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Science At The Climate March


Climate scientists rubbed elbows with Quakers, food activists, and labor unions on Sunday, when more than 100,000 people (400,000, the organizers say; one group of observers calculated it was more like 125,000) thronged to the Upper West Side for the People’s Climate March, a massive demonstration designed to coincide with a United Nations meeting happening on the other side of Manhattan.

One notable feature of this march was that it was organized into themed sections: Indigenous groups and other communities on the front lines of climate change led, while labor and student groups, renewable tech, and so forth, got their own designated section. The climate science contingent, which lined up just a block or two away from the American Museum of Natural History, formed behind a line of massive yellow flags that proclaimed in black block lettering: “The Debate Is Over,” echoed among the signs in the science bloc (some sporting charts):

Framing climate change as a settled consensus, not a debate, was certainly the sentiment among scientists at the march. It’s hard to argue with the fact that 97 percent of climate scientists agree that the world is getting warmer over the past century, and that human activities are the primary cause. So why does the idea of uncertainty still frame the debate?

Annie Virnig, a researcher at the New York Botanical Garden, says that the public may hear new developments in climate change research, such as the “global warming hiatus”—which actually just means that the rate of temperature increase has slowed since 2000, not that the world has stopped warming; recently some scientists proposed that the Atlantic Ocean may be acting as a sink for that extra missing heat—and assume that the entire concept of climate change has been upended, when really researchers are refining the details. The big picture is still one of a changing climate.

“Science is about continuously proposing new hypotheses,” says Virnig. “Just because someone comes up with a better model, that doesn’t necessarily mean previous statements are totally wrong.”

The effects of unmitigated climate change on the natural world are myriad. Virnig, who studies blueberries that grow in Colombia, notes that many species in South America occupy narrow ecological niches, vulnerable to the effects of warming.

Jessica Allen, another researcher at the New York Botanical Garden, studies the ecology of lichens (an intimate association of fungi and algae) in the southeastern U.S. Lichens might not seem all that impressive, but they’re like the stage managers at a theatre production, secretly holding a lot of things together in the background while the (relatively) charismatic insects and other invertebrates cavort for the audience. Some lichens help fix nitrogen, which makes nutrients available to plants; others provide food sources and even camouflage for insects and other invertebrates.

Allen says that in North Carolina, many of the lichens she studies will be drowned by rising seas by 2100—even under some of the most conservative climate models.

So what can scientists do? Offer yet another fact-filled study? Erin Cram, a Northeastern University cell biologist, says that part of the problem is that scientists aren’t exactly in an academic argument any more.

“Scientists tend to argue with facts, but that doesn’t resonate with the vast majority of people,” Cram says. “I mean, a large fraction of the American people don’t think evolution is happening, and that debate was settled in the 1800s.”

Sunday’s march proved almost too successful for its own good: the climate scientists were still stalled near the museum two and a half hours after the scheduled start. But then, slowly, the mass moved forward—a little later than expected, but moving in the right direction.



  1. WorldSciFest I find it odd nobody asks weather climate change might be beneficial in the long run. Earth will warm regardless.

  2. jlangdale It’s unlikely that an event as disruptive as #climatechange is expected to be will be a net plus for us.

  3. WorldSciFest Are we in position to know this probability? What if we were to tend to evolve to warming environment earlier than red giant?

  4. WorldSciFest The difference in time available over next however many years until Sun expands might make the difference for descendants?

  5. WorldSciFest This type of long long evolutionary knowledge is not something we can hope to know either way, is it?

  6. WorldSciFest The point isn’t so much the specifics of any given theory, but rather that they’re not even being pondered to know.

  7. WorldSciFest Are we using our time prior to red giant phase wisely? Or squandering it based on false notion of a constant environment?

  8. WorldSciFest You could argue that the only way we can every experience an earlier beneficial warming is via non-planning over planning.

  9. WorldSciFest If we’ll never agree to purposely advance this warming for beneficial purpose, the only opportunity might be via selfishness.

  10. WorldSciFest In way this, selfishness might appear bad, but turn out to be beneficial in the long long run.

  11. jlangdale The time frame for climate change vs red giant are very different. Some models are predicting rising seas drowning land by 2100

  12. WorldSciFest Thought most sea rise was 200 feet no faster than 5,000 years? Won’t change much about continents, save China/India?

  13. WorldSciFest The more drastic change seems to be the agriculture/food & rainfall than the rise in sea levels.

  14. jlangdale It’s all of it, sea level rise, rainfall shifts, droughts, etc. Highly unlikely all that combined = benefit for humans.

  15. WorldSciFest If we generally bifurcate into new species roughly ~10,000yr, beyond which reproduction fails, 5k years seems a good number.

  16. WorldSciFest One could imagine a much warmer average Earth with an evolved humanity farming bugs or something other than wheat/cows.

  17. WorldSciFest This hypothetical warmer descendant may be better suited, bootstrapped, for the initial red giant phase.

  18. WorldSciFest The difference of lasting through the ending phases of life on Earth could make difference for developing migration to Titan.

  19. WorldSciFest The point is that our selfishness might work for us right now without knowing it.

  20. WorldSciFest If we avoid climate change through non-planning, we may never agree to plan to do it because of post-selfishness.

  21. WorldSciFest If we avoid a non-planned #climatechange, we may never agree to plan to purposely do it because of post-selfishness.

  22. WorldSciFest Any non-planned environmental changes we learn to adapt to seem beneficial, that is after all why we’re here.

  23. JamesDiGioia We do we even know whether a drastic>gradual change might be needed to successfully make a transition?

  24. JamesDiGioia If it’s not knowable, then we cannot say whether it’s not actually beneficial. This is not informed opinion, it’s status quo.

  25. jlangdale 5k yrs is not really knowable. 100 yrs is far more knowable and actionable. Debating the impact of the sun doesn’t help us.

  26. JamesDiGioia I am aware that #climatechange is unrelated to the Sun. That isn’t what I’ve indicated.

  27. JamesDiGioia The point is that we are being presented with an opportunity for unplanned unavoidable #climatechange we may never agree to.

  28. JamesDiGioia It’s not even is a given that we can avoid this unplanned #climatechange through consensus & cooperation.

  29. JamesDiGioia It seems remotely plausible that the thing we desperately hope to avoid and cannot, may turn out ultimately beneficial.

  30. jlangdale “this unplanned cc” = what exactly? The effects of CO2 or the sun stuff you were talking about earlier?

  31. JamesDiGioia When I say “unplanned cc” I mean nobody intended to raise average temps.

  32. jlangdale I disagree with both points. There are absolutely things we can do to mitigate/reverse anthropogenic #climatechage…

  33. jlangdale …and current models suggest it’s highly unlikely that it will turn out to be beneficial for us.

  34. jlangdale Right, but they’re different proximate causes, one of which is under our control (pollution), whereas the sun isn’t.

  35. JamesDiGioia If we hypothetically avoid cc via consensus & it’s remotely beneficial in future to “artificially” cc, we may not agree.

  36. JamesDiGioia It’s still not a given that we’ll cooperate and avoid cc. We don’t yet know it will be avoided.

  37. jlangdale I highly doubt we’ll see a situation where drastically changing our own environment is beneficial.

  38. JamesDiGioia I am not saying there are not things we can do. I’m still despite the things we can do, we don’t know if we’ll fail.

  39. jlangdale Of course, that’s the whole purpose of organizing, but it is within humanity’s control. Sun certainly isn’t.

  40. jlangdale There are lots of ways we can fail. I’m not inclined to throw my hands up and hope for the best in face of this though.

  41. JamesDiGioia The models predict relative short term problems. This depends what you call “beneficial.”

  42. JamesDiGioia Not saying throw your hands up. I’m saying we should be more open minded to being wrong about things that we think are good.

  43. jlangdale Fundamentally, I find it difficult to believe a massive disruption in our environment could be beneficial.

  44. JamesDiGioia My point is that our arrogance usually gets us into trouble, then we later learn we were doing something counterproductive.

  45. jlangdale I simply don’t see how #climatechange could be good. Disruption on massive scale generally results in massive suffering.

  46. JamesDiGioia That is my point precisely. We are bias to think a massive disruption can be useful, yet we know they have been.

  47. jlangdale I think that sentiment is more appropriate towards the attitude that got us here, rather than getting us out.

  48. JamesDiGioia That is my point precisely. We are bias to think a massive disruption can’t be useful, yet we know they have been.

  49. JamesDiGioia The only reason cc is moving to the forefront is because of immediacy with extreme weather changes.

  50. jlangdale I don’t know, wouldn’t presume that’s knowable either. Can’t really control group thousands of years of evo.

  51. JamesDiGioia So you think it’s possible that our upright walking ancestors would have developed along similar lines w/dinosaurs around?

  52. JamesDiGioia Your position sounds like regardless of past extinctions, the human species was inevitable.

  53. jlangdale Of course it’s possible. Some people believe that’s what actually happened ;)

  54. JamesDiGioia So your position is that you don’t know either way. Which is where we are currently. We just don’t know.

  55. jlangdale Except that’s not where we are currently. We don’t *know* but we have some models that suggest the outcome is not good.

  56. JamesDiGioia Yet, we seem to want to say there is a higher probability either way, because we feel that a fixed environment is better.

  57. jlangdale All we can deal with is probabilities, and when we have a significant + high prob that bad things will happen, we should act.

  58. JamesDiGioia Right we have model that say things will change, I agree. And we’re saying change is bad. If a large part of China floods.

  59. JamesDiGioia That’s a given. But we don’t know if this environmental change 5,000 or 10,000 years out is good or bad.

  60. jlangdale We’re not saying “change is bad,” we’re saying “this change is highly likely to be bad.”

  61. jlangdale We’re not talking about 5k-10k years. We’re talking about 100.

  62. JamesDiGioia Our thinking is that if within 100-200yr if disaster kills, it’s bad. So our goal is at all cost to reduce max death.

  63. JamesDiGioia This leads to argument that we want to fill the planet with maximum populations with minimal weather-related death.

  64. JamesDiGioia Taken to a conclusion, this type of environment is weak and MORE susceptible to drastic catastrophe with more death.

  65. jlangdale Except I’m not arguing we should fill the planet with as many people as possible. And the damage is more than just to humans.

  66. JamesDiGioia You keep assuming that these are things I’m not aware of. It’s a tad odd.

  67. jlangdale Species extinction, habitat destruction, etc. These are all things we should seek to prevent as well.

  68. jlangdale I just find the idea that climate change could be a good thing more than a little bizarre.

  69. JamesDiGioia So are you arguing for population controls? Or are you saying that you don’t think populations will continue to grow w/o cc?

  70. JamesDiGioia I assume you’re aware of the population growth problems and food shortages.

  71. JamesDiGioia Yes, it’s obviously counterintuitive. Nobody is asking the question. We’re just assuming.

  72. JamesDiGioia I’m not saying it is or isn’t, but rather we it would be useful to at least ask in a serious manner.

  73. jlangdale I don’t think people are asking “Is CC bad?” They’re asking “What will happen?” Outcome is bad.

  74. jlangdale It’s not that we’ve failed to ask the ? so much as no answer to that question has been good.

  75. JamesDiGioia Then you don’t argue for pop control, and we solve cc, reduce max natural disasters, doesn’t that contrib to pop growth?

  76. JamesDiGioia It seems like kicking a football to inevitable famine of some kind, or some other related issue.

  77. jlangdale Lots of things impact pop growth. Developed countries don’t have as much pop growth as developing. Other ways of solving that.

  78. jlangdale I tend towards utilitarianism, personally, so “net suffering of the living.”

  79. jlangdale Not really sure how you could define that makes for a pos outcome though.

  80. jlangdale Nothing’s ever going to be a perfect solution. I just think doing nothing is one of the worst solutions.

  81. JamesDiGioia If you go by net suffering, then that requires a time frame, does it not? This is my whole point.

  82. JamesDiGioia We can’t even really predict 100-200 years, but if we could we don’t know either what the net will be 5,000-10,000. Do we?

  83. JamesDiGioia We assume that flooding & famine is bad, because it’s short-term. But we do not consider the natural value in adapting to it.

  84. jlangdale As I’ve said, we have models that suggest outcomes over that time frame.

  85. JamesDiGioia So we assume that we can remove all death, or most of it, yet still benefit from any minimal survival adaptation f/old age.

  86. jlangdale It’s not bad because it’s short-term. That doesn’t make any sense. And it’s entirely possible we don’t adapt; we just go extinct.

  87. JamesDiGioia I am not advocating doing nothing. I think we should be doing something, but whatever that is shouldn’t be limited short-term.

  88. jlangdale There are long-term solutions out there being advocated for. Question is more about political feasibility obv :).

  89. jlangdale Which may not be a huge probability but is catastrophic enough that it should be taken seriously.

  90. JamesDiGioia It’s remotely possible that avoiding an earlier #climatechange actually accelerates our ultimate extinction.

  91. JamesDiGioia As opposed to suffering through the devastation and adapting to it.

  92. jlangdale Honestly, I just don’t consider that possibility likely enough to be worth considering.

  93. JamesDiGioia That is why I find it ironic that this ignorance is likely to be our saving grace.

  94. JamesDiGioia Our selfishness may lead to this unplanned #climatechange if we cannot avoid it, hypothetically failing to cooperate.

  95. JamesDiGioia I’m not sure you really understand my point because you erroneously assume I’m a climate change denier.

  96. jlangdale I think the more likely outcome is extinction, not that we adapt prematurely.

  97. jlangdale Again, putting words in my mouth. It’s obvious you’re not, and I think this discussion is interesting. I just disagree.

  98. JamesDiGioia I would agree that, since we don’t know either way, #climatechange could just as easily be the accelerated extinction.

  99. jlangdale I think our fundamental disagreement is about the relative likelihoods of various outcomes.

  100. JamesDiGioia I am not a climate change denier, but I ask a longer “unknown” type question that the denier seem to try to use.

  101. jlangdale I don’t think you’re a denier, just misguided. I don’t think these questions have a lot of bearing on what we should be doing.

  102. JamesDiGioia When I say you “know” I mean to say you know the probability is “more” or “less” likely. Same difference.

  103. jlangdale No, it means *I* think. I hardly place that much value on my own knowledge.

  104. JamesDiGioia What you call misguided, I call being open minded. I don’t claim to know we should do XYZ. I’m just asking unasked question.

  105. JamesDiGioia There is some probability either way, we don’t really know these probabilities on the time scales I’m referring to.

  106. jlangdale Just because it’s a possibility doesn’t mean it’s significant.

  107. JamesDiGioia Without the involvement of India/China, I don’t see the #climatechange policies making much difference.

  108. JamesDiGioia We don’t seem to be modeling geopolitics enough to know these outcomes even in the short-terms.

  109. JamesDiGioia Are we going to go to war with China if they were to hypothetically decide to continue to pollute & raise CO2?

  110. jlangdale No, but the models are decent for what happens if we continue the status quo.

  111. jlangdale Probably not over that. Far more likely we end up having to fight over resources.

  112. JamesDiGioia Historically, and in regard to the industrial/technical revolutions, I can find little basis for such a status quo.

  113. JamesDiGioia Is there a known probability that geopolitics will keep a status quo for 200-300 years?

  114. jlangdale It’s a geopolitical status quo, it’s a environmental degradation status quo.

  115. JamesDiGioia Going from pre-industrial revolution to industrial revolution, is that a status quo?

  116. jlangdale It’s not a geopolitical status quo, it’s a environmental degradation status quo.

  117. JamesDiGioia Going from pre-colonization to colonization, is that a status quo?

  118. JamesDiGioia We are potentially on the verge of huge sociological changes with technology, loss of privacy, etc.

  119. JamesDiGioia We seem to share less and less commonality with our children due to technology.

  120. JamesDiGioia Well I’m 40 and I used to go outside and ride a bicycle until I got my first computer to program.

  121. JamesDiGioia Now my Son doesn’t even really want to ride his bike or go outside much due to his electronics/internet/gaming.

  122. jlangdale Which actually suggests the two of you are more alike technologically.

  123. JamesDiGioia But we’re less and less alike if you look out across similar slices of generations.

  124. jlangdale I’ll have to dig up the article, but a recent survey suggested tech habits between “olds” and “youngs” was not that different.

  125. jlangdale I’m not that familiar with his ideas, but I do think some of the theories coming out of SV generally are overblown.

  126. JamesDiGioia I can imagine the idea of parental learned behavior going away to great extent. These seem to be potentially large changes.

  127. JamesDiGioia Even if you expand the human life spans, that wave can reverberate into pretty drastic change.

  128. jlangdale I know who he is. I loosely know he’s a proponent of the idea of the Singularity. Beyond that, I don’t know much.

  129. JamesDiGioia Depending on who you talk to, his name & the “singularity” tends to be a bugaboo for pseudo craziness or interesting args.

  130. JamesDiGioia I wonder if we’ve even modeled a hypothetical technological human life span of 200 years and how that would affect our planet.

  131. jlangdale I wouldn’t be surprised if those guys have taken a look at some of those possibilities, but I haven’t seen it personally.

  132. JamesDiGioia That means 200 years where every generation persists. At some point, you have to implement population control.

  133. jlangdale Unlikely even if 200 year life spans were possible that it would include everyone. Progress isn’t even.

  134. JamesDiGioia If you have to limit population control, you have to model the dynamics of youth and age ratios w/learning.

  135. JamesDiGioia I am referring to our average mortality rates, right now it’s like 80-85 depending on country.

  136. JamesDiGioia It’s not a stretch to assume that technology might drastically expand these average, as a sudden acceleration.

  137. JamesDiGioia This is not immortality or anything crazy, just assuming a drastic change to the average.

  138. jlangdale “depending on country” being pretty key, and depending on socioeconomic status within those countries.

  139. JamesDiGioia The geopolitics of which we have no models for. Which is why I think that NSA thing is potentially just as counterintuitive.

  140. JamesDiGioia From what I can tell, our natural tendency to assume a status quo actually leads to the opposite.

  141. jlangdale Interesting. I have to head home, but it was nice debating with you. Take care.

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