Showing posts with label michael-mann. Show all posts
Showing posts with label michael-mann. Show all posts

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Hug the monster

“Hug the monster” is a metaphor taught by U.S. Air Force trainers to those headed into harm’s way. It's a technique that helps individuals act constructively in terrifying situations by channelling their fear into action. Without a technique like this, fear can be paralysing.

Bill Blakemore on Nature's Edge, an American ABC News blog, uses the metaphor to observe that in recent years scientists and media have held back from talking about the dire consequences of unmitigated climate change. Perhaps the denier tactic of labelling honest discussion as 'alarmist' was a factor, and perhaps there was some concern about public levels of anxiety or panic.

To avoid the unpleasant, scary bits, the strategy has been to focus on the upside of mitigation and adaptation strategies, also call bright-siding. In this approach (there's an example here) the focus is on clean energy jobs, greater efficiency, and fuel security. 

Michael Tobis sketched this schematic in 2010 to illustrate the discrepancy between informed opinion and public discourse.

Schematic by Michael Tobis

Blakemore observes that the avoidance phase seems to be coming to an end with a turn towards more realistic discussion.
Established scientists, community and government leaders and journalists, as they describe the disruptions, suffering and destruction that manmade global warming is already producing, with far worse in the offing if humanity doesn’t somehow control it, are starting to allow themselves publicly to use terms like “calamity,” “catastrophe”, and “risk to the collective civilization.”
Of course, climate scientists have been 'hugging the monster' for the decades they have been working to collect the  evidence. Over time, they have come to recognise the catastrophic consequences of BAU climate change. Recently, their sense of urgency has increased and scientists like James Hansen and Jason Box have become activists, getting arrested in protests against fossil fuel mining.

I couldn't maintain my self-respect if I didn't go. This isn't about me, this is about the future. Just voting doesn't seem to be enough in this case. I need to be a citizen also, because this is a democracy after all, isn't it?
Jason Box, climatologist at Ohio State University, in the Guardian

Michael Mann's book about the The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars reveals the tactics that have constrained public discussion and public policy.

David Spratt observes that bright-siding is a tactical mistake because it leaves out the most compelling reasons for action. Why bother with solar power at all if you aren't aware of the dire consequences of business as usual fossil fuel burning?

He notes that all great behavioural change campaigns have two elements, first they point to the downside of current behaviour and then they recommend a feasible behaviour change.
  • Road accidents cause injury, seat belts save lives, buckle up!
  • Smoking causes cancer, take up <this remedy> to stop smoking.
  • Drunk driving causes car accidents, have a designated driver.

Now that the tactics of the denier camp are becoming more visible, thanks to books like The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars and Heartland's own-goal with unsavoury billboards, we can look forward to more forthright talk about the consequences of climate change.

We'll need to fortify ourselves to be able to look realistically at what lies ahead. There are monsters to hug.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Serengeti Strategy

Lions hunting on the Serengeti stand at the edge of a herd and pick out a single individual, then they hunt as a group to separate the individual and bring it down.

In his book, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars, Michael E. Mann says that climate change deniers use the same tactic. There are thousands of climate scientists working in a range of fields including meteorology, atmospheric physics, oceanography, geobiology, cryospherics, paleoclimate, geology, etc, etc. It's impossible to attack the whole herd, there are too many of them and they are too strong. So deniers have focused on a handful of scientists and thrown everything at them.

Michael Mann and James Hansen are two prominent climate scientists who have been targeted by climate change deniers in attacks ranging from political enquiries and media scorn through to death threats to their families.

Luckily for us, they don't take it lying down. They continue to conduct research and communicate their findings. Fortunately, the wider science community is beginning to recognise the Serengeti Strategy and it is gathering forces to protect individual scientists who are singled out by the denier camp.  Two of these initiatives are the Climate Science Legal Defense Fund and the Climate Science Rapid Response Team.

The Climate Science Legal Defense Fund helps cover the legal costs incurred in defending mischievous legal attacks.

The Climate Science Rapid Response Team locates relevant climate science specialists to answer questions or give informed interviews. This initiative puts journalists, politicians and citizens in touch with hundreds of credible scientists who know their stuff and can give timely responses.

The Serengeti Strategy doesn't work when it is recognised for what it is and when the herd acts decisively to protect those who are singled out for attack.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Into combat!

Click to enlarge. Source: Brian McFadden in NYT

The differences between those who accept the mainstream science on climate change versus those who don't is most often characterised as a battle or war.

Michael Mann's latest book, The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Despatches from the Front Lines gives a clear outline of the opposition he has met. The force of opposition, the dirty tricks and personal attacks certainly fit the metaphor of war.

A 2010 editorial in Nature famously acknowledged the 'no holds barred' nature of the attacks on scientists.
The integrity of climate research has taken a very public battering in recent months. Scientists must now emphasize the science, while acknowledging that they are in a street fight.
Both sides attack and defend as though their lives depended on it. And of course, they do.

The difference is that one side thinks everyone's life depends on it, while the other side seems to be looking after itself at the expense of others.