Debunking claims made by “An Inconvenient Truth” and presenting alternative strategies, “Cool It” finally blossoms into an engrossing, brain-tickling picture as many of Al Gore’s meticulously graphed assertions are systematically “” and persuasively “” refuted.
If a NYT film reviewer was going to be allowed to pass judgment on the accuracy of Lomborg’s movie, then the Times should have assigned Andrew Revkin to review it. Maybe he’ll take a shot at Dot Earth. Meanwhile, today’s wet kiss of a review in the NYT, as well as reactions to it and the movie, are sure to light up the blogosphere.
UPDATE: Revkin has a meaty post on the movie, which he calls “eminently watchable.” Here’s the thrust of his review:
Lomborg, as always, is charming and persuasive, frequently shown riding his bicycle through Copenhagen’s busy streets “” in what has to be seen as a dig at Gore, who in his film is often seen racing through airports.
But it suffers from the same simplification syndrome that weakened “An Inconvenient Truth.”
James Fallows has a cover story on the inevitability of coal in The Atlantic magazine that is a must-read. The piece cogently lays out why coal is king and why it must be made to be clean. The story is already prompting knee-jerk annoyance in predictable places. More on that in a minute.
Here’s the the nutgraph–the premise of the story, where its purpose is explained (my emphasis):
The proposition that coal could constitute any kind of “hope” or solution, or that a major environmentalist action plan could be called “Coal Without Carbon,” as one I will describe is indeed named””this goes beyond seeming interestingly contrarian to seeming simply wrong. For the coal industry, the term “clean coal“ is an advertising slogan; for many in the environmental movement, it is an insulting oxymoron. But two ideas that underlie the term are taken with complete seriousness by businesses, scientists, and government officials in China and America, and are the basis of the most extensive cooperation now under way between the countries on climate issues. One is that coal can be used in less damaging, more sustainable ways than it is now. The other is that it must be used in those ways, because there is no plausible other way to meet what will be, absent an economic or social cataclysm, the world’s unavoidable energy demands.
Fallows goes on to make a convincing case for why coal is here to stay for the foreseeable future. He then follows with a section on what the implications of this are for climate change (bad!). The third and final section is on the carbon sequestration challenge and how this is being taken up in collaborative (but embryonic) partnerships between the U.S. and China–all below the mainstream media radar.
Somehow, David Roberts at Grist thinks the article is unfairly bearing down, like a speeding coal train, on hardcore coal critics. I suspect that this is one of the quotes from the Fallows piece that convinced Roberts the focus of the story was all wrong:
“Emotionally, we would all like to think that wind, solar, and conservation will solve the problem for us,” David Mohler of Duke Energy told me. “Nothing will change, our comfort and convenience will be the same, and we can avoid that nasty coal. Unfortunately, the math doesn’t work that way.”
I have said before that Roberts is a very smart guy, but he might want to consider his own emotional investment in an argument and whether it’s preventing him from accepting cold reality. For, according to Fallows, here’s the deal (my emphasis):
The math [Mohler] has in mind starts with the role that coal now plays around the world, and especially for the two biggest energy consumers, America and China. Overall, coal-burning power plants provide nearly half (about 46 percent this year) of the electricity consumed in the United States. For the record: natural gas supplies another 23 percent, nuclear power about 20 percent, hydroelectric power about 7 percent, and everything else the remaining 4 or 5 percent. The small size of the “everything else” total is worth noting; even if it doubles or triples, the solutions we often hear the most about won’t come close to meeting total demand. In China, coal-fired plants supply an even larger share of much faster-growing total electric demand: at least 70 percent, with the Three Gorges Dam and similar hydroelectric projects providing about 20 percent, and (in order) natural gas, nuclear power, wind, and solar energy making up the small remainder. For the world as a whole, coal-fired plants provide about half the total electric supply. On average, every American uses the electricity produced by 7,500 pounds of coal each year.
Precisely because coal already plays such a major role in world power supplies, basic math means that it will inescapably do so for a very long time.
To Roberts’ mind,
the “coal is inevitable” talk offers aid and comfort to an establishment that’s doing virtually nothing to rein in dirty coal or support clean alternatives.
Roberts is pissed that that this wasn’t addressed in the story. He also contends that the piece was framed as rebuke to critics of coal. Fallows, in a detailed and respectful rebuttal at his blog, counters:
I think [Roberts] is responding to something I didn’t write.
People should read the Fallows piece in its entirety and make up their own minds. I’ll just say that Roberts’ criticism is the latest example of environmental/climate commentators taking issue with the premise of a particular story–because it doesn’t have their preferred frame.
This piece of advice from Rex at Savage Minds pretty much holds true for all of life:
There is just nothing like meeting someone in person to assess, in flash, whether or not they are actually The Shit.
But he’s speaking specifically about how to navigate the whirlwind of conferences. And he’s spot on, which is why you see so many people lounging in lobbies at conferences, even during panel sessions.
I have been invited to present testimony for this hearing. I have been specifically asked by the minority (Republicans) to discuss how we can go about responding to the climate change issue in the face of uncertainty, dissent and disagreement.
The hearing is set for November 17 and is called “Rational Discussion of Climate Change: the Science, the Evidence, the Response.” Let me be the first to say that in some quarters and public forums, the response to this latest Judith Curry news is not likely to be rational.
Let me also be the first to say that House Republicans are likely mistaken if they think they already know what Judith Curry is going to say.
The population issue has bubbled to the surface this year, with Fred Pearce calling concerns of population growth a “green myth” and Philip Longman, more recently in Foreign Policy magazine, warning about a planet of graybeards.
It’s nearly impossible to discuss population without mentioning Paul Ehrlich’s role in the debate, and usually he comes out not looking so good. But in an interesting twist, one demography researcher argues that maybe Ehrlich’s dire predictions didn’t happen because…well…policymakers took them seriously. Here’s the thrust of the argument:
Alarmism is useful when it grabs the attention of policymakers and a public that is overloaded with information, but it is also risky. Both Pearce and Longman take jabs at Paul Ehrlich because his “population bomb” never exploded. What they fail to note is that Ehrlich’s predictions could have proven right, except that he was successful at scaring a generation of policymakers into action. Funding towards population programs increased greatly in the wake of such research.
A counter argument to this was made in 2009 by Daniel Drezner:
Ehrlich’s book committed a triple sin. First, he was wrong on the specifics. Second, by garnering so much attention by being wrong, he contributed to the belief that alarmism was the best way to get people to pay attention to the environment. Third, by crying wolf so many times, Ehrlich numbed many into not buying actual, real environmental threats.
What do you think?
Despite the lull in action, the climate wars show no sign of abating. Personally, I like Bart’s “way of harmony,” but if this is truly a street fight, then more likely we’ll end up with the political and rhetorical equivalent of scenes like this.
But what about transparency in journalism? Jeff Jarvis, a journalism professor and influential media blogger, has been calling for it for years and does so again in the wake of the Keith Olbermann suspension:
…self-respecting journalists should consider it an obligation to be transparent. Self-respecting news organizations should be honest with their communities and reveal the aggregate perspectives of their staffs. It’s relevant.
We have the ethic of journalism exactly reversed from what it should be: Journalists should be the most open, the most transparent, a model of honesty.
What about this? I assume Jarvis is referring to all journalists, not just political reporters. So I wonder how science journalists feel about this. Do they think it would be a good thing for journalism if they revealed who they voted for in an election?
What about the reader? Do you feel this is necessary? Also, would your perception of an article on climate change be influenced by your knowledge of the political orientation of the reporter?
What about me? Would you still respect me in the morning if I confessed that I was a Republican or Democrat? Would everything I write suddenly be filtered through your political lens?
One of my favorite new blogs (for me) is Ecological Sociology. Its current post on Stewart Brand’s hypocrisy hits all the right notes. (Monbiot is all over this.) Long story short: In Brand’s book, Whole Earth Discipline, he evidently writes (I haven’t seen the passage myself yet):
…In an excess of zeal that [Rachel] Carson did not live to moderate, DDT was banned worldwide, and malaria took off in Africa. Quoted in a 2007 National Geographic article, Robert Gwadz of the National Institutes of Health said: “The ban on DDT may have killed 20m children.’
As Gary at Ecological Society notes:
It turns out that the 2001 Stockholm Convention which regulates DDT use worldwide a) doesn’t ban DDT and b) explicitly allows use to control disease vectors (read kill the mosquitoes that carry malaria). Monbriot’s blog traces a hilarious series of ineffective attempts to contact Brand and get him to address the issue …. sort of a text version of Michael Moore’s Roger and Me. Brand even suggests that Monbriot’s argument isn’t with Brand but with Gwadz (who Brand quotes)!
Gary goes on to write:
Personally, I want science journalism that holds itself to higher standards than the ideological hacks that dominate political blogs and unthinkingly repeat whatever quote they can find that justifies their position.
Me too, but since when is Stewart Brand a science journalist?
Some recent scholarly research on the relevance of storytelling to the climate change debate gets aired out in a USA Today column by Dan Vergano, of which this is the thrust:
“Scientists, academics, and politicians on the left, do not do stories very well,” says Harvard political scientist Michael Jones, who earlier this year led a Policy Studies Journal report on the use and misuse of narrative in policymaking. “You have to tell a story, though, if you want people to retain information.”
I discussed the implications of Jones’ research in September, but they’re worth mentioning again, not just because Vergano quotes from another related post of mine, but because the issue of narrative has become a big part of the climate discussion of late. For example, last week we saw Gavin Schmidt and Judith Curry put forward dueling narratives.
What’s underlying a lot of this back and forth is discontent with a particular story narrative. It was interesting to see how this played out with the recent Scientific American profile of Curry. Here was an evenhanded piece exploring a controversy over some thorny issues related to climate change and it was still slammed by Joe Romm and Jim Naureckas at Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR). That prompted John Rennie, the former SciAm editor in chief to defend the merits of the story. In a follow-up post you can see Rennie’s frustration grow as he gets into it with FAIR’s Naureckas (over another story!) in the thread. My favorite comment, though, comes from another reader:
Welcome to the circular firing squad that is the progressive environmentalist movement. I’m as climate hawkish as they come and even I’m getting tired of this particular merry go round.
This echoes what I predicted last month:
Make no mistake: there will be a bloggy blood bath over who gets to shape this [climate] narrative. And it will be largely internecine, between liberal and climate-concerned bloggers.
Meanwhile, for obsessive climate watchers, here are some developing character-driven stories that bear watching:
Will Joe Romm remain the tip of the spear in the climate wars during this wilderness period, or will he be consumed by the dark forces and disappointment swirling all around him?
Then, there’s the Werewolf of London Georgia storyline, in which Judith Curry will continue her metamorphosis. Will she soon become all but unrecognizable to her former colleagues?
Obviously, there are many more characters to this epic drama that is now between acts. What are your cliffhangers for some of them? Will Anthony Watts fold up shop eventually and become a contestant on Dancing with the Stars? What about my favorite loony skeptic? What’s his next move? Didn’t somebody suggest he should get his own Reality show (was that Lucia)?
C’mon folks, give me some material to work with. Where’s this story going?
The symmetry of Gavin Schmidt and Judith Curry posting similar themed essays on the same day is too good to pass up. I found both posts fascinating and suggest that people read the pieces back to back. Then read them again.
Let’s start with the tags each chose for their posts, which, to me, signifies the message that Schmidt and Curry are trying to convey, in their respective essays. Tags, just to remind everyone, are a way of categorizing blog posts. Gavin chose “climate science” as his tag, which seems fitting, since his post argues that climate science takes a backseat to the primacy of narrative in journalism. Gavin’s secondary critique is aimed at certain scientists, such as Judith Curry, who have embraced the “heretic” badge, which he thinks is a convenient piece of armor she wears to deflect legitimate criticism thrown her way. More on Gavin’s essay in a minute.
Judith Curry’s tag is “ethics,” which is also fitting, for she is once again indicting the behavior of climate scientists–and in my reading, not just for the antics displayed in the hacked CRU emails or backroom IPCC deliberations, but also, broadly speaking, for “the silence of my colleagues, and more important from the institutions that support science.”
Judith then refers to her own renegade role, which took shape nearly a year ago:
I began trying to provide some constructive suggestions for the community to rebuild trust through greater transparency and greater attention to uncertainties. Not only did I receive virtually no support from my colleagues, but they started to view me as part of the problem.
Schmidt, as he writes in his post, isn’t buying this storyline (my emphasis):
Unfortunately, the narrative of the heretic is self-reinforcing. Once a scientist starts to perceive criticism as an attack on their values/ideas rather than embracing it in order to improve (or abandon) an approach, it is far more likely that they will in fact escalate the personalisation of the debate, leading to still further criticism of their conduct, which will be interpreted as a further attack on their values etc. This generally leads to increasing frustration and marginalisation, combined quite often with increasing media attention, at least temporarily. It very rarely leads to any improvement in public understanding.
Now I’m not going to make a judgment either way, but I did bold the above because I want to point out that the same has been said of Schmidt and some of his colleagues for the way they reacted to criticism directed at them in the months after “climategate.” So regardless of whether Curry is a true heretic or not (I’ve argued she is really an apostate), I think the “self-reinforcing” victimhood (which leads to “personalization of the debate”) cuts both ways.
Curry and Schmidt also make some broad generalizations in their essays that deserve attention. Gavin, for example, writes:
The fact remains that science is hugely open to new thinking and new approaches.
Practically speaking, this is true, as researchers publish papers all the time that challenge existing theories and tenets. But paradigm shifts don’t happen overnight, and sometimes that’s because scientists tend to construct their own narratives that are hard to let go of. For example, it’s only been in the last decade that a dominant anthropological narrative of the prehistoric Southwest has been overturned. So the fact remains that scientists have their own biases, which sometimes inhibits them from being “hugely open to new thinking and new approaches.”
Curry, for her part, uses some pretty loaded language to fire away at the IPCC and unnamed scientists:
When I refer to the IPCC dogma, it is the religious importance that the IPCC holds for this cadre of scientists; they will tolerate no dissent, and seek to trample and discredit anyone who challenges the IPCC.
Many of your readers will no doubt ignore this because of my association with RC, but my personal experience as a relatively young person in this game just doesn’t jive with what you are saying. I was highly critical of IPCC AR4 Chapter 6, so much so that the Heartland Institute repeatedly quotes me as evidence that the IPCC is flawed. Indeed, I have been unable to find any other review as critical as mine. I know “” because they told me “” that my reviews annoyed many of my colleagues, including some of my RC colleagues, but I have felt no pressure or backlash whatsover from it. Indeed, one of the Chapter 6 lead authors said “Eric, your criticism was really harsh, but helpful “” thank you!”
So who are these brilliant young scientists whose careers have been destroyed by the supposed tyranny of the IPCC? Examples?
These are harsh words/accusations that need strong evidence to back them up, which is severely lacking IMO. This kind of baseless accusatory framing is also the main reason that you get a lot of flack. It increases, rather than decreases the polarization, and it starts to overshadow those issues where you do make valid points.
Both Gavin’s and Judith’s essays, in the end, are making an argument for why climate science is not treated with more respect. To Gavin, it’s because journalists “favor compelling narratives over substance.” To Judith, it’s because “the integrity of climate science” has been called into question. One blames the messenger, the other blames pretty much the whole climate science community.
Each of them, it would seem, have no cause to examine whether their own actions or words deserve any blame.