Skepticism

Come star gazing with Phil Plait, Pamela Gay and the Skepchicks

Are you planning to come to Dragon*Con? If not, why not? Do you know there is an entire skeptics track planned again this year, bigger and better than last year (and it pretty much kicked ass last year). This year, we have more space, more speakers and more Skepchicks coming.  We also have a special event happening the day before Dragon*Con starts so make sure you plan ahead.  The Atlanta Skeptics are planning a star gazing party, hosted by none other than Phil Plait and Pamela Gay.  We’ll have drinks, dinner, and of course, some star gazing once the sun goes down.

I really hope you can join us. This event is in honor of our friend and fellow skeptic, Jeff Medkeff. Jeff was the astronomer who discovered and named an asteroid after Rebecca. We were all devastated when Jeff lost his battle with liver cancer last year and proceeds from this event will go to the American Cancer Society.

It will also be a rocking good time. In addition to Phil and Pamela, we have a bunch of skepchicks and skeptics who have already signed up to attend. Brian Thompson from Amateur Scientist, Richard Saunders and Rachel Dunlop from The Skeptic Zone, plus our own Rebecca Watson, ARealGirl and Carr2d2 will all be there.

Tickets are limited and will sell out. So head over to the Atlanta Skeptics site to buy tickets now! See you, and the stars, there!

Masala Skeptic

Maria Walters (a.k.a. Masala Skeptic) has spent a lot of time in ‘furrin parts,’ including Hong Kong, Trinidad, and Pittsburgh. Although her passport is from India, she’s spent most of her adult life in the United States. She currently lives in Atlanta and has an unhealthy affection for science fiction, Neil Gaiman and all things Muppet.

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57 Comments

  1. “Are you planning to come to Dragon*Con? If not, why not? ”

    I’ve been to DragonCon and think it’s awesome. Were it within bicycle distance I would surely go. I’m not going this year because we, even those of us who acknowledge human-caused global climate change, still dump vast amounts of carbon into the atmosphere doing frivolous things like DragonCon. One trip to DragonCon is not going to melt the icecaps, but unfortunately that’s the way everyone feels about all their trips for all their purposes. “No one drop believes itself responsible for the flood.” Unless magic happens the vast majority of us are going to keep doing what we do with whatever rationalization makes us feel good about doing it while the world becomes unfit for human civilization.

    Magic may happen in the form of new technology and I’m working hard for it. I’m also working hard to promote electrical transportation of all kinds which I believe is the current best solution. Ultimately I don’t think any technology or legislation is going to solve the problem. The technology required is too radical to be likely and the necessary laws would have to be draconian to the point where they would never pass. I really think the most likely scenario is the population of humans on the earth will stay in balance with what the planet can support with a given climate. On our current trajectory the process will be gruesome.

    I don’t believe one or two people refusing to drive cars or fly in airplanes will change anything. Maybe, however, if 1%, 2%, or dare to dream 5% of us climb on the bandwagon then things will start to change. Demand for bike paths, efficient vehicles, and mass-transit will grow and get less expensive. Demand for cars and airline seats will shrink and become more expensive. This is a positive feedback loop I can get into. Best of all we can raise the next generation to think about the planet differently.

  2. @davew: Want to know why I don’t have any money? I had to buy a car. I have lived in Arizona 9 years come this August. Until last August, I did not own a car and took public transportation. I lived in Central Phoenix, and always worked downtown or without reasonable busing distance.

    But then I got a new job, and after a year of almost 2 hours EACH WAY, I finally broke down and got a car, something I didn’t really do. But I couldn’t take it anymore–even if I left every day at 5am (I start at 7am), I was still late half the time and was going to lose my job if that continued.

    So, alas, a car.

    And while I like my car in some ways … I hate, hate, hate the expense. GRRR.

  3. And wow, I just re-read everything…hopefuly you can parse through all my mistakes and make some sense of it all. It was 108+ degrees this weekend and I was without air conditioning for half of it. Forgive me, I am a grump-grump right now.

  4. @marilove:

    I feel for you. It would aggravate me mightily to have to buy a car again. And you’re not kidding about the expense. Leaving the environment out of it I figured my 1999 Subaru cost me, NOT counting gas/maintenance/parking, $7.80 per day. Every day. Just to have it. Driving it cost extra. Good riddance.

  5. @marilove: “‘Cuz I have no money ”

    And this is what I am working hardest to change. Either bad things need to be more expensive or people need to stop basing their energy use based solely on what they can afford.

  6. @davew:

    So why is Dragon*Con frivolous (especially considering the Skeptics track), but sitting on your computer surfing the web not? Wouldn’t your Skepchick surfing time be better spent outside composting or growing an algae farm?

  7. Well, I’m going to Dragon*Con for the second time. I can’t make the stargazing party, but I look forward to the skeptracks, and to seeing all the attending ‘chicks (and fellow posters.)

  8. @phlebas: “Wouldn’t your Skepchick surfing time be better spent outside composting or growing an algae farm?”

    Nirvana fallacy perhaps? I’ve never been quick at “spot the logical error.”

    Everything not related to survival is frivolous which definitely includes surfing the net. There is a carbon footprint for net surfing which I am aware of. It pales in comparison to long distance travel, however. Heck, even my bicycle and my shoes have a carbon footprint. My metric is “Is my lifestyle sustainable for the planet if everyone in the advanced countries did what I do?” I’m confident the answer to this is yes.

    The stretch goal is “Is my lifestyle sustainable for the planet if everyone on the planet did what I do?” I haven’t made it to this level, yet, but I’m working on it. My house is too big for one thing. On the other hand, if I get to count the fact that I didn’t reproduce, the answer to the second question may technically be yes as well.

    @Elyse

    If you have access to equipment capable of spotting extra-solar planets I will ride my bike to D*C!

  9. @davew: “There is a carbon footprint for net surfing which I am aware of. It pales in comparison to long distance travel, however.”

    Yes, but if just 2% of us, or 5%, or (hope to dream) 10% could just stop surfing the net, there would be a noticeable reduction in sanctimonious comment emissions.

  10. More on topic, I’m extremely excited about this shindig. If there’s anything I love more than stars, it’s a party. Combining the two seems too good to be true.

    Now just to decide whether I should show up in my stretch Hummer or my chopper. Maybe I can land my chopper on my stretch Hummer…

  11. @Cleon: “And skipping DragonCon will not stop global warming.”

    I thought I could forestall this argument, but apparently I couldn’t. I’ll try again. Shooting one animal didn’t extirpate the Passenger Pigeon, the Carolina Parakeet, and the Florida Panther. Chopping down one tree didn’t raze the forests of Haiti. Bringing this closer to home, failure to vaccinate one child will not bring back measles, polio, and whooping cough.

    The problem with this line of thinking is it justifies doing nothing differently. Everyone will rationalize their trip, and in the larger sense, their lifestyle. I have a theory about this. People have evolved enough to be very smart individually, but not collectively. There is no evolutionary advantage to it. Civilization hasn’t been around long enough to count as force in natural selection so preserving it cannot be considered a survival advantage in the evolutionary sense. Yeast will divide and eat until all available food is gone then almost all of them die. So far I have seen nothing to indicate that humans collectively are any different or will fare any better. Evolutionarily speaking this is just fine. It just won’t be fun to be a part of the crash.

    I see other daily examples of this. People send tweets complaining about how they are stuck in traffic. It is as if traffic were something that only other cars caused.

    This is why I also think that vaccination arguments that mention herd immunity are futile. The argument appeals to collective thinking. People get their kids vaccinated because if vastly diminishes the chance that their kids will get nasty diseases. These parents aren’t motivated by their concern for your kids. Any moms or dads want to contradict this?

  12. I’ll be at D*C – may be too busy doing other prep stuff to make it to star party. But good news for @DaveW – I’m working to netcast as many of the panels as I can so that folks who are tethered to Gilligan’s-Island style bike-powered Internet Kiosks can still get some of the crunchy skeptical goodness. (And those of you who are sitting in the dim climate controlled grid-powered chairs as well.)

  13. @davew I don’t want to argue because I think the purpose of this particular post is to discuss the Star Party and Dragon Con – but… I get Flu-Shots each year entirely because of herd immunity. I’m young and can handle the flu, but I give a crap about other people who aren’t so I get the shot.

    And I have kids, and frankly I had them immunized so they could stay healthy – but also of concern was that I wanted them to go to school with other kids and you have to have immunizations to go to public school in GA.

    Oh – and even a bit more selfish than that – I hadn’t had chickenpox or measles so I didn’t want my kids bringing them home for me from school.

  14. @davew: Wouldn’t attending an event that promotes critical thinking and, in this case, showcases the wonders of the universe help people realize that the world is worth protecting and perhaps make some small changes in their own lives?

    I think the world is a wonderful place and technology has allowed us to see more of it. That makes me want to take better care of it. But not by sitting at home. What’s the point of a beautiful planet if you don’t give yourself the opportunity to see it?

  15. One more thing, @DaveW – the “collective” action of people can often be demonstrated in a crisis. Your theory is easily falsified where people voluntarily join together to fight against fires, floods, criminals, starvation, disease, etc… People work together in communities, people help their friends and neighbors – and even strangers.

    A family of five can’t switch to biking everywhere in GA. They’d get killed. Hopefully we’ll find a solution someday to greenhouse gasses – ideally in some wicked cool electric cars and natural-source augmentation to the power grid.

    But kudos to you if you’re able to cut down your energy profile. I’d be much more likely to skip driving to the office than to skip driving to Dragon*Con.

  16. @Masala Skeptic: “What’s the point of a beautiful planet if you don’t give yourself the opportunity to see it?”

    Good point! And I agree. I just tend to see the ever-lovin’ crap out of the part of the planet that is within 20 miles of my house. Fortunately I live in Colorado so I don’t look at this as a sacrifice.

    “Wouldn’t attending an event that promotes critical thinking and, in this case, showcases the wonders of the universe help people realize that the world is worth protecting and perhaps make some small changes in their own lives?”

    Possibly. Tops on my list would be that Dragon Con is mind-blowing fun. Environmental education would be way down the list of reasons to attend.

  17. @doctoratlantis: “One more thing, @DaveW – the “collective” action of people can often be demonstrated in a crisis. Your theory is easily falsified where people voluntarily join together to fight against fires, floods, criminals, starvation, disease, etc… People work together in communities, people help their friends and neighbors – and even strangers.”

    I see your point, but I don’t think it is the same thing. These tend to be either small sacrifices (giving to charity), very-short term ones (floods), or involve self-interest in some way (crime, fire). Also the causes tend to be dramatic. People gave billions to tsunami relief. Diarrhea, for example, kills more people each and every year. Where’s the outpouring of generosity for this? (I know. People tend to get confused when you ask for diarrhea relief.)

    Helping your family and helping your village make evolutionary sense and has been demonstrated in animals other than humans. We spend a lot of energy in these areas. Not many of us spend a lot of energy on problems with a larger scope.

  18. Way to hijack the thread @davew. Nice job. Of course, now that its done, I’m glad you decided to stop doing it and move on.

    I must say that was an excellent decision on your part. The decision to leave, I mean. Well done. I support it fully, and I’ll see you on another thread.

    No, there’s no reason why you have to hang around to respond to this. You were halfway out the door already, after all. Please, go ahead and move on to those other things you needed to do. By all means.

    See you later! Nice talking to you. Make sure you take care on your walk home.

  19. @AmateurScientist:

    You should definitely check out the jazz club krelnik is talking about. Because you ppl in Louisiana don’t get to experience much authentic Georgia jazz.

    Remind me during D*C, and I’ll take you out for some authentic cajun food.

    Ok, gotta go — I hear krelnik stomping up behind me…

  20. No time and no money and I don’t want to embarrasse myself by getting caught walking out of the skepchick track with an enormous hard on.

    You know what is going to happen at the atar party. Drinks, then sexy, sexy skeptics in the dark under the stars. I can imagine the CNN story now. “300 atheists were arrested during Georgia’s largest outdoor orgy since the last visit by NC Governor Mark Sanford.”

  21. @krelnik, @phlebas: You forget I live in north Louisiana, which is more like south Arkansas than Cajun country. While we do indeed suck on the heads of crawfish and wrestle alligators with our bare teeth, we have not been cultured in the finer points of jazz. There was a jazz club in my neighborhood for a time, but it was less a place for hearing good music than a place for all my bass player friends to commit adultery with waitresses.

  22. @AmateurScientist:

    There was a jazz club in my neighborhood for a time, but it was less a place for hearing good music than a place for all my bass player friends to commit adultery with waitresses.

    So you’re more of a blues man?

    I’ve never actually been to the jazz club here. krelnik has spoken kindly of it, but as my musical training is mostly in the form of a tuba, I don’t have jazz in my blood.

    Now, if someone opened a nice German polka club, I’d be all over that more thoroughly than chlamydia on the set of Full House.

    (Which reminds me — I have to get the music together for the Star Party. Anyone up for stargazing to the smooth grooves of Eduard Strauss? Oh, damn… Now I’m going to have In Künstlerkreisen stuck in my head all day.)

    As for the head sucking, I can’t help you there. We eat our crawfish deep fried, as God intended.

  23. Interestingly enough climate change came up on Pharyngula today too (http://scienceblogs.com/pharyngula/2009/06/mario_molina_energy_and_climat.php) including these ominous phrases:

    “It is a big worry that we have a risk of entering practically irreversible modes: he gave the example of melting of arctic summer ice, since once the ice cap is gone, it is not trivial to restore it. Some tipping points may occur relatively soon. We are at risk of catastrophic climate change.”

    People accepting personal responsibility was not mentioned as one of the solutions. That’s a relief.

  24. @phlebas: “What a sleazeball.”

    I can’t agree with you that PZ is a sleezeball. He has many admirable qualities. If you can look past his bellicose writing style you might come to the same appreciation. However, I do agree with you that he is making some poor choices about how he uses energy.

  25. @davew: My metric is “Is my lifestyle sustainable for the planet if everyone in the advanced countries did what I do?” I’m confident the answer to this is yes.

    ————-

    Really? Why are you confident of that? Have you analyzed your entire carbon footprint, including the fertilizer it takes to grow the food you eat, the energy to create your every possession, and the energy it takes to run a society that includes your favorite toys?

    Which are the advanced countries? What is their population? Does this account for adding more population and expanding the advanced countries to include India and China? Why not? Don’t they deserve to live as well as you do?

    If everyone in the advanced countries consumed as you do, and traveled as much as you do, what would the effect be on the sustainability of our technological base? How would this feedback influence the pace of technological change? Would this have an effect on the eventual development of alternate technologies and the pace of that development? Do we need these technologies to include India and China in your list of advanced countries?

    Please explain the relationship between shooting a panther and driving to work. Was the activity of panther shooting an activity that was engaged in by almost every human being on earth every day, like burning fossil fuels, or was it a much smaller part of the culture overall? Are you advocating only shooting a sustainable number of Panthers?

    Given that not everyone will follow your lead, shouldn’t you reduce your lifestyle to below sustainable levels? To follow your tree chopping theory, if you are cutting some trees, and other people are cutting unsustainable amounts of trees, you are by definition cutting an unsustainable amount of trees. Perhaps you should become carbon negative, rather than carbon neutral?

    Otherwise, I think you are just part of the problem, really.

    But the main way I think you are part of the problem is that you seem to think that confidence on your part is related in some way to reality, and further, that confidence relates to some sort of moral high ground. The fact is, you have no idea how the system works or how your behavior effects it, or what level of behavior on everyone’s part would have what effect.

    Should we stop burning fossil fuels? Probably. So let’s do back something meaningful like Picken’s Plan (or a better alternative) and lets don’t be smugly superior about minor acts of conservation.

  26. @sethmanapio:

    I’m going to assume that your questions are rhetorical since there are so many of them and most require very lengthy answers. If you want a real answer to one or two of them, let me know. I’ve put considerable thought and research into this and can go on at some length.

    Morality has nothing to do with this neither does smugness. The question was why or “Why are or why are not you traveling to DragonCon?” I have a point of view that I think others might find valuable. Isn’t this what the comments is for?

    “Should we stop burning fossil fuels? Probably. So let’s do back something meaningful like Picken’s Plan (or a better alternative)…”

    I support the Picken’s plan, but it does not address sustainable transportation. Theoretically we could use electric trains for long-distance transportation and electric cars for short, but as desirable as this is I can’t see it happening at least not any time soon. I think a carbon tax is a better plan because it does not mandate any particular solution. It just strongly encourages businesses and citizens to look for one. Cap-and-trade could work, but I don’t hold out much hope the caps will be low enough to be meaningful.

    Supporting a plan, however, in itself does nothing. Conservation, on the other hand, does. Supporting a plan requires little to no effort. Conservation requires effort and inconvenience. I understand why supporting plans is more popular.

    I realize I’m being a little (possibly a lot) annoying here and this digression has gone on a bit long as some kind-hearted people have pointed out. I think the conversation still has value, but if the Skepchicks don’t they can always close the thread. I won’t be offended.

  27. @davew:

    Well, you’re partially right. My questions were meant to point out that the situation is complicated far beyond your ability to understand it (or any single persons), involves ignoring the third world, and that you metaphors of logging and species extinction suck badly.

    The thing is, you participate in a society that requires an energy burn that you know is not sustainable. You buy the products, use the resources, and feed the beast. You feed it less than some and more than others. Go you.

    But the truth is that conservation accomplishes nothing in itself, not even slowing down the total burn rate. Real political action, supporting a plan as you put it, requires effort and inconvenience, and an understanding of the issues and a willingness to do real outreach. It is actually a much more meaningful and useful activity than a self-congratulatory conversation–a conservation that really means living a life that you find comfortable.

  28. @JOHNEA13: Appears you have been reading “The tragedy of the commons”.

    This is the first I’ve heard of it. It’s provocative reading, however. Thanks! I suspect many of the ideas have been folded into books I have read like _The Selfish Gene_ and _The Population Bomb_.

  29. @sethmanapio: “But the truth is that conservation accomplishes nothing in itself, not even slowing down the total burn rate. ”

    Logically conservation saves as much as people conserve. But why do you assume I do nothing else? This is the where more of my time and money go than anything other than work. I would be accused of hypocrisy, however, if I advocated for conservation and other serious steps to mitigate climate change and didn’t walk the walk. Witness the most prominent criticism of Al Gore. Then again I get accused of smugness.

    “a conservation that really means living a life that you find comfortable”

    You’re never going to win arguments or friends by guessing incorrectly at other people’s motives.

    What I’m trying to do, fruitlessly, quixotically, is attempt to shake people out of their complacency. Since you loved my other metaphors, try this one. I see a parallel between this problem and ocean fishing. Scientists warned for years about over-harvesting of salmon, cod, tuna, and just about every other fish humans eat a lot of. Most fishermen were even aware of it, but they couldn’t change because it would affect their lifestyle (like a need to eat) and it wouldn’t solve the larger problem. Governments wouldn’t step in because the fishing lobby was asking them not to. Besides if one country switched to sustainable harvests the other countries would just take more. Species by species the global fish populations have crashed. Now there is an official crisis of large enough proportions that the governments of the world are starting to cooperate on solutions.

    The problem with global climate change is if you wait for a real, tangible crisis it’s already too late. It’ll be interesting to see where the science goes over the next few years, but it may be too late already. We may have started a feed-back-loop in the arctic with the sea ice melting which traps more heat which melts more ice which releases trapped methane which melts more ice… This thought makes me glad I’m crowding 50 rather than crowding 20.

  30. @davew: The problem with global climate change is if you wait for a real, tangible crisis it’s already too late.

    ———

    No, the problem with global climate change is that no one knows very much about it and the models are practically impossible to verify because of poor version control practices.

    It’s true that if you argued for conservation of fossil fuels and didn’t practice it, you would be a hypocrite. As it is, you are a person of principle, preaching a badly timed and pointless message, one that lulls people into the false sense that they are effecting change when in truth, they are just as guilty as everyone else.

    To me, your arbitrary choice of your comfort level as the proper resting point of conservationism seems smug and short sited. It seems like you can’t see the enormous industries that MUST exist in order to afford you this comfort, even if you participate in a limited way. In a sense, other people consume on your behalf in order to provide you with the luxury of conservationism.

    But as far as I have been able to discover, the single greatest impact that anyone could have on the environment would be to somehow replace every coal plant with practically anything else. And if that doesn’t happen, conservation is pointless.

    Just like with a fishery. You don’t conserve your way out of a fishery crisis. You put a moratorium on fishing.

  31. @sethmanapio: “But as far as I have been able to discover, the single greatest impact that anyone could have on the environment would be to somehow replace every coal plant with practically anything else. And if that doesn’t happen, conservation is pointless.”

    This the most well-thought-out rationalization for doing nothing I have ever read. At some level it is admirable.

    Personal conservation does work. For example in my fine state you can voluntarily pay a premium to have your electricity come from wind. It worked. This year more wind plants are going up as well as a solar installation. Every recycling program in the country is based on volunteer effort. These programs alone will not solve climate change but they are a step in the right direction. To a lesser extent everyone who opts for a more efficient car is contributing, although probably less than they think. On a similar front The Nature Conservancy uses voluntary donations to accomplish more for land conservation than any other single organization. Nobody passed a law to make The Nature Conservancy happen.

    To say that conservation is pointless is self-serving and factually wrong. I agree that conservation will not solve climate change on its own. What it will do is forestall the problem to some degree, encourage the sort of economic and cultural changes that will be part of a climate change solution, discourage the part of our economy and culture that contribute to the problem, and put more pressure on our leaders to pass the legislation that will be a necessary part of the final solution.

    I am aware our economy is based on an unsustainable level of consumption. I am also aware I eat because of this economy. The next generation is going to have to do with much, much less of everything. The question is are we going to get there on a long, slow decline or are we going to fall off a cliff. The point of the fishing metaphor is to illustrate that governments stepped in only after the population crash. If you follow closely the population on the other side of that metaphor is us.

  32. I don’t have any children, so I don’t have to do a damn thing about the planet. Firstly, all the really bad shit will happen after I’m dead, and I won’t have descendants to feel bad for (plus I’m dead anyway so screw ’em), and secondly, I don’t have any children. Having a child is about one of the most polluting things you can do, and I don’t just mean because of the nappy mountains. I mean because you’re ensuring the continuation of consumption.

    So, I can fly as muuuuuuch as I like, until such a time (probably never) as I have a kid, at which point I’ll fly half as much. Sadly, I can’t make it to DragonCon, but if I could I’d be there.

    I leave it to those who know me to decide how serious I am being :)

  33. @davew: Personal conservation does work. For example in my fine state you can voluntarily pay a premium to have your electricity come from wind. It worked.

    ———-

    Right. So I said that the most important thing is to change over from coal plants. You said that was an excuse to do nothing, then brought up a direct action that brings about the replacement of a coal plant as your example of personal conservation… despite the fact that there is no personal conservation of energy involved.

    In the interests of thread happiness, I’ll bring this around to Dragon*Con. I’m going to Dragon*Con. Fortunately for me, it’s about five blocks and six train stops from my house to Downtown Atlanta, so I don’t even have to worry about parking. I’m going because I want to be around my people.

    My people are not pessimistic about the future. They don’t buy your doom and gloom bullshit about the next generation (that would be my kids, I guess) having to do with much less, because they know that there are other ways to get energy than burning coal. There are better ways to do everything than the way we do them, and science fiction fans by and large get that.

    You apparently don’t, to the degree that you can’t recognize a positive solution that when you’re participating in it.

    So I would submit that whatever your reasons for not going to Dragon*Con, an excellent reason for your absence would be that don’t belong at Dragon*Con.

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