Tea Partiers Aren’t as Scientifically Stupid as Believed – Concludes One Smart Liberal

Those that read this blog know that I’m a fan of Dan Kahan, although I don’t know him personally and he and I don’t hang together in the same political spheres.  Kahan has conducted some interesting research on cultural cognition as it relates to climate change and other controversial topics, like vaccines, that require an intellectual capacity (and willingness) to understand scientifically complex issues.  But before delving into Kahan’s interesting results, a brief refresher on linear regression analysis.  The higher the r-value, ranging from 1.0 to -1.0, the stronger the correlation between two variables.  When doing linear regression, you can have both negative and positive correlations.  It should come, therefore, as no surprise to learn that those who are more highly educated tend to have higher scientific literacy and comprehension than those less educated, r-value of 0.36, as shown by the histogram below.  Full post over on Kahan’s blog here

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Human Carrying Capacity – Fanciful Fiction or Deadly Reality

One of the first courses I took in college toward my degree in wildlife management was a Isle Royal Moosepopulation dynamics class.  And one of the first readings was the classic story of the boom-bust population cycles of the moose and wolf of Isle Royale Michigan, where, prior to the wolf as a keystone predator, the island’s moose herd would overpopulate and overgraze, resulting in starvation and mass die-offs.  When the wolves were eventually introduced the belief was that the keystone predator would help stabilize the moose population.  But the history of Isle Royale moose and wolf populations have been wildly unpredictable, affected not only by availability of food, but by disease, tick outbreaks, wolf0422severe winters, and immigrant wolves.  Every five years has brought unpredictable fluctuations in both populations, and every five years has been different from all other five-year periods.  Even in the 1980s when my classmates and I were closely following this study, it was believed that the populations would reach equilibrium.  But that never happened.  Continue reading

Why All the Fuss About Tipping Points?

Central to concerns of climate change science is the somewhat ill-defined concept of “tipping point,” a point at which a system is irreversibly propelled into a different state of equilibrium.  What that means and what it looks like remain largely conjecture.  An ice cubeinteresting op-ed in last year’s NYT titled Searching for Clues to Calamity explores the concept.  The central question relative to climate change is at what atmospheric concentration does CO2 need to exist in order to force warming to such a point where, like a switch that is stuck in the “on” position, a domino effect will result in rapid glacial retreat, rising sea levels, ocean acidification, etc..  You get the gist.  Assuming there is such a tipping point (and that may be a big assumption for some), and we were to reach such a point, the earth would be a very different place according to many scientists.  Continue reading

New Big Thinking on Wicked Problems

Roger Pielke Jr. has a thoughtful piece over at The Breakthrough Institute titled The Irrelevance of Climate Skeptics.  Himself, having long been labeled by some as a climate skeptic, Pielke’s seemingly self-effacing perspective is that public opinion on climate change is over and the battle for the plebeian mind has been won by those professing man-made climate change.  But before wicket problemsdelving into Pielke’s intriguing idea, I first offer a comment about the Institute, lead by Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus – not household names to those outside the wacky world of environmentalism – whose 2004 essay The Death of Environmentalism featured prominently on the front page of the NYT.

The Institute represents an encouraging paradigm shift, free of the reflexive “us v. them” environmentalism and stodgy party politics and usual partisan divide, with a bevy of new generation, smart research academics and free-thinking policy wonks who care about the human condition and finding practical solutions to some of civilization’s most pressing environmental challenges – or “wicked” problems as David Ropeik likes to call them  – on water, energy, climate, and sustainability.  In 2011, Nordhaus and Shellenberger started the Breakthrough Journal, which The New Republic called “among the most complete answers” to the question of how to modernize liberal thought, and the National Review called “The most promising effort at self-criticism by our liberal cousins in a long time.”  Pretty remarkable collision of liberal and conservative praise.  Check out their website – it’s worth your time, as the Institute’s big think approach is changing the way the next generation will analyze, debate, and govern in a world filled with wicked problems. Continue reading

Reagan’s Conservation Legacy – still timely and relevant today

Eli Lehrer has a great piece today in The Blaze on the conservation legacy of President Reagan.

I’m proud of having been one of the first to recognize that States and the
Federal Government have a duty to protect our natural resources from the
damaging effects of pollution that can accompany industrial development.
Ronald Reagan, July 14, 1984

Although Reagan certainly made his fair share of mistakes on the environment – the left-leaning NYT calling his legacy on the environment a stalemate – the Gipper’s instincts and actions largely helped to advance important farm and wetlandsconservation efforts through a judicious balance of traditional top-down regulations and market-based approaches.  It’s a timely discussion as Congress continues to debate the future of the Farm Bill, with huge implications for conservation across the Nation’s landscape.  According to Lehrer

By measures environmental groups typically use, Reagan’s environmental record should be considered a success. Under Reagan’s leadership, new lead production essentially ceased; particulate air pollution fell by 40 percent; a record 10 million acres of land received wilderness designation, the highest level of protection available; and the United States pushed for, and signed, a major agreement to eliminate chlorofluorocarbons, greenhouse gases that were driving the then-pressing problem of ozone depletion. Continue reading

A Loss of Aesthetics in the Name of Greening

For you weekend warriors, before you go out and purchase “plastic wood” for that next deck project, you may want to think again if your motivation is being more sustainable.  An article in this week’s Nature by Jeff Tollefson titled ‘Plastic wood’ is no green guarantee, reveals that carbon emissions from plastic-wood manufacturing are 45-330% higher than redwood production, based on a study by the Consortium for Research on Renewable Industrial Materials, a public-private partnership based at the University of Washington.  Another article by Julia Pongratz, Plant a tree, but tend it well, reveals some potential limits of forests as carbon sinks from nutrient constraints. Continue reading

Crunchy Con is Back – GOP break out your Birkenstocks

Thank you to Robert Costa over at NRO for this week resurrecting the term Crunchy Con.  Ever since Rod Dreher left NRO, I’ve missed his thoughtful and witty narrative on why it is okay for Republicans and conservatives to care about the environment.  sandlesSounds really silly I know, but so many on the political right have forsaken the conservative principles of conservation and environmental stewardship due to the unfortunate politicization of the topic.  During a talk last Friday at the Reagan National Library, Senator Rand Paul, a libertarian conservative, and self-described “crunchy conservative,” wasn’t holding back his respect and love for the environment.  Costa reports,

Long before he was famous for a filibuster, Senator Rand Paul was a  cargo-shorts-wearing ophthalmologist who lived in Bowling Green, Ky. His  political activity, beyond supporting his father, was relegated to reading  through his bookshelf, which was stocked with the works of Austrian economists  and obscure philosophers.  He wore hemp shirts, bought organic vegetables, and  canoed. But since winning his Senate seat three years ago, Paul has mostly kept  that side of himself — his “crunchy conservatism,” as he calls it — under wraps.  Instead, he has played up his tea-party persona, and focused on legislating in  the buttoned-down Senate.

Costa continues

Paul’s unabashed crunchiness — the term was popularized by former National Review writer Rod Dreher to describe some conservatives’ taste for granola, Birkenstocks, and Mother Nature — wasn’t just a stylistic aside. He argued that his lifestyle is a reflection of his reform agenda for the GOP, which is founded on themes of local control, states’ rights, and free enterprise. He spoke about how the party needs to be a voice for those who love the environment but want the government to stop intruding in their lives and livelihoods. “When we as Republicans wake up and tell voters that we want to be the champion of the small farmer and the small businessman or woman, then we will thrive as a party,” he said. “Republicans care just as deeply about the environment as Democrats, but we also care about jobs.” Continue reading