We are All Scientists

You are a Scientist

I heard someone ask “why do scientists lie so much.” Thinking about how I would answer, and with my grandchildren in mind, I composed the following statement:

Is the Climate Emergency Just a Big Problem, or is it a Catastrophe?

Catastrophe or Just a Big Problem?

In the sugar­cane region of El Salvador, as much as one-fifth of the population has chronic kidney disease, the presumed result of dehydration from working the fields they were able to comfortably harvest as recently as two decades ago. Photo: Heartless Machine

GR: On Tuesday (July 11, 2017) I introduced an article by David Wallace-Wells that describes the climate change events that will happen and the events that might happen. Some prominent climate scientists have responded with criticism because of the article’s strong message of disaster and doom. These scientists believe that gentle persuasion instead of doomsday warning is the correct way to deliver the climate-emergency message. It is true that gentle persuasion is resistant to ridicule by oil-company sponsored climate-change deniers (whew). Moreover, gentle persuasion isn’t criticized by other scientists (who learned at their mentors’ knee true science is never certain). However, I disagree with these scientists’ stated reason for gentle persuasion. They say:

Such rhetoric [doomsday warnings] is in many ways as pernicious as outright climate change denial, for it leads us down the same path of inaction. Whether climate change is a hoax (as President Trump has asserted) or beyond our control (as McPherson insists), there would obviously be no reason to cut carbon emissions.

I do not believe that gentle persuasion by climate scientists is changing people’s attitudes. It’s certainly not leading to action. Sure, renewable energy production is climbing, electric automobiles are coming on, and most people believe global warming is a genuine problem. However, almost no one in academia, government, or society is responding as if they believe there is a GLOBAL CLIMATE EMERGENCY (please pardon the shouting). If gentle warnings do not work, it seems reasonable to try severe warnings (If you keep patting the beehive, the bees will definitely sting you.)

Here’s a bit of the article by Mann, Hassol, and Toles:

Doomsday Scenarios Are as Harmful as Climate Change Denial

“It is easy to understand why advocates for climate action have become somewhat dispirited in recent months. In the space of less than a year, we’ve seen the U.S. go from playing a leading role in international climate negotiations to now being the only nation in the world to renege on its commitment to the 2015 Paris climate accord.

“It is in this environment of defeat and despair that we’ve witnessed a dramatic rise in the prominence of climate doomism—commentary that portrays climate change not just as a threat that requires an urgent response but also as an essentially lost cause, a hopeless fight. Some of the more egregious examples can be found among fringe characters such as ecologist Guy McPherson—a doomist cult hero who insists that exponential climate change likely will render human beings and all other species extinct within 10 years.”

“Such rhetoric is in many ways as pernicious as outright climate change denial, for it leads us down the same path of inaction. Whether climate change is a hoax (as President Trump has asserted) or beyond our control (as McPherson insists), there would obviously be no reason to cut carbon emissions.” –Michael E. Mann, Susan Joy Hassol and Tom Toles (Doomsday Scenarios Are as Harmful as Climate Change Denial).

Americans’ increasing distrust of science — and not just on climate change

By Aaron Blake.  “It’s also not just Republicans.

“Eight in 10 Americans believe science has made life better for most people, but they still don’t trust scientists — and/or aren’t aware of their consensus — on many of the most important science-related issues of the day.

“And that goes for far more than just climate change. And it includes plenty of Democrats too.

“A new Pew study comparing the attitudes of scientists and the public shows wide gaps between the two when it comes to climate, food that uses genetically modified organisms and pesticides, research using animals, and also the threat posed by the fast-growing world population.”  Source: www.washingtonpost.com

GR:  School-aged children and adults often hear conflicting views on important issues.  Young people I know often ask my opinion on interesting ideas or arguments they’ve heard.  Often, I find the arguments are obvious fallacies.  There are many ways to argue for unsound conclusions, even that science itself is faulty or dangerous.

A fallacious argument in logic or rhetoric is one that is invalid.  Wikipedia defines more than 100 fallacies that people often use to make unsound arguments.  Some of the fallacies are difficult to spot without prior knowledge.  Learning to recognize the long lists of fallacies takes time and that’s why I suggest schoolwork.

Schools should include middle-grade units and high-school courses on fallacy and debate. Otherwise, choosing what to believe is like choosing foods without taste buds.

The Patterns of Bird Population Irruptions


“An irruption is the sudden change in the population density of an organism. In North American birds, irruptions often refer to the movement of northern-wintering species to the south in years of low food availability. You can recognize irruptive movement patterns at your feeders: some winters you may see a species at your feeders in great numbers, but in other winters they don’t show up at all.”

Explore FeederWatch data and tell us what you can find

Source: www.birds.cornell.edu

GR:  Here’s a volunteer citizen naturalist opportunity for everyone, but especially for those who love birds.

New research could help the welfare of working animals

Domestic Animal Welfare

With over 42 million horses and 95 per cent of the world’s donkeys found in developing countries, new research could change the health and welfare of millions of working animals in some of the poorest parts of the world.

 The three research studies led by Dr Becky Whay, Reader in Animal Welfare and Behaviour in the School of Veterinary Sciences at the University of Bristol, aim to build greater understanding and encourage collaboration in addressing the welfare problems of the world’s working equids. The papers, funded by the Brooke, are part of a new collection of free research articles published online by the Equine Veterinary Journal (EVJ) and sponsored by World Horse Welfare.

“We hope our research will make a difference to the lives of these animals and our work will advise owners and vets on how to better look after their animals.”

Source: phys.org

GR:  The scientific method in all its variations is a tool that humans can use to care for their fellow creatures.  Research using the method produces reliable reports that add to our knowledge.

Can We Feed 3 Billion More People and Save the Environment?

Feeding 3 Billion More People

worldpopThe U. S. Census Bureau uses world data to estimate that in 2150, Earth’s human population will reach 9 billion and stay around that number for the next few centuries.  But must we stop?  Can’t we go on to 12 billion?  In an article published in America’s leading academic journal, Science, a group of scientists led by Paul C. West say yes.  Here is the full abstract of their article:

“Achieving sustainable global food security is one of humanity’s contemporary challenges. Here we present an analysis identifying key “global leverage points” that offer the best opportunities to improve both global food security and environmental sustainability. We find that a relatively small set of places and actions could provide enough new calories to meet the basic needs for more than 3 billion people, address many environmental impacts with global consequences, and focus food waste reduction on the commodities with the greatest impact on food security. These leverage points in the global food system can help guide how nongovernmental organizations, foundations, governments, citizens’ groups, and businesses prioritize actions” (Paul C. West, et al, Science 345: 325-328).

The editors of Science had this to say:  “Keeping societies stable and managing Earth’s resources sustainably depend on doing a good, steady job producing and distributing food. West et al. asked what combinations of crops and regions offer the best chance of progress. Their analysis focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, nutrient pollution, water use, and food waste. They identify regions that are likely to yield the best balance between applying fertilizer to increase crop yields versus the resulting environmental impact” (editor, Science 345: 325).

Of course, there will be problems finding the leadership needed to pull the levers the authors identify.  If we can find them, however, perhaps we can then begin looking for more solutions that will let us sustain our growth far into the future.  Some pessimists have pointed out that we can’t keep growing because we would eventually reach the point where we would shoulder-to-shoulder cover the planet.  Well, we have learned it is possible to live and reproduce in tight spaces.  Besides, what about adapting to living standing on someone’s shoulders (or being stood upon)?  We could double the bleaker’s so-called space limitation.

New Housing With Uncertain Water Supplies

New Housing With Uncertain Water Supplies

Despite the uncertainties, the effort of Paul C. West his coauthors should encourage renewed efforts by developers who might have felt a tingle of concern that growth and profits could slow.  Their new slogan might become:  “Don’t say slow, science says grow.” ;-).