At first I dismissed this crude post from Brad Johnson at Think Progress on Thursday as just another unfortunate example of an overexcited climate blogger looking to score some cheap political points. Then, on the same day, I read this from scientist Peter Gleick at the Huffington Post:
Violent tornadoes throughout the southeastern U.S. must be a front-page reminder that no matter how successful climate deniers are in confusing the public or delaying action on climate change in Congress or globally, the science is clear: Our climate is worsening.
Roger Pielke, Jr. deconstructs the Gleick article here.
Then, yesterday, Johnson followed up with another post that includes this:
In an email interview with ThinkProgress, Dr. Kevin Trenberth, one of the world’s top climate scientists, who has been exploring for years how greenhouse pollution influences extreme weather, said he believes that it is “irresponsible not to mention climate change” in the context of these extreme tornadoes.
There are are also quotes from Michael Mann (who says that “climate change is present in every meteorological event”) and Gavin Schmidt, the latter who Johnson describes as concurring with Trenberth and Mann, which I’m not seeing, based on Schmidt’s quote. (Gavin, if you’re reading this, feel free to correct me or clarify.)
Over at Climate Central, Andrew Freedman injects some much needed sanity into the discussion:
Those of us who write about climate change are often accused of attempting to link every unusual weather event to climate change, as if increasing air and ocean temperatures can explain everything from hurricanes to snowstorms. In this case, with the worst tornado outbreak since at least the 1974 “Super Outbreak”, and with the most tornadoes for any April since records began in the early 1950s, it’s important to understand that the scientific evidence indicates that climate change probably played a very small role, if any, in stirring up this violent weather. This might disappoint some advocates who are already using this to highlight the risks of climate change-related extreme weather.
It might, but that won’t stop them from flogging this climate dog.
UPDATE: I just noticed this talk is a year old. Still, it’s pretty fascinating.
Anyone interested in how the journalistic sausage gets made in the UK, about the cozy relationship between British reporters and politicians, about how climate change gets covered in the media, should watch this revealing talk by Sarah Mukherjee, who until recently was a BBC environmental correspondent.
Bishop Hill is making hay over some of her statements related to climategate and ties between NGO’s and climate science. But it was her dishing about the journalism profession that caught my attention.
At one point, referring to coverage of climate science, she mentions how difficult it is
trying to explain incredibly complex science in 50 words or 200 or 300 words. It doesn’t really fit. And what you have to do is hope that the policymakers do get it enough and are sophisticated enough in order to understand it. And fortunately, in a large number of cases, they do understand it, but they understand the Daily Mail headline more…there’s this panic [among politicians] about what the papers are going to say, and of course, depending on the mood or depending how slow a news day it is, you’re going to get a headline that will completely and deliberately misunderstand the science–often.
This next anecdote is a beauty:
The number of times I was rung at 7 oclock in the morning, ‘oh hi, it’s the desk here, there’s something about the environment on page 6 in the [Daily] mail. Could you do something?’
‘Well, what is it?’
‘Oh, I don’t know, it’s just something in the Mail.’
That was it. That’s all you had to know. It was in the Mail, therefore you had to do it. Despite the fact that you probably looked at the report and it was a load of nonsense, or the Mail had overwritten it. Most of my battles were over trying not to do pieces that had been covered wrongly by the tabloid press.
She then sighs and lets it rip:
This leads you to the conclusion that you have the political class and the media class, which are essentially the same thing. They all went to the same schools, they all went to the same places. They all know each other, have known each other since university days, or earlier…[they're] locked into some mutually destructive embrace. The politicians trust the media, because they think that they are in touch with normal people. I don’t know how the hell they are, because they spend their whole time with the politicians. Therefore the politicians give the stories to the media and the media then reflect that back…And actually nobody is talking to normal people at all. Nobody. No politicians. No journalists.
Ouch. All 75 minutes (which includes an interesting Q & A with the audience) are well worth watching.
On a recent post of mine at Climate Central, one reader left an impassioned comment that sounded as if he considered overpopulation to be the greatest threat to humanity. I’m going to break it up into three parts. Here’s the challenge, as he explained it:
An even more overlooked problem is overpopulation (defined as living unsustainably, whether due to a high number of people at a low level of consumption or a smaller number of people at a high level of consumption – basic human ecology). In most or all of the Arab countries undergoing civil unrest, unemployment is rampant due to a rapidly expanding number of people flooding the job market. Also, the fraction of the population that are children is enormous, meaning the problem will get worse very soon. Expect more countries to undergo this process, continued unrest, failed states, wars, and terrorism. Smaller families would have prevented this a generation ago.
I think he’s conveniently overlooking the venal corruption and oppression of the regimes in those countries as a major factor, and making a faulty assumption about smaller families. No matter. Here’s his solution–and because it will come too late, the consequence to humanity:
Now it will take 1 – 2 generations at one child per family just to stop growth, and a century or two to bring population down to a sustainable level. We don’t have that much time before we hit the wall of climate change, inadequate resources, and mass extinction. That’s true worldwide: we need smaller families everywhere, and drastically reduced consumption in developed countries. Since that won’t happen, expect collapse of modern civilization.
Now this final part, a riff on the nature of “graceful collapses,” is what fascinates me most:
In principle collapse could be “graceful,” with preservation of knowledge and diversity and an orderly retreat to agrarian, nomadic, and hunter-gatherer societies as humanitarian calamities rapidly lower population and consumption through natural disasters, disease, and famine that we will be powerless to prevent or adapt to.
Graceful collapses have happened before, but the odds are against it now for two reasons. First, languages and cultural knowledge are already being lost at a rapid rate as cultures go under. Second, the powerful will try to maintain their own well being by force, leading to more unrest, wars, terrorism, and possible nuclear holocaust.
Ungraceful (“graceless?”) collapse would probably mean the end of our species, and millions of years for the world’s ecology to rebuild after the mass extinction – if climate change doesn’t sterilize the planet.
Jeez, that makes Soylent Green seem like a Disney flick.
So here’s my question: Does anybody know of examples of “graceful collapses” in human history?
As for the “orderly retreat to agrarian, nomadic, and hunter-gatherer societies,” well, good luck with that Flintstones/National Geographic mashup. For a nice tonic to such romanticism, see this recent piece, the main point of which you can glean from its subhead:
Pre-modern lifestyles were fraught with violence, disease, and uncertainty. We should be happy that indigenous societies are increasingly leaving them behind.
These are very smart guys. The puzzle for me, then, is why they believe what they’ve written. I can’t help but think that there’s a case of climate change myopia at work. A big slice of the political spectrum has been so invested in identifying climate change as the ur-energy problem that whenever another energy problem arises, they look to climate policy for a solution. High gas prices? Carbon tax. Oil revenues flowing to Iran? Cap-and-trade. People driving gas guzzlers? More wind and solar. No one is stopping to ask a pretty basic question: are these policies well suited to the problems they’re being newly touted for? Don’t get me wrong: I’m all for strong climate policy. But if people who invoke climate policies as answers to our other energy woes really take those other energy problems seriously, they’ll start proposing solutions that actually do something about them, rather than trying to sell climate policy as something it’s not.
This is good that The Breakthrough Institute (TBI) is calling out the Heritage Foundation. Even better would be if TBI’s Post-Partisan Power collaborator, the American Enterprise Institute, pushed back, too. Or is this a fight that Steven Hayward would rather avoid?
I guess it depends on how strongly he feels about that part in the Post-Partisan Power report that
argues that the federal government should invest roughly $25 billion per year in military procurement, R&D, and a new network of university-private sector innovation hubs to create an energy revolution.
AEI can’t sit on the sidelines after endorsing a bipartisan report on energy and still expect people to take them at their word.
Over at Dot Earth, Andy Revkin engages in some hippie punching. (I’m being facetious–that’s David Roberts’ favorite term for anyone who criticizes progressives on climate politics and policy.) Here’s Revkin making an equivalence between “Birthers” and a segment of the climate community that remains stuck in its own echo chamber:
It’s easy to forget that there’s been plenty of climate denial to go around. It took a decade for those seeking a rising price on carbon dioxide emissions as a means to transform American and global energy norms to realize that a price sufficient to drive the change was a political impossibility.
As a new paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found, even when greenhouse-gas emissions caps were put in place, trade with unregulated countries simply shifted the brunt of the emissions elsewhere.
You mean political progressives can be in denial about inconvenient facts, too? C’mon Andy, how is that being helpful to the cause?
Jane Poynter and seven compatriots agreed to spend two years sealed inside a 3-acre terrarium in the Sonoran Desert. Their mission back in the 1990s: To see whether humans might someday be able to create self-sustaining colonies in outer space.
during the first two-year mission that began in 1991, the Biosphere was beset by one problem after another: Oxygen dwindled, and the sea became acidic. Crops failed, causing the bionauts to lose weight rapidly, while ants and other insects thrived.
But enough about the humans. What happened to the actual Biosphere? In his AP story, Breed writes:
Two decades later, the only creatures inhabiting Biosphere 2 are cockroaches, nematodes, snails, crazy ants and assorted fish. Scientists are still using the 7.2-million-square-foot facility, only now the focus is figuring out how we’ll survive on our own warming planet.
The new reconstituted plans for the enclosed Biosphere will not simulate reality again, though, and involve humans as part of the experiment.
Here’s a nice talk by Poynter about both the original scientific goals and the personal ordeal.