Peter Gleick’s alleged crime

Another day, another distraction from the real issue at hand. Yes, a hitherto respectable member of the climate science community, MacArthur fellow, and all-round good guy has admitted appropriating someone’s identity to obtain private records of a climate-denial think tank. Was this wrong? Yes, although no more so than was the ostensible betrayal of trust on the part of a long list of whistleblowers. Daniel Ellsberg comes to mind. And he is now remembered as “an icon of truth-telling.”

As much as I hate to admit it, the most cogent commentary on the matter so far arrived in the form of a tweet, from Naomi Klein:

And what about the fact the Heartland Institute impersonates a scientific organization every day?

Does this matter have anything at all to do with the science of our changing climate? No. And I can’t think of any else of use I can contribute to the discussion. Plenty of others have more thoughtful things to say. Greg Laden is a good place to start.

If you’re reading the Wall Street Journal, you’re part of the problem

For reasons that can only reflect poorly on the paper, the Wall Street Journal recently decided it was a good idea to publish an op-ed that recycled some the of the most soundly discredited notions associated with the climate change denial movement. The piece was signed by 16 ostensible “scientists,” though only four have any experience with climatology, and even they work on the extreme fringes of respectable research.

The same editors refused to publish a letter from a longer list of actual climatologists, a letter that does reflect the science of the day and one that the journal Science did see fit to publish.

The WSJ’s “travesty” of an editorial decision continues to reverberate around the blogosphere almost two weeks later. Here’s a roundup of the response, which has been summarized thusly:

… flaring anti-science syndrome suffering climate denier and delayer inanities often divert people from valuable and productive activities. Prominent eruptions of this malady, however, drive white-cell like effort to respond and dampen the damage…

Calling it like it is

Two examples of why blogs are better than mainstream news coverage, when it comes to confronting reality and doing something about it, one from the climate wars, one from the front lines of women’s health.

First, Andy Revkin, a former New York Times journalist who still blogs there. He calls out a coal-industry-backed attempt to silence one of the world’s leading climatologists as the “Shameful Attack on Free Speech” that it is. By launching a Facebook campaign to convince Pennsylvania State University to cancel a scheduled talk by Michael Mann, the coal interests have indeed shamed themselves.

Andy adds:

Antidemocratic, hateful, and coal-backed smear campaign against a scientist I’ve sometimes disagreed with but who has every right to state his case at Penn State or anywhere else.

A few hours after Andy’s post, the Fb page disappeared. Penn State is sticking to its guns, too. Score one for the good guys.

Continue reading “Calling it like it is”

US energy emissions flat for next 25 years

From the US Energy Information Adminstration’s latest thinking:

Total U.S. energy-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions remain below their 2005 level through 2035: Energy-related CO2 emissions grow by 3 percent from 2010 to 2035, reaching 5,806 million metric tons in 2035. They are more than 7 percent below their 2005 level in 2020 and do not return to the 2005 level of 5,996 million metric tons by the end of the projection period. Emissions per capita fall by an average of 1 percent per year from 2005 to 2035, as growth in demand for transportation fuels is moderated by higher energy prices and Federal fuel economy standards. Proposed fuel economy standards covering model years 2017 through 2025 that are not included in the Reference case would further reduce projected energy use and emissions. Electricity-related emissions are tempered by appliance and lighting efficiency standards, State renewable portfolio standard requirements, competitive natural gas prices that dampen coal use by electric generators, and implementation of the Cross-State Air Pollution Rule.

Two comments: First, if we can hold energy-related emissions steady for the next while without resorting to a carbon tax, cap-and-trade scheme or other legislative stick, imagine what could be done with the right tools.

Second, similar trends are not expected in China and India.

The lukewarmer fallacy

From the Idiot Tracker comes this pearl of wisdom:

One of my least favorite lukewarmer fallacies is the concept of “no regrets” policies — that we should push ahead with policies that can be sold to the right wing as energy independence or job creation or whatever appeals to those in denial of the science. This is an asinine idea. Climate change is real. You don’t get to smart policy by agreeing to disagree on critical scientific facts pertaining to the future of human civilization. Here’s the truth; aggressive emissions cuts are the true no-regrets strategy. Uncertainty in climate change lies between bad and worse. The benefits range from saving trillions of dollars and millions of lives, on the low side, to averting planetary catastrophe.

Couldn’t have said it better myself. I know there’s a sizable community out there who disagrees strongly with this position. They argue the only way to make progress on the climate front is to frame the issue in terms that are palatable to the hard right. Over and over again we hear that we just have to package our case better, appeal to our opponents using language they can understand, and then we can turn this mighty ship of state.

To that I respond that we’ve been trying that for years. Those who have campaigning on the front lines, not just writing op-eds and playing armchair quarterback, know this. It doesn’t work. Just look at the current crop of Republican presidential hopefuls.

Republicans with cooler heads

Barring a miraculous revival of the fortunes of Jon Huntsman, Republicans this year will, for the first time, elect a presidential nominee who does not believe that humans are responsible for global warming. How did things get this bad?

The Climate Desk team found a few of the last Republicans among the party’s leadership who break with this new orthodoxy and spliced their heresies together in this video.

Continue reading “Republicans with cooler heads”

Are the winds shifting?

Maybe it’s just me, desperately searching for optimistic signals in the noise that dominates the mainstream coverage of climate change, but could there be something happening out there, something attesting to a new, more mature interpretation of the challenge facing society at large?

Item 1: The Economist publishes an impassioned lament. This from a magazine that for so long seemed althogether disinterested in the subject:

A HUNDRED years from now, looking back, the only question that will appear important about the historical moment in which we now live is the question of whether or not we did anything to arrest climate change. Everything else–the financial crisis, the life or death of the euro, authoritarianism or democracy in China and Russia, the Great Stagnation or the innovation renaissance, democratisation and/or political Islam in the Arab world, Newt or Mitt or another four years of Barack–all this will fade into insignificance beside the question of whether we managed to do anything about human industrial civilisation changing the climate of Planet Earth.

And that’s just the first half of the opening paragraph. Towards the end, the gloom descends even further.

Maybe the idea that Mali and Burkina Faso were once inhabited countries rather than empty deserts will seem queer, and the immiseration of huge numbers of stateless refugees thronging against the borders of the rich northern countries will be taken for granted. The absence of the polar ice cap and the submersion of Venice will have been normalised; nobody will think of these as live issues, no one will spend their time reproaching their forefathers…

A concession that an ecological crisis dwarfs those posed by mere financial forces is not what I expected from The Economist. It was a late-comer to responsible coverage of climate change and a reluctant convert at that. But this sort of thing suggests a conversion of Damascene proportions.

Item 2: Globe and Mail columnist John Ibbitson, who writes despondently about Canada’s failure to address its embarrassing record on greenhouse gas emissions. Canada, you will probably already know, this week became the first, and so far only, nation to withdraw from the Kyoto Protocol. Ibbitson is a center-right commentator in the Canadian sense, which means he is generally to the left of what passes for the center in the U.S., but tends to be more skeptical than supportive of “progressive” notions. This week, however, he made it clear he now shares at least some of the distress that has worked its way into the editorial desk at The Economist.

Canada gave its word to the world. Canada broke its word. The final confession was as shameful as it was inevitable. No one should feel anything other than ashamed. Not the Conservatives, not the Liberals, not us.

Ibbitson hits the nail on the head. Most green pundits would rather castigate Stephen Harper’s governing Conservatives for doing the bidding of their petrol-dollar associates than admit the truth, which is that Canada withdrew from Kyoto because it would have been irresponsible not to. Canada’s GHG emissions have risen dramatically instead of falling as it committed to make happen under Kyoto. So if the country didn’t withdraw before the end of this year, it would have faced the need to spend billions on offsets or face sanctions.

The real problem can be traced to Jean Chretien’s Liberals, who frittered away more than a decade of economic prosperity by doing precisely nothing to move away from fossil-fuel-dependency and toward carbon-neutral alternatives. By the time the Conservatives took over in 2005, the bed was made, and there was never any chance Canada would meets its Kyoto commitments. So the only thing left to do was save the taxpayer a few pennies by getting out when the getting was good.

By using the language of shame, Ibbitson makes it clear that this is not just another in a long list of lost opportunities for Canada to lead by example. It is cause for some serious soul-searching in the not-so-great white North. The Economist makes a similar admission from Britain,

I am not holding my breath for comparable shifts in the U.S. But it would be nice.

Two degrees of separation

Compare and contrast:

The team’s new examination of the paleo-climate record now shows that “a global warming of a couple degrees Celsius would basically create a different planet,” Hansen warned. It’s different than the one that humanity, that civilization knows about. If we look at the paleo record, the target of two degrees Celsius is actually a prescription for long-term disaster.” [Source]

and

I think that we look at two degrees as an important and serious goal which ought to guide what we do … it ought to inform our sense of what needs to be done. It might well cause us or anybody else to say, jeez, we need to do more. But we don’t see it as akin to a national target. [Source]

The first comes from a report by KQED on warnings from top NASA climatologist James Hansen, speaking at this week’s annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union. The second are the words of U.S. Climate Envoy Todd Stern, speaking at the COP17 talks in Durban, also this week.

Is Stern just having trouble staying abreast of recent events in the field that informs his job? Well, 10 months ago, a paper in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society had this to say about the subject:

The analysis suggests that despite high-level statements to the contrary, there is now little to no chance of maintaining the global mean surface temperature at or below 2 °C. Moreover, the impacts associated with 2 °C have been revised upwards, sufficiently so that 2 °C now more appropriately represents the threshold between ‘dangerous’ and ‘extremely dangerous’ climate change. Ultimately, the science of climate change allied with the emission scenarios for Annex 1 and non-Annex 1 nations suggests a radically different framing of the mitigation and adaptation challenge from that accompanying many other analyses, particularly those directly informing policy. [Source]

If you’re a sucker for this sort of thing, read David Roberts’s summary of the situation at Grist.

A hint that things may not be as bad as we thought

I would be remiss if I didn’t direct your attention to a new paper in Science that concludes, however tentatively, that the global climate may not be as sensitive to rising atmosheric CO2 levels as everyone has assumed. It is, after all, a rare dose of optimism in a field that has been characterized by “it’s worse than expected” findings for pretty much its entire history.

Continue reading “A hint that things may not be as bad as we thought”