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Archive for Saturday, November 17, 2012

Opinion: Imprison politicians for failing to heed science?

November 17, 2012

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On April 6, 2009, a magnitude 6.3 earthquake struck the Italian city of L’Aquila, killing 309 people and destroying much of its historic central district. Three years later, on September 22, 2012, six Italian seismologists were convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to six years in prison. Why? Because they failed to predict the earthquake after a series of minor tremors had rattled the L’Aquila area during the preceding four months. No matter that the seismologists had used California’s Probabilistic Seismic-Hazard Analysis, considered the most accurate risk assessment for forecasting earthquakes.

Five thousand geologists and other scientists worldwide appealed to Italian President Giorgio Napolitano, publicly decrying the trial, to no avail. Experts testified, also to no avail, that geology cannot predict the timing, magnitude or location of earthquakes with the kind of exactitude demanded by the Italian prosecution. Otherwise, geologists would have warned Japan in 2011, Haiti in 2010, L’Aquila in 2009, and Guatemala just this past Wednesday, Nov. 7, of an impending earthquake.

The Italian precedent begs the obverse question: If we can put scientists in the dock for failing to predict a natural catastrophe, should we not also put politicians in the dock for failing to heed scientific predictions of a natural catastrophe? Particularly ones backed by overwhelming evidence?

If the answer is “yes,” most politicians would be in the hoosegow catching up on back issues of Science, Nature, Scientific American and the Journal of the American Medical Association. The record of politics listening to science ranges from apathetic to amoral. It took 14 years for the U.S. and 49 years for the United Kingdom to listen to medical science’s warnings of lung cancer’s smoking gun, and ban cigarette advertising. More time elapsed before legislators outlawed smoking in the workplace. It took 15 years for world governments to heed science’s warnings that CFCs were destroying Earth’s protective ozone layer. Only the shock discovery of a gigantic ozone hole above Antarctica greater than the size of the U.S. spurred international adoption of the Montreal Protocol in 1989 for nations to halve their CFC production and consumption.

What about the culpability of corporations — the tobacco and chemical industries? Don’t they belong in the slammer? For years they danced the deaf-and-disinformation duet in public, using powerful lobbying and advertising to deny the facts — including the damning evidence their own laboratories discovered and hid under the dance floor. Their strategy was to keep shoving a “wedge of doubt” between what science is saying and the public is hearing.

The wedge psychology is straightforward: First give people a ready excuse to deny the science they don’t like; second, emphasize how it threatens our world view or comfort zone, be it religious, economic, or life-style. Using the wedge of doubt, the Discovery Institute in Seattle scraps modern science in favor of “intelligent design” to explain how the planet works. And the wedge is the weapon of choice for the forces arrayed against acknowledging and countering global warming.

The words “climate change” disappeared during the presidential debates, buried under political homilies, hectoring and hocus-pocus. An alien listening in would conclude that cutting PBS and Big Bird is a more important debate issue than global warming, which both the U.S. Department of Defense and the National Security Agency rank as one of the top five security threats to the nation. Why? Because, if unchecked, its predicted consequences are environmental conflicts over water, food, land, and energy, millions of refugees, breakdown of law and order, and the spread of virulent diseases. “Climate change,” says The New National Defense Magazine, “is a ‘ring-road’ issue that surrounds the military’s future strategic planning.” In the deep hours of election night, the challenge of “an America that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet” reappeared.

Some climate models predict more violent storms, like Hurricane Sandy. Gerald Meehl, a climatologist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research, likens the phenomenon to a baseball slugger on steroids. We can predict he will hit more home runs overall, just not in which game or on what pitch. Ditto climate change. Greenhouse gases are the steroids of global warming, which raises the temperature of surface ocean waters, puts more energy into the atmosphere, and increases the odds of more frequent and intense storms. But we can’t predict where, when and how often such storms will heat up and hit.

Active geologic faults are the steroids of earthquakes, like the ones underlying L’Aquilla and Los Angeles, where, fueled by continental drift, the earth will rumble much more often than in fault-free zones. But we can’t predict precisely where, when or with what force along the fault line. Seismologists are working on it. At least the ones not in prison.

— Leonard Krishtalka is director of Kansas University’s Natural History Museum and Biodiversity Research Center.

Comments

Ron Holzwarth 2 years, 1 month ago

"should we not also put politicians in the dock for failing to heed scientific predictions of a natural catastrophe?"

I would say yes, for failure to warn the pubic of a possible catastrophe if they can be proven to know about it.

I think it's amazing what all politicians can get away with. It appears that they cannot be put on the dock for lying, for memory lapses when convenient, or for feigning confusion about what the meaning of 'is' is.

But it appears that they can be put on the dock for embezzlement, theft, and inappropriate sexual conduct.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 1 month ago

"The wedge psychology is straightforward: First give people a ready excuse to deny the science they don’t like; second, emphasize how it threatens our world view or comfort zone, be it religious, economic, or life-style. Using the wedge of doubt, the Discovery Institute in Seattle scraps modern science in favor of “intelligent design” to explain how the planet works. And the wedge is the weapon of choice for the forces arrayed against acknowledging and countering global warming."

Funny how some supposed non-religious, "critical thinkers" have so much in common with the likes of the Discovery Institute (and the tobacco industry.) And some of them don't even bother to make a reasoned argument based on anything like data or facts at all (aside from the ones that are drawn from a website that creates them out of thin air.)

Ken Lassman 2 years, 1 month ago

So is there any criteria you would accept as being a legitimate prompt for increasing intervention? Didn't think so.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 1 month ago

After civilization collapses, we can sue the oil companies-- that's the libertarian way.

Ken Lassman 2 years, 1 month ago

The icecaps are shrinking, despite denialists waving short snippets of bumpiness in the trends and claiming that those bumps and dips prove that ice caps are growing. Don't believe me? Do your homework. If you don't care to, let me know and I can provide you with the links.

Ken Lassman 2 years, 1 month ago

So to summarize, there are no criteria that would allow you to agree to increased intervention. Thanks for the clarification.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 1 month ago

Oh goodie, we now know that crises never actually exist-- they are merely fabrications of the government for their own self-perpetuation. All the data and science and natural properties of chemicals are nothing more than examples of such fabrications, machinations of the man behind the curtain.

So, just lie back, read another Ayn Rand novel, don't worry, be happy.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 1 month ago

It's also interesting that given how much of a government propaganda campaign global warming supposedly is, it was hardly even mentioned in the presidential election, much less debated.

KSWingman 2 years ago

Lincoln's status as our only known Vampire Hunter President was the elephant in the room.

What deep supernatural secret was Teddy Roosevelt hiding? Bigfoot hunting in Yellowstone?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 1 month ago

That had the distinct look of an intellectual white flag (whether intended or not.)

Liberty275 2 years, 1 month ago

This isn't Europe. No jury in America would convict, much less sentence a scientist for not predicting an earthquake. Nor would we convict a politician for not believing junk science.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 1 month ago

Seems the burden of proof should be on those claiming a government conspiracy. But that's just me.

In the meantime, the "government" was pretending the whole topic of global warming doesn't even exist during the last election. What does that indicate? Mostly that the political/economic resistance to dealing with it is considerable. It most certainly doesn't provide any proof of a conspiracy. Still waiting for proof of such.

Chris Scafe 2 years ago

You put a link to a Wikipedia article and declare checkmate? What's your point?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 1 month ago

So now (failed) legislation to deal with a real problem is a "conspiracy."

Stick to checkers.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 1 month ago

I've now conceded that admin isn't interested in enforcing the unenforceable "shunning" rule. But it'll be interesting to see how long it takes LO to go running to admin to complain about my violating that rule with respect to his posts.

jafs 2 years, 1 month ago

If you don't respond to his posts directly, but do it the way you've been doing it here, it's not a violation.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 1 month ago

He responds directly to my posts fairly frequently. But if I were to do the same to him, he'd likely complain to admin-- that's what he's done in the past, anyway.

jafs 2 years, 1 month ago

Have you asked him to stop?

If you have, and he continues, complain to them yourself.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 1 month ago

I've done all the above.

Anyway, I don't really care all that much other than not wanting LO to whining to admin again that I'm "harrassing" him.

jafs 2 years ago

Then don't respond to his posts.

George Lippencott 2 years, 1 month ago

The argument as I understand it is why do we not punish our politicians for not heeding the warnings of our scientists regarding climate change given that an over zealous Italian prosecutor is punishing Italian scientists for not providing warning of earthquakes.

I argue that our politicians and the rest of us are addressing the challenges of climate change. Renewable energy is a reality. Hybrid and electric vehicle are becoming more common. Many changes in our daily routines have been adopted that address the cause of climate change. Reductions in the generation of carbon have at a national level been reduced to 1992 levels. Could we go faster? Maybe?

I also argue that politicians have to balance the clamor of the many advocates of issues ranging from climate change to joblessness. They have to do so within the framework of our political system. They are not free to take a purely scientific approach and force compliance with draconian notions of immediate solutions held by elements of the scientific community.

It is time to move beyond the shrill voice of warning to a more reasoned voice seeking a prioritized approach to the recognized challenge. The scientist certainly has a strong contribution to make to that discussion but in the end the resolution must be left to the political system and each of us. It is no longer a debate about climate change it is now a debate as to how much we do and how fast we do it.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 1 month ago

But the longer we wait to take effective action, the more draconian the measures will need to be, and the less effective they'll likely be.

Sure, the politics of getting 7 billion people on the same page is extremely difficult. Either we can or we can't. If we can't, we'll just be another in a long list of maladaptive species.

Liberty275 2 years, 1 month ago

Moderate, that was a moderate and nicely done post.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 1 month ago

As a course of action it'd ensure worldwide disaster, but it'd make for nice, pleasant conversation at the local coffee shop.

George Lippencott 2 years, 1 month ago

Not sure I agree with your premise about more and less. Since we have not directly done this before some planetary mechanism may kick in and mitigate the problem - no promises but the CO2 level has been higher and we did come back. It has been warmer on the planet and if it is not reversible we can adapt to that. There may be a lot less of us but the species may survive.

It is all about change. You adapt (evolve) or you die. Evolution is slow. Politics is faster. Advocates are never satisfied with the pace.

The point remains that yelling about it has about run its course. We have done a lot. The next step is some form of carbon mechanism that does not punish people for the past. We are all in this boat and whatever mechanism we adopt must recognize that and balance the pain. Adjudicating pain is a slow process. .

Ken Lassman 2 years, 1 month ago

We have good understanding of the mechanisms of carbon reabsorption as part of the natural carbon cycle, and the bottom line is that if we cut down immediately it will take centuries to get back to pre-industrial levels of atmospheric carbon. And "geoengineering" schemes to re-sequester the carbon all have their significant collateral damages that don't make them realistic economically and ecologically speaking.

We are becoming more and more familiar with the other planetary mechanisms: they are called climate change, ocean acidification, increased frequency, duration and coverage by extreme weather events. In other words, it is the planet's response to increased atmospheric GHG that we are worried about, and the longer we wait, the more "mitigating" the planet will dish out.

jafs 2 years, 1 month ago

Is it true that we have cut carbon emissions back to '92 levels? And, if so, is it a significant reduction?

George Lippencott 2 years, 1 month ago

No answer. I will see if I can find my source again - it was not FOX.

Ken Lassman 2 years ago

Looks to me like it's not at all clear that carbon emissions are back to '92 levels. First of all, atmospheric CO2 continues to zig-zag up, with 2010, the latest report of the global carbon project, showing an additional 2.36ppm added to the atmosphere, and a 4% growth in emissions by the US after the 2008 drop caused by the financial crisis (check out Global Carbon Project for details).

Additionally while there has been some reports that show that US emissions have dropped, most notably here: http://www.climatecentral.org/news/report-can-us-carbon-emissions-keep-falling-15058

...if you read the comments section, there is considerable controversy whether the downward trend is anything more than a blip, with overall upward emissions headed back up again unless some major low carbon policies are implemented. Either way, the graph shows current emissions above '92 levels.

Which addresses your advice to chill in your comment below. There is a real opportunity to address the carbon issue through increased economic activity, as counter-intuitive as that sounds. If our states and federal government set in place policies that reward improved energy efficiency in our buildings, appliances and manufacturing processes, this will create a bunch of new jobs as new structures/processes that are more efficient are built and existing ones are retrofitted. On the energy production end, by reducing demand through energy efficiency, the need for new fossil fuel powered energy plants is greatly reduced and additional capacity where it is needed can come in the form of renewables. Hence the nature of a successful transition away from fossil fuels toward renewables in a way that pays for itself as it goes. This kind of transition is far from the top down, heavy handed approach that you have proposed in the past, George, and yet it becomes harder and harder to pursue the longer we put it off. Does that make sense now?

George Lippencott 2 years, 1 month ago

Well sir, in my engineering pursuits we could allow for the known unknowns. It is the unknown unknowns that get you ... or help you.

And yes we are going to get mitigated. That is the price of being human. I would suggest that all of you have done your jobs and now need to allow the rest of us to do so. If we chose not to that is our choice. Fighting the populace will only lead to a heart attack.

Chill!

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 1 month ago

"but the CO2 level has been higher and we did come back."

That's just plain wrong. We are living in wholly unique circumstances. Never before have their been 7 billion people on the planet, and pretty much all of them depend on the current climate patterns remaining almost exactly as they are. Even seemingly modest changes in those patterns can result in famine, floods and major dislocations in population. And on our current path, we will NOT see modest changes.

And while the moderation you call for may sound reasonable to you, what you're calling for is almost certainly inadequate. Inadequate to the point of disastrous on an unimaginable scale.

George Lippencott 2 years, 1 month ago

It is not wrong the CO2 levels were higher although your argument about numbers is also accurate.

Why do we not reduce our numbers by not replacing ourselves? We are the drivers on carbon why do we need seven billion of us?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years, 1 month ago

Probably because just like you, most of those 7 billion aren't in any hurry to check out, and they think they have just as much right to have kids as the next person.

George Lippencott 2 years, 1 month ago

Well that is as stupid as some of the alternatives offered by the advocates. If we are serious population reduction must be a major component of our efforts

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years ago

No argument from me on that (I've done my part.) But should we start up the ovens again? Who goes in first? Are you volunteering yourself and a few family members?

George Lippencott 2 years ago

It seems all your solutions are short term. WE just do not replace ourselves (one child per) and nature will take care of the rest - over time.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years ago

What are you talking about? I haven't proposed a single solution in this entire thread. You're the one who's proposing a reduction in population. And while in the long term, that certainly is a major part of a truly sustainable solution, but it's NOT a short-term solution.

George Lippencott 2 years ago

Sorry bozo. I get carried away with the general solutions offered by advocates and respond as if all advocates support those solutions. What are your solutions?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years ago

"It is not wrong the CO2 levels were higher"

To set the record straight, in the human era CO2 levels have never been higher. There has been a leveling off of CO2 emissions in the US, but even a leveling off of emissions leads to a steady increase in atmospheric CO2. In addition, atmospheric CO2 is a global phenomenon, not a national one.

George Lippencott 2 years ago

yep, yep, yep. Point is the planet had a mechanism to return from higher CO2 levels once - could there not be such a mechanism in our future - if we stop making it worse?

Ken Lassman 2 years ago

Of course the planet has homeostatic mechanisms that will decrease atmospheric carbon, just as it has in the past. Trouble is that it will take millenia for those mechanisms to re-sequester that released carbon, which for the planet is perfectly acceptable. It is human civilization, built alongside oceans, dependent on raising food in areas that will be susceptible to droughts and floods, etc. that will have the trouble adapting rapidly enough to avoid foundational cataclysms that could likely undermine everything we do.

George Lippencott 2 years ago

Boom Boom Boom. If water levels rise we will have to abandon our lower coasts. If climate changes we will have to move to where we can grow crops and survive. Currently cold and dry place may well become temperate. We can evolve. We probably will have to change how we interact with the planet. That just may be a good thing.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years ago

It's taken decades and even centuries to establish the societies and infrastructure that support us all. That can't just be picked up overnight and moved, for reasons that ought to be obvious to you. There will be no mass relocation and "evolution" without hundreds of millions if not billions of people suffering miserably, and likely dying off by similar numbers.

yourworstnightmare 2 years, 1 month ago

The planet will be just fine with global warming. It is not going to explode o vaporize or crack in two. It is the organisms on the planet and the civilizations that they have built that will be in trouble.

Denial isn't just a river in Egypt.

Ron Holzwarth 2 years, 1 month ago

If I go to see a scryer, and my future is incorrectly predicted because of a defective crystal ball or whatever, can I sue to get my money back?

Or can I just go and steal it back? Oh wait, that won't work, because the scyer will see me coming a month away.

Liberty275 2 years, 1 month ago

"Opinion: Imprison politicians for failing to heed science?"

Did this bother nobody else? Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but how do you even conceive an idea like that? Politicians are elected by American citizens, not science. To imprison am elected official for doing his constitutional duty of representing his electorate is an invitation to war. If the electorate is for coal mining and fewer regulations, his job is to lobby for more coal mining and less regulation.

A thought process could lead to the idea that we subvert the constitution based on scientific theories seems foreign to the America I know.

Now if your representative is evil and built a weather machine that made hurricanes to wipe out competing states, I think he could be impeached then held criminally liable and would probably get a thousand life sentences.

Liberty275 2 years, 1 month ago

Tell me Bozo, what do consider more supreme, the constitution or science?

Liberty275 2 years ago

What do you consider more supreme, the constitution or science? Pick whatever regard you want.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years ago

They are two completely different things. We could make gravity unconstitutional, but we wouldn't all float off into space upon ratification of that amendment, would we?

Likewise, you can abuse the constitution to deny the fact of global warming, but that won't stop the hurricanes or the droughts or the rise in sea levels.

Chris Golledge 2 years ago

Physical reality pays no heed to political constructs.

Chris Golledge 2 years ago

Gravity is a scientific theory. If I drop an anvil on you, and you are injured, would it be against your principles to convict me based on the inference that I knew what would happen, based on the theory of gravity?

What if I denied the existence of gravity; would that make me less culpable?

George Lippencott 2 years, 1 month ago

JAFS, Doug and Bozo

I should have said 1996 for the comparative year and our emissions have been pretty flat despite population growth of about 20%. There is an argument that the decline is driven by our economy – which may be true but the decline is also true. See http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/ghgemissions/gases/co2.html

For population impact see: http://www2.ljworld.com/weblogs/loyal-opposition/2012/nov/17/low-hanging-fruit-in-addressing-climate-/

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 2 years ago

Emissions were dangerously high in 1990 and 1996. Per capita emissions are still greater than any other country on the planet, and with every developing country increasing their carbon output, especially India and China, it's a rather meaningless milestone. It's like a drunk decreasing his consumption of vodka from 5 pints a day to 4 and 3/4.

George Lippencott 2 years ago

Not true anymore. New data. We are #5 per capita.

Ken Lassman 2 years ago

Actually, we are #12: http://cdiac.ornl.gov/trends/emis/tre_coun.html

But those countries are not very important, considering that if you take all 11 nations with greater per capita emissions that us, combine their collective emissions and we still emit 6.5 times more than that total. Furthermore, folks are eager to point out that China now emits more carbon than the US, but they neglect that per person, we emit 4.64 metric tons of carbon per year while China emits only 1.57 metric tons, or 3 times as much for every man, woman and child. We head up per capita emissions compared to every major industrialized country in the world.

George Lippencott 2 years ago

Yep. But you are back to alarms and not solutions. The only one I have heard you offer is carbon taxes. Any other weapons in the quiver?

Ken Lassman 2 years ago

I didn't bring up the per capita argument, but it was you who said that we weren't as bad as we are in terms of personal energy consumption when compared to the rest of the world. Furthermore, so many people and even the the official US reason for not moving ahead with carbon reduction strategies is because they point to China and say that they are emitting more than we are, like that somehow gets us off the hook. Sometimes you have to get people's attention with an alarm in order for them to even consider solutions.

I've given you other options, including aggressive energy efficiency measures which are far and away the most cost effective investment individuals and businesses can spend their money on, cogeneration, improvements in grids and managing grids, distributed energy production networks that are locally owned and managed, etc. I've given you the Princeton carbon mitigation wedge scenarios site, before--did you check it out? If not, here it is again: http://cmi.princeton.edu/wedges/

I'd be interested in hearing which of those scenarios you'd prefer.

George Lippencott 2 years ago

I will also point out that China has a portion of the population just as emission intense as we are. It also has a major population component that is living in the 1700s. Should we go there?

jafs 2 years ago

Thanks.

The chart in your link shows not that we have "reduced" our emissions to '96 levels, but rather that the emissions increased for many years, then decreased in 2008, and have then started to increase again. It's true that current levels are at about the same level as in '96.

Looks pretty clear that increasing emissions each year is the pattern, with a slight anomaly, almost certainly due to the financial mess.

Also, there is the very good question about what levels of emissions are acceptable - if '96 levels are too high, then keeping the level there isn't helpful.

George Lippencott 2 years ago

Could not agree more. But... We have not seen a 20% increase in emmissions while we have had a 20% population increase. We are bending the curve downward. I want credit.

I have asked the advocates on here how much is enough and received no answer. I guess one could argue a return to the 60's before the curve took off. I have seen no rational solution as to how to do that.

I would also argue that leveling the increase is a lot better than continued rapid growth.

jafs 2 years ago

Ok. We seem to be bending the curve downward a bit.

And, yes, leveling is better than rapid growth, but if it still results in the destruction of the environment,...

I have also asked how much is enough, and haven't gotten an answer - I think it's a good question, and needs to be answered.

Ken Lassman 2 years ago

I beg your pardon: in past comments, I gave you several scenarios, including the wedges proposal that lets you "build your own" way to reducing enough carbon to make a difference. Go back and do your homework, or do you need me to give you the links all over again?

1southernjayhawk 2 years ago

Leonard, if we put all the tobacco executives in the slammer where are you going to get your cigarettes?

KSWingman 2 years ago

"The Italian precedent begs the obverse question: If we can put scientists in the dock for failing to predict a natural catastrophe, should we not also put politicians in the dock for failing to heed scientific predictions of a natural catastrophe?"

It's a damn good thing the American judicial system is not bound by "precedents" in an Italian court.

We don't operate gulags in this country, Comrade Krishtalka; people are not sent to prison unless they are convicted of a criminal offense. What part of the US Code have our politicians violated? I searched Westlaw and found nothing for "listen to scientists".

Faulty premise, faulty conclusion, and a fundamental misuse of the phrase "begs the question". A shining example of KU's professorial class. Rock Chalk Jayhawks!

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