The War on Science

“Everybody should be questioning. That’s a hallmark of a scientist. But then they should use the scientific method, or trust people using the scientific method, to decide which way they fall on those questions.”
Marcia McNutt, editor of Science

This month’s National Geographic contains an excellent article entitled “The War on Science.” It’s a great review of why so many people around the world (but often more so in the U.S.) reject what science has helped to establish. Skepticism and doubt lead people to question the validity of such things as evolution, the benefits of vaccination, the risks from genetically modified foods, and yes, the reality of climate change being primarily our fault, or that it’s even happening at all. I’d strongly recommend you read this article, available through this link.

Here are just a sample of some of the interesting things that the article covers:

  • Many people don’t understand what science is all about. They usually think about it as a large body of facts and nothing more. As Marcia McNutt, editor of the journal Science puts it“Science is a method for deciding whether what we choose to believe has a basis in the laws of nature or not.”
  • One reason many of us rejects what science teaches us is because we subconsciously hold onto our intuitions—what researchers call naive beliefs. One study showed that although university students will correctly answer that the Earth goes around the sun, they will take longer to answer that question than when they answer that the moon goes around the Earth. They get both correct but have to overcome something that’s not intuitive for one.
  • Perhaps surprisingly, a better understanding of the facts isn’t the way to get people to accept science. One study showed that higher science literacy leads to stronger views on these issues, but it can be equally polarized on both ends of the spectrum. That’s because people use scientific knowledge to reinforce their own beliefs that have already shaped their opinions.
  • Science appeals to our rational selves, but emotion is a huge motivator, often affected by the desire to remain tight with our peers. As McNutt puts it: “People still have a need to fit in, and that need to fit in is so strong that local values and local opinions are always trumping science. And they will continue to trump science, especially when there is no clear downside to ignoring science.”
  • The fact that information is so much more readily available today on the internet and through cable television, it’s easier than ever to use “filter bubbles” that only let in information that already fits with your belief systems. If you strongly adhere to a certain ideology, chances are that you watch news channels and visit websites that reinforce rather than challenge that ideology.
  • Scientists can’t easily become vocal advocates arguing for policies that will help a problem like climate change or they can become open to arguments that their claims are politically motivated, even if that isn’t the case. Their detachment remains one of their biggest strengths. (Which is why people like me need to speak up more loudly on their behalf.)
Read the article if you have the time. It has a lot to say about why so many of us choose to reject science in favour of long-held beliefs.
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Costa Rica—Renewable Energy All the Way

“We are declaring peace with nature. We feel a strong sense of responsibility about looking after our wealth of biodiversity. Our attitude is not progressive, it is conservative. Our view is that until we know what we have, it is our duty to protect it.”
—Costa Rican ambassador Mario Fernández Silva

Two years ago when I was in Costa Rica, I was impressed with the nation’s commitment to completely move away from fossil fuels and use renewable energy exclusively. They made this pledge back in 2009 with a goal of achieving it by 2021. And it looks like they’re well on their way: so far Costa Rica has gotten all of its energy from renewable sources this year already.

2015′s first 75 days in Costa Rica have been helped by heavy rains which have kept hydroelectric power plants running steadily, but wind, solar, biomass, and geothermal energy have all contributed to energy sources this year as well. In addition to being better for the environment, this has also allowed prices for electricity to drop by 12 percent. The Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE) anticipates this trend will continue into the second quarter of the year.

Even during more typical years, Costa Rica still does much better than most nations with about 88 percent of its electricity coming from renewable sources. Most of this is hydro at about 68 percent, with geothermal about 15 percent, wind about 5 percent, and solar and biomass contributing smaller amounts.

Of course, rainfall patterns could change significantly in the coming decades due to climate change, so Costa Rica’s reliance on so much hydro could make it vulnerable in the future. Continue reading

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Mother Nature is Speaking to Us—It’s Time We Listened

Too often we talk about trying to save our planet. But Earth has been here a lot longer than we have, and I dare say she will be here long after our species is gone.

But too often we’re also selfish. We strive to make more money than we need simply to live in excess, well beyond what’s necessary to have a rewarding and fulfilling existence. Perhaps it’s time we turn that selfishness in a different direction. We don’t need to save our planet. We need to save ourselves. Listen to Mother Nature’s message, it’s meant for us. (Although Mother Nature sounding just like Julia Roberts is an added bonus!)

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Yep, Earth Is Getting Hotter

“Reality is merely an illusion, albeit a very persistent one.”
Albert Einstein

According to NASA, the calendar year 2014—that is, January 2014 to December 2014—was the hottest year we’d ever documented since we started to keep accurate temperature records about 120 years ago. And then only one month later, that record was broken as the twelve consecutive months from February 2014 to January 2015 were even hotter.

Sadly, even that record has been broken. It turns out that because last month was the second-hottest February ever recorded globally, March 2014 to February 2015 are now the hottest consecutive twelve months ever recorded.

People living in my little corner of the world sometimes have a hard time believing the globe is shattering such records because we’ve been experiencing colder-than-usual temperatures here in the eastern half of North America. See that little blue patch over eastern Canada in the photo above, while the rest of the northern hemisphere is red? Even the southern hemisphere is orange. Pretty much the entire planet has been experiencing above average temperatures except for us.

Given that the capitals for Canada and the U.S. exist within that stretch, this also makes it a little easier for some politicians to miss this point. But you don’t have to look that far to see some of the effects of a hotter planet. For example, last month California experienced record heat—a full eight degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th century average. The month before California had the driest January it had ever recorded. No wonder the Golden State had its worst drought in 1200 years.

Climate experts state this is our fault, because it’s our emissions that are causing the global warming that led to this predicament. It’s time we started listening to the experts in this field and realize exactly what’s going on here. Before it’s really too late.

 

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How the Climate Change Denial Machine Works

If you’ve ever thought the jury is still out on climate change and global warming, then you can thank the climate change denial machine for that. How does a consensus of about 98 percent of climate scientists get perceived as a controversial debate that’s split 50:50 based on media coverage? And how does that translate into so many people including the majority of Republicans mistrusting the real experts?

Well, if you have lots of money and a vested interest in keeping people paying big bucks for fossil fuels—putting billions of dollars in your pockets along the way—then you spend at least some of that money on ways to spin doubt and keep a false controversy alive.

Say hello to the Koch brothers, worth tens of billions of dollars each, and very keen to keep the status quo when it comes to the world’s consumption of fossil fuels.

This three-and-a-half minute video gives an excellent summary of the process used by a very small minority to make a very big impact. All in the name of self-interest and profits.

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