disappointed many of Heartland’s friends and supporters, but we hope they understand what we were trying to do with this experiment,” Bast wrote. “We do not apologize for running the ad, and we will continue to experiment with ways to communicate the ‘realist’ message on the climate.”

The “experiment” resulted in “uncivil name-calling and disparagement” from climate-change scientists and activists, Bast complained. 

Billboards popping up in the Chicago area compare climate change scientists and advocates with Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, murderer Charles Manson and Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

The billboards, paid for the Heartland Institute, are designed to promote the organization’s International Congress on Climate Change in Chicago later this month. The Heartland Institute describes itself as a nonprofit devoted to promoting free-market solutions for social and economic problems.

Climate scientists are already reacting to the actions, calling them “truly heinous” and the work of individuals who don’t get real global-warming science. In addition, they say the billboards will only bring global-warming skeptics and those who support global warming further apart.

The first billboard, which went up along the Eisenhower Expressway in Maywood, Ill., today (May 4), according to a Heartland spokesperson, features a mug shot of Kaczynski with the words “I still believe in Global Warming. Do you?” and a Web address for the Heartland Institute. In a press release, the organization justified this juxtaposition by calling the support for human-caused global warming “nutty.”

“The point is that believing in global warming is not ‘mainstream,’ smart, or sophisticated,” the organization wrote. “In fact, it is just the opposite of those things.” [The Reality of Climate Change: 10 Myths Busted]

Climate scientists and mass murderers

Heartland further struck out at Peter Gleick, a prominent climate scientist who leaked internal Heartland documents online in February, revealing the Institute’s fundraising efforts and plans to spread doubt about climate change. Heartland claims that one of the documents was faked, referring to the occurrence as “fakegate” in their release.

Gleick says the documents were anonymously mailed to him and he sought the other documents to verify the information. The information in the disputed document is backed up in the other documents, the veracity of which Heartland has not disputed. Individuals named in these documents have confirmed that they were working with Heartland on the plans.

Nevertheless, Heartland has sought to portray itself as on the defensive. In its most recent statement, the organization writes that the leaked memo scandal “revealed that the leaders of the global warming movement are willing to break the law and the rules of ethics to shut down scientific debate and implement their left-wing agendas.”

“The people who still believe in man-made global warming are mostly on the radical fringe of society,” the statement reads. “This is why the most prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen.”

The target of their new campaign, Heartland spokesperson Jim Lakely said, is “people who aren’t otherwise following the global-warming debate.”

“Heartland is not usually in the provocation business, which is a common tactic of the global-warming alarmists,” Lakely toldLiveScience. “The reaction to this billboard has been interesting.”

Scientists respond

Unsurprisingly, some of the scientists who research climate change took umbrage at this portrayal.

“This is only the latest in a long history of truly heinous actions by the Heartland Institute,” said Michael Mann, the Pennsylvania State University climate scientist who originally published the famous “hockey stick” graph showing a rise in average global temperatures after the industrial revolution.

“The only thing I can think of here is that they are acting out of true desperation,” Mann told LiveScience.

News of — and jokes about — the billboards quickly spread around the social-networking site Twitter.

“#Heartland Institute believes in gravity. SO DID HITLER,” wrote Kevin Borgia, the director of the Illinois Wind Energy Coalition.

“Ted Kaczynsk[i] believes the world is round, and the Heartland Institute tries to persuade people that the world is flat,” tweeted Ken Caldeira, an environmental scientist at the Carnegie Institution in StanfordCalif.

Jason Samenow, a meteorologist at Washington Post, gave his response in a blog post on the newspaper’s website.

“Their approach won’t help different perspectives find common ground and work towards the most appropriate path forward,” Samenow wrote. “But maybe that’s what Heartland, in reality, is fighting against …”

Editor’s Note: The article was updated at 2:11 p.m. to correct Jason Samenow’s professional affiliation.

*   *   *

From the Heartland Institute website:

May 03, 2012

May 3, 2012 – Billboards in Chicago paid for by The Heartland Institute point out that some of the world’s most notorious criminals say they “still believe in global warming” – and ask viewers if they do, too.

Heartland’s first digital billboard – along the inbound Eisenhower Expressway (I-290) in Maywood – is the latest effort by the free-market think tank to inform the public about what it views as the collapsing scientific, political, and public support for the theory of man-made global warming. It is also reminding viewers of the questionable ethics of global warming’s most prominent proponents.

“The most prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists,” said Heartland’s president, Joseph Bast. “They areCharles Manson, a mass murderer; Fidel Castro, a tyrant; and Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber. Global warming alarmists include Osama bin Laden and James J. Lee (who took hostages inside the headquarters of the Discovery Channel in 2010).

Bast added, “The leaders of the global warming movement have one thing in common: They are willing to use force and fraud to advance their fringe theory.” For more about the billboards and why Heartland says people should not still believe in global warming, click here.


The Heartland Institute is widely recognized as a leading source of science and economics questioning claims that man-made global warming is a crisis. It has published two extensive volumes citing thousands of peer-reviewed studies: Climate Change Reconsidered 2009 (880 pages) and Climate Change Reconsidered: 2011 Interim Report (416 pages). Both reports are available online at and

The Heartland Institute will host its Seventh International Conference on Climate Change from Monday, May 21 through Wednesday, May 23, 2012 at the Hilton Chicago Hotel, starting on the final day of the historic NATO Summit. The conference will feature more than 50 scientists and economists lecturing on their latest findings, as well as political leaders and dignitaries from around the world.

Vaclav Klaus, president of the Czech Republic, will deliver the first dinner address on May 21. More information about the conference — including registration information for the public and the media – can be found Videos from past conferences and describing the upcoming conference are also available on that site.

For more information, contact Director of Communications Jim Lakely at or 312/377-4000.

Do You Still Believe in Global Warming?

May 3, 2012 – Billboards in Chicago paid for by The Heartland Institute point out that some of the world’s most notorious criminals say they “still believe in global warming” – and ask viewers if they do, too. The first digital billboard – along the inbound Eisenhower Expressway (I-290) in Maywood – appeared today.

The Heartland Institute is widely recognized as a leading source of science and economics questioning claims that man-made global warming is a crisis. The rest of this page provides answers to some of the questions you might have about these billboards. For more information, contact Director of Communications Jim Lakely and 312/377-4000.

1. Who appears on the billboards?

The billboard series features Ted Kaczynski, the infamous Unabomber; Charles Manson, a mass murderer; and Fidel Castro, a tyrant. Other global warming alarmists who may appear on future billboards include Osama bin Laden and James J. Lee (who took hostages inside the headquarters of the Discovery Channel in 2010).

These rogues and villains were chosen because they made public statements about how man-made global warming is a crisis and how mankind must take immediate and drastic actions to stop it.

2. Why did Heartland choose to feature these people on its billboards?

Because what these murderers and madmen have said differs very little from what spokespersons for the United Nations, journalists for the “mainstream” media, and liberal politicians say about global warming. They are so similar, in fact, that a Web site has a quiz that asks if you can tell the difference between what Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, wrote in his “Manifesto” and what Al Gore wrote in his book, Earth in the Balance.

The point is that believing in global warming is not “mainstream,” smart, or sophisticated. In fact, it is just the opposite of those things. Still believing in man-made global warming – after all the scientific discoveries and revelations that point against this theory – is more than a little nutty. In fact, some really crazy people use it to justify immoral and frightening behavior.

Of course, not all global warming alarmists are murderers or tyrants. But the Climategate scandal and the more recent Fakegate scandal revealed that the leaders of the global warming movement are willing to break the law and the rules of ethics to shut down scientific debate and implement their left-wing agendas.

Scientific, political, and public support for the theory of man-made global warming is collapsing. Most scientists and 60 percent of the general public (in the U.S.) do not believe man-made global warming is a problem. (Keep reading for proof of these statements.) The people who still believe in man-made global warming are mostly on the radical fringe of society. This is why the most prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen.

3. Why shouldn’t I still believe in global warming?

Because the best available science says about two-thirds of the warming in the 1990s was due to natural causes, not human activities; the warming trend of the second half of the twentieth century century already has stopped and forecasts of future warming are unreliable; and the benefits of a moderate warming are likely to outweigh the costs. Global warming, in other words, is not a crisis. For a plain English introductory essay with lots of links to research that proves these points, see “Global Warming: Not a Crisis.”

Most people who still believe in global warming do so because they trust the United Nations, the so-called mainstream media, and leading political figures to be telling them the truth about a complicated scientific issue. That trust has been betrayed.

The government agency created by the United Nations to find a link between human activities and global warming did exactly what it was created and paid to do! By ignoring natural causes of climate variation, it claims to have found evidence of a human impact and an urgent need for the UN to be given more money and more power to solve the problem. See Robert Carter’s book, Climate: The Counter Consensus, for an excellent recent commentary on just how unreliable the IPCC has become.

The mainstream media are “in the tank” with environmental activists and big-government advocates, to the point that they deliberately and expressly censor dissenting views on climate. Even distinguished scientists who dissent from the global warming dogma, such as MIT’s Richard Lindzen and the University of Virginia’s S. Fred Singer, are regularly savaged and defamed by reporters for some of the largest-circulation newspapers in the country. See the Media Research Center’s 2008 report, “Global Warming Censored,” for a good account of media bias on this topic.

And nobody should believe politicians who say they want to raise taxes, give subsidies to their buddies, or regulate growing industries in the name of “global warming.” Politicians aren’t scientists, and they aren’t motivated by the search for scientific truth. Mostly, they want to raise taxes, redistribute wealth, and regulate industry because doing so increases their power and chances for reelection. Two good recent books that make this point are Climate Coup by Patrick Michaels and Eco-Tyranny by Brian Sussman.

4. But isn’t it true that 98 percent of climate scientists believe in global warming?

No, this is just a myth that gets repeated over and over by global warming advocates. The alleged sources of this claim are two studies. One is a survey that didn’t ask if global warming is bad or even how much of past warming was man-made. That survey also excluded all but 79 (not a typo!) of the thousands of people who responded to it in order to arrive at the 98 percent figure.

The other study reported the number of times global warming alarmists and realists appeared in academic journals, and found that a small group of alarmists appeared hundreds of times. That doesn’t mean they are more likely to be right. In fact, there are many reasons why realists appear to be published less often than alarmists.

A detailed analysis of these two studies appears in this essay: “The Myth of the 98%.

More broadly, the claim that there is a “scientific consensus” that global warming is both man-made and a serious problem is untrue. Sources used to document this claim invariably fail to do so, while more reliable surveys and examinations of the literature reveal that most scientists do not believe in the key scientific claims upon which global warming alarmism rests. For example, most scientists do not believe computer models are sufficiently reliable to make long-term forecasts of climate temperatures.

That goes to the very heart of the alarmists’ predictions and worries. For a detailed analysis of the claim of a “scientific consensus” on global warming, see this essay: “You Call This Consensus?

5. Are you saying anyone who believes in global warming is a mass murderer, tyrant, or terrorist?

Of course not. But we are saying that the ethics of many advocates of global warming are very suspect. Consider two recent scandals that exposed the way they think:

Climategate was the leak of emails from the Climatic Research Unit at the University of East Anglia in England in 2010 and 2011. The emails revealed a conspiracy to suppress debate, rig the peer review process to keep out of the leading academic journals any scientists skeptical of catastrophic man-caused global warming, hiding data, fudging research findings, and dodging Freedom of Information Act requests.

Fakegate was the theft in early 2012 of confidential corporate documents from The Heartland Institute by Dr. Peter Gleick, a leading climate scientist and president of the Pacific Institute for Studies in Development, Environment, and Security in Oakland, California. Gleick admitted on February 20 to using a false identity to steal the documents and then disseminating them – along with a fake memo purporting to be Heartland’s “climate strategy” – to sympathetic bloggers and journalists.

Megan McArdle wrote this about Fakegate in The Atlantic: “Gleick has done enormous damage to his cause and his own reputation, and it’s no good to say that people shouldn’t be focusing on it. If his judgement is this bad, how is his judgement on matters of science? For that matter, what about the judgement of all the others in the movement who apparently see nothing worth dwelling on in his actions?”

Robert Tracinski wrote this at Real Clear Politics: “The global warming alarmists are losing the argument, and the latest scandal–James Delingpole calls it Fakegate–shows just how desperate they have become.”

Poor judgement … believing the ends justify the means … desperation. Now do you see why we really shouldn’t be surprised to learn that Charles Manson, Fidel Castro, Ted Kaczynski, and other famous criminals believe in global warming?

6. Why should I believe The Heartland Institute?

We don’t think you should “believe” anyone. Do your own research. Come to your own conclusions. But since you ask …

The Heartland Institute has been conducting research into the real science and economics of climate change for more than 15 years. We have assembled hundreds of scientists to share their knowledge, participate in debates, and conduct peer review of our publications. Importantly, nobody here is paid to believe in global warming.

Heartland is a 28-year-old national nonprofit organization with offices in Chicago, Illinois and Washington, DC. Its mission is to discover, develop, and promote free-market solutions to social and economic problems. It is supported by approximately 1,800 individuals, foundations, and corporations. No corporation gives more than 5 percent of its annual budget.

Heartland has distributed millions of copies of books, booklets, videos, and reprints that examine the causes and consequences of climate change. It published two hefty volumes citing thousands of peer-reviewed studies: Climate Change Reconsidered 2009 (880 pages) and Climate Change Reconsidered: 2011 Interim Report (416 pages). Both reports are available online at and

Heartland has hosted six International Conferences on Climate Change attracting nearly 3,000 people. Many of the world’s leading scientists, economists, and political leaders have spoken at these conferences. Video of the presentations made at those events can be found online.

So if you are looking for objective research on climate change, we are a good place to start.

7. Should I attend the ICCC-7?

The Heartland Institute will host its Seventh International Conference on Climate Change from Monday, May 21 through Wednesday, May 23, 2012 at the Hilton Chicago Hotel, starting on the final day of the historic NATO Summit. The conference will feature more than 50 scientists and economists lecturing on their latest findings, as well as political leaders and dignitaries from around the world.

Vaclav Klaus, president of the Czech Republic, will deliver the first dinner address on Monday, May 21. More information about the conference – including registration information for the public and the media – can be found at Videos from past conferences and describing the upcoming conference are also available on that site.

This year’s conference theme is “Real Science, Real Choices.” We will feature approximately 50 scientists and policy experts speaking at plenary sessions and on three tracks of concurrent panel sessions exploring what real climate science is telling us about the causes and consequences of climate change, and the real consequences of choices being made based on the current perceptions of the state of climate science.

Speakers for this year’s conference include:

  • Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-WI
  • Dr. Harrison Schmitt, Apollo 17 mission
  • Walter Cunningham, Apollo 7 mission
  • Harold Doiron, former NASA scientist
  • Thomas Wysmuller, former NASA scientist
  • Joe Bastardi, chief forecaster, WeatherBell
  • Roger Helmer, MP, Britain

Past conferences have taken place in New York City, Chicago, Washington DC, and Sydney, Australia and have attracted nearly 3,000 participants from 20 countries. The proceedings have been covered by ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox News, the BBC, the New York Times, the Washington Post, Le Monde, and most other leading media outlets.

ICCC-7 is open to the public. Registration is required. More information is available at the conference home page. For media credentials, register here or contact Tammy Nash at or 312-377-4000. For more information about The Heartland Institute, visit our Web site or contact Jim Lakely at or 312/377-4000.

More on Extreme Weather in a Warming Climate (Dot Earth, N.Y.Times)

April 10, 2012, 5:30 PM


April 11, 9:47 a.m. | Updated with a reaction from Stefan Rahmstorf below |

Here’s a followup to my piece on how greenhouse-driven warming is loading the dice toward more hot weather extremes. In late March, the journal Nature: Climate Change published a “perspective” article by Dim Coumou and Stefan Rahmstorf of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research titled “A decade of weather extremes.” The piece, discussed by its authors on the RealClimate blog, was widely cited in news accounts and blogs as new scientific analysis.

The article summary is here:

The ostensibly large number of recent extreme weather events has triggered intensive discussions, both in- and outside the scientific community, on whether they are related to global warming. Here, we review the evidence and argue that for some types of extreme — notably heatwaves, but also precipitation extremes — there is now strong evidence linking specific events or an increase in their numbers to the human influence on climate. For other types of extreme, such as storms, the available evidence is less conclusive, but based on observed trends and basic physical concepts it is nevertheless plausible to expect an increase.

I sent the article around to some researchers working on these questions. Here are their reactions, along with another valuable assessment posted by Michael Tobis at Planet 3.0:

Martin Hoerling, leader of the climate-extremes attribution team at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, wrote:

A few quick comments from my (single) read through.

– Not a scientific paper, but more Op-Ed. If the science of extremes is desired, then the best current synthesis is IPCC SREX, 2012. [This is the Intergorvernmental Panel on Climate Change report, “Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation,” which I wrote about here.]

– Exaggerated language, and many unsubstantiated assertions. For instance, in what manner did the last decade experience an “unprecedented” number of extreme weather events? Note that the increase in heat waves was largely balanced by a decrease in cold waves—-

– Overly simplistic view of the relation between damage, human suffering, and the extremes. Much more balanced arguments can be found in R. Pielke Jr.’s work that consider changes in society, communities, coastal development, etc. Also, a more useful perspective is found in the recent EOS article by Mike Wallace, titled “Weather and Climate Extreme Events: Teachable Moments.”

– Very few of the [cases of extreme weather listed in the paper] have undergone a scientific investigation of contributing factors, let alone human impacts. I believe that a read of the Lewis and Clark journals would reveal an impressive list of extreme weather also…. so what is one to make of this list for the 2001-2011 period provided in this Perspective by Coumou and Rahmstorf. The fact is that extremes happen, have happened, and will continue to happen. For some, their character, preferred phase, and intensity may be changing (aside from temperature extremes, the detection and attribution evidence to date is weak).

– I suspect that if one engaged in grand mitigation today (as useful as that would be for many other purposes), many of the extremes listed in [the paper] would happen anyway, and will likely happen again.

– The piece lacks all perspective on the human and technological elements contributing to greater observational capacity to sense extremes (radar, satellite), nor does it consider the reality of a heighten interest by the public in extremes, given recent public discourses.

– The matter of attribution, as raised in the second to last paragraph, is a much broader science that merely determining the change in probability due to greenhouse-gas forcing….which is an inherently difficult and uncertain undertaking. The piece ignores the broader context in which all manner of contributing factors is assessed to understand the magnitude of events, their temporal and regional specificity (e.g., why did the heat wave happen over Texas (rather than Washington), why did it occur in 2011 (and not 2009, or next year), and why did it break the previous records by a factor of 2. After all, the irony of extreme events is that the larger the magnitude the smaller the fractional contribution by human climate change.

– Consistent with the policy-direct tone of this piece, hyperbole is used throughout. The piece often convoluting apparent “effects” of apparent changes in extremes in the last decade with causes not to arise till the latter part of the 21st century.

John M. Wallace, a longtime climate scientist at the University of Washington (see my recent post on the loaded climate “dice” for more), wrote:

My reactions to the article are very much along the same lines as Marty Hoerling’s. By exaggerating the influence of climate change on today’s weather and climate-related extreme events, a part of our community is painting itself into a rhetorical corner.

My opinion piece, “Weather and Climate-Related Extreme Events: Teachable Moments ” to which Hoerling refers, serves as a counterpoint to Coumou and Rahmsdorf’s article. Before submitting it to Eos, as an experiment, I submitted it to Nature: Climate Change, where their article was published. I cannot say that I was surprised when the editors informed me that they would not be sending it out for review because “we are not persuaded that your article represents a sufficiently substantial contribution to the ‘climate change debate’ [my quotation marks] to justify publication in the journal”. Perhaps to ease the pain of rejection, the editor added, “more Commentaries are actively commissioned and […] we only rarely publish unsolicited contributions to the section”.

Although it may sound a bit like sour grapes, here’s the way that I’ve rationalized Nature’s editorial decision. I’ve become convinced that many of the editors of the high impact journals are inclined to cast opinion pieces as salvos in the ongoing war between climate change believers and skeptics. Articles like mine that take issue with the way in which the war is being waged are not particularly welcome. By soliciting opinion pieces and by selecting, from among the growing list of contributed articles, the very few that will be sent out for peer review, the editors promote their vision of what constitutes “groundbreaking” and “policy relevant” science. What if it is not the right vision?

By granting the editors of Nature and other high impact journals ever increasing power in deciding which of our articles should be singled out for emphasis in the news media, we risk losing control of the peer review process upon which our public image depends. The way to maintain control is to make a point of sending our most newsworthy scientific articles and opinion pieces to the journals of our own professional societies, in which the peer review process is editor-facilitated, rather than editor-directed. Dot.Earth could render our community a valuable service by ensuring that newsworthy articles published in our journals receive the public attention that they deserve.

Kerry Emanuel, longtime climate scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (focused on the impact of greenhouse-driven heating on hurricanes):

I read the piece differently from the way Mike and Martin read it. It was published as a “perspective” and I did not read it as a scientific paper or letter. It tries to draw attention to the point that weather extremes a) affect society more so than means, and b) require a different statistical approach to detect trends. This is certainly old hat to climate scientists, but there is so much literature on the the mean temperature response that I believe there is room to draw attention to the problem of extremes. Thus I think the perspective piece is useful. The one criticism I would level, echoing to some extent what Martin and Mike have said, is that it is a bit heavy on weather anecdotes (this record broken here; that record there), which draws attention away from the central issue of the statistics of extremes.

It is vital that as a community we focus more attention on detecting changes in the tails of the distributions of weather events. To the extent that this perspective piece may draw scientists from other disciplines into this endeavor, it will have proven useful.

On last point: I completely agree with Mike that you could do science a service by getting journalists to pay more attention to our own professional journals and not focus so exclusively on the high profile journals, which often tend toward the sensational at the expense of solid advances.

Michael Tobis, a scientist, programmer and climate bloggerfrom the University of Texas, posted a nice essay on the Coumou-Rahmstorf article and related issues. The piece, “Disequilibrium is Not Your Friend,” examines the consequences of disturbing a system in a state of complex equilibrium, whether it is an intricate Alexander Calder mobile sculpture or the climate. Here’s an excerpt:

It’s a general principle of complex equilibria that the more they are disturbed, the more complex the processes involved in restoring their equilibrium. The mobile sculpture is not unusual in this regard….

What makes the sculpture less predictable under forcing? Both the size and duration of the impact matter. If you moved the piece ten yards very gently, its behavior might be nothing out of the ordinary, while if you moved it an inch suddenly, a lot of complexity would emerge. (If you moved the piece ten yards suddenly, you would expect permanent alterations, with a whole new set of modes created and many of the old ones destroyed. Let’s hope we do not take the analogous experiment that far.)

While this in no way constitutes a mathematical proof for any given system, the underlying behavior is common and intuitively understandable. If a complex system acts otherwise, it would be something extraordinary that deserves explanation. As applied to the climate system, consider it a plausibility argument: the more rapidly and extensively the system is disturbed, the more we would expect that unexpected behaviors will emerge, and the further from expectations they will be. [Please read the rest.]

April 11, 9:47 a.m. | Updated Stefan Rahmstorf offers his response here:

There is a broad spectrum of views on extreme events in the community – you’ve sampled some of those. It is precisely this range of opinions which made us think it worthwhile to take a good dispassionate look at the evidence and stimulate some discussion. We noticed this range also in the reviews of our Perspective. One reviewer asked us to make stronger statements on the link between climate change and extremes, another just asked the opposite and the third one found we got it about right. I think overall we struck a good balance, and I’ve never gotten such an overwhelming positive feedback from colleagues after publishing a paper – lots of emails still coming in. Looks like we struck a chord.

Hoerling’s claim that we make “many unsubstantiated assertions” is itself one. First he claims we said that the last decade experienced an unprecedented number of extreme weather events – which we do not say anywhere in our paper. And then he claims that “the  increase in heat waves was largely balanced by a decrease in cold waves,” which is a popular climate sceptics argument but demonstrably false. Already the IPCC TAR in 2001 illustrated that this is not the case, see the famous TAR graph and compare the size of the pink/red and blue areas in panels (a) or (c). We explained this again in our 2011 PNAS paper, and we demonstrate it again in the present Perspective: In a stationary climate you’d get approximately the same amount of hot and cold records. We cite the global data analysis of Benestad (2004) in Fig. 2 which shows that record heat waves already have increased more than threefold as compared to a stationary climate. Now even if record cold waves would have declined to zero in number (which they have not), it is obvious that this could not balance a more than threefold increase in heat waves.

Interestingly, Hoerling immediately raises the climate policy issue (stating that mitigation efforts would not prevent extremes) and even denounces our Perspective as “policy-direct”, even though we do not even mention policy – it is simply not the topic of our article, we exclusively discuss scientific questions and we point out at the outset that societal impacts and possible policy strategies are discussed in the SREX.

We cite James Hansen’s 1988 statement on global warming at the end. Back then he got a lot of criticism for it, but in hindsight it turned out he was right. We hope that in hindsight we will find out that we were wrong, and global warming is not leading to more unprecedented extremes. But the evidence is pointing the other way, I’m afraid.

April 23, 5:41 a.m. | Updated 
Mike Wallace wrote an op-ed piece for the Los Angeles Times building out his argument for caution in interpreting “March madness” as human-driven.