Smoke and mirrors
May 27, 2008 4:03 PM   Subscribe

Meet Joules the climate change-sceptic robot. Joules is employed to teach 8-14 year-old school children in the UK about energy use. Joules says: "oil and gas could be in short supply in about 50 years time. The earth is believed to be getting warmer and sea levels apper to be rising. Energy Chest is funded in part by the world's biggest oil company: ExxonMobil.

Energy Chest follows a report by the Union of Concerned Scientists, entitled “Smoke, Mirrors & Hot Air” [PDF] which demonstrated how the "oil giant has adopted the tobacco industry’s disinformation tactics", (as well as some of their personnel), to "cloud the scientific understanding of climate change and delay action on the issue". While in the UK, the Royal Society has complained about ExxonMobil campaign to fund groups that attempt to undermine the scientific consensus on climate change. Not that the kids are being told all that when they stumble across Joules or - worse - are being shown him by their teacher.
posted by MrMerlot (45 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
I guess agree with ExxonMobil. The earth does seem to be getting warmer and sea levels appear to be rising.
posted by mrnutty at 4:14 PM on May 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


This site looks like it was designed in 1998 using a cracked copy of FrontPage and is plastered with Google ads. If Exxon is going to be disingenuous, couldn't they at least be slick and disingenuous?
posted by Spacelegoman at 4:16 PM on May 27, 2008


NYT: Rockefellers Seek Change at Exxon.
posted by russilwvong at 4:18 PM on May 27, 2008


Is this a link to a website from 2001? Where is connection link between Exxon and Joules made explicit? It doesn't seem to be cited by any of the links in this post. And how is Joules a skeptic? Is his language overly noncommittal?

Huh.

As a (non-climate) scientist who has followed this issue from the middle distance for the past 15 years or so, and who believes a carbon tax significantly checking emissions is warrented, I'm starting to find the increasingly dogmatic tone coming from my side to be rather alarming. Freeman Dyson has a review in the latest NYRB that makes some good points along these lines. He has, however, always been more of a skeptic when it comes to non-technological solutions to climate change. Does that mean we get to dismiss him outright?
posted by mr_roboto at 4:24 PM on May 27, 2008


Freeman Dyson is, frankly, a bit weird these days when it comes to Climate Change.
posted by Artw at 4:27 PM on May 27, 2008


How is this a 'climate change sceptic' robot? It isn't as harshly worded as the die hard climate change proponents, but the statements are still true: there will be less oil and gas, the Earth will be warmer.
posted by twirlypen at 4:29 PM on May 27, 2008


Click on the case studies link on the front page. It details the partnerships ExxonMobil is making with some UK schools.

How is Joules climate change sceptic? Well its semantic, but i wouldn't say "oil and gas COULD run out" I would say it is VERY LIKELY to. A subtle, but disingenuous shift, in my opinion. No not as harshly worded, but possibly more dangerous.
posted by MrMerlot at 4:39 PM on May 27, 2008


Google ads? Exxon needs Google ad revenue?

Something smells weird here.
posted by rokusan at 4:42 PM on May 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


And to think those fools in Vienna laughed at my Santa Clause debunking robot, the Sant-no-clone 3000! I programmed him to go from school to school telling children the truth about this evil sham you people call Christmas.

Well whose laughing now? Mwha-ha-haaa-haaa-ha-ha-haaaah!
posted by tkchrist at 4:42 PM on May 27, 2008


It's amazing how long people will put up with bad science pushed by enterprise. The Ethyl Corporation (a front for General Motors and Standard Oil) was running around for decades telling people that tetraethyl motherfucking lead was perfectly safe.

Yes, you and millions of your friends can run around every day of the week putting little particles of lead in the air for toddlers to inhale, but your uncle sam must protect you from the devil weed marijuana. That's just good ol' "protectin' the general welfare."

If you think a little warming is going to stop them, sit down, I have news for you about the how babies are really made. The only reason the entrenched powers actually give a shit about the warming now is they're waking up to the fact that their beachfront mansions will be underwater soon.
posted by mullingitover at 4:42 PM on May 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


Freeman Dyson the spaceship guy?
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:46 PM on May 27, 2008


Google ads? Exxon needs Google ad revenue?

This, and with the gas prices going up, I'm sure we'd find that Exxon didn't make much money last year.
posted by SpacemanStix at 4:48 PM on May 27, 2008


Freeman Dyson the spaceship guy?

The only person by that name in Wikipedia, if you'd like to read some biographical information. I worry about dogmatism in science, and I think things like MrMerlot's "Well its semantic...." analysis come dangerously close to it.
posted by mr_roboto at 4:51 PM on May 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


I worry about dogmatism in science

The planet warming up and mass flooding is a bit more worrying to me. Frankly, none of the philosophy of science stuff is disprovable, and therefore not, by it's own definition, scientifically valid. So why does it matter in practice?

(that is to say, I'm not yet aware of anyone coming up with a consistent definition of 'science' such that that definition fits itself).

How can you be certain that you can never be certain?

etc.
posted by delmoi at 5:05 PM on May 27, 2008


Google ads? Exxon needs Google ad revenue?

Well, when astroturfing, you don't want to look too slick. In fact, you want to look small and cheap.
posted by mrnutty at 5:10 PM on May 27, 2008 [2 favorites]


How can you be certain that you can never be certain?

Delmoi, I think Descartes can help us.

If my memory serve, the phrase "cogito, ergo sum" means "I think, therefore I am". Cogito was used to express the ongoing labour that takes place in one mind when one is wondering about anything, including his own existence or the existence of thing that appears to be external , not-me , something else.

Now, the problem is that
1. if I am not sure that things outside me "really" exist
2. because I think that there could be something that I just can't "be aware of" or that my senses may be misrepresenting or under-representing reality "as it is"
3. therefore I cannot be sure that I exist as well.

If my memory isn't an illusion :) Descartes solves the problem with the most obvious observation ever, liable not to be considered because it's mind dumbingly obvious and because we are usually less aware about ourselves and more aware of "external things".

The observation is :

1) if I am pondering/cogitando/thinking about all this stuff about being/not being, whatever
2) then it follows I must exist

otherwise it would be impossible to me to wonder about anything. I couldn't be perceiving anything, false or incomplete or misunderstood.

I could use help of students of philosphy here (paging progosk, pagin progosk!) but that's my understanding of "cogito, ergo sum".

That's the only absolute certainity we can be sure of that is self contained, that is , that doesn't require any further ado than just noticing our own labour.

I guess that if we are looking for a temporary absolute certainity and we want it to be shareable with others, then we should found something we agree on. I don't think we do need some other absolute unchangeable certainity either.
posted by elpapacito at 5:52 PM on May 27, 2008


Meh. I have a hard time getting all hot and bothered over this one. You're going to pillory someone for being overly non-committal? Whatever, let me know when you find something as blindingly stupid as what the creationists trot out.

Oh yeah, and here's a review of Dyson's review over at Real Climate.
posted by bumpkin at 5:55 PM on May 27, 2008


Artw: That Freeman Dyson link makes sense to me. Is there some other article you were referring to?

"Environmentalism has replaced socialism as the leading secular religion"
posted by bhnyc at 6:03 PM on May 27, 2008


Freeman Dyson's selective vision.
posted by carmina at 6:08 PM on May 27, 2008


I worry about dogmatism in science

The planet warming up and mass flooding is a bit more worrying to me


False dichotomy?
posted by mr_roboto at 6:09 PM on May 27, 2008


I personally find the whole argument over discounting fascinating and complex, and I have no idea where I stand on it. It's also a rhetorical minefield, with either side calling on ideas like discrimination (against future generations) or starvation (of subsistence farmers forced to forgo development for yet another 50 years). Maybe I'll make a post about it.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:14 PM on May 27, 2008


that Real Climate link is a joke
they put this in italics pretending it's a quote-

"Carbon emissions are not a problem because in a few years genetic engineers will develop “carbon-eating trees” that will sequester carbon in soils."

here's the actual quote-
I consider it likely that we shall have "genetically engineered carbon-eating trees" within twenty years, and almost certainly within fifty years.

It's obvious we're going to have incredible technological solutions in 20 years, whether it's Nordhaus trees or something else.
posted by bhnyc at 6:18 PM on May 27, 2008


The Ethyl Corporation (a front for General Motors and Standard Oil) was running around for decades telling people that tetraethyl motherfucking lead was perfectly safe.

There's an excellent FPP to be made there. The bits and pieces I've read about how lead contanimation has truly fucked-up an entire generation of folk is damnably scary... and it was all done because some greedy bastard put his financial wealth waaaaay ahead of the health of his fellow citizens. People like that should be publically reviled for eternity.

It's remarkable how some of our social measures (crime rates, etc) closely map the introduction and banishment of leaded fuels. Bloody insanely, criminally stupid, it was.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:47 PM on May 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


It's obvious we're going to have incredible technological solutions in 20 years, whether it's Nordhaus trees or something else.
Ah, okay, lets just wait then. Because there's really not been any technological solution till now, 20 years since we know about this problem. Dyson's the joke, I says.
posted by carmina at 7:10 PM on May 27, 2008


Someone recently did some research showing that crime rates in NYC dropped precipitously some number of decades after a lead-abatement program in the city, the crime dropped echoed the lead drop very well.
posted by delmoi at 7:10 PM on May 27, 2008


lead
posted by bhnyc at 7:20 PM on May 27, 2008


Ah, okay, lets just wait then

The point is to use our resources well to do what we can do and have a long term plan to develop new solutions. I think it makes sense to spend most of our efforts in saving forests and wildlife habitats and stopping ocean pollution. At least then in 20 years we'll still have a planet worth saving.
posted by bhnyc at 7:41 PM on May 27, 2008


Freeman Dyson is, frankly, a bit weird these days when it comes to Climate Change.

I'm partly with mr roboto. Maybe it's just a bit of residual hero worship I have for somebody who's always seemed to me to be part of the pantheon of 20th Century physics gods. But I don't think those who advocate for action on the climate change front do the cause any favors by being casually dismissive of Dyson. Or Bill Gray, for that matter.

I don't mind this with some of the voices in the denial camp. For example, it doesn't bother me when people crap all over Michael Crichton. It seems obvious that the guy's a dilettante with large streak of demagoguery when it comes to this kind of policy analysis.

But Dyson? Or, say, Bill Gray? These guys are real scientists who've made serious contributions in their fields, fields which at least partially equip them to look at climate science with a greater depth than quite a few people are currently capable of. I feel like their comments deserve a response at least of the quality that you find in the RealClimate response given above. That's honestly not as thorough as I'd like to read, but it's something other than dismissive.

It's obvious we're going to have incredible technological solutions in 20 years, whether it's Nordhaus trees or something else.

I might be more open to this if I could see some numbers/analysis here -- say, for these advanced carbon-sequestering trees: what's the expected net change in atmospheric carbon per unit of land that's going to need to be planted with these things per year? How much land are we going to need to cover with these trees in order to get on a sane trajectory by the time they're invented? What evidence is there we won't hit a tipping point before then? How much recent progress has been made towards actualizing deployable trees? What further gains are needed and what makes it seem likely we'll get them soon?
posted by weston at 7:43 PM on May 27, 2008 [1 favorite]


five fresh fish writes "The bits and pieces I've read about how lead contanimation has truly fucked-up an entire generation of folk is damnably scary... and it was all done because some greedy bastard put his financial wealth waaaaay ahead of the health of his fellow citizens. People like that should be publically reviled for eternity."

If you happen upon the grave of Thomas Midgley, Jr. (who blessed us with tetraethyl lead *and* CFCs), feel free to gleefully desecrate it.
posted by mullingitover at 7:59 PM on May 27, 2008


Maybe it's just a bit of residual hero worship I have for somebody who's always seemed to me to be part of the pantheon of 20th Century physics gods.

Now stop it! that seriously .... tickles!

Are we talking about this Gray? Or this Dyson?
Gray himself does not mind a good ol' snickerin', he calls Peter Webster (of equal or greater fame) a "medicine man" because of his hurricane intesification theory. He calls Jim Hansen's arguments "ridiculous" but admits he doesn't know as much about the atmosphere as Hansen.
And Dyson "...was, after all, one of the “geniuses” pushing Project Orion — the absurdly impractical idea of creating a rocket ship powered by detonating nuclear bombs". Have you seen his wiki page? Like they need me to make fun of them...

People who are dismissing Gray and Dyson are not all irreverent un-knowns. I think they are mostly tired of addressing the same old-type know-it-alls who because they were good at something somewhen, have an arbitrary opinion about everything and everywhere now. It's cute when my granpa's doing it, but not always.
posted by carmina at 9:41 PM on May 27, 2008


I don 't really understand the point of this post. Oil will probably run out, though it may take centuries to happen. Human-induced global warming has no scientific basis. So where is the scandal here? And by the way, the oceans are not getting warmer.
posted by BrooklynCouch at 9:52 PM on May 27, 2008


Human-induced global warming has no scientific basis.

No one seriously contends that.
posted by mr_roboto at 10:20 PM on May 27, 2008


Folks, what you just read is what is commonly called "trolling." Trolling is a post that is intended to garner a response by appearing so ill-informed or uncouth as to virtually demand a restort.

The troll does not care about the content of your response. Abuse him or argue eloquently with him, it matters not. All the troll wants is your response, and preferably one which will will disrupt the thread and cause dissention. The troll is anti-community.

Please let this message be the sole response to the troll. Copy it and use it yourself in an other thread if such becomes necessary. If this message is the only response, the troll loses the "game."
posted by five fresh fish at 10:35 PM on May 27, 2008


And Dyson "...was, after all, one of the “geniuses” pushing Project Orion — the absurdly impractical idea of creating a rocket ship powered by detonating nuclear bombs". Have you seen his wiki page? Like they need me to make fun of them...

The Wikipedia page seems to indicate that the main stumbling blocks for project Orion were political (the test ban treaty) and safety concerns (fallout), but that the propulsion mechanism itself was completely plausible. So scientists spend a year developing new propulsion technology, discover safety concerns, and wisely decide not to implement the technology. That's hardly "absurdly impractical".

His Wikipedia page and book review are hardly worth condemning him for either. Based on the two, he believes in global warming and thinks that a carbon tax is a good strategy to combat it, but he disagrees with what he sees as the disproportionate amount of attention global warming receives compared to other global problems.
posted by Pyry at 11:14 PM on May 27, 2008


Now stop it! that seriously .... tickles!

Are we talking about this Gray? Or this Dyson?


The Dyson who worked with Feynman to formulate quantum electrodynamics.

People who are dismissing Gray and Dyson are not all irreverent un-knowns.

Dismissing, or rebutting?

Rebutting:

"business-as-usual ... would release almost as much carbon to the air by the end of the century as the entire reservoir of carbon stored on land, in living things and in soils combined. The land carbon reservoir would have to double in size in order keep up with us. This is too visionary for me to bet the farm on."

Dismissing:

"same old-type know-it-alls who because they were good at something somewhen, have an arbitrary opinion about everything and everywhere now. It's cute when my granpa's doing it, but not always."

"Freeman Dyson is, frankly, a bit weird these days when it comes to Climate Change."
posted by weston at 12:38 AM on May 28, 2008


This isn't a troll. It's a serious post. I think the fact that the world's largest oil company is using its money to spread disinformation about climate change. It's a subtle point, perhaps, but subtle points can cause LOTS OF DAMAGE.

Look, in England cigarette packs used to say "Smoking may cause lung cancer" now they say "Smoking Kills" ... isn't something similar happening with this site? Oil WILL be in short supply in 50 years. For crying out loud. IT'S IN SHORT SUPPLY NOW. That's why its $130+. That's why yesterday several major roads were shut down because of fuel protests. To say this MIGHT be happening, isn't being even-handed or "non-committal" its being disingenuous to the point of be deceitful. And, if you click on the links in the post (all of them) you will see that ExxonMobil has a bit of form.
posted by MrMerlot at 1:48 AM on May 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I thought the comment about oil MAY be in short supply in 50 years was totally disingenuous.

And brooklyncouch, perhaps no one told you, but worldnetdaily is about in par with Pravda in terms of credibility. I mean, that ridiculous anti-anti-ex-gay article is just for starters, referring un-cited research in non-peer reviewed, non-scientific magazines for lobby groups repeatedly - says much about their journalistic credibility.... but i digress. The fact that you actually READ it at least that means you're a nutjob rather than a troll. You'll also find that few of those "31,000 scientists" signatories even had degrees, and those that did had them in totally unrelated fields to climate research - so your "statistic" is misleading at best. They are not the "experts" you paint them as. Thankfully for you, and others fond of using half-truths to support your position, you don't need any qualifications to be a scientist, so any half wit can sign a petition claiming to be a scientist against climate change.
posted by Dillonlikescookies at 4:19 AM on May 28, 2008


MrMerlot, I think fff was refering to BrooklynCouch's comment, not the post itself.
posted by homunculus at 9:37 AM on May 28, 2008


And it is a good post, so thanks.
posted by homunculus at 9:38 AM on May 28, 2008


Wow, from mullingitover's link to the Wikipedia page of that Thomas Midgey Jr. guy:

In 1940, he contracted polio at the age of 51, which left him severely disabled. This led him to devise an elaborate system of strings and pulleys to lift him from bed. This system was the eventual cause of his death when he was accidentally entangled in the ropes of this device and died of strangulation at the age of 55.

The irony is tremendous. It's like everything the guy ever invented hurt someone, the last being himself.
posted by JHarris at 12:17 PM on May 28, 2008


OH MY.
posted by BrooklynCouch at 12:37 PM on May 28, 2008


OH MY.
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:05 PM on May 28, 2008 [1 favorite]


Could Methane Trigger a Climate Doomsday Within a Human Lifespan?
posted by homunculus at 2:53 PM on May 28, 2008


OH MY.

Is Shatner going to walk him down the aisle?
posted by homunculus at 3:01 PM on May 28, 2008


Arguing about whether global warming is man-made or not is like arguing about whether the captain was at fault for hitting the iceberg. Doesn't really matter: the ship is sinking and we need to figure out how to best man the lifeboats.

The tundra methane fart issue has been known for years. When that happens — and it's going to happen soon — we're going to see massive human die-off. Then the ocean methane ice will melt, and we'll have another huge die-off.

These events are probably going to resolve some of our problems, in that with 1/10th the human population, we'll be causing far less harm to the environment.

But it's going to suck balls to be a third worlder, or even a middle-class first worlder.

I hope to be dead by then.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:44 PM on May 28, 2008


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