The only thing we can be sure of about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic. So if what I say now seems to you to be very reasonable, then I have failed completely. Only if what I tell you appears absolutely unbelievable, have we any chance of visualizing the future as it really will happen.

- Arthur C. Clarke (h/t Brin)

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Mashey on Oreskes (Guest posting)

John Mashey sends along the following. (Note that I am not the farmboy in question. I never roped a steer 'cause I don't know how, and I sure ain't fixin' to start in now...) --mt

Synopsis of Naomi Oreskes:
( 40 minutes )

Naomi is an award-winning geoscientist/science historian, a Professor at
UCSD and as of July, promoted to Provost of of the Sixth College there. She
is also a meticulous researcher, as seen from past books, and from having
reviewed a few chapters of the book she mentions in the talk. She unearthed
some fascinating memos, although of course, impossible to replicate the
exhaustive database of tobacco documents.

If you haven't seen her earlier 58-minute video, The American
Denial of Global Warming"
, you might watch that first. It's first half
is a longer version of the development of climate science, and the second
half is about the George C. Marshall Institute.

This talk has about 10 minutes of background, and the rest is new material
on the Western Fuels Association.]

The video production isn't flashy, but it's good enough. The lecture room
was packed, I had to stand. Interesting people attended.

This, of course, is an informal seminar talk - for the thorough
documentation, you'll have to await the book.

======SUMMARY=====
00:00 Background [fairly familiar, some overlap with earlier talk]

10:30 1988, Hansen in Congress, IPCC starts

11:05 "Tobacco strategy" to challenge science

I.e., use of similar techniques, sometimes by same people

14:50 Western Fuels Association (Power River coal companies)

Sophisticated marketing campaign in test markets

17:20 1991 - WFA creates ICE - Information Council for Environment

ICE ~ Tobacco Industry Research Council (TIRC) -
See Allan M. Brandt, "The Cigarette Century"

21:00 WFA print campaign

23:00 Scientists are more believable than coal people, so use scientists,
create memes

25:30 WFA produces video "The Greening of Earth", provides many copies

The Greening Earth Society (astroturf); more CO2 is good for the whole
Earth Excerpts from video

30:00- Video shows the Sahara turning completetely green

32:20- "Plants have been eating CO2 and they're starved"
Discussion of circumstances under which CO2 does help and illustration of
marketing tactics, cherry-picking, etc. I.e., how does one use a few
tidbits of real science to create an impression very different form the
overview? Are there lessons for scientists?

40:00 end

===

[Speaking as an old farmboy, plants need sun, water, soil, nutrients, and
CO2, and sometimes right climate, i.e., sugar maples need cold. The Sahara
will not be a new cornbelt, no matter how high CO2 goes.]

 

12 comments:

Dano said...

The Sahara will not be a new cornbelt, no matter how high CO2 goes.

Exactly, because corn shuts down in hi temps. As does wheat, rice, and every other plant on the planet. Meaning stuff has to move north and the communities left behind have to start over, and lots of money they spent on stuff will be lost.

Best,

D

David B. Benson said...

The steer appreciates not being roped, too.

John Mashey said...

Trying again.

Dano: that's not particularly the reason.

Look up Liebig, which something most farmkids learn by the time they're 10.

Briefly: plant growth is limited by whatever is *least* available:

sun
water
CO2
other nutrients
and having the necessary climate parameters,

i.e., like sugar maples need cold, which is why the maple sugar business is working its way North to Canada.

===
CO2 is routinely used in sealed greenhouses to improve yields, where of course, there's already enough sun, water, and nutrients. Yield improvement depends on the plant, and only goes so far. I've seen claims of 30-40%.

Of course, this has nothing to with the vast bulk of agriculture in the real world, where water is often the bottleneck, or the other nutrients. For instance, the cornbelt won't move to Northern Canada either, no matter how hot it gets. [soil]

Plants do grow in oases in the Sahara, where the soil happens to be OK, and where there's some water.

But no amount of CO2 will make up for not having water.

Naomi alludes to this, although not in detail.

Dano said...

Dano: that's [hi temps] not particularly the reason.

John, sure it is.

CO2 in free air doesn't fertilize unless N isn't limiting, then if water isn't limiting (graminaceous crops). I agree it's also not going to fertilize in the presence of N or HOH if the plant has ceased metabolism (this is why the AHS developed heat zones on top of the familiar USDAclimate zones).

Graminaceous crops can be fertilized to mitigate limiting nutrients (see dead zones), but there's nothing to do about high temps, which is what would be found in the Sahara. So, you can truck in water, you can truck in OM and fert, but you can't truck in 90º temps when it is 114ºF.

The overarching point being that adapation to hi temps in situ defies botany. Hence a warming climate means moving further north, and moving communites and their sunk costs to follow the temps. This is a big reason why mitigation is one of the strategies.

Best,

D

Anna Haynes said...

Transcript of the end of the video -

(End of talk:)
"So what we see from this story is that while most Americans now do accept global warming as a fact, they don't accept its origins in scientific consensus; they think that scientists are still arguing about it, and this may have played some role in the reluctance of our leaders to actually do something about it.

And it suggests that the resistance campaigns were effective in creating a lasting impression of scientific disagreement, discord, and dissent."

--------------
(Answer to Q:)
"Now that you know all this, what do you do about it?

I think one of the things that it shows is that we all have to be a lot smarter about this issue and come to a deeper appreciation of what we've been up against.

I think a lot of us in the scientific community (and I say this partly from my own experience) have been raised with what I call a "supply-side" model of science - we think that it's enough to just do scientific work, and that if we do the work and establish the facts that somehow that will trickle down to the places where that knowledge is needed.

Or you can think of it as a diffusion problem - that if we create this high concentration of knowledge in great universities like Stanford, then the osmotic pressure will cause it to diffuse to the areas of low concentration of knowledge.

I think we see that that just doesn't work - the world of humans doesn't work according to the laws of diffusion and osmotic pressure. So we have to be more active - I think that the scientific community needs to embrace the idea that it isn't enough just to do the research, that you actually have to think about ways and means of communicating it and getting it out there, and to understand that when you do, it's not just that the public are ignorant or foolish or whatever, but that there's actually active resistance, that you have forces working against it; and you know, there's a lot at stake in these debates.

There was a lot at stake in the tobacco industry; and it wasn't just the tobacco industry that had something at stake, it was also our own government - the U.S. government received hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues from sales of tobacco, and the U.S. government massively subsidized tobacco [unintelligible] and marketing in the U.S.

Well, the U.S. government also subsidizes the petroleum industry, right? So there are big, big structural issues at stake, and I don't think that the scientific community alone can solve this problem. But I think that by being a little more clued in about some of the political issues and some of the ways that the resistance campaigns work, it can help us be a little bit smarter about how we do communicate what we know."

John Mashey said...

Dano:
Sorry, my "cornbelt" was metaphorical for "food-growing region". Of course it can be too hot (or too cold) for some particular plant, but lots of plants do grow in very hot areas.

Northern Canada won't be a big food-growing region either, given the soil problems, regardless of the temperature.

Again, my emphasis was the general case that any given plant's yields depend on a lot of factors, never just one.

Amusingly, I guess, one of my favorite areas is the Okanagan area in British Columbia, which, with rising temperatures, has become a decent wine region. A few decades ago this would have been a contradiction in terms. (Canadian wine?) We try them a couple times a year when skiing, and they're actually not bad.

John Mashey said...

Dano:
Sorry, my "cornbelt" was metaphorical for "food-growing region". Of course it can be too hot (or too cold) for some particular plant, but lots of plants do grow in very hot areas.

Northern Canada won't be a big food-growing region either, given the soil problems, regardless of the temperature.

Again, my emphasis was the general case that any given plant's yields depend on a lot of factors, never just one.

Amusingly, I guess, one of my favorite areas is the Okanagan area in British Columbia, which, with rising temperatures, has become a decent wine region. A few decades ago this would have been a contradiction in terms. (Canadian wine?) We try them a couple times a year when skiing, and they're actually not bad.

thingsbreak said...

John

Canada is most well known to oenophiles for its icewines. At least for the time being. ;)

bernie said...

anna:
You maybe right, but trying to find realistic partial solutions will also help. The major dilemma in arguing for CAGW is that you really need realistic solutions that match the size of the problem that you are defining and its associated uncertainties. Whether individuals agree with nuclear as a long term solution not to clearly put it on the table makes no sense given the issues involved.

Dano said...

The Okanagan is also a good indicator of climate change effects, what with the vast beetle-kill all around. And how society deals with it. The US accused Canada of dumping wood on the market as Canada was desperately cutting trees to stem the migration...

Best,

D

Anna Haynes said...

> "anna: You maybe right, but ..."

Bernie, just to make it absolutely clear - that wasn't me talking in my comment above, it was Naomi Oreskes.


would that i could speak extemporaneously like that...

Anna Haynes said...

FYI, the smartenergyshow website has gone belly-up; which is a bummer, since the "Am. Denial" post's comments contained some notes on the talk.