Thursday, January 26, 2012

Cafe Scientifique, next Tuesday, at the Railway Club

I've got a gig next week at the Railway Club, the fantastic music venue at the corner of Dunsmuir and Seymour in downtown Vancouver. Don't worry, I'm bringing my laptop, not the guitar I have not played (well) in years. I'll be talking about coral reefs as a part of Café Scientifique Vancouver. C'mon down!

Here's the description:

"Beyond Nemo: Coral reefs in a warming world"

Coral reefs, often called the rainforests of the ocean, are thought to be more sensitive to climate change than any other ecosystem on the planet. Drawing on his research in the Central Equatorial Pacific nation of Kiribati, Simon Donner will talk about the effects of changes in climate and ocean chemistry on tropical corals and the potential for adaptation.


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Rolling with the punches

In a short article on the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media, Keith Kloor compares online climate change discourse to a "roller derby" and a "street fight"

Taken together, the intimidation tactics of climate science bashers and the new pressure campaigns, by allies of the concerned climate community, promise to, if nothing else, ratchet up the rhetoric of both sides and deepen the politicization of global warming. Just what the public discourse doesn’t need. Meanwhile, the conflict-loving media will eat it up and stoke the fires.

For climate campaigners and their adversaries, the escalating war of wits is a fait accompli. They are not constrained by how they might be perceived by the public at large. But the stakes are higher for the climate science community, which must defend itself against scurrilous attacks while staying above the fray. Not an easy balancing act.

I've written and spoken about the need for humility among climate scientists and climate bloggers countless times in the past two years. A recent academic paper of mine on history, belief and climate communication concluded with this statement:

Reforming public communication about anthropogenic climate change will require humility on the part of scientists and educators. Climate scientists, for whom any inherent doubts about the possible extent of human influence on the climate were overcome by years of training in physics and chemistry of the climate system, need to accept that there are rational cultural, religious, and historical reasons why the public may fail to believe that anthropogenic climate change is real, let alone that it warrants a policy response.
Ironically, online "coverage" of that paper drew some amazingly angry and personal comments. Had I followed the ethos of the Nature editorial (which Keith cites) arguing that climate scientists need to realize they are in a street fight, then I suppose I would have fought back in kind.

To what end? You don't change the tone of the discussion by spewing venom. I am interested in the long game here. I certainly hope the same is true for other climate scientists. Better we make the effort to understand why people are so angry about this issue than we win cheap short-term points by responding in kind to every slight. Even if our siblings wish we did (sorry sis).

If climate discourse is a street fight, then we need to do more than fight back. We need to learn how to take a punch.


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

You've got mail, skeptical mail

Last week, my colleague Hisham Zerriffi and I each received an envelope full of photocopied articles, from the Wall St. Journal and other sources, and various scribblings all attacking the scientific evidence that humans are primarily responsible for recent climate change.

Receiving mail from an ardent skeptic of climate change is not unusual for us scientists. Over the years I've got small envelopes, large envelopes, handwritten notes, phone calls, all-cap e-mails and no shortage of nasty online comments. I'll guess that Hisham and I were not the only people studying climate change to receive copies of this particular material (let me know in the comments).

This package was unique, however, in one important way. The return address - no name was given - was "One Physics Ellipse" in College Park, Maryland.

A retirement community for physicists, you ask? Well, sort of.

One Physics Ellipse is the Corporate Headquarters for the American Institute of Physics. The AIP, like most scientific bodies on the planet, has as policy endorsed the scientific evidence that humans are contributing to climate change.

While it is true that not all of its members agree on that statement, scientists and certainly physicists are not exactly pros at speaking in one voice, I do find it odd to receive a package of "skeptic" material, much of which was downright silly (CO2 emissions don't "rise"), from the actual headquarters.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Adapting to milder winters

Just before the holidays, I posted this short video about how the shrinking lake ice "season" across much of the Northern Hemisphere is one of the clear physical signs of climate change, and might affect the holiday tradition in my family.

This year, there was no skating or hockey for us. The lake was frozen, but just barely thick enough for one person to walk around. A pile of people on skates was out of the question. The mild daytime temperatures led to some mixed precipitation, which made for a very thick, mushy surface which would have been terrible for skating anyway. That wet sleet and snow also knocked down a lot of trees.

So, in what you might call a bit of climate adaptation, we took advantage of the great packing snow to build this pretty solid snow fort (on land). It was New Year's Eve, so we did a flag-raising and candle-lighting ceremony for the kids in the family. I could just barely reach to light those candles

Here's the video again, in case you missed it: