Friday, February 26, 2010

Bill Nye Falls Victim to "He Said, She Said" Climate Banter

Do any of you remember Bill Nye? You know, the Science Guy? If you're like me and you were a geek growing up you probably skipped around the halls of your elementary school singing the catchy "Bill, Bill, Bill, Bill, Bill" theme song from his show on PBS. For all you true fans out there (or for those of you who have no idea who or what I'm talking about) watch below:

On every show, Bill and his team of the coolest teenage cast members on cable television would investigate a scientific question and design an experiment to test their hypothesis (and in doing so educate their young audience).

But it seems as though Mr. Nye has upped the ante in the last 10 years since I was a regular fan of his show, and graduated from the signature baking soda and vinegar volcanoes to something a little more complicated: Climate change.

Nye recently entered the "No Spin Zone" on the O'Reilly Factor to take on Joe Bastardi, AccuWeather meteorologist (aka NOT a climatologist, and yes there is a difference). Watch the segment below:

I think this is actually the most "fair and balanced" exchange between two people expressing differing viewpoints I have ever seen on Fox News. But I might go so far as to say that it's too fair and balanced, to the point where what they're saying doesn't really mean anything. I'll explain.

Both Nye and Bastardi present the data that supports their view on the changes to the climate system. Bastardi has his high-tech TV screen and Nye has his little placards, god bless his heart. But in the age old game of human competition, it is impossible to answer the question, "Who wins?" Even though Nye presented the most scientifically sound data from the IPCC (aka the most well-renowned climate scientists in the world), his efforts are equally weighted with Bastardi's on the air for no other reason than they are given equal time to talk and at least Bastardi seems like he knows what he's talking about.

It's for this reason that I strongly disagree with the headline of a recent article I saw about the Nye-Bastardi segment which declared: "Bill Nye Schools Bill O'Reilly on Climate Change." Bill Nye didn't "school" anyone, O'Reilly or Bastardi, in this discussion on Fox News. Sure he presented scientifically sound facts, but it's up to O'Reilly's viewers to believe them - a tall order to be sure.

I listened to a fascinating piece on NPR this week about how what individuals consider to be the facts about climate change (and what they consider to be the lies) depends heavily on their personal value systems. The main point I got out of the story was that people believe what they want to believe. When talking about a subject as complicated as climate change, and one with such high stakes, it is imperative that scientists and activists alike find a way to communicate the scientific facts in such a way that it is impossible to deny the negative human impacts on our climate system. Until then we'll just be mired in the "He said, she said" climate banter through which no one wins, which in the scope of our impending climate crisis, means we all lose.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

What I'm Reading: 2/21/2010

1. In this New York Times Magazine feature article, Daniel Smith profiles the emerging field of eco-psychology. This form of psychological research explores how environmental degradation effects personal anxiety, despair, and depression.

2. As the World Burns: How Big Oil and Big Coal mounted one of the most aggressive lobbying campaigns in history to block progress on global warming. From Rolling Stone Magazine's Jeff Goodell. Your one-stop-shop for the complicated history of climate policy in the United States.

3. Plastic or Plastic? Brown University student Alyssa Ratledge beats me to the punch and writes an op-ed in the Brown Daily Herald (allbeit better written than anything I could have ever put together) expressing her bewilderment at a recent Bookstore's policy requiring, yes requiring patrons to take a plastic bag at the checkout counter. Don't want one? Already have a reusable cloth bag or backpack with you? Too bad...

4. Global Weirding is Here: New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman wonders "if we can have a serious discussion about the climate-energy issue anymore" and emphasizes four key arguments for a national response to climate change (mostly paraphrasing his book, Hot, Flat and Crowded with a climate-weather twist thrown in).

5. In this The American Prospect article, writer David Roberts reviews two automobile-oriented books. One, Tom Vanderbilt's Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What it Says About Us?) I read last winter and loved. The other, Reinventing the Automobile, is co-authored by William J. Mitchell, the head of the Smart Cities program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Lawrence D. Burns, the recent vice president of research and development at General Motors, and Christopher Borroni-Bird, GM's current director of advanced vehicle-technology concepts. This trio attempts to address current transportation problems and argues that reinventing automobiles means reinventing cities (music to the ears of a sustainable urbanist).

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

REVISED: Dylan Ratigan Understands the Difference Between Weather and Climate, Do You?

UPDATED 2/17/10 10:36 AM (see original post below): So apparently I've fallen victim to the very misunderstandings about weather and climate that I've been trying to shed light on in recent weeks. I'll explain:

While Ratigan was correct, scientifically speaking, in his description of warmer air = increased moisture = increased precipitation, he was wrong to argue (and I was wrong to agree with him) that the massive storms the DC area experienced last week were proof of climate change. As we discussed in one of my environmental science classes last week, science doesn't prove anything, it can only disprove things. Sure these storms are consistent with the hypothesis that global warming will produce more severe weather patterns, but it is important to note that no single storm, no ten storms, no twenty storms would ever prove (or disprove) the existence of climate change because of the difference in time scale I described a few weeks ago. Climate is a decadal system, while weather operates in a much shorter (i.e. day to day) period.

Seems like I got caught up in the "he said, she said" banter that has dominated the climate debate recently. I read a comment on a blog the other day that said something along the lines of, "These [climate/weather] anecdotes are cute, but let's stick to the facts." I agree: Let's let science do the talking and formulate our opinions based on these facts, thereby avoiding the impulse to impose our existing beliefs on what we observe in nature.

ORIGINAL POST 2/10/10 5:26 PM:

Finally, FINALLY someone in the mainstream media has demonstrated a basic understanding of scientific principles. A few weeks ago, I wrote about how some have taken record low temperatures and increased snowfall this winter in the US to discount the impending realities of climate change. I focused primarily on this clip from a Fox and Friends broadcast:

But this week MSNBC's Dylan Ratigan has set the record straight, and he explains why these record snowfalls are, in fact, proof of climate change. Watch below: