Not unexpectedly, the Slate article last week generated a range of reactions at blogs, on twitter, and in personal emails that I received. This topic is not going away and as I have more time over the coming weeks I will be returning to it.
Below is a brief run down of reactions.
Michael Zimmerman, Professor of Philosophy and Director of the Center on Humanities and the Arts at the University of Colorado, in an email posted with his permission:
The sharp Republican-Democrat polarization in climate and in much of the country in general demands efforts to "transcend the ideological divide," as you put it. To transcend the divide is possible only if one can fully understand, appreciate, and articulate why people of this or that political persuasion take the stands they do on climate change. The absolute necessity in successful negotiations is for people on both (or all three or whatever) sides to feel that--finally--someone on the other sides(s) has taken the time and made the effort to get why they are so concerned. Then, those people can begin to listen more carefully and thoughtfully to their opponents. Here grows the opportunity to include more than one perspective and set of concerns into policy formation. Those who rant against climate skeptics, on the one hand, or against elitist scientists, on the other, are not interested in understanding and transcending, but seek short term political gain that undermines problem solving. That some major climate scientists do not appreciate the need to transcend differences, by way of appreciating them, is behind the circling-the-wagon mentality that you describe. Of course, it's tough to be inclusive and statesmanlike when you feel under serious attack.
Journalist Bud Ward at the Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media:
A voice of reason emerges in the ongoing and escalating "war rhetoric" over the past several months' leaked e-mails, IPCC Himalayan glaciers blunder, screaming headlines, blustery blogs, and enflamed cable TV rhetoric....Nisbet's brief column ought to be mandatory reading for all climate scientists concerned about the fraying around the edges of the body of work amassed over the past 20 years by IPCC.
Journalist Charlie Petit at the MIT Knight Science Journalism Tracker:
Chris Mooney and Matt Nisbet are easily linked in the mind, having for awhile joined forces in a touring two-man panel discussing public perception of science, scientific perception of the public, media sandwiched in between, and global warming politics. Both happen recently to have independently popped up with direct connection to the bloggy, angry public discussion over whether or not traditional academic climatology has somehow become so infected with arrogance, sloppiness, data distortion, or lefty hidden-agendaitis that therefore industrial society should happily burn all the coal it can without guilt, caps, taxes, or trade embargoes. Paying attention to their latest provides reporters on energy and climate beats a better idea how to report news in such an acid atmosphere.
Albuquerque Journal science reporter John Fleck at his blog:
Matthew Nisbet, in Slate today, gives thoughtful voice to my growing frustration with the way my friends in the science community have been approaching the climate politics and policy discussion of late...My frustration is that some of the smartest and most talented people in this discussion seem obsessed with the warfare right now, with smacking down every thing said on the Internet that they view as wrong, as if a) they could somehow succeed in ending bunk, and b) if all bunk ended, then their preferred political/policy solutions would follow.
Roger Pielke, Jr., Professor of Environmental Studies at the University of Colorado, at his blog:
I differ a bit from Nisbet in his prescription -- he thinks scientists should work to engage the public and opinion leaders. In contrast, I think scientists need to demonstrate leadership by helping to open up space for a wide-ranging discussion of policy options among specialists, rather than enabling a small clique of activists to try to shut down any such discussion in the name of science. These views are not mutually exclusive, of course. However, any public engagement is futile from a policy perspective without viable policy options on the table. And tight now climate policy lacks viable options.
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The issue with global warming--and why conservatives like me are worried about it--is the implications for society, particularly for the U.S. The U.S. is a big country, 5,000 miles from Maine to Hawaii. 70% of U.S. energy use goes for transportation. How can someone travel from Maine to Hawaii without using fossil fuels?
I honestly don't see how we can reduce our greenhouse gas emissions by 80%; certainly not if nuclear and fusion power are taken off the table, as GreenPeace advocates.
There seems to be genuine schadenfreude among some scientists over this: "Oh, yes, the United States is going to have to totally restructure its entire society....Oh, yes, the United States is finished as a global superpower." I've heard that glee coming from global warming activists. They WANT to see the U.S. finished as a global superpower, and think that 80% reductions in greenhouse gas emissions is the way to do it.
Well, sorry, folks. I'm a proud American, and I don't want to see my country sent back to the 19th century.
You global warming activists are going to have to find a better solution than that.
One that actually works for countries, like the U.S., that stretch across multiple time zones.
What does this have to do with what the average global temperature for this past month, which is the only piece of information of relevance?
"To transcend the divide is possible only if one can fully understand, appreciate, and articulate why people of this or that political persuasion take the stands they do on climate change."
I think we can try to be understanding of conservatives who are inherently suspicious of environmentalists, scientists, liberals, and government regulation. Finding different messengers (Lindsey Graham and Rick Warren instead of Al Gore and James Hansen) and seeking common ground on issues such as energy independence might bring some progress.
Still, we need to remember that there is a full-time, well-funded campaign at work to undermine scientists and create a sense of false uncertainty about climate change in the media. No amount of "understanding" is ever going to persuade Inhofe and Watts. I think it is important that scientists speak up at every opportunity to reaffirm what their research really means and to criticize the media for repeating disinformation.
Matt: I thought your article was thought provoking, but I'm sure Pielke wasn't the only one to disagree with you. How about giving us a sense of the reactions coming from the besieged scientists you criticized?