Archive for the ‘Media’ Category

I want to report a mugging

January 1, 2010

To the Editor of The New York Times:

I want to report a mugging. I thought I was enjoying a quiet and safe New Years at home.
Re “It’s Always the End of the World as We Know It” (opinion article, Jan 1).

Mr. Dutton, provided an entertaining and benign exposition on human fascination with Apocalypse and it’s counterproductive nature, speaking of Y2K, religion, UFO cults and “Frankenstein” – noting:

“Such end-time fantasies must have a profound, persistent appeal in order to keep drawing wide-eyed crowds into movie theaters, as historically they have drawn crowds into churches, year after year.”

Mr. Dutton’s theme is clear. And having read 90% of his 1,332 word article, never once encountering climate change, Mr. Dutton decides to pivot, and magically concludes in 77 words:

“This applies, in my view, to the towering seas, storms, droughts and mass extinctions of popular climate catastrophism. Such entertaining visions owe less to scientific climatology than to eschatology, and that familiar sense that modernity and its wasteful comforts are bringing us closer to a biblical day of judgment. As that headline put it for Y2K, predictions of the end of the world are often intertwined with condemnations of human “folly, greed and denial.” Repent and recycle!”

Suddenly I was no longer reading at my dining table but felt as if standing in Times Square, just conned by a Three Card Monte street hustler – and the hopes for the New Year were just sucked out of the room. I sit, mugged by the New York Times.

Yes, I realize Mr. Dutton has written an opinion piece and that he is a “controversial” libertarian figure – although the paper’s one line bio gives no hint. However, The New York Times must realize that this opinion piece does great damage to the public understanding of climate change.

Mr. Dutton does more damage than just executing an “elegent” con on The New York Times and its readership in presenting what amounts to little more than a one sided political screed masquerading as observations of the human pyche. Mr. Dutton presents the BIG LIE.

Perhaps other readers noticed as I, that in his 1,332 words, Mr. Dutton spends not a single one explaining why he thinks climate science is based on eschatology. One might expect such libelous assertions to be presented with some form of basic, sound, scientific underpinning. But no, he provides nothing to support his outrageously wrong-headed assertions about climate science. He instead leaves us to infer that “climate catastrophism” – the mainstream position of business-as-usual climate science – to be somehow deserving of categorization with the likes of Y2K, and End of Days cults and providing an almost sublime rhetorical service to climate change deniers the world over.

I don’t expect The New York Times to be an advocate of climate change energy policy but at a minimum it would be nice to get from the paper a greater understanding of climate science and the catastrophic risks facing me and my family.

Instead, on this 2010 New Years Day morning, the paper is a mule, smuggling counterfeit information into our homes.

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“7 in 10 Americans Reducing Carbon Footprint”

August 25, 2008

Or 7 in 10 at least say they are trying to reduce their carbon footprint. That’s according to a new ABC News/Planet Green/Stanford University Poll released August 9th.

Yes, this headline appears very much a result of higher gasoline prices, and so:

59 percent say they’re using less gasoline — driving less, using smaller, more fuel-efficient cars, carpooling, taking mass transit and the like.

Yet it goes beyond just gasoline:

60 percent, also say they’re cutting their consumption of power (and water), and 33 percent are recycling

Let’s dig in and run through some of the numbers –

Of those reducing:
25% – mainly to save money
33% – environmental reasons
41% – combination of money and environment

The sweet spot is undoubtedly the 2fer, money & environment. And while I’ve heard some argue that we should be careful not to dilute the environmental message with ideas of economic self interest, a.k.a. saving money – it seems a no-brainer that the economic benefits for average families are potentially substantial and fully exploiting that fact is imperative. We’ll all be conservatives! ;)

Of those not reducing:

54% plus – “say it’s unnecessary, too expensive, too inconvenient, won’t do any good, or that they just aren’t interested”
22% of those not reducing say they’re not trying because they’re not sure of what to do.

Like the 28% still supporting Bush, some are never going to come around – best to write them off and not be distracted by them. However for the 22% not knowing what to do we must make sure they are reached and helped to engage. Far beyond what “We” and 1Sky and other great privately run public awareness groups are capable of, a big federally financed public awareness and education campaign is a must.

On the global warming threat:
61% – say it’s not a threat in their lifetime – if nothing is done about it (reduced from 69% in 1997)
73% – say it will be a threat in their children’s lifetime – if nothing is done (no previous polling data shown)
81% – say it will be a threat to future generations (up 2 points from 2005)

It seems a safe bet, perhaps, that as more people come to think it threatens their children’s and even their own generation, more will take action to reduce their carbon footprints. I’m now 41 – so in 2050, health willing, I’ll be 83, and my daughter will be 43. And at the rate of things, it’s going to be very bad in 2050. The federally financed public awareness and education campaign must flip the first number and push it to 75% saying it WILL threaten their generation. (Again the last 25% are “Bush dead-enders”.)

Attitudes toward policy approaches:

78% – support stricter fuel efficiency standards for cars
59% – support Cap/Trade
74% – support Cap/Trade when told similar approach succeeded against acid rain
68% – support U.S. action even if other countries do less

Heartening numbers – particularly the last. The new administration needs to run with them.

Likely economic effects of addressing global warming:

33% – say will help U.S. economy
32% – say will hurt U.S. economy

I’m not sure how these numbers add up but the idea that there’s a split is not surprising and to me, heartening as well. Public education and effective implementation that demonstrates the economic benefits should drag the numbers into a clearly supporting position.

On the not so good side:
63% – favor expanding off-shore oil drilling
55% – favor wilderness area drilling

Only 44% favor building more nuclear. Split by party it’s: 60% of Republicans and 33% of Democrats favoring.

If not great, not surprising either. I think Obama’s approach to these is basically correct. Use them as bargaining chips to secure the real action that is going to meaningfully address the problem – getting beyond the stalling and to work.

Meta:
25% – say global warming is the biggest environmental problem (down 8 points from 2007. First, how could this number be going down? And how could it be so ridiculously low, period? )
80% – say global warming is occurring (down 5 points from 2006 – how could this too possibly be going down? Maybe see here.)

50% – reduction in global warming news stories in month prior to poll, from same period in 2007. (Shocking, right?)

47% – trust scientists’ statements regarding climate
49% – don’t trust scientists’ statements regarding climate
(I believe in always retaining a healthy skepticism but these numbers are ridiculous.)

I think these last numbers are a testament to the power of FoxNews, Rush Limbaugh and the Right Wing Noise Machine – with their campaign, well coordinated with the GOP, to confuse, disinform and generally, as Stephen Colbert so deftly reveals, celebrate ignorance. They’ve cowed members of the 4th Estate into not fulfilling their civic responsibility to inform our citizens. All around it is shameful.

So as not to close on a sour note: I think the take away must be that despite the Right Wing Noise Machine’s best efforts, there is apparently broad support for meaningful public policy action to tackle the threat – with 68% supporting U.S. action even if other countries do less. That is hopeful indeed.

Richard Branson / Jim Jones – separated at birth?

March 26, 2008

So they were drinking pinot grigio, not Kool-Aid. And the locale wasn’t Jonestown Guyana but Necker Island, Branson’s “private getaway” between Tortola and Anegada. The guest list wasn’t social misfits from Frisco but among other luminaries, Tony Blair, William McDonough, Larry Page and Paul Allen.
Richard Branson had invited them. And he would ask: “So, do we really think the world is on fire?” And they would reply: “Yes, the planet is on fire.”

I can find no better example of the mass suicide humanity has now endeavored toward. The decadence, the apparent denial, the gross contradictions and the self-serving platitudes snap me out of my upbeat moments to cry out: “we are doomed!”

Certainly Branson and company have become a grotesque caricature of our society’s elite intersection of destructive wealth, pangs of guilt and utter weakness.

Exhibit A, on a silver platter:

Elon Musk, the co-founder of PayPal, talked about his latest project, Tesla Motors, a Silicon Valley company that makes sexy electric sports cars retailing for $100,000. Page has ordered one.

Or should we worry when informed that Mr. Page jet-pooled to the Caribbean? I mean, how totally carbon conscientious!

Memo to environmental groups: if you’re serious, stop having physical conferences that forces participants to fly across continents. Make them virtual and set and example with your actions not just your speeches. ( I suppose it’s too late to cancel the Aspen Institute’s Environmental Forum just underway?)

As Jim Jones mesmerized members of the Peoples Temple while he plotted their demise, so Mr. Branson celebrates, with a P.T. Barnum gusto, our most decadent aspirations, reaching its apotheosis with Virgin Galactic. But something is amiss. Mr. Branson still appears to recognize the abyss toward which the rocket ships are carrying us.

Given this Mount Rushmore like split personality, one is left asking what does Mr. Branson really believe? Does he, like his friend and customer, James Lovelock believe we are all doomed, so no matter, enjoy life to the fullest. (read most decadently – haven’t you noticed? It’s our birthright to fly anywhere in the world we desire and eat and drink anything we can stomach.) Let the next generation sort it all out! Or does he believe, ostensibly anyway, Mr. Blair, who proclaims the imperative to fight it?

Which is it Mr. Branson? You can’t have it both ways. Either you are a brother of Jim Jones and our Pied Piper, or you really will transcend the P.T. Barnum caricature and help lead the way toward a salvation of sorts. Jones or Moses? Actions speak louder than words….I’m not optimistic.

I must add, the only thing that could make me more depressed about the whole thing is to look into myself. For while the Richard Bransons of the world have a disproportionate destructive influence on our future, the fact is, our middle class American lifestyle is THE destructive force. I made the Checklist Toward Zero Carbon as a guide for myself, my neighbors and my friends so we might lessen our middle class environmental destruction.

Let’s work to be different – let’s all fight. Download the checklist. Edit it for your local conditions, make it your own, and pass it on.

The Uncertainties of The New York Times

March 16, 2008

Andrew Revkin, NY Times go to climate guy is speaking this Tuesday evening at the University of Vermont’s Campus Center Theater. For a preview Joshua Brown of UVM spoke with Revkin on February 27th. I’ve been going back and forth whether to post about this but I just need to know, does anyone else out there find this exchange peculiar?

UVM: As a reporter, you talk to a lot of experts and researchers. What do you see as the most important unanswered questions about the science of climate change?

Revkin: The big one remains the sensitivity of the climate system to greenhouse gas build-up. We still don’t know if doubling carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases will lead to a one-and-a-half-degree or four-and-half-degree warming. That’s a huge range with hugely different consequences.

And it’s about the same range it was thirty years ago. There are many uncertainties, like what clouds do and what vapor does. It’s not game over in terms of the science by any means.

UPDATE: Joshua Brown let me know that there was a formatting issue in his original post and this below was a separate question and answer. Which negates the text below now shown with strikeouts. (Thankfully Mr. Revkin isn’t entertaining the ice is growing argument!)

UVM: I saw papers in Science, one in 2005, one in 2006, and then one recently in Nature Geosciences, that seemed to be pointing in all sorts of directions about the Antarctic ice sheet. Is it growing or shrinking?

Revkin: In a warming world, Greenland and Antarctica will lose ice. In Greenland, sea levels were four to six meters higher 130,000 years ago during the last warm interval between ice ages, so we know warmer times had less ice and higher seas, but we don’t know how quickly that will happen. And that’s where, again, you get into very high levels of uncertainty in the science.

There’s been some attempt by some activists out there to portray everything as a closed case: “we’re in a disaster zone and it’s unfolding a clear way.” That really doesn’t hold up to the data. But climate change is real.

It left me saying yeah, okay….but, but, something’s wrong with this picture. It felt like he answered the question in a straight-up way but maybe the way our President would – somehow emphasizing the obvious, or the “unknowns” (that’s Rumsfeld, sorry) and throwing in a straw man. It left me unsettled. Maybe this was a little “throw away” interview. Maybe it’s transcribed wrong. Maybe Revkin misspoke. But something’s up.

UPDATE: I was pointed to an excellent post by Joe Romm on this very sort of thing – but in a larger frame. Which leaves me to ask why does Mr. Revkin keep making the same mistake? Which leads me to sarcastically note that the UVM interview was the week before the denier’s convention in NY – so maybe Mr. Revkin was just warming up? Anyway….

Then I started at the end and worked backward.

There’s been some attempt by some activists out there to portray everything as a closed case: “we’re in a disaster zone and it’s unfolding a clear way.” That really doesn’t hold up to the data. But climate change is real.

I realize we’re supposed to be talking about the uncertainties here given the question, but isn’t this a straw man argument? I’m not aware of anyone outside of James Lovelock that is saying this is a closed case toward apocalypse – do you? There are parts of the science that are debatable and parts that are not. Given what we know now, it would be interesting to ask Mr. Revkin to draw the line between the two.

-And let’s draw a line in the ice:-

-I- -saw- -papers- -in Science,- -one in 2005, one in 2006,- -and then one recently in Nature Geosciences, – -that seemed to be pointing in all sorts of directions about the Antarctic ice sheet.- -Is it growing or shrinking? In a warming world, Greenland and Antarctica will lose ice.- -In Greenland, sea levels were four to six meters higher 130,000 years ago during the last warm interval between ice ages, so we know warmer times had less ice and higher seas, but we don’t know how quickly that will happen.- -And that’s where, again, you get into very high levels of uncertainty in the science.-

-Again, this was a question about uncertainty I admit – -but…is Mr. Revkin implying there is a legitimate debate now about whether the ice sheets are losing mass due to global warming?-

Then the sensitivity unknowns:

The big one remains the sensitivity of the climate system to greenhouse gas build-up. We still don’t know if doubling carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases will lead to a one-and-a-half-degree or four-and-half-degree warming. That’s a huge range with hugely different consequences.

And it’s about the same range it was thirty years ago. There are many uncertainties, like what clouds do and what vapor does. It’s not game over in terms of the science by any means.

Let me start with the clouds. Like much of climate science unfortunately, when there are options to resolve a question it seems more often than not it is turning out to be the worse one. It’s true clouds are still an uncertainty but the uncertainty is being lessened – in an unfortunate direction. As bluntly summarized in a February article in Science:

Greenhouse gases can directly reduce cloud cover and magnify warming.

Finally on climate sensitivity. I’m not sure if Mr. Revkin misspoke or not. But it’s my understanding that a doubling of CO2 to approximately 450ppm is generally believed to give us a 3 degree (celsius) rise. I’m not sure where the 1.5 number is coming from as it is generally understood that we are locked into at least that much right now. So it seems to me like another set of straw men. But why? Yes, he’s been prompted to talk about uncertainty, but why then throw out there that there is “a huge range of consequences.” ? It seems like another throw away line. Yes there is debate about climate sensitivity. But again the uncertainty is getting better defined, and again in the worst possible way. Jim Hansen last December revised his estimate to 350ppm as the tipping point of CO2 from 400 earlier in the year and from this mythic 450ppm number Mr. Revkin offhandedly speaks of. But there’s no context of this trending in Mr. Revkin’s analysis.

Which brings me to my overall discomfort with Mr. Revkin’s answers and why I feel compelled to post on this incidental interview. Because it betrays to me a detached gentlemanly game that is being played in the media regarding climate change. It’s like Mr. Revkin put on his Tim Russert hat and decides the best way to speak to the public is in a “he said, she said”. News flash: “he said, she said” does not inherently make uncertainty. Ironically it’s my sense that the scientists don’t share this detachment or overgeneralized uncertainty but unfortunately are constitutionally built to be reticent. Asked to expound on the primary uncertainties of climate change, the preeminent authority of the NY Times leaves one wondering if there’s any there there at all – despite his disclaimer at the end that it does really exist. If I want to have a New York Times writer treat me like he thinks I’m dim I’ll read John Tierney. Mr. Revkin, please don’t do this.

I guess for me it’s a matter of emphasis. What if the same sort of items were discussed like this:

Make Believe Revkin: Well yes, climate sensitivity is a big question at this time. We once thought it might be possible to safely double the CO2 levels but now it appears that we’ve already passed the tipping point. Once we have more precise knowledge of the sensitivity we’ll know whether it’ll be possible to stop just short of 2 degrees temperature rise and face “just” widespread drought, tens of millions of lives at risk and 20% to 30% species die-back; or whether it will approach 3 degrees rise (a more likely scenario given our lack of will to reduce emissions) where we’ll face hundreds of millions of lives at risk, accelerated ocean rise and “major” species extinctions around the world. Or who knows it could go to 4 degrees and the world basically stops being recognizable.

Yes there certainly are uncertainties.

I suggest that it would help a great deal if we could edit down to the truly meaningful uncertainties and place them in a trending context.

It’s the Planet Stupid!

March 15, 2008

Iraq, health care, the economy – all important issues.

And all are a diversion from the one true crisis we face. For if we don’t solve the global warming crisis all other important issues will cease to be, period.

An article by Joseph Romm, “Obama and Clinton plan to cool it” takes a look at Hillary and Barack and climate change.

Mr. Romm starts strong with a clear-eyed description of what’s at stake:

The gravest threat to the American way of life is posed by unrestricted greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Global warming threatens to put the Southwest into a permanent drought, raise sea levels by 6 or more inches a decade, generate hundreds of millions of environmental refugees at home and abroad, wipe out half the planet’s species, and increase average temperatures in the nation’s interior 10-20 degrees Fahrenheit. And these impacts would likely get steadily worse for hundreds of years or longer.

Unfortunately, Mr. Romm then goes on to talk about the crisis as if it’s about to happen rather than saying it’s happening.

Humanity’s great challenge is to stop the warming before we cross key thresholds or tipping points, in which amplifying feedbacks in the carbon cycle start to seriously kick in and overwhelm human efforts to reduce emissions. A typical feedback would be the melting of the permafrost or tundra, which currently has locked away some 1,000 gigatons of carbon — more carbon than the atmosphere is holding today.

If the permafrost stops being perma…

I feel compelled to impolitely clarify:
Tipping points are being crossed now.
The permafrost is melting now.
The acidification of the ocean is happening now.

We don’t have 40 years to reduce emissions 80% nor 100 years to get to zero – we must drop 90%, and damn fast. (We must really be shooting for zero in the very near term.)

Mr. Romm rightly notes that both Obama and Clinton have relatively strong and detailed positions (if inadequate) on global warming. While supporting McCain at this point is best described (by me, not Mr. Romm) as a suicide pact.

We know we must elect a Democrat – not for the healthcare plan, not the Iraq withdrawal timeline, not the economic packages – although all important – it is to save the planet we know for our children so that we might worry about these other things again. (Or I may qualify slightly and say these other issues are important now in as far as the help or hurt climate change. Climate change is the driver.)

We also know that the Democratic plans are inadequate. They can only be seen as a first baby step in an effort that must rapidly accelerate. Given this fact while trying to find some reason to pick Barack or Hillary on this issue, Mr. Romm’s article has a tantalizing description:

Obama said in early February he would start working on a global climate effort as soon as he becomes the Democratic nominee (which at the time he probably thought would have happened already): “I’ve been in conversations with former Vice President (Al) Gore repeatedly, and his recommendation, which I think is sound, is that you can’t wait until you are sworn into office to get started … I think we need to start reaching out to other countries ahead of time, not because I’m presumptuous, but because there’s such a sense of urgency about this.”

May I tip my hand here, and say that, while a narrow and fleeting look at the candidate regarding this issue, it’s stuff like this that gives me some confidence there’s “can do” substance backing up Obama’s rhetoric – and that perhaps he appreciates the climate crisis is much, much worse than most of us realize.

If we’re to take a serious shot at saving the planet we inhabit, it’ll take leadership that’s willing to leapfrog ahead and change the game.

And lastly (and not completely unrelated), may I suggest downloading the Checklist Toward Zero Carbon. While our leaders leapfrog, so must we.