Friday, February 26, 2010

Sustainability Now: "Climategate" Friday February 26th

I am co-hosting Sustainability Now radio on the Lion 90.7 fm with Mike Shamalla (Graduate - Landscape Architecture). We air on Fridays from 4-5 pm. Last week we had three student activists including our own Jared Blumer.

Today, we will be talking to Ed Perry, the Global Warming Campaign Outreach Coordinator for the National Wildlife Federation. We'll be talking about the "Climategate" dust-up, something I obviously have some pretty strong ideas about. Read the show preview here.

You can follow our progress on our blog linked above. Tune in Fridays 4-5 pm to 90.7 or stream it online.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

"Almanac" by Primo Levi

"Almanac" by Primo Levi

They'll continue their flow to the sea, the indifferent rivers,
Overwhelming ancient dikes of tenacious men.
The glaciers will continue their grinding and smoothing,
Or crashing down to shorten the lives of firs.
The sea must continue to batter the lands that contain it,
More and more a skinflint with its riches.
Stars and comets continue on their courses;
Earth, too, obeys creation's immutable laws.
But we, rebellious offshoots, ingenious fools,
Destroy and corrupt, always in more of a hurry;
Spreading the desert to the forests of the Amazon;
To the living hearts of our cities; to our very own hearts.

This poem about modern human indifference to nature and its consequences to individuals really resonates with me after talking to Gene Baur and in thinking about best conduct in a world with climate change.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Compassion. Responsibility. Respect. Human decency. A conversation with Gene Baur

On February 23rd, I had the good fortune of sitting down with Farm Sanctuary’s co-founder Gene Baur. He is a friendly and healthy man with graying hair and a broad smile. Gene has been a vegan since 1985 and one of the country’s most active animal rights advocates for the last 23 years since Farm Sanctuary started. He is eager to understand modern people’s place in nature, our interaction with animals, and what the human implications are of how we treat animals in factory farms, a problem he calls “the commodification of sentient life," a concept he develops in his book Farm Sanctuary (pictured at right).

How does what we eat affect nature? What do people do to each other as a result of the way we treat animals? Do we really eat according to the ethics we say we do? And finally, what can informal and formal education do to help us understand our place in the world? [They do have a guide for teachers here.]

Gene thinks that it’s “important for people of conscience and who recognize the harm to do something about it.” Many of us agree. But some of us act on principle more than others.


Me: I am sitting here with Gene Baur of Farm Sanctuary. How are you doing Gene?

Gene: I am well Peter. How are you?

Me: Great. So you co-started Farm Sanctuary?

Gene: I co-founded Farm Sanctuary back in 1986.

Me: What is that led you to decide to start it?

Gene: Well in the early 1980s I hitch hiked around the country and I became familiar with various concerns including what happens to them on farms. Prior to that I had been involved with environmental groups. I have a degree in sociology so I worked with kids who were having difficulties. I just always wanted to do something to make a positive difference.

As time went by I started realizing that industrialized farming really combined so many issues of concern whether it was animal cruelty, justice, truth in advertising, consumer rights issues, environmental issues. All these things converge on a factory farm so that was an area that needed attention in the 1980s. So to address it we wanted to learn and see first hand what was going on. So we started visiting stockyards and farms and finding living animals thrown in trashcans or on piles of dead animals. We rescued them and took care of them.

The organization just grew from there and we were always responding to needs. We’d see an animal on the dead pile you take them home. Now we need a sanctuary. People came and wanted to come and visit so we put in bed and breakfast cabins and a visitor program. We didn’t really have a five-year or ten-year plan. We just responded to various needs as we grew.

Me: Was there a particular instance that happened that you made you say, “Wow. This is really terrible.”

Gene: There was no real particular instance that moved me completely in this direction. There were several instances or events that got me thinking.

One of those was when I was in high school, maybe fifteen years old. I had come home from school and my mother had made a chicken dinner. And I saw the chicken on the plate on its back. I saw the legs. I saw the wings. And I didn’t like the idea of eating an animal. So through a lot of high school I was a vegetarian. I didn’t call myself a vegetarian but I just didn’t want to eat meat. But, in college as I interacted with more people who were eating meat I got back into the habit.

And then when I hitchhiked around the country in the early 80s I went to some farm areas. I learned about Francis Moore Lappé’s book Diet for a Small Planet. I saw Ralph Nader speak in college. He talked about how we grow up learning about how to market and sell things but we don’t learn how to be smart consumers. So that was another thing that I saw.

And I’ve always just wanted to make a difference. I’ve been very interested in the movement in the 1960s to challenge assumptions and challenge common behaviors. So that’s part of a framing that these other instances sort of fed and led me toward this area.

Again, this was an area that wasn’t really being looked at and citizens were unwittingly involved in and purchasing products that were raised in a way that was appalling if they looked at it, was unhealthy, was destroying the planet, and was harming rural communities.

So in 1986 there was very little attention going to industrial farming and so we wanted to learn about it and take it on.

Me: It sounds like you were an on-the-ground Peter Singer in a way. You saw this huge amount of waste and suffering and just thought it was ethically undefensible.

Gene: Absolutely. We wanted to see firsthand, not just read a book and talk about it. I wanted to see firsthand what was going on. So I spent a lot of time going to stockyards and farms and crawling around these places and it was not fun. But was important to so that we could see the reality.

Me: I know from some of Farm Sanctuary’s material that you talk about and write about social human costs, costs to animals with their suffering, and these natural environmental costs. Can you talk about those different kinds of costs that this industrial system causes?

Gene: In terms of the food and our own health, what we eat has profound consequences and most people in this country are eating in a way that is making them sick and killing them prematurely. Cancer and heart disease are the top two killers in the United States and the risk of both can be lessened significantly by eating healthier plant-based foods instead of animal-based foods. We are eating in a way that is inconsistent with our own interests.

We are also supporting an agricultural system that is inconsistent with the wellbeing of the planet. The industrial agricultural system depends on enormous quantities of land, water, and other resources including fossil fuels. A New York Times article that ran a few years ago compared the fossil fuel use that goes into producing a meat-based meal versus a vegetarian meal. It concluded that the meat meal required sixteen times more fossil fuels. So it’s an extremely wasteful system that also contributes to global warming. The United Nations found that the livestock industry contributes more to global warming than the entire transportation industry. There’s massive environmental consequences that are inconsistent with our global interests in living on a clean and healthy planet.

Then, what happens to animals today is an abomination. These animals live their whole lives in cages and crates so tightly confined that they can barely move. Sometimes they can’t turn around, they can’t walk, they can’t exercise, they can’t exhibit natural behaviors and they suffer both physically and psychologically. Finally, they are killed at a very young age.

When people see what happens to the animals they’re upset, they’re usually appalled, and sometimes they say, “I don’t want to look at it.” And I would say that people should be aware of what they are supporting and should be able to look at it and feel okay about it. But right now people are eating in a way and supporting a system that abuses animals horribly and is inconsistent with their values. So a key part of our message is to encourage citizens to make choices that are consistent with their values and consistent with their interests.

And I think that if we saw that happen, we would see factory farms’ profits plummet and we’d see a move toward a different kind of agricultural system where people are eating more plants than animals, people are getting food from local sources, from farmer’s markets, from community supported agriculture (CSAs), from community gardens where people would be growing their own food. And by doing this you feel connected and empowered and you feel better because you are eating better food as opposed to food raised in toxic environments.

Me: CSAs are becoming way more popular too.

Gene: Yes. In the last five years we’ve seen enormous growth toward community gardens and CSAs. Even the USDA has put in a community garden at its headquarters in Washington, DC. The Obamas have planted a garden at the White House that is an example of eating healthy food.

This issue touches on so many aspects of how we live on this planet. What we eat has profound ramifications.

And it’s an emotional issue because we grow up eating a certain way and we develop certain habits. We were taught this by our parents and we share food with family and friends so it has a lot of emotional components. But when those foods are harmful we need to look at them with an open mind and make changes despite the fact that often doing so often causes some social distress.

Often when people become vegan, their families think that they are being rejected, that the person who becomes vegan is rejecting their family. But I would argue that the person choosing the vegan lifestyle is actually making choices for compassion and against cruelty and exhibiting values that they were taught by their parents. They are positive values.

Me: Are you saying that vegans are embracing something that people say they want to believe in but that a vegan is actually acting on it?

Gene: That’s right. They are acting on it in a way that is consistent with their values and with most people’s values. Most people don’t think that it’s okay for animals to be abused.

Me: The Michael Vick dog incident for example.

Gene: Oh gosh. When people heard about that they were appalled and they wanted him penalized and he was penalized. But what happens on factory farms is all over the place and it is much worse frankly when you look at all of the ramifications.

On factory farms you have the commodification of sentient life. The animals are seen as pieces of meat from the day they are born until the day they die. They are denigrated, disrespected, and abused. That’s bad for the animals but it’s also bad for the people.

Me: So I hope that you can say a little about that. You can say, “Oh. The animals are treated so badly and the people who work there must be treated badly.” But can you give an example with hens or cattle?

Gene: Well, with hens who are used in egg production live their whole lives in small wire battery cages where they can’t stretch their wings, develop bruises and abrasions, and when they are no longer profitable they are killed. They used to be sent to slaughterhouses. But increasingly slaughterhouses don’t want them because they are so skinny with no meat on their bones. They’re beaten up and bruised so the flesh isn’t profitable. So a lot of these “spent hens” as they’re called are just killed.

There was a case in California where an egg factory disposed of 30,000 spent hens with a wood chipper. We tried to prosecute them for cruelty to animals but they were found not guilty because this was considered to be a common practice. On farms bad has become normal. And people start to rationalize cruelty as acceptable.

We had another case in New Jersey where I found two hens thrown in a trashcan with other dead birds. They were alive. So we tried to bring a case in that situation.

The egg factory’s lawyer argued in court that they could legally treat the birds like manure. The judge asked, “Isn’t there a difference between live birds and manure and their attorney affirmed the position that there is not a difference. So you have people making these arguments that are inhumane and, I would say, out of touch with basic human decency. That’s what happens in these places. Bad has become normal. Cruelty and violence become routine and acceptable.

If you look at human history, there have been a number of instances where a lot of people have gone along and done bad things and accepted bad as normal. So when bad things are happening it’s important for people of conscience and who recognize the harm to do something about it.

Me: You’ve seen Food, Inc. right?

Gene: Yes.

Me: There’s a scene in Food, Inc. where they go to the chicken barns of a woman who has a contract with a major poultry producer. She lets the film crew into see the broiler chickens who can barely walk. And then there’s this brutalization of the animals by, it seems reasonable to infer, by a group of undocumented workers. And this treatment of workers is this whole other thing that I hope you can talk about regarding the human costs.

Gene: I think that when there’s an insensitivity to animals it can jump the species barrier. Violence and callousness is an attitude that can spread. I’d say that in factory farming it begins with a disregard for the animals’ sentience and suffering, a lack of empathy, and a lack of responsibility for one’s own conduct which is then legitimized and justified instead of observed from a humane standpoint. When you start to justify cruelty to animals you can justify other kinds of cruelty.

Animals are seen as resources to be extracted from. We take eggs from hens, milk from cows, and kill them for meat, extracting value. It’s a mindset. We extract water from underground to such an extent that we are running out of it. We act in irresponsible and short-sighted ways. We extract value out of workers in the same short-sighted way.

Me: It sounds like you’re saying it’s economic value at all costs.

Gene: That’s right – short-term economic value without a concept of the broader costs, the external costs. There are social ills where you have these factory farms.

Back in the 1940s there was an anthropologist named Glodschmidt who came up with what is called the “Goldschmidt hypothesis.” He looked at two farming communities in central California: one of them was an industrial farm town with one big operation and the other was made up of more diversified small farms. What he concluded was that in the diversified community social health was much better. Money stayed in the community. There was better healthcare and services. But in the industrial operation there lots of problems. And we’re seeing that today.

We see industrial farms getting big tax breaks. They pollute the environment and they don’t clean it up. They treat their workers badly and their workers get sick. And because they aren’t paying their fair share of taxes the healthcare system in place cannot accommodate workers. Also, workers are oftentimes in the United States illegally so there are problems with that. And agribusiness has been happy with that arrangement because these are people who will do the work and when they get sick they aren’t going to try to get protection. They’ll get their cousin to come and replace them for a little while and there’s a revolving door of workers who can stand it for a while but then leave and then come back. So there’s an underground network of labor that supports these systems that exploit animals, workers, and the environment.

I’d also say they exploit consumers too because they market things and represent them as something they are not. For example, saying that you need to drink cow’s milk to get calcium to prevent osteoperosis. That shouldn’t be said. It’s a myth. But it’s something the dairy industry promulgates because when people think that way they will buy more cow’s milk. If you look at our country, we drink a lot of cow’s milk, and we have a lot of osteoperosis. So I don’t think that’s the answer. They’re selling products that disrespect animals, workers, consumers, nature and even their neighbors because they are polluting. They’ve passed “right to farm” laws so that they can do whatever they want without any consequences.

Me: It’s a “right to farm” if you have an enormous amount of money to invest you might say.

Gene: Those are the ones that are really pushing it. It’s the golden rule. Whoever has the gold makes the rules.

Me: In the last few presidential election cycles there’s been talk about “outsourcing.” We are outsourcing jobs for this and that and sending them overseas. But it sounds as though part of what you are talking about is that we outsource jobs right here to people who have the least power and that we outsource to them our cruelty so that we don’t have to do it.

Gene: That’s part of it too. These are people who are made to do very difficult jobs. You know it results in psychological harms. Alcoholism. Violence to animals is a precursor to violence against people.

In my book, I talk about a worker at a poultry slaughterhouse. He explains how became very hardened to the suffering of the animals and how that went home with him. A lot of workers have that happen.

Me: There is a big and growing movement to develop responsibility about our food and about our relationship to animals, and to nature, and climate change and all this stuff. So I hope we can talk about that.

Gene: Sure.

Me: Farm Sanctuary has promoted forms of public education with these Green Food Resolutions and others. And the Green Food Resolution seems especially good because you can do things right where you are.

Gene: Exactly.

Me: Can you explain those?

Gene: Sure. The Green Food Resolutions are urging cities to make a statement that they want to promote more local plant-based agriculture and local plant-based food consumption. The way we eat affects our health in huge ways. One of the reasons that our healthcare costs are so high is that we are eating so poorly. We are so disconnected from our food and making choices that are bad and not aligned with your own values and interests. So a Green Food Resolution puts it out there that we should be eating food that is grown responsibly and sustainably and healthy for ourselves that supports a healthy economic community.

We’ve had one passed in Tennessee and we anticipate others being passed. Hopefully, they will encourage expanding farmer’s markets, CSAs, community gardens.

We are in the midst of a growing grass-roots movement where people are tired of eating junk. They are tired of eating food that makes them feel ill and being tired.

Me: This food makes you tired.

Gene: It’s awful. It’s crazy that we are eating the way we are. If you think about it logically why would you eat food that makes you feel bad and makes you sick.

Me: There has been a study done by an anthropologist I believe that showed how far from our evolved diet, from say a human thousands of years ago in the Pacific Northwest, we have come. So from our evolutionary history all these buttons are being pushed in us when we eat Doritos. Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes I eat Doritos. But the kinds of things that happen to people are not things that we have adapted to in these quantities.

Gene: We have certain old evolutionary tendencies to eat a lot because we have come from a place of scarcity. But now we have so much around us that we are continuing to eat and obesity is an epidemic. Right. So we have certain historic propensities…

Me: Michael Pollan talks about salt, fat, and sugar.

Gene: Right. We have a real strong desire for those things and in certain environments those might work. But in a different environment we have a problem. So today we have a convergence of those historical roots leading to problems. And the environment we’ve created needs to be assessed. We have to decide what works and what doesn’t. Most of what we’ve done today in farming doesn’t work.

Me: And a Green Food Resolution is a way for people to bring that into their local commerce then.

Gene: Bring it into the community. Absolutely.

You know there are a lot of problems in the world and there are lots of things we can’t do very much about. But when it comes to what we eat, each of us has a lot of control. Each of us can decide, for example, not to buy hamburgers from McDonald’s. We can decide to get a veggie burger or something from the farmer’s market.

We vote to choose politicians. And that’s important. But that only happens a couple times a year or less. But every time we eat and spend a dollar, we are supporting something in the food system. So every time you give a dollar to McDonald’s you are supporting their activities. But every time you give a dollar to a farmer at a market or CSA you are supporting that. Each time you do that, it grows. I think consumers now have had enough and are moving toward a system that makes more sense. It makes me very optimistic.

Me: I’m a teacher. I study education and schools and I work with future teachers. Everyone agrees that school is an important place and has been a really important place in the U.S. since at least child labor laws came into effect. We shape people in school.

Gene: Yeah.

Me: So the kinds of activity that go on in there regarding food are kind of important.

Gene: I’d say very important, yes.

Me: I know that something that happened with Farm Sanctuary that I hope you can help me understand.

Gene: Sure.

Me: Farm Sanctuary rescued twenty chickens from the Conendegua Academy in New York. They had an ecology program. One of the ecology program’s goals was to teach their students about where their food came from. And their way of doing this was to take twenty broiler chickens, rear them in cages, and I think students were going to do this, and then they were going to kill them at the end. This caused an uproar and Farm Sanctuary came in at the end and you got twenty chickens. Two are named Andre and Albert. This was in 2008.

So I wonder what could be good in that lesson and what’s not good in that lesson?

Gene: What could be good is for people to realize where their food comes from because we are so disconnected from it. What is bad, though, is that in this instance they were teaching a form of violence and callousness against birds. Those birds are individuals with feelings that want to live.

I think schools are places where children should learn to live as humanely and sensibly as possible and make choices that are as healthy as possible. Unfortunately, the school system as it operates teaches kids many bad habits regarding food.

Food served through the school lunch program is leading to our health problems. What happened at the Conendegua Academy was not as bad like that. Students were learning about food. But it would be better to learn about plant foods by growing gardens. That doesn’t require violence or killing.

When you have to give a kid a knife and say, “Kill that bird,” I think that that could border on child abuse. If the child doesn’t want to kill is being forced to kill…

Me: Or even watch killing?

Gene: Or even watch killing. That could be traumatizing and I think that’s wrong.

Me: But I think it’s kind of interesting that the industrial food system we’ve been talking about and you criticize does this exact thing and then still expects those children to eat a chicken. But we can’t ask kids to do it themselves because it might be sort of traumatizing. So maybe it’s what you were saying earlier that it’s a values conflict.

Gene: It is absolutely a values conflict. People say they love animals and they care about animals and they want to believe that they love animals and care about them but ironically most people are still eating animals raised in brutal conditions and then killed in inhuman ways. It is a values conflict and that’s why we think it’s important for people to examine where their food comes from and then make choices consistent with their actual values.

As that happens, I think we will see a shift away from industrial models to a new kind of food production system. One that doesn’t abuse animals. One that does not exploit workers. One that does not mistreat the environment with callous disregard. One that is respectful of consumers where there is transparency and citizens can see how their food is produced and feel good about it. I think we need to push for transparency and encourage people to make choices that they can feel good about by aligning them with their values and interests.

Me: So it sounds like in some way that if we were to have The Gene Baur School that it would be a school about compassion.

Gene: It would be a school system about compassion. It would be a school system about responsibility, and respect, and about human decency. I think most people hold the same values but that we have developed some really bad habits. And as we become uncomfortable with them we get good at rationalizing them. People are really good at rationalizing bad behavior. [laughs]

Me: We sure are. [laughs]

Gene: If you look at human history we’ve done a lot of really bad things and come up with good reasons to do them. But we need to step back and examine our conduct and make sensible choices. It would be about compassion, responsibility, and what is appropriate. What we are doing is just out of whack.

Me: But we might be moving in the right direction.

Gene: There are some very positive signs that people are showing. But industrial farming is entrenched and holding on and trying to expand. There’s a battle going on but there are some really positive signs.

Me: Cool. I want to thank you a lot Gene.

Gene: Thank you Peter. I really enjoyed it.

Monday, February 22, 2010

UPDATE: Farming and our relationships to animals

UPDATE: We have the opportunity to meet with Gene on Tuesday, February 23 at 10 am in 221 Chambers Building. Mark your calendars.

What do we owe animals if anything? Gene Baur, the president of Farm Sanctuary, will be coming to Penn State to give a presentation on this issue on February 22nd. Farm Sanctuary "works to end cruelty to farm animals and promotes compassionate living through rescue, education and advocacy. We envision a world where the violence that animal agriculture inflicts upon people, animals and the environment has ended, and where instead we exercise values of compassion." The presentation is sponsored by the PSU Vegetarian Club.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Brooklyn School Farmyard

Check this out guys.

Food. We love it and can’t live without it. It keeps us happy, healthy, and smart. We’re making local, organic food available to everyone, one yard at a time. And we need your help to keep the mission alive.

Based in Brooklyn, BK Farmyards transforms under-utilized land into tasty edible landscapes. We partner with homeowners, schools, developers, and community members to build micro-farms and distribute produce weekly. Not only can the community follow the food from seed to table, they are helping us build a much-needed alternative to the abundance of cheap processed foods and fast-food restaurants. We rely exclusively on the power of volunteers and the endless energy of the bk team instead of gas-guzzling machinery. We strive to make our food so affordable that anyone can access fresh food.

In 2009, we have done so much with so little, feeding 6 people for 12 weeks off of 600 square feet in Ditmas Park, Brooklyn. A lot of people really loved the idea: visit a video of Foxtrot, our first micro-farm

If you'd like to donate to the project or learn more go to this link.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

The NEWS on this rally

Well I guess we have some news coverage on this too. Watch the local NBC clip (yours truly and all). As I say in the clip, "I love me some ignorance." But I have mixed feelings about this actually knowing that I am fully a press hound.

On the one hand, I am glad that our voice and my voice gets to get into the media. If it's just this denialistic caricature of science, the peer review process in natural sciences, and checks and balances by vested interests, we might as well just get whatever sort of YAF realism ideology in order to review the work of scientists.

On the other hand, I think it's ridiculous that the press doesn't just look at the available scientific literature and say, "Wow! What a bunch of fringe whackaloonery we are attending to." Sigh. So it goes.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Transparency and transparent ignorance

That "Climategate"protest held by the Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) and the 9.12 Project was about at least two things: transparency and ignorance. On the one hand, they called for transparency from Penn State in Michael Mann's case surrounding these leaked emails from East Anglia University Climate Research Unit hoping for an independent investigation. On the other hand, it was also an appalling display of ignorance by people invested, for whatever reason, in denying climate change. We'll tackle these two things as we move through a loose narration and description of the event.

Just before the protest started, I met up with several members of Penn State's Eco-Action and a couple of the College Democrats to get IPCC handouts in order and a couple of signs. A young woman was also there gearing up a camera with which to interview YAF and 9.12 members to sort of see why they were there and what not. I take it that video will be coming out soonish. We'll be posted I'm sure.

Outside of the HUB the protesters geared up a little banner decrying "Mann's Nature hide the decline." That's a reference to one of the stolen emails from the East Anglia database regarding some research methods. As reports it (one of whose contributors is Mann himself):
“Declines” in the MXD record. This decline was hidden written up in Nature in 1998 where the authors suggested not using the post 1960 data. Their actual programs (in IDL script), unsurprisingly warn against using post 1960 data. Added: Note that the ‘hide the decline’ comment was made in 1999 – 10 years ago, and has no connection whatsoever to more recent instrumental records.
So this alleged "hidden" decline was reported in the scientific literature itself, the method was written up and included in peer-review, and happened more than 10 years ago, during which time climate science has only found more empirical data to support human-induced climate change.

One of YAF's members stood on a milk crate and gave a speech. He decried Penn State's investigation on this matter (here in pdf). They have not been thorough enough. They are playing semantic games with the word "trick" that remind him of Clinton's squabbles over the definition of "is." Look, the context matters. What one guy calls a "trick" in an informal email that relates to something vetted through years of scientific work is not like a magic trick used for deception by Penn & Teller or the Houdini. Once again on this matter I defer to the editor of Nature on this matter:
One e-mail talked of displaying the data using a 'trick' — slang for a clever (and legitimate) technique, but a word that denialists have used to accuse the researchers of fabricating their results. It is Nature's policy to investigate such matters if there are substantive reasons for concern, but nothing we have seen so far in the e-mails qualifies.
Not many organizations out there will have that much more interest in protecting science's integrity than Nature. And Penn State, whose reputation has come to be built on a very strong research and development program, is not so interested in crashing itself to save one guy. Who conducted the last investigation?

The Collegian reports that "[t]hree Penn State employees, Henry C. "Hank" Foley, vice president for research and dean of the graduate school; William Brune, head of the meteorology department; and Candice Yekel, director of the Office of Research Protections, sat on the inquiry panel." One of the original possible panel members, Dean of Earth and Mineral Sciences William Easterling, recused himself because of conflicts of interest. Office of Research Protections must protect the research integrity of the university. They are the biggest pain for researchers because they oversee so much and examine the ethical ramifications of what people do and they have to be responsive to government agencies like the National Institutes for Health and the like. I'd think that Candice Yekel (who I also know personally) isn't about to jeopardize her position for Michael Mann.

The good of the one does not outweigh the good of the many and it is not in the investigating panel's interest to clear Mann of charges of which he is guilty. As our own Collegian reported, "the panel concluded there is "no substance" to the first three allegations: falsifying or suppressing data, intending to delete or conceal information and misusing privileged or confidential information." They reached this conclusion after doing the following (see report pdf link above):
• 206 emails that contained a message/text from Dr. Mann somewhere in the chain;
• 92 emails that were received by Dr. Mann, but in which he did not write/participate in the discussion; and
• 79 that dealt with Dr. Mann, his work or publications; he neither authored nor was he copied on any of these.

From among these 377 emails, the inquiry committee focused on 47 emails that were deemed relevant.
Now this made the YAF speaker nuts. He had this 10-page mind-numbing (he used some term like that) document from Penn State on the Mann investigation. "47 emails! Just 47 emails out of more than 1,000 emails." He then made fun of this process and the university for focusing on "47 emails!" This is what we call selective quoting or "quote mining." Tell people that more than 1,000 emails were taken in and then make it about 47 emails without noting at all how the panel decided to get to it. So the context of the process of the panel is annihilated and misrepresented for political points. Isn't there something almost beautifully hypocritical and paradoxical about a group who is out for the truth about documentation, transparency, and process misrepresenting documentation, transparency, and process? I think so. What about the fourth allegation?

The committee have punted on the fourth accusations so that it can be taken up by good people who are qualified to assess it. They write:
Given that information emerged in the form of the emails purloined from CRU in November 2009, which have raised questions in the public’s mind about Dr. Mann’s conduct of his research activity, given that this may be undermining confidence in his findings as a scientist, and given that it may be undermining public trust in science in general and climate science specifically, the inquiry committee believes an investigatory committee of faculty peers from diverse fields should be constituted under RA-10 to further consider this allegation.

In sum, the overriding sentiment of this committee, which is composed of University administrators, is that allegation #4 revolves around the question of accepted faculty conduct surrounding scientific discourse and thus merits a review by a committee of faculty scientists. Only with such a review will the academic community and other interested parties likely feel that Penn State has discharged it responsibility on this matter.
So they appointed five investigators unattached to this climate business. The Collegian reports:
Five Penn State faculty members will sit on the investigation committee into the fourth allegation: Mary Jane Irwin, a computer science and electrical engineering professor; Alan Walker, an anthropology and biology professor; Albert Welford Castleman, a chemistry and physics professor; Nina Jablonski, an anthropology professor; and Sarah Assmann, a biology professor.

[Candice] Yekel [of the Office of Research Protections] will provide administrative assistance to the committee, according to the report. The investigation will take 120 days from initiation to completion, university spokeswoman Lisa Powers said.
So now you have five high-powered nationally and internationally respected scientists determining whether Mann's actions undermined "public trust in science." Seems to me that we have very good people working on this. But it's not enough for YAF and the 9.12 guys. They want to "Turn up the HEAT on Mann!" They want independent investigators. According to one of the protesters, the National Science Foundation is available for this investigation. Once again, I find it odd that an essentially anti-government group wants a government organization that works with funding on this issue to investigate Mann.

This group says they want "transparency." Me too. You should too. Science should be quite transparent within the limits that organization's put on the availability of their data. Sadly, the public cannot always see behind the process because nations, states, corporations, and other institutions simply make things confidential. As a sidenote, I don't see Pfizer or Exxon Mobil making their R&D transparent.

But this is beyond transparency. It's hounding of a very old kind that Chris Mooney documents quite well in The Republican War on Science. Pro-economic growth big business interests aligned with libertarians aligned with anti-science religious conservatives just can't take climate change so they call for "transparency" to serve their obstructionist tactics. That's Orwellian.

I, personally, do not find any of this to warrant much more investigation. In general, this is just more denialism being legitimated by the media. I don't object to the NSF doing an investigation in principle, but it seems a waste of time and more ways for climate denialists to keep their incredible celebration of ignorance in the media spotlight.

And what a celebration of ignorance it was. There was a guy holding up an American flag and saying things like, "Global warming? Haven't you noticed how cold it is?" Another guy said, "I want all those people to go stand in the ice and snow over there and tell me about global warming" or something very close to that. [Sadly, I didn't have my recorder out for this so my quoting is slightly off.] Both of these guys show that they fundamentally do not understand climate change, that they are deluded on the subject, or want to just lie about it. I point you all to the National Science Foundation's materials on it; you know, that group these denialists want to investigate Mann. The NSF calls climate change "the most important puzzle that humankind has attempted to solve."

The Nobel-Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report from its Fourth Annual Report warns us that the problem’s severity is escalating and accelerating:
Warming of the climate system is unequivocal, as is now evident from observations of increases in global average air and ocean temperatures, widespread melting of snow and ice and rising global average sea level” and that “observational evidence from all continents and most oceans shows that many natural systems are being affected by regional climate changes, particularly temperature increases.
Grounds for “skepticism” have been soundly refuted. According to Naomi Oreskes' literature review on the subject, of 928 papers on climate science published between 1993 and 2003, there was no significant dissent from “the consensus view…[that] climate change is caused by human activity” leading to the conclusion that the evidence for human-induced climate change is “clear and unambiguous." In the five years since her paper was published, that consensus strengthened.

It's pretty stunning to watch this kind of entrenched anti-reason at work. In our work as teachers of ecological literacy, I hope to do better for a better tomorrow.


In a closing note: There were multiple media outlets there. I was interviewed by a Collegian reporter and someone from one cable news channel. The YAF and 9.12 Project folks and people from some environmental groups including Eco-Action were interviewed as well. Watch local stations and check the paper next week.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Counter the YAFhoos

This just in from Eco-Action:
EcoAction is going to work to defend Dr. Michael Mann and the entire Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change tomorrow out front of the HUB. We will be meeting outside of our office in the HUB at 11:30 AM tomorrow (Friday) in order to distribute fact-filled hand bills to people who want to help pass them out outside of the HUB. Please come and help speak out in the name of science.
Come on out!

So what do you say to this denialists?

As I posted in the last piece, there is a cavalcade of climate conspiracy theorists out there. "Climate change is a hoax!" they cry.

So I just wonder what they think of this story from Penn State Live: 'Supra-glacial lakes' are the focus of a new Penn State study. They write the following:
University Park, Pa. -- Rising temperatures on the Greenland ice sheet cause the creation of large surface lakes called supra-glacial lakes. Now a Penn State geographer will investigate why these lakes form and their implications...

"Learning where lakes are, how they form, and how that changes through the melt season can help us really understand a lot about important processes that control how the Greenland ice sheet responds to warming," Lampkin said.

Supra-glacial lakes form when melting water collects in pools in the lower levels of the ice sheet in melt or ablation zones. These lakes drain rapidly through cracks in the ice channeling water to beneath the ice sheet, affecting how ice sheets move and how pieces calve off into the ocean.
I wonder what tomorrow's Young Americans for Freedom and 9/12 Project protesters about so-called "Climategate" think of this direct empirical evidence positively correlated with rising human-produced atmospheric greenhouse gases. Is this a joke to them? To my mind, that is willful ignorance. When will there be enough evidence for them?

Yahoos are going to protest "Climategate"

Warning: This post is a piece of political activism written on the author's behalf and do not necessarily represent the views of all the 3E-COE's members.

In case you haven't heard, climate change denialists in the United States are all atwitter over thousands of emails stolen from East Anglia University's climate program. One of their prime targets has been Michael Mann at Penn State University who some have alleged has fabricated conclusions by using a "trick" commonly used in sciences that use statistics. They call it Climategate!

Do they even understand what the science is? I can't tell. They should get into the peer review process of science journals and learn how climate science is actually done by climate scientists.

The editor of Nature, one of the world's two most prestigious and rigorous scientific journals (Science is the other) wrote the following:

Nothing in the e-mails undermines the scientific case that global warming is real — or that human activities are almost certainly the cause. That case is supported by multiple, robust lines of evidence, including several that are completely independent of the climate reconstructions debated in the e-mails.

First, Earth's cryosphere is changing as one would expect in a warming climate. These changes include glacier retreat, thinning and areal reduction of Arctic sea ice, reductions in permafrost and accelerated loss of mass from the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. Second, the global sea level is rising. The rise is caused in part by water pouring in from melting glaciers and ice sheets, but also by thermal expansion as the oceans warm. Third, decades of biological data on blooming dates and the like suggest that spring is arriving earlier each year.

Denialists are against this stuff because it is the clearest evidence out there that the following equation is true:
Fossil-fuel intensive industrial technological activity x Growth economy = Ecocide
The plain truth of this equation is too obvious to ignore as Nature's editor pointed out above. Michael Mann's statistical trick may be a way to play with data; that's what research can be: playing with data to see what's in it. But people want Mann's head on a platter.

Here at Penn State, a group of notable denialists, The Young Americans for Freedom, are going to protest. Good. I am eager to see this public display of intense ignorance and brow-beating. Here's what their press release says for the Climate Gate protest:

Do you care about academic integrity? Today, a group of three Penn State employees are supposed to conclude an inquiry into whether PSU professor Michael Mann violated university policy. If these three employees so choose, they can clear Mann of wrongdoing, and cut off any further investigation.

A PSU professor is involved in an international, climate-related scandal, and the internal inquiry involves only three people, all of whom are Penn State employees. No outsiders will monitor the proceedings. Does this seem right to you?

If the initial inquiry decides that Mann needs to be investigated further, a committee of five tenured Penn State professors will be appointed to do the job. Again, there will be no external oversight. Does this seem right to you?

Even if the Penn State investigation committee finds that Mann did wrong, they are under n! o obligation to inform the public—the only people they are required to inform are Mann’s donors. Again, does this seem right to you?

Penn State is the ninth ranked university in the country for receiving government research and development grants. Don’t you think they should be held to a high standard?

Come join us when we take a stand for honesty, integrity and truth on February 12th, at noon, in front of the Hetzel Union Building on Penn State’s University Park Campus (Pollock Road entrance). Your commitment and concern will make a difference! This demonstration is jointly sponsored by PSU Young Americans for Freedom and The 9-12 Project of Central PA.
High standard? Do they know anything about the people investigating him or for what the final charge is? I have met two of them: Nina Jablonski is an anthropology professor and head of Department of Anthropology at Penn State. She was on the Colbert Report too for her book Skin. and Alan Walker. Walker is a fellow in the National Academy of Sciences. He's one of the most vetted and admired anthropologists in the world writing on human evolution. You think they want science to suffer as a discipline? I think not. What external oversight committee do these people want? Exxon Mobil's front groups? The FBI? Lehman Brothers and all their "free market" friends?

I think I will try to make it. So will some of the folks from Eco-Action. If you go, bring some counter-signage and be prepared for a bit of spectacle. If you feel so compelled, please write letters to the editor of The Collegian decrying this as nothing short of denialist tragedy.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

More tasty water for my bottle

Today I went back to the Chambers water bottle filling fountain. It made me happy to be there.

So in all of my glee, I filled up my Freeze Thaw Cycles bottle with water. [@ Freeze Thaw you can buy a reused and recycled bike to go with your reusable bottle and reduce your carbon footprint and shop locally!]

And look how much waste people have saved by using this machine. 2318 bottles! Wow. That's a lot of petroleum saved from bottle production, transport to consumption, transport to down- or recycling or to a landfill, social problems avoided, and potential pollution reduced. Reduction is the first of the ecological R's.

This might actually be pattern solving (pdf). Hmmmm.

When The Onion wins...

...they really win.
WASHINGTON—Wishing to dispose of the empty plastic container, and failing to spot a recycling bin nearby, an estimated 30 million Americans asked themselves Monday how bad throwing away a single bottle of water could really be.

"It's fine, it's fine," thought Maine native Sheila Hodge, echoing the exact sentiments of Chicago-area resident Phillip Ragowski, recent Florida transplant Margaret Lowery, and Kansas City business owner Brian McMillan, as they tossed the polyethylene terephthalate object into an awaiting trash can. "It's just one bottle. And I'm usually pretty good about this sort of thing."

"Not a big deal," continued roughly one-tenth of the nation's population.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

What is the most important thing?

Watch this and at least enjoy the sentiment.

Now ask yourself, "What is the purpose of education?" and watch the video again.

I wonder, if we have already past the point the video seems to think we are yet to reach.

Family erosion by the market. Check.

Environmental degradation. Check.

Money as the motivator of modern life? Dewey wrote about it more than 80 years ago in Individualism Old & New when he wrote about "the pecuniary man." Jesus railed against it with the money changers in the temple.

In all of the wrappings of the No Child Left Behind Act and "standards" this and "accountability" that and "global economy" here and "competitiveness" there shouldn't we ask, "Who do I serve? How does what I offer people through my role as a teacher help them be themselves in their communities? Can we do this without deluding ourselves?"

Monday, February 1, 2010

Fun ideas for making new items out of old ones

The Boston Globe had a cool photo slide show of used items turned into new ones, like a fruit basket made of sterilized chopsticks. While making new items out of reclaimed ones isn't a novel idea, I always find it refreshing to see what other people are doing in terms of making new out of old.