Scientists as the New Climate Skeptics?

Climate scientists have fallen upon hard times of late, writes New Scientist correspondent Jim Giles. In the wake of leaked emails from the University of East Anglia in Norwich in the United Kingdom, and an admission by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that it had published an exaggerated claim about the melting of Himalayan glaciers, questions about the validity of climate science are coming out with renewed vigor.
Ironically, climate scientists’ successes in convincing most of the public of the reality of global warming has helped intensify the backlash, Giles writes:

Politicians, businesses and religious leaders now broadly agree about the dangers of climate change. This consensus can be made to appear conspiratorial, and that makes an easy target for opponents of climate science. Racist political groups have done the same with immigration: here’s what the powers that be don’t want you to hear, they say. It is a powerful message, especially when the powers that be are telling us that lifestyle changes are needed to tackle climate change.

Climate scientists must reclaim the mantle of skepticism in order to be successful, writes Giles. They need to show that although the fundamental question of global warming is settled, “the field itself is alive with debate and revision, as all science should be.”


Three Five O

From our friend Tom Stites:

All of us are committed to combating climate injustice, and here’s a new tool: A video of a new song by Unitarian Universalist minister Fred Small, who before entering the ministry was a renowned, world-touring folksinger whose original songs focused on the environment and other justice issues. This is the first song he’s written since entering divinity school, and he wrote it at the request of the environmentalist writer Bill McKibben, who started the 350 movement.


Is Caring About Climate Change in Our Genes?

A few years ago, Bill McKibben wrote a piece for Science & Spirit magazine in which he explained that “we’ve spent 99 percent of our life as a species living in a world where you had to react instantly to procure dinner (or to avoid becoming dinner). It is, therefore, extremely difficult for us to take action against, say, global warming because the dangers are a few years away, and the costs are immediate, and we’re just not built that way.”
He’s right. For the most part, we’re designed to live in the present, and we attach greater value to immediate rewards than future rewards. But in a new paper, researcher Peter Sozou reports that in some cases, our biology seems designed for the long term. Sozou used a mathematical model to look at how we value future benefits and found that we discount future personal benefits more than we discount future benefits for our community.
As Sozou notes:

This analysis shows that the social discount rate is generally lower than the private discount rate. An individual’s valuation of a future benefit to herself is governed by the probability that she will still be alive in [the] future. But she may value future benefits to her community over a timescale considerably longer than her own lifespan.
Evolution is driven by competition. Caring about the future of your community makes evolutionary sense to the extent that future members of your community are likely to be your relatives.

In today’s world, Sozou believes, this preference for social benefits and our innate tendency to care about the long-term future of our communities translates into caring about the future of the planet as a whole and taking actions against global problems like climate change. —Heather Wax


Born-Again Divide on Environmental Issues

Rural Americans are divided along religious lines when it comes to environmental issues, according to “Religion, Politics and the Environment in Rural America,” a new report from the Carsey Institute at the University of New Hampshire. Overall, 43 percent of rural Americans favor conserving natural resources for future generations rather than using natural resources to create jobs, while 29 percent favor job creation, and 28 percent think both priorities should be weighed equally. But only 40 percent of born-again Protestants favor resource conversation (compared with 49 percent of Catholics and 48 percent of unaffiliated rural Americans), and these Protestants were significantly more likely to say that urban sprawl and global warming have no effects on their communities.
Rural Americans, “who are more often evangelical, may see the effects of global warming and other environmental issues first-hand, given how central natural resources are to their livelihoods,” says sociologist and report co-author Michele Dillon. “Yet we found that born-again Protestants tend to be the least likely to perceive the effects of global warming.”
Research show that born-again Protestants are especially prominent in chronically poor communities and declining resource-dependent communities, which are found mainly in Appalachia and the Midwest. In these declining resource-dependent communities, 59 percent of born-again Protestants see no effects of global warming (compared with 50 percent of nonevangelical Protestants). “There seems to be a confluence of experiencing decline and being born again that is particularly antithetical to perceiving environmental threat,” Dillon says. —Heather Wax

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