Feeds

Nobel Prize winner demands more honesty from peers in green debate

Truth before fear

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

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. ®

Choosing a cloud hosting partner with confidence

More from The Register

next story
Boffins say they've got Lithium batteries the wrong way around
Surprises at the nano-scale mean our ideas about how they charge could be all wrong
Edge Research Lab to tackle chilly LOHAN's final test flight
Our US allies to probe potential Vulture 2 servo freeze
Europe prepares to INVADE comet: Rosetta landing site chosen
No word yet on whether backup site is labelled 'K'
Cracked it - Vulture 2 power podule fires servos for 4 HOURS
Pixhawk avionics juice issue sorted, onwards to Spaceport America
Archaeologists and robots on hunt for more Antikythera pieces
How much of the world's oldest computer can they find?
Bacon-related medical breakthrough wins Ig Nobel prize
Is there ANYTHING cured pork can't do?
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
The next step in data security
With recent increased privacy concerns and computers becoming more powerful, the chance of hackers being able to crack smaller-sized RSA keys increases.