May 12, 2014 4 Comments
If only there were more coverage like this.
So many earnest words have been written trying to say what John Oliver says here. I have yet to see anyone make this point any clearer. Dead on, plus hysterical.
an often puzzling and sometimes frightening guide to who is saying what about energy and climate policy
May 12, 2014 4 Comments
So many earnest words have been written trying to say what John Oliver says here. I have yet to see anyone make this point any clearer. Dead on, plus hysterical.
April 21, 2014 Leave a comment
A cognitive psychologist and his colleagues write a paper linking the denial of climate science with conspiratorial thinking. It is provocatively titled “NASA Faked the Moon Landing—Therefore (Climate) Science is a Hoax: An Anatomy of the Motivated Rejection of Science,” and it is published in the well respected academic journal, Psychological Science.
The reaction in some circles of the blogosphere is that something must be very wrong with those findings. People were deceived, the research was faked, and the whole thing must have resulted from the nefarious intentions and behavior of the authors. So the cognitive psychologist studies this reaction and publishes a second paper showing how the reaction to the first paper exhibits the features of conspiratorial thinking that were the topic of the first paper. This one appeared in the open access, online journal Frontiers in Psychology, under the title, “Recursive Fury: Conspiracist Ideation in the Blogosphere in Response to Research on Conspiracist Ideation.”
And then it disappears. Really. During the brief period it was posted, it quickly had become the most widely viewed article in Frontiers’ history. Roughly 30,000 views of the abstract, and over 9,000 downloads of the full paper. Number two is a fraction of that. So what happened to it?
No one likes their thinking characterized as conspiratorial. Even if they admire the way their own beliefs are reflected in Senator James Inhofe’s book, The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.
Frontiers receives complaints about it from the people whose internet posts were analyzed, and it actually retracts the paper, citing legal reasons that must not have occurred to them before publishing it. That last sentence needs a whole lot of unpacking, because this is where the funny part becomes both surreal and serious.
When Frontiers eventually retracted the paper, it noted that it had conducted a nearly year-long investigation into the complaints, and found no problems of either an ethical or academic nature with the paper. So the retraction caused something of a stir, in reaction to which Frontiers has issued three further statements. Dramatically changing its story. And digging itself into a hole worth diving down.
Returning readers of Say What? are probably wondering why we are not leading with the philosophical problems that interest us here, or what our own personal involvement in this is. Yeah, sorry about that. Bear with me. First have a look at Elaine Mckewon’s well-written account of these events, and some of their implications. We will follow up in Parts 2 and 3.
Hate mail, harassment campaigns, accusations of scientific fraud and threats of lawsuits have become the new normal for climate scientists and researchers who study climate change denial. These problematic conditions have a chilling effect on scientific research.
So what happens when a scientific journal becomes part of the problem?
Last month, the journal Frontiers in Psychology retracted a paper, ‘Recursive fury: Conspiracist ideation in the blogosphere in response to research on conspiracist ideation‘, by cognitive scientist Stephan Lewandowsky and colleagues. It is a narrative analysis of blog posts published by climate deniers in response to Lewandowsky’s earlier study in which he and his colleagues found that endorsement of free-market economics and conspiratorial ideation are associated with the rejection of science. Recursive Fury further examined and reaffirmed the link between climate change denial and conspiracy ideation.
As soon as Recursive Fury was published in February 2013, Frontiers received a series of complaints and threats from climate deniers who said they had been “libeled” and “defamed” in the paper. After a year-long investigation into these complaints and threats, Frontiers concluded
This investigation did not identify any issues with the academic and ethical aspects of the study. It did, however, determine that the legal context is insufficiently clear and therefore Frontiers wishes to retract the published article.
As a reviewer of this paper, I’ve shared my own first-hand account of the peer-review process and early negotiations to re-publish the paper, adding that I’d have expected a scientific journal to have more backbone. As you might expect, the journal copped a fair amount of criticism from other academics as well, appalled that a scientific journal would cave in to threats from climate deniers and abandon its responsibility to defend academic freedom.
What has been shocking is the journal’s response to academic criticism. In an effort to deflect the growing backlash from scientists and negative media reports, the journal has issued false statements, changed its story on the retraction and exposed the authors of the paper to reputational damage.
First came the journal’s statement which included the claim that “Frontiers did not ‘cave in to threats'; in fact, Frontiers received no threats.” I had to read that sentence twice. Surely Frontiers would not issue a statement that is patently and demonstrably false?
As it happens, a number of these threats are a matter of public record. When environmental journalist Graham Readfearn broke the story days before the paper’s retraction, he posted 118 pages of documents obtained through a Freedom of Information request. Readfearn’s article even directly quotes one letter from a blogger who made explicit legal threats against the journal:
I have sought legal advice which has confirmed that, as long as a reasonable number of blog readers are aware of my true identity and professional reputation (which is the case), I could potentially have a defamation action against the authors and publishers of this paper for an outright lie that was told about me.
As a reviewer, I was privy to some of the earliest threats sent to the journal following the paper’s publication. Email exchanges between the journal’s management, legal counsel and editors and reviewers clearly demonstrate that the journal received threats and responded to them as threats.
In one email, the journal’s manager warns the journal’s legal counsel, “This is not looking good. See doc attached from the blog writer.” In the attached document, the blogger threatens to use his bully pulpit to expose the journal’s “anti-science position,” while his use of the word “libel” implies the threat of legal action:
I have been libeled by Stephan Lewandowsky in his most recent publication in your journal … I demand that an immediate retraction be made. If I do not receive a reply in two days, I will pursue taking this to the next level … in addition to pursuit of other action I will use my blog’s public influence to explain to my readers your Journal’s anti-science position when it suits your agenda.
In a later email (in the same exchange), the journal manager advises editors and reviewers, “We will have to keep this article back until we can establish whether it is libellous or not…” This email exchange culminated in a conference call to enable the journal’s manager, legal counsel, editors and reviewers to discuss how the journal should proceed. Let me be perfectly clear: the very reason the journal convened the conference call was to deal with threats that had been received from climate denialists.
So the journal’s claim that it “received no threats” is demonstrably false. Not the kind of behavior that instills confidence in the journal’s integrity, professionalism and commitment to the truth.
In that same statement, the journal subtly began to change its story about why it had retracted the paper, explaining that its decision had been guided by concerns that the paper “does not sufficiently protect the rights of the studied subjects.” With a bit of charity, this might be construed as a mealy-mouthed affirmation that it had bowed to legal threats and retracted an academically and ethically sound paper.
However, a more recent statement on the Frontiers web site by Henry Markram, who identifies himself as “Editor-in-Chief, Frontiers,” leaves no doubt that the journal has now adopted the position that the paper was retracted because of academic and ethical issues.
In his statement entitled Rights of Human Subjects in Scientific Papers, Markram argues that the paper should never have been published owing to “fundamental errors or issues that go against principles of scholarly publishing”. At the same time, he absolves Frontiers of all responsibility and points the finger squarely at the authors and reviewers: “[W]e fundamentally believe that authors should bear the full responsibility of submitting papers with the highest standards and that scientists should bear the full responsibility of deciding what science is published.”
This latest position is rendered all the more suspect in light of the fact that the journal commissioned a report by an independent expert panel to further investigate such ethical issues. This panel concluded:
[B]log posts are regarded as public data and the individuals posting the data are not regarded as participants in the technical sense used by Research Ethics Committees or Institutional Review Boards. This further entails that no consent is required for the use of such data.”
In other words, the experts made a clear distinction between a discourse analysis of public statements (on which the paper was based) and a scientific experiment involving human subjects.
So the journal now appears to be creating academic and ethical issues with the paper in order to justify its retraction, while off-loading any blame onto the paper’s authors and reviewers. Again, hardly the kind of behavior that inspires the trust of scientists.
It does not help that Markram made some rather intemperate comments below his lengthy statement in which he questions the value of studying climate denial, suggests that the authors of Recursive Fury look like “the biggest nutters” (presumably compared to climate deniers), and clearly implies that the authors of the paper “abused science” to conduct a “public lynching” of climate denialist bloggers.
The whole episode has so far resulted in the resignation of three of the journal’s editors in protest.
Professor Colin Davis, Chair in Cognitive Psychology at the University of Bristol, told environmental journalist Graham Readfearn: “My resignation was in response to Frontiers’ handling of the retraction of the paper by Lewandowsky et al. The retraction itself was very disappointing.”
Chief Specialty Editor of Frontiers Ugo Bardi, a professor of physical chemistry at the University of Florence, said in his resignation announcement that Frontiers had “shown no respect” for the paper’s authors and referees, and that the journal’s actions reflected a “climate of intimidation” around climate science.
Frontiers Associate Editor Björn Brembs, a professor of neurogenetics at the University of Regensburg, describes the retraction as an “outrageous act” which shows that the editors at Frontiers “are not really on the side of science”:
Essentially, this puts large sections of science at risk. Clearly, every geocentrist, flat earther, anti-vaxxer, creationist, homeopath, astrologer, diviner, and any other unpersuadable can now feel encouraged to challenge scientific papers in a court.
Meanwhile, Australian climate scientist Roger Jones, Professorial Research Fellow at the Victoria Institute of Strategic Economic Studies and a coordinating lead author for the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, says he is now reconsidering his decision to become an associate editor of Frontiers’ newly established area of Interdisciplinary Climate Studies. This is because of recent statements by the journal which made him doubt their understanding of research ethics:
I see this behaviour from Frontiers as counterproductive to science in general and climate science in particular … If the statements made by Editor-in-Chief Henry Markram are representative of Frontiers at large, I can’t see how it can be supported by the research community.
It’s worth noting that the Frontiers “progressive publishing group” scored a partnership with the prestigious scientific journal Nature because of its stated commitment to provide an innovative platform for open-source publishing “by scientists, for scientists.”
That is, unless those scientists dare to study the phenomenon of climate change denial.
Follow Elaine McKewon on Twitter: www.twitter.com/elainemckewon
February 21, 2013 Leave a comment
Very interesting piece posted today on the Guardian’s Environment Blog by Dana Nuccitelli, who has been writing good stuff at www.skepticalscience.com. I am re-posting his take on this issue as background to a few re-posts and some commentary (to appear here soon) on the Keystone XL controversy.
Is the ‘Saudi Arabia of wind’ willing to sacrifice the economic benefits of clean energy for the sake of the coal industry?
To date, 29 states in the US have set standards requiring a certain percentage of electricity production to be met by renewable sources. Soon that number may fall to 28.
In 2009, Kansas passed legislation establishing a renewable energy standard requiring 10% of the state’s electricity production to come from renewable sources by 2010, and 20% by 2020. The state, the “Saudi Arabia of wind”, met the 2010 requirements by exploiting its wind power potential, which is second only to Texas in the US.
Republican congressman Dennis Hedke, the chairman of the Kansas Congressional joint committee on energy and environmental policy – who has ties to the oil and gas industry – arranged for his committee to hear arguments to delay or eliminate these requirements. This Thursday, the commitee has its final hearing on the subject.
The main argument against the renewable energy standards is a common one – that the law will have an insignificant impact on curbing global warming.
It’s true that carbon emissions in Kansas are small on a global scale, and the argument is a reassuring one; if our emissions are too small to matter, we can maintain the status quo without worries or guilt. However, the same argument could be made for any state, or even any country.
Under the George W Bush administration, the US Environmental Protection Agency argued to the supreme court in 2007 that vehicular greenhouse gas emissions in the US are too small on a global scale to require government regulation. The court rejected that argument in its ruling, noting: “Agencies, like legislatures, do not generally resolve massive problems in one fell regulatory swoop.” Incremental steps are important; even if a single action can’t reverse global warming, it can still slow or reduce it.
Critics of renewable energy in Kansas have also argued that the technology is too costly. While renewable energy was once relatively expensive, according to the US Energy Information Administration, wind energy has become cost-competitive with new coal plants.
This doesn’t account for the external costs of coal combustion, for example on public health via air pollution, or on climate change via carbon emissions. If we were to account for all of the costs of coal combustion, its market price would be significantly higher than the cost of wind energy.
As a result of its renewable energy laws, Kansas came in third in total US wind energy deployment in 2012, behind the much larger states of Texas and California. Despite this rapid increase in wind energy production, Kansas utilities reported electricity price increases of just 1% to 1.7% to cover renewable energy investments in 2012 and 2013. Analyses have shown that thus far there has been no connection between renewable energy usage or growth and electricity prices in the US.
The Department of Energy has concluded that the total economic benefit of adding 1,000 megawatts of wind energy in Kansas would exceed $1bn over a 20-year period, including $2.7m per year in payments to landowners, $2.9m per year in local property tax revenue, thousands of construction jobs, and 432 new local long-term jobs. All evidence indicates that continuing to add wind energy will have little impact on electricity rates and will benefit the local economy.
The question now is whether Kansas is willing to sacrifice those benefits for the sake of the coal industry.
Dana Nuccitelli blogs at www.skepticalscience.com
December 28, 2012 1 Comment
Thanks to Greg Laden, who (I think) wrote the introduction to this group effort, among other parts of it. His blog, cleverly named Greg Laden’s Blog, is one of my favorites, as are those of the people who did the actual writing below. They are the blogs I read pretty much every day and from whom I often steal ideas, if not actual text. I continue to learn a hell of a lot from these people. I will update this post here at Say What? with photos and other illustrations, so please send pictures during the next week. (-SB)
A group of us, all interested in climate science, put together a list of the most notable, often, most worrying, climate-related stories of the year, along with a few links that will allow you to explore the stories in more detail. We did not try to make this a “top ten” list, because it is rather silly to fit the news, or the science, or the stuff the Earth does in a given year into an arbitrary number of events. (What if we had 12 fingers, and “10” was equal to 6+6? Then there would always be 12 things, not 10, on everyone’s list. Makes no sense.) We ended up with 18 items, but note that some of these things are related to each other in a way that would allow us to lump them or split them in different ways. See this post by Joe Romm for a more integrated approach to the year’s events. Also, see what Jeff Masters did here. We only included one non-climate (but related) item to illustrate the larger number of social, cultural, and political things that happened this year. For instance, because of some of the things on this list, Americans are more likely than they were in previous years to accept the possibility that science has something to say about the Earth’s climate and the changes we have experienced or that may be in the future; journalists are starting to take a new look at their own misplaced “objective” stance as well. Also, more politicians are starting to run for office on a pro-science pro-environment platform than has been the case for quite some time.
A failing of this list is that although non-US based people contributed, and it is somewhat global in its scope, it is a bit American based. This is partly because a few of the big stories happened here this year, but also, because the underlying theme really is the realization that climate change is not something of the future, but rather, something of the present, and key lessons learned in that important area of study happened in the American West (fires) the South and Midwest (droughts, crop failures, closing of river ways) and Northeast (Sandy). But many of the items listed here were indeed global, such as extreme heat and extreme cold caused by meteorological changes linked to warming, and of course, drought is widespread.
This list is subject to change, because you are welcome to add suggestions for other stories or for links pertaining to those already listed. Also, the year is not over yet. Anything can happen in the next few days!
The following people contributed to this effort: Angela Fritz, A Siegel, Eli Rabett, Emilee Pierce, Gareth Renowden, Greg Laden, Joe Romm, John Abraham, Laurence Lewis, Leo Hickman, Michael Mann, Michael Tobis, Paul Douglas, Scott Mandia, Scott Brophy, Stephan Lewandowsky, and Tenney Naumer.
Super Storm Sandy, a hybrid of Hurricane Sandy (and very much a true hurricane up to and beyond its landfall in the Greater New York/New Jersey area) was an important event for several reasons. First, the size and strength of the storm bore the hallmarks of global warming enhancement. Second, its very unusual trajectory was caused by a climatic configuration that was almost certainly the result of global warming. The storm would likely not have been as big and powerful as it was, nor would it have likely struck land where it did were it not for the extra greenhouse gasses released by humans over the last century and a half or so.
A third reason Sandy was important is the high storm surge that caused unprecedented and deadly flooding in New York and New Jersey. This surge was made worse by significant global warming caused sea level rise. Sea level rise has been eating away at the coasts for years and has probably caused a lot of flooding that otherwise would not have happened, but this is the first time a major event widely noticed by the mainstream media (even FOX news) involving sea level rise killed a lot of people and did a lot of damage. Fourth, Sandy was an event, but Sandy might also be the “type specimen” for a new kind of storm. It is almost certainly true that global warming Enhanced storms like Sandy will occur more frequently in the future than in the past, but how much more often is not yet known. We will probably have to find out the hard way.
Note that the first few of the links below are to blog posts written by concerned climate scientists, whom the climate change denialists call “alarmists.” You will note that these scientists and writers were saying alarming things as the storm approached. You will also note that what actually happened when Sandy struck was much worse than any of these “alarmists” predicted in one way or another, in some cases, in several ways. This then, is the fifth reason that Sandy is important: The Earth’s weather system (quite unconsciously of course) opened a big huge can of “I told you so” on the climate science denialist world. Sandy washed away many lives, a great deal of property and quite a bit of shoreline. Sandy also washed away a huge portion of what remained of the credibility of the climate science denialist lobby.
[Fox: Hurricane Sandy Has “Nothing To Do With Global Warming”: http://mediamatters.org/research/2012/10/31/fox-hurricane-sandy-has-nothing-to-do-with-glob/191018 ]
… were blatantly observed and widely acknowledged by the press and the public for the first time
This year, Arctic sea ice reached a minimum in both extent (how much of the sea is covered during the Arctic summer) and more importantly, total ice volume, reaching the lowest levels in recorded history.
[TV Media Cover Paul Ryan’s Workout 3x More Than Record Sea Ice Loss: http://mediamatters.org/research/2012/09/27/study-tv-news-covered-paul-ryans-workout–3x-mor/190165%5D
We also increasingly recognized that loss of Arctic sea ice affects Northern Hemisphere weather patterns, including severe cold outbreaks and storm tracks. This sea ice loss is what set up the weather pattern mentioned above that steered Sandy into the US Northeast, as well as extreme cold last winter in other areas.
First, the total amount of ice that has melted off this huge continental glacier reached a record high, with evidence that the rate of melting is not only high, but much higher than predicted or expected. This is especially worrying because the models climatologists use to predict ice melting are being proven too optimistic. Second, and less important but still rather spectacular, was the melting of virtually every square inch of the surface of this ice sheet over a short period of a few days during the hottest part of the summer, a phenomenon observed every few hundred years but nevertheless an ominous event considering that it happened just as the aforementioned record ice mass loss was being observed and measured.
[Media Turn A Blind Eye To Record Greenland Ice Melt: http://mediamatters.org/blog/2012/08/17/media-turn-a-blind-eye-to-record-greenland-ice/189421%5D
…were formed when the Petermann Glacier of northern Greenland calved a massive piece of its floating tongue, and it is likely that the Pine Island Glacier (West Antarctica) will follow suit this Southern Hemisphere summer. Also, this information is just being reported and we await further evaluation. As summer begins to develop in the Southern Hemisphere, there may be record warmth there in Antarctica. That story will likely be part of next year’s roundup of climate-related woes.
Even though the rate of emissions of greenhouse gasses slowed down temporarily for some regions of the world, those gasses stay in the air after they are released, so this year greenhouse gas levels reached new record high levels
As expected, given the greenhouse gases just mentioned, Record Breaking High Temperatures Continue, 2012 is one of the warmest years since the Age of the Dinosaurs. We’ll wait until the year is totally over to give you a rank, but it is very, very high.
[STUDY: TV Media Ignore Coverage of Climate Change In Coverage Of Record July Heat: http://mediamatters.org/research/2012/08/15/tv-media-ignore-climate-change-in-coverage-of-r/189366%5D
The growing season in temperate zones is longer, causing the USDA in the US to change its planting recommendations.
…around the world and in the American West.
[STUDY: Media Avoid Climate Context In Wildfire Coverage: http://mediamatters.org/blog/2012/08/17/media-turn-a-blind-eye-to-record-greenland-ice/189421%5D
[STUDY: Media Begin To Connect The Dots Between Climate Change And Wildfires: http://mediamatters.org/blog/2012/08/06/study-media-begin-to-connect-the-dots-between-c/189144%5D
…in the US with numerous negative effects including threats to the food supply
A very rare event caused by drought conditions was the closing of the Mississippi River to traffic in mid-summer at two locations. This is part of a larger and growing problem involving drought, increased demands for water, and the importance of river traffic. Expect to hear more about this over the next couple of years.
In June, a major and very scary derecho event – a thunderstorm and tornado complex large enough to get its own Wikipedia entry – swept across the country. This was one of several large storm systems that caused damage and death in the US this year. There were also large and unprecedented sandstorms in Asia and the US.
We continue to experience, and this will get worse, great Losses in Biodiversity especially in Oceans, much of that due to increased acidification because of the absorption of CO2 in seawater, and overfishing.
Many of us who contributed to this list feel that this is potentially the most important of all of the stories, partly because it ties together several other events. Also, it may be that a change in the air currents caused by global warming represents a fundamental yet poorly understood shift in climate patterns. The steering of Hurricane Sandy into the New York and New Jersey metro areas, the extreme killer cold in Eastern Europe and Russia, the “year without a Spring” and the very mild winters, dome of the features of drought, and other effects may be “the new normal” owing to a basic shift in how air currents are set up in a high-CO2 world. This December, as we compile this list, this effect has caused extreme cold in Eastern Europe and Russia as well as floods in the UK and unusually warm conditions in France. As of this writing well over 200 people have died in the Ukraine, Poland and Russia from cold conditions. As an ongoing and developing story we are including it provisionally on this list. Two blog posts from midyear of 2011 and 2012 (this one and this one) cover some of this.
The following video provides an excellent overview of this problem:
… suffered major damage this year. The Heartland Institute, which worked for many years to prove that cigarette smoking was not bad for you, got caught red handed trying to fund an effort explicitly (but secretly) designed to damage science education in public schools. Once caught, they tried to distract attention by equating people who thought the climate science on global warming is based on facts and is not a fraud with well-known serial killers, using large ugly billboards. A large number of Heartland Institute donors backed off after this fiasco and their credibility tanked in the basement. As a result, the Heartland Institute, which never was really that big, is now no longer a factor in the climate change discussion.
November 3, 2012 1 Comment
I had a much wordier introduction to the article that is re-posted below. Then I saw this Toles cartoon on Joe Romm’s website, Climate Progress, which says most of what I had in mind. The Paul Douglas piece on Sandy’s legacy is from Huffington Post Green. Nicely done, Paul.
By the way, for a nice collection of images put together by some of my students who are reading about climate change, the fossil fuel industry, and money in politics, go to their Facebook Crisis and Cultural Change Experiment.
“…Storms that used to occur every 100 years can be expected between 5 and 33 times as often.”
Were you impacted by “Nor’easter-cane” Sandy?” Statisticians will debate whether it was a 1 in 100 year storm — or something worse. Insurance companies will calculate how many tens or hundreds of billions of dollars were lost. It will be a big number, probably the most expensive storm clean-up and recovery in American history. It’s “media hype” until it injures your loved ones, cuts the power, floods your home, or shuts down your small business.
Sandy was a rare, hybrid storm — an odd meteorological mutation, a little understood mash-up of hurricane and Nor’easter vaguely similar to 1991’s “Perfect Storm.” It was unlike anything I’ve ever witnessed in my 40 year meteorological career: the size of the storm, its speed, the transition from hurricane to explosive Nor’easter, the miles of coastline experiencing a devastating storm surge, the sheer number of Americans impacted? Unprecedented.
A warmer atmosphere is flavoring all weather now, so it’s increasingly nonsensical to say “you can’t prove climate change made Sandy worse!” And you can’t prove it didn’t. We’re rolling dice, and as water levels rise, warm and expand we can expect Sandy-like storms to strike with greater frequency and ferocity. A one foot rise in sea level has left New Yorkers even more vulnerable to the ravages of storm surge. Scientists predict even more in the years ahead, and America’s most populace city is especially vulnerable. Here’s an excerpt from a Nature article abstract:
“…Struck by many intense hurricanes in recorded history and prehistory, NYC is highly vulnerable to storm surges. We show that the change of storm climatology will probably increase the surge risk for NYC; results based on two GCMs (General Circulation Models) show the distribution of surge levels shifting to higher values by a magnitude comparable to the projected sea-level rise (SLR). The combined effects of storm climatology change and a 1 meter sea-level rise may cause the present NYC 100-year surge flooding to occur every 3-20 years and the present 500-yr flooding to occur every 25-240 years by the end of the century….” According to scienceblogs.com “…Storms that used to occur every 100 years can be expected between 5 and 33 times as often.“
Doppler Time Lapse of June 29 Derecho. Courtesy of Greg Carbin, NOAA Storm Prediction Center.
It’s been two years of unprecedented weather disasters. An historic summer derecho, the most severe on record, swept from Indiana to Washington D.C. on June 29. My relatives in Bethesda & Potomac are still traumatized by the boomerang-shaped swirl of hurricane-force winds that swept in with little warning, plunging a huge swath of the Mid-Atlantic back to the 18th century in the blink of an eye.
Maybe it was the stultifying summer heat wave and drought that rivaled the Dust Bowl, symptoms of the warmest year on record for the USA? 1-in-500 year floods in Nashville and Duluth since early 2010; record rains lashing Vermont in the wake of Hurricane Irene last year; wildfires in Colorado Springs; record swarms of killer tornadoes sweeping across Dixie Alley in the spring of 2011? Pick your poison.
Mother Nature is on a tear.
It’s all part of a pattern, a discernible trend. According to a Yale University study, 4 out of 5 Americans was personally impacted by extreme weather or natural disasters in 2011; 1 in 3 was injured by severe weather last year. An October report from reinsurance giant Munich Re shows over a trillion dollars in damage from 1980 to 2011, a five-fold increase in disasters over 3 decades, with North America Ground Zero for weather extremes.
Turn on the TV or pick up a newspaper. Wall Street was just shut down for the first time since 1888. Submerged subways in Lower Manhattan. The Navy has come to New Jersey’s rescue. Damage may top the previous record, Katrina’s $146 billion in 2005. How much more evidence do we need?
Climate change is real, as I’ve tried to describe in previous posts here, here and here. Last Monday I warned our Alerts Broadcaster corporate clients of an historic storm brewing for the Northeast. By Wednesday, October 24th, five days before landfall, I started sharing our increasingly dire forecasts with Huffington Post readers. We called for a record hybrid storm unlike anything the Northeast had ever witnessed. If anything, Sandy was more extreme than even my worst-case scenario.
I don’t like making these calls. It drives me crazy to see the effects of climate change going on all around us, to see the devastation, and all I can do is react — warning people to get out of harm’s way. It’s time we do more as a nation than react, late, and after the fact. It’s time we wake up and act.
Fact: we already have the technology and the entrepreneurs to slowly transition beyond coal, natural gas and oil. What’s lacking? Vision. And the political courage to do the right thing. Not just for today’s press release, next month’s unemployment numbers or the next quarterly shareholder report, but for the Americans who come next; those stuck with cleaning up our dirty little fossil fuel hangover.
The power may still be off where you live, but the one gift, the most precious power we all possess, is the ability to make our voices heard. On November 6 consider voting for local, state and national candidates who acknowledge a role for sound science, leaders who aren’t afraid to face climate facts. Don’t know where your state representatives stand on climate science? Here’s a good place to start.
Long Beach, New York. Post-Sandy, courtesy of WeatherNation TV.
Dr. Ben Santer is one of the world’s leading climate scientists, doing research at California’s Lawrence Livermore Labs. He travels extensively, sounding the alarm, educating everyone he can about what is happening, and what is coming. At a recent climate seminar in St. Paul he said:
“We hear so much about budget deficits and the national debt, both very real concerns. But what of the environmental debt we’re leaving our children, and their children? There is something fundamentally wrong and profoundly immoral about what we are passing on to future generations.”
Future generations will hold us accountable.
“What did you know…when, and what did you do to help? Did you vote on November 6, 2012? Did you think of us?”
Step one: elect politicians who still respect sound science.
October 9, 2012 1 Comment
First, a nice primer by Greg Laden on the background about the climate change denying American Tradition Institute’s harassment of respected scientist Michael Mann. An interesting spin on the story is reported this morning in Mother Jones. More comments from me about this story later in the week.
David Schnare is a climate change denier, right-wing activist, and lawyer, and he works for the conservative “free market” think tank American Tradition Institute (ATI). Evidence has come to light suggesting that Schnare acted unethically during the course of a recently settled legal battle over access to private emails exchanged among university based climate scientists. In particular, Schnare may have worked at the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at the same time he was engaged with work at ATI, without the required permission.
Almost two years ago, ATI initiated legal proceedings to gain access to private documents held by the University of Virginia, mainly emails that had been exchanged among several scientists working on global warming. This is regarded as a systematic attack on climate scientist Michael Mann, the well known researcher who produced the famous “Hockey Stick” graph demonstrating the severity and immediacy of ongoing climate change (and more recently author of The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines). In September of this year, the University of Virginia won its fight against ATI to protect the researchers’ emails.
Part of the process of assessing whether or not these documents should be released involved giving access to those very documents to designated individuals. This presents a conundrum, because a legal team such as that representing ATI might reasonably require access to the documents in order to make the argument that they should be more broadly released, but if the entity requesting this access is itself politically motivated or in some way untrustworthy, this means that the access being argued over is being granted de facto. From the point of view of those who generated the document, this may be a real and meaningful breach of confidence, privacy, or security. Recognizing this, the legal teams representing the University of Virginia and Michael Mann asked the courts to not allow ATI lawyers access, and the courts agreed.
In May, 20112, as part of this dispute a legal arrangement between the University of Virginia and ATI, Chris Horner, an ATI lawyer and climate change denier, and David Schnare would have been given access to these emails. The University of Virginia soon took the position that this would be inappropriate because Horner and Schnare had released “disturbingly inaccurate” information to the press about the arrangement that had been made, and a third individual who would not have been allowed access to this material, science denialist Delegate Marshall, seemed to have entered into an arrangement with Horner and Schnare to have access to the documents. In other words, Mann and the University of Virginia were arguing that Horner and Schnare could not be trusted. That dispute was settled when the courts agreed to modify the arrangement. However, as part of this process the apparent ethics violation by David Schnare came to light.
Schnare worked not only for ATI, but for a period of time, he also workedfor the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). In order for this to have been ethical and legal, Schnare would have had to seek and obtain permission from the EPA to carry on outside activities related to EPA work. Schnare claimed to have sought permission but the University of Virginia has argued that Schnare did not inform the EPA of this outside work until about nine months after first engaging in it. Schnare claims that the letter requesting permission was prepared on or near November 16th, 2010, but there is no record at the EPA that any such letter existed. The letter, which exists now, seems to have been prepared much later in time.
All of this raised significant concerns over the trustworthiness of of those representing ATI. Being allowed, as lawyers representing interests in a particular case, to see documents that the court may rule to be private requires a much higher standard of trust, the University of Virginia argued, than should be afforded to these climate science denialists. In a court filing, the University says:
University counsel can no longer defend their willingness to entrust tens of thousands of pages of personal, scholarly, and research communications from Professor Mann and other scientists to two individuals who have regrettably provided far too many reasons to doubt that their words may be trusted.
In response, ATI filed a document accusing the University of Virginia of being discourteous and engaging in ad hominim attacks, and provided rather weak evidence making their case. Most importantly, ATI does not address key evidence including University of Virginia’s time stamped emails documenting that Schnare had carried out some of his activities in violation of ethics rules.
A delicious irony has emerged from an interview of Schnare by Mother Jones:
Schnare insisted in an interview with Mother Jones that he had proper authorization to litigate the email case. “I had permission to do legal work outside of work that did not directly involve the EPA or issues in front of the EPA and this is one of them,” he said. He added that the work was pro bono and insisted it was done outside of his day job.
While the court’s ruling on Mann’s emails didn’t touch on ATI’s motivations or Schnare’s employment, the legal record suggests that ATI’s own lawyer may have been working on the case while at has taxpayer-funded EPA job. Wherever and whenever Schnare did his lawyering, ATI’s main argument for why they should have had access the emails was to “fulfill the public’s right to know how taxpayer-funded employees use the taxpayer’s resources.”
The effort by ATI and other climate change denialists to access emails exchanged among climate scientists, such as Michael Mann, who is now the director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, seems to be a carry over from an earlier event in which climate change denialists had stolen and disseminated emails from among climate scientists. Accusations based on those stolen emails, that data had been rigged or other improprieties had taken place by the climate scientists, were eventually proven false and these accusations are now generally regarded as politically motivated and nefarious. Nonetheless, ever since the “Climategate” event, as it is sometimes called, anti-science activists have tried on many occasions to access private emails or other research documents.
October 5, 2012 1 Comment
Short answer: Yes, he is. Not only that: So is Rolling Stone.
I am always behind on things I want to read, so only recently got to this piece that Al Gore’s published in Rolling Stone during the summer of 2011. In discussing it last week with some college freshman, a group old enough to be voting in next month’s election, I mentioned that Al Gore was a few dimpled chads away from having become President. Not understanding the allusion, they reminded me that Bush v. Gore was decided when they were 6. Very few of them had ever read Rolling Stone, although several had heard of it. An Inconvenient Truth was released when they were 11 or 12 years old — a really long time ago — and a few had gone to see it with their parents. Not a single one had heard of The Sierra Club.
But this piece by Al Gore resonated with them.
I am re-posting in its entirety because, like them, I think it might be more important than the attention it received when it came out. Not because there is anything new in it. Certainly not new to me. This has all been said by many people, sometimes more eloquently, over and over again. But the themes are ones that meant a lot to them, and some of this was indeed new to them. That climate change is real, that is a serious threat to their future, and that American democracy has so far failed to do much about it. OK, they suspected that. That our collective inaction is no accident. That was mostly new, how there have been initiatives aimed at sowing doubt, discrediting not just climate science, but smearing and harassing respected climate scientists and even science itself. Just like what happened with tobacco and DDT.
And that journalism is failing us with its under-reporting and its false balance, raising even more doubt about indisputable facts in America than anywhere in the world. (See this.) The connections among doubting climate science, oil and gas interests, and money in politics is not lost on them, but neither is it something with which they are particularly familiar. They found Gore’s way of describing these connections plausible and hard to believe at the same time. So they plan to look into it more.
And they noticed that no one seems to be talking much about climate change on the campaign trail during a presidential election year. Students found that hard to understand. Could it be that after saying at the DNC that “Climate change is not a hoax,” Obama does not want to actively position himself as the one who believes in science? As one of those 18-year-olds put it, “If that is too risky, we’re really f@#ked.”
Illustration by Matt Mahurin
The first time I remember hearing the question “is it real?” was when I went as a young boy to see a traveling show put on by “professional wrestlers” one summer evening in the gym of the Forks River Elementary School in Elmwood, Tennessee.
The evidence that it was real was palpable: “They’re really hurting each other! That’s real blood! Look a’there! They can’t fake that!” On the other hand, there was clearly a script (or in today’s language, a “narrative”), with good guys to cheer and bad guys to boo.
But the most unusual and in some ways most interesting character in these dramas was the referee: Whenever the bad guy committed a gross and obvious violation of the “rules” — such as they were — like using a metal folding chair to smack the good guy in the head, the referee always seemed to be preoccupied with one of the cornermen, or looking the other way. Yet whenever the good guy — after absorbing more abuse and unfairness than any reasonable person could tolerate — committed the slightest infraction, the referee was all over him. The answer to the question “Is it real?” seemed connected to the question of whether the referee was somehow confused about his role: Was he too an entertainer?
That is pretty much the role now being played by most of the news media in refereeing the current wrestling match over whether global warming is “real,” and whether it has any connection to the constant dumping of 90 million tons of heat-trapping emissions into the Earth’s thin shell of atmosphere every 24 hours.
Admittedly, the contest over global warming is a challenge for the referee because it’s a tag-team match, a real free-for-all. In one corner of the ring are Science and Reason. In the other corner: Poisonous Polluters and Right-wing Ideologues.
The referee — in this analogy, the news media — seems confused about whether he is in the news business or the entertainment business. Is he responsible for ensuring a fair match? Or is he part of the show, selling tickets and building the audience? The referee certainly seems distracted: by Donald Trump, Charlie Sheen, the latest reality show — the list of serial obsessions is too long to enumerate here.
But whatever the cause, the referee appears not to notice that the Polluters and Ideologues are trampling all over the “rules” of democratic discourse. They are financing pseudoscientists whose job is to manufacture doubt about what is true and what is false; buying elected officials wholesale with bribes that the politicians themselves have made “legal” and can now be made in secret; spending hundreds of millions of dollars each year on misleading advertisements in the mass media; hiring four anti-climate lobbyists for every member of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. (Question: Would Michael Jordan have been a star if he was covered by four defensive players every step he took on the basketball court?)
This script, of course, is not entirely new: A half-century ago, when Science and Reason established the linkage between cigarettes and lung diseases, the tobacco industry hired actors, dressed them up as doctors, and paid them to look into television cameras and tell people that the linkage revealed in the Surgeon General’s Report was not real at all. The show went on for decades, with more Americans killed each year by cigarettes than all of the U.S. soldiers killed in all of World War II.
This time, the scientific consensus is even stronger. It has been endorsed by every National Academy of science of every major country on the planet, every major professional scientific society related to the study of global warming and 98 percent of climate scientists throughout the world. In the latest and most authoritative study by 3,000 of the very best scientific experts in the world, the evidence was judged “unequivocal.”
But wait! The good guys transgressed the rules of decorum, as evidenced in their private e-mails that were stolen and put on the Internet. The referee is all over it: Penalty! Go to your corner! And in their 3,000-page report, the scientists made some mistakes! Another penalty!
And if more of the audience is left confused about whether the climate crisis is real? Well, the show must go on. After all, it’s entertainment. There are tickets to be sold, eyeballs to glue to the screen.
Part of the script for this show was leaked to The New York Times as early as 1991. In an internal document, a consortium of the largest global-warming polluters spelled out their principal strategy: “Reposition global warming as theory, rather than fact.” Ever since, they have been sowing doubt even more effectively than the tobacco companies before them.
To sell their false narrative, the Polluters and Ideologues have found it essential to undermine the public’s respect for Science and Reason by attacking the integrity of the climate scientists. That is why the scientists are regularly accused of falsifying evidence and exaggerating its implications in a greedy effort to win more research grants, or secretly pursuing a hidden political agenda to expand the power of government. Such slanderous insults are deeply ironic: extremist ideologues — many financed or employed by carbon polluters — accusing scientists of being greedy extremist ideologues.
After World War II, a philosopher studying the impact of organized propaganda on the quality of democratic debate wrote, “The conversion of all questions of truth into questions of power has attacked the very heart of the distinction between true and false.”
Is the climate crisis real? Yes, of course it is. Pause for a moment to consider these events of just the past 12 months:
• Heat. According to NASA, 2010 was tied with 2005 as the hottest year measured since instruments were first used systematically in the 1880s. Nineteen countries set all-time high temperature records. One city in Pakistan, Mohenjo-Daro, reached 128.3 degrees Fahrenheit, the hottest temperature ever measured in an Asian city. Nine of the 10 hottest years in history have occurred in the last 13 years. The past decade was the hottest ever measured, even though half of that decade represented a “solar minimum” — the low ebb in the natural cycle of solar energy emanating from the sun.
• Floods. Megafloods displaced 20 million people in Pakistan, further destabilizing a nuclear-armed country; inundated an area of Australia larger than Germany and France combined; flooded 28 of the 32 districts that make up Colombia, where it has rained almost continuously for the past year; caused a “thousand-year” flood in my home city of Nashville; and led to all-time record flood levels in the Mississippi River Valley. Many places around the world are now experiencing larger and more frequent extreme downpours and snowstorms; last year’s “Snowmaggedon” in the northeastern United States is part of the same pattern, notwithstanding the guffaws of deniers.
• Drought. Historic drought and fires in Russia killed an estimated 56,000 people and caused wheat and other food crops in Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan to be removed from the global market, contributing to a record spike in food prices. “Practically everything is burning,” Russian president Dmitry Medvedev declared. “What’s happening with the planet’s climate right now needs to be a wake-up call to all of us.” The drought level in much of Texas has been raised from “extreme” to “exceptional,” the highest category. This spring the majority of the counties in Texas were on fire, and Gov. Rick Perry requested a major disaster declaration for all but two of the state’s 254 counties. Arizona is now fighting the largest fire in its history. Since 1970, the fire season throughout the American West has increased by 78 days. Extreme droughts in central China and northern France are currently drying up reservoirs and killing crops.
• Melting Ice. An enormous mass of ice, four times larger than the island of Manhattan, broke off from northern Greenland last year and slipped into the sea. The acceleration of ice loss in both Greenland and Antarctica has caused another upward revision of global sea-level rise and the numbers of refugees expected from low-lying coastal areas. The Arctic ice cap, which reached a record low volume last year, has lost as much as 40 percent of its area during summer in just 30 years.
These extreme events are happening in real time. It is not uncommon for the nightly newscast to resemble a nature hike through the Book of Revelation. Yet most of the news media completely ignore how such events are connected to the climate crisis, or dismiss the connection as controversial; after all, there are scientists on one side of the debate and deniers on the other. A Fox News executive, in an internal e-mail to the network’s reporters and editors that later became public, questioned the “veracity of climate change data” and ordered the journalists to “refrain from asserting that the planet has warmed (or cooled) in any given period without IMMEDIATELY pointing out that such theories are based upon data that critics have called into question.”
But in the “real” world, the record droughts, fires, floods and mudslides continue to increase in severity and frequency. Leading climate scientists like Jim Hansen and Kevin Trenberth now say that events like these would almost certainly not be occurring without the influence of man-made global warming. And that’s a shift in the way they frame these impacts. Scientists used to caution that we were increasing the probability of such extreme events by “loading the dice” — pumping more carbon into the atmosphere. Now the scientists go much further, warning that we are “painting more dots on the dice.” We are not only more likely to roll 12s; we are now rolling 13s and 14s. In other words, the biggest storms are not only becoming more frequent, they are getting bigger, stronger and more destructive.
“The only plausible explanation for the rise in weather-related catastrophes is climate change,” Munich Re, one of the two largest reinsurance companies in the world, recently stated. “The view that weather extremes are more frequent and intense due to global warming coincides with the current state of scientific knowledge.”
Many of the extreme and destructive events are the result of the rapid increase in the amount of heat energy from the sun that is trapped in the atmosphere, which is radically disrupting the planet’s water cycle. More heat energy evaporates more water into the air, and the warmer air holds a lot more moisture. This has huge consequences that we now see all around the world.
When a storm unleashes a downpour of rain or snow, the precipitation does not originate just in the part of the sky directly above where it falls. Storms reach out — sometimes as far as 2,000 miles — to suck in water vapor from large areas of the sky, including the skies above oceans, where water vapor has increased by four percent in just the last 30 years. (Scientists often compare this phenomenon to what happens in a bathtub when you open the drain; the water rushing out comes from the whole tub, not just from the part of the tub directly above the drain. And when the tub is filled with more water, more goes down the drain. In the same way, when the warmer sky is filled with a lot more water vapor, there are bigger downpours when a storm cell opens the “drain.”)
In many areas, these bigger downpours also mean longer periods between storms — at the same time that the extra heat in the air is also drying out the soil. That is part of the reason so many areas have been experiencing both record floods and deeper, longer-lasting droughts.
Moreover, the scientists have been warning us for quite some time — in increasingly urgent tones — that things will get much, much worse if we continue the reckless dumping of more and more heat-trapping pollution into the atmosphere. Drought is projected to spread across significant, highly populated areas of the globe throughout this century. Look at what the scientists say is in store for the Mediterranean nations. Should we care about the loss of Spain, France, Italy, the Balkans, Turkey, Tunisia? Look at what they say is in store for Mexico. Should we notice? Should we care?
Maybe it’s just easier, psychologically, to swallow the lie that these scientists who devote their lives to their work are actually greedy deceivers and left-wing extremists — and that we should instead put our faith in the pseudoscientists financed by large carbon polluters whose business plans depend on their continued use of the atmospheric commons as a place to dump their gaseous, heat-trapping waste without limit or constraint, free of charge.
The truth is this: What we are doing is functionally insane. If we do not change this pattern, we will condemn our children and all future generations to struggle with ecological curses for several millennia to come. Twenty percent of the global-warming pollution we spew into the sky each day will still be there 20,000 years from now!
We do have another choice. Renewable energy sources are coming into their own. Both solar and wind will soon produce power at costs that are competitive with fossil fuels; indications are that twice as many solar installations were erected worldwide last year as compared to 2009. The reductions in cost and the improvements in efficiency of photovoltaic cells over the past decade appear to be following an exponential curve that resembles a less dramatic but still startling version of what happened with computer chips over the past 50 years.
Enhanced geothermal energy is potentially a nearly limitless source of competitive electricity. Increased energy efficiency is already saving businesses money and reducing emissions significantly. New generations of biomass energy — ones that do not rely on food crops, unlike the mistaken strategy of making ethanol from corn — are extremely promising. Sustainable forestry and agriculture both make economic as well as environmental sense. And all of these options would spread even more rapidly if we stopped subsidizing Big Oil and Coal and put a price on carbon that reflected the true cost of fossil energy — either through the much-maligned cap-and-trade approach, or through a revenue-neutral tax swap.
All over the world, the grassroots movement in favor of changing public policies to confront the climate crisis and build a more prosperous, sustainable future is growing rapidly. But most governments remain paralyzed, unable to take action — even after years of volatile gasoline prices, repeated wars in the Persian Gulf, one energy-related disaster after another, and a seemingly endless stream of unprecedented and lethal weather disasters.
Continuing on our current course would be suicidal for global civilization. But the key question is: How do we drive home that fact in a democratic society when questions of truth have been converted into questions of power? When the distinction between what is true and what is false is being attacked relentlessly, and when the referee in the contest between truth and falsehood has become an entertainer selling tickets to a phony wrestling match?
The “wrestling ring” in this metaphor is the conversation of democracy. It used to be called the “public square.” In ancient Athens, it was the Agora. In the Roman Republic, it was the Forum. In the Egypt of the recent Arab Spring, “Tahrir Square” was both real and metaphorical — encompassing Facebook, Twitter, Al-Jazeera and texting.
In the America of the late-18th century, the conversation that led to our own “Spring” took place in printed words: pamphlets, newsprint, books, the “Republic of Letters.” It represented the fullest flower of the Enlightenment, during which the oligarchic power of the monarchies, the feudal lords and the Medieval Church was overthrown and replaced with a new sovereign: the Rule of Reason.
The public square that gave birth to the new consciousness of the Enlightenment emerged in the dozen generations following the invention of the printing press — “the Gutenberg Galaxy,” the scholar Marshall McLuhan called it — a space in which the conversation of democracy was almost equally accessible to every literate person. Individuals could both find the knowledge that had previously been restricted to elites and contribute their own ideas.
Ideas that found resonance with others rose in prominence much the way Google searches do today, finding an ever larger audience and becoming a source of political power for individuals with neither wealth nor force of arms. Thomas Paine, to take one example, emigrated from England to Philadelphia with no wealth, no family connections and no power other than that which came from his ability to think and write clearly — yet his Common Sense became the Harry Potter of Revolutionary America. The “public interest” mattered, was actively discussed and pursued.
But the “public square” that gave birth to America has been transformed beyond all recognition. The conversation that matters most to the shaping of the “public mind” now takes place on television. Newspapers and magazines are in decline. The Internet, still in its early days, will one day support business models that make true journalism profitable — but up until now, the only successful news websites aggregate content from struggling print publications. Web versions of the newspapers themselves are, with few exceptions, not yet making money. They bring to mind the classic image of Wile E. Coyote running furiously in midair just beyond the edge of the cliff, before plummeting to the desert floor far beneath him.
The average American, meanwhile, is watching television an astonishing five hours a day. In the average household, at least one television set is turned on more than eight hours a day. Moreover, approximately 75 percent of those using the Internet frequently watch television at the same time that they are online.
Unlike access to the “public square” of early America, access to television requires large amounts of money. Thomas Paine could walk out of his front door in Philadelphia and find a dozen competing, low-cost print shops within blocks of his home. Today, if he traveled to the nearest TV station, or to the headquarters of nearby Comcast — the dominant television provider in America — and tried to deliver his new ideas to the American people, he would be laughed off the premises. The public square that used to be a commons has been refeudalized, and the gatekeepers charge large rents for the privilege of communicating to the American people over the only medium that really affects their thinking. “Citizens” are now referred to more commonly as “consumers” or “the audience.”
That is why up to 80 percent of the campaign budgets for candidates in both major political parties is devoted to the purchase of 30-second TV ads. Since the rates charged for these commercials increase each year, the candidates are forced to raise more and more money in each two-year campaign cycle.
Of course, the only reliable sources from which such large sums can be raised continuously are business lobbies. Organized labor, a shadow of its former self, struggles to compete, and individuals are limited by law to making small contributions. During the 2008 campaign, there was a bubble of hope that Internet-based fundraising might even the scales, but in the end, Democrats as well as Republicans relied far more on traditional sources of large contributions. Moreover, the recent deregulation of unlimited — and secret — donations by wealthy corporations has made the imbalance even worse.
In the new ecology of political discourse, special-interest contributors of the large sums of money now required for the privilege of addressing voters on a wholesale basis are not squeamish about asking for the quo they expect in return for their quid. Politicians who don’t acquiesce don’t get the money they need to be elected and re-elected. And the impact is doubled when special interests make clear — usually bluntly — that the money they are withholding will go instead to opponents who are more than happy to pledge the desired quo. Politicians have been racing to the bottom for some time, and are presently tunneling to new depths. It is now commonplace for congressmen and senators first elected decades ago — as I was — to comment in private that the whole process has become unbelievably crass, degrading and horribly destructive to the core values of American democracy.
Largely as a result, the concerns of the wealthiest individuals and corporations routinely trump the concerns of average Americans and small businesses. There are a ridiculously large number of examples: eliminating the inheritance tax paid by the wealthiest one percent of families is considered a much higher priority than addressing the suffering of the millions of long-term unemployed; Wall Street’s interest in legalizing gambling in trillions of dollars of “derivatives” was considered way more important than protecting the integrity of the financial system and the interests of middle-income home buyers. It’s a long list.
Almost every group organized to promote and protect the “public interest” has been backpedaling and on the defensive. By sharp contrast, when a coalition of powerful special interests sets out to manipulate U.S. policy, their impact can be startling — and the damage to the true national interest can be devastating.
In 2002, for example, the feverish desire to invade Iraq required convincing the American people that Saddam Hussein was somehow responsible for attacking the United States on September 11th, 2001, and that he was preparing to attack us again, perhaps with nuclear weapons. When the evidence — the “facts” — stood in the way of that effort to shape the public mind, they were ridiculed, maligned and ignored. Behind the scenes, the intelligence was manipulated and the public was intentionally deceived. Allies were pressured to adopt the same approach with their publics. A recent inquiry in the U.K. confirmed this yet again. “We knew at the time that the purpose of the dossier was precisely to make a case for war, rather than setting out the available intelligence,” Maj. Gen. Michael Laurie testified. “To make the best out of sparse and inconclusive intelligence, the wording was developed with care.” Why? As British intelligence put it, the overthrow of Saddam was “a prize because it could give new security to oil supplies.”
That goal — the real goal — could have been debated on its own terms. But as Bush administration officials have acknowledged, a truly candid presentation would not have resulted in sufficient public support for the launching of a new war. They knew that because they had studied it and polled it. So they manipulated the debate, downplayed the real motive for the invasion, and made a different case to the public — one based on falsehoods.
And the “referee” — the news media — looked the other way. Some, like Fox News, were hyperactive cheerleaders. Others were intimidated into going along by the vitriol heaped on any who asked inconvenient questions. (They know it; many now acknowledge it, sheepishly and apologetically.)
Senators themselves fell, with a few honorable exceptions, into the same two camps. A few weeks before the United States invaded Iraq, the late Robert Byrd — God rest his soul — thundered on the Senate floor about the pitiful quality of the debate over the choice between war and peace: “Yet, this Chamber is, for the most part, silent — ominously, dreadfully silent. There is no debate, no discussion, no attempt to lay out for the nation the pros and cons of this particular war. There is nothing.”
The chamber was silent, in part, because many senators were somewhere else — attending cocktail parties and receptions, largely with special-interest donors, raising money to buy TV ads for their next campaigns. Nowadays, in fact, the scheduling of many special-interest fundraisers mirrors the schedule of votes pending in the House and Senate.
By the time we invaded Iraq, polls showed, nearly three-quarters of the American people were convinced that the person responsible for the planes flying into the World Trade Center Towers was indeed Saddam Hussein. The rest is history — though, as Faulkner wrote, “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.” Because of that distortion of the truth in the past, we are still in Iraq; and because the bulk of our troops and intelligence assets were abruptly diverted from Afghanistan to Iraq, we are also still in Afghanistan.
In the same way, because the banks had their way with Congress when it came to gambling on unregulated derivatives and recklessly endangering credit markets with subprime mortgages, we still have almost double-digit unemployment, historic deficits, Greece and possibly other European countries teetering on the edge of default, and the threat of a double-dip recession. Even the potential default of the United States of America is now being treated by many politicians and too many in the media as yet another phony wrestling match, a political game. Are the potential economic consequences of a U.S. default “real”? Of course they are! Have we gone completely nuts?
We haven’t gone nuts — but the “conversation of democracy” has become so deeply dysfunctional that our ability to make intelligent collective decisions has been seriously impaired. Throughout American history, we relied on the vibrancy of our public square — and the quality of our democratic discourse — to make better decisions than most nations in the history of the world. But we are now routinely making really bad decisions that completely ignore the best available evidence of what is true and what is false. When the distinction between truth and falsehood is systematically attacked without shame or consequence — when a great nation makes crucially important decisions on the basis of completely false information that is no longer adequately filtered through the fact-checking function of a healthy and honest public discussion — the public interest is severely damaged.
That is exactly what is happening with U.S. decisions regarding the climate crisis. The best available evidence demonstrates beyond any reasonable doubt that the reckless spewing of global-warming pollution in obscene quantities into the atmospheric commons is having exactly the consequences long predicted by scientists who have analyzed the known facts according to the laws of physics.
The emergence of the climate crisis seems sudden only because of a relatively recent discontinuity in the relationship between human civilization and the planet’s ecological system. In the past century, we have quadrupled global population while relying on the burning of carbon-based fuels — coal, oil and gas — for 85 percent of the world’s energy. We are also cutting and burning forests that would otherwise help remove some of the added CO2 from the atmosphere, and have converted agriculture to an industrial model that also runs on carbon-based fuels and strip-mines carbon-rich soils.
The cumulative result is a radically new reality — and since human nature makes us vulnerable to confusing the unprecedented with the improbable, it naturally seems difficult to accept. Moreover, since this new reality is painful to contemplate, and requires big changes in policy and behavior that are at the outer limit of our ability, it is all too easy to fall into the psychological state of denial. As with financial issues like subprime mortgages and credit default swaps, the climate crisis can seem too complex to worry about, especially when the shills for the polluters constantly claim it’s all a hoax anyway. And since the early impacts of climatic disruption are distributed globally, they masquerade as an abstraction that is safe to ignore.
These vulnerabilities, rooted in our human nature, are being manipulated by the tag-team of Polluters and Ideologues who are trying to deceive us. And the referee — the news media — is once again distracted. As with the invasion of Iraq, some are hyperactive cheerleaders for the deception, while others are intimidated into complicity, timidity and silence by the astonishing vitriol heaped upon those who dare to present the best evidence in a professional manner. Just as TV networks who beat the drums of war prior to the Iraq invasion were rewarded with higher ratings, networks now seem reluctant to present the truth about the link between carbon pollution and global warming out of fear that conservative viewers will change the channel — and fear that they will receive a torrent of flame e-mails from deniers.
Many politicians, unfortunately, also fall into the same two categories: those who cheerlead for the deniers and those who cower before them. The latter group now includes several candidates for the Republican presidential nomination who have felt it necessary to abandon their previous support for action on the climate crisis; at least one has been apologizing profusely to the deniers and begging for their forgiveness.
“Intimidation” and “timidity” are connected by more than a shared word root. The first is designed to produce the second. As Yeats wrote almost a century ago, “The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity.”
Barack Obama’s approach to the climate crisis represents a special case that requires careful analysis. His election was accompanied by intense hope that many things in need of change would change. Some things have, but others have not. Climate policy, unfortunately, is in the second category. Why?
First of all, anyone who honestly examines the incredible challenges confronting President Obama when he took office has to feel enormous empathy for him: the Great Recession, with the high unemployment and the enormous public and private indebtedness it produced; two seemingly interminable wars; an intractable political opposition whose true leaders — entertainers masquerading as pundits — openly declared that their objective was to ensure that the new president failed; a badly broken Senate that is almost completely paralyzed by the threat of filibuster and is controlled lock, stock and barrel by the oil and coal industries; a contingent of nominal supporters in Congress who are indentured servants of the same special interests that control most of the Republican Party; and a ferocious, well-financed and dishonest campaign poised to vilify anyone who dares offer leadership for the reduction of global-warming pollution.
In spite of these obstacles, President Obama included significant climate-friendly initiatives in the economic stimulus package he presented to Congress during his first month in office. With the skillful leadership of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and committee chairmen Henry Waxman and Ed Markey, he helped secure passage of a cap-and-trade measure in the House a few months later. He implemented historic improvements in fuel-efficiency standards for automobiles, and instructed the Environmental Protection Agency to move forward on the regulation of global-warming pollution under the Clean Air Act. He appointed many excellent men and women to key positions, and they, in turn, have made hundreds of changes in environmental and energy policy that have helped move the country forward slightly on the climate issue. During his first six months, he clearly articulated the link between environmental security, economic security and national security — making the case that a national commitment to renewable energy could simultaneously reduce unemployment, dependence on foreign oil and vulnerability to the disruption of oil markets dominated by the Persian Gulf reserves. And more recently, as the issue of long-term debt has forced discussion of new revenue, he proposed the elimination of unnecessary and expensive subsidies for oil and gas.
But in spite of these and other achievements, President Obama has thus far failed to use the bully pulpit to make the case for bold action on climate change. After successfully passing his green stimulus package, he did nothing to defend it when Congress decimated its funding. After the House passed cap and trade, he did little to make passage in the Senate a priority. Senate advocates — including one Republican — felt abandoned when the president made concessions to oil and coal companies without asking for anything in return. He has also called for a massive expansion of oil drilling in the United States, apparently in an effort to defuse criticism from those who argue speciously that “drill, baby, drill” is the answer to our growing dependence on foreign oil.
The failure to pass legislation to limit global-warming pollution ensured that the much-anticipated Copenhagen summit on a global treaty in 2009 would also end in failure. The president showed courage in attending the summit and securing a rhetorical agreement to prevent a complete collapse of the international process, but that’s all it was — a rhetorical agreement. During the final years of the Bush-Cheney administration, the rest of the world was waiting for a new president who would aggressively tackle the climate crisis — and when it became clear that there would be no real change from the Bush era, the agenda at Copenhagen changed from “How do we complete this historic breakthrough?” to “How can we paper over this embarrassing disappointment?”
Some concluded from the failure in Copenhagen that it was time to give up on the entire U.N.-sponsored process for seeking an international agreement to reduce both global-warming pollution and deforestation. Ultimately, however, the only way to address the climate crisis will be with a global agreement that in one way or another puts a price on carbon. And whatever approach is eventually chosen, the U.S. simply must provide leadership by changing our own policy.
Yet without presidential leadership that focuses intensely on making the public aware of the reality we face, nothing will change. The real power of any president, as Richard Neustadt wrote, is “the power to persuade.” Yet President Obama has never presented to the American people the magnitude of the climate crisis. He has simply not made the case for action. He has not defended the science against the ongoing, withering and dishonest attacks. Nor has he provided a presidential venue for the scientific community — including our own National Academy — to bring the reality of the science before the public.
Here is the core of it: we are destroying the climate balance that is essential to the survival of our civilization. This is not a distant or abstract threat; it is happening now. The United States is the only nation that can rally a global effort to save our future. And the president is the only person who can rally the United States.
Many political advisers assume that a president has to deal with the world of politics as he finds it, and that it is unwise to risk political capital on an effort to actually lead the country toward a new understanding of the real threats and real opportunities we face. Concentrate on the politics of re-election, they say. Don’t take chances.
All that might be completely understandable and make perfect sense in a world where the climate crisis wasn’t “real.” Those of us who support and admire President Obama understand how difficult the politics of this issue are in the context of the massive opposition to doing anything at all — or even to recognizing that there is a crisis. And assuming that the Republicans come to their senses and avoid nominating a clown, his re-election is likely to involve a hard-fought battle with high stakes for the country. All of his supporters understand that it would be self-defeating to weaken Obama and heighten the risk of another step backward. Even writing an article like this one carries risks; opponents of the president will excerpt the criticism and strip it of context.
But in this case, the President has reality on his side. The scientific consensus is far stronger today than at any time in the past. Here is the truth: The Earth is round; Saddam Hussein did not attack us on 9/11; Elvis is dead; Obama was born in the United States; and the climate crisis is real. It is time to act.
Those who profit from the unconstrained pollution that is the primary cause of climate change are determined to block our perception of this reality. They have help from many sides: from the private sector, which is now free to make unlimited and secret campaign contributions; from politicians who have conflated their tenures in office with the pursuit of the people’s best interests; and — tragically — from the press itself, which treats deception and falsehood on the same plane as scientific fact, and calls it objective reporting of alternative opinions.
All things are not equally true. It is time to face reality. We ignored reality in the marketplace and nearly destroyed the world economic system. We are likewise ignoring reality in the environment, and the consequences could be several orders of magnitude worse. Determining what is real can be a challenge in our culture, but in order to make wise choices in the presence of such grave risks, we must use common sense and the rule of reason in coming to an agreement on what is true.
So how can we make it happen? How can we as individuals make a difference? In five basic ways:
First, become a committed advocate for solving the crisis. You can start with something simple: Speak up whenever the subject of climate arises. When a friend or acquaintance expresses doubt that the crisis is real, or that it’s some sort of hoax, don’t let the opportunity pass to put down your personal marker. The civil rights revolution may have been driven by activists who put their lives on the line, but it was partly won by average Americans who began to challenge racist comments in everyday conversations.
Second, deepen your commitment by making consumer choices that reduce energy use and reduce your impact on the environment. The demand by individuals for change in the marketplace has already led many businesses to take truly significant steps to reduce their global-warming pollution. Some of the corporate changes are more symbolic than real — “green-washing,” as it’s called — but a surprising amount of real progress is taking place. Walmart, to pick one example, is moving aggressively to cut its carbon footprint by 20 million metric tons, in part by pressuring its suppliers to cut down on wasteful packaging and use lower-carbon transportation alternatives. Reward those companies that are providing leadership.
Third, join an organization committed to action on this issue. The Alliance for Climate Protection (climateprotect.org), which I chair, has grassroots action plans for the summer and fall that spell out lots of ways to fight effectively for the policy changes we need. We can also enable you to host a slide show in your community on solutions to the climate crisis — presented by one of the 4,000 volunteers we have trained. Invite your friends and neighbors to come and then enlist them to join the cause.
Fourth, contact your local newspapers and television stations when they put out claptrap on climate — and let them know you’re fed up with their stubborn and cowardly resistance to reporting the facts of this issue. One of the main reasons they are so wimpy and irresponsible about global warming is that they’re frightened of the reaction they get from the deniers when they report the science objectively. So let them know that deniers are not the only ones in town with game. Stay on them! Don’t let up! It’s true that some media outlets are getting instructions from their owners on this issue, and that others are influenced by big advertisers, but many of them are surprisingly responsive to a genuine outpouring of opinion from their viewers and readers. It is way past time for the ref to do his job.
Finally, and above all, don’t give up on the political system. Even though it is rigged by special interests, it is not so far gone that candidates and elected officials don’t have to pay attention to persistent, engaged and committed individuals. President Franklin Roosevelt once told civil rights leaders who were pressing him for change that he agreed with them about the need for greater equality for black Americans. Then, as the story goes, he added with a wry smile, “Now go out and make me do it.”
To make our elected leaders take action to solve the climate crisis, we must forcefully communicate the following message: “I care a lot about global warming; I am paying very careful attention to the way you vote and what you say about it; if you are on the wrong side, I am not only going to vote against you, I will work hard to defeat you — regardless of party. If you are on the right side, I will work hard to elect you.”
Why do you think President Obama and Congress changed their game on “don’t ask, don’t tell?” It happened because enough Americans delivered exactly that tough message to candidates who wanted their votes. When enough people care passionately enough to drive that message home on the climate crisis, politicians will look at their hole cards, and enough of them will change their game to make all the difference we need.
This is not naive; trust me on this. It may take more individual voters to beat the Polluters and Ideologues now than it once did — when special-interest money was less dominant. But when enough people speak this way to candidates, and convince them that they are dead serious about it, change will happen — both in Congress and in the White House. As the great abolitionist leader Frederick Douglass once observed, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did, and it never will.”
What is now at risk in the climate debate is nothing less than our ability to communicate with one another according to a protocol that binds all participants to seek reason and evaluate facts honestly. The ability to perceive reality is a prerequisite for self-governance. Wishful thinking and denial lead to dead ends. When it works, the democratic process helps clear the way toward reality, by exposing false argumentation to the best available evidence. That is why the Constitution affords such unique protection to freedom of the press and of speech.
The climate crisis, in reality, is a struggle for the soul of America. It is about whether or not we are still capable — given the ill health of our democracy and the current dominance of wealth over reason — of perceiving important and complex realities clearly enough to promote and protect the sustainable well-being of the many. What hangs in the balance is the future of civilization as we know it.
August 22, 2012 Leave a comment
If you have not been following Think Progress and missed this surrealistic nugget about emergency readiness and management, Texas GOP style, fasten you seat belt.
Tornadoes? No, the worst-case scenario being prepared for by Lubbock County Judge Tom Head is President Obama winning reelection. That, of course, will lead to civil war, especially because Obama is planning to send in U.N. troops to occupy Lubbock, Texas. Luckily, Judge Head proudly has declared that he will be joining the armed resistance against the U.N. takeover of American sovereignty. And the Sheriff is with him.
“[Obama] is going to try to hand over the sovereignty of the United States to the UN. Okay, what’s going to happen when that happens? I’m thinking worst case scenario here. Civil unrest, civil disobedience, civil war maybe. We’re not just talking a few riots here and demonstrations. We’re talking Lexington-Concord take up arms and get rid of the guy”
“Now what’s going to happen if we do that, if the public decides to do that? He’s going to send in U.N. troops — with the little blue beanies. I don’t want ‘em in Lubbock County. Okay. So I’m going to stand in front of their armored personnel carrier and say ‘you’re not coming in here’. “And the sheriff, I’ve already asked him, I said ‘you gonna back me’ he said, ‘yeah, I’ll back you.’”
OK, let’s not exaggerate. He’s talkin’ worst case scenario. And that is not a tornado or hurricane, although you might think that emergency management is supposed to focus on natural disasters, it’s those little blue beanies.
Only in America.
As Millhiser points out, “Head’s brand of paranoia is hardly limited to low-level county officials in Texas. Ted Cruz, the Texas GOP’s U.S. Senate candidate, published an article last January claiming that billionaire George Soros is leading a global United Nation’s conspiracy to eliminate the game of golf.”
August 12, 2012 Leave a comment
By Climate Guest Blogger on Aug 11, 2012 at 8:46 am, on Climate Progress
By Brad Johnson, campaign manager for Forecast the Facts
Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI), Mitt Romney’s vice-presidential pick, is a virulent denier of climate science, with a voting record to match.
A favorite of the Koch brothers, Ryan has accused scientists of engaging in conspiracy to “intentionally mislead the public on the issue of climate change.” He has implied that snow invalidates global warming.
Ryan has voted to prevent the Environmental Protection Agency from limiting greenhouse pollution, to eliminate White House climate advisers, to block the U.S. Department of Agriculture from preparing for climate disasters like the drought devastating his home state, and to eliminate the Department of Energy Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E):
Paul Ryan Promoted Unfounded Conspiracy Theories About Climate Scientists. In a December 2009 op-ed during international climate talks, Ryan made reference to the hacked University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit emails. He accused climatologists of a “perversion of the scientific method, where data were manipulated to support a predetermined conclusion,” in order to “intentionally mislead the public on the issue of climate change.” Because of spurious claims of conspiracy like these, several governmental and academic inquiries were launched, all of which found the accusations to be without merit. [Paul Ryan, 12/11/09]
Paul Ryan Argued Snow Invalidates Global Warming Policy. In the same anti-science, anti-scientist December 2009 op-ed, Ryan argued, “Unilateral economic restraint in the name of fighting global warming has been a tough sell in our communities, where much of the state is buried under snow.” Ryan’s line is especially disingenuous because he hasn’t been trying to sell climate action, he’s been spreading disinformation. [Paul Ryan, 12/11/09]
Paul Ryan Voted To Eliminate EPA Limits On Greenhouse Pollution. Ryan voted in favor of H.R. 910, introduced in 2011 by Rep. Fred Upton (R-MI) to block the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency from regulating greenhouse gas pollution. [Roll Call 249, 4/7/11]
Paul Ryan Voted To Block The USDA From Preparing For Climate Change. In 2011, Ryan voted in favor of the Scalise (R-LA) Amendment to the FY12 Agriculture Appropriations bill, to bar the U.S. Department of Agriculture from implementing its Climate Protection Plan. [Roll Call 448, 6/16/11]
Paul Ryan Voted To Eliminate White House Climate Advisers. Ryan voted in favor of Scalise (R-LA) Amendment 204 to the 2011 Continuing Resolution, to eliminate the assistant to the president for energy and climate change, the special envoy for climate change (Todd Stern), and the special adviser for green jobs, enterprise and innovation. [Roll Call 87, 2/17/11]
Paul Ryan Voted To Eliminate ARPA-E. Ryan voted in favor of Biggert (R-IL) Amendment 192 to the 2011 Continuing Resolution, to eliminate the Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E). [Roll Call 55, 2/17/11]
Paul Ryan Voted To Eliminate Light Bulb Efficiency Standards. In 2011, Ryan voted to roll back light-bulb efficiency standards that had reinvigorated the domestic lighting industry and that significantly reduce energy waste and carbon pollution. [Roll Call 563, 7/12/11]
Paul Ryan Voted For Keystone XL. In 2011, Ryan voted to expedite the consideration and approval of the construction and operation of the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline. [Roll Call 650, 7/26/11]
Paul Ryan Budget Kept Big Oil Subsidies And Slashed Clean Energy Investment. House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) proposed FY 2013 budget resolution retained a decade’s worth of oil tax breaks worth $40 billion, while slashing funding for investments in clean energy research, development, deployment, and commercialization, along with other energy programs. The plan called for a $3 billion cut in energy programs in FY 2013 alone. [CAP, 3/20/12]
In short, Paul Ryan stands with Big Oil against scientific fact and the future of human civilization.
This piece has been updated.