Arquivo da categoria: comunicação científica

‘Could Somebody Please Debunk This?’: Writing About Science When Even the Scientists Are Nervous (New York Times)

Milk has become a symbol for white supremacists who repurpose genetic research, because of a genetic trait known to be more common in white adults than others: the ability to digest lactose.
Milk has become a symbol for white supremacists who repurpose genetic research, because of a genetic trait known to be more common in white adults than others: the ability to digest lactose.Credit: Colum O’dwyer/EyeEm

By Amy Harmon

Oct. 18, 2018

Times Insider delivers behind-the-scenes insights into how news, features and opinion come together at The New York Times.

N. is a black high school student in Winston-Salem, N.C., who does not appear in my article on Thursday’s front page about how human geneticists have been slow to respond to the invocation of their research by white supremacists. (Note: N.’s full name has been removed to minimize online harassment.)

But the story of how he struggled last spring to find sources to refute the claims of white classmates that people of European descent had evolved to be intellectually superior to Africans is the reason I persevered in the assignment, even when I felt as if my head were going to explode.

N. had vowed to take up the subject for a persuasive speech assignment in his Rhetoric class. Googling for information that would help him, however, yielded a slew of blogs and videos arguing the other side. “There’s only one scientific response for every hundred videos or so,” he told me when we spoke on the phone.

“Could somebody please debunk this blog post, if it can be debunked?” he finally posted on the Reddit forum r/badscience. “It’s convincing me of things I really don’t want to be convinced of.”

I was introduced to N. by Kevin Bird, a white graduate student at Michigan State University who had answered N.’s Reddit query, and others that had been flooding that forum about claims of racial differences that invoke the jargon and scientific papers of modern genetic research.

I had misgivings about simply reporting on the rise of a kind of repackaged scientific racism, which I had been tracking as a national correspondent who writes about science. Under the coded term “race realism,” it implied, falsely, that science had found a genetic basis for racial differences in traits like intelligence and behavior. Why draw attention to it?

But a series of Twitter posts from Mr. Bird late last year crystallized a question that had been on my mind. Unlike in the case of climate change, vaccines or other areas of science where scientists routinely seek to correct public misconceptions, those who study how the world’s major population groups vary genetically were largely absent from these forums. Nor was there an obvious place for someone like N. to turn for basic, up-to-date facts on human genetic diversity.

“Right now the propaganda being generated from misrepresented population genetic studies is far outpacing the modest attempts of scientists to publicly engage with the topic,” Mr. Bird had tweeted. “Why,” he asked in another tweet, “are scientists dropping the ball?”

In the course of investigating that question, I spent many hours digesting scientific papers on genetics and interviewing their authors. Some of them, I learned, subscribed to a common ethos among scientists that their job is to provide data and let society decide what to do with it. Others felt it was not productive to engage with what they regarded as a radical fringe.

It was more than a radical fringe at stake, I would tell them. Lots of nonscientists were just confused. It wasn’t just N. Mr. Bird had fielded queries from a graduate student in applied physics at Harvard and an information technology consultant in Michigan whose Twitter profile reads “anti-fascist, anti-bigot.’’ I talked to an Army veteran attending community college in Florida and a professional video gamer who felt ill-equipped to refute science-themed racist propaganda that they encountered online. It had come up in a source’s book group in Boston. They wanted to invite a guest scientist to tutor them but couldn’t figure out who.

But another reason some scientists avoid engaging on this topic, I came to understand, was that they do not have definitive answers about whether there are average differences in biological traits across populations. And they have increasingly powerful tools to try to detect how natural selection may have acted differently on the genes that contribute to assorted traits in various populations.

What’s more, some believe substantial differences will be found. Others think it may not be feasible to ever entirely disentangle an immutable genetic contribution to a behavior from its specific cultural and environmental influences. Yet all of them agree that there is no evidence that any differences which may be found will line up with the prejudices of white supremacists.

As I struggled to write my article, I began, sort of, to feel their pain. With each sentence, I was striving not to give credence to racist ideas, not to misrepresent the science that exists and not to overrepresent how much science actually does exist — while trying also to write in a way that a nonscientist, like N., could understand.

It was hard. It did almost make my head explode. I tested the patience of a very patient editor. The end result, I knew, would not be perfect. But every time I was ready to give up, I thought about N. Here was a kid making a good-faith effort to learn, and the existing resources were failing him. If I could help, however incompletely — even if just to try to explain the absence of information — I felt that was a responsibility I had to meet.

A few weeks ago, as I was getting the story ready to go, I asked N. for an update. “I’ve read a lot more papers since then,” he wrote. (He aced his presentation.) “Many of my arguments are stronger, some have been discarded. I’ve also become much more aware of this stuff around me. In some ways, it’s regrettable, but in other ways, it’s satisfying knowing so much.”

>Climategate: What Really Happened? (Mother Jones)


>The Science of Why We Don’t Believe Science (Mother Jones)


Illustration: Jonathon Rosen
How our brains fool us on climate, creationism, and the vaccine-autism link.

— By Chris Mooney
Mon Apr. 18, 2011 3:00 AM PDT

“A MAN WITH A CONVICTION is a hard man to change. Tell him you disagree and he turns away. Show him facts or figures and he questions your sources. Appeal to logic and he fails to see your point.” So wrote the celebrated Stanford University psychologist Leon Festinger, in a passage that might have been referring to climate change denial—the persistent rejection, on the part of so many Americans today, of what we know about global warming and its human causes. But it was too early for that—this was the 1950s—and Festinger was actually describing a famous case study in psychology.

Festinger and several of his colleagues had infiltrated the Seekers, a small Chicago-area cult whose members thought they were communicating with aliens—including one, “Sananda,” who they believed was the astral incarnation of Jesus Christ. The group was led by Dorothy Martin, a Dianetics devotee who transcribed the interstellar messages through automatic writing.

Through her, the aliens had given the precise date of an Earth-rending cataclysm: December 21, 1954. Some of Martin’s followers quit their jobs and sold their property, expecting to be rescued by a flying saucer when the continent split asunder and a new sea swallowed much of the United States. The disciples even went so far as to remove brassieres and rip zippers out of their trousers—the metal, they believed, would pose a danger on the spacecraft.

Festinger and his team were with the cult when the prophecy failed. First, the “boys upstairs” (as the aliens were sometimes called) did not show up and rescue the Seekers. Then December 21 arrived without incident. It was the moment Festinger had been waiting for: How would people so emotionally invested in a belief system react, now that it had been soundly refuted?

At first, the group struggled for an explanation. But then rationalization set in. A new message arrived, announcing that they’d all been spared at the last minute. Festinger summarized the extraterrestrials’ new pronouncement: “The little group, sitting all night long, had spread so much light that God had saved the world from destruction.” Their willingness to believe in the prophecy had saved Earth from the prophecy!

From that day forward, the Seekers, previously shy of the press and indifferent toward evangelizing, began to proselytize. “Their sense of urgency was enormous,” wrote Festinger. The devastation of all they had believed had made them even more certain of their beliefs.

In the annals of denial, it doesn’t get much more extreme than the Seekers. They lost their jobs, the press mocked them, and there were efforts to keep them away from impressionable young minds. But while Martin’s space cult might lie at on the far end of the spectrum of human self-delusion, there’s plenty to go around. And since Festinger’s day, an array of new discoveries in psychology and neuroscience has further demonstrated how our preexisting beliefs, far more than any new facts, can skew our thoughts and even color what we consider our most dispassionate and logical conclusions. This tendency toward so-called “motivated reasoning” helps explain why we find groups so polarized over matters where the evidence is so unequivocal: climate change, vaccines, “death panels,” the birthplace and religion of the president, and much else. It would seem that expecting people to be convinced by the facts flies in the face of, you know, the facts.

The theory of motivated reasoning builds on a key insight of modern neuroscience: Reasoning is actually suffused with emotion (or what researchers often call “affect”). Not only are the two inseparable, but our positive or negative feelings about people, things, and ideas arise much more rapidly than our conscious thoughts, in a matter of milliseconds—fast enough to detect with an EEG device, but long before we’re aware of it. That shouldn’t be surprising: Evolution required us to react very quickly to stimuli in our environment. It’s a “basic human survival skill,” explains political scientist Arthur Lupia of the University of Michigan. We push threatening information away; we pull friendly information close. We apply fight-or-flight reflexes not only to predators, but to data itself.

“We apply fight-or-flight reflexes not only to predators, but to data itself.”

We’re not driven only by emotions, of course—we also reason, deliberate. But reasoning comes later, works slower—and even then, it doesn’t take place in an emotional vacuum. Rather, our quick-fire emotions can set us on a course of thinking that’s highly biased, especially on topics we care a great deal about.

Consider a person who has heard about a scientific discovery that deeply challenges her belief in divine creation—a new hominid, say, that confirms our evolutionary origins. What happens next, explains political scientist Charles Taber of Stony Brook University, is a subconscious negative response to the new information—and that response, in turn, guides the type of memories and associations formed in the conscious mind. “They retrieve thoughts that are consistent with their previous beliefs,” says Taber, “and that will lead them to build an argument and challenge what they’re hearing.”

In other words, when we think we’re reasoning, we may instead be rationalizing. Or to use an analogy offered by University of Virginia psychologist Jonathan Haidt: We may think we’re being scientists, but we’re actually being lawyers. Our “reasoning” is a means to a predetermined end—winning our “case”—and is shot through with biases. They include “confirmation bias,” in which we give greater heed to evidence and arguments that bolster our beliefs, and “disconfirmation bias,” in which we expend disproportionate energy trying to debunk or refute views and arguments that we find uncongenial.

That’s a lot of jargon, but we all understand these mechanisms when it comes to interpersonal relationships. If I don’t want to believe that my spouse is being unfaithful, or that my child is a bully, I can go to great lengths to explain away behavior that seems obvious to everybody else—everybody who isn’t too emotionally invested to accept it, anyway. That’s not to suggest that we aren’t also motivated to perceive the world accurately—we are. Or that we never change our minds—we do. It’s just that we have other important goals besides accuracy—including identity affirmation and protecting one’s sense of self—and often those make us highly resistant to changing our beliefs when the facts say we should.

Modern science originated from an attempt to weed out such subjective lapses—what that great 17th century theorist of the scientific method, Francis Bacon, dubbed the “idols of the mind.” Even if individual researchers are prone to falling in love with their own theories, the broader processes of peer review and institutionalized skepticism are designed to ensure that, eventually, the best ideas prevail.

“Scientific evidence is highly susceptible to misinterpretation. Giving ideologues scientific data that’s relevant to their beliefs is like unleashing them in the motivated-reasoning equivalent of a candy store.”

Our individual responses to the conclusions that science reaches, however, are quite another matter. Ironically, in part because researchers employ so much nuance and strive to disclose all remaining sources of uncertainty, scientific evidence is highly susceptible to selective reading and misinterpretation. Giving ideologues or partisans scientific data that’s relevant to their beliefs is like unleashing them in the motivated-reasoning equivalent of a candy store.

Sure enough, a large number of psychological studies have shown that people respond to scientific or technical evidence in ways that justify their preexisting beliefs. In a classic 1979 experiment, pro- and anti-death penalty advocates were exposed to descriptions of two fake scientific studies: one supporting and one undermining the notion that capital punishment deters violent crime and, in particular, murder. They were also shown detailed methodological critiques of the fake studies—and in a scientific sense, neither study was stronger than the other. Yet in each case, advocates more heavily criticized the study whose conclusions disagreed with their own, while describing the study that was more ideologically congenial as more “convincing.”

Since then, similar results have been found for how people respond to “evidence” about affirmative action, gun control, the accuracy of gay stereotypes, and much else. Even when study subjects are explicitly instructed to be unbiased and even-handed about the evidence, they often fail.

And it’s not just that people twist or selectively read scientific evidence to support their preexisting views. According to research by Yale Law School professor Dan Kahan and his colleagues, people’s deep-seated views about morality, and about the way society should be ordered, strongly predict whom they consider to be a legitimate scientific expert in the first place—and thus where they consider “scientific consensus” to lie on contested issues.

In Kahan’s research, individuals are classified, based on their cultural values, as either “individualists” or “communitarians,” and as either “hierarchical” or “egalitarian” in outlook. (Somewhat oversimplifying, you can think of hierarchical individualists as akin to conservative Republicans, and egalitarian communitarians as liberal Democrats.) In one study, subjects in the different groups were asked to help a close friend determine the risks associated with climate change, sequestering nuclear waste, or concealed carry laws: “The friend tells you that he or she is planning to read a book about the issue but would like to get your opinion on whether the author seems like a knowledgeable and trustworthy expert.” A subject was then presented with the résumé of a fake expert “depicted as a member of the National Academy of Sciences who had earned a Ph.D. in a pertinent field from one elite university and who was now on the faculty of another.” The subject was then shown a book excerpt by that “expert,” in which the risk of the issue at hand was portrayed as high or low, well-founded or speculative. The results were stark: When the scientist’s position stated that global warming is real and human-caused, for instance, only 23 percent of hierarchical individualists agreed the person was a “trustworthy and knowledgeable expert.” Yet 88 percent of egalitarian communitarians accepted the same scientist’s expertise. Similar divides were observed on whether nuclear waste can be safely stored underground and whether letting people carry guns deters crime. (The alliances did not always hold. In another study, hierarchs and communitarians were in favor of laws that would compel the mentally ill to accept treatment, whereas individualists and egalitarians were opposed.)

“Head-on attempts to persuade can sometimes trigger a backfire effect, where people not only fail to change their minds when confronted with the facts—they may hold their wrong views more tenaciously than ever.”

In other words, people rejected the validity of a scientific source because its conclusion contradicted their deeply held views—and thus the relative risks inherent in each scenario. A hierarchal individualist finds it difficult to believe that the things he prizes (commerce, industry, a man’s freedom to possess a gun to defend his family) could lead to outcomes deleterious to society. Whereas egalitarian communitarians tend to think that the free market causes harm, that patriarchal families mess up kids, and that people can’t handle their guns. The study subjects weren’t “anti-science”—not in their own minds, anyway. It’s just that “science” was whatever they wanted it to be. “We’ve come to a misadventure, a bad situation where diverse citizens, who rely on diverse systems of cultural certification, are in conflict,” says Kahan.

And that undercuts the standard notion that the way to persuade people is via evidence and argument. In fact, head-on attempts to persuade can sometimes trigger a backfire effect, where people not only fail to change their minds when confronted with the facts—they may hold their wrong views more tenaciously than ever.

Take, for instance, the question of whether Saddam Hussein possessed hidden weapons of mass destruction just before the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. When political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler showed subjects fake newspaper articles in which this was first suggested (in a 2004 quote from President Bush) and then refuted (with the findings of the Bush-commissioned Iraq Survey Group report, which found no evidence of active WMD programs in pre-invasion Iraq), they found that conservatives were more likely than before to believe the claim. (The researchers also tested how liberals responded when shown that Bush did not actually “ban” embryonic stem-cell research. Liberals weren’t particularly amenable to persuasion, either, but no backfire effect was observed.)

Another study gives some inkling of what may be going through people’s minds when they resist persuasion. Northwestern University sociologist Monica Prasad and her colleagues wanted to test whether they could dislodge the notion that Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda were secretly collaborating among those most likely to believe it—Republican partisans from highly GOP-friendly counties. So the researchers set up a study in which they discussed the topic with some of these Republicans in person. They would cite the findings of the 9/11 Commission, as well as a statement in which George W. Bush himself denied his administration had “said the 9/11 attacks were orchestrated between Saddam and Al Qaeda.”

“One study showed that not even Bush’s own words could change the minds of Bush voters who believed there was an Iraq-Al Qaeda link.”

As it turned out, not even Bush’s own words could change the minds of these Bush voters—just 1 of the 49 partisans who originally believed the Iraq-Al Qaeda claim changed his or her mind. Far more common was resisting the correction in a variety of ways, either by coming up with counterarguments or by simply being unmovable:

Interviewer: [T]he September 11 Commission found no link between Saddam and 9/11, and this is what President Bush said. Do you have any comments on either of those? 

Respondent: Well, I bet they say that the Commission didn’t have any proof of it but I guess we still can have our opinions and feel that way even though they say that.

The same types of responses are already being documented on divisive topics facing the current administration. Take the “Ground Zero mosque.” Using information from the political myth-busting site, a team at Ohio State presented subjects with a detailed rebuttal to the claim that “Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Imam backing the proposed Islamic cultural center and mosque, is a terrorist-sympathizer.” Yet among those who were aware of the rumor and believed it, fewer than a third changed their minds.

A key question—and one that’s difficult to answer—is how “irrational” all this is. On the one hand, it doesn’t make sense to discard an entire belief system, built up over a lifetime, because of some new snippet of information. “It is quite possible to say, ‘I reached this pro-capital-punishment decision based on real information that I arrived at over my life,'” explains Stanford social psychologist Jon Krosnick. Indeed, there’s a sense in which science denial could be considered keenly “rational.” In certain conservative communities, explains Yale’s Kahan, “People who say, ‘I think there’s something to climate change,’ that’s going to mark them out as a certain kind of person, and their life is going to go less well.”

This may help explain a curious pattern Nyhan and his colleagues found when they tried to test the fallacy that President Obama is a Muslim. When a nonwhite researcher was administering their study, research subjects were amenable to changing their minds about the president’s religion and updating incorrect views. But when only white researchers were present, GOP survey subjects in particular were more likely to believe the Obama Muslim myth than before. The subjects were using “social desirabililty” to tailor their beliefs (or stated beliefs, anyway) to whoever was listening.

Which leads us to the media. When people grow polarized over a body of evidence, or a resolvable matter of fact, the cause may be some form of biased reasoning, but they could also be receiving skewed information to begin with—or a complicated combination of both. In the Ground Zero mosque case, for instance, a follow-up study showed that survey respondents who watched Fox News were more likely to believe the Rauf rumor and three related ones—and they believed them more strongly than non-Fox watchers.

Okay, so people gravitate toward information that confirms what they believe, and they select sources that deliver it. Same as it ever was, right? Maybe, but the problem is arguably growing more acute, given the way we now consume information—through the Facebook links of friends, or tweets that lack nuance or context, or “narrowcast” and often highly ideological media that have relatively small, like-minded audiences. Those basic human survival skills of ours, says Michigan’s Arthur Lupia, are “not well-adapted to our information age.”

“A predictor of whether you accept the science of global warming? Whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat.”

If you wanted to show how and why fact is ditched in favor of motivated reasoning, you could find no better test case than climate change. After all, it’s an issue where you have highly technical information on one hand and very strong beliefs on the other. And sure enough, one key predictor of whether you accept the science of global warming is whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat. The two groups have been growing more divided in their views about the topic, even as the science becomes more unequivocal.

So perhaps it should come as no surprise that more education doesn’t budge Republican views. On the contrary: In a 2008 Pew survey, for instance, only 19 percent of college-educated Republicans agreed that the planet is warming due to human actions, versus 31 percent of non-college educated Republicans. In other words, a higher education correlated with an increased likelihood of denying the science on the issue. Meanwhile, among Democrats and independents, more education correlated with greater acceptance of the science.

Other studies have shown a similar effect: Republicans who think they understand the global warming issue best are least concerned about it; and among Republicans and those with higher levels of distrust of science in general, learning more about the issue doesn’t increase one’s concern about it. What’s going on here? Well, according to Charles Taber and Milton Lodge of Stony Brook, one insidious aspect of motivated reasoning is that political sophisticates are prone to be more biased than those who know less about the issues. “People who have a dislike of some policy—for example, abortion—if they’re unsophisticated they can just reject it out of hand,” says Lodge. “But if they’re sophisticated, they can go one step further and start coming up with counterarguments.” These individuals are just as emotionally driven and biased as the rest of us, but they’re able to generate more and better reasons to explain why they’re right—and so their minds become harder to change.

That may be why the selectively quoted emails of Climategate were so quickly and easily seized upon by partisans as evidence of scandal. Cherry-picking is precisely the sort of behavior you would expect motivated reasoners to engage in to bolster their views—and whatever you may think about Climategate, the emails were a rich trove of new information upon which to impose one’s ideology.

Climategate had a substantial impact on public opinion, according to Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. It contributed to an overall drop in public concern about climate change and a significant loss of trust in scientists. But—as we should expect by now—these declines were concentrated among particular groups of Americans: Republicans, conservatives, and those with “individualistic” values. Liberals and those with “egalitarian” values didn’t lose much trust in climate science or scientists at all. “In some ways, Climategate was like a Rorschach test,” Leiserowitz says, “with different groups interpreting ambiguous facts in very different ways.”

“Is there a case study of science denial that largely occupies the political left? Yes: the claim that childhood vaccines are causing an epidemic of autism.”

So is there a case study of science denial that largely occupies the political left? Yes: the claim that childhood vaccines are causing an epidemic of autism. Its most famous proponents are an environmentalist (Robert F. Kennedy Jr.) and numerous Hollywood celebrities (most notably Jenny McCarthy and Jim Carrey). The Huffington Post gives a very large megaphone to denialists. And Seth Mnookin, author of the new book The Panic Virus, notes that if you want to find vaccine deniers, all you need to do is go hang out at Whole Foods.

Vaccine denial has all the hallmarks of a belief system that’s not amenable to refutation. Over the past decade, the assertion that childhood vaccines are driving autism rates has been undermined by multiple epidemiological studies—as well as the simple fact that autism rates continue to rise, even though the alleged offending agent in vaccines (a mercury-based preservative called thimerosal) has long since been removed.

Yet the true believers persist—critiquing each new study that challenges their views, and even rallying to the defense of vaccine-autism researcher Andrew Wakefield, after his 1998 Lancet paper—which originated the current vaccine scare—was retracted and he subsequently lost his license (PDF) to practice medicine. But then, why should we be surprised? Vaccine deniers created their own partisan media, such as the website Age of Autism, that instantly blast out critiques and counterarguments whenever any new development casts further doubt on anti-vaccine views.

It all raises the question: Do left and right differ in any meaningful way when it comes to biases in processing information, or are we all equally susceptible?

There are some clear differences. Science denial today is considerably more prominent on the political right—once you survey climate and related environmental issues, anti-evolutionism, attacks on reproductive health science by the Christian right, and stem-cell and biomedical matters. More tellingly, anti-vaccine positions are virtually nonexistent among Democratic officeholders today—whereas anti-climate-science views are becoming monolithic among Republican elected officials.

Some researchers have suggested that there are psychological differences between the left and the right that might impact responses to new information—that conservatives are more rigid and authoritarian, and liberals more tolerant of ambiguity. Psychologist John Jost of New York University has further argued that conservatives are “system justifiers”: They engage in motivated reasoning to defend the status quo.

This is a contested area, however, because as soon as one tries to psychoanalyze inherent political differences, a battery of counterarguments emerges: What about dogmatic and militant communists? What about how the parties have differed through history? After all, the most canonical case of ideologically driven science denial is probably the rejection of genetics in the Soviet Union, where researchers disagreeing with the anti-Mendelian scientist (and Stalin stooge) Trofim Lysenko were executed, and genetics itself was denounced as a “bourgeois” science and officially banned.

The upshot: All we can currently bank on is the fact that we all have blinders in some situations. The question then becomes: What can be done to counteract human nature itself?

“We all have blinders in some situations. The question then becomes: What can be done to counteract human nature?”

Given the power of our prior beliefs to skew how we respond to new information, one thing is becoming clear: If you want someone to accept new evidence, make sure to present it to them in a context that doesn’t trigger a defensive, emotional reaction.

This theory is gaining traction in part because of Kahan’s work at Yale. In one study, he and his colleagues packaged the basic science of climate change into fake newspaper articles bearing two very different headlines—”Scientific Panel Recommends Anti-Pollution Solution to Global Warming” and “Scientific Panel Recommends Nuclear Solution to Global Warming”—and then tested how citizens with different values responded. Sure enough, the latter framing made hierarchical individualists much more open to accepting the fact that humans are causing global warming. Kahan infers that the effect occurred because the science had been written into an alternative narrative that appealed to their pro-industry worldview.

You can follow the logic to its conclusion: Conservatives are more likely to embrace climate science if it comes to them via a business or religious leader, who can set the issue in the context of different values than those from which environmentalists or scientists often argue. Doing so is, effectively, to signal a détente in what Kahan has called a “culture war of fact.” In other words, paradoxically, you don’t lead with the facts in order to convince. You lead with the values—so as to give the facts a fighting chance.

[Original link with access to mentioned studies here.]

>Seminário comemora o Dia Meteorológico Mundial

JC e-mail 4222, de 22 de Março de 2011.

Palestras abordam mudanças climáticas, avanços tecnológicos na meteorologia e gerenciamento de risco de desastres.

O Instituto Nacional de Meteorologia (Inmet) realizará amanhã (23), em sua sede, em Brasília, o seminário Clima para Você, tema definido na 61ª Seção do Conselho Executivo da Organização Meteorológica Mundial (OMM) para as celebrações do Dia Meteorológico Mundial. Cinco palestras tratarão de temas da maior relevância no momento atual como mudanças climáticas, avanços tecnológicos na meteorologia e gerenciamento de risco de desastres naturais.

A data comemora a criação da OMM, em 1950, como uma agência especializada das Nações Unidas (ONU) que trata de três elementos fundamentais para o homem: o Clima, o Tempo e a Água.

O secretário geral da OMM, Michel Jarraud, em mensagem dirigida aos 189 países membros da Organização pelo Dia Meteorológico Mundial, disse que as atividades da OMM relacionadas ao clima são vistas hoje como fundamentais à segurança e bem-estar humanos e à consecução de benefícios econômicos para todas as nações.

Antonio Divino Moura, diretor do Inmet e terceiro vice-presidente da OMM, diz que o “o tema Clima e o Homem estão profundamente interligados. Há uma relação de reciprocidade entre eles: um afeta o outro. O modo de viver do homem tropical e do homem de latitudes médias e polares está diretamente relacionado ao clima. Por outro lado, o homem pode alterar o clima com ações que mudam elementos da natureza, como a queima de combustíveis fósseis; consequentemente, o clima reage. Hoje, com certo domínio tecnológico em escala planetária, o homem altera seu clima e sofre suas consequências.”
(Ascom Inmet)

>Comitê debate recursos para Sistema de Alerta de Desastres Naturais (JC, FSP, VE, MCT)

JC e-mail 4220, de 18 de Março de 2011

Fundo do clima vai bancar nova rede contra catástrofe natural

Neste ano, sistema de alerta receberá R$ 10 milhões dessa fonte de financiamento.

O sistema nacional de alerta contra catástrofes naturais será bancado neste ano por R$ 10 milhões do Fundo Nacional sobre Mudança do Clima. A decisão foi anunciada ontem em Brasília.

Principal anúncio do início da gestão de Aloizio Mercadante no Ministério da Ciência e Tecnologia, a criação de um sistema que possa evitar tragédias como a de janeiro na região serrana do Rio esbarrou nos cortes orçamentários do governo.

A saída foi pedir financiamento para o início da montagem do sistema ao fundo gerenciado pelo MMA (Ministério do Meio Ambiente). Afinal, raciocina o ministério, trata-se de uma ação de adaptação às mudanças climáticas, uma das linhas principais do fundo.

Neste ano, o Fundo Clima deverá investir R$ 229 milhões em ações como combate à desertificação e redução de emissões de carbono. Desse total, R$ 200 milhões serão disponibilizados pelo BNDES na forma de empréstimos com juros mais baixos que a inflação.

Na mira do secretário nacional de Mudança Climática, Eduardo Assad, estão linhas de crédito para substituição de ônibus a diesel por biodiesel e a expansão das placas solares para aquecimento de água, além do estímulo ao desenvolvimento de paineis fotovoltaicos. “A gente sempre ouve o argumento de que é muito caro, então vamos dar dinheiro para pesquisa, para ficar barato”, afirmou Assad.
(Folha de São Paulo)

Sistema antidesastres começa a operar este ano com verba de R$ 11 milhões

A operação integral do sistema, prevista para ocorrer em quatro anos, exigirá investimentos muito superiores ao inicial.

O Ministério da Ciência e Tecnologia (MCT) prevê um investimento de R$ 10,9 milhões este ano para dar início, em novembro, à operação do Sistema de Monitoramento e Alertas de Desastres Naturais, lançado em janeiro pelo governo federal. A operação integral do sistema, prevista para ocorrer em quatro anos, exigirá investimentos muito superiores ao inicial, mas que ainda se encontram em fase de detalhamento, segundo informou o climatologista Carlos Nobre, secretário de Políticas e Programas de Pesquisa e Desenvolvimento do MCT.

A expectativa do governo, segundo Nobre, é que as melhorias, que serão implementadas na capacidade de observação e de monitoramento de fenômenos climáticos e meteorológicos extremos e, principalmente, na capacidade de dar alertas sobre riscos de deslizamentos e de inundações, contribuam para uma redução de 80% do número de vítimas dos desastres naturais para áreas cobertas pelo sistema e com levantamentos detalhados de vulnerabilidades. “Para o restante do Brasil, estima-se uma redução de 50% do número de vítimas e, em dez anos, para menos de 20% em relação aos números atuais”, explicou Nobre.

O aprimoramento da rede de observação existente hoje, de acordo com o secretário do MCT, contempla a expansão da rede de Plataformas de Coleta de Dados Ambientais (PCDs). Atualmente, existe um total de 854 PCDs espalhadas pelo território nacional, mas 271 estão sem transmissão e outras 22 foram desativadas. O sistema utilizará todas as redes de dados meteorológicos existentes, como as quase 500 estações automáticas do Instituto Nacional de Meteorologia (Inmet).

As PCDs fazem a coleta diária de informações meteorológicas (temperatura, pressão, direção e velocidade do vento, umidades) em territórios de difícil acesso e no mar. Essas informações são utilizadas nos modelos computacionais de previsão do tempo e permitem o acompanhamento, em tempo quase real, das condições ambientais.

Também está prevista a instalação de cerca de 700 pluviômetros em áreas de risco, escolas, igrejas e órgãos públicos, para serem operados pelas comunidades e com informações enviadas para centros de controle, via telefonia celular.

A rede de radares meteorológicos existente hoje também será ampliada, segundo Nobre, com a aquisição de 15 equipamentos em parcerias com Estados, que estarão integrados com os atuais radares, permitindo um monitoramento mais adequado de chuvas, em tempo real, para áreas de risco.

O novo sistema de alerta propõe ainda a instalação de um radar meteorológico no Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (Inpe), de Cachoeira Paulista, onde já está operando o novo supercomputador Tupã.

“Além de complementar a rede nacional de radares, este equipamento permitirá o avanço de pesquisas sobre meteorologia por radares. Essa capacitação poderá ser usada nos cursos de pós-graduação do Inpe e no treinamento de pesquisadores e técnicos em meteorologia por radares”, disse.

O governo também pretende, no curto prazo, fazer um levantamento dos municípios com mapeamento geomorfológico detalhado de áreas de risco em encostas e de áreas sujeitas a inundações. O secretário do MCT ressalta que a confiabilidade dos alertas de risco e de ações de prevenção de desastres naturais dependem da existência de sistemas e de tecnologias de observação e monitoramento em tempo real.

“As previsões atuais de riscos de deslizamentos em encostas e de vazões em bacias hidrológicas ainda se encontram na infância, a não ser para poucos municípios como Rio de Janeiro e São Paulo, por exemplo”, diz o meteorologista.

A sede do sistema que, provavelmente, será instalada no campus do Inpe, em Cachoeira Paulista (SP), vai abrigar, até novembro deste ano, uma equipe de 30 profissionais, que vão trabalhar 24 horas por dia, todos os dias do ano. A vantagem de a sede ficar no Inpe, segundo já havia explicado o ministro da Ciência e Tecnologia, Aloizio Mercadante, é que ali já existe toda uma infraestrutura logística, com supercomputadores de última geração, sistema de fibra óptica e técnicos altamente qualificados, o que reduziria grande parte dos custos de montagem do sistema.

Além de uma rede integrada de radares meteorológicos e pluviômetros, o MCT também coloca como prioridade para o novo sistema, o lançamento de uma constelação de satélites de monitoramento de precipitações, que está sendo feita com a Nasa e a Agência Espacial Japonesa.

A médio prazo, diz o secretário Carlos Nobre, o objetivo do governo é contar com um satélite geoestacionário próprio para monitoramento ambiental e meteorológico. Também está prevista a modernização dos componentes do sistema de coleta de dados das PCDs, que recebe informações do satélite SCD-1 e SCD-2, ambos com vida útil vencida há mais de dez anos e operando de forma degradada.

O MCT avalia ainda a possibilidade de desenvolvimento de um sistema de coleta de dados novo, pela indústria nacional, para ser embarcado no satélite científico Lattes. O satélite está sendo desenvolvido pelo Inpe e tem lançamento previsto entre os anos de 2014 e 2015.
(Valor Econômico)

Comitê debate recursos para Sistema de Alerta de Desastres Naturais

Estão previstos R$ 238 milhões de investimentos em projetos para a redução dos impactos consequentes das alterações da temperatura global, em linhas de crédito para projetos do setor público e privado.

O secretário de Políticas e Programas de Pesquisa e Desenvolvimento do Ministério da Ciência e Tecnologia (Seped/MCT), Carlos Nobre, participou nesta quinta-feira (17) da 2ª Reunião Ordinária do Fundo Nacional sobre Mudança do Clima (Fundo Clima), na sede da Empresa Brasileira de Pesquisa Agropecuária (Embrapa), em Brasília.

No encontro, foram discutidos o plano anual para aplicação de recursos e o regimento interno do fundo. Estão previstos R$ 238 milhões de investimentos em projetos para a redução dos impactos consequentes das alterações da temperatura global, em linhas de crédito para projetos do setor público e privado. Participaram da reunião o secretário-executivo do Ministério do Meio Ambiente (MMA), Francisco Gaetani, que é o presidente do comitê gestor do Fundo, e o secretário de Mudanças Climáticas e Qualidade Ambiental do MMA, Eduardo Assad.

Entre os recursos, está previsto um financiamento inicial de R$ 10 milhões para o Sistema Nacional de Prevenção e Alerta de Desastres Naturais, programa do Governo Federal que tem coordenação do MCT. A previsão é de que o sistema funcionará plenamente em quatro anos. O sistema antecipará informações sobre possíveis desastres naturais relacionados à seca e outras catástrofes, como deslizamentos de terra e inundações. Os dados das áreas de risco mais críticas já devem estar disponíveis no próximo verão.

O Fundo Clima é um dos principais instrumentos de promoção e financiamento de atividades vinculadas à Política Nacional sobre Mudança do Clima. O Banco Nacional de Desenvolvimento Econômico e Social (BNDES) vai dispor R$ 204 milhões em linhas de crédito para projetos do setor público e privado. Também serão destinados R$ 34 milhões pelo MMA para iniciativas públicas, com recursos não-reembolsáveis.

A destinação dos recursos terá foco na educação, ciência, adaptação da sociedade aos impactos, redução de gases do efeito estufa, redução das emissões de carbono por desmatamento, difusão de tecnologias para diminuir os gases na atmosfera, formulação de políticas públicas e apoio a cadeias produtivas sustentáveis. O MMA é responsável pela formulação da proposta orçamentária anual e do plano anual de aplicação financeira.
(Assessoria de Comunicação do MCT)

>Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions, and Everyday Life (MIT Press)

Book release (April 2011, MIT Press):

Kari Marie Norgaard

Global warming is the most significant environmental issue of our time, yet public response in Western nations has been meager. Why have so few taken any action? In Living in Denial, sociologist Kari Norgaard searches for answers to this question, drawing on interviews and ethnographic data from her study of “Bygdaby,” the fictional name of an actual rural community in western Norway, during the unusually warm winter of 2001-2002.

In 2001-2002 the first snowfall came to Bygdaby two months later than usual; ice fishing was impossible; and the ski industry had to invest substantially in artificial snow-making. Stories in local and national newspapers linked the warm winter explicitly to global warming. Yet residents did not write letters to the editor, pressure politicians, or cut down on use of fossil fuels. Norgaard attributes this lack of response to the phenomenon of socially organized denial, by which information about climate science is known in the abstract but disconnected from political, social, and private life, and sees this as emblematic of how citizens of industrialized countries are responding to global warming.

Norgaard finds that for the highly educated and politically savvy residents of Bygdaby, global warming was both common knowledge and unimaginable. Norgaard traces this denial through multiple levels, from emotions to cultural norms to political economy. Her report from Bygdaby, supplemented by comparisons throughout the book to the United States, tells a larger story behind our paralysis in the face of today’s alarming predictions from climate scientists.

About the Author

Kari Marie Norgaard is Assistant Professor of Sociology at the University of Oregon.

>Never Say ‘Diagonal of the Covariance Matrix’: 6 Things Scientists Can Learn from Science Journalists

Never Say ‘Diagonal of the Covariance Matrix’: 6 Things Scientists Can Learn from Science Journalists
By Maggie Koerth-Baker
Science Editor,

The New York Times
February 26, 2011, 2:22 PM

Can Scientists Learn from Science Journalists?

Maggie Koerth-Baker, science editor of, gave a really good talk at the University of Wisconsin aiming to encourage scientists to communicate effectively with other human beings. A starting point: listening. Another: Start a blog.

Here’s a summary of the main points that I got from David Isenberg, who alerted me to the lecture:

  • Show, don’t tell.
  • Don’t just talk, ask.
  • Lay people know more (and less) than you think.
  • Not everything is news.
  • Be critical of your own work.
  • Mistakes last, but pedantry kills.

There are deep divisions between the cultures and norms of science and journalism.

One example: For scientists, peer review occurs before publication, for journalists, afterward.

Another: All lines in a newspaper story or broadcast, in theory at least, have to stand on their own as accurate; in a research paper, the inaccuracies produced by the compression in an abstract are seen as normal and acceptable by many scientists, with the nuance conveyed in the body of a paper.

In a recent conversation I had with Gavin Schmidt, a climate scientist and communicator, it was clear we had utterly different norms for interpreting summaries of a research paper.

Some of the differences were touched on in my recent coverage of new analysis attributing some changes in extreme precipitation in the Northern Hemisphere to human-driven global warming.

I would add that scientists (and science journalists) would do well to review the talk given by Thomas Lessl of the University of Georgia at the annual conference of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, on the limited role of science, even if communicated clearly, in shaping policy and human choices.

There’s a link and excerpt in my recent post “Do Fights Over Climate Communication Reflect the End of ‘Scientism’?”

The take-home thought:

As scientists and science journalists spar over who’s failing in climate communication, an outsider says they’re missing the point

>Can a group of scientists in California end the war on climate change? (Guardian)

The Berkeley Earth project say they are about to reveal the definitive truth about global warming

Ian Sample
Sunday 27 February 2011 20.29 GMT

Richard Muller of the Berkeley Earth project is convinced his approach will lead to a better assessment of how much the world is warming. Photograph: Dan Tuffs for the Guardian

In 1964, Richard Muller, a 20-year-old graduate student with neat-cropped hair, walked into Sproul Hall at the University of California, Berkeley, and joined a mass protest of unprecedented scale. The activists, a few thousand strong, demanded that the university lift a ban on free speech and ease restrictions on academic freedom, while outside on the steps a young folk-singer called Joan Baez led supporters in a chorus of We Shall Overcome. The sit-in ended two days later when police stormed the building in the early hours and arrested hundreds of students. Muller was thrown into Oakland jail. The heavy-handedness sparked further unrest and, a month later, the university administration backed down. The protest was a pivotal moment for the civil liberties movement and marked Berkeley as a haven of free thinking and fierce independence.

Today, Muller is still on the Berkeley campus, probably the only member of the free speech movement arrested that night to end up with a faculty position there – as a professor of physics. His list of publications is testament to the free rein of tenure: he worked on the first light from the big bang, proposed a new theory of ice ages, and found evidence for an upturn in impact craters on the moon. His expertise is highly sought after. For more than 30 years, he was a member of the independent Jason group that advises the US government on defence; his college lecture series, Physics for Future Presidents was voted best class on campus, went stratospheric on YouTube and, in 2009, was turned into a bestseller.

For the past year, Muller has kept a low profile, working quietly on a new project with a team of academics hand-picked for their skills. They meet on campus regularly, to check progress, thrash out problems and hunt for oversights that might undermine their work. And for good reason. When Muller and his team go public with their findings in a few weeks, they will be muscling in on the ugliest and most hard-fought debate of modern times.

Muller calls his latest obsession the Berkeley Earth project. The aim is so simple that the complexity and magnitude of the undertaking is easy to miss. Starting from scratch, with new computer tools and more data than has ever been used, they will arrive at an independent assessment of global warming. The team will also make every piece of data it uses – 1.6bn data points – freely available on a website. It will post its workings alongside, including full information on how more than 100 years of data from thousands of instruments around the world are stitched together to give a historic record of the planet’s temperature.

Muller is fed up with the politicised row that all too often engulfs climate science. By laying all its data and workings out in the open, where they can be checked and challenged by anyone, the Berkeley team hopes to achieve something remarkable: a broader consensus on global warming. In no other field would Muller’s dream seem so ambitious, or perhaps, so naive.

“We are bringing the spirit of science back to a subject that has become too argumentative and too contentious,” Muller says, over a cup of tea. “We are an independent, non-political, non-partisan group. We will gather the data, do the analysis, present the results and make all of it available. There will be no spin, whatever we find.” Why does Muller feel compelled to shake up the world of climate change? “We are doing this because it is the most important project in the world today. Nothing else comes close,” he says.

Muller is moving into crowded territory with sharp elbows. There are already three heavyweight groups that could be considered the official keepers of the world’s climate data. Each publishes its own figures that feed into the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Nasa’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City produces a rolling estimate of the world’s warming. A separate assessment comes from another US agency, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (Noaa). The third group is based in the UK and led by the Met Office. They all take readings from instruments around the world to come up with a rolling record of the Earth’s mean surface temperature. The numbers differ because each group uses its own dataset and does its own analysis, but they show a similar trend. Since pre-industrial times, all point to a warming of around 0.75C.

You might think three groups was enough, but Muller rolls out a list of shortcomings, some real, some perceived, that he suspects might undermine public confidence in global warming records. For a start, he says, warming trends are not based on all the available temperature records. The data that is used is filtered and might not be as representative as it could be. He also cites a poor history of transparency in climate science, though others argue many climate records and the tools to analyse them have been public for years.

Then there is the fiasco of 2009 that saw roughly 1,000 emails from a server at the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit (CRU) find their way on to the internet. The fuss over the messages, inevitably dubbed Climategate, gave Muller’s nascent project added impetus. Climate sceptics had already attacked James Hansen, head of the Nasa group, for making political statements on climate change while maintaining his role as an objective scientist. The Climategate emails fuelled their protests. “With CRU’s credibility undergoing a severe test, it was all the more important to have a new team jump in, do the analysis fresh and address all of the legitimate issues raised by sceptics,” says Muller.

This latest point is where Muller faces his most delicate challenge. To concede that climate sceptics raise fair criticisms means acknowledging that scientists and government agencies have got things wrong, or at least could do better. But the debate around global warming is so highly charged that open discussion, which science requires, can be difficult to hold in public. At worst, criticising poor climate science can be taken as an attack on science itself, a knee-jerk reaction that has unhealthy consequences. “Scientists will jump to the defence of alarmists because they don’t recognise that the alarmists are exaggerating,” Muller says.

The Berkeley Earth project came together more than a year ago, when Muller rang David Brillinger, a statistics professor at Berkeley and the man Nasa called when it wanted someone to check its risk estimates of space debris smashing into the International Space Station. He wanted Brillinger to oversee every stage of the project. Brillinger accepted straight away. Since the first meeting he has advised the scientists on how best to analyse their data and what pitfalls to avoid. “You can think of statisticians as the keepers of the scientific method, ” Brillinger told me. “Can scientists and doctors reasonably draw the conclusions they are setting down? That’s what we’re here for.”

For the rest of the team, Muller says he picked scientists known for original thinking. One is Saul Perlmutter, the Berkeley physicist who found evidence that the universe is expanding at an ever faster rate, courtesy of mysterious “dark energy” that pushes against gravity. Another is Art Rosenfeld, the last student of the legendary Manhattan Project physicist Enrico Fermi, and something of a legend himself in energy research. Then there is Robert Jacobsen, a Berkeley physicist who is an expert on giant datasets; and Judith Curry, a climatologist at Georgia Institute of Technology, who has raised concerns over tribalism and hubris in climate science.

Robert Rohde, a young physicist who left Berkeley with a PhD last year, does most of the hard work. He has written software that trawls public databases, themselves the product of years of painstaking work, for global temperature records. These are compiled, de-duplicated and merged into one huge historical temperature record. The data, by all accounts, are a mess. There are 16 separate datasets in 14 different formats and they overlap, but not completely. Muller likens Rohde’s achievement to Hercules’s enormous task of cleaning the Augean stables.

The wealth of data Rohde has collected so far – and some dates back to the 1700s – makes for what Muller believes is the most complete historical record of land temperatures ever compiled. It will, of itself, Muller claims, be a priceless resource for anyone who wishes to study climate change. So far, Rohde has gathered records from 39,340 individual stations worldwide.

Publishing an extensive set of temperature records is the first goal of Muller’s project. The second is to turn this vast haul of data into an assessment on global warming. Here, the Berkeley team is going its own way again. The big three groups – Nasa, Noaa and the Met Office – work out global warming trends by placing an imaginary grid over the planet and averaging temperatures records in each square. So for a given month, all the records in England and Wales might be averaged out to give one number. Muller’s team will take temperature records from individual stations and weight them according to how reliable they are.

This is where the Berkeley group faces its toughest task by far and it will be judged on how well it deals with it. There are errors running through global warming data that arise from the simple fact that the global network of temperature stations was never designed or maintained to monitor climate change. The network grew in a piecemeal fashion, starting with temperature stations installed here and there, usually to record local weather.

Among the trickiest errors to deal with are so-called systematic biases, which skew temperature measurements in fiendishly complex ways. Stations get moved around, replaced with newer models, or swapped for instruments that record in celsius instead of fahrenheit. The times measurements are taken varies, from say 6am to 9pm. The accuracy of individual stations drift over time and even changes in the surroundings, such as growing trees, can shield a station more from wind and sun one year to the next. Each of these interferes with a station’s temperature measurements, perhaps making it read too cold, or too hot. And these errors combine and build up.

This is the real mess that will take a Herculean effort to clean up. The Berkeley Earth team is using algorithms that automatically correct for some of the errors, a strategy Muller favours because it doesn’t rely on human interference. When the team publishes its results, this is where the scrutiny will be most intense.

Despite the scale of the task, and the fact that world-class scientific organisations have been wrestling with it for decades, Muller is convinced his approach will lead to a better assessment of how much the world is warming. “I’ve told the team I don’t know if global warming is more or less than we hear, but I do believe we can get a more precise number, and we can do it in a way that will cool the arguments over climate change, if nothing else,” says Muller. “Science has its weaknesses and it doesn’t have a stranglehold on the truth, but it has a way of approaching technical issues that is a closer approximation of truth than any other method we have.”

He will find out soon enough if his hopes to forge a true consensus on climate change are misplaced. It might not be a good sign that one prominent climate sceptic contacted by the Guardian, Canadian economist Ross McKitrick, had never heard of the project. Another, Stephen McIntyre, whom Muller has defended on some issues, hasn’t followed the project either, but said “anything that [Muller] does will be well done”. Phil Jones at the University of East Anglia was unclear on the details of the Berkeley project and didn’t comment.

Elsewhere, Muller has qualified support from some of the biggest names in the business. At Nasa, Hansen welcomed the project, but warned against over-emphasising what he expects to be the minor differences between Berkeley’s global warming assessment and those from the other groups. “We have enough trouble communicating with the public already,” Hansen says. At the Met Office, Peter Stott, head of climate monitoring and attribution, was in favour of the project if it was open and peer-reviewed.

Peter Thorne, who left the Met Office’s Hadley Centre last year to join the Co-operative Institute for Climate and Satellites in North Carolina, is enthusiastic about the Berkeley project but raises an eyebrow at some of Muller’s claims. The Berkeley group will not be the first to put its data and tools online, he says. Teams at Nasa and Noaa have been doing this for many years. And while Muller may have more data, they add little real value, Thorne says. Most are records from stations installed from the 1950s onwards, and then only in a few regions, such as North America. “Do you really need 20 stations in one region to get a monthly temperature figure? The answer is no. Supersaturating your coverage doesn’t give you much more bang for your buck,” he says. They will, however, help researchers spot short-term regional variations in climate change, something that is likely to be valuable as climate change takes hold.

Despite his reservations, Thorne says climate science stands to benefit from Muller’s project. “We need groups like Berkeley stepping up to the plate and taking this challenge on, because it’s the only way we’re going to move forwards. I wish there were 10 other groups doing this,” he says.

For the time being, Muller’s project is organised under the auspices of Novim, a Santa Barbara-based non-profit organisation that uses science to find answers to the most pressing issues facing society and to publish them “without advocacy or agenda”. Funding has come from a variety of places, including the Fund for Innovative Climate and Energy Research (funded by Bill Gates), and the Department of Energy’s Lawrence Berkeley Lab. One donor has had some climate bloggers up in arms: the man behind the Charles G Koch Charitable Foundation owns, with his brother David, Koch Industries, a company Greenpeace called a “kingpin of climate science denial”. On this point, Muller says the project has taken money from right and left alike.

No one who spoke to the Guardian about the Berkeley Earth project believed it would shake the faith of the minority who have set their minds against global warming. “As new kids on the block, I think they will be given a favourable view by people, but I don’t think it will fundamentally change people’s minds,” says Thorne. Brillinger has reservations too. “There are people you are never going to change. They have their beliefs and they’re not going to back away from them.”

Waking across the Berkeley campus, Muller stops outside Sproul Hall, where he was arrested more than 40 years ago. Today, the adjoining plaza is a designated protest spot, where student activists gather to wave banners, set up tables and make speeches on any cause they choose. Does Muller think his latest project will make any difference? “Maybe we’ll find out that what the other groups do is absolutely right, but we’re doing this in a new way. If the only thing we do is allow a consensus to be reached as to what is going on with global warming, a true consensus, not one based on politics, then it will be an enormously valuable achievement.”

>What we have and haven’t learned from ‘Climategate’

BY David Roberts
28 FEB 2011 1:29 PM

I wrote about the “Climategate” controversy (over emails stolen from the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit) once, which is about what it warranted.

My silent protest had no effect whatsoever, of course, and the story followed a depressingly familiar trajectory: hyped relentlessly by right-wing media, bullied into the mainstream press as he-said she-said, and later, long after the damage is done, revealed as utterly bereft of substance. It’s a familiar script for climate faux controversies, though this one played out on a slightly grander scale.

Investigations galore

Consider that there have now been five, count ‘em five, inquiries into the matter. Penn State established an independent inquiry into the accusations against scientist Michael Mann and found “no credible evidence” [PDF] of improper research conduct. A British government investigation run by the House of Commons’ Science and Technology Committee found that while the CRU scientists could have been more transparent and responsive to freedom-of-information requests, there was no evidence of scientific misconduct. The U.K.’s Royal Society (its equivalent of the National Academies) ran an investigation that found “no evidence of any deliberate scientific malpractice.” The University of East Anglia appointed respected civil servant Sir Muir Russell to run an exhaustive, six-month independent inquiry; he concluded that “the honesty and rigour of CRU as scientists are not in doubt … We have not found any evidence of behaviour that might undermine the conclusions of the IPCC assessments.”

All those results are suggestive, but let’s face it, they’re mostly … British. Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) wanted an American investigation of all the American scientists involved in these purported dirty deeds. So he asked the Department of Commerce’s inspector general to get to the bottom of it. On Feb. 18, the results of that investigation were released. “In our review of the CRU emails,” the IG’s office said in its letter to Inhofe [PDF], “we did not find any evidence that NOAA inappropriately manipulated data … or failed to adhere to appropriate peer review procedures.” (Oddly, you’ll find no mention of this central result in Inhofe’s tortured public response.)

Whatever legitimate issues there may be about the responsiveness or transparency of this particular group of scientists, there was nothing in this controversy — nothing — that cast even the slightest doubt on the basic findings of climate science. Yet it became a kind of stain on the public image of climate scientists. How did that happen?

Smooth criminals

You don’t hear about it much in the news coverage, but recall, the story began with a crime. Hackers broke into the East Anglia email system and stole emails and documents, an illegal invasion of privacy. Yet according to The Wall Street Journal’s Kim Strassel, the emails “found their way to the internet.” In ABC science correspondent Ned Potter’s telling, the emails “became public.” The New York Times’ Andy Revkin says they were “extracted from computers.”

None of those phrasings are wrong, per se, but all pass rather lightly over the fact that some actual person or persons put them on the internet, made them public, extracted them from the computers. Someone hacked in, collected emails, sifted through and selected those that could be most damning, organized them, and timed the release for maximum impact, just before the Copenhagen climate talks. Said person or persons remain uncaught, uncharged, and unprosecuted. There have since been attempted break-ins at other climate research institutions.

If step one was crime, step two was character assassination. When the emails were released, they were combed over by skeptic blogs and right-wing media, who collected sentences, phrases, even individual terms that, when stripped of all context, create the worst possible impression. Altogether the whole thing was as carefully staged as any modern-day political attack ad.

Yet when the “scandal” broke, rather than being about criminal theft and character assassination, it was instantly “Climategate.” It was instantly about climate scientists, not the illegal and dishonest tactics of their attackers. The scientists, not the ideologues and ratf*ckers, had to defend themselves.

Burden of proof

It’s a numbingly familiar pattern in media coverage. The conservative movement that’s been attacking climate science for 20 years has a storied history of demonstrable fabrications, distortions, personal attacks, and nothingburger faux-scandals — not only on climate science, but going back to asbestos, ozone, leaded gasoline, tobacco, you name it. They don’t follow the rigorous standards of professional science; they follow no intellectual or ethical standards whatsoever. Yet no matter how long their record of viciousness and farce, every time the skeptic blogosphere coughs up a new “ZOMG!” it’s as though we start from zero again, like no one has a memory longer than five minutes.

Here’s the basic question: At this point, given their respective accomplishments and standards, wouldn’t it make sense to give scientists the strong benefit of the doubt when they are attacked by ideologues with a history of dishonesty and error? Shouldn’t the threshold for what counts as a “scandal” have been nudged a bit higher?

Agnotological inquiry

The lesson we’ve learned from climategate is simple. It’s the same lesson taught by death panels, socialist government takeover, Sharia law, and Obama’s birth certificate. To understand it we must turn to agnotology, the study of culturally induced ignorance or doubt. (Hat tip to an excellent recent post on this by John Quiggen.)

Beck, Palin, and the rest of Fox News and talk radio operate on the pretense that they are giving consumers access to a hidden “universe of reality,” to use Limbaugh’s term. It’s a reality being actively obscured the “lamestream media,” academics, scientists, and government officials. Affirming the tenets of that secret reality has become an act of tribal reinforcement, the equivalent of a secret handshake.

The modern right has created a closed epistemic loop containing millions of people. Within that loop, the implausibility or extremity of a claim itself counts as evidence. The more liberal elites reject it, the more it entrenches itself. Standards of evidence have nothing to do with it.

The notion that there is a global conspiracy by professional scientists to falsify results in order to get more research money is, to borrow Quiggen’s words about birtherism, “a shibboleth, that is, an affirmation that marks the speaker as a member of their community or tribe.” Once you have accepted that shibboleth, anything offered to you as evidence of its truth, no matter how ludicrous, will serve as affirmation. (Even a few context-free lines cherry-picked from thousands of private emails.)

Living with the loop

There’s one thing we haven’t learned from climategate (or death panels or birtherism). U.S. politics now contains a large, well-funded, tightly networked, and highly amplified tribe that defines itself through rejection of “lamestream” truth claims and standards of evidence. How should our political culture relate to that tribe?

We haven’t figured it out. Politicians and the political press have tried to accommodate the shibboleths of the right as legitimate positions for debate. The press in particular has practically sworn off plain judgments of accuracy or fact. But all that’s done is confuse and mislead the broader public, while the tribe pushes ever further into extremity. The tribe does not want to be accommodated. It is fueled by elite rejection.

At this point mainstream institutions like the press are in a bind: either accept the tribe’s assertions as legitimate or be deemed “biased.” Until there is a way out of that trap, there will be more and more Climategates.

Fact-Free Science (N.Y. Times)


Published: February 25, 2011

Photo: Camille Seaman.

President Obama has made scientific innovation the cornerstone of his plans for “winning the future,” requesting in his recent budget proposal large financing increases for scientific research and education and, in particular, sustained attention to developing alternative energy sources and technologies. “This is our generation’s Sputnik moment,” he declared in his State of the Union address last month.

It would be easier to believe in this great moment of scientific reawakening, of course, if more than half of the Republicans in the House and three-quarters of Republican senators did not now say that the threat of global warming, as a man-made and highly threatening phenomenon, is at best an exaggeration and at worst an utter “hoax,” as James Inhofe of Oklahoma, the ranking Republican on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, once put it. These grim numbers, compiled by the Center for American Progress, describe a troubling new reality: the rise of the Tea Party and its anti-intellectual, anti-establishment, anti-elite worldview has brought both a mainstreaming and a radicalization of antiscientific thought.

The politicization of science isn’t particularly new; the Bush administration was famous for pressuring government agencies to bring their vision of reality in line with White House imperatives. In response to this, and with a renewed culture war over the very nature of scientific reality clearly brewing, the Obama administration tried to initiate a pre-emptive strike earlier this winter, issuing a set of “scientific integrity” guidelines aimed at keeping the work of government scientists free from ideological pollution. But since taking over the House of Representatives, the Republicans have packed science-related committees with lawmakers who refute such basic findings as the reality of global warming and the threats of climate change. Fred Upton, the head of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, has said outright that he does not believe that global warming is man-made. John Shimkus of Illinois, who also sits on the committee — as well as on the Subcommittee on Energy and Environment — has said that the government doesn’t need to make a priority of regulating greenhouse-gas emissions, because as he put it late last year, “God said the earth would not be destroyed by a flood.”

Source: Gallup

Whoever emerges as the Republican presidential candidate in 2012 will very likely have to embrace climate-change denial. Mitt Romney, Tim Pawlenty and Mike Huckabee, all of whom once expressed some support for action on global warming, have notably distanced themselves from these views. Saying no to mainstream climate science, notes Daniel J. Weiss, a senior fellow and director of climate strategy for the Center for American Progress, is now a required practice for Republicans eager to play to an emboldened conservative base. “Opposing the belief that global warming is human-caused has become systematic, like opposition to abortion,” he says. “It’s seen as another way for government to control people’s lives. It’s become a cultural issue.”

That taking on the scientific establishment has become a favored activity of the right is quite a turnabout. After all, questioning accepted fact, revealing the myths and politics behind established certainties, is a tactic straight out of the left-wing playbook. In the 1960s and 1970s, the push back against scientific authority brought us the patients’ rights movement and was a key component of women’s rights activism. That questioning of authority veered in a more radical direction in the academy in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when left-wing scholars doing “science studies” increasingly began taking on the very idea of scientific truth.

This was the era of the culture wars, the years when the conservative University of Chicago philosopher Allan Bloom warned in his book “The Closing of the American Mind” of the dangers of liberal know-nothing relativism. But somehow, in the passage from Bush I to Bush II and beyond, the politics changed. By the mid-1990s, even some progressives said that the assault on truth, particularly scientific truth, had gone too far, a point made most famously in 1996 by the progressive New York University physicist Alan Sokal, who managed to trick the left-wing academic journal Social Text into printing a tongue-in-cheek article, written in an overblown parody of dense academic jargon, that argued that physical reality, as we know it, may not exist.

Illustration: Nomoco

Following the Sokal hoax, many on the academic left experienced some real embarrassment. But the genie was out of the bottle. And as the political zeitgeist shifted, attacking science became a sport of the radical right. “Some standard left arguments, combined with the left-populist distrust of ‘experts’ and ‘professionals’ and assorted high-and-mighty muckety-mucks who think they’re the boss of us, were fashioned by the right into a powerful device for delegitimating scientific research,” Michael Bérubé, a literature professor at Pennsylvania State University, said of this evolution recently in the journal Democracy. He quoted the disillusioned French theorist Bruno Latour, a pioneer of science studies who was horrified by the climate-change-denying machinations of the right: “Entire Ph.D. programs are still running to make sure that good American kids are learning the hard way that facts are made up, that there is no such thing as natural, unmediated, unbiased access to truth . . . while dangerous extremists are using the very same argument of social construction to destroy hard-won evidence that could save our lives.”

Some conservatives argue that the Republican war on science is bad politics and that catering to the “climate-denier sect” in the party is a dangerous strategy, as David Jenkins, a member of Republicans for Environmental Protection wrote recently on the FrumForum blog. Public opinion, after all, has not kept pace with Republican rhetoric on the topic of climate change. A USA Today/Gallup poll conducted in January found that 83 percent of Americans want Congress to pass legislation promoting alternative energy, and a recent poll by the Opinion Research Corporation found that almost two-thirds want the Environmental Protection Agency to be more aggressive.

For those who have staked out extreme positions, backtracking may not be easy: “It is very difficult to get a man to understand something when his tribal identity depends on his not understanding it,” Bérubé notes. Maybe it’s time for some new identity politics.

Judith Warner is the author, most recently, of “We’ve Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication.”

>‘Rapid Response Team’ Pairs Scientists and Media (The Yale Forum on Climate Change & The Media)

By Lisa Palmer | February 16, 2011
The Yale Forum on Climate Change & The Media

Think of it as the climate scientists/journalists version of “eHarmony.” A volunteer website launched by scientists serves as a matchmaking venue for media outlets and government officials looking for input on climate science topics.

It’s a Friday morning and Scott Mandia is scanning the Climate Science Rapid Response Team e-mail inbox he shares with two other climate science match-makers.

Today, on Mandia’s watch, a message from a journalist arrives at 5:30 a.m. It’s the first of two or three media requests he’ll likely get this day. Mandia’s task now? Ask for a response from one of 135 scientists in his network most qualified to answer the question. You might think of it as the climate scientists/journalists version of “eHarmony.”

Mandia, a professor of physical sciences at Suffolk County Community College, in New York, and his fellow Rapid Response founders, John Abraham, associate professor of thermodynamics at St. Thomas University, and Ray Weymann, a California-based retired astronomer and member of the National Academy of Sciences, take shifts. Each is a volunteer custodian of e-mail requests that flow in from their climate change match-making website connecting climate scientists with lawmakers and media outlets.

Launched in November 2010, the website tries to narrow the information gap between scientific understanding of climate change and what the public knows. Scientists involved with the group are screened and selected on an invitation-only basis. The experts come from a range of climate change science specialties, everything from climate modeling researchers and ecologists to economists and policy experts. Most are university faculty members or employees of government laboratories. It’s not a collection that most climate “contrarians” might be comfortable with.
The all-volunteer group promises to respond quickly to media requests to make sure science is portrayed accurately in the day’s news. They say turnaround time for requests is as fast as two hours for media operating on a short deadline.

“The scientists became members of our group because they understand that, as scientists, they have a responsibility to engage the public by engaging the media,” Mandia said in a phone interview. Mandia said he and his colleagues operate the service with no funding, and the website design was donated by Richard Hawkins, director of the Public Interest Research Centre in the United Kingdom.

Early on a Confusing Mix-up with AGU Media Project

Coincidentally, the Climate Science Rapid Response Team website debuted at the same time as the relaunch of the American Geophysical Unions’s Climate Q and A service, which has similarities with the Rapid Response Team but strictly limits questions to matters of science. (See Yale Forum related story.) Some confusion ensued when the Los Angeles Times erroneously reported a link between the AGU’s group and the Rapid Response volunteers, and AGU staff quickly initiated a damage-control effort in fear that some on Capitol Hill would find, based on the newspaper’s coverage, their effort overly politicized.

“When that (Los Angeles Times) story came out, it sounded like scientists were fighting back against politicians. We are not advocates about policy, but it made us look like we were the 98 pound weaklings getting sand kicked in their face,” said Mandia. But the bad press proved a boon to increase the numbers involved in the Rapid Response force.

“Scientists then realized they were being criticized unfairly and wanted to get involved,” said Mandia. The number of scientists involved with the Rapid Response Team quadrupled in number.
The AGU’s Q and A Service first formed to support media requests during the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009. It started again prior to the U.N. talks in Cancun. The Q and A service is open to anyone with a PhD degree willing to provide scientific expertise on a subject.

“AGU is not a partisan organization. We are here to make our science available so there is good information available to the media,” AGU Executive Director Chris McEntee said in a telephone interview.

About 700 scientists are registered with AGU’s service, which has provided answers to 68 media outlets. “We think it is important that policymakers, media, and the public get unbiased, nonpartisan information when making a decision,” said McEntee. “The service fits with our mission to promote scientific discovery for the benefit of humanity.”

Scientists Step Up

Mandia said scientists involved with his effort are usually tapped once or twice a month for media inquiries. No single person carries the burden of too many repeat requests because the group has selected a range of scientists, vetted for their expertise in various disciplines. The Rapid Response Team also has promised confidentiality of its scientists, who can remain anonymous if they wish. But Mandia said that, despite the offer, “none of them has ever requested anonymity.”

Andrew Dessler, an atmospheric scientist at Texas A & M University, is affiliated with both information services, but is more involved with the Climate Science Rapid Response Team. He was prompted into action because “dealing with climate change misinformation is difficult to do on your own,” Dessler wrote in an e-mail. “Effectively responding to the denial machine absolutely requires coordinated action by the climate science community. In this way, I think the CCRRT [sic] is a model of how scientists can effectively spend their limited resources on outreach.”

Dessler gives the Rapid Response service high marks, especially for institutionalizing the response process from scientists and distributing the communications workload. “You have to realize the asymmetry here. For [some] so-called skeptics, spreading misinformation is their full-time job. Scientists, on the other hand, already have a full-time job: research and teaching. Thus, we need to have mechanisms to level the playing field, and the CCRRT [sic] is one such mechanism,” said Dessler, adding that he encourages scientists to get involved in public outreach. “Because we are mainly funded by tax dollars, I think we have a responsibility to repay this by spreading the results of our research as far and wide as possible.”

A Goal of Precise Pairing

As of early February, more than 100 media organizations — newspaper, magazine, online media, television, and radio — and government officials have used the service to find climate scientists who could comment on a story. Mainstream media users have included The New York Times, The Guardian (UK), CNN International, and American Public Media’s “Marketplace,” among many others. Mandia said many of the media questions in December had to do with severe weather in the United States and in Northern Europe.

The Rapid Response website includes testimonials from such reporters as Ben Webster, of The Times in London: “I asked a difficult question about ice cores and was impressed by the efforts the team made to find the right people to respond. The response was balanced, stating clearly what was known but also the uncertainties.”

Eli Kintisch, a reporter for Science and author of Hack the Planet (Wiley, 2010), called on the service when he was looking for a scientist to serve as a color commentator of a live blog for Science he was producing during a House hearing. Facing time constraints, Kintisch relied on the matchmakers for the legwork of finding someone to fill this role.

“I have my own batch of sources on climate that I have used to comment on stories, and I have used ProfNet in the past occasionally. But I was looking for someone who had some experience with public engagement and would be available for two to four hours,” Kintisch said in a telephone interview. “The hearing was a review of the basics of climate science, and there were some prominent contrarians testifying, so I thought it would be useful to have someone available who knew the basics of climate science.”

While not all climate scientists feel comfortable engaging with the media, they are finding ways to get more involved in communications. Mandia said, “Some scientists are nervous about speaking to the press and worry they will be misquoted, but getting out of the ‘Ivory Tower’ is becoming very important.”

Lisa Palmer is a Maryland-based freelance writer and a regular contributor to The Yale Forum. (E-mail:

>The Role of Trust in Climate Change Adaptation and Resilience: Can ICTs help?

February 27, 2011
By Angelica Valeria Ospina

Amidst the magnitude and uncertainty that characterizes the climate change field, trust is a topic that is often overlooked, despite being one of the cornerstones of resilience building and adaptive capacity.

Trust is an essential element of effective communication, networking and self-organisation, and thus is indispensable in efforts to withstand and recover from the effects of climate change-related manifestations, being acute shocks or slow-changing trends. It’s an equally important basis for vulnerable communities to be able to adapt, and potentially change, in face of the -largely unknown- impact of climatic occurrences.

Associated with the belief, reliability, expectations and perceptions between people and the institutions within which they operate or interact, trust often acts as an underlying cause of action or inaction, constituting an important factor in decision-making processes.

With the rapid diffusion of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) such as mobile phones and the Internet, the unprecedented speed at which information is produced and shared is posing a new set of possibilities -and challenges- to communication management and trust building, both essential to the development of resilience and adaptation to the changing climate.

Adaptation experiences suggest that vulnerable communities are more prone to act upon information that they can ‘trust’, a complex concept that could be linked to factors such as the source of the information -and the local perception of it-, the language used to convey the message, the role and credibility of ‘infomediaries’ or local facilitators that help disseminate the information, the use of local appropriation mechanisms and community involvement, among others.

Climate change Adaptation Strategies and National Programmes of Action are increasingly called to foster trust-building processes by engaging local actors and gaining a better understanding of local needs and priorities. Thus, trust building in the climate change field involves finding new collaborative spaces where the interests of all stakeholders can be heard, and both scientific and traditional knowledge can be shared and built upon towards more effective adaptive practices, and potentially, transformation.

The widespread diffusion of ICTs -such as mobile phones, Internet access and even community radios- within Developing country environments could be opening up new opportunities to use these tools in support of trust-building processes, a necessary step towards change and transformation.

So, how can ICTs help to build trust within climate change resilience and adaptation processes?

Research at the intersection of ICTs, climate change and development suggests the following aspects in regards to the supportive role of ICT tools towards trust:

  • Multi-level Communication: ICTs can facilitate communication and trust-building between and across actors at the micro (e.g. community members), meso (e.g. NGOs) and macro levels (e.g. policy makers), fostering participation in the design of adaptation -and mitigation- strategies, as well as accountability and monitoring during their implementation.
  • Network Strengthening: The role of social networks is key within processes of adaptation to climate change and resilience building. Trust is at the core of networks functioning. The use of ICTs such as mobile phones can help to enhance communication and the bonds of trust within and among networks, which can in turn contribute to the effectiveness of community networks’ support and the access to resources.
  • Self-organisation: The ability to self-organize is a key attribute of resilient systems, and involves processes of collaboration that require trust among stakeholders and institutions. By facilitating access to information and resources through both point-to-multipoint and point-to-point exchange, ICTs can be important contributors to self-organisation and to the coordination of both preventive and reactive joint efforts in face of climatic events. They can help climate change actors to verify or double-check facts if the information source is not entirely trusted, diversifying their potential responses to the occurrence of climatic events. Additionally, ICTs can play a role towards trust by enabling the assessment of options and trade-offs involved in decision-making.
  • Appropriation and Infomediaries: The role of actors that ‘translate’ or ‘mediate’ the technical and scientific information to suit the needs of the local context, is vital for the appropriation of information. Tools such as the Internet, GIS or mobile phones can support and strengthen the role of agricultural extension workers, deepening the relationships of trust that they have established with local producers affected by climate change manifestations by offering them a broader set of options and information, for example, on crop diversification or plague management, including more immediate response to their queries.
  • Transparency and Fluency: Online platforms that provide new channels for citizens to voice their views and concerns, and that allow an interaction with decision makers, are an example of ICTs potential towards transparency and information fluency, which is an important factor in the local perception, expectations and ‘trust’ on local, regional and national institutions.

While at the onset of extreme events we are quick to recognize the importance of communication, we often fail to acknowledge the pivotal role of trust towards adaptation and resilience, as well as the potential of innovative tools such as ICTs to help fostering trust, strengthening networks and collaboration.

But as important as discussing the potential of ICTs towards trust building in adaptive processes, is discussing the risks associated with their use.

Ensuring the quality, accuracy and relevance of the information is key to avoid maladaptive practices and poor decision-making, which could potentially lead to deepen existent vulnerabilities and inequalities. Issues of power and differential access to information also need to be addressed when considering the potential of these tools towards trust building, network strengthening and participatory processes –including those related to climate change.

Ultimately, ICTs could play an important supportive role helping to build and strengthen trust within vulnerable communities affected by climate change impacts, as well as in National Adaptation Plans and Programmes of Action seeking to build long-term climate change resilience with a multi-stakeholder, participatory base.

>COP-16: Só mesmo com ajuda do céu (JC)

JC e-mail 4147, de 30 de Novembro de 2010.

Clima mata 21 mil em 2010 e ministra pede ajuda aos deuses na Cúpula de Cancun

Desastres climáticos registrados nos primeiros nove meses deste ano foram responsáveis por 21 mil mortes – o dobro do número confirmado no mesmo período do ano passado, segundo dados divulgados pela organização humanitária Oxfam.

O relatório cita as enchentes no Paquistão, as ondas de calor na Rússia e a elevação do nível do mar em Tuvalu, como exemplos das letais conseqüências das mudanças climáticas. E o futuro não é nada promissor: um outro estudo revela que em 50 anos, o mundo estará 4 graus Celsius mais quente, o que vai impor severas alterações climáticas.

Os dados foram divulgados na segunda-feira (29/11), dia de abertura da 16ª Convenção da ONU sobre Mudanças Climáticas (COP-16), em Cancún, no México. A cerimônia de abertura foi marcada por discursos para forçar um novo engajamento dos países em torno de um acordo para conter o aquecimento global.

A secretária-executiva da convenção, Christiana Figueres, chegou a apelar para os deuses, pedindo que a deusa maia da Lua, Ixchel, inspire os negociadores dos 194 países que participam do evento.

– Bem-vindos à terra da deusa maia da Lua, Ixchel, que também era deusa da razão, da criatividade e da liderança – afirmou ela. – Que ela inspire a todos vocês, porque hoje (segunda-feira) vocês estão reunidos aqui em Cancún para chegar a uma sólida resposta às mudanças climáticas, usando razão e criatividade. Estou convencida de que daqui a 20 anos vamos admirar a tapeçaria que nos tecemos juntos e lembrar com carinho de Cancún e da inspiração da deusa Ixchel.

“Bem-vindos à terra da deusa maia da Lua, Ixchel, que também era deusa da razão, da criatividade e da liderança. Que ela inspire a todos vocês, porque hoje vocês estão reunidos aqui em Cancún para chegar a uma sólida resposta às mudanças climáticas, usando razão e criatividade. Estou convencida de que daqui a 20 anos vamos admirar a tapeçaria que nos tecemos juntos e lembrar com carinho de Cancún e da inspiração da deusa Ixchel”

Segundo o documento da Oxfam, as enchentes no Paquistão inundaram um quinto do país, matando 2 mil pessoas e afetando 20 milhões em razão da destruição de casas, escolas, rodovias e cultivos e da disseminação de doenças. Um prejuízo estimado em US$ 9,7 bilhões.

Na Rússia, as temperaturas excederam a média de julho e agosto em 7,8 graus Celsius, o que fez a taxa diária de óbitos em Moscou dobrar, alcançando 700. Pelo menos 26 mil focos de incêndio destruíram um quarto das plantações de trigo, gerando um problema nas exportações.

Os moradores da nação insular Tuvalu, no Pacífico, onde a elevação do nível do mar é de 5 a 6 milímetros ao ano, enfrentam cada vez mais dificuldades para manter cultivos, uma vez que a água salobra está invadindo as plantações.

E o futuro será muito pior, como apontam dados climáticos. As crianças de hoje vão alcançar a velhice num mundo 4 graus Celsius mais quente, onde certezas climáticas que valeram para os últimos dez mil anos não serão mais referência. Secas, enchentes e migrações em massa serão parte da vida diária já a partir de 2060.

Será provavelmente a década a partir da qual, pela primeira vez desde o fim da Idade do Gelo, a Humanidade terá que lidar com um clima global bastante instável e imprevisível. As previsões fazem parte de uma série de estudos científicos publicados na segunda-feira (29/11) sobre o mundo 4 graus Celsius mais quente.

As negociações em Cancún ainda giram em torno de tentar manter a elevação das temperaturas em, no máximo, 2 graus Celsius. Segundo muitos cientistas, no entanto, as atuais tendências revelam que um aumento de 3 a 4 graus é “muito mais provável”.

A maior preocupação é que uma elevação de 4 graus Celsius na temperatura média global – uma diferença tão grande quanto a que separa o clima atual daquele registrado na última Idade do Gelo – geraria transformações dramáticas no mundo, levando a secas, colapso da agricultura em regiões semiáridas e a um catastrófico aumento do nível do mar em áreas costeiras.

O anfitrião da COP-16, o presidente mexicano Felipe Calderon, fez um apelo para que os negociadores cheguem a um acordo para mudar os rumos da crise climática.

Ele disse que as futuras gerações irão cobrar, caso eles falhem em alcançar um resultado.

– Será uma tragédia que nossa incapacidade nos leve a falhar – afirmou, citando que em seu país só este ano 60 pessoas morreram por desastres causados pelo aquecimento da Terra.

(Catarina Alencastro, O Globo, 30/11/2010)

>Scientists and Journalists on ‘Lessons Learned’ (Pts. 1 & 2 – Yale Forum on Climate Change & The Media)

Scientists’ ‘Lessons Learned’

Scientists and Journalists on ‘Lessons Learned’ (Pt. 1)

November 18, 2010

By any account, it’s been a challenging 12 months for climate science, for climate scientists, and for the ever-changing face of journalism as its practitioners struggle, or not, to keep their audiences adequately informed and knowledgeable.

From the November 19, 2009, New York Times and Washington Post front-page initial news reports of hacked e-mails from the University of East Anglia (a place up until then unlikely to find itself on American newspaper’s front pages) … to subsequent findings of a silly factual mistake in the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment forecasting disappearing Himalayan glaciers just 25 years from now … to the disappointments of last December’s international negotiations in Copenhagen … to data pointing to growing uncertainty and confusion on the climate change issue in the minds of many Americans and their public officials ….

The list could go on, but why bother? It’s been a tough period, notwithstanding repeated subsequent independent investigations finding, by and large, no damage to the underlying science itself.

A tough year. And, no doubt, not the last one. An increasingly challenging political environment promises more interesting times ahead, both for the science and for the scientists who devote their lives to the subject. What’s more, who’s to say the hacked e-mails brouhaha (the term “climategate” only lends it a status and importance it really does not deserve) is the last controversy, or perhaps even the most serious one, to arise in the field?

So what have “they” learned from it all, those scientists who best know the climate change science disciplines and the reporters whose responsibility it is to share and help evaluate their findings? Will they, scientists and media alike, be better off next time for having had the learning experiences the past year has given them? Are they actually learning the lessons each field could and should learn from those experiences, and putting them to practice?

Those are questions Yale Forum Editor Bud Ward and regular contributor John Wihbey put to leading climate scientists and journalists covering the issue. Their responses are posted separately in a two-part series, dated November 18 and 23, 2010 (see Part 2).

What lessons has the climate science community learned from the experiences of the past year or so?

Anthony J. Broccoli – Professor, Department of Environmental Sciences. Director, Center for Environmental Prediction and Climate and Environmental Change Initiative, Rutgers University

The climate science community was reminded that the policy implications of climate science make it more than just an academic pursuit. As a consequence, higher profile climate scientists may find themselves subjected to a similar level of personal scrutiny as public figures receive. I worry that this will make some scientists more reluctant to interact with policymakers or publicly communicate their science.

Peter H. Gleick – President, Pacific Institute

… there is an improved realization of how impossible it is to keep the climate science questions and debates separate from the political and ideological debates. And I hope we’ve learned the importance of communicating accurately and constantly. Being passive in the face of political repression, ideological misuse of science, and policy ignorance moves us in the wrong direction. I would like to think the community has learned that depending on the “honesty” and “impartiality” of journalism is not enough … that without strong input from climate scientists, the wrong stories get reported, with bad information, and ideological bias.

Michael Oppenheimer – Albert G. Milbank Professor of Geosciences and International Affairs, Princeton University

I imagine that my colleagues’ views on this are rather diverse, and those I hear from are not necessarily representative. But one conclusion that seems common is the realization that climate science and scientists operate in a fishbowl, whether they stick to basic research or venture into policy applications. Like it or not, we are always “on the record.”

A second conclusion, bizarre as it may seem, is that mistakes like the Himalayan glacier episode have the potential to resemble airplane crashes: in some circumstances, almost perfect is not good enough.

Both of these realizations could have the unfortunate consequence of causing scientists, particularly younger ones, to avoid areas of research, like climate change, which are associated with public controversy due to the political process which parallels the science; or to avoid interacting with government, media, or the general public at all, even to explain the significance of their own research. I have not seen compelling evidence of such a trend but the possibility worries me.

Kerry A. Emanuel – Professor of Atmospheric Science, MIT

I do not feel I have my “ear to the wall” enough to provide a meaningful answer to this question. I would guess that at the very least everyone will be much more cautious about what they say in e-mail correspondence with other scientists, and that they will be more reluctant to interact with journalists who have behaved on the whole rather badly.

Malcolm K Hughes – Regents’ Professor, The University of Arizona

A number of climate scientists have learned that simply trying to do a good, responsible, and honest job of climate research according to established standards of professional conduct can lead to their becoming objects of suspicion, derision, disdain, and even hate. Some have already been subject to this for several years.

Many climate scientists are also learning that this surging assault on their integrity and that of their field is not a coincidence, but is the consequence of organized campaigns of disinformation. These have been originated by ideological, political and economic interests, and amplified by the technique of inciting what can only be described as mob behavior on the Internet and over the airwaves.

As a clearly intended consequence of the organized campaigns of disinformation, this “climate science is a hoax” propaganda has spread widely in the political arena. So, more of us than before fall 2009 have learned that we must work in a very different environment than existed when nobody outside the field cared much about climate science.

Benjamin D. Santer – Program for Climate Model Diagnosis and Intercomparison, Lawrence Livermore, National Laboratory

In the past year, we have seen ample evidence of the activities of powerful “forces of unreason.”

These forces of unreason seek to establish the scientific equivalent of what were once called “no-go” areas in Northern Ireland. Their actions send a clear warning to the scientific community:

This is the new reality of climate science in the 21st century.

Donald J. Wuebbles – The Harry E. Preble Professor of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Illinois

1. Be careful with what you write in emails or say over the phone. We all have a tendency to say things that can be misconstrued.

2. We have learned that data access and archival of climate observation and modeling results needs to be better communicated and more transparent. This does not mean the scientists should have to provide every single piece of interim analysis products like the deniers are currently hassling the community for — that is aimed at harassment not science transparency.

3. We acknowledge that occasional mistakes will happen (we are human), but we should aim at eliminating errors from the assessments (not a big issue when one can only find one error of any real significance in almost 3,000 pages of an assessment).

4. We need to strengthen the communication of the science.

5. We should make the expression of uncertainties more transparent.

Richard C. J. Somerville – Distinguished Professor Emeritus and Research Professor, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego

The climate science community has learned that it is in the cross-hairs of a ruthless disinformation campaign. The campaign is run by economic, political, and ideological interests opposed to many proposed policies that might deal meaningfully with the threat of climate disruption. This disinformation campaign is professional, well-funded, and highly effective. Its purpose is to destroy the credibility of mainstream climate science.

Polling data show that this campaign has already been successful in many ways. The public is confused and distrustful of reputable climate scientists. The public thinks that the science is controversial and does not understand the degree to which the expert community is in agreement on the reality and seriousness of man-made climate change.

John M. Wallace – Professor, Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington

We’ve witnessed the lengths to which political activists will go in an effort to manipulate public opinion. Yet it seems to me that for all its notoriety, “climategate” has had only a very limited impact on public opinion. It may have served to widen the divide between climate change believers and naysayers, but it doesn’t seem to me that it has caused many believers to switch sides.

What lessons should it learn?

Kerry Emanuel

In my somewhat pessimistic view, there is very little a small community of scientists can do when up against a much larger and far better funded disinformation campaign involving a curious, symbiotic relationship between agenda-driven interests and journalists. It is clear that any mis-step, however innocent, or any less-than-tightly-worded statement can and will be used against the climate science community or to further someone’s political agenda.

There are a few concrete steps that I think scientists can and should take:

1. Campaign vigorously and unceasingly to get governments around the world to treat government-funded environmental data as a public good. This used to be the case and is still the case in some civilized countries like the United States, but other countries with a less well developed sense of public interest, such as England and France, hold environmental data as proprietary. This has caused much grief and has tangibly slowed the progress of science. It also played a role in “climategate” by forcing East Anglia scientists to withhold certain data sets that they had acquired under Europe’s unjustified and labyrinth data distribution policies.

2. Recognize that just as certain European governments view themselves more as money-making enterprises than as entities that serve the public interest, journalists are in business to make money, not to serve the public interest. If scientists would learn to speak with journalists with this in mind, rather than treating them as fellow scientists interested primarily in advancing knowledge, then many evils could be avoided. Remember that controversy sells while consensus makes extremely dull copy. Always treat maverick scientists with respect while making it clear that they are indeed mavericks.

3. Recognize that the IPCC process may be reaching the end of its useful life and may even start being counterproductive. It is not likely that the uncertainty in climate projections will be much reduced by adhering to the current paradigm of running ever more complex global climate models, and the desire to have a consensus may be discouraging new approaches.

Anthony J. Broccoli

The community should recognize that having a public face carries additional responsibilities, including the need to not only act properly, but also avoid the appearance of improper behavior. Good scientists have been defamed by having off-the-cuff remarks publicly disclosed.

To avoid future problems of this kind, perhaps scientists who are involved in international assessments should be provided with staffing to help them perform this civic duty efficiently and judiciously without compromising their effectiveness as scientists.

Peter Gleick

Climate scientists must learn that there is a committed band (both organized and unorganized) of climate deniers, with diverse often unclear motivations, determined to do and say anything to confuse the public and policymakers about science in order to avoid the policy debates. Climate scientists must learn that sticking with science and ignoring policy, when the science says something bad is going to happen, does nothing to move policymakers — there MUST be coordinated, consistent, and ongoing communication from climate scientists to the public and policymakers.

I HOPE that the climate science community has learned that we must ensure that our science is good, transparent, adequately reviewed, open source, and not based on ideology. And, of course, I hope that every climate scientist (we’re supposed to be smart, eh?) has learned that e-mails must always be assumed to be completely public!

Michael Oppenheimer

For me, the key lessons of the episodes of the past year are: Healthy skepticism in the media and the general public toward experts is easily manipulated and blown out of proportion by narrow political interests and died-in-the-wool contrarians. That’s the sea we all swim in, so scientists working on important problems that bear implications for policy can’t avoid it.

The only effective weapon against this is for scientists to increase trust by increasing transparency, not only toward their colleagues but toward the general public. Institutions like IPCC need to continually learn from past experience and remake themselves to improve their degree of openness and their overall performance, even when the latter is already exceptional.

Malcolm K. Hughes

It is always vital to improve how we work and how we communicate data, methods, and results. The artificial scandal based on the theft of material from the University of East Anglia has no bearing on this. It is essential that we not be intimidated, seduced, or diverted from doing good science in a careful and deliberative manner.

To this end we need to learn to do a better job of communicating to the public how we actually work and the “rules of the game” under which we operate. Much has been written about data availability, but misapprehensions abound among academic colleagues as well as media professionals. I have been asked the question “why will you people not release your data?” when the data have been available in the public domain for years.

Finally, true friends of science are needed to develop ways of providing support, including legal and media advice, to colleagues under attack from ideological, political, or economic forces. Just as happened with other science unwelcome to powerful interests, the attacks will continue as long as the issues of society’s response to climate change remain unresolved, and we need to learn how to better the practice of science.

Ben Santer

As climate scientists, we have to decide how to deal with this new reality. We can ignore it, and hope that it eventually goes away. We can try to find some “place of refuge,” where (if we are lucky) we may be able to isolate and insulate ourselves from these forces of unreason, and concentrate on our own research. We can remain silent, and hope that our professional societies and funding agencies will defend us, and will defend our ability to conduct research in the public and national interest. We can hope that the media will recognize the crucial importance of “getting the science right,” and will show the same assiduousness in pursuing true understanding of complex climate science issues as they did in reporting on non-existent conspiracies to fool the global population.

Or we can recognize that we have to adapt to this new reality; we can recognize that:

Our responsibility to funding agencies and society does not end with the publication of X papers in the peer-reviewed literature;

We have a larger, open-ended responsibility to speak truth to power, and to tell the public and policymakers, in plain English, why they should care about the science of climate change, and what this science tells us;

We have a responsibility to debunk myths and misconceptions about climate science. We cannot ignore ignorance;

We have a responsibility to defend friends and colleagues who are unjustly accused of serious professional misbehaviour;

Our ability to do research in the public interest is a precious privilege, not an inalienable right. If we do not fight to retain and protect this privilege, it may be in jeopardy;

We do not have the luxury of remaining silent.

Richard Somerville

The climate science community should learn that it is poorly equipped to confront this disinformation campaign. It should recognize that excellent scientific researchers are often poor science communicators. Scientists should realize that IPCC assessments, National Academy of Science reports, and statements by scientific societies often are difficult for non-scientists to read and understand. Scientists should acknowledge that the research community taken as a whole generally lacks communications skills in dealing with media, with the political world, and with the public at large.

Improving this situation will not be easy or quick. The climate science community must understand that it needs to work closely with professionals in communications, media, public relations, and many other fields. It should understand that this close collaboration must be sustained and will be expensive. It should seek financial and political support for this effort.

John M. Wallace

Surviving “climategate” is not enough. Those of us in the scientific community need to learn how to reach across that wide divide to engage our friends and neighbors who are not now and perhaps never will become deeply concerned about climate change for its own sake and convince them to support progressive policies on energy, resources, fresh water, food security, and environmental protection.

And is it moving effectively to put those lessons-learned into practice?

Anthony J. Broccoli

That remains to be seen. Most of us became scientists out of a desire to understand how the world works — and that’s what we’re good at. We’re not always as good at engaging in public discourse.

John M. Wallace

I fear that as long as we continue to use climate change as the sole (or even the main) justification for policy decisions, we never will be able to reach out across that divide to bring many of our friends and neighbors on board. To move forward effectively, I think we need to have a broader discussion of the scientific issues that will have a bearing on national and international policy over the next few decades.

Don Wuebbles

Data access and archival is the subject of a lot of discussion. I have been working with the American Geological Union to see if there should be a special committee, perhaps jointly with other science societies, on this issue. Various government agencies in the U.S. (e.g., NOAA, Department of Energy) and Europe have also been discussing this.

[In addition,] IPCC is putting even stronger attempts into the AR5 assessment [Fifth Assessment Report] to try to prevent errors.

Communication has not only received a lot of discussion, but there is an ever increasing set of analyses on how to do this (e.g., two recent papers / reports on the psychology of climate science). Also, many new efforts and several new organizations are aimed at better communication, including faster better organized, responses to the “scandals”. Several professional organizations, e.g., the American Meteorological Society, AGU, and the American Association for the Advancement of Science, are also taking this on as a special activity.

[Finally, there are] several recent papers/reports on representing confidence levels and uncertainties. I am in charge of the chapter for IPCC AR5 that will be considering how to respond for the next assessment.

Peter Gleick

I would love to see some serious effort to improve science reporting in the climate area. Even the best aren’t very good, or consistently good. But there is also growing confusion about what “reporting” actually is, and what venues for climate news still exist.

Michael Oppenheimer

Due to the relative ease of creating access to electronic data bases, a long term trend has been under way toward making data more available to colleagues since long before these episodes; and in several respects, IPCC has progressively “opened up” over time. In other ways, the jury is still out.

Malcolm K. Hughes

I’m aware of scattered efforts but I believe we need urgently to do a better job of preparing young scientists for the new conditions we face. This is a situation where powerful interests seek to discredit climate science and scientists, and where there is an internet mob ready to respond to every incitement.

We need more widespread and systematic training of young scientists on legal and ethical aspects of scientific work — intellectual property, privacy, ethics of authorship and of data exchange, and so on. There should also be widely available training in dealing with the media. Climate scientists in general do a very good job of sharing methods and data but get little credit for this. Somebody’s purported difficulties in getting data may be more newsworthy than the fact that huge volumes of data are freely available, including the great majority of those featured in the anti-climate science propaganda. A much better job needs to be done of making this known.

At the institutional level, IPCC continues to evolve to meet these challenges. One important aspect of the changes IPCC is making concerns the need to respond more flexibly and rapidly when issues of public controversy arise.

Kerry Emanuel

I have no idea.

Richard Somerville

While some individual scientists have clearly taken these lessons to heart, I see very little sign that attitudes in the broad climate science community have changed.

*   *   *

A Yale Forum Two-Part Special Feature:

Scientists and Journalists on ‘Lessons Learned’ (Pt. 2)

November 23, 2010

Climate science and climate scientists aren’t the only ones who have come under some withering scrutiny over the past 12 months. The controversies — or were they “pseudo-controversies”? — stemming from the hacked e-mails at a British university put the media also under the microscope for their handling of the breaking news and its aftermath. Why, some scientists wondered, were the media focusing on the “what” message of carefully cherry-picked “private” e-mail messages, and seemingly under-playing the “who” and “why” … as in who released the e-mails in the first place and why, if not to purposefully disrupt and derail last December’s Copenhagen climate negotiations?

For reporters, the slow and incremental ooze of the climate science news story overnight had become, with the first headlines of the e-mails release, a breaking news story. Widely criticized for injecting a “faux balance” standard in much of its earlier coverage of climate science, many news reports on climate science in recent years had moved away from that traditional news approach — too far away in the opinion of some. Climate science “skeptics,” by whatever name, had been garnering less and less of the science reporting news hole, as a critical mass of journalists increasingly came to accept basic aspects of climate science — Earth is indeed warming, and human activities play a significant part in that warming — as something approaching “settled” science. Pretty much along the lines that the sun rises in the east, tobacco smoking causes cancer, those sort of things.

For this second part of a Yale Forum special report on “lessons learned,” freelance writer John Wihbey asked respected science writers and journalism experts questions along the lines of those posed in Part I to leading climate science researchers: For the journalism community, what are the key “lessons learned” from the experiences and controversies of the past 12 months? What lessons should the media learn from those experiences? And are there any signs that those lessons learned are actually being put into practice in the newsroom?

What lessons has the climate journalism community learned from the experiences of the past year or so?

Richard Harris, NPR

We’re not really a community, but individually we strive to get to the bottom of the story — to get at the facts and present them to the public. We’ve learned that we have less and less influence on public discourse relating to climate change. The “climategate” story was not a product of journalism, but activism. The storyline was crafted by people with a desired objective; it was not an effort to weigh facts and reach a dispassionate conclusion. Many journalists made a serious effort to examine the facts and report what we found, but our voices were joined by many others who were not attempting to be dispassionate.

Curtis Brainard, Columbia Journalism Review

That’s a very difficult question to answer. I’d say that most journalists didn’t learn anything from the “climategate” and IPCC-errors pseudo-scandals. In fact, it was quite the opposite. Rather than providing a teaching moment for the climate journalism community, those events only served to confuse editors and reporters.

In the U.S., journalists didn’t seem to know what to make of the revelations, so they basically took a pass on trying to explain what was going on. When outlets such as The New York Times finally weighed in, their stories tended to confuse climate politics (the debate over what to do about GW) and climate science (that debate over what we know about the Earth and our influence upon it). That trend continued into the winter. When skeptics seized upon heavy snows in the eastern U.S. as a refutation of global warming, the Times attempted to rebut their arguments in a front-page article. Rather than quoting scientists to set the record straight, however, the story devolved into an unresolved argument between non-scientist political partisans. To its credit, the Times covered a string of reviews released in mid-summer that reaffirmed the integrity of the work of the IPCC and the scientists involved in the “climategate” affair, but most reporters ignored them, as they did the InterAcademy Council’s review of the IPCC, which was released a month or so later. The only real high point in climate journalism in the last year was the coverage of the summer’s extreme weather, including heat waves in the U.S., wildfires in Russia, and floods in Pakistan. The press actually produced quite a bit of nuanced coverage, which explained that while it’s impossible to peg any single weather event to climate change, many scientists felt that summer’s extremes would not have been possible without humanity’s influence on the climate system.

The trend seems to have been somewhat different in the U.K. press. It was British reporters that really led the charge vis-à-vis “climategate” and the IPCC-errors controversies. Clearly, reporters on the other side of the Atlantic learned not to put so much trust in scientists, which might be a somewhat valid lesson, if not for the fact that they got carried away with it. While they brought a few legitimate errors in the IPCC’s fourth assessment report to light — such as the overestimate of the melt rate of Himalayan glaciers — they often overplayed the significance of these errors and trumpeted other errors that weren’t errors at all. In July, for example, The Sunday Times was forced to retract an article that accused the IPCC of flubbing a statement about the Amazon rainforest’s sensitivity to climate change.

So, what has the climate journalism community learned from the events of the past year? Not much, unfortunately. I haven’t seen a marked improvement in the coverage. In fact, the amount of climate coverage has been in precipitous decline for the last year or so. One might be tempted to say that the events of the last year spooked editors and reporters, who are not unsure where to go with the climate story or what to make of the latest research. I’m sure that’s true to some extent, but other factors may have played a more important role. The global recession has, more than anything else, called attention away from global warming. In addition, political shortcomings such as the failure to produce an emissions-reduction treaty at COP15 in Copenhagen and the death of climate legislation in the U.S. Congress have both served to take the wind out of climate story’s sails.

Seth Borenstein, Associated Press

For science journalists — and that’s different from political and other journalists — the answer goes back to the old Russian proverb that Ronald Reagan made famous: Trust but verify. Starting with the hacked e-mails. Much of the initial coverage of the purloined e-mails was based on pre-digested e-mails leaked to the media and they looked sensational in and of themselves.

But context is key here. At the AP, we spent a week and five reporters pouring over one-million words to read them in context and found no grand conspiracy, but lots of cranky scientists (and ones who really could use a good editor themselves). On the flip side, we in the media have a tendency to read summaries and skim in a speedy manner through the main text. Some of the handful of errors in the IPCC reports, especially the Himalayan ones, on the face of them should have been noticed by reviewers and eagle-eyed science writers. In addition, reporters should have delved into the millions of details more and asked more questions. I fear the non-science journalists don’t look as much in the science details, don’t have the time or leadership that we have at AP, and thus didn’t learn the lessons that science journalists have.

Eric Pooley, Bloomberg Businessweek

Climate journalists have spent too much time preaching to the choir while there’s a riot going on outside the church. It’s important to report on, and debate, policies for mitigation, adaptation, and clean-energy acceleration, but these conversations occupy a parallel universe to the one in which the 2010 elections [were] unfolding, the elections where 19 of the top 20 Republican candidates for U.S. Senate are either climate skeptics or proud, aggressive deniers. Rep. Bob Inglis of South Carolina blames his loss in the Republican primary on his public assertions that climate change is real. Joe Manchin, a Senate candidate in West Virginia, has a TV spot in which he shoots a rifle bullet through a cap-and-trade bill — and he’s a Democrat. Can climate journalists do anything to counter this profoundly skeptical atmosphere?

We can try — and of course many of us have been trying. I saw some of my colleagues get a wake-up call last December in the big COP 15 media center in Copenhagen. I was talking with some climate journalists after Senator James Inhofe, the famously skeptical Oklahoman, came through the room. Some journalists began joking about Inhofe, so-called “climategate,” and the absurdity of those who claimed that the hacked e-mails were proof that climate scientists had cooked their data. The journalists were right — those claims were absurd — but they were also missing the point. Inhofe had just predicted that a U.S. climate bill was “not going to happen,” and he was right. While climate journalists in Copenhagen were studying the fine points of the latest REDD proposal, “climategate” was going viral on the internet and in the mainstream media. Soon CNN was hosting a debate on the validity of climate science, and I was pulling out my calendar to remind myself what year it was. Surely we couldn’t still be arguing the basic science in 2009 and 2010.

Andrew Revkin, “DotEarth“

I guess my first response is, what climate journalism community? There’s a variegated array of journalists and commentators who approached the developments of the past year or two with completely different responses and output. A batch of (mainly British) reporters and outlets did epic reportage on “climategate” that appeared to be stimulated in part out of a sense of betrayal, perhaps. Some of the overheated coverage got rolled back with corrections and apologies. American media covered the incident with far less intensity, perhaps better reflecting its marginal significance. Science blogs of all stripes dove deepest, but the incident, in the end, was notable mainly for reminding the public that science is — shocking news to some — an ugly process at times, particularly when its findings relate to very consequential issues facing society.

Media coverage of problems revealed in the workings of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change was similarly variegated, with some overheated accusations not holding up but a decent learning experience for everyone on the fallibility of such vast group exercises. My guess is there’ve been few lessons learned out of coverage of the international climate treaty negotiations and the domestic battle over climate legislation.

David Biello, Scientific American

I’m not sure the climate journalism community has learned any lessons. In my view, we all continually repeat the mistakes of the past, either because of turnover that is bringing many “new” to the beat into the coverage scheme who are trained in the classic he said/she said style. Or because us old-timers are set in our ways and continue to make the same mistakes over and over again. One example, from my own magazine, is a recent profile of Judith Curry.

Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker

I’m not sure there is a climate journalism community, so it’s hard for me to answer this question. There are a bunch of people who write fairly regularly about climate science and climate policy in the mainstream media, but as you point out there are many more writing about it in the blogosphere. I expect that ratio is only going to grow more lopsided as time goes on.

What lessons should it learn?

Andrew Revkin, “DotEarth”

If science media tried to sustain coverage of science (including climate science) as a process, including the ugly parts, the public might be less apt to be surprised by occasional revelations of conflict like those illuminated through the batch of hacked/liberated (pick your adjective depending on your worldview) e-mails and files.

Beware the lure of the front-page thought in gauging developments in complicated science pointing to a rising human influence on climate, lest you end up giving readers whiplash. Try rigorously to include context on the overall state of knowledge when framing stories on science around conflict, given that conflict is a constant in science.

Develop patience. The story of humanity’s entwined climate and energy challenges will outlive you. No single treaty, meeting, e-mail hack, IPCC report, or climate bill is a keystone.

Elizabeth Kolbert, The New Yorker

The obvious lesson of faux scandals like “climategate” is that they tend to be created by groups or individuals with their own agendas, and journalists ought to be very wary about covering them. The notion that there is some huge scientific conspiracy going on, involving dozens of researchers at different institutions, is pretty implausible on its face. This goes for climate science as for all other scientific disciplines. I’m not saying it can’t happen; it’s just hard to imagine how it would work. Conversely, it’s very easy to imagine why an individual or a group with an economic or political interest would want to claim that such a conspiracy existed. The burden of proof ought to be very high. Instead, it seems the bar was placed ridiculously low.

Curtis Brainard, Columbia Journalism Review

First and foremost, reporters should have learned that they need to do a better job of delineating the various questions that climate science seeks to answer. There is a tendency to treat climate science as one monolithic question — are humans heating up the world or not — rather than as a series of questions, each with its own level certainty/uncertainty. When that happens, uncertainty related to the timing, scale, and geographic distribution of impacts (advanced science) tends to be reflected as uncertainty about whether or not the world is warming and whether or not human industry is driving that warming (basic science). Or, as we saw with “climategate” and the IPCC errors, minor flaws in the research and/or minor behavioral flaws in individual scientists cast aspersions on every other area of climate science. So, following these events, reporters should have learned that they must be very careful, in each and every story, to specify what which parts of the science they are addressing and which parts they aren’t addressing.

Along these lines, the other lesson is that reporters do, in fact, need to be more aggressive and skeptical. As the various reviews and investigations of “climategate” and the IPCC have shown, the fundamental conclusions of climate science remain untarnished. However, the IPCC did make a couple legitimate errors, and these reports also found that the IPCC and some individual climate scientists need to be more transparent and open to alternative viewpoints. Reporters need to actively ferret out these problems on a weekly basis rather than waiting until climate skeptics and blogs discover them and blow their significance out of proportion. If journalists wrote more stories about where uncertainty exists in the science, and if they were more aggressive about challenging scientists on transparency issues, we wouldn’t have these pseudo-scandals erupt every time a climate scientist missteps.

The corollary to this is that, at the same time, reporters must defend those scientists that need defending because many, such as Ben Santer, have had to endure unreasonable challenges to their credibility in addition to overt threats of violence.

Delineating the various questions of climate science and being more aggressive and skeptical will help with the third lesson: the need to separate climate science from climate politics. The narrative of climate change tends to get boiled down into one of two false generalizations: it is totally certain (we have five years to save the planet!) or totally uncertain (it’s all a hoax!). When that happens, it becomes very easy for political partisans to invoke scientific disagreements in support of their own policy objectives, just as they did in media coverage following the “climategate” and the IPCC-errors controversies. In reality, however, those events had no bearing whatsoever on political debate, and therein lies the lesson for journalists. Science cannot settle all arguments about how the world should respond to global warming, because the answer to that question involves values, varying perceptions of risk, and political ideology, in addition to what we know (and don’t know) about the climate system. So, if a reporter is simply trying to cover what scientists know, or don’t know, about the climate system, politicians should be excluded. Conversely, if a reporter is trying to cover climate politics, he or she must not let sources stake their claims on oversimplified reductions of climate science.

Eric Pooley, Bloomberg Businessweek

Now climate journalists are getting back to basics — connecting climate change to people’s lives and showing how it is already affecting our weather and our economy. Instead of getting hung up on whether a particular extreme weather event was ’caused’ by climate change — an unanswerable question — we’re explaining that extreme weather events are already happening more frequently, and that the scientists say we’ll be suffering through more of these events in a warmer world. We’re connecting the dots in a careful, responsible way. Some local coverage of the Nashville flood did this, for example. The magazine and website where I work, Bloomberg Businessweek, is doing this as well, through regular reporting on how business copes with climate risk (here’s one example). A website sponsored by Environment Canada connects the dots in a different but also effective way. There are many other angles on this story, and I hope news organizations will explore all of them.

Richard Harris, NPR

I think we still need to do our best to dig into the science — as well as into allegations of misconduct. It’s still important for us to present what we find to our audiences, even knowing that there are many competing voices. The “climategate” e-mails, for example, did not undercut the science of climate change, but it did lay bare some less than noble behavior on the part of certain scientists. It’s important to air that out. Likewise it’s important to set the record straight on broadly repeated misconceptions, such as the rate of demise of the Himalayan glaciers.

David Biello, Scientific American

The lesson that should be learned is two-fold: one, we must always retain our skepticism. Don’t trust anyone. Verify everything. In cases where you can’t verify, triangulate (i.e., use multiple sources to get closer to the truth). Two, sometimes smoke doesn’t mean fire. There is a lot of politicking going on in this area, both in the academic sense and in the broader social sense. That makes for a lot of smoke, which would seem to suggest a major conflagration. Such a fire does not exist, unless it’s the one embedded in the hundreds of coal plants around the world.

And is it moving effectively to put those lessons-learned into practice?

Eric Pooley, Bloomberg Businessweek

When the next climate scandalette comes along, some news organizations will surely play to hype and get carried away with their coverage — in effect, becoming a handy transmission belt for the professional deniers. That’s why serious climate journalists need to investigate charges rapidly and communicate their findings widely — explaining what’s real and what’s not, clarifying what the scandal does and doesn’t say about climate science, and fact-checking any false claims that may be in the air. Inevitably, the multiple investigations exonerating the climategate scientists got far less attention than the wild initial allegations against them. If more experienced climate journalists jump into the fray early, they could help tip the balance toward honest reporting and away from hype.

Richard Harris, NPR

Journalism still takes its role very seriously, but of course there are fewer of us out there every day. Those of us with big platforms and credibility with our audience are putting the lessons leaned into practice — that is, we are still reporting the stories carefully and thoroughly as they emerge. But it is naïve to think that crisis management, through even the best journalism, will overwhelm deliberate efforts to color the facts in order to achieve philosophical or economic objectives.

David Biello, Scientific American

… Old-timers seem to make the same mistakes over and over (including me, darnit). Newcomers fall into the same trap of “he said, she said” that they then must laboriously climb out of over years of on-the-job training.

Curtis Brainard, Columbia Journalism Review

No, I don’t see journalists putting the lessons learned into practice because I’m not sure if they really learned them in the first place. There are a few reassuring signs, however.

The Sunday Times retracted its fallacious “Amazongate” article. Another positive development was the American Geophysical Union’s decision to award its Excellence in Science Journalism award to Pallava Bagla, an Indian journalist who broke and unraveled the story about how the IPCC overestimated the melt-rate of Himalayan glaciers. So, to some extent, the bad journalism is being condemned and the good journalism is being recognized.

There have also been a couple other good articles recently. Shortly before the midterm election, The New York Times had a great front-page story about climate denial being an “article of faith” for the Tea Party, which made it clear that the group’s climate politics are not synonymous with climate science.

There was also a long feature in Scientific American about Judith Curry, who studies hurricanes at Georgia Tech and has ruffled the feathers of her fellow climate scientists by engaging with skeptics. A lot of climate scientists were really unhappy with the piece, arguing that Curry is wrong and that the media attention should have gone to somebody who is making real progress with their research. Personally, though, I thought it was an excellent attempt to be more aggressive and skeptical with scientists and show that climate science is (as Andrew Revkin once put it) a very “herky-jerky” process. I get the feeling that if more people were exposed to that type of journalism they would begin to understand the scientists and science are not infallible.

For the most part, though, I don’t think climate coverage, on the whole, has gotten any better or any worse in the last year. In fact, I think the “climategate” and IPCC-errors controversies has had far less of an impact on public opinion and on journalism than a lot of people have assumed. What’s really plaguing coverage are the same things that have been plaguing it for years: a declining number of specialized reporters in newsrooms, less time and fewer resources for reporting, and all the “noise” created by blogs and the 24/7 cable news.

Andrew Revkin, “DotEarth”

Too soon to tell.

Seth Borenstein, Associated Press

Any signs that they are moving to put those lessons-learned into practice? This is much like natural disasters. People who have lived through a major hurricane tend to prepare better for the next one and take it more seriously. Those who haven’t, don’t. Science journalists and others who well reported the issue this past year will do a better job, those who didn’t or just skimmed the surface or parroted ideologues won’t. The trouble is — much like in disasters — the people who really need to learn are usually the ones who don’t. And those who work hard to be even better prepared next time were not the problem cases to begin with.

>Pessimismo global atinge a Conferência do Clima (JC)

JC e-mail 4142, de 23 de Novembro de 2010

COP-16 começa no próximo dia 29, em Cancún, México

Um ano após a grande frustração que foi a Convenção das Nações Unidas sobre Mudanças Climáticas em Copenhague (COP-15), a nova edição da convenção, em Cancún (COP-16), começa no próximo dia 29 sem expectativas de grandes resultados

Prova disso é que são esperados apenas entre 20 e 30 chefes de estado no México, contra 118 que estiveram presentes em Copenhague. O presidente Lula, uma das grandes estrelas do último encontro, já confirmou sua ida, mas a delegação brasileira encolheu de 900 pessoas, no ano passado, para 250 este ano.

Não se espera o fechamento de um grande acordo vinculante com metas significativas de redução de emissão de CO2 para o segundo período de compromisso do Protocolo de Kyoto, que vence em 2012, e é uma obrigação dos países desenvolvidos que assinaram o documento. Tampouco deverá haver resultados importantes na área de financiamento, outro ponto-chave da negociação.

Este é mais um compromisso firmado pelos países desenvolvidos: prover recursos financeiros para que países em desenvolvimento possam prevenir os efeitos das mudanças climáticas (mitigação) e se adaptar àqueles que já podem ser sentidos nos países mais vulneráveis, como pequenas ilhas do pacífico e nações africanas.

– Você chega a Cancún sem aquela comoção com que se chegou em Copenhague e com as mesmas dificuldades. As expectativas agora são mais modestas – avalia o embaixador Luiz Figueiredo, negociador-chefe do Brasil na Convenção do Clima da ONU.

O Brasil tem ganhado um papel protagonista na convenção e vai levar para Cancún dois trunfos na bagagem: a apresentação do último balanço sobre o desmatamento da Amazônia e a explicação dos planos setoriais que vêm sendo elaborados para que o país cumpra as metas voluntárias de redução de emissões.

Sobre a Amazônia, deve ser anunciado um novo recorde histórico, no qual “somente” cerca de 5 mil km2 teriam sido destruídos entre 2009 e 2010. Já sobre as emissões, o governo brasileiro vai mostrar como pretende reduzir de 36% a 39% de suas emissões, com relação ao que o país calculou que vai emitir em 2020. Na prática, significaria emitir 1,7 giga toneladas de CO2 daqui a dez anos, quando o esperado era a emissão de 2,7 giga toneladas de CO2.

– Lula terá um papel muito destacado em Cancún. Com a proposta ambiciosa que apresentou em Copenhague, ele foi o chefe de Estado que mais chamou a atenção – diz o secretário-executivo do Fórum Brasilieiro de Mudanças Climáticas, Luiz Pinguelli Rosa.

O principal plano brasileiro é reduzir a derrubada da Amazônia em 80% até 2020 e do Cerrado em 40%. As duas medidas, se alcançadas, evitarão a emissão de 668 milhões de toneladas de CO2. O desmatamento responde por 61% das emissões brasileiras.

A agricultura, dona de 22% das emissões, também sofrerá alterações. Uma das ações previstas é a recuperação de 15 milhões de hectares de pastagens degradadas, de um total de 60 milhões que o país possui, e a implementação de um programa de agricultura de baixo carbono. Com isso seriam cortadas pelo menos 183 milhões de toneladas de CO2.

No setor energético, que gera 15% de nossas emissões, o governo prepara um pacote para aumentar o uso de biocombustíveis, reduzindo entre 48 e 60 milhões de toneladas de CO2. E na siderurgia, setor ainda bastante dependente de carvão produzido com madeira de desmatamento, a ideia é justamente substituí-lo por carvão vegetal de florestas plantadas. A ação pode gerar o corte de entre 8 e 10 toneladas de CO2. As carvoarias emitem 31% do total registrado no setor energético.

Além desses cinco setores, o governo vai incluir outras sete áreas para as quais também serão criados planos setoriais. A principal delas é o transporte. Listado dentro da seção “energia”, o transporte rodoviário responde por 38% dessas emissões.

– O transporte será uma área decisiva para o Brasil no futuro, pois passará a contribuir cada vez mais para o nível de emissões, principalmente por conta da ineficiência do transporte de carga. O Brasil tem, há 15 anos, o pior desempenho do mundo em transporte de cargas – aponta Eduardo Viola, professor de Relações Internacionais da UnB.

Ele critica também o transporte público brasileiro que receberia incentivos para o aumento no número de carros nas ruas, quando deveria ocorrer justamente o contrário. Ele sugere que o país monte um programa para penalizar o uso de carros (como taxas para quem roda nos centros das grandes cidades), o que geraria pressão para estimular investimentos em transporte público de alta capacidade para passageiros, como trens e metrôs. No caso do transporte de suprimentos, a saída, segundo o professor, é ampliar a rede ferroviária e hidroviária.

O pacote que o Brasil apresentará vai esbarrar com a dura realidade que vigora nas negociações climáticas. Com relação às metas de redução dos países desenvolvidos, até agora apenas 15 nações manifestaram suas intenções, a maioria condicionando números mais ambiciosos a um acordo global, o que ainda não aconteceu.

Por enquanto, o que se tem é uma redução que varia de 16% a 18% com relação às emissões de 1990. Isso seria insuficiente para evitar um aumento da temperatura da Terra de mais de 2 graus Celsius, conforme concordaram os 140 países que assinaram o Acordo de Copenhague – documento fechado na COP-15, mas que não tem validade jurídica. Ou seja: é um texto de intenções.

A questão do financiamento também está em aberto. Na última reunião, os países concordaram com a criação de um Fundo de Início Rápido (Fast Track Fund), que proveria US$ 30 bilhões em três anos para que os países mais necessitados pudessem começar a agir contra o aquecimento global.

A fonte de recursos já foi identificada, mas esbarra em um problema: alguns dizem que o dinheiro de que se fala não é novo e configuraria um desvio de finalidade de recursos já comprometidos em outras áreas da cooperação internacional, como saúde e educação. O resultado é que, até agora, nenhum projeto foi contemplado com tal verba.

Um outro mecanismo acordado, mas que também não saiu do papel é o Fundo Verde Climático, para o qual seriam doados US$ 100 bilhões anuais até 2020. Esse dinheiro poderia ajudar países a criar mecanismos de eficiência energética, instalar aterros sanitários e manter florestas preservadas.

As regras são as mesmas: países ricos pagariam e países em desenvolvimento, como Brasil e África do Sul, implantariam localmente tais iniciativas. Como o aporte de dinheiro é alto, há divergências sobre de onde sairia. Dificilmente essa questão será solucionada em Cancún. Mas a ONG ambientalista WWF acredita que será possível avançar na estruturação do fundo, como o conselho que definirá prioridades a serem seguidas e os fiadores do sistema.

– Seria uma grande forma de reconstruir a confiança e demonstrar que os países industrializados estão tratando a mudança do clima com seriedade – pondera Mark Lutes, coordenador de políticas financeiras da Iniciativa Climática Global da WWF.

Para tentar solucionar o impasse sobre a fonte de recursos que abastecerá o Fundo Verde, o Grupo de Alto Nível em Financiamento de Mudanças Climáticas da ONU (AGF) elaborou um estudo apontando algumas alternativas, como a taxação de viagens internacionais no setor aéreo e de navegação, o que geraria potencialmente US$ 10 bilhões anuais. O setor, embora represente apenas 2% das emissões globais, é o que vem aumentando mais rapidamente sua fatia.

Apesar do clima de pessimismo que cerca o início da COP-16, em algumas áreas há chances reais de se chegar a algum acordo positivo. O anfitrião da convenção, o presidente mexicano Felipe Calderón, deposita todas as suas fichas na criação do REDD (Redução de Emissões por Desmatamento e Degradação). Iniciativas nessa área são consideradas ações de mitigação e, portanto, podem ser contempladas com recursos do Fundo Verde e do Fast Track Fund.

– Provavelmente o avanço mais importante que se fará em Cancún será em REDD, sobre as emissões florestais reguladas. Por isso me sinto otimista sobre este lado da equação – disse Calderón durante sua participação na última reunião do G-20, na Coreia do Sul.

O mecanismo, que inicialmente previa somente ações de combate ao desmatamento, ganhou um sobrenome: plus. Isso significou a inclusão de ações de conservação (como a criação de parques e reservas naturais) e técnicas de manejo florestal (nas quais madeira pode ser explorada de forma seletiva e ao longo de várias décadas para permitir a reposição das árvores cortadas). Segundo a pesquisadora do Instituto Alberto Luiz Coimbra de Pós-graduação e Pesquisa de Engenharia (Coppe) da UFRJ, Thelma Krug, as duas primeiras fases do REDD deverão ser implementadas ainda em Cancún.

A primeira fase diz respeito à preparação dos países ricos em floresta – como Brasil, Indonésia, Congo e Papua Nova Guiné – para monitorar o desmatamento. Nesta etapa, serão elaborados planos nacionais para reduzir o desflorestamento e montada uma rede para acompanhar os resultados. A capacitação de pessoal para trabalhar nessas atividades também é fundamental

A segunda fase prevê a implementação de projetos pilotos e o pagamento de serviços florestais. Em ambos os casos o Brasil dificilmente receberia recursos estrangeiros. Isso porque o país já possui um Plano Nacional para a Prevenção e Controle do Desmatamento da Amazônia e monitora por satélite a destruição do bioma há duas décadas.

– Acho que o Brasil não vai ver a cor desse dinheiro. Vai ser difícil convencer doadores a colocar recursos num país que já está conseguindo reduzir significativamente o desmatamento sozinho – pondera Thelma, uma das negociadoras brasileiras na convenção.

Por outro lado, os brasileiros têm muito a contribuir com os países mais atrasados. O governo assinou um acordo com a Organização das Nações Unidas para Agricultura e Alimentação (FAO) para transmitir tecnologia. Doadores pagarão para que técnicos de outros países venham aprender com os profissionais do Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (Inpe) as ferramentas de monitoramento em tempo real. A primeira turma, de africanos, virá no início do próximo ano.

Além disso, há chances de ser criado um comitê para coordenar as ações de adaptação, aquelas voltadas para minimizar as consequências da mudança do clima. Um Fundo de Adaptação já está em vigor, com recursos do Mecanismo de Desenvolvimento Limpo (MDL) – pelo qual os países desenvolvidos podem cumprir suas metas de redução de emissões bancando, em nações pobres, projetos que resultem em menos emissões.

Dois temas, entretanto, deverão aquecer os debates da COP-16: o primeiro é o fortalecimento do Protocolo de Kyoto, documento assinado em 1997, e que prevê a fixação, por parte dos países ricos, de cortes mensuráveis de emissões. Caso não sejam definidas metas para um segundo período do protocolo, a partir de 2013, ele pode se tornar ineficaz. Isso vai ser um problema porque a União Europeia, por exemplo, fez leis com base no protocolo.

Assim como em Copenhague, o X da questão continua sendo os Estados Unidos, que são os maiores poluidores do planeta, mas não assinaram Kyoto. Uma lei estipulando o corte de 17% das emissões americanas até 2020 com relação às de 2005 está empacada no Congresso com poucas chances de ser aprovada. A Europa também começou a recuar quanto à adoção de metas significativas de corte de emissões. Segundo negociadores brasileiros, os europeus vêm fazendo o jogo dos americanos para esticar até 2012 o impasse sobre metas.

O segundo problema são as ações de mitigação a serem adotadas pelos países em desenvolvimento, as chamadas Namas (Ações de Mitigação Nacionalmente Adequadas). Embora os emergentes não sejam obrigados a se comprometer com metas, foi estabelecido na convenção que adotarão medidas voluntárias.

O embaraço, nesse caso, se dá no acompanhamento dessas ações. A maioria dos países só aceita o monitoramento internacional das ações financiadas por dinheiro estrangeiro. A China é a principal opositora à possibilidade de outros países interferirem em medidas que estão sendo adotadas em seu território.

(Catarina Alencastro, O Globo, 23/11/2010)

>Planeta passa longe de meta do clima (JC)

JC e-mail 4142, de 23 de Novembro de 2010

Mesmo que todos os países cortem muito suas emissões de CO2, a Terra ainda aquecerá mais que 2ºC, diz ONU

Se tudo der certo e todos os países fizerem o máximo para conter emissões de carbono nos próximos anos, o mundo ainda estará longe de cumprir a meta de limitar o aquecimento global a 2ºC.

O quão longe acaba de ser calculado por um grupo internacional de cientistas: 5 bilhões de toneladas de gás carbônico estarão “sobrando” na atmosfera em 2020.

Ou seja, para cumprir o que se comprometeram a fazer na conferência do clima de Copenhague e evitar um possível aquecimento descontrolado da Terra, os países não apenas teriam de endurecer suas metas de corte de emissão como ainda precisariam desligar todo o sistema de transporte do globo.

O recado foi dado hoje pelo Pnuma (Programa das Nações Unidas para o Meio Ambiente), num relatório intitulado “The Emissions Gap” (“A Lacuna das Emissões”).

O documento será entregue em Helsinque à chefe da Convenção do Clima da ONU, Cristiana Figueres.

Seus autores passaram seis meses avaliando 223 cenários de emissões de CO2 construídos a partir das metas voluntárias de corte de carbono propostas por vários países no Acordo de Copenhague, o pífio documento que resultou da conferência.

O resumo da ópera é que, se a humanidade quiser ter 66% de chance de manter o aquecimento global abaixo de 2ºC no fim deste século, o nível global de emissões em 2020 terá de ser de 44 bilhões de toneladas de CO2 equivalente- ou seja, a soma de todos os gases-estufa “convertidos” no potencial de aquecimento do CO2.

Se nada for feito, as emissões podem chegar a 56 bilhões de toneladas em 2020. “Isso elimina a chance dos 2ºC, e pode nos colocar no caminho de 5ºC de aquecimento em 2100”, disse à Folha Suzana Kahn Ribeiro, pesquisadora da Coppe-UFRJ, uma das autoras do relatório.

A implementação estrita do acordo também não resolve: as emissões globais cairiam para 52 bilhões de toneladas, ainda uma China de distância da meta de 2ºC.

Por “implementação estrita” os pesquisadores querem dizer duas coisas. Primeiro, as nações estão contando duas vezes emissões cortadas na área florestal. Se um país pobre planta florestas para vender créditos de carbono a um país rico, a dedução deveria estar apenas na conta do país rico. Mas costuma estar na de ambos.

“Na própria lei brasileira do clima está escrito que as reduções de emissão podem ser obtidas por MDL [venda de créditos de carbono para nações ricas]”, diz Ribeiro.
Outro ponto espinhoso é a venda de créditos em excesso por países como a Rússia, cujas emissões já são menores que as metas de Kyoto. O país ficou com créditos sobrando.

Conta só fecha com sequestro de carbono

Para chegar mais perto do almejado teto de 2ºC no aquecimento global, os países terão de adotar o que o relatório chama de “cumprimento estrito de metas condicionais”.

Ou seja, das reduções que alguns países dizem que farão se outros fizerem- a UE, por exemplo, se compromete a passar de 20% para 30% de corte em relação a 1990 se os EUA também avançarem nas suas metas.

O “gap”, neste caso, seria de “apenas” 5 bilhões de toneladas.

Segundo Suzana Kahn Ribeiro, a única forma de fechar o buraco é aumentar não só a ambição, como também as chamadas “emissões negativas”, ou seja, o sequestro maciço de carbono para compensar emissões industriais e também de energia.

Ela vê nisso uma oportunidade para o Brasil, no setor de plásticos verdes (produzidos a partir de biomassa), por exemplo.

Apesar da mensagem desalentadora, a ONU deverá usar o documento para enxergar a metade cheia do copo: afinal, o cumprimento estrito dos compromissos deixaria o planeta com 60% do caminho andado para evitar o aquecimento exagerado.

(Claudio Ângelo, Folha de SP, 23/11/2010)

>How to beat the media in the climate street fight (Nature)

Published online 3 November 2010 | Nature 468, 7 (2010)

Researchers must take a more aggressive approach to counter shoddy journalism and set the scientific record straight, says Simon L. Lewis.

Simon L. Lewis

When science hits the news, researchers often moan about the quality of the coverage. A sharp reminder of the issue rolls round this month — the anniversary of the global media frenzy over the release of e-mails from climate researchers at the University of East Anglia, UK. So what should scientists do when reporting quality falls off a cliff? Earlier this year, I was seriously misrepresented by a newspaper and thrown into a political storm. Rather than take it lying down, I set the record straight. It has been an odd journey, and I think there are lessons for how we scientists should deal with the media.

In January, the absurd claim from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) that Himalayan glaciers would melt by 2035 launched a hunt to find other exaggerated risks of climate change. A British blogger, Richard North, found an IPCC statement that part of the Amazon rainforest may be at risk from droughts, referenced to an environment group’s report, not the scientific literature. North dubbed it Amazongate, and told the world that the IPCC view “seems to be a complete fabrication”.

As a tropical-forest expert, I found my telephone ringing for three days. Journalists asked me to comment on the IPCC line that “up to 40% of the Amazonian forests could react drastically to even a slight reduction in precipitation”. My short answer was that in context, the statement was broadly correct; but the wording was not careful, and the IPCC should have cited the primary literature. My comments were broadcast across the BBC, but for most news outlets it was a non-story.

The Sunday Times saw it differently. Its reporter, Jonathan Leake, asked both leading and genuinely inquisitive questions. I sent him scientific papers, and we discussed them. He agreed to read the finished piece to me over the telephone before publication. It stated, correctly, that the future of the Amazon is very uncertain, because the available data are limited. I was quietly pleased that I had ‘spun’ what I saw as a blogger’s anti-IPCC tirade into a story about the science. Yet I was wrong. The newspaper headline was “UN climate panel shamed by bogus rainforest claim”, and worse, I was the expert quoted to support it. The article had been completely rewritten, essentially parroting North’s blog, to include new quotes from me (genuine, but heavily edited and misleadingly taken out of context), and fabricated assertions about my views. An accompanying editorial called for the IPCC chairman to resign.

I was furious. Worse, the two conflicting versions of my views — on the BBC and in The Sunday Times — constituted a serious affront to my professional credibility. But what could I do? I added a comment under the online version of the article that my views were not accurately reported, and sent a letter for publication to The Sunday Times.

Weeks later the misleading article had been reproduced over 20,000 times on the Internet. My letter had been ignored and website comment deleted. Furthermore, my words and standing as an expert were being used by other newspapers to allege widespread corruption by IPCC scientists. As an Editorial on climate disinformation in this journal said at the time: “Scientists must now emphasize the science, while acknowledging that they are in a street fight.” I needed to fight back.

“Closing the newspaper with a sigh is not enough.”

After advice from a friend in public relations and press officers at scientific organizations, I filed an official complaint to the Press Complaints Commission, the UK media watchdog. The commission could order the newspaper to print a correction, but would that happen and was it enough? I needed to make the complaint itself a story.

I contacted The Guardian newspaper, which published an article about my complaint. To reach the US audience, I handed the full complaint as an exclusive to perhaps the world’s most influential political climate-change blog, Joe Romm’s

For a scientist to take such an active media role was unorthodox, but it felt good. And it worked. It was widely recognized that the story was wrong and I had been badly treated. The New York Times featured me in a front-page article.

The Sunday Times offered to publish a single-line apology. I knew others had extracted greater concessions and kicked harder. It eventually agreed to remove the article from its website, and replace it with a formal correction and apology, also printed prominently in the newspaper. The retraction was reported around the world.

Environmental commentators hailed the apology as vindication for the IPCC (which it wasn’t quite, as its statements were not faultless). Climate sceptics launched a counter-attack by claiming that no apology was due because the IPCC statement was not perfect. But for me the storm had passed.

What lessons are there for scientists in politically charged areas who find themselves in a similar position? Do your research. What is the reporter’s track record? Anticipate that every sentence you say or write may be dissected and interpreted in the least charitable manner possible. And if things go wrong, seek advice from public-relations experts, and where necessary, media lawyers. In my experience, science-media professionals are almost as lost as scientists themselves, when dealing with topics as emotive as climate change.

The media dictate what most people know about contemporary scientific debates. Given the need for informed policy, scientists need to learn to better read and engage with this media landscape. Closing the newspaper with a sigh is not enough.

Simon L. Lewis is a Royal Society research fellow and reader in global change science at the University of Leeds.

>Time to Take Action on Climate Communication (Science)


According to broad international agreement, a global warming increase beyond 2°C is unacceptable (1). Because of the physics of the climate system, we must ensure that global emissions of greenhouse gases peak and start to decline rapidly within a decade in order to have a reasonable chance of meeting the 2°C goal (2). Humankind has waffled and delayed for decades; further delay risks serious consequences for people and the ecosystems on which we rely.

Because the potential consequences of climate change are so high, the science community has an obligation to help people, organizations, and governments make informed decisions. Yet existing institutions are not well suited to this task. Therefore, we call for the science community to develop, implement, and sustain an independent initiative with a singular mandate: to actively and effectively share information about climate change risks and potential solutions with the public, particularly decision-makers in the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. Moreover, we call on philanthropic funding institutions to endorse and provide sustained support for the initiative.

The initiative must make concerted efforts to provide people, organizations, and governments with critical information, to address misperceptions, and to counter misinformation and deception. In doing so, it will have to overcome psychological and cultural barriers to learning and engagement (3–5).

The initiative should be judged against two critical outcomes: (i) improved understanding of risks and potential solutions by people, organizations, and governments, and (ii) more informed decision-making—and less avoidance of decision-making—about how to manage those risks. The initiative should be an embodiment of what Fischhoff calls “non-persuasive communication.” It should not advocate specific policy decisions; good decision-making involves weighing the best available information with the values of the decision-makers and those affected by the decisions.

The initiative should recruit a full range of climate scientists, decision scientists, and communication professionals into the effort (6, 7) to ensure both sound scientific information and effective communication. In addition, it should build bridges to other communities of experts—such as clergy, financial managers, business managers, and insurers—who help people, organizations, and governments assess and express their values. Scientists and nonscientists alike inevitably interpret climate science information in the context of other information and values; the initiative should mobilize experts who can facilitate appropriate and useful interpretations.

Despite the politically contentious nature of climate change policy, the initiative must be strictly nonpartisan. In the face of efforts to undermine public confidence in science, it must become a trusted broker of un biased information for people on all sides of the issue.

At this potentially critical moment for human civilization, it is imperative that people, organizations, and governments be given the resources they need to participate in constructive civic, commercial, and personal decision-making about climate change risks and solutions.

Thomas E. Bowman1,*, Edward Maibach2, Michael E. Mann3, Richard C. J. Somerville4, Barry J. Seltser5, Baruch Fischhoff6, Stephen M. Gardiner7, Robert J. Gould8, Anthony Leiserowitz9 and Gary Yohe10

1Climate Solutions Project, Bowman Global Change, Signal Hill, CA 90755, USA.
2Center for Climate Change Communication, Department of Communication, George Mason University, Fairfax, VA 22030, USA.
3Department of Meteorology, Pennsylvania State University, University Park, PA 16802, USA.
4Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093, USA.
5(Retired) U.S. Government Accountability Office, Washington, DC 20001, USA.
6Department of Social and Decision Sciences, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, PA 15213, USA.
7Department of Philosophy and Program on Values in Society, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA.
8Partnership for Prevention, Washington, DC 20036, USA.
9Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University, New Haven, CT 06511, USA.
10Department of Economics and College of the Environment, Wesleyan University, Middletown, CT 06459, USA.
*To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail:


(1) Group of 8, “Responsible leadership for a sustainable future” (G8 Summit, L’Aquila, Italy, 2009).
(2) M. Meinshausenet al., Nature 458, 1158 (2009). CrossRefMedlineWeb of Science
(3) National Research Council, Evaluating Progress of the U.S. Climate Change Science Program: Methods and Preliminary Results (National Academies Press, Washington, DC, 2007).
(4) National Research Council, Informing Decisions in a Changing Climate (National Academies Press, Washington, DC, 2009).
(5) National Research Council, Informing an Effective Response to Climate Change (National Academies Press, Washington, DC, 2010).
(6) B. Fischhoff, Environ. Sci. Technol. Online 41, 7207 (2007).
(7) T. E. Bowman, E. Maibach, M. E. Mann, S. C. Moser, R. C. J. Somerville, Science 324, 36-b (2009).

>Repensar a esquizofrenia (Fapesp)


Agência FAPESP – Esquizofrenia é o assunto em destaque na capa da edição desta quinta-feira (11/11) da Nature, que avalia em editorial e em três artigos os avanços obtidos nos últimos cem anos na compreensão desse transtorno psíquico severo.
No editorial, a revista destaca que a pesquisa científica tem revelado as “complexidades assombrosas” da esquizofrenia, mas também tem mostrado novas rotas para o diagnóstico e o tratamento.

“Nos últimos anos, tem se avaliado que essa coleção de sintomas – que tipicamente se manifesta no início da vida adulta – representa um estágio posterior da enfermidade e que a própria enfermidade pode vir a ser uma coleção de síndromes, mais do que uma condição única”, destaca o editorial.

No primeiro artigo, Thomas Insel, do National Institute of Mental Health, nos Estados Unidos, faz uma revisão do conhecimento acumulado sobre o tema. Segundo ele, o futuro do assunto reside em “repensar” a esquizofrenia como um distúrbio do desenvolvimento neurológico.

“Esse novo foco poderá levar a novas oportunidades para a compreensão de mecanismos e para o desenvolvimento de tratamentos para o transtorno. Tratamentos têm sido experimentados há décadas, mas com pouca evolução e resultados na maioria das vezes insatisfatórios”, disse.

A esquizofrenia é uma desordem mental debilitante que afeta cerca de 1% da população mundial. No segundo artigo, Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg, da Universidade de Heidelberg, na Alemanha, discute como as novas tecnologias de obtenção de imagens estão deixando os aspectos apenas funcionais e estruturais para focar também nos mecanismos dos riscos da enfermidade.

Para o cientista, essas novas estratégias, como o uso de imagens em genética, possibilitam uma visão muito importante do sistema neural mediado pelo risco hereditário e ligado a variantes comuns associadas à esquizofrenia.

O artigo sugere que a caracterização dos mecanismos do transtorno por meio do desenvolvimento de tais técnicas poderá somar forças com os atuais projetos de pesquisa que visam à busca de tratamentos.

No terceiro artigo, Jim van Os, da Universidade Maastricht, na Holanda, e colegas fazem uma revisão do conhecimento atual a respeito das influências ambientais na esquizofrenia e os desafios que essas relações abrem para a pesquisa na área.

Os autores argumentam que mais pesquisas são necessárias para tentar descobrir a interação entre genética e ambiente que determina como a expressão da vulnerabilidade na população geral pode dar origem a mais psicopatologias severas.

Os artigos Rethinking schizophrenia (doi:10.1038/nature09552), de Thomas R. Insel, The environment and schizophrenia (doi:10.1038/nature09563), de Jim van Os e outros, e From maps to mechanisms through neuroimaging of schizophrenia (doi:10.1038/nature09569), de Andreas Meyer-Lindenberg, podem ser lidos por assinantes da Nature em

>New documentary recounts bizarre climate changes seen by Inuit elders (Globe and Mail)

Globe and Mail – Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2010

Imagine how this feels: The land and weather are turning erratic and dangerous. Warmer, unpredictable winds are coming from strange directions. Severe floods threaten to wash away towns. And native animals, the food supply, aren’t behaving as they used to, their bodies less capable in the changing climate.

Even stranger is the fact that the sun now appears to set many kilometres off its usual point on the horizon, and the stars are no longer where they should be. Is the Earth shifting on its axis, causing the very look of the sun and stars to change?

These are the drastic conditions Northern Canadians, whose lives depend from childhood on their knowledge of the most minute details of the Arctic land and skies, say they see all around them. These observations by Inuit elders are detailed in a groundbreaking new documentary, Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change, by acclaimed Nunavut filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk (The Fast Runner, The Journals of Knud Rasmussen) and environmental scientist Ian Mauro.

The documentary – screening at Toronto’s imagineNATIVE film and media arts festival this weekend and streaming live at – is the first to ask Inuit elders to describe the severe environmental changes in the Arctic they are seeing and to do so in their own language. The tone of the film is intimate. The elders aren’t trying to cross a language barrier, or even speak to the Southern scientific community. They’re simply imparting their expert knowledge and wisdom – and the result will undoubtedly cause controversy.

“Over the years, nobody has ever listened to these people. Every time [the discussion is] about global warming, about the Arctic warming, it’s scientists that go up there and do their work. And policy makers depend on these findings. Nobody ever really understands the people up there,” Kunuk says.

It quickly becomes clear that the film, which blends scenes of Inuit life with elders sharing their insights, is an invaluable document. The elders describe in precise detail how seal, for instance, a staple in their diet, are behaving troublingly due to the thinning ice, how warmer winds are changing the snow and ice banks, making overland navigation difficult, and how major floods are hitting communities.

Yet the elders talk about all this without anger, only a tinge of sadness. Kunuk says this is an Inuit characteristic, based on the belief that the world is forever changing, whether at the hand of man or through natural cycles. “We know for a fact that way up in the high Arctic, there are mummified tree trunks [showing that the Earth’s climate was once totally different]. Also, when Inuit hunters talk about animals, they always talk about cycles, everything goes in cycles. We just have to adapt to it.”

However, the faintest trace of anger does arise when the elders talk about polar bears. Contrary to what conservationists and scientists say, the elders interviewed in the film believe the polar-bear population is increasing. They say more bears finding their way into communities, and the animals are being traumatized by scientists, who are putting radio collars around the bears’ necks and doing other research that disturbs their natural life, usually spent in almost total isolation and silence.

Most startling for the filmmakers, though, was the Inuits’ belief that along with pollution and environmental changes, caused mainly by Southerners, the Earth has actually changed its tilt. The filmmakers kept hearing this theory in different communities. Perplexed, they contacted the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration for answers, but experts said this was impossible.

When the filmmakers presented some of their findings at the Copenhagen conference on climate change last year, the media picked up on these views of the Inuit subjects, film co-director Ian Mauro says, and alarm bells started to ring in the scientific community. “We had a litany of scientists come back to us, responding after seeing this news, saying, ‘This was great to be speaking to indigenous people about their views, but if you continue to perpetuate this fallacy that the Earth had tilted on its axis, [the Inuit] …. would lose all credibility.’ And so there was really this backlash by the scientific community.”

Still, the Inuit insist they see changes in the sun’s course and the position of the stars in the night sky. “These elders, when they were growing up, they were told to go out every morning, before having anything to eat. They were told to go out at the age of 5 every morning to observe the weather,” Kunuk says. “So when they started talking about the sun and the sunset, I was puzzled too. Everywhere I went, each community, I was getting the same answer: The sun does not settle where it used to. I mean, it [causes] alarm.”

The scientific explanation is that the warming Arctic air is causing temperature inversions, which in turn cause the light of the sunset to refract so that the sun appears to be setting a few kilometres off-kilter. “There is so much garbage in the air, it’s refraction that’s causing our elders to think our world has tilted,” Kunuk says.

But the filmmakers don’t include that scientific explanation in the film, nor any other comments from the scientific community. Instead, the film deals strictly with the elders’ observations and their belief that they have no control over climate change and they simply have to adapt.

“We have to. We have no choice,” Kunuk says, repeating the elders’ quiet words.

Inuit Knowledge and Climate Change plays Toronto’s Al Green Theatre, 750 Spadina Ave., Saturday at 7 p.m., as part of the imagineNATIVE film and media arts festival. The film will be simultaneously streamed on

>52 Percent of Americans Flunk Climate 101 (NY Times)

Green: Science
October 14, 2010, 4:25 pm

A new study by researchers at Yale University suggests that Americans’ knowledge of climate science is limited and scattershot, with some understanding of basic issues like the contribution of fossil fuels to global warming and some singular misconceptions as well.

For instance, more than two-thirds of those surveyed believe that reducing toxic waste or banning aerosol spray cans will curb climate change. And 43 percent believe that “if we stopped punching holes in the ozone layer with rockets, it would reduce global warming,” the survey’s authors write.

Overall, just 1 in 10 of those surveyed said they were “very well informed” about climate change and 45 percent said they were not very worried or not at all worried about it.

If letter grades were given by the survey’s authors (based on absolute scores, not grading on the curve), 1 percent would have received an A, 7 percent a B, 15 percent a C, 25 percent a D and 52 percent an F.

Researchers said that the results “reflect the unorganized and sometimes contradictory fragments of information Americans have absorbed from the mass media and other sources.”

“Most people don’t need to know about climate change in their daily life, thus it is not surprising that they have devoted little effort to learning these details,” they write.

Some of the findings seemed mutually exclusive. For instance, the researchers note that an online survey conducted by Knowledge Networks this summer shows that, despite a blast of negative publicity about controversial e-mails to and from climate scientists at Britain’s University of East Anglia, large majorities of Americans trust scientists (72 percent) and scientific institutions (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 78 percent, National Science Foundation 74 percent) to provide accurate information on the subject.

Three-quarters say they want more information on the issue, but 45 percent say they are not very or not at all worried about it.

But climate skeptics have made some specific inroads. As the report’s authors found, 42 percent of those surveyed “incorrectly believe that since scientists can’t predict the weather more than a few days in advance, they can’t possibly predict the climate of the future.” More than a third (37 percent) think climate models are too unreliable to predict the climate of the future. And one-third believe, incorrectly, that most scientists in the 1970s were predicting an ice age.

The interlacing of knowledge and ignorance was a hallmark of the study. About 73 percent of Americans understand, correctly, that the current climate is not colder than ever before. But 55 percent believe, incorrectly, that the Earth’s climate is now hotter than it has ever been before, and about two-thirds believe, incorrectly, that the climate has always oscillated gradually between eras of warmth and eras of cold.

About 57 percent of Americans have both heard of the greenhouse effect and understand how it works. But one-third believe that because the climate “has changed naturally in the past, humans are not the cause of global warming today.”

About 45 percent understand that carbon dioxide in the atmosphere traps heat, but only a quarter know that methane does the same. And more than half think, incorrectly, that aerosol cans, volcanic eruptions or the space program contribute to climate change.

Slightly more than half understand that energy in fossil fuels comes from photosynthesis by plants over millions of years; just 29 percent understand that the sun was the ultimate source of energy in these fuels. Almost half say that fossil fuels are the fossilized remains of dinosaurs.

Three-quarters of those polled had heard nothing about coral bleaching or ocean acidification.

Perhaps not surprisingly, given the spottiness of the participants’ knowledge, most said they needed a lot more, some more, or a little more information on the subject (25 percent, 26 percent and 25 percent, respectively.)

The authors — Anthony Leiserowitz and Nicholas Smith of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communications and Jennifer R. Marlon of the Geography Department at the University of Wisconsin, Madison — conclude that widespread misconceptions “lead some people to doubt that climate change is happening or that human activities are a major contributor, to misunderstand the causes and therefore the solutions, and to be unaware of the risks.”

“Thus many Americans lack some of the knowledge needed for informed decision-making about this issue in a democratic society,” they write.

* * *

Find the original Yale report here.

>Do the IPCC use alarmist language?

By James Wight
Thursday, 14 October, 2010 – 06:42 AM

Graham Wayne has recently written rebuttals to “The IPCC consensus is phony” and “IPCC is alarmist”. But, you might say, that’s only half the story – do the IPCC present their conclusions in an alarmist way? There are many different ways you might look at this, but one of the more important ones is how the IPCC present probabilities (or “likelihoods”).

Thinking about probability does not come intuitively to the human mind. Our assessment of a risk often depends on how the probability is presented.

Suppose you are about to get on a plane and a reliable source tells you that there is a 1% chance that the plane will crash during your flight. Do you still want to get on the plane? I’m guessing you’d be having second thoughts about it.

What if the probability of a crash is 1 in 20? 1 in 10? 1 in 3? You’d probably run away screaming.

I’ll get to the point of all this shortly, but please bear with me and consider the following quote from the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report (AR4):

“It is very unlikely that [Atlantic Ocean circulation] will undergo a large abrupt transition during the 21st century.” [Source]

Are you alarmed yet? Is this an example of the IPCC using alarmist language in reporting its conclusions?

To answer this question, you first have to understand what the IPCC are trying to say. In the introduction to the AR4 Synthesis Report, there is a detailed description of how uncertainty is treated in IPCC reports, and I don’t think the public appreciates just how un-alarmist it is. A 1% chance scarcely rates a mention: anything with such a low probability is described as “exceptionally unlikely”. A probability of 1 in 20 is considered to be “extremely unlikely”; 1 in 10 is “very unlikely”, and even 1 in 3 is still “unlikely”. Conversely, 2 in 3 is “likely”, 9 in 10 is “very likely”, 19 in 20 is “extremely likely”, and 99% is “virtually certain”.

So if you asked the IPCC to do a report on your plane trip, and the probability of a crash was smaller than 1 in 10, about half a decade later they’d get back to you with something like: “It is very unlikely that this plane will crash.” (Except that it would probably be a lot wordier than that.)

And when the IPCC says an abrupt transition in Atlantic Ocean circulation is “very unlikely”, they mean the same thing: the chance is less than 1 in 10. Yet you’re probably not running away screaming.

Most of the IPCC’s main conclusions are given a high degree of likelihood. Probably the most quoted sentence from the entire AR4 is:

“Most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-20th century is very likely due to the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas concentrations.” [Source]

Translation: the likelihood that humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions are causing global warming is greater than 9 in 10.

Another important conclusion (though not particularly new to the AR4) is this:

“[T]he equilibrium global mean [surface air temperature] warming for a doubling of atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2), or ‘equilibrium climate sensitivity’, is likely to lie in the range 2°C to 4.5°C, with a most likely value of about 3°C. Equilibrium climate sensitivity is very likely larger than 1.5°C.” [Source]

Translation: the chances are 2 out of 3 that a doubling of atmospheric CO2 will warm the planet by between 2 and 4.5 degrees; 9 out of 10 that it will be more than 1.5 degrees.

One more IPCC quote:

“It is very likely that hot extremes, heat waves and heavy precipitation events will continue to become more frequent.” [Source]

That is, the chances of more extreme weather are higher than 9 in 10. If you’re thinking that wilder weather is not exactly as serious as a plane crash, then consider that over 20 million people have been affected by the 2010 Pakistan floods. This sort of extreme weather event will become more frequent with global warming. Do we, does humanity, really want to get on this plane?

The IPCC are not alarmist in their conclusions, and they are no more alarmist in the way they report their conclusions.