Bay Area Skeptics

The San Francisco Bay Area's skeptical organization since 1982

Looking at Climate with the SciSchmooze

Vaulted ceiling, Notre Dame Cathedral, Paris, France. Photo by the author.

Hello again Science fans!

This past Monday, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, a UN organization) released their final report on the climate. Basically, we’re on the brink of irrevocable damage to the planet. The UN Secretary General said “This report is a clarion call to massively fast-track climate efforts by every country and every sector and on every timeframe. Our world needs climate action on all fronts: everything, everywhere, all at once.”

My first thought is “where’s he been”? Here’s a timeline and summary of the previous IPCC reports as well as one analysis of the sixth report. We’ve known this is coming, but the world’s governments and much of the earth’s population haven’t done much to slow or reverse the trend. This last report took eight years to write and is several thousand pages long.

As we’ve discussed here before, communicating science to the general public is difficult. Scientists tend to used technical language and qualify their findings with lots of caveats. While this final report is pretty clear in saying we’re going to reach the point of no return (1.5 degrees Celsius increase over pre-industrial times) earlier than previously predicted, it still holds out hope that the governments of the world will do the right thing and pull us back from the climate cliff. All along they’ve been warning that we need to do something before this increase is reached in 2050. In the grand scheme of planet time, that’s a few seconds, but it terms of our lifetimes, that’s a lot of time, and that’s the scale most people relate to. So this will happen in 27 years, there’s no need to worry.

Instead it looks like we’ll reach this in the early 2030s, just seven to ten years away. Now, suddenly, the urgency is there. The governments of the world have been warned that this is coming for quite a while, but haven’t done nearly enough to prevent it.

Tuesday’s “The Morning” newsletter from the NY Times focused on this report, and included another communications issue, namely using Celsius exclusively. That’s the temperature scale scientists use, so to them it makes sense. But the US historically has emitted more CO2 than any other country and we use the Fahrenheit scale here. Few Americans know how to relate to Celsius. 1.5 degrees C translates to 2.7 degrees F. Click on the link above to read about this, and an analysis of takeaways from this report.

I saw many articles about this report this week, and was struck by the different tone taken in the headlines. Some trumpet that we still have time to fix things. Others took a more urgent approach. Mind you, they are all written about the same report! The headlines are calculated to appeal to a target audience and get more eyeballs to read their version of the analysis.

As previous versions of this, and other studies have been released, there’s always the chorus of non-believers who bring up a variety of reasons why this is part of a natural cycle and not caused by man. No matter which bit of misinformation they latch onto, there is scientific proof that nullifies their claims.

Meanwhile, in Texas, climate science education guidelines have been weakened.

Another communication issue deals with explaining how things work. For example, computing technology is rife with jargon unique to the industry. The same issue applies to pretty much any “system” we use in every day life. People don’t understand how things work, and most don’t care. The widespread power outages following the storms these past two weeks bring this into focus for the electrical grid as people can’t understand why the house across the street has power, while their house has been without for days. Cartoonist Dan Nott has created an illustrated guide to how things work that looks useful. The author of this review article says he’ll use it to teach his kids how the internet works. But he also called the book a graphic novel, which is it not, as novels are fiction.

Last Sunday marked the third anniversary of the COVID-19 emergency declaration in California. Here in the Bay Area, the local counties actually declared an emergency a few days earlier. Monday’s “California Today” reminds us of the progress made against this virus in the past three years, as well as the risk that’s still out there.

Also in the news is the debate on the origin of COVID-19. Was it caused by a lab leak, or did it have animal origins.

I took the picture at the top of today’s Schmooze in 2016. The fire that destroyed this French landmark almost three years later was tragic, but it revealed some hidden secrets, including the fact that it was the first Gothic cathedral to be built using iron staples! The restoration work is expected to complete by the end of 2024 according to this article and video from CBS news.

Lastly, Gordon Moore, co-founder of Intel and author of a simple prediction about the advances of technology, passed away this week at the age of 94. His prediction became known as Moore’s Law.

Have a great week in Science, and we hope you remain safe as we endure yet another significant storm system this coming Tuesday.

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