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GOP vs. the Vatican? May 9, 2011

Posted by Jamie Friedland in Climate Change, Politics.
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Three years ago, the Roman Catholic Church commissioned a report to investigate the environmental changes occurring on our planet.  The Vatican’s non-denominational scientific arm, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, reached out to international experts and asked them to compile the report that will soon be delivered to Pope Benedict XVI.

Brace yourself, because this document issues some shocking warnings: at our current trajectory, we risk “serious and potentially irreversible impacts of global warming caused by the anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases, and by changes in forests, wetlands, grasslands, and other land uses.”  Even more unsettling, it urges deep cuts in greenhouse gas emissions, offering at least tacit papal approval for socialism (by which I mean cap and trade or a comparable system, of course).  It should be fun to watch Newt Gingrich denounce the pope as a tree-hugging communist any minute now.  Ah, what luck!  A segue… 

One of the most disturbing trends in America is the politicization of science.  Applying politics to science ensures that what threats we encounter will remain unaddressed – how can we ever agree on a solution when half of the political establishment refuses to even acknowledge that a problem exists?  While I am not unbiased, it is objectively fair to say that in this story, Republicans are the bad guys.  Most politicians selectively choose facts that advance their cause, but the GOP attacks any concrete numbers as “fuzzy” and gleefully persecutes scientists just because the reality they study does not conform to dogmatic conservative ideology.  Watching the way Republican congressmen interact with scientists at Congressional hearings will literally dispel any sense of hope you have for our future while they wield any sort of control over our government.

Polling consistently shows that most of our nation’s god-fearing Republicans take it as an article of faith that climate change is a hoax or occurring naturally.  Both of those viewpoints are based entirely on political talking points and polluter-funded propaganda campaigns; scientists do not support these views.  Baseless beliefs of this type are difficult to dislodge, especially with the GOP on a disgustingly successful warpath to discredit everyone with an advanced degree as lying conspirators and/or partisan hacks. 

Enter the Pope.  Granted, His Holiness wasn’t out there measuring glaciers for this report and those dastardly scientists actually wrote the thing, but surely this is different from purely academic work.  It will be interesting to see how, if at all, conservatives respond to the Vatican.  Not that I expect anything at all to change, it will just be interesting to watch. 

A Chilling Experience: Comment Response January 13, 2009

Posted by Jamie Friedland in Climate Change.
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This post is in response to an extended comment posted by the moderator of ThePeregrin.com.  In order to fully understand this post, I suggest reading my post “A Chilling Experience” (below), and his comment to it.  He also posted my post and his comment on his site under the title “Climate Change: One Blog Gets It Wrong,” so I thought I should return the favor.  The following is also posted as a response on ThePeregrin, but I just wanted to have the chance for a little rebuttal here.  Enjoy.


“Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my blog, as well as for your layout compliments.  I would like to address a few of your points, though.

First, you mention the “hockey stick” controversy.  As I understand it, the argument is about the source data of one study reconstructing North American surface temperatures over the last millennium.  It boils down to whether a certain tree species’s ring data should be used.  And according to RealClimate, despite the controversy, the main point that the last decade has likely been the warmest in at least 1000 years still stands.

But it’s silly to get bogged down by a single group of tree rings when we know from many other sources (tree rings from other species, but also thermometers, ice cores from both the Arctic and Antarctic, sediment cores, corals et al.) that we are currently experience a period of rapid, sustained warmth, and that this warmth is highly correlated with human industrialization.

Now I know that correlation does not prove causation, but if you understand the basics of the greenhouse effect, we can easily demonstrate how this warming occurs.  It is not controversial that greenhouse gasses (carbon dioxide, methane, even water vapor) trap infrared solar radiation close to the earth as heat.  We owe the habitability of our planet to this concretely established phenomenon.  It is also verifiably proven that the combustion of fossil fuels emits carbon dioxide.  This too is beyond argument.  So when temperatures rise in conjunction with a massive increase in atmospheric CO2 levels, and we know that we’re releasing gigatons of CO2 into that same atmosphere via fossil fuels and deforestation, I feel quite comfortable saying 1+1=2.  It’s not faith in science, it’s just that simply apparent.  But I set out to address your points specifically, not the larger matter in general.

You mention physicist Richard A. Muller of the University of Berkeley.  I followed the link you provided in your comment but was unable to find the specific lecture to which you referred.  I would be grateful if you could send me a more direct link, but it doesn’t really matter.  Muller may disagree with MBH98 (the “hockey stick” report) and he may even be correct.  But he maintains that anthropogenic warming is occurring. A simple search of climate change terms on that site quickly led me to a paper he authored in which he explains, in no uncertain terms, that global warming is occurring and anthropogenic (caused by humans) via fossil fuels and deforestation (6th paragraph).  You say Muller said that Al Gore lied about the conclusions of MBH98, but Muller would also say that you were lying about his conclusions about Gore’s use of MBH98 if you try to use them to refute the existence of global warming (as you did in your post).

By all means, do your own research, and, when possible, take advantage of opportunities to learn directly from knowledgeable sources.  But one quote doesn’t disprove a report and one scientist isn’t widespread dissent.  There is remarkable scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change.  I’d urge you to watch “An Inconvenient Truth” for more on that point but I don’t think you’d appreciate it.  Instead, I will suggest you read the reports by Naomi Oreskes at the University of California San Diego (which Gore was citing).

Now, for your second point.  Your “recent report” is a piece by Michael Asher that appeared in the prestigious, peer-reviewed scientific journal Daily Tech (for clarification, Daily Tech is none of those things: it is an online magazine that provides, according to its “About Us” section, “hard-hitting and up to the minute CE, PC, IT and information technology news”).  It has no environmental science credentials.  And then there’s Michael Asher.  With no apparent background or training in science, Asher has, as Mitchell Anderson at DeSmogBlog put it, “a monotonous habit of slagging climate science.”  He, like many other climate-denying bloggers, simply tries to poke holes in legitimate work and contributes nothing to the actual body of knowledge.  And, like you appear to have done with Prof. Muller, he has just cherry-picked a single data point that happens to coincide with his preconceived notions, despite the fact that the organization from which it is taken harbors no uncertainty about climate change.  But let’s examine his claims.

Asher wrote, “Thanks to a rapid rebound in recent months, global sea ice levels now equal those seen 29 years ago…” It is true that “sea ice levels” are roughly equal to those in 1979, the first year in which sea ice mass came under satellite observation.  But what Asher doesn’t realize or more likely ignores, is that the situation isn’t that simple.  According to NASA’s National Snow and Ice Data Center, 2008 saw the second lowest summer medium since the observations began, continuing a negative trend.  Some researchers predict we will see the first ice-free arctic summer within the next 20 years.  And while I would enjoy continuing this play-by-play on how Asher lied in his “report,” I find that the work has already been done in wonderful, cited detail by the blog greenfyre’s.  So in the interest of time and on the off chance that anyone is still reading this, I will urge you and others to check out that post to see explicitly how Asher is deceitfully wrong.  And he is.

In conclusion, you are correct in that pollution is not a good thing.  Smog does suck.  But please allow me to correct your lemming metaphor: in today’s world, the cliff is rushing towards the hapless rodents (all of us).  And not only are we doing nothing to avoid the approaching danger, we are in fact accelerating its approach.  And if anyone is leading us to our demise, it’s climate skeptics.  As for your populist claim that Americans are generally well informed, I submit to you every public policy class I’ve ever taken explaining rational ignorance, a heap of public polling statistics I no longer have the drive to track down, and a sarcastic “yeah, right.”

I too apologize for the length of my reply; this nerve is worn out as well.


Jamie Friedland”