Archive for October, 2010


Alarmism, Alive and Well

October 28, 2010

This interesting youtube video appeared on the geoengineering group earlier this morning. It’s worth watching, particularly in conjunction with my commentary on the Missoula geoengineering meeting last week. In this video are David Keith, Alan Robock, and Phil Rasch, all of whom were at Missoula.


Lying = Bad

October 25, 2010

Don Brown has “published” another “article” up on his blog. Every time he does this, he announces the post as if it’s a true-to-life article, or a paper, or some such peer-reviewed document. Here’s how he made the announcement on the Climate-L list:

A new article is available that encourages serious reflection on the harm and damage by well-financed scientific disinformation campaigns that goes far beyond reasonable skepticism and spreads utterly false scientific laims such as that the science of climate change has been completely “debunked” or that there is “no evidence”of human causation. This is not skepticism but utter distortion.

The paper argues that those who want to claim no evidence of huge damages from human induced climate change are violating ethical responsibilities and that this is a serious problem calling for further reflection about how to classify such irresponsible behavior. The paper argues that there are ethical responsibilities that climate skeptics must follow. The article asks if this behavior should be classified as a new type of crime against humanity.

I don’t want to pick nits with Don, but really, this is a blog post. It’s not an article. It’s not a paper. It’s not published. It’s posted on a website that he controls. He can write about his infatuation with the sweat glands of badgers and mule deer for all we care, and it will still somehow make it into the public discourse.

And his point in this “article” is one that, I take it, is the obvious underlying normative claim of Merchants of Doubt, which is the book from which he starts his post: lying and fabricating information are unacceptable. Except that, Brown wants to classify this sort of fabrication as a crime against humanity. (No kidding.)

Here’s his conclusion:

The international community does not have a word for this type of crime yet, but the international community should find a way of classifying extraordinarily irresponsible scientific claims that could lead to mass suffering as some type of crime against humanity.

Yeah, so…that’s crazy. But, hell, what’s a little hyperbole and embellishment between friends? As long as we’re criticizing hyperbole and embellishment, might as well have a taste from the punch bowl.


Blob Fish – Talking About Philosophy

October 25, 2010

Happy Monday. Here’s a strange video from biovision.


Beauty and the Beetle

October 24, 2010

Colorado’s own Dan Sturgis has a really nice post on the beauty of beetle kill. Worth stopping by for the full post:

So putting those premises together, if you appreciate the beetle killed forests for what they are: an integral part of the forest ecology then you should find it aesthetically positive.  This is not to say that you’ll find it pretty, it’s an acquired taste.  However, it seems worthy of all sorts of positive attributes: interesting, dynamic, surprising (in some ways), and powerful.

So why do so many people think that beetle kills are ugly?  For the same reason that people think their children’s scribblings deserve to be put on display in a museum: ignorance.   With our temporal shortsightedness we see the dying trees and think “it will never be the same again.”  We get sentimental about dying things, and we think that dead trees are bad.  Dying aspen leaves are pretty because we are savvy enough to know that the trees don’t die and that the leaves grow back.   To worry about the lack of prettiness of a pine beetle forest is to appreciate it in the wrong way.  It imposes a landscape appreciation on nature and as such appreciates nature as art (not for what it is).


We deal with the same question in the climate change debate directly although environmentalists would like to pretend that we don’t.  That is, people who know, know that the earth has been hotter and colder than the range of changes predicted to come about from human caused climate change.  Said another way, the impending climate change is within the historic range of variation.  While the skeptics who point this out are scientifically correct they are morally obtuse.

Mother Nature is not responsible for her actions but we are.   We can do otherwise.  The people who know, know that humans are effecting changes that will cause (and maybe already are causing) harms to humans and other species.  We bear the responsibility for these harms.   So for climate change in general and the pine beetle outbreak in particular, it may look natural, but it isn’t.  It’s like “Fountain,” it may look like a urinal, but it’s not.

This then prompts the second hard question, how should this knowledge affect our aesthetic appreciation?   When we view the pine beetle outbreak we must view its naturalness but we must also view the heavy hand of humans which has likely extended it.  This mixed appreciation is worthy of mixed emotions.   It’s as if nature had created a beautiful stone arch and humankind decided that it was not round enough and so taken a chisel to it, or perhaps it’s like the beautiful sunset that we know has been enhanced by the particulate matter belched from industrial smokestacks.    Maybe more aptly, it is a case of poorly performed dynamics; a crescendo rendered too quickly and forte rendered fortissimo (o.k. it’s been since I was 12 since I played piano and knew –sort of- what these terms meant).   Perhaps as we learn more about the scope of our present effect on the outbreak we will learn more how to interpret and judge this event.   Given what we know at present, I think the human hand tarnishes the beetle kill’s beauty but does not dispel it.





October 20, 2010

OMFG, is about the only word for this:

Beck denies evolution: “I haven’t seen a half-monkey, half-person yet”


The Fantastic Dr. Hale and Dane Scott

October 20, 2010

I just gave my talk, which was fantastic, of course, because I’m  fantastic, but also very sleepy, and so I was less than fantastic, but only in that moment, and if you want to hear my talk you’ll have to wait for it to go through the long tortuous publication wringer, which it will, probably, some day, but only after I type it up and put it into narrative form.

Dane’s talking now about technological fixes. I need to decompress a bit so I won’t take fantastic notes on this, but the idea is pretty neat and Dane has put together a nice little overview of technological fixes.

UPDATE: Here are my slides.


Nicole Hassoun and Albert Borgmann

October 19, 2010

UPDATE 3:29: Borgmann now. He asks, “What are people thinking??” Uses the case of offering money for starving peoples.

UPDATE 3:18: Nicole‘s up.  She mentioned Colorado, because she thinks Montana is like Colorado, but not as cool. She’s talking about how some kinds of geoengineering are morally impermissible, specifically deploying Nature of Nature arguments. Artificial versus non-Artificial. She just did a funny little schtick with salmon pictures. Lots and lots of pretty pictures here. Thinking now, she’s got a similar stance to my own. Good on her. Except that, now, I see where she’s coming from a little better, now that I’ve asked my question.

Up on the screen she put several of her premises, one of which is “P1 Natural things and processes often have significant value.” And so I suppose I want to know where that value’s coming from, insofar as it will matter to her ultimate thesis (that there’s something wrong with acting without backward looking regard for nature).

So suppose that the reason that we have a problem with geoengineering is because we’re acting without regard for nature. This is the sort of thing, of course, that we do very often, and for some people, it’s not clear what’s wrong with this. The reason we do this is because there’s a sense in which nature doesn’t have interests (according to some people). My question isn’t whether or not nature does have interests, but what’s doing the justificatory work to get her to the point at which she can argue that there is something wrong with taking action without respect for nature?