[Coral-List] Pew report on climate change

Martin Moe martin_moe at yahoo.com
Tue Nov 23 08:30:48 EST 2010

Optimism is the fuel to find success through the valley of failure. Pessimism is 
retreat and the antithesis of accomplishment and success. Giving way to 
pessimism may be accepting perceived reality but it also destroys the ability of 
intelligence, ingenuity, and persistence to find the hidden path to success. 
Basically, you can’t succeed if you don’t keep trying, and the higher the 
stakes, the more important is the trying. If the health of our world isn’t 
important, what is?

Martin Moe

From: Micah Marty <micahjmarty at gmail.com>
To: "coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov" <coral-list at coral.aoml.noaa.gov>
Sent: Mon, November 22, 2010 4:09:20 PM
Subject: Re: [Coral-List] Pew report on climate change

This is a bleak outlook.  It offers inaction as a solution to an obvious and
important problem.  It is fouled with despair and does little to inspire or
encourage the work that can overcome the challenges posed by this political
climate.  In respectful disagreement with Mr. Mussman, I’d like to offer a
different perspective.

Kentuckian writer/farmer/conservationist Wendell Berry, in a 1990 essay
titled *A Poem of Difficult Hope*, analyzes a Hayden Carruth poem which
protests the Vietnam War.  The poet tells how he has written countless poems
in the past to publicly object to violent conflicts “and not one / breath
was restored / to one // shattered throat / mans womans or childs” as the
result of his work.  Berry notes that the poet is still writing poems
opposed to wars despite the fact (acknowledged in the present verse) that
his former poems have not prevented the atrocities of war.

I think this is analogous to the problem described by Mr. Mussman, where
scientists have gone to great lengths to publicly communicate the threats of
climate change and the need to pass legislation.  The despair comes as these
efforts are met first with legislative inaction and then countered by an
exorbitantly well-funded political insurgency (the Tea Party is
astroturf—not grass-roots) that maliciously oppugns climate science.  But
despair gives us no way forward.

I almost hesitate before asserting something that Mr. Mussman called
nonsense—for fear of being considered “highly simplistic and exceedingly
optimistic” —but I proceed because I think it is the right way forward.  The
recurrent failures of the US federal government to pass meaningful climate
legislation must not discourage the efforts that support such an outcome.
In his essay, Berry writes, “much protest is naïve; it expects quick,
visible improvement and despairs and gives up when such improvement does not
come..”  He continues, “the voice of our despair defines our hope exactly,”
and this is important to remember as despair hurries to eclipse hope.

To allow the findings of this Pew report, or dozens of other bumps in the
road to paralyze us from continuing to speak out about climate change is
silly.  These things *are* unsettling, and while prudence is necessary in
order to maintain professional integrity, acquiescence and silence would be
louche to me.

On the note of prudence, Mr. Mussman points out that the primary duty of a
scientist is not to be a public advocate for climate change or
conservation.  As we have seen, this task exposes scientists to the risk of
being professionally undermined or attacked.  And it is not reasonable “[to
expect] that scientists should collectively accept responsibility to counter
these forces.”  It may be reasonable however to expect that
*some*scientists will feel it their duty and take a stand.  These
people will be
better advocates than those who are reticent to speak out anyway.  Further,
although this statement implies that scientists should accept sole
responsibility, there are many other types of people and organizations
working to counter the lies and deception propagated by these (aptly named)
merchants of doubt.

For our part, we should be well-read on the political contentions held by
climate skeptics (see a good article recently posted on the Climate Shifts
blog: http://www.climateshifts.org/?p=6056 ) and be comfortable discussing
such things with our neighbors and acquaintances.  How much she or he
chooses to speak out is a decision left to the judgment of each scientist.

In closing I will share the last line of Berry’s essay, which seems like an
adequate reference point for the issues at hand.  He writes, “if we would
help when we could, we will help when we can.”


Micah Marty

BA St. Olaf College 2010
Biology and Environmental Studies
micahjmarty at gmail.com

On Sat, Nov 20, 2010 at 4:25 PM, Steve Mussman <sealab at earthlink.net> wrote:
> The Pew Research Center’s survey that Milton Ponson posted is indeed
> troubling, but at the same time its findings should come as no surprise.
> The partisan divide that the poll revealed on climate change and energy
> policy is simply reflective of the polarizing differences that exist on
> any number of critical issues.
> In the past I have opined that in order to reverse this trend, the
> community needs to step up and be more assertive in communicating with the
> at large. This, in the belief that popular opinion would eventually react
and adjust
> appropriately to reason. I’m afraid that such logic has already proven to
be highly
> simplistic and exceedingly optimistic. I regret asserting such nonsense.
> Considering the amount of resources utilized by those promoting the
campaign to
> downplay the pernicious nature of anthropogenic climate change, the
prospects for
> reversing the prevailing public perception are beginning to dissipate.
Unless a
> counter force capable of momentous push back suddenly appears, we can only
> the disturbing trend to gain impetus. The expectation that scientists
should collectively
> accept responsibility to counter these forces is beyond reason. After all,
> have their own interests to protect and they cannot be expected to fulfill
a role
> that requires such an elevated level of risk and self-sacrifice.
> When one factors in the state of current fiscal conditions, we may be
> the perfect storm. Under these circumstances it is highly unlikely that
any economic
> policy designed to reduce carbon emissions (like a carbon tax), no matter
how well
> conceived, could possibly be agreed upon by our polarized government
> It is just not going to happen and we can only hope to buy time. That is,
if there
> is time before the tipping point is upon us.
> There is of course, another consideration that may well be the proverbial
> eight hundred-pound gorilla in the room. That is the fact that
environmental issues
> that threaten coral reefs and other ecosystems are of little consequence
> (and therefore, a low priority) to most Americans. It may be that even if
> believed and accepted as fact the worst case scenarios relating to
> climate change, it would not elicit the appropriate response.
> "The difference between what we do and what we are capable of doing would
> to solve most of the world's problems."- Mohandas K. Gandhi
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