The Kardashians, Global Warming, and Extreme Weather

The record heat wave in the United States is raising a lot of questions about whether this is a preview of our future. It takes extreme weather events to get long term global climate change any attention. Who knows, enough wildfires and droughts and 115 degree temperatures in Kansas might get someone to notice what is happening over the long run. If you have any hope that the recent meteorological catastrophes will have an upside of increasing public awareness of its causes, well, don’t count on it.

Take a look at the recent study by Media Matters, which shows that the Kardashians still get 40 times more news coverage than global warming’s “evil twin,” ocean acidification. Ha! Am I the only person in America who would not recognize a Kardashian if I bumped into one here in Canandaigua? What exactly are they famous for anyway, other than being famous? I need to get out more.

I have been reading a lot of terrific work these past few months about things I had been blogging about, like what exactly Americans think about big issues.  So instead of writing, I have been walking around scratching my head and saying things like, “Really?!”  I gave a few lectures about topics that have included how to talk to people who do not want to be reasoned with, including this one about climate climate communication, caught on video, where I mostly presented some ideas developed by John Cook and Stephan Lewandowsky:

One of the main points in this talk was to explore what we have learned since realizing that “the information deficit model” is false; that is, that people will not think differently about climate change just because they are provided with more information about what is really going on. Recently, a number of writers have drawn a pretty idiotic lesson from this, namely, that it is pointless to learn about what is really going on.

Here is an excellent piece posted the other day by Mark McCaffrey, in which he makes that point as a guest blogger for Climate Access, a site which with I am just becoming familiar. For those of you who do not know Mark McCaffey’s work, he helped establish the Climate Literacy Network and the related Climate Literacy & Energy Awareness Network (CLEAN), which includes a catalog of online resources as well as tips on the challenges/opportunities of teaching about climate and energy. He is now Programs and Policy Director for the National Center for Science Education, a fabulous organization that has for years been fighting the good fight against anti-science forces on two fronts: evolution, and, more recently, climate change.

June 29, 2012

Clueless About Climate Change

There’s a dangerous meme drifting through the climate community: that when it comes to “solving” climate change, literacy does not matter. True, years of promoting filling the information deficit with more facts hasn’t worked, but the current “literacy bashing,” repeated in climate blogs and conversations, is unfortunate, oversimplified and, to be blunt, nonsense. Literacy, particularly about 21st century challenges such as climate and energy, does matter.

The media is, as is often the case, partly to blame. “Global warming skeptics as knowledgeable about science as climate change believers,” read a recent headline from Fox News, reporting on a research paper by Dan Kahan and colleagues published in Nature Climate Change entitled: “The polarizing impact of science literacy and numeracy on perceived climate change risks.” Mother Jones’ conclusion about the study: “Why Science Education Won’t Solve Our Climate Problems.”

But sometimes the researchers themselves suggest, sometimes intentionally, sometimes overtly, that literacy isn’t important.

The Kahan study — which did not look at people’s knowledge about climate change — examined the cultural and political profiles along with the science literacy and numeracy of some 1500 U.S. adults; none of the science literacy questions related to climate science. The study concluded that as “respondents’ science literacy scores increased, their concern with climate change decreased.”

But a closer look at the study, particularly the part that generated much of the media attention, reveals that both of the deliberately polarized groups were essentially illiterate in terms of science and numeracy. When asked post-publication which group was more scientifically literate, Kahan responded on his blog “neither, as far as I can tell.”

Too often researchers examining attitudes about climate change and the media reporting on them ignore or gloss over the depth of illiteracy, framing the problem solely or primarily as a cultural, ideological issue.

Paul Stern writes in a recent article in Nature Climate Change that “the lack of understanding at the individual level is not the problem,” and “believing that public opinion reflects a knowledge deficit is naïve…” And in the same issue, Paul Bain and colleagues in Australia parse the debate into “deniers” and “believers,” suggesting that deniers can be tricked to support enlightened climate policies by convincing them that mitigation efforts can promote a better society, downplaying climate change risks. “Don’t worry, be happy!” seems to be the take-home message of this approach, which the current U.S. Administration has tried, emphasizing Clean Energy and Green Jobs over risk reduction and preparation.

To be clear, information is not enough to develop policies, political will or technological solutions. But without current, accurate information, none of the above is possible. The fact that few people are literate about science in general and climate/energy in particular and, that in the absence of literacy, opinions, ideologies and psychological biases run riot, isn’t a surprise.

A few data points to consider:

  • Fewer than 20% of secondary school students are “very well informed” about climate science and solutions, and only 27 percent feel they’ve learned “a lot” about global warming in school, according to the Six Americas research conducted by the Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media. Most teens (and adults) would receive a D or an F if quizzed on the basics of climate or energy.
  • 28% of U.S. adults pass the muster for basic civic science literacy, says researcher Jonathan Miller, and the bulk of them became literate in college because they were required to take general education science courses to graduate, although they generally needed three years of high school science to be accepted into college to begin with.
  • The Six Americas research has also found that those who are the most concerned about climate change have relatively more knowledge about it, while those who are least concerned know the least. While most people do fail when quizzed on climate and energy basics, graded on a curve, 97% of those alarmed about climate change receive a passing grade, versus 56% of those who are dismissive of current climate science findings.

Where we went wrong

Climate education was, except in the rarified atmosphere of higher education, all but non-existent until 2009 when Congress authorized grants to improve climate literacy and climate change education became a presidential priority.  But federal funding is now dwindling, even as attempts to defund it altogether are promoted by members of Congress who dismiss climate change as a hoax.

Fifty years ago, climate change was part of science education materials. During the International Geophysical Year in 1958, the National Academies published science education materials for students — Planet Earth: The Mystery with 100,000 Clues — that acknowledged human carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels could, through the increased warming of the atmosphere, melt ice sheets and raise sea levels. Educational films and television programs at the time, including the Bell Science Hour, examined the potential impact of human activities on the natural greenhouse effect.

Then, for fifty years, the topic was usually missing altogether from science education materials. When it appeared at all, it was in passing, perhaps one or part of a chapter out of thirty in a textbook, a few days out of an entire semester. When National Science Education Standards were developed in the mid-1990s, human impacts on the climate system were deliberately not included (as was the topic of human evolution), kicking the can down the road with the claim that there wasn’t sufficient data to say for certain. Sadly, this — along with deliberate efforts to mislead and muddy the waters with manufactured doubt — perpetuated the climate literacy deficit and contributed to our inability to have an adult conversation about climate change over the past decade and a half.

Today, when climate and related energy topics are taught at all, all too often they are taught as controversy, with “both sides” being presented due to pressure or misguided sense of fairness and balance. Climate change is happening. Or it’s not. Humans are responsible. Or they’re not. Decarbonizing our energy system will help. Or it will destroy the American way of unfettered free-market capitalism.

But usually, climate change is missing in action from science education, falling through curricular cracks or held hostage by the polarized political climate. Even science-literate students graduating from college may not have ever learned the basics of climate change or society’s fossil-fuel-intensive energy infrastructure and its role in altering the climate system.

Some incremental progress has been made in the fast few years, progress that is now in jeopardy. In 2009, in an effort to establish a foundational framework to improve climate literacy, a group of us created the Climate Literacy initiative (and this year a companion Energy Literacy framework), which the Department of Energy led the development of, was released. Both are available through the US Global Change Research Program.

Congressional support in 2009, largely from stimulus funds, led to dozens of climate change education projects, such as the Climate Literacy & Energy Awareness Network, and related curriculum development, teacher professional training programs, and strategic partnerships between climate researchers, educators and cognitive science experts.

Now, with federal funding for climate and energy literacy spent out or threatened by Congress, private philanthropies that support climate policy and communications work need to step up to fill the breach and help improve society’s basic literacy about the crucial 21st century challenges of energy and climate/global change.

Yes, we have an enormous collective climate literacy deficit, and addressing it is an integral and imperative communication and policy priority for the sake of this and future generations.


Climate Change “Hoax” Hoax, XTRNORMAL style

Hat Tip: Leo Hickman. who points out this plays as if it is a female avatar for the Skeptical Science team (one of my favorite sites).

Climate Scientists and Smear Campaigns

A re-post of Michael Mann’s piece on CNN today. A chilling story that many of us have been following for quite some time now. Mann’s description is really worth reading.


Climate scientists and smear campaigns

By Michael Mann, Special to CNN
updated 8:36 AM EDT, Wed March 28, 2012
The famed snows of Mt. Kilimanjaro, actually glaciers, are retreating rapidly. Many scientists blame global warming.
The famed snows of Mt. Kilimanjaro, actually glaciers, are retreating rapidly. Many scientists blame global warming.

  • Climate scientist Michael Mann says he was target of nasty campaign to discredit his work
  • Mann: Attack against scientists was funded by fossil fuel industry, anti-science ideologists
  • All accusations proven false, he says, but it galvanized scientists to counter misinformation
  • Mann: Poisonous politics must not hijack the conversation about climate change

Editor’s note: Michael E. Mann is a member of the Pennsylvania State University faculty, holding joint positions in the Departments of Meteorology and Geosciences and the Earth and Environmental Systems Institute (EESI). He shared the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007 with other scientists who participated in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

(CNN) — Imagine you are sitting in your office simply doing your job and a nasty e-mail pops into your inbox accusing you of being a fraud. You go online and find that some bloggers have written virulent posts about you. That night, you’re at home with your family watching the news and a talking head is lambasting you by name. Later, a powerful politician demands all your e-mails from your former employer.

It sounds surreal. But it all happened to me.

What was my offense? I worked on climate change research that indicated the world is a lot warmer today than it was in the past. Because that research caught the public’s attention when it was released in 1998, I became one of dozens of climate researchers who have been systematically targeted by a well-funded anti-science campaign.

Ironically, as these attacks have grown, the scientific facts have become ever clearer. Climate scientists know the world is warming and human activity — particularly burning coal and oil — is the primary driver. The idea of addressing climate change threatens some people in the fossil fuel industry. And a vocal minority of corporate interests and their ideological allies are spending a lot of money to hijack the public debate about climate change.

Michael Mann

Michael Mann

I call all this the “scientization” of politics. Attacks on science and scientists are an effort to advance a political agenda, not an effort to better understand science or the risks it uncovers. The tobacco industry did it when scientists linked cigarettes to cancer. The lead industry tried to discredit a scientist who found that lead exposure hurt children’s cognitive abilities.

Now, it’s climate scientists’ turn.

In the most infamous episode, somebody stole thousands of e-mails and documents from leading climate researchers, including me. They cherry picked key phrases from the e-mails and published them out of context, like a black-and-white political attack ad with ominous music. Fossil fuel industry-funded groups gleefully spread the e-mails online and badgered the mainstream media into covering the “controversy” they had manufactured.

It was no accident that this happened on the eve of a major international climate change meeting. Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest exporter of oil, was the first to call for an investigation.

The dozen independent investigations that did follow — all of which exonerated the scientists — got much less media coverage than the original nonscandal. Last year, the inspector general of the National Science Foundation found the charges against me were all baseless and reaffirmed mainstream climate science.

Larger political factors helped sink the climate change talks. But the stolen e-mail “scandal” has lived on. Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (also a candidate for governor) cited it in his demand from my former employer — the University of Virginia — for all my documents and e-mails dating back several years.

On March 2, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled in our favor — a Pyrrhic victory considering all of the money and resources wasted that could have been invested, for example, in measures to protect Virginia’s coastline from the damaging effects of the sea level rise it is already seeing.

These attacks have prompted me to tell my own story in a new book, “The Hockey Stick and the Climate Wars: Dispatches from the Front Lines.” Before it even came out, a coal industry front group ran radio advertisements condemning my employer, Penn State, for allowing me to speak on my own campus. Later, a former tobacco industry apologist offered $500 to anyone who would ask me a challenging question at another talk and provide him with video.

This is a silly — and indeed, dangerous — way to have a climate change debate in this country. What keeps climate scientists working away in our labs and in the field, is that we keep uncovering more evidence of how climate change will impact our planet and our lives.

In the face of these attacks, scientists are doing more to speak out, forming a Climate Science Rapid Response Team to connect scientists with journalists and a Climate Science Legal Defense Fund to help scientists defray legal costs. Groups like the Union of Concerned Scientists are redoubling their efforts to defend scientists and advance public understanding of climate change. And scientific societies are starting to do more to help their members deal with the poisonous political environment around climate change.

I first tackled climate science as a graduate student in theoretical physics, looking around for a topic that would be worthy of a lifetime’s work. Attacked both professionally and personally, I became a reluctant public figure in the climate wars. And now, as the father of a 6-year-old girl, I want to make sure the planet we leave her is at least as beautiful and healthy as the one we grew up on. At the very least, our nation’s political and business leaders deserve to have a debate about her future that is grounded in reality.

My daughter, and all of our children, deserve no less.

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.”

More on Newt: If John King Were Jon Stewart

An update to the story about Newt posted the other day, in particular, on that John King/Newt exchange that is credited with boosting Newt’s resurgence in South Carolina. I’ll post it now that it is embedded in suitable commentary:


CLICK HERE FOR JON STEWART, “The Gingrich Who Stole South Carolina”


Newt’s Environmentalism? Gimme a Break

Now that Newt is the GOP flavor of the week, let’s have a look at what he has said and done about energy and climate. Many this week have derided John King’s utterly amateur opening of Thursday’s  debate, and credited Newt’s aggressive, indignant response with assisting his surge in polls.

I am not posting the exchange with John King because I cannot bear to watch it again. Watch it here if you have the stomach. And here is a solid enough fact check of the debate.

Why couldn’t King have been even a tiny bit subtler, or more sophisticated in pointing out the relevance of the question? I know, CNN hosted the debate, and subtle is not their strong suit.  And, yes, it was the day one of his former wives told an ABC interview that Newt wanted “an open marriage,’ so he could continue his affair — that she needed to “share him with other women.” I for one wouldn’t care much about that if Newt was not still preaching “family values.”

If I were King: “Mr. Gingrich, on the campaign trail you have spoken out against gay marriage and in favor of the Defense of Marriage Act by appealing to the principle that ‘Marriage is a sacred union between one man and one woman.’  Could you explain what you mean by ‘sacred’?”

(“Washington Post” image above from Don Slutes via Marion Dillon Morris. If only.)

Lots of things are popping up on the internet this weekend about Newt’s environmental views. The best one I have read is from Joe Romm, which he posted before the polls closed and I have re-posted below, in its entirety.  It makes abundantly clear that Newt is about as anti-environmental as any serious candidate for president since, well, ever. It is a good antidote to those of us still shaking our heads over this clip:



Now, onto what he really believes and what he has done over the years.

Breaking: Clean Energy Defunder Wins South Carolina Primary

Re-post from ClimateProgress

By Joe Romm on Jan 21, 2012 at 4:31 pm

No single politician since Ronald Reagan has done more to set back America’s leadership in clean technology than Newt Gingrich.

National Zoo plaque [click to enlarge, credit: J. Maskit]

Emperor Newt is pro-poison, that’s for sure (see “Gingrich proposes abolishing EPA” and Report Details How Fox News Fueled Newt Inc. and Pushed His “Drill Here, Drill Now” Agenda).

So it’s no surprise, he is also anti-antidote.  In the 1990s, the Gingrich Congress tried to shut down the Department of Energy, slash all clean energy research, stop the joint government-industry effort to develop a superefficient hybrid car, and zero out all programs aimed specifically at reducing greenhouse emissions and accelerating technology deployment (for some history, see my 1996 Atlantic Monthly article and this 1997 article).

He didn’t succeed — but he did stop the significant expansion of clean energy funding Clinton-Gore had begun.  And he did force the DOE to sharply scale back its programs aimed at clean energy deployment and GHG reduction.

A decade later he tried to pass himself as a friend to the environment.  In 2007, he wrote A Contract with on the Earth.  As I wrote at the time, if you look up the word ‘Orwellian’ on Wikipedia — “An attitude and a policy of control by propaganda, misinformation, denial of truth, and manipulation of the past” — there should be a picture of Newt’s new book.

He suckered a lot of folks.  There’s this classic interview in Salon, “Give Newt a chance” — it is definitely all the Newt that is fit to print.

To cut to the chase, readers will not be surprised that a conservative pretending to care about the environment adopted the anti-regulation, pro-technology approach suggested by GOP strategist, Frank Luntz, and popularized by his protege, George Bush (see Bush climate speech follows Luntz playbook: “Technology, technology, blah, blah, blah”).

Since Gingrich continues to push this misdirection, I’ll excerpt some of my earlier posts on Newt.

Newt famously co-authored and then worked to enact the anti-environmental Contract with America. But Newt tried to rewrite history with Salon:

I don’t think that the environment was a central focus of the Contract With America. I don’t think that it was bad for the environment. I don’t know of a single thing in the Contract that was bad for the environment.

I think Salon had to pause in the interview at that point to allow Newt to douse the flames that began engulfing his trousers. In fact, the CWA was a clever, stealthy attack on the environment as detailed by NRDC in a lengthy analysis (summarized here) by the Sierra Club, and by the National Wildlife Federation, which wrote at the time: “Taken as a whole, the House plan constitutes the broadest and deepest attack ever mounted against laws that protect public health, the environment, natural resources and wildlife.”

The only thing more gut-busting than Gingrich claiming that the CWA and related legislation wasn’t bad for the environment is his embrace of technology as the answer to climate/energy problems.

Last year, Newt proposed replacing the EPA with an “Environmental Solutions Agency.” It’s no surprise that Newt is unaware we already have an Environmental Solutions Agency that develops innovative new technology — it’s called the Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, which I helped run in the mid-1990s.  Gingrich tried to kill it when he became speaker in 1995.  He probably thinks he succeeded.

It should leave everyone ROTFLMAO that when Salon asked Newt a few years ago, “What do you think that the U.S. should do about global warming right now?” he answered:

I think we should have a billion-dollar tax-free prize for a hydrogen engine that can be produced at a commercially available price. I think that we should have a substantial prize for developing the first engine that can be mass produced that gets 100 miles or more to the gallon of fuel. I think that we should have a substantial research program under way for dramatically better ethanol products than corn or cane sugar.

We should have a 100 percent tax write-off for investment in the technology needed to make composite-material cars using the material comparable to that which works in the 787 Dreamliner that Boeing is building. Because composite material is stronger than steel and much, much lighter than steel, and you could produce a safer car at lighter weight, which would get dramatically more mileage.

Unless you can create economically desirable, environmentally positive technologies, you are never going to get China and India to adopt.

Technology, technology, blah, blah, blah. Same as Luntz, Bush, CrichtonLomborg, and the rest of the global warming delayers. This phony environmentalism is what I call the technology trap in Hell and High Water.

This answer also ended any claim that Gingrich is a tech-savvy person. After all, you can build an affordable hydrogen engine today: It’s called an internal combustion engine (which can easily be modified to burn hydrogen), but it is low-efficiency, and thus worthless (since hydrogen production is also an inefficient process). What the Department of Energy has been trying to do for over a decade with Detroit — a program the Gingrich Congress (and the automakers!) ironically tried to gut — is build an affordable high-efficiency hydrogen fuel cell. And the hydrogen advocates claim fuel cells would be commercial today — if we could only get unit sales of fuel cell cars to a few hundred thousand a year (up from zero today).

Moreover, a viable hydrogen engine without a solution to the hydrogen storage problem or tens of thousands of hydrogen fueling stations around the country (costing tens of billions of dollars) is completely useless. So this prize idea is dumb. A pure waste of government dollars of a kind Newt used to mock.

To beat this near-dead hydrogen horse, let me note that Gingrich goes on to say:

If you had a hydrogen car and the French level of nuclear power production for electricity, you’d have a very high quality of life, great mobility, lots of electricity, and virtually no carbon-loading. You can create very advanced technological solutions that dramatically improve life in a way that’s better.  The quality of air in California is better than it was 30 years ago. The quality of water in the country is better than it was 30 years ago.

Seriously!  First, even forgetting the problems with building hundreds of new nuclear plants to more than quadruple U.S. nuclear capacity — at a cost of many trillions of dollars (see here), basing your transportation system on cars using hydrogen made from zero-carbon electricity is possibly the dumbest transportation policy idea ever conceived as I explain in my Energy Policy article, “The car and fuel of the future” .

Why is California’s air — and the country’s water — better than it was 30 years ago? Gingrich disingenuously implied the answer is “very advanced technological solutions that dramatically improve life” but, in fact, the answer is very tough government regulations — indeed, California is allowed tougher air regulations than the rest of the country, as Newt must know since he is so damn smart.

Yes the environmental gains Gingrich praised and used to defend a “technology only” strategy were made possible by the kind of regulations Gingrich tried to gut in the 1990s and that he continues to oppose today — including a cap and trade system for carbon emissions:

We have been caught in a trap where environmental solutions are defined on the left as higher taxes, bigger government, more regulation and more litigation, and so conservatives just shrug their shoulders; since they oppose all four of those solutions, they refuse to get engaged in environmental issues.

One of the major reasons that Terry Maple and I wrote A Contract With the Earth was to reopen the debate, and to say that there are solutions which involve incentives, science and technology and markets. Entrepreneurs are potentially much more powerful and successful than regulatory and litigation solutions. We ought to be having a dialogue about which solution works better rather than being engaged in a purely partisan debate to see who can yell “anti-environmentalist” more.

As someone who fought for years against the Gingrich Congress’s assault on incentives and technology and market-based solutions, I can only laugh at Gingrich’s attempt to rewrite and whitewash history.

If you seriously think we could end up with 80% of our power from nuclear energy (like France) and hydrogen cars also running on nukes any time soon — without any major new regulations — and if you think that outcome would be a good strategy for dealing with global warming (and assuming you buy anything this used-car salesman is selling), then Newt is your guy.

Otherwise, try to enjoy the unintentional humor from Gingrich’s public statements. It’s the only positive thing Newt has to contribute to the debate.

Emperor Newt spies a tasty treat [Credit: J. Maskit].  ”The scientific name of the emperor newt (Tylototriton shanjing) is derived from two Mandarin words, “shan” meaning mountain and “jing” meaning spirit or demon.”

NOTE:  In the unlikely event Newt loses the South Carolina primary, we can be quite confident it will still be won by someone who would defund clean energy — see “Okay, Romney, Now You’re Just Lying About Solar” and “Romney Energy Plan Doesn’t Give a Mitt About Foreign Oil, Clean Cars, Jobs.”  But Nate Silver’s projection this afternoon suggests Newt has little to worry about except how big his victory is going to be.

Related Posts:



Must See TV: Bill Moyers is Back

A great new television series began this weekend. And it won’t just be of interest to those of us already following the broader story behind the damage done by the most anti-environmental Congress in history. Moyers & Company probes a range of the deeper issues about democracy in America by presenting riveting interviews with fascinating thinkers not usually seen on television.

It’s very good news that Bill Moyers has come out of retirement to explore the connection between money in politics (and Big Oil money is central), our failing democracy, and the rise of plutocracy in America. His one-line summary of the series, which he picked up from a tee shirt a protester was wearing at an Occupy rally: “The system is not broken; it is fixed.”

If you want to cut to the chase instead of reading my commentary and watching some short introductory clips, the first episode is the first video posted below. It provides an overture of many themes to be taken up in future shows by interviewing Jacob Hacker and Paul Pierson, authors of Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington Made the Rich Richer — And Turned Its Back on the Middle Class.  This is one of the more important books about American democracy in recent years. Instead of offering mere partisan polemics, it is a trenchant, impeccably researched and beautifully written analysis of how “America’s vast inequality is no accident, but in fact has been politically engineered.”

OK, an old guy talking to college professors from Yale and Berkeley may not sound like fast paced entertainment, but remember, Moyers is the guy who brought us Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth, one of the most popular shows ever broadcast on public television. Millions of people loved what Moyers recently described as a show whose plot-line was “Two guys in ties discussing mythology.” Here is the entire first show of the new series:

Moyers & Comapany 101: On Winner Take All Politics

Finding the show on television may be a little more difficult than it should be because, as reported by NPR last week, Moyers & Company is “not televised in a nationally standardized PBS time slot — in fact, it’s not even televised by PBS. Instead, it’s distributed by American Public Television and offered to local PBS member stations on an individual basis. And even though PBS doesn’t seem to put a high value on the return of Bill Moyers, the local stations do. Moyers & Company is being shown in 93 percent of all TV markets, including 27 out of the Top 30 — a very impressive number.”  You can find out when it airs in your neighborhood by entering your zip code into the PBS station finder widget. Or download the audio podcast here. (My own workaround: I was surprised at the high quality when I streamed the HD vimeos posted here from my ipad and iphone to the big screen in my den via AirPlay with AppleTV.)


The series begins precisely where his last series, Bill Moyers’ Journal, ended. In his editorial sign-off in 2010, Moyers warns of the dangers of money in politics, wealth inequality, and the rise of plutocracy in America. As Joe Romm noted when he posted this clip back in November, Moyers delivered these remarks long before the Occupy Movement began.


And Moyers is still funny and quick on his feet. Have a look at this exchange with Stephen Colbert last week.


Also in conjunction with the beginning of the new series, Arianna Huffington sat down with Moyers for an interview (the audience consists of Huffington Post editors). It’s a great conversation about politics and spiritualty in which Arianna and Bill bring out the best in each other. See it here.


I also like this interview he conducted with Jon Stewart in 2007 on Bill Moyers’ Journal about “fake news:”


Back to the specifically environmental side of things and Moyers’ ability to probe deeply and widely into pressing issues.  In talking with students and my own college-age children recently, I was aghast at how many of them did not know Bill Moyers’ work. A few of them to whom I showed some of these clips did recognize him from something he produced with Public Affairs Television in 1991 that I still use in environmental philosophy classes for high school and college students.  A gathering he and Laurence Rockefeller organized at Middlebury College (where Rockefeller taught religious studies) was made into an excellent documentary, Spirit and Nature. Among those featured in the discussion: The Dalai Lama; Native American Elder Audrey Shenandoah; Islamic Studies professor Sevyed Hossein Nasr; Protestant theologian Sallie McFague; Rabbi Ishmar Schorsch. And the music provided by the Paul Winter Consort is a nice touch.

Although it is not Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth, many young people find Spirit and Nature engaging and thought-provoking 20 years later, as do some atheist philosophy professors.  (Watch a clip of the Dalai Lama here.) It’s too early to tell where the new series, Moyers & Company, will go during the next year or two, but it’s off to an excellent start.

Hysterical “Say What?!” Moment for the Ages

Baba Wawa has interviewed an impressive range of larger-than-life odd-balls. Michael Jackson, Fidel Castro, and Muammar Gaddafi couldn’t shake her cool, and they said some pretty strange things. But she loses it with Herman Cain for a few moments, utterly unable to contain her astonishment at his aspirations to become Secretary of Defense. Her “What?!” should be on the masthead of this blog.

Her beautiful recovery and some background are included beneath it in the second clip.



CLICK HERE FOR A WONDERFUL FOLLOW UP QUESTION, and some of the background that led to her initial reaction. (This clip won’t work on mobile devices – permission issues.)


Must Read Re-Post: Another Koch Bros. Anti-Science Success Story

From Think Progress Green, via Political Correction, via the National Journal

Koch Political Group Brags About Bullying GOP Lawmakers Into Denying Climate Science

By Marie Diamond (at ThinkProgress Green) on Dec 7, 2011 at 11:07 am

In its cover story this week, the National Journal explores a curious phenomenon: while the science supporting climate change has only gotten stronger, the onetime Republican consensus on the issue has fallen apart. The reason, quite simply, is the right-wing polluter Koch Industries and its political front group Americans for Prosperity.

As Political Correction notes, just three years ago, Republicans including Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich, and Rep. John Boehner (R-OH) all expressed a belief in human-caused climate change. Presidential candidate Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) even supported legislation to reduce carbon pollution. But all of these prominent leaders have since joined the rest of the Republican party “in a sudden and near-unified retreat to silence or denial.”

What’s changed for Republican politicians is “the influx into electoral politics of vast sums of money from energy companies and sympathetic interest groups”:

Republicans have long had close financial ties to the fossil-fuel industry, of course. Between 1998 and 2010, the oil-and-gas industry gave 75 percent of its $284 million in political contributions to Republicans. […]

Among the most influential of the new breed of so-called super PACs is the tea party group Americans for Prosperity, founded by David and Charles Koch, the principal owners of Koch Industries, a major U.S. oil conglomerate. As Koch Industries has lobbied aggressively against climate-change policy, Americans for Prosperity has spearheaded an all-fronts campaign using advertising, social media, and cross-country events aimed at electing lawmakers who will ensure that the oil industry won’t have to worry about any new regulations.

AFP President Tim Phillips proudly takes credit for the GOP’s turnaround and readily admits that his group threatened politicians with “political peril” if they “played footsie” with green solutions:

Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity, says there’s no question that the influence of his group and others like it has been instrumental in the rise of Republican candidates who question or deny climate science…“We’ve made great headway. What it means for candidates on the Republican side is, if you…buy into green energy or you play footsie on this issue, you do so at your political peril. The vast majority of people who are involved in the [Republican] nominating process—the conventions and the primaries—are suspect of the science. And that’s our influence. Groups like Americans for Prosperity have done it.”

Thanks to AFP “science has become political,” Phillips says, and “most of these candidates have figured” that out. AFP used to claim, “We’re not arguing the science of climate change,” but got bolder as it gained more influence, boasting, “if we win the science argument it’s game, set, and match.” With AFP menacing lawmakers in the background, threatening to choke off campaign money and dangling their political careers in front of them, it’s no wonder so many Republicans have willfully ignored the indisputable truth of climate change.

As ThinkProgress has reported, AFP is notorious for its astroturfing, or fake grassroots efforts, that include tactics like planting carbon-copy opinion pieces in local newspapers. They’ve become the unparalleled enforcer of far right-wing ideology, funneling millions of oil and coal industry dollars cash across the nation to spread their message of global warming denial.

(HT: Political Correction)


Herman Cain, the Self-Proclaimed “Koch Brothers’ Brother from Another Mother,” Drops Out of Race: Comedians and Democrats Praying for Newt

The Onion’s Rapid Response team immediately ran this headline: “Rumors Of Extramarital Affair End Campaign Of Presidential Candidate Who Didn’t Know China Has Nuclear Weapons.”

Understated, not even mentioning the Libya interview. Oh, have the standards changed. To think that Gerald Ford’s mistake about Poland not being under Soviet influence was thought at the time to be a record-breaking foreign policy gaffe. How about Perry failing Government 101 by claiming the other night that he would use an executive order to repeal legislation passed by Congress and signed by a President?  Records are being shattered all over the place.

First, Cain’s lovefest with the Koch Brothers. The Brother from Another Planet declares, at his campaign’s pinacle, “I am the Koch Brothers’ brother from another mother.”



“Sing Off” fans, have a listen to Cain’s swan song:



So, he is at peace with himself, his wife, and God, but apparently not the Koch Brothers (in the last 30 seconds: “it’ll be hard to raise the necessary funding.”) And what’s with false and unproven allegations causing it? “False and unproven?” (“I didn’t do that. And you can’t prove it” is pretty funny.)

One of the things I find astonishing is that he had absolutely no field operation or ground organization whatsoever, and was the leading contender for the nomination so late in the game.  Like almost zero staff in the field.  This is new in presidential politics. It has never happened. And you can’t write this one off to the social networking and new media creating a virtual ground organization on the internet.

Sure, the Blue State Boys used new media to get Obama elected, but did so with a combination of grassroots and Chicago-style field operation. Cain being in the final group pretty close to the beginning of the primary season, let alone being the frontrunner for a good while there (until, um, he received a little scrutiny) could not have happened before Citizens United allowed (as in, actually made legal) the money laundering relationships between non-profits, wealthy and privately controlled special interest advocacy groups.

A quick look at the flow of money to candidates, especially in the case of a former frontrunner with no traditional campaign organization behind him, makes it crystal clear that Citizens United is what made Cain the Koch Brother from another mother.

And the new ways that money has been infused into politics in recent years also goes a long way in explaining the most anti-environmental congress in history, and what is beginning to undo the entire structure of  environmental law in the United States, including the very existence of the EPA. 

The only way to fight that much money is the way Obama’s election campaign did in 2008: voter turnout. But the GOP has thought of that. Actually, state governors and representatives had it spoon-fed to them by the Koch-funded AFP and ALEC. Besides gerrymandering districts to just those groups that turned out in force to elect President Obama, and doing so sometimes in ways so crude in its goals and execution, conservative courts have already overturned them, ALEC has additionally led a massive voter suppression movement to disenfranchise the very same groups from even voting. If you think this is paranoid, read the ALEC model legislation (It is attached, with notes from the Center for Media and Democracy), the Brennan Center Report, and the court case rulings that have blocked some of these moves in earlier Say What?” posts. The voter suppression stuff is serious and well-planned.

The Next Big Thing: An Open Letter to Bill McKibben and Joe Romm About Why Every Environmentalist Should Occupy a Voting Booth, with an update here


The 99% Movement and Environmentalists: Economic Justice, The Echo Chamber, and Really Old Problems With Democracy


Your Scorecard: The 110 Anti-Environment Votes in Congress This Year


%d bloggers like this: