Higher Education in a Warming World

Last night about 200 people came to Thomas building to hear and see "Changing the Moral Climate on Climate Change."  The Centre Daily Times reports today:
Penn State professors Michael Mann, Donald Brown, Janet Swim and Rick Schuhmann, and graduate student Peter Buckland spoke Monday evening at “Changing the Moral Climate on Climate Change,” a talk that focused on climate change denial. Mann is director of Penn State’s Earth System Science Center and part of the 2007 Nobel Prize-winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Susannah Barsom, with the university’s Center for Sustainability, moderated the event, which included a question and answer session.  
See images of the event here or our sister publication, Voices of Central Pennsylvania.

The five speakers walked the audience through the dilemmas climate change, climate change disinformation and various kinds of climate change denial create. In particular,  they addressed why and how universities should do better to confront these issues.

Don Brown outlined the consensus position and the strategy and tactics the disinformation campaign uses to sew doubt in the public. Every major national and international scientific organization from the World Meteorological Organization to the American Geophysical Union recognizes that climate change is real and caused by human beings burning fossil fuels. There is less than 5% chance that it is some other cause. As Michael Mann pointed out later, without the CO2 put in the atmosphere by fossil fuel burning, the climate would have cooled because of natural variation.

Second, Brown outlined eight areas ranging from the creation of front groups, astroturf campaigns (fake grassroots), and manufacturing fake science to cyber-bullying scientists. You can read about them at Climate Ethics herehere, and here. At some fundamental level, these actions are morally problematic if not totally reprehensible because they are dishonest and harm people and the environment because they stall meaningful action. Brown served in the E.P.A. for the Clinton Administration, a job for which he served at the United Nations as well. He emphasized that the United States has hampered meaningful action on climate change more than any other nation. Universities, he said, should change this situation.

Peter Buckland discussed the way these campaigns counter the civic purposes of higher education and noted responses from higher education organizations. Looking over purposes of education found by the Carnegie Foundation, he showed specific examples of higher education's civic responsibilities. He showed the audience international, national, regional, and student coalitions responding to the sustainability crises in general and climate change in particular. Though Penn State has goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and has formulated a Sustainability Strategic Plan (Buckland served on the metrics team) it lacks a climate action plan and  an authoritative statement by the president on the reality of climate change and the necessity for meaningful action.

Janet Swim, who headed the American Psychological Association's task force on the psychology of climate change, talked about five kinds of denial and their relevance to climate change. Importantly she noted that few people - 22% - literally deny climate change. However, there are others like denial of responsibility. For example, people tend to discount the future in favor of the present and the distant from the near. She cited studies showing people believe climate change will affect other people somewhere else at some other time and will affect them worse than it will affect them where they are. Fascinating. And all of this without the influence of ideology.

Rick Schuhmann outlined an engineering leadership course he teaches. He deals with climate change as a focus for good judgement. Schuhmann was attacked by local conservatives, the "skiing weatherman," and anonymous bloggers for engaging in what they saw as political teaching. Interestingly, the "climate change is real" statements his students have found come from Republican leaders like George H.W. Bush when he signed the Framework Convention on Climate Change (pictured at left), his son George W. Bush (notorious for his obstruction), John McCain, and Mitt Romney (who has since flip-flopped), military leaders, and corporate/business leaders. Not exactly a group of liberals. And yet, he was still attacked. Nonetheless, Schuhmann's course offers insight into ways we can teach students to engage with the science and politics of climate change in ways that are open and engaging.

Finally, Michael E. Mann showed the audience the reality of climate change, the kinds of attacks he has withstood, and then some of the solutions we need to take on. The science is simple physics and chemistry - CO2 is a greenhouse gas and we should expect the more goes into the atmosphere the warmer the climate. And we do. Since the industrial revolution started, CO2 concentration has gone from 250 parts per million (ppm) atmospheric concentration to just over 390 ppm last year. We don't need models to observe these trends but models help us explain and describe what's occurred and accurately predict the future, something they've been doing well since James Hansen's 1988 model. But it's Mann's "hockey stick" graph that made him into a lightning rod.

The "hockey stick"was front and center in the 2001 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report (pdf). It's a reconstruction of the last ~1000 years of climate data showing recent global warming is anomalous. Since its release, the climate disinformation campaign that Don Brown described has relentlessly attacked Mann. There are now more than a dozen versions of the hockey stick that show essentially the same thing, making the case for anthropogenic climate change more powerful.

Front groups, think tanks, astroturf campaigns, bloggers, and conservative politicians have gone after him. In 2009, he was at the center of the odiously named "Climategate" when his emails and thousands of others were stolen from East Anglia University. Rep. Joe Barton (R-Texas) subpoenaed him, Virginia attorney general Ken Cuccinelli has tried to get all of his emails and data, and Senator James Inhofe (R-Oklahoma) has harassed him and 16 other climate scientists. Based on what? An ideological agenda backed with invented science and allied with think tanks and front groups working for fossil fuel corporations and free market ideologues.

It's fascinating that in this case it is not industry fighting with environmental groups (though that is happening too). They are going after mainstream scientists. It's practically unprecedented.

Mann finished by advocating for meaningful action. He noted that the cost of inaction is and will be much worse than action now. Our energy choices need to change very fast to avoid tipping the climate systems into potentially catastrophic scenarios. These include heavy investments in renewable energy. During the Q & A, Mann, Schuhmann, and Buckland all reiterated the military's forward thinking on this because of the numerous dangerous impacts on human societies climate change will cause (for example, see the Pentagon's Quadrennial Review). Reinforcing something Swim said, he called on all of us to think about our future and our posterity. "I have friends who are Democrats and I have friends who are Republicans. They all love their children and grandchildren."

Before the Q & A, Don Brown presented Mann with a picture of Galileo as a sign of appreciation and support. Like Galileo (though maybe not as extremely), Mann has been put through the ringer by powers that be who hoped to censor him because his findings threaten their way of doing business and even fundamentally who they believe they are. But he has stood up and his colleagues wanted to thank him.

Each of the presenters responded to a question about how higher education should respond to climate change and climate change disinformation. [2] There was a consensus on the panel that education needed to work across the university to develop understanding among students to make critical judgments about information in general and climate change in particular. To that end, Janet Swim advocated for more shared teaching by people in different departments. Such a department - Science, Technology, and Society - existed but is in its last days as you read this.

The university could also formulate a climate action plan and make an authoritative statement on climate change. A mega-university like Penn State has a lot of influence and such a statement would further rebuke the climate change disinformation campaign. But as Schuhmann noted, it won't be uniform. There are faculty around campus who themselves teach the disinformation message by using the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal as a source of good information on climate change. This is problematic to say the least as this letter to the editor by 37 scientists including Mann makes clear in its rebuttal of bogus climate change claims made on the WSJ's editorial page:
Research shows that more than 97% of scientists actively publishing in the field agree that climate change is real and human caused. It would be an act of recklessness for any political leader to disregard the weight of evidence and ignore the enormous risks that climate change clearly poses. In addition, there is very clear evidence that investing in the transition to a low-carbon economy will not only allow the world to avoid the worst risks of climate change, but could also drive decades of economic growth. Just what the doctor ordered.
A message like that needs to be focused on in higher education.

Universities should follow the scientific consensus on climate change and teach students the tools for critical skepticism. Skepticism is different from ideological naysaying and controversy manufacturing. Colleges and universities need take the bull by the horns to preserve society and our environment's integrity by reducing our collective reliance on fossil fuels, clearly and articulately educate for a democratic society, and develop understandings of the consequences of inaction. Finally, we should envision and act for our community and national security, identity, and integrity in sustainable ways.

[1.] Video will be up soon, hosted at the Penn State Center for Sustainability's "Sustainable State" YouTube channel.
[2.] We are working on a follow-up to the questions and they will likely be posted here.


  1. This radicalism has gotten out of hand.

    The purpose of "higher" education is not to promote or produce Marxist automatons, no matter how desirable that goal might be to a few people with an agenda and limited ability to think rationally.

  2. No one on that panel advocated for Marxist solutions whatever that means. If you read the last paragraph you'll see one of the goals is "critical skepticism" versus "ideological naysaying." Seems those are two things you aren't able to distinguish between or think rationally about.

    1. Looks to me like you forgot the first part

      "Universities should follow the scientific consensus on climate change ..."

      Whose "consensus" are we referring to here? This nonsense "man-made climate change" was debunked about a hundred years ago, and THAT was indeed the consensus. A few folks with a proclivity to "Marxism" conveniently manufactured a new mode of understanding of what "consensus" ought to mean and bullied whoever didn't fall into line.

      This "climate" idiocy is TRASH and it has the potential to cause more damage to society than Lysenkoism did to the not so progressive Soviet Union. Why some people feel the Western world is obliged to fail in the same manner is beyond me.

    2. It's interesting also that don't have the courage to respond with the actual name your family gave to you. I guess you're not to proud of that, preferring to be identified as "anonymous."

      I feel bad for you that you feel so poorly about your self that you prefer to remain anonymous.

      So do criminals, typically.

    3. Brian, what was your response to the Koch funded study conducted by former skeptic Richard Muller, who confirmed that the earth was in fact warming, that warming was if anything understated by the scientific consensus, and that measuring station data was, after random testing and reliability testing, particularly for heat island effects, that measuring station data was IN FACT reliable and that the warming measured was real and statistically valid. Since this started as the crown jewel of skeptic studies, surely you followed it and undertand it's results?

      Since you claim to know that the climate science is trash, how about you strap on a pair and put an example of proof that it's trash here on this table, and lets look at the facts and the science.

      There are large areas of climate study which are still in their infancy, and much is not known or understood, but, contrary to your statements, there is a consensus, there do exist a huge body of measurements, and the science is completely available to be discussed.

      Your constant cries of marxism is just a red herring, and it betrays your real agenda, which is a purely political one. Our concern is with science and education first. The politics must follow the facts and the science, politics cannot insert itself into the scientific method just because a small percentage of the population is frightened and offended by what the science reveals.

      You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.

    4. Brian, your attack on anonymous status, and the attempt to paint internet anonymity as "criminal", is not a legitimate argument.

      This type of attack is ad hominem, and it's typically used by people who don't have a sound argument to make, so they resort to trying to besmirch their opponent instead of debating the points raised.

      If you did not know your arguments were specious, which I think you do, you would not have to resort to ad hominem.

      Isn't this type of name calling exactly the type of incivility that people who want to claim to be conservative Americans should repudiate?

  3. Brian,
    Anonymous is right. There was no Marxist statement at the presentation nor in the stuff above. You're inventing that for your own reasons.
    I made the statements about universities and the scientific consensus so I'll quickly back it up. The basic facts of global warming are that humans have burned massive amounts of fossil fuels, that doing so has put enough CO2 into the atmosphere (and other gases) that it has warmed the earth, and that without the CO2 from the fossil fuel we would not see the atmosphere warmed. The effects of human-induced climate change are all around the world.

    Universities are charged with helping our society understand the world. Humans have changed the world, including its climate and the effects are pretty staggering. The facts are clear and the theories are sound. If universities don't act on this, they are failing. There's nothing Marxist about that.

    Finally, the Lysenko business fails. Show us the AAAS, NAS, WMO, or any other science organization with its own gulag and maybe we can talk. If you want to see how nations or communities are working to actually adapt to climate change and ameliorate its effects have a look at Germany's energy policy and decentralized power systems started by communities or farmers of their own accord. Imagine, people with real self-reliance instead of dependence on centralized heavily polluting industries. Or look at the climate plans of the signatories of the American College and University President's Climate Commitment. Wow. A non-subsidized green economy. Sounds like the USSR to me.

    Peter Buckland

    1. It is Marxist. Look up what the "Club of Rome" did for "humanity."

      Europe is going down the toilet rapidly because they have been overcome with mass hysteria. They'll eventually get back on track, at what cost is anybody's guess (and not at the expense of just a few unfortunate lives, either).

      You ought to be ashamed of yourself for being gullible and stupid. You ought to be ashamed of yourself for promoting this. Your own ego and your political preferences are evidently in the way of any humanity you might possess.

      I don't take fools real gladly with this nonsense, and I'm not alone

    2. Economically, the european country that has most embraced carbon valuation and carbon-neutral energy, Germany, is the economic powerhouse of europe. The northern countries are all richer thna the sounthern countries, and it is the northern countries that have most embraced carbon awareness.

      You should defend your claim that Europes troubles have anything to do with global warming - except, maybe, for the migration from africa and asia, where global warming is one of the forces driving the populations to move by the millions. Europe is unlucky enough to have that giant land bridge.

      So. really, your example of europe is an example of the damage that global warming will cause. Europe is an excellent example of how carbon awareness makes a country richer, the opposite of that which you suggest.

      So, what is this club of rome stuff - some kind of code I imagine? Show me your evidence please, Lets take a look at it.

      I like how you end with implied threats, presumably physical threats, from the structure of your sentence.

      Let me add one - the rest of the world will not take kindly to America being led down a path of blindness by your political kind, and your kind is causing America to lose national prestige, and costing us trillions in profits from being the first to develop and sell carbon neutral technology to the world.

      It is you, and your disinformation campaign, which is threatening the country, and when Americans realize what you have done, they will not deal with you gladly.

  4. You are a special breed. And you should know that your kind of whack-a-loonery was predicted by our panel. You have presented no substantive argument and just called us Marxists. I might as well call you a Fascist. Nice threat at the end there. Good to know that a guy publishing papers on petroleum distillation, not publishing papers on climatology, crusading against the “useless” process of peer review, and writing press quotes for James Inhofe would fall so squarely here.

  5. So, Brian, do you really not know that there is in fact a scientific consensus that global warming is happening and that most if not all of it is caused by the human burning pf fossil carbon?

    How is itthat you do not know this? Where are you getting your facts from? Show us your sources and lets take a look at their provenance.

    In many ways the purpose of that presentation was to look at the difference between the scientific consensus, and proper scientific skepticism, and what was described as "disinformation", manufactured by radical and extremeist fringe groups for the purpose of distoring public discourse.

    So, lets take a look at your arguments, and see what their origins can be traced to, and determine wether or not they are based on demonstarble facts and sound science.

    1. Very well. The original argument against a "greenhouse" atmosphere came from R W Wood (Phil Mag, 1914). It has been elaborated upon many times.

      There are many ways to define the atmospheric "greenhouse" effect, one description of which comes from James Hansen:

      "The basic physics underlying this global warming, the greenhouse effect, is simple. An increase of gases such as CO2 makes the atmosphere more opaque at infrared wavelengths. This added opacity causes the planet’s heat radiation to space to arise from higher, colder levels in the atmosphere, thus reducing emission of heat energy to space. The temporary imbalance between the energy absorbed from the Sun and heat emission to space, causes the planet to warm until planetary energy balance is restored."

      It follows from this that the stratosphere cools in response to the "greenhouse" effect.

      If that is so, and the troposphere warms over the same period from the same influence, there is nothing preventing molecular conduction of heat of the air to restore radiative equilibrium, because conduction acts over the same time scale.

      "Conduction" of heat in the atmosphere is usually described as diffusivity of heat, or eddy diffusivity, which is present when convection is. This influence is marginal between stratosphere and troposphere, although molecular conduction remains to maintain radiation balance - FROM THE INFLUENCE OF "GREENHOUSE" GASES IN THE ATMOSPHERE.

      A "greenhouse" influence of water in the atmosphere is often discussed; it is a misnomer. Humidity reduces diurnal temperature differences everywhere, the condition does not "retain" heat in the atmosphere (lost during the day) and this is a mistakenly conceived concept.

      The refutation is insurmountable, I have looked at this for thirty five years

    2. Ahh I see, the cloud argument.

      This one: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/01/science/earth/clouds-effect-on-climate-change-is-last-bastion-for-dissenters.html?_r=1&nl=todaysheadlines&emc=edit_th_20120501

      What you are doing here is hiding behind a bunch of jargonistic nonsense. Most of what you wrote has no direct connection with your core argument, which is this:

      We can't know how convection and cloud formation will reflect and distribute the temperature increase of the bext few centureies of global warming.

      Now see, I can say it in one sentence, I dont have to hide behind the rest of your noncontributing jargon.

      FIRST, I want to point out that if you are reduced to the cloud argument you have already essentually admitted that global warming is real, and that the scientific consensus that it is real is valid.

      SECOND, yes, we ALL KNOW that we dont know yet what the cloud effect will be, how multidecadal currents will affect heat distribution, and whether or not we will experience a sudden cooling and a short ice age as the ocean currents change.

      Not knowing wether or not the cloud effect will protect us, or perhaps HURT US EVEN MORE, is not a legitimate excuse for the negligence of not becoming carbon aware as a nation.

      Thats like saying yes I know a giant rock is rolling down the hill towards that schoolyard full of playing kids, but I dont know wether or not a bump in the hill might not deflect the rock away, so, I'm not responsible - if I'm the one who pushed the giant rock.

      Your argument is baseless, and morally somewhat appalling.

  6. I trust that you, if you cannot refute me, will alter your views, independently of what other people think.

    You are a majority of one, when it comes to holding a perception true in your mind

  7. I just think you should read Earth: The Operator's Manual section II and it would straighten you out because your "refutation" here makes no sense.

    That's Christopher Monckton physics and chemistry that don't work. CO2, by its very nature, traps and retraps heat that prevents it from keeping it from getting higher into the atmosphere. YOU need magical properties in atmospheric chemistry for your "theory" to work. But you don't have a theory because it has been roundly refuted in real and substantive work.

    Your insurmountable refutation that took 35 years takes less than 2 pages of reading to discount. There's a life's work.

  8. That name calling don't refute nothin', blogger.

    You've got everything to back up your case except evidence. You know it and I know it and everything you don't like about me is pretty much much what I don't like about you, so I guess we're even.

    Nighty night.

  9. Lastly, I went into the study of energy because it is essential to civilization and life.

    It is like the water supply - it has to be there to sustain people. Unfortunately to some people's minds, there are no substitutes for coal, oil, gas. These need to be there or people won't survive, the alternatives like wind and solar don't make it.

    Plus these carbon products aren't causing anybody any harm, only helping them. It's easy to be a "university professor" and pontificate against things they have convinced themselves are harmful, yet use them all the time.

    They typically live in nice houses with heat and light and want for nothing and travel to conferences in plush places and come back and yell about "deniers" and "laws" they think "ought" to be put into place to make them "feel good about themselves" I suppose.

    I hate that mentality and the egotistical self-righteousness that puts it there.

  10. I wish we had a way to measure how much you actually read here because you responded to basically nothing but resorted to ideological attacks. I'm reminded of the final chapters of Chris Mooney's The Republican Brain. I'd encourage you to read Garvey's "The Ethics of Climate Change," Speth's "Bridge at the Edge of the World," Princen's "Treading Softly," or Orr's "Hope is an Imperative" but I think you'll not even read the titles I've listed.

    Also, I'd suggest you take your thinly veiled threats somewhere else...like to silence.

  11. There is no veiled threat I just speaking candidly and thank Heaven that is still allowed.

    Global warming people think "speaking out" is some "threat" and they do it all the time themselves.

    I stand up for poor people and their right to have the same life noisy "university professors" and "global warming experts" have. Poor people are usually just door mats for their rhetoric and demands.

  12. Central Penn has wonderful crude oil, gas, coal deposits.

    Miners and rig operators work very hard to bring these to benefit society and make people's lives better.

    I'm very proud for them, and thank them.