Peter Gleick has been cleared of faking a key memo. Who is Peter Gleick, and what is this memo of which we speak? Here is a refresher of events over the last 3 1/2 months:
You will recall that last February 14th, we were all given an interesting Valentine's Day present: A cache of documents had been acquired from the Heartland Institute, and these documents revealed important details about Heartland's effort to interfere with science education and otherwise agitate and lobby to promote climate science denialism. The documents were released to the public by an as then unknown activist, and then redistributed by numerous bloggers including this one.
Heartland is the organization that made itself famous by working for the tobacco lobby in their effort to prove that smoking cigarettes was not really harmful. Over recent years, Heartland has received funds from a wide range of organizations and individuals to support climate denialism. Most recently, Heartland gained considerable notoriety (the bad kind) with their noxious and ill-conceived billboard campaign that equated "believing in global warming" with being a deranged serial killer (Tool Time: Heartland, Ted Kaczynski, and Education).
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Image: Researcher Hans Roy opening a core sample, photo by Bo Barker Jørgensen, © Science / AAAS
I was amazed to find out that there are bacteria in the ocean floor that have metabolisms roughly 10,000 times slower than those living at the surface of the seabed. This extremely slow lifestyle allows them to live for thousands of years. In fact, these microbes were found in a core sample of clay collected up to 20 meters beneath the seafloor of the North Pacific Gyre, just north of Hawaii. This depth means that the microbes settled on the ocean floor about 86 million years ago! While these as yet unidentified microbes rely on oxygen for survival, very little nutrients are available due to the large ocean currents in this area. Therefore, researchers have suggested they are still persisting off of food that arrived during the time of the dinosaurs.
Roy H, Kallmeyer J, Adhikari RR, Pockalny R, Jorgensen BB, D'Hondt S. Aerobic Microbial Respiration in 86-Million-Year-Old Deep-Sea Red Clay. Science 18 May 2012:
Vol. 336 no. 6083 pp. 922-925.
Many of the climate change denialist sites have been up in arms by comparisons of climate change denial to holocaust denial. In particular Marc Morano at climate depot has had multiple articles attacking and expressing hysterical outrage at these comparisons.
We know they don't like the comparison, but the question is, is it apt?Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...
"The Earth destroys its fools, but the intelligent destroy the Earth."
-Khalid ibn al-Walid Usually, when we talk about terraforming, we think about taking a presently uninhabitable planet and making it suitable for terrestrial life. This means taking a world without an oxygen-rich atmosphere, with watery oceans, and without the means to sustain them, and to transform it into an Earth-like world.
The obvious choice, when it comes to our Solar System, is Mars.
(Image credit: Daein Ballard.)
The red planet, after all, is not a total stranger to these conditions. On the contrary, for the first billion-and-a-half years of our Solar System, give or take, Mars was perhaps not so dissimilar to Earth. With evidence that there was once liquid water on the surface, a thicker atmosphere, and possibly even life, there's no doubt that the right type of geo-engineering could bring those conditions back.
But there's also no doubt that we couldn't, if we were sufficiently motivated, turn the Earth from this...
(Image credit: NASA / GSFC / NOAA / USGS.)
into a world where the atmosphere and the oceans were stripped away. Into a dry, nearly airless world, much like Mars.
Inspired by a recent Astronomy Picture of the Day, above, it's now time to tell you how I would, scientifically, remove the oceans from the planet. It's a process I like to call reverse terraforming, whereby you turn a world the Earth into a world like Mars.
At present, this is difficult for a number of reasons, but here's the biggest one.
(Image credit: Natalie Krivova.)
The Earth's magnetosphere! The same reason that your compass needle points towards the magnetic poles of Earth is the only thing keeping our oceans here on our world! The Sun is constantly shooting out a stream of high-energy ions, known as the solar wind, at speeds of about 1,000,000 miles-per-hour (1,600,000 km/hr).
As the solar wind runs into a world, these ions collide with particles in a planet's atmosphere, giving those molecules enough kinetic energy to escape from the planet's gravitational field.
Of course, we have a powerful magnetic shield from the solar wind thanks to our hot, dense and (partially) molten core. Our planet's magnetic field successfully bends away practically all of the solar wind particles that would be in danger of colliding with us, with the occasional exception of the polar regions, where the ions -- and hence sometimes aurorae -- get through.
(Image credit: NASA, retrieved from Cloudetal.)
Right now, our atmosphere is pretty thick: it consists of some 5,300,000,000,000,000 tonnes of material, creating the atmospheric pressure that we feel down here at the surface. There's so much pressure, in fact, that our Earth can sustain liquid water on the surface.
(Image credit: David Mogk, Montana State University.)
The ability to have liquid water is relatively rare: we need the proper temperatures and the proper pressures! That means we need at least at atmosphere of a certain thickness, a characteristic that Mars, Mercury, and the Moon totally lack. But we've got it, and hence we can have liquid water on our surface.
And do we ever! There's much more water than there is atmosphere. About 250 times as much, by mass, is the amount that the oceans outweigh the atmosphere, meaning that the oceans comprise about 0.023% of the Earth's total mass!
But we could get rid of all that liquid water, eventually, by letting the solar wind in.
(Image credit: NASA / Themis mission.)
When the Earth and Sun's magnetic field align, something like 20 times as many particles as normal make it through. Charged particles are bent by magnetic fields in very predictable ways, and if we could control those fields, we could control how much of the solar wind made it through.
In other words, if we could create a large enough magnetic field on Earth, we could poke a hole in the magnetosphere and allow the solar wind to strip our atmosphere away!
(Image credit: NASA, retrieved from futurity.org.)
Something similar happened to Mars about 3 billion years ago, when its core stopped producing that powerful magnetosphere shield, and its atmosphere got stripped away. When the pressure at the surface dropped below a certain level, the liquid oceans there could only exist as frozen ice or boiled off as water vapor. (And once they're water vapor, they become part of the atmosphere, where it, too, can be stripped away by the solar wind!)
It may not be fast enough for the most supervillainous among you, but one thing's for sure.
(Image credit: flickr user Ole C. Salomonsen.)
If we do poke a hole in the magnetosphere and allow the solar wind in, I'll definitely be enjoying the auroral show!Read the comments on this post...
... and it is starting to look like they are mainly tilting at windmills, but still:
Confidential memo seen by Guardian calls for climate change sceptics to turn American public against solar and wind power...
A network of ultra-conservative groups is ramping up an offensive on multiple fronts to turn the American public against wind farms and Barack Obama's energy agenda....
A number of rightwing organisations, including Americans for Prosperity, which is funded by the billionaire Koch brothers, are attacking Obama for his support for solar and wind power. The American Legislative Exchange Council (Alec), which also has financial links to the Kochs, has drafted bills to overturn state laws promoting wind energy.
Why. WHY?????Read the comments on this post...
This was just posted on State Farm's facebook page:State Farm is ending its association with the Heartland Institute. This is because of a recent billboard campaign launched by the Institute.
That was a result of this: An Open Letter to State Farm about Climate Denial
Go "like" it!!!! on Facebook!Read the comments on this post...
Here it is on film in case you wanted to see it:Read the comments on this post...
The New York Times has the results from when they posed the question, "is it ethical to eat meat?" The finalists, with one or two exceptions, are quite interesting. Certainly, when it comes to opinions about food, everyone has one, and the judges emphasized the variety of the opinions, and interestingly, the near unanimous belief that CAFOs are unethical (I'm with Pollan on that one). The only other topic at the NYT which seems to generate as much diversity of opinion, and frankly insane commentary, is child-rearing. But what I liked most about these finalists were the three writers who actually participate in making food Stacey Roussel, Justin Green, and the winner Jay Bost. Ethical discussions about food production and the ethics of eating meat never seem to involve enough of the people actually producing food. Here's some snippets about how these farmers who actually grow food think about the role of animals in farming.
From Roussel:Production of vegetables without the use of animals requires much larger amounts of energy. In small-scale farming, we use animals to clear fields of vegetation instead of relying only on industrial systems like tractors and herbicides. On our farm, we grow rows of vegetables while green cover crops and weeds fill the spaces in between those rows. After the harvest, dairy goats are grazed to get the land back under control, followed by the chickens that eat most of the remaining vegetation, and then finally with one pass of my tractor, I incorporate what is left back into the soil and plant the next crop. The animals clear vegetation and leave free fertilizer. They build biology in the soil rather than destroy it. Working in the natural order reduces our dependence on outside sources of energy, allowing us to harness the energy that is on-farm. The method leads to a better product, one that is more balanced for my customer, my community, my land, and me.
A farm animal is not a pet or a wild animal fending for itself. The farm animal and the small farmer must cooperate to build a stronger herd or flock; we literally cannot survive without each other. The eating of animals is paramount to the production of food in a system that embraces the whole of reality. This is why eating meat is ethical. To not consume meat means to turn off a whole part of the natural world and to force production of food to move away from regenerative systems and to turn toward a system that creates larger problems for our world.
This brings up a good point. The ethics of farming moves beyond just whether or not killing animals is wrong. After all, you kill tons of animals farming plants. You raze habitat, displace whatever wildlife was living there, you spray pesticides (yes even organic farmers use pesticides), you dump freeze-dried ladybugs all over the place (how organic farmers attack aphids), and when you harvest, clean and transport the food animals, especially insects and small mammals, are going to be killed as a result.
Instead what Roussel is emphasizing is that the costs of not having farm animals participating in the process creates other harms, largely in the form of increased fossil fuel use from farm equipment or fertilizer generated by the Haber process. This is reminiscent of one of Pollan's strongest arguments against CAFOs, that instead of using animals as a component in the cycle of harvesting energy from the sun, CAFOs have broken the cycle. Instead of cows and chickens and pigs serving roles as producers of fertilizer and eaters of waste, they've turned them into producers of waste and eaters of oil. They are fed grain, fertilized by synthetic fertilizer, and their manure, once a beneficial source of nitrogen on the farm, is now an methane-producing environmental catastrophe waiting to happen in some CAFO associated manure lagoon. While economically this appears efficient, this is only if you fail to factor in these other costs, including environmental and work-safety costs of these feeding operations.
These costs I think get factored into many arguments and may be the cause of the rise in vegetarianism. Justin Green's article, about his transformation from a meat eater, to a vegetarian, then back to a meat-eater after he started farming, emphasizes this point:Merely understanding these relationships does not provide a sound ethical defense of meat-eating, however. Animals play an essential role in our food system, yet it is undeniable that much of our production has fallen out of balance. It's not enough to simply ensure the safety and survival of my animals. As fellow sentient creatures with whom I am engaged in a partnership, I have a responsibility to show both respect and benevolence, in life and in death. I can't think of a moral justification for the industrial-scaled confinement operations that fail to uphold our side of the bargain.
Almost 25 years after deciding it was wrong to eat animals, I now realize that it's not that simple. There is an ethical option -- a responsibility, even -- for eating animals that are raised within a sustainable farm system and slaughtered with the compassion necessitated by our relationship. That, in essence, is the deal.
The winner, Jay Bost, also emphasizes the proper role animals have as potential harvesters as solar energy and contributors to the farm ecosystem:I was convinced that if what you are trying to achieve with an "ethical" diet is least destructive impact on life as a whole on this planet, then in some circumstances, like living among dry, scrubby grasslands in Arizona, eating meat, is, in fact, the most ethical thing you can do other than subsist on wild game, tepary beans and pinyon nuts. A well-managed, free-ranged cow is able to turn the sunlight captured by plants into condensed calories and protein with the aid of the microorganisms in its gut. Sun > diverse plants > cow > human. This in a larger ethical view looks much cleaner than the fossil-fuel-soaked scheme of tractor tilled field > irrigated soy monoculture > tractor harvest > processing > tofu > shipping > human.
Every argument I've been in about meat-eating inevitably seems to devolve into attacks on CAFOs, and I agree, they're ethically indefensible. Not for their scale, but for the way they've disrupted the cycle, and in doing so create environmental problems and waste energy. The animals' existence is not only unpleasant, but actively harmful to the ecosystem and to us. Bost emphasizes the ethics of growing plants can be equally problematic as long as it is based on converting fossil fuels into food rather than solar energy into food.
This will be the major obstacle our agricultural system will face in the next century. In the last century, the boom of industrialized farming allowed us to generate more food than has ever been seen in human history. It is economically efficient, and allowed us to feed not only ourselves but to export food all around the world. In the next century we need to address the fact that this boom occurred largely due to cheap fossil-fuel, not improved agriculture. This is ultimately not sustainable or good for the ecosystem. Industrial agriculture separated out the constituent elements of a farm and amplified them on a massive scale. But without co-ordination between the parts of a farm you lose energy efficiency for the sake of economic efficiency. Instead of having animals provide nitrogen, we use fossil fuels. Their waste then, instead of being reintegrated into the farm, is now a problem, for both the ecosystem and for the humans working and living there. The need to separate out the component parts of agriculture for industrial scaling has generated new problems we have to address if we're going to continue to feed ourselves.
Ethical farming and ethical eating therefore shouldn't be an argument about meat, or worse accepting Newkirk's profoundly ignorant article suggesting energy-inefficient in vitro meat as a replacement (how will it harvest energy from the sun?) but rather a return to some of the lessons that humans learned through thousands of years of trial and error in agriculture. That of a cycle, with the sun as the predominant source of energy, and animals reintegrated into our production system as a beneficial source of nitrogen and a source of farming efficiency. We will not be able to return to a pre-industrial state of agriculture, but instead we will innovate some hybrid of the two. Agriculture on a scale to feed the world, but with a design that recognizes the ideally cyclical nature of carbon and nitrogen fixation that we need to harvest energy efficiently from the sun, and not from oil.
Discussed: The Republican Brain: The Science of Why They Deny Science--and Reality, which I've got my copy of and am now reading, and The Righteous Mind: Why Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion which I'm probably never going to get to.Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...
You know that Heartland is a non-profit "Think" tank dedicated to ruining science and science education, which became famous for supporting the Tobacco Industry's position that smoking is not harmful. More recently, Heartland has been involved with science denialism of the anti-climate science variety, opposing the widely held position that global warming is real, human caused, and important.
You also probably know of Heartland's recent billboard campaign showing pictures of people like The Unibomber (who killed mathematicians by mailing them bombs) and Osama bin Laden (no relation), and indicating that only crazy mass murderers like these "still believed" in global warming.
That billboard campaign was pretty typical of Heartland's thinking and way of doing things, but packaged up in such a way as to make it obvious even to people who were otherwise not paying much attention. There was outrage. They were forced by this outrage to take the billboards down only hours after they went up (electronically).
Many corporations support Heartland. Much of this support has probably been tricked out of these corporations, perhaps like the Discovery Institute tricked major corporations out of money to use promoting creationism in school classrooms; by lying about what the money was for. Other corporations are acting in their own self interest giving Heartland money, because they will get something out of Congress and the American People becoming stupified in relation to climate science. Still others have given money to Heartland entirely by accident.
Here's the story:
This just in:Diageo announces it is to end funding of Heartland Institute Diageo, one the world's largest drinks companies, has announced it will no longer fund the Heartland Institute, a rightwing US thinktank which briefly ran a billboard campaign this week comparing people concerned about climate change to mass murderers and terrorists, such as Osama bin Laden, Charles Manson and Ted Kaczynski.
On Thursday, a billboard appeared over the Eisenhower Expressway in Illinois showing a picture of Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber who in 1996 was convicted of a 17-year mail bombing campaign that killed three people and injured dozens. The caption read: "I still believe in global warming. Do you?" A day later it was withdrawn.
.... comparing holocaust survivors to Hitler? Hmong refugees to Pol Pot? Well, maybe not exactly but there is a structural similarity.
People at the Heartland Institute have very little to do with science and very little experience in that area of academics. Otherwise they would remember the Unibomber days, when everyone was worried about the packages they were receiving in the mail, but especially those in mathematics. Now, the Heartland Institute has a billboard campaign with a picture of the Unibomber on it, making the claim that only very fringe people, such as the Unibomber, still "believe in global warming." This couldn't be farther from the truth. Anthropogenic Global Warming is real, it is recognized as real by science, and those who deny its reality are, in fact, the ones on the fringe.Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...
As is the case with most things that are important, we as a society have done a very bad job of developing an effective conversation about Global Warming. The vast majority of electronic and real ink that I see spent on the discussion of Global Warming (outside of the peer reviewed literature) is not even about climate or climate change. Rather, it is about talking about climate change, the politics of climate change, critique of the rhetoric about climate change, clarification, obfuscation, complaining, accusing, yelling or belly-aching, and the occasional threat of violence. And today, dear reader, I'd like to give you some more of that! (Well, some of it. There will be no threats!)
Denialism. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
The story might be apocryphal, and it might not even be true, but it's often used as a metaphor. I'm referring to the "boiling frog" story. Basically, the idea is supposedly based on an observation that a frog, when placed in a pot of hot water, will immediately jump out. However, or so the story goes, if the frog is placed in room temperature water and the water is heated gradually enough, the frog won't notice and will eventually boil to death without trying to escape. The metaphor, of course, is designed to illustrate how people will almost always notice rapid change, but, if the change is sufficiently slow, might not notice it at all and will readily acclimate themselves to the new situation if given sufficient time. Of course, the phenomenon underlying this metaphor might very well not even be real, but it's still probably a useful metaphor.
Being in the skeptic movement and having been very active over the last seven years blogging about skepticism, promoting science-based medicine, and combatting the antivaccine movement, this metaphor might be the reason why I didn't notice a particular tactic being increasingly used by denialists of all stripes until relatively recently, which is also relatively late. It took Mark Hoofnagle, who had disappeared from the skeptical blogging front for a couple of years pursuing his general surgery residency, to be slapped in the face with it and comment to me that he had been noticing this phenomenon upon returning to blogging about science denialism on his very own denialism blog. He was right, but in fact denialists had been doing this for a long time, and it was only a shock to Mark because he had stopped paying attention for a while and then was, like the proverbial frog, thrown back into the water.
Part of what led me to think about this phenomenon was a doozy of a post published on--where else?--that wretched hive of scum and quackery (no, not The Huffington Post--I mean that other wretched hive of scum and quackery), the antivaccine crank blog extraordinaire, Age of Autism. The post is by someone whose name is not familiar to me as one of the regulars, Cathy Nevison, and entitled Autism and the Antarctic Ozone Hole. Yes, in this post, Nevison does exactly what the title implies and tries to liken "autism epidemic denialists" to anthropogenic global warming denialists. Before I delve into the numerous deficiencies in Nevision's crank arguments, I do have to pause to express amusement about a passage right in the first paragraph:A recent Associated Press report that 1 in 88 American children has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) asserts that, "Better diagnosis is largely responsible for the new estimate..." Another AP report, on a study finding that 1 in 38 South Korean children has an ASD, quotes the lead author as saying, "It doesn't mean all of a sudden there are more new children with ASDs. They've been there all along, but were not counted in previous prevalence studies." These are extraordinary claims and examples of autism epidemic denial. Equally remarkable is that the AP presents them as unquestioned truth, making no effort to counter them with dissenting viewpoints. In contrast, the media has been diligent about "balancing" articles on the threat of climate change with opposing views from "climate skeptics," which has contributed to climate change denial. Read the rest of this post... | Read the comments on this post...