Let go or be dragged

Let go or be dragged.  A saying I love so much that I not only have it on a refrigerator magnet, but one of my daughters painted it on a canvas for me as a gift many years ago.


That refrigerator magnet comes to mind when I see articles like this one which appeared in Scientific American, which is actually titled, “Could Sea Level Rise Swamp Cities within a Century? Famed climatologist James Hansen argues for rapidly rising seas—but other scientists remain skeptical.”

“Skeptical?” Really? Leave him alone. He’s done more for the planet than 99% of other people alive today. Maybe 99.5%. Let him go, or be dragged, because he isn’t going to be silenced.

The article, which was reprinted from Climate Wire, pays as much (or more) attention to James Hansen’s critics as it does to his actual work. I’m not going to kid you. This pisses me off infuriates me.

If I could talk to James Hansen, I’d thank him for giving a damn and doing something about it. And I’d tell him not to pay too much attention to those who so easily stand on the sidelines, shooting spitballs, trying to get some attention of their own for criticizing one of the few scientists who forcefully and passionately speaks out about the existential danger we are all in. And I see this kind of nitpicking, cherry picking, and general uppity pissy-ness in science all the time. Fine. I get it. But there are two problems here.

The first problem is that James Hansen hardly needs more critics. There have been, literally, paid armies of assholes gunning for him since 1988 thanks to the fossil fuel industry. Does he REALLY need potshots from his own side?  I know. Academic integrity, peer review, the scientific method, yada yada yada. That’s all fine and well except, frankly, I’ve had enough. If sea levels rise 10 meters vs. 7 meters vs. 5 meters in 100 YEARS who, on Earth, thinks we need to squabble about it? The situation is dire. The seas are going to rise, cities will be lost – and that’s not even close to the main thing people should be focusing on.

No one has done anything – NOT ONE SINGLE THING – except publish papers, and stare at stuff, then publish more papers about it, just stating, re-stating, forming a committee to state again…over and over again, then they play catch up when Mother Nature makes decisions without us, more explaining, refining, re-stating the same thing, which is that we are screwed. I’ve got it. Thanks. Maybe if scientists would stop being so defensive, the bullies would leave them alone, eh? Or maybe they didn’t learn that lesson on the playground. It’s the same school yard and those same bullies, now fortified with petro dollars and fancy suits, who will fall just as easily as they did back then if (properly) dealt with. But by then, we’ll all be under water or extinct.

All the while, carbon emissions and the mess we’ve made have gotten exponentially worse, we’ve skinned our only planet alive, like this:


Instead of leaving it as it was, which was like this:


Here’s the message that should be going out to the public: The sea level will rise and we don’t know exactly by how much or exactly when. That’s it. JUST SAY IT. No one can even remotely remember stuff like a) What is, exactly, the greatest source of carbon emissions? b) Who actually emits the most? c) When did the Sixth Mass Extinction actually start? d) How many years do we really have until it’s “too late” to fix the problem? Plus, you can find different answers to each of those hypothetical, yet valid, questions in countless different places. Who could even keep track, right? The general public does not need to, nor are we able to, put a tractor beam on all this stuff, which is why most people give up trying and just listen to the simplest, easiest bunch of (wrong) answers, conveniently provided by the climate change deniers.

The insanity of whatever “logic” is behind that Scientific American article is akin to being in a room, sealed shut, which has been set on fire and then arguing about which garden hose would be the best to put out the flames (the hose, of course, being on the outside and not reachable). Like WHAT IS THE POINT????? Navel gazing is far too kind a term. If you are someone who studies supernovae and you want to have a throw down with other astronomers about it, fine. If you’re a physicist who is passionate about string theory and you want to defend it against those who think it’s ridiculous (and I love string theory, so don’t get me started), fine. If you want to argue about what van Gogh was thinking when he cut off his own damn ear, FINE. None of those topics is going to end our species, so knock yourself out.

And here, by the way, is what Hansen said about some of the conclusions of the work referred to in Scientific American:

“Consequences [of climate change] include sea level rise of several meters, which we estimate would occur this century or at latest next century, if fossil fuel emissions continue at a high level. That would mean loss of all coastal cities, most of the world’s large cities and all their history.”

Umm. Which part of that is controversial? Again, according to the Scientific American article, there’s plenty to be all worked up about:

“The biggest disagreement centers on Hansen’s finding that Greenland and Antarctica will lose ice much more rapidly than most glaciologists say. He assumes that the “doubling time,” the amount of time it would take for ice loss from the ice sheets to double, could be as short as 10, 20 or 40 years. At the low end of this range, sea levels would rise by several meters as soon as 2050”

And yet, a NASA blogger I like (Laura Faye Tenenbaum) recently posted about just how bad the Greenland ice sheet melting is for the planet, which is very bad. I don’t need to know EXACTLY how bad. I get it. It’s not rocket science, literally or figuratively. There are websites created to show which part of your city will be underwater thanks to sea level rise. And YET, this asshole (below), a glaciologist from Colorado named W. Tad Pfeffer feels (somehow) compelled to say out loud and publicly:

“Hansen is very good at marshaling data and laying out convincing arguments in support of pretty extreme interpretations, but he’s not so good at determining what actually constitutes a real human emergency.”

W H A T (the fuck)??

I could spend a few hours trying to figure out what this guy is up to, but I’m going to default to whatever the heck it is, something is definitely rotten in Denmark. “Real human emergency” is what initially did him in, for me. Either this guy is on the take or he’s an absolute moron. There is no in-between. Pfeffer also said (via email, apparently), the following:

“I think if Hansen and his co-authors had slowed down just a little bit and presented their work in its scientific context, that is, left out the polemicizing about the urgency to act ‘RIGHT NOW!’, the community would have been more accepting of their work and they’d actually be further forward than they are.”

I did not add the “RIGHT NOW!” asshole-ness in capital letters and the bitchy exclamation mark, by the way. Pfeffer did that himself, and Scientific American/Climate Wire just reproduced what he sent them. In fact, that “RIGHT NOW!” just torpedoed any shot at legitimacy Pfeffer may have had and put him squarely in the “ASSHOLE!” category from here on out, until the end of time, which may be just around the corner (thanks, Tad).

As I wrote last year, scientists are inherently very uncomfortable making predictions, speaking in certainties, and generally mixing their work with public policy. I watched Michael Mann being interviewed by Bill Maher last year on his show. It was painful, for Maher and for me. Bill Maher tries to inject the topic of climate change into basically any, and every, conversation he has which is why I love him. He’s not always right about stuff, but who is? He interviewed Ernest “Bobblehead” Moniz (Secretary of Energy) recently and truly didn’t have a clue that the Department of Energy is in the top 3 or 4 organizations here in the US helping cook the planet.You can use the tag cloud to the upper right of my website and read more about Ernest Moniz, about our ridiculous “all of the above” energy policy here in the US, or about the Department of Energy. I wish I could have filled him in before the interview, but it’s okay. The fact is that Bill Maher is on a mission to get the word out about climate change.

Guest: “So, Bill, I just wrapped a movie about drag racing!”
Maher: “You know, that’s just heating the climate up more. Unless it was a Prius.”

Kid in grocery store: “Hey, Mister, my mom says you’re an asshole”
Maher: “You know, son, you can kiss assholes good-bye thanks to global warming”

I digress with my imaginary conversation, but here’s my second point (back to Maher and Michael Mann)…

Dear scientists: it’s high time to lead, follow, or get out of the way (another refrigerator magnet of mine). So, Michael Mann, who has taken more abuse for his work than most people, and definitely more than most scientists, was absolutely INCAPABLE of getting worked up about the environment during Bill Maher’s interview.

I can’t even tell you how tortuous it was to watch. Bill Maher, who is genuinely concerned about the environment, and who tries to get the public involved and engaged about the science at every turn, is on a crusade. So he’s literally begging Michael Mann to sound the alarm – or just show any emotion whatsoever, or even perhaps some fear about the existential threat we are under. Mann should have known that he could not have been in more supportive “hands,” and yet, nada. Michael Mann was about as alarmist as a newborn kitten.

At the end of the interview, I was emotionally and physically drained, Maher was visibly disappointed, and even worse, he was probably wondering if he was wrong to be so worried about the science. Such a ho-hum, no big deal, it’s all gonna be unicorns and rainbows attitude is THE last thing – the absolutely LAST thing that we, the general public, need right now. We are out of time. Our politicians are so utterly useless that they couldn’t find their own asses with a map, and the scientists who could and should be getting the public engaged and informed about the situation are either squabbling amongst themselves about a foot of water here or there, or they’re about as comfortable with public speaking as a kindergartner on the first day of school. I’m left to say that if you’re not part of the solution, and I mean actively part of the solution, like getting yourself arrested or put on TV to explain something that people can latch on to and get involved in, then please, please shut the hell up and don’t make matters worse, if that’s even possible.

If you want to see an example of such ridiculous, petty whatever on full display, check out this link to a website run by climate scientists (including Mann) and, if you’re up to it, scroll through the comments. W.T. Pfeffer is the same guy – Tad Pfeffer in the Scientific American article. It’s ALMOST LIKE we’ve got all the time in the world. Note to the scientific community: we do not. And, I’d like to file the following statement from a 2008 New York Times article about climate change communication under “Ridiculous Comment Indicating That A Person Lives in an Ivory Tower:”

Morris Ward, the editor of the Yale effort (yaleclimatemediaforum.org), says that it will be up to the public to choose to be better informed on momentous issues that do not fit the normal template for news or clash with their ingrained worldviews. “At some point,” he said, “the public at large has to step up to the plate in terms of scientific and policy literacy, in terms of commitment to education and strong and effective political leadership, and in terms of their own general self-improvement.”

No offense to Morris Ward, but you have GOT to be kidding! “At some point?” You mean when we’ve run the proverbial clock out? I spend a great deal of time, each day, trying to wade through the information tsunami regarding climate change, and that statement, and its implications, are practically offensive. I like to think that I know, at the very least, slightly more than the average non-scientific person about climate change, and there is no “clearing house” that vets such information. I don’t even know where to file such a high and mighty stance such as Ward’s in my brain. In fact, that whole paragraph, which I’ve quoted directly above, is so out of touch with reality that I’m going to just leave it at that.

So, James Hansen has thrown in with a (great) bunch of kids
I don’t blame him. The adults around him act more like toddlers than grown ups. Hansen has lent his support and expertise to what, in the end, may be the kind of aggressive legal action that actually makes a difference. I had a case under review a year or so ago before the International Criminal Court (in The Hague), trying to have them bring charges against the fossil fuel industry. This is not an easy task.  They need someone like James Hansen. I, for one, am glad he’s here, and there. 

Here are a few other (relevant) refrigerator magnets:



And, of course: