Maybe it’s all the cold medication I’ve been on the last few days, but this reference to “fake plastic trees” as one potential geo-engineering solution to global warming, triggered a memory of Martin Krieger’s classic 1973 essay in Science magazine, entitled, “What’s Wrong with Plastic Trees?”
I remember my head nearly exploding as I read it over ten years ago, while studying environmental policy in graduate school. One of Krieger’s numerous provocative passages:
What’s wrong with plastic trees? My guess is that there is very little wrong with them. Much more can be done with plastic trees and the like to give most people the feeling that they are experiencing nature. We will have to realize that the way in which we experience nature is conditioned by our society””which more and more is seen to be receptive to responsible interventions.
The notion that our conceptions of nature are culturally constructed (as in Bill Cronon’s Wilderness critique) is anathema to most environmentalists. That doesn’t negate the intrinsic value of nature, but it does make you queston (at least for me, it does) some of those cherished (and mythical) ideas about nature. But hey, that’s not me talking, it’s the NyQuil and Benadryl.
It’s called the Center on Climate Change and National Security. This strikes me as huge news, not so much because it further institutionalizes and legitimizes climate change as a national security issue, but because the center’s mission will necessarily overlap with a broader suite of environmental issues, as indicated by the CIA’s own press release:
Its charter is not the science of climate change, but the national security impact of phenomena such as desertification, rising sea levels, population shifts, and heightened competition for natural resources.
Obviously climate change is the rubric and impetus for opening this CIA shop. But even if anthropogenic climate change didn’t exist, there would still be a need for such a center, due to the national security implications of drought, over-exploitation of natural resources, population pressures, etc.
Yes, that’s a complicated equation in of itself. And adding climate change (and its rubbery timescales and environmental uncertainties) is tricky and open to manipulation, as environmental security advocate Geoff Dabelko cautioned here last month:
it is important to remember that in the mid-1990s, advocates oversold our understanding of enviromental links to security, creating a backlash that ultimately undermined policymakers’ support for meeting the very real connections between environment and conflict head-on. Today, “˜climate security’ is in danger of becoming merely a political argument that understates the complexity of climate’s security challenges.
The CIA has a real chance to analyze and communicate that complexity in ways that could enhance climate change as a credible national security issue, but only if it can avoid the pitfalls of politicization.
H/T: Natural Security
In the activist category, Time Magazine names Joe Romm as one of this year’s “green” heroes. Romm would prefer to think of himself as a journalist, but he’s not complaining. In fact, he’s “surprised” by the “generous profile” that Bryan Walsh wrote, since Romm slammed him several months ago. It’s as if Romm were surprised that humans have the capacity for decency and sportsman-like conduct, two qualities that no one would associate with Climate Progress.
There’s another related tidbit to this news that bears noting. Walsh’s profile mentions that Romm didn’t get evangelical about global warming until his brother lost his house to Hurricane Katrina. I find that ironic since Katrina is not a global warming disaster. But more revealing, this anecdote suggests that Romm’s crusade is triggered by personal experience. That’s not how most people relate to climate change as an environmental issue.
In fact, as sociologist Robert J. Brulle observed in this recent NYT story, global warming lacks an immediacy with the general public precisely because it’s hard to relate to:
It does not have the direct visual or emotive impact of seeing seabirds covered in oil from the Exxon Valdex oil spill.
Good for Romm that he had an opportunity to make a personal, searing connection, even if it was a false one.
From 3 Quarksdaily, an intriguing post flows from this question:
Will historians and archaeologists a few thousand years from now believe that scientists in the mid-twentieth century split the atom? That they even created a nuclear bomb? There’s a good chance the answer will be “no.”
The author, Sam Kean, argues that our collective behavior (or non-actions, when it comes to such problems as climate change), will make future generations wonder how humans in the 20th century could have been so clever as to split the atom and send a man to the moon.
Perhaps, but what would make me just as as suspect, if I were looking back at history in 2200, would be the tremendous technological leap between, say, 1870-1970. Quality of life, for those fortunate enough to reap the benefits, improved immeasurably. It’s hard to believe that happened in such a short time span.
Kean makes a more solid case when discussing our depth of time problem–that we have a habit of shortchanging the achievements of past civilizations:
A span of thousands of years is both extremely short and impenetrably long. It’s short because human nature will not change much in that time. Which means our human tendency to discount the past and pooh-pooh the achievements of antique cultures will not have diminished. Dismissing technical achievements in the remote past is especially tempting. We’re willing to believe that people philandered and murdered and philosophized uselessly like we do today, but we conveniently reserve the notion of technical progress for ourselves.
The flip side of climate change coverage is energy. CJR offers a prescription for how to revitalize the beat.
Broadly speaking, the authors argue:
if energy news is to engage and inform the decisions of politicians, industry executives, and the public, the media must think more strategically about what they cover, how they cover it, and which reporters they assign to cover it.
The article does a nice job of explaining how this can be done, pointing by way of example to some of the innovative news room approaches now underway. But it does not make a convincing case that a reinvention of the beat will help make the issue weightier in the public’s mind.
When drivers are paying upwards of $4.oo a gallon for gas, then we can expect energy to become a hot topic again. That seems to be what gets people’s attention, not the national security implications of our dependence on foreign oil, nor the connection between fossil fuels and global warming.
There’s a reason why the silly Republican “Drill, baby, Drill,” mantra got political traction in the frenetic spring of 2008 when oil was approaching $150 a barrel.
Climate scientists and climate advocates will be wrangling over acceptable planetary carbon dioxide limits, and conservation biologists and ecosystem ecologists will be arguing over acceptable species extinction levels.
That’s the problem when you try to pin those down elusive tipping points. People don’t even agree on what the tipping point is.
If there’s a major flood in the headlines, you can bet Joe Romm is on the scene, milking the drama and tragedy for all it’s worth. Does it matter that he’s not even consistent? Here’s how he first classifies the Georgia flooding:
I have called this type of rapid deluge, “global warming type” record rainfull.”
A few sentences later comes the hedge:
And no, far be it from me to say that current flooding is caused directly by global warming.
Romm has a well-documented record of seizing on individual weather disasters to trumpet his narrative. He’s smart enough to know this is dubious (hence his conflation and inconsistency), so it’s more likely the habit derives from cyncial calculation that such disasters are among the best ways to dramatize the global warming debate.
In that light, Romm and his choir would do well to pay attention to this observation made recently on Dot Earth, by the other side:
From a political standpoint (as opposed to science), climate skeptics are most successful when they merely point out the behavior and motivations of climate zealots.
Revkin should retract this entire piece.
At least he didn’t demand that Revkin apologize to humanity. That’s (climate) progress of a sort.
But seriously, if anyone wants to get all lathered up over the real conundrum, this is the essential part from Revkin’s piece that should keep climate advocates awake at night, not the issue of temperature variability:
At best, said Robert J. Brulle, a sociologist at Drexel University, global warming remains an abstraction for many people.
“It does not have the direct visual or emotive impact of seeing seabirds covered in oil from the Exxon Valdez oil spill,” he said.
John Fleck clinically demolishes Michael Tobis’s straw man critique of climate change-related journalism.
Tobis is often a thoughtful blogger but he also suffers from the same journalism-is-failing-us syndrome that afflicts Joe Romm and many other climate advocates.