Feeds

Nobel Prize winner demands more honesty from peers in green debate

Truth before fear

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk

Scientists hoping to educate the public about environmental concerns could do themselves and the public a favor by abandoning hyperbolic scare tactics in favor of straightforward talk, according to a prominent scientist.

Steve Chu, the director of Lawrence Berkeley National Lab and a Nobel Prize winner in physics, chastised some of his peers for presenting speculative worst case scenarios in their discussions on environmental issues. Researchers often come up with gloomy possible forecasts about changes in environmental conditions and talk about them as fact. Such tactics do little to help the public understand the true nature of the "green debate."

"I think more scientists have to explain the risks (of global warming and the like), and do it in a way that is intellectually honest," Chu told a group of venture capitalists and scientists visiting the lab this week.

Rather than trying to incite action through fear, the scientists should be clear about what their data indicates. For example, instead of presenting an extreme change in conditions as an inevitable outcome to the public, researchers should discuss the range of possibilities they're seeing and let Joe Average decide how he feels about the results. As Chu sees it, the public can judge how seriously they take the difference between there being an 90 per cent chance and a 50 per cent chance that, say, Greenland will melt away. Give them that shot instead of presenting Greenland's liquidity as a certainty.

Still, Chu fears that the public has yet to grasp the extent of the challenges facing the environment. He pointed to British Columbia which has "lost 40 per cent of its pines" due to warming. "The Rockies and Sierras are also starting to lose huge amounts of watershed trees." Without trees, you end up with floods and general craposity.

"I don't think the public really knows about this stuff to the extent that they should," Chu said. "You need a steady drumbeat of scientists who are willing to go out and talk to the public. I am doing my share. I'm out twice a week."

In addition, the government needs to take a firmer stance against lobbyists.

The homebuilders association, for example, will go to Washington and lobby against putting new materials in homes that cost a bit extra upfront but pay for themselves quickly as energy savers. Why? Because the materials add "one-tenth of one per cent" to the cost of new homes. "So that is a loss of a competitive edge against already built homes," Chu noted.

"Policy makers have to be told to just forget about these guys," he said.

Chu's comments came during a talk on the work that Berkeley and others are doing to improve energy efficiency in a variety of markets. ®

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

More from The Register

next story
MARS NEEDS WOMEN, claims NASA pseudo 'naut: They eat less
'Some might find this idea offensive' boffin admits
LOHAN crash lands on CNN
Overflies Die Welt en route to lively US news vid
Comet Siding Spring revealed as flying molehill
Hiding from this space pimple isn't going to do humanity's reputation any good
Experts brand LOHAN's squeaky-clean box
Phytosanitary treatment renders Vulture 2 crate fit for export
No sail: NASA spikes Sunjammer
'Solar sail' demonstrator project binned
Carry On Cosmonaut: Willful Child is a poor taste Star Trek parody
Cringeworthy, crude and crass jokes abound in Steven Erikson’s sci-fi debut
Origins of SEXUAL INTERCOURSE fished out of SCOTTISH LAKE
Fossil find proves it first happened 385 million years ago
Human spacecraft dodge COMET CHUNKS pelting off Mars
Odyssey orbiter yet to report, though - comet's trailing trash poses new threat
prev story

Whitepapers

Forging a new future with identity relationship management
Learn about ForgeRock's next generation IRM platform and how it is designed to empower CEOS's and enterprises to engage with consumers.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.
Three 1TB solid state scorchers up for grabs
Big SSDs can be expensive but think big and think free because you could be the lucky winner of one of three 1TB Samsung SSD 840 EVO drives that we’re giving away worth over £300 apiece.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.