Sunday, October 24, 2010

Abandon All Hope, America

This is just depressing.  The NY Times article describes how denial of climate change is almost universal in the Tea Party universe.  And their reasons are just breathtakingly stupid:

“It’s a flat-out lie,” Mr. Dennison said in an interview after the debate, adding that he had based his view on the preaching of Rush Limbaugh and the teaching of Scripture. “I read my Bible,” Mr. Dennison said. “He made this earth for us to utilize.”

So Mr. Dennison, a local electrician, trusts Rush Limbaugh and the Bible on this issue more than he trusts the climate researchers.  I think one big reason the deniers are winning the debate is that the carbon industry – mainly coal and oil companies – have been running a successful propaganda machine.  And I don’t think the average Tea Partier realizes that he or she is being used as a stooge in this debate.  If we can just pretend that climate change isn’t happening, we can avoid the difficult discussions about what to do about it.  And coal and oil companies continue to rake in huge profits.

I think there’s also a populist mindset at play here.  It’s a classic case of “Us versus Them”.  Rush Limbaugh got rich by shouting that “they” are all conspiring to control our lives and take our money.  Part of the “they” are the pinhead scientists who have ginned up global warming as a way to promote a socialist agenda.  This plays well to a crowd that’s already suspicious of the “Academic Elite”.  And the right-wing has used this very effectively in the current election cycle.

So what to do about this?  Climate change is not going away just because a large portion of the population has stuck their heads in the sand about it.  How do we move the discussion from “is it real?” to “what do we do about it?”  I’d like to think that education is the key, but honestly, I don’t think the people being cited in the NY Times article will ever be convinced.  I mean, these are the same people who still deny evolution.  I think it’s going to take activism on the other side of the debate to mobilize voters and elect rational people into office.   This won’t happen during this election cycle, but as the effects of climate change become more apparent more people will start to demand action. Unfortunately this is a slow process, and not very efficient.  But it seems to be how things work in this country.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Another Church Sign

Mrs. RH and I went for a motorcycle ride today to Lynchburg, TN, to visit some friends. We saw this sign there, and I had to take a photo of it.  LynchburgCOC

Isn’t this the opposite of what we should be teaching?   Don’t trust yourself?  What exactly does that mean?

Michael Mann Responds

Michael Mann, the climate researcher from Penn State who first published the “Hockey Stick” graph, has been under attack.  Virginia’s attorney general, Ken Cuccinelli has been investigating Mann’s previous employer, the University of Virginia, based on emails that were stolen from a climate research institution in Great Britain.  Cuccinelli’s fist subpoena was rejected by by a court, but he’s trying again.  It’s clear that Cuccinelli is on a one-man crusade against climate science and Mann.

On Friday Mann responded to attacks by Cuccinelli and others in an editorial in the Washington Post.  Read it – it’s excellent.  At a time when every single Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate denies the science of anthropogenic climate change, these words resonate:

“We have lived through the pseudo-science that questioned the link between smoking cigarettes and lung cancer, and the false claims questioning the science of acid rain and the hole in the ozone layer. The same dynamics and many of the same players are still hard at work, questioning the reality of climate change.

Burying our heads in the sand would leave future generations at the mercy of potentially dangerous changes in our climate. The only sure way to mitigate these threats is to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions dramatically over the next few decades. But even if we don't reduce emissions, the reality of adapting to climate change will require responses from government at all levels.”

Mann also brings up another chilling point that I hadn’t thought of:

How can I assure young researchers in climate science that if they make a breakthrough in our understanding about how human activity is altering our climate that they, too, will not be dragged through a show trial at a congressional hearing?”

Are these ideological witch hunters going to be successful in discouraging good scientists from conducting needed research on climate change?  That would be tragic.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Annoying Church Sign

I live in a fairly rural part of the mid-South.  Churches are everywhere, and church-signs are very popular.  I’ve always enjoyed reading the signs and sometimes get a chuckle from the intended humor, or more often, the unintended irony.  But this one just kind of ticked me off:


I’m mean, do they really believe that a non-believer is worthless?  Or that it’s impossible to be good without god?  The conceit and smugness of these people are boundless.

How Do Airplanes Fly, Really?

I’m just a dumb rockhead, so I’m probably digging a deep hole by going here. But the excellent XKCD asks a question I’ve been asking for years.  As a private pilot I’ve always suspected that the Bernoulli explanation was at least part B.S.  Over the years I’ve asked some pilots, flight instructors, and authors of flight manuals this same question.  How do airplanes fly upside down?  The answer I get usually involves pointing the nose of the airplane up so the air has to travel longer over the upward (bottom) side of the wing.  But this never really made sense to me.  In normal flight a pilot can keep the airplane flying just fine in (slightly) nose-up, nose-level, or nose down positions simply by adjusting power settings. 

I’ve come to the conclusion that Newton’s third law is the more important factor in keeping airplanes aloft. The air strikes the bottom of the wing and deflects off, which pushes the plane up.  The shape of the airfoil has a lot to do with the stability and handling characteristics of the airplane, but I’m not convinced it’s the main factor in keeping the airplane aloft.

This is a fun explanation to prepare your kids for; it's common and totally wrong. Good lines include 'why does the air have to travel on both sides at the same time?' and 'I saw the Wright brothers plane and those wings were curved the same on the top and bottom!'