the Lack of Science in the Communication of Climate Processes
9 April 2010) I attended a very interesting lecture by Tim
Searchinger on “the
consequences of bioenergy for greenhouse gas emissions”. Tim is very
concerned that there exists a critical error in how we account for
emissions and asked we spread the word.
It so happens I had been following the debate between Steve Easterbrook and George Monbiot on “climate scientists” this week and so Tim’s lecture dovetailed rather neatly into commentary I was writing.
** I have amended
Steve’s comment a little.
The whole debate
between George and Steve is posted
on George's website.
here on George's website.
(See initial commentary on Walled In below)
Letter to George and Steve 10 April 2010
Hello George and
Steve’s concluding statement:
“We’re f**king this up bigtime, and it’s not
the scientists who are at fault.”
between you omits the central fact – climate experts are human beings
like the rest of us. They may have considerable expertise about climate
processes and this does not necessarily make them any more or less a
scientist than the rest of us.
are still equally capable of incredible self-deceit and denial as the
rest of us. Thus their communication can equally reflect and generate
harmony and dissonance too. The problem is that on balance they
currently generate dissonance. There is a psychological explanation for
this that I will not delve into here.
I have asked the
world’s top climate experts the following sorts of questions and they
consistently responded in confused and non-scientific ways. In other
words they evidence considerable dissonance.
se of “warming” symbol
se of “warming” symbol.
Q You equate
Global Warming with a change of temperature, a rise in temperature i.e.
Q. Then if
warming equals warming up i.e. involves temperature change then how do
you describe the situation when warming equals cooling and there is no
latter response) Why then don’t you talk about changed temperature
instead of Global Warming?
Q What scientific
evidence is there that your use of the “global warming” symbol works
as intended? Is it possible that most people associate it at a primal
level with a healthy, life enabling process?
General comment – Our climate experts tend to destroy the capacity of our young people to understand basic thermodynamics, which is that a continuous thermal interchange occurs and we human beings, for instance, exist for the trace period (c 70-80 years) that our capacity to balance warming and cooling exists. Also they ignore our primal response to symbol uses.
Re use of
“climate change” symbol.
Q. Why do you say
climate change is bad and we must combat it? Might not it be good
Q. Then why
don’t you say that?
– this is a common manifestation of denial of stewardship. The
non-human factor is blamed for the human factor i.e. climate use is
denied. We see this in the common use of the “energy crisis” symbol
rather than the “energy-use crisis” symbol.
Re use of “greenhouse"
Q. Why do you
evoke images of the atmosphere as a greenhouse? What scientific evidence
is there that your use of the “greenhouse” symbol works in
In 2006 when the Frameworks Institute in the USA finally did surveys of
this use of the symbol they concluded it does not work for most people
and recommended the use of the “blanket” symbol instead. They
provided no evidence supporting this use of the “blanket” symbol and
appear to have no cohesive rationale explaining climate communication as
Q. You evoke
images of the atmosphere working like a greenhouse. How do you think
this affects people’s understanding of how to use insulation wisely?
Greenhouse design and use is about the effective suppression of air
convection, as is insulation in general. The atmosphere is characterised
by a powerful capacity for convection and adding thermal energy to it
enhances this capacity. Try making sense of
greenhouse-atmosphere/insulation/climate use to our plumbers,
electricians, builders and those who make the real decisions.
Re non-use of
the “trace gas” symbol
Q.(to NZ’s top
climate expert). You say “If only someone could get across to people
that when we talk about “greenhouse gases we are really talking about
trace gases!!!” Why don’t you talk about trace gases instead of
Q. (Months later)
I followed up your statement about the need to talk about trace gases
and followed its possible impact throughout our education system
compared to the current prevailing Greenhouse Model. I would like to
show Dr Pachauri the work at our planned meeting next week…
Q. I am concerned
that you appear to endorse Carbon Trading and associate it with
stewardship of our carbon potential. My research indicates it’s a
psychological mechanism that actively denies and destroys stewardship.
Could you clarify your position on Carbon Trading please?
Re use of
Q. You speak of
stuff that you call “renewable energy”/”sustainable energy”. Is
not this in denial of the Conservation Principle of Energy, which states
energy cannot be created or destroyed?
Q. You say energy
efficiency is about conserving and using less energy. Surely it is about
using resources so we conserve the balances and flows that sustain
Q. You say energy
is power and you say power is electricity, by which you seem really to
be talking about Bulk-generated electrical products. How can this be?
Sustainability Principle of Energy (or Conservation Principle of
Q. I have
developed a general Principle of Energy, tentatively called the
Sustainability Principle of Energy, which may well enable us to
transcend our ego and communicate climate issues much more effectively.
Are you interested?
These were drawn from a decade of interactions with climate experts.
Wellington is the Capital of New Zealand and Victoria University prides
itself on being a world class “Climate
Change Research Centre”. Thus I have considerable
opportunities to attend the lectures of prominent climate experts and
analyse their content. I have concluded their communication lacks
science and there are simple reasons pertaining to the fallibility of
human beings why this is so. Dissonance and denial will prevail until we
address these reasons.
writing the above about the lack of science of our climate experts I
attended a lecture by Tim
Searchinger here in Wellington yesterday.
His topic: True
Consequences of Bioenergy for Greenhouse Gas Emissions.
Tim made what may
be a profound insight into another major failure of our climate experts.
You can read here
" This is the author's version of the
work. It is posted here by permission of the AAAS for personal use, not
for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Scinece
(Vol. 326, October 23, 2009, DOIA: 10, 1126/Science. 1178797) www.sciencemag.org "
If I have Tim
right, the current accounting system fails us in that while it accounts
for the pollution from chimney stacks and exhaust pipes it fails to
account for the alteration of sustaining carbon balances because of
changed land use. How could such a critical error in accounting occur?
Tim spoke kindly of the UNIPCC when he observed, “Scientists do what
scientists do well, which is science. They don’t tend to think of the
legal ramifications of their proposals. This is left to lawyers. Lawyers
do not know much about climate science and do what lawyers do well –
make laws. Climate scientists should perhaps have communicated the
issues better with the lawyers and vice versa.”
Notes: I may have
paraphrased Tim a bit. He pointed out he is a lawyer and knows the
correction of this accounting error is very urgent. At present the
“bioenergy” industry is relatively small. However large corporations
are levering off the error and are preparing to invest large amounts in
the industry. When those investments are operational it will become very
difficult indeed to correct the error.
Tim suggested New
Zealanders are in a better position than most to point out this
perceived critical accounting error and to suggest how it can be
ameliorated. He asked us to alert as many people as possible to the
perceived error and so I am doing this now.
occurs that there has to be a better way than Tim flying half way around
the planet to tell me this. There is a very great risk his act of flying
becomes his central message and dominates his communication. Indeed I
noted he evoked the “greenhouse” image of climate processes at least
25 times i.e. an average of more than once every two minutes. Similarly
he consistently equated the energy symbol with tradeable commodities as
in “energy production”, an impossible process if one accepts the
Conservation Principle of Energy.
One of Tim’s
prime messages was for us to be prudent. He suggested, in answer to a
question, that biofuels should in the short term be used for heating.
When we have alternative means of heating then long term “bioenergy”
should be used to replace aviation fuel. He seemed unable to imagine a
world without jet travel. He suggested a requisite for this use of
biomass is that we have in place systems to feed everyone first. However
he was perhaps unable to advise us to be prudent and stop flying until
this occurs, having acknowledged over 1 billion people already are
particularly intrigued by Tim’s graph suggesting it takes 30 years for
trees to realise the efficiency of wind, thereafter both having the same
efficiency. In other words fuels from trees can never achieve the same
harmony with the sustaining carbon balances as wind derived resources. I
asked if a similar sort of comparative equation might be done for
education purposes that illustrates the relative carbon impacts of the
use of “biofuels” in cars and mass transit vehicles. It could be
useful for pointing up the relative efficiencies and costs of each mode
My question was
not clear and Tim said he would have to think about it more. I was
asking a complex question in terms of accounting for the impacts of our
activities on our carbon potential. I guess I was fundamentally asking
how far a gallon of “biofuel” takes person in a car compared to
travelling on a mass transit system, assuming the costs of building and
maintaining each vehicle’s system is taken into account. I was then
asking that the longer-term land change costs be added to the
calculations of each mode of travel.
Now I decided not
to fly again several years ago. I could break this decision, get a
passport, jet around the planet and camp outside your doors with a large
placard introducing the Sustainability
Principle of Energy (www.bonusjoules.co.nz),
Tim’s concerns and the fact I have flown 12000 miles to catch your
interest. I like to think we can communicate in more sustaining ways. In
particular I am appealing to the scientist that resides in each of you
or, to put it more truly, I am appealing to the state of science I know
you both enjoy. In this state we know compassion for all, including
climate experts and ourselves with all our shared fallibility.
I will leave you
with a paraphrase of my paraphrase of Tim’s statement:
researchers do what climate researchers do well, which is research the
climate. They don’t tend to think of the communication ramifications
of their utterances. This is left to media people. Media people do not
know much about climate science and do what media people do well –
make headlines. Climate experts should perhaps have communicated the
issues better with the media people and vice versa.”
And perhaps we
can all learn the deeper messages of the great Principles of Energy and
communicate in more sustainable ways.
P.S. I will post
this on the Sustainable
Energy Forum in New Zealand as part of my efforts to promote
Tim’s concerns and to encourage science in the communication of
Commentary on original article "Walled In" by George Monbiot.
Re your article Walled
You are correct
about our dumb, narrow schooling and how so many of us find the current
notion of science incomprehensible. However the situation is far more
chronic than you suggest.
use of the “science” symbol is based on the notion “I think
therefore I am” whereas greater evidence, including that from research
of mirror neurons, supports the notion “I act there I am”. This
suggests we are each stewards amidst the universal flux, whether we like
it or not. We cannot simply hang up the mantle of “scientific
practice”, close the laboratory door and wander around the world as
“non-scientists”. Yet that is what our schools teach us is possible
and what many of our self-styled “scientists” believe.
system is much more unsustainable than this though. Our national
curricula frame science as a parallel activity to language, the arts and
civics – just a way of thinking. The reality is science is a state of
being that enables us to develop language, the arts, civics and all that
we know as civilisation. It is a state of being we are all born into to
some degree even as we are born into a state of “non-science”
(ignorance) too. The ultimate test of the degree of science a person
enjoys is the measure of the sustainability of their use of this
planet’s resources. Our self-styled “scientists” rate very low on
this measure, which is one reason why many people do not trust them.
There is a
greater reason for the distrust of these folk. Despite the destructive
effects of our education system everyone retains large elements of
science, including its vital sensations of inclusiveness, collegiality
Our schools first
remove most of the meaning the “science” symbol – in particular
that pertaining to its profound enabling and moral role in our lives.
They then associate it with a narrow amoral use of knowledge (called
“science”). Those who thrive in this environment and who gain
expertise in some small area of knowledge are defined as being of “the
community of scientists”. When you ask these self-styled
“scientists” what portion of the population are “scientists”
they tell us less than 1% of the population belong to this elite. 99% of
us are “non-scientists”. Such notions are blatantly exclusive and
most people sense something is very wrong with them.
The more a person
enjoys the state of science the less they tend to call his or herself a
“scientist” for they know all people are scientists to some degree.
The tragic thing
is that that while our education system works to destroy the state of
science in people it is also destroying our capacity to develop
language, arts and civics. We are denied the appreciation of the
underlying process that enables them and thus we conclude we cannot
“do” science or arts or learn languages while our sense of
empowerment in civics is impaired.
No doubt you are
aware of the development of the modern use of the “science” symbol.
It conveniently enables the Anglo-American empire and Industrial
Revolution with our massive despoliation of the planet. Sample insight
Some weeks ago I
forwarded you a link to a recent essay I wrote introducing the
Sustainability Principle of Energy. I suspect you would have
written a very different article if you had had time to read and reflect
on it. It is far more profound and radical than it seems on first
reading. For instance it suggest our “climate scientists”
communicate their messages very well indeed but the messages are not
what they think they are. This is perhaps true of the Green Movement in
Yesterday I wrote
a formal submission of the Sustainability Principle of Energy
to the New Zealand Royal Society. I am fascinated to learn their
response. Already I am an inconvenient presence for them. For instance,
I drew the attention of the public to the fact that our Royal Society
endorsed Genesis Energy’s education module. This corporation operates
the largest fossil fuel combustion device in the country and
conveniently its Internet-based interactive model of the plant contained
no chimney or air intake. Also conveniently the lake levels of its
interactive hydro-electrical plant never altered no matter how hard the
children worked the turbine. I have also pointed out that our Royal
Society teaches that energy, power, electricity and Bulk-generated
electrical products are the same thing. They are also heavily involved
in promoting the New Zealand Goverment’s Carbon Trading agency. Our
national statistics revealing some of the highest increases in carbon
emissions per capita in the world tell the real story about our
commitment to making a quick buck off Carbon Trading and the associated
lack of stewardship of our carbon potential.
Two weeks ago I
attended a lecture the NZ Royal Society held in the Wellington Town Hall
to celebrate 350 years of the Society. Martin Lord Rees was the
celebrity speaker. You can read my blog here
I applied the Sustainability
Principle to his address and concluded he is the best advertisement
for car and jet travel since Al Gore’s movie “An Inconvenient
Truth”. If true then this also is very inconvenient for our Royal
Societies. I understand you have forsaken jet travel and this will tend
to open you to all sorts of amazing possibilities, especially the
appreciation of the marvel of our atmosphere and how mineral oil came to
be. I believe it will make the insights of the Sustainability
Principle of Energy more accessible to you too.
Below is my
submission of it to the NZ Royal Society.
I hope it is of
help in your work, George.
The New Zealand Royal Society
C/- Mable Shirley
I would like to
formally introduce you to a proposed new principle of energy and invite
the response of the Royal Society of New Zealand.
Sustainability Principle of Energy
Sustainability Principle of Energy
the 2009 ESSAY
VIDEO - The
Sustainability Principle of Energy
The Principle generated an
of Sustainable Uses of Key Symbols