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Cross posted from Blue Virginia

Last week, there was a headline-making Big Science discovery that had people variously amazed, dazed and confused. What on earth is a "Higgs boson," people were asking, and why should I care? The short answer: "The particle is the final piece of the jigsaw in the Standard Model, a theory explaining how the universe is built, and its existence would help scientists gain a better understanding of how galaxies hold together." As Joe Biden might say, that's a big f***ing deal!

Anyway, what I heard last week in the discussion of the Higgs boson, aka the "God particle," was largely amazement and confusion. What I did NOT hear were voices of doubt, denial, skepticism, anger, outrage, etc. Zero. Nada. Zip. A wild contrast, in other words, to the skeptical, angry, outraged, tinfoil-hat-conspiracy-theory response we get whenever there's a new discovery, or yet another piece of evidence confirming the theory, or even discussion of the old pieces of evidence (we've now had over 100 years of quantitative investigation on this subject) regarding climate science. Why the stark contrast? Why, in short, is there no "Higgs boson-gate," just like there was a contrived "climate-gate" controversy that even smart (albeit crazy) people like Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli latched onto (note that a federal court recently demolished Cuccinelli on this one, and rightly so)? A few points to ponder:

First, as John Parnell of the group "Responding to Climate Change" writes, nobody is "raking over the neutrino incident" ("A few months later they confessed they’d just made a simple error, a mistake in a calculation or a fault with a GPS receiver were suggested. They duly corrected it and went about their business.") because particle physics "is a fairly non-politicised topic." But why is that? As a comment on that article notes, in part it's because "most of the public find CERN incomprehensible and irrelevant." In stark contrast, the concept of climate science is extremely simple to understand -- basically, if you can understand what the backyard greenhouse does, or why a thicker blanket keeps in more heat, you've largely got the concept -- so anyone and everyone feels free to discuss and debate it. Very different with Higgs boson, which almost nobody even comes close to truly understanding (chalk me up in that category).

Second, and far more importantly, the big difference between Higgs boson and climate science is that the former doesn't threaten anyone or imply any major changes in our way of life (at least not anytime soon). In stark contrast, climate science threatens all kinds of powerful, wealthy, entrenched interests (think ExxonMobil, OPEC, the Koch brothers, the coal industry, pretty much anyone who produces, transports, processes, or relies on fossil fuels for their business model). In addition, the glaringly obvious implication of climate science is that if it's valid, which clearly it is in scientific terms (if not fully in public opinion), then major changes to the way we power our economy, and our lives, immediately jump out at us. Ultimately, what climate science is telling us if that we have to stop spewing carbon into the atmosphere. That, in turn, implies a rapid ramp-down of the carbon-based fuel industries, particularly the two worst offenders, oil and coal.

Third, unlike with Higgs boson, climate science tells us that we need to (gasp!) make changes in the way we power our lives. Of course, if we scale up clean energy and energy efficiency, there's absolutely no reason why our quality of life can't be just as high, actually higher, than it is now -- and almost certainly at lower long-run cost, not even counting the vast, negative "externalities" (pollution, wars, massive expenditures on fuel, political instability and corruption, etc.) associated with fossil fuel production and consumption. Thus,

Finally, it's important to point out that there are differences between the science that led to the Higgs-Boson discovery, and the science that led to the discovery and fleshing out of climate change/global warming. That's to be expected, as these are two significantly different types of science, investigating significantly different natural phenomena. Having said that, however, as Michael Levi, Senior Fellow for Energy and the Environment and Director of the Program on Energy Security and Climate Change at the Council on Foreign Relations explains, "Waiting for perfect knowledge is great when we’re trying to understand the origins of the universe. It’s downright dangerous when it comes to protecting ourselves from dangers at hand." In short, with Higgs boson, we could afford to waste our time with a "gate" or two, yet we're unlikely to ever have one for the reasons mentioned above. With climate science, we can NOT afford to waste time with a "gate" or two, not to mention reams of fossil-fuel-industry-funded "deniers" and "skeptics," yet we're very likely to keep having them, for the reasons mentioned above. In short, humans have this one completely backwards, with the future of our planet and possibly our species - not to mention thousands of other species - on the line. So far, we as a species are miserably failing the test, getting caught up in ignorance, idiocy, and flat-out greed, not to mention faux-"gates" and other supposed "scandals" that invariably turn out to be not worth wasting 2 seconds of our time on. Sigh...

P.S. It's worth pointing out that there are also enormous business/economic opportunities -- many trillions of dollars in potential revenues - waiting out there for smart entrepreneurs who seize the opportunities implied by the climate-driven need for a rapid transition of our energy economy. That SHOULD be a countervailing force to the deniers, but unfortunately the fossil fuel industries are wealthy and entrenched, with strong political allies (bought and paid for, largely) to back them up. In sum, it's not a level playing field or a fair fight at this point, at least not economically or politically speaking.

Originally posted to lowkell on Sat Jul 07, 2012 at 03:25 PM PDT.

Also republished by Climate Hawks.

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Comment Preferences

  •  if the existence of the Higgs boson were to (19+ / 0-)

    have negative implications for a profitable sector of the economy or fundamentalist views of religions, you can bet there'd be deniers.

    Who names their pony Monty?

    by bubbanomics on Sat Jul 07, 2012 at 03:31:24 PM PDT

    •  hell, you'd think that the press referring to it (7+ / 0-)

      as the "god particle" would have the wingnut taliban up in arms, but I haven't even heard anything about that!  I'm surprised robertson or fischer haven't teamed with lil ricki santorum to open a new denier like front just because of that terminology.  I expect a fatwa papal bull any day now directing the bishops to scream bloody murder about it.

      A learning experience is one of those things that says, 'You know that thing you just did? Don't do that.' Douglas Adams

      by dougymi on Sat Jul 07, 2012 at 04:28:29 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Yes, if some scientist had added to the initial (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        rk2, dougymi, dadadata, koNko

        reports that the discovery of the Higgs-Boson confirms his support for science, and the possibility of hope and progress for human kind and the diminuation of ignorance, then we might have seen more of a backlash against it.  

        As it was reported, it didn't seem to make any difference to anything. Like the breaking headline, "Scientists do more science stuff in remote laboratories!!!!"  

        If someone had added, "further research could help poor people and reduce suffering," then I'm sure we would have seen protests against it, and demands that funding be cut off for these kinds of liberal plots to undermine traditions and the free market.

         

        The means is the ends in the process of becoming. - Mahatma Gandhi

        by HoundDog on Sat Jul 07, 2012 at 04:43:18 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

      •  Obviously .... (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        dougymi, Steven D

        .... it is proof of "Intelligent Design" ... LOL.

        What about my Daughter's future?

        by koNko on Sat Jul 07, 2012 at 11:52:25 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  There's no industry that suffers from the belief (7+ / 0-)

    in Higgs-Boson.  Yet!  The second that the discovery allows something like a new form of energy, rest assured that the corporate noise machine will start telling us it's all made up science fiction.  Of course, there will be countless "grassroots groups of concerned citizens" popping up all over the place to further that message.

  •  "enormous business/economic opportunities" is an (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    ActivistGuy, HoundDog, rk2

    interesting problem . . . Certainly, there are serious business people who believe this and are acting on it by inventing solutions to our climate problems.

    However, they can only do that by largely rejecting the form of corporatist capitalism that we currently suffer under, which finds that creativity and innovation get in the way of rigging the system through governmental inattentiveness and lack of justice. Add a thoroughly f#cked-up patent system, and innovators are really at a disadvantage.

    The scale of the environmental and global corporatism problems we are currently facing probably dwarfs anything human society has ever had to deal with. The lethargy of our leaders is completely frightening.

  •  Two things to never do… (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Sneelock, doc2, rk2, AaronInSanDiego

    A) refer to any scandal by appending "gate" to it. My god, that was overdone by 1973.

    2) you will never hear any scientist refer to the Higgs boson as the "god particle". That's an amateur construct designed to titillate the very people you're discussing.

    Other than that, your premise is indeed very interesting. Maybe it's because all the chuckleheads who deny climate change are way too ignorant to comprehend particle physics. That would be my assessment.

    •  exatc, 2 things to never do (0+ / 0-)

      1) assume you have understood a diary because you recognize certain words or concepts, not necessarily how the writer was using them.

      2) give advice outside of ATC and tools.

      Thanks.

      "People, even more than things, have to be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed and redeemed; never throw out anyone. " Audrey Hepburn "A Beautiful Woman"

      by Ginny in CO on Sat Jul 07, 2012 at 04:32:56 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  " -gate" is a useful element in satire. // (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      koNko

      Thump! Bang. Whack-boing. It's dub!

      by dadadata on Sat Jul 07, 2012 at 06:28:30 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  The media referred endlessly to "climategate" (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      exatc, Nowhere Man, koNko, PeterHug

      so apparently, in their view, it's not overdone. Anyway, this diary was obviously referencing the phony/absurd media and science denier-driven "scandal" of what they called "climategate," then mocking it by pointing out the absurdity of a "Higgs boson-gate." As for the "god particle," that's also commonly used, and again, the reason I used it is to point out absurdity, for instance that the "Christian right" might attack the science based on their warped theological grounds.

      •  The media IS the problem (0+ / 0-)

        I disagree that "-gate" isn't over used. Every single behavior anomaly gets that slapped on by the media. May I remind you of "Weiner-gate" just as an example? I've been tired of it since the '70s.

        They are also the ones incapable of covering the Higgs boson without calling it the "god particle". I was just hoping we non-professional media could start a grass roots effort to avoid it and maybe shame them into doing the same (/snark font).

        It's like the sports department for my local dead tree rag (Daytona News-Journal), or, as I call it, the NASCAR section of the paper. Actually the whole thing should be called the Daytona NASCAR-Journal. Today's front page, above the fold, second coming type was "Busch Whacked", their oh so clever play on words whenever Kurt Busch wins a race, particularly at Daytona. No, it's not the first time they've done it.

        Anyway, last year, they completely ignored the beginning of the Tour de France (why they didn't make a play on that, I don't know—Bill France, NASCAR owner, if one doesn't catch the local reference) but found room for an article on some cherry pit spitting competition. I wrote them a sternly worded letter. They actually responded and did wind up covering the rest of the stages.

        This year, they haven't been able to print a single cycling article without mentioning the USADA investigation into Lance Armstrong. It's that sort of lazy media that gripes me. "god particle" is definitely in that same family, as is, frankly "-gate". I'm just saying neither of those constructs are necessary to make the case you did so well.

        And although the phenomenon concerning one's inability to convey intent accurately in written discourse is well known, I can see that my comment might have appeared testy. I really didn't mean it that way.

  •  Give them time. CERN is in Europe, isn't it? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    rk2

    And doesn't it basically support the explanation that the universe is about 13 billion years old, rather than 6000?

    And "Higgs" - what kind of name is that? The possibilies are endless...

    Thanks for presenting a new slant on this interesting topic.

  •  I think it is more about the fact that (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Sneelock, Freedomfreak, rk2, koNko

    the solutions to climate change threatens the profits of some of the largest corporations in the world.

    The Higgs-Boson doesn't threaten business at all yet.   If it reveals something that does threaten existing business profits that is when the PR machine will ramp up.

  •  At the Botanical Gardens yesterday... (5+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Sneelock, rk2, AaronInSanDiego, koNko, PeterHug

    ...the guide pointed out some rock outcroppings that we were told were several million years old.  I wanted to point out that they could not, in fact, be more than about 6000 years old, but I held my tongue.

  •  I Don't Think This Part Makes Sense: (0+ / 0-)
    there are also enormous business/economic opportunities -- many trillions of dollars in potential revenues - waiting out there for smart entrepreneurs who seize the opportunities implied by the climate-driven need for a rapid transition of our energy economy.
    Implied opportunities don't exist yet, so there's nothing to seize. We had a need for an Internet in the 1970's but even though computer networking had begun to exist, there wasn't any enormous Internet business opportunity to seize.

    The only enormous opportunities at present are for continuing to worsen climate change, and those fortunes go to immense forces that have government thoroughly blocked from launching any rapid transition.

    Meanwhile on the private sector side, all climate change presents is a small and steadily growing market for family, neighborhood and business-scale alternate energy generation and climate adaptation products and services.

    A global oligarchic economy doesn't need something just because one of its nations or its people do.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sat Jul 07, 2012 at 04:41:30 PM PDT

  •  Maybe this is off topic, but (0+ / 0-)

    I read comments to a few Higgs articles this week where folks were pooh-poohing the discovery pretty heavily.  

    Pointing out that the Standard Model doesn't really predict the level of energy where the Boson should be found with any accuracy.  And we don't really know anything new from the 5 sigma results.  And nobody is really sure if there are other Bosons to be found.  Or what the difference between them might be.  In short, this was nothing like the starlight bending eclipse photos that verified general relativity.  

    The only people who understand what the Higgs field and particle supposedly are, are getting over the celebration and trying to figure out what the next steps in understanding the results are.  Almost nobody else gets it enough to argue.

    BTW, the only realistic solution to the global overpollution-leading-to-global-systemic-changes problem is for us to get our population under control.  The earth is resilient.  But only so far.   We're likely doomed.

    Cheers

    •  Do you know whether those commenters (0+ / 0-)

      understand it any better than your average physicist? I know many physicists, and most that I've spoken to recently freely admit that they don't understand this stuff. But they understand more about it than the vast majority of the general public.

      "Okay, until next time. Keep sending me your questions, and I will make fun of you... I mean, answer them." - Strong Bad

      by AaronInSanDiego on Sat Jul 07, 2012 at 07:51:47 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  I'm surprised they haven't glommed onto (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Sneelock

    the God Particle. Maybe they think it's proof of God. But really it's "that god-damned particle," but the press couldn't repeat that.

    •  Transcript (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Samer, Sneelock, SolarMom, PeterHug, Steven D

      http://www.npr.org/...

      SIEGEL: I want to ask you about this particle's nickname, the "God particle." What did Higgs, who I've read is an atheist, think about the nickname the "God particle"?

      MARTIN: I'm sure - I actually haven't ever asked him this directly, but I'm sure he doesn't like it. Almost all particle physicists detest that name. It was actually Leon Lederman, who's a Nobel laureate, that came up with it. But he was trying to call it "that goddamn particle," and that wasn't allowed by the publishers so it became the "God particle."

      So the name stuck and I think it's fine because then people know what we're talking about. But secretly, all of us hate the name, the "God particle."

  •  Mainly because boson, read backwards, (0+ / 0-)

    is " no SOB."

    Thump! Bang. Whack-boing. It's dub!

    by dadadata on Sat Jul 07, 2012 at 06:23:41 PM PDT

  •  Short answer? About three sigmas. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    koNko

    That's to say that LHC researchers waited until they could nail down the probability of error to 1 in 1.7 million before they would announce "discovery" (compared to their non-committal statement of interest when the chance of error was 1 in 267.  Climate change errors in prediction estimate on the order of 1 in 20.

    Of course, particle physicists aren't studying a potentially catastrophic phenomena, and I'd love to see the Republican that would play Russian Roulette with a 19 round in a 20 chamber revolver.

    •  Right, but that is NOT why the climate deniers (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      koNko

      are doing what they're doing. For the answer to that question, simply follow the $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$ (many $ signs because there's shit-tons of profit in trashing the earth to extract, process, transport and consume fossil fuels).

  •  "Of course, if we scale up clean energy and ... (0+ / 0-)

    energy efficiency, there's absolutely no reason why our quality of life can't be just as high, actually higher, than it is now"

    See, this is where you lose the deniers.  Deniers will say derisive things like, "you global warming alarmists want us to go back to living in caves."  The fact is, they understand in a visceral way what climate change activists and scientists don't want to admit even, or especially, to themselves.  To the extent "quality of life" is defined as being the standard level of consumption in the US, then, NO, our quality of life CAN'T be just as high with "clean" energy.

    If/when (peak oil anyone?) we stop burning fuel, the human population is going to have to be drastically reduced by one means or another, and the survivors will be living with considerably less stuff, economies will be localized.  Nobody will be flying or playing on iphones.

    The real question is will we completely destroy the ecosystem and leave a wasteland, or will there be any natural resources remaining to sustain the survivors.

    When climate activists get real about the limited prospects for green energy (hint - it doesn't include growth of any sort other than spiritual/intellectual) then maybe the deniers will take the science seriously.

  •  "...if we scale up clean energy... (0+ / 0-)

    and energy efficiency, there's absolutely no reason why our quality of life can't be just as high, actually higher, than it is now"

    See, this is where you lose the deniers.  Deniers will say derisive things like, "you global warming alarmists want us to go back to living in caves."  The fact is, they understand in a visceral way what climate change activists and scientists don't want to admit even, or especially, to themselves.  To the extent "quality of life" is defined as being the standard level of consumption in the US, then, NO, our quality of life CAN'T be just as high with "clean" energy.

    If/when (peak oil anyone?) we stop burning fuel, the human population is going to have to be drastically reduced by one means or another, and the survivors will be living with considerably less stuff, economies will be localized.  Nobody will be flying or playing on iphones.

    The real question is will we completely destroy the ecosystem and leave a wasteland, or will there be any natural resources remaining to sustain the survivors.

    When climate activists get real about the limited prospects for green energy (hint - it doesn't include growth of any sort other than spiritual/intellectual) then maybe the deniers will take the science seriously.

    •  please back up the assertion (0+ / 0-)
      "we stop burning fuel, the human population is going to have to be drastically reduced by one means or another, and the survivors will be living with considerably less stuff"
      Now, this is a fairly reasonable assertion, and could be a likely outcome if we can't get our heads out of our behinds. But you're stating it as the inevitable outcome, and that needs to be supported. There are a number of options and alternatives, of varying degrees of success.

      Discuss......

      Less "WAAAAH!", more progress.

      by IndyGlenn on Sun Jul 08, 2012 at 08:24:36 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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