Friday, January 07, 2022

So, Look Up or Don't Look Up, now

Dr. Valérie Masson-Delmotte had a Tweet Storm review of Don't Look Up that deserves putting where it can be gotten at without fumpling, Twitter, being even more ephemeral than a neglected blog. Masson-Delmotte who was co-Chair of the IPCC WG1 for the sixth review cycle had quite an instructive take.


I watched Don't Look Up with my family over the vacations... and quickly heard "hey, Mom, this is just the same as for climate change!" I'd like to share some thoughts, in light of some experiences at the science/society interface.

This (dark) satire plays with well known techniques (transposition, exaggeration) to denounce a social masquerade marked by denial, vanity, and greed, the loss of a sense of general interest.

Kate Dibiasky's character touched me with her doubts, her questioning about how to express herself rigorously, clearly and sincerely. With her despair of not having succeeded in doing better, this impression of living a Greek tragedy announced without the awakening or the leaderships necessary to change the course of the things. The fact of questioning oneself.

The film shows the discrepancy between the way scientists work and the way the media and political power work. I clearly felt it on several occasions. It raises the question of the training of scientists to help them express themselves in the media (media training), and the difficulty of journalists (talk show hosts) or political decision makers (and their advisors) to integrate scientific knowledge.

How should scientists communicate? Should they remain cold, distant, rational? Are they more or less credible when they let their emotions show, which makes them more human? Too human? Too sensitive? 

The issue is particularly delicate for women (scientists), who, when they let their emotions show, can quickly be attacked (hysterical, etc). I had a bad experience, in 2011, of being called a climate "pasionaria" (passionate), for example. A term that has no equivalent for a man - I think we would call him a "committed scientist", in this case.

The film shows the discrepancy between the codes and the way scientists work, and the short exchanges with political decision-makers - who sometimes rely more on individual opinion than on a solid basis of collective knowledge. I have had, for example, 3 minutes (3 questions) to present the key points of an IPCC report to a head of state or government, a minister, an elected official. This is a short time.

Alas, the vast majority of decision-makers have not read the "summaries for policy makers" of the IPCC reports. I hope that some of their advisors do read them, but I wonder what they get from them. 

The film also shows the cynicism and the denial of responsibility, the lack of risk analysis capacity for an unprecedented situation (ability to project oneself, risks associated with action options and their possible failure), the cruel absence of leadership.

It also illustrates how, in spite of themselves, scientists can find themselves instrumentalized in a political storytelling, for a specific interest, and not the general interest.

At some point, I wish I could have also said bluntly, "are you fucking kidding me?", but that would have required overcoming the politeness and respect for others that built me.

The character of Peter Isherwell is a particularly calamitous, but underlines a recurrent discourse on so-called technological solutions whose feasibility is not demonstrated and whose side effects are not evaluated. I have repeatedly observed this type of attitude, a mixture of cynicism, greed and lack of empathy during discussions preceding or following very polite roundtables related to finance, technology, innovation and big business.

The film also illustrates the society of spectacle and consumption, the way certain media operate, the misinformation that unfortunately spreads faster than solidly established knowledge, sometimes with navel-gazing personalities, all this between two advertisements promoting overconsumption and what leads most to emit more greenhouse gases. For example, this summer's recent IPCC report on climate change was released on August 9, the day of the announcement of the expected arrival of Lionel Messi in the Paris PSG team.

So yes, I found in this film many elements that echo my feelings and my analysis of the relationship between science, political decisions, the role of the media, and society as a whole, concerning the issues related to climate change.

The prediction of the arrival of a comet, a cog in the film's tragicomic to give make people laugh of the social masquerade, is a scenic device of the film, suggesting that we are all facing the same danger, with a binary response (we can either all win or lose).

With respect to climate change, the reality is much more complex, with major issues concerning unequal responsibilities, vulnerabilities, impacts, and capacities to act. This will be the subject of the assessment of the IPCC's Group 2 (vulnerabilities, impacts, risks, options for action/adaptation) and Group 3 (greenhouse gas , options for mitigation) reports, which are due on 28 February and 4 April 2022 respectively.

In this context, Don't Look Up focuses on individuals and power (represented via the top of the state, the media, tech billionaires), to the detriment of everything that makes society, collective organizations, solidarity mechanisms. This also raises the question of where to get out of denial (denial of reality, denial of severity, denial of the need for profound transformations and agency)?

For example, while public opinion surveys show that climate change issues are a major concern in society, why is this not a serious question asked to candidates for any election? What are the proposals to prepare us to face the inevitable consequences of a changing climate, what are the proposals that will allow us to make our contribution to the indispensable and rapid reduction of greenhouse gas emissions?

What future do we want to build, rather than navel gazing?

I will end by pointing out that reality is sometimes worse than fiction. The film only partially shows the cynicism of those who have everything to gain from the status quo, the role of the merchants of doubt who knowingly spread disinformation, greenwashing and sow confusion.

This assessment of the state of knowledge required a colossal amount of work in a short time, was finalized, in 2018, approved by all countries (it was a bit rock'n roll)

I summarize it by saying that every half degree counts, every year counts, and every choice counts; the 2021 report adds that every region is affected, and every ton of CO2 counts. It's all here,  (and in my threads).

In short, when this special report was presented at COP24 in 2018, 4 countries (including, at the time, the USA, Russia and Saudi Arabia) did everything to ensure that its conclusions were not integrated into the decisions of the UN convention. 

It also illustrates the challenges posed by the relationship between the state of scientific knowledge and the way in which it can be instrumentalized or, if it is inconvenient, ignored.

Things have improved a bit since then, as the COP26 decision (last November) starts with "science and urgency" and underlines the urgency to accelerate climate action.

So Look Up or Don't Look Up Now


Eli was particularly shaken by several of these comments. Eli is a nobunny who snipes from the sidelines, but Valérie Masson-Delmotte is an incredibly well respected, talented, and important scientist (for good reason). She clearly sees how Don't Look Up reflects her experience at the science/policy interface, how Don't Look Up is a tragedy about the farce we are living.

Pessimistic, it cannot get darker than "How should scientists communicate? Should they remain cold, distant, rational? Are they more or less credible when they let their emotions show, which makes them more human? Too human? Too sensitive? "

As Sherry Rowland put it "What is the use of having developed a science well enough to make predictions if, in the end, all we're willing to do is stand around and wait for them to come true." But step out in public and advocate for avoiding predictable disaster and the Honest Broker and his Nazgal descend. 

It is, of course, much worse for women. As Dr. Masson-Delmotte writes: "I had a bad experience, in 2011, of being called a climate "pasionaria" (passionate), for example. A term that has no equivalent for a man - I think we would call him a "committed scientist", in this case." 

But even a man is not safe from the harpies. Look at the attacks on Peter Kalmus (@ClimateHuman) and others, who are terrified by our inaction, and, of course, it's not just climate, but acid rain, ozone layer destruction, tobacco killing and today sadly the SARS2-Covid plague. 

Terrifying that Dr. Masson-Delmotte writes she only had 3 minutes to explain a simplified version (the summary report for policy makers) to people who could make policy. She wonders if the policy maker's advisors read the report. The implication is they had not, for if they had they would have asked  questions, many questions.

Of course, scientists can rant and rave but the policy makers listen to that pucky gang of billionaires who mix "cynicism, greed and lack of empathy" with a whole lot of money to spread disinformation and shout down concern. 

Make no mistake, Trump did a lot of damage, "In short, when this special report was presented at COP24 in 2018, 4 countries (including, at the time, the USA, Russia and Saudi Arabia) did everything to ensure that its conclusions were not integrated into the decisions of the UN convention. 

It also illustrates the challenges posed by the relationship between the state of scientific knowledge and the way in which it can be instrumentalized or, if it is inconvenient, ignored."

Biden may not be Climate Human, but he at least got out of the way at Glasgow and may have actually helped. Reading Twitter today the Friday's for the Future young people are having an effect, but remember how Al Gore, who was having an effect was sidelined by the Nazgal.

So let's look up now

Saturday, December 18, 2021

History of the Internet - Lessons in Shaking the Cup for Science

 Never mind where the breadcrumbs were scattered, but Eli wandered into a video interview of Peter Kirstein describing how ARPAnet came to Europe. Kirstein, an early pioneer of computer networking, had the gift of being in the right place, knowing it was the right place, convincing key people that he knew, and getting the job done. Good scientists are entrepreneurs. It's a necessary skill and verty hard work..

Saturday, December 11, 2021

Parchuting in again

Have had things to blog about, and then didn't blog them. Oh well - I at least want to add a mention of this renewable energy podcast, The Interchange, for referencing one of my obsessions. They said that it could be internal combustion engine owners rather than EV owners that experience range anxiety rather than EV owners as gas stations become hard to find during the transition to EVs. Unfortunately they only referenced it as something that could kill off ICE engines at the tail end of the transition. I still think the deterioration of ICE support infrastructure could accelerate the transition at an earlier stage. We'll see.

 While I'm here, here's a piece of good news I meant to blog about, "North Carolina’s Democratic governor and its Republican-controlled Legislature have reached a deal on a sweeping energy bill that could dramatically boost renewable electricity in the state." Along with the semi-bipartisan infrastructure bill that passed and had renewable energy and EV components, there may be some slight chance to de-polarize actions that help fight climate change.

Saturday, November 27, 2021

From USENET to Twitter the adventures of Eli Rabett


At best social media are teaching opportunities but they can challenge professional geoscientists and today other scientists because of politically driven online hostility and the naivety of other participants. Few have been able to deal with the environment and even those who have are often walled off by motivated blocking. This has been the case since the early days of USENET. An interesting development has been the emergence of scientifically sophisticated participants who, while not climate scientists as such, have relevant knowledge and experience in scientific research and whose participation in the on line forums provides useful information to lurkers and persuadables as well as not ceding ground to the relentless streams of fake information.

The latter point is vital, trolls seek to control the online space by chasing out others. Eli can talk about his adventures in geoscience based social media since the 1990s. A motivating part of this has been the ability to create a character, Eli Rabett. 

Benefits of being somebunny else

A pseudonym provides the space not to take things (too) personally. A reply that has often serves Eli is to point out that saying nasty stuff about a stuffed bunny is by itself amusing. So yeah, standing here is risky stuff.

Psuedonyms and Social Networking

The fun part of being Eli has been creating the character and giving him a consistent voice, some idiosyncrasies, a few friends and a point of view, which while overlapping with someone he knows well, is not quite identical.

Especially at the start, a pseudonym provides space to establish a reputation and a following. Nobody knows who you are on the internet and especially if you are commenting in a different area than your professional training, claiming expertise, is a sure way to gather abuse. A number of climate bloggers have started with pseudonyms building a network of commenters and friends over time.

The way of the web is that you will almost inevitably be found, but by then you can be better known at least to your readers and followers by your pseudonym. It’s fun trying to figure out if one of your colleagues knows about your other self.

Even better is being introduced to some prominent geoscientist as Eli's other self and watching as they figure out you are Eli.

So who is Eli today? Eli Rabett, is a not quite failed professorial techno-bunny who finally handed in the keys and retired from his wanna be research university. He seeks but a cup of coffee and some help with the expenses of blogging and tweeting, the travel to exotic stuffy rooms with science talks and carfare there unto. 

Maybe also a beer now and again

Monday, September 06, 2021

Unclear on Afghanistan

From an email I had sent:

I've got a lot of conflicting thoughts about Afghanistan. If anyone doesn't have conflicting thoughts about it, then I doubt they're trying to think seriously about it.

Here's one observation though, that in the blame game for what's happened there, I see very few people blaming Afghanistan. I recognize that real-world democracies don't work like they taught us in elementary school, but both the elites and the normal people of a country have to take some responsibility for their country's fate when they have a choice in the matter.

This might sound like "Screw the Afghani people for not fixing their country in 20 years, we're right to leave." I actually disagree with leaving. As a historian, you know that 20 years isn't a long time. I think Afghanistan was better off with us there (I could care less about The Blob's stupid fixation with credibility and resolve), very few American soldiers had died in the few years, and even the expense isn't that high any more. There was a war in Afghanistan but America wasn't at war there.

But still, it's their country. The parallel I draw is American responsibility for Trump in 2016. We didn't vote for him, we voted for Clinton. But we tolerated an undemocratic Electoral College system that made Trump possible with only anemic efforts to fix it. So we own the result.

The Afghani people didn't vote for the Taliban and I'm pretty sure the majority don't support them, but they did have some choice in both their government and in whether to fight the Taliban.

While the left side of the political spectrum (where I reside) doesn't like to blame "the people," we all know humans are a combination of good and bad, and our better angels don't always win. The people of Afghanistan are obviously in for a bad time, especially women, but I hope they find a chance to seize their country and future back in the future. Other poor countries have done that dating to India in 1948, so it's not impossible.

One last thing - the only mistake I'll blame Biden for, after deciding to leave, is to withdraw all soldiers by the end of the fighting season instead of waiting to the end to start withdrawing soldiers. Probably that would have only bought Afghanistan six months, but what's wrong with six months of a better life? More broadly, the Afghanistan mission did bring a better life to most of the people in Afghanistan for a generation. That's not nothing, despite how things are right now.


And for an alternative (but also unclear) opinion, the New Yorker on Afghanistan.

Friday, September 03, 2021

China's problem is the rate of change (maybe), not the direction of change

 There's been a lot of hand-wringing over China's population crunch, shown by its recent decision to allow 3-child families. It's mostly wrong, or at least focused on the wrong thing.

There are two things the hand-wringing gets wrong. First, the numbers game for supporting the elderly isn't about the ratio of workers to non-workers, but about whether the total and per-capita wealth and income of the working population in the future is growing fast enough to keep up with growing numbers of elderly who are unable to pay for their retirement. Compared to 40 years ago, China has much smaller ratio of workers to retirees, and still this smaller percentage of workers is in much better shape to take care of their elderly than in 1980's China. Future economic growth will be slower than the past, but even 2-3% per-capita annual economic growth will go a long way.

China does have an extreme demographic shift, and that gets to the other error in the hand-wringing. To the extent there's a problem, it's not because China's population will fall but because it will fall so fast. A very gradual population decline doesn't pose economic problems, and certainly not the same extent of the economic problems created by a system that relies on there always being far more young people than old people. It's weird that pundits who pride themselves on their economic sophistication are unable to recognize that they're advocating a Ponzi scheme of ever-enlarging amounts of new people paying for prior people.

There are four options:

1. Fast population growth: this results in short to medium term economic growth but long term economic problems when you get off the Ponzi-scheme train. It is also an environmental disaster.

2. Stable population levels - economic growth and increased environmental problems as the same number of people consume more resources.

3. Slow decline in population - economic growth outweighs the slow decline in numbers. There's an increased chance for environmental restoration.

4. Fast decline in population - per capita economic growth, but potential economic problems supporting the elderly. More chances for environmental restoration.

It is not clear to me that a single country on Earth, including China, is in Category 4. The goal, for earthbound populations anyway in the next century or two, should be Category 3.

Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Thoughts on Improving Air Cleaners for Covid

 With the return of school and offices moms and dads especially are paying increased attention to air cleaners. You can buy small units for not so much money, but they are a couple of hundred dollars, and putting something together out of a fan, some A/C filters and duct tape is easy and a lot less expensive. 

One simple design is called a Corsi-Rosenthal Cube. Eli has been thinking for a while about air filters. The bunny changed out the A/C filters in his house last year and recommended the same to his sadly low number of Twitter followers

September 23, 2020

So where is this going, well Eli would like to suggest three improvements. The first builds off an early 2020 observation that copper, or at least some copper alloys, effectively kills Covid virus. It has been known for some time that viruses are inactivated by copper surfaces. Govind, V., Bharadwaj, S.,  et al. summarize this in their review article Antiviral properties of copper and its alloys to inactivate covid-19 virus. Biometals (2021)., so, of course it was a natural thing to look at when Covid-19 raised it's ugly heat. N Van Doremalen, T Bushmaker, DH Morris, et al, were the first to publish in March 2020 in the New England Journal of Medicine Aerosol and surface stability of SARS-CoV-2 as compared with SARS-CoV-1. Eli remembers looking at that then, and since so have about five million others, with 7500 citations.

The EPA has authorized the use of copper for this purpose and already things like copper handrails and doorknobs are on sale as anti-covid devices
Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is announcing that certain copper alloys provide long-term effectiveness against viruses, including SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. As a result of EPA’s approval, products containing these copper alloys can now be sold and distributed with claims that they kill certain viruses that come into contact with them. This is the first product with residual claims against viruses to be registered for use nationwide. Testing to demonstrate this effectiveness was conducted on harder-to-kill viruses.
Copper, of course comes in all sorts of shapes and sizes. For Eli's application extra fine copper wool appears to be the ticket. You can even get copper wool for cleaning your pots. A layer or two of this stuff on the inside of the Corsi-Rosenthal Cube, or on the inside of your A/C filter would inactivate a lot of Covid-19. Any mechanical engineer could optimize the flows for maximum efficiency. If the size of the copper wire bothers you, it could always be drawn finer but that would really not be necessary. 

Although the wire is much larger than the virus or the aerosols carrying it, because the path through the many layers of the wool would be kinky the odds on an aerosol particle hitting a wire are excellent. It would work the same way as, well N95 masks work, where multiple layers ensure that the aerosols are captured as shown in this video

But because copper is a conductor, there is another, and perhaps more important trick we can use. The N95 mask has a layer which is composed of electrets which attract and capture virus aerosols! But what if there are two layers of copper wool separated by an insulator! They can be charged up with a small battery or some sort of simple power supply. 

So by combining three things
1. Copper inactivation of Covid 19 virus
2. A tortuous path through fine copper wool
3. Static electrical attraction of the virus to the copper wire,
Perhaps a better Covid air filter at low cost and high efficiency. TM-ER