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Global warming, archaeology, and skeptical scientists

Rosemary Joyce, professor of anthropology | July 27, 2010

The headline in USA Today read World Sizzles to Record for the Year.

In fact, as the story explained, it is more than that: so far, this is the hottest year since records of temperature began to be recorded in 1880.

As Discovery News reported earlier this month, this unprecedented warming is exposing “ancient relics in recently melted ice patches”– notably, a wooden weapon that was lost and frozen about 10,000 years ago near Yellowstone.

Nor is this find unique. Citing as an example researchers in Canada who have found objects buried in snow of the last 2400 to 850 years, the story notes that there are

many research groups around the world that are capitalizing on widespread melting of previously stable ice and snow patches.

Still, browsing the article in USA Today, a reader initially concerned about 2010 being the warmest year since record-keeping began might find reassurance in the opinions of “global warming skeptic” Marc Morano. That is, if they aren’t put off by Morano’s background as a conservative political activist, working for a group partly funded by oil money.

But USA Today offers a second skeptical voice, this one not so easily dismissed as politically motivated: weather forecaster Joe D’Aleo, co-founder of The Weather Channel.

Nor is D’Aleo alone. A large number of meteoreologists are on record as global warming skeptics. According to a survey by researchers at George Mason University and the University of Texas at Austin, only about 50% of meteorologists accepted the science of global warming, and a full 25% reportedly agreed with the statement that “Global warming is a scam.”

And as the New York Times noted, more people listen to weathermen and trust them as sources of information about global warming than they do politicians– or, it would seem, scientists.

Global warming is a paradox: one of the clearest empirical phenomena on record, but something that a substantial number of otherwise well-informed people reject. News media like Frontline have documented the credentials of scientists who are visible global warming skeptics, and they include distinguished figures.

But thanks to a study by Stanford University’s Professor Steven Schneider, who explored both the causes of climate change and the challenges scientists face in representing their findings to the press, we now are in a position to compare the credentials of scientists who reject global warming and those who are convinced of its validity.

The study, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on June 21, assessed publications of doubters and supporters and found that “97–98% of the climate researchers most actively publishing in the field” accept that global warming is real. Looking at citation of research, the study found that scientists who accepted global warming were cited 64% more than doubters.

Steven Schneider died just one week ago.

A few days after his death, the US Senate ended efforts to pass a bill addressing climate change.

And while ice that has preserved otherwise fleeting evidence of human existence for 10,000 years melts under the onslaught of annual temperatures unprecedented in all that long time, yielding finds for some archaeologists, other archaeologists rush urgently to find or record sites before they are destroyed by rising waters, thawing soil, and other effects of climate change.

Comments to “Global warming, archaeology, and skeptical scientists

  1. Climate change is upon us. And we have to act smart. We have to start with something simple and measure our own local weather – a weather device is a good start, than collect data and share.

  2. How much sunlight is reflected from the Earth by the ice-caps ?
    When they have melted will the pace of global warming accelerate
    dramatically ?
    Have we already or are we near to crossing a point of no return ?

    • Gary, considering the fact that Prof. Keeling’s curve has been growing out of control for over half a century, the fact that the IPCC didn’t even form until just a couple decades ago, the fact that there is no Nobel Prize for Environment, and the fact that the new LLNL NIF is not dedicated solely to implementing controlled fusion with a sense of urgency, one can understand your skepticism.

      Personally I have no doubt that unacceptable climate change consequences have already begun, but our scientific community has totally failed to take Keeling’s warnings seriously for so long that one must wonder if we have enough time left to prevent global warming calamities from destroying quality of life on earth in this century.

    • Let’s try this again:

      global warming is a trend that can be observed over the period since modern temperature records have been kept. For global warming to be a fact, it is not a requirement that each indvidual year be warmer than the last. According to the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, based on data collected through October 2010, 2010 is the second warmest year on record since records began to be kept, after 2007. That does not disprove global warming as a long term trend.

      The trend is indisputable, as any scientific agency’s publications show. Take NASA, for example: its chart shows the fluctuations from year to year (in black) but overall, the trend is clear: global mean temperature is increasing, especially dramatically in recent decades. The decade from 2000-2009– the most recent complete decade– is the hottest on record.

      The suggestion in the article you link to that current severe winter weather disproves global warming betrays a misunderstanding of the kind of global climate change that global warming promotes. This includes increases in extreme weather events globally– rainstorms and snowstorms, depending on the season. A cold winter does not reverse the trend of global warming. Global warming isn’t going to lead to the abolition of seasonal weather; it is projected to lead to the intensification of extreme weather.

      In February 2009, Scientific American published an article called “Why Global Warming Can Mean Harsher Winter Weather”. It is a particularly clear summary of the issues, and one of the especially evocative details as a native of Buffalo, NY watching my family endure an extreme snowy winter was this one:

      warmer temperatures in the winter of 2006 caused Lake Erie to not freeze for the first time in its history. This actually led to increased snowfalls because more evaporating water from the lake was available for precipitation.

      Instead of seeking opinion pieces masquerading as articles from newspapers of dubious reliability, I urge readers to try consulting this or any of the other scientific sources on the topic. A little reading will serve to show that climate change deniers are almost always starting by setting up classic straw man arguments (as in the article Gary linked to) which are not in fact the scientific argument. Often, climate deniers claim that data show things they do not. They often introduce misleading red herrings– like winter weather– some of which actually support the argument that global warming is already affecting our lives.

      And not a single one of those arguments addresses the point I made in this blog: ages-old ice is melting.

      • Prof. Joyce, Gary’s comment confirms once again the imperative that the scientific community must heed UCSD SIO Prof. Somerville’s Call to Action immediately:

        “We call for the science community to develop, implement, and sustain an independent initiative with a singular mandate: to actively and effectively share information about climate change risks and potential solutions with the public”

  3. You note that melting ice is exposing artifacts from long ago. You say that the earth’s temperature has never been higher in human history. So the artifacts must date back to pre-historical times.

    Considering that history doesn’t go very far back, in geological time, it is not saying much to say that present temperatures have never been higher in human history. And even that statement is not universally accepted. Many eminent geologists contend that the Medieval Warm Period and Roman Optimum were both as hot as, if not hotter than, our present warm period.

    You claim that the world has never known a decade as hot as the last decade, but obviously the world was just as hot at the time that the newly discovered artifacts were made. And there is good evidence, archeological evidence, that treelines in northern latitudes approached much closer to the Arctic than they do now. Furthermore, accurate temperature measuring instruments were only developed in the recent past; you cannot possibly know that the last decade was the hottest even in human history. To state that it was the hottest since human habitation is just indulging in fantasy.

    What is most significant about the last decade and a half is that there has been no temperature increase; the temperature can be said to have plateaued, even Phil Jones acknowledges this. But over this same period the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has steadily risen. If our present warm period were the result of man made carbon dioxide then the world temperatures would have been steadily increasing over this decade and a half.

    The period during which the alarmists noted a correlation between increasing temperatures and increasing levels of carbon dioxide was only about twenty years long – from 1975 to 1995. (Before that ararmists were predicting that we would all freeze in the ice age that had already set in.) If this period of correspondence, 20 years, is significant, then a fifteen year period of no correspondence is even more significant. If you assert that A causes B it is not enough to note that A and B correlate – B could be caused by something other than A. But if it can be shown that A is present but B is absent then the hypothesis has been falsified.

    If we put this all together the conclusion that most satisfies the criterion of Occam’s razor is that the Earth’s temperature is constantly changing, there are many factors that influence these changes and the process is only poorly understood. But carbon dioxide has only a very minor, hardly detectable role.

    The bulk, but not all, of the scientific community seems to have taken a false turn. The bulk of the scientific community seems to have been captured by the misanthropic zeitgeist that sees the works of mankind to be at war with nature. This truly is a religious phenomenon. I imagine it has a way to go and I imagine it will do a lot of damage before the world comes to its senses.

    • Archaeology is a science of understanding time before written records from material remains. The logic involved seems to have escaped you. So let’s make it clearer: a wooden object deposited 10,000 years ago near Yellowstone– that is, at a time when the area was frozen– survived because it was frozen; otherwise, it would, like most wooden objects in humid climates, have decayed long ago. It was preserved by unbroken ice– until now, when 10,000 years of cold sufficient to preserve ice has been reversed.

      Or in other words: the area near Yellowstone that melted to expose this wooden tool was frozen for the last 10,000 years. And that means I don’t need a thermometer to know which way the temperature has gone in this location: up.

      The same is true for the Canadian objects I cited in my post. These were preserved, buried in snow, since they were deposited up to 2400 years ago. And now, the ice covering (and preserving) them is melting.

      Climate change deniers like to cite (out of context) information about past incidents of warming and cooling recorded in documentary history. But what we know is that average annual temperatures now are the highest since records using modern instruments were used– since 1880, as I note above. That is not a twenty year period. It is a period of 130 years, in which the most recent years are the hottest on record.

      Climate deniers also like to cite early arguments made, when long term climate trends first began to be modeled, for global cooling, to somehow suggest that means we should reject current climate models. This betrays a complete misunderstanding of science, which is not magic: it is a long-term, cumulative process of testing hypotheses against additional data, refining them, and arriving at ever improving knowledge. That process led models to be refined showing that the recorded rises in temperature (facts) were already changing global climate (facts). Models got better, and this allows us today to better understand what we are facing: a historically unprecedented episode in human history (including the history we archaeologists record, analyze, and understand far better than critics like you).

      As an archaeologist, I find the smugness of climate change deniers amazing. There is a persistent belief that, because human populations have faced severe conditions in the past, we today will be just fine.

      Well, I am here to tell you that societies fall apart; civilizations crash; and whole populations die. And we may be the society, civilization, and population that proves once again that individual human beings have a very hard time learning the lessons of long term history, including that we humans have the ability to alter the larger environment of our planet through our numbers, our technologies, and our use of energy that is unprecedented.

      Occam’s razor is a tired tool for you to wield, but if you want to do so, then you need to learn what it actually is and how to actually use it. The explanation that requires the fewest assumptions is to be preferred to other explanations that account for all the facts. Your “explanation” only accounts for the facts you choose to accept. It ignores my opening fact: 10,000 year old ice is melting. And there are a lot more pieces of evidence where that one came from.

      • Dear Ms Joyce,
        thank you for taking the trouble to post such a comprehensive reply. And I would like to reply to some of the assertions you make.

        I presume that you are open to dialogue; there are some proponents of the CAGW (catastrophic anthropogenic global warming) hypothesis who insist that any folk who disagree with their claims are automatically speaking in bad faith. Often it is automatically assumed that non-believers are in the employ of oil or coal companies, or, alternatively, they are rich people who live in huge, air conditioned houses, drive huge, air-conditioned auromobiles, fly incessantly around the world, and refuse to contemplate the possibility that their vulgar style of living might be morally reprehensible. I will credit you with being free from this kind of moral vanity.

        Let’s look at the matter of the meaning of the discovery of human artifacts that are being revealed by the melting of long standing ice. Not so long ago I read of the discovery of the indications of human settlement, house posts and the like, that were revealed when glaciers in the European Alps retreated. Obviously no-one had been living at these places when they were covered by glacial ice; people do not live under year round snow, let alone ice. The fact that the glacier had retreated to reveal the artifacts underneath can reasonably be taken as evidence that warming has taken place in that location. But the fact that people had previously been living at that spot can be taken as evidence that that location had been warm enough, at some time in the past, to allow people to live there. That is, it was as warm, at a time in the past when people were living in built housing, as it is now. The only other possibility is that a group of people came to that spot and then built dwellings after clearing away the ever-present ice.That does not seem to be very logical.

        Furthermore, the reasons for the retreat and advance of glaciers, and other snow and ice, is not totally understood. The reason for the sporadic disappearance of the snows of Mt Kilimanjaro is generally thought to be the felling of the surrounding forests.

        The great glaciers of Greenland are sometimes seen to be decreasing and at other times increasing. The huge Franz Joseph glacier in New Zealand has been steadily increasing since the end of the Second World War, which was when the industrial age really took hold around the world. The sea ice in the Arctic is sometimes decreasing and at other times increasing. And there is considerable disagreement about the cause, with some stating that it is all a matter of CAGW and others pointing to the influence of winds that drive the ice out of the Arctic Ocean into warmer waters where it can more readily melt.

        And most significant of all, the sea ice, and the land ice, in the Antarctic is steadily increasing at a significant rate. Some CAGW proponents point to a decrease of sea ice at the Antarctic Peninsula while failing to mention that this peninsula accounts for about 2% of the Antarctic, that it is established that these waters are home to underwater volcanos and that the ice in the Antarctic as a whole is significantly increasing.

        I have written here at length about the unpredictable behaviour of ice masses only to point out that the single hypothesis of CAGW cannot predict their behaviour and neither can it explain their observed behaviour. An hypothesis that has neither predictive nor explanatory value is not qualified to be called a theory, and huge numbers of first rate scientists in the fields of atmospheric and paleoclimate science, as well as physics and chemistry, regard it as nothing more than an hypothesis that has no significant evidentiary support.

        You write that the present temperatures are the highest since thermometers have been used. And I am not disputing that. But this has to be made sense of. You cannot just assume that this is evidence for the CAGW hypothesis. Firstly, as I noted previously, the significant production of man made CO2 did not commence till the end of the second world war – man made carbon dioxide could not have been a significant influence before then because there wasn’t enough of it in the atmosphere. After that time world temperatures fell (I have here a cover of Newsweek from 1975. In this issue there is a long story, quoting prominent science/activists who claim that we are heading for the next ice age; that in fact it has already begun, that food production is beginning to fall and urgent action will need to be taken.) But shortly after that date it was observed that world temperatures were rising and soon the new alarm took the form that we are all going to fry on this planet made uninhabitable. And this correlation of rising temperatures and rising CO2 levels persisted till about 1995. After which time the temperatures plateaued, as Phil Jones has conceded. NOW do you get it, Ms Joyce? Now do you see why I point to a mere 20 years of correlation and a following decade and a half of non-correlation?

        And are you aware that some millions of years ago the earth’s atmosphere held something like 7000 ppm of carbon dioxide, in comparison with the 380 ppm today. In those times there was no runaway Catastrophic global warming; there was ice at the poles and life of all sorts flourished.

        Using the principle of Occam’s razor, the simplest explanation is that climate is always changing, for reasons that are not well understood, but that carbon dioxide, while obviously having some effect, has an effect that is so small that it is barely detectable. And, this being so, it would be foolish to deny us access to cheap energy when the denial would simply make us all poorer without having any measureable effect on world temperatures.

        You are here to tell me that societies fall apart, etc. Thank you. I do not doubt your sincerity. But I have listened to many people in the course of my life who were here to tell me that the end would soon arrive if I and others like me didn’t change our wicked ways. There is a broad pattern that these warnings take. And I have observed that the evidence for the impending doom is usually not as strong as the aversion that is felt, by those who are here to tell me, for what they see as the wrongness of the way I live.

        Thank you for engaging in dialogue.

        • Give me a specific link to your claim of “house posts and the like” exposed by melting Alpine ice, and then we can talk. Until then, I reiterate: wooden weapons lost by people in snowy environments as much as 10,000 years ago have been revealed by melting ice.

          Your approach is not to engage with that simple fact, but to launch into a set of claims about global average temperature which are not true– the temperature rise has not, as you say, leveled off. The data shown in the sources to which I linked– which run up to the very most recent months on record– support the fact that the past decade is the very warmest on record.

          And once again, I will reiterate, that you have no real understanding of the philosophical principle of parsimony. Citing it (as “Occam’s razor”) may make it sound like you are making a serious argument. But until you engage with facts, you are not.

          • Prof. Joyce, you do a great job debating with individuals on the Berkeley Blog, but have you ever considered joining with Prof. Somerville and colleagues “to actively and effectively share information about climate change risks and potential solutions with the public” on a global scale?

          • P.S.:

            UN’s Ban at climate talks: ‘We need results now’

            By CHARLES J. HANLEY, AP Special Correspondent Charles J. Hanley, Ap Special Correspondent – 22 mins ago

            CANCUN, Mexico

            “I am deeply concerned that our efforts so far have been insufficient,” the U.N. chief said.

            “Nature will not wait while we negotiate,” he said. “Science warns that the window of opportunity to prevent uncontrolled climate change will soon close.”

          • Prof. Joyce, the only reason I continue to comment on Berkeley Blog is to fight for and protect the future for my one year old granddaughter.

            And you are the only Cal professor who will most frequently carry on a conversation with us, the general public, as well as informing us on things we need to know to make better decisions.

  4. Sorry Charlie, but Prof. Joyce is the best and most correct spokesperson for the human race on this blog. She actually communicates with and tries to educate the public as well as university students, an extraordinary skill that academia needs most to practice as a paramount cultural value before people relegate them to the same category as politicians for failing to communicate with and act responsibly in the real world.

    One fact that Prof. Joyce proves in her posts most eloquently and intelligently is that women have a relatively larger prefrontal cortex than men. On the other hand, we men keep proving that we have a relatively larger amygdala than women which has always been a root cause failure mode for basically all male dominated civilizations before ours, and remains so today.

    Today, we need more professors like Prof. Joyce, especially since she is an anthropologist and knows better than most why we are in so much trouble today, again. She actually communicates with the public regardless of whether we are tenured or not. But it appears that reason cannot possibly prevail in what is still a male dominated, amygdala driven institution.

    • Re: Prof. Joyce August 03, 2010, 4:59 pm concluding challenge:
      “do you have any facts to offer, or just a dismissive opinion? Come on: I am prepared to debate this.”

      To my knowledge, Prof. Joyce is the only professor and scholar posting on the Berkeley Blog who has made such an effort to actually communicate directly with a member of the public, and have a debate with the public. We need many, many more academics like Prof. Joyce if we are ever going to save the planet from McKibben’s grave warning: “Fossil fuel is wrecking the one Earth we’ve got.”

      Considering the fact that Prof. Joyce is an anthropologist, it is especially appropriate to reiterate the fact that she truly is an advanced culture professor at a time when humanity needs a whole new advanced culture of people who are ready, willing and able to make the right things happen with the required sense of urgency.

    • Let me use this comment as an opportunity to point out that the US is currently suffering from a wave of ignorance that is rooted in the idea that opinions are more important than facts. What I do here is offer facts– facts substantiated by scientists across a wide range of fields. To answer facts that you do not like with opinions– “I still think your [sic] wrong”– is to retreat from informed debate. Why do you disagree with me? are your disagreements based on rejecting data; do you have alternative data to offer; do you draw different logical conclusions from the same data? Then we can talk about things. But if what you offer is a knee-jerk reaction, fueled by the anti-intellectualism that is rampant in this country, then really, why bother reading anything with which you disagree?

      Your original comments offered two items that could be said to be attempts at representing facts. First, you said the world’s climate goes through cycles. This is fine, as far as it goes. But my response was to point out that never in human history has the world’s overall temperature been as high for as long as it has been in the last decade. That means, this is not simply a repeat of something that has happened before. Taking refuge in the past as a guarantee that things will just work themselves out is ignoring the difference between the past circumstances and the present ones. So, I countered your fact with a fact that disproved its relevance. You need to address why we should not be concerned with the highest temperatures on record– temperatures melting 10,000 year old ice.

      The second assertion you made that we could treat as an attempt to present a fact actually wasn’t one: you said that one person, Al Gore, was responsible for current concerns about global warming. My post makes clear that 98% of the top climate scientists are concerned about global warming– and that would be just a start. One of the studies I cited gives other data on levels of concern in the sciences. Even 50% of meteorologists are concerned about global warming, despite the fact that these short-term forecasters include a large number of skeptics.

      So: do you have any facts to offer, or just a dismissive opinion? Come on: I am prepared to debate this. Use the opportunity.

      • Bill McKibben had an excellent Op-Ed in the L.A. Times this morning “Climate change: It’s time to talk, and act, tough”,0,7179186.story

        His most excellent advice, considering the hideous failure of our Washington politicians to act on climate change:

        “Mostly, we need to tell the truth, resolutely and constantly. Fossil fuel is wrecking the one Earth we’ve got. It’s not going to go away because we ask politely. If we want a world that works, we’re going to have to raise our voices.”

        It’s time to revive the Protest culture of the 60s at Berkeley, it worked then and we need to protest today than ever before.

        Earth Day failed, Copenhagen failed, and there have already been far too many lost opportunity decades before scientists stopped marginalizing Keeling.

        So widespread protests are in order to demand immediate actions by UC and their National Labs to create a new Climate Change version of the Manhattan Project today, to build hybrid fusion/desalination plants to stop the climate change holocaust and save humanity, instead of continuing to focus their highest priority on producing more holocaust bombs that destroy humanity for profit.

  5. I wonder why this is published under “science and Technology” heading. It is about neither. The issue is not whether climate is changing. It has been changing always (e.g., little ice age). The question is whether we can do anything about it. Or even should we?

    • Short answer: I get to decide where to post. Longer answer: archaeology is a science. The practice of archaeology is being affected by global warming. Climatologists are scientists.

    • And on the topic of climate change “happening always”: global temperatures have never been higher in human history. The ice that is melting, leaving behind objects frozen 10,000 years ago, is an indirect reflection of the directional change of global temperature– global warming.

      There is no controversy about whether we can do something about global warming. Human beings could modify our production of gases that we know contribute to global warming. Even if we thought human beings had no role in causing global warming, it is in our interests to bring the global temperature back into the range that has been our norm. Since global warming contributes (among other things) to accelerated melting of ice, raising sea levels (and threatening low-lying countries and coastlines), yes, we should do something about it, because we can.

  6. Considering some of the Comments, it continues to be more than obvious that we must innovate a much better way to educate and inform We The People so We can have equal opportunities to more easily learn, question and make better decisions about problems that have increasingly severe, some possibly out of control already, consequences for future generations, including the youth of today.

    I believe that the creators of the interactive “Berkeley Blog” and advanced culture professors like you are caring, sharing, ready, willing and able to innovate better ways to provide equal opportunity education, information, and interaction with all Californians, plus the rest of the world for that matter.

    So let’s make it happen by taking information dissemination, education, participation and cooperation to a whole new level that truly proves that American Democracy is the best form of government.

    • P.S. Just ran across a reality check that appears to shoot down hope for any recommendation we have such as “university faculty need to continue our traditional role of countering ignorance and promoting the capacity for logical and longer-term thought through teaching; but we also, obviously, need to increase our presence with a broader public” in time to save us from totally unacceptable consequences of climate change that, as you reported, we have already begun to experience.

      The Times just published a reality check adapted from “Higher Education? How Colleges Are Wasting Our Money and Failing Our Kids — and What We Can Do About It”
      Interestingly, this essay emphasizes the key role that UC has played in making the wrong things happen.

  7. Thanks for your answers, the fact of most concern appears to be that our “Us” vs. “Them mentality still rules our brain.

    “I know professionally that there is no guarantee that we will survive, because I know that human societies have caused their own destruction” confirms similar reality checks by evolutionary biologists such as E.O. Wilson.

    On the other hand John Brockman’s published “What Are You Optimistic About” by many thinkers that still offer constructive thoughts of hope for humanity.

    If only we could get capitalism to focus on making lots of money saving humanity from self-destruction.

    It really seems most hopeless that we do not seem to be able to even overcome the destructive cultural inertia “if there is less reward for teaching than research in academia, there is even less consideration for public outreach– and some would say, it even brings suspicion of our dedication to a high calling.”

    Anyway, we really need to do our best “to increase our presence with a broader public. The Berkeley Blog is one way to do that” and make this happen. Your recommendation may be our last chance and there should be no better place than Berkeley to begin making the right things happen.

    Anyway, thank you very much for your efforts in our behalf. People like you, Wilson, Smoot and Obama may be our last best hope to finally overcome the self-destructive forces in our amygdala.

  8. RFP: Ways To Make The Right Things Happen To Solve Global Warming And Other Problems That Threaten Humanity Today

    We need to consider using something like the “Berkeley Blog” to inform people in California, America and around the world about problems and solutions that will protect our future quality of life.

    We must create a bridge between “Us” and “Them” to bring all people together to cooperate in solving our problems as families, as communities, as countries, all people around the world.

    It is time to educate all people in a way in a way that everyone will have an equal opportunity to read, think, question, discuss and solve our problems together.

    We must find new ways to deal with the challenges of worldwide change, including climate, economic, political and social, and we must begin now.

    Accelerating worldwide changes are going to force people migrations such as faced by peoples like the Mayans, Akkadians, Europeans and Americans, and we must find better ways to deal with these challenges.

    There have to be better ways to make the right things happen, because we aren’t doing so well right now.

    If anyone really cares, please respond with proposals to make the right things happen.

    • There are a number of proposals that could begin to shift us from current unsustainable practices, some of them already discussed on the Berkeley Blog (see, for example, George Lakoff’s post on the CLEAR act). What seems to be missing for action is pressure on the politicians who make decisions to do what is harder but better in the long term. The influence of corporations on politics– which is only getting worse– overshadows the ability of the people to promote their own best interests with their representatives. Then there are the deliberate efforts of some media to promote the concept that for every fact there is an equal and opposite “fact”: so that, as in my example above, USA Today counters the conclusions of 98% of climate scientists with the opinion of possibly 25% (or at best, 50%) of meteorologists. Media hostility to the conclusions of researchers in turn promotes a broad anti-intellectualism that persuades the public not to listen to scholars.

      I am nonetheless an optimist. (I have to be: I know professionally that there is no guarantee that we will survive, because I know that human societies have caused their own destruction; but if I base a pessimistic position on that, I am simply denying my own agency.) So for me, the question is, how do we sidestep the paralysis of national (and in California, state-level) politics? obviously, by advocating at the local level. So we should promote more programs like the solar programs of the City of Berkeley, that solve the problem of initial outlay and let citizens shift their electrical generation off fossil fuels. Not enough? while Congress cannot seem to manage cap-and-trade, individual travelers can now purchase carbon offsets for flights (while we wait for corporations– probably not US corporations, unfortunately– to improve the technology of airplanes because of the market that exists for them).

      And as scholars and intellectuals, university faculty need to continue our traditional role of countering ignorance and promoting the capacity for logical and longer-term thought through teaching; but we also, obviously, need to increase our presence with a broader public. The Berkeley Blog is one way to do that; there may be others still emerging, and we need to recognize them and engage, even though (frankly) if there is less reward for teaching than research in academia, there is even less consideration for public outreach– and some would say, it even brings suspicion of our dedication to a high calling.

  9. One of the most incredible problems today is that our leaders who are determining our fate appear to have learned nothing from the wonderful discoveries by anthropologists, archeologists, historians and anyone who has researched and documented the lessons of history that have proven far too many times that Us/Them dichotomies are doomed to failures that have even destroyed civilizations.

    Thus the biggest question today is whether the current generations determining the fate of humanity are mentally capable and willing to cooperate enough to prevent the failure of our civilization, or even humanity.

    QUESTION: Do We Have What It Takes To Keep From Destroying All Acceptable Futures For Humanity, How Can We Make The Right Things Happen In Time?

  10. “Conservatives who dismiss climate change as a hoax are making a spectacle of their ignorance.” — New York Times op-ed article by Ross Douthat.

    • Conservative republicans who deny global warming consequences we are already experiencing are the greatest threat to humanity today, and/or they are Bush type aristocrats who paid for their degrees from places like Harvard and Yale and never had to learn anything.

    • Its obvious that climate change is in effect — there’s nothing to argue there but what is also obvious is that the worlds climate goes through cycles. A few hundred years ago we would have been stressing over a climate change of the opposite type.

      • Just adding on to my last comment I am really frustrated that an entire controversy can come from one person, Al Gore has instilled in the world a sense of fear that does not need to be present and I cannot stand for that.

        • Sorry, but concern about global warming was not caused by Al Gore. To make that kind of claim undercuts your attempt to engage seriously about the issues involved. What “An Inconvenient Truth” did was put into visual form arguments that researchers had already been making in words– the medium we are trained to use, but one that is, it is increasingly clear, not effective enough.

          As an archaeologist, I certainly agree that there have historically been climate cycles. But what you need to accept is that archaeologists recognize that the current warming is, to quote Peter Mitchell in Antiquity in 2008 (vol. 82, pp. 1093-1103), “Earth is experiencing (anthropogenic) climate change at a rate and scale unparalleled in human history”.

          Mitchell argues that archaeologists have a special responsibility to speak out about global warming that “derives from the fact that the timescales on which we work offer unique opportunities to examine and understand the interaction of climactic, ecological, demographic, economic, sociopolitical and ideological variables” over both the long term of millennia, a scale human beings do not normally comprehend, and the small scale of the individual event.

          Your reference to conditions “a few hundred years ago” is an example. Yes, there have been cooling episodes within recorded European history. That is not the issue here. The issue is whether human society can withstand the disruptions that the current warming trend will bring. There is no precedent for this experience in human history. Period.

          Using archaeological data, Mitchell notes, we now know that carbon feedback cycles have actually been underestimated; concluding that “future warming may thus be even more severe than previously thought”.

          Finally, I have to underline the implications of the archaeology news that sparked my original draft of this comment. Global warming in recent years has progressed so far that things once solidly covered by ice are being exposed all over the globe, and (Mitchell notes) coastal sites are threatened around the world. These are facts, not opinions. Archaeologists are empiricists. And what we are observing in the world around us are changes consistent with warming unprecedented in human history.

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