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.

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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

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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

1 comment:

rehuie said...

"tragedy about the farce we are living" is an excellent description. It should go in a comment about a opinion column in today's Was. Post.