Thanks to a piece in Slate filed last Friday by Jonathan Mingle, I learned of a surprisingly candid and also coarse paper title on climate change that a UC San Diego geomorphologist and complex modeling expert presented during the meeting in San Francisco of the American Geophysical Union last week: Is Earth F**ked? Dynamical Futility of Global Environmental Management and Possibilities for Sustainability via Direct Action Activism. The f-bomb got detonated without any asterisks flying out in the session itself. AGU hardly spotlighted it. Still, that word is a newsmaker at such a staid (on paper) place as this hallowed academic conference. It got further pickup and discussion on blogs but not many general media reporters went with it. I have a hypothesis why and it has only marginally to do with the vulgarity itself.
Mingle's account rightly notes that such language is quite common in the hallways and beerhalls at earth sciences meetings. I may have said it myself, but not heard it quite that way from earth scientists. The late great Stephen Schneider once said in my earshot that when it comes to global warming, we're screwed. That's pretty much the same sentiment.
The paper includes among its messages that the failure of standard decision-making, that is reliance on rationality in governmental and special interest circles, is so abject on climate change that direct action (the word anarchists comes up) starts to look like the best bet.
- ScienceNOW (Science Mag) - Eli Kintisch: 'Is Earth F**cked?" AGU Scientist Asks ; A shorty.
- Climate Progress (blog) Joe Romm: AGU Scientist Asks, 'Is Earth F**ked?" Surprising Answer: Resistance is not Futile!"
- io9 - Dave Levitan: After extensive mathematical modeling, scientist declares "Earth is F**cked" ; Story spells it all out. It also says the researcher, Brad Werner, discussed his paper while "sporting a neon green winter hat over bright pink hair" and the piece has a snapshot to prove it. He also told Levitan that action in the streets, vox populi etc., may be required as a "step ouside the culture." Such activism may work, it says here that Werner added, because "They adopt a certain set of dynamics that does not fit within the capitalist culture."
Now, it happens that your tracker is quite drawn and persuaded by what I can read of this session. The f-word seems apt, and activism may be part of the answer. It worked with the Vietnam War and Jim Crow laws in the US. But why isn't this a bigger story? Take a look at the io9 blog-story by Levitan. If this talk has come from a more conventional scientist it'd have more appeal. The green hair wouldn't diminish its general usefulness by much. But when a scientists talks about "dynamics that does not fit within the capitalist culture" one may sort of nod one's head, aha. Those are somewhat ambiguous words - maybe Werner is all for regulated capitalism and is only referring to those who take "free enterprise" as meaning no regs at all.
But without further elucidation, one can be forgiven for thinking, my god, here we have a global warming scientist who looks like he really is a lefty anarchist seeking to undermine private and competitive enterprise! Just like the right wing loonies say they all are. And he has a potty mouth, too.
Could be time for somebody wearing a journalist hat to spend a little time with the professor (who, by the way, at a UC San Diego website on a course he teaches says emphatically that his name is Brad, not professor or doctor or sir or anything as formal as that) and flesh this episode out. This fellow is definitely interesting. I'd ask, for instance, has the dean asked you in for a chat yet?
Grist for the Mill: Is Earth f**ked abstract (put f**ked in search box, scroll down to Wed sessions when you get results) ;
- Charlie Petit