Lively Feed from AGU

12 12 2007

Salut tout le monde,

As anyone in this field who is lucky enough to have travel funds, i am now enjoying a very exciting weeks at AGU, or for those not in the jargon, at the annual Fall meeting of the American Geophysical Union.

If you’ve watched RealClimate and ClimateAudit in the past view days, you’ve seen that sharing notes about various sessions seems a popular hobby.

I will refrain from this here ; being notoriously hard to please, there are only a few talks each day that i would deem post-worthy anyway – though i have to say i have already heard many a good talk this year. It is a refreshing change from last year, when somehow i always made bad enough choices to fall into a deeply soporific session.

So… it is EXCITING. The San Francisco weather, usually gray and gloomy at this time of the year, has been nothing short of G-O-R-G-E-O-U-S, and everyone i meet seems in an infectiously happy mood. I start knowing my way around SF a little better each year, staying with a friend in the Mission and Bernal Heights districts, and their abundance of great little cafés and restaurants…. and… bums, which seem to be a great SF specialty.

Monday morning i was rather startled when a homeless-looking guy started talking to me in the cheap coffee place where i was getting breakfast. I never refuse conversation no matter how busy, so while i was flagging AGU sessions in the meeting book, i was distractedly answering his questions. He asked if i was “one of them dot com guys”, but when i said i was a climate scientist, his eyes started to twinkle and he started to talk about tree-rings for the next 15 minutes.

That’s why i do this job : even destitute people care about our climate more than their own (considerable) problems.

Anyway, not any encounter here is that ghetto – far from it. In fact, the sociology of this meeting is deeply fascinating. Being somewhat plugged in with the Lamont mafia , it lead me to a beer with the CalTech mafia , joined by prominent members of the the Harvard mafia and the WHOI mafia.

The field is quite small, everyone is of rather pleasant (and sometimes, downright excellent) company, and schmoozing is an integral part of science. It would be silly to deny it, so let’s enjoy it : when the beer pitchers circulate that fast around a table of climate scientists, ideas flow just as fast as the bubbles.

It is always very funny to see who is going to lunch with whom, and just as importantly , who is NOT going to lunch with so-and-so, because they are big shots who irked one another 55 years ago and no one will step down from their distant pedestals. It’s quite amusing and i imagine it is like this in every field. The one thing that may be increasingly characteristic of AGU is the amount of press people – and politically-charged talks, like that given by Presidential Science Advisor John Marburger III.

That one was sure to disappoint : there is nothing more saddening than to see a good brain develop intricate excuses for the irrational behavior of his hierarchical superiors. Marburger is obviously a very intelligent man, and his command of the many facets of the climate challenge seems as complete as can judge it. Nevertheless, he spent his address distilling some political speech to tame the science, before explicitly refusing to address some pointed political questions when they got a little too hard to handle.


Far from the usual mafias, and at the risk of displeasing certain mainstream scientists, i went for lunch with Steve McIntyre yesterday. After a past few weeks of throwing hand grenades at each other from behind electronic sandbags (i.e. blogs), it was very pleasant to talk eye-to-eye and shoot the breeze.

I can’t help but thinking that a lot of the bitterness in our sour climate debates would be eased out with a proper lunch… But maybe i am being too French again.

All right, time to go !

Sorry if i’ve been behind comments lately : found that this morning to my surprise, that there were 8 unmoderated, week-old comments, and i apologize for the delay in posting. Blogger sucks (if you needed a reminder ;-).