A Tale of Two Marches

The March for Science in Washington, DC, on April 22, 2017.

Front banner at the March for Science in Washington, DC, on April 22, 2017.

Front banner from the People's Climate March in Washington, DC, on April 29, 2015.

Front banner on the left side of Pennsylvania Avenue at the People’s Climate March in Washington, DC, on April 29, 2015.

One banner from the People's Climate March in Washington, DC, on April 29, 2017.

Front banner on the right side of Pennsylvania Avenue at the People’s Climate March in Washington, DC, on April 29, 2017.

April is Earth Month – which under a Trump administration means a lot of environmental activism. This year saw two historic marches in Washington, DC, each with sister marches around the country: the March for Science and the People’s Climate March.

A denier dinosaur at the March for Science.

A denier dinosaur at the March for Science.

I had planned to go to the March for Science in Columbus, where thousands of people said they planned to attend, then go to Washington for the People’s Climate March.  But when a family gathering unexpectedly pulled me to North Carolina, my husband, Paul, and I decided to go to Washington for both marches. It was a grueling but rewarding experience.

The weather at the two marches could not have been more different. On April 22, it was cold, rainy, and windy at the March for Science. I hadn’t brought an umbrella, and ended up buying one from a street vendor. Even so my clothes, shoes and everything inside my backpack got soaked.

Marcher at March for Science.

Marcher at March for Science.

The rain didn’t seem to depress turnout. We arrived at the Washington Monument as the pre-march rally was getting under way. There was just one checkpoint to have bags searched, and the line to get in ran for dozens of blocks. Instead, we took refuge inside a tent that had wifi, where I plugged in my phone and watched the speakers through the live feed from Democracy Now.

When it came time to march, Paul ran out to get some photos at the front of the lineup. I lingered behind to take photos of people’s signs. The signs were unique and creative, based on specific areas of science or supporting science, facts, and evidence in general. These were people who had spent a long time studying in their fields and were proud of their accomplishments.

A sign left at the Capitol building.

A sign left at the Capitol building.

Eventually I worked my way out of the crowd to find the march had already started. So I ran down Constitution Avenue for what seemed like forever, and got in front of the lineup at the intersection with Pennsylvania. There I was able to get a few photos of the parade banner, where if you look closely, you can see Bill Nye and climate scientist Michael Mann leading the charge. I also got 20 minutes of video of the march until my phone batter ran out.

The March for Science ended at the U.S. Capitol, where I continued to get photos of people and their signs. Despite the rain, the mood was happy and defiant. People gathered in drum circles to chant “This is what peer review looks like” and wore dinosaur costumes with signs saying “The meteor is a Chinese hoax.” Many signs were left on the fence of the Capitol building as a message to those inside.

You can see a slideshow of 142 photos I took at the March for Science below.

March for Science, Washington, DC

People’s Climate March

Whereas weather during the March for Science was cold and wet, it was hot and sunny a week later for the People’s Climate March. The temperature hit 91 degrees F, tying a record for April 29 in Washington, DC. Marchers were told to bring sunscreen, which we did. Despite using an SPF 70, the sunscreen sweated off, and I got sunburned enough to peel on my face and arms.

The Indigenous Rights banner at the People's Climate March.

The Indigenous Rights banner at the People’s Climate March.

Still, it was an incredible experience.  We arrived an hour before the march began and got to take lots of photos at the lineup on Pennsylvania Avenue near the Capitol building. Environmental justice was a huge theme of the march, with the Protectors of Justice –indigenous communities and people of color who are at the frontlines of climate change – leading the charge.

The CO2LONIALISM wagon at the People's Climate March.

The CO2LONIALISM wagon at the People’s Climate March.

Some particularly notable displays included the CO2LONIALISM wagon shot full of arrows depicting sovereignty, language, reparations, and feminism; the 10-foot puppet of murdered Honduran environmental activist Berta Caceres; and the many colorful parachute banners.

The lineup wound down Pennsylvania Avenue, turning on Third Street in front of the Capitol, then on Jefferson down the Washington Mall. After the Protectors of Justice were

  • Creators of Sanctuary – immigrants, LGBTQUI, women, Latinos, waterkeepers, food sovereignty and land rights
  • Builders of Democracy – labor, government, workers, voting rights, and democracy groups
  • Guardians of the Future – kids, parents, elders, youth, students, and peace activists
  • Defenders of Truth – scientists, educators, technologists, and health community
  • Keepers of Faith – religious and interfaith groups
  • Reshapers of Power – anti-corporate, anti-nuclear, fossil fuel resistance, renewable energy and transportation
  • Many Struggles, One Home – environmentalists, climate activists, and more
Resist banner near Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC.

Resist banner near Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC.

I tried again to take a video of the entire march, this time getting three 20-minute videos before running out of space. After clearing off a few things, I joined the march and quickly found myself among chants of “Hey hey! Ho ho! Donald Trump has got to go!” at Trump International Hotel – the same spot where people shouted “Shame! Shame!” during the Women’s March.

The next stop for the climate march was the White House. Marchers came up Pennsylvania Avenue, then turned up 15th Street NW to Lafayette Square. On the way they encountered the large “Climate Change Affects Us All” chalkboard that had made its debut at the 2014 People’s Climate March in New York City, along with the large Mercy for Earth balloon and a display of members of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission as puppets of the oil industry.

The Climate Change Affects Us All chalkboard made its debut at the People's Climate March in New York City in 2014.

The Climate Change Affects Us All chalkboard made its debut at the People’s Climate March in New York City in 2014.

By the time I got to Lafayette Square, I was exhausted. Everyone was sitting down, and I found a place in the shade to rest and put on more sunscreen. Finding my husband took a while, and finding water took even longer. I had long since consumed the water I had brought, and saw no water on the march route. Unfortunately there were only a few street vendors with water, all with long lines. Finally a police officer sitting in his air conditioned SUV gave me a bottle of water. He must have felt sorry for me – and might not have done the same for a person of color.

The climate ribbon display was also in Paris during the 2015 climate conference.

The climate ribbon display was also in Paris during the 2015 climate conference.

That water allowed me to finish the march and stay for the rally at the Washington Monument, full circle from where we had begun the week before at the March for Science. The rally featured indigenous leaders, music, and a long list of speakers including the children who had touched off resistance to the Dakota Access Pipeline by running from Standing Rock to Washington, DC.

The climate ribbon tree that I saw at the climate conference in Paris was there, with people hanging ribbons for what they did not want to lose to climate change. Then everyone left their signs in front of the Washington Monument arranged to spell out “Climate Jobs Justice.” The crowd was buzzed a couple of times by low-flying helicopters from the White House.

You can see a slideshow of 170 photos I took at the People’s Climate March below.


An assessment

A marcher at the rally after the People's Climate March.

A marcher at the rally after the People’s Climate March.

What do these two marches mean? First, they show the widespread public support for policy based on science and evidence, and for action to address climate change. About 1.1 million people marched for science on April 22, with 100,000 in Washington, DC. Over 200,000 people marched for climate in Washington on April 29, with 370 sister marches around the country.

Polls show that the vast majority of people think science has improved their lives and support public funding for science, while concern for climate change is at an eight-year high. Large majorities of Americans, including a majority of Trump voters, support action on climate.

A sign left at the U.S. Capitol after the March for Science.

A sign left at the U.S. Capitol after the March for Science.

Will Trump or his cabinet to listen? Not likely. As of this writing, Trump’s administration has issued a series of disastrous orders regarding climate and environment, and he is close to pulling out of the Paris climate agreement.

Fortunately, we don’t need Trump to start taking action on climate. Some things you can do in your individual life include:

  • Bike, walk, or take public transportation to work
  • Trade your gas car for a hybrid or electric vehicle
  • Get an energy audit for your home
  • Ask your utility about energy from renewables
  • Eat less meat or eliminate meat consumption altogether

You can also act to change things on a collective level. Some ideas are:

  • Join the Sierra Club or another environmental group and sign up for action alerts. Sierra Club has a rapid response team to keep you posted on actions and events in your area.
  • Save phone numbers for your U.S. and state representatives into the favorites on your phone so you can call them quickly and easily when news breaks out.
  • Find and follow your local Indivisible or progressive group on social media.
A sign left near the Washington Monument after the People's Climate March.

A sign left near the Washington Monument after the People’s Climate March.

One promising front in the climate campaign is cities. Urban areas are responsible for 70% of carbon emissions, and 90% of cities are at risk from climate change. At the Paris climate conference, 1000 cities across the world pledged to go 100% renewable by 2050. Now that movement is coming to the United States with the Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 campaign. So far 28 cities and one state have committed to going 100% renewable, with discussions in dozens more.

Although things seem so bleak right now that scientists have to come out of their labs and Native American grandmothers into the streets, it’s times like this that show us what we are made of. I was heartened by the massive participation, creative signs, and visionary art at the March for Science and People’s Climate March. Millions of Americans are not going to let the current administration exploit the planet and destabilize the climate without a major fight.

A version of this post appeared in the July 2017 newsletter for Sierra Club Central Ohio Group.

Inside Climate Reality training with Al Gore

Almost 1000 people participated in Climate Reality training, March 1-4 in Denver. Click on photo to enlarge it.

Ten years ago when An Inconvenient Truth came out, I like so many other people became aware of the climate crisis. The movie ended with 10 things each of us could do to help stop global warming, and I did all of them: changed my light bulbs, took shorter showers, started recycling.

Yet now the climate crisis is worse than ever. Each of the last three years has been the hottest on record. Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is at its highest point since the age of the dinosaurs. Oceans are 30 percent more acidic than before the Industrial Revolution, the fastest chemistry change in 50 million years. Glaciers worldwide are melting, the jet stream is wobbling, and ocean currents are slowing down.

I was lucky to get this pic with Al Gore at the Cedar Rapids airport in May 2015. No he doesn’t fly around on private jets. Photo by Brian Ettling

Clearly individual action is not enough. So two years ago, I attended my first Climate Reality training with Al Gore in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to find out what else I could do. There I met hundreds of climate leaders from around the world and started learning about climate in depth.

Here are some mind-blowing facts:

  • The energy trapped by man-made global warming pollution is now equivalent to exploding 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs per day, 365 days a year.
  • Extreme hot days are now 150 times more common than 30 years ago.
  • 2016 was the 40th consecutive year with a global temperature above the 20th century average.
  • 93 percent of the extra heat trapped by manmade global warming pollution goes into the oceans.
  • Seven 1,000-year floods have occurred in the United States in the last seven years.
  • A 1ºC mean temperature rise decreases wheat yields by 21 percent.
  • Water scarcity now affects 40 percent of the world’s population.
  • Air pollution kills 6.5 million people worldwide every year.
  • Land-based plant and animal species are moving poleward at a rate of 15 feet per day.
  • We have lost more than half of the world’s wildlife in the last 40 years.

Climate action

My Ohio mentees at Climate Reality training in Denver.

I came out of the Iowa training determined to tackle the problem of climate change in a much more systematic way, through action on the local, state and national level. The first thing I did was join the Sierra Club, which helped me get to the People’s Climate March, testify about the Clean Power Plan, and lobby my state legislators on returning Ohio’s clean energy standards.

In December 2015 I went to Paris for two weeks as part of the Sierra Club delegation during the COP 21 climate conference. At the time, no climate agreement had included developing countries, and no one knew if almost 200 nations would come together to make it happen. But they did, and I came back full of hope that the climate crisis would finally be addressed.

My California mentees at Climate Reality training in Denver.

A year later, after the 2016 election, I knew I had to get back to climate activism. In January, Climate Reality announced a new training in Denver, so I applied to go – this time not as a participant but a mentor. I was thrilled to be accepted and get 20 mentees from Ohio and California.

At mentor training the day before the conference, I learned that 2,700 people had applied for 900 slots. My list of mentees was full of accomplished people – among them, a city councilwoman from Cuyahoga Falls, a county commissioner from San Jose, a staffer for Ohio EPA, a former staffer for Florida Department of Transportation who left for a job at Google after the governor told employees they couldn’t discuss climate change, a doctor at Nationwide Children’s Hospital, and a high-school student from Marin School of Environmental Leadership.

Day 1

Xiuhtezcatl Martinez and Isa Caress performed their new song “Break Free” at Climate Reality conference in Denver. Photo by Jill MacIntyre Witt

On the first day we saw Al Gore give his entire slideshow, “The Climate Crisis and Its Solutions,” based on his presentation from An Inconvenient Truth. Gore updates this slideshow constantly, with many slides containing graphics and videos from recent events. This was followed by a panel discussion on responding to the impacts of climate change, featuring first responders, emergency managers, and community leaders on the front lines in Colorado.

Only the first half of Gore’s presentation is about the problem of climate change. If it stopped there, we would have been left hopeless, but it didn’t. The second half covered the incredible takeoff of renewable technologies. Here are a few facts:

  • In 2016, $58.6 billion was invested in clean energy in the United States.
  • Wind energy capacity has grown 16 times faster than 2000 projections.
  • The United States now has 75 gigawatts of wind power installed, enough to power 20 million homes.
  • Globally there is enough wind energy to supply electricity consumption 40 times over.
  • Solar energy capacity has grown 77 times faster than 2000 projections.
  • The cost of solar cells has fallen from $79.40 per watt in 1976 to 41 cents per watt now.
  • Solar installation has gone from 4 megawatts in 2000 to 35,800 megawatts now.
  • Enough solar energy hits the earth every hour to fill the world’s energy needs for a year.
  • Renewables accounted for 90 percent of new electricity generation worldwide in 2015.
  • The subsidy-free cost of solar and wind is now less than gas, coal or nuclear.

We also heard from Leah Greenberg, co-author of Indivisible, a guide by former Congressional staffers of best practices for making your elected representatives listen. The day ended with a performance by Xiuhtezcatl Martinez and his sister Isa Caress, indigenous hip hop artists. Xiuhtezcatl is also a plaintiff in the Our Children’s Trust lawsuit of 21 children against the federal government for not fulfilling its public trust to protect the climate for future generations.

Day 2

Al Gore’s photo with youth trainees at the Climate Reality conference in Denver.

Day 2 featured an incredible panel of scientists including Kevin Trenberth, climate scientist with NOAA; Henry Pollack, geophysicist at University of Michigan; and Don Henry, director of Climate Reality in Australia.

They talked about the impacts of various types of greenhouse gases, the most prevalent denier claims and how to respond (check out Skeptical Science), political forces aligned against climate action (see Merchants of Doubt), the Montreal Protocol that phased out ozone-destroying CFCs as a model for climate action, how to get coal country on board (clean energy jobs), and the outlook for carbon capture and sequestration (too expensive for coal plants to implement), nuclear (too slow and expensive for our needs), and fracking (methane leakage and risks to water make it untenable, and we should just leapfrog to renewables).

We also heard about best practices for communicating climate change from Ngiste Abebe of Aulenor Consulting, and Jon Shenk and Diane Weyermann of Participant Media, who talked with Al Gore about making An Inconvenient Sequel: Truth To Power, which premieres July 28.

Day 3

The 2017 Denver mentors get their photo with Climate Reality Chairman Al Gore and CEO Ken Berlin.

Day 3 began with a survey of the political landscape after the election of Trump by Ken Berlin, president of the Climate Reality Project. One point Berlin made is that Trump can’t just roll back climate rules or even agency budgets without new rules and action from Congress, and that environmental activists and groups will be fighting his anti-climate agenda every step of the way.

We heard from Director of Engagement Olena Alec about what we as climate leaders could do, with slides of actions by current climate leaders, including two people I had trained with in Iowa, Doug Grandt presenting to a room of fifth-graders and Ina Warren conducting a monarch workshop.

Al Gore recognizes leaders of cities and universities that have committed to going 100% renewable. Photo by Bill Trueit.

Gore then presented awards to representatives of several cities that have recently committed to transitioning to 100 percent renewable energy. Climate Reality’s 100% Committed campaign is working with Sierra Club’s Ready for 100 campaign to bring on dozens of new cities by 2018. Stay tuned – this could be coming soon to a city near you.

Next was a presentation by Jules Kortenhorst, CEO of the Rocky Mountain Institute, that explained both the technology and economics behind the unstoppable rise of renewable energy over expensive, outdated and polluting fossil fuels, followed by a livestreamed panel of Climate Reality leaders talking with Al Gore about their experiences.

Mentees at the very first training in Al Gore’s barn in 2006 for what was then called the Climate Project. Photo by Keith Bergman.

Over lunch the mentors got to meet Al Gore in person. I had gotten my photo with Gore at the Iowa training in 2015 – purely by luck meeting him at the airport – so this time I took photos for other people. Some of the other first-time mentors were thrilled, while the longtime mentors caught Gore up on their latest news. Two mentors in Denver, Keith Bergman and Bill Bradbury, had been among 50 people at the very first training in 2006 at Gore’s barn in Carthage, Tenn.

The afternoon was filled with breakout sessions on topics like public lands, the water/energy nexus, putting on sustainable events, but after an intensive four days of training, I took a couple of hours for myself before commencement at which I gave certificates and Green Rings to my mentees. I’ll be following up with them throughout the year, hoping to arrange a meetup for the Ohio mentees this summer. We now have at least a dozen Climate Reality leaders in the state.

Moral challenge

The last day of Climate Reality training in Denver. My tables were in the back of the room that day.

Al Gore’s closing remarks to the conference summed up why I’m in the climate movement. Climate change, he said, is a moral challenge in the tradition of other moral issues of our time such as abolitionism, women’s suffrage, civil rights, apartheid, and most recently gay marriage. These movements encounter roadblock after roadblock, until finally they succeed.

“When any great moral challenge is resolved into a binary choice between what is right and what is wrong, the outcome is foreordained because of who we are as human beings,” Gore said. “That is where we are now, and that is why we are going to win this. We have everything we need. Some still doubt we have the will to act, but I say the will to act is itself a renewable resource.”

The Climate Reality Project has now held 35 trainings for over 11,000 climate leaders from around the world, and they are still going strong. This is a unique opportunity to learn about the most pressing crisis facing the planet, and how to make change even in a hostile political environment. It’s also a chance to meet some amazing people you will be in contact with for years. If you are concerned about climate change, this is a program you won’t want to miss.

This article appeared in the April 2017 newsletter for Sierra Club Central Ohio Group.

Costa Rica – Day 7 – End of home stay, ecolodge, hot springs

Our group with the Laureles farm family.  From left to right: Becca, Leesha, Fernando, Lidia, Carla, me, and the Laureles grandson in sunglasses in front.

Our group with the Laureles farm family. From left to right: Becca, Leesha, Fernando, Lidia, Carla, me, and the Laureles grandson in sunglasses in front.

My preparations the night before paid off, as I slept really soundly and not worrying about bugs. The whole thing with the dogs must have bothered me more than I thought because I dreamed that I was walking by a busy street in back of the UNC campus (where I did my undergrad) and found two dogs in different places who had been hit by cars and were lying by the road with broken legs. In the dream I scooped them up and was taking them to get medical care when I woke up.

A howler monkey brought her baby out to see us.

A howler monkey brought her baby out to see us.

I got up before dawn, and three of us (Carla, Leesha, and me) went to watch the sun rise over the farm. Just as at the beach at Tortuguero, the sun didn’t come up in a ball like we are used to seeing at home. It just got light. Fernando’s cattle were mostly sitting down (which cattle here seem to do a lot) or grazing peacefully. Leesha tried to make friends with one of their horses in the pasture, but he was shy and didn’t want to get too close. On the way back we stopped by the howler monkey trees again. The monkeys had been very active just before dawn howling to greet it. They were still active getting their breakfast when we stopped by the trees. We probably watched them for a half hour. At first they hid, but after a bit a few came out where we could see them, including a mom with a baby on her back. She sat watching us for a long time, and I got a ton of pics.

Fernando showed Carla how to milk a cow.

Fernando showed Carla how to milk a cow.

Then we went back to the farm where we got to help Fernando milk the cow. That was fun – Leesha was a natural, and I got the hang of it but am glad I don’t have to do it every morning. Fernando put the calf into a separate enclosure while we got a bucket full of milk. When we were done, he let out the calf, who made a beeline for his mom. I’m glad they let the calf stay with the mom.  The mother-offspring bond is the strongest in nature, and to talk the calf away so that we can take the milk does not seem right. It was enough to make me switch mainly to almond milk, though it’s hard to avoid dairy entirely. While we were milking the cow with Fernando, Lidia came out with a glass that we filled up straight from the cow. She then used that to make some of the very best pancakes I have ever eaten, which we had along with eggs, juice, and of course rice and beans.

<Optional thoughts about the book I was reading>

While the rest of the group walked for a swim at a river spot with difficult access, I got some reading done in This Changes Everything. Naomi Klein makes the case that climate change will require us to abandon unregulated free market capitalism to enact the collective solutions needed to address carbon emissions. She thinks it is a great opportunity to reshape human relations to be more just, equitable and fair, to enact protections for workers and poor people around the world.

It’s a compelling argument, but I’ve also read some interesting critiques. Basically the critiques say Klein was anti-capitalism before she started writing about climate change – she wrote about clothing factory workers in South America and about disaster opportunism, in which big companies use the opportunity of a disaster to make a windfall profit. The critiques think her current book is more of the same vein, and that she doesn’t give enough credit to some of the market solutions being proposed such as a price on carbon.

Klein says we need a mass social movement to force governments to take the steps needed to address climate change. I agree with that, but I think we need market solutions too. A carbon tax, preferably with the proceeds being returned equitably to everyone in the form of dividend checks or tax cuts as proposed by Citizens Climate Lobby, is a must. Klein thinks this idea is okay but not nearly enough. I think it’s just a start too, but it’s a vital one. We have to disincentivize fossil fuels and incentivize renewables if we want people to make the switch.

Klein seems to talk mostly about mass movements but decentralized control with communities taking charge of their own energy, transit and food systems. I would love to see that, and mass movements are important. That’s what stopped the Keystone pipeline, which is of huge symbolic value, and having participated with the Sierra Club in the People’s Climate March in New York City, I feel like the march helped provide immediacy and momentum to the UN talks that week.  It was shortly after that when Obama announced the first-ever agreement with China to lower emissions. Of course none of this is enough and the work is not done, but you have to start somewhere.

This year will be huge for climate agreements leading up to the talks in Paris in December where everyone is hoping for the first time to get a binding agreement across all nations. That will be a tall order. Klein is right that social movements will make a huge difference in the climate debates, and she is right that control needs to come down to the local level.

I’m pleased to live in Columbus, which has a very ambitious green plan.  But this leads to my critique of Klein’s focus on social movements.  As important as they are, in the end it is governments, whether local state or national, that will decide if, when, and how we address climate change.  This is why I’m studying public policy. I’m not exactly sure where this course of study will lead, but climate change is the most important issue not just in my lifetime but maybe in of all human civilization, and I want to be in a place where I can help address it.

<End of thoughts about the book and back to the trip>

Becca made friends with a rescued deer fawn.

Becca made friends with a rescued deer fawn.

So most of Friday afternoon was spent on the bus driving to the Villa Finca Tina ecolodge in the mountains, then to the Baldi hot springs. I’m pretty sure this will get changed up next year, since we didn’t make it to the hot springs until after 9 p.m. so had less than an hour. They were absolutely amazing though, as was the lodge which had several rescued orphan deer and even planted special grasses for the deer to eat.

In Ohio it is against the law to rescue orphan deer. I understand about wildlife rehabilitation needing to be licensed, but we should allow people who care – and most people do – to help animals that need help. Even if those orphans go to a sanctuary to live out their lives, that’s better than being killed just because they were unlucky enough to lose their mother. In one case, a police officer and his wife rescued an orphan deer whose mother had been hit by a car.  When the authorities came and take it, the couple claimed the deer had escaped the day before and showed their torn screen door. In reality I’m thinking they probably found a sanctuary out of state to take the deer.

It’s a ways until retirement, but it liked the ecolodge area and hot springs so much, I would give serious consideration to retiring there. The community seemed to have a lot of natural healing practitioners, and as of now it’s affordable. I’ll have to come back with my husband and investigate this idea more thoroughly before making any decisions, but this is now a possibility on the list.

Reacting to Zhao et al

This is a reaction to readings in ENR 8150 Advanced Environment, Risk, and Decision Making. The reading was Zhao, X., Rolfe-Redding, J., and Kotcher, J. E., Partisan differences in the relationship between newspaper coverage and concern over global warming (Public Understanding of Science, 2014).

This week’s readings fall directly into my area of interest for this class and research on climate change communication more generally. I’ve written two term papers on topics related to motivated reasoning about climate change, and still find the topic fascinating. I also can’t seem to stay out of a climate change debate group on Facebook where you can see it in action. It’s a living laboratory for these concepts if there ever was one.


First, a few criticisms / observations about the Zhao study. Zhao mentions this at the end, but by limiting the media analysis to four mainstream newspapers, that misses a lot. Part of his thesis is that people are selective in the media they seek out so that it reinforces opinions they already hold. I have absolutely found this to be the case with climate change.

Last semester in Eric Toman’s class, one assignment was to interview three people on their opinions about climate change, much as if we were researchers doing a study like this. I interviewed three people at a cafeteria where I often go to eat. One woman was an absolute denier who thinks climate change is a hoax, and I talked with her for over an hour. She ended up showing me all the sources where she gets her news. She said that if you weren’t online, then you were missing everything, and all her sources were highly partisan news sites. Forget Fox News or WSJ – I hadn’t even heard of most of the sites she showed me, but they were clearly very popular among climate deniers. I’ve found similar results in the climate change debate group. The deniers won’t accept certain news sources at all — for example, that hate hate hate Skeptical Science, but they love Breitbart, Watts Up With That, and other partisan outlets.

The point is that there is a whole world of partisan news sources on the denier side, and maybe equally as many on the climate side, though it is hard for me to treat the two sides as equal, since one has the weight of science behind it and the other does not. However, there are lots of pro-climate science sites such as Climate Progress, Climate Reality, Skeptical Science, etc. I wouldn’t know how to do a study that took all these various outlets into account unless you picked a few to represent each side, or you simply asked people what they read online. However, online news is certainly worth looking at regarding an issue that has become as politically polarized as climate change, as both sides tend to seek out more detailed news online than they will ever get from mainstream media.

Another observation I had about the Zhao study is that it was of news coverage and public opinion on climate change in 2006, which is almost 10 years ago now, and a LOT has happened since then. For one thing, the countermovement of front groups and foundations didn’t really kick into full gear until 2009 when the cap and trade proposal was in front of the U.S. Congress — and since then they have been spending $1 billion a year in climate change denial, most of it in untraceable dark money (Brulle, 2013). If things were partisan back in 2006, imagine how partisan they are now!

A third point has to do with how the study measured concern about climage change. All the questions in the GSS survey were about what is happening in the Arctic region to polar bears and such. But as this class has repeatedly demonstrated, the distance affect is very real, and it’s hard for peole to get excited about something so far away. That alone could skew results about how concerned people are about climate change.

More news, less concern

Now, regarding Zhao’s findings. One thing he finds is that as news coverage increases, concern with climate change increases among Democrats but decreases among Republicans. That is very interesting and goes along with Kahan’s cultural cognition findings that deniers and dismissives actually know as much or more about climate change as people who are concerned. It’s counterintuitive, but these findings are pretty consistent.

The question is, what do we do about it? News outlets can’t exactly stop covering climate change in the hopes that the deniers will come around. They won’t. On the contrary, mainstream news outlets do not cover climate change enough. If we want to talk about agenda setting, the lack of coverage of climate change as opposed to issues like ISIS, immigration, and Obamacare may be part of why most middle Americans don’t see it as important.

This finding can help people who want to communicate the importance of climate change to a broad audience in one way, however. Several times in this class we have talked about how people can couch climate change in other issues such as public health, jobs creation, or national security. This finding reinforces that point. Climate change is multi-dimensional and affects everything, so we can talk about those specific affects more than whether climate change is happening and if it is caused by humans.

I’ve come to several points of agreement with members of the opposition in the debate group in this manner, even if we have different reasons for agreeing. For example, one guy and I agreed that it’s useful for the military to employ solar power, even if I said they are doing it because they take the threat of climate change seriously while he said they are doing it to become less vulnerable to attacks on oil caravans in conflict zones. There is no reason both of these statements can’t be true.

Another very interesting finding in the Zhao study is that people on both sides became more concerned when presented with stories that discussed scientific uncertainty and did not refute it. How can this be? My guess is, people like certainty, but for different reasons. Some people like to be told what to think, while others like to rebel against accepted opinion. Being told scientific opinion is uncertain makes people want to pin it down, which causes them to get engaged in the issue.

Responding to opposition

A third finding that I thought was interesting was about when partisans swung into action to get their side across. Zhao et al found this happened when they thought opposition news sources were publishing too many stories about climate change. The content of those stories didn’t matter — it was the fact that a news outlet on the other side had published them at all, and partisans felt this meant the stories had to be countered.

I am sure this effect is real because I’ve been in groups where this happened and people were asked to go make comments on the story or social media post in question. The point wasn’t so much what the story said, though it usually actually is slanted in the way people think it will be from simple heuristics. However, this pheonomen is another reason for looking at outlets beyond mainstream media that are truly partisan about climate change.

One reason I think debate groups like the climate change one I’ve been participating in and other such groups are popular is that people feel the need to get their points of view out. They don’t expect to convince the other side of anything, but they do think if someone who is undecided or less partisan is reading, then the “correct” point of view needs to be visible. This is also why some vested interests actually hire people to make comments on news stories and social media posts. They want to steer the conversation in a certain way, and they are willing to pay for it. The phenomenon is so prevalent that it has its own vocabulary: astroturfing by sockpuppets. (More here, here and here.)

I would love to see an update of the Zhao study that takes internet news sources into account, as well as the conversation among people who engage in comments on news stories and social media. We are beyond passive intake of newspapers and into an era where just as much if not more of the action happens online. In the climate change debate group, someone makes a post, usually a news story or blog entry that showcases their own opinion, probably once every 10 minutes, and most posts get dozens if not hundreds of comments. We can dismiss all of this as so much noise, but it’s also indicative of the conversation, a living laboratory. Why not take advantage of it?

Hottest year on record, statistically speaking II

Last portfolio entry, I looked at the statistics showing that the odds of the earth’s warming trend since 1970 is random are infinitesimally small.  Today I’m going to look at the other side of that coin.

Climate scientists – and scientists in general – are dealing with mounds of complex data gathered from across the world in different ways.  For that reason, when they make a declaration that, for example, 2014 was the warmest year on record, or that “warming of the climate system is unequivocal,” they also like to quantify the confidence they have that the findings are true.

In the case of the announcement that 2014 is the warmest year on record, NOAA gave that a 48% probability and NASA gave it a 38% probability (source pdf).  On the face of it, this seems pretty low.  How can NOAA and NASA state 2014 is the warmest year with less than a 50% probability?

There are several ways this uncertainty is created.  First, there are multiple teams of scientists measuring temperatures around the world, and each may be taking readings from different weather stations or in slightly different ways.

Second, the historical record goes back to 1880, and in that time weather stations may have moved and procedures for measuring temperature may have changed.  Today’s scientists don’t have the scientists of 1900 to talk to – they have to rely on records left behind.

Gavin Schmidt, director of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies, said that any one year’s average temperature reading has an uncertainty of plus or minus 0.05 degrees C or 0.09 degrees F.

Then consider that the differences in average annual temperature we are talking about between 2014 and the next couple of hottest year contenders, 2005 and 2010, are tiny.  According to Dr. James Hansen, the former director of Goddard Institute for Space Studies:

The two agencies use slightly different methods, so they have different readings for the difference between 2014 and the previous warmest year, 2010, with N.O.A.A. putting it at 0.07 degrees Fahrenheit (0.04 degrees Celsius), while NASA got 0.036 degrees (0.02 Celsius) — which this analysis says is well “within uncertainty of measurement.” (source)

Because there are so many sources of uncertainty, it turns out that a 48% or 38% certainty that 2014 is the hottest year on record is actually pretty high.  The next most likely year is 2010, at 18%. This means that 2014 is a little more than 2.5 times more likely than 2010 to be the warmest on record.  That’s how scientists can say pretty definitely that 2014 is the hottest.

However, the 48%/38% certainty that 2014 is the hottest year on record did not escape the notice of climate skeptics – who really need to be called climate deniers because they spend their careers trying to discredit any science showing the earth is warming.

The Daily Mail published an article by David Rose, who held up the certainty figures for ridicule and acted as if NASA and NOAA had been trying to hide them, even though they were discussed publicly at the presentation of findings to the media.

Here the skeptics seem to be pouncing on an artifact of how science works which the public doesn’t understand, and playing it up in an effort to discredit the science.

While it might be only 48%/38% certain that 2014 is the warmest year ever, it is not uncertain that 2014 was among the warmest.  In fact, even with all the sources of uncertainty discussed above, scientists are 90.4% certain that 2014 is among the five warmest years, and 99.2% certain it is among the 10 warmest.

There’s also the matter of the warming trend shown in the graph from NOAA.  Whether or not 2014 sets a specific record – and indications are that it did – it is still a matter of direct observation that every year since 1978 has been warmer than average, and that temperatures are on a clear trend of increasing.

Taking scientific probabilities of certainty out of context and presenting them without any explanation of where they came from is a fundamental misrepresentation of the science.  But that is what the professional climate skeptics do, which is why the public is still so confused about climate change.

Further reading
Freedman, Andrew. Climate scientists rebuff skeptics’ arguments against 2014 ‘warmest year’ claim. Mashable. January 20, 2015.
Revkin, Andrew.  How ‘Warmest Ever’ Headlines and Debates Can Obscure What Matters About Climate Change. The New York Times. January 21, 2015.

Hottest year on record, statistically speaking

This week, NASA and NOAA announced both had calculated that 2014 was the hottest year on record for Earth.  This news was part of the ongoing public conversation about climate change, which is much more of a debate in the general public than among scientists, the vast majority of whom have come to the consensus that climate change is real, caused by humans, and an existential threat to our existence and the existence of millions of other species on the planet.

One reason it is news that 2014 is the hottest year on record is that so many recent years have also been among the hottest.  This is evidence for the reality of global climate change, which many of our current elected officials deny, and for it being caused by humans, which is even more controversial in public policy circles.  NOAA released this temperature graph:

NOAA temperatures


global-temp-and-co2-1880-2009Others have mapped levels of carbon dioxide onto the graph to show a strong correlative relationship.  This is from Greg Laden:

Either way, the graph shows a definite pattern from the time global temperatures started being recorded in 1880 to the present.  Since 1978 the Earth has not experienced a single year with a global temperature lower than the historical average.

Seth Borenstein, an AP science writer who I’ve been following since he was at the Miami Herald in the late 90s, wrote the main story about the NOAA and NASA announcement, including interviews with a number of climate scientists.  But he also wrote a very interesting sidebar to the story.  He decided to look at the statistical probability that the pattern of warming we see in the graphs above is random, occurring naturally, or if there is another explanation.

Borenstein talked to a number of statisticians who told him the following:

  • With global average temperature records spanning from 1880 to 2014, the odds of 2014 by itself being the warmest on record are 1 in 135.
  • The three hottest years on record — 2014, 2010 and 2005 — have occurred in the last 10 years. The odds of that happening randomly are 3,341 to 1.
  • Nine of the 10 hottest years on record have occurred in the 21st century. The odds of that being random are 650 million to 1.
  • Thirteen of the 15 the hottest years on record have occurred in the last 15 years. The odds of that being random are more than 41 trillion to 1.
  • All 15 years from 2000 on have been among the top 20 warmest years on record. They said the odds of that are 1.5 quadrillion to 1. A quadrillion is a million billion.
  • The last 358 months in a row have been warmer than the 20th-century average. The odds of that are so high — a number with more than 100 zeros — that there is no name for it.

Other than the first number, neither Borenstein nor the statisticians tell us how they made their calculations.  I assume they took the number of years in the historical record (135) and somehow multiplied this by the odds of each year considered being among the warmest.  For example, chances of the hottest three years being in the last decade would involve calculating the odds of each year being in the hottest three and of the last decade being among the hottest.

Although it would be interesting to see how the statisticians made these calculations, clearly something is going on in the earth’s climate that is way beyond random chance.  Climate scientists have considered a number of possibilities not discussed in this article, and ruled out all but human activity.  For example, it’s not the sun because the warmest temperatures are on the surface, not in the stratosphere, and the sun’s temperature has actually been cooling.  It is not natural cycles because those occur at a pace of hundreds of thousands of years, not decades.

Borenstein global pauseYet despite this evidence, climate change deniers are still denying the science.  Rep. Dana Rohrbacher (R-Calif.) tweeted that the findings of NOAA and NASA were “yet more fraud.”  And climate deniers descended on Seth Borenstein’s Twitter page, repeating the claim that global warming “paused” in 1997. The temperature graphs show differently, but facts don’t seem to matter to a lot of these people.  Finally an exasperated Borenstein tweeted:

It certainly is a point worth considering.  And though steadfast deniers will never change their minds, there is a large confused public in the middle who can be educated and who need to start understanding the importance of acting on climate change.