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Climate Debate Daily

Climate Debate Daily is a website which claims to offer “a new way to understand disputes about global warming”:

Climate Debate Daily is intended to deepen our understanding of disputes over climate change and the human contribution to it. The site links to scientific articles, news stories, economic studies, polemics, historical articles, PR releases, editorials, feature commentaries, and blog entries. The main column on the left includes arguments and evidence generally in support of the IPCC position on the reality of signficant [sic] anthropogenic global warming. The right-hand column includes material skeptical of the IPCC position and the notion that anthropogenic global warming represents a genuine threat to humanity.

On the surface of it, it sounds promising. Present all the evidence to people and let them make up their own minds. Isn’t that what informed democracy is all about? Sadly, no. Science isn’t a democracy. Good science is separated from bad based on the weight of evidence. In order to evaluate the evidence, you need to understand the field as a whole. Context is everything – and if you don’t understand the context, it’s almost impossible to gauge the significance of any one paper.

The site is run by two philosophers – Douglas Campbell a doctoral student in philosophy at the University of Arizona (who is impressed by the breadth and depth of the scientific evidence supporting the theory of anthropogenic global warming) and Denis Dutton, an associate professo at the University of Canterbury (who is skeptical about the degree to which human activity has contributed to the general warming trend). Therein lies the first problem – philosophers have a bad habit of weighing arguments instead of weighing evidence. I’ve seen that approach among philosophers and historians of science in the evolution-creation debate – some of them seem almost naive in their willingness to suspend judgment.

Looking a little deeper at the site, more red flags pop up. It pits a graduate student against an associate professor. Hardly a battle of equals. It is funded by Peter Farrell, who is skeptical of the threat of anthropogenic global warming. That shifts the balance of power even more.

Farrell is quoted as saying “Let the best argument win”. Sadly, that is the problem that’s at the heart of the issue. Science isn’t a battle of rhetoric – it’s a battle of evidence. And whatever its public policy implications, climate change is a scientific issue.

A quick search on Google turns up quite a few links to this site. Most simply document its existence, or broadly fall for its spin. A few sites call it for what it is – a website playing the Fox News game of deception “we report, you decide”. And then there’s a wealth of libertarian/Objectivist sites which, unsurprisingly, are almost giddy over the site. Perhaps that the most telling bit – the people who are praising the site are all “skeptics”. No one pro-science seems to have anything positive to say about the site. Only the “skeptics”. Curious, isn’t it? Continue reading

PB&J campaign

While I’m no fan of peanut butter, there’s an important point here – the way we raise meat has a huge impact on the environment.

Livestock create a beefy portion of all greenhouse-gas emissions: 18 percent, according to the United Nations. Could the answer be as simple as two slices of bread and a slathering of peanut butter and jelly? Perhaps. Compared with a burger, this classic sandwich saves as much as 2.5 pounds of carbon dioxide, 280 gallons of water, and 50 square feet of land–even more if you wash it down with a glass of soy milk. “You don’t have to change your whole diet to change the world,” says the PB&J Campaign. “Just start with lunch.”

The environmental impact of meat production is remarkable, especially feedlot-produced cattle. Of course, I would rather have a glass of water than either milk or soy milk.

H/T Josh Rosenau

Generalising Russell’s Law?

Barbara O’Brien reports on a spoof global warming denial site which many people – including ‘comedian’ Rush Limbaugh, Michael Savage, and possibly Senator Jim Inhofe’s staff – took for the real thing.

Russell’s Law states that it’s impossible to distinguish a creationist from a parody of a creationist.  This incident makes me wonder if it’s possible to generalise Russell’s Law to all forms of denialism.

Poor showing for fall colours

Warmer weather has been blamed for less than impressive Fall foliage in New England. According to Dave Gram, writing in the Buffalo News:

Forested hillsides usually riotous with reds, oranges and yellows have shown their colors only grudgingly in recent years, with many trees going straight from the dull green of late summer to the rust-brown of late fall with barely a stop at a brighter hue.

“It’s nothing like it used to be,” said University of Vermont plant biologist Tom Vogelmann, a Vermont native.

He says autumn has become too warm to elicit New England’s richest colors.

While I’m no expert on this, the idea seems intuitively appealing. Brilliant Fall colours are a feature of the Great Lakes region – down here, leave tend to go from green to brown, often with only the slightest nod to yellows and reds. Unfortunately, “intuitively appealing” arguments can be misleading – after all, many people are attracted to creationism for just that reason.

[Read the rest of my post at Poor showing for fall colours]

The Nobel Peace Prize and the Caribbean

This year’s Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the IPCC and Al Gore. As a long-time admirer of Gore, I was very happy with his win. I’m even happier now to realise that this win also extends into the Caribbean and to a former colleague.

When UWI professor John Agard went to his computer on Friday morning, little did the country’s leading environmental scientist know he was a Nobel laureate.
Within minutes he got word that he would be sharing the Nobel Peace Prize with former United States Vice President Al Gore.
“It’s amazing,” Agard said yesterday, making sure to note that the prize is actually being shared with the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) of which he is “only a member.”

In addition to John Agard, another Trinidadian, Roger Pulwarty, also shared in the prize

Agard—senior lecturer, life sciences, faculty of science and agriculture, at UWI’s St Augustine campus and chairman on the Environmental Management Authority—is not the only Trinidadian to be sharing in the glory of international recognition for scientific work.

So too is Roger Pulwarty, a senior physical scientist at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in Colorado, USA, and the director for the US National Integrated Drought Information System.Contacted on campus yesterday afternoon, Agard said he got the news about the prestigious prize early Friday morning, some five hours before the official announcement by the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

Three others from the English-speaking Caribbean were also in the group

Agard and Pulwarty are two of five West Indians who participated in the assessment. The others are Barbadian lecturer in coastal management at UWI’s Cave Hill campus Dr Lennard Nurse; Jamaican physics professor Tony Chen of the Mona campus; and retired St Lucian parasitologist Sam Rollins of the Caribbean Epidemiology Centre.

Great news.

Gore and IPCC win Nobel

The Nobel Peace Prize has been jointly awarded to the IPCC and Al Gore.

Climate change campaigner Al Gore and the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have been jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

The committee cited “their efforts to build up and disseminate knowledge about man-made climate change”.

I’m thrilled!

Of course, now the talk of running comes up again.  While I wish Gore had run, I rather doubt it would be a good idea at this point in time.  I really think it’s too late.  ButI am really glad that the Nobel committee recognised this issue, and recognised both Gore and the IPCC.

Live Earth

Almost 22 years ago, Live Aid was a major milestone in my life. Already an idealist, the entire experience had nudged me in a direction..actually, it made me want to go in a direction, but I never quite managed to get there. I have dabbled in activism, I have been keenly aware of environmental issues and global food issues…but I never quite got there.

Today there’s a second chance, of a sort. Live Earth, a massive concert to raise awareness of climate change. It has attracted its share of criticism, some of it deserved (rock concerts are energy hogs) but being concerned about global warming is finally fashionable. Even in the US, people finally care. It may be too little too late, but for most of the last 20 years I have sat here and watched people shovel coal into a runaway train. And I have felt totally unempowered to do anything about it. Finally not only are there things that you can do (instead of complaining about other people not doing them), finally you empowered enough to speak up.

So I’m thrilled with the idea of the concert.