Do great things

One of the things I admire about former president Obama is his ability to speak diplomatically and thoughtfully.  In his first post presidency speech a few weeks ago at the University of Chicago, he gave some advice to the young crowd and one statement in particular struck me.  He said “Worry less about what you want to be, and worry more about what you want to do”.  I think this is an interesting distinction to think about.  In society we often ask kids what they want to be when they grow up and we often hear firefighter, athlete, doctor, president, etc.  Imagine the child who says ‘I want to be a police officer’ having the self awareness and change in mindset to be able to say I want to make critical decisions, hold people accountable, and provides important services to others.  Or imagine the child who wants to be a professional athlete being able to say ‘I want to compete physically on a team that has a strong sense of comradery’. Thinking about what you want to do broadens the opportunities for success.

When I reflect on myself, it is easy to categorize myself as being an environmentalist but the reality is that what I want to do is to help ensure the sustainability of the planet for future generations and focusing on the “do” should help me maintain a more positive mental attitude (PMA as my dad refers to it).  The former president closed out the speech with “do great things” and that is a good reminder for us all. Regardless of the complications that might creep in to any situation, if you do great things with the opportunities you might not always be what you wanted to be, but you will be who you wanted to be.

Questioning Gods will

There are many things in life that we can attribute as “Gods will”. Often it is during a time of tragedy or loss where something profound happens that seems too choreographed to just be a coincidence. While I am certain I could find a recent example based in reality of this, my first thought on this subject is about one of my favorite movies; Signs. <Spoiler Alert> In the 2002 suspenseful movie, the Hess family finds crop circles on their farm and the story evolves from there. One of the core subplots is how Reverend Graham Hess’ (Mel Gibson) wife tragically dies as the result of a driver falling asleep at the wheel. That driver (played by writer and director M. Night Shyamalan who appears in all of his films like Hitchcock) talks about the tragedy and how “it was like it was meant to be” based on exactly when he fell asleep and exactly where she was walking. As the film unfolds, it becomes perfectly clear that the death of the reverends wife was Gods will and restores the reverends faith.

In my opinion having faith and believing in a higher power is a good thing. Where things often get tricky is when we hand over or excuse behavior and circumstances and say it must have been Gods will. Certainly there are constraints based on where and when you were born, but most people seem to be accepting of recognizing that they control their own choices and destiny. For example, if I eat tons of processed foods and never exercise it would be challenging for me to convince most people that being overweight was God’s plan for me. If I never change my furnace filter and my kids develop asthma, it is logical that I would need to take accountability as opposed to attributing a higher power.

When it comes to discussing man’s impact on the climate, God is often referred to as the ultimate keeper of the earth. The current chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, James M. Inhofe, is a very vocal opponent of the idea of man having any role in our changing climate. Inhofe has his own book on the subject, has given countless floor speeches, and the core of his argument can be summed up by one of his statements , “God’s still up there and the arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.” The notion that man cannot change the climate and only God has the power to do so is an interesting stance and one that is refuted by nearly every organized religion.

The core problem with the argument is that it removes accountability from mankind for caring for the earth. There are numerous ways to defeat this argument. One is to take a walk through history and look at the ozone hole problems. In the mid 1970’s there was widespread concern about the depletion of the ozone layer, the concerns were based in scientific fact that had proven that the use of manmade halogen atoms (halocarbon refrigerants, solvents, propellants, and foam-blowing agents) were destroying the ozone layer. It was and is also well understood that the ozone layer is what protects us from ultraviolet-B radiation and increases would lead to more widespread skin cancer and other health complications. Until 1987, there was strong opposition by the halocarbon industry to regulatory changes and the politicians they funded followed suit. After the discovery of the hole in the ozone and an EPA leadership change, the U.S. government’s attitude began to shift as well and in 1987 forty three nations signed the Montreal Protocol which phased out the use of most destructive halocarbons. So, in that example, we had a manmade substance which was known to cause destruction put a hole in the ozone layer which is still on the mend today. What if we had just argued that the use of halocarbons was our god given right and if the ozone layer goes away, it must be god’s doing?

I am on board with Inhofe talking about the death of his son in a plane crash while he was taking his first solo flight in 2013 being God’s will. But to throw our hands up in the air and pass accountability on to a higher power regarding the destruction of our climate is a disingenuous cop out. And when that person is the top recipient of funding from the oil industry, very little that they say should be taken seriously.

Pope Culture

Pope Francis has been making numerous headlines in recent months by revealing a new approach and attitude on key issues like creationism, women’s role in the catholic church, the bible, homosexuality, and divorce. His recent selection of 20 new cardinals from very diverse backgrounds signals a very strong out with the old and in with the new mentality which seems to be at the core of his mindset. Stating that “God is not afraid of new things” and going on to speak about the Catholic church’s changing views on these topics has disappointed some conservative traditionalists, but appears to be effectively starting the process of navigating the Catholic church in to a more modern era.

Most recently, Pope Francis stated that he would be releasing an encyclical (Catholic doctrine letter) on climate change and human ecology. Indications are that this encyclical, which will make its way to all Catholic bishops, priests, and eventually parishioners, will urge action on climate change and preserving the earth. During the Peru climate change conference Pope Francis had stated that the time to find global solutions is running out. While it remains to be seen what exactly the doctrine says, it is refreshing to see someone with influence of over 1.2 billion people publicly bringing forward modern views on numerous important topics.

Shoulders: by spoken word artist Shane Koyczan

<Warning: F bomb spoken and viewable at ~1:28>

I had first heard of Shane Koyczan by watching TED and hearing his great poetry about bullying. Going to his YouTube channel and checking out To This Day is worth a visit on the topic of bullying. Shane’s latest video, titled Shoulders is equally as good in my opinion and well worth a 7 minutes investment of time. In addition, anyone who is supporting an organization called BlueDot, must be okay. Good for the Canadians for jumping in on the BlueDot movement :).

An unfortunate trip to the Opinion Page

Yesterday I ran across an article titled Leo vs. science: vanishing evidence for climate change and curiosity got the best of me and I clicked on it.  Besides acting in some pretty good movies, Leonardo DiCaprio has long been a strong advocate of the movement to educate the people on the realities of climate change, by creating and narrating climate change films and in general being consciously outspoken on the topic.  His latest effort is a series of short films being coordinated with Green World Rising with the first episode titled Carbon which is under 9 minutes long and worth a view.

The overall tone of the ‘vanishing evidence of climate change’ article attacks DiCaprio for not being a scientist and asserts that he is spreading misinformation like a virus.  The article goes on to make several bold statements about how there is no evidence that carbon dioxide from human activities is responsible, how global warming ceased in the late 1990’s, and among other things how the ice caps are not melting.

All of these statements are 100% false and can be easily countered by a quick query of any reputable science organization, which made me wonder how this article came to be.  I was then mildly relieved to see that this article was on the Opinion page of the NY Post, though I think it would be a better fit at The Onion.  A quick search found other, nearly identical, articles authored by the same two people on other sites in recent weeks and made me wonder; who are the two presumed scientists who authored this article and what peer reviewed climate science research studies have they published?

Tom Harris signs the article stating he is the executive director of the Ottawa-based International Climate Science Coalition (ICSC).  Further research shows that he was a mechanical engineer for 30 years and in 2006 became the operations director for a lobbying firm who actively opposed the notion of man-made global warming and moved on from there to ICSC.  The ICSC is funded in part by the Heartland Institute.  You might recall Heartland worked feverishly in the 1990’s to question the science behind cigarettes and cancer and now devotes the majority of their time and funding they receive from the fossil fuel industry pushing climate change skepticism.

Co-author Bob Carter signs the article as a former professor and head of the School of Earth Sciences at James Cook University in Australia.  Further research reveals Bob is a paleontologist and is also funded by the Heartland Institute.  In fact, documents that went public in 2012 revealed that Carter was paid a monthly fee of $1,667 USD “as part of a program to pay ‘high-profile individuals who regularly and publicly counter the alarmist [anthropogenic global warming] message’.”

The notion of being funded by Heartland; an institute whose primary donations come from Exxon, The Koch Brothers, the American Petroleum Institute and more, should be enough to logically conclude that any impartiality of opinion is negated.  Most humans, regardless of their occupation, have biased views towards the company that provides their paycheck.  Tom and Bob are currently making their living by being professional deniers, not as being true scientists who do scientific research and create publications that are subject to peer review.  Sadly, when newspapers and websites pick up these Opinion entries and publish them, they do damage and create doubt and confusion for those that are not educated on the issue.

Finally, most have heard the argument how ~97% of climate scientists agree that climate change is happening and is being caused by humans.  The analogy often follows how if you had a loved one that had heart issues and went and asked 100 doctors what they thought and 97 of them were cardiac surgeons and said ‘yes, this is a real issue and you should change your diet, exercise more, take this medicine, and have regular checkups’ that is what you would make sure your loved one did.  As opposed to taking the advice of the podiatrist, neurosurgeon, and orthopedic dentist who just weren’t quite sure.  However, that analogy does not quite represent what is actually happening today.  In today’s world, the 3 “doctors” who oppose your loved one taking better care of their health, are getting funded on the side by an organization whose primary revenue stream is providing cadavers for research.

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Mythbusters

SkepticsvRealists

In this first installment to discuss climate change I am going to cover the current myths that climate skeptics frequently use to cast doubt and ensure that society sticks with the status quo.  Doubt is the primary strategy and historically has been an effective means of creating confusion and slowing progress.  The Marshall Institute and others effectively created a false public perception of scientific uncertainty over the negative effects of second hand smoke, tobacco smoking, the existence of acid rain, the connection between CFC’s and ozone depletion, as well as climate change.  Perhaps the most memorable was in the 1960’s when actors would be dressed up as doctors to say that cigarette smoking was safe and posed no danger.  The doubt campaign was effective with tobacco for decades and has been with climate change as well.  The primary current denier myths are as follows:

  1. It’s not happening – This is becoming an increasingly difficult argument for climate change deniers to use but many still maintain that the planet is not warming despite the overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  If you limit the scope of the data being reviewed it is possible to show evidence of cooling as the included animated gif  shows, however if you look at the full data set, warming is definitive.  Over 97% of expert climate scientists agree that climate change is happening and that humans are largely to blame.  In response to this and the 2007 report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), climate deniers resurrected the Oregon Petition where they collected over 31,000 “scientific” signatures urging the US government to reject global warming based on a lack of any scientific merit.  It turns out that the requirement to be considered an expert on climatology was a bachelor of science degree regardless of field of expertise.   Less than 1% of the individuals had a background in climatology and only .5% had a background in climate change science.  The fifth IPCC report is due out this fall and will reinforce what is already scientifically certain.  In addition, July 2013 was the 341st consecutive month with a global temperature above the 20th century average.
  2. It’s Natural –  First, the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has increased about 40 percent since humans started using dirty energy. Second, the carbon from dirty energy has a unique chemical signature that differentiates it from other sources of carbon so we can confirm that it’s coming from us. Third, we know it is not natural forces like the sun that are responsible for the recent increase in global temperatures because while the lower level of the atmosphere is warming, the middle layer is cooling. If the sun were responsible for most of the recent temperature change on Earth, both layers of the atmosphere would be warming. The earth does have natural variations of its axial tilt, orbit, and more which work on known cycles that take tens of thousands of years to complete.  When these natural cycles come together it results in warming as well as ice ages.  We are not in one of those cycles that could be responsible for the warming we are experiencing.  In addition, in the past 800,000 years we have never been higher than 300ppm co2 and we are now at 400.  The link between co2 and warming is undeniable and rather than showing ice core charts and all kinds of other items, let’s let Bill Nye show us a simple experiment.
  3. It’s not bad, more co2 is actually good – This might be my personal favorite, in part because Michelle Bachmann went on at length on the house floor about how carbon dioxide is natural and makes up only 3% of the atmosphere.  Actually it is .03%, Michelle was only off by a factor of 100.  Plant food is one way co2 is described.  While true that plants use co2 in photosynthesis, there is certainly no merit in the argument that we should continue to add to the atmosphere and this myth warrants little rebuttal based on the known link between co2 and warming.
  4. It’s too hard – The argument that the problem is too big to tackle or that it would ruin our economy garners a lot of momentum.  To state that the problem is complicated and will require some sacrifice is a gross understatement.  At a recent shareholder meeting Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson asked “What good is it to save the planet if humanity suffers?”  Here in lies the fictitious conundrum.  Perhaps ensuring humanity has a habitable planet to live on should be a sufficient enough answer.  Often in life the hardest things to do are the most rewarding and create the best life experiences.  Whether or not moving away from fossil fuels and coal is hard or not is irrelevant, there is no other option.  The financial and human costs of inactivity far outweigh any costs of taking action.  There is no single technology that is going to save us, we will require a portfolio approach as we innovate.  Sadly the US is lagging behind other countries in taking what is likely the single most important step in moving forward, but more to follow on that in a future entry.