Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Science as a Contact Sport : Inside the Battle to Save Earth's Climate / Stephen H. Schneider -- Washington D.C.: National Geographic, 2010

While the science related to climate change is becoming more and more refined and firmly established, the political struggle over its acceptance within decision making circles remains troubled. This is due primarily to the economic and political power of industries that are dependent upon the burning of fossil fuels. From the perspective of oil, coal, natural gas, automobile companies, and others, the primary threat is not climate change, but government regulation of their profitable businesses. Consequently, these industries have given financial support to a number of "think tanks" dedicated first of all to libertarian economic policies. In defense of these policies, writers (generally not scientists) have sought to raise doubts about the conclusions coming out of climate science and related disciplines. By throwing in question the emerging scientific conclusions, threatened industries are able to buy time to continue their profit-making activities, regardless of the effects on the planet.

Numerous methods are used to sew doubt. Anomalous results are presented as refutations of well-corroborated hypotheses, lists of so-called experts are compiled to challenge the claim that there is widespread agreement among climate scientists, and in some cases, law suits are filed against scientists to badger them into abandoning their work.

Reports written by libertarian "think tanks" are published by political presses and reproduced on numerous blogs, and occasionally disseminated by conservative newspapers, talk radio, and television stations like FOX News. The result is an "echo chamber" of propaganda that reaches a wide audience.

Stephen Schneider has been intimately involved in confronting and responding to these public relations tactics in defense of the climate science that he has been in part responsible for discovering. As a student in the late 60s and early 70s, Schneider began studying the climate through computer models. His first conclusions were that the climate was cooling, but as climatology improved its observation and methods, he came to understand that the climate is in fact warming. Since then, he has been one of the leading researchers, playing a significant role in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's fourth assessment report.

In Science as a Contact Sport, Schneider recounts his career in climatology. He is justly proud of several accomplishments, including promoting a system of tiered models for refining climate predictions and establishing an agreement among scientists to quantify ordinary language descriptions of probabilities. What is, however, the most interesting aspect of his book is his accounts of interactions with climate change deniers and the media that enable them. Typically, one does not find accounts of the doing of science mixed with refutations of the claims of climate deniers, but Schneider's smooth passage between both kinds of accounts gives urgency to his science and credibility to his criticism.

While other works are more effective in exposing the deceptions of the climate change deniers (see for example Climate Cover-Up by James Hoggan), none that I have read are so compelling in showing the personal toll that climate change deniers take on responsible scientists. One is left wondering how much more we might understand about the climate if people like Phil Jones, Michael Mann, and Stephen Schneider were not compelled to respond to the groundless, but well-funded attacks from political operatives.

Sadly, Stephen Schneider died just a few weeks ago. It is a blessing that his determination to understand the world and apply this understanding to solve the planet's problems lives on in so many of his colleagues.

Yoga / Ernest Wood -- Harmondsworth, UK: Penguin Books, 1967

Not long after the Penguin Book series became successful, Penguin put out a series under the imprint "Pelican Originals" which offered the reading public new works on topics intended to educate. Ernest Wood's book Yoga is in this series. Wood moved to India after completing firsts in Physics, Chemistry, and Geology from Manchester College of Technology. In India, he had a stellar career in higher education administration, while studying Yoga and Vedanta philosophies in Sanskrit. Consequently, his book Yoga presents the practice from a the point of view of a sympathetic well-educated Englishman with much experience in India.

Wood explains the the point of Yoga is self-improvement and self-realization. Beginning with the intellectual aspects of Yoga, Wood describes the importance of concentration, meditation, and contemplation -- three stages of yogic enlightenment. His accounts here have much in common with and indeed rely upon Buddhist concepts.

Following this, Wood turns to the physical aspects of Yoga, more well known around the world. Importantly, Wood asserts that there is an interrelationship between mind and body which allows mental well-being to foster physical well-being and vice versa. Throughout, there is nothing mystical or mysterious about the essentials of his account, though he sometimes seems to give accounts of the fabulous powers of advanced Yogis.

Wood provides chapters on the use of sounds and images (mantras and yantras) to have beneficial effects on one's practice along with a chapter describing the Yoga of the Bhagavad Gita; however, the main influence in his work is Pantanjali's Yoga Sutras.

Overall, Wood's Yoga is an excellent introduction to the practice and begs the reader both to take it up and to seek out Pantanjali's Yoga Sutras for further understanding.