Saturday, December 12, 2009

My Climate Change, Part 3 of 5 or 6: JG calls his conservative representative...

...and gets called something in return.

(This is the most political topic in my series on how an ordinary, moderately technical and scientific person can have a climate change epiphany with ramifications for education, politics, personal relationships and dread for the future. See also part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5)

My notebooks show the start of my intense science learning curve beginning in 97 or 98, and this was also the time where I was becoming the most partisan in politcal outlook, largely for environmental reasons. I distrusted economics and minimal regulation to protect things like redwood forests mainly because, these mechanisms need only fail once and then we're left with how to re-grow a 3,000 year old forest. At this time I was studying science to balance views from environmental groups. If properly balanced, environmental groups serve a function that I as an isolated citizen cannot perform. I cannot track, read, and understand the torrent of legislation at local, state, and federal levels. I’ve tried. It needs to be a full-time job, so this where I’ve relied on organizations like the Southwest Center for Biological Diversity and Union of Concerned Scientists. They can alert me to legislation, and if the cause is consistent with what I read in science journals, then I will sign on to the cause. Some examples: my science journals were less passionate about the threat from genetically engineered crops than the Union of Concerned Scientists is; much less worried about nuclear power than Greenpeace is (though highly concerned about nuclear weapons proliferation), and very much in line with many groups on the needs to reduce CO2 emissions.

So in late spring of 2002 I get the alert from the Union of Concerned Scientists that AB 1058 (later be become 1493 on regulating greenhouse gas emissions) is before the state assembly (California’s equivalent to the House) and can I call (call, not write, or email) my representative?

Let me go back a couple years. I love my community, but I feel I'm in the unpleasant situation of being needed to help with balance. Upon moving here, I made a number of discoveries:
  • Liberal was a bad word. Once branded a liberal you are the problem of all our ills.
  • Evolution didn’t happen.
  • Jesus would have driven an SUV; for many others, he rides in one.
  • Climate change is liberal junk science, in which the word liberal is redundant. (I take this up in topics 4 and 5)
What type of representative would you expect this community to elect? How would he take to an opposing view of climate change? But this is what I trained for. In 2002, my 200-page notebook contained around 60 different research papers covering CO2 emissions, effects on oceans and biology, climate models, palaeoclimate events, satellite observations…. These were papers from peer-reviewed scientific literature. The Union of Concerned Scientists’ position was consistent with what I could glean from the 60 papers I studied over the past 18 months. I will make that call.

I do not enjoy confrontation. It raises my blood pressure. I get nervous and red in the face. At this time, I would much rather call Feinstein or Boxer, but it was Hollingsworth (now State Senate Republican Leader) who represented me in the bill before the Assembly; it was Hollingsworth who would get the phone call from a concerned citizen who follows the scientific literature on climate change.

I called my representative’s local office, spoke only to a staff member, and have no reason to believe that any of my concerns were shared with my representative.

The call went about like this:
JG: I’m a constituent of H and urge him support AB 1058

Staffer: He’s hardly going to do that.

JG: What special interest does he answer… (or words to that effect). My words were partisan and confrontational, but I stopped in midsentence and switched to a conciliatory tone, saying something like “may I know the reasons for his position?”

What ensued was a discussion during which I shook with anxiety while explaining my views in a cracking voice and the staffer confidently stomping on anything I had to say. He said:
  • There is no scientific study linking the automobile to greenhouse gases
  •  The majority of scientific research is disproving any human-caused greenhouse gas induced global warming or climate change.
  •  And that I had been put up to making this call by an extremist environmental organization.
Well,  some truth on the last one in that I was prompted to make a call, but how does one nearly out of breath, anxious with anxiety over calling his elected representative, argue with this person?

I tried the following:

JG: What scientific literature does the assemblyman read? Nature? Scientific American (my sources).

Staffer: Ha!

I have since wondered whether these people know that Nature is a pre-eminent peer-reviewed science journal, or whether they hear “Bird and Bloom” or “Furry Friends” when I say “Nature”.

Eventually, the staffer and I were able to find common ground. He agreed that the current tailpipe emissions regulation was good. Clean air was good, but he insisted that AB1058 was written by a non-technical legislature completely out of their league in trying to design legislation to curb a new brand of emissions. I commented that somehow a non-technical legislature managed to write good legislation on tailpipe emissions. This was my one point in a debate that most observers would see me as the loser of (loser of the debate, not necessarily the argument), and I believe it angered him. Though the conversation moved to a polite agree-to-disagree mode, it ended badly.

As a closing to our conversation, I decided to model the best kind of behavior that I  had expected from him, so I said, “I will consider Hollingsworth’s position; can you recommend any sources?”

Staffer: “Well, if you haven’t studied this issue before making this call, clearly you were put up to the call by an extremist environmental group.”

I puzzled for some time as to how this person could be so confident that the scientific literature was on his side? Am I getting only liberal science? Is there perhaps some gray area I need to understand? Sometime later, I learned of anti-global warming advocacy groups targeting legislators. For example, the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine (note that any of us can form an “institute”) created a petition, recruited many signatures, and bombarded offices with their literature that in format resembled publications of the National Academy of Sciences. In hindsight, I consider my representative a victim of this effort, and I, a victim of gerrymandering.



Alastair said...

Yeah, democracy is highly over-rated. I reckon it will be the death of us :-(

jg said...

Yeah, there's the fine line between democracy and democrazy.


Ziggy Mehta said...

I'd welcome a blog post commenting on the points made by Freeman Dyson in

jg said...

Hi Ziggy. Thank you for your question. I just finished reading Dyson's essay. It's a little unfair for me to critique something that's 8 years old, but some of the comments he makes, I think, were disputable in 2007. Also, there is some hindsight worth applying, hindsight that rebukes but also aligns with his thinking. I will try to write a post this week on my review of Dyson's essay.
Thank you.