One of the most civil and smartest voices in the climate blogosphere belongs to a blog commenter named Paul Kelly. I don’t know who he is. But I’ve always enjoyed reading his contributions to threads, which I’ve mostly seen at Stoat’s or Bart Verheggen’s place. And it is at one of Bart’s recent threads that I’m shamelessly poaching some of Kelly’s comments to highlight in this post.
Kelly, after experiencing yet another long, occasionally nasty back-and-forth with participants from both sides finding no common ground, says to Bart:
This thread is, for me, another illustration of how insistence that climate be the antecedent of action postpones any action.
On his motivations and where he stands:
I’m taking action to spur energy transformation. My reasons are economic and environmental. These reasons and the actions based on them are not affected in any way by climate science or climate concerns.
I do not dispute climate science nor diminish its concerns. I think it is beyond doubt, however, that climate is an impossibly poor basis for policy or the measurement of its success.
Why energy? A lot of us boomers grew up with the promise of 21st century energy transformation. It’s rather exciting that the technology is finally here.
Finally, at the end of the thread, here is Kelly advising one well-known climate commenter (emphasis added):
I’m afraid you’re going to wait a very long time for coordinated worldwide action to decarbonize the global economy. Piecemeal is the reality. That’s not a bad thing. There is no grand globally constructed action for replacing carbon fuels, but it will happen through the aggregate of millions of individual actions.
You hope for some unknown critical mass of people to see the risk you see. After more than twenty years of published science, IPCC and COP, who is yet to be persuaded? The climate concerned are at a crossroads. They must decide if it is more important reach a goal by acceding to others who share their desire for energy transformation but not their climate concerns; or, to win a debate over who’s reason is better.
The New Security Beat continues to distinguish itself as a forum for razor sharp ideas and perspectives on the environment/security nexus. Last week, I meant to flag this perceptive analysis on the crosscurrents roiling Yemen, by Schuyler Null. (If you’ve been following the international news on Yemen and neighboring Somalia this past year, you’ll know why it’s important to pay closer attention to east Africa.)
Earlier this week, the blog (which is run out of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Environmental Change & Security program), carried a short but very interesting interview with Cleo Paskal, a scholar at Chatham House, a UK think tank. Because the focus of the climate debate is soon to shift to the international stage, I think it’s worth highlighting something Paskal said in the interview:
“I think [Copenhagen] was a bit of a litmus test for how geopolitics stand currently, and what’s clear is that unless India is treated more as an equal strategic, long-term partner of the West, it will find other alliances that are more conducive to what it perceives as state security and its national interests,” said Paskal. She argued that India’s future steps will also heavily influence Brazil and South Africa, and may impact the ability of the West to act unilaterally.
Paskal is the author of Global Warring, which I reviewed for Nature earlier this year. In that book, she draws attention to the strategic alliances China has struck with an eye towards a warming world. This all makes for some very complex geopolitical climate politics when you consider the equally influential role India plays, which is what I interpret Pakal saying of late.
And climate change advocates in the U.S. thought that it was tricky enough navigating the swampy corridors of Capitol Hill.
Heh. There’s a whole other chess board that this game is played on as well. (Here’s the latest move, by the U.S.) Except on this board, climate change takes a backseat to fossil fuels.
After Congress shelved the climate bill late last week, the conventional wisdom of green-minded opinionators was that future generations were doomed. A glum, dejected note sounded everywhere from Grist to the New York Times. This despairing attitude took on a ghoulish form when one environmentalist and prolific (but anonymous) blog commenter hoped in this thread that opponents of climate legislation had grandchildren, so these innocent progeny could suffer when “humanity rots.”
There is, however, an alternative perspective offered by one very prominent climate scientist who is a hero among climate activists. I had a feeling that James Hansen, author of Storms of my Grandchildren, might have a different take on the latest political development, so I emailed him last night. Here is his response:
The climate bill collapse is a great opportunity. Environmentalists who thought they could somehow outmuscle the fossil fuel industry in backroom deals with politicians should reassess their position. It is as sure as the law of gravity: as long as fossil fuels are the cheapest energy they will reign supreme. The only solution is a rising price on carbon (a “cap” is not a price), collected from the fossil fuel companies, with the proceeds distributed to the public (not given by Congress to their favorite charity: fossil fuels, solar panels, etc.). This is needed for stimulating the economy, reinvigorating American innovation, creating jobs, and solving our fossil fuel addiction. It (fee-and-dividend or fee-and-green-check) is the only suggestion that solves the fossil fuel/climate problems. Proposed legislation, including CLEAR, lock in fossil fuel dependence for as far as we can see into the future.
Hansen’s view that the climate bill was already fatally compromised is echoed by other environmental activists in this article in The Hill. True, Hansen is a vocal opponent of cap & trade, so perhaps it’s not much of a surprise that he sees a huge silver lining in the congressional “climate bill collapse.”And those voices quoted in The Hill article represent a minority within the climate activist community.
Still, it’ll be interesting to see if any mainstream advocates–many who seem to think that the U.S. Congress has now put the planet on an unalterable path to climate catastrophe– will chuck their defeatist mentality and embrace Hansen’s view.
The headline says it all:
Democrats Abandon Sweeping Energy Plan
Let the recriminations begin. Reports the NYT:
At a news conference, the [Senate] majority leader, Harry Reid of Nevada, blamed Republicans for refusing to cooperate. “We don’t have a single Republican to work with us,” Mr. Reid said.
Which is true, but not the whole truth:
While Mr. Reid criticized Republicans, it is clear he did not have sufficient support in his own party for a broad energy bill. A number of Democratic lawmakers from manufacturing and coal-producing states were expected to oppose such a bill.
I’ve repeatedly made clear that most of the blame lies with anti-science, pro-pollution conservatives and the media.
Yep. Sounds about right to me, if you’re looking for some convenient scapegoats.
More interesting to me: where do we go from here? What’s the new playbook?
As usual, Andy Revkin beats everyone to the punch with this provocative idea, which is bound to infuriate progressives:
Could it be that the White House has concluded what some political analysts have quietly told me “” that only a Republican president could muster the Senate votes to pass a meaningful climate bill?
Hooo boy. That sounds like Nixon going to China. And pretty wishful thinking when one considers the conservative mold of the Republican party today.
Of course it’s too early to say, but I’m predicting some deep soul searching by climate advocates after the blame game runs its course. Then an all out power struggle over who gets to set the course correction. Anyone else care to make a prediction?
UPDATE: Roger Pielke Jr. on the Congressional climate bill collapse:
The bottom line is that the dominant approach to climate change promoted by those calling for action the loudest has failed — yet again. Really, how much more evidence is needed to convince those calling for action on climate change that a radically new approach is needed.
David Roberts at Grist might be ready to let his beard grow out and shuffle around with a sign that reads The End is Near:
It’s a sad, corrupt state of affairs this country finds itself in. I wish I had some hopeful words to offer. But at this point, American government appears to be broken. And our children and grandchildren will suffer for it.
Michael Levi, an energy expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, says “the United States is in for a rocky time in international climate diplomacy.”
I’m always amazed at how climate bloggers blame the media every time the narrative isn’t to their liking. Joe Romm and Michael Tobis, on one side of the spectrum, are famous for this. They often complain of a press that gives too much credence to climate skeptics. Additionally, both have asserted that “climategate” was a non-story that became a media-manufactured controversy because of irresponsible journalists.
Now I see that Bishop Hill, on the other side of the spectrum, believes that media outlets have recently “coordinated” a wave of stories with “warmist themes.” Right. I’m sure the editors of BBC and The Times and Nature got together at a London pub and said, “Time to move the pendulum back to the pro-AGW angle.”
Unfortunately, it’s an entity of the profession that is hard to do away with. But it’s not coordinated.
It’s bad enough that these “slow drip” stories receive little sustained coverage; it’s worse when you write about them and nobody seems to notice. John Fleck, the superb science writer for The Albuquerque Journal, reflects on why this might be at his blog:
I did a story in 2001 about research by a clever scientist named Bob Root who had quantified the lead wheel weights falling off of our cars’ wheels. The amount was staggering ““ four tons per year in a city the size of Albuquerque, being ground up into toxic dust.
I wrote a front page story. No one called me. No one called Bob. There was no outrage, no calls for regulation. Nada.
It’s easy to imagine what the level of outrage would have been if the contamination was coming for a corporate polluter. Or, this being New Mexico, one of our nuclear weapons research centers. But perception of risk and outrage over its causes seems to be strongly linked to our beliefs about who is responsible. With no evil actor behind the lead wheel weights, no one seemed to care.
Fleck’s post was prompted by a column (sub req) he wrote this week, revisiting the same toxic dust problem ten years later. This time, he put a different twist on it:
Imagine what might happen if we discovered some company was clandestinely dumping 4 tons a year of toxic waste on the streets of Albuquerque.
Let’s call it DefenseCo Inc., and let’s say its workers were dribbling out their toxic waste a tiny bit at a time as they drove around the city’s streets, year after year after year, spreading it all over town hoping no one would notice.
Just to juice it up, imagine it was a type of toxic waste that was especially harmful to children, and that this was happening all over the country, not just in Albuquerque.
Imagine the outrage.
That is, in fact, what is happening, with a caveat. It’s not DefenseCo Inc. that’s dumping the toxic waste in our streets. It’s you and me. The waste we’re dumping is lead, which falls off our cars’ wheels in dribs and drabs, is ground into dust, and ends up who knows where.
As hazardous materials go, lead is a bad actor. Children are especially vulnerable. It can damage nervous systems and slow cognitive growth.
The fact that it’s ordinary drivers causing this, rather than an evil corporate polluter, matters not a bit in terms of the health and environmental risks. Lead is lead.
Again, Fleck was greeted by silence from readers.
And people wonder why there’s no public outrage over global warming, perhaps the biggest “slow drip” story of our time.
Is the American environmental movement all but dead as a meaningful force for change? You have to wonder, after reading this Washington Post story from earlier in the week. Or, as the article suggests, are there larger forces arrayed against Greens, such as the deep economic funk much of America is still trying to shake off?
Five years ago, status quo environmentalism was given a similar obituary, which got a lot of hoopla.
Big Greens are like zombies, though. Just ask the donors, who can’t fight them off. But now, with Big Green’s inability to feed and propogate off the nation’s biggest environmental disaster, you have to wonder if their days are numbered.
Let’s see, there’s the latest Monckton buffoonery, which everybody is rolling around in at Lucia’s.
There’s all the “rubbish” piling up in the blogyard of my favorite climate curmudgeon.
RPJ is calling out Lomborg–again.
Planet Gore, delightfully linking (yet again) to a picture of that famous Google Earth shot of Thomas Friedman’s house, wonders
And how come there are no solar panels on the roof?
Finally, back to Monckton, for tugging at the heartstrings of his supporters at WUWT:
It is sometimes a cold and lonely road we follow in pursuit of the truth, and the support of Anthony and his readers has been a great comfort to me.
That man deserves his own reality show, don’t you think?
(This was such fun, I might just make it a nightly feature.)
An extraordinary op-ed by four climate scientists, headlined “The Science Behind Climate Science,” asserts:
The urgent need to act cannot be overstated. Climate change caused by humans is already affecting our lives and livelihoods “” with extreme storms, unusual floods and droughts, intense heat waves, rising seas and many changes in biological systems “” as climate scientists have projected.
I am unaware of research that shows either detection or attribution of human-caused changes in extreme storms or floods, much less detection or attribution of such changes “affecting lives and livelihoods”. Can you point me to the scientific basis for such claims?
This is really the nub of the big debate over climate change, not whether the science is established, but what are the detectable impacts. I think if it was incontestable that man-made climate change is causing the kind of extreme climatic changes and weather disasters that the op-ed asserts, we would have had a global treaty on carbon emissions by now. But the present-day impacts are not at all clear, though I’m open to persuasion–I really am. Which is why I’m anxious to see the reply that Roger gets.
No one should mistake my skepticism on this matter as an argument for inaction on climate change. As long-time readers of this blog know, I tend to favor decoupling climate change from the larger energy debate. I recognize that to some, this dilutes the “urgency” for action; I just happen to think you can get broader buy-in for decarbonisation with the approach laid out by the Hartwell group.
But it seems that the climate debate will continue to pivot on the contention that man-made climate catastrophe is not only inevitable–if no serious action is taken–but that, in fact, such catastrophe is already upon us. At least that’s how I interpret the Politico op-ed. [Update: A commenter says that I've mischaracterized the views of the op-ed authors with my "catastrophe" connotation, and I agree.]
If this is where the policy debate is destined to be decided, then we should vigorously engage it. To that end, I’d like to see Real Climate take up the science behind the assertions made in the Politico op-ed. RC is where controversial matters of climate science are most comprehensively aired out.
Let’s air this one out.