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Posts Tagged ‘Richard Alley’

Today is Earth Day, the biggest secular celebration on the planet, according to the Writer’s Almanac. Here in the Northeast, we may have a little snow mixed with our rain.  Almost everyone I meet has something to say about the long winter.  But that’s an improvement; when it was still winter, we just all kept our mouths shut and shoveled on in silence.

Earth Day and the cold spring are connected in a way.  Each time we meet, which is at least once a week, I get into an argument with my friend Don, who is a farmer, a conservative, and a global warming denier of the first rank.  Don mentions the weather and that the oceans are getting colder; I shoot back that this is the warmest decade on record, and the icecaps are melting.  We can’t even agree on our facts.

That’s why I’ve suggested he watch a PBS documentary tonight called Earth: The Operator’s Manual.  Locally it’s on at 8:30, but it could be different where you live.  The host is a Penn State professor named Richard Alley, who is one of the brightest and most entertaining people I know of.  I’ve been to his talks and written about him in my columns, and he has even written back.  He is a very down to earth guy, and an award-winning scientist.  You will be entertained, and he will give the facts as they are known, not as we would like them to be.

A new study came out the other day in which the authors tried to understand why we have such a divide, based primarily on politics, between those who accept the evidence for manmade global warming and those who don’t.  The divide has increased tremendously in the last decade, with college educated Democrats overwhelmingly supporting the reality of global warming and the college educated Republicans overwhelming opposed.  There are a lot of good reasons why people choose one party over the other, and a lot of plausible studies about what kind of people choose each.  We tend to pick the worst qualities associated with the other side and make that what they stand for, but pick the best qualities of our own side and make that our standard.  In reality, we are mixed on a lot of things, especially on things we don’t truly understand – like the wars in Libya or Afghanistan.   In those areas, we tend to follow the voices we trust.

Once that choice is made, we are quite capable of ignoring any facts that might disprove our choice.  We will tend to go to the sources that confirm our beliefs and avoid those that contradict them. Is this news?  I think this study just confirms something we already knew.  It’s uncomfortable to read or listen to ideas that question our beliefs.  But science has been valuable and successful by bucking that tendency. A lot of the glory in science comes from proving people wrong, or in letting new facts and data prove them wrong. And generally, the best data and the explanations that incorporate that data into the most convincing theories win out. For that reason, the scientific consensus is not the same thing as the political consensus.  With global warming, the authors found, politicians and commentators are fitting the facts to the ends they want to achieve.  There is no scientific argument that will convince those who don’t want to control greenhouse gases that we have to.  Only the melting of the poles and the flooding of cities will finally prove the facts were there all along.

Tonight, Richard Alley will provide the data and the explanation.  And because it is vital information, I encourage everyone to take an hour or so to watch it.

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