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National Vigil for All Victims of Gun Violence

Today is the day we are joined by families from 18 states and the District of Columbia, faith leaders and a coalition of gun violence prevention groups at the Washington National Cathedral to honor the 26 innocents who lost their lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School and the 60,000 other Americans who will have died from gun violence in the two years since the Newtown tragedy.

Please take out your kleenex before viewing our beautiful memorial video.

Merchants of Doubt

How a handful of scientists obscured the truth on issues from smoking to global warming
Review by John Atcheson

In Merchants of Doubt Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway take us on a fascinating trip down what they call Tobacco Road.  Take the journey with them, and you’ll see renowned scientists abandon science, you’ll see environmentalism equated with communism, and you’ll discover the connection between the Cold War and climate denial.

And for the most part, you’ll be entertained along the way.

Oreskes and Conway are historians who focus on science. What they do best is to sort through history’s discarded headlines and peak into the nooks and crannies of scientific literature to weave together their tale and to reveal the hypocrisy and hubris of a few scientists who show up again and again in contrarian positions against established science.

The trip exposes an unlikely link between Manhattan project scientists and the cult of denial that confronted virtually every major public health and environmental initiative of the last sixty years.

The original villains in this story are Fred Seitz, Fred Singer, William Nierenberg, and Robert Jastrow – physicists all.  Sietz and Neirenberg had been involved in building the atomic bomb, and both had worked on other weapons programs.  Nierenberg had been the Director of the Scripps Institute and Jastrow, an astrophysicist, had headed up The Goddard Institute for Space Studies and he’d been a successful author of books popularizing space. Singer was a virtual rocket scientist and he had been the first Director of the National Weather Satellite Service. Seitz had been President of the National Academy of Sciences.  Each had worked with or for the Reagan administration.

Oreskes and Conway set the table by giving the impressive credentials of these distinguished scientists then asking:

Why would scientists dedicated to uncovering the truth about the natural world deliberately misrepresent the work of their colleagues?  Why would they spread accusations with no basis?  Why would they not correct their arguments once they had been shown to be incorrect?  And why did the press continue to quote them, year after year, even as their claims were shown, one after another, to be false?

Just as Yali’s question sets up Jarred Diamond’s inquiry in Guns Germs and Steel, these questions animate the discussion in the rest of this book.

The authors trace these scientists through the original denier/delayer effort — the cynical “Doubt is our Product” campaign of the tobacco industry, to the current climate denier campaign, with stops at the Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), Acid Rain, the Ozone Hole, the second hand smoke issue, and a swipe at Rachel Carson for good measure.  Along the way, they accumulate fellow travelers such as Lomborg, Lindzen, Michaels, a host of neoclassical economists ready to discount the future down to or near zero, and of course, Conservative politicians.

Each of these campaigns could fit the same template: seemingly credible scientists, conservative think tanks (some created just for the campaigns), allied with industry, lubricated liberally with money and PR savvy, and leavened with a conviction that the ends justified the means.  This explains why talented scientists willingly jettisoned the scientific method.

And what was the end that justified this extreme behavior?

An almost religious conviction in small government and the potential evils of big government; a doctrinaire belief in unconstrained free markets and the purity of capitalism;  and the conviction that “environmentalism” and other do-gooder efforts threatened our free market, capitalistic system.

Oreskes and Conway show why cold warriors saw threats to their brand of uber-capitalism as threats to the United States, and they show how environmentalism came to be seen by them as “green on the outside, but red on the inside.”  The evolution of the Marshall Institute from SDI defender to Exxon-funded climate denier is particularly illustrative.

Climate scientists themselves come in for part of the blame. As the authors point out, while Singer et. al. and their allies from corporations and think tanks cast their disinformation and misinformation directly to the people, the press and politicians, the climate scientists, for the most part, spoke quietly among themselves.

No disinformation campaign can succeed without the cooperation of the press, and the authors provide some egregious examples of how the press in general, and such conservative organs as the Wall Street Journal and The Washington Times in particular, printed long discredited information and baseless personal attacks, and declined to print rebuttals or retractions when the errors were pointed out.

The book is not without flaws. For example, while they document the press’s individual failures, they don’t hold the discipline as a whole to account to the extent that the media deserves.  For example, consider the following statement:
In creating the appearance of science, the merchants of doubt sold a plausible    story about scientific debate.  They created a Potemkin Village populated, in only a few cases, with actual scientists.  A reasonable journalist, not to mention the ordinary citizens, could be forgiven for having been fooled.

Really? Their tactics were crude, the lies obvious, and the truth knowable with only a cursory web search.  If the press was “fooled,” it was because they were either hopeless slackers, or they wanted to be fooled.

The authors also describe the scientific method in a manner that makes it sound like a popularity contest. Their almost exclusive focus on peer reviews and peer consensus ignores the critical role of testable hypotheses and empirical observation.  In the end, it is the quality and reproducibility of the data that speaks, and it forms the basis for the peer reviews.  In their prescription for ‘A New View of Science,” they repeat this perspective, saying, “What  counts as knowledge are the ideas that are accepted by the fellowship of experts “¦” This is a slippery slope, in which old theories never die and new ones could be subject to the whims of the times.

In the end, the authors correctly note that what motivates deniers is political ideology, not science.  As CP’s Joe Romm put it in Hell and High Water, the reason most political conservatives and libertarians deny the reality of human-induced climate change is that they simply cannot stand the solution. So they attack both the solution and the science.

Despite its small flaws, Merchants is an impressive and disturbing piece of scholarship that does a good job of answering the questions they pose.  It should be read by every editor and every member of Congress, and by climate scientists as well.

Here is a terrific talk by Oreskes:

Purchase the book HERE

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Kingsolver’s Latest Novel Shows Climate Change In Real Time

Barbara Kingsolver’s Latest Novel ‘Flight Behavior’
Shows Climate Change In Real Time
Review by John Atcheson

Reading the opening scene of Flight Behavior, one could easily believe they’d somehow become immersed in a bad country western song — something like “Third Rate Romance, Low Rent Rendezvous.”

Protagonist Dellarobia Turnbow is fleeing the white clapboard house that has been at once her home and her prison since she was seventeen, to hook up with a guy who probably drives a pick up and aims to do her bad, but she can’t help herself because “… the anticipation of him prickled her skin.” On her way, she is waylaid by an ethereal vision of a forest aflame.

If this sounds prosaic, it’s because it is. The book starts slow, and teeters to the brink of cliché, albeit sporting some of the best prose you’ll ever read. But that flaming forest hangs out there like a metaphor without a point of reference for a little too long, risking a reader who isn’t so much intrigued, as frustrated.

But that’s before Kingsolver works her alchemy. In Poisonwood Bible, Kingsolver proved she is a talented writer, capable of telling important and compelling stories in prose that flows with all the beauty, clarity and snap of a glacial stream. And though she takes her time in Flight Behavior, ultimately she delivers.

Climate change is the leitmotif of this novel. It is the driving force behind all that happens, and it is heralded by that flaming forest Dellarobia rushes through on her way to an assignation that never happens.

It turns out that the flames are Monarch butterflies, cast adrift by a combination of deforestation in their traditional breeding grounds in Mexico and a warming world.

Dellarobia is also adrift. She is the proverbial “smart girl” trapped by circumstance, and when Ovid Byron — a world class expert on Monarch butterflies — shows up on her property to study the monarchs, she begins a journey that will ultimately allow her to grow and escape her moorings. Ovid is attractive, serious, unattainable and therefore irresistible. To add fuel to this girl’s fire, he bonds with her son, the precocious Preston, in a way that none of her peers possibly could.

Ovid allows Kingsolver to dole out information on climate change in a way that is organic to the story. The tale he tells is told as a tragedy, in the sense that Alfred Lord Whithead put it: “The essence of tragedy lies in the remorseless working of things.” When Dellarobia tells Ovid “I don’t know how you get through the day, knowing what you know,” he eventually answers “For scientists, reality is not optional.”

Most novels built around climate change resort to narratives of dystopic futures, when the tragedy has already played out. Kingsolver immerses us in the tragedy as it unfolds in real-time. As a writer, this is a challenge — unwinding the slow motion destruction of the natural world by our species doesn’t lend itself to compelling narrative.

I struggled with this in my own novel, A Being Darkly Wise, which is also a contemporary tale centered on climate change. I’ll leave it to others to decide whether I succeeded or not, but Kingsolver definitely does.

Kingsolver embeds Dellarobia in a small town that is conservative, evangelical, emotionally stifling and in the midst of a near apocalyptic rainy season. In fact, all the seasons are askew. Winter is too warm, freak cold snaps appear when they shouldn’t — in short, it is experiencing climate change.

But the real genius of this novel is how Kingsolver intertwines the larger story of what is happening to the world, into the life of Dellarobia and her fellow townspeople. The struggles between faith and science, commerce and conscience, reverence and ennui are our struggles, the small triumphs and epic failures are our legacies.

One of the astounding things she accomplishes is to reveal why people fall for denier claptrap, and in the process, make them sympathetic. In fact, there isn’t a real antagonist in this story — another challenge for a writer, and another she takes on with skill and grace.

Those people, who seemed at first to be redneck caricatures, emerge as real people, and their desire to belong to the culture in which they find themselves is the force that makes them accept counterfactual denier talking points. Interestingly, recent research supports the idea that one’s peer group has more to do with whether one accepts climate science than education. At one point, after Ovid has gone through how grim the future looks as a result of global warming, Dellarobia says, “I’m not saying I don’t believe you, I’m saying I can’t.”

The author’s background in biology shows through. Her knowledge of the life cycle of the Monarch and the rhythms of the natural world is encyclopedic, and her skill as a writer allows her to showcase that knowledge in a way that interests and delights.

Kingsolver, who lives in the Appalachians that are the setting for this story, deals in shades of grey, and exhibits genuine sympathy and affection for all her rural characters. Dellarobia’s husband, Cub, isn’t a villain, he’s simply a gentle giant miscast as the mate of a smarter, more independent woman, who is with her only because she became pregnant. Her mother-in-law, Hester — the closest thing to an antagonist in the story, and an apparent paragon of piety and virtue — ends up having been trapped in her marriage in much the same way Dellarobia did. The minister of their church believes in stewardship of the Earth, not dominion over it. And just to keep things from becoming too sweet, Dellarobia’s best friend, Dovey, is a wisecracking rebel who sees the world through a cynic’s eyes.

Kingsolver evokes the claustrophobic world of rural Tennessee with equal grace and tolerance. It is a world Dellarobia begins to escape when she goes to work as a lab assistant for Ovid. The interaction between her and the more urban graduate students working with Ovid is as entertaining as it is evocative of how different their worlds are. At one point, Dellarobia resorts to telling one of the grad students who is amazed that she owns a sewing machine and is capable of actually using it, that it’s not “… like an atom smasher or anything.”

Kingsolver allows Dellarobia to transcend the limits of her environment. While her flame-red hair is obviously the same color as the Monarch, Kingsolver does not allow the Monarch much likelihood of doing the same.

She seems to be saying that we can still expect moments of grace and transcendence for individuals, but the world will not be so lucky.

Flight Behavior starts a little slow, but if you’re patient, you’ll be rewarded with a glimpse of people struggling to make a life in a world that is changing beneath their feet, told by one of the best contemporary writers out there.

John Atcheson, a former UUFSD Board President, DOE and EPA official, is the Climate Progress book reviewer. He has his own book out available in paperback and Kindle from Amazon, A Being Darkly Wise: A Novel Of Survival.

Buy Flight Behavior HERE.

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December 4: Food Bank Volunteer Night

December 4 – Food Bank Volunteer Night
Join Us!

One of our volunteers just responded with this:
“What a great break from the hustle-bustle of commercial Xmas!” SO TRUE!

Join us at the San Diego Food Bank in the Miramar area; just 20 minutes from UUFSD! It’s always from 6:00 – 8:00 PManyone over 6 years old can help! Mostly we just put food in boxes on an assembly line or bag fresh produce – really easy, no lifting, no bending, great camaraderie.

Last month we bagged 2000 lbs of pears and prepared 272 Friday Take-Home bags for kids! – in just 2 hours!

This is a wonderful way of helping locally those in need and strengthening our UUFSD community as well. The San Diego Food Bank distributes over 20 million pounds of food annually to individuals, families and a network of nonprofit organizations that work to alleviate hunger throughout San Diego county. They need our help! Check out the pictures.

Email Sara Ohara for more information: sara@saraohara.com

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December 9: Pastoral Care Workshop

Pastoral Care Workshop

Founders Hall
December 9 • 7:00 – 8:30 PM

“Happiness Is……….”

Dr. Ansar Haroun, Professor of Psychiatry at UCSD, will present a lecture on the biological, social, psychological, and religious underpinnings of the concept of “happiness”.

For the last 25 years, Dr. Haroun has been a psychiatrist in San Diego, practicing the conventional biomedical model of treating unhappiness / depression, but also studying alternative models, which incorporate the wisdom of the great Masters (Buddha, Jesus, Ghazali and Farabi etc).

He will synthesize the wisdom of the sages, and explain where the western biomedical model should or should not be applied.

Dessert and Coffee will be served!!

Contact David Naimark for more information: office@uufsd.org