There’s a new Gallup survey on environmental issues that will trigger a round of cheers and jeers in the climate blogosphere, depending on where you align. The main finding:
With Earth Day about a month away, Americans tell Gallup they worry the most about several water-related risks and issues among nine major environmental issues. They worry least about global warming and loss of open spaces.
The responses, as they come in from the two representative climate camps, should be a study in confirmation bias. Take Anthony Watts’ take:
Translation: green dudes, you are losing the public attention. Be thankful for the whacked out messages from people like Al Gore, Jim Hansen, Bill McKibben, Tim Flannery, and Joe Romm, because without them these AGW worry numbers would be far higher.
Doubtful. The American public, a bit distracted by an epic economic collapse and various other natural calamities and wars, isn’t paying much attention to global warming these last few years.
Another reason, as Ezra Klein correctly points out, is that
it’s difficult to persuade people to act on climate change now: unlike the American health-care system or the war in Iraq or even poisoned drinking water, it’s not obviously killing anyone right now.
In its overview, Gallup also notes:
The current levels of public concern about various environmental problems are essentially unchanged from 2010. However, Americans are less worried today than they were 10 years ago about all eight issues Gallup measured in 2001.
Watts, in keeping with his thematic “whacked out” gloss, says that this is “despite the recent shrillness of the environmental message.”
No. What he fails to mention is the larger context that Gallup next provides:
I’m waiting to hear from the other side of the spectrum that this latest poll is just more evidence that people are lacking all the facts on climate change–that the proper information isn’t getting to the public. (The zombie deficit model cannot be slain!) Anyone who wants to go to the mat again with that argument should leave a comment and I’ll devote another post this week addressing your case.
Global food security concerns are about to ratchet up:
“There’s a lot more money to be made in cotton right now,” said Ramon Vela, a farmer here in the Texas Panhandle, as he stood in a field where he grew wheat last year, its stubble now plowed under to make way for cotton. Around the first week of May, Mr. Vela, 37, will plant 1,100 acres of cotton, up from 210 acres a year ago. “The prices are the big thing,” he said. “That’s the driving force.”
Economists, agricultural experts and government officials are predicting that many farmers, both in the United States and abroad, will join Mr. Vela this year in chasing the higher profits to be made in cotton “” with consequences that could ripple across the globe.
“It’s good for the farmer, but from a humanitarian perspective it’s kind of scary,” said Webb Wallace, executive director of the Cotton and Grain Producers of the Lower Rio Grande Valley. “Those people in poor countries that have a hard time affording food, they’re going to be even less able to afford it now.”
Myriad factors determine food prices. Ethanol demand has pushed up corn prices. Wheat prices rose last year when Russia banned exports after drought devastated its crop.
Other global indicators are worrisome, too, according to this essay highlighted in The New Security Beat. But it contains an oft-repeated statistic that gives me pause:
Yet, when food prices fall, India’s small farmers suffer. Already crippled by debt and encumbered by water shortages, 200,000 of them have committed suicide over the past 13 years.
Hmm. That’s a huge number of people. The link is to a speculative, poorly sourced CNN story that makes me even more skeptical. It also reminds me of a similarly hyped claim in this Daily Mail article, which blamed the “genocide” of Indian farmer suicides on GM crops.
So which is the cause for the farmer suicide epidemic in India and how reliable are those numbers? Such questions don’t undercut the legitimacy of the global food security issue, but I’m also of the mind that inflated statistics (be they propagated in the media or in policy journals) don’t help inform the policy debate.
Charlie Petit at Science Tracker has a confession. He doesn’t think he’s the only one, either:
A lot of science journalists who cover energy issues have probably gone through an infatuation stage, and then break-up, with a seductive actor: Peak Oil. It appeals to any reporter trying to cover a beat where numbers and natural (that is, based on reality and science) processes are important. Plus it’s geology.
Charlie, in his own uniquely engaging manner, seems to have fun while he’s drawing our attention to notable science stories (and occasional blog posts) of the day. His short, conversational anecdotes (sometimes cleverly disguised as gentle critiques) are like the warm-up act to the main show.
He and the Tracker have become essential reading for science & environmental journalists. Yet his style seems geared to a non-journalist audience as well, which is a good thing.
Michael Levi on why we don’t have a rational discussion:
Most advocates can’t admit that there are any downsides to nuclear power. Most opponents can’t accept that nuclear power has anything going for it.
But a commenter at his site, who is a Stanford law professor and energy policy expert, makes a good point about the “cost” issue that I’d like to see Levi address.
According to Politico, the Mississippi Governor
has now made a forthright declaration about the events swirling around what some Southerners still call the War of Northern Aggression. “Slavery was the primary, central, cause of secession,” Barbour told me Friday. “The Civil War was necessary to bring about the abolition of slavery,” he continued. “Abolishing slavery was morally imperative and necessary, and it’s regrettable that it took the Civil War to do it. But it did.”
Now, saying slavery was the cause of the South’s Lost Cause hardly qualifies as breaking news “” it sounds more like “olds.” But for a Republican governor of Mississippi to say what most Americans consider obvious truth is news. Big news.
Are we living in some kind of bizarro world? Just think about that for a second and ask yourself, how is it possible that this “forthright declaration” from a national figure in the Republican party is treated at face value 150 years after the Civil War?
Even the normally arch Democracy in America blog is parsing the political significance of Barbour’s reckoning with history. Others are treating his admission with appropriate absurdity, such as this headline from New York Magazine:
Haley Barbour Admits That Abolishing Slavery Was a Good Thing
And this one slapped on at The Huffington Post:
Haley Barbour Endorses Union Victory in the Civil War
As for the reaction from Governor Barbour’s base, I hear that an update to this classic is in the works. Here’s a sneak preview of the revised lyrics:
Well I heard mister Young Barbour sing talk about her
Well, I heard ole Neil Haley put her down
Well, I hope Neil Young Haley Barbour will remember
A Southern man don’t need him around anyhow
There’s this new line, too:
In Birmingham Biloxi, they love the governor (boo boo boo)
Well, we shall see.