Climate Debate: Over

In a quadruple over-time thriller that went so far past the wire it might be too late to do anything, climate change deniers are now providing evidence that climate change is actually happening and the scientific community was actually, uh, right:

In the press release announcing the results, Muller said, “Our biggest surprise was that the new results agreed so closely with the warming values published previously by other teams in the US and the UK.” In other words, climate scientists know what they’re doing after all.

The BEST report is purely an estimate of planetary warming, and it makes no estimate of how much this warming is due to human activity. So in one sense, its impact is limited since the smarter skeptics have already abandoned the idea that warming is a hoax and now focus their fire solely on the contention that it’s man-made. (And the even smarter ones have given up on that, too, and now merely argue that it’s economically pointless to try to stop it.) Still, the fact that climate scientists turned out to be careful and thorough in their basic estimates of temperature rise surely enhances their credibility in general. Climategate was always a ridiculous sideshow, and this is just one more nail in its coffin. Climate scientists got the basic data right, and they’ve almost certainly gotten the human causes right too.

Graphs and other keys to the idiocy at the link.

Well-funded liars = still liars.

Let’s Do Nothing

Let’s do nothing! is a children’s book and I have a promotional button for it, some non-currency in which my daughter was ‘paid’ for taking part in a review of the book. The button is stuck up in my office, occasionally catches my eye and is, in general, a good reminder.

And doing nothing, wasting time, is in general a very solid idea. Because, of course, you’re not literally doing nothing – you’re thinking, reflecting, being still… not to mention all of things you’re not doing: driving, talking, watching. And certainly if you’ve avoided these things for any length of time today or any day, it is not time wasted. So generally speaking, doing nothing is the route to all things good, and even green.

But there is such a thing as wasting time, just as there is a time beyond which when doing nothing is advisable. And these are precisely the things in which Republican presidential candidates (no need for a link, because it’s all of them) are telling us they will be engaged in, if any of them is elected:

“Do I think the world’s getting hotter? Yeah, I don’t know that but I think that it is,” Romney told a crowd in New Hampshire Wednesday, according to Reuters. “I don’t know if it’s mostly caused by humans.”

Romney then tilted over and grabbed some of Rick Perry’s Sen. James Inhofe (R-OK)-endorsed ideas on the environment. That is, let’s not spend a time doing anything about it.

“What I’m not willing to do is spend trillions of dollars on something I don’t know the answer to,” Romney said.

We must take them at their word. It seems obtuse to point this out, but when it comes to climate change, ghg emissions, energy and the closely-related issue of jobs, the time for doing nothing is quite past. Even the polluting industries are waiting to see what the new regulations will be so that they can adjust – even they don’t believe they can keep doing things the same way indefinitely – even if someone manages to abolish the EPA. The realities on the ground won’t change, and at some point we’ll see that we’ve truly been wasting time, and not in a good way.

Climate Evasions Test Nation’s Denial Abilities

It’s getting more and more difficult to disconnect our crazy weather from climate change – but we, and our media, keep on trying:

The PBS News Hour did a long story Tuesday night on “Sweltering Heat Wave Roasts 24 States, Feeds Wildfires,” but the only explanation they would offer up is “Meteorologists say the immediate culprit is a high-pressure system stalled over much of the country’s midsection.”

The NBC Evening News also did a long story on the “massive and dangerous heat wave” that has “half of the US population … under a heat advisory.”  Then NBC’s Ann Curry mentions the superstorms and floods the nation has experienced, along with the heat wave, and asks a “Weather Channel meteorologist” just “What Explains This?”

What follows is one of the great tautological non-answers ever seen on a major network:

Well, Ann, during the spring time we were stuck in a very active spring pattern.   Now that it’s summer, we’re stuck in a very active and persistent summer pattern.

The idea that even this brand of non-sensical excuse-finding would have its limits is an increasingly bizarre form of optimism. Still, I think we have much in us by way of abilities to block out, not see, entertain fantasies and generally look the other way – which itself informs an equal and opposite hopelessness. The middle is in there somewhere, as the rest of the world leaves decides to take measures aimed at AGW. While we look for more things green might possibly mean, other than the one thing. What’s a metaphor for, anyway?


This is a good point to share with your friends who tell you, while nodding, that the government should just get out of the way and let private enterprise solve today’s problems.

Burton Richter, Nobel laureate in physics

The President talked about Sputnik, which inspired the Eisenhower administration to sharply increase investment in education, and in all areas of science and technology.  The President mentioned the role of government in innovation, but Congress does not seem to have appreciated what the federal role has been.  Simply put, industry does not innovate; industry turns federally funded innovations into products.   Nobel laureates said it in 2009.  The National Academies of Sciences said it in 2010.  The American Enterprise Institute, Brookings and the Breakthrough Institute said it recently in a report called “Post-Partisan Power.”

America’s corporate leaders also said it recently in a report from The American Energy Innovation Council.  Every basic technology in one of the products of the decade, the iPhone (and the Blackberry before it), came from government funded research; the internet, the GPS system, large scale integrated circuits, and even the touch screen, (see “Where Good Technologies Come From“)

Without industry there would be no product.  Without government funded R&D there would be no innovative technology to turn into products.  To both Congress and the Administration I would say back the pieties with the funds required to realize them.

And this goes double triple Hammer time for new clean energy solutions.

Via . Earth

Massive Eco

As in, “check out the eco on that chick!” or “He’s got an eco the size of Kansas.”

That is, these don’t refer to a nice set of ta-ta’s but a sort of dialectical framework that, when and where necessary, might be detectable from the outside. You might identify yourself with/by something as benign as carpooling or as radical as making your own clothes. The continuum here is not based on the relative merits of either one in opposition to the other – which may be considered greener, for instance – but in opposition to more conventional, energy-intensive ways of doing things. The question is not does it make a difference, but does it make a difference to you. Because we don’t wake up one day and decide to start looming our own thread; but over time, we do consider things like where we live, how much we can use alternative or mass transit, what kind of roof we are going to invest in for our house, that kind of thing.

Those kinds of choices, where we pause to consider the externalities related to our decisions, are the ones that will send the most durable signals. This flies in the face of green advertising, though it has much the same aim. Instead of a particular product or company, these more-general types of choices begin to play a larger strategic role in cutting down our GHG emissions and getting back to somewhere in the neighborhood of 350 ppm, mainly by establishing multiple routes to these goals.

So, of course I’m joking about ‘massive’ – because it’s more about smaller, individual-scale choices that will have giant ramifications, and effect the public attitudes around you.

The point is, know what you think about this stuff and why you live where you do, buy what you buy (or don’t) – because unless it was your own idea, then it wasn’t and someone gave to you, effectively deciding for you. Whichever side of this point you’re on, everything else flows out from there. By taking some control of what you think and why, you won’t feel so cynical about vain attempts to save the world from far-off problems like those effecting the climate, nor so horribly pained by the antics of the idiot caucus. I promise.

Buck Up, Get a Blog, DIY

Juan Cole lays it out for climate scientists:

f. Many journalists are generalists and do not themselves have the specialized training or background for deciding what the truth is in technical controversies. Some of them are therefore fairly easily fooled on issues that require technical or specialist knowledge. Even a veteran journalist like Judy Miller fell for an allegation that Iraq’s importation of thin aluminum tubes in 2002 was for nuclear enrichment centrifuges, even though the tubes were not substantial enough for that purpose. Many journalists (and even Colin Powell) reported with a straight face the Neocon lie that Iraq had ‘mobile biological weapons labs,’ as though they were something you could put in a winnebago and bounce around on Iraq’s pitted roads. No biological weapons lab could possibly be set up without a clean room, which can hardly be mobile. Back in the Iran-Iraq War, I can remember an American wire service story that took seriously Iraq’s claim that large numbers of Iranian troops were killed trying to cross a large body of water by fallen electrical wires; that could happen in a puddle but not in a river. They were killed by Iraqi poison gas, of course.

The good journalists are aware of their limitations and develop proxies for figuring out who is credible. But the social climbers and time servers are happy just to host a shouting match that maybe produces ‘compelling’ television, which is how they get ahead in life.

3. If you just keep plugging away at it, with blogging and print, radio and television interviews, you can have an impact on public discourse over time. I could not quantify it, but I am sure that I have. It is a lifetime commitment and a lot of work and it interferes with academic life to some extent. Going public also makes it likely that you will be personally smeared and horrible lies purveyed about you in public (they don’t play fair– they make up quotes and falsely attribute them to you; it isn’t a debate, it is a hatchet job). I certainly have been calumniated, e.g. by poweful voices such as John Fund at the Wall Street Journal or Michael Rubin at the American Enterprise Institute. But if an issue is important to you and the fate of your children and grandchildren, surely having an impact is well worth any price you pay.

You’re going to get creamed anyway… might as well deliver some hurt as you take it. (Implicit Obama criticism/advice inadvertent but also free!)

That Newspapers Are Generally Terrible

Like so many, many things, because of a fealty to investors and/or corporate governance that equals the same thing, newspapers are under a lot of pressure these days. This creates an enormous problem for newspaper reporting, which itself creates one Gargantua of a feedback loop, where newspapers keep sucking, reporting is inaccurate and sensational, newspapers keep sucking, the profit margin shrinks, reporting gets more sensational, which makes newspapers suck more, which makes them less profitable… ad abundantiam, they get skewed hyper-capitalistic sensationalist status quo.

A fine example of this, if one is needed, rests in the deflowering of the supposed takedown of the IPCC and the work of scientists connected to it. It would seem to be enough, on a blog about green, to write about how all the pushback against climate change and global warming is a bunch of wishful thinking on the part of first-worlders, Randians and energy suppliers. That even though they really really really want to believe it’s bunch of bunk and we can keep on digging and spewing and burning for as long anybody wants to, we actually can’t.

But NOOOOOOOO. You can’t just do that. Because green isn’t just about climate real’ry or fakery but about financialry, and because it is you’ve got to get a handle on at least a few of the interlapping conflicts going on and how they relate to the preservation of a way of life. It’s what one might call a complex system.

It is a way of life, right?

Lighting A Billion

I’m sure you were thinking the end of that would be “on fire” and you should be ashamed for that alone, if not, well, you know, for other things that you, um, know.

Little known facts [buried in here somewhere]: In 1988 I went to New England for the summer and ended up working for an environmental lobbyist group. ‘Twas not the reason I went up there but it turned out… interesting[ly]. Which is all we can ever ask. Met some cool people, learned a lot about politics and lost all inhibitions I may have ever harbored about talking to strangers. [Some things stick with you – Ahem.] Anyway, it was an election year (irrelevant, yer honor!) and I remember one day before went out canvassing one of our number gave a little whoop-de-doo about the New York Times and how he was never going to read them again (that day) because that very morning they had suppressed a story from one of their own reporters [you can guess what it was about].

The deliverer of these tidings was an adamant and older (at least 23) guy from a U in the midwest – no right winger was He. But he was quite perturbED about the paper of record. Now, you can be, too.

You might think it impossible for any newspaper — let alone the one-time “paper of record” — to run a story raising “accusations of scientific sloppiness” about the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change that never quotes a single climate scientist.

You might think it inconceivable that the NYT would base its attack on the accusations and half-truths provided by “climate skeptics, right-leaning politicians and even some mainstream scientists” where

Rosenthal doesn’t actually quote a single mainstream scientist attacking the IPCC.

So there you go. Be a hippie.

By the way, Lives. The title is a reference to a non-profit mentioned in the article, one you should also check out.

Gloating over the Latest Cold Spell

And I don’t mean your runny nose. Joe Romm has a good piece up about the recent terribly friggin’ cold snap hanging over much of the country and what is actually going on over most of the rest of the planet.

It’s hard to tell why some people lie; others, it’s not so difficult.

And meanwhile, Andean farmers bear the brunt of the same scourge but in a different way than we might imagine:

In a world growing ever hotter, Huancavelica is an anomaly. These communities, living at the edge of what is possible, face extinction because of increasingly cold conditions in their own microclimate, which may have been altered by the rapid melting of the glaciers.

A consequence is that Quechua-speaking farmers and their families, who have managed to subsist for centuries at high altitude, believe they may not make it through the next southern winter.

Butter and Jam

Guinean students, with no electricity at home, study under street lights in the Conakry airport parking lot in June, 2007. Any girls? (Rebecca Blackwell/The Associated Press)
Guinean students, with no electricity at home, study under street lights in the Conakry airport parking lot in June, 2007. (Rebecca Blackwell/The Associated Press)

Knowing how much energy you use on an hour/daily/weekly basis would be one thing. As it is, we’re greatly ignorant of even this, and the idea that if we began unpacking what exactly is a kWh and what it takes to produce one, maybe, just maybe we could re-construct that perception – who knows, maybe even based on how fast a little whirl-y-gig on top your house would have to spin just wash your clothes or grind your coffee beans. Maybe we would decide a little whirl-y-gig just wouldn’t do the trick and other measures would be more effective, in tandem with using less or developing ways to use sunlight or building different kinds of houses or… you get the idea. While it may be hard to retro-fit our world – we should consider trying to retro-fit our habits based on everything required to support them. That would actually be much more difficult, though probably only at first.

Trying to understand how much energy you use on an hourly/daily/weekly basis in terms of how much people elsewhere in the world use at all, per the photo above, is a route to a wholly different transformation. Really, it has little to do with the first. We would have a hard enough time justifying our energy use in the first instance; there is very little chance we could do so at in the second. Alas this is the issue, and this is one of the reasons why there are climate change denialists.

So should we (the haves) pay more for our energy than those who haveless? This anecdote from Copenhagen paints a nice picture of our unwillingness:

That was the only talk about poverty for the night. But that’s not the discouraging part. This is: One of the moderators, CNBC anchor Louisa Bojeson, asked the crowd to raise their hands if they were willing to pay 10 percent more for their home’s electricity if it came from a carbon-free source. Two thirds of them, give or take, raised a hand. Would they pay 20 percent more? Fewer than half kept a hand raised. Would they pay 50 percent more? All but a minority, perhaps ten percent, dropped their hands.

These are the royalty of our age—well-compensated, well-heeled corporate leaders, the owners of at least some of the private jets that landed in Copenhagen last week. Home electricity bills, even for mansions, constitute a minuscule portion of their salaries. If they’re not willing to voluntarily pay more for the common good…

There are a number of conclusions you might draw. Maybe the business leaders were defending the right of consumers to choose the lowest price in a free market. Maybe they don’t like raising their hands. Maybe this shows clean-energy choices must be economically appealing—green has to be cheaper than brown if it’s going to catch on. Maybe it means leadership must come from politicians, or social movements. It wasn’t an encouraging moment.

Though perhaps a revealing one.

photo from Revkin’s blog.