This week I’ll be blogging from the American Geosciences Union (AGU) Fall Meeting, one of the biggest scientific meetings of the year for the climate science community (although the European EGU meeting, held in the spring, rivals it for size). About 16,000 geoscientists are expected to attend. The scope of the meeting is huge, taking in anything from space and planetary science, vulcanology, seismology, all the way through to science education and geoscience informatics. Climate change crops up a lot, most notably in the sessions on atmospheric sciences and global environmental change, but also in sessions on the cryosphere, ocean sciences, biogeosciences, paleoclimatology, and hydrology. There’ll be plenty of other people blogging the meeting, a twitter feed, and a series of press conferences. The meeting clashes with COP15 in Copenhagen, but scientists see Copenhagen as a purely political event, and would much rather be at a scientific meeting like the AGU. To try to bridge the two, the AGU has organised a 24/7 climate scientist hotline aimed at journalists and other participants in Copenhagen, although more on this initiative a little later…

Today, the meeting kicked off with some pre-conference workshops, most notably, a workshop on “Re-starting the climate conversation“, aimed at exploring the sociological factors in media coverage and public understanding of climate science. I picked up lots of interesting thoughts around communication of climate science from the three speakers, but the discussion sessions were rather disappointing. Seems like everyone recognises a problem in the huge gulf between what climate scientists themselves say and do, versus how climate science is portrayed in the public discourse. But nobody (at least among the scientific community) has any constructive ideas for how to fix this problem.

The first speaker was Max Boykoff, from University of Colorado-Boulder, talking about “Mass Media and the Cultural Politics of Climate Change”. Boykoff summarized the trends in media coverage of climate change, particularly the growth of the web as a source of news. A recent Pew study shows that in 2008, the internet overtook newspapers as people’s preferred source of news, although television still dominates both. And even though climate change was one of the two controversies dominating the blogosphere in the last two weeks, it still only accounts for about 1.5% of news coverage in 2009.

Boykoff’s research focusses more on the content, and reveals a tendency in the media to conflate the many issues related to climate change into just one question: whether increasing CO2 warms the planet. In the scientific community, there is a strong convergence of agreement on this question, in contrast to say, the diversity of opinion on whether the Kyoto protocol was a success. Yet the media coverage focusses almost exclusively on the former, and diverges wildly from scientific opinion. He showed a recent clip from NBC news, which frames the whole question in terms of a debate over whether it’s happening or not, with a meteorologist, geologist and sociologist discussing this question in a panel format. Boykoff’s studies showed 53% of news stories (through 2002) diverge from the scientific consensus, and, even more dramatically, 70% of TV segments (through 2004) diverge from this consensus. In a more recent study, he showed that the ‘quality’ newspapers (in the US and UK) show no divergence, while the tabloid newspapers significantly diverge in all sources. Worse still, much of this tabloid coverage is not just on the fence, but is explicitly denialist, with a common framing to present the issue as a feud between strong personalities (e.g. Gore vs. Palin).

Some contextual factors help explain these trends, including a shrinking technical capacity (specialist training) in newspaper/TV; the tendency for extreme weather events to drive coverage, which leads to the obvious framing of “is it or isn’t it caused by climate change?”; cultural values such as trust in scientists. Carvalho and Burgess present an interesting case study on the history of how the media and popular culture have shaped one another over issues such as climate change. The key point is that the idea of an information deficit is a myth – instead the media coverage is better explained as a complex cycle of cultural pressures. One of the biggest challenges for the media is how to cover a long, unfolding story within short news cycles. Which leads to an ebb and flow such as the following: In May 2008 the Observer ran a story entitled “Surging fatal shark attacks blamed on global warming“, although the content of the article is much more nuanced: some experts attribute it to global warming, others to increased human activites in the water. But then a subsequent story in the Guardian in Feb 2009 was “Sharks go hungry as tourists stay home“. Implication: the global warming problem is going away!

The second speaker was Matthew C. Nisbet, from the American University, Washington, perhaps best known for his blog, Framing Science. Nisbet began with a depressing summary of the downward trend in American concern over climate change, and the Pew study from Jan 2009 that showed global warming ranked last among 20 issues people regarded as top priorities for congress. The traditional assumption is that if the public is opposed, or does not accept the reality, the problem is one of ignorance, and hence scientific literacy is the antidote (and hence calls for more focus on formal science education and popular science outlets – “if we only had more Carl Sagans”). Along with this also goes the assumption that the science compels action in policy debates. However, Nisbet contends that when you oversimplify a policy debate as a matter of science, you create the incentive to distort the science, which is exactly what has happened over climate change.

This traditional view of a lack of science literacy has a number of problems. It doesn’t take into account the reality of audiences and how people make up their minds – essentially there is nothing unique about the public debate over climate change compared to other issues: people rely on information shortcuts – people tend to be “cognitive misers“. And it ignores the effects of media fragmentation: in 1985, most people (in the US) got their news from four main sources, the four main TV network news services. By contrast, in 2009, there are a huge array of sources of information, and because of our inability to take advantage of such a range, people have a tendency to rely on those that match their ideological preferences. On the internet, this problem of choice is greatly magnified.

Not surprisingly, Nisbet focussed mainly on the question of framing. People look for frames of reference that help them make sense of an issue, with little cognitive effort. Frames organise the central ideas on an issue, and make it relevant to the audience, so that it can be communicated by shorthand, such as catchphrases (“climategate”), cartoons, images, etc. Nisbet has a generalized typology of ways in which science issues get framed, and points out that you cannot avoid these frames in public discourse. E.g. Bill O’Reilly on Fox starts every show with “talking points”, which are the framing references for the likeminded audience; Many scientists who blog write with a clear liberal frame of reference, reflecting a tendency among scientists to identify themselves as more liberal than conservative.

The infamous Lunz memo contains some interesting framings: “the scientific debate remains open”, the “economic burden of environmental regulation”, and “the international fairness issue” – if countries like China and India not playing along, US shouldn’t make sacrifcies. In response, many scientists and commentators (e.g. Gore) have tended to frame around the potential for catastrophe (e.g. “the climate crisis”; “Be worried“). This is all essentially a threat appeal. The problem is that if you give an audience a threat, but no information on how to counter it, they either become fatalist or ignore it, and also, it opens the door to the counter-framing of calling people “alarmists”. This also plays into a wider narrative about the “liberal media” trying to take control.

Another framing is around the issue of public accountability and scientific evidence. For example, Mooney’s book “The Republican War on Science” itself became a framing device for liberals, which led to Obama’s “must restore science to its rightful place”. However, this framing can reinforce the signal that science is for democrats, not for republicans. Finally, “climategate” itself is a framing devices that flips the public accountability frame to one of accountability of scientists themselves – questioning their motivations. This has also been successfully coupled to the media bias frame, allowing the claim that the liberal media is not covering the alternative view.

So how do we overcome this framing? Nisbet concluded with examples of framings that reach out to difference kinds of audience. For example: EO Wilson’s book “The creation“, frames it as a religious/moral duty, specifically as a letter to a southern baptist. This framing helps to engage with evangelical audiences. Friedman frames it as a matter of economic growth – we need a price on carbon to stimulate innovation in a second American industrial revolution. Gore’s “We” campaign has been rebranded as “Repower America“. And the US Congress no longer refers to a “cap and trade bill”, but the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES).

Nisbet thinks that a powerful new frame is to talk about climate change as a matter of public health. The strategy is to shift the perception away from issues of remote regions (e.g. ice caps and polar bears) to focus instead on the impact in urban areas, especially on minorities, the elderly and children. Frame in terms of allergies, heatstress, etc. The lead author of the recent Lancet study, Anthony Costello, said that public health issues are under-reported, and need attention because they affect billions of people.

The recent Maibach and Leiserowitz study identifies six distinct audience groups, and changes ideas about where public perceptions are, especially the idea that the public is not concerned about climate change:

Figure 1

As an experiment, Nisbet and colleagues set up a tent on the National Mall in Washington, interviewed people who said they were from outside of DC, and categorized them in one of the six audiences. They then used this to identify a sample of each group to be invited to a focus group session, where they could test out the public health framing for climate change. Sentence by sentence analysis of their responses to a short essay on health issues and climate change proved very interesting, as there are specific sections, especially towards the end about policy options, where even the dismissives had positive responses. For example:

  • all six groups agreed “good health is a great blessing.
  • all six groups agreed to suggestions around making cities cleaner, easier to get around, etc.
  • 4 of the 6 groups found it helpful to learn about health threats of CC (which corresponds to a big majority of American audience)
  • All 6 groups reacted negatively to suggestions that we should make changes in diet and food choices, such as increasing vegetable and fruit and cutting down meat consumption. Hence, this is not a good topic to lead on!

In the question-and-answer session after Nisbet’s talk, there was an interesting debate about the lack of discussion in the media about how the science was obtained, concentrating on the results as if they came from a black box. Nisbet pointed out that this might not be helpful, and cited the fact that the climategate emails surprised many people with as how human scientists are (with egos and political goals) and the level of their uncertainty about the specific data analysis questions, which has made it a very successful framing device for those promoting the message that the science is weak. However, several audience members contended that this just means we need to do a better job of getting people to think like scientists, and bring the broader society more into the scientific process. While others pointed out how hard it is to get journalists to write about the scientific method, so the idea of partnering with others (e.g. religious leaders, health professionals) makes sense if it helps to identify and motivate particular audiences. This still leaves open the question of how to communicate uncertainty. For example, in the public health framing, people will still want to know does it affect, say, asthma or not. And as we’re still uncertain on this, it leads to the same problem as the shark attack story. So we still have to face the problem of how people understand (or not!) the scientific process.

The final speaker was Gwendolyn Blue, from the University of Calgary, Canada, talking about “Public Engagement with Climate Change”. Blue contends that major issues of science and technology require a participatory democracy that does not really exist yet (although is starting to appear). A portion of the lay public is distrustful of scientific institutions, so we need more effective ways of engaging the more diverse groups in the conversation.

Blue defines public engagement as “a diverse set of activities whereby non-experts become involved in agenda setting, decision-making, policy forming and knowledge production processes regarding science”. The aim is to overcome the traditional “one-way” transmission model of science communication, which tend to position lay audience as passive, and hence obsesses over whether they are getting good or bad information. But public understandings of science are much more sophisticated than many people give credit for, particularly away from questions of basic facts, such as the ethical and social implication of scientific findings.

There are clearly a number of degrees of citizen participation, for example Arnstein’s ‘ladder’. Blue is particularly interested in the upper rungs – i.e. not just ‘informing’ (which movements such as cafe scientifique, and public lectures try to do) but through engagements that aim  to empower and transform (e.g. citizen science, activism, protests, boycotts, buycotts). But she doesn’t think citizen participation in science is a virtue in it’s own right, as it can be difficult, frustrating, and can fail: success is highly context dependent.

Examples include:, which uses social networking media to bring people together. Lots of people creating images of the number 350 and uploading their efforts (but how many participants actually understand what the number 350 represents?); tcktcktck which collected 10 million signatures and delivered them to the COP15 negotiators. And the global day of action yesterday, which was one of the biggest demonstrations of public activism. However, this type of activism tends to be bound up with social identity politics.

Deliberative events aim to overcome this by bringing together people who don’t necessarily share the same background / assumptions. Blue described her experiences with one particular iniative, the World Wide Views on Global Warming events on September 26, 2009. The idea grew out of the Danish model of consensus politics. Randomly selected participants in each country, were offered free trip to a workshop (in Canada, it took place in Calgary), with some effort to select approximately 100 people representing the demographic makeup of each country. The aim was to discuss the policy context for COP15. There were (deliberately) no “experts” in the room, to remove the inequality of experts vs. lay audience. Instead, a background document was circulated in advance, along with a short video. Clear ground rules were set for good dialogue, with a trained facilitator for each table. Used cultural activities too: e.g. at the Canadian event, they used music and dance from across Canada, Inuit throat singers, opening prayer by Blackfoot Elder, etc.

The result was a fascinating attempt to build an engaged public conversation around climate change and the decision making process we face. A number of interesting themes emerged. For example, despite a very diverse set of participants, lots of common ground emerged, which surprised many participants, especially around scale/urgency of the problem, and the overall goals of society. A lot of social learning took place – many participants knew very little about climate science at the outset. However, Blue did note that success for these events requires scientific literacy and well as civil literacy in the participants, reflexivity, humility and willingness to learn. But it is part of a broader cultural shift towards understanding the potential and limitations of participatory democracy.

The results were reported in a policy report, but also, more interestingly, on a website that allows you to compare results from different countries. Much of the workshops were about public deliberation, which can be very unruly. But at the end this was distilled down to an opinion poll with simple multiple choice questions to communicate the results.

The discussion towards the end of the workshop focussed on how much researchers should be involved in outreach activities. It is not obvious who should be doing this work. There is no motivation for scientists to do it, and lots of negatives – we get into trouble, and our institutions don’t like it; it doesn’t do anything for your career in most cases. And several of the speakers at the workshop described strategies in which there doesn’t seem to be a role for climate scientists themselves. Instead, the work seems to point the need for a new kind of “outreach professional” who is both scientific expert and trained in outreach activities.

Which brings me back to that experiment I mentioned at the top of the post, on the AGU providing a 24 hour hotline for COP15 participants to talk directly with small groups of climate scientists. It turns out the idea has been a bit of a failure, and has been scaled back due to a lack of demand. Perhaps this has something to do with the narrow terms that were set for what kinds of questions people could ask of the scientists. The basic science is not what matters in Copenhagen. Which means the distance between Copenhagen and San Francisco this week is even greater than I thought it would be.

[Update: Michael Tobis has a much more critical account of this workshop]


  1. Hi Steve,

    Just wanted to let you know how much I appreciate posts like this. Thanks for all the effort you put into it, and for doing a good job of it too.

    IMHO, “Only Nixon could go to China.” Perhaps, only a person (or organization) with “impeccable skeptical credentials” can lead climate change policy. You would think this requirement would fit just about any climate scientist you could name. They are trained to be skeptical. But somehow climate scientists have been turned into “just people” in the public eye. Now things have to be restarted. Soon, I hope.


  2. Check Meta as well?


    Steve, thanks for the SmE-style comprehensive coverage of AGU’s Day 0.

    For what it’s worth:

    It looks like TO is well represented in San Francisco and in Copenhagen!

    Success to all 3 poster presentations by your group: the abstracts, for S/y visitors’ conv.

    TO’s David Miller is at the Mayors’ Summit in Copenhagen, an initiative of C40, of which he is the President. Statement for CBC Radio aired today: his ecological platform – Canada is an energy superpower, it must become a “green” energy superpower; his familiar rebuttal to fears that going green would be costly – the process will create jobs, etc.

    TO also lost one of its devoted visionaries. Former mayor David Pecaut, who had greening the city on his agenda, among other truly good projects, succumbed to cancer on Sun, Dec. 13th. His address to TO, Dec 9th.

    (attempting to humanize science’s objective rigour :))

  3. Pingback: AGU Day 1 part B: The growing need for climate services | Serendipity

  4. (the links have been tested elsewhere; if they don’t work here, pls check for a pernicious closing quotation mark tailgating the URL in the address slot – delete without hesitation)

    A few snippets of reality:

    CA at Poznan-Dec.2008 (climate villain verdict) and Copenhagen-Dec.2009 (our serial!!! fossil-of-the-day awards)

    At home we can’t seem to make up our minds (results from polls: this one? or this one?>. Vancouver commendably reports GHG emissions reductions for a period of 25% population growth, Alberta “tarsans” plan to inject their gases into the earth, presumably emulating natural pockets of gas (radio interviews, Dec 14th).

    How the Yes Men’s set-up “stepped up” Environment Canada’s public image. (They are the ones who published a faux New York Times issue, announcing that the USA is withdrawing from Iraq)

    UofT and UBC critical academic voices back in the late 1990s – peer-reviewed, mind you. Nice tries? – in business and politics

    Dr. Jim Hansen proposing it might be better for emissions reductions if the Copenhagen agreement were to fail – interview with Anna Maria Tremonte expected tomorrow, Dec 16th.

  5. Dec 16, 8:40-9:00 am Anna Maria Tremonte’s interview with Dr James Hansen, redundantly, hailed as #1 climatologist. (their podcasts are usually posted by evening, same day)

    Other than the announcement of his book Storms of My Grandchildren: The Truth about the Coming Climate Catastrophe and Our Last Chance to Save Humanity, Dr Hansen replayed arguments advanced/published earlier this year. Graciously, he managed to put a bridle on his predictable feelings about repeating, yet again, what he’s been saying for a while now. 🙂

    Which is: At this point, it looks like what a Copenhagen agreement can do is no better than what the Kyoto predecessor achieved – or rather, didn’t. A “C(arbon)-trade system” comparable to the Church selling indulgencies for the absolution of sins: you repent, pay,… continue biz as usual. (per Dec 15 am news: It turns out, cf. “leaked” document, Canada’s gov’t has been actively lobbying, in preparation for Copenhagen, to bail out on the 6% pledged) Richer countries set very modest goals and poorer countries expect funding boosts, then the offset follows, e.g., trees deforestation is outsourced to poorer countries, with the same, and even worse, effect, the richer pay compensation to the poorer. [Thank you for saying “rich”, not “developED” – since it’s more like “developED-ING” re issue at hand]

    Proud to report Dr Hansen gives Canada’s British Columbia as an illustration of the alternative system he proposes, and says – in response to his critic, economist Paul Kruger – that economists actually like his direct C-billing. His account: BC introduced tax on C-emissions, took them only 5 months to put the system in place, and it worked – EmRed’s becomes campaign issue during elections, incumbent party wins.

    What about the US: Barack Obama? – says the right words but the actions are the same. [cf. interview, aired Dec 15, ( As-It-Happens, Part I), with Mike Bonnano, a founding Yes Men member, who backs off at the question “Why attack Canada, are we the worst or the easiest target – more likely to yield than others?” – switches to “WE should/could…”]

    My question: Dr Hansen’s math may be perfect in theory, but what will it take to achieve – moreover internationally – the intended awareness and commensurate action soon enough, so that Human-Generated Ameliorative Processes can effectively counteract global climate change? Implementation of the C/GHG-fine, for starters, will not emerge without getting turgid bureaucratic structures and industrial giants to shift gear – moreover around the globe! [A Copenhagen failure is not something to cheer for (sigh), and he had no example, not even blueprints, for the international level]

    Our own backyard: How many public talks, discussions (I find “debates” counterproductive) on the subject have happened at UofT? What bodies of faculty, staff, students have pledged commitments – beyond recycling, power/H2O economy? What is being done about bridging the gap between science and public awareness, so aptly noted by Dr Hansen as his priority target, with the compendium admission that scientists can be “dangerously reticent” (East Anglia climategate)? I was using An Inconvenient Truth as class material – hardly impressive, I know. As a matter of principle, though,

    1. Whether AGW is the sole factor or is accompanied by solar activity and/or other astrophysical permutations, if the human species has a say about anything, it would hardly be the latter, likely the former at most, and even scarier – perhaps not for much longer.
    2. Irrespective of whether CC can cause the extermination of/a damage to (life on) Earth as we know it or not – if your (country’s) breath is foul [sorry!], do you say, I cannot afford to give up smoking/see a dentist (reduce GHG emissions) OR do you take care of the “bare basics” ASAP?!!!

  6. ==Today’s refrain: talks continue, w/ little progress [so is the pledge below as iffy as e.g. the Kyoto accord?]
    ==Rich and poor countries pitted a/st each other (cf. reps of latter walked out earlier this week).
    ==Political leaders flying out to COP for Thu and Fri.
    ==Rising tension on COP scene – hundreds of demonstrators arrested, organizer of summit resigned saying that the situation calls for Denmark’s PM to take over.

    Pledge by “developED-ING” countries to help slow down and eventually reverse deforestation in “developing” countries: United States – $1 billion from 2010 to 2012; Australia, France, Japan, Norway and Britain contribute the rest.

    PM S. Harper flying out to COP tonight. Journalist Susan Lung reports from Ottawa:
    ==PM has on the agenda 20% ERs by 2020.
    ==CA delegation is not looking for a “win”, seems to be aiming to come out reasonably unscathed, with as little damaging press as poss.
    ==According to Lung, with B. Obama on board and willing to take the driver’s seat, CA is no longer needed as the intermediary between Europe and the US. We do not seem to be sought after as mediators with China or India, or countries in Africa. Verdict is: we do not really matter. [!?]
    Cf. Who said sth along the lines of, “Whether you think you can or cannot – you’re right”?


    A 2nd chance to links tailgated by a ” – or whatever else I overlooked:

    COMMENT #2
    ==C40 (coalition of 40 large cities, presided by Toronto mayor David Miller)
    ==‘Greatest mayor…,’ David Pecaut dies at 54,, Dec 14th
    ==David Pecault’s message to the city,, Dec 9th

    COMMENT #4
    ==NASA’s James Hansen: Copenhagen should fail – from The Guardian, Dec 2nd
    ==As It Happens podcasts

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  11. lynne, parallel COP thread much appreciated. thanks to Dr Easterbrook for a fab resource go without saying – really. btw, i’d much rather get a “long” post than a rushed, choked up travesty. and I read them, too.

  12. yesterday’s and today’s tabs:

    At this point, COP delegates are being asked to stay on, hold sessions later today, wrap up post-schedule tomorrow.

    Obama is having to fulfill his mission without getting the desired vote at home, which he had hoped to have in place in time for Copenhagen. A warning not to pull off another “Al Gore” was issued to him – by Republican Senator Jon Kyl (? if this is the spelling, he’s the man), known as the “Senate minority whip”. Cf. Gore signed the Kyoto agreement without Congress’s support, it was never ratified.

    Obama’s brief address today: ability for collective action is not there yet, though “we[=US] are ready to get this done today”, “we[=delegates/countries] can act boldly and decisively in the face of a common threat”, “I come here not to talk but to act”.

    Yesterday PM Harper attended a state dinner with the Queen of Denmark, and it was up to Enviro minister Jim Prentice do deliver a 3min address around midnight to an almost empty assembly hall, basically saying that CA expects a “level playing field”. Harper is not among the 19 leaders with whom Obama has scheduled meetings today.

    China slipping out of the vise:
    Yesterday they insist emissions will be reduced, whether an agreement is reached or not, but reject international inspection, driving Hilary Clinton up the wall – “No transparency, no deal”, she stretched the period over which the US will provide the promised billion from 3 years (Wednesday) to 10 years (yesterday). Today China is graced with Obama’s special attention, “confirms” that the C-concentration will be reduced, but not the overall output… Focus is on US & China locking horns – the 2 largest GHG producers, apparently the two “greatest powers”.

    And little us? Harper’s non-performance generously criticized – by Jack Leighton, National Democratic Party leader (no other leader with any claims to leadership on the international scene has shown such lack of enthusiasm and purpose as SH!); by Exec Dir of the Sierra Club of Canada; by, among SO MANY others at COP.

    Bottom line, it’s all up in the air. Delegates had not expected a COP binding agreement – after 2 years of onerous negotiations. There’d been hope to agree on some kind of agenda for action, with dates, future negotiations, but by today the highest imagination could fly is a political statement. (Adrienne Arsenault, twitter ID adriearsenault)

    Obama, if anyone, can save the day – is the shared opinion, in what our media transmit, at least. Naïve? Desperate? The amount of intellectual and emotional work is making me dizzy 🙂

  13. lynne, hope you won’t mind if i jump in, on your heels, lighten up the gloom&doom?

    Our PM did NOT get attacked by Alex Sammond, Scotland’s first minister, who proposed his inimitable COP incentive. (, Dec 17, Part 1. Scotland will sell its renowned Scotch whiskey to the (real and hypothetical) line-up of world leaders, and, if need be, will water down its signature 42% according to emissions reductions the “applicants” commit to, what they subsequently achieve. Not sure which by now. Anyway, Scotland’s own pledge is an impressive 42% (highest I’ve heard!), moreover voted by ALL parties. Well, they have ¼ of Europe’s water/hydro energy resources or something comparable.

    So to the point, yesterday, AIH hosts ask Mr. Sammond, By how much will Harper’s shipment be watered down? He nimbly dodges the answer and spins off into a diplomatic spiel – he commends like-minded provinces like BC and Quebec, whose leaders are in full support of emissions reductions … So cheers to the deserving!

    Also, I dare object to the TARSAN title being awarded to the Alberta oilers – I’m ok with FOSSILS. Irresponsible labeling, certainly subverting the original story, is ruining my childhood memories, when my female cousins (yeah, several) wanted to be Jane so I got to play Tarsan PLENTY. Just think of his toe-tingling (per my cousins) “You – Jane, me – Tarsan.” Where’s the charm in what lynne so aptly called “your (country’s) foul breath”!? I’d recommend, SHUT UP AND CLEAN UP.

    lynne, I second something else you brought up – the role of academia in overcoming Hansen’s “dangerous reticence” of scientists, due to temperament, processing overload, superiority… whatever, so that profs and students can actively participate in reaching out. It’s important – and good – to project one’s senses, think, take action outside of the Ivory Tower.

    tku & holiday cheers to y’all

    PS Oh no! The news just dragged my SH objectivity to the ground – completely. A Harper dummy/impersonator (?) was awarded “Fossil of the Year” at COP. Congrats, consistently earned. Won’t bother rewriting the post.

  14. Thanks for the dialogue, Al, a pleasure! Especially glad you can relate to the role of academia in bridging the science-general public gap. It is a sine qua non for handling something like CC, whose range and implications by necessity spread-anchor it in the widest sociopolitical space.

    2 more interviews on The Current with guest host Linden MacIntyre, Dec 18, Part 2:

    1. Bruce Pardy, professor of Environmental Law at QueensU estimates that the economic asymmetry between richer and poorer countries is a major obstacle to the success of negotiations. He seems to be advancing the opinion that as a precondition to reaching a binding agreement, the standard of living (in general terms) of poorer countries has to be improved; if no binding agreement, no hope of enforcing reductions, which in turn are meant to improve the economy as well as counteract CC.

    2. Cleo Pascal, award-winning journalist, author of Global Warring, predicts that climate change will “re-draw the world’s map”. She stresses that, if anything, COP has delineated two camps (cf. Pardy’s trifurcation – adding “emerging as well”) and has demonstrated a major power shift: “developed” countries can no longer “dictate”/“regulate”, as they could have done until a few years ago. There is a will and rising economic power to “push back”.

    I can only agree with her observation that at this point COP has condensed a breakdown of trust, which aligns with real geopolitical divisions. Importantly, it has primed longstanding historical tensions, creating a really dangerous situation. She proposes to “broaden” UN’s targets instead of focusing specifically on Carbon. According to her, Katrina was not a climatic event, even if it helped advance CC dialogue, and also had undeniable considerable sociopolitical consequences. It would seem that the floods in the Canadian prairies are in the “other problems” category as well.

    CODA. To my thinking, both Pardy and Pascal sound Lomborgian. From their respective perspectives they are both adaptivists. They, moreover, assume that ERs are very costly – contrary to John Bennett, The Sierra Club’s Exec, who insists that the public is misinformed on this point, the cost will not be much greater than proceeding with the development of the Alberta oil patch. (let it be resolved?)

    re 1. Pardy, if I follow his argument correctly, surely introduces fallacious circularity.
    re 2. Pascal classifies problems in the C and non-C categories just by looking at proximate causes, overlooking (rather, choosing not to look at) further removed and/or ultimate causes.

    If one looks at more radical approaches, which would be more effective – Hansen’s somewhat bottom-up model or a top-down alternative, likely to be more naturally accommodated by China’s political/economic structures. Or a hybrid?

    We have to hope that tomorrow might prove productive in (unfortunately, very likely at most) cosmetic touch-ups toward a rather precarious balance. From then on, lots of intensive work, for an unpredictably long period of time – including the Canada-hosted G8 and G20 SUMMITS in 2010.

    For “proximate” and “ultimate” causation see:

    Following Al’s example, GOOD TO REMEMBER THE OLYMPIC TORCH RELAY – which straddled yesterday and today, covering the TORONTO STRETCH. Deepa Mehta, The Reitmans father and son, olympians such as Vicky, twice Gold and once Silver female hockey medalist. AND the fact that the host will be Vancouver, an ERs champion in its own right.

  15. Per latest news reports 6-8-9pm: COP outcome is potentially wiser and more promising – in the long run – than I could have hoped. No “binding agreement” – which is hardly a surprise, given the two years’ experience of “preparations” and the no less trying couple of weeks in Copenhagen.

    Obama proceeded with approaching China, India, Brazil, South Africa, announcing eventually that an agreement has been reached (USA, China, India, Brazil, South Africa) – apparently, invloving serious compromise by all sides involved, and still to be worked on/concluded at the summit in Mexico in 2010, and through a series of exchanges until then and after 🙂 In Obama’s terms, countries “will be sharing” info, there will be no “penalties” meted out.

    It’s not all that difficult to see how the “outcome” could have rubbed the EU the wrong way, BUT there has been NO similar step on a comparable scale toward smoothing out rich/poor asymmetries during the 2 years of preparations. Would it have been better to aggravate the contrast, which is where COP was stuck at for most of Week 2?! I strongly disagree with the opinion – expressed by an unidentified European notable, judging by the voice – that COP should be forgotton and a real binding agreement reached, pronto. BEWARE: danger of “leaders” sinking into sore tooth/sour grapes (?) Harper-mode, if my psychological guess is on the right track, instead of coordinating a more equitable approach.

    MOVING ON: 10 billion help pledged for “developing” countries over the next 3 (?) years – still to be confirmed by beneficiaries, presumably with the strings attached. [are benefactors good to go, then?] Enviro NGOs riling up against the absence of explicit acceptance, e.g. by China, of international regulation of their EmReds efficiency; CA for now is in the little black book – BUT we’re releasing a wholly electric car, cities like Vancouver, Toronto have enviro ambitions, AND achievements not to be ignored… (see posts above); if it comes to that, gov’ts come and go.

    From the best inclined point of view, Obama has chosen – and has the wherewithall – to ride the potentially destructive wave of sweeping “geopolitical re-mapping” (Cleo Pascal), driven by “emerging economies” (Bruce Pardy’s label for China, India, Brazil – countries with lowest per capita and highest overall C/GHG-output), which by the sheer number of their populations and economic infrastructures&resources on hand, would otherwise follow dead-end venues, very likely dragging down the rest of the world. They could either go ahead with industrialization the C/GHG-sky-rocketing way (China has been stocking up on petroleum) or stagnate in passivity, ignoring EmReds appeals/requirements. Neither option would align them with the healthy ambitions of developED-ING economies, nor would either of the 2 paths productively benefit emerging/developing economies themselves. Something positive would be so much harder for e.g. China to achieve on its own!

    What about Canada, the EU countries, Russia (which are no political-economic weaklings)? Harper apparently maintains CA will synchronize plans/actions with our largest trading partner, the US. Europe must have tentatively confirmed earlier pledges to make possible putting up the above cited 10 billion. Might Russia resurface in a constructive role? Could a quickly patched-up to tragic rift between any/all of the former and the US be avoided?

    Well, how’s the more-than-obvious for a roadmap? Indistrialists and politicians do their respective jobs, reasonably well, we don’t give up, think, AND speak up. The navigational task is to circumvent or hit a critical mass of – respectively – dangerous tipping points, on the one hand, and the right ones, on the other. Quite a slalom ahead of us, hmmm, why not a winning one, too?

    Echoing Al’s Holiday Cheers to the Serendipity World – by all means, Scotch whisky, if that works for you!

    See you perhaps in 2010 again!?

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  18. lynne,

    I’m with you on the COP “outcome”. Aggravating the rift between The West and The Rest would have been very dangerous. As expected, the States’ “agreement” with the 4 most populous markets must have rubbed EU powers the wrong way – so it did not get a unanimous vote on Sat., or acquire new participants. The “nonbinding COP Accord” (good part – for all(?) present, perhaps) is something to keep in mind for the Summits in Mexico and Germany in 2010? As you said, A LOT of work there and after.

    As for the job of academia, if I’ve id-ed correctly the line of logic in italicized 1 & 2 in Comment #4 – you brought up Nietzsche’s Genealogy of Morals(?) – are you onboard for the SHIC? Would be good to share a blog&discussions with you et al., for the integration of the sciences and humanities. On the Climate issue, specifically, for taking the science out of the labs, to (and through) the humanities & to the public.

    NB! Precisely what Dr Easterbrook’s coverage of San Francisco has shown (AGU meta-blogging and AGU Day 3), and the Yale Law School survey (personal beliefs supersede scientific “truth”) mentioned in his June 2009 talk that you referred to previously. (once again – I agree, named anchors to/into specific posts would have been handy)

    Btw, glad H&P redemption campaign has been successful, so far.

  19. Lynne (et al. & Al? – when you’re in town) count me in for the Sciences & Humanities club.

    My 2 pennies’ worth for the COP15 thread:
    The proverbial “nonbinding” Copenhagen Accord:
    The rest of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) site:

    Dr Easterbrook – “fact and funny”

    My twin high schoolers – a boy and a girl – are at each other’s throats over what this or that Serendipity something or other means just about every other day. SWE & climate change science are threatening to overtake AI in popularity – imagine that.
    Oh, and their vocab has acquired a new swear word – DENIALIST – although neither can get even close to explaining what is being “denialled” or by whom. Mom and I will not be helping this time around.

    Holiday cheers from me as well!

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