Archive for the ‘Climate Change’ Category

A Philosopher of Science Explains the Importance of Scientific Consensus

August 3, 2013
Massimo Pigliucci

Massimo Pigliucci

by Doughlas Remy

I’ve been blogging on conservative Catholic websites for about as long as those sites have existed. Why I chose Catholic ones and not, say, Evangelical ones, has more to do with my early (i.e., post-graduate) literary interests than my religious background (Southern Baptist). I read Catholic authors because my specialty was French and Italian literature. Then a French literary critic, René Girard, captured my attention in the 70s, and for the next thirty years, I was reading and re-reading his books. From his reading of great European literature—especially the works of Cervantes, Stendhal, Flaubert, Shakespeare, Dostoevsky, and Proust, he had developed and beautifully articulated a theory of mimetic desire, a theory that seemed to have vast implications for all the human sciences. I was enthralled, and I still am. But then something almost inexplicable happened: René Girard had a conversion experience and became folded back into Catholicism. I still do not understand his conversion, even in the light of his own writings, but his re-induction into the faith of his ancestors now had me wondering anew about the power of faith and about the anthropological role of Christianity in the evolution of human morality. Looking for conversation about this issue, I discovered Gil Bailie’s site (The Cornerstone Forum), and then other conservative Catholic sites. Though I was never Catholic myself, I became fascinated by the Church’s millennial struggles with the secularizing forces of Western civilization. I understood that Catholicism—quintessentially emblematic of the sacred in Western history for the last 2000 years—is now in steep decline. The laity is going its own way, ignoring Church teachings about homosexuality, contraception, and a host of other issues. Conservative Catholics know this and resist the trend by discounting every idea that does not either emanate from the Church or receive its stamp of approval. In many cases, as I have discovered, this resistance amounts to nothing less than a repudiation of the scientific understanding of the world that has been accumulating since the Renaissance. 

The topic that drew me into discussions on conservative Catholic sites  was almost invariably homosexuality—because I am gay, because it was a “hot” topic on the blogs, and because I could see that conservative Catholic opinion was flagrantly out of touch with scientific understanding about homosexuality.  And the homosexuality issue took on added significance because it was, and is, one of Catholicism’s current “flash-points” with secularism.

But other “hot” topics on these blogs, such as contraception and climate change, were too compelling to ignore, and so I diversified, but always with a view to offering secular perspectives and encouraging more empirical approaches to issues.

I cannot even count the number of times I’ve cited consensus scientific opinions about these issues, only to be told that these opinions don’t count. Never mind that  98 percent of climate scientists believe that climate change is caused by emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, because a certain university professor somewhere has published a peer-reviewed study claiming that the whole anthropogenic climate change theory is a conspiracy and a hoax! These denialist bloggers say they are only giving equal time to both sides of the question, but in fact they are ignoring consensus opinion on the matter while looking for confirmation of their biases. (Otherwise, they would give unequal time to the two sides of the question, at a ratio of 98 to 2.)

And never mind that all the major medical and social welfare associations in this country, as well as the World Health Organization, have unequivocally stated that homosexuality is not a disorder. The Church says that it is “intrinsically disordered,” and that’s that. Again, consensus opinion doesn’t matter, and if a veneer of scientific respectability is needed for the Church’s archaic stance on the issue, then any one of several socially conservative think tanks can be depended on to provide one.

With these frustrations roiling in the background, I came across a passage from Massimo Pigliucci’s “Answers for Aristotle” (2012), one of the best and most accessible guides I have found to understanding the roles of science and philosophy in modern life. Pigliucci, a philosopher of science at CUNY-Lehman College, has this to say:

Answers for AristotleScientific knowledge is both objective and subjective, because it results from a particular perspective (the human one) interacting with how the world really is. The result is that our scientific theories will always be tentative and to some extent wrong,… but will also capture to a smaller or greater extent some important aspect of how the world actually is. Science provides us with a perspective on the world, not with a God’s-eye view of things. It gives us an irreducibly human, and therefore to some extent subjective—yet certainly not arbitrary—view of the universe.

Now, why should any of this be of concern to the intelligent person interested in improving her or his well-being through the use of reason? Because a better understanding of how science actually works puts us in the position of the sophisticated skeptic, who is neither a person who rejects science as a matter of anti-intellectual attitude nor a person who accepts the pronouncements of scientists at face value, as if they were modern oracles whose opinions should never be questioned. Too often public debates about the sort of science that affects us all (climate change, vaccines and autism, and so on) are framed in terms of alleged conspiracies on the part of the scientific community on one side and of expert opinion beyond the reach of most people on the other side. Scientists are just like any other technical practitioners and in very fundamental ways are no different from car mechanics or brain surgeons. If your problem is that your car isn’t running properly, you go to a mechanic. If there is something wrong with your brain, you go to the neurosurgeon. If you want to find out about evolution, climate change, or the safety of vaccines, your best bet is to ask the relevant community of scientists.

Just as with car mechanics and brain surgeons, however, you will not necessarily find unanimity of opinion in this community, and sometimes you may want to seek a second or even a third opinion. Some of the practitioners will not be entirely honest (though this is pretty rare across the three categories I am considering), and you may need to inquire into their motives. Scientists are not objective, godlike entities, dispensing certain knowledge. They have a human perspective on things, including the field in which they are experts. But other things being equal, your best bet—particularly when the stakes are high—is to go with the expert consensus, and if a consensus is lacking, you’re better off going with the opinion of the majority of experts. Keeping in mind, of course, that they might, just might, be entirely wrong.

Overwhelming Scientific Consensus on Global Warming

February 23, 2013

97-ouf-100-scintets1

Irresistibly Cute Gay Ortho-Catholic Graduate Student Rejects Scientific Consensus on Homosexuality, Opts for Celibacy

February 7, 2013
Joshua Gonnerman

Joshua Gonnerman

The consensus among medical professionals, all the way up to the World Health Organization, is that the so-called “conversion” therapies, which promise to “cure” homosexuality, are both ineffective and dangerous. Nevertheless, the Catholic Church has long maintained that homosexuals are “intrinsically disordered,” leaving gay parishioners a range of options that, unfortunately, do not include joyous self-affirmation. Among these are therapy, guilt, denial, sexual repression, celibacy, guilt, self-loathing, life-long confusion, self-destruction, secrecy with its attendant blackmail, and guilt.

A recent article by gay-but-celibate Catholic writer Joshua Gonnerman suggests that the Church is beginning to countenance skepticism regarding the efficacy of conversion therapies. The article—“False Hope and Gay Conversion Therapy,” First Things 2/2/13—counsels caution. While Gonnerman speaks of “positive effects” in many therapeutic cases, he also acknowledges certain “dangers:”

Too often, I have seen people who placed their hope in orientation change in this way come crashing down when they realized it wasn’t working. On a psychological level, it can lead to depression, to self-loathing, to suicidal tendencies. The message that the absence of successful change makes one a lesser Christian or some kind of failure is always present, either explicitly or implicitly.

Given orientation change’s low rate of success, and the apparently precarious status of that success, the odds of eventual failure are far, far too strong. Our response to homosexuality [orientation change] is playing with souls; surely, we should play the game that has most hope, rather than the one that seems more neat and tidy?

Gonnerman, studying for his Ph.D in historical theology at the Catholic University of America, is deeply committed to finding a path of reconciliation between his faith and his sexual orientation. No longer trusting reparative therapies, and unwilling to question the Church’s teachings, he has but one remaining option, and that is celibacy. “The path of celibacy,” he writes, “is really dependent on our struggles for Christian virtue, rather than struggles for a heterosexual functioning.”

One can only wonder why Gonnerman considers celibacy to be a surer bet than therapy. The Catholic Church itself has acknowledged that more than 50% of its priests are not celibate. Psychological consequences of dishonoring the chastity vow may include all the negatives that Gonnerman associates with “failed” orientation change: depression, self-loathing, and suicidal tendencies, especially for those who genuinely believe they were “called” to chastity.

The failure of chastity vows entails other, more far-ranging problems as well. Men and women who not only repress their sexuality but practice deceit and denial about their lapses are more likely to project their own guilt onto others. The high positive correlations between homosexuality and repressed or closeted homophobia have not gone unnoticed in recent years. A single Ted Haggard can become a scourge of gay men everywhere.

Nearly all the initial combox responses to Gonnerman’s  article were from conservative Catholics. Considering how thoroughly they chewed over what he had written, I was struck by how little knowledge any of them had of current scientific thinking about homosexuality. I refused to believe this was accidental. I left the following comment:

These discussions about conversion therapy are taking place in an echo-chamber that is hermetically sealed to exclude the consensus opinions of health and social welfare professionals on the subject of homosexuality and its discontents. I searched both the article and the comments and found not one mention of them.

Are you not aware that every major professional association of doctors, psychologists, pediatricians, and social workers in this country has unequivocally declared there to be nothing disordered about homosexuality? The World Health Organization has also made this very clear. Practitioners who ignore the consensus are usually motivated by religious teachings that have no basis in evidence.

Are you also not aware that there are millions of “out” LGBTs who do not struggle with either their orientation or their identity and who have done a complete “end-run” around all the problems that you seem to think inhere in homosexuality?

A British Medical Journal editorial almost ten years ago put it very succinctly:

“In spite of every mental health and medical association in the U.S. stating unequivocally that there is no scientific evidence that homosexuality is a disorder, many religious organizations continue to declare homosexuality or homosexual behavior as sinful and immoral. This creates spiritual crises for many people who have grown up within anti-homosexual religious families and communities.”

It seems to me that the Church is far more interested in showing that homosexuality is a disorder than it is in helping homosexuals, whose path to psychological well-being will never, in the long-run, be through either celibacy or reparative therapies. And it will not result from the ministrations of the pious folks who have caused the very problems they are trying to cure.

Don’t you see that your “cures,” together with all the horribly toxic body- and sex-hating theology that they bring with them, are the problem?

Mr Gonnerman, before your life is completely spoiled by self-denial and guilt, my advice is: look for a better way. There is one, and you will find it if you look. Believe me, I have been through all this and have come out in the sunshine. I am about to be married to my partner of 13 years, and life has never been better. I simply cannot believe I was ever confused about this. I see your confusion and just want to tell you: Don’t miss your life. It’s the only one you’ll ever have.

deviant behavior

deviant behavior

Anon wrote:

Doughlas: The world is full of credentialed misfits. The truth is same sex acts are deviant regardless of how many credentialed people claim otherwise.

I responded:

Anon, the medical and social welfare associations that I am talking about have well over a million members all told, and they represent many more millions of practitioners and researchers. I would not dismiss them lightly. These are the people you go to when you have a medical or psychological issue. If you are going only to your priest with such issues, then you are denying yourself competent and qualified care. The Church has no expertise in mental health and it cannot give accreditation or certification in medical fields. Instead, it has a set of doctrines to which it gives absolute priority over any fact-based source of understanding or treatment. The closed nature of the system poses real dangers to those who get drawn into it. This is just as true of Catholicism as it is of Scientology or the Mars Hill Church, and among those most at risk in this current political climate are homosexuals. What particularly alarms me is to see “out” gays and lesbians turning to Church teachings for guidance. This is exactly the wrong thing to do, and I would urge them to “break the spell” and break out of the closed system of Catholic thought on this subject.

David Nickol and Howard Kainz discussed whether Freud believed homosexuality to be a neurosis. I interjected:

David and Howard, why are you even concerned about what Freud thought of homosexuality? As the founder of psychoanalysis, he was a hugely important figure, but he was wrong about almost everything, and his theories were based on very limited numbers of case studies and were unfalsifiable. For the latest and greatest on homosexuality, you’ll need to look to sciences that didn’t even exist in Freud’s time, starting with neuroscience. There’s an abundance of reliable information out there. You could start with the APA. Or you could just google a few terms and be careful to avoid any so-called “studies” that emanate from religious institutions, because they are likely to be biased. Remember: religion starts with conclusions; science starts with data.

David Nickol responded:

You are, of course, correct. The consensus about homosexuality among psychiatrists and psychologists, and the agreement of the AMA and almost all other medical associations counts for almost nothing in discussions about homosexuality here. However, studies that purport to show negative aspects of homosexuality or gay people are accepted without question.

Yan wrote:

SmokingHow can you possibly quote approvingly the BMJ statement that there is no basis in evidence for homosexuality being a disorder? What about all the evidence that made the profession almost universally conclude that it is was a disorder prior to 1973? Did this evidence disappear? Has all the evidence stopped coming in?

What both you and the BMJ statement do is conflate evidence with a conclusion based on the evidence. What has changed is the conclusion from the evidence, not the evidence itself. It is fair to observe that this conclusion is what most of the smart people think and to give it the weight due to the opinion of smart people generally. But it is also fair to observe that previously most of the smart people thought the opposite.

When you say there is no evidence, that is shorthand for saying, ‘don’t argue with me. My mind is made up.’

Apparently you have no use for Church teaching in this regard. However, it is not right to say the Church has no competence in the area of mental health. Psychology is the study of psyche, the soul. The Church has deeply concerned itself with the health of the soul for 2000 years. You should acquaint yourself with some of the treasures it has accumulated in that regard over these past 2 millennia.

To which I responded:

ComputerYan, you ask why I discount pre-1973 science about homosexuality? It’s for the same reason that I discount pre-1973 science about aeronautics, cancer, electronics, climate change, the effects of smoking, and just about everything else. Science progresses. Why look to Kepler for information about the stars when you can visit the NASA website?

And no, the evidence hasn’t stopped coming in about homosexuality or about climate change. But we do know that homosexuality is not a disorder and that anthropogenic climate change is a reality.

I maintain that the only real purpose of these bizarre, evidence-free discussions about homosexuality is bias-confirmation. You and other bloggers here are studiously avoiding the scientific consensus about homosexuality because you are committed to upholding the Church’s teachings, which, in your view, will always trump any amount of science.

What is dishonest about these discussions is that they pretend to respect science when they don’t. To maintain this pretense, they will draw support in the form of “scientific” studies that are in fact only junk science pumped out in support of foregone conclusions about homosexuality. This is not science. It is the antithesis of science.

What would it take to convince you that homosexuality is NOT a disorder? I maintain that nothing could convince you, because you’re not honestly interested in evidence.

(more…)

Why David Goldman is Wrong About “Imminent Population Collapse”

April 24, 2012

Gil Bailie of The Cornerstone Forum is touting a new book by David Goldman, “How Civilizations Die.” Goldman claims the world is in a steep demographic decline whose consequences will be catastrophic.

The world faces a danger more terrible than the worst Green imaginings. The European environmentalist who wants to shrink the world’s population to reduce carbon emissions will spend her declining years in misery, for there will not be enough Europeans alive a generation from now to pay for her pension and medical care. For the first time in history, the birth rate of the whole developed world is well below replacement, and a significant part of it has passed the demographic point of no return.

Notice that Goldman’s victim in this scenario is the European environmentalist, forced to lie upon the bed she has so foolishly made. He continues:

Imminent population collapse makes radical Islam more dangerous, not less so. For in their despair, radical Muslims who can already taste the ruin of their culture believe that they have nothing to lose. … Population decline, the decisive issue of the twenty-first century, will cause violent upheavals in the world order. Countries facing fertility dearth, such as Iran, are responding with aggression. Nations confronting their own mortality may choose to go down in a blaze of glory.

Wait just a doggone minute. Hold them hosses. Is Goldman really saying that the world’s population, which has grown 300% since 1944, is in precipitous decline? Is it possible that today’s European adults will spend their declining years in abject misery for lack of enough young people to pay for their pensions and medical care? Is population collapse really “imminent” and even irreversible in places? And do populations with “elder bulges” really become more belligerent?

Gil Bailie could not be happier with Goldman’s thesis, for it appears to validate the Catholic Church’s longstanding position on contraception. Bailie has this to say:

The Church was right, and those who scoffed were wrong.

For decades, things repugnant to every prior age—contraception and abortion—have not only been considered licit, but beyond reproach. To the social, moral, and cultural damage resulting from the severance of sexuality from procreation and emotional commitment can now be added the demographic tsunami by which we already being engulfed.

And today our government is more determined than ever to favor and fund the anti-natal policies that are leading to this catastrophe. What many have said about the debt crisis is true as well of the very much related demographic one: Never before have we faced crises that were this severe and this predictable. And we are doubling down on the policies that created them.

The Church was right after all. All the evidence suggests so.

Was it? And does it? Are we really experiencing a “demographic tsunami?”

First, Bailie could have been more precise in his choice of a metaphor. A tsunami is a sudden excess of water pushed into coastal areas. That said, let’s weigh the evidence for Goldman’s “imminent population collapse.” My sources for population statistics are the CIA World Factbook and various United Nations publications, all freely available on the Internet.

Global population growth, 1300-2000 AD

Again, the world’s  population has grown 300% since I was born (1944), and it’s still growing very rapidly.

The population growth rate (not to be confused with the amount of growth) has dropped almost exactly 50% in the past 50 years (from 2.2% to 1.1% per annum, and that decrease is mostly attributable to lower fertility rates worldwide, though HIV-related deaths in Southern Africa and deaths from starvation and genocide in Sub-Saharan Africa must certainly be factored in. The growth rate is expected to reach 0.6% per annum by 2050, but that’s still growth, not contraction.

Global population growth rates. Source: World Bank

Yes, worldwide fertility rates have dropped, but only to 2.47 children per woman, well above the replacement rate of 2.1 cpw. It’s a good thing. We were headed toward nine billion before the end of this century.

None of these stats on growth and fertility points to “imminent population collapse” on a global scale. On the contrary, overpopulation is already straining the earth’s resources to an alarming degree.

Global fertility rates. Source: World Bank

But what about population collapse at the national level? Is any population really “collapsing?” Certainly, one might expect population numbers to fluctuate as environmental conditions vary over time. But is Goldman justified in reading “collapse” into every ebbing of a national population? Is any society nearing the “point of no return?” Are developed countries in a “death spiral?”

Clearly, Goldman’s hyperbolic rhetoric appears intended to evoke fear. It also appears to be driven by his own fears. But fears of what? The answer is beyond the scope of this post, but Goldman’s Spengler page on PJ Media will offer some clues. Suffice it to say that Gil Bailie and David Goldman share a visceral distaste for liberalism, modernism, secularism, Islam, and the sexual revolution; and that both are opposed to contraception.

Population Dynamics

The scientific literature on population dynamics shows basically four “stages” of population growth, with bulges moving up from bottom to top. As you might expect, there are problems with stage #1, which has a youth bulge, and stage #4, which has a “elder bulge.”

When too many young people come on-stream in a society that is ill-equipped to deal with them, as in stage #1, the results are likely to be increased social unrest, war, terrorism, and even genocide. Second and third sons can’t find employment and often turn to religious or political ideologies to make their mark in the world. Nevertheless, the “youth bulge” is never the only factor explaining these pathologies. Resources are key to whether predicting whether a society can effectively handle a youth bulge. In recent years, Saudi Arabia has done well, while Egypt has done very poorly.

Global Median Age

Where there’s an “elder bulge,” as we are seeing in Japan and Europe, social services are strained at the other end (i.e., social welfare for seniors), and the fewer resources that are available, the more acute the problems become. An educated and informed democratic society can always tweak policy to address the challenges. While draconian measures like criminalization of contraception are never necessary, they are often advocated by religious institutions locked into pre-modern and pre-scientific conceptions of social engineering. And make no mistake about it: Policies that criminalize or deny access to contraception are a form of social engineering.

The fourth model, with its “elder bulge,” is never an inverted pyramid. People don’t completely stop having children, even in modern China. And, contrary to what David Golden claims, elder bulges don’t provoke violent social upheavals.  As Samuel Huntington wrote in Clash of Civilizations, “Generally speaking, the people who go out and kill other people are males between the ages of 16 and 30.”

It’s always a complicated equation—never as simple as David Goldman’s model—and one must never factor out resources and other environmental factors. Overpopulation occurs when an area’s population exceeds its carrying capacity, and underpopulation occurs when there are not enough people to maintain an economic system. Depopulation occurs when people leave an area or are killed off. Somalia is overpopulated because it lacks resources to sustain its people, and the continent of Antarctica is underpopulated because conditions of life there are so harsh.

Sub-Saharan Africa’s population has quadrupled since 1945, causing a precipitous decline in resources, especially water, fuel, and soil nutrients. In Somalia, 12 million people are facing famine. The linkage between overpopulation and famine is undisputed.

What is the solution to Somalia’s problems? Certainly an infusion of food and water supplies would alleviate suffering there. But until that happens, would anyone dare suggest that Somalis should have more babies? Would anyone in his right mind suggest withholding contraceptives? If you don’t know the answers to these questions, you probably need to read up on Catholic teachings.

There isn’t a single country or society where either underpopulation or depopulation, as defined above, is currently a social problem on the scale of the overpopulation problem in Africa. This is not to claim that populations cannot implode. Indigenous populations were decimated throughout the Americas from disease and conquest following the arrival of Europeans. The Vikings left Greenland because of climate change, and some Polynesian islands were abandoned between 800 and 1000 AD for environmental reasons that are still in dispute. In none of these cases was “birth dearth” the cause of depopulation. Again, environmental factors were decisive.

So, if there is, in Gil Bailie’s words, a demographic “tsunami,” then surely we are witnessing it in Sub-Saharan Africa. It is indeed a “death spiral,” but one that results from overpopulation, not depopulation.

David Goldman’s concerns about declining fertility rates in developed countries are driven less by fears of underpopulation than by fears about cultural dilutions resulting from immigration. There is certainly no dearth of people in the world, and, as said earlier, the total fertility rate is still well above the replacement rate of 2.1 bpw. The key to understanding Goldman’s misplaced concerns is to understand what he, as a stakeholder, fears about cultural dilution.

If developed countries need to beef up their populations, they can prioritize financial incentives for families to have more than 2.1 children, as Japan and some northern European countries are currently doing. Or they can leverage immigration, or encourage workers to delay retirement. Students can be given low-interest-rate loans so that starting a family after college does not become an impossible financial burden for them. There are costs involved in any of these measures, but the resources are not lacking.

The reality is that resources in developed nations are not yet at a point where population attrition is inevitable. These societies are now being asked to decide whether unlimited accrual of personal wealth is conducive to cultural or national survival. At some point, the perceived common good may require adjusting priorities. Women who have political choice will not opt for more children when resources are scarce, and they may justly demand a reallocation of resources.

Strained resources in India

If less-developed nations face overpopulation, then why not support family planning as a way of bringing those populations under control? We know that family planning works, but we have not yet seen that resource replacement does so.

To take contraception off the table is to deprive ourselves of a highly effective tool for managing populations and for ensuring the well-being of those who do populate our planet. It isn’t just numbers that we want, or more life. Humans are not warrior ants, driven only to reproduce and make war. We are made for something better.

Randall Jennings comments:

Seems the modern world is very good at creating problems and then creating new ones with their “fixes” on ever grander scales. I could foresee tens of millions Chinese men, for instance, having their own ideas of reducing global population as they realize they will very well never have a bride and a normal family life after the ‘success’ of the state’s one child policy.

George Dunn responds to Randall Jennings:

Randall, the widening disproportion of men to women is a concern of the Chinese government, which is one reason they are relaxing the one child policy. What you foresee is also foreseeable by policymakers, who are in a position to adjust the policy accordingly. But I hope you’re not suggesting (as Gil undoubtedly would) that the solution is to criminalize the use of contraceptives. That would be to consign hundreds of millions of Chinese to grinding poverty and possibly starvation. Say what you will about the current Chinese regime (and, as an expat in China, I am certainly not an unqualified fan), but they have succeeded where their predecessors have all failed in meeting the greatest challenge that a developing country must face—they are keeping every single one of their 1.3 billion citizens fed. Not only that, but they have lifted an unprecedented 600 million people out of poverty. I shudder to think what China would be like today if contraception had been criminalized for the last fifty years.

Ian Mac Laue writes:

I don’t dispute that some of the data might be overblown or used to support xenophobic ends that aren’t by any means admirable, but as it concerns strictly european nations there does seem to be a problem of replacement level growth. Shouldn’t a country be concerned when its tax base is incapable of supporting its older members? Or are you suggesting that any such problem could be allieviated by an influx of immigration?

My response to Ian Mac Laue:

Countries with birthrates below replacement levels have legitimate concerns about the burdens placed on working-age populations to support their elderly. People throughout the developed world are living longer, and women are having fewer babies.

I don’t believe there is any single solution to this problem, but I do believe certain proposed solutions should be taken off the table. Criminalizing or withholding access to contraception is a non-starter. Turning back the rights revolution and the sexual revolution is another non-starter. Once women got the right to vote, the game was up for patriarchal structures of power, and the path ahead is clear. Women will continue to demand equality and the right to control their own reproductive lives, and they will increasingly achieve their goals. We must just accept that as a given.

Populations that are still growing are generally those where women are still substantially oppressed. Oppression is not an option for constitutional democracies.

Solutions to birth dearth include immigration, government-sponsored incentives, and later retirement. None of these solutions is without problems of its own, but at least none of them requires any curtailment of individual liberties.

Dean Hansen responds to Gil Bailie:

I wasn’t aware that contraception and abortion have been repugnant to every age. When we refuse to examine our own “repugnance” regarding reproduction issues, nature steps in and does it for us with bubonic plague, cholera epidemics, wars, droughts, floods, and fires.  Nature doesn’t give a damn about our moral scrupulosity. I’m so glad Gil took this time out of his busy schedule to remind us how happy we could be if we surrendered our autonomy to the authority of a group of demented celibate old men in Rome. Of course, Gil has been taking time out of his busy schedule to say the same stuff over and over, day after day, quoting anyone who will agree with him, and then covering his ears every time someone objects.

What I do believe is that people who live their lives in fear and superstition can make life a living hell for those who don’t, but women have always resorted to whatever means were available to them, regardless of the darkness of the age they resided in, or the potential danger to themselves, to wrest control of their own lives from “well meaning” male authorities who claimed to speak for God. Much of that so-called repugnance was nothing more than a continuation of a shaming mechanism aimed at reducing human reproduction and human sexuality into a miserable farce whose whole aim to is to denigrate any kind of sexual act that doesn’t take place in the sacred baby-making factory of family bedroom.

Yes, those declining years will be spent in misery, unless we make up our minds to burden an already over-stressed world with a new and continuous supply of human beings—who can starve along with the ones who are already here, many of them unwanted or unplanned—and to put additional demands on resources that are irreplaceable and on energy systems that are still dominated by an oil industry determined to keep their profits rolling in no matter what the cost to the planet. The real misery for subsequent generations will be fished-out seas and coal-fired plants belching more carbon into an already overloaded atmosphere. And when the electricity goes off, so does the running water, the toilet, the shower, the microwave oven, the refrigerator, the TV, the air conditioning … well, just about anything that distinguishes our relatively civilized culture from the others that will be dying off at an even faster rate.  Now that’s population collapse, brother, and it won’t be caused by our inability to remember how to fuck and make babies.

It amazes me that Gil holds up Paul Ehrlich as an example of bad science, when much of what he said was prescient and has come true.  The dates were off but the trends are sound.  We are at three times the population world-wide that existed at the time of Mr. Bailie’s birth. We are running out of potable water, sustainable crops, and non-polluting energy, and still he dumbs-down the rhetoric by quoting anyone who parrots the idiocy about “fertility dearth.”  The only real and measurable dearth is in the neuronal dendrites that can no longer be called into service in Bailie’s apparently concrete-filled head as they march into the waste basket of his own personal historical delusions.

And what’s the final cherry atop the tasty Catholic cobbler in this intellectual feast or famine? “The Church was right after all.”  Right about what??

I would modify that numbing bit of falderal by suggesting the people who have left the church in order to maintain their sanity and live lives of honesty were right, and that that will ultimately make the only real difference.

Weird Winter, Mad March 2012

April 18, 2012

Climate Change Must Be Addressed Now

January 8, 2012

By former Delaware Senator Ted Kaufman

We are beginning a new year, and the silence in Congress is still deafening. Will there ever be a debate about what should be done to deal with climate change?

Oh, you don’t “believe” in it? If you do not, please, suspend that belief system for just a few minutes and take a look at what the major scientific organizations in this country say. Go to their webpages. Examine the mountain of evidence that has convinced 97 to 98 percent of climate researchers that climate change is a stark reality, and that human behavior has been a contributing factor to it.

Continue reading this article.

Signs of Progress, Reasons for Hope

November 11, 2011

President Obama Puts Pipeline Project on Hold.

Yesterday, November 10, President Obama instructed the State Department to conduct a thorough review of the Keystone Pipeline project, which has been fiercely opposed by environmental groups and climate change activists. The pipeline, running from the Alberta Tar Sands to the Gulf of Mexico, would pose a serious hazard to the nation’s largest aquifer and bind our nation’s energy policy ever more tightly to the fossil fuels industry. The President has assured all stakeholders that the review will be conducted by independent experts not beholden to the oil companies. Read the story here.

Mississippi’s “Personhood” Amendment Fails.

In Tuesday’s election, Mississippi voters gave thumbs down to a ballot initiative that would have granted “personhood” to fertilized eggs. More than 55 percent of voters rejected the initiative. Supporters had hoped the measure, if successful, would prompt a lawsuit challenging the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. Opponents said the measure would effectively outlaw birth control and force victims of rape and incest to carry pregnancies to term. Read the story here.

How Global Warming Data Can Be Misrepresented by Skeptics

November 5, 2011

Click anywhere on the chart to view the animation contrasting the realists’ view of global warming data with the skeptics’ view.

BEST land-only surface temperature data (green) with linear trends applied to the timeframes 1973 to 1980, 1980 to 1988, 1988 to 1995, 1995 to 2001, 1998 to 2005, 2002 to 2010 (blue), and 1973 to 2010 (red).

For further information about this chart and about the difference between short-term noise and long-term signal, click here.

Signs of Progress, Reasons for Hope

November 5, 2011

Climate change denial takes a major hit.

Richard Muller, a prominent physicist and climate change skeptic, has concluded after two years of research that the earth’s temperatures are rapidly rising. Ironically, his research was funded in part by the Charles Koch Foundation, a major funder of climate change skepticism. Muller had been among the few remaining hold-outs in the scientific community on this issue and was frequently cited by denialists. Read the full story here. To view data collected by the Koch-funded Berkeley Earth Surface Temperature Study (BEST) on which Muller worked, click here.

Big Banks take a hit as customers move funds to credit unions and community banks.

The Credit Union National Association reports that more than 650,000 new accounts were opened at credit unions in October of this year, as compared with 600,000 new accounts in all of 2010. Read the story here.

Senators introduce a constitutional amendment to overturn Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.

This week, six Democratic senators introduced a constitutional amendment that would restore the power of Congress to regulate corporate campaign contributions. Last year’s Supreme Court decision in the Citizens United case allowed corporations to claim first-amendment rights and to be treated as “persons.” The decision has resulted in massive flows of corporate money into political campaigning. Read the full story here.

Media coverage shifts from debt to jobs.

Ever since the global financial crisis began in 2007-08, Keynesian economists like Paul Krugman, Joseph Stieglitz, Robert Reich, and Jeffrey Sachs have been telling us that our short-term focus should be on unemployment, not debt. Nevertheless, the national debt dominated the media, especially during the debt ceiling showdown between Republican deficit hawks and the President in the spring and summer of 2011. The focus began shifting dramatically in the fall, however, as the Occupy Wall Street (aka 99 Percent) Movement turned the nation’s attention to income disparity and unemployment. A ThinkProgress analysis of media coverage at the end of July showed a ratio of about 15 mentions of debt to 1 mention of jobs. By mid-October, the ratio was about 1 (debt) to 20 (jobs), a stunning reversal that illustrates the power of popular movements. Read the full story here.

Rick Perry’s “Environmental” Officials Gut Report on Sea Level Rise

October 17, 2011

Galveston Bay

Texas Governor Rick Perry was quoted in August as saying that “the issue of global warming has been politicized.”

It certainly has.

About a month before Perry voiced this complaint, officials in the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ), which is headed by Perry appointees, gutted a report that they themselves had commissioned concerning the state of Galveston Bay. The report, produced by the Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC), concluded that rising sea levels—an effect of anthropogenic climate change—will inundate large areas of coastal land now bordering the bay.

Two top TCEQ managers—Katherine Nelson and Kelly Holligan—agreed to delete references to sea-level rise and global warming in the report. These references were in a chapter written by John Anderson, the Maurice Ewing professor of oceanography at Rice University, whose research was carried out over ten years in partnership with other scientists. It had previously been peer-reviewed and published by the Geological Society of America.

Anderson showed the expurgated document to Mother Jones magazine, which published it complete with the deletions.

Anderson’s opinion, expressed in an interview with the Houston Chronicle:

I don’t think there is any question but that their motive is to tone this thing down as it relates to global (climate) change. It’s not about the science. It’s all politics.

What does a reputable scientist do in such a situation?

Anderson and every other scientist who contributed to the report instructed TCEQ officials to strike their names from it.

So we would like Governor Perry to tell us, “Who has politicized the issue of global warming?”

Update here.