On Economic Growth, the Environment and Climate Change

By Keith Kloor | October 17, 2014 1:04 pm

In the early 1970s, leading environmental scientists and writers argued that curtailing economic growth was necessary to save  human civilization from eco-collapse.  The material needs of society were exhausting the planet’s resources. The worrying trends were laid out in a hugely influential 1972 report and best-selling book entitled, “The Limits to Growth.” Its authors concluded (page 183):

Deliberately limiting growth would be difficult, but not impossible. The way to proceed is clear, and the necessary steps, although they are new ones for human society, are well within human capabilities.

I would contend that “Limits to Growth” is among the most influential contemporary environmental tracts, perhaps second to Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring.” Read More

CATEGORIZED UNDER: climate change, environmentalism

The Media and Conventional Wisdom

By Keith Kloor | October 11, 2014 1:26 pm

The Nation has published an excellent article on the U.S. government’s vendetta against James Risen, a New York Times investigative journalist. The campaign is part of a larger effort by the Obama Administrations to punish government whistleblowers and “intimidate other investigative reporters,” as Pentagon Papers whistleblower Daniel Ellsberg told The Nation.

This week Risen gave a talk at Colby College in Maine that cautioned against groupthink in the media. He cited the early days of  the abolitionist movement in the 1830s, before it had become “a significant political force,” during a time when slavery was still a “bedrock political assumption of the United States.” This period, when abolition writers were outside the mainstream, should be studied, Risen said, for

what it’s really like to challenge the cement-like certainty of the conventional wisdom of the day, especially when it is constantly being reinforced by a mainstream press.

He went on to say: Read More


Why Must the Media Supersize Everything?

By Keith Kloor | October 9, 2014 2:39 pm

An emerging scandal–no matter how trivial or short-lived–is often sensationalized with the “gate” suffix. A similar hyping tendency is perhaps now on display with large, powerful storms.

The hurricane that developed in the Caribbean in 2012, before weakening and making landfall in New York and New Jersey, was christened Superstorm Sandy. A year later, the tropical cyclone that slammed into portions of East Asia was dubbed Super Typhoon Haiyan.

Now we see many media reports and headlines warning of Super Typhoon Vongfong. So have we entered a new era of  superstorms–the kind that truly deserve such a designation–or is this just another media tic?

Of course, weather events aren’t unique in being super-sized. Read More

MORE ABOUT: media, supersize, superstorm

Severe Weather = the New Normal is a Fraught Meme

By Keith Kloor | October 3, 2014 11:57 am

This week NPR asks:

When can a big storm or drought be blamed on climate change?

If you have been nodding in approval to everything that Bill McKibben and his fellow climate concerned advocates say on this subject, then you already have your answer. And if you are familiar with the “new normal” meme, which I have written on previously, then you also know that nearly every severe weather event is now associated in some way with climate change. It’s been interesting to watch this play out in the media the past few years.

For example, plug into Google ‘s search engine “climate change” and “Typhoon Haiyan” (the tropical cyclone that devastated portions of the Philippines last year) and see all the stories that come up. A quick sampling of headlines:

“Is Climate Change to Blame for Typhoon Haiyan?”–Guardian

“Did Climate Change Cause Super Typhoon Haiyan?”–Time

“Super Typhoon Haiyan: A hint of What’s to Come?”–Climate Central

A definitive answer is impossible in the immediate aftermath of such an event, but many outlets still made a connection along these lines:

Hurricane researchers contacted by Climate Central said Haiyan is an example of the type of extreme storm that may become more frequent as the climate continues to warm.

This sets the stage for every major storm to be discussed in the context of climate change. And indeed, this is often what ends up happening with every heat wave, every drought, every big flood, and every unseasonable cold spell or blizzard. That is the whole point of the “new normal” meme, which by the way, may be counterproductive, Dawn Stover recently argued in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

In the last couple of years, scientists have tried to bring some clarity to these discussions. This has resulted in dozens of studies assessing whether or not severe weather events from around the world can be linked to global warming. The latest batch of research was published earlier this week in a special Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society report. The results were covered widely in the media–most with a particular slant. I found NPR’s summary of the findings to be among the most accurate: Read More

A Climate Debate I Would Like to See

By Keith Kloor | September 26, 2014 11:15 am

Of the all the famous names associated with climate change, there are two I would love to see headlined in a debate–against each other. Both of these individuals believe global warming presents an existential threat, both believe Big Green is part of the problem, and both offer a radically different path to decarbonization of the global economy.

Yes, the debate between Naomi Klein and James Hansen would be fascinating.

Klein, as you probably have heard, is the author of a new and much discussed book titled, “This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate.” Her publisher describes it as

a brilliant explanation of why the climate crisis challenges us to abandon the core “free market” ideology of our time, restructure the global economy, and remake our political systems.

The New Statesmen, a liberal UK publication, opens its review of the book thusly:

Right-wing deniers of the robust findings of modern atmospheric science sometimes claim that the whole idea of global warming is just a front. What “warmers”, as they call them, really want is allegedly not just a sharp reduction in fossil-fuel emissions but a wholesale socioeconomic transition to tree-hugging socialism. Such cynics will be gladdened by Naomi Klein’s new book. For in it she does explicitly argue that the present “climate emergency” provides an excellent excuse for global revolution.

Before anyone starts hyperventilating, it should be noted, as Klein does in this recent interview, that she isn’t arguing for capitalism to be overthrown by some other ism:

Look, I’m not saying that markets have no role in combatting climate change. I think the right market incentives can play a huge role—we can point to all kinds of companies doing great stuff…There will have to be a strong role for the public sector, a strong role for regulations and, yes, incentives. But the idea of just leaving our collective fate to the market is madness. You wouldn’t treat any other existential crisis in that way.

Still, the larger implications of Klein’s argument will be threatening to entrenched economic interests, a political class concerned more about its fortunes than the planet’s future, and most of all, right wing conservatives who already believe that the “climate emergency” is a liberal stalking horse for a big-government, wealth-redistributive agenda.

In the United States, the response to such a perceived threat has become clear.

James Hansen, the former NASA climate scientist who more than two decades ago elevated the importance of climate science in the public mind, and who has since strongly warned about the dangers of greenhouse gas-driven climate change, believes that conservatives should be mindful of what’s in store when climate impacts really start to hit home. In an interview last year, he said:

If they [conservatives] continue to pretend that human-made climate change is a hoax, eventually you get to the point where nature makes it clear it wasn’t a hoax and then the public demands the government do something and that’s the worst nightmare for conservatives.

What happens then?

It would allow the government to take over and do things by fiat, which not in anybody’s interest in my opinion, because the government never, seldom, makes the right choices. Let the market make the choices, which is a conservative approach.

Hansen’s preferred fix is a revenue-neutral carbon tax, in which the money generated from a rising tax on fossil fuels would be given right back to the public. In a post he wrote last week for Columbia University’s Earth Institute (which received little attention), Hansen explains: Read More

India and the Iron Law of Climate Policy

By Keith Kloor | September 25, 2014 10:33 am

I have an idealistic streak that is increasingly tempered by real world events. So on Sunday I admired the enthusiasm of the hundreds of thousands of people who marched through the streets of Manhattan to sound their concern about climate change and other environmental issues.

I tried not to let this article ruin the good vibes. I tried to put this out of my mind:

The blunt truth is that what China decides to do in the next decade will likely determine whether or not mankind can halt – or at least ameliorate – global warming.

Now comes word from India’s environmental minister, as reported by Coral Davenport in the New York Times:

The minister, Prakash Javadekar, said in an interview that his government’s first priority was to alleviate poverty and improve the nation’s economy, which he said would necessarily involve an increase in emissions through new coal-powered electricity and transportation. He placed responsibility for what scientists call a coming climate crisis on the United States, the world’s largest historic greenhouse gas polluter, and dismissed the idea that India would make cuts to carbon emissions.

The cold, hard reality of climate change politics (from an international perspective) is exactly as University of Colorado political scientist Roger Pielke Jr. has been saying for years:

When policies on emissions reductions collide with policies focused on economic growth, economic growth will win out every time.

UPDATE: Some helpful perspective from Brad Plumer, who asks if the “planet is cooked” if India’s carbon emissions keep rising? “Not necessarily,” he says.

Distilling the Essence of Climate Change Complexity

By Keith Kloor | September 24, 2014 4:21 pm

I am teaching two journalism classes this semester, with climate change being a main focus these past few weeks. We had an obvious news peg in Sunday’s big climate march and the gathering of world leaders this week in NYC.

Students in both classes have received climate change 101 lessons from me–where the body of science stands, who the largest carbon emitters are, the known and projected impacts, the tricky (global) politics, the wicked nature of the problem, and so on.

It’s a lot to take in for the uninitiated, which includes nearly all my students. Additionally, they have to navigate the shouty public conversation. So imagine what happens when they come across an op-ed (in a major newspaper) headlined, “Climate Science is Not Settled.” The Wall Street Journal commentary by a respected scientist generated finger-wagging reactions and a stern rebuke from some in the climate science community. Others were more measured.

To someone who is already struggling to make sense of a complex science, the WSJ article is puzzling. At least this was the response from one of my students who emailed the class listserv yesterday: Read More

Latest U.S. Air Strikes Steal Climate Summit Spotlight

By Keith Kloor | September 23, 2014 4:25 pm

I’m betting you’ve heard or seen the big news, as reported on the front page of today’s New York Times:

The United States and allies launched airstrikes against Sunni militants in Syria early Tuesday, unleashing a torrent of cruise missiles and precision-guided bombs from the air and sea on the militants’ de facto capital of Raqqa and along the porous Iraq border.

This is a major development, especially for a war-weary American public. As the NYT says:

The strikes are a major turning point in President Obama’s war against the Islamic State and open up a risky new stage of the American military campaign. Until now, the administration had bombed Islamic State targets only in Iraq, and had suggested it would be weeks if not months before the start of a bombing campaign against Islamic State targets in Syria.

Now I’m no military planner, but I have to think that President Obama is the one who signed off on the timing of these air strikes into Syria. Coincidentally, the bombing commenced on the eve of the big climate summit in New York City. If I’m a climate activist I’m thinking, WTF, you couldn’t wait a few more days?

Naturally, the herd media instinct kicked in and whatever attention climate change was getting suddenly had to be shared with a new U.S. bombing campaign in the Middle East.

That meant images like this when President Obama flew into New York City this afternoon to deliver a widely anticipated speech on climate change. Read More


The People’s Climate March

By Keith Kloor | September 21, 2014 8:09 pm

Everything you need to know about today’s climate march, in tweets.

  The NYC turnout was huge.


Some historical perspective.

 There were lots of colorful banners.

Will this one truly be historic?

Science was also on display.

There were some famous faces in the crowd.

And celebrities, too.

The media has a vantage point.

Every movement has agenda-driven opportunists climbing aboard its bandwagon.

Those snickering at today’s event will themselves be mocked one day, says one journalist.

Yeah, this is something to consider. 

An Eco-pragmatist wags his finger.

But I bet this was the dominant sentiment of most marchers.

There was some gloomy news, however.

I suppose that prospect explains why all these people showed up today.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: climate change, climate science

To Score Quick, Cheap Points, Label Someone as Anti-Science

By Keith Kloor | September 19, 2014 5:26 pm

When I was interviewing Robert Kennedy Jr. for my recent Washington Post magazine profile, there was one charge leveled against him that he deeply resented. “I am not anti-science,” he insisted on numerous occasions, and my suggestion a year ago that he was anti-science perturbed him more than anything.

After all, Kennedy, like many greens, embraces what science says about climate change and other pressing environmental issues. So how could he be anti-science?

Similarly, GMO opponents hold views that are often broadly characterized as “anti-science.”  For example, here’s how a tweet described Jon Entine’s presentation this week to a National Academy of Science (NAS) committee on crop biotechnology.

The tweet by Entine’s organization (Genetic Literacy Program) was referring to the numerous GMO critics who don’t accept overwhelming evidence showing genetically modified foods to be safe, and who were invited to share these views with the NAS committee at a public meeting.

But is it fair to label anti-GMO activists–and their claims–as anti-science? Like Kennedy, many of them, if not all, also hew to the scientific consensus on climate change. But if they dismiss the same scientific consensus on crop biotechnology does that automatically make them anti-science? [In fairness, nowhere in Entine's NAS presentation--which is excellent--does he use the term "anti-science."]

Entine, in his remarks to the NAS committee, acknowledges that

many of those who maintain that GMOs are potentially harmful, while sincere for the most part, are engaging not in science but in politics.

Sound familiar? Earlier this year, a Harvard panel explored the reasons for persistent opposition to action on climate change. As a write-up of the event explained: Read More


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