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The Kardashians and Climate Change: Interview with Judith Curry

By James Stafford | Wed, 20 August 2014 23:26 | 12

Climate change continues to drive energy policy, despite the fact that there is no way to reconcile eradicating energy poverty in much of the world with reducing carbon dioxide emissions. This is one of the many conundrums of the climate change debate—a debate that has been taken over by social media and propaganda, while scientists struggle to get back into the game and engage the public.

Judith Curry is an American climatologist and former chair of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, as well as the co-author of over 140 scientific papers. Her prolific writings offer a rational view of the climate change debate. You can find more of Judith’s work at her blog: JudithCurry.com

In an exclusive interview with Oilprice.com, Curry discusses:

•    The Koch-funded climate denial machine
•    Why the public is losing trust in scientists
•    How alarmist propaganda has skewed the climate debate
•    How climate change has contributed to a new literary genre
•    The impact of social media and the ‘Kardashian Factor’
•    Climate and the ‘clash of values’
•    Global warming or global cooling?
•    The Polar Vortex and ‘global warming’
•    Extreme weather hysteria
•    Why climate change should not drive energy policy

Oilprice.com: You've talked a lot about the role of communication and public relations in the climate change debate. Where do scientists fail in this respect?

Judith Curry: Climate science communication hasn’t been very effective in my opinion.  The dominant paradigm seems to be that a science knowledge deficit of the public and policy makers exists, which is exacerbated by the Koch-funded climate denial machine.  This knowledge deficit then results in the public failing to act with the urgency that is urged by climate scientists.

This strategy hasn’t worked for a lot of reasons. The chief one that concerns me as a scientist is that strident advocacy and alarmism is causing the public to lose trust in scientists.

Oilprice.com: What is the balance between engagement with the public on this issue and propaganda?

Judith Curry: There are two growing trends in climate science communications – engagement and propaganda. Engagement involves listening and recognizes that communication is a two-way street. It involves collaboration between scientists, the public and policy makers, and recognizes that the public and policy makers don’t want to be told what to do by scientists. The other trend has been propaganda. The failure of the traditional model of climate science communication has resulted in more exaggeration and alarmism, appeals to authority, appeals to fear, appeals to prejudice, demonizing those that disagree, name-calling, oversimplification, etc.

There is a burgeoning field of social science research related to science communications.  Hopefully this will spur more engagement and less propaganda.

Oilprice.com: You've also talked about the climate change debate creating a new literary genre. How is this 'Cli-Fi' phenomenon contributing to the intellectual level of the public debate and where do you see this going?

Judith Curry: I am very intrigued by Cli-Fi as a way to illuminate complex aspects of the climate debate. There are several sub-genres emerging in Cli-Fi – the dominant one seems to be dystopian (e.g. scorched earth). I am personally very interested in novels that involve climate scientists dealing with dilemmas, and also in how different cultures relate to nature and the climate. I think that Cli-Fi is a rich vein to be tapped for fictional writing.

Oilprice.com: How would you describe the current intellectual level of the climate change debate?

Judith Curry: Well, the climate change debate seems to be diversifying, as sociologists, philosophers, engineers and scientists from other fields enter the fray. There is a growing realization that the UNFCCC/IPCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change/Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) has oversimplified both the problem and its solution. The wicked climate problem is growing increasingly wicked as more and more dimensions come into play. The diversification helps with the confirmation bias and ‘groupthink’ problem.

Hopefully this diversification will lead to greater understanding and policies that are more robust to the deep uncertainties surrounding the climate change problem.
 
Oilprice.com: You've also talked about the "Kardashian Factor" ... Can you expand on this?

Judith Curry: The Kardashian Factor relates to a scientist’s impact in social media.  There is a growing disconnect between scientists who impact within the ivory tower, as measured by publications and citations, versus those scientists that are tweeting and blogging. While some of the smartest people on the planet are university professors, most of them simply don’t matter in today’s great debates. The use of the term ‘Kardashian Factor’ is designed to marginalize social media impact as shallow popularity.

Social media is changing the world, and academia hasn’t quite figured out what to do about it. On issues relevant to public debate, social media is rivaling published academic research in its impact. Social media is leveling the playing field and democratizing science. The skills required to be successful in social media include good writing/communication skills and the abilities to synthesize, integrate, and provide context. Those who are most successful at social media also have a sense of humor and can connect to broader cultural issues – they also develop a trustworthy persona. These are non-trivial skills, and they are general traits of people that have impact.  

So, why do I do spend a lot of my time engaging with the public via social media? I’m interested in exploring social media as a tool for engaging with the public, group learning, exploring the science-policy interface, and pondering the many dimensions of the wicked climate problem. I would like to contribute to the public debate and support policy deliberations, I would like to educate a broader and larger group of people, and finally I would like to learn from people outside the group of my academic peers (and social media is a great way to network). I am trying to provoke people to think outside the box of their own comfort zone on the complex subject of climate change.

Oilprice.com: Does the current debate seem to lack 'layers' that get lost in the politics and socio-economics?

Judith Curry: The debate is polarized in a black-white yes-no sort of way, which is a consequence of oversimplifying the problem and its solution. Although you wouldn’t think so by listening to the Obama administration on the topic of climate change, the debate is becoming more complex and nuanced. Drivers for the growing number of layers in the climate debate are the implications of the 21st century hiatus in warming, the growing economic realities of attempting to transition away from fossil fuels, and a growing understanding of the clash of values involved.

Oilprice.com: How does the climate change debate differ, in your experience, in varying cultures; for instance, from the United States to Western Europe, or Canada?

Judith Curry: The U.S. is more skeptical of the idea of dangerous anthropogenic global warming than is Western Europe. In the U.S., skepticism is generally associated with conservatives/libertarians/Republicans, whereas in Western Europe there is no simple division along the lines of political parties. In the developed world, it is not unreasonable to think ahead 100 or even 300 years in terms of potential impacts of policies, whereas the developing world is more focused on short-term survivability and economic development.

Oilprice.com: How significant are cultural elements to this debate?

Judith Curry: The cultural elements of this debate are probably quite substantial, but arguably poorly understood. A key issue is regional vulnerability, which is a complex mix of natural resources, infrastructure, governance, institutions, social forces and cultural values.

Oilprice.com: Are we in a period of global warming or global cooling?

Judith Curry: The Earth’s surface temperature has been generally increasing since the end of the Little Ice Age, in the mid 19th century. Since then, the rate of warming has not been uniform – there was strong warming from 1910-1940 and 1975-2000. Since 1998, there have been periods exceeding a decade when there has been no statistically significant warming.

Continually increasing amounts of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse act to warm the planet, so why hasn’t the surface temperature been increasing? This seems to be caused primarily by a change in the circulation patterns in the Pacific Ocean, although solar cooling is also contributing to an extent that is uncertain.

Oilprice.com: What is the 'polar vortex' and what does it have to do with global warming?

Judith Curry: The polar vortex is a circulation pattern in the upper atmosphere that influences surface weather. Ideas linking changes in the polar vortex to global warming are not supported by any evidence that I find convincing.

Oilprice.com: How does the media take advantage of every major -- or even semi-major -- weather event to make dire climate forecasts or support one or another polarized side of this debate? Can you give us some recent examples?

Judith Curry: The impact of extreme weather events in raising concern about global warming became apparent following Hurricane Katrina. The psychology of immediate and visible loss is far more salient than hypothetical problems in the next century. Hence extreme weather events have been effectively used in propaganda efforts. This is in spite of the assessment of the IPCC that doesn’t find much evidence linking extreme weather events to global warming, other than heat waves.

Oilprice.com: Where should energy fit into the climate change debate, and how much of a concern to the climate is the energy resources drive? Does anyone really know?

Judith Curry: It has never made sense to me for climate change to be the primary driver for energy policy. Even if we believe the climate models, nothing that we do in terms of emissions reductions will have much of an impact on climate until the late 21st century.  Energy poverty is a huge issue in much of the world, and there is no obvious way to reconcile reducing CO2 emissions with eradicating energy poverty. Again, this conundrum is evidence of the wickedness of the climate change problem.

Oilprice.com: You can see our first interview with Judith here: The IPCC May Have Outlived its Usefulness - An Interview with Judith Curry

Polar bear

[Audio currently unavailable]

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  • Dan Bloom on August 21 2014 said:
    Margaret E. Atwood just tweeted this to her 500,000 followerse at Twitter:

    Hollywood's Climate-Themed Movies Getting Own Awards Show by Dan Bloom, coiner of the cli fi term http://shar.es/1nD3kk
  • zipsprite on August 21 2014 said:
    "It has never made sense to me for climate change to be the primary driver for energy policy."

    Having trouble wrapping my head around that one. Does the woman believe in climate change and that maybe we should do something about it? Apparently not.
  • Walter Horsting on August 21 2014 said:
    We will need more energy as sun cycle 25 brings the next Grand Minimum http://youtu.be/v0DcpRAPk_w
  • Wagathon on August 21 2014 said:
    From the link (The Kardashians and Climate Change: Interview with Judith Curry), the article begins, as follows:

    Climate change continues to drive energy policy, despite the fact that there is no way to reconcile eradicating energy poverty in much of the world with reducing carbon dioxide emissions.

    Another interview (who would host it?) might start as follows:

    Climate change continues to drive energy policy, despite the fact that there is no way to reconcile the view that, all humanity has a God-given right to liberty, with the secular-socialist agenda of eradicating carbon dioxide emissions around the world by government fiat.
  • YellowJacketHive on August 21 2014 said:
    Ms Curry doesn't seem to want to take a real position here.
    "The dominant paradigm seems to be that a science knowledge deficit of the public and policy makers exists, which is exacerbated by the Koch-funded climate denial machine." I read this as a non-denial denial of the Koch-funded climate denial machine.

    "Since 1998, there have been periods exceeding a decade when there has been no statistically significant warming." Ok, in 16 years how many periods have exceeded a decade? At least she isn't parroting the global cooling talking point. She is probably avoiding the rath of her scientific peers.

    "In the developed world, it is not unreasonable to think ahead 100 or even 300 years in terms of potential impacts of policies, whereas the developing world is more focused on short-term survivability and economic development." I guess this makes the US part of the developing world.

    "Even if we believe the climate models, nothing that we do in terms of emissions reductions will have much of an impact on climate until the late 21st century."

    How far off is that? Does she believe in climate models?
  • Roberto on August 21 2014 said:
    Does Judith believe in climate change? How about climate models? Is she taking a position?

    If you follow Judith, I think it is clear that she cares a lot about whether we are getting there in an orderly fashion or going off half-cocked before we really understand what is happening. The half-cocked approach is leading to over-simplification, propaganda, lack of trust, angry frustrated discussions, and so forth.

    If that answer leaves you feeling hungry, stick around. Judith and others are working on firming up the science, which would be the right way to come to an understanding about those questions. That will take more than 2 days.

    Unfortunately, The quick way doesn't work. That's why you have to be patient for the final answers.
  • James Macdonald on August 21 2014 said:
    According to the Scientific method, climate models have failed the test, forecasting steady warming where none has occurred in the last 17 years. Then,why are they being used to make all kinds scary predictions, other than to perpetuate a false narrative and satisfy a political agenda and the environmental extremists? This is wasting billions of dollars.
  • YellowJacketHive on August 21 2014 said:
    " I think it is clear that she cares a lot about whether we are getting there in an orderly fashion or going off half-cocked before we really understand what is happening."
    Well if foot dragging and obfuscation equals orderly then I guess you have a point. There are indeed many scientists working on these issues and they have been at it for many years not (2)days. Just what has been done the quick way? How long do you propose to wait?
    Ten years ago I came to the conclusion that nothing drastic, ie., carbon tax, would be done until Miami is knee deep in saltwater. It still holds true.
  • Bigterguy on August 21 2014 said:
    There is one climate model that accurately fits the temperature of Earth over the past 150 years or so. This model follows the increases, decreases, and plateaus. It correlates sunspot numbers and the ocean temperature oscillation to arrive at the Earth's temperature. It does NOT rely on CO2, although including an effect of CO2 does improve the fit a little. The ocean oscillations account for 40% of the temperature increase and sunspots account for the rest. If CO2 is included it can account for 15% or so.

    Any model with a strong impact of CO2 cannot explain the oscillations in the earth's temperature and periods like 1940-1975 and 1998-2014 when no warming occurred. Common sense tells you if there is a period with no warming and CO2 is increasing steadily there must be forces at work that are much more important than CO2.

    Thus we are at the mercy of the sun and nothing we can do with current technologies can make an impact on global climate.

    Here is a link to the work of Dan Pangburn
    http://consensusmistakes.blogspot.com/
  • Tony Day on August 22 2014 said:
    Judith puts her finger on the key technical problem that large scale deployment of technologies which produce low carbon energy at higher unit, or 'whole system', cost than incumbent fossil fuels is not the way forwards.

    Useful energy is a universal economic and social 'good', whose relative price impacts every link in the economic value chain. Work by Ernst and Young based on British government data indicates that the total direct and indirect impact on GDP of energy prices is around 4 times the direct impact. High cost low carbon energy solutions are both economically and socially retrogressive.

    We have been investigating how to produce storable, carbon negative energy at lower unit, and whole system, cost by decarbonising gas using CCS on the conversion of partly biogenic low cost waste, biomass and coal based fuels using all existing proven chemical engineering and process industry technologies.

    Essentially this uses a slightly modified version of the technology developed in UK between the mid-1930's and 1990's to supply UK's gas by synthetic methane when North Sea gas ran out. Because British deep mined coal was expensive, British Gas developed highly efficient gasification and methane synthesis technologies. These technologies produce high purity high pressure CO2 as a zero cost waste by-product readily available for Carbon Capture and Storage. This process turns low grade fuels into grid compliant carbon negative synthetic gas at a net efficiency of around 77% and a cost of around 40 to 50 p/therm, which is competitive with the long-term forwards price of UK natural and shale gas supplies.

    Our policy proposition, therefore, is that instead of demonising gas, and attempting to deliver decarbonisation via electrification (electricity being the most expensive commonly available energy vector, policy should encourage decarbonising both storable gas and instantaneous power generation simultaneously.

    Best wishes,

    Tony Day
    M 0791 256 0740
    e tony.day.1@outlook.com
  • rabbit on August 22 2014 said:
    "Does Judith believe in climate change? How about climate models? Is she taking a position?"

    As a long-time visitor to her web site, I think a fair assessment of her position is as follows...

    1. She "believes" in climate change, but is not convinced it will be as cataclysmic as many forecast.

    2. She is skeptical of computer climate models as there is little empirical evidence of their accuracy or usefulness.
  • alpha2actual on September 14 2014 said:
    You lost me at" Kardisians" "nough said.

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