Wish I could re-write one sentence in this…

Nice lead story on Huff Post Green by Lynne Peeples. I did say everything she attributed to me, but one sentence of hers describing my aproach to these issues is the opposite of what I was trying to communicate.  The sentence is “In a way, the whole discussion is beside the point, according to Brophy. The question we should be asking, he said: “What are the policies we should adopt?”

True enough, but I did not mean to imply that Krosnick and Leiserowitz’s work is not central to understanding why that’s not happening. Take Krosnick’s work, for example. His fabulously designed polls and insightful analyses go to the heart of what puzzles me: There is a huge gap between what American actually believe, and how salient the issue actually is among the general public (and the subset of it for whom environmental issues especially important), on the one hand, and our policy makers on the other.  So I am also puzzled about why Bob Doppelt would say  “Krosnick is not addressing the nature of our political decision-making process, which is not driven by majority rule.”

Krosnick is providing exactly the data needed to see whether our representatives are, well not representing; Leiserowit’z “Six Americas” research and Dan Kahan’s Cultural Cognition Project are helping us understand how much and why climate change actually matters to Americans.

So, yes, in a way it is nuts that when the science has been settled, we are talking about whether people believe the basic facts of human caused global warming, and how much those beliefs matters. But it is surely needed and hardly beside the point at which we should already have arrived long ago: discussing policy alternatives for mitigation and adaptation and holding legislators accountable for not doing so.

February 17, 2012, re-posted from:

The Huffington Post

Lynne Peeples

Why Global Warming Still Considered Target Of Skepticism For Americans

Climate Change Denial

First Posted: 02/17/2012 7:20 pm Updated: 02/17/2012 8:48 pm

If you follow the popular polls, you might think that Americans are growing ever more skeptical about man-made climate change — despite the consensus among published climate scientists.

That’s simply not true, Jon Krosnick of Stanford University told an audience of social scientists and cognitive researchers Wednesday, in Garrison, N.Y. He maintained that most Americans do, in fact, believe.

The problem, Krosnick said during his talk at the Garrison Institute’s annual Climate, Mind and Behavior symposium, is that we haven’t been asking the public the right questions. The other problem: Legislators are reading their misleading answers and hearing from a vocal minority of constituents.

“Public opinion has the potential to move legislators,” he said. “But methods that political scientists are using to document the public will are going at a snail’s pace.”

With funding from major news outlets such as Reuters and ABC News, Krosnick’s team has been conducting its own national surveys over the last several years. Since 2009, their findings have diverged from those of other survey organizations.

Gallup and Pew polls show that the percentage of Americans that believe in climate change now hovers around 50 percent, but Krosnick’s latest poll — which asked the question in a more detailed way — suggests the figure is 83 percent — up from 79 percent in 1997. Of the global warming believers, the majority also reported thinking that the burning of fossil fuels and other human activities play a role. The trend held after the researchers broke the data down by political party: 66 percent of Republicans said climate change is happening.

Further, not a single U.S. state had a majority opinion on the skeptical side, noted Krosnick. Even in Oklahoma, the home of one of the country’s most outspoken skeptics, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), a large majority of the people polled agreed with the scientific consensus.

Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, doesn’t share the same optimism. Combining various public opinion polls, including Krosnick’s, he sees a downward trend in the percentage of Americans believing in global warming since 2007. Further, in a new open-ended poll, he’s found that the first thing that came to the minds of 23 percent of people when they thought about climate change was a naysayer thought, such as a recent record snowstorm or a conspiracy theory. This is up from 7 percent in 2003, he told The Huffington Post.

Krosnick and his colleagues also looked at two ways of framing a question about the public’s ranking of issues. In response to “What is the most important problem facing this country today?,” the economy ranked at the top with global warming dead last. When this question was reworded to ask, “What will be the most important problem facing the world in the future if nothing is done to stop it?,” the results were reversed: Global warming ranked No. 1.

“This message is not getting across to Washington,” said Krosnick.

Scott Brophy, a philosophy professor at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, agreed that politicians are “out of touch” with the thinking of their constituents. Yet the problem remains, he said, that “1 in every 3 or 4 Americans doesn’t believe in a basic fact.”

For democracy to work, according to Brophy, we need to understand how and why people don’t trust the scientific facts.

Research has shown that people are motivated to find information that supports their beliefs. “Encountering counterarguments causes us to marshal forces like an army of white blood cells to defend against them,” said Brophy.

He pointed to the influence of massive disinformation campaigns such as the recently outed Heartland Institute. “This is a real threat to democracy,” he told HuffPost.

“Krosnick is not addressing the nature of our political decision-making process, which is not driven by majority rule,” added Bob Doppelt, executive director of The Resource Innovation Group, a non-profit organization affiliated with Willamette University. “It’s driven by elites that paid for, fund and have the most access and, therefore, the most influence over officials …”

In a way, the whole discussion is beside the point, according to Brophy. The question we should be asking, he said: “What are the policies we should adopt?”

“There, reasonable people can disagree. Policy doesn’t automatically follow from the facts,” added Brophy. “Yet we continue arguing about whether the Earth is round. This is crazy.”


New, Wacky Ideas From the Most Anti-Environment Congress in History

A quick look at the amendments and policy riders attached to the appropriations bills now pending in the House makes it crystal clear that the GOP is desperately trying to eliminate every single environmental law ever passed or decided by a court.

The radically anti-environmental antics of the Energy and Commerce Committee have not gone far enough for some representatives, so they have taken to sneaking major national policy decisions into what Rep. Ed Markey (D-MA, ranking member of the Natural Resources Committee) called today “truly wacky amendments to to the 2012 Interior and Environment Appropriations bill.”


Some of these are just kooky.

1. Preventing the use of funds for climate change research (Rep. Scott, R-GA)

2. Prohibiting agencies from agencies from buying compact fluorescent light bulbs (Rep. Rep. Blackburn, R-TN)

3. Eliminate funding for the Energy Star program, which identifies energy efficient appliances for consumers (Fleming, R-LA)

4. Eliminate funding to enforce the Oil Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure Program (Rep. King, R-IA).

5. Bar funding to regulate stationary source greenhouse gases for two years (Rep. Stivers, R-OH)

(See Rep. Ed Markey’s post about 39 legislative riders at the Democrat’s Natural Resource Committee site, and Brad Johnson’s post today on ThinkProgress Green for more)


Others raise serious public health concerns. Ranking Democrats on the Energy and Commerce Committee Henry Waxman and Bobby Rush have written to Fred Upton (Letter to Chairman Upton) about 16 of these legislative riders.


Where do folks like Rep. Austin Scott come up with such wise and useful cost-cutting measures, like eliminating climate research? Here’s how:


Outlaw Energy Education? Really?

This is surreal.  Representative Sandy Adams (R-FL) actually introduced an amendment (to an already crazy bill) that would prohibit federal websites from teaching children about energy efficiency. The good news is that even some Tea Partiers joined in to vote against active promoting energy ignorance, but it was actually brought to the floor of the United States House of Representatives, and managed to muster 181 votes (233 against).

Rep. Adams’ prepared remarks are posted on her own official .gov website. Click here to read it. The “wasteful spending” she was attacking is the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s “Energy Kids” website, which is also worth a look. (Flash driven site, so beware pods, pads, and mobile devices.)

Thanks to Brad Johnson at ThinkProgress Green for ruining my breakfast with his post about this.

More on this issue when I am less dazed at its stunning confirmation of one of Say What’s central themes: There really is an anti-science, anti-education, and even anti-rationality movement growing rapidly in the Halls of Congress. But have a look at Rep. Adams proudly promoting her amendment.  How will this play in her district in Florida? Complicated question, given Florida’s state-level history on education policy.



There’s More! Influential Senator Joins House Flat-Out Lie or Scandalous Incompetence

More on the report (and accompanying press release) from Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Fred Upton and three subcommittee chairs blasting Obama for Bush era EPA foreign grants.  No response yet to Rep. Henry Waxman’s call for a retraction because $21 million of the $27 million allegedly doled out in 2009-2010 is actually honoring grants made prior to 2009.

But never missing an opportunity for sometimes sophisticated demagoguery, influential Senator Jim (“The science on global warming is just not there”) Inhofe has released a video in which he rewrites the history of EPA spending.  Something he ought to know about, being ranking member of the United States Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and ts chairman from 2003 to 2007.

Scientific Study Confirms Mountaintop Coal Removal Causes Birth Defects By Polluting Water, Congress Passes Bill to Deauthorize EPA from Enforcing Clean Water Act

One connection between “scientific study confirms mountaintop coal removal causes birth defects” and “Congress passes bill to deauthorize EPA from enforcing Clean Water Act” is that both happened yesterday.  The timing is a coincidence, but the other connection is definitely not:  Massey Energy.

Robert Kennedy, Jr. has been fighting alongside residents of West Virgina in a battle against Massey Coal’s practice of mountaintop coal removal.  The environmental impact of blowing the tops off so many mountains is dramatic, and one of the many effects of this pernicious practice is directly linked to a bill passed yesterday by the House of Representatives: water pollution. The connection is that H.R. 2018 deauthorizes the EPA from enforcing the Clean Water Act.

Appalachians (that is, people who live in the Mecca of coal mining) have been claiming for some time that mountaintop coal removal causes brain tumors,  birth defects, and other serious health issues. And coal miners are not exactly whiney wusses about their occupational health issues.  Birth defects in particular have been thought to be caused by what is dumped into the water supply by mountaintop coal removal. This week, a new study seems to confirm the claims about birth defects.  Read it here, or a look at a quick summary issued by the Natural Resources Defense Council here.


RFK, Jr. is featured prominently in a powerful new documentary, The Last Mountain, about the battle over mountaintop removal. The official trailer for the film:


Here is  review of the film from someone who lives there and was, like me, initially a little put off by the tone of the trailer.

The Natural Resources Defense Council has said of yesterday’s vote in the House that the bill “would demolish the very foundation for safeguarding our rivers, wetlands, lakes and streams.”  According to Steve Fleischli, a senior attorney in NRDC’s water program, “The House has unleashed the single-worst assault on clean water protections in a generation—part of a broader, ill-conceived attack on our air, lands, water and wildlife.”

The good news is that even if the bill ever makes it through the Senate, President Obama will undoubtedly veto it.  That it passed in the House would be astonishing if it were not part and parcel of the ongoing campaign to cater to oil and coal lobbies by attempting to eliminate virtually all the environmental legislation passed during and since the Nixon administration. That is actually an understatement; the Energy and Commerce committee is managing to make a very conservative Supreme Court look like a bunch of tree-huggers.

What can be said in favor of mountaintop removal of coal? Not much. It cuts the cost of a ton of coal a tiny bit, and that might lower your electricity bill by a few pennies. Far fewer people are needed to extract coal by blowing the tops off mountains than by mining it underground.  But even the economic arguments fall apart when one looks at the costs that are ignored, the economic externalities.  Local ones, not just those associated with continuing to rely on coal to generate electricity.  (On that issue, see today’s ClimateProgress post about Five Economic Reasons We Need to Move Beyond Coal.)

Look here later for an update on information about Massey Energy’s campaign and lobbying influence.



Flat-Out Lie or Scandalous Incompetence?

Fred Upton (Chair of House Energy & Commerce Committee) continued his campaign to gut the EPA with a particular attack that we hope was an intentional lie and act of grotesque political demagoguery. Because the prospect of it being an honest mistake is even scarier, indicating a scandalous level of incompetence coming from someone who heads such a huge (54 members) and hugely important legislative committee.

The short version: Upton and the chairs of three subcommittees issued a report blasting the Obama administration for EPA grants to foreign governments and organizations, claiming that millions of dollars are being wasted as the EPA has ramped up overseas handouts since the 2009 stimulus package.

The Upton report and the accompanying press release asserts that the EPA has awarded $27 million to other countries in 2009-2010.  The truth turns out to be that $21 million of that $27 million was initiated under the Bush administration. Could it be that one of the most powerful committees in Congress (its staff, its members, etc.) are unable to read a budget sheet and understand when agency grants are awarded and renewed (as in, who was President, who was EPA Administrator, etc.?).

In a letter from ranking democrat Henry Waxman to Upton on Monday (July 11), the details are explained, and a retraction of the report is requested. Some excerpts:

“Your report concludes that EPA has “intensified its foreign grants program, doling out over $27 million overseas” since February 17, 2009, which is the day the stimulus was signed into law” [Memorandum to Members of the Committee on Energy and Commerce from Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations Majority Staff (June 27, 2011) (online at http://republicans.energycommerce.house.gov/Media/file/PDFs/062711MajMem…].

“In a press release accompanying the release of the report, you state that EPA has “ramped up” foreign grants and done so “at an alarming rate.” [Committee on Energy and Commerce, Report Reveals EPA has Ramped Up Foreign Handouts, Sending Millions to China, Russia, and the United Nations Despite Record Deficits, Looming Debt Ceiling, and Soaring Unemployment (June 27, 2011)].

Your report asserts that EPA awarded $27 million in 65 foreign grants in 2009 and 2010.  In fact, the 38 grants initiated under the Bush administration account for $21 million of the $27 million obligated for these 65 grants.

“Far from “ramping up” grants to foreign governments, the Obama administration in most cases appears to be fulfilling grant commitments originally made during the previous administration. ”


A sign of how congress is working: The website of the official Committee on Energy and Commerce has been run in such a partisan manner by the GOP majority, it has led the democrats to launch their own, parallel website. Click here to visit it.

Compare this to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, run by the democratic majority.


In this earlier FOX News coverage of “EPA’s Shady Foreign Grants” during the past 10 years, no mention is made of who was President for (and therefore appointed the Administrator of the EPA, or which party controlled the congressional purse strings at which points):



As Deep Water Drilling Resumes in the Gulf, A Quick Look Back at the BP Gusher to Introduce our Leaders

As deep water drilling resumes in the Gulf, here is a quick introduction to Rep. Ralph Hall (House Science Committee Chairman) and Rep. Joe Barton (very influential member of member of the Energy and Commerce Committee).

Science Committee Chairman (yes, I know I keep repeating that he holds that position) Ralph Hall’s reaction to the BP oil disaster as it was unfolding:

“As we saw that thing bubbling out, blossoming out – all that energy, every minute of every hour of every day of every week – that was tremendous to me. That we could deliver that kind of energy out there – even on an explosion.”

Right. And some dead people and an ecological and economic catastrophe, too, amidst that bubbling and blossoming.

Click here for more.


Smokey Joe Barton, as many of you will recall, was the congressman who apologized to BP executives for the way the government was treating BP after the explosion.  Specifically for the outrageous (?) idea that initial relief funds be set aside by BP.  As drilling of this type resumes, any change in liability laws for such accidents, or any real understanding yet of the magnitude of the economic and environmental impact of Deep Water Horizon?


Special Interests? Oil and Gas $ to Joe Barton


V.P. Biden’s response:


In October of 2002, the Wall Street Journal described Barton as the “House GOP’s leading expert on energy policy.”  All the more remarkable if you have a look at our earlier post about his exchange with Energy Secretary Chu. If you have not watched this exchange, it is one of the things that made me think it might be worth blogging about where our political leaders stand on energy and climate policy.



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