Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Scott Denning Writes About His Heartland Experience

Scott Denning, Colorado State UniversityScott Denning from Colorado State University -- whose talk at last year's Heartland Conference I mentioned a few weeks ago -- recently wrote an essay on his experience.
"Refusing to engage dismissive voices on climate change may feel like taking the high road, but I suspect it’s the high road to ruin. Ignoring climate contrarians has not made them go away. In fact, their message has resonated with an increasing slice of public opinion for several years. Tony Leiserowitz (Yale University) and colleagues survey public opinion on climate change and find persistent and growing segments of the American public that are doubtful or dismissive about the human role in climate change. It seems to me that strong and persuasive engagement of that audience by more bona fide experts articulating the scientific consensus is essential."
He goes on to suggest how to meaningfully engage contrarians. One good point is this:
At ICCC I proposed that we could all agree that “we need public policy based on facts, rather than facts based on a political agenda,” and received thunderous applause. Rather than start with time-series graphs that all turn up sharply at the end, I started with a question: “Did you ever wonder why it’s warmer during the day than at night? Warmer in summer than winter? Warmer in Miami than Minneapolis?” The answer is that when more heat is added to the Earth’s surface than subtracted, temperatures rise. If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes. But if you don’t like the climate, you’ll have to move. Climate changes very slowly and is very predictable. We can predict that the world will warm in the 21st century for precisely the same reason that we can predict that Miami is warmer than Minneapolis, and with the same kind of confidence.
Denning points out that the basic science behind climate change is easily understandable, which is perhaps why there seems to be a new group of contrarians like Roger "Tallbloke" Tattersal who are devoted not to arguing the details of the science, but creating at alternative scientific reality: that there is no greenhouse effect, no real decline in Arctic sea ice, or today, that the increase of CO2 in the atmosphere is from natural sources, not manmade. (Nor, of course, is he alone in such crackpottery.)

Denning ends with the conclusion some others are reaching: the only solution to the climate problem is the development of new energy technologies that do not emit carbon:
"I believe what’s needed is a new system of energy and economics that delivers a decent standard of living to billions and billions of people but doesn’t require semi-permanent alteration of the Earth’s climate through fossil fuel combustion. The world will need a way to produce vastly more energy than we do now to support those billions. And with double-digit rates of annual economic growth in the developing world, this new system of post-fossil energy will need to be in place sooner than later....

"Solving this challenge will require everyone’s ingenuity. As Ralph Cicerone, president of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, has said, “Scientists are necessary but not sufficient to solve the climate problem.” Scientists have a role to play in understanding and communicating about this problem, but we have no special status to prescribe solutions."
By the way, I've heard that Denning, who studies the carbon cycle, has a book coming out called The Breathing of the Earth. I expect it will be good.

Added: There's also this recounting of an email "conversation" Denning had with a denier.


Anonymous said...

I was at the conference last year where Denning debated Bast (I think? Perhaps someone else) and it went well. Even if you don't respect Heartland's skepticism (and from reading interviews it seems that Bast is closer to the beliefs of the "deniers" than the Lindzen-esque skeptics) they unfortunately have to pal around with the complete-denier types because these conferences cost money and only the most fervent will pay to attend.

But seeing people in person and having to interact with them for whatever reason, I think, tends to take away the animosity and can do much more to change opinion's then from reading essays online or watching videos. Perhaps because you find out that they aren't (all) evil socialists wanting to destroy your freedom.

Anonymous said...

This claims to be a "science" conference. Yet a Congressman Sensenbrenner turned up to make "Haw Haw" remarks about carbon dioxide (e.g. should we have catalytic converters in our noses?). He received thunderous applause, which leads you to wonder how much science the attendees actually know.