Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Climate Change Denial: Far too common for comfort.

Kayla's watching American Idol, so I guess I'll blog. I've been wanting to write about this for a while so I guess I'll get rolling on it.

Working in natural resources, this is an issue that comes up often. My particular program works with water resources. This includes: Water quality, water quantity, and various aspects of biota in water. So, we need to be very aware of the possible implications of climate change. Namely, increased frequency and severity of floods, less stable stream flows, and increases in overall temperature. Lately, I have noticed an unfortunate trend among some of my coworkers and policymakers in our area. They seem to think that there is still some sort of debate to be had about the existence of climate change.

This reminds me of the so called "controversy" in evolution. People without enough information to develop an educated opinion about the situation express their opinion anyway, then defend it vehemently. At this point, learning ceases. They don't seem to care about any new information unless they can use it to win their argument.

A few weeks ago I witnessed a very well informed biologist dissect the ridiculous arguments of a policymaker (we'll call him Ben) piece by piece. It was a near perfect rebuttal and was delivered politely and professionally. Afterward, Ben simply apologized and said, "Thanks for that information, I had no idea." Err, no, that's what he should have said. Instead he responded with, "Well that's one man's opinion." Later when confronted with the question of, "How do you refute the evidence?" he, in a rather hostile voice, demanded, "What evidence?" At this point, I left and set to work e-mailing links to the IPCC report.

In response to his first comment, no sir, you are wrong. That happens to be the opinion of 99% of the scientific community (response to the second is found somewhere below). A quick Wikipedia search will show you that: "no remaining scientific body of national or international standing is known to reject the basic findings of human influence on recent climate." But why the hell would we listen to elitist climatologists about climate change? After all, they only spend 4-8 years in school learning about this stuff and then their entire career studying it. In the slightly paraphrased words of Jon Stewart, "Why would we let elitist pilots tell us how to fly our children around in planes? We know better, step out of the way while I land this thing!"

Listen, THERE IS NO CONTROVERSY among the scientific community about whether or not climate change is occurring. There is also NO CONTROVERSY with respect to the question of whether there is a major anthropogenic influence. Just so this is absolutely clear: 1) Climate change is real. 2) Humans are a major cause.

A recent Skeptic magazine article by Patrick Frank pointed out the flaws in the predictive models used by climatologists and really made my head spin about this issue. After all, many of his points seem valid as far as modeling is concerned. It appears that he doesn't agree with the common interpretation the global temperature increase/CO2 increase correlation. "Correlation is not causation," he states. Can't argue with that can I? Well, yes. Correlating the number of pirates with the increase in global temperatures will give you a significant change in slope but everyone (except loyal followers of the FSM) knows that the correlation is meaningless, so we ignore it. The rather obvious difference is that we KNOW CO2 is a greenhouse gas. This is how correlation studies work when there is no control. You must determine whether the correlation is sensible prior to making the claim.

Unfortunately that doesn't allow you to perform a double blind study but in climatology this is rarely if ever possible. Imagine what we would need. For starters, a population. In this case we would need a population of planets similar to earth. Then, we need to treat some as controls (no excess CO2 in the atmosphere). Now, we measure the changes in average temp on each planet and test for significant changes. Can I stop now? Obviously this is ridiculous. It's never going to happen. So, what are our options?

1. Ignore it until it's too late to do anything.

2. Build models. Models that predict changes in temperature associated with changes in CO2 greenhouse gases can be tested to a point. We can test whether they are capable of predicting current conditions when fed data from the past. It's tricky, it's imperfect, it's the best we've got. The current models, as far as I can discern from the folks at the IPCC, only predict the upward trend in temperature when excess CO2 and other greenhouse gases (Methane, Nitrous Oxide, CFC-12, and others) are added to the model. This makes the correlation even more telling.

The predictions of future effects are admittedly not necessarily accurate. This is where it seems prudent to adhere to the precautionary principle. This is the same principle that makes you wear a helmet, buckle up a seatbelt, and avoid dark alleys. Chances are, none of those things is going to kill you. But why risk it? If the cost outweighed the risk it may make sense. The problem here, is that we don't know the level of the risk so the cost may not be worth it. In fact, our "sometimes inaccurate models that aren't very good but are the best we've got" tend to predict that it is not worth the risk.

I believe the Chardonnay is kicking in so I'll end it here.

If you have your doubts, please go to the IPCC website here for the physical science evidence. If you feel it is too much information to digest, I would argue that you have no business debating the issue. However, you should at least take the time to read the summary for policymakers. And Ben (who actually happens to be two people), if you're out there, if you even have a computer, please check out this report. Maybe then we can have a meaningful conversation about climate change.

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What does it mean? Well you could look it up on Wikipedia. Or, you could have a little more patience and watch the following video from Ted.com courtesy of John Kamman. Which, in reality has very little to do with what you'll find on Wikipedia. Please, please, please, take the time to watch this video. It doesn't matter if you're christian, muslim, buddhist, atheist/agnostic, or don't know. I really feel like it's worth your time. If it's not, then this blog probably isn't worth your time. In fact it would really be worth your time to spend an entire day exploring Ted.

Reverend Tom Honey has served as a priest for 20 years. After the tsunami of 2004, he chose to publicly delve into some very difficult questions about god. As a result, he was invited to speak at the Ted Conference. This video is his Ted talk.

This man represents what I mean whenever I say or write "thoughtful Christian." If all religious people were as thoughtful as he, I would have no reason to dislike religion. He asks very thought provoking questions about god's existence and abilities as they relate to his/her moral obligations. He defines himself as a christian but I think buddhist or simply deist (right John?) are far more fitting.

Where is god in all this? Who is god in all this? God is in this with us, or god doesn’t deserve our allegiance anymore.

This statement is so true for me. If there is a god and she is not engaged in the day to day world, then why would I bother serving/praying/worshiping her? If she is engaged in the day to day world and has the power to stop things like a tsunami, her moral standards are not up to par and I am not interested in what she has to offer. Any human with the power to stop the death of 300,000 people would be morally obligated to stop it. Why isn't god?

What if God doesn't do things? What if God is in things? -Tom Honey

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Sunday, May 18, 2008

Please Stop Claiming Einstein Was christian.

Not that it really matters if he was. Lots of really intelligent people believe really odd things. Take my doctor...out back and beat some sense into him. But really, if you want to use Einstein as an example of a great scientist who was also a believer, you are going to have to explain this letter.

“the word God is for me nothing more than the expression and product of human weaknesses, the Bible a collection of honorable but still primitive legends which are nevertheless pretty childish.”

That really doesn't sound very christian to me. In fact, I would say that he is at least as much of an atheist as I am. He consistently described himself as an agnostic but our views on god are identical. I just happen to feel that the word "agnostic" is nothing more than a soft way of breaking it to folks that you don't believe in their imaginary friends. I plan to write about the semantics of agnosticism vs. atheism later when I feel like I have it figured out a little better myself.

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Gay Couples Allowed to Marry in Minnesota!

OK, not quite, but a new citizen penned bill may get things rolling. I love the name of the bill: "The Marriage and Family Protection Act." That sounds like it came oozing right out of an evangelical potluck discussion. Who knows, maybe the fundies will vote for it assuming it's some right wing nut job bill making same-sex marriage illegal. We all know they don't read half of the bills they're presented with anyway. After California passed their bill twice, only to have it vetoed by the terminator, it was eventually supported by the California Supreme Court. The MN Bill actually has no chance of passing but hopefully we'll follow soon.

"I think we're all a little gay." -Trey Parker

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Monday, May 12, 2008


I am truly sickened by this. For a man to murder his own daughter for talking to the wrong person takes one of two things: Insanity or religion. I'd like to believe that the case of Abdel-Qader Ali was an isolated case of insanity. However, the facts that he was arrested but released after only two hours, has not lost his job, and was congratulated by police lead me to suspect otherwise. Maybe it was a crime of passion. Perhaps he'll come to his senses and realize what he's done. Maybe not:

'Death was the least she deserved,' said Abdel-Qader. 'I don't regret it. I had the support of all my friends who are fathers, like me, and know what she did was unacceptable to any Muslim that honours his religion,' he said.

Hmm...What she did was unacceptable, but what he did is applauded. Super.

Sitting on a chair by his front door and surrounded by the gerberas and white daisies he had planted in the family garden, Abel-Qader attempted to justify his actions.

'I don't have a daughter now, and I prefer to say that I never had one. That girl humiliated me in front of my family and friends. Speaking with a foreign solider, she lost what is the most precious thing for any woman. 'People from western countries might be shocked, but our girls are not like their daughters that can sleep with any man they want and sometimes even get pregnant without marrying. Our girls should respect their religion, their family and their bodies.

'I have only two boys from now on. That girl was a mistake in my life. I know God is blessing me for what I did,' he said, his voice swelling with pride. 'My sons are by my side, and they were men enough to help me finish the life of someone who just brought shame to ours.'

I'm so glad his imaginary friend approves.

Yes, people from western countries are shocked. We have this ridiculous idea that women are people, and that talking to someone of a different religion is not a death worthy offense. Perhaps we should accept his actions as part of his "culture." Sorry, I'm not very sensitive to culture I, especially when it's used as an excuse for murdering, raping, mutilating, eviscerating, or generally oppressing people.

"Love of God and compassion and empathy leads you to a very glorious place, and science leads you to killing people." -ben 'blows goats' stein.

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Saturday, May 10, 2008

Because, It's Funny.

Warning, this is a complete waste of over two minutes of your time.

I just can't help it. My belly hurts from laughing.

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Minnesota Students Suspended for Excersising 1st Amendment Rights

Three eighth grade students were suspended from Dilworth-Glyndon- Felton Junior High School for not standing during the pledge of allegiance. WTF? It seems to me that we at least claim to live in a country that stands for freedom. Somehow this translates to, "You are free to mindlessly repeat an oath of loyalty whenever ordered to do so?" The Minnesota ACLU is already looking into the issue. There is a poll asking whether the punishment was appropriate here. PZ has also touched on the issue here.

In my not-so-humble opinion this is complete and utter bullshit. Forcing students to say the pledge does nothing to instill patriotism (which is overrated anyway). Mindless repetition of an oath is just that, mindless. I stand for the pledge but I do it by choice and I think everyone should take part by choice, not through coercion. I also leave out the "under god" portion. I suppose that means I should get the hell out. I'm really disheartened by some of the comments on the Star Tribune site. Such as:

Yes, this is a free country, but that also means that these families are free to leave if they cannot respect our nation.

So basically, your only free if you do things that the commenter agrees with. Also, a rather large percentage of people thought the punishment should have been harsher. A lot of comments point out that it was a school rule so it should be followed. Please remember, segregation used to be a school rule. Some rules need to be broken.

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Thursday, May 8, 2008

This is a video that was sent to me via e-mail. I just thought I'd share it.

Science is not only compatible with spirituality, it is a profound source of spirituality. -Carl Sagan

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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

KBSU Grand Finale

KBSU was kind enough to allow John Kamman to appear on their program last week to discuss the issues we've been raising regarding that gem of show, "Does god Exist?(DgE)" I mentioned that I found it a bit curious that John was invited and I was not. There was a perfectly legitimate reason of course.

In an e-mail from Amy Borgman:

The studio is located on the second floor of Deputy Hall. Robert Baril will be the interviewer. The only problem with having two guests on at once is that the camera shots get really tight, so I would have to object the idea of having Shane on as well. I'm glad to hear you can make it to the show. See you Friday!

I'll let you judge the honesty of that statement while you watch the video. Warning, it's a bit long (about 20 minutes).

In Rob Baril's defense, his monologue is really quite entertaining. He also does a fair job defending the station with some sensible answers and doesn't seem to care too much for the DgE program. I still don't feel that lack of proper funding is an excuse for proselytism on a publicly funded station.

I do feel that KBSU was a bit dishonest regarding the content of the interview. Although, I'm not sure that bringing on a crazy old man, Adam Steele, to defend a crazy old man, John Clayton, actually accomplished much. Mr. Steele probably should have watched DgE before his appearance. He might have looked like less of an ass. Rob's defense was far superior to any of the uninformed ramblings of Adam Steele.

In closing, none of this can be considered an appropriate response to the issues being raised. KBSU is still airing inappropriate religious crap. DgE is still an embarrassment to BSU and reflects poorly upon the school as an institute of higher learning. Whoever is actually responsible for the program in the first place obviously has an agenda and is hoping we'll go away now. Hope in one hand, shit in the other one, see which one fills up first.

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Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Excuses (mine)

Sorry folks, I've been horribly busy for the last week. I do have the footage from KBSU and I do intend to comment. However, in the last week I've been working on my house prepping for Kayla's graduation party, SCUBA diving in a rather chilly river for a lost Hydrolab (I'm not the one who lost it but I did find it), working on a dam removal project, re-writing a work plan for EPA, attending dance recitals and baptisms, and watching Family Guy (OK, so that one's lame, but the rest are legitimate excuses right?). Anywhoo, I have community meeting tonight but am hoping to post tomorrow on the KBSU issue and maybe a little something about climate change denialism that has been nagging me lately. Thanks for your patience.

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Thursday, May 1, 2008

KBSU Response: More Professional, Still Wrong

KBSU has finally responded to our complaints in a more professional manner. They have also invited John (but not me for some reason) to speak on Friday's show. They have agreed to give me a digital copy, so I plan to post it here. The official response follows.

In response to recent allegations brought to KBSU regarding Does God Exist? we feel it is necessary to explain our position. As you may or may not know, our station is working on an extremely limited budget. While we may not have the best programming, we try to have a variety.

Earlier in the year, we sent out requests to over 60 programs hoping they would be made available to us for free. A select few responded. Among them were Thread Heads, a program about making clothes within a budget, Terra, a nature program, Zen Living, a show offering alternative healthy lifestyles, Indy Mogul, a show about low-budget film making, Pixel Perfect, which features tutorials on editing and enhancing photos, Hometown Baghdad a show
by an all-Iraqi crew that tells the stories of three young people trying to survive in Baghdad, Gay USA a weekly news-hour, offering comprehensive news and analysis by and about the LGBTQ community and Does God Exist?, a program about bringing science and religion together. In order to obtain a variety of programming and because of the fact that we cannot fill an entire week with original BSU programming, we decided to play the variety of shows made available to us. We would also like to make it known that we are open to programming suggestions.

We have been airing Free Speech TV, a channel that features world news and issues in the world today for over 2 years now. Democracy Now! has been funding until January of this year. We have been looking for a sponsor that is willing to pay $400 a year to keep Democracy Now! and the other programs we get from Free Speech TV. There has been no luck finding a sponsor so now in May we will lose Free Speech TV.

While we recognize that some people’s opinions differ with that of Does God Exist? we find no reason to remove it from our schedule. It is our view that Does God Exist? has as much of a home on KBSU as Hometown Baghdad orGay USA. While we respect the recent suggestion to take Does God Exist? of the schedule we will continue airing it as it is our right to do so. That right is given to us by the First Amendment.

JonGunnar Gylfason

Station Manager KBSU

This response is, in my opinion, much, much, much, much, much more professional than the original on air comedy/tragedy/professional suicide response. However, they are still wrong for a couple of reasons and it's still not going to shut me up.

First, why is it wrong?

1. A limited budget and an attempt to provide variety in no way responds to our complaint about publicly funded proselytism. This issue has had mixed results in the courts. See here and here. One thing is clear. We're not alone in our thinking. Let me clarify something in case that dooble, jason, is still around (if you haven't picked up on it yet, when I don't capitalize something that should be, I do mean it as an insult). WE ARE NOT THREATENING WITH LITIGATION! OK.

2. And this is a big one. "Does god (see, there I did it again) Exist" is NOT "a program about bringing science and religion together." It is a horribly dishonest pile of christian propaganda in which the host/preacher portrays himself as a scientist/former atheist and spews lies and pseudoscience to justify his belief in his imaginary friend (jebus) and convince unwary viewers to follow. No, it is not "some people’s opinions" that differ with "Does god Exist?" it is Scientific facts! He throws in just enough real science to make him believable to people without the science education to refute his bullshit. He even has a newsletter that reads a bit like "Skeptic" magazine and doesn't even mention religion in some issues (he's crafty, I'll give him that). This man is pure evil. If I believed in Satan (capitalized, just in case), this would be him. Oh, wait, I think he just convinced me. Er, no, it was just gas.

Now, why won't I shut up? Well, duh, I'm an Atheist (caps and bold from now on) activist. They will stop hearing from me when I receive a cease and desist order(maybe) or when the program disappears. What I will do is make an effort to find some more appropriate programming at a reasonable cost. Maybe I'll even donate, but only if this proselytizing christian (hee hee, look, now it's tiny) bullshit goes away.

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National Day of Reason Today

Remember, today is the National Day of Reason! Oh yeah, and the national day of prayer. Oh well, go ahead and pray if you don't feel like doing anything useful. PZ has covered this topic rather well here, so I won't waste too much of my time ranting. OK, one quick little rant. This is complete and utter bullshit. I am disgusted that our government is supporting this crap. I'm even more sickened that it's turned into such an evangelical christian specific event. Don't believe me? Check it out here. Be sure to read all the way down to that lovely statement of faith. So much for bringing people of different faiths together. Then again, what do I know, I'm just godless heathen. I think I'll go to work keeping the water clean up here in the north woods. Maybe you can pray it clean for me.

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