Michael Noble’s Mea Culpa Speaks for Us All (Climatehawks, that is)

Michael Noble, Executive Director of Fresh-Energy.org, posted a scathing rebuke to, well… himself.  His post takes exception with complacency in the face of the climategate attacks on IPCC scientists.  I was so moved by Michael’s post that I asked for permission to repost it here.  Michael was gracious enough to grant permission, so here it is in its entirety.  Enjoy.

My Apology to Climate Scientists

Originally Posted at fresh-energy.org 11.29.2011 BY MICHAEL NOBLE

children and clean energyTwo years ago around this time, I was preparing to attend the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Copenhagen, where 192 countries and most heads of state gathered to address climate change. The day’s top headlines heralded the release of 1,079 of your private emails, an action intended to attack climate science and the scientific process, giving a segment of the public a rallying cry against international action. Embarrassing snippets of your emails were repeated endlessly in blogs, news outlets, and social media—an incident dubbed “Climategate” by a lazy press.

I remember spending a few hours reading the coverage and emails. I thought about writing a defense of the science and the scientists but I hesitated, realizing I couldn’t really know everything that might be contained in the private emails. If I jumped to judgment without seeing the context or the independent reviews, I would have been guilty of my own bias. I assured myself that the stolen emails did not require my attention: whatever ill manners, bad behavior, or hostility was revealed in the emails, nothing arose that changed the fundamentals of the science. And nothing made me less concerned about the state of the world’s changing climate or the urgency of international action on Copenhagen.

Two years later to the day, the still-unknown thief of your private communications has struck again, releasing 5,300 more of your emails on the eve of the conference of the 192 countries meeting in Durban, South Africa. Perhaps nine separate investigations over the past two years or the patent absurdity of your attackers means that this new barrage of attacks will take less of a toll on you.

But this time, I will not be silent.

So today, Phil Jones, Michael Mann, Ben Santer, Kevin Trenberth (and your professional colleagues everywhere), I am writing to apologize. When you were denounced, I said nothing. When your reputations were trashed by people with malice and motive, I did not speak up. Once the jury came in (nine different times), I should have thanked and praised you for continuing your research, defending the scientific process, and standing up to defy abuse that would have withered lesser men and women. Thank you for struggling to make sense of the evidence and thank you for your commitment to the work, regardless of the powerful and vested interests who would attempt to silence you.

What we see in your emails of 2009 and the thousands of new emails is science at work. We see you are very smart and very human people (some with less polished social skills), writing about and debating the most difficult and cutting-edge aspects of climate science problems. As peers, you argue whether papers are good enough to appear in the best journals. Disagreements and skepticism among you is common, necessary, and messy. You get together at conferences to argue, and you coalesce and refine your views in light of new and better evidence. Clearer positions and new understanding emerge. Better graphs replace older ones; better models describe the future with more confidence. Then the process is repeated on the next contested and interesting aspect of the science. It’s not elegant or even always polite, but the primacy of the process and the ruthlessness of evidence trumps personalities every time.

What’s remarkable in of all the ink, the inquiries, and the half-dozen independent investigations over two years of the so-called “Climategate,” is that not one single tenet of the science of 2009 was undermined or reversed. Where we are today as countries debate the destiny of the human species in Durban is more or less the same place we were in Copenhagen, except more urgent because two additional years have been lost to the foot-draggers. The plain physics of the matter remains unchanged.

When you deliver your view of the physics to the world, we ask you to do it in a most unnatural way. We ask that you agree on a summary for policy makers within the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, word for word, and have it approved verbatim by each of the 192 nations of the world who are parties to the United Nations conference. It seems preposterous, but you agree. The messages you deliver from time to time, the last of which was in 2007, are the least common denominator views and extremely cautious and conservative by design.

What you have told us since 1990 is this: the world has already unequivocally warmed due to human emissions and future warming poses serious consequences. These consequences can be mitigated by reducing emissions deeply, primarily from reducing the use of fossil fuels. Since future warming is inevitable, humankind must adapt to some consequences that cannot be avoided. In large measure, what is most uncertain is whether we have a very serious problem that is still manageable or whether the problem is more severe—or even catastrophic. In other words, the greatest uncertainty is the mix of mitigation, adaptation, and human suffering in the future. In any case, our only current prudent action is to reduce our risk by reducing emissions.

Fatih Birol, the chief economist of the International Energy Agency,  spoke as the delegates convened in Durban, South Africa, using unscientific and intemperate words you would never write: “The world is perfectly on track for a six-degree Celsius increase in temperature. Everybody, even schoolchildren, knows this is a catastrophe for all of us.”

When stubborn or ill-informed observers refuse to accept the plain physics of the matter that you have widely agreed upon, they cannot be considered serious people. When these unserious people make a career of contesting settled science in the popular press or in pursuit of ideological goals, they are rightly regarded as denying science.

I am sorry I didn’t speak out on your behalf earlier.

Rick Piltz at Climate Science Watch assembled a great list of others’ blog postings on this topic. I encourage everyone to read them.

The UK Guardian, which can usually be counted on as more likely to get the story straight than most of the U.S. media, had this piece: Climate scientists defend work in wake of new leak of hacked emails. Latest leak appears to be an attempt to undermine public support for international climate change action ahead of Durban talks.

Good piece by Jason Samenow at the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang blog:Climategate 2.0: Do new emails undermine global warming science?

Good piece by the intrepid reporter Kate Sheppard at Mother JonesClimategate 2.0: Will the Media Do Its Job This Time? Rather than smearing scientists, reporters might want to try some actual reporting.

Revkin in the New York Times: Another Treaty Negotiation, Another Batch of Climate Science E-Mail

Union of Concerned Scientists statement: Hackers Release Batch of Stolen Emails from Scientists – Science Group Calls on British Authorities to Increase Efforts to Identify Hackers

At the excellent Skeptical ScienceClimategate 2.0: Denialists Serve Up Two-Year-Old Turkey

From our friends at DeSmogBlog in Canada: East Anglia SwiftHack Email Nontroversy Returns: What You Need To Know

Peter Sinclair at Climate Crock of the WeekBad News for Deniers: Grown-ups Weigh in on Email Leftovers

John Abraham, ahead of the curve, at Daily ClimateWe are smarter this time around

The indispensable Joe Romm at Climate ProgressFool Me Once, Shame on You, Fool Me Twice, Shame on the Media: More Stolen Emails Can’t Stop Catastrophic Global Warming, Only We Can

Shawn Lawrence. Otto, author of Fool me Twice: Fighting the Assault on Science in AmericaClimategate 2.0? Pay no attention to the energy industry behind the curtain

Don Shelby at MinnPostHow will the media handle Climategate Version 2.0?

Two good posts by Jocelyn Fong at the watchdog group Media Matters for America:

Memo To Media: Research First, Then Report On Climate Emails

Media Already Botching Reports On Hacked Climate Emails

Richard Littlemore at DeSmogBlogClimategate Hackers Slither Again in the Night

About Fresh Energy

Fresh Energy’s goal is an energy system that sustains our economies, human health, and the environment. Through advocacy, research, and collaboration, we deliver laws to make clean energy more available, fight global warming, and provide less polluting, more efficient transportation options. Through it all, we focus on using energy more wisely—doing more work with less energy.

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There’s a reason they call it Black Friday

Barry Ritholtz shared the following infographic on The Big Picture blog today.

In a time when so many are clamoring for our government to reign in spending, and some of the Occupy Wall Street folks protesting the Black Friday, I expected a dip in sales when compared against last year.  Imagine my surprise when I read the following quote.

Black Friday sales increased 6.6 percent to the largest amount ever as U.S. consumers shrugged off 9 percent unemployment and went shopping.

Source: Bloomberg.com

Looking back at Ritholtz’s graphic, the section on who we were planning to buy for is telling.  46% of shoppers were planning to shop only for themselves and another 18% were looking for things for themselves and others.  Thus, in this time of scaling back and calling for austerity, we’re also breaking shopping records while primarily buying things for ourselves.  I hate to break it you, but that dog won’t hunt.  As my grandpa has often said, “Shit in one hand and wish in another and see which one happens first.”  If we want the government to start acting responsibly, we need to start by getting our own houses in order.  I don’t have all the answers to our economic issues, but I’m certain that retail therapy, for those who are straining under personal debt burdens, is not the answer.

For those who’ve camped out, I wonder what your return was?  If you spent 48 hours on the porch of Best Buy, in the hopes of “saving ” $400 on a TV, you’re essentially saying your time is worth less than $10/hr (And that assumes you’ll end up with the TV).     If you didn’t get the TV…

We also have the ongoing issue of shopper violence during these events.  A Google search of “Black Friday violence” returned over five and a half million hits.  I’d love to put the onus on the retailers (They are the ones setting the traps, no?), but I think we need to do a bit of navel gazing here.  (When am I not calling for that?)   So, if I’m to be the shrill voice, so be it, but I can assure you, you won’t like it.

“You have been warned!”


CSR, It’s Not Just Marketing

I’ve been a bit skeptical of a spate of marketing-related Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) hires over the past couple of years.  Effective communications are certainly an imperative in CSR roles, but I don’t believe that external communications should be the position’s raison d’etre.  Continue reading

Looking for Simple Solutions to Complex Issues?

I’m working on a paper for my environmental ethics class.  I recently read a couple of articles for the effort which I thought were worth sharing.  The first, an essay from Wendell Berry, farmer, philosopher and poet, titled “Whose Head Is the Farmer Using?” (From “Meeting the Expectations of the Land“) suggests that we stretch ourselves to the point of overwhelm and then attempt to apply quantitative solutions to qualitative problems.  Check out this excerpt:

Given the right amount of work, the mind lives in its place, not merely as owner or user, but as a fellow creature with the other creatures that belong there, the effective husbander of both the agricultural and the natural households.  A mind overloaded with work, which in agriculture usually means too much acreage, covers the place like a stretched membrane–too short in some places, broken by strain in others, too thin everywhere.  The overloaded mind tries to solve its problems by oversimplifying itself and its place–that is, by industrialization.  It ceases to work at the necessary likenesses between the processes of farming and the processes of nature and begins to order the farm on the assumption that it should and can be like a factory.  It gives up diversity for monoculture.  It gives up the complex strategies of independence (the use of manure, of crop rotations, of solar and animal power, etc.) for a simple dependence on industrial suppliers (and on credit).

Once the mind is divided from its work–once qualitative problems have begun to be “solved” by quantitative solutions–then no amount of additional mechanization, automation, remote control, computerization, scientific research, expert advice, or stress management can stop the damage, much less heal it.  All those would-be solutions are based on a mistake about the kind of work good farming involves and the quality of mind required to do that work.  This mistake is now not only firmly established in the government and universities; it is widely believed by farmers themselves.

Mr. Berry was referring to farmers in specific, but I think the idea applies broadly.  Attempts to subdue complexity through the codification of work will only remove the opportunity to respond appropriately.

An interview with Professor Clayton Christensen, of the Harvard Business School, appears to agree with this take.

“We measure profitability by these ratios. Why do we do it? The finance people have preached this almost like a gospel to the rest of us is that if you describe profitability by a ratio so that you can compare profitability in different industries. It ‘neutralizes’ the measures so that you can apply them across sectors to every firm.”

The thinking is systematically taught in business and followed by Wall Street analysts. Christensen even suggests that in slavishly following such thinking, Wall Street analysts have outsourced their brains.

“They still think they are in charge, but they aren’t. They have outsourced their brains without realizing it. Which is a sad thing.”

Further down…

Christensen recalls an interesting talk he had with the Morris Chang the chairman and founder of one of the firms, TSMC [TSM], who said:

“You Americans measure profitability by a ratio. There’s a problem with that. No banks accept deposits denominated in ratios. The way we measure profitability is in ‘tons of money’. You use the return on assets ratio if cash is scarce. But if there is actually a lot of cash, then that is causing you to economize on something that is abundant.”

Is it time to reintegrate thinking in our economy?

We’ve shackled our workforce with stultifying rules which kill engagement and limit outcomes.  Our economy has flatlined for the last couple of years.  Maybe it’s time to remove the shackles from our workers and let them think the way out of this mess.  Can they do any worse than those who’ve been doing the thinking?

 For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.

-H. L. Mencken