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Amusing Monday: Climate and strange politics

June 18th, 2012 by cdunagan

The North Carolina Legislature is taking action to address climate change. But a bill passed last week has generated humor and ridicule, including a segment by Stephen Colbert on “The Colbert Report.”

As Colbert describes it, the bill would address the coming crisis predicted by climate models by “outlawing the climate models.” The bill, which has since passed the Senate, abandons the idea of using actual predictions of sea level rise in the effort to protect homes from flooding.

The North Carolina Legislature seems to be saying that it is too inconvenient to believe that sea level may rise up to three feet, so we’ll just set the maximum at 8 inches.

Colbert loves this approach:

“This is a brilliant solution. If your science gives you a result you don’t like, pass a law saying that the result is illegal. Problem solved.

“I think we should start applying this method to even more things that we don’t want to happen. For example, I don’t want to die…. If we consider only historical data, I have been alive my entire life. Therefore, I always will be. And if you extrapolate my life from the critical period of age 8 to 18, I will grow to be over 20 feet tall. So I say, bravo, North Carolina.”

Straight-news reporter John Murawski describes the actual effects of the bill in the Winston-Salem Journal:

“The practical result of the legislation would be that for the purposes of coastal development, local governments could only assume that the sea level will rise 8 inches by 2100, as opposed to the 39 inches predicted by a science panel….

“The legislation gives the state Coastal Resources Commission sole responsibility for predicting the rate of sea-level rise to be used as a basis for state and local regulations. The commission’s 15 members are appointed by the governor.

“But the legislation also defines how the Coastal Resources Commission is to decide sea-level rates. Specifically, the law says forecasts can be based on historical data only and can’t take into account non-historical factors. The key factor that’s disqualified is the belief that greenhouse gases are causing climate change and speeding up glacier melts.”

Scott Huler, a blogger with Scientific American, says the legislation is “exactly like saying, do not predict tomorrow’s weather based on radar images of a hurricane swirling offshore, moving west towards us with 60-mph winds and ten inches of rain. Predict the weather based on the last two weeks of fair weather with gentle breezes towards the east.”

Huler says he wants North Carolina to pass a law declaring him a billionaire and winner of the Pulitzer Prize with the good looks of George Clooney. He continues:

“You think I’m kidding, but listen to me: I’m from North Carolina, and that’s how we roll. We take what we want to be reality, and we just make it law. So I’m having my state senator introduce legislation writing into law all the stuff I mentioned above. This is North Carolina, state motto: ‘Because that’s how I WANT it to be.’”

Michael Yudell of the Philadephia Inquirer says maybe the NC Legislature was inspired by Superman’s Nemesis Lex Luther, who bought up thousands of acres of land east of the San Andreas fault. Luther’s goal was to trigger an earthquake to submerge coastal cities and leave him with valuable waterfront property.

“Granted,” Yudell writes, “it may take 100 or more years for their own diabolical plan to pay off, but if ice sheets keep falling into the ocean, sea levels may rise faster than predicted just a few years back… In other words, to hell with the science. Let’s have an underwater beach party!”

With these moves, the North Carolina Legislature has formally moved into the camp of those who cannot accept what climatologists are telling them.

Among those who write about climate change, there’s an ongoing debate about what to call these folks. Are they climate skeptics? Climate denialists? Climate contrarians? Climate agnostics? Check out Leo Hickman of “The Guardian” for a discussion about these names.

It probably isn’t fair to lump everyone together. The one thing these folks have in common is swimming upstream against mainstream climatology. But their views are varied, and their members include:

  • those who flat-out deny that our climate is changing,
  • those who believe that our climate is changing but don’t believe humans are to blame,
  • those who believe that climate is changing and humans are to blame, but it’s too late and too expensive to do anything about it, and
  • those who believe that all mainstream scientists are liars, so we should believe only the fringe scientists.

To end on a serious note, our society must find better ways of reaching agreement on actions to address climate change. People are not turning away from the findings of climatologists because they are ignorant or fail to understand the methods of science. Rather it is more of a problem of group thinking, as described by a study reported in Nature magazine. You can read the report, but here’s the final conclusion:

“As citizens understandably tend to conform their beliefs about societal risk to beliefs that predominate among their peers, communicators should endeavor to create a deliberative climate in which accepting the best available science does not threaten any group’s values. Effective strategies include use of culturally diverse communicators, whose affinity with different communities enhances their credibility, and information-framing techniques that invest policy solutions with resonances congenial to diverse groups.”

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2 Responses to “Amusing Monday: Climate and strange politics”

  1. Cameron Says:

    This article I link to below looks at some of the psychological reasons people deny science even when the evidence is overwhelming. It’s part of a larger book by the same author, which is fascinating.

    http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2011/03/denial-science-chris-mooney

  2. cdunagan Says:

    On the serious side of the North Carolina climate story, Rob Young, a coastal geologist who serves as a science adviser to the North Carolina Coastal Resources Commission, provides his perspective in Yale Environment 360.

    Meanwhile, the North Carolina House has rejected the controversial bill passed by the Senate, and a conference committee is seeking middle ground. See story by AP writer Allen Reed in Myrtle Beach Online.

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"In the end, we will conserve only what we love, we will love only what we understand, and we will understand only what we are taught."Baba Dioum, Senegalese conservationist

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