Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Mining the mountains of spin

Andy Revkin published a blog piece about Jim Hansen's latest escapade. he asked for comments on whether or not getting arrested at a protest was "professional" for a scientist. Mine is below, but click on the link and read the article first.

Hansen of NASA Arrested in Coal Country

James Hansen of NASA gets arrested in effort to stop coal mining.

Hansen is making clear the level of his commitment, and I for one appreciate the clarity. And he's right. Mountaintop removal mining is an impressive dead end.

Clarity is often elusive in a world dominated by media types (on both sides) and postmodern "spokespersons" trained to believe they can spin any event to their advantage and that it doesn't really matter what people are made to believe because there's no such thing as a fact. I expect that Hansen's message will quickly and easily become garbled for some "consumers" of what passes for news in today's world.

Let's make it perfectly clear, at least in this one media outlet, because the scientific logic of Hansen's stand is impeccable.

Jim (with colleagues, post-docs, students) in 2008 published a paper in which he calculated with some precision ( that the remaining carbon dioxide equivalent climate agent in the 1,200 or so billion barrels of economically extractable oil, and a few hundred billion barrels of other kinds of economically extractable petroleum products, is possibly insufficient, by itself, absent coal-burning, to keep adding enough CO2e to the atmosphere to exceed the 350 ppm atmospheric threshold he feels we should not exceed for very much longer.

It helps that the likelihood that we can increase our rate of burning oil, or the final amount we burn by a big number is low, simply because we're running out of the stuff and it's becoming harder and harder to extract. The price is increasing in the long run (fluctuating wildly in the short) and simple supply-demand theory says this will have a strict conservation effect. Everyone will then have to insulate their existing homes, buy better cars, use renewable energy, etc, etc, whether they are Republican or Democrat, green or bright pink, all because of one thing, the oil price.

Even Limbaugh will want a hybrid. A really really big one, for his corrupt, rotten-to-the-core corpulence.

So, logically, if you're as terrified about the potential destabilization of climate change as you should be, as Jim is, all we have to do is stop burning coal. That's the Hansonian climate to-do list. One big item. There are a few items in the small print, such as managing the methane from farms, or calculating the CO2e value of forests natural or planted.

Oil will take care of itself.

From the point of view of the average Joe or Jill that hasn't read Hansen et al, 2008, Jim's latest stand does all seem a bit confusing, and possibly ungrateful.

After all, we're getting what we wanted, right? A President who cares? A climate bill? A real energy policy? A green makeover for Detroit? Didn't the greens win?

Didn't they?

Arguably, Hansen is a better scientist for following the evidence where it leads, Hatch Act and other supposed professional and behavioral niceties notwithstanding, even when it may seem so contrary and tendentious. I don't agree with him completely on the solution (since we need coal for steel and we need steel for wind turbines and hybrids, we need to learn how to properly sequester the carbon from coal), but I appreciate his strength of character and damn the torpedoes commitment.

One of these days we postmoderns will spin ourselves into such a tizzy with our refusal to face facts that we'll get in a real pickle, with climate, oil, China, Iran (all related, by the way), and when we do, we'll need some women and men of real character. Hansen's on my A-list.

As the general said, when the going gets tough they send for the sonsabitches.

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