Climate propaganda not profitable

Paul Raven @ 01-03-2011

Ars Technica takes on a climate change denial shibboleth which I’ve always felt was more than adequately dealt with by Occam’s Razor. You know, the one that goes “of course the climate scientists are going to say things are getting worse; how else are they going to ride the government-money gravy train?” Perhaps I’m just lucky to have known enough scientists to make me aware of the fact that climate science – or indeed any science career – isn’t a route to fame, fortune and power (you’d be better off looking in the corridor labelled “politics” for those fringe benefits, AMIRITEZ?), but for everyone else, here’s the skinny:

Since it doesn’t have a lot of commercial appeal, most of the people working in the area, and the vast majority of those publishing the scientific literature, work in academic departments or at government agencies. Penn State, home of noted climatologists Richard Alley and Michael Mann, has a strong geosciences department and, conveniently, makes the department’s salary information available. It’s easy to check, and find that the average tenured professor earned about $120,000 last year, and a new hire a bit less than $70,000.

That’s a pretty healthy salary by many standards, but it’s hardly a racket. Penn State appears to be on the low end of similar institutions, and is outdone by two other institutions in its own state (based on this report). But, more significantly for the question at hand, we can see that Earth Sciences faculty aren’t paid especially well. Sure, they do much better than the Arts faculty, but they’re somewhere in the middle of the pack, and get stomped on by professors in the Business and IT departments.

This is all, of course, ignoring what someone who can do the sort of data analysis or modeling of complex systems that climatologists perform might make if they went to Wall Street.

“Ah, but what about the grant money, huh?”

Funding has gone up a bit over the last couple of years, and some stimulus money went into related programs. But, in general, the trend has been a downward one for 15 years; it’s not an area you’d want to go into if you were looking for a rich source of grant money. If you were, you would target medical research, for which the NIH had a $31 billion budget plus another $10 billion in stimulus money.

There’s more details there for them as wants ’em. Of course, if you’re already convinced that climate science is a liberal plot to make oil barons feel bad, you’ll probably not struggle to conclude that someone slipped Ars an envelope full of grubby grant dollars for their part in propping up the conspiracy… in which case I can only hope that believing so makes it easier for you to sleep at night, because that’s about the greatest utility that such a belief could possibly have.

Speaking of propaganda, here’s a site all about analysing and understanding the messages with which we are bombarded by governments, corporations and special interest groups [via BoingBoing]. Watch for the fnords, folks.

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8 Responses to “Climate propaganda not profitable”

  1. Gwenny says:

    I get called a “denier” because I think the focus of the vast majority of people is wrong. Climate change is happening. It’s been happening . . well, for at least a billion years . . .at an accelerated rate in my life time and it was something that worried me as a teenager just getting into the treehugger movement in the 1960s. My problem with the people who get airplay is that they are focused on the human causes, which may or may not be the most important factors in where our climate is going. Why do the high profile people get away with implying, if not outright claiming, that it’s all the fault of humans? It isn’t. If we could stop carbon emissions at this very second, after a decade or so of adjusting, the climate would go back to slipping into an Ice Age. Actually, there’s no real proof that it isn’t, since rising temperatures and erratic extreme weather patterns characterized the end of previous interglacial periods.

    Carbon offsets are not going to save us. “Greener” technology is good, but won’t stop climate change, ultimately. Perhaps radical changes to our breeding policies would decrease CO2, but, again, in the end, the climate WILL change. How about we address what that means to humans. Since we can’t just migrate to deal with it, as we did in the past, we need to develop strategies to secure food and housing for humanity. Dense communities, abandonment of the idea of the single family home with two cars and a yard, vertical farms to produce food locally, improved mass transit and discouraging private ownership of cars all together.

    We have to face that as lovely a dream as it is, human cannot control the Earth. She does not adapt to our wishes, we adapt to what She does. And that’s good! It’s the adapting to Her that has brought us to where we are. No climate change would have meant that life never got beyond primitive invertebrates living in a planet wide swamp.

  2. Paul Raven says:

    If we could stop carbon emissions at this very second, after a decade or so of adjusting, the climate would go back to slipping into an Ice Age.

    [citation needed] 🙂

    Why do the high profile people get away with implying, if not outright claiming, that it’s all the fault of humans?

    I don’t think I’ve ever heard a climate scientist blame *all* climate change on human activity, though I’ve seen that position inserted into their mouths by pundits from both side of the fence. And therein lies the real problem; the truth remains obscure, because it’s not sexy enough to sell papers, but there’s plenty of political mileage in strongly-worded opinions that pander to what people think they already know.

    When it comes to deciding how we’re going to deal with the human impact of climate change, however, we’re on the same page, though I’d argue that carbon offsets and green tech should be part of the same tactical platform. If we’re able to acknowledge that the CO2 cycle is a complex system (which I think we’re in pretty much universal agreement on), then it follows that reducing our impact on said system can only be a long-term net gain for everyone. If that’s a conspiratorial worldview, then you can coat me in psilocybin and throw me to the Illuminati. 🙂

  3. ConfidentlyDubious says:

    The problem with the omnipresent “Of course X is happening, but it’s not entirely Y’s fault” argument is that it gives Y a very convenient justification for doing absolutely nothing to stop X from going on. For instance: in my city, this is the excuse for not doing anything drastic against heavy pollution caused by car traffic; “Of course pollution is way too high, but heating systems also contribute to it”.

  4. Nancy Jane Moore says:

    Gwenny, the fact that the Earth climate changes on its own does not mean that human-caused climate change doesn’t exist or isn’t a problem. Both exist, but the human-caused variety is responsible for the current changes going on. With sufficient will and effort — neither of which seem to be forthcoming at the moment — we can do something about human-caused climate change. If we do nothing, the chance that humans and many other species on Earth will suffer greatly are very, very large. I’m sure Earth can adjust to rising sea levels and the like, but the human race is going to have a lot of trouble.

  5. Chad says:

    The funny thing is that both the left and right should be 100% behind this issue. The left because climate change is at the very least being accelerated by humans (greatly according to all of the ice core samples) and the right because it is a national security and economic issue to rely so heavily on foreign producers for energy. Just in the U.S. imagine how much bigger the economy would be if the even half of the $600-800 billion a year that flows out of the country for foreign oil was kept in the country for an alternative energy solution.

    On top of that, oil is obviously running out in the cheap drilling areas and is seeing an overall decline in production. The hard numbers support this, so we will need to find another cheap energy source at some point. Especially, since oil is rapidly becoming an expensive energy source.

    Anyone arguing against climate change is an idiot, because the end result of the climate change argument, alternative energy, answers other enormous issues. So, who cares what anyone believes? Only the answer in this case matters.

  6. Gwenny says:

    @Paul I’m sure you are joking? But if you want me to gather up information from the sources I’ve been researching for 20 plus years and give you something that would satisfy you. Here’s a link to an online photo album where I am collecting charts

    @Dubious No one is doing anything now. The changes suggested by the AGW believers do nothing significant to address the issue. Again,those changes assume that mitigating human impact will end climate change. Buying a new greener car is not going to help, even if all the several billion people driving cars did it. Buying carbon offsets, so some company goes and convinces a subsistance level farmer in Africa or India to give up their tractor and go back to using an ox, is not going to help . . and will, in fact, negatively affect our ability to feed the world.

    @Nancy My real problem is that the suggestions being made are useless. In fact, worse than useless since the people in power don’t want to change the underlaying assumptions about our lifestyles. And the beauty of the things I suggest is not only do they prepare humanity for whatever happens, they completely address the CO2 issue BETTER than carbon offsets, green cars and solar power.

  7. Wintermute says:

    @Gwenny: “My problem with the people who get airplay is that they are focused on the human causes, which may or may not be the most important factors in where our climate is going.”

    Thing is, human factors are the factors we mere hyper-neuroned monkeys have the slightest control over, unless you have the Twitter alias of some non-deific active gods on hand, or the ability to call down a Captain Planet airstrike on teh carbons. There’s not really much way forward in talking about the carbon sources that we can’t do anything about, and wasting the pancake-brained populations’ already shallow ‘netified attention spanwidth on unactionable talk is at best a waste and at worst oil-company funded punditry.

  8. Wintermute says:

    I’d add that we need to do both: prepare the population for the worst case scenario as you suggest with re-normalizing the ideal lifestyle, innovating in farming, increasing community density, reducing transit — and these are all synergistic with carbon reduction. But at the same time, while the climate will change whether we like it or not, the *severity* and speed of climate change depends on the human-factor as the natural ones are set. Even a fraction of a degree change can have massive second-order impacts, and if we can even slow climate change by a decade or so, that could prove to be vital time we need to adapt to the coming global environmental changes.