Year 4, Month 11, Day 8: Their Walls Are Made Of Cannonballs

Terence Duvall and Molly Gilligan write in the Poughkeepsie Journal, bemoaning the “Climate-Change Disconnect.”

We are currently experiencing a slow-motion catastrophe. The dye is cast. We have emitted enough carbon into the atmosphere to guarantee climate change and rising sea levels. Some of our most precious real estate, our commercial capital and destination beaches, are doomed.

And yet, instead of proactively considering possible solutions, from abstaining from new building on fragile coastlines to moving inland, the response of many is to deny that they are or will ever experience the effects of climate change in the city they call home. This is despite the fact that we are already beginning to see the effects of climate change in many coastal cities within the United States and worldwide. Why then, is there still such disconnect between science and societal beliefs? How can this gap be closed?

If I still have hope, it’s because I fight — not the other way around. October 29:

There are several forces behind our national indifference to the ongoing crisis of climate change. First the cognitive reality that we clever apes are generally poor at long-term thinking; most of us are to preoccupied with the daily and weekly concerns of our lives to give much thought to a looming catastrophe just over the horizon, and we can spare no time to imagining the lives of future generations in a world turned hot and hostile.

Second is the scientific reality that most of the factors and phenomena of climate change cannot be linked by simple causal connections; even though our greenhouse emissions have “loaded the dice” for increasingly extreme weather, no responsible scientist will specifically attribute any single extreme weather event to climate change — because scientific methodology simply doesn’t work that way.

Finally, of course, is the media reality: when oil and coal companies spend millions of dollars to influence the public discussion of climate change, they’re investing a miniscule amount compared to the profits they reap from selling fossil fuels to a captive economy. When it comes to the climate catastrophe, Bob Dylan had it right. Money doesn’t talk; it swears.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 11, Day 3: They Asked Me For Some Collateral, So I Pulled Down My Pants

Popular Science notes the existence of Iowa:

At the Iowa Climate Science Educators’ Forum last week, a group of more than 150 scientists representing 36 colleges and universities around Iowa released a statement of action concerning future climate change. Calling climate change a “rising challenge to Iowa agriculture,” this year’s Iowa Climate Statement says that changing weather patterns and an increase in extreme events has put the state’s ability to grow food at risk.

The researchers, who gathered at Drake University in Des Moines, note that Iowa has vacillated between two weather extremes over the past few years. The state went from widespread drought in 2011 and 2012 to the wettest spring on record in 2013 and back to drought this summer. Last year, the group’s report focused mainly on how climate change makes extreme drought more likely.

Iowa is the nation’s top corn and soybean producer, so this state’s problems are really every state’s problems. Combined, Iowa and Illinois grow about a third of the corn in the U.S. The scientists are calling for individual farms and the USDA to work to make the land more resilient in the face of climate change. They wrote:

Iowa’s soils and agriculture remain our most important economic resources, but these resources are threatened by climate change. It is time for all Iowans to work together to limit future climate change and make Iowa more resilient to extreme weather. Doing so will allow us to pass on to future generations our proud tradition of helping to feed the world.

I keep recycling this letter. It’s fast and easy. October 24:

It’s small comfort for Iowa’s farmers to know they’re not alone in facing the troublesome consequences of global climate change. Agriculturists everywhere — midwestern factory farmers and Bangladeshi peasants alike — are reluctantly confronting a future of unpredictable and extreme weather, disrupted planting timetables, and ever-more uncertain harvests.

There are many lessons to take away from this. Obviously, it is essential that the world’s industrialized civilizations begin drastic reductions in greenhouse emissions; there’s no sense in making a disaster even worse. In addition, we need to relearn that diversity is essential to the preservation of our food systems. As the Irish potato famine demonstrated, monocropped agriculture will always eventually fall prey to ecological and environmental disruptions, with disastrous consequences.

There may be differences of opinion about the best way to prepare for the rapidly accelerating greenhouse effect — but one thing is absolutely certain: the first step to addressing any problem is to recognize its existence. Politicians and media figures who deny these new climatic realities are nurturing the seeds of a humanitarian catastrophe.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 11, Day 2: And The Horse You Rode In On…

The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel offers Senator Ron Johnson an inconvenient truth or three:

This should not come as a surprise, but it appears that a refusal to recognize reality may actually hurt politicians with voters.

Case in point: Wisconsin’s own Sen. Ron Johnson and his stance on climate change.

Last summer, an ad campaign by the League of Conservation Voters targeted several federal lawmakers, Johnson among them, who don’t believe that human activities are a primary cause of climate change. Johnson, who once attributed climate change to sunspots in a meeting with the Journal Sentinel Editorial Board, has steadfastly voted against regulation of emissions that contribute to climate change.

After its ad campaign, the league did a poll of constituent attitudes, in Johnson’s case in the Green Bay market. The results, reported this week by The Washington Post’s Plum Line blog, showed that a “14-point increase in those who feel less favorable toward Johnson based on what they have heard about him; an eight-point increase in his job disapproval; and an eight-point boost in constituents believing Johnson is out of step on climate change.”

Johnson’s Green Bay constituents are right. The consensus among top climate scientists is clear and has been for years. Climate change is happening. Human activity plays a huge role in that. The consequences of doing nothing could be dire and expensive. Johnson is just flat-out wrong.

I’d love to see more like this. October 23:

While conservative politicians and media figures have perpetrated many assaults on reason and factuality over the years, none offers greater potential for damage than their steady stream of disinformation on global climate change. Many right-wing celebrities may once have known the difference between real and spurious science — but after years of peddling superficially plausible nonsense, no longer recognize the distinction. Unfortunately for Wisconsin and the nation, Senator Ron Johnson is such a man.

The greenhouse effect was discovered well over a century ago, and scientists have been warning us about its consequences since the Eisenhower administrations. It testifies to the power of fossil-fuel industries in the world economy that we’ve avoided any meaningful regulation of CO2 emissions for just as long. But the laws of physics trump the laws of a nation, and climatic reality is catching up with deniers like Senator Johnson. And to the rest of us.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 10, Day 30: I’m Looking Through You

The Denver Post’s Vincent Carroll addresses the LA Times’ recent decision to exclude denialists’ letters:

Most skeptics of any sophistication recognize that global warming has occurred and appreciate that some or much of it in recent decades could be caused by human-generated greenhouse gas emissions. But they tend to believe, for example, that there are more uncertainties in the science than generally conceded, that the relative dearth of warming over the past 15 or more years is a blow to the models and that the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has demonstrated consistent bias in favor of alarmist interpretations.

Surely readers should be free to debate such points.

For that matter, are there really no properly credentialed experts who question whether humans are largely responsible for the warming since the 1970s, as the IPCC maintains? Of course there are — and it would be editorial arrogance to exclude their views.

Climatologist Roy Spencer of the University of Alabama in Huntsville declares on his blog that “evidence from my group’s government-funded research … suggests global warming is mostly natural, and that the climate system is quite insensitive to humanity’s greenhouse gas emissions and aerosol pollution.”

Is that a factual inaccuracy or simply a minority view among climatologists?

Is it factually inaccurate to declare “we don’t know” how large the human contribution to warming is, as Judith Curry, professor of the School of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology, told an NPR reporter in August?

I’ve criticized Republican candidates who dismiss the mainstream view of global warming as a hoax, and no doubt will again, but I’m also reluctant to shut down reader discussion on issues in which most scientists may share similar views.

Where would it end? What other debates raging among our readers do the arbiters of truth believe we should silence?

Mealy-mouthed. October 20:

Even the most lenient opinion page would be unlikely to print a letter on a medical topic from an advocate of the medieval theory of “humours,” and media outlets don’t feel obliged to allot space to arguments for such regressive or unscientific viewpoints as geocentric cosmology, a flat Earth, or the moral acceptability of slavery.

It’s in this context the the LA Times’ recent decision to reject letters denying the reality of anthropogenic global warming must be understood. While climatologists disagree about particular climate forcing mechanisms or the relative severity of specific effects, there’s no longer any scientific argument about the human causes of climate change. Outlying views will always exist, but this is no reason to treat single dissenters as worthy of equivalent airtime or column inches — especially since, in media handling of climate issues, these contrarian opinions invariably come from the same individuals (Spencer, Curry, and Lindzen).

Warren Senders


Year 4, Month 10, Day 29: Jump Like A Willys

The Palm Beach Daily News reports on Bill Koch, who is (surprise!) an asshole:

As someone who states that he has energy in his DNA, billionaire oil-and-gas mogul Bill Koch says those who think carbon is bad should get a reality check.

Koch addressed an audience of 600 on Thursday for the Palm Beach Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting at The Breakers, peppering his remarks with off-color jokes and self-deprecating humor.

“Eighty-four percent of the energy used in the world comes from carbon,” he said, explaining that decayed primeval forests below the Earth’s surface are the source of the coal, oil and gas that powers the global economy.

Those who call for taxes on carbon dioxide emissions are “on LSD,” Koch said, making the point that humans produce their share of carbon dioxide naturally and taxes aren’t levied on them. He suggested planting trees as the most efficient way to counter higher carbon levels.

The reliance on fossil fuels is not going away, he said, noting that coal is relatively low in price, that oil has been “pretty cheap” until recently and that there is an abundance of natural gas, available at a price almost competitive with coal.

Spoken like a man who’s never tripped. October 19:

When arch-conservative energy bazillionaire Bill Koch claims carbon-tax advocates are “on LSD,” he’s offering powerful evidence of his own detachment from reality. Yes, human beings produce CO2, and yes, planting more trees is an excellent policy. But the plain fact is that industrial civilization’s carbon dioxide emissions are accelerating, and unless we slow them down, all the trees we can possibly plant aren’t going to scrub our atmosphere rapidly enough to mitigate catastrophic global heating. The greenhouse effect is a scientifically demonstrated phenomenon discovered over 150 years ago and confirmed by countless studies; Mr. Koch’s sneering dismissal of climate science is based only on ideology and has no foundation in fact.

Fossil-fuel advocates like the Koch brothers ignore expensive “externalities” for which we (or our descendants) will eventually have to pay: pollution, health impacts, massive environmental cleanups, global climate change, and a great many expensive and pointless wars. If coal and oil are “cheap” forms of energy, then high-interest credit cards are a source of free money.

Bill Koch’s glib denialism demonstrates that vast quantities of money distort reality far more effectively than any drug.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 10, Day 27: The Earth Sucks

Joseph Bast is the fetid mouthpiece of the Heartland Institute, and he’s been given a big mouthpiece by USA Today:

Environmentalists hoped the latest study from the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) would finally end the increasingly acrimonious debate over the causes and consequences of climate change. It has had the opposite effect.

MIT physicist Richard Lindzen called the IPCC report “hilarious incoherence.” British historian Rupert Darwall labeled it “nonsense” and “the manipulation of science for political ends.” Judith Curry of the Georgia Institute of Technology says the IPCC suffers from “paradigm paralysis” and should be “put down.”

The most precise criticism of the IPCC’s report came from the editors of Nature, one of the world’s most distinguished science journals: “Scientists cannot say with any certainty what rate of warming might be expected, or what effects humanity might want to prepare for, hedge against or avoid at all costs.”

Just shoot me. Oct. 17:

When the Heartland Institute’s Joe Bast blithely asserts that the IPCC report “exaggerates” the risks of global climate change, his cherry-picking of scientific criticism of the report is grossly mendacious. For example, Bast cites an editorial comment in the journal “Nature” which notes that “scientists cannot say with any certainty what rate of warming might be expected” — but ignores the rest of the article, which reaffirms both that warming is happening and that its consequences are likely to be disastrous.

The IPCC document is the result of collective decision-making, which means that the report’s conclusions actually minimize, rather than inflate, the dangers of runaway climate change. Mr. Bast’s statements are fundamentally dishonest and do a grave disservice to the national discussion of a genuine threat. For USA Today to offer the voices of climate-change denialism such a public forum in a time of genuine planetary emergency is sadly irresponsible.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 10, Day 24: Move Over, Little Dog

The Washington Times haz a sad:

The Los Angeles Times has stirred a dust-up over global warming with a newly announced policy barring letters to the editor that deny the existence of man-made climate change.

“Simply put, I do my best to keep errors of fact off the letters page; when one does run, a correction is published,” said Paul Thornton, letters editor of the editorial page, in an Oct. 8 column. “Saying ‘there’s no sign humans have caused climate change’ is not stating an opinion, it’s asserting a factual inaccuracy.”

On the surface, climate-change skeptics say they have no problem with the policy, because nobody with any substance is saying that humans don’t cause climate change. Cutting down a forest causes climate change. Planting crops causes climate change.

“Obviously, humans do have an impact on climate,” said Myron Ebell, director of the Center for Energy and Environment at the Competitive Enterprise Institute and a leading global-warming skeptic. “The question is whether burning fossil fuels like coal and natural gas is leading to the rapid warming of the planet, and notwithstanding the Los Angeles Times‘ position on the issue, the evidence is that it isn’t.”

Whether that’s enough to get Mr. Ebell bumped from the letters-to-the-editor page is unclear, but he says the newspaper’s policy is emblematic of a broader debate.

In his column, Mr. Thornton also states that many letter-writers insist “climate change is a hoax, a scheme by liberals to curtail personal freedom.”

I don’t usually write the WT, but when I do, I have fun. This one was a blast. October 14:

The Los Angeles Times’ decision to ban letters rejecting the science of climate change is an example of liberal fascism at its worst. This tendency to ban ideologically inconvenient opinions can also be seen, for example, in the policy of many American newspapers to ignore letters asserting that medicine must acknowledge the theory of Humours, a comprehensive approach to human health which was accepted doctrine for far longer than the unproven accomplishments of modern medicine. It can be seen in a similar policy silencing the voices of those who cast doubt on the inverse-square law’s ostensible connection with gravitational attraction, and those who likewise recognize the fact that acquired characteristics can be inherited across generations. The liberal hegemony in our nation’s press even conspires to silence those who rightly reject the veracity of NASA’s account of the moon landings. The American people need to hear both sides of the argument!

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 10, Day 21: They’ll Drive You Crazy, They’ll Drive You Insane

USA Today runs a good column from Dan Becker and James Gerstenzang, explicitly drawing a link between tobacco denialists and climate denialists:

Half a century ago, the tobacco industry tried to preserve its market by misleading Americans about the scientific validity of research demonstrating that smoking causes cancer. To weaken efforts to fight global warming, the “climate change denial machine,” in the words of the Oxford Handbook of Climate Change and Society, has been using that same strategy. For more than 20 years it has sought to cast doubt on the science that demonstrates that the climate is changing and pollution is to blame.

Why is anyone still paying attention?

The denial lobby is using pseudo-science and cherry-picked data to present the fringe view that global warming is nothing more than what Sen. James M. Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, famously called “the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people.”

Once again it has reprised its tired — and false — arguments to debunk the premier scientific assessment of global warming, produced by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. On Sept. 27, the Nobel Peace Prize-winning organization declared with near certainty that human activity is causing the climate to change. The panel’s previous assessment, issued in 2007, was only slightly less certain — 90% versus the 95% in the new report. An overwhelming majority of climate scientists endorsed it.

In short, the global warming deniers are as wrong as the smoke-blowers who said in the 1960s that a pack a day was fine. No one seriously argues today that tobacco isn’t bad for you — and if they did, no one would listen. But the Marlboro Men of global warming still draw attention as they deny the consensus conclusion that burning fossil fuels in power plants, cars and factories is trapping heat in the atmosphere. They deny that this will raise sea levels, bring more violent storms, and worsen droughts and heat waves. What are they smoking?

So I pulled something out of the files and shuffled things around, and sent it in. October 11:

As long as corporations can reap substantial profits at the expense of ordinary citizens, there’ll always be lucrative job openings for professional liars. So it’s unsurprising that many of the individuals and organizations busily disseminating misinformation about climate change did the same thing years ago for cigarette manufacturers.

But there is a far more significant analogy just below the surface: the psychology of addiction.

Every smoker has lots of excuses. “I’ll cut down,” “it helps me relax,” “my aunt smokes and she’s 99,” “I’m too busy to quit.” These phrases are oddly similar to the fossil-fuel industry’s rhetoric against meaningful policies addressing climate change. Consumer culture is hooked on oil and coal, and this addiction is destroying our planet’s health. The misleading rationalizations of industry-paid denialists arguing against the threats of global climate change are eerily similar to a heavy smoker’s hacking contempt for the warnings of his oncologist.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 10, Day 19: I’ve Been In Some Big Towns, And Heard Me Some Big Talk…

In the Boston Herald, a report about the campaign to get uber-swine David Koch off the WGBH board of directors:

Draped in a WBUR windbreaker,
Lee Stewart of 
Jamaica Plain called Koch — who has 
donated $18.6 million to ’GBH, 
including $10 million to the science program “NOVA” — “a climate 
denier, a polluter.”

“His presence is extremely 
offensive,” Stewart said. “People who are actively fighting to destroy the climate should not have equal political voice.”

Small and Stewart were among some 50 sign-waving activists who protested outside Channel 2’s Brighton studios before presenting a petition of 119,000 online signatures calling for Koch’s resignation. Among the protesters was an activist in an Elmo costume carrying a sign that read, “Elmo Love WGBH Elmo No Love Koch Lies.”

WGBH board chairman Amos Hostetter defended Koch, telling the protesters there’s no “political litmus test” for board members.

“Diversity is something we 
highly value,” he said.

“It’s not because we disagree with Mr. Koch politically,” Small said. “It’s because he is about the destruction of politics in America as we know it.”

Hostetter denied that trustees have any control over programming, and the board quickly moved on to 
other business.

The protest came just hours 
before “NOVA” aired a special on rising sea levels in the 
aftermath of Megastorm 

A Koch spokeswoman said he had no “immediate plans” to resign.

“He particularly enjoys WGBH’s outstanding program ‘NOVA,’ which he 
believes educates the public in a very entertaining way,” said spokeswoman Cristyne Nicholas. “As for climate change, Mr. Koch 
is interested in ensuring 
that energy policies are 
informed by sound science and economic reality,” she said.

But the activists said they’re just getting started.

“People aren’t going to let this go,” said Brad Johnson of Forecast the Facts. “We’re not going to stop.”

The Koch brothers are a blight on the world. October 10:

When his spokeswoman asserts that arch-conservative David Koch wants energy policies that are based on “sound science and economic reality,” it’s a little window into the thinking of a bazillionaire whose mindset is steeped in the McCarthy-era anti-communist hysteria of the John Birch Society.

Mr. Koch probably learned to trust medical expertise over the course of his experience as a cancer patient. I wonder: if 97 oncologists diagnosed a malignancy, while 3 said more tests were needed, would he start therapy…or would he decide that “sound science” demanded a rejection of the medical consensus?

Climatologists are our planetary physicians, and their diagnosis of the human causes and profound danger of climate change is overwhelmingly certain — as conclusive as the causal connection between smoking and cancer. Mr. Koch’s denialism isn’t based on sound science, and his rejection of policies that will end our dependence on fossil fuels is anything but economically realistic.

Warren Senders

Year 4, Month 10, Day 17: They Can Have Any Color They Want As Long As It’s Black

The San Antonio Express-News, on Republican denialism and foolishness:

So why is there such a disconnect between what scientists think and the public debate?

Recent cognitive research helps us understand this. Researchers find that beliefs on climate change science strongly correlate with other policy preferences.

For example, if you are skeptical of the science of climate change, then you almost certainly oppose the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, and support gun rights.

Those who support action to reduce greenhouse gases very likely hold the opposite views.

If arguments about the science of climate change were actually about the science, then this result would make no sense. Whether climate change is true or not is a scientific matter, and it should be uncorrelated with philosophical views on the role of government in health care or the constitutional right to own a firearm.

But they are correlated. And this tells us that the arguments about the science of climate change are not actually about science.

So what is the argument about? The answer is policy.

If climate change is true and we decide to reduce emissions, then it will almost certainly require intervention by the government into the energy market. For some, that idea is so repugnant that the only conclusion is that the problem must not exist.

It is also about being part of the tribe. Climate change has achieved such an elevated status in the policy debate that it has become a litmus test. To be a Republican, for example, you must reject the science.

Any Republican who does not risks being voted out of office — as happened, for example, to Rep. Bob Inglis. ( frontline/environment/climate- of-doubt/bob-inglis-climate- change-and-the-republican- party/).

As proud Texans, we are sympathetic to those who worry about out-of-control eco-totalitarianism. And we both love cheap and abundant energy and the lifestyle it allows us to lead. But, like most people, Republican and Democrat alike, we also want to protect the environment. Thus, we both support balanced action to address the clear and present danger of climate change.

Writing a letter like this is like shooting fish in a barrel. October 8:

The extraordinary thing about self-styled “fiscal conservatives” is their near-pathological readiness to bet against their own country. Just look at the people who whine that changing emissions regulations to cut down on greenhouse gases is going to handicap American manufacturers. They’re the same ones who screamed in the 1960s that making seat belts mandatory was going to cripple the automobile industry. Last I looked, there were plenty of cars on the road, and while auto companies have had their problems, nobody believes seat belts are the reason why.

For all their loud professions of American exceptionalism, conservatives’ opposition to sensible climate change policy is rooted in a “can’t do” ideology. We can’t change our energy economy (even if it saves us money) — because it’s too hard. We can’t take a position of global leadership (on the most important challenge facing the world today) — because it’s too hard.

That’s not fiscal conservatism. That’s laziness. That’s not economic responsibility. It’s whining.

Imagine these people running the Apollo program. We’d never have gotten into orbit, much less reached the Moon.

Warren Senders