Mission Accomplished

Blogs like Watts Up With That and JoNova make me crazy with the complete, indisputable inanity of their arguments.  Media disasters like Times Online and The Daily Mail and Fox News make me crazy.  Now even more rational news centers like The Guardian and Der Spiegel are getting it wrong.

The deniers are declaring complete and total and final victory.  One can almost picture them, standing in a line, mugging for a photo-shoot, grinning from ear to ear on the deck of an aircraft carrier, with a huge green banner behind them reading “Mission Accomplished.”  I’ll leave it to the reader to decide if the green stands for ecology or money.

It’s infuriating, because they are so patently, obviously wrong to anyone that takes the time to look, but almost everyone involved, from journalists to scientists outside of climate science to the average Joe, not only doesn’t take the time, they don’t even come close.  There are three types of deniers right now, ♦ the leaders who know how badly they are spinning things, ♥ the sheeple (to use a silly Beckism) that call themselves “skeptics,” who believe everything their leaders say or imply, without question, and ♣ the idiot savants, who work out wildly complex but dangerously wrong versions of science and mathematics on their own, and in their arrogance convince themselves that they’ve found answers that elude people who have achieved doctorates and dedicated their lives specifically to the science of climate.

So today people appear to think (when they think at all) that Phil Jones is suicidal and ruined, and the IPCC bungled their report, and the climate record is entirely contrived and inaccurate, while the planet hasn’t changed temperature one bit and the Arctic ice is recovering.  They’ve all become the lazy grasshopper, while an army of science ants works feverishly to find a way out of this mess, and to understand all of the details behind it.

But as infuriating as this is, it’s possible that Fox News and all of the others are serving a higher purpose.  The fact is that the planet will continue to warm.  By swinging the pendulum so far in one direction, and using every weapon in the denial arsenal to do so, the swing back will be that much stronger and more relevant than if things had gone on without the denial camp’s current “success.”

That is, if public perception of climate change had simply been left to simmer, it would have continued to slowly, languorously heat for a decade.  At the end of that time, people might widen their eyes a tiny bit and say “well, yeah, maybe I should try to drive to the store only four times a week.”  But really, I don’t think people would have been ready to do anything, or to accept substantive changes, and the occasional denier shot across the bow would have helped them to hesitate.  It would have let them say to themselves, “well, I should do something, probably, but look at what Willis just said on WUWT…”

But now, with the denier camps trumpeting victory and greatly overplaying their hands, it will look a little different.  According to them Arctic ice has completely recovered, the globe hasn’t warmed at all in fifteen years, the entire observational climate record is suspect and probably fabricated, and all climate scientists have been exposed to be money grubbing charlatans.  Their heroes are, among others, a bored, irritant ex-mining consultant in Canada, a pompous “Lord” in Britain, and a weather presenter from California.

Except the future is coming…

Five years from now the summer minimum ice extent will have been incrementally reduced, global temperatures as measured by satellite will continue to rise, ice thickness as measured by the GRACE satellite will be reduced, and other macro events similar to those already seen may be evident, or more evident and less deniable.  Each of these tangible, individual events won’t be proof of anything, any more than they are now.  They can’t be tied definitively to climate change.  But they’ll make people think, and give them something other than numbers to envision.

So any “victory” that deniers see now is Pyrrhic, or worse than Pyrrhic.  It’s like the Japanese victory at Pearl Harbor.  Striking, devastating, and seemingly insurmountable, while the reality was that Japan’s fate in the war was virtually a foregone conclusion before the ink was dry on the war plans.

All that Pearl Harbor really did was to stiffen America’s resolve, and get it actively involved in Europe before Germany could overwhelm that continent, thus sealing Hitler’s fate as well.  The fact that America was the greatest industrial power at the time, with access to virtually every physical resource needed within it’s own borders, and protected from its adversaries by the two widest oceans on the planet, made the outcome inevitable.  Japan and Germany both had seriously limited resources, used everything they had to get as far as they did, were surrounded on both sides by multiple enemies, and could do little more than hunker down and hope that the Americans would just grow weary of sacrifice.

Climate change is similar.  It’s going to keep getting warmer.  The physics isn’t going to suddenly read Anthony’s blog and say “whoa, this can’t be right, what was I thinking?”  At the same time, oil production is going to peak.  The decline after the peak is unlikely to be as civilization crushing as “those other alarmists” are pronouncing, but it will affect prices and events, and John and Jane Public will feel it directly.  Combined with irrefutable, mounting evidence that the world is warming, people are going to take a second look, and a third.

And when people look, they’ll realize they’ve been had… by a ridiculous science “journalist” from Australia, and a weatherman turned blogger, and an amateur scientist with ties to the coal industry… and the cast of characters goes on and on getting only more bizarre.   The media will run their next big story, “How Did They Fool Us?”, except that it should be titled “How Did We Get It So Wrong?”

The deniers won’t give up, of course.  They’ll try NASAgate, and the Rural Heat Island effect, and “but look, this year is colder than last year, the globe is cooling.”  They’ll try it all again, but people have been there once.  They can’t fall for the same tired tricks forever.

Then someone can take down the big green banner that says “Mission Accomplished,” and humanity can get to work on figuring out how to manage energy and life without burning every ounce of fossil fuel that hundreds of millions of years could bury deep within the earth, and without following an ever accelerating downward spiral of mindless and ultimately unsatisfying consumption, in the name of continuously advancing and worshiping the modern God, The Economy.

The Desert of Liberty

Advertisements

The War on Journalism

For as long as I can remember, there has been a War on [Popular Social Cause Here]. It started with Lyndon B. Johnson’s The War on Poverty in 1964, and has been adopted over and over again to add extra weight to anything… The War on Drugs, The War on Crime, The War on Anything. Eventually, it was even warped (like playing the Hitler card) so that in our modern times we even get warned about The War on Christmas.

The idea is simple, really.  War is the ultimate, unrestrained effort.  There are rules, but in war everyone knows that if you play by the rules, you lose, and with things this important, you can’t afford to lose.  So that’s what it really means, to have a War on Terror or a War on Bad Hygiene.  It means you’re going to cheat (except in this case it’s called “strategy,” not “cheating”).  It means you’re going to win, at any cost, because the cost of losing outweighs all else.

Sadly, I’ve become aware of two covert wars being waged, without being named, and seemingly without anyone really even realizing they were going on.  They haven’t been publicized.  They don’t have catchy names and slogans.  The effort is clandestine.

The first is The War on Journalism. Journalism died somewhere along the roadside. It was never all that healthy to begin with (see “yellow journalism”, and how far back that goes). But it seemed to get pretty darn good in the 70s (see the original, true “Gate” — Watergate and Bob Woodward). Journalists had a higher purpose, and did something valuable beyond making money. They were heroes, or could be.

But somewhere it all went astray. There was the obnoxious reporter in “Die Hard” that would do anything to get a great story, even if it risked the lives of the hostages. When he gets punched out by Bruce Willis’ wife at the end, everyone grins. It was almost as good as seeing the terrorist fall to his death. Remember? That was when people started to hate journalists. That was when being a journalist became a dirty thing, instead of a heroic, admirable thing.

That became the stereotype of a reporter. But it wasn’t just reporters. The organizations behind them took up the banner — get the story, the interesting story, to attract readers and get advertisers and get money. They started to compete to see who could be more outrageous, and find a niche that would eat up whatever they were told.

Then it wasn’t just get the story, it became make the story (see Jonathan Leake, and David Rose).

Then bloggers came, with no training, and no reason to be ethical. Not that there aren’t lots of ethical bloggers, but like the main stream media news organizations, the unethical, hysterical bloggers attract more readers. They’re the ones you hear about. That’s where the excitement is.

So here we are. Journalism lies dead and buried. We need it to inform us, to bind us together, to rescue us from all of this disinformation… and it’s gone. Instead we have pundits that gleefully say whatever makes them seem smart and important to their ignorant fans.

[ As an aside, knowing now how badly climate science is being misunderstood, misrepresented, and brutalized… what else don’t we know about that is really going on in the world? Do you now trust a single word that you read anywhere? ]

The other war, the other silent war… is The War On Science. The tobacco companies started it in the sixties. They couldn’t win, but they “fought the good fight”, and learned a lot of tricks, and made it last far longer than it should have. But what we didn’t notice along the way was how very poor the average man’s education is in science, and that they have been taught along the way how “unsure” scientists are.

People, or at least most people, don’t understand science, and they don’t trust it. They don’t trust science, or scientists. Once, NASA was the coolest thing anyone could imagine. I grew up thinking that NASA was the future of everything.

Now, people can’t wait to dump on NASA as a bloated bureaucracy that couldn’t possibly have ever put men on the moon (that was a hoax, right?).

I actually think a lot of people instinctively don’t trust scientists. People don’t trust other people who are smarter than they are. People don’t trust people that use fancy mathematics and complex, foreign sounding words they don’t understand.

It’s like magic. People don’t trust warlocks. They burned witches.  They’ll put up with the village witch doctor because if they don’t the rains might not come and the crops will die, but they really all rather (quietly) wish that he’d just leave the village. He makes everyone uncomfortable.

That’s really how people feel about doctors and dentists. You want them around, in case you need them, but they scare the crap out of everyone. You don’t want to need them.

Now the war has really, really flared up. The War on Science has gone nuclear. The pseudo-journalists are using their new found power to utterly destroy people’s respect for and belief in science. They’ve done it bit by bit, casting doubt on simple things like the ozone and DDT and vaccines (they cause altruism, don’t they? damned evil scientists).

So, here it is, 2010. We desperately need journalism, and science, but they’re both casualties of war.

`And only one for birthday presents, you know. There’s glory for you!’

‘I don’t know what you mean by “glory”,’ Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. ‘Of course you don’t — till I tell you. I meant “there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!”’

‘But “glory” doesn’t mean “a nice knock-down argument”,’ Alice objected.

‘When I use a word,’ Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, ‘it means just what I choose it to mean — neither more nor less.’

‘The question is,’ said Alice, ‘whether you can make words mean so many different things.’

‘The question is,’ said Humpty Dumpty, ‘which is to be master — that’s all.’

I’m Typing As Loud As I Can

I wrote this in early March of 1994.  I submitted it to a few magazines and newspapers, but no one wanted to publish it.  I dug it up, and now that it’s all come to pass, I think it apropos that I publish it here, for the world to be able to see, but not…

Before reading, it probably requires some context.  It was fifteen years ago.  iPods and broadband did not exist.  Color Macintosh computers had only just been introduced.  ATM machines had only just worked their way into the lives of Americans, but older generations still found them daunting to use.  People paid for groceries by cash or check.

The First Gulf War had been over for three years, having made CNN a household name as the only 24 hour news station during the first period where people wanted 24/7 news, to watch the coverage of something so intense as a justifiable and globally supported war.  It even resulted in something termed The CNN Effect.

AOL was on version 2.0, and was the way almost everyone got to the Internet.  You signed on using a 300 baud modem that made a cacophony of sounds in the minutes it took to connect, just to hear it announce “You’ve got mail!”   Thrilling.  No, really, back then it was cool.  Then you checked your mail, and signed off.  Internet search engines were in their infancy, having been started only a year earlier.

The Internet then was primarily used as it was first intended, as a way for scientists and researchers to communicate and share information.  It was very, very, very young.  That was then…


You can’t hear them, the information bulldozers and the information road graters and the information dump trucks.  They’re silently dozing and pushing and hauling, carving out the routes which will lead to the future.  It’s funny.  Everyone was wrong about the next frontier.  With the American continents laid bare, what was to be man’s next challenge:  the ocean depths, the Arctic wastes, outer space, inner space?  None of these.  Not yet.  The next frontier is more abstract.  It’s cyberspace.

What will cyberspace be like?  The information superhighway is coming, oh yes, its coming.  There is no stopping it.  It’s being built on technology and money and profit and dreams and momentum.  Lots of momentum.  Decades of information processing momentum.  It’s being built on the ghosts of electric typewriters, photocopiers, touch tone phones, hand held calculators, digital watches, cable TV, CD players, answering machines, personal computers, ATMs, fax machines, personal digital assistants, and others — all of the devices which have marked the path of the evolution of information processing.

What will it be like?  Information.  More of it.  A lot of it.  ALL of it.  Access to every fact, every picture, every sound, every film.  Kennedy’s speech in Berlin.  The lions of the Serengeti.  The DNA sequence of the 36th gene of the 12th chromosome of the species Antilocapra Americana.  Sound bites.  Information bytes.  Facts.  Lists.

What’s the point?  You get information today.  A lot of it.  Too much of it.  You get TV shows and commercials, infomercials, magazines, junk mail, telemarketing calls.  And they’ve got good aim, very good aim.  You wish you had time for half of the magazines and the TV programs and the special offers limited time only act now.  And most of what you should absorb, you can’t: contracts, leases, insurance coverages, tax laws, loan agreements, the ingredients of everything you eat.

Do you consider yourself an informed voter?  For whom did you vote for president, and why?  Senator?  Congressman?  District attorney?  Any of the dozens of district court judges?  County sheriff?  City comptroller?  Is he doing a good job now?  Do you have time to find out?  Are you an informed voter?

What’s going on in the world?  What do you know?  What do you need to know?  What’s important?  What needs your direct, personal attention: insurance, debts, retirement funds, your spouse, your children, their education, their health, their future?  Think bigger: global warming, global disasters, wars, human rights, abortion rights, animal rights, health care systems, the economy, the ecology, the future?  What do you think?

Which leads to the heart of the problem.  What do you think?  How do you think?  Can you think?  The information superhighway is coming, and it’s important.  You can’t stop it and you can’t ignore it.  Before the printing press few people could read.  They learned.  Before the information superhighway few people can think.  Few people attack problems, solve problems, concentrate.  Few people actually use the wealth of knowledge generations of civilization have compiled.  People should learn.

In the beginning, the highway will be for the intelligentsia, for the people who learned to think before they had to.  The people who learned about logic and science.  The people who didn’t give up on word problems.  The people who like to learn.  The people who make a difference in today’s world.

And the information superhighway will set those people free.  It will give them power.  Power to explore.  Power to create.  Power to change.  Change people.  Change things.  Change history.

And where will the rest be?  Many will be lost.  They’ll stand by the information roadside while the ATM patiently waits, time and again, for them to remember to press the ENTER key.  They’ll watch infodramas and infomercials and infopresentations.  They’ll access their mail and their debts and their legal and civic obligations, because they’ll have to.  Without adventure, without growing, without a sense of wonder.  But their children will be different, more dynamic, more capable, more aware.  Then grandpa will “wisely” say, “when I was a kid, we didn’t do term presentations, we did term papers — you had to be able to write when I was a kid, not just throw together a bunch of images and sounds and ideas.  Back then we had to think!”

What about the ones who are different now, who can think now?  The ones with thoughts, with ideas, with perspectives, with opinions?  The ones who can create, who can change.  Where will they be?

Before the phone and the airplane the world was both large and small.  It was big, too big, but it was out there.  You were here.  You had only so many neighbors, only so many places to go.  You were the best ball player, or mechanic, or doctor you knew.  You were the best around at something.  You had to be, at something.  There just weren’t that many people.  The world was small.

Now the world is both small and large.  You can go anywhere in an hour, talk to anyone in a moment.  You are everywhere.  You have 6 billion neighbors, a globe at your doorstep.  You are average.  The world has a few hundred top singers, top writers, top anythings.  There are just too many people for you to be the best.  The world is too big.  Or is it too small?

So when every thought, every idea can get from here to there, from one mind to the next with the touch of a key, what then?  Where will it go?  Somewhere? Everywhere?  Or into databases, into lists, into a vast super accessible never accessed information void?  Into hardware, software, nowhere?  How far can a raindrop fall before it becomes one indistinguishable fraction of an ocean?  How will “I” make a difference, how will “I” make things change, when there are so many of “I”?

The information bulldozers and the information road graters and the information dump trucks are all out there, silently working away.  And when they are done the noise will begin, will really, really begin.  And then I’m afraid that no one will be able to hear me.  Few can hear me now, and I’m already typing as loud as I can.