How to Talk to a Climate Change Zealot

If you don’t have time to read a 2000 word blog post, here are the basics of talking to a Climate Change Zealot (don’t continue the conversation if the CCZ can’t complete a step):

  1. Agree that the climate changes
  2. Ask for one specific policy proposal
  3. Ask how much that specific policy proposal will cost
  4. Ask how much doing nothing will cost
  5. Ask for peer-reviewed journal articles supporting the hypothesis that this specific policy proposal will have the desired outcome
  6. Contact me if you meet a CCZ who completes step 5!

But really, it’s a good post…

Who Are You and What is a Climate Change Zealot?

Great questions.  Hi, I’m Debbie, and I am not (nor have I ever been) a climatologist.  I was also not paid to write this blog post, so put that conspiracy theory back in your pocket as well.  I recently retired from the US Navy, having served for just over 20 years as an instructor at Naval Nuclear Power Training Command (1996 – 1999), a weather forecaster and ship router (2002 – 2003), a hydrographer (2003 – 2006), Navy’s Geospatial Information & Services Officer (2006 – 2009, and yes, this is where I admit that the first ever convention I attended at the San Diego Convention Center was not, in fact, Comic-Con, but was actually the ESRI User Conference), and finally as an assistant program manager (2009 – 2015, both at the Pentagon and finally in San Diego).  For my full résumé, including details on my three MS degrees (Mathematics, Meteorology and Physical Oceanography, and Hydrographic Science), please refer to my LinkedIn profile.

Climate Change Zealots, like art and pornography, are hard to define, but we tend to know them when we see them.  For the purpose of this blog post, I am referring to people who can be characterized by five basic behaviors:

  1. They do not differentiate between climate change (i.e. Earth’s climate has always been and will always be changing, regardless of human activity) and Climate Change (i.e. the amount that humans are adding – which may or may not be negligible – on top of the lower case climate change that was already happening).
  2. Anything bad that happens, from a hurricane to a plane crash to a bad date, can and will be tied to Climate Change.  Here is just one example:  Why Climate Change and Terrorism are Connected
  3. Nothing in the world is more important than Climate Change!  Here’s a great example from Twitter:
  4. Environmentalism is their religion and not believing in Climate Change is a heresy. Since they don’t differentiate between climate change and Climate Change (see number 1 above), your heresy of daring to question Climate Change will be ridiculed in a manner that would make both Torquemada and Alinsky proud.
  5. Last and most important, WE MUST DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!  By “we,” they mean government, and by “do something about it,” they mean spend money on it.  So properly translated from Climate Change Zealot into English, GOVERNMENT MUST SPEND MONEY ON IT!

But I’m Not A Scientist!

OK, so now  you know who you’re dealing with, but you’re worried that since you’re not a scientist you won’t know how to talk to a Climate Change Zealot.  Trust me when I tell you:  this should be the absolute least of your worries.  Not being a scientist has certainly never stopped a Climate Change Zealot from having an opinion, and it shouldn’t stop you.  All you need to know about science are the basics, and the most basic of basics is the scientific method, which I’ll review for you here.

The Scientific Method

The University of California Riverside has a nice little slide show about the scientific method.  The Science Buddies website presents the scientific method as a flowchart.  Regardless of how you visualize it, the scientific method boils down to four very basic steps:

  1. formulate a hypothesis
  2. design an experiment to test the hypothesis that isolates only the thing you are testing
  3. analyze data from the experiments (usually with statistical tests)
  4. determine whether your data support your hypothesis or not

To illustrate how the scientific method works, I will use my son’s fifth grade science fair project as an example.  He had heard that batteries kept in the refrigerator and then used at a later date lasted longer than batteries kept at room temperature, so he formulated the following hypothesis:  “AA batteries kept in the refrigerator will power a small motor longer than AA batteries kept in the kitchen drawer.”  He then used a model train motor to push the = button (having first entered 1 + 1) on a calculator until the battery powering the motor ran out.  By looking at the number after the motor stopped running, he could tell how long the battery had lasted.  He repeated the test 20 times, ten with batteries that had been kept in the refrigerator for a month, and 10 with batteries that had been kept in the kitchen drawer for a month (yes, I know, ideally they would have been kept in those locations for a year or two, but kids only get a couple of months for their science fair projects).  After analyzing the data, he found that they did not support his hypothesis.  That doesn’t mean putting batteries in the refrigerator isn’t a good idea, there just wasn’t a statistically significant difference between how long the refrigerator batteries lasted and how long the kitchen drawer batteries lasted.  As a consumer of batteries, you probably wouldn’t put them in the refrigerator without additional information.

OK, now you’re as smart as a fifth grader, and probably smarter than a Climate Change Zealot.  Let’s start the conversation.

Agree That the Climate Changes

Remember, Environmentalism is the religion of the Climate Change Zealot and you won’t even be able to have a discussion if you are found guilty of the heresy of being a Climate Change Denier.  One of my favorite mantras when dealing with CCZs is “the climate changes, the climate has always changed, the climate will always change.”  Sometimes they make it easy for you and ask “Why don’t you believe in climate change?” The answer is simple: “I do believe in climate change.”  Here are some great examples.

Drought is not a modern phenomenon.  Human and animal populations have been moving to find water since there were humans and animals.  A great example of the impact of (lower case) climate change on humans is how drought contributed to the collapse of Mayan society over 1000 years ago, well before Climate Change can be blamed (unless time travel is equally to blame).  This article is from the Washington Post, lest you be accused of citing a right-leaning source:

More evidence Mayan civilization collapsed because of drought

Rising sea levels are also nothing new.  Once upon a time, you could walk from London to Brussels.  Ask your friendly neighborhood Climate Change Zealot if he or she has heard of Doggerland.  If not, invite them to read this informative primer from National Geographic:

Doggerland – The Europe That Was (The British Isles were once neither British nor isles)

The human race survived the rising sea levels following the Last Glacial Maximum, we survived the droughts of 1000 years ago, and we will survive whatever changes the future holds.

The climate changes.

The climate has always changed.

The climate will always change.

Ask the Climate Change Zealot What, Specifically, They Want to Do

Now that you have both agreed that the climate changes, don’t let the Climate Change Zealot argle bargle at you ad infinitum with nonsense.  Ask for specifics.  Be blunt.  Tell the CCZ that you really want to agree on something, so ask what one specific thing they want to do differently.  At this point, most CCZs will throw a link at you, and it will probably be to a 100 plus page Climate Change study from at least five or ten years ago.  Thank them for the reference and ask what page you should look at for the specific policy proposal they are recommending.  Just one specific policy proposal.  If they can’t offer a single specific policy proposal, continue the conversation later when they can be more specific.

Ask the Climate Change Zealot How Much It Will Cost

Wow, if you’ve gotten this far you have found a truly special Climate Change Zealot.  Remember, and this is very important, don’t argue the merits of the specific policy proposal.  Just ask how much it will cost.  If they say it doesn’t matter, tell them that you are very interested in being won over to their cause, but as a fiscally responsible working adult and taxpayer, you are interested in the cost.  If they do manage to come up with a number, find out if that is the total cost or an annual cost.  Most government budget proposals aren’t straightforward, and they have hidden sustainment tails that aren’t always obvious.  For example it may only cost $100 million to set up a program, but that doesn’t include the sustainment costs of keeping the program going for the next 5 or 10 or 50 years.

Ask the Climate Change Zealot How Much It Will Cost to Do Nothing

A great example here is rising sea level.  I live literally (and I mean literally literally) a stone’s throw from the ocean.  I do not say this idly as someone speaking from Lebanon, Kansas (the geographical center of the contiguous United States, for those of you not in the know).  Humans know how to deal with rising sea levels.  We simply move away from the ocean.  Yes it costs money and causes heartache, but at some point reasonable people have to consider whether it makes more sense to try to stop the whole f***ing ocean or to just move a mile or two away.  Just a thought.  But seriously, you really should ask the CCZ for the business case analysis of DOING SOMETHING versus doing nothing.  In the unlikely event that the analysis has even been done, it may turn out that it is more cost effective to react to climate change than to try to change the climate.

And Speaking of Trying to Change the Climate…

Well hopefully you won’t get this far (most people don’t), but if you do, this is where that little lesson on the scientific method will be helpful.  Let’s assume for the moment that your CCZ has a specific policy proposal in mind, knows the price tag, knows how much it will cost to do nothing, and the quoted price tag is significantly less than the cost of doing nothing.  Now you must ask the Climate Change Zealot about the science behind his pet policy.  Ask for specifics on how he knows it will work.  Ask for peer-reviewed journal articles supporting the hypothesis that this policy will have the desired impact on the climate.  The CCZ will almost certainly not be able to provide these, but in the rare case that he does, please do get in touch.  I would be very curious to both read such an article and meet the one Climate Change Zealot who actually understands the scientific method.

In Summary

It is entirely possible that there are one or two policies out there that make both scientific and fiscal sense.  The best way to effectively combat the Climate Change Zealot is to think of yourself as Indiana Jones and to think of a scientifically feasible and fiscally responsible environmental policy as the Holy Grail.  Be genuinely curious when you engage with a CCZ.  If you ask this series of questions with the honest intent of finding this proverbial Holy Grail, you will have a much more meaningful exchange with the Climate Change Zealot, you will (hopefully) not be branded a heretic, and through your patient questioning you may just win over a rare convert.

Everyone Has A’s! A’s! A’s! A’s!

This past semester, I took an undergraduate course for the first time in nearly 20 years.  I enrolled in Physical Anthropology (ANTH 102) at San Diego City College as the first step toward my goal of becoming a nautical archaeologist.  I didn’t know what to expect, but I certainly didn’t expect such a lax grading policy for a class that qualifies as one of only two science courses required to earn a bachelor’s degree in California.

A total of 600 points were possible for the class.  300 of those came from three projects, each of which took about four hours to complete.  The first project required a visit to the San Diego Museum of Man (mine is here).  The second required online research of various primates or a trip to the San Diego Zoo (click here for my zoo project).  The final “creativity” project was a presentation of literally anything having to do with anthropology (my project is here).  One student baked cookies and wrote various vocabulary words on them.  Another held up a picture book of Disney’s Tarzan and talked about how much he enjoyed reading it to his son.  From what I could tell (based on a quick glance at the professor’s grade spreadsheet when she was showing me my own scores), grading for these projects was binary; students either received 100/100 points for turning them in or 0/100 points for not turning them in.

The other 300 points were based on the best three of four multiple choice tests.  There was no final exam.  Additionally, 25 extra credit points were awarded for attendance at a one-day anthropology conference and, when test scores were abysmally low, another 25 points were awarded for writing a one-page review of any movie having anything to do with anthropology (one student wrote about Ice Age).

This grading policy meant that by simply completing the three projects, students already had 300/600 points (350/600 if they did both extra credit “assignments”).  In order to get a C in the class, a student who did both extra credit assignments would only need an additional 70 points from all three tests.  That’s an average grade on each test of 23.3%!

You read that correctly.  My classmates could get credit for one of their two required science classes by answering less than one-quarter of the multiple choice test questions correctly.

Here’s how it breaks down with and without extra credit for each grade:

Average test score needed to get a(n):    A          B          C

With no extra credit assignments:          80         60        40

With one extra credit assignment:          71.7      51.7      31.7

With both extra credit assignments:        63.3      43.3      23.3

That’s right.  Students who completed both extra credit assignments could score an average of 63.3% (barely a D) on their three highest tests (remember, the lowest score was dropped) and still get an A in this science class.

America, you have been warned.  This is your future.

But for now, everyone has A’s! A’s! A’s! A’s!

Safety and Rumors

By now I am used to receiving emails from my son’s school with spelling and grammar errors as well as factually incorrect information, but this one was just downright confounding for its utter lack of substance:

Subject:  Safety and Rumors

Good evening, this is a message from [school name redacted] High Administration.

We are contacting you about a number of rumors that have been circulating among our students about something bad happening on our campus. We can assure that these are all rumors. Our school police have followed up on all leads that have come to us and have found nothing credible. You and your children are safe here at [name redacted] High School and we will continue to follow up on any information that comes to us. We have a vacation just around the corner and we expect to see everyone here tomorrow. Thank you.

After reading it, I was more worried than if I had never gotten an email to begin with.  What rumors?  I hadn’t heard any rumors.  My son hadn’t heard any rumors.  What’s going on?  Then I remembered… Fleetwood Mac is playing in Anaheim tonight.  Given their track record, the school probably just forgot the “u” in Rumours.

Ferris Bueller Is Doctor Who

Versions of the Doctor

My kid “proved” this to me while we were stopped at a traffic light:

Ferris Bueller was portrayed in the film Ferris Bueller’s Day Off by Matthew Broderick.

Matthew Broderick voices Simba as an adult in Disney’s The Lion King.

The Lion King is a retelling of Shakespeare’s Hamlet (with Simba as Hamlet).

Hamlet was portrayed both on stage and on screen by David Tennant.

David Tennant took on the role of the Tenth Doctor in 2005.


Doctor Who Singing Twist and Shout:

WARNING: Your Child May Be Required To Undress You

I’m used to getting emails with spelling errors, grammatical errors, factual errors, and various combinations thereof from my son’s high school.  Despite my low expectations, it was still a bit of a shock when I received the following warning by email yesterday afternoon (emphasis added):

With the warm weather coming our way, please remember that the school dress code will be consistently enforced. If you are wearing an item that is not permitted, students will be required to change the item.

You are probably wondering what items I might possibly wear that would require my son (much to his chagrin, I’m sure) to change me.  Here is the first item from the list of “[i]tems of particular concern that will not be permitted”:

Extremely brief or revealing garments; no tube tops, bare midriffs or exposed cleavage

So “no tube tops” will not be permitted?  Interesting.

Here is another example from the “not permitted” list:

Underwear not covered by outer garments (including bras straps)

I literally did a double take on that one.  I thought maybe “brass straps” were something the kids were wearing these days that I just hadn’t heard about yet.  I mean I just found out about twerking yesterday.

Everyone makes a typo now and then.  I probably made one or two in this blog post.  But I am not getting paid to educate children.  I expect official correspondence being sent from schools to be practically perfect with respect to spelling, grammar and facts.  It only takes a moment to proofread one’s own work, and a moment or two more to have someone else read through it a second time.  It is hypocritical to expect high school students to turn in error-free work with respect to spelling and grammar when schools don’t even hold their own employees to the same standard.

And I don’t care what the policy is, I will not be wearing a tube top.