No need for scientific literacy

It’s interesting how those who claim to represent “science” about climate change often lack basic scientific literacy. Al Gore’s infamous statement that the temperature inside the earth is several million degrees instead of just thousands is a striking example.

As the presenter notes, the temperature of the earth is actually only a few thousand degrees at the hottest. Interesting and embarrasing. I also enjoyed Ted Turner’s statement that we’ll be extinct and then we’ll be sorry:

And if enough of us choose to do the wrong thing and we don’t prepare for global warming and we don’t make the changes that we know we should make, then we’ll be extinct. And when that happens, we’ll be sorry, but it will be too late.

First dead, then sorry. I have no idea about what Turner might be thinking about the afterlife. According to traditional unsophisticated theology, we’re supposed to be very concerned about the temperature of the place we end up in after we die, and not so much about the temperature of the place we left.

But the one that really caught my attention is “He Sat Down In A Cold, Grey Room And Proceeded To Scare The Hell Out Of Me”. Ricken Patel, founder and executive directory of Avaaz, the company whose business model  involves making money by way of dramatic and alarming claims.

Avaaz has pioneered clickbait activism. It gets people to sign petitions about dramatic but ultimately minor issues like, “Prevent the flogging of 15 year old rape victim in Maldives.” The operating method of Avaaz, which was established in 2007, is to create “actions” like these that generate emails for its fundraising operation. In other words, it’s a corporation with a business model to create products (the actions), that help it increase market share (emails), and ultimately revenue. The actions that get the most attention are ones that get the most petition signers, the most media coverage, and which help generate revenue.

The video also features Heidi Cullen, who is actually a climate scientists. She tells us that there are “switches”, in other words tipping points, in the climate system. It’s uncontroversial that there are feedbacks in the climate system, but the idea of tipping points, the notion that at some point certain feedback will cause abrupt changes, is a lot more hypothetical than it might seem. The standard climate models don’t have tipping points and abrupt state changes. Abrupt climate change scenarios have been deemed unlikely, very unlikely or extremely unlikely by the IPCC.

Patel then tries to expain to us why and how tipping points are suppsed to occur. He snaps his fingers to stress how suddenly we reach the tipping point and climate change could “spin out of control”. In fact, he claims we’re “on the edge” of three of them.  But his whole way of describing the problem does not indicate that he has a good understanding of the issue.

If we go over that amount [2 degrees] of warming, there are feedback loops in our ecosystems, tipping points, that climate change could spin out of control, and it happens (snaps fingers) like that.

The so-called 2 degree target has nothing specifically to do with tipping points. It’s supposed to avoid “dangerous climate change”, whatever that might mean, without any specific reference to tipping points or abrupt changes. Feedback loops exist, but they don’t typically involve ecosystems.

But the statement that really surprise me was his claim that Methane is “50 times as toxic” as CO2. This reveals a total lack of understanding of the basic idea of the greenhouse effect. The ability of a gas to to trap heat in the atmosphere is a property that has nothing to do with toxicity. Yes, methane is a much more potent greenhouse gas than CO2, but it’s not “50 times more toxic”, and if it were, that toxicity would not contribute to climate change.

So what? Does it matter? Yes. In this particular arena, facts matter. This particular goof tells us very little about who’s right and who’s wrong about climate change in general, but it is surprising that this kind of statement appears, and that no one apparently has sought to correct it. Were they really not able to get anyone who actually understands the science to read the script or watch the video and make sure it was fixed? At least Heidi Cullen would know. Didn’t she see it? Didn’t she care? Didn’t she realize that it might foster skepticism  people who do understand the greenhouse effect works?

I don’t know. Maybe they just think people in general are so dumb it doesn’t matter.

2 thoughts on “No need for scientific literacy

  1. Noelle DePaula

    I get these posts from Avaaz- always hysterical yelping about the fate of animals or Palestinians or the environment, asking for signatures and money. None of these lefty activists knows shit from Shinola, but they play a good media game. The Global Warming/Climate Change crowd is one of the worst. And now we have the Pope chiming in! God help us!

  2. dagfinn Post author

    Exactly. I hadn’t followed what the Pope has been saying, but I assume you’re referring to this.

    I’ve hear Pope Francis speak when I in was in Rome last year, and I very much liked his tone. Unfortunately, so many well-intentioned people get this wrong.


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