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AAAS "What We Know" Initiative: Same Denial, Different Issue - From Ozone Depletion to Climate Change

This is a guest post by Cindy Baxter, cross-posted from PolluterWatch with permission.

It must be like Groundhog Day for Mario Molina, the scientist who has presided over the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s new report and publicity drive aimed at convincing Americans about the urgency of what’s happening on climate change.

The normally reticent AAAS has taken a highly unusual step. There’s no new science in it.  Instead, it summarizes “what we know” on climate science, highlighting the 97% consensus on the issue and calling for action. 

Why did they do it? The AAAS says it’s becoming alarmed at the American public’s views on climate change, stating in the opening paragraphs:

Surveys show that many Americans think climate change is still a topic of significant scientific disagreement.  Thus, it is important and increasingly urgent for the public to know there is now a high degree of agreement among climate scientists that human-caused climate change is real.”

They’re right:  the latest Gallup Poll published this month shows that climate change is low on Americans’ priority list, with 51% saying they worry about climate change very little – or not at all.   And 42% said they believe the seriousness of the issue was “generally exaggerated.”

The AAAS report also stated: 

It is not the purpose of this paper to explain why this disconnect between scientific knowledge and public perception has occurred.”

That’s not their job.  But I bet they’d like to. Especially Mario Molina. 

Is Organised Climate Science Denial Criminally Negligent?

By Lawrence Torcello, Rochester Institute of Technology. This article was originally published on The Conversation and is republished with permission.

The importance of clearly communicating science to the public should not be underestimated.

Accurately understanding our natural environment and sharing that information can be a matter of life or death.

When it comes to global warming, much of the public remains in denial about a set of facts that the majority of scientists clearly agree on. With such high stakes, an organised campaign funding misinformation ought to be considered criminally negligent.

The earthquake that rocked L'Aquila Italy in 2009 provides an interesting case study of botched communication. This natural disaster left more than 300 people dead and nearly 66,000 people homeless. In a strange turn of events six Italian scientists and a local defence minister were subsequently sentenced to six years in prison.

The ruling is popularly thought to have convicted scientists for failing to predict an earthquake. On the contrary, as risk assessment expert David Ropeik pointed out, the trial was actually about the failure of scientists to clearly communicate risks to the public. The convicted parties were accused of providing “inexact, incomplete and contradictory information”. As one citizen stated:

We all know that the earthquake could not be predicted, and that evacuation was not an option. All we wanted was clearer information on risks in order to make our choices.

David Suzuki: Trading Water For Fuel is Fracking Crazy

This is a guest post by David Suzuki

It would be difficult to live without oil and gas. But it would be impossible to live without water. Yet, in our mad rush to extract and sell every drop of gas and oil as quickly as possible, we’re trading precious water for fossil fuels.

A recent report, “Hydraulic Fracturing and Water Stress”, shows the severity of the problem. Alberta and B.C. are among eight North American regions examined in the study by Ceres, a U.S.-based nonprofit advocating for sustainability leadership.

One of the most disturbing findings is that hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, is using enormous amounts of water in areas that can scarcely afford it. The report notes that close to half the oil and gas wells recently fracked in the U.S. “are in regions with high or extremely high water stress” and more than 55 per cent are in areas experiencing drought. In Colorado and California, almost all wells – 97 and 96 per cent, respectively – are in regions with high or extremely high water stress, meaning more than 80 per cent of available surface and groundwater has already been allocated for municipalities, industry and agriculture. A quarter of Alberta wells are in areas with medium to high water stress.

Drought and fracking have already caused some small communities in Texas to run out of water altogether, and parts of California are headed for the same fate. As we continue to extract and burn ever greater amounts of oil, gas and coal, climate change is getting worse, which will likely lead to more droughts in some areas and flooding in others. California’s drought may be the worst in 500 years, according to B. Lynn Ingram, an earth and planetary sciences professor at the University of California, Berkeley. That’s causing a shortage of water for drinking and agriculture, and for salmon and other fish that spawn in streams and rivers. With no rain to scrub the air, pollution in the Los Angeles area has returned to dangerous levels of decades past.

There’s No Debate About Climate Change Denial

This is a guest post by Charles W. Elliott, Esq.

Fact and fantasy took the stage at this past Sunday’s CBS “Meet the Press”. Bill Nye and Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R. Tenn.) appeared for a so-called “debate” on climate change.

Bill Nye is best known for his educational science program “Bill Nye the Science Guy”. Climate change-denier Rep. Blackburn is known, among other things, for echoing Sarah Palin’s claims that the Affordable Care Act included “death panels.

Somewhat less known is Blackburn’s role as vice-chairman of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, responsible for legislative oversight on matters of public health, air quality and environmental health, and energy.

One would think that a person in such an important role would have a clear, if not advanced, understanding of the science of energy and climate change in order to guide policy to further the public interest and protect our children’s future.

Sadly, one would be wrong.

Michael Mann: Canadians Should Fight Harper's War on Science and the U.S. Should Help

stephen harper

This is a guest post by distinguished climatologist Michael Mann. The article originally appeared on The Mark News.

The scientific community has long warned that environmental issues, especially climate change, need to be a global concern. Climatologist Michael Mann argues that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s administration is purposely obstructing the research that needs to take place to solve these problems.

In early 2013, the government of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper introduced new science communications procedures that threatened the publication rights of an American scientist who had been working in the Arctic with Canadian researchers since 2003.

This was the first time the Canadian government’s draconian confidentiality rules had infringed on the scientific freedom of an international academic – or, at least, it was the first time such an incident had been made known. Professor Andreas Muenchow from the University of Delaware publicly refused to sign a government agreement that threatened to “sign away [his] freedom to speak, publish, educate, learn and share.”

To many of us American scientists, this episode sadly came as little surprise. We have known for some time that the Canadian government has been silencing the voices of scientists speaking out on the threat of fossil-fuel extraction and burning and the damaging impacts they are having on our climate. I have close friends in the Canadian scientific community who say they have personally been subjected to these heavy-handed policies. Why? Because the implications of their research are inconvenient to the powerful fossil-fuel interests that seem to now run the Canadian government.

We Need a Surgeon General’s Report for Fracked Gas Exports at Cove Point

This is a guest post by Katie Huffling, Mike Tidwell, and Joelle Novey

Fifty years ago the US Surgeon General’s report on cigarettes and lung cancer changed America forever. Before the report, Americans generally thought smoking was okay – maybe even good for us given ads like, “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette!” But then the hard evidence – the undeniable facts – came to the surface and we changed.

That’s the good news. The bad news for Maryland is that we have a new “Camel cigarette” problem. For the past several months, a powerful corporation called Dominion Resources has been telling Marylanders that we can light something else on fire – something called “fracked gas” – and that it will be good for public health and the environment.

Dominion wants to build a massive industrial plant at a place called Cove Point in southern Maryland to systematically collect, process, liquefy, and export to faraway Asia a huge quantity of gas taken from hydraulic fracturing drilling sites all across our region. To understand the full-blown public health emergency that could result from this, you need to remember this number: 19. That’s how many Maryland counties – 19 out of a total of 23 – that have recently been mapped and found to have gas basins below their surface. Every one of those 19 counties could get fracked – with all the attendant problems ranging from flammable tap water to deforestation – thanks directly or indirectly to Dominion’s Cove Point plan.

We are Maryland leaders working with health organizations, religious communities, and environment groups, and we are simply appalled by Dominion’s Cove Point gas “liquefaction” and export proposal now before the Maryland Public Service Commission. Indeed on February 20th, outside the PSC’s downtown Baltimore office, we joined demonstrators from across the state in one of the largest environmental protests in the city’s history. Our message to the PSC: “Don’t let Dominion addict Maryland to harmful energy. Stop the Cove Point gas export plant.”

From Occupy to Climate Justice: Merging Economic Justice and Climate Activism

This article was originally published in the February 24th issue of The Nation and is republished with permission.

by Wen Stephenson 

It’s an odd thing, really. in certain precincts of the left, especially across a broad spectrum of what could be called the economic left, our (by which I mean humanity’s) accelerating trajectory toward the climate cliff is little more popular as a topic than it is on the right. In fact, possibly less so. (Plenty of right-wingers love to talk about climate change, if only to deny its grim and urgent scientific reality. On the left, to say nothing of the center, denial takes different forms.)

Sometimes, though, the prospect of climate catastrophe shows up unexpectedly, awkwardly, as a kind of non sequitur—or the return of the repressed.

I was reminded of this not long ago when I came to a showstopping passage deep in the final chapter of anarchist anthropologist David Graeber’s The Democracy Project: A History, a Crisis, a Movement, his interpretive account of the Occupy Wall Street uprising, in which he played a role not only as a core OWS organizer but as a kind of house intellectual (his magnum opus, Debt: The First 5,000 Years, happened to come out in the summer of 2011). Midway through a brief discourse on the nature of labor, he pauses to reflect, as though it has just occurred to him: “At the moment, probably the most pressing need is simply to slow down the engines of productivity.” Why? Because “if you consider the overall state of the world,” there are “two insoluble problems” we seem to face: “On the one hand, we have witnessed an endless series of global debt crises…to the point where the overall burden of debt…is obviously unsustainable. On the other we have an ecological crisis, a galloping process of climate change that is threatening to throw the entire planet into drought, floods, chaos, starvation, and war.”

These two problems may appear unrelated, Graeber tells us, but “ultimately they are the same.” That’s because debt is nothing if not “the promise of future productivity.” Therefore, “human beings are promising each other to produce an even greater volume of goods and services in the future than they are creating now. But even current levels are clearly unsustainable. They are precisely what’s destroying the planet, at an ever-increasing pace.”

Talk about burying the lead. Graeber’s solution—“a planetary debt cancellation” and a “mass reduction in working hours: a four-hour day, perhaps, or a guaranteed five-month vacation”—may sound far-fetched, but at least he acknowledges the “galloping” climate crisis and what’s at stake in it, and proposes something commensurate (if somewhat detached from the central challenge of leaving fossil fuels in the ground). That’s more than can be said for most others on the left side of the spectrum, where climate change is too often completely absent from economic and political analysis.

The NSA and Climate Change Spying: What We Know So Far

This is a guest post by Joshua Eaton.

The carbon footprint for the new data center the National Security Agency (NSA) is building in the middle of the Utah desert must be massive. Despite its planned LEED Silver certification, the one-million-square-foot, $2-billion facility will draw 65 megawatts of power and use some 1.7 million gallons of water a day to cool its servers, according to Wired Magazine. When it comes to the NSA, however, many environmentalists have much bigger worries.

To begin with, documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden have revealed the agency’s keen interest in the global fossil fuel industry. In November, The New York Times published a 2007 Strategic Mission List from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. One of the missions it lists is “Energy Security,” with a special focus on “threats to production and global distribution” of fossil fuels in “Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, Iran, Russia and Nigeria.”

We now know that the NSA put that directive into practice by spying on the Brazilian oil firm Petrobras, the Brazilian Ministry of Mines and Energy, OPEC, Russian energy companies and the French energy company Total. The Australian Signals Directorate — with which the NSA shares data and facilities — may even have helped an Australian coal company in a trade deal with Japan, though there is no evidence the NSA was involved in that operation.

But the NSA’s surveillance of the fossil fuel industry is just the tip of the iceberg. According to an article in the U.K. newspaper The Guardian last November, NSA and the Australian Signals Directorate used the 2007 UN Climate Change Conference in Bali to spy on Indonesian officials and map out the country’s communications networks. The article was one in a series of reports spread across multiple outlets that disclosed Australia’s surveillance of Indonesia and other Asian countries on behalf of the NSA.

Agency officials have repeatedly said the U.S. only uses its immense surveillance capabilities to monitor serious security threats such as terrorism or weapons proliferation. Among themselves, however, agency analysts admit this operation was a fishing expedition.

The goal of the development effort was to gain a solid understanding of the network structure,” says one internal NSA document quoted by The Guardian, “should collection be required in the event of an emergency.” It is unclear what sort of emergency they anticipated.

A New York Times article published on the same day as The Guardian’s describes the NSA’s surveillance of the 2007 conference as “a major eavesdropping effort.” While neither The Guardian nor the Times mention whether that effort extended to climate negotiations, there are reasons to suspect that it did.

Harvard and Brown Are Wrong To Reject Calls To Divest From Fossil Fuels

This article was originally published in the February 17th issue of The Nation and is republished with permission. Read the full text of the editorial here.

by James Lawrence Powell

University presidents once spoke their conscience on matters of great public importance. In the early 1950s, many protested the loyalty oaths that required faculty members to forswear membership in the Communist Party. One of the most courageous critics of McCarthyism was Nathan Pusey, first as president of Lawrence College in Senator Joseph McCarthy’s hometown of Appleton, Wisconsin, then as president of Harvard. In the 1960s, some university presidents openly opposed the war in Vietnam. Even at the cost of donor support, Yale president Kingman Brewster Jr. publicly contested the war and decried the inequities in the draft. He permitted protest demonstrations and skillfully kept the Yale campus open and relatively calm.

In the 1980s, a protest movement arose on American campuses as students—and some campus presidents—argued that it was immoral for universities to own stock in companies doing business in apartheid South Africa. Although Harvard president Derek Bok refused to support divestment over apartheid, Harvard eventually did sell most of its South Africa–related stock—and Bok did endorse the sale of stock in tobacco companies.

Today, university presidents and the institutions they lead confront a moral choice over a crisis that threatens human health and society on a far greater scale than either tobacco or apartheid: climate change. As Elizabeth Kolbert wrote in Field Notes From a Catastrophe, “It may seem impossible to imagine that a technologically advanced society could choose, in essence, to destroy itself, but that is what we are now in the process of doing.” In the last few years, students have begun urging their colleges and universities to divest from fossil fuel companies (FFCs), whose products are driving climate change. Two of the first university presidents to respond, Drew Gilpin Faust of Harvard and Christina Paxson of Brown, this fall placed themselves and their institutions on the wrong side of science and of history by rejecting divestment.

I believe that presidents Faust and Paxson were wrong, gravely wrong, not only in the broadest sense—because their choice harms humanity—but because they failed in their narrow duty to protect their institutions and their present and future students.

David Suzuki: Rail Versus Pipeline Is The Wrong Question

This is a guest post by David Suzuki.

Debating the best way to do something we shouldn’t be doing in the first place is a sure way to end up in the wrong place. That’s what’s happening with the “rail versus pipeline” discussion. Some say recent rail accidents mean we should build more pipelines to transport fossil fuels. Others argue that leaks, high construction costs, opposition and red tape surrounding pipelines are arguments in favour of using trains.

But the recent spate of rail accidents and pipeline leaks and spills doesn’t provide arguments for one or the other; instead, it indicates that rapidly increasing oil and gas development and shipping ever greater amounts, by any method, will mean more accidents, spills, environmental damage – even death. The answer is to step back from this reckless plunder and consider ways to reduce our fossil fuel use.

If we were to slow down oil sands development, encourage conservation and invest in clean energy technology, we could save money, ecosystems and lives – and we’d still have valuable fossil fuel resources long into the future, perhaps until we’ve figured out ways to use them that aren’t so wasteful. We wouldn’t need to build more pipelines just to sell oil and gas as quickly as possible, mostly to foreign markets. We wouldn’t have to send so many unsafe rail tankers through wilderness areas and places people live.

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