Arquivo da categoria: retórica

>On Birth Certificates, Climate Risk and an Inconvenient Mind (N.Y. Times, Dot Earth Blog)

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April 28, 2011, 9:23 AM
By ANDREW C. REVKIN

As Donald Trump tries to milk a last bit of publicity out of the failed “birther” challenge to President Obama, it’s worth reading a fresh take by an Australian psychologist on the deep roots of denial in people with fundamentalist passions of whatever stripe. Here’s an excerpt:

[I]deology trumps facts.
And it doesn’t matter what the ideology is, whether socialism, any brand of fundamentalist religion, or free-market extremism. The psychological literature shows quite consistently that a threat to one’s worldview is more than likely met by a dismissal of facts, however strong the evidence. Indeed, the stronger the evidence, the greater the threat — and hence the greater the denial.
In its own bizarre way, then, the rising noise level of climate denial provides further evidence that global warming resulting from human CO2 emissions is indeed a fact, however inconvenient it may be. Read the rest.
The piece, published today on the Australian news blog The Drum, is byStephan Lewandowsky of the School of Psychology at the University of Western Australia.
Of course, just being aware that ideology can deeply skew how people filter facts and respond to risks begs the question of how to make progress in the face of the wide societal divisions this pattern creates.
It’s easy to forget that there’s been plenty of climate denial to go around. It took a decade for those seeking a rising price on carbon dioxide emissions as a means to transform American and global energy norms to realize that a price sufficient to drive the change was a political impossibility.
As a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found, even when greenhouse-gas emissions caps were put in place, trade with unregulated countries simply shifted the brunt of the emissions elsewhere.
When he was Britain’s prime minister, Tony Blair put it this way in 2005: “The blunt truth about the politics of climate change is that no country will want to sacrifice its economy in order to meet this challenge.”
My choice, of course, is to attack the two-pronged energy challenge the world faces with a sustained energy quest, nudged and nurtured from the top but mainly fostered from the ground up.
And I’m aware I still suffer from a hint of “scientism,” even “rational optimism,” in expecting that this argument can catch on, but so be it.
10:11 a.m. | Updated For much more on the behavioral factors that shape the human struggle over climate policy, I encourage you to explore “Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions, and Everyday Life,” a new book by Kari Marie Norgaard, a sociologist who has just moved from Whitman College to the University of Oregon.
Robert Brulle of Drexel University brought the book to my attention several months ago, and I invited him to do a Dot Earth “Book Report,” to kick off a discussion of Norgaard’s insights, which emerge from years of research she conducted on climate attitudes in a rural community in western Norway. (I’d first heard of of Norgaard’s research while reporting my 2007 article on behavior and climate risk.)
(I also encourage you to read the review in the journal Nature Climate Changeby Mike Hulme, a professor of climate at the University of East Anglia and the author of “Why We Disagree about Climate Change.”)
Here’s Brulle’s reaction to Norgaard’s book:
As a sociologist and longtime student of human responses to environmental problems, I’ve seen reams of analysis come and go on why we get some things right and some very wrong. A new book by Kari Norgaard has done the best job yet of cutting to the core on our seeming inability to grasp and meaningfully respond to human-driven climate change.
As the science of climate change has become stronger and more dire, media coverage, public opinion, and government actions regarding this issue has declined. At the same time, climate denial positions have become increasingly accepted, despite a lack of scientific evidence. Even among the public that accepts the science of global climate change, the dire circumstances we now face in this regard are consistently downplayed, and the logical implications that follow from the scientific analysis of the necessity to enact swift and aggressive measures to combat climate change are not followed through either intellectually or politically.
Instead, at best, a series of half measures have been proposed, which though they may be comforting, are essentially symbolic measures that allow the status quo to continue unchanged, and thus will not adequately address the issue of global climate change. Thus attempts to address climate change have encountered significant cultural, political, and economic barriers that have not been overcome. While there have been several attempts to explain the lack of meaningful action regarding climate change, these models have not developed into an integrated and empirically supported approach. Additionally, many of these models are based in an individualistic perspective, and thus engage in a form of psychological reductionism. Finally, none of these models are able to coherently explain the inter-related phenomena regarding climate change that is occurring at the individual, small group, institutional, and societal levels.
To move beyond the limitations of these approaches, Dr. Norgaard develops a sociological model that views the response to global climate change as a social process. One of the fundamental insights of sociology is that individuals are part of a larger structure of cultural and social interactions. Thus through the socialization processes, we construct certain ways of life and understandings of the world that guide our everyday interactions. Individuals become the carriers of the orientations and practices that constitute our social order. A disjuncture between our taken-for-granted way of living, such as the new behaviors necessitated by climate change, are experienced at the individual level as identity threats, at the institutional level as challenges to social cohesion, and at the societal level as legitimation threats. When this occurs, there are powerful processes that work at the psychological, institutional, and overall society level to maintain the current orientations and ensure social stability. Taken together, these social processes create cultural and social stability. They also create, from the view of climate change, a form of social inertia that inhibits rapid social change.
From this sociological perspective, Dr. Norgaard takes on the apparent paradox of climate change and public awareness; as our knowledge about the nature and seriousness of climate change has increased, our political and social engagement with the issue has declined. Why? Dr. Norgaard’s answer (crudely put) is that our personality structures and social norms are so thoroughly enmeshed with a growth economy based on fossil fuels that any consideration of the need to change our way of life to deal with climate change evokes powerful emotions of anxiety and desires to avoid this issue. This avoidance behavior is socially reinforced by collective group norms, as well as the messages we receive from the mass media and the political elite. She develops this thesis through the use of an impressive array of sociological theory, including the sociology of the emotions, cultural sociology, and political economy. Additionally, she utilizes specific theoretical approaches regarding the social denial of catastrophic risk. Here she skillfully repurposes the literature on nuclear war and collective denial to the issue of climate change. This is a unique and insightful use of this literature. Thus her theoretical contribution is substantial and original. She then illustrates this process through a thick qualitative analysis based on participant observation in Norway. In her analysis of conversations, she illustrates how collective denial of climate change takes place through conversations. This provided powerful ground truth evidence of her theoretical framework.
This is an extremely important intellectual contribution. Research on climate change and culture has been primarily focused on individual attitudinal change. This work brings a sociological perspective to our understanding of individual and collective responses to climate change information, and opens up a new research area. It also has important practical implications. Most climate change communication efforts are based on conveying information to individuals. The assumption is that individuals will take in this information and then act rationally in their own interests. Dr. Norgaard’s analysis course charts a different approach. As she demonstrates, it is not a lack of information that inhibits action on climate change. Rather, the knowledge brings about unpleasant emotions and anxiety. Individuals and communities seek to restore a sense of equilibrium and stability, and thus engage in a form of denial which, although the basic facts of climate change are acknowledged, the logical conclusions and actions that follow from the information are minimized and not acted upon. This perspective calls for a much different approach to climate change communications, and defines a new agenda for this field.

[Note: people interested in this line of argument should follow the work done by researchers at the Center for Research on Environmental Decisions (CRED), at Columbia University, @ http://cred.columbia.edu.] 

Anúncios

>Climategate: What Really Happened? (Mother Jones)

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

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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 FactCheck.org, 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.]

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

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

Ian Sample
guardian.co.uk
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.”

>Can Geoengineering Save the World from Global Warming? (Scientific American)

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Ask the Experts | Energy & Sustainability
Scientific American

Is manipulating Earth’s environment to combat climate change a good idea–and where, exactly, did the idea come from?

By David Biello | February 25, 2011

STARFISH PRIME: This nighttime atmospheric nuclear weapons test generated an aurora (pictured) in Earth’s magnetic field, along with an electromagnetic pulse that blew out streetlights in Honolulu. It is seen as an early instance of geoengineering by science historian James Fleming. Image: Courtesy of US Govt. Defense Threat Reduction Agency

As efforts to combat climate change falter despite ever-rising concentrations of heat-trapping gases in the atmosphere, some scientists and other experts have begun to consider the possibility of using so-called geoengineering to fix the problem. Such “deliberate, large-scale manipulation of the planetary environment” as the Royal Society of London puts it, is fraught with peril, of course.

For example, one of the first scientists to predict global warming as a result of increasing concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere—Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius—thought this might be a good way to ameliorate the winters of his native land and increase its growing season. Whereas that may come true for the human inhabitants of Scandinavia, polar plants and animals are suffering as sea ice dwindles and temperatures warm even faster than climatologists predicted.

Scientific American corresponded with science historian James Fleming of Colby College in Maine, author of Fixing the Sky: The Checkered History of Weather and Climate Control, about the history of geoengineering—ranging from filling the air with the artificial aftermath of a volcanic eruption to seeding the oceans with iron in order to promote plankton growth—and whether it might save humanity from the ill effects of climate change.

[An edited transcript of the interview follows.]

What is geoengineering in your view?
Geoengineering is planetary-scale intervention [in]—or tinkering with—planetary processes. Period.

As I write in my book, Fixing the Sky: The Checkered History of Weather and Climate Control, “the term ‘geoengineering’ remains largely undefined,” but is loosely, “the intentional large-scale manipulation of the global environment; planetary tinkering; a subset of terraforming or planetary engineering.”

As of June 2010 the term has a draft entry in the Oxford English Dictionary—the modification of the global environment or the climate in order to counter or ameliorate climate change. A 2009 report issued by the Royal Society of London defines geoengineering as “the deliberate large-scale manipulation of the planetary environment to counteract anthropogenic climate change.”

But there are significant problems with both definitions. First of all, an engineering practice defined by its scale (geo) need not be constrained by its stated purpose (environmental improvement), by any of its currently proposed techniques (stratospheric aerosols, space mirrors, etcetera) or by one of perhaps many stated goals (to ameliorate or counteract climate change). Nuclear engineers, for example, are capable of building both power plants and bombs; mechanical engineers can design components for both ambulances and tanks. So to constrain the essence of something by its stated purpose, techniques or goals is misleading at best.

Geo-scale engineering projects were conducted by both the U.S. and the Soviet Union between 1958 and 1962 that had nothing to do with countering or ameliorating climate change. Starting with the [U.S.’s] 1958 Argus A-bomb explosions in space and ending with the 1962 Starfish Prime H-bomb test, the militaries of both nations sought to modify the global environment for military purposes.

Project Argus was a top-secret military test aimed at detonating atomic bombs in space to generate an artificial radiation belt, disrupt the near-space environment, and possibly intercept enemy missiles. It, and the later tests conducted by both the U.S. and the Soviet Union, peaked with H-bomb detonations in space in 1962 that created an artificial [electro]magnetic [radiation] belt that persisted for 10 years. This is geoengineering.

This idea of detonating bombs in near-space was proposed in 1957 by Nicholas Christofilos, a physicist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. His hypothesis, which was pursued by the [U.S.] Department of Defense’s Advanced Research Projects Agency [subsequently known as DARPA] and tested in Project Argus and other nuclear shots, held that the debris from a nuclear explosion, mainly highly energetic electrons, would be contained within lines of force in Earth’s magnetic field and would travel almost instantly as a giant current spanning up to half a hemisphere. Thus, if a detonation occurred above a point in the South Atlantic, immense currents would flow along the magnetic lines to a point far to the north, such as Greenland, where they would severely disrupt radio communications. A shot in the Indian Ocean might, then, generate a huge electromagnetic pulse over Moscow. In addition to providing a planetary “energy ray,” Christofilos thought nuclear shots in space might also disrupt military communications, destroy satellites and the electronic guidance systems of enemy [intercontinental ballistic missiles], and possibly kill any military cosmonauts participating in an attack launched from space. He proposed thousands of them to make a space shield.

So nuclear explosions in space by the U.S. and the Soviet Union constituted some of the earliest attempts at geoengineering, or intentional human intervention in planetary-scale processes.

The neologism “geoengineer” refers to one who contrives, designs or invents at the largest planetary scale possible for either military or civilian purposes. Today, geoengineering, as an unpracticed art, may be considered “geoscientific speculation”. Geoengineering is a subset of terraformation, which also does not exist outside of the fantasies of some engineers.

I have recently written to the Oxford English Dictionary asking them to correct their draft definition.

Can geoengineering save the world from climate change?
In short, I think it may be infinitely more dangerous than climate change, largely due to the suspicion and social disruption it would trigger by changing humanity’s relationship to nature.

To take just one example from my book, on page 194: “Sarnoff Predicts Weather Control” read the headline on the front page of The New York Times on October 1, 1946. The previous evening, at his testimonial dinner at the Waldorf Astoria, RCA president Brig. Gen. David Sarnoff had speculated on worthy peaceful projects for the postwar era. Among them were “transformations of deserts into gardens through diversion of ocean currents,” a technique that could also be reversed in time of war to turn fertile lands into deserts, and ordering “rain or sunshine by pressing radio buttons,” an accomplishment that, Sarnoff declared, would require a “World Weather Bureau” in charge of global forecasting and control (much like the “Weather Distributing Administration” proposed in 1938). A commentator in The New Yorker intuited the problems with such control: “Who” in this civil service outfit, he asked, “would decide whether a day was to be sunny, rainy, overcast…or enriched by a stimulating blizzard?” It would be “some befuddled functionary,” probably bedeviled by special interests such as the raincoat and galoshes manufacturers, the beachwear and sunburn lotion industries, and resort owners and farmers. Or if a storm was to be diverted—”Detour it where? Out to sea, to hit some ship with no influence in Washington?”

How old is the idea of geoengineering? What other names has it had?
I can trace geoengineering’s direct modern legacy to 1945, and have prepared a table of such proposals and efforts for the [Government Accountability Office]. Nuclear weapons, digital computers and satellites seem to be the modern technologies of choice. Geoengineering has also been called terraformation and, more restrictively, climate engineering, climate intervention or climate modification. Many have proposed abandoning the term geoengineering in favor of solar radiation management and carbon (or carbon dioxide) capture and storage. Of course, the idea of control of nature is ancient—for example, Phaeton or Archimedes.

Phaeton, the son of Helios, received permission from his father [the Greek sun god] to drive the sun chariot, but failed to control it, putting the Earth in danger of burning up. He was killed by a thunderbolt from Zeus to prevent further disaster. Recently, a prominent meteorologist has written about climate control and urged us to “take up Phaeton’s reins,” which is not a good idea.

Archimedes is known as an engineer who said: “Give me a lever long enough and a place to stand, and I will move the Earth.” Some geoengineers think that this is now possible and that science and technology have given us an Archimedean set of levers with which to move the planet. But I ask: “Where will it roll if you tip it?”

How are weather control and climate control related?
Weather and climate are intimately related: Weather is the state of the atmosphere at a given place and time, while climate is the aggregate of weather conditions over time. A vast body of scientific literature addresses these interactions. In addition, historians are revisiting the ancient but elusive term klima, seeking to recover its multiple social connotations. Weather, climate and the climate of opinion matter in complex ways that invite—some might say require or demand—the attention of both scientists and historians. Yet some may wonder how weather and climate are interrelated rather than distinct. Both, for example, are at the center of the debate over greenhouse warming and hurricane intensity. A few may claim that rainmaking, for example, has nothing to do with climate engineering, but any intervention in the Earth’s radiation or heat budget (such as managing solar radiation) would affect the general circulation and thus the location of upper-level patterns, including the jet stream and storm tracks. Thus, the weather itself would be changed by such manipulation. Conversely, intervening in severe storms by changing their intensity or their tracks or modifying weather on a scale as large as a region, a continent or the Pacific Basin would obviously affect cloudiness, temperature and precipitation patterns with major consequences for monsoonal flows, and ultimately the general circulation. If repeated systematically, such interventions would influence the overall heat budget and the climate.

Both weather and climate control have long and checkered histories: My book explains [meteorologist] James Espy’s proposal in the 1830s to set fire to the crest of the Appalachian Mountains every Sunday evening to generate heated updrafts that would stimulate rain and clear the air for cities of the east coast. It also examines efforts to fire cannons at the clouds in the arid Southwest in the hope of generating rain by concussion.

In the 1920s airplanes loaded with electrified sand were piloted by military aviators who “attacked” the clouds in futile attempts to both make rain and clear fog. Many others have proposed either a world weather control agency or creating a global thermostat, either by burning vast quantities of fossil fuels if an ice age threatened or sucking the CO2 out of the air if the world overheated.

After 1945 three technologies—nuclear weapons, digital computers and satellites—dominated discussions about ultimate weather and climate control, but with very little acknowledgement that unintended consequences and social disruption may be more damaging than any presumed benefit.

What would be the ideal role for geoengineering in addressing climate change?
That it generates interest in and awareness of the impossibility of heavy-handed intervention in the climate system, since there could be no predictable outcome of such intervention, physically, politically or socially.

Why do scientists continue to pursue this then, after 200 or so years of failure?
Science fantasy is informed by science fiction and driven by hubris. One of the dictionary definitions of hubris cites Edward Teller (the godfather of modern geoengineering).

Teller’s hubris knew no bounds. He was the [self-proclaimed] father of the H-bomb and promoted all things atomic, even talking about using nuclear weapons to create canals and harbors. He was also an advocate of urban sprawl to survive nuclear attack, the Star Wars [missile] defense system, and a planetary sunscreen to reduce global warming. He wanted to control nature and improve it using technology.

Throughout history rainmakers and climate engineers have typically fallen into two categories: commercial charlatans using technical language and proprietary techniques to cash in on a gullible public, and sincere but deluded scientific practitioners exhibiting a modicum of chemical and physical knowledge, a bare minimum of atmospheric insight, and an abundance of hubris. We should base our decision-making not on what we think we can do “now” and in the near future. Rather, our knowledge is shaped by what we have and have not done in the past. Such are the grounds for making informed decisions and avoiding the pitfalls of rushing forward, claiming we know how to “fix the sky.”

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

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DON’T KNOW MUCH AGNOTOLOGY

Grist.org
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)

THE WAY WE LIVE NOW

By JUDITH WARNER
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.”

>Yale Project on Knowledge of Climate Change Across Global Warming’s Six Americas

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From Anthony Leiserowitz, Yale Project on Climate Change Communication

“Today we are pleased to announce the release of a new report entitled “Knowledge of Climate Change Across Global Warming’s Six Americas.” This report draws from a national study we conducted last year on what Americans understand about how the climate system works, and the causes, impacts, and potential solutions to global warming and is available here.

Overall, we found that knowledge about climate change varies widely across the Six Americas – 49 percent of the Alarmed received a passing grade (A, B, or C), compared to 33 percent of the Concerned, 16 percent of the Cautious, 17 percent of the Doubtful, 4 percent of the Dismissive, and 5 percent of the Disengaged. In general, the Alarmed and the Concerned better understand how the climate system works and the causes, consequences, and solutions to climate change than the Disengaged, the Doubtful and the Dismissive. For example:

· 87% of the Alarmed and 76% of the Concerned understand that global warming is caused mostly by human activities compared to 37% of the Disengaged, 6% of the Doubtful and 3% of the Dismissive;
· 86% of the Alarmed and 71% of the Concerned understand that emissions from cars and trucks contribute substantially to global warming compared to 18% of the Disengaged, 16% of the Doubtful and 10% of the Dismissive;
· 89% of the Alarmed and 64% of the Concerned understand that a transition to renewable energy sources is an important solution compared to 12% of the Disengaged, 13% of the Doubtful and 7% of the Dismissive.

However, this study also found that occasionally the Doubtful and Dismissive have as good or a better understanding than the Alarmed or Concerned. For example:

· 79% of the Dismissive and 74% of the Doubtful correctly understand that the greenhouse effect refers to gases in the atmosphere that trap heat, compared to 66% of the Alarmed and 64% of the Concerned;
· The Dismissive are less likely to incorrectly say that “the greenhouse effect” refers to the Earth’s protective ozone layer than all other groups, including the Alarmed (13% vs. 24% respectively);
· 50% of the Dismissive and 57% of the Doubtful understand that carbon dioxide traps heat from the Earth’s surface, compared to 59% of the Alarmed, and 45% of the Concerned.

This study also identified numerous gaps between expert and public knowledge about climate change. For example, only:

· 13% of the Alarmed know how much carbon dioxide there is in the atmosphere today (approximately 390 parts per million) compared to 5% of the Concerned, 9% of the Cautious, 4% of the Disengaged, 6% of the Doubtful and 7% of the Dismissive;
· 52% of the Alarmed have heard of coral bleaching, vs. 24% of the Concerned, 23% of the Cautious, 5% of the Disengaged, 21% of the Doubtful and 24% of the Dismissive;
· 46% of the Alarmed have heard of ocean acidification, vs. 22% of the Concerned, 25% of the Cautious, 6% of the Disengaged, 23% of the Doubtful and 16% of the Dismissive.

This study also found important misconceptions leading many to misunderstand the causes and therefore the solutions to climate change. For example, many Americans confuse climate change and the hole in the ozone layer. Such misconceptions were particularly apparent for the Alarmed and Concerned segments:

· 63% of the Alarmed and 49% of the Concerned believe that the hole in the ozone layer is a significant contributor to global warming compared to 32% of the Cautious, 12% of the Disengaged, 6% of the Doubtful and 7% of the Dismissive;
· 49% of the Alarmed and 36% of the Concerned believe that aerosol spray cans are a significant contributor to global warming compared to 20% of the Cautious, 9% of the Disengaged, 7% of the Doubtful and 5% of the Dismissive;
· 39% of the Alarmed and 23% of the Concerned believe that banning aerosol spray cans would reduce global warming compared to 13% of the Cautious, 3% of the Disengaged, 4% of the Doubtful and 1% of the Dismissive.

Concerned, Cautious and Disengaged Americans also recognize their own limited understanding of the issue. Fewer than 1 in 10 say they are “very well informed” about climate change, and 75 percent or more say they would like to know more. The Alarmed also say they need more information (76%), while the Dismissive say they do not need any more information about global warming (73%).

Overall, these and other results within this report demonstrate that most Americans both need and desire more information about climate change. While information alone is not sufficient to engage the public in the issue, it is often a necessary precursor of effective action.”

>In Denial – Climate on the Couch (BBC)

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Thu 10 Feb 2011
BBC Radio 4

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b00y92mn

Something strange is happening to the climate – the climate of opinion. On the one hand, scientists are forecasting terrible changes to the planet, and to us. On the other, most of us don’t seem that bothered, even though the government keeps telling us we ought to be. Even climate scientists and environmental campaigners find it hard to stop themselves taking holidays in long haul destinations.

So why the gap between what the science says, and what we feel and do? In this programme Jolyon Jenkins investigates the psychology of climate change. Have environmentalists and the government been putting out messages that are actually counterproductive? Might trying to scare people into action actually be causing them to consume more? Are images of polar bears actually damaging to the environmentalists’ case because they alienate people who don’t think of themselves as environmentalists – and make climate change seem like a problem that’s a long way off and doesn’t have much relevance to normal life? Does the message that there are “simple and painless” steps we can take to reduce our carbon footprint (like unplugging your phone charger) unintentionally cause people to think that the problem can’t be that serious if the answers are so trivial?

Jolyon talks to people who are trying to move beyond the counterproductive messages. On the one hand there are projects like Natural Change, run by WWF Scotland, which try to reconnect people with nature using the therapeutic techniques of “ecopsychology” – intense workshops that take place in the wilderness of the west of Scotland, and which seem to convert the uncommitted into serious greens. On the other, there are schemes that try to take the issue out of the green ghetto and engage normal people with climate change. Jolyon visits a project in Stirling which has set itself the ambitious challenge of talking face to face with 35,000 people, through existing social groups like rugby clubs, knitting circles and art groups. It wants to sign up these groups to carbon cutting plans, and make carbon reduction a social norm rather than something that only eco-warriors bother with.

And he attends a “swishing party” in London, which tries to replicate the buzz women get from clothes shopping, but in a carbon neutral way. Can the green movement find substitutes for consumerism that are as fun and status-rich, that will deliver carbon reduction but without making people feel they have signed up to a life of grim austerity? And even if the British and Europeans shift their attitudes, can the Americans ever be reconciled to the climate change message? Producer Jolyon Jenkins.

>O povo ribeirinho do São Francisco traduz as lutas populares do Brasil (IHU Online)

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 Instituto Humanitas Unisinos – IHU Online – 2/2/2011
“Existe um sertão com bastante água. A questão é que esta água é colocada majoritariamente a serviço dos interesses do capital e suas oligarquias, a água é apropriada privadamente”, aponta o fotógrafo.

Confira a entrevista.

 
 

Um fotógrafo operário. Assim se define João Zinclar que já foi metalúrgico e hoje vive da fotografia. O gaúcho, que hoje vive em Campinas-SP, durante seis anos percorreu as margens do rio São Francisco e registrou a vida deste e de quem depende dele para viver. Assim nasceu o livro O Rio São Francisco e as Águas no Sertão (Campinas: sem editora, 2010). Em entrevista à IHU On-Line, realizada por email, Zinclar conta como foi esse processo de captação das imagens e convivência com o povo da região. “Percorremos a extensão do rio, que é de 2.700 quilômetros várias vezes, perfazendo mais de 15 mil quilômetros nesses seis anos”, descreve.

Nesse tempo, Zinclar acompanhou todo o processo de transposição do rio São Francisco, desde as discussões sobre o projeto até o início das obras. “A natureza vem sendo constantemente privatizada, transformada em mercadoria. Esse processo não é novo, faz parte da natureza do capitalismo em todos os tempos. Hoje, o controle sobre a água indica um novo patamar dessa disputa. A transposição é parte dessa apropriação privada das riquezas comuns. A água é um bem comum, não há vida sem água e hoje uma parte considerável da humanidade não tem acesso a este recurso”, afirmou. Ao longo da entrevista é possível ver algumas das imagens que Zinclar publicou em seu livro.

Confira a entrevista.

IHU On-Line – Como foi a viagem e a produção das imagens para conhecer as águas do sertão brasileiro?

João Zinclar – O trabalho que resultou no livro O Rio São Francisco e as Águas no Sertão lançado em novembro de 2010 em Campinas-SP tem durado seis (6) anos, desde janeiro de 2005 até os dias de hoje. É motivado pela questão política envolvendo a grande polêmica e os conflitos acerca da equivocada proposta do governo federal de efetivar as obras da transposição das águas rio São Francisco para o chamado nordeste setentrional.

Por entender a questão da água como valor de luta estratégica para os trabalhadores e o povo, (a guerra pela água em Cochabamba na Bolívia no início do século é um exemplo disso), considerei que a fotografia poderia contribuir nessa polêmica sobre o futuro das águas do velho Chico. Ajudar na divulgação e documentação das lutas populares de resistência ao projeto de transposição, mostrar a grave situação de degradação na vida do rio, para uma compreensão melhor no principal caso real e de relevância nacional sobre conflitos em torno da defesa, do uso e controle de águas no Brasil.

Percorremos a extensão do rio, que é de 2.700 quilômetros várias vezes, perfazendo mais de 15 mil quilômetros nesses seis anos. Nesse tempo, contarei e convivi com comunidades tradicionais, quilombolas, indígenas, ribeirinhos, sem terra, pescadores, trabalhadores rurais. Assim, fotografei e documentei suas lutas para defender o rio do veneno capitalista que contamina e usurpa suas águas, com suas mineradoras, barragens e monoculturas agroexportadoras que devastam criminosamente biomas importantes para a formação do São Francisco como o cerrado e a caatinga.

Além das margens do rio, também percorremos várias regiões por onde estão sendo construídos e passando os canais da transposição. Estivemos no Ceará, Rio Grande do Norte e Paraíba, onde procuramos mostrar e abordar o sertão de outra forma, um sertão em tom azul, azul de água, com uma quantidade enorme estocadas em grandes, médios e pequenos açudes espalhados pelo sertão, construídos ao longo do último século em nome do “combate à seca”. Aí foi possível revelar uma das principais críticas ao projeto de transposição: a de que a obra vai chover no molhado, vai levar água para onde já tem água, água essa que, se distribuída para o povo, seria suficiente para abastecer todos os usos, desfazendo o mito da falta dela no sertão.

Quero destacar que esse processo todo só foi possível com o importante apoio nas mais variadas formas de pessoas amigas, dos movimentos sociais, sindicatos, pastorais sociais, de profissionais jornalistas, tanto de Campinas-SP, como do povo da beira do rio e no sertão. Foi a solidariedade desse povo que me ajudou a compreender realidades distantes de nosso dia a dia e também entender melhor a luta de classes no Brasil. Antes de virar livro, essas fotos percorreram várias cidades da beira do rio, de outros estados e países e serviram para ilustrar reportagens e debates sobre o rio São Francisco.

IHU On-Line – Você é um operário fotógrafo. Que diferenças o seu olhar de “operário” ressalta sobre o povo e a vida do rio São Francisco?

João Zinclar – A fotografia é paixão antiga. Hoje consigo sobreviver dela, como free-lancer, a serviço da luta operária e popular, mas minha profissão primeira é operário metalúrgico. Trabalhei no chão de fábrica durante muitos anos, fui dirigente sindical da categoria, onde forjei minha consciência de classe e visão socialista de mundo.

Não existe neutralidade jornalística nessa história. Portanto, a visão que conduz o livro é a de uma postura classista e anticapitalista e que a luta do povo ribeirinho em defesa de sua sobrevivência, de seu trabalho e da qualidade da água de seu rio contribui, à sua maneira, no conflito mais geral contra o capital, no campo e na cidade, resistindo à nova fase do avanço predatório do capitalismo no campo brasileiro.

A diversidade das lutas dos povos que habitam o velho Chico, com indígenas e quilombolas enfrentando o poder econômico em disputas para retomar terras, pescadores na defesa da pesca artesanal, sem terra em luta pela reforma agrária e outras manifestações, deveria ter a devida atenção dos trabalhadores urbanos e suas organizações políticas.

IHU On-Line – O Rio São Francisco passa por um momento de conflito em função das obras da transposição. O que você viu sobre as obras? O que você ouviu do povo sobre isso?

João Zinclar – Entre 2005 e 2008, vários movimentos sociais e pessoas se colocaram contrários ao projeto. Pessoas se mobilizaram com as greves de fome de Dom Luiz Cappio, com as ocupações de barragens e dos canteiros das obras da transposição. Vários protestos foram realizados, bem como denúncias de arbitrariedades aos direitos humanos e alertas sobre os impactos ambientais para iniciar a obra. O governo triturou tudo isso e as obras iniciaram e, hoje, estão em andamento.

Algumas lutas recentes (como greves de trabalhadores das empreiteiras por melhorias salariais e reclamações contra as péssimas condições de trabalho) produziram uma redução nos ritmos das obras. Agora, as questões se colocam de outra maneira e nem por isso são menos importantes. A desinformação sobre o projeto e os impactos negativos sobre a vida das comunidades atingidas pela transposição na região receptora das águas do velho Chico é a regra. A máquina propagandística do governo é poderosa e isso tem enorme potencial desmobilizador. Os atingidos pelas obras da transposição têm tido grandes dificuldades em se articular. Reclamam dos valores recebidos e das compensações materiais pagas pelo governo, pois anos de trabalho não se contabilizam facilmente. Muitos deixam sua história de vida e seu trabalho em troca de valores irrisórios em sua tentativa de recomeçar tudo de novo em outras localidades, atingidas pela crescente valorização das terras em torno dos canais da transposição.

Há uma insatisfação grande com o enfraquecimento das economias locais e a destruição das bases de vida de pequenos agricultores. A oferta de emprego não cumpre o prometido: são temporários e poucos. As obras afetam os povos originários, que têm na terra um referencial cultural, de vida com outros valores, que não apenas econômicos, pois a construção do eixo norte devasta terras Trukás em Cabrobró-PE, e território Anacé no Ceará, o eixo leste ameaça território sagrado dos pipipã em Pernambuco.

Além disso, o debate em torno da revitalização do rio continua atual, uma vez que as iniciativas do governo pouco realizaram nesse aspecto, mantendo o mesmo padrão de degradação do rio que afeta duramente da qualidade de vida dos ribeirinhos. A controvérsia e a oposição ao projeto de transposição continuam, essa é uma questão mal resolvida, que terá desdobramentos futuros, sustentada na insatisfação popular, quando perceberem a contradição, além de ser a água mais cara do Brasil, ás águas da transposição não são para servir ao povo do sertão, como diz o discurso do governo.

IHU On-Line – Qual a importância de registrar o São Francisco e as águas do sertão nesse momento atual em que vivemos?

João Zinclar – Sempre que pensamos no sertão nordestino vem em nossa cabeça a imagem dramática de seca, da caatinga retorcida, de vida difícil, quase inviável. A imagem cunhada por Euclides da Cunha de que “O sertanejo é antes de tudo um forte” ilustra essa ideia. Só um forte é capaz de conviver com isso. No entanto, olhando com outra abordagem também real, existe um sertão com bastante água. A questão é que esta água é colocada majoritariamente a serviço dos interesses do capital e suas oligarquias, a água é apropriada privadamente. O atual modelo de desenvolvimento na região, com o agronegócio à frente, se apropria das riquezas naturais, de forma radical, na medida em que novas frentes de negócios vão se abrindo. Essa é a questão central, em minha opinião.

A natureza vem sendo constantemente privatizada, transformada em mercadoria. Esse processo não é novo, faz parte da natureza do capitalismo em todos os tempos. Hoje o controle sobre a água indica um novo patamar dessa disputa. A transposição é parte dessa apropriação privada das riquezas comuns. A água é um bem comum, não há vida sem água e hoje uma parte considerável da humanidade não tem acesso a este recurso. Eu posso escolher se compro um jeans novo ou não, um livro ou um celular, mas não posso optar por não consumir água. A transposição do São Francisco, a nova polêmica em torno da construção da Usina de Belo Monte, assim como a ocupação das margens dos rios e encostas, a proteção das nascentes são temas políticos, não apenas técnico e ambiental. A luta social dos povos atingidos por esse “desenvolvimento” precisa se articular num horizonte político mais amplo, capaz de resgatar o caráter de classe desse debate. Porque são as populações pobres e os trabalhadores que mais sofrem com os efeitos desse processo.

IHU On-Line – O que suas imagens revelam sobre a Alma do Velho Chico?

João Zinclar – As imagens captadas revelam a diversidade de um povo. Expressão de um Brasil contraditório e de luta. O povo ribeirinho traduz as lutas populares no Brasil. Muitas vezes desarticuladas, essas ações estão repletas de vida e inovação. Lutas que incorporam tradições seculares, povos indígenas, a religiosidade, a luta contra a opressão num momento em que elas assumem a vanguarda numa luta pela preservação dos bens comuns, não em oposição ao desenvolvimento, mas propondo pensar as questões: Qual desenvolvimento? E pra quem? Busquei captar essa relação entre um projeto “moderno” que se apropria dos bens coletivos em nome de um único desenvolvimento possível e um mundo que se constrói, pensando na preservação dos valores coletivos sem abrir mão de avançar por melhores condições de vida.

IHU On-Line – O que o São Francisco representa para o povo que vive em seu entorno?

João Zinclar – Representa a vida em todos os sentidos, sem chavão, o São Francisco é a sobrevivência de homens e mulheres que dependem de suas águas, contam com a potencialidade de sua biodiversidade para desenvolverem sua forma de economia independente, sua cultura de vida, amparados na pesca e na agricultura de vazante e familiar.

>Falhas de comunicação em série agravaram desastre histórico na Região Serrana do Rio (O Globo)

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14.jan.2011

RIO – Falhas no sistema de comunicação entre a Defesa Civil do Estado e os 92 municípios possibilitaram que a causa do maior desastre na história do Estado fosse ignorado. Na terça-feira, horas antes das chuvas que deixaram mais de 500 mortos na Região Serrana, o órgão recebeu um boletim alertando para a existência de “condições meteorológicas favoráveis à ocorrência de chuvas moderadas ou fortes”.

O aviso foi emitido pelo Instituto Nacional de Meteorologia (Inmet) e repassado pela Secretaria Nacional de Defesa Civil (Sedec). Todas as comunicações foram feitas por e-mail. Ainda assim, pelo menos uma prefeitura local, a de Teresópolis, alegou não ter recebido o informe.

A formação da grande tempestade foi detectada inclusive pelo novo radar da Prefeitura do Rio, o doppler, instalado em dezembro no Sumaré. O aparelho é capaz de identificar a origem de grandes precipitações num raio de 250 quilômetros – mais do que o suficiente para abranger a Região Serrana. No entanto, as imagens que poderiam ter sido coletadas por esta estrutura não foram repassadas.

Estado: faltam meteorologistas
De acordo com o prefeito Eduardo Paes, mesmo que o radar tenha flagrado a formação de temporais próximo à Região Serrana, não seria possível emitir um alerta aos municípios.

– O radar fornece fotografias, mas o sistema de análise é mais complexo: ele envolve dados como imagens de satélite, dados geológicos e redes pluviométricas – pondera. – Nossos meteorologistas nunca poderiam fazer previsões de outras cidades sem ter essas informações.

Segundo Paes, sequer as imagens captadas pelo radar poderiam ter sido repassadas a outras instâncias:

– Não sei se o Estado e essas cidades têm meteorologistas.

A Secretaria de Saúde e Defesa Civil do Estado informou que a oferta da prefeitura é “genérica”, e ainda não houve tempo para decidir como serão feitas as análises das imagens do radar. Segundo a assessoria do órgão, os técnicos só seriam responsáveis pelo repasse dos boletins meteorológicos, por e-mail, aos municípios. Cada prefeitura seria encarregada de efetuar um plano de contingência. No entanto, a secretaria não divulgou se há meteorologistas em seu quadro de funcionários.

O problema também é destacado pelo meteorologista Manoel Gan, do Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas Espaciais (Inpe).

– Ainda faltam radares e outros sistemas de detecção de tempestades, mas o maior déficit é de profissionais – critica. – Esses equipamentos requerem mão de obra especializada. E, daqui a cinco anos, a grande maioria dos meteorologistas que ainda estão na ativa já terá se aposentado.

Sem as imagens do radar do Sumaré, a única previsão que subiu a serra veio do Inmet. O aviso especial 12/2011, emitido pelo órgão, foi enviado na terça-feira à tarde para a Sedec. Esta repassou os dados às 13h56m para a Secretaria estadual de Defesa Civil, ao comando-geral do Corpo de Bombeiros do Rio e à Secretaria Especial de Ordem Pública. O boletim alertava para o “índice significativo” de chuva acumulado em todo o estado, destacando a Região Serrana.

O prefeito de Teresópolis, Jorge Mário (PT), afirmou que o risco não chegou a ser comunicado para seu município:

– Não houve aviso de que poderia ocorrer aquela tragédia. A informação que eu tenho é que ela (a tempestade) não poderia ter sido prevista.

Na vizinha Nova Friburgo, o alerta chegou, de acordo com o secretário estadual de Ambiente Carlos Minc. A população, no entanto, não foi comunicada.

– Nosso equipamento que monitora a altura do rio em Friburgo funcionou, mas tem de haver um treinamento prévio para que as pessoas em suas casas sejam avisadas – ressalta.

Professor de meteorologia da Universidade Federal de Santa Maria, Ernani Nascimento elogia o investimento da prefeitura do Rio no radar de Sumaré, mas acredita que o sistema pode ser ampliado.

– Um sistema possível, já testado em Campinas, usa sirenes – lembra. – Alguns moradores têm pluviômetros em casa e são treinados para, com o equipamento, perceber a gravidade das precipitações. Se uma chuva for grave, eles acionam o alarme, permitindo que as pessoas evacuem suas casas.

A tragédia levou o governo do Estado e a prefeitura do Rio a recorrer à médium Adelaide Scritori da Fundação Cacique Cobra Coral (FCCC) que diz controlar o tempo. O convênio foi renovado na quarta-feira às pressas.

>Pânico pode alimentar ceticismo da população a respeito do aquecimento global (FSP, JC)

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Clima de alarmismo, artigo de Marcelo Leite

JC e-mail 4180, de 18 de Janeiro de 2011

Marcelo Leite é jornalista. Artigo publicado na “Folha de SP Online”:

A nova hecatombe na região serrana do Rio sugere que as previsões sobre desastres inomináveis no futuro, em decorrência da mudança do clima, podem não ser tão exagerados quanto afirmam os céticos do aquecimento global. Tudo depende de conectar causalmente esse tipo de desastre, e sua frequência, com as predições dos modelos climáticos de que uma atmosfera mais quente trará mais eventos meteorológicos extremos como esses – o que não é coisa trivial de fazer.

Pressupor tal conexão, no entanto, já foi muito criticado por pesquisadores do clima. Não haveria uma tragédia planetária por acontecer de imediato, como fantasiou o filme “O Dia Depois de Amanhã”. Agora, uma pesquisa de psicologia aplicada vem corroborar essa percepção, dizendo que mensagens alarmistas sobre a mudança climática podem ser contraproducentes e alimentar o ceticismo na população a respeito do aquecimento global.

O estudo foi publicado por Matthew Feinberg e Robb Willer em dezembro no periódico Psychological Science. Usaram dois experimentos para “provar” que mensagens alarmistas de fato aumentam o ceticismo por contradizerem a tendência das pessoas a acreditar que o mundo é justo.

Se a mudança do clima vai matar, empobrecer ou prejudicar também pessoas inocentes, como as crianças afogadas em lama no Rio, uma reação natural das pessoas seria duvidar de que o aquecimento global seja uma realidade. Li rapidamente o artigo e os dois experimentos não me convenceram muito, mas fica o convite para o leitor formar sua própria opinião.

A tese, porém, é boa. Com efeito, é de pasmar a capacidade de muita gente de não enxergar – ou não querer ver – como são abundantes os indicativos da ciência de que há, sim, uma mudança climática em curso.

Uma explicação, obviamente, é político-ideológica. Muitos optam por não acreditar em aquecimento global porque acham que é uma conspiração dos socialistas para extinguir a liberdade empresarial (por meio de regulamentação) ou a liberdade individual de dirigir jipões movidos a diesel, mas também há socialistas e comunistas – como no Brasil – convencidos de que a conspiração é de imperialistas americanos para impedir o desenvolvimento de países emergentes como o Brasil.

Quem reage irracional e psicologicamente ao alarmismo ou ideológica e canhestramente a fantasmas conspiradores vai ter razão de sobra para se tornar ainda mais cético diante do sítio de internet Global Warning (um trocadilho intraduzível entre Global Warming – aquecimento global – e Global Warning – alerta global).

Trata-se de um esforço para vincular aquecimento global com ameaças à segurança doméstica dos EUA – de bases militares ameaçadas de inundação à dependência de combustíveis fósseis importados. Ou seja, para sensibilizar o americano médio, conservador e republicano e diminuir seu ceticismo diante do fenômeno.

Se Feinberg e Willer estiverem certos, o tiro vai sair pela culatra. E os socialistas céticos tupiniquins vão babar um pouco mais de raiva dos imperialistas.
(Folha de SP Online, 17/1)

>Chuvas: quem é que vai pagar por isso?

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Por Vilmar Sidnei Demamam Berna*

Não existe explicação que justifique a repetição freqüente e previsível,
verão após verão, de tantas perdas de vida e de patrimônio em função das
chuvas. Temos gente com conhecimento, tecnologias, recursos, então, por que
este problema repete-se em todos os verãos, como já previu Tom Jobim, na
música “Águas de março”?

Dizem que não é de bom tom, e que chega a ser cruel, no momento da tragédia,
quando se contam os mortos e os prejuízos, cobrar culpas e
responsabilidades. Entretanto, em respeito aos que morreram agora, e em
respeito aos que poderão morrer no próximo verão, temos de remexer nesta
ferida. Lembro a pergunta do Lobão, na canção Revanche: “Quem vai pagar por
isso? Até quando as autoridades permitirão, por ação ou omissão, a ocupação
das áreas de encosta frágeis pela sua própria natureza, que irão deslizar de
qualquer jeito, com ou sem floresta por cima? Até quando as margens de rios
e as áreas de várzeas continuarão sendo ocupadas, mesmo com todos sabendo
que mais dia ou menos dia encherão? Antigamente, só os mais pobres eram
afetados, mas agora, os ricos e a classe média também contam seus mortos.
Antes, o problema atingia mais duramente as áreas de risco, mas agora até as
áreas consideradas seguras estão sendo atingidas. E alguns ainda resistem em
admitir o impacto das mudanças climáticas.

Precisamos aprender com os erros, pois se não fizermos isso, é certo que
voltaremos a repeti-los. E entre os mais graves erros está o de só liberarem
recursos para as Prefeituras diante da emergência ou calamidade! Por que não
se liberam recursos antes, já sabendo que cada real gasto em prevenção
economiza mais de 10 na reparação do desastre?

As leis de uso do solo, os planos diretores, as políticas de licenciamento,
estão completamente ultrapassadas ou mesmo mal feitas e precisam ser
revistos para impedir a ocupação das áreas frágeis ainda desocupadas. Onde
estão nossos vereadores tão céleres para conceder títulos e aprovar emendas
ao orçamento para seus bairros?

Quanto às áreas já ocupadas, onde estão nossos prefeitos e governadores para
promoverem sua desocupação, com ordenamento e inteligência, pois se
continuar a não ser feito por bem, a natureza fará por mal, verão após
verão! As populações de baixa renda que foram deixadas à própria sorte para
ocupar áreas de risco e não edificantes precisam ser realocadas. Onde estão
nossas autoridades do Governo Federal e seus programas habitacionais para
essas populações de baixa renda? Poderiam estar incentivando mutirões
remunerados e o cooperativismo para que os próprios futuros moradores
construíssem suas próprias casas, após receberem a devida capacitação, e
apoio técnico necessário, em áreas seguras, gerando trabalho e renda,
aproveitando para incorporar tecnologias limpas e ecoeficientes.

As unidades de conservação, parques e bosques urbanos não seriam só para a
proteção da natureza, mas para proteger as pessoas da natureza. Na medida em
que as áreas de risco fossem desocupadas, em seu lugar seriam criadas essas
unidades de conservação no local, e cada metro quadrado daria ao município o
direito de receber repasses federais e estaduais que os compensassem pela
perda de receita com os impostos, que deixarão de arrecadar sobre estas
áreas protegidas, como já é feito pelo ICMS Ecológico.

Os profissionais de imprensa, por sua vez, vivem em momentos assim situações
equivalente a dos correspondentes de guerra. Como se proteger e ao mesmo
tempo estar na linha de frente dos acontecimentos? Como lidar com fontes
emocionadas, desinformadas, mal informadas? Como improvisar quando o
equipamento falha? Como encontrar as alternativas para transmitir os dados a
serem divulgados? Como lidar com o emocional e o profissional diante dos
dramas vividos pelas pessoas e pelo próprio profissional? Ate aonde ir neste
envolvimento sem prejudicar a tarefa de colher e transmitir a informação?
Como lidar com pessoas fragilizadas sem ser invasivo ou insensível diante da
dor alheia? Como fazer o seu trabalho sem atrapalhar ao trabalho dos outros,
do pessoal do resgate? Como colocar o foco na noticia, ir à raiz do
problema, fazer as perguntas certas às pessoas certas? Não dá para se
imaginar que toda essa capacitação e prontidão para as respostas acontecerão
por um acaso. Onde estão os cursos de capacitação para profissionais de
comunicação que precisam cobrir desastres e calamidades?

A solidariedade humana surpreende em momentos de desastre, como surpreende
também o despreparo. Muito trabalho voluntário é perdido por que falta
coordenação, sistemas de aviso e comunicação, planejamento das ações, onde o
trabalho voluntário ajuda e onde atrapalha, onde é mais necessário, etc. E
nada disso é possível fazer durante o desastre. Então, precisa ser feito
antes. Entretanto, onde estão os cursos de capacitação para voluntários?
Como eles podem ser avisados e serem mantidos informados? A quem recorrer
para serem encaminhadas para a linha de frente de trabalho voluntários? Quem
os ampara psicologicamente diante dos dramas e perdas que irão assistir e
com os quais terão de conviver? Sim, por que ao lado das perdas materiais,
as pessoas sofrem com terríveis perdas espirituais, que podem ser tão ou
mais devastadoras que as perdas materiais. As pessoas podem desmoronar por
dentro, perder o estimulo e a motivação para lutar e se reerguer. Como lidar
com crianças resgatadas sozinhas, que se tornaram órfãos da noite para o
dia, perderam a casa e todas as referências? O lar não está na casa perdida,
nos bens materiais, nos documentos históricos. O lar é espiritual. Está onde
estiver a família ou o que sobrou dela. Pode estar num estádio que reúne os
sobreviventes.

* Vilmar Sidnei Demamam Berna é escritor e jornalista. Em Janeiro de 1996,
fundou a REBIA – Rede Brasileira de Informação Ambiental (www.rebia.org.br)
e edita desde então a Revista do Meio Ambiente (que substituiu o Jornal do
Meio Ambiente) e o Portal do Meio Ambiente (www.portaldomeioambiente.org.br).
Em 1999, recebeu no Japão o Prêmio Global 500 da ONU Para o Meio
Ambiente e, em 2003, o Prêmio Verde das Américas –
http://www.escritorvilmarberna.com.br

>Blame game begins in wake of deadly Brazil floods (CSM)

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As the Brazil floods continue, some blame municipalities for allowing residents to build in insecure areas, while others blame the federal government for misallocating funds

By Andrew Downie, Correspondent / January 14, 2011
São Paulo, Brazil

A resident looks at a destroyed house after a landslide in Teresopolis, Brazil, on Jan. 13. Rescue workers struggled on Thursday to reach areas cut off by floods and landslides that have killed at least 511 people in one of Brazil’s worst natural disasters in decades. Bruno Domingos/Reuters.

With rain still falling in parts of Rio de Janeiro and the death toll from massive flooding topping 500, authorities and experts turned their attention to apportioning blame and deciding how to avoid repeats of what has become a familiar tale in Brazil.

Local officials estimate the death toll at 511 so far, concentrated in four hillside cities north of Rio de Janeiro, after torrential rains caused rivers to jump their banks and hillsides to give way. While national and state authorities are pinning the blame on municipalities for allowing citizens to build in insecure areas, the federal government itself is coming under scrutiny for recently slashing its budget for handling natural disasters.

“There is carelessness at every level of government,” says Gil Castello Branco, the secretary general of Contas Abertas, a non-profit that monitors government spending. “We turn that old saying on its head: We aren’t safe, we are sorry.”

Federal government cut budget for disaster prevention

Even though annual flooding is common around Rio, a proposed national center for disaster management never got off the drawing board and the federal budget for disaster prevention and preparation measures is down 18 percent in 2010, says Mr. Castello Branco.

Last year the government spent just 40 percent of the cash allocated for disaster prevention and preparation, and more than half of that went to Bahia, a state that had no major disasters, because the minister in charge of disbursing funds was running for governor there, Castello Branco says in a telephone interview.

“We are not saying it was illegal, but Bahia should never have got half the money,” he says. “It was in [the minister’s] political interest but not in society’s.”

Triumphant rescues

The flooding that began in the past week is being described as the worst natural disaster in Brazilian history. Footage of the worst-hit areas looked like it came from a Hollywood disaster movie.

One cameraman caught the remarkable scene of a housewife being hauled to safety through roaring river with just a rope around her waist. Another caught the joy of rescue workers discovering a baby alive after being buried in mud for 12 hours.

However, those were rare positive moments.

“It was like something out of Noah’s Ark,” says Marcos Maia, a 31-year old who lost five members of his family and spent most of Wednesday helping out at the local morgue. “An avalanche of rocks just washed their house away.”

When asked to describe the road where he lived, Mr. Maia told the Monitor by telephone: “Now there is no road. It’s just a muddy river.”

It was a rude awakening for Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who took office less than two weeks ago and stopped off in one of the cities, Nova Friburgo, for 45 minutes on Thursday. Ms. Rousseff promised the state of Rio de Janeiro more than $1 billion in aid by 2014 but played down the fact this was the third major disaster caused by flooding in the last three years in Brazil, and the second consecutive tragedy in Rio.

Rousseff blames municipalities

Rousseff and Rio state governor Sergio Cabral put the problem down to decades of lax oversight by municipal authorities who allowed people – mostly poor people – to build houses on hillsides vulnerable to landslides. Mr. Cabral said 18,000 people lived in high risk areas in the city of Rio de Janeiro alone and said the city’s mayor would need to make the unpopular decision of removing them.

“Building houses on high risk areas is the rule in Brazil, not the exception,” Rousseff added. “You have to get people away and into secure areas. The two fundamental issues are housing and land use” and that involves putting proper drainage and sewage systems in place.

Experts, however, cautioned that such plans can take decades to carry out and said that politicians have failed to take such sensible steps to avoid repeated tragedy. Floods killed 133 people in the southern state of Santa Catarina in 2008 and left more than 200,000 people homeless in the impoverished Northeast in 2009. In 2010, floods killed 53 people when an entire neighborhood built on a hillside garbage dump gave way in Rio.

>Abertura de represa em Franco da Rocha (SP) foi irresponsável, diz PDT (UOL)

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13/01/2011 – 15h53
Do UOL Notícias
Em São Paulo

O PDT (Partido Democrático Trabalhista) anunciou nesta quinta-feira (13) que vai entrar com uma ação contra a Sabesp (Companhia de Saneamento Básico de São Paulo) exigindo apuração rigorosa e cobrando indenização para os moradores de Franco da Rocha prejudicados pelas enchentes desta semana.

Para o partido, a abertura das comportas da represa Paiva Castro, que deixou parte da cidade submersa, foi irresponsável. Escolas, casas, comércios, o fórum, o prédio da prefeitura e a delegacia estão cercados por água devido à decisão da direção da Sabesp.
Enchente paralisa serviços em Franco da Rocha (SP)

“A falta de planejamento da Sabesp, somada a uma comunicação precária, prejudicou milhares de pessoas. Não podemos nos calar diante de tal irresponsabilidade e insensibilidade social por parte da empresa”, afirma o presidente do PDT estadual, Paulo Pereira da Silva, o Paulinho. “Pela incompetência demonstrada, e pela falta de respeito para com a população, o presidente da Sabesp, Gesner Oliveira, deve ser demitido.”

A direção do PDT também estuda entrar com ação em outras localidades prejudicadas pela mesma situação.

A Sabesp informou que reduziu a vazão da represa. Apesar da medida, a cidade permanecia com a região central alagada. A vazão, que chegou a ser de 80 m3 por segundo, passou a ser de 10 m3/s às 9h de hoje. Apesar disso, a prefeitura afirmou por meio de sua assessoria que a medida ainda não traz tranquilidade a administração municipal devido à chuva que continua atingir a região nesta quinta-feira.

Nesta quarta, o prefeito Márcio Cecchettinio (PSDB) afirmou esperar da Sabesp, responsável pela barragem, uma resposta definitiva sobre a abertura das comportas. Ele ressaltou que gostaria que elas fossem fechadas para que a cidade pare de ser alagada.

A Prefeitura informou que as fortes chuvas elevaram o nível da água represada no Sistema Cantareira e um alerta foi lançado para a necessidade de dar vazão à água e manter o nível máximo de segurança.

O sistema é composto por seis barragens, que passam pelos municípios de Bragança Paulista, Piracaia, Vargem, Joanópolis, Nazaré Paulista, Franco Da Rocha, Mairiporã, Caieiras. A represa de Paiva Castro fica na parte mais baixa, portanto recebe a água acumulada nos demais pontos do sistema.

>AP: Bin Laden blasts US for climate change

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By SALAH NASRAWI
The Associated Press
Friday, January 29, 2010; 7:46 AM

CAIRO — Al-Qaida leader Osama bin Laden has called for the world to boycott American goods and the U.S. dollar, blaming the United States and other industrialized countries for global warming, according to a new audiotape released Friday.

In the tape, broadcast in part on Al-Jazeera television, bin Laden warned of the dangers of climate change and says that the way to stop it is to bring “the wheels of the American economy” to a halt.

He blamed Western industrialized nations for hunger, desertification and floods across the globe, and called for “drastic solutions” to global warming, and “not solutions that partially reduce the effect of climate change.”

Bin Laden has mentioned climate change and global warning in past messages, but the latest tape was his first dedicated to the topic. The speech, which included almost no religious rhetoric, could be an attempt by the terror leader to give his message an appeal beyond Islamic militants.

The al-Qaida leader also targeted the U.S. economy in the recording, calling for a boycott of American products and an end to the dollar’s domination as a world currency.

“We should stop dealings with the dollar and get rid of it as soon as possible,” he said. “I know that this has great consequences and grave ramifications, but it is the only means to liberate humanity from slavery and dependence on America.”

He argued that such steps would also hamper Washington’s war efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The new message, whose authenticity could not immediately be confirmed, comes after a bin Laden tape released last week in which he endorsed a failed attempt to blow up an American airliner on Christmas Day.