February 2014 // Volume 52 // Number 1 // Commentary // 1COM3
Commentaries conform to JOE submission standards and provide an opportunity for Extension professionals to exchange perspectives and ideas.
The Merits of Separating Global Warming from Extension Education Sustainability Programs
Using the rhetoric of global warming to support the adoption of sustainable practices beneficial to society limits their adoption. Climate data are about to fall outside the models used to "settle" the global warming issue. Atmospheric carbon dioxide continues to increase, while temperature, since 1998, has decreased. The science is becoming unsettling. Is it time for Extension educators to reevaluate sustainability programming and de-emphasize climate and concentrate instead on the many other beneficial aspects of moving toward a more sustainable future at all levels of Extension programming—agriculture, natural resources, the environment, health, nutrition, and housing?
Extension educators have embraced global warming and climate change programs over the last 20 years (Miller, 1990; Fraisse, Breuer, Zierden, & Ingram, 2009; Mazze & Stockard, 2013) and have incorporated those topics into sustainable living educational programs (Elliot et al., 2008). However, average global temperatures have declined for the last 15 years compared to the El Niño peak of 1998 (NASA, 2013), while carbon dioxide emissions continue their steady rise (NOAA, 2013). Global warming terms used in sustainable living education programs now raise more questions than answers. It's not the same as presenting data from a replicated crop variety trial with statistically significant winners and losers. Instead, we are discussing projections, models, predictions, and attempting to attach winners and losers to it. None of the current climate models predicted temperature would stop rising (Plimer, 2009).
Re-Thinking Climate Change
- Historically, today's climate is within natural variations and is nothing to fear.
- Climate is always changing, and civilizations thrive and expand during warm periods.
- Increasing 20th century CO2 levels contributed to the Green Revolution's higher plant yields and will be a factor in feeding a rising world population.
- The large diurnal surface temperature variations between daytime highs and nighttime lows leave one to seek the simplest explanation—the sun drives climate.
- We are entering a cycle of reduced sun spot activity that may account for the halt in temperature rise and would mean cooler, not warmer temperatures ahead.
- How many years must the planet cool before we can say it is not warming?
The Debate or the Facts
We can debate the positives and negatives of global warming, the difficulties and merits of using computer models for data collection. We can debate the many variables associated with climate science—the atmosphere, clouds, oceanography, the sun—and whether these and their relative weights are included correctly in the climate models used to set policy. But it would be a debate, not a presentation of hard facts backed up by replicated data collection through observation and measurement, based on the scientific method. The latter I can confidently present to my clientele groups and stakeholders. And they can confidently accept. The debate leaves us both confused.
UF/IFAS Extension Orange County is in its sixth year of sustainable living Extension education programs. Significant results for adopting sustainable practices have occurred without emphasizing climate as a motivating factor (Tyson et al., 2012). Because, frankly, it is easier to present just the facts. We can present the environmental and social benefits of reducing water, fertilizer, and pesticide use. We can save energy and healthcare costs by promoting healthy lifestyle changes. We can encourage support for local food production thus improving food security and healthy local economies — by just presenting the facts, please, just the facts!
Elliott, C., Hyde, L., McDonell, L., Monroe, M., Rashash, D., Sheftall, W., Simon-Brown, V., Worthley, T., Crosby, G., & Tupas, L. (2008). Sustainable living education: A call to all Extension. Journal of Extension [On-line], 46 (2) Article 2COM1. Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2008april/comm1.php
Fraisse, C. W., Breuer N. E., Zierden D., & Ingram, K. T. (2009). From climate variability to climate change: Challenges and opportunities. Journal of Extension [on-line], 47(2) Article 2FEA9. Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2009april/a9.php
Mazze, S., & Stockard, J. (2013). Evaluating the effectiveness of a sustainable living education program. Journal of Extension [On-line], 51(1), Article 1RIB1. Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/2013february/rb1.php
Miller, B. J. (1990). Global environmental change: Extension frontier for the 1990s. Journal of Extension [on-line], 28(4). Article 4FRM1. Available at: http://www.joe.org/joe/1990winter/f1.php
National Aeronautics and Space Administration. (2013). Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Surface temperature analysis. Retrieved from: http://data.giss.nasa.gov/gistemp/graphs_v3/
National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration. (2013). Earth Systems Research Laboratory. Trends in atmospheric carbon dioxide. from: http://www.esrl.noaa.gov/gmd/ccgg/trends/
Plimer, I. (2009). Heaven and earth: Global warming the missing science. Taylor Trade Publishing, Landham, MD.
Tyson, R., Felter, E., Kennington, M., Mudge, D., Pehlke, T., Thralls, E., & White, C. (2012). Sustainable living educational expos build teamwork, community networks and adoption of sustainable practices. Journal of NACAA, 5(2).
Views expressed in this Commentary and the accompanying discussion forum do not necessarily reflect those of the Extension Journal Inc. board of directors or the Journal of Extension editor. Journal of Extension Commentary discussion forums remain open through two issues of the journal. Anonymous comments are not permitted. All comments are screened before publication for derogatory content—disagreement is acceptable, but comments should reflect a respectful exchange about the relevant issue(s).
A professor of Mining Geology at the University of Adelaide, South Australia, Plimber is also a director of several mining companies, with at least two having coal interests. Coal mining would likely be negatively impacted by climate legislation, though Plimer claims his climate beliefs, which run contrary to climate scientistsâ€™ near-concensus, are based in "pure science." If you believe that, I have a bridgeâ€¦
â€¢ Plimer states the rate at which climate change is occurring is the same as it was a billion years ago -- there is no change in the speed or scope of climate variation and thus no danger. He also claims that average global temperatures in the 20th Century were not abnormal. This runs contrary to findings of more than a thousand scientists working for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a body which shared the Nobel prize in 2007 for their work.
â€¢ Plimer asserts that more carbon dioxide is released annually from submerged marine volcanoes than from human activity. The U.S. Geological Survey has found that human activity produces at least 120 times as much carbon dioxide than volcanoes, annually.
â€¢ He wrote How to Get Expelled From School: A guide to climate change for pupils, parents and punters, an anti-Warmist manual for the younger reader. In the book, designed to encourage students to challenge climate science, Plimer offers 101 questions for students to ask their teachers about climate science. Plimer's answers were so grossly misleading that the Australian government published a document to answer his questions and to serve as a reliable resource for students. In the document, the government states: â€œ"Many of the questions and answers in Professor Plimerâ€™s book are misleading and are based on inaccurate or selective interpretation of the science. The answers [in this document] are based on up-to-date peer reviewed science, and have been reviewed by a number of Australian climate scientists."
â€¢ Plimer has also spoken at the Heartland Institute's International Conference on Climate Change. Between 1998 and 2010, the co-sponsors of this conference received more than $21 million in funding from ExxonMobil and the Koch brothers, essentially to create doubt about relevant science and forestall federal and state regulations that might affect their petrochemical holdings and financial interests.
I understand that being transparent in topical areas where many CES stakeholders have existing beliefs can be problematic. As a County Extension Director, I moved beyond pesticide training largely influenced by industry to include presenters â€“ often by Cornell faculty - grounded in the science of occupational and environmental health. Some farmers and applicators cried bias, while others wanted to know why they had not had more exposure to such in-depth information previously. But science often is not politically correct, and rural people deserve the plain, unembellished science, and that is the job of CES educators.
1) making decisions that improve lives
2) inform the next stages of the science
If extension abdicates any role in controversial scientific topics, we will be relegated to irrelevance.
Those who do not agree that the "science is settled" are often ridiculed, taken out of context, ignored, or silenced. I expect this from the general public, but when did this become acceptable behavior among Extension colleagues?
Perhaps my interpretation is at odds with other readers. I understand your position to be that you are uncomfortable with discussing projections, models, predictions, etc. and would prefer to present verifiable facts - not that you want to avoid controversial topics. To me this is completely reasonable.
I have found in my 25 year Extension career that growers will often do what you teach them. If I am teaching them a topic that I am unsure about, then that is a disservice to them and not professional conduct on my part. If a professor of earth sciences is not qualified to write about climate as Bo suggests, then that certainly disqualifies me as well.
Question for all: Are there any other implications from this discussion to think about or to pursue?
As we celebrate 100 years of Extension throughout the country we are reminded of the mission of Extension: to provide science based information to stakeholders and citizens so that they can make informed decisions for themselves, their families, and for future generations. Extension educators should not shy away from hard complex issues. Our society is froth with complex issues to be addressed now and for the future: water quality and quantity, food safety, food security, GMOs, obesity and wellness, education systems, transportation systems, energy and the list goes on and on. Extension has an obligation to teach the most current science available to our public. We need to be pro-active on issues facing society.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science sent a statement on climate change from 18 scientific societies to the US Senate stating; â€œObservations throughout the world make it clear that climate change is occurring, and rigorous scientific research demonstrates that the greenhouse gases emitted by human activities are the primary driver.â€ The underlying facts are that CO2 has increased dramatically since the 1950s and the CO2 is a heat-trapping gas that results in more heat being trapped in our atmosphere. Because of the complexity of the Earth system, there are a lot of uncertainties about how much this effect is and will cause climate to change. But, the science is improving as we speak.
It is imperative that all our educational programs be based on science without personal biases. Science is not absolute. There are disagreements among climate scientists regarding how much temperature will increase and how fast the climate will change in response to the documented increases in atmospheric CO2. That is part of the scientific process. However, in educating the public and users of the information, it is imperative that we cite the best science available. We have an obligation to educate what the science indicates we know and what we do not know. Our personal biases should be checked at the door. UF/IFAS Extension will continue to lead by providing educational programs on climate variability and change and on agricultural and natural resources response options that lead to economic and environmental benefits in Florida.
The "real" debate
Tyson completely misrepresents
If JOE Commentaries (reviewed by the editor) are stated to â€œOffer challenges or present thought-provoking opinions on issues of concern to U.S. Extension by expressing positions that are clear, specific, and rational,â€ Tyson and the Editor missed on all counts.
GISS Temperature Adjusted