My First Climate Change Conference, a View from the Other Side
I did it.
I descended into the heart of liberal darkness, Berkeley, California and attended the Tenth International Conference on Climate Change: Impacts & Responses.
As you may have guessed, I’m a climate change skeptic. And while this conference was interesting and gratifying for a number of reasons, it did not change my view as a climate change skeptic, but in fact, reinforced it.
My own presentation (for solving climate change while making a huge profit – i.e., the Republican way) was not widely attended, but the conversation was lively and I gained some allies.
Without further ado here are my stories:
As an engineer and formerly a developer of analytical systems for the CIA, my instinct is to follow information backward to its source. In several instances, I’ve followed the rabbit hole, examined data from important climate science claims and discovered gaping holes in their logic, making them misleading or just incorrect.
The conference had some of the same. The most blatant example presented at the conference was from Roberta Atzori from the University of California with a study of the Florida tourism industry. Since I am a long time resident of Florida, I took an interest.
Her method was to ask questions of tourists like (paraphrasing) “if the sun on the beach became too hot, would you stop traveling to Florida or would you vacation somewhere else?” and “if all of the beaches disappeared in Florida would you stop going there?” Needless to say, with those kinds of questions (look up “pre-suasion”) she got the results she desired, she did the math and claimed billions in damages due to Climate Change.
I, of course, as an interested party pointed out that in Florida we know how to re-sand beaches, and we do it often and enthusiastically (e.g., the Boca beach last fall after hurricane Irma). Beaches in Florida are not likely to disappear over the next 80 years no matter the weather change. And if Florida floods to 10 miles inland? We will install a new beach right there. I also pointed out that even the most pessimistic climate change projects only estimate about 4 degrees of change by 2100, not enough to roast our tourist population and force them away from the beach (nor interrupt the patterns of sun, beer, sun beer, sun …).
Tell me you can’t guess what happened next.
She immediately called me the “D-word.” I had to be a climate change “denier” to challenge her work, so of course, the obvious move was ad hominem.
What she did not do was defend her scenarios (which would have been impossible anyway), which were the basis of the questions she was asking, and the response to which was the basis of her conclusions.
This kind of shoddy work is why I am a skeptic of climate science. Someone with zero knowledge of the practical side of her topic has submitted to the academic community a worthless, baseless calculation of cause-effect, that someone else will likely use to build another house of cards study. And in a room with 12-15 people, no one questioned it except me.
Dr. Max Platzer of the University of California Davis was an Apollo scientist back in the 1960’s. His presentation featured a fleet of boats that used wind power and an underwater generator in perpetual motion in the southern seas, to produce hydrogen fuel on a global scale. At first, this seemed to be very much in the science fiction realm. But to my great surprise and pleasure, Dr. Platzer, in true engineering form, proceeded to convince us layer by layer that his design was feasible and practical (albeit expensive!).
Dr. Platzer was perhaps the most inspiring speaker at the conference, his passion and appeal to implement an Apollo-like “moonshot” was compelling. He said at the advanced age of 85, his future was limited, but he was willing and indeed anxious to help future generations solve this problem. His passion was perhaps the closest phenomenon in this conference to breaking my own skepticism on climate change.
Matthew Moore of California State University positively ranted at the lack of coordination between the different levels of government, saying the government was a disorganized mess and was not preparing for the massive number of people that would certainly be displaced during global warming.
When he included Houston and Florida in his rant I took exception. Noting that I had just experienced Hurricane Irma, I told him that in our state, coordination between federal, state and local, was near perfect. We have some of the best emergency planners in the world who had the streets cleared, the public informed,and everyone in shelters who wanted to go (with designated shelters accepting pets). The Governor had toured the area and coordinated operations, and FEMA had pre-positioned supplies all over the state.
We didn’t have housing prepared for 300,000 people (per Moore’s lament) because our experts decided we would not need it (and we didn’t). Moore’s universal condemnation of FEMA and the emergency management strategy in America was offensive and, of course, wrong. Does he have a point that we need more emergency housing? I don’t know, I’m way too lazy and uninterested to re-do his work for him. But considering his lack of research and/or candor on his other statements, why would I believe anything else he said? And yet his presentation was accepted as scientific work.
At the conference dinner, I had a discussion with Alex Ellery from Carleton University, who was proposing a satellite-based solution for providing power to supplant electricity. This is not a new idea, its been around since at least the 1970’s when my high school debate team was focused on the energy shortage of the day. They were also the subject of Ben Bova’s “Powersat” from 2005.
His new idea, however, was fascinating.
Since it is very expensive to lift materials in space from earth, he was proposing that the power satellites be built on the moon using SELF REPLICATING ROBOTS! And using only materials from the moon’s surface. I was thinking, “Wow, forget the satellites, I want the robots.” And this is a serious engineer with a serious design. He is close to having the design ready, complete with neural network style computing power made from lunar materials rather than straight silicon. He still needs an additional $12 Million in funding to complete the research. Any takers? (If so, I want to be on the deployment team!).
One of the keynote speakers was Dr. Michel Gueldrey, from the University of Toulouse. I had had some brief conversations with him the day before and he is a thoughtful, intelligent and gracious man. However his presentation on “engaging climate skeptics” was disappointing and a bit insulting to American conservatives. His presentation featured such thoughts as “the superiority of Europe over America,” (hard to swallow from a Frenchman) a number of fringe books with insulting titles, and a presentation of methods to persuade skeptics that was worthy of any religion, political campaign, or fraternity rush chairman. In fact, I got a distinct feeling I could substitute “Disciples of Christ” for “Climate Change” in most of the slides and they would be equally functional. But frankly, this is what a conservative would expect at a climate change conference so I took it with a grain of salt. I do have faith that Dr. Gueldry will improve his content over time, but it was cringe-worthy in its current form.
Several presentations were very well done, even if the link to global climate change was not firmly established in my own mind. Claire Brunel, from American University, had a very well constructed study of internal migration in Brazil (I know what your thinking, but yes, it was good!). In the same session, Justin Udie from De Montfort University talked about the effects of climate change on oil and gas equipment near the Niger Delta. Again, I’m not sure about the link to climate change but it was an impressive work of risk analysis on oil and gas equipment. It took quite a bit for me to not go into full nerd mode and dig in with questions.
Marlene Payva Almonte from the University of Liverpool attended several of the same sessions that I did, and her comments were always thoughtful and cogent. In her own session, she presented an insightful presentation on the relationship between climate change and human rights. I’m not sure I agree with her premise that the Paris Accords are a good thing, but it certainly pushed some buttons for my own research.
Sally Graves Machlis from the University of Idaho sought to increase understanding of climate change through art. I’m not sure I fully grasp the magnitude of her work, but I had fun in her workshop cutting paper brains from clip art, gluing them to the canvass and painting in the background in watercolors.
One last feature was a gentleman Greg Poole from Industrial Tests, Inc. A degreed engineer, but non-academic, I could feel that Mr. Pool was avoiding using the common engineering jargon to be better understood, a common practice of engineers when speaking to laymen.
He described the Earth as an electric motor with influence from the Sun, Moon and other planets. Do you think this is silly?
The electrical character of the Earth and the solar system have long been known, and it accounts for a great many important characteristics, like the magnetic poles and the magnetosphere. His framework is brilliant and all-encompassing (but according to Pool, not quite complete). He predicted response characteristics of the molten core that will keep experimental scientists busy for decades.
His engineering skills are first-rate, his analysis was spot on. This was perhaps the most important lecture of the conference, although I don’t expect anyone to realize it. Any analysis of our solar system or any solar system we discover in the future will be incomplete without it. And as for avoiding jargon, I did manage to ask a question that let him know I was an engineer, and he answered in full technical and engineering terms entirely unintelligible to the rest of the room.
Yes, a real engineer.