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!

I Am An American Individual

I am an American Individual.

I am the product of a lifetime of unique experiences that cannot be understood by reducing me to demographics.

Like other American Individuals, I prefer to be judged by the content of my character rather than by my race,







sexual orientation,



veteran status,

or any other label.

That’s why, between now and November 6, I’m going to educate myself about every candidate and issue on the ballot at the local, state and national levels.

To obtain a sample ballot, contact your county’s Registrar of Voters or Supervisor of Elections.  This is the best way to make sure you are prepared on election day.

An Open Letter To ARCO From An Honest Customer

To Whom It May Concern,

Late last night (although technically it was early this morning, since it was just after midnight) I stopped at one of your gas stations for the first and last time.  This particular gas station was located at 27682 Crown Valley Parkway, Mission Viejo, CA  92692.  Not being familiar with your cash/debit card only operation, I inserted my card (which happens to be a MasterCard branded debit card that I most often use as a credit card to avoid having to enter my PIN) at the pump.  I promptly removed my card, lifted the nozzle, and selected my grade of fuel.  This is a sequence of events, as you might imagine, that I have performed hundreds (if not thousands) of times in my life.  Shame on me for not carefully reading the instructions printed on the pump, but it has been my experience that the universal indication as to whether my card has been accepted is that gas flows from the nozzle, which in this case it did.  To my great surprise, however, the pump stopped working when it reached $6.27.  I returned the nozzle to the pump and went inside, where your employee Alejandro was working at the counter.  The conversation went something like this:

Debbie:  Excuse me sir, I’m at pump number 1.  It stopped working at $6.27.  Could you tell me what’s wrong?

Alejandro:  That’s because you took someone else’s money.  You stole.  You are a dishonest person.

D:  What?  That’s my car.  Pump number 1.  I put my card in, pulled it out, and gas started coming out.  You can check the video.

A:  We are cash only.  You have to prepay.  You are not an honest person.  Someone else paid for that gas.

D:  I’m the only person at pump number 1.  I don’t understand what you’re saying.

A:  That was not your money.  You took that money.

At this point I started to realize that either Alejandro had mistakenly credited another customer’s money to pump number one or another customer had given Alejandro the wrong pump number.  Either way, it was an honest mistake all around and the other customer would certainly be coming inside soon to find out about his or her $6.27.  Sure enough, he appeared within a minute and I explained to him what had happened.  He certainly didn’t think I was a thief or a dishonest person, and in fact he apologized to me for the mix-up.  I gave him $6.27 and he was soon on his way to putting gas in his own car, which was at pump 11 (a mistake which I’m sure many of us have made, especially on long road trips late at night).

There were many ways Alejandro could have handled this situation.  He could have suggested I pay the other customer.  He could have recommended I use my debit card at the other customer’s pump to allow him to get $6.27 of gas.  He could have offered to help me put a credit on the other customer’s pump to even things out.  He did none of those things.

If I were a dishonest person intent on stealing $6.27 of gas, I certainly would not have come inside asking why the pump stopped.  I would have gotten back in my car as quietly as possible and driven gleefully into the night, leaving Alejandro to explain to the irate customer at pump number 11 what happened to his gas.


From Sidewalk To Ballroom (A Tale Of Trains, Tears, And Firefly)

The Night Was Moist

It would be easy to say that it started on the sidewalk, but it actually started much earlier than that.  I was not a fan of Firefly when it originally aired, and I didn’t see Serenity when it was on the big screen.  In fact, over the last two decades my Navy career and frequent moves have served as a great excuse to not be a regular fan of any show.  Then came Netflix.  And Chuck.  I have already recounted the tale of how I came to be a fan of Chuck, so I’ll leave it to you to click (or not).  I’m not an expert on Netflix’s recommendation algorithm, but a few years ago it decided that Chuck + (a few other things) = Firefly should be at the top of my list, and being the obedient servant of Netflix that I am, I watched.  That’s when I learned what Browncoats have known for a decade, and I was hooked.

Which brings me to the evening of Thursday, July 12, 2012.  After a screening of Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog hosted by the California Browncoats, I headed home around 10 pm to drop off my son (who had school the next day), shower, change, and pack for a night under the stars clouds.  Heading out just after midnight, I walked the length of the San Diego Convention Center before finding the end of the line.  I settled down on the sidewalk, was promptly told to get up and relocate to the grass, settled down on the grass, felt the first drops of rain, then admonished myself for being a meteorologist outside in the rain without an umbrella.

Trucks And Trains And Carts, Oh My!

The trucks were loud, the trains were loud, the wheeled garbage carts were loud, the night was moist…  I could whine on and on, but I’m fairly certain the reason most people (at least in my general vicinity) weren’t sleeping was antici…pation.  And then Joss happened.


At around three o’clock in the morning, and for at least an hour, Mr. Whedon walked the entire length of the line signing autographs and taking photos with everyone who asked.  Including me (notice how photogenic he is and how I look like the walking dead?):

After he left, my Twitter friend American Elephant asked me to send a photo of my costume, so I obliged:

More trucks, more trains, more garbage carts, then they played this funny game with us called “compressing the line” a few times, which meant we had to stand up, move forward, sit down, and maybe repeat if they weren’t quite happy.  We played this game until a little after six, when they finally let us into the Convention Center, where there was a mad dash for two escalators and some but-wagging fast walking (No Running!) that would have made Olympians proud.  And then (as you may have guessed) we waited for a couple more hours.

Community And Korra

There were two panels before the Firefly panel.  The Community panel was at 10 and The Legend of Korra panel was at 11:15.  I did neither a poll nor a head count of how many of those in Ballroom 20 from the beginning of the day were primarily interested in Firefly, but I couldn’t help but think there might be a better way to manage the crowd than to have me sit through two panels in which I had no interest while devoted fans of Community and The Legend of Korra never made it inside.  I shall add this issue to my “When I Rule The World” list.

My summary of the panels:  Mostly harmless.

What You Really Want

Prior to the panel starting, the first several rows received notice that they might be on film:

Also, if anyone has posted a video of the entire panel, they were in violation of repeated requests to not film during video playbacks (which is one of the reasons I didn’t film the entire panel; the others being that it’s hard to listen while filming, it’s hard to hold a camera steady for an hour when there’s nowhere to put a tripod, and most importantly there’s going to be a professional production made of the event).

I did record a few excerpts, which I’m happy to share with you now.

Panel Introduction


The Jayne Hat Phenomenon (Three Parts)




Shoutout To The Browncoats


Life In The Verse


The Toughest Question Is The One You Don’t Ask

So yes, I did get in line to ask a question, and in my mind it started out as an amazing question, worthy of, perhaps, a doctoral dissertation.  It was predicated on an online analysis I had read in which the writer proposed that all of the other characters are in Mal’s head after he has had a breakdown after the Battle of Serenity Valley.  Thank goodness for the screeners.  I started to get out of line, but the others there encouraged me to think about my question and perhaps modify it.  I was dubious, but what I finally came up with was “Do you have a favorite fan art/tribute/fiction?” (or something like that).  Alan Tudyk shared a wonderful story about a painting (made after the end of Firefly but before Serenity) in which Joss Whedon is a jar protecting a firefly from network executives.  After that, Nathan Fillion mentioned Jason Palmer, who is not a fan artist but rather a professional artist.  I believe Mr. Fillion’s words were something like “he makes me look even more handsome than I already am.”  I later met Mr. Palmer and introduced myself as the person who asked the “pitched question”:

He even personalized my Limted Edition Portrait Set for me (if you want to see the pictures, you’ll have to check out the website linked at Mr. Palmer’s name above):

SERENITY Limited Edition Portrait Set by Jason Palmer

I probably should have gotten out of line; I can’t help but think of all the amazing questions that didn’t get asked by people waiting behind me (And I’m guessing Entertainment Weekly agrees, as my question, and the panel members’ answers, do not appear in their live blog, although they did cover Joss Whedon’s and Nathan Fillion’s tears.  DISCLAIMER:  Emotionality unrelated to my question).  Again, on my “When I Rule The World” list, maybe get people to submit questions in advance, have fans vote online for the best ones, then hold a drawing for who gets to ask them.

I Wish I Had A Better Camera (And Six More Arms)

I leave you with a few photos, taken with the still photo function on my video camera, as I could only operate so many devices at once.  Sorry in advance for the poor quality.

And finally, if my few brief video excerpts weren’t enough for you, the best full length video of the panel I could find: