Of hapless harangues and wasted opportunities: climate change vs TB

Amongst the many Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)’s Climate Bible adherents of whom you may not have heard, is a woman by the name of Catherine Happer. She calls herself an “Honorary Research Associate, Glasgow University Media Group at University of Glasgow”.

The Scots are somewhat famous for their fierce independence (and/or or the seeking thereof on the part of some). But I’m not sure if this includes a shortcut to the academic designation of “Honorary”. Things could well be different in the increasingly blighted by wind turbine infested home of the late great Robbie Burns, but my understanding is that the academic designation of “Honorary” is typically awarded to those who have not actually earned the designation that follows. Certainly, here in Canada, they are typically granted by the score to well-known (and sometimes not so well-known) non-academics during convocation exercises when those who have earned their respective degrees receive their diplomas.

Happer’s bio on the Lewandowsky posting-ground in Australia known as The Conversation, is as follows:

Dr Catherine Happer was awarded a First in Sociology from the University of Glasgow and the Adam Smith prize as the top student of her year, then went on to complete a PhD in communications from Lancaster University. She then worked in the BBC audience research department and later as a Television Researcher/Assistant Producer before returning to the University of Glasgow as Research Associate at the Glasgow University Media Group. She is currently co-authoring a book with Professor Greg Philo called Communicating Climate Change and Energy Security: New Methods in Understanding Audiences, to be published in 2013. [emphasis added -hro]

Whatever Happer’s “research” skills might (or might not) be, there are certainly few in evidence in a recent harangue she wrote for The Conversation [h/t Paul Matthews via Bishop Hill]:

2013 is the year for scientists to speak up on climate

In September, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will launch the first part of its Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) – detailing the most up-to-date scientific knowledge on climate change. The main objective is to direct international climate policy and negotiations, not to inform the public.

But there is no escaping the pivotal role that media coverage of these reports plays in promoting public understanding. Much has changed since the last report in 2007, including a decline in coverage of climate change in large parts of the media, but the parallel emergence of game-changers Facebook and Twitter. So, are the science communicators – and the scientists – ready for the challenge?

The run-up to 2007 was a time of genuine breakthrough in climate change communication. […]

[…]

Add Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth into the mix, and the world into which the fourth assessment report was released was uniquely receptive. The report – so unequivocal in its pronouncements of a warming planet – was met with a general lack of criticism, and a shared Nobel Prize.

Is Happer aware, one wonders, that even the IPCC has not been so stupid as to (openly) declare that its pronouncements are designed to “direct international climate policy …”. One also wonders if her omission of “Peace” in “a shared Nobel Prize” was by accident – or by design, intended to mislead an Uninformed Lay Person (ULP) into thinking that this laurel had been conferred for some scientific endeavour or other. But I digress … Happer continues:

But it didn’t last. The interplay of science, politics and economics that sent climate change coverage soaring in the right direction shifted. The mainstream media went back to business as usual – which for climate change means often polarised and inaccurate reporting, much of it generated by well-resourced sceptic groups. […] The “climategate” scandal of 2009 in which both scientists and environmental correspondents got their fingers burnt hasn’t helped – many have simply retreated from public view.

For 2013, then, the IPCC and more importantly, the scientists, journalists and communicators need a battle plan. The immense scientific effort must be matched by a major media strategy. […]

[Happer concludes her harangue:]

The IPCC report should play a role in bringing climate back onto the agenda, but only if there is the political will to do so. The role of the scientists must go beyond spreading knowledge to pressing the politicians to talk about it – because when they talk about it, the media covers it.

But crucially it must be the scientists who are propelling these debates with evidence-based arguments – as research consistently shows that the public trusts them most on this issue (in direct comparison with the politicians). The days of a closed-shop science community are over. Scientists must be more prolific across media, to rebut the criticisms, defend the science and ultimately drown out the sound of the sceptics.

Instead of recycling the same old baseless “well-resourced skeptic groups” smear, Happer could have made some “evidence-based arguments” by beginning to “inform” herself. She might have started this process by reading a paper by Myanna Lahsen, featured today by Dr. Judith Curry on her blog. In apparent defiance of the publisher’s paywall, Curry has kindly included “liberal excerpts” from Lahsen’s paper, “Anatomy of Dissent A Cultural Analysis of Climate Skepticism”.

Lahsen’s credentials as a “researcher” are somewhat more impressive than Happer’s. Based in Brazil, she is also affiliated with the University of Colorado’s Center for Science and Technology Policy Research (with which Dr. Roger Pielke Jr. is also associated). Her bio there indicates that:

Myanna Lahsen (PhD, Anthropology) is Associate Researcher in the Earth System Science Center at the Brazilian Institute for Space Research (INPE) in Brazil. She was, until recently, Social Science Officer in the Brazil-based Regional Office of the International Geosphere-Biosphere Programme (IGBP) and Research Scientist II at the University of Colorado’s Center for Science and Technology Policy Research in Boulder, USA. Myanna’s research focuses on environmental science policy and politics in the US and Brazil, with primary attention to socio-cultural dynamics, global environmental change, and development issues. In addition to numerous, multi-year research grants from the U.S. National Science Foundation, Myanna has received fellowship awards under the Jacob K. Javits and EPA STAR fellowship programs, and in the Advanced Study Program at the U.S. National Center for Atmospheric Research and Harvard’s Kennedy school of Government.

“Anatomy of Dissent …” was published in the peer-reviewed journal American Behavioral Scientist.

Considering this journal’s target audience, it is not surprising that Lahsen’s paper includes a fair amount of the psycho-babble we’ve come to expect in the recent proliferation of such (typically shallow and statistically bizarre) analyses, that no doubt Happer would applaud. But from the excerpts Curry provided, I noted some encouraging acknowledgements in Lahsen’s “sampling” of the meteorological research community. Lahsen recounts what might be called a “tale of two modes”. Empiricists and theoreticians (Mode 1) vs modellers who call their computer simulations “experiments” (Mode 2) Here are some highlights, from my perspective (all emphases are mine):

Important federal agencies’ funding criteria have shifted increasingly in favor of Mode 2 science since the end of the cold war. In the environmental sciences, the new criteria of evaluation are closely linked to environmental concern as well as societal demands for “socially relevant” science, all of which privileges research on ACC [Anthropogenic, i.e. human-caused, Climate Change -hro], for which GCMs [General Circulation Models] are an essential tool. This underlies much of modelers’ current success in obtaining funding and broad-based recognition of their scientific products.

[…]

In a clear articulation of Mode 2 values in interviews with me, the late Stephen Schneider, proponent of policy-driven, interdisciplinary climate modeling, expressed his lack of interest in “an elegant solution.” He unequivocally defended seeking answers to pressing social problems by any means necessary, including imprecise science

[…]

Meteorological empiricists and theoreticians enjoy insight into weather and climate dynamics that informs their critical views of the models and of how climate modeling sometimes is carried out and results presented and used to inform environmental understanding and policy. They recognize that many modelers are good mathematicians but portray them, as one put it, as “so involved with running their models that they haven’t put the time in thinking how the atmosphere works.” Some modelers recognize a certain factual basis for some of these criticisms, noting a common inability or reluctance among modelers to recognize their models’ shortcomings.

[…]

Another meteorologist […] noted weather researchers’ sense of marginalization because the IPCC became the authority on climate change […]

[…]

[…] members of this older generation of research meteorologists express scientific values in line with Mode 1 science. For example, one such meteorologist expressed being troubled by the IPCC, noting that its mode of operating diverges from “the traditional role of science,” according to which hypotheses are rigorously tested: “The IPCC doesn’t aggressively seek to disprove its own hypothesis. The thrust of the IPCC is to look for the social and political consensus. I find that really troubling. It’s really different. . . .”

Neither Happer nor Lahsen appears to comment on the role of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and its plethora of acronymic offspring (apart from the IPCC). As I have noted previously, the UNEP has been the conjurer and promulgator of scary stories since 1972. But these days, it seems that its PR efforts are designed to deflect attention away from these scary stories – which have failed to scare with fluffy feel-good fulminations and campaigns galore. One such campaign can be found in an announcement today featuring swimming personality, Lewis Pugh (emphases in quoted text that follows are mine):

Pioneer Swimmer Lewis Pugh Unveiled as UN Environment Programme Patron for Oceans

Wed, Jun 19, 2013

Pugh Set to Embark on Three-Year Circumnavigation of Globe

Mr. Pugh, a maritime lawyer from London, is the only person to have completed a long distance swim in every ocean of the world. In 2007 he swam across an open patch of sea at the North Pole to highlight the melting of the Arctic sea ice and in 2010 he swam across a newly formed glacial lake on Mt Everest to draw attention to the impact of climate change in the Himalayas.

Next year Mr. Pugh will embark on a three-year journey that will see him cross three oceans and 18 seas. Along the way, he will be promoting UNEP’s work and spearheading their campaign for the establishment of more Marine Protected Areas.

“I’m very excited to engage with UNEP as Patron for their work on oceans. Their work is crucial,” said Mr. Pugh. “One of the goals of the Convention on Biological Diversity is to see 10 per cent of our oceans set aside as properly managed Marine Protected Areas by 2020. We must achieve this target. Over 10 per cent of terrestrial land is protected by National Parks. If we can do it on land, we can surely do the same in the sea. I am looking forward to rolling up my sleeves and helping UNEP in every way possible.”

Mr Pugh becomes only UNEP’s second Patron for a specific cause. He joins Kenyan Patrick Makau, the Marathon World Record Holder, who is Patron for Clean Air.

His long experience as an inspirational speaker will play a key role in bolstering support for a world in which oceans and seas are seen as vital natural resources that require far higher levels of sustainable management and conservation.

Conspicuous by its absence in this UN PR piece is any mention of …. “climate change” (aka global warming). Well it did get an “honourable mention” – but only as a diving board of the past from which Pugh jumps into the welcoming waves of … biodiversity and the “transformational pathways” of “sustainable management and conservation” (whatever that’s supposed to mean!)

No UNEP PR piece is ever complete without some dark – if not alarming – words from head honcho, Achim Steiner. Needless to say, this one is no exception:

“We are delighted to have Mr. Pugh join the UNEP family,” said UN Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner. “His passionate advocacy for oceans dovetails with UNEP’s Regional Seas Programme to address and reverse the accelerating degradation of the world’s oceans and coastal. (sic)”

Humanity is having an inordinate environmental and economic impact on oceans and seas,” he added. “UNEP’s Green Economy report has identified transformational pathways that can reduce pollution, address overfishing and achieve a marine environment that can into the future continue to support lives and livelihoods in areas from tourism to fisheries and renewable energies. The messages Lewis will carry to audiences across the globe can inspire and catalyse action.

But speaking of the UN and its ever-increasing bureaucracies whose main accomplishments appear to be diversions which obscure the UN’s failure to accomplish its mandate, for example any significant peace in the troubled areas of the world. Here’s another example a UN failure of such magnitude that it beggars belief.

Back in 1993, according to Australia’s Jo Chandler, a real investigative journalist (compared to lightweight imitations such as the Guardian‘s Leo Hickman), the World Health Organization (WHO a member of the UN “family”) had declared Tuberculosis (TB) to be a “global emergency”.

In a very moving and disturbing article (that, IMHO, is a must read), Chandler recounts the ravages of this resurgent deadly scourge in Papua New Guinea – as well as her own experiences as a consequence of having contracted TB during the course of her investigations there [h/t Bill Gates via twitter Gates had posed the question: What disease has killed 1 billion people in last 200 yrs? Surprising answer].

Plagued: TB And Me

By Jo ChandlerJune 12, 2013

The greatest infectious killer in human history is making a comeback, morphing into new drug-resistant forms. While it is largely forgotten in wealthy nations, millions of people a year get sick from tuberculosis. Jo Chandler, to her surprise, is one of them.

In the warped currency of what we do as journalists, worst is best. When we weigh newsworthiness on the scales of disease and dysfunction, conflict and corruption, the bleaker the better. But for the reporter diving in, the maxim relies on a couple of critical perks of the job – the ticket home and the clean getaway.

The dismal conditions waiting at Daru Hospital back in August 2011 exceeded my saddest expectations. We spent some days poking around overflowing wards and diseased shanties for The Age, investigating the insidious reach of deadly, drug-resistant tuberculosis across Papua New Guinea. More than 60 per cent of the global burden of TB occurs in the Asia-Pacific region, and PNG bears some of the worst of it.

My notebooks were soon crammed with misery and my colleague, photographer Jason South, had collected pictures to break your heart. We couldn’t get out of town fast enough.

But then our flight home failed to turn up on the crumbling runway. Feeling duty-bound, we add to the catalogue of sick and dying, though we already have more than our editors would want or our readers might endure. Jason goes to the hospital morgue and finds Edna Neteere wrapping her daughter in a shroud.

She was 19, her wasted body barely rumpling the sheet – consumed by disease, hence “consumption”, as it was once so widely known. Her mouth is still drawn in a last grimace. Literature, history and the illustrious casualty list – several Brontes, Chekhov, D.H. Lawrence, Keats, Kafka, Orwell – might confer an aura of romantic dignity on TB diagnosis, but this young woman died “a terrible death,” says the nurse. Likely those luminaries did too, albeit buffered by a few more comforts, like privacy and pain-relief.

Tuberculosis retains the distinction of being the greatest infectious killer in human history, claiming an estimated billion lives in the past 200 years. Its toll today is still second only to HIV (and it is the major killer of people with HIV). In 2011, 8.7 million people fell sick with TB. Edna’s daughter was one of 1.4 million who died of it that year.

[…]

Sometime in those few days, somewhere, someone coughed or sneezed or sang or laughed, spraying a cloud of invisible Mycobacterium tuberculosis into the air, and I inhaled. By the time my ride out finally materialises on the tarmac and I click my heels for home, it seems I have a stowaway. Eighteen months later, in March 2013, I am diagnosed with multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR TB). Let’s call it accidental immersion journalism.

[…]

Sixty years ago, with the arrival of effective TB drugs, “people probably thought TB was a vanishing disease, that it would be cured by social and economic improvement, that if we just improved standards of living it would go away. Which may still be true,” says Ben Marais. But in many parts of the world the misery continued unchecked, and in 1993 the WHO declared TB a global emergency.

Twenty years later TB rates globally appear to have stabilised, even slightly declined, and treatment programs rolled out over that time have saved an estimated 20 million lives. But those statistics cloak a more sinister scenario. The disease has become deadlier and formidably difficult and expensive to treat. Drug-resistant strains of TB – like mine and worse, including a handful of cases so potent that they defy all treatments and conjure nightmare outbreak scenarios – are brewing and spreading in crowded, impoverished communities around the world.

[…]

As I said, above, do read the whole thing. And when you do, I think you will be almost as beyond anger as I am at the likes of Happer, Hickman, Steiner and the whiners* at the abundantly-resourced (£186.5 million, or $296.41 million CAD, in 2010/11) IPCC boosting U.K. Met Office who should be thoroughly ashamed of their unrelenting promotion of the still-unproven link between human-generated CO2 and so-called “dangerous” “climate change” aka “global warming” of virtually imperceptible impact on anyone.

* Example:

How many lives could have been saved if that which has been expended on climate change “research” had been directed towards a clear and present danger to the health and welfare of so many people on the planet? A danger identified as a “global emergency” twenty years ago, and for which there is real evidence, as opposed to policy-driven projections derived from “Mode 2” computer-generated simulations and scenarios.

4 thoughts on “Of hapless harangues and wasted opportunities: climate change vs TB

  1. Hilary,

    WRT UNEP

    Have you read “Desertification: Exploding the Myth” by D.S.G. Thomas and N.J. Middleton (Wiley 1994).

    Reads like a prototype for AGW to me

  2. Nicely written Hillary. You are much better at self control than me, I have a self-enforced ban on engaging with Betts at Bishop Hill, otherwise I’ll be shamefully intemperate. It’s all “smiley nicey” concern about the Earth from a tenured position with a comfortable pension to follow.

    I wonder if spending a month in a village with no electricity, gas, water or sewage would make any difference. Betts: we need firewood to cook. It’s 5 miles up the mountain to find a tree. Betts: we need water to drink and cook. It’s a mile to the river. Take two 20 litre containers. Betts: your child has an eye infection. It’s a days walk to get to the pharmacy, then a day back.

    It’s nice to sit in a climate controlled office with a Gazillion TriloByte computer and solve the World’s problems. Its another thing to cultivate, sow, weed and reap by hand the food you need to carry your family through the winter until the next harvest.

    I think the money would be better spent on practical development, rather than shiny bums on shiny seats.

    /rant

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