aims to connect journalists to real climate scientists, on deadline


We have assembled a group of leading scientists to improve communication on the issue of climate change. Our group is committed to providing rapid, high-quality information to media and government. Our members have expertise in virtually all areas of climate science and they are available to share their current understanding. Questions and requests can be submitted below.

Sounds great to me, but I was curious as to who was behind the project, and who these “scientists” I might talk to actually are. I submitted this query with their form, and got the following email back 20 minutes later. (Dr. Weymann kindly gave me permission to publish it; the added links are mine)

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We Can’t Learn About Economics


Despite spending the last several days reading up on Treasury Secretary Geithner’s plan to buy bad bank assests, I now feel only marginally better prepared to judge whether this is a good idea or not. Of course, no one is asking me, but I still think it’s a big problem that I can’t evaluate this plan, because the fact that we live in a democracy means that citizens need to be able to understand what their government is doing. 

Now, I am no economist and I have no idea how to run a bank — much less all the banks. However, I am smart, interested, and I’ve done my homework, including previously reading a first year economics textbook (covering both micro- and macro-economics) and several other interesting books (1,2,3) on how markets work or don’t. In short I have been the model of a concerned citizen, and I still have no idea what is going on. This is partially because the situation is very complex, but it is also because there is no way a private citizen can get access to the data that would clarify matters — large banks will barely share their balance sheets with the government, much less me.

This is a problem. It means that the government, financial, and academic communities have not paid nearly enough attention both to basic economics education, and to transparency in real-world business. It is therefore impossible for anyone else to check their assumptions and restrain their huge power. Lest this sounds like unhelpful complaining, I promise to make a concrete suggestion for improvement by the end of this post.

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Fight Global Warming on Your Desktop


Or at least help us to understand it. is a large-scale scientific computing experiment, relying on individual computer users who donate their computer time for the simulation of tens of thousands of global warming scenarios. This is important because, lacking other Earths to experiment with, computer simulations are really the only way we can validate our existing models of climate change — and then predict the future with models we think are accurate.

The project comprises three separate experiments – one to explore the model we are using, the second to see how well the models replicate past climate and the third to finally produce a forecast for 21st century climate. Each model that we distribute will be used for all three experiments.

Built upon the BOINC scientific computing framework oriignally developed for the groundbreaking SETI@Home project, relies upon hundreds of thousands of volunteer users who donate their spare computer time. All of these machines together are effectively one of the largest supercomputers in the world, and this allows previously impossible scientific studies. The scientific team can run not just one or a few climate prediction simulations, but hundreds of thousands. One study performed this way was the Seasonal Attribution Experiment:

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Are They Right?

I’ve been reading, because I want to get into their heads, because I want to avoid the classic mistake of intellectual isolation, and because I want to be challenged. Sure, they’re weirdos, but that doesn’t mean they don’t make sense. But there’s at least one thing in the StopTheACLU worldview that I find very hard to method-act: in their universe, global warming is a myth.

Okay, but how did I end up on this side and not that side?

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ABC Refuses to Air Clean Power Ad

I was going to write about something else today, I really was, but this is both annoying and beautifully obvious. Al Gore’s We Campaign, which I have written of before, attempted to purchase an ad spot on ABC immediately after last night’s presidential debate. According to WeCanSolveIt.Org, ABC refused to air the following ad:

Why? Probably because it includes the narration,

So why are we still stuck with dirty and expensive energy?
Because big oil spends hundreds of millions of dollars to block clean energy.

Instead, ABC aired Chevron commercials during the debate.

Sort of speaks for itself, doesn’t it? Call it confirmation bias, but I take this as a bad sign for the enviroment.

Are we completely powerless here? Probably not. One could take a moment to digg the story, and perhaps also to add your name to the letter that the We Campaign is sending to ABC. They’re hoping to get 100,000 signatures, which seems a very reasonable number. I wonder if they’re going to print them all out and hand deliver that stack of paper… and then smack someone with it. Sadly, this would probably not help them in their actual goal, which is to get the ad aired during next debate.

This may be difficult, because Chevron no doubt has an even bigger stack of paper.

Are We Buying This?

Are you buying this?

Water shipped from Fiji is being advertised as environmentally friendly. Wow.

One sustainability blogger estimates that the total amount of water used to produce and deliver a single one liter bottle of imported water is 6.74 liters, and 250 grams of greenhouse gases are released.

The company claims that it intends to become carbon neutral, but not actually: they’re buying carbon offsets, which don’t actually reduce the quantity of greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere (This is because there is no international framework to incrementally reduce the total number of credits available.)

There’s really no way around the fact that shipping water across the ocean in small plastic bottles is just a much dumber idea than getting it locally through pipes.

I mean, c’mon people.

Biodiesel Hottie

This morning I saw a circus training hottie wearing a tight black T-shirt with BIODIESEL written on it in silver bling sequins. This, I thought, is how you combat global warming.

Several friends have written to me about my piece on Gore’s Sustainable Electricity Challenge, trying to answer the question of how you make climate change mitigation sexy. One person argued that it’s all about associations. When people think of oil they need to think of black goo, the agony of war, evildoers and open sores. When they think of sustainability they should imagine pretty young people, green trees, crystal waterfalls and shining futures. This idea of associations is at the core of classic marketing and public relations techniques. Hence, the Biodiesel Hottie.

I mentioned this to a friend and he instantly translated the central meaning: “preventing the collapse of civilization gives me a boner!”

Well, yes. That is sort of what a hot body in biodiesel bling says. From this ridiculousness he argued that real social change had to include deep education at the primary and secondary school level. I agree completely — but we still need marketing, because, near as I can tell, people don’t actually base the vast majority of their opinions on critical thinking. This should not be shocking.

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Gore Sets Grand Goal of Growing Up

Gore wants to put a man on the moon in ten years, or something even harder, and he wants to do it without the help of the military, the oil companies, or the long shadow of the USSR. This is a grand goal with no grand moments, no televised spectacles. In a speech yesterday he said,

Today I challenge our nation to commit to producing 100 percent of our electricity from renewable energy and truly clean carbon-free sources within 10 years.

This is going to be hard. Not because of the massive amounts of new technology and infrastructure required — though that will be hard too — but because preventing catastrophic climate change is not sexy. There will be no crowning achievement. There will not be any small steps for a man, only a completely invisible giant leap for mankind. We are not in a race against an evil superpower with bigger rockets. Sustainable electricity makes terrible television.

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