Climate Re-Education Program

  A reader sent me a heads-up to an article in the Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society ($, abstract here) titled "Climate Change Education and the Ecological Footprint".  The authors express concern that non-science students don’t sufficiently understand global warming and its causes, and want to initiate a re-education program in schools to get people thinking the "right" way.

So, do climate scientists want to focus on better educating kids in details of the carbon cycle?  In the complexities in sorting out causes of warming between natural and man-made effects?  In difficulties with climate modeling?  In the huge role that feedback plays in climate forecasts?

Actually, no.  Interestingly, the curriculum advocated in the Journal of American Meteorology has very little to do with meteorology or climate science.  What they are advocating is a social engineering course structured around the concept of "ecological footprint."  The course, as far as I can tell, has more in common with this online kids game where kids find out what age they should be allowed to live to based on their ecological footprint.

Like the Planet Slayer game above, the approach seems to be built around a quiz (kind of slow and tedious to get through).  Like Planet Slayer, most of the questions are lifestyle questions – do you eat meat, do you buy food from more than 200 miles away, how big is your house, do you fly a lot, etc.  If you answer that yes, you have a good diet and a nice house and travel a bit and own a car, then you are indeed destroying the planet.

I could go nuts on a rant about propoganda in government monopoly schools, but I want to make a different point [feel free to insert rant of choice here].  The amazing thing to me is that none of this has the first thing to do with meteoroogy or climate science.  If there were any science at all in this ecological footprint stuff, it would have to be economics.  What does meteorology have to say about the carrying capacity of the earth?  Zero.  What does climate science have to say about the balance between the benefits of air travel and the cost of the incremental warming that might result from that air travel?  Zero. 

Take one example – food miles.  I live in Phoenix.  The cost to grow crops around here (since most of the agricultural water has to be brought in from hundreds of miles away) is high.  The cost is also high because even irrigated, the soil is not as productive for many crops as it is in, say, Iowa, so crops require more labor, more fertilizer, and more land for the same amount of yield.  I could make a really good argument that an ear of corn trucked in from Iowa probably uses less resources than an ear of corn grown withing 200 miles of where I live.  Agree or disagree, this is a tricky economics question that requires fairly sophisiticated analysis to answer.  How is teaching kids that "food grown within 200 miles helps save the planet" advancing the cause of climate science?  What does meteorology have to say about this question?

I am sorry I don’t have more excerpts, but I am lazy and I have to retype them by hand.  But this is too priceless to miss:

Responding to the statement "Buying bottled water instead of drinking water from a faucet contributes to global warming" only 21% of all [San Jose State University] Meteorology 112 students answered correctly.  In the EF student group, this improved to a 53% correct response….  For the statement, "Eating a vegetarian diet can reduce global warming," the initial correct response by all Meteorology 112 students was 14%, while the EF group improved to 80%.

Oh my god, every time you drink bottled water you are adding 0.0000000000000000000000000001C to the world temperature.  How much global warming do I prevent if I paint flowers on my VW van?  We are teaching college meteorology students this kind of stuff?  The gulf between this and my freshman physics class is so wide, I can’t even get my head around it.  This is a college science class?

In fact, the authors admit that their curriculum is an explicit rejection of science education, bringing the odd plea in a scientific journal that science students should be taught less science:

Critics of conventional environmental education propose that curriculum focused solely on science without personal and social connections may not be the most effective educational model for moving toward social change.

I think it is a pretty good sign that a particular branch of science has a problem when it is focused more on "social change" than on getting the science right, and when its leading journal focuses on education studies rather than science.

If I were a global warming believer, this program would piss me off.  Think about it.  Teaching kids this kind of stuff and then sending them out to argue with knowlegeable skeptics is like teaching a bunch of soldiers only karate and judo and then sending them into a modern firefight.  They are going to get slaughtered. 

  • As a side note, the program was funded by the National Science Foundation.

    You tax dollars at work.

  • Mike

    “If I were a global warming believer, this program would piss me off.”

    If you were a global warming believer, you wouldn’t be a Socialist. I am truly convinced that anyone who believed in this garbage is stupid, and anyone pushing it is a socialist. I have more respect for environmentalist than these man made global warming Socialist. When you care more about changing one’s behavior more than the science as to why they should change their behavior, then you have to be a Socialist who is anti-progress.

  • Alex Cull

    Re food miles, there was a study by researchers at New Zealand’s Lincoln University in 2007 which showed that foods such as apples and lamb produced in the UK, for instance, generated far more of the evil fizzy stuff than the same items produced in and shipped from NZ. Thus can well-meaning “locavorians” become unwitting agents of the GW menace. Horrors!

  • Arthur Glass

    I keep thinking about Stalin, Lysenko and Marxist ‘biology’.

  • Scienlist

    Please don’t hit me no more boss! I gots my mind right, I gots my mind right! Climate change is real. No we ain’t gots no failure to communicate boss. My mind’s right.

  • stomper

    “Responding to the statement “Buying bottled water instead of drinking water from a faucet contributes to global warming” only 21% of all [San Jose State University] Meteorology 112 students answered correctly. “

    i presume that is a true-false type of statement. i think that 80 percent answering the same way on T/F statements shows that at least they took the test seriously. from the examples given, it seems like the intended answer was obvious – sacrifice reduces global warming. maybe they had some tricky ones on the test, like, ‘not hitting the crosswalk button when crossing the street leads to global warming’. i could see that one tripping me up. or ‘beavers increase global warming when they cut down trees to make their dam’. that’s a toughie. or ‘glacial advancement/recession is only acceptable when controlled by anthropogenic climate management’. enough of those and maybe i couldn’t figure out what they wanted.

    “In the EF student group, this improved to a 53% correct response.”

    was the correct response to chain themselves to the front gate of the bottling plant and throw feces at the workers?

    considering the disparity between the control group and the ef subset group, i’d say the test easily proves that brainwashing is effective on roughly 53 to 80 percent of the college population.

  • John Galt

    Is “re-education” actually in the title? Wow! Maybe next year they can open “re-education” summer camps. Also, they should open a hotline so children can report their parents for not recycling and drinking bottled water.

  • Mike

    Speaking of data, I have a question about recycling:

    Other than aluminum (which we know has a net benefit for recycling it) what kind of net benefit is there to recycling the other “common” items, such as glass, plastic, paper, etc? By net benefit, I mean as far as amount of materials recovered, cost, and any kind of substantial energy savings.

    I dug up some data for New Zeland, but to be quite honest I’m skeptical. Here’s the link:

    Recycling Benefits

    This is something that I am merely curious about, as I’ve often wondered if the plastic I throw in my recycling bin is useful, or being shipped to a landfill in China somewhere (as some ewaste-cyclers have done)

  • Bob

    I love the honesty of the Planet Slayer game. Pick all the options of heavy consumption and invest around 50% of your money into “ethical investments”. If your income is 10-25 thousand, you only deserve to live for 6 years. If it’s 70-100 thousand, you deserve to live forever! Why won’t you poor people die already?

  • davidcobb

    RE Mike
    All metals and glass require substantially less energy to remelt than to mine and reduce the ore. Plastics require more energy to remelt than manufacture and produces a substandard product of limited use. Fiber reclamation of paper also requires more energy and produces a substandard product.

  • Patrick Hadley

    David, while I agree with you about metal recycling, I suspect that glass recycling is not economic without big subsidies – because the raw materials for new manufacture are cheap and plentiful, and the cheerful pro-recyling advocates do not take into account the cost of collecting and sorting the glass. Am I wrong in suspecting that glass recycling is a pious act of fidelity to the green religion but that it has no genuine environmental benefits? In the UK mixed cullet (the collected multi-colour glass waste) has a market value of around zero (at most £5 a ton if used for road building, but nothing if used for new glass manufacture) but it can cost over £30 a ton to sort and collect.

    As for paper, well every time somebody recycles paper they create a mess of dirty sludge, burn up extra energy and make it less profitable for another person to plant a tree which will take CO2 out of the atmosphere until when fully grown the tree is converted into paper. The most environmentally friendly thing to do with waste paper is to bury it in properly managed landfill site. I know that landfill sites look horrible when they are being filled, but on completion they usually become wonderful protected nature reserves.

  • Another Mike

    You got my blood boiling on that one. Only because we have a situation in the BC lower mainland where landfill is at a premium and the watermelons are fighting having it trucked up to landfills in the interior. The politicians in their butt kissing ways are acquiescing to their demands.

    I’ll elaborate. Lower mainland land is a bit of premium when one is surrounded by moutains and an ocean. However, in the north there are many abandoned open pit mines. Most have rail spurs to them or at least right of ways. One of BC Rail’s, (now CN) main problems is they only haul product 1 way, north to south. Predominantly it is natural goods such as coal and wood pulp in various forms going to the more populous areas in the south and around the world. Hence, CN’s productivity can immediately be no greater than 50% (measured on a $ basis). CN would love to find something to haul back north. Put the garbage on those trains, dump in an closed open pit mine and a couple of thouand years from now, you might come close to filling one up. A couple of thousand years beyond that you’d be left with a nice big hole filled with dirt. (yes, I realize I’m simplifying). There are some problems such as the rail cars have to be spotless to carry pulp. I’m sure they have cleaning facilites up north and can build that into the price. I GUARANTEE you the cost of doing that is less than burying it in the lower mainland and/or recycling. I’ll bet a lot of money the only reason recycling makes sense is because it is less expensive than burying it in a LOWER mainland landfill. It is only by environmental lobbying we don’t do what is best for the environment. The other way, the tax payer spends less and a company makes money. . . Makes more money. Hmmmm, maybe that’s the root of the evil?!?!?!

    Side note; I find it interesting the BC Gov’t has bought into the AGW, has labelled it the biggest crisis facing human beings and won’t allow more coal power plants to be built. Yet, they continue to allow the export of coal around the world. I guess jobs in the politically sensitive interior are far more important than the survival of the human race. Hypocrites.

  • One of the many things that bothers me about the quiz is its concern with consuming locally grown food. This concern is bogus – pure and simple. The cost of shipping 2 pounds of food 1500 miles by truck is about 1/500th of the total daily energy consumption of the average person in the US. The derivation of this number is simple.

    Best regards,

  • Jim Clarke

    The whole concept of a ‘carbon footprint’ is an example of the most fundamental flaw in modern environmentalism. A flaw that permeates every decision environmentalists make and renders those decisions counter-prodcutive. The flaw is their view that the biosphere can be ‘preserved’. They fail to recognize that the biosphere is and always has been dynamic. A healthy biosphere is ever-changing. Attempts to prevent change lead inevitably to a less healthy system. Policies preventing change ultimately damage the system, often through unintended consequences. A dynamic system must change, or die.

    ‘Carbon footprints’ are measures of ‘change’ that people make to the environment and are assumed to be a bad thing by definition in the modern environmental movement. Any benefits of emitting carbon are ignored and any potential negatives are exaggerated. There is no attempt to actually quantify the positives or negatives, but not because such a measurement is scientifically uncertain and difficult. The science is irrelevant. This is a social/political/religous movement now. If science was important, environmentalists would stop trying to ‘save’ the planet (hold it in stasis) and start promoting it.