Monday, December 07, 2009

Eyes and ears on Copenhagen


A giant globe inside Copenhagen's Bella Conference Center—perhaps to remind delegates to the United Nationals Climate Change Conference of the weight of their grave responsibility.

Here's the one piece of science news you can't avoid hearing: over the next two weeks in Copenhagen, Denmark, United Nations delegates from 192 countries will mastermind a global plan to stop climate change in its tracks. Or, if you're a pessimist, international delegates will squabble and point fingers, eventually failing to instigate any sort of meaningful action. Or, if you're a climate change contrarian (denier might be the less-polite word), they're using pseudoscience to monger fear as part of the global liberal conspiracy to murder capitalism and usher in Big Brother and totalitarianism.

Besides being hailed as a turning point in climate change policy, Copenhagen is historically important just in terms of how it's being covered. The BBC sent 35 correspondents to the conference; newspapers, television channels, interest groups, NGOs, charities, churches, carbon traders, and fossil fuel companies sent the other 4,965 people who are writing about, blogging, and tweeting the meeting. You don't have to wait for the morning paper; you can read blogs updated every thirty minutes or so and watch videos of speeches as they're given. With so much information, raw and processed, flooding out of Copenhagen's Bella Conference Center, what on earth should you read?

If you'd rather absorb the raw footage and maybe write a few blog posts of your own, check out the conference's official website for live and on demand event video. The next level up might be the Guardian's live blog from Copenhagen, updated every quarter hour or so with quotes from the conference (and the online buzz around it), photos, and videos. Expect a general sense of the activity without much interpretation. For info that's a bit more pre-digested, try BBC News environment correspondent Richard Black's blog.

Flummoxed by the big issues at stake? Try the Times' bullet-point briefing, which helpfully boils the conference's central goal down to a few dire numbers:
The Copenhagen summit aims to limit average global temperature rises to no more than 2C by stabilising atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide at or below 450 parts per million. With no action, they will rise by 6C by 2100.

...hopefully in time to save poor Bjorn from melting:


Outside the conference center, an ice bear's copper skeleton reveals itself as the sculpture melts.

If you're thinking, "Wait a minute, back up! What's the context here?" try the New York Times' Copenhagen 101 video and climate change science and policy timeline. It might surprise you to learn that early-19th-century physicist and mathematician Joseph Fourier was the first to theorize the greenhouse effect, or that a conference on "Global Causes of Climate Change" brought scientists together as early as 1965. It might not surprise you that most of the Americans caught off guard on Times Square by reporter Tom Zeller had no idea the conference was going on in the first place.

With so many bloggers and news organizations covering the conference, chances are you'll find a kindred spirit no matter what your climate change stripe. Laugh at all the silly, science-worshiping tree-huggers with National Review Online's Planet Gore, or season your lack of faith in the human race seasoned with a pinch of the Grist's wry humor. Understandably cautious about weighing in on scientific ideas you don't fully understand? Here's one biochemist's common-sense guide (no math required). Finally, a real, live physicist weighs in on ClimateGate (cringe), why snarky emails aren't so outlandish even in the sober realm of professional science, and how the fiasco shows it's high time scientists learned to communicate with the public.

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