Cosmos, climate change, and walking the dog

This Sunday the National Geographic Channel’s excellent Cosmos science series explores climate change (Sunday June 1st at 7-30pm NZ/Aus on Sky channel 72). In the excerpt above, astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson explains the difference between climate and weather by talking a chocolate Labrador for a walk on the beach. The series has been attracting big audiences in the US, and the episodes I’ve caught have made compelling watching. It’s a reworking of Carl Sagan’s classic 1980 series, with wonderful graphics and great storytelling by Tyson. Highly recommended. And remember, watch the man, not the dog. (Hat tip to Chris Mooney at Mother Jones).

50 thoughts on “Cosmos, climate change, and walking the dog”

      1. I assume that there was no context that changed the meaning. He said “we scientists are so good at predicting these dire long term predictions of the climate, yet so lousy at predicting the weather”.

        (or similar)

        Does he provide any evidence that the predictions (however dire) have been good?

    1. It does rather patronise the viewer though.
      Compare this 50 min documentary that BBC Horizon put out some years ago on Fermat’s Last Theorem, from what I would call the “golden years” of science documentaries. (The Ascent of Man being one of the high points)

      1. Considering that there are still some die hart deniers about, who deliberately confuse weather and climate or simply deny the climate escalator… I will name no golliwogs by name here… what seems ‘patronizing’ to you may seem like very reasonable attempt to get the point accross to others…. 😉

      2. ‘Rather patronize the viewer’? How many people in the US deny evolution and believe in the existence of angels again? I mean, look at the comments underneath that post – Dunning-Kruger in action!

        1. In the video link I posted up thread , Horizon present several advanced mathematical concepts, admittedly well above my pay grade, such as Galois theory, modular functions etc. in an accessible way to the viewer without patronizing them

          The documentary was exciting to me because it showed the despair and exhilaration of proving one of mathematics greatest unsolved theorems.

          On the other hand, we have DeGrasse Tyson and his dog.

          Not very inspiring

          1. For years climate sceptics have been saying we don’t want scaremongering images and graphs, please personalise things with maybe a man and his dog.

            Now thats not right either apparently.

            I give up.

            1. “Climate sceptics” don’t want scary picture of polar bears on ice floes, nor do they want unscary images of middle aged men walking dogs on beaches

              Just some science will do, thanks

            2. We tried the science. Over 12,000 science papers, the vast majority pointing one way. You just don’t like the message.

            3. This really unnerves you, doesn’t it, andy?

              Precisely because, I suspect, it’s too easy for people to ‘get’, and there go all your ‘hiatuses’ and ‘it’s cooling’ episodes… leaving not much at all.

            4. Given that the IPCC only attribute the warming since 1976 to human activity (according to a recent statement by Judith Curry) the longer term trends of warming before that are largely irrelevant.

            5. Wow, Curry speaks for the IPCC now; who knew?

              And, frankly, you may want to try again: you’re clearly attempting to make a point, but I’m afraid it just ain’t working…

            6. Judith Curry is not very clearly wrong. The IPCC attribution is post-1950. Their pre-1950 warming attribution is tenuous at best
              Given that the main warming signal post 1950 was 1976-1998, then her statement is reasonable, I would have thought.

            7. Well no it’s not andy.
              But can’t be bothered explaining it to you as you are clearly in denial mode again and therefore anything I would say would be brushed aside with some other lame excuse. All I will say is “Clean air acts – aerosols”
              The IPCC speaks for itself andy and certainly does not utilise the services of Judith Curry who speaks only for herself (and her infamy)

          1. String theory is somewhat speculative. It fits the numbers, but there is no real proof or experimental evidence. I don’t think many physicists are saying they are certain about it. I admit I dont pretend to really understand it, you need an advanced physics degree and high level maths more than I did at uni.

            The point is it’s not comparable to greenhouse gas theory or agw.

          2. String theory and the multiverse are a very different category of knowledge from evolution and AGW.

            My brain just doesn’t do multiply-bundled dimensions folded in on themselves. Ironically deGrasse Tyson goes into the multiverse particularly in his series – right from episode 1 – but, frankly, I prefer Terry Pratchett’s!…

            1. The multiverse theory is one way we can explain the statistical improbability of life spontaneously forming in our universe.

              So, evolution, (or the lack of intelligent design) requires a multiverse, or another theory, to explain it.

              So, while they may be different classes of problems, you need one to explain the other.

              String theory is just a mathematical representation of reality. I don’t know if we can test any of the theory in a lab,.

            2. String theory was developed to find a way of linking quantum mechanics and relativity. Multiverses are an explanation of what the big bang is really about.

              You probably can’t visualise multi dimensions or multiverses just in the same way you can’t really visualise radio waves. The curled up dimension terminology is just the best we have.

              But then I immediately ask why is the world like string theory or a multiverse? What is it for, what does it mean?

              It’s the search for origins, which makes me suspect there are origins somewhere.

              Or is the universe just a process or set of relationships that exists because it exists?

            3. Andy, to bring this back down from the multi-verse….

              We have only this planet and no other. We have only these decades and no others, if we want to make the effort to avert disaster. We are running headlong into a terrible overshoot and with regards to the ecology of this planet on which we utterly depend, we have been reckless no less.

              If you look at the risible howling of the right wing science denying nonsense spouting cabal of people commenting on the right wing blogs of the USA and propping up the right with their vote, then I would think we need climate science for Dummy’s 101 if we want to make any inroads at all. The intro into the TV show seems right on the money and in fact, recounting the many discussions we had here, you are a prime example of person who would deny what the man is saying and I would think that your comment “Patronizing” is perhaps the only thing you possibly could think of as you can’t in earnest criticize the message so you attack the method of it, all with the intent, obviously, to devalue it somehow?

            4. [Pointless snark removed. GR]

              I don’t doubt that we need to take care of our beautiful blue and green planet, but maybe we can agree on some terms here?

            5. Sure we hopefully can Andy. Lets see then, can we agree that:
              1) The climate is warming and AGW (CO2) is the main driver.
              2) We are looking at 2 to 4 deg C warming by 2100 unless we actively reduce CO2 emissions drastically over the next decades.
              3) SLR is going to be a major factor and we must anticipate 1m SLR by the end to century and a lot more later.
              4) Unless we succeed reducing CO2 to a sensible level ocean acidification is going wreck havoc with our ocean ecology with potentially dire consequences for the ocean ecology.
              5) We have the technology to start reducing CO2 emissions now and should set significant internationally binding reduction targets urgently.
              6) The cost of in-action and business as usual will be far greater than the cost of deliberate and strategic action to avoid the worst effects of our fossil fuel habit.

            6. Hi Thoams
              I would like to answer your questions one by one

              1. No
              2. no
              3. No
              4. No
              5. No
              6. No

              If you require further clarification on my answers to your questions I would be happy to fill in the details

            7. Thomas, if you split up some of your statements into smaller ones I might actually agree with some of them

      3. Being an antipodean anglophile I certainly prefer the BBC style to the ‘gee-whiz’ world of the Discovery Channel or even – God help us! – Fox (teh irony, it burns!) but, really, andy, while this is an excellent doco, I am none-the-wiser about the proof at the end of it than I was at the start.

        Whereas that bloke with the dog – even a born-again Southern Baptist who regularly communes with visions of Saint Jerome should get that…

        1. If you’re interested, Simon Singh’s book “Fermat’s Last Theorem” is a very good read, and covers the same material in a very readable form.

    1. What a hoot! 🙂
      I had not heard much from Wishart lately. But surely he deserved the slap in his face act well and truly. And good on whoever pulled that prank. Its time that the protagonists of denial get whats due to them!

      1. Yes I agree Thomas. One interesting thing as follows. Wishart claims in his first book that some studies show the medieval warm period is hotter than today. His book has a couple of graphs which appear to support this although they have no time scales, but you assume they go to this decade.

        Smelling a rat I checked the research and sure enough the graphs in Wisharts book only went to about 1970. How conveniently missleading, and they wonder why we get irritated with the sceptics.

  1. I thought the climate change episode of “Cosmos” that aired on Sunday night was one of the best expositions for lay people that I’ve ever seen.

    I was particularly impressed with the challenge at the end, which invoked JFK’s call for us to “do these things not because they are easy, but because they are hard”.

    I can see why the likes of andyS are so keen to change the subject; that episode should be shown in every school in the country – and I believe it will.

      1. Nah, mate, just wait until that episode of “Cosmos” turns up on that channel you watch all the time – y’know, the one with the cute sheilas and the old racists – whaddya call it again, News Fox?

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