One of the show’s creators said that when he edits a script, he replaces “ands” with “buts” and “therefores.” Olson argues that scientists tend to communicate by reciting a “sundry list of facts” connected with “ands.” Effective storytelling requires digging into conflict (the buts) and consequences (the therefores).
For instance, in Olson’s telling, a panel on sea level rise in which he participated could have easily come across as a disconnected parade of “ands,” with images, statistics, and tons of exposition. Instead, he and his co-presenters developed a series of “ABTs” or and-but-therefore statements to structure their talks. For instance:
For 8,000 years sea level has been stable AND civilizations have been built right to the edge of the ocean. BUT for the past 150 years sea level has been rising rapidly, THEREFORE it is now time to come up with a new management plan for coastal areas.
Such structures help audiences understand why facts and data matter, Olson argues.
I couldn’t agree more.
Olson’s book Houston, We Have a Narrative offers a synthesis and refinement of arguments he has been making for years, starting with 2009’s Don’t Be Such a Scientist. It’s a must-read for technical communicators, especially scientists.
A lot of science communication workshops take place just over a day or so and scientists often don’t get enough time to practice the skills they’re learning, Olson argues. This is especially true for storytelling workshops, since it takes time to build a good narrative sense. Indeed, it’s the sort of skill that can take a lifetime to master.
Scientists who want to succeed with Olson’s methods will have to not only read and process what he has to say, but also commit to thinking about how to communicate their work more effectively over time. To do so, Olson urges readers to form storytelling clubs with their colleagues. It may feel silly or even awkward at first, he writes, but around the third or fourth meeting things can and do start to click.
This isn’t an add-on to doing good science, either, Olson argues. Scientists are born storytellers, trying to make sense of data. Olson writes that even the humble scientific abstract benefits from adhering to an ABT structure and he presents several convincing case studies to underscore this point.
He challenges readers to re-examine what a story really is in the context of science. For instance, he chronicles how Watson and Crick told a good story when they challenged the old model of what DNA looks like. He also tracks the history of IMRAD, the now-accepted standard for how one “tells a story” in the scientific literature: introduction, methods, results, and discussion. And he lays out how positive and negative results correlate to archetypal plot structures.
It’s heady stuff, for sure, but it’s also what scientists and science communicators need to hear: Effective communication and storytelling are not optional add-ons for research; they are inherent to the research process itself.
Many scientists have a fear of storytelling. After all, storytelling skills are often used to mislead people and policymakers about science. But there are distinctions to be made between bad stories and good stories – phrases we use to describe the quality of a narrative – and false stories and true stories – phrases we use to describe their veracity.
Olson tackles these distinctions head on and ably explains why scientists’ fears about narrative are largely unfounded.
For instance, in my own communications workshops, I often present two competing narratives about vaccines for scientists to analyze. The first one is a “good,” false story from Jenny McCarthy about a purported link between vaccines and autism:
I asked Olson what McCarthy’s ABT is here. He ventured that it would probably be something like, “Vaccines are widely administered AND no one questions them, BUT when my child received vaccines he became autistic, THEREFORE we need to be suspicious of vaccines.”
McCarthy also effectively illustrates her (false) story with specific details, such as her interactions with the doctor and watching the “light go out” of her child’s eyes.
Of course, scientists can’t counter misinformation with their own falsehoods. And too often, scientists interpret sensible communications advice as encouragement to do so. Nothing could be further from the truth and Olson knocks down such objections throughout his book. Good scientific narratives underscore what we know to be true, he says, with memorable examples that fit into a narrative.
So here’s a good, true story about vaccines. It comes from Paul Offit, who has probably done more to fight back against “anti-vaccine” sentiment than any other scientist. In a CBS interview, he explained clearly that vaccines are necessary for protecting children’s health and that there is no statistical relationship between vaccines and autism:
Offit goes a step further and offers a story about his wife to illustrate his point. Olson told me the ABT version of this story might go like this: My wife was giving a child a vaccine AND right before she gave him the shot, the child had a seizure BUT if the shot had come first, the parents obviously would have though the shot caused the seizure THEREFORE we can’t trust anecdotes, we can only trust data and science when it comes to vaccine safety.
Is that a little clunkier than Jenny McCarthy’s story? You bet. But it’s true. And it’s backed up by science. And the overwhelming majority of parents are listening to the Paul Offit’s of the world.
Olson likens the struggle to communicate the truth in a world full of misleading narratives to a fish swimming upstream. It can absolutely feel that way. I’m sure Offit felt that way many times when taking on scientific misinformation. His story about his wife, which he repeats often, puts his scientific pronouncements and related statistics into a necessary narrative context for audiences to understand his point. In a 3 minute interview, Offit could never hope to get an audience to understand correlation and causation, data quality, peer review lapses, and p-values, but he can tell them an accurate story.
Olson’s work is important because he speaks the language of a scientist and the language of a storyteller. He makes a compelling case that scientists are already storytellers. He also hints at a deeper need to communicate that I wish more scientists understood: if you’re not telling your story, somebody else is telling it for you.
There are lots of stories about science in society: politicians criticizing research grants as wasteful, ideologues perpetuating the myth of a climate science “hoax,” and more simply, people who simply dismiss scientists as out-of-touch with everyday life.
Those stories are being told, often in compelling and untrue ways. Scientists and communicators need to tell their own stories about why science matters to society and to our everyday lives.
The world needs science, and that’s why science needs story.
Olson’s book offers a communications challenge worth rising to and is a valuable addition to any science communicator’s library.]]>
The resolution flags extreme weather, wildfires, heat waves, and sea level rise as costly consequences of climate change and the members call on the House of Representatives to “work constructively” to address “measured changes to our global and regional climate.”
To be sure, the resolution isn’t a full-throated endorsement of the main findings from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change or the National Climate Assessment, which federal science agencies produce for Congress about every five years.
Instead, the members simply acknowledge the need to base policy in “science and quantifiable facts on the ground.”
And rather than citing purely scientific reports, the resolution turns to the Pentagon’s 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review, which itself drew from the scientific literature and concluded that climate change is a “threat multiplier.”
The resolution comes just a few days before Pope Francis is slated to address Congress. The Pope has made climate change a priority, and his own teachings on the topic are heavily informed by the Vatican’s own academy of science.
Clearly, these members of Congress wanted to show that they are ready to constructively talk about climate policy, even if some of their own party leadership isn’t.
Overall, the resolution is a positive sign, and one that we should find encouraging. As my colleague Peter Frumhoff, UCS’s director of science and policy put it:
“Congressman Gibson and his colleagues are right to call for science-based policies to address climate change. Climate risks, and the costs of dealing with them, are growing, and the American people deserve strong political leadership on these issues. Measures to reduce emissions from fossil fuels and increase our reliance on clean energy enjoy wide public support. We look forward to working with these members to strengthen America’s response to climate change.”
When I worked for my member of Congress in New Jersey, I remember heading to Long Beach Island and taking pictures of erosion there. Houses were at risk of collapsing and the local townships wanted federal help to protect and repair their beaches.
Rep. Jim Saxton, who had served in Congress for nearly 20 years at the time, was deeply familiar with these issues. He also supported action to address climate change.
And he was a Republican.
That was the early 2000s, when political opinion on climate change didn’t cleave so neatly along partisan lines in Washington.
But facts on the ground are starting to scramble those lines. Many aspects of climate change fundamentally come down to geography and economics, so it’s not surprising that the growing costs of wildfires and coastal flooding are causing members of Congress to rethink how we pay for damage from these events in a warming world.
A few months ago, I went to New Hampshire and learned about the state’s bipartisan plan to deal with coastal flooding and sea level rise. It’s one of many places where increased flooding and sea level rise are expected to pose significant challenges to local communities. It was wonderful to see leaders willing to put partisanship aside to tackle a common problem. After all, the ocean (and rising seas) don’t care what party you support.
We need respectful cooperation like that at the national level, too. And that will mean encouraging our political leaders to have real, constructive debates about solutions so they can stop talking past each other when they talk about the problem.
Obviously, environmentalists and free market advocates won’t always agree with one another – heck, they often disagree among themselves – but they can and should come to the table with an equal understanding and respect for what scientists know about climate change.
There are many conservative groups like Clear Path, the Niskanen Center, RepublicEn, and the R Street Institute that are engaging in solid debates about energy and climate policy at the national level.
It’s good to see more Republican members of Congress joining them. We need more voices on climate policy, not fewer, if we’re going to adequately address the problem.]]>
Transparency is in everyone’s interest. Harassing scientists is not. So where should we draw the line when politicians use their investigatory powers to target scientists or when corporations and ideological interest groups use open records requests to harass researchers at public institutions?
These are tough questions. Yesterday, Paul Thacker and Charles Seife published a blog post that argued in favor of a simple answer: Don’t draw any lines. Unfortunately, in making their argument, they neglected some specifics and misrepresented UCS’s work.
Thacker and Seife focus much of their criticism on a report UCS published last year, authored by Center for Science and Democracy program manager Michael Halpern, which chronicled how politicians, corporations, and interest groups have used open records requests to attack scientists and scientific research.
For example, in the early 1990s, tobacco giant R.J. Reynolds used Georgia’s open records law to demand research records from Paul Fisher, a professor at Georgia Medical College, who published a study on children’s reactions to the Joe Camel mascot. “When Fisher resisted,” Halpern wrote, “the medical college successfully sued its own professor for the documents and sent them to the company. Disgusted, Fischer resigned his tenured position and set up a family medical practice.”
The UCS report includes several others stories like this featuring climate scientists, chemists, animal researchers, and historians and religious scholars. Since the report was published, another example has come to light: a coal company’s lawsuit against West Virginia University, which has advanced to the state’s Supreme Court. Alpha Natural Resources wants to use the state’s open records law to obtain thousands of documents from a professor who found links between mountaintop removal mining, cancer and birth defects. Their request includes demands for draft papers, peer review comments, and correspondence with other scientists. The university is fighting the request on the grounds that it is overly broad.
Thacker and Seife argue that harassment is a price worth paying for transparency. They acknowledge that “the same mechanisms that watchdogs use to uncover scientific wrongdoing have been abused in the past…no doubt they will be abused in the future.” Nevertheless, they write, “…transparency laws remain a fundamental tool for monitoring possible scientific misbehavior. And it would be a mistake to believe that scientists should not be subject to a high level of outside scrutiny.”
Indeed, transparency laws are in the public interest, as UCS has long argued. Thacker and Seife correctly note that UCS has used disclosure laws to uncover political and corporate interference in science and the organization has also cited the results of many open records investigations. However, the examples they cite focused on open records requests related to government policy decisions, not overreaching requests targeting academic scientists. Thus, their attempt to paint UCS as hypocritical rests on ignoring those important distinctions.
To be clear, “outside scrutiny” and harassment are two different things. That’s why UCS has also argued that it is in the public interest to protect scientists from harassment campaigns that prevent them from doing their jobs.
Over the past few years, we’ve been working with scientists, academic institutions, and transparency groups to try to figure out how the scientific community can foster transparency while protecting researchers from overreaching demands.
Proactive disclosure is one obvious way forward. My colleague Andrew Rosenberg, who directs UCS’s Center for Science and Democracy, has argued that transparency, especially on funding, “should be the norm for science” and that institutions should disclose not only their funding sources, but any conditions under which they have taken money.
I asked Thacker and Seife if they support proactive disclosure policies. “Absolutely,” Seife said. He cited changes the National Institutes of Health made to conflict of interest disclosure in 2011 as one example. He cautioned, however, that many institutions do a poor job of following through with such policies. “The ones that do disclose are performing a valuable service, in my view,” he said.
Thacker also credited universities with successfully lobbying the White House to water down those rules. “That was unfortunate,” he wrote.
Better standards and practices for responding to open records requests and more resources to implement them are another avenue to pursue, in UCS’s view. Public universities, in particular, have dealt with state open records requests inconsistently. It would be beneficial for the scientific community—perhaps through organizations like the National Academies of Sciences—to agree on principles for ethically and responsibly responding to such requests.
I asked Seife and Thacker if they thought there was any way institutions could responsibly protect scientists from abusive requests. Seife acknowledged that abusive requests are “a big deal to those involved. But they’re relatively rare, and any solution is likely to be worse than the problem.” He cited problems in the United Kingdom with agencies denying “vexatious” requests.
He went on to say that “…institutions should certainly negotiate with requestors about the scope of requests — most people using FOI laws are doing it in good faith and want to reduce the burden on the institution and the subject of the request, so they’ll be responsive.”
Seife also drew a parallel between free speech from hate groups and open records requests that harass scientists. “As for the abusive requestors…well, much as we might not like it, we have to let the Klan march too,” he said. (Ellipses in the original.)
I see Seife’s point, but his comparison strikes me as imprecise and too absolutist. While hate groups certainly enjoy free speech rights, they also aren’t allowed to harass people.
I’m glad Seife was able to respond to some of my questions about disclosure and harassment. I also asked him and Thacker about what I see as errors in their original piece. Seife said he was “swamped” and had to stop short of addressing those points. “I’m afraid I’m out of time…if I get a chance before your deadline, I’ll see if I can answer more questions,” he said. Thacker responded to my emailed inquiries, but only to add a brief point about universities lobbying the White House.
If Thacker or Seife would like to respond to the points below (or others), I’d be happy to update this post.
I asked them about a passage in which they claim that Halpern’s report “failed to note” that several media organizations filed a brief in a Virginia court case concerning attempts to procure emails from leading climate scientists. In fact, Halpern’s report discusses the brief in two paragraphs on page 16 under the heading “Separating Legitimate Requests from Harassment.” The brief, by the way, was also nuanced. It cautioned the court against interpreting the “proprietary nature” of scientific correspondence in a way that could exempt “almost all public documents from the ambit of records laws.” Never the less, Thacker and Seife offer a simplistic description of the brief, saying the media organizations were opposing an “attempt to hide access to public emails.”
Thacker and Seife also write that the Columbia Journalism Review “panned the UCS report, writing that ‘sunlight is a benefit for all.’” But that quote is taken far out of context. Near the end of the article, author Anna Clark discusses how a biologist and a group targeting him with open records requests were engaged in a “public debate about record requests.” She wrote: “Whatever one’s stance—scientist, journalist, or a citizen trying to make sense of it all—bringing these backstage hijinks into the sunlight is a benefit for all.”
Additionally, Thacker and Seife claim that Halpern and I produced “muddled and internally contradictory” commentary in response to a Congressional investigation of climate researchers. The reader can decide how muddled we are, but we’re certainly not contradictory. In one post, I argued that members of Congress deserved answers about climate funding. Later that day, Halpern wrote a post in which he agreed with me on funding and added a separate point: universities would be justified in resisting requests for draft testimony and other deliberative correspondence. (Scientific societies—and a member of Congress who initiated some of the requests—made these same distinctions.)
Gretchen Goldman, lead analyst for UCS’s Center for Science and Democracy, also discussed differences scientists see between funding information and private correspondence in a post about records requests targeting biologists. Thacker and Seife, however, only quoted the part of Goldman’s argument that pertained to “excessive access to scientists’ inboxes.”
These distinctions are perhaps a bit nuanced, but Thacker and Seife’s blog post papered over them. That’s too bad, because scientists and scientific institutions would benefit from delving into the open records back-and-forth journalists and public interest groups deal with on a regular basis, particularly when it comes to uncovering outsider attempts at biasing and influencing scientific research and communication.
There are a lot of questions worth tackling on that topic and I posed one to Thacker and Seife. Do they see any differences between what they call “official documentation of funding” and scientists’ email correspondence with and about funders? In response, Seife shed some helpful light on his thinking: “They’re different kinds of documents, with different content and different sensitivity [with regard to] privacy. And when someone’s not being entirely forthright on the former, the latter can be invaluable to finding out.”
Yesterday, I encouraged Thacker to be in touch with me and my colleagues when writing pieces like this via Twitter. He said, “[I] was having a hard time reaching you.” For what it’s worth, I have no record or recollection of Thacker or Seife attempting to contact me or my colleagues for comment on their post.
I hope they follow up on an offer I made to Thacker months ago to meet and discuss his concerns. It still stands. And personally, I find it much more productive to discuss complex issues like this over the phone or in person rather than over social media or through trading blog posts.
Anna Clark described some of the tensions scientists and journalists see in the Columbia Journalism Review piece cited earlier:
“…it isn’t easy to parse harassing requests from legitimate ones—not without trampling on hard-won transparency laws, at least. Yes, some people abuse their right to open records, but the benefits are still a net positive for freedom of information. That means we need to look at how we can support scientists who are unduly subject to harassing requests while still protecting the right of journalists and others to make them.”
Broadly, that’s a sensible approach. Unfortunately, a lot of conversations around how institutions respond to open records requests focus on the intent of individual requesters, which can distract everyone involved from what UCS sees as a more pressing issue: the need for scientific institutions to develop fair and universal standards not only for disclosure, but also for what constitutes harassment.
Ideally, protecting scientists from harassment shouldn’t interfere with journalists’ and public interests groups’ ability to discover undisclosed conflicts and wrongdoing. At the same time, the scientific community shouldn’t roll over for every request, especially those that cross the line into harassment.
Climate scientists, for instance, have created a legal defense fund to help respond to an influx of open records requests. More broadly, scientific societies, agencies and universities have worked to curtail Congressional inquiries and interest group open records requests that they view as overstepping or chilling to academic inquiry.
As both legitimate and harassing public scrutiny of science continues, and as public universities turn to more potentially conflicted corporate funding, it will be incredibly important for scientific institutions, including agencies, universities and journals, to embrace proactive disclosure policies and figure out how to fairly and effectively respond to open records requests.
This is complex stuff and simple answers are easy. Effective ones will be harder and worth figuring out.
Late last Friday, PLOS removed the blog post to which I responded above. Retraction Watch has more, including a copy of the original post.
Thacker and Seife’s blog now includes some corrections. It warrants a few more, in our opinion, and we’re waiting to hear back from PLOS regarding those.
Thacker and Seife also published an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times this morning that reiterates their core arguments. Importantly, they do so without conveying inaccurate information about UCS’s work. That’s good. As I wrote earlier, there are plenty of worthwhile issues to respectfully discuss and debate on this topic.
Separately, several journalists, academics and science communicators have shared Thacker and Seife’s piece online. I contacted about 20 of them, many of whom I’ve worked with before, to let them know about our response, including the fact that Thacker and Seife didn’t contact UCS for comment before publishing their piece. It’s been good to gather more thoughts on this issue from other people, especially journalists.
Thacker and Seife have not followed up on our offer to meet and discuss their concerns. Instead, Thacker has tagged me and UCS several times on Twitter. He has also sent at least one follow-up email to people about his post, including two of my colleagues. In that email he said it wasn’t clear why I hadn’t posted a comment on PLOS’s blog. I haven’t done so because I’m waiting for them to get back to us about errors in the original post.]]>
Even with robust fact checking, a bad study or analysis can enjoy a few brief moments in the political and media spotlight before it is debunked. Lobbyists and public relations professionals at institutions like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce know this. That’s why they released a May 2014 study that grossly overstated the costs and ignored the benefits of the Clean Power Plan a full week before the EPA made its draft plan available to the public.
The Chamber skewed the results of its analysis in a few big ways: first, misreading statements from Obama administration officials to come up with a guess about how much the plan would cut emissions; second, assuming that the agency would require states to comply in one of the most costly ways possible; and, finally, failing to account for any benefits from reducing emissions.
The same day the Chamber released its report, the EPA pointed out its flaws, emphasizing, in particular, that the agency was not going to require natural gas plants to install carbon capture and storage technology, an assumption that comprised about 70 percent of the costs the Chamber baked into its analysis.
Despite these tell-tale signs of bunk, policymakers opposed to the plan uncritically cited the misleading study when the EPA released its real draft plan the following week. Doing so earned them 4 out of 4 “Pinocchios” from the Washington Post’s Fact Checker, run by Glenn Kessler. Kessler concluded that based on the information that was available, policymakers “should have avoided using the Chamber’s numbers in the first place.”
Eric Pooley has some suggestions. He’s a former business journalist and the author of an indispensible chronicle of the cap-and-trade debate in Congress; he now works at the Environmental Defense Fund. In 2009, he wrote a discussion paper in which he argued that there were usually three ways journalists handled suspect economic claims:
Obviously, Pooley is a big fan of #3. Me too.
Of course, it can be tough for journalists to find the time to write stories that fall into the third category, especially in an era where they’re expected to rapidly produce so much content for their audiences. That’s why it’s often up to fact-checkers, watchdogs and independent analysts to quickly and vigorously debunk misinformation from special interests.
Sean Reville, a research intern working with our energy team, spent the past several weeks reviewing coverage of the Chamber analysis across 20 media outlets and ranked the news and opinion pieces he found against Pooley’s criteria, with feedback from me and our colleague Dave Anderson. He looked at several national outlets, including wire services, the Washington Post and New York Times, as well as a few Beltway-focused publication, some Midwest and Appalachian papers, and liberal and conservative-leaning news websites.
Although Reville’s research didn’t constitute a formal analysis, I thought what he found was interesting and worth sharing publicly. (See a spreadsheet of the coverage along with some commentary on how Reville researched and coded it.)
Overall, he found that national news reporters were much more likely to cover the study through balance or refereeing the claims. Opinion pieces, on the other hand, were naturally a mixed bag. EPA opponents tended to offer a one-sided endorsement of the Chamber’s analysis while proponents critically debunked it.
Many of the articles that fell into category one were opinion pieces, such as a May 31 USA Today op-ed from Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), who repeated the Chamber’s numbers and warned that they were just “the tip of the iceberg” — an ironic cliché to use given the topic.
A May 28 article from The Hill on the release of the Chamber study was typical of balanced coverage. After describing the Chamber’s findings, author Benjamin Goad cited the EPA’s immediate pushback:
The EPA bristled at the report, saying it is unfounded and based on speculation, since the details of the proposal would not be made public until next week.
Many later articles – in which reporters and opinion writers “refereed” the Chamber’s claims – stated the limitations of the study as fact. For instance, the Wall Street Journal’s Amy Harder described the study this way when writing about a letter from legislators that cited it:
That study, which was released last week before EPA proposed its rule, relied on assumptions that proved not to be the case within the draft regulation.
After reading through all these articles, Reville thought that the analysis clearly had an effect on policymakers and media coverage. “The Chamber was able to use a flawed analysis to dictate much of the initial focus of the conversation surround the Clean Power Plan,” he said. Indeed, coverage of the Chamber’s report peaked on the June 2, the same day the EPA made its draft Clean Power Plan available to the public.
He was also surprised to see that some outlets simply stopped citing the study after debunking it. Bloomberg, for instance, covered the study once, examined its flaws and never cited it again, despite policymakers continuing to do so. The Washington Post also stopped citing the study after its in-house fact-checking team debunked it.
These findings suggest that fact checking matters and that full-time fact-checking positions remain a valuable tool for journalists.
That said, the Chamber’s analysis has enjoyed a long shelf-life. It even popped up again recently in an Associated Press story as Reville was wrapping up his review.
Reville also took a look at which arguments were most prevalent in the articles examined when it came to speaking out for or against the Clean Power Plan. While much of the coverage pitted economics costs against climate benefits, it was good to see that points about the economic benefits of climate action were also reflected in coverage.
According to investigative journalist Alyssa Katz’s new book on the Chamber, the organization evolved over the decades from a sleepy, consensus-based policy group to a lobby-shop for companies, including tobacco, health insurance, and fossil fuel extractors, that don’t want their names attached to fighting legislation that would reduce harms from their products.
We don’t know which of the Chamber’s members underwrote its analysis or the group’s broader campaign against the Clean Power Plan. While the Chamber has an Energy, Clean Air, and Natural Resources Committee that is responsible for its work on climate and energy, it doesn’t disclose which corporations serve as committee members.
Since the Chamber is so opaque, it’s harder for reporters, policymakers and the public to evaluate its work. Indeed, several companies, when pressed by advocates and journalists, distanced themselves from the Chamber on the Clean Power Plan. More broadly, companies are often hesitant to acknowledge their affiliations with the Chamber, even when they are already publicly known. Nonetheless, the Chamber continues to claim to represent businesses broadly.
The good news is that there are plenty of business voices that are engaging on climate issues, including CERES and the U.S. Business Roundtable. Clean energy jobs arguments are also gaining traction as more and more people join the ranks of the solar and wind industries.
We deserve a fair and open debate about climate policy, not brazen misinformation campaigns from companies that are too ashamed to attach their names to the Chamber’s work. Policymakers and journalists should continue to view the Chamber’s claims with a healthy dose of skepticism, especially as states move forward with implementing the Clean Power Plan.]]>
It’s not often that you hear science policy advocates say things like, “Woohoo!” but this one of them. (Another was earlier this week, when the EPA finalized its Clean Power Plan.)
Why the excitement? ALEC is a fairly gnarly group, even by the standards of semi-clandestine, industry-backed lobby shops. Not only has ALEC tried to fight energy polices in places where those policies are already working, but it also lets crackpots brief legislators about the latest climate science.
Shell, meanwhile, is among a handful of oil producers that says it wants the world to set a price on carbon. The company employs a full time climate adviser, is broadly on board with scientific realities of climate change, and, earlier this year, worked with shareholders to hold the company more accountable when it comes to climate lobbying, including stress testing its business model against dramatic emissions reductions.
Considering that Shell is the 6th largest historical producer of industrial carbon emissions, that’s all pretty darn cool, though a lot of people who work on climate and energy issues – especially those who own kayaks – would also caution that Shell is far too excited about drilling for oil in the rapidly melting Arctic.
My colleagues and I have been asking Shell for more than a year to leave ALEC. Many tech companies, and even other fossil fuel companies, have already done the same. We weren’t alone either: more than 130,000 supporters, activists, and allies joined us in calling on Shell to leave ALEC. We also partnered with investor groups like ShareAction that urge companies to act more responsibly.
No company is monolithic, so it’s not surprising that it took Shell – which employs nearly 100,000 people – some time to figure out how it should approach its relationship with ALEC, even a year after the company’s CEO said it didn’t align with groups that reject climate science.
Shell employees met with us a few times to discuss our concerns. I was initially surprised to hear that they weren’t as familiar with ALEC’s attempts at misinforming legislators as we were. That underscores just how important it is to watchdog groups like ALEC, including their funding sources. And it’s doubly important to make sure companies know what sort of activities they’re really supporting.
From the outside, it’s hard to tell where fossil fuel companies really stand when it comes to climate policy. Scientists, engineers, CEOs, lobbyists, and philanthropic offices at individual companies aren’t always on the same page and, indeed, may even work at cross-purposes from time to time.
As we learned last month, Exxon employees were considering climate risks from projects as early as 1981. That revelation came as a shock, especially since executives and lobbyists at Exxon continued to spread misinformation about the realities of climate change for decades.
Shell responded to that news by pointing to the long history of climate science, which stretches back more than 200 years.
Obviously, Shell’s own take on climate science evolved over time, too, as the science itself has evolved. My colleague Dave Anderson found a great example from 1959, in which a Shell International Chemical Company scientist argues that, “There seem few grounds for believing that our furnaces and motor car engines will have any large effect on the carbon dioxide balance.”
That was 1959. The science became clearer. In fact, it became undeniable. But companies, including Shell, supported efforts to publicly deny it anyway, usually as part of lobbying campaigns to block climate policy.
I’m glad more companies are coming to their senses when it comes to cutting off support for scientific misinformation as well as efforts to undermine climate policies.
It seems clear that there is a divide, and perhaps a growing one, among fossil fuel companies when it comes to how they want to approach climate change. Those divides seem to exist within the companies themselves, too.
The good news is that the world is moving ahead with increasing alacrity to reduce carbon emissions and grapple with the risks that are already baked in from climate change.
It would be great if the men and women who deal with climate policy at oil companies chose to lead.
If they can’t do that, they could at least follow.
And if they can’t do that, the least they can do is get out of the way.]]>
Below is a brief examination of Charles Koch’s answers to two questions on climate policy and climate science. The interviewer’s questions and Koch’s answer are indented and in italics and my commentary is in normal type. It’s clear to me that he would benefit immensely from a meeting with climate researchers. It would also be good for him to sit down with former Rep. Bob Inglis (R-S.C.) and other conservative leaders who are interested in developing climate policy alternatives to EPA regulations.
Koch runs through a litany of debunked and suspect claims about the economic effects of the Clean Power Plan, which was just finalized yesterday.
Q: How concerned are you about the administration’s new emissions policy?
A: I’m very concerned because the poorest Americans use three time[s] the energy as the percentage of their income as the average American does. This is going to disproportionately hurt the poor.
While the costs will depend on what paths states use to meet the Clean Power Plan, the numbers for residential energy consumers are likely to look good. According to the EPA, the final plan would reduce electric bills by about $7 per month by 2030.
Further, environmental justice groups like WE ACT have done a lot to ensure that the EPA listens to concerns from low-income and minority communities. As Van Jones and others have noted, low-income communities deserve more access to solar and other renewable sources of energy, in particular, and that is indeed reflected in the Clean Power Plan.
It may make the whole electric grid unstable, depending on how it is enforced.
Note the words “may” and “depending on how it is enforced.” The good news is that grid experts at utilities and federal agencies have been working for years on these very issues, as my colleague Mike Jacobs has chronicled. I’m betting they won’t let the grid destabilize and that they will choose to enforce the law in ways that are not stupid.
And it does nothing for the climate.
All you have to do to believe this canard is 1) ignore how single policies like this fit into the bigger picture and 2) pretend that American leadership doesn’t matter.
The Clean Power Plan is one of many polices, including increased fuel efficiency, that have informed the United States’ goal of cutting climate emissions 26 to 28 percent by 2025 (from 2005 levels). Thanks to these policies and ongoing macro-economic developments, the United States was able to bilaterally negotiate emissions reductions with China, one of the most positive, stunning developments in international climate policy in decades. Clearly, this is helping other countries hop on board with emissions reductions, too.
But more broadly, what sort of emissions reduction policy would Charles Koch support? Criticizing what our country is already doing without proposing alternatives is not a good-faith way to debate energy policy. It’s just complaining.
At this point, you may be wondering if Charles Koch even thinks climate science is valid. It turns out he’s embraced several key pieces of misinformation about that, too.
Q: Are you worried about climate change?
A: Well, I mean I believe it’s been warming some.
Yeah, it’s pretty hard to claim that it isn’t. That’s because the planet has warmed more than a degree Fahrenheit since the late 1800s. But hey, who’s counting? (NASA, actually.)
There’s a big debate on that, because it depends on whether you use satellite measurements, balloon, or you use ground ones that have been adjusted.
Nope. Satellites, balloons, ocean buoys, and weather stations are all tools scientists use to measure our planet. Scientists don’t rely on just one of those tools to measure global temperature.
But there has been warming. The CO2 goes up, the CO2 has probably contributed to that.
The CO2 from industrial activities is, in fact, the primary cause of recent global warming. Every major scientific society, climate assessment and peer-reviewed meta-analysis agrees on this point. Charles Koch’s own foundation even funded a re-analysis of global temperature data and the lead author concluded, “Humans are almost entirely the cause.”
But they say it’s going to be catastrophic. There is no evidence to that.
There is no scientific definition of “catastrophic.” This is a rhetorical trick climate contrarians use to move the goal posts for justifying climate policy.
Scientists aren’t in the business of inventing arbitrary thresholds for “catastrophe,” which is why they often talk about varying levels of specific kinds of risks society will face from a changing climate. Is a foot of sea-level enough for Mr. Koch? What about 3 feet or 6 feet? Is that “catastrophic” enough for Tuvalu? Or Miami?
There are many real, specific questions local governments and countries are asking themselves about rising seas, just to cite one effect of climate change. Charles Koch’s “catastrophic” threshold is just an excuse to let his company off the hook for the carbon emissions it creates.
They have these models that show it, but the models don’t work…
I don’t know what standard Charles Koch judges models by, but scientists find climate models to be reliable. As Michael Lewis documented in Moneyball, baseball teams routinely use computer models to estimate player performance. Those models aren’t perfect, but they’re good and they beat the heck out of guessing. We should view climate models the same way; they are incredibly useful tools, not magic crystal balls.
To be scientific, it has to be testable and refutable. And so I mean, it has elements of science in it, and then of conjecture, ideology and politics.
Climate change is very testable. Let’s just keep pumping CO2 into the atmosphere to see what happens. Indeed, we’ve been running that experiment for more than a hundred years now. The results so far are conclusive: it rapidly warms the planet. It’s also refutable. We just need an alternative explanation for why the Earth has been warming so much in the past 50 years. Does Charles Koch have one? If he does he should let us know.
I also have to say that a billionaire political activist lecturing scientists about keeping science free from politics is pretty ironic. In any case, atmospheric scientists aren’t in the business of telling him how to refine fuel or sell Brawny paper towels.
So do we want to create a catastrophe today in the economy because of some speculation based on models that don’t work? Those are my questions.
So scientists don’t know enough to anticipate a climate “catastrophe,” whatever may constitute one, but Charles Koch can accurately predict the economic effects of climate policies. Duly noted.
The ‘economic catastrophe’ argument has also lost a lot of cachet in the past decade or so. Mr. Koch should probably avoid making it in California, for instance. Or in Northeast states that have implemented a cap-and-trade system. And he certainly shouldn’t tell Iowans and Texans who work in the wind industry that clean energy policies are a “catastrophe.”
But believe me, I spent my whole life studying science and the philosophy of science, and our whole company is committed to science. We have all sorts of scientific developments.
Again, his eponymous foundation funded a scientific investigation of climate science that contradicted his political beliefs about climate change. I guess he’s just going to ignore them. That said, the fossil fuel industry employs many talented scientists. I bet there are some at Koch Industries who might respectfully disagree with Mr. Koch, too.
But I want it to be real science, not politicized science.
You and me both, Mr. Koch. You and me both.
Climate science is real science. The problem isn’t with science. It’s with politics.We need to hear more from conservatives who want to debate climate solutions. Charles Koch doesn’t want to debate solutions; he wants to ignore the problem. I hope that changes.
The good news is that there are many conservative groups like Clear Path, RepublicEn and the R Street Institute that are engaging in a robust, intellectually honest debate about climate policy.
I hope Charles Koch and his brother are listening to them.]]>
Given the fact that presidential candidates have logged more than 400 trips to the Granite State in the past year, I hope they’re paying attention. After all, they’re vying to lead a country with more than 12,000 miles of coastline.
Coastal communities have long dealt with erosion and land subsidence; now they also have to deal with sea level rise from industrially driven climate change.
While future sea level rise is often painted in hopelessly dire terms—and believe me, I’m not here to discount how serious the issue is—it presents significant long-term challenges worth preparing for now. Engineers and coastal planners are finding that canal systems, pump stations, and even sewer pipes—things we take for granted as part of modern life—will need updating to account for rising seas.
A cubic foot of sea water weighs 64 pounds. And it weighs 64 pounds whether a coastal community is represented by Democrats or Republicans. Water is water and it can pack a heavy punch when a storm moves it quickly inland.
Policymakers in New Hampshire understand this. In August 2013, they created a Coastal Risk and Hazards Commission to help the state prepare for flooding and sea level rise. The legislation was sponsored by Nancy Stiles, a Republican state senator from Hampton, and two Democratic state senators, David Watters of Dover and Martha Fuller Clark of Portsmouth.
Obviously, it would be great to see more cross-party cooperation like that at the national level, too.
The commission convened a panel of experts, including from the University of New Hampshire, to produce an advisory report. Panel members also included those who are skeptical about mainstream climate science, which ensured that all voices were heard.
The report includes practical recommendations for local and state officials based on how long they expect projects to endure and a range of risks we’re likely to face as sea levels rise. As climate science nerds will happily tell you, future sea level rise depends largely on how much more heat-trapping emissions go into the atmosphere and how quickly land-based ice melts in response to warming. Thus the double-barreled uncertainty that produces a wide range of future sea-level rise scenarios that are all worth considering.
On a recent visit to New Hampshire, the Rockingham Planning Commission’s Julie LaBranche helpfully explained the specifics of the report:
If a town were building a new pump station to manage flooding and expected that station to be in service for 30 years the report recommends that the town plan on managing 1.3 feet of sea level rise above today’s levels and consider ways to modify the infrastructure over time to possibly manage 2 feet of sea level rise.
If something was designed to last past 2050, such as a new wastewater treatment plant, the risk increases to 3.9 feet of sea level rise with the possibility of as much as 6.6 feet by the end of the century.
Whenever I see reports like this, I’m struck by how useful they are. Why would anyone want to build something without taking advantage of the latest scientific knowledge about our coasts? At the most practical level, we want to build infrastructure that can last into the future – not infrastructure that will need replacing when it floods.
My colleagues and I pay a lot of attention to these planning processes, including in Florida and Louisiana as well in places like North Carolina, where the state is once again considering science-based sea level rise projections after legislators voted to ignore them in 2012.
My colleague Erika Spanger-Siegfried follows them particularly closely. When she’s not writing analyses about coastal flooding, she also works with Storm Surge, a coastal adaptation workgroup in Merrimack Valley, which sits along the border between Massachusetts and New Hampshire. Erika and her neighbors are on the Massachusetts side and she’s glad they’ve found ways to learn from folks in New Hampshire. “They’re far out ahead of us,” she told me, a testament to the foresight New Hampshire legislators showed in creating the commission.
A few years ago, I also met Caroline Lewis, the head of the CLEO Institute in South Florida, an area that has become a national symbol of the threat of rising seas, particularly in Miami. She assured me that Miami could continue to thrive for decades—if leaders plan for the future now. And she told me she hoped other communities around the country—and the world—could learn from what Miami chooses and doesn’t choose to do. In this sense, being on the front lines of sea level rise is both a challenge and a responsibility, and Florida leaders at the county level certainly understand that, even as state officials too often avoid the issue.
Meeting people who are actively working to protect their communities from coastal flooding has made it abundantly clear to me that we need to do more as a country to support them.
The next president, in particular, will lead agencies including the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the Army Corps of Engineers, which all play a critical role in studying, protecting and reshaping our coasts. Their duties—and the assistance communities will need from them—will only grow as seas rise.
Candidates owe it to coastal states to tell them how they plan on dealing with sea level rise over the next four years. As they pass through these states, especially New Hampshire, I hope we learn what those plans are.]]>
If even a small fraction of Arctic sea floor carbon is released to the atmosphere, we’re f’d.
— Jason Box (@climate_ice) July 29, 2014
While Box’s statement is conditional, saying things like “we’re f’d” has a clear implication to most people: we are trapped and our actions won’t matter. That’s an unhelpfully depressing sentiment. It also doesn’t have the benefit of being true. Climate change is a major civilization-wide challenge – it’s among the biggest risks we collectively face as a species, right alongside nuclear war – but the extent of future climate change depends largely on a number of human choices we continue to make every day.
Climate change doesn’t make me feel despondent or “f’d.” It makes me feel like we need to keep working on solutions.
The title of the piece overstates climate risks in a fundamental way: “When the End of Human Civilization is Your Day Job.” While climate change is very risky and aspects of it will be terribly difficult and damaging, it’s not about to make our planet uninhabitable nor is it going to turn the world into Mad Max: Fury Road.
But let’s not kid ourselves either: certain parts of the planet will no longer be “home” for many people. The early warning signs are already here, from encroaching tides to families that have chosen to leave island homes. Many other low-lying coastal regions and island nations are slated to be swallowed by rising seas. That won’t happen overnight, though. In most cases, it’ll take decades and, in some cases, centuries, a point I wish the Esquire piece had gotten to more quickly.
Additionally, as temperature and humidity rise, some parts of the world are projected to have unbearable summers during which it will be impossible to be outdoors. It’s hard to imagine people will want to live in those places.
Both of these things are tough to think about. But it doesn’t mean “we’re f’d,” certainly not in the sense of our entire species or all of human civilization disappearing.
As NASA scientist Gavin Schmidt explains in the Esquire article: “The business-as-usual world that we project is really a totally different planet. There’s going to be huge dislocations if that comes about.”
That’s a more precise formulation. And while those dislocations will happen all over the world, it’s also obvious that people from less wealthy nations, including places like Bangladesh and Tuvalu, will have a harder time adapting than people in places like New York City, for instance, which is recovering from $2 billion worth of sea level rise-related damage during Sandy.
Similarly, we should recognize that the communities that have been supplying the world with coal and oil have a lot to lose, too, and they shouldn’t be forgotten in the transition to clean energy, either.
Given these circumstances, it’s hard not to feel bummed out. And it also means that we have an obvious moral responsibility to come together as a species and deal with it. It’s a challenge worth rising to as a people and the fact that so many people are already rising to it gives me hope.
The main thing I do like about this article is that it gave scientists a venue to say what’s often on their minds, but goes unexpressed in public. And scientists should certainly feel comfortable expressing their feelings and values.
After all, I wish more people could put themselves in scientists’ shoes. To Earth scientists, dramatically increasing the amount of heat-trapping carbon in our atmosphere over a period of a few decades can sound like a crazy thought experiment. But it’s not. It’s what industrial carbon burning is actually doing to our planet.
You’d be freaked out, too. And you would be justified in feeling overwhelmed, and frustrated, and taken aback by what one of my colleagues referred to as a sense of “profound brokenness.”
That said, while no one has ever formally studied the efficacy of the “we’re f’d” message on climate change, I’ve seen plenty of people tune scientists out when they convey despondency or when journalists convey despondency on their behalf. Scientists who regularly communicate about climate risks owe it to their audiences to make it clear that there are significant differences between a lower and higher-emission future. And it’s worth pointing people to what is being done and what can be done to address those risks.
For instance, Texas Tech University’s Katharine Hayhoe, who is probably the most positive climate researcher I know, told Slate that she likes living in an area that she describes as “ground zero” for some aspects of climate change. “If I personally can make a difference,” she said, “I feel like Texas is where I can do it.”
In the Esquire article, Michael Mann describes how he would like his daughter to think about his work: “I don’t want her to have to be sad,” he says. “And I almost have to believe we’re not yet there, where we are resigned to this future.”
I think that’s a solid attitude for those of us who have internalized just how damaging climate change could be. Resignation is clearly not the answer. After all, even if climate change is a huge bummer, what are we going to do about it? A lot, it turns out. And despite a multi-decade campaign from ideologues and fossil fuel lobbyists to block climate action — the world is addressing climate change anyway.
The bright spots are incredibly bright: look at what’s been happening in California, on its own one of the world’s largest economies, as the state adopted a comprehensive climate plan:
This a great story. And stories like it are being repeated all over the world, from growing demand for solar energy, falling prices for wind, and people in developing countries leapfrogging baseload fossil fuel energy to take advantage of emissions-free renewables.
A combination of farsighted policies, new technology, and creative financing deals are doing a lot to address climate change. And while we certainly need to do more, I’d much rather concentrate on building upon that momentum than give into despair.
After all, Winston Churchill didn’t rally Britons by telling them they were f’d. He posited that hard work — blood, toil, tears, and sweat — would lead to victory.
And in the midst of the Great Depression, Franklin Roosevelt did not tell Americans they we were f’d. He told us to stop being afraid. And he said that unemployment, “…is no unsolvable problem if we face it wisely and courageously.”
And if an asteroid the size of Texas were headed for our planet, we wouldn’t say we’re f’d and give up. Our best scientists and engineers would get to work and steer that thing away from our planet. And if they failed at first and some people thought all hope was lost, they would try and try again because that is what humans do in the face of adversity.
Pick your hero: they surely had dark moments, but they never gave up.
Dr. Mann put this well in another venue – a letter, one of many from scientists, discussing how they feel about climate change. As he wrote, we can have complex, conflicting feelings about climate change. But “…at the end of the day, it is actually hope, among all my conflicting emotions, that wins out for me.”
Hope wins for me, too. I hope it does for you, too.]]>
1981 is well before most people and policymakers were even aware of risks from climate change. Indeed, we’re talking about the same year that IBM introduced its first personal computer and Dolly Parton’s 9 to 5 climbed the charts.
It wasn’t until seven years later that NASA scientist James Hansen famously testified before Congress regarding the link between industrial activities and climate change.
We know that fossil fuel companies pay close attention to climate science. Indeed, the email message that revealed this bit of Exxon’s history was from a chemical engineer who worked at the company for years and who went on to contribute to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s landmark assessment reports.
Interestingly, the email itself had been published online in October 2014, but nobody noticed it until my colleague Jayne Piepenburg found it while doing some additional research related to a new UCS report that chronicles the fossil fuel industry’s history of supporting misinformation campaigns on climate change.
The email – and the juxtaposition with the history of misinformation campaigns – has grabbed global headlines and Exxon had some interesting responses to reporters’ questions about it.
A company spokesperson asserted to The Guardian: “We do not fund or support those who deny the reality of climate change.” The same spokesperson told Inside Climate News that the company “believes the risk of climate change is clear, and warrants action.”
I wish those statements were true.
Indeed, my first thought when I read that quote was that Exxon supports the American Legislative Exchange Council, a group that regularly misrepresents climate science to state legislators and attempts to roll-back clean energy laws. BP has already left the group and Shell might be considering it. Will Exxon leave it, too? I hope they do.
The 1981 revelation sheds more light on an important question: What exactly did the fossil fuel companies know about climate change and when did they know it?
Sharon Eubanks, who led the Department of Justice’s racketeering suit against the tobacco companies, reacted to this news this way when the Climate Investigations Center asked her about it:
“It starts to look like a much longer conspiracy. It’s like what we discovered with tobacco – the more you push back the date of knowledge of the harm, the more you delay any remediation, the more people are affected. So your liability can grow exponentially as the timeline gets longer.”
Additionally, I have to wonder how other researchers and scientists who worked at fossil fuel companies viewed these developments over the years. After all, corporate lobbyists and CEOs often respond to scientific evidence that their products are causing harm by launching misinformation campaigns that are inconsistent with what scientists know to be true. Tobacco is the most notorious example, but academics also point to the asbestos industry, sugar refiners, lead producers and – yes – the fossil fuel industry as other notable examples.
We’ll be sure to keep our members and the public updated as more reactions come in and as more news about the major fossil fuel companies – and their misinformation campaigns – comes to light.
In the meantime, you can enjoy the musical stylings of Miss Dolly Parton:]]>
Update, June 23: My colleague Mike Jacobs, a senior energy analyst, added his thoughts in a separate post about Pope Francis’s plug for electric co-cops and other clean energy issues in the encyclical.
It’s refreshing to see a world leader – in this case a head of church and state – ably and accurately reflect scientific research as he also makes a moral argument for policy action. The Pope’s message was based on robust advice from scientists and other experts. That fact hopefully won’t be lost on the many people who may wonder why a religious leader is weighing in a topic that is so closely associated with science.
While there is much perceived conflict between religion and science in public life, there simply doesn’t have to be. I’ve met enough religious scientists and religious leaders who work with scientists to know.
As Angela Anderson, the director of our climate and energy program noted last week, “I have never felt there was a disconnect between my Christian faith and my work for what scientists have told us about our planet – and neither does Pope Francis, who not only received a technical degree in chemistry, but has also benefited from a Vatican convening of scientists and social scientists to inform the forthcoming encyclical.”
At the same time, we all make moral and value judgments every day, including scientists and other academic experts. As NASA’s Gavin Schmidt has argued, it’s fitting and proper to talk about them.
In that spirit, here are a few more reactions from my colleagues I wanted to share. If you have some more thoughts on Pope Francis’s message, please share them in the comments below.
Rachel Cleetus, UCS’s lead economist and climate policy manager, reflected on the ways in which the consequences of climate change will disproportionately affect people around the world.
Like many people today, whether they are people of faith or not, I found myself so moved by Pope Francis’ words. His deep understanding of the science of climate change is clear and compelling. But it is his elevation of the voices of the poor and marginalized that truly sets him apart as a champion for climate equity.
“Today, however, we have to realize that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” (The emphasis is his.)
As someone who cares deeply about climate change and as someone who grew up in a Catholic family in India — now with family on four continents — I am deeply grateful to this pope for his message to all of us to see climate change as a shared global challenge that goes to the heart of our common humanity.
As a mother, his question: “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” speaks directly to what motivates my work in advocating for climate solutions.
I’m sure many of us had this feeling today that even as he was speaking to the world, Pope Francis was also speaking directly to our individual experiences and perspectives. I hope we can come together to reflect and share those thoughts.
Robert Cowin, government affairs director for our climate and energy program, told me about how religious and moral perspectives might be able to transcend the partisanship that afflicts attitudes toward climate change in many areas of the United States.
People of faith — regardless of which faith — find a common humanity in their relationship with something greater than themselves. It sustains them and keeps them grounded. It permeates their value systems, fosters fellowship, and influences their perception of people and events.
Politics and religion are unavoidably linked. But how do we reconcile the Framers’ clear belief that church and state work best separately when matters of science and religion are hopelessly intertwined in public policy, and the laws that Congress makes are themselves the product of moral judgments? I think Pope Francis provided a strong example of the power of spiritual leadership in public service with his encyclical, and this example transcends partisanship.
For instance, in states like Pennsylvania, which are often politically divided on a range of social and economic issues (including climate and energy), the Pope’s leadership on climate change illuminates a way forward, something policymakers including Rick Santorum, Pat Toomey, and other conservative Catholics from the Keystone State should be interested in.
The Catholic Church and the scientific community are speaking loudly with one voice on climate, and if that voice is met with silence by Catholic leaders like Speaker John Boehner, they will have missed a unique opportunity to demonstrate the values that are common to all of us: the values that transcend party and offer us the best of church and state.
Finally, Erika Spanger-Siegfried, a senior climate analyst who works with coastal communities, including her own, on preparing for climate change sent me an incredibly thoughtful note.
With his encyclical, Pope Francis is hoping to change the world. For people long in the climate fight, he has already changed ours. And while this moment in history is not about us, it reaches us, shakes us, and gives us a chance to take heart. Laudato Si.
The world is full of broken hearts. They break for love and death and the loss of hope, and many hearts have broken in the face of climate change. I’ve seen them. And not with a big crack, like at the end of romantic love, but in a crumbling sort of way, over time, into pieces and powders that will never quite go back together again, because there is no “moving on” from the future, only living into it.
Facing climate change, it turns out, is a lot about letting go. We start grappling with climate change because the things we love most are at stake – people, places, creatures – but as time passes and we struggle to stop it, we find we have to start letting go of the idea that those things can all be saved. Our hearts break not just because of the loss, but because we feel lonely and confused in our grief: why doesn’t everyone care? By the time the broader world began worrying about the polar bear, millions of us had let Ursus maritimus go. Heads down and hearts dusty.
We can be forgiven. With climate change, we’ve seen morality and humanity shunted aside to nurture some bottom line or another – first, as an abomination (say, mountain top removal and the blotting out of communities and ecosystems), then as a sickening trend, then as an inevitability, from which every manner of madness can flow, almost unremarked on. With climate change, it feels sometimes like there are scarcely words remaining with which to talk about what’s wrong; or that words that matter most – words about impacts on the poor, about animal extinction, about climate tipping points – are heard least.
That the Pope has found words for these things – the madness, the morality, the obligation, the urgency – and called on the world to listen and to act means so much. It’s the 11th hour, later really, and the wins we have had to date are inadequate given the scope of the problem. Today, after months of build-up, his words reached us and I finally realized what they meant, at least to me: help, reinforcements, intervention, a new day.
Nothing but a world of people caring can solve climate change. Pope Francis has asked the world to care, and I am overcome with gratitude.]]>