Mātauranga providing indigenous answers to climate change alongside science

I was somewhat sceptical of this at first, but after reading through I see some merit in working with indigenous people  on climate change, using local knowledge to combat the possible effects of climate change.

It is alarming how narrowly some scientists view world problems like climate change.

Stuff:  Climate change scientists look to Māori and other indigenous people for answers

They are not looking to them for all the answers, but for valuable local knowledge.

In the Māoriland Hub in Ōtaki, north of Wellington, an exhibition details how bad climate change will get for locals in the Kāpiti Horowhenua region, where the frequency of heavy rainfall, flooding, erosion and landslides is already on the rise.

It includes a striking set of maps that draw on Māori knowledge systems of whakapapa (genealogy), hīkoi (walking) and kōrero tuku iho (ancestral knowledge) in combination with scientific data and intuitive design, to show what the local landscape will look like 30 and 100 years from now.

What it could look like in 30 and 100 years. No one knows exactly how landscapes will lok decades or a century ahead.

It’s part of a Massey University project co-led by Professor Huhana Smith (Ngāti Tukorehe, Ngāti Raukawa ki Te Tonga) that aims to combine knowledge from Māori researchers, architects, artists and scientists.

Huhana explains that climate change is not being communicated in a way that relates to the Māori communities who are most at risk from its impacts. This has a knock-on effect on national vulnerability, so her project seeks to forge a new way of sharing knowledge about climate change, based on “mātauranga.

Mātauranga is the body of traditional and contemporary knowledge about the world – both physical and spiritual – held by Māori. It is also the process by which information is observed, tested, interpreted, built upon and handed down. It is inseparable from Māori culture, values and beliefs. Māori consider themselves part of nature and within it, and mātauranga reflects this.

It is useful knowledge to have, but not the only knowledge required.

“Māori consider themselves part of nature” – in general perhaps. Some will more than others. And non-Māori as well, especially those who have lived and worked on the land and water through generations.

This knowledge was developed over millennia and brought here hundreds of years ago by Polynesian explorers, with successive generations of Māori continually adding to it. Because it dates so far back, mātauranga can reveal things about Aotearoa – including what its climate was like before Europeans arrived – that science alone cannot.

I think that science will be by far the main source of accurate historical knowledge.

At last year’s Asia-Pacific Climate Change conference in Manila, speakers from Indonesia, Vanuatu, Sri Lanka, Maldives, and the Philippines discussed the merits of coupling data with the kind of knowledge held by indigenous communities to develop policies that are “local to global”.

Around the world, scientists are increasingly looking to work with indigenous communities on climate change initiatives. A large-scale report that sought to quantify the contribution of indigenous forest guardians in 37 tropical countries concluded that the cheapest and most efficient way to protect forests and sequester carbon was to protect or expand the land rights of indigenous people.

Abuse of indigenous land rights of is causing major problems in places like Asia and the Amazon. I think we are largely past this now here in New Zealand.

In New Zealand, Niwa, Lincoln University, Massey University, and Landcare Research have all added mātauranga strands to their work, and the government’s Deep South Challenge, which will allocate more mātauranga funding in July, currently has eight Maori-led projects on the go. Together these represent the largest ever Māori-led research into climate change.

Dr Jane Richardson, Massey University’s Sustainability Project Manager and Research Portfolio Co-ordinator at Manaaki Whenua Landcare Research, says that mātauranga has broadened her mind. “At first I found this project challenging as I had to learn how to adopt a more unstructured, multidisciplinary way of thinking,” she says.

“As a scientist, I’m trained to think in a very structured, linear way with quite rigid planning and methodology. But the greater fluidity of mātauranga creates space for ideas and answers to emerge.”

Climate scientist Professor Martin Manning at Victoria University recalls the first time he saw the value of having different perspectives, at a meeting for developing a major international scientific report on climate change.

That sounds rather alarming. I would have thought that an essential part of good science was considering different perspectives.

“We had to decide the most important questions to cover,” he says. “Some of us said that it was cloud height changing, others said that the fate of the Amazon forest was critical, and so on. But then a scientist from Vancouver said this was all minor compared to the real question, which was how society responds to major changes. There was a bit of a stunned silence, because most of us had never thought about that before.”

I’m a bit stunned too. Societal effects and responses must be a major factor in addressing climate change.

Climate scientists are turning to indigenous communities, partly because they have often been in the same place for centuries. “Indigenous people who live in really cold places like Alaska are talking about unusual changes in their environment – like how local lakes are thawing out much faster than they used to,” says Dr Pauline Harris (Ngāti Kuhungunu, Rongomaiwahine), a lecturer at Victoria University who chairs the Society of Māori Astronomy Research and Traditions (SMART). “When I heard this, I started to wonder whether Māori communities might be seeing similar changes in our environment too.”

Dr Harris and her team of researchers are visiting iwi and hapū throughout the country to capture mātauranga about many different plant and animal activities – such as feeding, reproducing and hibernating – to find out if these are now happening earlier or later than in the past. “We’re asking whānau if they’ve noticed anything changing in places like forests over the last 50 years, capturing this using voice recorders and writing it down,” she says.

That should not be confined to Māori  whanau.

I have noticed local changes over the last 20 years. There will be many gardeners, especially those who have kept diaries, who will have useful knowledge about seasonal changes.

Māori have a deep understanding of what wildlife activities happen when, and how these activities synchronise with the Sun, Moon and stars throughout the year. They have used this knowledge to create the maramataka – the Māori calendar – by which they also plan activities such as planting, hunting and fishing. When the kōwhai blooms, for example, this is a sign for some communities that it’s time to plant the kūmara.

Liliana Clarke (Ngāti Porou, Waikato, Te Rarawa, Ngapuhi) is a maramataka specialist at SMART, working on the same project as Harris.

“The maramataka is not just for sustenance but also travelling, cultural activities and rituals, and predicting energy levels for certain activities and species. It’s something that we live our entire lives by,” she says.

Clarke adds that a lot of people are starting to go back to having maramataka-based food gardens, or māra kai, because they want local, sustainable food, which supermarkets aren’t supplying.

There are other people doing this in different ways.

There is potential for mātauranga and science to work together on making larger-scale food production more sustainable, particularly as climate change alters the environment of many crop-growing regions.

Large scale food production is modern and quite different to sustainable farming, but could learn from small scale production experiences.

Dr Apanui Skipper (Te Whānau-a-Apanui, Ngāti Tamaterā, Ngāti Raukawa) and Niwa scientist Darren King (Ngāti Raukawa) have been capturing knowledge from Māori communities about signs in the environment that can be used to make short-term and long-term weather forecasts. Their most recent work is with Ngāi Tahu in the South Island.

“The weather and environment is very different there compared to the Coromandel and Eastern Bay of Plenty where we researched earlier, so it’s important we capture knowledge from that region too,” Skipper says.

Metservice and other weather forecasters have become very good, but you need to apply local knowledge to their big picture forecasts. In Dunedin sou-westerly weather can be fickle, because fronts coming from that direction hit the bottom of the South Island and split around the land mass. Sometimes the weather comes up to coast and blasts Dunedin, sometimes the worst of it is deflected out to sea and swings back in further north. That’s why Canterbury can get heavier snow than coastal Otago.

Metservice is usually very good at predicting temperature changes and the timing of fronts hitting particular locations, but is less accurate about the severity of wind or amount of rain, because this can vary a lot locally.

Māori weather forecasting uses the maramataka and involves paying attention to animal behaviours and plant activities that happen when specific weather patterns, such as heavy rainfall or strong winds, are imminent. It also includes atmospheric indicators – such as the shape of volcanic plumes, cloud formations and Sun or Moon halos – along with specific smells and sounds, such as a particular bird cry.

Skipper explains that Māori weather predictions are, like science, consensus-based – where the more indicators that point to a particular scenario, such as a long hot dry summer, the more confident the prediction and the more prepared communities can be.

While worth considering any types of weather predictions is worth doing some scepticism is still required. ‘Red sky at night/morning’ does have some scientific basis but is not always accurate – it can be a warning but is not a promise (like scientific weather forecasts).

Experts in weather forecasting once could predict flooding months ahead with such accuracy that it makes European meteorology look error-prone. But since Europeans arrived, much of that knowledge has been lost, along with many indicators – such as trees that have been cut down.

I’m very sceptical about “with such accuracy”. They may well have been able to predict increased likelihood of certain weather patterns like heavy rain, but would not have been able to predict specific weather events months in advance.

A problem with verbal knowledge and human memory is that it can be quite selective. It’s quite likely that over say a twenty year period flooding is predicted for five of those years but it only actually floods once – there will always be someone who says ‘I told you that would happen’, but rarely do they say ‘I was wrong again this year’.

Skipper also asked communities whether they had noticed any changes over time and what they thought about climate change.

“Everybody I interviewed agreed without a shadow of a doubt that climate change is definitely here,” he says. “The weather now is different from what their grandparents and great-grandparents had seen. Back then, the extreme weather events were predictable, short and sharp – but now they’re a lot wilder.

It’s easier to remember sharp or extreme weather events. I remember a particularly hot and dry summer in 1972/73 – but I was working outside all summer and remember only having one day off in four months for rain.

It’s normal to forget most weather.

And it’s normal to remember recent ‘wilder weather’ than from long ago.

I’ve noticed fewer and less hard frosts and milder winters over the last few years, which could be a sign of climate change, but have not noticed that the weather is getting ‘wilder’.

Kaumātua told Skipper about seeing baby tītī (muttonbirds) starving because their parents cannot find food in the warmer water. Others pointed out that years ago, it would have been impossible to grow kiwifruit and grapes in Invercargill, yet these fruit are now thriving that far south.

That could be due to better selected sites with favourable microclimates.

We have several grape vines and have struggled to get good grapes, and have struggled with tomatoes, but last year I built a hot house around one grape vine and grow tomatoes in it and they are doing very well. It’s still not good for growing stone fruit where I am – but got four apricots on a stunted tree planted ten years ago. Apples and pears haven’t been great either, but two trees planted in a different place – more sheltered – are doing better.

Climate change is also creating more favourable conditions for the spread of pests and diseases into new areas. Researchers are in a race against time to stop kauri dieback before it completely obliterates our unique kauri forests.

Is that because of climate change, or because of the timing of the introduction of the disease? WHAT IS KAURI DIEBACK DISEASE?Phytophthora agathidicida, the pathogen that causes kauri dieback disease, was only discovered in 2009, and formally named in 2015 (previously it was known as Phytophthora taxon Agathis). It is not certain how long the pathogen has been present in New Zealand. We have records that show it has been in New Zealand since the 1970’s and there is some anecdotal evidence that suggest that the disease has been killing kauri since the 1950s, perhaps a lot longer. There is some research to suggest that it came from overseas (probably somewhere in the Indo-Pacific), however the true origin of the disease remains unknown.”. That is contradictory.

Climate doesn’t create pathogens, but it can make conditions more favourable for them to become established. Modern travel makes it far quicker and easier for pathogens to be moved around the world.

While it seems clear that Pākehā and Māori knowledge can work in synergy to create more effective solutions, organisations first need to learn to value Māori expertise.

It pays – literally – to pay attention to mātauranga. “New Zealand thrives on this clean, green and wholesome image,” Black says, “but in actual fact we’re really not. We’ve got crappy rivers, crappy lakes, and now we’ve got dying forests. You’ve got to ask yourself – what tourist is going to want to see dead forests?”

There is more than climate change involved in this. And effects will vary – some forests may struggle more, some could thrive more with changing temperatures and precipitation.

As much knowledge as possible should be gathered and considered – including mātauranga and other local knowledge.

And it should be remembered that not all local knowledge is of equal accuracy and worth.

 

Predator control, 1080 and Green refusal to allow GE science

The Provincial Growth Fund seems to be in part a fund for whatever policies Shane Jones wants to promote. And so it seems with a predator control announcement.

But funding for innovative new means of control seems to be suffering, with Jones and NZ First wanting to move away from use of 1080 use , but the Greens refusing to allow research that has anything to do with genetic modification.

Newsroom:  Political dead rat a win for 1080 protesters?

Tired of being harangued by anti-1080 campaigners, Regional Economic Development Minister Shane Jones is welcoming a $19.5 million Provincial Growth Fund investment to be spent on the development of new predator control tools and techniques as alternatives to the pesticide.

The funding will be used by Crown-owned Predator Free 2050 to encourage research and development of new tools, as well as to contract predator control projects for rural and forested land.

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage said it would help “stimulate rapid innovation” hopefully resulting in more effective traps, lures, remote sensing, surveillance and data management technologies. The Government hopes these new innovative techniques will reduce the need for 1080 to maintain predator-free status in areas where predators have been eradicated.

Sage was keen to emphasise that the Government was not backing down on 1080, but looking for innovative alternatives to use in addition to the pesticide, which has been the focus of nationwide protests, marches and the reported abuse of DOC staff.

However, comments by Shane Jones, and posts on the New Zealand First Facebook page, may give heart to anti-1080 campaigners that their protests have swayed the Government’s coalition partner – even though the funding of new pest-control technology is something that has long had all-party support.

On Facebook, the party is promoting the investment, with posts reading: “We’re doing our best to render 1080 redundant. New Zealand First has maintained its opposition to 1080 and that with adequate resources, research and development into alternatives, we can replace it.”

Northland is home to many of the anti-1080 protesters, as well as to Jones.

There seems to be conflicts between Greens and Jones on the us of 1080.

But what are the realistic alternatives to 1080?

Newshub:  Govt blocking breakthrough technology that could make New Zealand predator-free

There’s a major roadblock within the Beehive over the role genetic engineering (GE) could play in a predator-free New Zealand by 2050.

Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage has stopped any and all work being done to use GE technology, despite official advice suggesting it could be used to help rid New Zealand of predators.

But Ms Sage told Newshub she is not interested in going down the GE “rabbit hole”.

“We want to focus on existing tools, making them better and finding new tools without being diverted down the potential rabbit hole of GE research.”

Officials have signalled GE could be an effective alternative to 1080.

“It could be efficient and much more cost-effective method of pest control than conventional approaches.

“For potential application to replace knockdown tools such as aerial 1080, they would be most effective for short generation pests such as rodents, and less effective for longer generation pests such as stoats and possums, due to their requirement to spread over generations.”

Despite that, Ms Sage penned a Letter of Expectation to Predator Free 2050 Limited, explicitly telling the company not to invest in research into the technology.

The letter:

Newshub’s also obtained a number of emails written by the minister that reveal her personal position on the technology.

In one email, she wrote: “Please be assured that the department is clear about my expectations regarding genetic technologies. It has informed me that there is no mammalian gene drive technology research currently occurring in New Zealand.

“I have also required Predator Free 2050 Ltd to carry out appropriate due diligence on any co-funded projects before agreeing on any contracts, and have explicitly required them not to be involved in any research with genetically modified organisms and technologies such as CRISPR or gene editing.”

In another email, the minister made a similar comment: “I have been clear about my expectations regarding such technologies.”

Official advice also said the technology has the potential to control pests “in a humane and efficient manner without inadvertently harming other species like native birds”.

But Ms Sage told Newshub the Government isn’t blocking work in the area, there’s just been no decision to advance any discussion in the area.

“There’s no public mandate to do any work in that space – it would be a major change in Government policy.”

So is it Government policy that any research into predator control involving genetic modification is banned?

National’s conservation spokesperson Sarah Dowie said the Government is refusing to look into the potential benefits because it’s blinded by ideology.

“I think she’s been captured by her ideology, [and] that’s not a good thing,” Ms Dowie said.

“National’s all about the science. We think good science should inform conservation policy, and if we want our children to experience kiwi, tui, takahe in the wild – because that’s a New Zealand legacy – we need to have these conversations and make a decision moving forward.

It seems that while Greens are in Government science is limited to what fits within their rigid ideologies, which includes a staunch anti-GE stance.

Genetic modification is also contentious as a potential means of reducing carbon emissions.

Conservative and liberal views of science

GMO=genetically modified organism

This is in the United States. I would guess we don’t  as many (proportionally) or as conservative conservatives here as in the US, but have nothing to base this on but observation.

It’s interesting to note that here the Greens have been strongly against GMOs.

It comes from this thread on Twitter:

 

Source: Conservative and Liberal Views of Science, Does Trust Depend on Topic?

 

Big food and ‘added value’ crap

Adding manufacturing steps and adding additives – ‘added value’  – is a way of trying to add to sales and profits. This is one of the reasons why we get so much crap in food, and why so much natural food is transformed into unnatural states. Apart from adding to big business profits this also helps add a lot to the weight of people, and poorer people seem to be the biggest victims.

Fast food franchise are amongst the biggest culprits, but retail food also contributes a lot.

The socio economic group most affected looks apparent if you see the physiques and shopping trolley contents prevalent in supermarkets in lower income areas (a non-scientific personal observation).

If you wanted to be really cynical and conspiratorial you could suggest that big pharma was also involved, because the ‘obesity epidemic’ is good for the health care business.

Now the food industry has established their profitable product lines they are under increasing attack, mostly from health academics who want to restrict or tax things like sugar.

Noted: How the food industry adopted the tactics of Big Tobacco

The food industry is adopting Big Tobacco’s tactics by interfering in the nutrition science field, a new book by Marion Nestle reveals.

The author’s name is a bit ironic perhaps.

It’s getting harder to inflict poor health on the population with tobacco, so food is now taking over as the big evil, but unlike tobacco, it’s a bit difficult banning drink and food from bars, restaurants and cafes.

What have Russian hackers and the 2016 US presidential election got to do with nutrition research? The collateral damage of that infamous hacking scandal was a most fortuitous (and super-sized) revelation of how food companies actively interfere in the nutrition science field, says Marion Nestle in her new book Unsavory Truth: How Food Companies Skew the Science of What We Eat.

Along with the electronic messages from Democratic Party officials that were posted on the WikiLeaks website, the hackers (linked to the Russian Government) also stole emails from Hillary Clinton’s campaign team and posted them on a new website, DC Leaks. In the process, they uncovered a trail of emails between Michael Goltzman, a vice-president of the Coca-Cola Company, and Capricia Marshall, an adviser on Clinton’s campaign who was also doing consulting work for Coca-Cola.

The emails revealed the tactics they used to ensure the company’s business interests were protected from public-health efforts. These included keeping tabs on certain academic researchers, Nestle among them – perhaps not surprisingly, given Nestle, professor emerita of nutrition, food studies and public health at New York University, previously wrote a book, Soda Politics: Taking on Big Soda (and Winning).

But more surprising were the details of Coca-Cola recruiting dieticians to promote soft drinks on social media and their attempts to pressure and influence reporters and editors of major media outlets such as the Associated Press and Wall Street Journal to prevent publication of any negative stories about their beverages.

The company was also funding university scientists to produce scientific studies that suggested, among other things, that simply walking 7116 steps a day was enough to keep adults in energy balance.

While this study may appear to be basic research on exercise physiology, “it implies that physical activity – and not all that much – is all you need to control your weight, regardless of how much Coca-Cola you drink,” Nestle writes in Unsavory Truth.

Exercise is certainly an important part of staying healthy and not getting too fat, but the type and quality of food is more critical.

“Overall, the hacked emails offer a rare glimpse into how this beverage company, simply in the normal course of doing business, attempted to influence nutritionists, nutrition research, journalists covering this research, and dietary advice to the public.”

Nestle’s book is about more than Coca-Cola, though. The company’s hacked emails are just one public example of how various food, beverage and supplement companies fund nutrition researchers and practitioners, along with their professional associations, with the ultimate goal of boosting sales of their products.

Big business funding research favourable to their business is not new. And it is difficult to control.

For anyone old enough to remember when smoking was allowed in restaurants, pubs and aeroplanes (but only if you were seated in a smoking row on the plane), the similarities between the tobacco industry’s battle and the modern food industry are uncanny.

That’s because industries producing products of questionable health benefit all use a well-worn playbook, Nestle says, that requires “repeated and relentless use” of these strategies:

  • Cast doubt on the science
  • Fund research to produce desired results
  • Offer gifts and consulting arrangements
  • Use front groups
  • Promote self-regulation
  • Promote personal responsibility as the fundamental issue
  • Use the courts to challenge critics and unfavourable regulations.

The tobacco industry’s use of the playbook included the endless repetition of statements, such as, “cigarette smoking is a matter of personal responsibility”, and “government attempts to regulate tobacco are manifestations of a nanny state”, among other things.

Both of which bear an uncanny resemblance to the current line coming from Coca-Cola New Zealand about personal responsibility on a page entitled: Do soft drinks cause obesity? “Like all food and beverages, soft drinks with sugar can be consumed in moderation as part of a balanced lifestyle as long as people don’t consume them to excess.”

It’s easy to say that people should take responsibility for their own health, they should exercise sensibly, and they should be sensible about what type and quantity of food they eat. But it’s not that simple. Marketers, especially food marketers, have become expert at duping gullible people, encouraging them to buy things that are bad for them.

At least people get some exercise still wheeling shopping trolleys laden with sugar drinks and convenience food around the supermarket

Treadmills at the checkout haven’t caught on, but the marketing treadmill is helping ruin many people’s health.

Nestle believes that controlling the inappropriate practices of food companies is the role of government and quotes ethicist Jonathan Marks, “Governments, not corporations, are the guardians of public health … It is time for public health agencies and regulators to ‘struggle’ a little more with corporations, creating structural incentives for healthier and more responsible industry practices, and calling companies to account when they fail to comply.”

Government interference in marketing and in food choices is very contentious – and is unlikely to be particularly effective.

Perhaps we are just witnessing evolution at work, where over-population of a species inevitably leads to self destruction.

 

“Climate change is one of the most significant challenges”

Opposition spokesperson for climate change, Todd Muller: Climate change a significant challenge

As we begin 2018, I have a request to my counterpart, Minister James Shaw, to ensure the significant climate change discussions that await both Parliament and communities all across New Zealand this year are anchored in sound evidence and supported by considered reflection, not adversarial rhetoric.

As opposition spokesman, I accept climate change is one of the most significant challenges confronting the globe over the next 50 years and will likely be a high profile domestic issue over the course of the next 12 months – particularly as the Government embarks on consultation regarding both our current emissions targets and the establishment of an independent climate commission.

But it is crucial that these discussions are characterised by respect for differing views and proven evidence.

I wish that more policies debated in Parliament and and in political forums was anchored in sound evidence, supported by considered reflection, and respected differing views.

 I welcome climate change being front and centre in 2018, but it must be informed by the best available science and practice, and continue to have the feel of proportionality.

If this is the general sort of approach by opposition MPs then this term could be a significant improvement on past terms.

How to make climate change go away

Donald Trump and his administration has a novel way of making something they don’t like go away – stop funding any research on it.

They propose to slash funding of climate research. That will either make everyone forget there could be any problems, or it will put the US way out of the world scientific loop.

VOX: Trump’s budget would hammer climate programs at EPA, NASA, NOAA, and Energy

President Donald Trump’s budget proposal for fiscal year 2018 can be read as a political document, a statement of his administration’s policy priorities. Many of these proposed cuts won’t get passed by Congress, but it’s a look at what Trump values.

And what’s clear is that Trump wants the US government to pull back sharply from any effort to stop global warming, adapt to its impacts — or even study it further. Under the proposal, a wide variety of Obama-era climate programs across multiple agencies would be scaled back or slashed entirely.

That includes eliminating much of the work the Environmental Protection Agency is doing to research climate impacts and limit emissions. It includes scaling back the Department of Energy’s efforts to accelerate low-carbon energy. It includes cuts to NASA’s Earth-monitoring programs. The proposal would also eliminate the Sea Grant program at NOAA, which helps coastal communities adapt to a warmer world. The document dubs this a “lower priority.”

This anti-science approach will please some people, but it is likely to isolate the US even more from the rest of the world, which is moving away from high energy production and products.

1) Many of the EPA’s climate programs would be terminated. Trump is proposing a sweeping 31 percent cut to the EPA’s budget — from $8.2 billion down to $5.7 billion — shrinking funding to the lowest levels in 40 years. That includes zeroing out funding for many of the agency’s climate programs. Currently, the EPA is the main US entity working to monitor and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

So there’s no more money for work on the Clean Power Plan, an Obama-era regulation to control CO2 emissions from power plants, which Trump aims to repeal.

2) The Department of Energy’s R&D programs would be reoriented and scaled back. Trump is proposing a 5.6 percent cut to the Department of Energy. And, to do that, he would impose a steep 17.9 percent cut — roughly $2 billion — from core energy/science programs intended to accelerate the transition to new (and cleaner) energy technologies.

Clean energy and emissions controls and limiting pollution will be good for the world regardless of the effect on the climate and any effect changing climate may have on the world, but the US seems to prefer to go back to greater disregard for the environment and bugger the consequences.

3) State Department funding for climate change is axed. As part of the Paris climate deal in 2015, the United States pledged not just to cut emissions, but also to offer $3 billion in aid to poorer countries to help them adapt to climate change and build clean energy. So far, the Obama administration has chipped in $1 billion. This was seen as crucial for bringing these countries into the deal.

Trump would end all that. In his budget, he’s proposing to “cease payments to the United Nations’ (UN) climate change programs by eliminating U.S. funding related to the Green Climate Fund and its two precursor Climate Investment Funds.”

4) NASA’s Earth-monitoring programs are cut. One reason we know so much about climate change is that NASA has deployed a fleet of Earth-observing satellites since 1999. They collect data on everything from temperature and precipitation to underground aquifers and ocean currents to wildfires, soil moisture, and storms.

But NASA’s Earth Science Division has come under attack from conservatives who don’t appreciate the agency’s forays into climate science and think NASA should focus on space exploration instead. As such, Trump’s budget would trim the agency’s Earth science budget to $1.8 billion — a $102 million cut. That’d include terminating “four Earth science missions (PACE, OCO-3, DSCOVR Earth-viewing instruments, and CLARREO Pathfinder) and reduc[ing] funding for Earth science research grants.”

The proposal derides these programs as too “Earth-centric.”

The aim seems to be to make America great again – on a different planet to the rest of the world.

5) A key NOAA program to help coastal communities adapt to climate change would be gone. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Sea Grant program provides grants for research efforts intended to help coastal communities deal with a wide variety of challenges. Lately, that has included climate change

The rest of the world will carry ion doing what research it can. Perhaps Trump will order wiretaps of scientists in other countries to keep in touch with what research is finding out.

Alternately he could just turn his back on science and rely on Breitbart for all his guidance.

There will be a few scientists and bureaucrats out of jobs (3,200 from EPA alone) but they could be retrained into digging and shovelling coal.

If Congress plays ball with White House budget proposals it will mean massive changes, which will end up being a massive experiment. If they get it wrong it could be an expensive mistake.

Doubting climate change science

It’s not just mainstream science that suggests that climate change is a problem of major importance, mainstream media tends to agree.

The Press has an editorial on Doubting climate change science is no joke

There are times when the Donald Trump presidency seems comical or even fun, an absurdist exercise in postmodern political theatre.

But in other ways the Trump administration is too potentially dangerous to joke about. Its approach to climate change is one of them.

Scott Pruitt, Trump’s appointee as head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has broken with global scientific consensus and argued that carbon dioxide is not a primary contributor to global warming. He told that a US news programme that “measuring with precision human activity on the climate is … very challenging to do and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact”.

Doubting science by claiming that a theory is just a theory without broad consensus behind it is a favoured technique of tobacco industry lobbyists and others who try to confuse or dissemble. They pretend disagreement exists where it does not or they attempt to turn very small differences into polar oppositions.

It’s not just a big business tactic, it is also a religious tactic, like on evolution.

Does this sound familiar? Discovery Institute (which also opposes climate change science)  – Ranks of Scientists Doubting Darwin’s Theory on the Rise – “Another 100 scientists have joined the ranks of scientists from around the world publicly stating their doubts about the adequacy of Darwin’s theory of evolution.”

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), Nasa and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration in the US have all been clear that rising temperatures have been “driven largely by increased carbon dioxide and other human-made emissions into the atmosphere,” as a report from the latter two bodies put it in January.

As noted in US media reports, Pruitt’s statement even contradicted the position held by the EPA itself and conflicts with the laws and regulations the EPA is expected to enforce. The EPA’s own website says that “carbon dioxide is the primary greenhouse gas that is contributing to recent climate change”.

Most observers of US politics expected that Trump would follow through on the anti-environmental rhetoric of his campaign. They expected a retreat from positions taken by Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama. As a Trump insider explained last week, his campaign commitment was to undo Obama’s “entire climate edifice”.

Pruitt was known to be an advocate for the energy industry before his appointment by Trump. The New York Times reports that “in his previous job as the attorney general of Oklahoma, he sought to use legal tools to fight environmental regulations on the oil and gas companies that are a major part of the state’s economy”. He drafted letters to send to the EPA and other bodies pleading economic hardship if environmental rules were not relaxed and reportedly sued the EPA 14 times.

Pruitt is now expected to preside over funding cuts and a review of his agency’s role in monitoring emissions and protecting waterways. The implications of a wholesale attack on an environmental agency are enormous, and not just for the United States. There is nothing remotely funny about any of it.

Climate science is complex and evolving as more is found out about it. Claims should certainly be challenged claims are scientifically questionable, but cannot just be dismissed, just as tobacco harm could not just be dismissed because companies might lose some money and just as evolution cannot just be dismissed because some religious groups might lose some faith.

It is quite possible that the effects of climate change are a much bigger threat to the world, and to many more people in the world, than extreme Muslims and Islamic terrorism.

Many more New Zealanders are likely to be affected by increasingly severe weather events than they are by terrorism.

Doubting some climate science is healthy, if based on science.

Doubting the possible severity of climate change is understandable – but this doubt works both ways, it may turn out to be not as bad as generally predicted, but it could just as easily turn out to be worse than predicted.

Those who doubt the accuracy of current climate change science can’t have it that it is just inaccurate in a way that suits their ideology.

There is far less climate science that suggests we won’t have any problems with climate change than otherwise.

Doubting all climate science is not based on science, it is based on denial.

There must be some degree of climate change, there always has been. Science will help us learn more about it, it will help us limit our effects on it, and it will help us deal with whatever changes end up happening.

We should aim for better climate science, and not just dismiss it with claims of doubts.

 

 

Difficulties replicating scientific studies

Maggy Wassilieff posted: Major overhaul of science and science publishing long overdue.

According to a recent survey published in the journal Nature, more than 70% of researchers have tried and failed to reproduce another scientist’s experiments.

Linking to BBC: Most scientists ‘can’t replicate studies by their peers’

Science is facing a “reproducibility crisis” where more than two-thirds of researchers have tried and failed to reproduce another scientist’s experiments, research suggests.

Has scientific study become too complex to easily replicate? Or are too many studies poorly done?

From his lab at the University of Virginia’s Centre for Open Science, immunologist Dr Tim Errington runs The Reproducibility Project, which attempted to repeat the findings reported in five landmark cancer studies.

“The idea here is to take a bunch of experiments and to try and do the exact same thing to see if we can get the same results.”

You could be forgiven for thinking that should be easy. Experiments are supposed to be replicable.

The authors should have done it themselves before publication, and all you have to do is read the methods section in the paper and follow the instructions.

Sadly nothing, it seems, could be further from the truth.

After meticulous research involving painstaking attention to detail over several years (the project was launched in 2011), the team was able to confirm only two of the original studies’ findings.

Two more proved inconclusive and in the fifth, the team completely failed to replicate the result.

“It’s worrying because replication is supposed to be a hallmark of scientific integrity,” says Dr Errington.

A lot of science must be ok, the world continues to advance through many areas of science. For example new drugs do seem to be effective in part at least.

But if scientific study can’t meet a fundamental requirement of sound research – being able to be replicated – then there should be major concerns.

Concern over the reliability of the results published in scientific literature has been growing for some time.

According to a survey published in the journal Nature last summer, more than 70% of researchers have tried and failed to reproduce another scientist’s experiments.

Is that because of a lack of understanding of how to do the experiments? Or poor initial research?

The reproducibility difficulties are not about fraud, according to Dame Ottoline Leyser, director of the Sainsbury Laboratory at the University of Cambridge.

That would be relatively easy to stamp out. Instead, she says: “It’s about a culture that promotes impact over substance, flashy findings over the dull, confirmatory work that most of science is about.”

Similar in a way to journalists and media tending more towards glitz and click bait and doing less investigative research on things that really matter.

She says it’s about the funding bodies that want to secure the biggest bang for their bucks, the peer review journals that vie to publish the most exciting breakthroughs, the institutes and universities that measure success in grants won and papers published and the ambition of the researchers themselves.

“Everyone has to take a share of the blame,” she argues. “The way the system is set up encourages less than optimal outcomes.”

Hence, presumably, Maggy suggesting “Major overhaul of science and science publishing long overdue.”

“Replication is something scientists should be thinking about before they write the paper,” says Ritu Dhand, the editorial director at Nature.

“It is a big problem, but it’s something the journals can’t tackle on their own. It’s going to take a multi-pronged approach involving funders, the institutes, the journals and the researchers.”

But we need to be bolder, according to the Edinburgh neuroscientist Prof Malcolm Macleod.

“The issue of replication goes to the heart of the scientific process.”

Writing in the latest edition of Nature, he outlines a new approach to animal studies that calls for independent, statistically rigorous confirmation of a paper’s central hypothesis before publication.

“Without efforts to reproduce the findings of others, we don’t know if the facts out there actually represent what’s happening in biology or not.”

Without knowing whether the published scientific literature is built on solid foundations or sand, he argues, we’re wasting both time and money.

“It could be that we would be much further forward in terms of developing new cures and treatments. It’s a regrettable situation, but I’m afraid that’s the situation we find ourselves in.”

So will anything change?

Not only is suspect research a problem – if there are a lot of questions about research reliability then it allows doubts to be raised even over good research.

Should climate denial be a crime?

Dr Jarrod Gilbert provocatively at NZ Herald: Why climate denial should be a criminal offence:

There is no greater crime being perpetuated on future generations than that committed by those who deny climate change. The scientific consensus is so overwhelming that to argue against it is to perpetuate a dangerous fraud. Denial has become a yardstick by which intelligence can be tested.

The term climate sceptic is now interchangeable with the term mindless fool.

I think this is over the top, perhaps deliberately.

Scepticism with any science, especially one as complex as climate science, is healthy. More than that, scepticism is essential in science.

Likening climate science scepticism to denial and mindlessness is foolish.

Since the 1960s, it has been known that heat-trapping gasses were increasing in the earth’s atmosphere, but no one knew to what effect. In 1979, a study found “no reason to doubt that climate changes will result and no reason to believe that these changes will be negligible”. Since then scientists have been seeking to prove it, and the results are in.

Scientists have been researching climate in many ways and the results keep coming in. While most results point strongly towards human influenced climate change things are far from conclusive or final.

As this recent article illustrates: Antarctic is cooling, but climate skeptics aren’t going to be happy.

Back to Gilbert:

One way in which everyday crime can be discouraged is to ensure that “capable guardians” are around to deter criminal activity. When it comes to climate change, the capable guardians are educated members of the public who counteract the deniers.

There may be differing opinions on what policies to pursue, but those who deny that climate change exists ought be shouted down like the charlatans that they are. Or better yet, looked upon with pitiful contempt and completely ignored.

There is no room to sit on the fence and say, “I don’t know if it’s true”. Ignorance of the law excuses no one – and so it is with the laws of science.

It’s sad to see Gilbert resorting to this line of attack. It’s unlikely to change anyone’s mind about climate change – it’s more likely to entrench views because it is so obviously over the top.

There are serious issues facing New Zealand and the world regarding climate change. We have to consider possible effects of continued warming and ongoing scientific research is essential to monitor and to learn.

Suggesting scepticism is criminal and denigrating differing views is unhelpful and unscientific.

Poverty #3 still lacks solid evidence

Jess Berentson-Shaw’s third article on child poverty makes more claims that giving more money, no questions asked, to poor families is the best way to deal with poverty.

Berentson-Shaw is described as ‘a science researcher at the Morgan Foundation’ but there is a lack of scientific backing to her articles. I have asked the Morgan Foundation for details.

The latest article is Bad parenting is not the reason for child poverty

The single most effective action we can take to improve the lives of children in poverty is to give parents money, no questions asked. In two previous articles, I’ve shown that when parents in poverty are given more money, they use it to better the lives of their children.

She hasn’t shown that beyond some vague references. She has provided no scientific backing to her claims.

I suspect that many in New Zealand will express both shock and total disbelief that the evidence could possibly support this conclusion. At the heart of this shock is the common belief that children in poverty suffer because of bad parents, not the lack of money.

In part we believe this myth because our focus on “child” poverty has separated in the public’s mind these children from their families. The children are innocent and need our help therefore we glibly conclude that the parents are “guilty”: guilty of ignorance and abandonment of their parental responsibilities.

She makes alarming generalisations there without any details to back up her claims.

New Zealanders love to perpetuate the image of the “mad, bad, poor parent”, but it is a lazy, inaccurate and dangerous story to tell because it has led us to put our best efforts into the least-efficient solutions.

It could be suggested that Berentson-Shaw is telling a lazy or inaccurate story, unless she can provide credible substantiation.

In reality, stress and limited resources interact with each other to determine children’s well-being.

Take learning to read, for example. A family who can’t afford to buy books for children may also have less time, ability and energy to read to their child. We know that being read to is crucial for later learning, so this problem creates a gulf in skills between the haves and have-nots that no school can hope to bridge.

This example is alarming.

Has Berentson-Shaw done any research into how much no questions asked additional cash will go into buying children books? And whether it will increase the time spent reading to children?

Reading to children and encouraging children to read are important for education.

New Zealand ranks highly in literacy rates but there are still a large minority who don’t have adequate educational outcomes – in 2002 there were 76% of 25–64 year olds attaining at least upper secondary education, meaning 24% didn’t. (Statistics New Zealand).

And this report from 2013 from Stuff: Experts appalled as literacy rates continue to flatline

While the rest of the world’s literacy rates have been improving, New Zealand’s have flatlined for more than a decade, education experts say.

In a report published yesterday, Massey University researchers say schools’ approach to literacy is “fundamentally flawed.

Research showed those pupils achieving the least were unlikely even to finish the reading recovery programme, Prof Tunmer said.

“A significant number of the lowest-performing 6-year-olds are excluded from reading recovery because they are considered unlikely to benefit, or are withdrawn early when they do not meet expected rates of progress.”

Ministry deputy secretary Rowena Phair acknowledged concerns for those with low levels of literacy.

“We have consistently said that it is no longer acceptable to allow up to a fifth of our learners to complete their schooling without the literacy and numeracy skills they need to succeed in a modern economy.”

It is claimed that “as many as half of New Zealand’s prisoners are functionally illiterate”.  (Howard League)

Just giving more money to poor families is unlikely to suddenly change interest in literacy in poor families.

My guess is that most poor families manage to read to children and provide them with books – I grew up in a very poor family but went to the library regularly. But those poor families without an ability or interest in reading are unlikely to change on their own just because they are given more money.

Berentson-Shaw concludes:

What the evidence tells us is that children in poverty do poorly not because they have irresponsible parents, but because they live in families under stress. Give them money to release the pressure valve and families and children do a whole lot better. It is not 100 per cent effective of course, but it gets closer than anything else we have tried.

What evidence? Berentson-Shaw may have some but that isn’t apparent.

Again, the generalised claims without substantiation here are alarming from a “science researcher”.

What if the Government has committed to billions of extra spending and “what is left” is largely the same? Cut the cash and look at other ways of dealing with entrenched problems? Or just keep increasing spending and see what is left after that?

First, we need to remove the financial stress then we deal with what is left.

How much will it take to “remove the financial stress”. Most average families experience ongoing financial stress throughout much of the two or three decades of bringing up kids.

Most people probably don’t think they have enough money to live stress free lives.

In 2016, the Morgan Foundation will release the findings of our investigation into families and children in poverty in New Zealand.

I hope their findings are far more evidence and science based than this series of articles by Berentson-Shaw have been.