Monday, March 24, 2014

Scientific Agreement is Vital: Just Ask 12 Angry Men

"People who say science is not about consensus, they do not understand science." - Dr. Barry Bickmore, Professor of Geologic sciences at Brigham Young University, from his YouTube lecture, "How to Avoid the Truth about Climate Change."

This Barry Bickmore quote is a vital to know and to be able to respond with quickly.  After I have given climate change presentations, I have actually had climate change contrarians challenge me with statements like "Scientific consensus does not matter."

Brian Ettling giving a climate change presentation
at the Shrine of the Ages Auditorium,
Grand Canyon National Park, May 7, 2013. 
Most vividly, a gentleman confronted me with that statement in Grand Canyon National Park after I gave a climate change presentation to over 200 park visitors at the Shine of the Ages Auditorium at South Rim Village on May 7, 2013.  Amazingly, he said this in front of a high school science teacher who teaches at the school at the south rim of the Grand Canyon.  The contrarian interrupted my pleasant conversation with the teacher to make his argument, even giving an example of Galileo.  The teacher and I rolled our eyes.  In my response to the visitor, I stuck to my guns insisting that scientific consensus does matter.

Because of  previous writings I wrote about Galileo, I debunked his Galileo argument.  From Dr. Barry Bickmore's video, I learned that Galileo was not rejecting the scientific consensus of his time, he was rejecting against a belief of the Catholic Church.  Unfortunately, this Grand Canyon visitor just stormed away because I would not capitulate to his thinking.  However, afterwards I wish I had responded to this contrarian, "Do you realize you are saying this in front of a science teacher?  If you were her student, she would probably flunk you  for making such a statement."

Why is scientific consensus vital to science?  

For non-scientists like me, it is crucial to know why scientific consensus is the gold standard for science.  As your will read later below, scientific consensus is just as important as being judged by a jury of your peers in a court of law.  

Dr. Barry Bickmore had this explanation on the importance of scientific consensus:

"We have always had (scientific) loners out there.  The brilliant loners who come up with some great idea. The problem is that they are often not perfect ideas.  It did not pick up any legs because it did not have what the modern scientific community has, which is the community itself.  Whenever a scientist presents an idea that is not perfect, there is going to be dozens of other scientists beating the crap out of it for an extended period.  They do this to work out all the kinks to make it better than before.  That is the difference the Greek philosophers and modern science: consensus."

Dr. Naomi Oreskes,
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Science historian Dr. Naomi Oreskes, professor at Harvard University, has this description of science in her book, Merchants of Doubt:

"For many of us the word 'science' does not actually conjure visions of science; it conjures visions of scientists.  We think of the great men of science - Galileo, Newton, Darwin, and Einstein - and imagine them as heroic individuals, often misunderstood, who had to fight against conventional wisdom or institutions to gain appreciation for their radical new ideas.  To be sure, brilliant individuals are important part of the history of science; men like Newton and Darwin deserve the place in history that they hold.  But if you asked a historian of science, When did modern science begin?  She would not cite the birth of Galileo or Copernicus.  Most likely, she would discuss the origins of scientific institutions."

Oreskes in the next paragraph then makes it clear that science is not about individuals, but institutions.

"From its earliest days, science has been associated with institutions - the Accademia del Lincei, founded in 1609, the Royal Society of Britian, founded in 1660, the Académie des Sciences in France, founded in 1666 - because scholars (savants and natural philosophers as they were variously called before the 19th century invention of the word "scientist") understood that to create new knowledge they needed a means to test each other's claims.  Medieval training had largely focused on study of ancient texts - the perservation of ancient wisdom and the appreciation of texts of revelation - but later scholars began to feel the world needed something more.  One needed to make room for new knowledge."

Scholars arriving after the Medieval Ages decided that new knowledge or science had to be accepted through institutions, according to Oreskes:

"Once the door was opened to the idea of new knowledge, however, there was no limit to the claims that might be put forth, so one needed a mechanism to vet them.  These were the origins of the institutional structures that we now take for granted in contemporary science journals, conferences, and peer review, so that claims could be reported clearly and subject to rigorous scrutiny.

Science has grown exponentially since the 1600s, but the basic idea has remained the same: scientific ideas must be supported by evidence, and subject to be accepted or rejected."

Okeskes tells us that science "does not provide proof.  It only provides the consensus of experts, based on organized accumlation and scrutiny of evidence."
12 Angry Men shows us the importance of scientific consensus

Dr. Jack Fishman
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In 2012, Dr. Jack Fishman, Professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences and Director of the Center for Environmental Sciences at St. Louis University, shared with me a great story that illustrates the importance of scientific consensus.

A few years ago, Dr. Fishman took a Management Training Course in Virginia with a class of 24 other participants.  During the training, the entire class watched the 1957 movie, 12 Angry Men, starring Henry Fonda.

The film is a fictional story of a jury of 12 men as they deliberate the guilt or acquittal of a defendant on the basis of reasonable doubt.

After watching the film, Fishman and all the class participants then ranked individually on their own sheet of paper the jury numbers from 1 to 12, with Henry Fonda as #1.  The goal was to see if the participants could accurately rank how the individual jury members switched their votes from guilty to not guilty.  As individuals, none of them got the correct order.  The best that anyone did was miss only one in the sequence. Only one person of the 24 did that well.

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The class was then divided into 4 groups of 6 students to discuss the movie and reach a consensus.  Working as a cooperative team, the 4 groups did get it right, with three out of the four correctly ranking 100% of all 12 jurors.  Only one group had a small discrepancy, but it was still much better than the first individual rankings.

This shows evidence that groups of people working together as a committee solve a problem more effectively than an individuals.

Even more, this story shows the importance of consensus in science.

Yes, individuals like Galileo, Issac Newton, Charles Darwin, and Albert Einstein can make remarkable scientific discoveries.  However, when a group of scientists or scientific institution comes along afterwards and verifies the discovery, then we know we have gained new knowledge.  When the scientists conduct their own independent tests, try to replicate the experiment and results, looks for the weakness, and do what Barry Bickmore calls, 'beating the crap out of it,' then we know it is new scientific knowledge.

Climate Change has almost 100% Scientific Consensus

As science writer Graham Wayne wrote on, "Science achieves a consensus when scientists stop arguing."

The scientific community stopped arguing if climate change is real and predominantly caused currently by humans decades ago.  Numerous scientific studies show that at least 97% of climate scientists accept the idea that climate change is real, happening right now, it is bad, but we can limit it if we act fast.  In 2003, Dr. Naomi Oreskes wrote a published peer reviewed paper where she conducted a survey of 928 peer-reviewed writings on the subject 'global climate change' published between 1993 and 2003.  The result of her survey was that not a single paper rejected the consensus position that global warming is human caused.

Even more, Dr. James Lawrence Powell conducted a very broad comprehensive search of peer-reviewed scientific articles published between 1 January 1991 and 9 November 2012 that have the keyword phrases “global warming” or “global climate change.”  Powell identified 13,950 papers, but only 24 which argued that humans were not the primary cause of global warming.  In 2014, he updated his survey to include studies published from November 12, 2012 to December 21, 2013.  This time, he found only one study published during this time which argued that global warming was not caused by human activity.

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This consensus on climate change is actually very old news.

In 1997, when he was administrator of the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, D. James Baker stated, "There's a better scientific consensus on (climate change) than on any issue I know -- except maybe Newton's second law of dynamics."

In 2011, a scientist at Washington University in St. Louis told me that 'about the only thing scientists can agree upon is free beer.  Yet, almost all of them agree on that climate change is real, happening right now, and is predominantly caused by humans currently.'

Scientists love to argue when they are in conversations. However, they all agree on a few items, such as the earth is round, it revolves around the sun, gravity is real, dinosaurs once existed up to 65 million years ago, smoking causes cancer, and climate change is real.

In 2001, when Dr. Donald Kennedy was editor-in-chief of Science Magazine, he argued,
“Consensus as strong as the one that has developed around this topic [climate change] is rare in science."

Science is a dictatorship of the evidence

So why are almost 100% of climate scientists not arguing if climate change is real?

As Graham Wayne writes in  "Scientists just give up arguing because the sheer weight of consistent evidence is too compelling, the tide too strong to swim against any longer. Scientists change their minds on the basis of the evidence, and a consensus emerges over time. Not only do scientists stop arguing, they also start relying on each other's work."

Scientists stopped arguing decades ago because there is multiple lines of evidence pointing to the fact that climate change is real, happening right now and is caused primarily right now by humans.  The 2009 State of the Climate Report of the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) tells us that climate change is real because of rising surface air temperatures since 1880 over land and the ocean, ocean acidification, sea level rise, glaciers melting, rising specific humidity, ocean heat content increasing, sea ice retreating, glaciers diminishing, Northern Hemisphere snow cover decreasing, and so many other lines of evidence.

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Even more, how do we know that climate change is prominently influenced by humans currently?  The 2009 State of the Climate report gives these top indicators: humans emitted 30 billion tons of of CO2 into the atmosphere each year from the burning of fossil fuels (oil, coal, and natural gas), less oxygen in the air from the burning of fossil fuels, rising fossil fuel carbon in corals, nights warming faster than days, satellites show less of the earth's heat escaping into space, cooling of the stratosphere or upper atmosphere, warming of the troposphere or lower atmosphere, etc.

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If this was a CSI detective show, humans, especially the fossil fuel industry, would have been arrested long ago, thrown in jail, tried, and convicted of damaging our planet's life support system because of all the vast evidence of climate change.

As author John Reisman wrote, "Science is not a democracy. It is a dictatorship. It is the evidence that does the dictating."

The vast amount of scientific evidence shows us that climate change is real, happening right now, it is bad, but we can limit it if we act fast.

Like 12 Angry Men, let's weigh out the evidence, and form a strong consensus on climate change 

12 Angry Men, 1957 film by distributed by United Artists
Recently, I watched 12 Angry Men on YouTube.  My father first showed it to me in 1983.  I watched it again because of my conversation with Dr. Fishman and to write this blog post.

This is a great film to watch because of the story, the acting, the conflict between the characters, and most of all, the process of how they reached a consensus jury decision.  In the beginning of the movie, it appears to be an air tight case against the defendant. However, as the jury discusses the case, the evidence does not seem to be solid enough to reach a unanimous vote for guilty.

The movie starts with the almost all of the jury in an initial rush judgement to convict.  However, when the jury was forced to weigh the evidence, it leads each individual jury member making a different decision.

Now we are called to be like our protagonist, the character played by Henry Fonda, in 12 Angry Men. Science has presented us with an overwhelming amount of solid evidence that current climate change is real, caused primarily by us, it is real, it is bad, almost 100% of climate scientists agree with this science, and we can limit the impact of climate change if we choose.

Now it is up to you and me to convince our undecided peers, such as our family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers, that we must act fast to reduce the impact of climate change.

In his 2009 talk, "A Really Inconvenient Truth," Dan Miller, Managing Director of The Roda Group, a venture capital group focused on clean technology, had this quote about the urgency of climate change:

"We will see it, our kids will live it, and there's a question of whether our grandkids will make it through or not."

12 Angry Men shows us that persuading others is not an easy task.  However, convincing our peers that we must act NOW on climate change is crucial for us, our children, grandchildren, and future generations.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Growing Up in the 1970s: climate change and me!

I had a lot of fun growing up in the 1970s. I was blown away by the original Star Wars, Charlie’s Angels, and of course, disco!   As a kid, I listened to the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack on this large 33 LP record.  Now, I listen to it on a tiny Ipod.  As a kid, I enjoyed dressing up in polyester suits.  I guess you can say that I still love doing the same thing today.

Does anyone else here remember having fun growing up or just enjoying life in the 1970s?

Besides me, something else also came of age in the 1970s.  Any guesses what that is?

Believe it or not, it is actually the science of human caused climate change.  However, the truth is climate science started way before the 1970s.    Many science historians think climate science really started in 1859. That’s when British scientist John Tyndall discovered the greenhouse effect.  He was the first to measure that certain gases, such as carbon dioxide (CO2) and water vapor (H2O), trap heat in our atmosphere.   These "greenhouse gases" trap enough of earth’s heat to maintain the Earth's habitable climate of an average of 58.3 degrees Fahrenheit today, according to NASA.

Today, science tells us that we have increased the amount of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere by 40% since 1880 by burning fossil fuels, such as coal, oil, and natural gas, for our energy needs.    Since carbon dioxide traps heat, it is like throwing extra blankets over our planet.

Today, NASA confirms what John Tyndall and other scientists discovered in the 1800s.  Releasing
carbon dioxide from humans burning fossil fuels has increased the average temperature of the planet by 1.4 Fahrenheit or .8 Celsius over the past 130 years.  In other words, precise global temperature measurements show that we have gone from this in 1881 to this today.

This leads us to the 1970s.  In many ways, that is when climate science really grew up, like me.  In 2008, Thomas C. Peterson, a research meteorologist at NOAA's National Climatic Data Center, wrote a peer reviewed published paper that counted all the major 68 peer reviewed scientific published papers focusing on global climate from 1965 to 1979.  Of the 68 papers, the results showed that a large majority 42 scientific research papers, or 62%, predicted the Earth would warm as a consequence of humans increasing carbon dioxide in our atmosphere, 19 papers or 28% were neutral or took no stance, and only 7 papers or about 10% predicted that the earth was cooling or going into an ice age.

By 1979, the evidence human carbon dioxide emissions were serious threat was strong enough that the National Academy of Sciences published Carbon Dioxide and Climate: A Scientific Assessment, with this statement, "A wait and see policy may mean waiting until it is too late."

The report continued to say, "If carbon dioxide continues to increase (from the burning of fossil fuels), the study group finds no reason to doubt that climate changes will result and no reason to believe that changes will be negligible."

The report consensus was "increasing carbon dioxide will lead to a warmer earth with a different distribution of climate regimes."

Again, we know there was a strong agreement among the 1970s scientific peer reviewed papers that burning fossil fuels would trigger climate change, 62% papers said warming vs. 10% said cooling.  Yet, I must warn you there is a myth that persists to this day.

Has anyone ever heard this myth before:

Who has heard that myth before?  I have heard this myth by some of my fellow Toastmasters.  That is why I want to set the record straight here tonight.  I want to inspire you not believe this myth and challenge you to be more open to the real science of climate change.

Where does this myth originate?  People who reject the present human caused climate change point the April 28, 1975 Newsweek article, called A Cooling World and the Monday, June 24 1974 Time Magazine article, called Another Ice Age.  Two articles so obscure they did not even make the magazine cover!

There is just one problem with citing a Time Magazine and a Newsweek article. These are what are known as ‘Popular Media.’  They are trying to sell as many magazines as possible, such as Shirley MacLaine getting her kicks at age 50 from Time Magazine in 1984, and invention of the I-pod covered in Newsweek in 2004.  Neither magazines are scientific peer reviewed journals.

Yes, Time and Newsweek try to cover science, but they both need to cover what’s popular to sell their magazines, such as focusing on Ice Cream from 1981.  Hmmm…Get your licks!  (domestic) Cats also from 1981.  How cute!  Catalogs: Delivering a Gala of Goods in 1982!  Cocktails America's Favorite Drink from 1985!

Newsweek is not much better with having magazine covers like Fashion Designer in 1978, The Royal Family in 2011, and my personal favorite from 1979: Disco Takes Over!

Don’t get me wrong.  Newsweek and Time also cover important news stories, like 101 Best Places to Eat in the World from 2012.

However, do you really want to be getting your climate science from the same magazines promoting The Simpsons or the new X-Box?

Raise your hand if you think sometimes the popular media reports the news and even science incorrectly?

The best place I found that looks objectively at this 1970s cooling myth is this scientific peer reviewed paper, The Myth of the 1970s Global Cooling Scientific Consensus by Thomas C. Peterson.  Peterson gives at least these reasons why the 1970s cooling myth is totally wrong:

1. No media or scientific agreement of global cooling.
The Time and Newsweek articles did quote a few individual climate scientists saying the earth was cooling.  However, according to Peterson, “a cursory review of the news media coverage reveals, just as there was no consensus at the time among, scientists, so was there also no consensus among journalists (of cooling idea).”

2. The story fell under what’s called “The tyranny of the news peg."

It is based on New York Times science writer Andrew Revkin’s idea that reporters need a “peg” to hang a news story.  As we all know, new and dramatic developments tend to draw the news media’s attention.  The handy peg for climate stories during the 1970s was cold weather.  Sound familiar?

As I showed you in a previous speech, snow and cold temperatures outside your window does not disprove global warming.  Nor, does a heat wave in the summer prove climate change.  You have look to the long term global trends of over at least a period of 30 years to know if climate change is real.

3. A minor aspect of 1970s climate change science literature.
Finally, only 7 scientific peer reviewed published papers or about 10% the scientific papers of the late 1960s and 1970s predicted that the earth would cool or go into an ice age.  On the other hand, 42 papers or about 62% of scientific papers of this same period predicted the earth would warm from human greenhouse gas emissions.  Therefore, this reveals that global cooling was little more than a minor aspect of 1970s climate change science literature.

Therefore, with a total reliance on popular media, using a small group of scientists backing up this claim, no media or scientific agreement, and pointing to cold winter weather in the 1970s as evidence, I hate to admit it, but even fellow Toastmasters member Howard Brandt would tell you this myth stinks even worse than disco.

I hope I inspired you to be more open to the real science of climate change.

As we now know, saying that in the 1970s all climate scientists believed an ice age was coming is about as ridiculous as wearing a disco outfit to a serious Toastmasters speech.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

With climate change, I want to be on the good side of history

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"History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but the appalling silence and indifference of the good people.

Our generation will have to repent not only for the words and acts of the children of darkness but also for the fears and apathy of the children of light."

- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
January 27, 1965
Dinkler Plaza Hotel

I first heard this quote in the 1989 Oscar Best Picture, Driving Miss Daisy, one of my all time favorite movies.  This Dr. King quote was spoken by him from an old 1965 recording played during the movie.  It sticks in my brain to this day.  I always wanted to honor Dr. King, one of my biggest heroes, by being a ‘child of the light.’ Even more, I wanted to honor him with my best words actions when my era asks for tough decisions.

Climate change is the critical issue of our time.  Future generations will judge us whether we acted appropriately.  President Barak Obama said no less in his 2014 State of the Union:

“The debate is settled.  Climate change is a fact.  And when our children’s children look us in the eye and ask if we did all we could to leave them a safer, more stable world, with new sources of energy, I want us to be able to say yes, we did.”

We may not realize it, but with our e-mails, Facebook, Youtube, and other Social Media, our words are being recorded for history.  Our children will judge us by the actions we do or do not take today on climate change.

Former Rep. Bob Inglis 
In his last address to his Congressional peers on the Energy & Environment Subcommittee in November, 2010, conservative Republican South Carolina Representative Bob Inglis began with this statement for his fellow conservative Republicans also in Congress:

"I'm very excited to be here Mr. Chairman, because this is on the record. And it's a wonderful thing about Congressional hearings — they're on the record. Kim Beazley who's Australia's ambassador to the United States tells me that when he runs into a climate skeptic, he says to them, 'Make sure to say that very publicly, because I want our grandchildren to read what you said and what I said.' And so, we're on the record, and our grandchildren, or great-grandchildren, are going to read this."

Our actions do matter.  As Dale Carnegie once remarked,
“Perhaps You may forget tomorrow the kind words you say today, but the recipient will cherish them for a lifetime.”

The opposite is also true.  If you choose the wrong words and actions, it can also haunt you for a lifetime.  Even worse, future generations could also judge you harshly.

Elizabeth and Hazel

Hazel Bryan and Elizabeth Eckford
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Original 1957 Photo taken by Photo Journalist Will Counts
One person that will always be judged harshly by many people and even future generations is Hazel Bryan Massery.  She is the 15 year old girl who walked behind Elizabeth Eckford, one of the Little Rock Nine, in one of the most famous photographs in history.  The photo was taken on September 4, 1957.  Hazel is forever seen in the black and white photograph with her teeth clenched and expressing a very angry insult at Elizabeth.  In the same photograph, Elizabeth just stares ahead trying to ignore the unyielding and resistant mob.  This assembled mob, including Hazel, does not want Elizabeth attending Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas because of the color of her skin.

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For all of eternity, the photograph forces you to choose between good and evil, tolerance vs. hatred, and love vs. fear.  The photo may be in black and white, but there are no gray areas to cling.  The photo begs to ask the question: Did Hazel ever change her opinion?  Does she still feel the same hatred today?

For years, this question nagged at me.  In January 2014, I took an amazing guided tour of Central High School National Historical Site with Ranger Jodi Morris.  The visitor center sells a book about the two women, Elizabeth and Hazel: Two Women of Little Rock, by David Margolick.  I bought the book and read it cover to cover within two days.  I highly recommend the book because it did answer my perplexed questions of what became of Hazel and Elizabeth.

It turned out that some good and healing did take place.  Six years later, when no still or video cameras were around, Hazel did call Elizabeth to apologize.

According to Marigolick’s book, Hazel was worried about her own legacy.  She wanted to be a role model on racial tolerance for her sons that she never had herself.  Even more bluntly, she did not want her sons to become the bigot she had been.  When she found Elizabeth’s phone number and called her, Hazel identified herself as “the girl in the picture that was behind you yelling at you.”  Hazel cried as she said she was sorry. She told Elizabeth what she had done was terrible, and she did not want her children turning out like that.

Elizabeth graciously accepted Hazel’s apology.  Elizabeth thought Hazel sounded sincere and so clearly craved forgiveness.  The conversation lasted five minutes and then they went their separate ways.

By 1990, Hazel took black teenagers who rarely left Little Rock on field trips to climb nearby Pinnacle Mountain and picking strawberries.  She counseled young, unwed mothers, many of the black, on parenting skills.  She became especially close with one mother, Victoria Brown and her six children.  Hazel read up on the civil rights movement and even stood up to her own husband and mother when they made racist statements.  Occasionally, Hazel would even tell friends she was that girl, always adding she was very ashamed of what she did.

Hazel started doing public interviews in 1997 to respond inquires about the famous September 4, 1957 photo.  Reporters often had a preconceived perception that Hazel would still be very racist, but they were surprised that she felt full remorse for her behavior.  One reporter noted photo still seemed to haunt her and it would not let her go.

Elizabeth Eckford and Hazel Bryan Massery
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Elizabeth and Hazel did meet around the 40th anniversary of the picture for a new reconciliation picture taken of the two of them in front of Central High School.  Amazingly, they became good friends for awhile.
They spent a lot of time together. They traveled, and spoke to school kids. Not just about that awful day in 1957, but about their respective backgrounds.  They shared with students who they were then and how they had changed.

"They were really kind of an amazing and inspiring couple," David Margolick said in a 2011 NPR story, Elizabeth and Hazel.

However, the dark legacy left by that picture never fully went away.   Other members of the Little Rock Nine never accepted Hazel.  They thought she was a publicity hound.  The white alumni of Central High from the class 1957-58 doubted her sincerity and even resented it.  Elizabeth grew to be mistrustful of Hazel.  She felt that Hazel had not fully owned up to everything that happened in the past.

On the other hand, Hazel felt like she did everything possible to recant, express remorse and work towards reconciliation with Elizabeth, but it was never enough.  Their friendship dissolved and Hazel slipped back into her private life.

In the book, Elizabeth and Hazel, someone who knew both of them well was Skip Rutherford.  He observed that Hazel “couldn’t take it anymore because no one believed her.  People look at that photo and they can’t believe the person in it can change.”

Hazel liked to say that ‘A life is more than a moment.’  However, as this story shows, a momentary hurtful act can linger for a lifetime, even for generations and into perpetuity.

The story of Elizabeth and Hazel reminds me why I want to do everything I can to reduce the impact of climate change.  I want to be a child of the light that would make Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. proud.

Climate Change asks us to make a bold stand today

With Facebook, e-mails, YouTube, and all these other forms of electronic media recording us, our children and grandchildren may know our words long after we are gone.   They may learn what we knew about climate change, when did we know it, and what did we decide to do about it.

It is troubling is that we have known about the danger of climate change for many years.  In 1979, The National Academy of Sciences (NAS), one of the oldest and most prestigious scientific institutions in the United States, had this warning about climate change "A wait and see policy may mean waiting until it is too late."

The report went on to conclude that "If carbon dioxide continues to increase (from the burning of fossil fuels), the study group finds no reason to doubt that climate changes will result and no reason to believe that changes will be negligible."

The late Dr. Stephen Schnieder,
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 In 1999, I read my first climate change book, Laboratory Earth: The Planetary Gamble We Can’t Afford to Lose by climate scientist Dr. Stephen Schneider of Stanford University.  In the book, Dr. Schneider thought that that nature could provide us eventually with some ‘very nasty surprises’ if we continue our business-as-usual approach to burning fossil fuels.

What are these nasty surprises?  Two of the most worrisome for scientists are tipping points with the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets.  In 2008, NASA climate scientist Dr. James Hansen stated,

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“West Antarctic and Greenland ice sheets are vulnerable to even small additional warming. These two-mile-thick behemoths respond slowly at first, but if disintegration gets well under way, it will become unstoppable. Debate among scientists is only about how much sea level would rise by a given date. In my opinion, if emissions follow a business-as-usual scenario, sea level rise of at least two meters is likely within a century. Hundreds of millions of people would become refugees, and no stable shoreline would be reestablished in any time frame that humanity can conceive.”

However, that is projections for the end of the century.  Sadly, climate change is not just a future threat.  It is happening right now before our eyes.  The NASA website shows multiple lines of evidence indicating that human caused climate change is happening right now and is a serious threat.   The evidence includes accelerated sea level rise, rising global temperatures, warming oceans, declining Arctic ice sheet, worldwide glaciers retreat, increase of extreme weather events and ocean acidification.

One of the biggest worries for climate scientists are abrupt tipping points, where we blow past the point of no return.  Scientists are still not even sure what they are and when we may encounter them, but why take that chance?  These tipping points could be ice sheets on Greenland and Antarctica melting permanently, global food shortages and widespread crop failures with more extreme weather, rising ocean temperatures and acidity reaching triggering a crash in global coral reef ecosystems, and warming oceans push the release of methane from the sea floor, which could lead to runaway climate change, etc.

In a 2012 scientific published paper, lead author climate scientist Dr. Tony Barnosky of the University of California Berkeley, suggests the world must currently reduce greenhouse gas emissions about 5 percent each year for the next 38 years to limit the average global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius.  (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit).  Above 2 degrees Celsius is considered to be the point of no return for many climate scientists.

Photographer Clyde Butcher
Therefore, we must act fast.  We have no time to lose.  The decisions we make today could impact us for generations.
Yes, it is ultimately up to you and me.

When it comes to protecting nature and ultimately the planet, Florida wilderness photographer Clyde Butcher said it best,

“Most people do not realize it, but we are the government.  I like to call it the God of ‘They,’ as if They will fix it.  No, it’s really up to us.”

We must decide fast if we are not going to be like Hazel or the white mob in front of Little Rock High School who bitterly fought the necessary change.  Or, will we be like President Eisenhower and the federal troops who took to the bold stand of action to usher Elizabeth Eckford and the other Little Rock Nine students inside the Central High School to start the process of racial integration.

Just like that 1957 photograph with Elizabeth and Hazel, our children and grandchildren will judge us if we made the correct action we heard about climate change.

As Hazel unfortunately learned during her life, history can make a harsh judgment against you if you make the wrong decision initially and then ask for forgiveness later.

Even worse, history can still make a harsh judgment against you if you knew for years that climate change was a serious problem, but you were afraid or too pessimistic to act.  In the 1950 and 60s, there was millions of southerners and Americans who knew that segregation was wrong, but they did not act.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. quote shows us that inaction in the face of reality is not acceptable.

“History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the vitriolic words and the violent actions of the bad people, but the appalling silence and indifference of the good people.

Our generation will have to repent not only for the words and acts of the children of darkness but also for the fears and apathy of the children of light."

With the warnings we have received from climate scientists, the moral compass of Dr. Martin Luther King, and the lesson of Hazel, we must act now on climate change.

I know what you are thinking:
Ok, Brian, you got my attention.  

The beauty of climate change is that there are numerous different paths that will lead us to a healthier planet, less impacted by climate change.  Patrick Gonzalez, climate scientist for the National Park Service, advises,

"A million small things got us into this climate crisis, and millions of actions will get us out of it."

I do encourage you to take the best effective action you can find to reduce the impact of climate change.

Even more, I will share what I am doing for you to steal ideas or even come up with better actions than mine:

1. Engage your family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers on the subject of climate change.

I have been so fortunate to communicate to others during the past four years as a public speaker, Toastmaster, Park Ranger, teacher at St. Louis Community College, volunteer for Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal Campaign, this blog, senior contributing writer to, etc.

2. Educate yourself on the issue of climate change so you can hold your ground when friends and family make statements denying climate change.

Familiarize yourself with the climate denial myths and educate yourself why they are wrong.  The best source I know to do this is

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Vice President Al Gore frequently talks this in what he calls ‘winning the conversation.  He compares our conversation on climate change as similar to growing up in Tennessee during the Civil Rights era.  In a August 2013 Washington Post Interview, Gore recalls,

“I remember as a boy when the conversation on civil rights was won in the South. I remember a time when one of my friends made a racist joke and another said, hey man, we don’t go for that anymore.”

The same action should happen with climate denial.  When someone makes a denial statement, we must respond, “I am sorry but your facts are wrong and here is why…”

Use Skeptical Science to well verse why the denier myths are wrong.  Even more, I contribute writings to the website, where we compile sound bite quotes, metaphors, and even jokes to counter denier myths.

3. Join Citizens Climate Lobby (CCL)

The purposes of Citizens Climate Lobby are to:
1) create the political will for a stable climate and
2) to empower individuals to have breakthroughs in exercising their personal and political power.

CCL’s mission is to successfully establish positive relationships with the media and members of Congress so they will pass a carbon fee and dividend.  This will correct the current free market weakness of our atmosphere currently being used as an open sewer for greenhouse gas pollution.  This tax would account for the true costs to society of this pollution and enable renewable energy to truly be competitive on a level playing field.

Members of St. Louis Citizens Climate Lobby meeting with
Brecht Mulvihill, Field Representative
for Missouri Congresswoman Ann Wagnger
Personally, I have been involved with CCL for nearly two years.  They have really empowered me to be more effective as a climate activist by helping me create an active CCL group in southern Oregon.  Eight major newspapers have also published my opinion editorials in the past year, one with the St. Louis Post Dispatch and seven in Oregon newspapers calling for support for CCL’s carbon tax.

Because of CCL, I have also established a relationship with the staff of my Congresswoman, Rep. Ann Wagner.   By getting to know her staff, my goal is to eventually have a face to face meeting with her to persuade to take action on climate change by supporting CCL’s carbon fee and dividend.

Climate Activist & founder Bill McKibben
4. Join and their Go Fossil Free Campaign.

In November 2012, I saw climate activist and founder of, Bill McKibben give a very inspiring talk at Washington University in St. Louis.  During the question and answer portion, I asked the first question, “What are our marching orders, Bill?”

His response: “Contact your local college or university as a student, professor, or alumni and ask them to divest their endowment from fossil fuels.”

William Jewell College
I am a 1992 graduate of William Jewell College in Kansas City, Missouri.  In this past year, I did just that I contacted a Jewell student, a professor, and Dr. Andrew Pratt, who administers Jewell’s sustainability program.  I then had a phone conversation with Dr. David Sallee, President of William Jewell College in August, 2013, personally asking him to do what he can to divest Jewell’s endowment from fossil fuels.  Dr. Sallee was very polite but unconvinced by my request.  Thus, for my next step, the Hilltop Monitor, the student newspaper of William Jewell, published on February 7th a guest opinion I wrote asking my alma mater to divest.

5. Make energy efficiency improvements to your home.

In November 2011, I gave a speech, It’s Easy to be Green, for my local Toastmasters group.  In this speech, I went through all the energy saving tips from the October 2010 Consumer Reports to show how they could save nearly a $1000 a year.  Many of my fellow Toastmasters reject the science of climate change.  However, when I showed them that changing their light bulbs and weatherizing their home could save them a lot of money, they voted me as the Best Speaker for that evening.

Amory Lovins
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I showed them what energy efficiency expert, physicist Amory Lovins, chairman of the Rocky Mountain Institute likes to say,

"You don't have to believe in climate change to solve it. Everything we do to raise energy efficiency, will make money, improve security & health, and stabilize climate."

Lovins also states, “Climate change is a problem we do not need to have, and it is cheaper not to (have it)...Once people understand climate protection puts money back into your pocket because you do not have to buy all that fuel, the political resistance will melt faster than the glaciers."

There are so many other actions you can take to reduce the impact of climate change.

Let's Take Action on Climate Change! 

Ranger Steve Robinson
Yes, you do matter.  Yes, your individual actions matter.  When you take action, it inspires other around you to take action.

My mentor Steve Robinson, who was a park ranger in the Everglades for over 25 years, used to say
“every single person makes the world every single day.”

In the end, let’s not be like 15 year old Hazel Bryan Massery and make the wrong decision when history calls on us to take decisive action.  Instead, let us aspire to be what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. calls us to be ‘Children of the light’.
Brian Ettling Standing in front of Cental High School, Little Rock, Arkansas 

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Explaining Climate Change briefly in French or your own words

Last month, I challenged myself boil down my message of climate change down to 200 words or less.  I was responding to a climate change contrarian challenging me on the evidence of climate change.  I wrote about this challenge in a previous blog, Explaining climate change in 200 words or less.

After spending several hours composing it on January 2, 2014, here is the result:

Explaining climate change in 200 words or less:

In his Dec. 22nd letter, Ray Woodworth demanded “proof” for human caused climate change.
First, The Goal of science is NOT to prove but EXPLAIN aspects of the natural world.
British Physicist, John Tyndall discovered around 1850 carbon dioxide trap heat in our atmosphere which enables us to live on earth.
Carbon dioxide increased in our atmosphere over 40% since the Industrial Revolution around 1850.
As a result, Earth’s average temperature increased 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit or .8 Celsius since 1880.
The increase of CO2 is from humans because of the isotope signature of the carbon dioxide.
Multiple lines of evidence show this global temperature rise: sea level rise, warming oceans, declining Arctic Ice Sheet, worldwide glacier retreat, ocean acidification, more extreme weather events, etc
All this evidence enables 97 percent of climate scientists and the Catholic Church to agree climate change is real, human caused, it’s bad, and we must limit it.
Yes, Earth’s history shows natural periods of accelerated climate change.  However, what alarms scientists is the current extreme rapid rate of change in the earth’s biosphere due to climate change.
This is why I support Citizens Climate Lobby’s proposed carbon fee and dividend.

Brian Ettling
Crater Lake 

As I wrote at the end of that blog, I was very proud of the result, Explaining climate change in 200 words or less is, if I may say so myself.

After I published the blog on January 3rd, I then posted around Facebook on various climate change discussion groups.  I hoped the blog post and my explanation would inspire other climate change alarmists to compose their own Explaining Climate Change in 200 words or less.

The response blew me away.

The first person who took up my challenge was Maarten van der Heijden.  He stated that he a variation of my explanation into French in about 150 words!

This is what Maarten wrote:

French Flag
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“Le changement climatique expliqué en environs 150 mots, ( d'après 
1 Le physicien britannique John Tyndall a découvert en 1850 que carbone dioxyde garde la chaleur dans notre atmosphère ce qui nous permet de vivre sur terre.
2 La concentration de carbone dioxyde a augmenté plus que 40 % dans notre atmosphère depuis la révolution industrielle, environ 1850.
3 Ceci a résulté dans une augmentation de la température moyenne globale de 0,8 °C depuis 1880
4 Plusieurs indicateurs confirment cette augmentation de la température mondial: L'augmentation du niveau des océans, le réchauffement des océans,la réduction de la glace en Arctique, retrait des glaciers, acidification des océans, plus d’extrêmes du temps, etc.
5 Dans le passé le climat a aussi changé. Mais, aujourd'hui c'est la vitesse du changement élevé qui est alarmant. 
6 Tout ces preuves permettent à 97 % des scientifiques du climat et l'église catholique de dire que le changement du climat est réel, causé par l'homme, mauvais, et nous devons le limiter.”

Wow!  This was the first time I knew that one of my writings had been translated into another language.  It was touching to see it in French by a writer expressing my thoughts their own words.    It felt like I had taken a step forward as a writer into words that I cannot describe in English.

“But wait! That’s not all!” As they say on those late night TV infomercials.

Paul Deaton
Another friend, Paul Deaton also decided to take up my challenge to describe climate change in 200 words or less.  He wrote this to me:

“I like the idea of a brief explanation of anthropogenic climate disruption. I took your idea and modified it to fit what I am trying to do in Iowa.”

He then posted a link to his website in a blog post titled,
Climate Change in 200 Words:

"People seeking scientific proof of anthropogenic global climate change are barking up the wrong tree. The goal of science is not to prove, but to explain aspects of the natural world. Following is a brief explanation of climate change.
Around 1850, physicist John Tyndall discovered that carbon dioxide traps heat in our atmosphere, producing the greenhouse effect, which enables all of creation as we know it to live on Earth.
Carbon dioxide increased as a percentage of our atmosphere since Tyndall’s time at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. As a result, Earth’s average temperature increased by 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit.
The disturbance of the global carbon cycle and related increase in carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere is identifiably anthropogenic because of the isotope signature of atmospheric carbon dioxide.
We can also observe the effects of global warming in worldwide glacier retreat, declining Arctic ice sheets, sea level rise, warming oceans, ocean acidification, and increased intensity of weather events.
It is no wonder 97 percent of climate scientists and all of the national academies of science in the world agree climate change is real, it is happening now, it’s caused by humans, and is cause for immediate action before it is too late.”

This is a wonderful feeling that people translating my words into French and in Iowa!

How about you?  Can you take my words as a challenge and describe climate change in 200 words or less?
It is a lot of fun.  Who knows!  Maybe your words will also be molded into French, Iowa speak, or some other familiar or foreign language.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Using Humor Effectively to Communicate Climate Change

“Laughter is the shortest distance between two people,” according to comedian Victor Borge.  Humor writer Erma Bombeck remarked“When humor goes, there goes civilization.”

With this in mind, for over four years now, my life’s passion is communicating about climate changeeffectively.  For me, one of my ingredients for communicating about climate change effectively is using humor.  Humor is a big part of my climate change ranger evening talk that I present during the summer at Crater Lake National Park.  I firmly believe that if people are laughing with me, they are more likely to be open to like listen to a controversial subject like climate change.

Two years ago, The Yale Forum for Climate Change and the Media published my firsthand account of Communicating Climate change in a National Park.

In this report, I offered five techniques have worked for me in presenting a climate change-themed presentation in a national park:

For #4 USE HUMOR, I wrote:

“Find some way to naturally incorporate humor into your presentation. As science fiction writer Isaac Asimov once remarked, “Jokes of the proper kind, properly told, can do more to enlighten questions of politics, philosophy, and literature than any number of dull arguments.” If you can find a natural humorous way to share funny stories, images, or analogies, your audience will more likely stick with you on what they perceive is a heavy subject like climate change.”

It is one thing to write this, however, this is science.  Thus, I must show that I use humor effectively during ranger evening program.  Thus, I had friends video tape my ranger talk in front a live group of park visitors on September 22, 2012.  I then posted this ranger talk, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly, on YouTube for the rest of the world to enjoy, laugh, learn, and hopefully be inspired to take action on climate change.

Receiving Praise from a total stranger

Amazing, November 17, 2013, I received a Facebook message from a total stranger, Eric Knackmuhs, an Associate Instructor and Ph.D. Student at Indiana University.  He wrote:

Hi Brian,
I wanted to reach out to you because I have read about your success interpreting climate change at Crater Lake. I've been an interpreter for about 10 years and now am back in grad school. I gave a presentation at the NAI National Workshop in Reno last week about using in humor in interpretive programs and I show some clips from your evening program. Just wanted you to know I have been singing your praises. Keep up the good work! I hope you are well. Thanks for the inspiration.

This e-mail blew me away that someone I never met or had seen one of my climate change talks in person was “singing my praises.”  I had to immediately write back to him to see exactly what am I doing right.  Most of us are our own toughest critics, especially me, I certainly need to know where my strengths are, so I will keep doing that successfully.

A seminar on sharing my funny techniques with other rangers

Eric and I finally got to chat by phone on January 10th.  This is the story he shared with me about how I am using humor effectively to communicate climate change.

In 2013, Eric wanted to give a presentation to other rangers, Using Humor to Introduce Controversial Topics, at the National Association of Interpreters Annual Convention in Reno, Nevada in November, 2013.

Surprisingly, Eric had to defend humor as an appropriate interpretive technique.  Eric told me, many rangers do not like using humor.  They feel like the jokes can fail and put them in an uncomfortable position with their audience.  Eric’s response: ‘Asking your audience questions is also an interpretive technique.  Asking questions can fail also, so that means you should never ask your audience questions?’

When Eric started researching humor, he stumbled across my Yale article and my YouTube video.  In the Yale article, my five techniques that I listed above struck a very positive nerve with him.

In my video, he could hear the audience laughing heartily at some of my jokes.  In Eric’s words it shows that ‘just because an audience is laughing does not mean it is not a serious topic.’

Yes, in my evening program I give sobering and unpleasant information that climate change is impacting the pristine Crater Lake, one of the purest bodies of water in the world.  I show that pikas, small mammals closely related to rabbits, are losing their mountainous range and warming temperatures is a stress for them.  I show that mountain pine beetles, surviving warmer winters in greater numbers, are devastating our white bark pine trees.  Finally, I show that reduced snowpack at Crater Lake and the surrounding Cascade mountains is a huge concerned for the water supply for Oregon cities downstream from the park.  At the same time, I am using humor throughout this talk to make the audience feel more comfortable hearing very uncomfortable information.

Picture of Brian Ettling taken November 3, 1992
As far as using humor, Eric showed the beginning of my talk where I introduced myself with a picture when I first started working at Crater Lake in 1992.

I always joke to the audience with this picture, “I have not changed a bit.  Have I?”  I then show them a recent picture of me and add, “Actually, I think I have gotten better looking over the years.”

People can always relate the universal humor of vanity, over confidence, self deprecation, so these jokes have always worked for me.

Then, I show the title of my talk, The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.  I have an image of an original movie poster with Clint Eastwood and I even play part of the theme song.  It always seems like there are audience members whistling along to the music.  I am excited and having fun playing the music and showing the movie image, so it always seems like the audience is ready to have fun with me.  With this interaction, I basically set the tone that this is not a serious lecture.  My talk is more like a Hollywood popcorn movie or a bad 1960s ‘Spaghetti Western’ that laugh along while watching.

I then go into my serious theme where I tell the audience, “My talk tonight is about the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.  I am going to talk about how changes with local temperature, pikas, whitebark park pines, and snowpack, may be an indication global climate change is impacting Crater Lake.”

How is my humor on climate change effective? 
This is where Eric then shut off the video to ask the audience what was effective about my introduction.  The response from the audience was:

1. My humor ‘softens the blow’ of the serious subject.

2. It endears myself to the audience and does make me more likable.

3. It introduces a theme in a more accessible way.

In a second clip that Eric shows, I compare the Mountain Pine Beetles to the bad guys in the movie The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.  Just like if they were at a sporting event, I encourage my audience to boo and hiss at an image of the beetle.  I even have the image of the beetle in the middle of an old fashion western Wanted Dead or Alive poster.  The audience loves this opportunity to participate in my program and the universal feeling of rooting against a bad guy in a story.

Later on in another clip shows, I compare the mountain pine beetle to the very cheesy 1977 disaster movie, The Monster of Crater Lake, about a large dinosaur that attacks a lovely lakeside community.  I joke how awful the movie is, how my co-workers enjoy watching  it even
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though I think it is so bad, I beg them not to order the DVD and watch it themselves, etc.  The audience then roars with laughter at my strong dislike of this bad movie.

Eric feels like that use of humor connect with the audience for many reasons.  First, it is very memorable. Second, it is a very effective metaphor how the mountain pine beetles are attacking Crater Lake’s white bark pine trees like monsters.  Eric thinks they will remember this if they go out hiking the next day and see a mountain pine beetle.  They may even say, “Hey, there is one of those monsters!” and recall the information from my evening program.

Eric then told me,
“When people laugh they are more likely to remember and share that experience.  Laughter is also a social experience.  It forms a strong emotional connection.”

The Importance of teaching humor as an interpretive tool

Eric had given this presentation at least twice.  The first time was for the Regional NAI conference in Oakland, CA last April for about 25 people.  The second time was in Reno last November for the NAI National Conference for about 60 people.

In some ways, he felt like his presentations were like “preaching to the choir” for rangers who already successfully use humor in their talks.  Like anything else, people who hate this topic tend not to come.  On the other hand, Eric still feels like humor is an underutilized technique.  He thinks people make the mistake of separating arts and entertainment from science.

In my experience using humor to explain climate change, Eric is totally correct.  People are more open to learn science when they are being entertained and they are on the edge of their seat anticipating humor.  Both of us feel using humor is vital in communicating about climate change.

Eric believes, “People don’t come to ranger talks just to learn.  They come for a fun social experience.”
Ultimately, Eric feels like my climate change ranger talk at Crater Lake is effective, especially with my use of humor, because:

1. It is a local example of climate change.

Studies have shown that polar bears have not been an effective image for inspiring people to take action on climate change.   They live too far away in a remote, cold place that they will probably never visit.
The dramatic scenery at Crater Lake creates a sense of wonder and need for protection for the visitors.    
They are visiting this national park, so it becomes the local environment to them.

2. It is tangible.
They are experiencing Crater Lake with their senses before and after my program.  Many hike down to touch the water of the lake during their visit.  They see the huge forest of pine trees.

3. It is immediate experience for the visitors.

Hopefully, I gave the audience something they will never forget by attending my talk.  Whenever I give a climate change talk as a ranger or private citizen, my aim is always to educate, entertain, and inspire my audience.  I call it ‘The 3 E’ of successful presentations, even if, I know, one of them does not start with an E.
My wish is that by doing all this some members of audience will be motivated to take action to reduce the threat of climate change for my nieces and nephews.

Thank you Eric Knackmuhs!  You just showed me that I am effectively educating people about climate change and I am inspiring my audience with my use of use of humor.