Monday, April 30, 2007

WGIII SPM out Friday; Full WGI report online.

All of you climate-media followers have probably already seen pre-coverage of the IPCC Working Group III Summary for Policymakers (SPM) which is due out this Friday. Recall that WGIII addresses mitigation: how to actually do something about greenhouse gas emissions.

The SPM's are just summaries. The full reports are starting to come on line. Thanks to RealClimate who pointed out that the full WGI report, about the science, is now online.

Thinking about Framing Science? Don't.

A little late, but I thought I'd comment on the Nisbet and Mooney article called "Framing Science" which appeared in the April 6th edition of Science magazine. In case you missed it, this set off a minor storm in the science blogosphere. A long summary is here (see updates at the bottom)

After reading the article and some of the follow up discussion, I'd say I agree with the take at Mixing Memory and in particular the post by Greg Laden that this was a botched job.

I notice that there's been little crossover from the science blogs to the lefty blogs where frames were first discussed about three years ago. My first introduction was this post on DailyKos.

First, Nisbet and Mooney misunderstand the word "frame" which, in Lakoff's work, is more of a noun then a verb. Frames are something people have hard-wired in their brain and the politicians job is to invoke one or the other. Its a not a processor you run your presentation through.

Nisbet and Mooney seem inspired by a Pew center poll which showed lack of interest/understanding on global warming. However this poll was taken in January of 2007, before the 3 month long IPCC press barrage. As more recent polls discussed below show, the AR4 reports have had a major effect on the public understanding and acceptance of global warming, without any "framing".

The article is mostly about examples, some accurate, some not, of framing. They actually don't say much about how to do a better job of "framing science" or what that even means. Here's what comes closest to a proposal in their text:
Without misrepresenting scientific information on highly contested issues, scientists must learn to actively “frame” information to make it relevant to different audiences.

I disagree. The key phrase in the above is "frame information". Scientists deal in facts. Verifiable facts. And we should describe them using the words we know when asked. A Princeton professor had a recent book out called "On Bullshit" which talked about how pervasive it is on our culture. I think people are exhausted by this and would like a break. If a scientist finds him or herself in front of an audience, its probably because the audience wants to hear about some science, some facts. To "Frame information" sound like "turn facts into bullshit" "wrap facts in a layer of bullshit" to me. Scientists are one of the few groups who can be counted on to not bullshit, at least when asked about actual science. We give that up at our peril and the peril of the scientific enterprise itself.

There are two problems here: communicating science and communicating policy. Communicating science should follow the simple rules laid out by Mixing Memory: be nice, know your audience and realize that words have power (the take-home message from the theory of frames.) I would add never refuse to answer a science question. If it requires more detail, go in to the detail. Hide nothing. Let the audience tell you when to stop.

Now if you're a political leader trying to persuade the public to some action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and/or energy use, then you have to worry about the words you use and what frames they evoke.

But for scientists communicating the science of our climate system, just stick to the facts. Thats what people want from you. Reversing the global warming trend will require a level of world-wide cooperation unprecedented in human history. Its only fitting that people have an unprecedented understanding of the science behind it. There's no room for "framing" in that undertaking.

Update (5/2/07): I think this last paragraph is where I've been misunderstood. Although I said "just stick to the facts", note that its "when communicating science." And I didn't mean you had to do it in a monotone or that you should use the figures right out of your papers. If you have other things to communicate, like how to solve the problem, why its a problem worth solving, then you can and should use all the persuasive skills you can muster. And facts.

Saturday, April 28, 2007

A closer look at recent polls

The recent polls I've been talking about paint a pretty consistent picture that the public believes global warming is real and a problem. I've looked at the poll results themselves and have a few comments.

The original questions and answers:
Washington Post/ABC News
Yale Center
NYTimes/CBS News

With its 83% saying global warming is a serious problem, one might think the Yale Center poll is an outlier. But the poll also asked some general belief questions and found that 58% of those surveyed also thought the world was literally created in 6 days like the Bible says. So they probably weren't just polling the Yale student body. I don't find that 58% discouraging. It shows that people with conservative religious beliefs aren't necessarily in the global warming denier camp. That's a good thing.

One of the more dispiriting results from the Post/ABC poll was the finding that 41% think global warming is caused by people while 42% think its equally between people and natural causes.
First look at the question itself:
Do you think a rise in the world's temperatures is being caused mostly by things people do, mostly by natural causes, or about equally by things people do and by natural causes?

It uses "a rise in the world's temperatures" instead of "global warming". Why is that? The Post said this was an attribution of "global warming". I think this question is confusingly worded. "A rise" over what time period?

The NYTimes came closest to asking an attribution question in question 49 of its poll:
49. Greenhouse gases are released when coal, oil and gasoline are burned by cars, utilities and factories. Which comes closest to your opinion: 1. The release of greenhouse gases is the most important factor causing global warming, or 2. The release of greenhouse gases is one factor among many causes of global warming, OR 3. The release of greenhouse gases is NOT a factor causing global warming at all.

The result was 21% most important and 63% one among many. They didn't throw in "natural causes" so we have no idea what is the "many" people might be thinking of.

The Post also reported that only 4 in 10 are "extremely" or "very" sure global warming is happening. They must be referring to question 8:
How sure are you that the world's temperature (has/hasn't) been going up - extremely sure, very sure, somewhat sure, or not sure at all?
But the result was actually 49% extremely or very sure which I would round up to 5 in 10. Is this bad news for those of us concerned with communicating the science? Simply asking the question may cause a non-scientist to waiver. This question was only asked of the 84% who already agreed that the temperature has been going up over the last 100 years (question 7). Should we be concerned that half the 84% aren't extremely or very sure?

Finally, there is the perception of scientific disagreement question:
Do you think most scientists agree with one another about whether or not global warming is happening, or do you think there is a lot of disagreement among scientists on this issue?
40% said most agree while 56% thought there was a lot of disagreement. I first thought that that was a bad result until I considered the rest of the poll and the other polls and came to this conclusion: Who cares what the public thinks of the scientific debate? They already think there's a problem and that something needs to be done. Isn't that what scientists who hope this problem gets solved want to see?

The last bit of depressing info from the Post/ABC poll is in question 3:
How much do you trust the things that scientists say about the environment - completely, a lot, a moderate amount, a little, or not at all?
The results are 5% completely, 27% a lot, 43% moderate amount, 19% little and 5% not at all. The Post reported this as "Americans' skeptical attitudes toward scientists". Well American's are skeptical on just about everything they see in the news so a lot depends on where/how they're hearing scientists "say" things. I wouldn't want scientists to be trusted completely. I agree that there is some work to be done to move people from the "moderate" to "a lot" column.

The blog Pro-Science also examines the Post poll in more detail.

NYTimes/CBS Poll: Warming is real, not sure what to do about it

A new poll conducted by the New York Times and CBS News reaffirms what the three previous polls discussed here say: the public overwhelmingly thinks global warming is real and a problem. The confusion is over what to do about it. This is another phone poll of about 1000 adults but this one was conducted very recently- April 20-24. Among the findings:
  • 84% of Americans see human activity as at least contributing to warming.
  • 90% of Democrats, 80% of independents and 60% of Republicans said immediate action was required to curb the warming of the atmosphere and deal with its effects on the global climate. 19% said it was not necessary to act now, and 1% said no steps were needed.
  • 52% said that generally speaking they would support protecting the environment over stimulating the economy.

Note that Democrats and Republicans were based on self-identification "do you consider yourself a...". They weren't asked if they were party members.

Its interesting to contrast this result with the National Journal poll of members of Congress which Jonathan Chait wrote about in the LA Times. It showed a deep divide among Congressmen by party with only 13% of Republicans agreeing that global warming is caused by humans and that gap grew in less than a year (original poll here). That poll and these other four show something that is obvious to anyone following politics: members of Congress aren't a good proxy for the general public. Can you say "sample bias"? Also the National Journal poll was taken before the IPCC press blitz.

Also consider this Pew center poll which inspired Nisbet and Mooney's framing article in Science (I'll have more on that later.) It was taken in January of 2007, before the AR4 Working Group I report was released.

We'll see what similar polls say in a year but it appears that the IPCC AR4 reports, and their publicity, have really changed the debate. The public is no longer listening to the deniers and contrarians about the reality of global warming. That doesn't mean we should relax. But scientists who are engaging the public should separate questions/confusion about the science vs. questions/confusion about the response.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Tom Toles says it all

I hope this cartoon was syndicated widely.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Two spins on one poll

One poll on climate change views was taken jointly by The Washington Post, ABC News and Stanford. The Post and ABC News then each did a story on it and comparing the two provides a good lesson on climate spin.

First look at the headline and sub-headline:
WPost: Growing Number of Americans see Warming as Leading Threat: Most Want U.S. to Act, But There Is No Consensus on How
ABCNews: Concern Soars About Global Warming as World's Top Environmental Threat: Increasing Numbers Believe Global Warming Is Caused by Humans and That Scientists Agree on It

In the Post it's a "growing number" while in ABCNews its "concern soars". The trends are up but did they grow or soar? I guess you need to look at a lot of these polls to tell. The rank of global warming in important environmental problems doubled in a year and is the clear number one. That sounds like "soaring" to me.

Consider the attribution question on what's causing the warming. 41% say the rise in temperatures is man made while 42% say its a mix of human and natural causes. The Post reported this as "Americans are also split on what causes global warming in the first place" while ABCNews "finds a 10-point increase in the belief that global warming is caused mostly by human activity (to 41 percent, up from 31 percent last year)". So is the trend more important or the current numbers? I'd say the trend considering the barrage of mis-information put out by the Right Wing Noise Machine.

The poll asked "
Do you think most scientists agree with one another about whether or not global warming is happening, or do you think there is a lot of disagreement among scientists on this issue?". In the Post, this result was a downer: "56 percent continue to think there is "a lot" of disagreement among scientists about climate change." While ABCNews accentuates the positive: "This...poll...finds....a significant decline — the first in a decade — in the belief that many scientists disagree on whether global warming is happening." The decline was from 64% to 56% in a year. Again, considering how much disinformation is out there, I see the glass as half full.

What's the takeaway lesson here? The Post is a conservative paper but we already knew that. Coupled with the Yale poll, I think we can be optimistic that the public is hearing through the noise.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Public overwhelmingly thinks global warming is a problem.

Three recent opinion polls suggest a large shift in public perceptions of climate change. We can probably credit the IPCC reports and AIT for that. First a roundup of the polls in the order they were taken. (Has anyone seen the first two covered in the press? Pointers are appreciated.)

The first poll was conducted by the Yale Center for Environmental Law and Policy and released in March of 2007. The poll surveyed 1000 adults the week after the IPCC Working Group 1 report was released (Feb 5-11). Among the findings:
  • 83% believe global warming is a serious problem (up from 70% in 2004) including 56% who think its "very serious"
  • More than two out of three (68%) Americans agree that global warming is something people can control. And fully 81% agree with the statement, “It is my responsibility to help reduce the impacts of global warming.”
  • Two of three Americans (67%) say that, if they had to, they could explain global warming or climate change “to someone I meet in passing.”
  • The most trusted source of information on environmental issues is scientists at major universities (76%) followed by the EPA (62%). George Bush and Republicans in Congress are the least trustworthy.
This last point is the most encouraging. The Inhofe's of the world may talk a lot from a place of prominence but people can mostly see through their bullshit.

I found out about this poll in a column by George Will (more on that later). I've seen no other coverage.

The second poll was conducted by USA Today and Gallup. This poll was published in USAToday's April 19th edition on page 7A. The byline with the poll is Marcy Mullins. In that issue, their were three stories on "going green" but no other reference to the poll. USA Today is part of the Rupert Murdoch empire so that isn't to surprising. Can anyone find this poll on the web?

The poll surveyed 1007 people from March 23-25 (after Al Gore's testimony to Congress).
  • 60% believe the effects of global warming have already begun
  • 38% say major and 28% say extreme changes will happen in the next 50 years if nothing is done about global warming
  • 58% think it takes more drastic measures then recycling, etc. to reduce global warming.
  • 46% think the government should require a surcharge on utility bills when energy-use limits are exceeded
  • 44% think vehicles that do not get at least 30 miles per gallon should be banned.
Wow. No one, and I mean no one, in any political office is talking about banning vehicles with less then 30 mpg and yet it already has 44% support.

The final poll actually does have some coverage from the Washington Post because it was their poll. Actually they conducted it with ABC News and Stanford. The poll surveyed 1002 adults from April 5-10 which includes the release of WGII's report. The article is by Juliet Eilperin and Jon Cohen. Their poll finds:
  • A third of Americans say global warming ranks as the world's single largest environmental problem, double the number who gave it top ranking last year.
  • 70% of Americans want more federal action on global warming, and about half of those surveyed think the government should do "much more" than it is doing now.
  • 42% think the government should require greater fuel efficiency for vehicles.
  • Americans are split on what causes global warming in the first place: 41 percent say the temperature rise stems mainly from human activities -- a 10-percentage-point increase from last year -- and 42 percent attribute it about equally to human and natural causes.
  • 84% think that average global temperatures have been rising over the past century, and more than half say weather has become more unstable where they live. Still, only four in 10 are "extremely" or "very" sure global warming is happening, and 56% continue to think there is "a lot" of disagreement among scientists about climate change.

Those last two points seem to contradict the other polls. I'll look more closely at the polls in another post. See also ABC News coverage of the same poll.

Overall, there is strong public belief that global warming is real and the government needs to do something. That's good news. The last two points of the Washington Post poll suggest sites like this one and RealClimate still have some work to do.

Saturday, April 07, 2007

U.S. Supreme Court -- protector of the environment?

This can't be what movement conservatives expected from a court filled with Reagan, Bush I and Bush II appointees.

In two separate rulings, the Supreme Court cleared legal roadblocks to addressing climate change and other environmental problems.

In the first case, covered in this AP story by Pete Yost, the Supreme Court, on a 9-0 vote, overturned a lower court ruling that allowed some old power plants to get out of regulations controlling emissions of sulfur and nitrates. What, you ask? This isn't about CO2? No. These are regulations for controlling acid rain. Yes thats right: some power companies are still fighting otherwise successful acid rain regulations. Duke Power is the culprit here. Keep this in mind when viewing calls from power companies to please regulate CO2 emissions. Those need to be examined very closely.

In the second case, a 5-4 vote said that the E.P.A. can indeed regulate CO2 emissions from car tailpipes. The NYTimes article by, and we're not kidding, Linda Greenhouse, spends a lot of time on the legal issue the minority was arguing: that the case didn't have standing.

This is being hailed as a major victory however don't expect an EPA staffed with Bush appointees to move quickly on their new authority. One immediate effect of this ruling, according to an AP story by Samantha Young, is that the EPA will go ahead and consider California's request to set its own tail pipe emission standards.

Actually the 4 in the 5-4 vote were Cheif Justice Roberts, Alito, Scalia and Thomas. Conservatives are close to getting the court they want.

Update: Sure enough, the EPA is dragging its heals in doing anything about CO2.

Working Group II report released

If you're reading this site, you probably follow climate change somewhat and are very much aware that yesterday the IPCC released the summary for policy makers of the Working Group II report.

To recap: the IPCC divides its effort in to three working groups. Working Group I covers the science and released their summary back in February. Working Group II "assesses the vulnerability of socio-economic and natural systems to climate change, negative and positive consequences of climate change, and options for adapting to it."

You can download the Working Group II summary for policymakers here.

According to this schedule, the full report was also supposed to be released but I can't find it on the IPCC site.

Pre-release coverage: The first week of April had many stories previewing the report. One of the most interesting was this AP story by Seth Borenstein dated April 1st (but not a joke). A lot of coverage is given to a chart that shows the effects of each degree of global warming. Dr. Andrew Weaver gets the juicy quote calling it the "highway to extinction". Mr. Borenstein speculates its likely to be the subject of intense debate but it made it in to the final report as Table SPM-1.

The predictions for the upper end are pretty gloomy. Borenstein concludes with this hopeful quote:
“The worst stuff is not going to happen because we can't be that stupid,” said Harvard University oceanographer James McCarthy, who was a top author of the 2001 version of this report. “Not that I think the projections aren't that good, but because we can't be that stupid.”
Cynical response to Dr. McCarthy: Oh ye of little faith.

Seriously, lets hope we're indeed not that stupid.

The NY Times pre-release coverage, by Andrew Revkin and based on a preliminary copy they received, gives a bit to much space to the supposed "good side" of climate change: less deaths from cold and a greener world. As noted later, the bad ultimately overcomes the good. So why mention it? The "less deaths from cold" seems particularly weak but the details are in the full report which I haven't seen. Yes if there's less cold, there will be less deaths from cold but if the goal is "less deaths" then its not at all clear there will be any benefit.

Post release coverage: The NY times coverage is also by Andrew Revkin with James Kanter. The article correctly describes how the WGII report shows that climate change will affect the poor the most:
“It’s the poorest of the poor in the world, and this includes poor people even in prosperous societies, who are going to be the worst hit,” said Rajendra K. Pachauri, the chairman of the panel. “People who are poor are least-equipped to be able to adapt to the impacts of climate change, and therefore in some sense this does become a global responsibility in my view.”

I'm a little disturbed at this quote from co-chariman Martin Parry: “We’re no longer arm-waving with models,” he said. “This is empirical information on the ground.” Its good to have data from the ground but climate models are only arm-waving if you don't understand them. A better statement would be: "We now have data to confirm the theoretical calculations from the model". That's how science works, ya know.

The NY Times article also mentions some of the controversy that apparently began in the last meeting hours before release of the report when China and other countries' diplomats wanted some of the language watered down. AP's Seth Borenstein also writes about this. As Borenstein mentioned in his pre-release coverage Table SPM-1 was the subject and he reports it had parts removed and altered. They also argued about "confidence" vs. "high confidence" in some of the results. Why bother? Well they only make these reports once every 7 years and this one will guide policymakers for a while. The Times notes that the U.S. diplomats were *not* part of the dilution effort.

Global Warming and National Security

Le Monde (english translation at truthout) has an article by Herve Kempf on a global warming angle I haven't seen covered much in the U.S. press: the effect on national security. Its been mentioned here or there but this article covers a conference in Chapel Hill, North Carolina called "Global Climate Change: National Security Implications".

This is not a difficult concept: climate changes, and the associated changes in water and food supply, could lead to armed conflict. It has in the past. From the article:
"We need to glide from the war against terrorism towards the new concept of sustainable security," summarizes John Ackerman of the US Air Force's Air Command and Staff College.

(I'm really really tired of "War on this" "War on that" language that permeates our public policy. I hope we can tackle this problem seriously without declaring a "War on Climate Change". That phrase thankfully isn't used by Mr. Ackerman but I expect to see it from an official sometime in the near future.)

The article ends with what I though was an encouraging, on more then one level, quote:
The stakes are so important that a new strategic framework must be imagined. That's what the Center for Naval Analysis, an independent institution created in 1942 in the margins of the Army and led by retired officers, will propose in the next few days: "Climate change is a reality, and the country, like the Army, must prepare itself for it," indicates one of the authors who wished to remain anonymous. Isn't that a contradiction with the Bush administration's present policy? "The Army is not in the service of any particular administration," he answers, "but in the service of the country."

Maybe the national security implications will finally get the attention of Conservatives who seem more and more dedicated to deny-and-do-nothing. I'm glad to see a small-c conservative institution like the U.S. Army taking climate change seriously.

Another interesting quote:
The American Army is the world's premier consumer of energy, which costs it close to eleven billion dollars a year. That handicaps its flexibility: "On the battleground, 70% of the carried tonnage is fuel."
Premier as in number 1 consumer? Compared even to U.S. industry? I'd like to see that explained better but the article doesn't go in to it. Maybe a translation problem.

Has anyone seen any coverage in the U.S. press about this conference?

Update: The U.N. is also considering the security implications according to this AP story.