Sunday, September 28, 2014

Climate change workshop, part 6.

The Climate Change workshop for educators, sponsored by Oklahomans for Excellencein Science Education, continued this morning.

Danny Mattox, Andrea Melvin, and Monica Deming showed us online resources for climate data, starting with the Oklahoma Mesonet, which has about every kind of weather data you can imagine, instantly available in graphical format. It is publication quality and I am using some of their maps in a paper that I will publish early next year. There are no comparable data in Texas, but the Office of the State Climatologist website has a fair amount of information. The NOAA National Climatic Data Center website is not as easy to navigate but has useful national-scale information and maps.

On the second half of the Sunday morning session, our first speaker was Bob Melton, who works on science curriculum for the Putnam City public schools in Oklahoma. He is also a national officer in the National Association of Biology Teachers and is a candidate for the presidency of that organization.

Bob began by explaining that teaching about climate change is a political act. For example, major textbook publishers do not have the courage to print the scientific facts about climate science because they fear that the Texas state textbook selection committee might reject their books. Texas is an overwhelmingly huge textbook market. If you teach about global warming, you place yourself squarely in the crosshairs of the infamous statements by Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe, who considers global warming science to be a deliberate hoax perpetrated by scientists. We watched a television interview of Inhofe in which he said this very thing. This interview made quite a number of us a little upset as we watched it. Scientists such as Lara Souza and myself know certainly that we are not hoax perpetrators, and we feel personally libeled by Inhofe. Inhofe just made up what he called scientific facts; for example, he said that scientists were just making up stories about arctic ice melting--despite that anyone can see the satellite images of this process occurring. So teachers are kind of caught between two federal sources of information: do we believe Senator Inhofe, or do we believe the satellite images provided by the federal agency NASA?

The Oklahoma educational standards regarding environmental science have nothing to say about global warming; the Texas standards call only for teaching about the effect of natural processes, rather than human activities, on global warming. Then Bob showed us the Next Generation Science Standards, which will soon be the national standards for science education, except in states like Oklahoma and Texas that declare that the laws of nature are different in our states than in the rest of the world. In Texas, we suppose, carbon dioxide does not absorb long-wave radiation. In Oklahoma, global warming cannot happen; we just ain't-a-gonna permit it. But most states will probably accept the new standards. Each state makes its own decision; and all politics are local; therefore if a majority of citizens in a state believe that global warming is equivalent to atheism, global warming will not be taught. Some interesting discussion followed but I missed it because I was busy trying to deal with a power interruption that temporarily wiped out my writing.

Bob also showed us a video of some federal politicians who are willing to investigate UFOs but will not even consider global warming.

We were joined by Dan Bewley of Tulsa, who has begun a blog about science in Oklahoma. He came to film and report about our meeting for his blog.

Kevin Kloesel, the director of the Oklahoma Climatological Survey, began our final session.

Most climatologists believe that most global warming has been caused by humans. But, Kevin said, suppose that only one percent of the warming is caused by humans. But even if there is only a one percent risk that humans are causing global climate change, then we should do something about it. After all, there is only a tiny risk that your house will burn down, but you get your house insured, don't you? Why do we insure our houses--why do banks require mortgage holders to insure their houses--against a tiny risk of fire, and not "take out Earth insurance" for a much larger risk that our activities are putting the Earth at risk? Even if the risk is much lower than what most climate scientists think it actually is. And you can replace a wrecked car or burned house, but in the case of Planet Earth, there is no chance of replacement.

He noted a mismatch between what scientists know and what policy-makers are doing. The National Academies, as authorized by Congress, have published reports based on peer-reviewed research. Scientists criticize one another's work, Kloesel noted, more severely than even the climate deniers, so these reports are reliable.

The Science Panel report shows the evidence that global climate change is real and humans are causing a lot of it. And continued data gathering is essential to improve our predictions. Kloesel urged us to ask ourselves what it would take to get us to change our minds about what we believe about climate change. Everyone comes to the table with pre-set beliefs, even scientists; scientists, at least, are aware of their bias and try to compensate for it. The community of climatologists is so small, yet is the center of a worldwide controversy. Furthermore, people do not notice carbon dioxide because it is invisible. And our minds trick us into ignoring anything that blows away to some other place. In everyday life, as in science, we seldom have certainty, but that does not prevent us from taking action to manage the risk.

The Limiting Panel report recommended prompt and sustained research efforts. Their first recommendation was to set a price on carbon. Right away, their recommendations will go nowhere in the current political climate. Every recommendation has a dark side that someone will decry, which will cause the process to go nowhere.

The Adapting panel report dealt with what we can do to adapt to whatever amount of global warming will prove to be inevitable. We already have is a warning system for tornadoes, but we have nothing like this for long-term climate events. One panel recommendation is "movement of people and facilities away from vulnerable areas." But what would people do if the government said, "You can't build your house on a floodplain"? Instead we wait until it happens then react, at seven times the cost. We know how to make contingency plans, we just aren't doing it for climate change. The report called for a new level of planetary governance--something that frightens the x out of most lawmakers, even progressive ones. Some politicians, especially from cowboy states, would rather take any chance at global catastrophe rather than to take advice from the United Nations.

The Informing panel report dealt with how to make masses of information available in a useful form.

There is no getting around the fact that rich Americans will have to reduce our carbon emissions, rather than encouraging the poor of the world to increase, in order to achieve fairness and sustainability. Right now, the carbon footprint of people in developing nations is increasing. For example, we cannot tell the people of India, "We will keep using air conditioning but you should not." Before long, the entire challenge will depend on what the developing world does.

Prospicience is the art of looking ahead, said Kloesel. We have, he said, barely begun to ask what we are on Earth to do. Why should we send missions to Mars while ignoring the monitoring of our own planet? How can we leave a good world for our grandchildren? In his book Senator Inhofe talks a lot about the world his grandchildren will live in, despite the fact that he ignores the truth about global warming which will make the world a disrupted and chaotic world for those grandchildren. What can we do when our leaders only pretend to care about their grandchildren's world?

We will see the impacts first in water, such as water conflicts among states. Even the cost of water litigation is adding to the economic burden of some states such as Oklahoma and Texas. Also, water-intensive crops have already had a massive price increase at the supermarket. Climate change is not an abstract concept.

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