The issue of special interest/advocacy funding is ever present in the climate change debate. Several months ago, Matthew Nisbet challenged the conventional wisdom that environmental organizations were being vastly outspent by industry-affiliated associations and deep-pocketed conglomerates with an anti-regulatory bent.
One of the things that perpetuates the monolithic climate skeptics-are-funded-by-industry meme is the lack of transparency by some contrarian scientists, as revealed in stories like this one from yesterday. Additionally, as Reuters reports, it’s not just the considerable sum of money that climate skeptic and astrophysicist Willie Soon has received in the last few years, it’s recent stuff like this:
Soon co-wrote a May 25 opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal called “The Myth of Killer Mercury.” In the piece, Soon was identified as a natural scientist from Harvard, but the newspaper did not disclose that he receives most of his funding from the energy industry.
Hell, I would have accepted even a simple acknowledgement that he receives some money from coal companies. I have to think that WSJ readers would have appreciated knowing this about someone who co-authors an op-ed claiming that mercury (emitted from coal-generated power plants) is not harmful to your health.
Speaking of disclosures, on the same day the story broke on Wille Soon’s lucrative side gigs with the energy industry, Scientific American put up a feature headlined,
Storm Warnings: Extreme Weather Is A Product Of Climate Change
The writer, John Carey, reports:
Scientists used to say, cautiously, that extreme weather events were “consistent” with the predictions of climate change. No more. “Now we can make the statement that particular events would not have happened the same way without global warming,” says Kevin Trenberth, head of climate analysis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo.
That’s a profound change””the difference between predicting something and actually seeing it happen. The reason is simple: The signal of climate change is emerging from the “noise”"”the huge amount of natural variability in weather.
If you read to the end of the piece, which is the first in a three part series, you’ll also learn this:
Reporting for this story was funded by Pew Center on Global Climate Change.
Now that’s how you do a disclosure!
Then again, I have to ask: why is a highly reputable science magazine letting a foundation-supported organization (whose “mission is to provide credible information, straight answers, and innovative solutions in the effort to address global climate change”) financially underwrite a story about global warming and extreme weather?
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not unheard of for foundations to help fund specific articles in magazines, but often those are for investigative or enterprise stories that require a significant expenditure of time and resources. And even then, these stories are usually published in political or advocacy-oriented magazines (such as Mother Jones or High Country News). And by the way, I don’t have a problem with that. I see nothing wrong with grant funded journalism as a supplement to the traditional advertising and subscriber-based model, as it allows reporters to pursue stories that might otherwise not get written, especially given the tight budgets at many publications.
I just question whether it’s appropriate for a magazine like Scientific American, which I consider to be a top flight science journalism outlet without any stated political or ideological agenda. (Of course, they get periodically hammered from partisans that inhabit the polar ends of the climate debate, but that’s par the course.)
There’s also another odd aspect about this SciAm story funded by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. It’s advancing a controversial claim (for a global warming link to individual weather-related disasters) that is largely contradicted by a “white paper” issued yesterday by…you guessed it, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. Here’s from the paper’s introduction (my emphasis):
The fact that 2010 was one of the warmest years on record as well as one of the most disastrous, begs the question: Is global warming causing more extreme weather? The short and simple answer is yes, at least for heat waves and heavy precipitation. But much of the public discussion of this relationship obscures the link behind a misplaced focus on causation of individual weather events. The questions we ask of science are critical: When we ask whether climate change “caused” a particular event, we pose a fundamentally unanswerable question. This fallacy assures that we will often fail to draw connections between individual weather events and climate change, leading us to disregard the real risks of more extreme weather due to global warming.
None of this is to say that Carey’s SciAm story is without journalistic merit, even if it leans heavily on one source–Kevin Trenberth–who is known for unreservedly advancing the extreme weather event/global warming link. Trenberth is again a central source in part two of Carey’s article that is posted today, but this time he is juxtaposed with another scientist with a counter view:
This science of attribution is not without controversies. Another case in point: the 2010 Russian heat wave, which wiped out one quarter of the nation’s wheat crop and darkened the skies of Moscow with smoke from fires. The actual meteorological cause is not in doubt. “There was a blocking of the atmospheric circulation,” explains Martin Hoerling, a research meteorologist at the NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory, also in Boulder. “The jet stream shifted north, bringing a longer period of high pressure and stagnant weather conditions.” But what caused the blocking? Hoerling looked for an underlying long-term temperature trend in western Russia that might have increased the odds of a heat wave, as Stott had done for the 2003 European event. He found nothing. “The best explanation is a rogue black swan””something that came out of the blue,” he says.
Wrong, retorts NCAR’s Trenberth. He sees a clear expansion of the hot, dry Mediterranean climate into western Russia that is consistent with climate change predictions””and that also intensified the Pakistan monsoon. “I completely repudiate Marty””and it doesn’t help to have him saying you can’t attribute the heat wave to climate change,” he says. “What we can say is that, as with Katrina, this would not have happened the same way without global warming.”
Hmm, this kind of dueling seems exactly the kind of counterproductive debate that Daniel Huber and Jay Gulledge caution against in their “white paper” for Pew. They conclude that,
it does not make sense to focus on whether individual events are supercharged by climate change. It does make sense, however, to take lessons from actual events about our current vulnerabilities and the risks to society caused in unabated greenhouse gas emissions that drive extreme weather risks ever higher as time passes.
The case they make for a “risk management framework” is well worth reading alongside Carey’s SciAm articles exploring the evidence for a link between specific extreme weather events and climate change.
Mainstream libertarians really don’t know how to deal with crazy-ass, anti-government fanatics. The libertarian fall back position is a combination of reflexive sympathy for anyone who distrusts government and a minimization of the threat posed by the curdling of the more zealous, violence-prone militia types.
This is evident over at Reason, where one of the writers sarcastically describes recent media coverage of a manhunt in Montana for a former militia leader (who got into a gunfight with law authorities) as “fearful ’90s-style nostalgia over ‘extremists.’”
The Reason writer, Lucy Steigerwald, takes issue with this AP story about a Montana town as “a cradle for sometimes-violent anti-government activity,” and this Gawker post titled, “Montana Town Becomes Haven for Angry White People.” She has a kindler, gentler view:
These people are a diverse mix of sometimes crazy, sometimes racist, mainly harmless and powerless folks who want to be left alone.
Funny that Steigerwald never mentions what happens when these “folks” are not so harmless.
Five years ago this September I was fortunate to spend a week with a team of archaeologists who were surveying remote stretches of Utah’s Desolation Canyon. Half the crew set off on the Green River and the other half on horseback, working their way down the Tavaputs Plateau. (I’ll get back to those horse guys in another post–quite a story in of itself.) I was part of the river flotilla. Here’s me at the helm of one raft, pretending to be an experienced river runner. (The guy in the middle did much of the rowing.)
Kevin Jones, Utah’s state archaeologist until last week, was on this trip. On Friday, I wrote about how he got fired and probably why it happened. I had already gotten to know Jones briefly while writing this story for Smithsonian magazine. Over the years, I’ve had many instructive discussions with him about evolutionary archaeology and the prehistoric cultures of Utah, among other things. That week in Desolation canyon, Jones, who is a skilled musician, played a terrific mandolin at night around the campfire.
Here he is investigating a cliff ledge granary (a food stuff, where seeds and corn would be stored). We spent a lot of time scrambling up steep cliff sides in search of ancient granaries.
Check out that Smithsonian story if you want to learn about the people who put these granaries in such precarious places. Then read this story I wrote in Archaeology magazine, to learn about what I was doing in Desolation canyon and about the archaeologist (and former journalist) who has spearheaded some amazing work in this part of Utah. His name is Jerry Spangler. I also tagged along with him for this piece in Backpacker magazine.
All these stories have been written since the mid 2000s (here’s another one in Science magazine, which includes quotes from both Jones and Spangler), and are set in the same spectacular region of Utah.
I mention these articles because they show just a part of what Jones has been involved in as Utah’s state archaeologist. For another side of Jones, check out this 2009 story in the Salt Lake Tribune, which I wrote about here in a profile of him.
During that week I spent in Desolation Canyon five years ago, Jones said something to me that I’ll never forget, while we were sharing the same raft one day on the river, talking about the creep of recent oil and gas development at the top of the Tavaputs plateau:
I think your grandkids ought to be able to take this same trip and see this beautiful scenery and prehistoric rock art, because to visit here and see it in this context is very enriching. It gives us a sense of our place in history.
Thanks to the tireless efforts of people like Jones (and Spangler), many of Utah’s archaeological treasures will be safeguarded for future generations.
If only Utah pols felt the same way about their state’s rich heritage.
Anthony Watts, the proprietor of the well known climate skeptic blog, WUWT, seems to have a double standard on what constitutes an insult to ethnic groups.
Watts is making a big deal out of some recent comments by Timothy Wirth, a former U.S. senator and now the president of the UN Foundation, who reportedly said this during a recent conference call:
“[W]e have to–I think, again as I’ve suggested before–undertake an aggressive program to go after those who are among the deniers, who are putting out these mistruths, and really call them for what they’re doing and make a battle out of it. They’ve had pretty much of a free ride so far, and that time has got to stop.”
Watts and the right wing news outlet that is making hay out of Wirth’s comments, are disingenuously twisting the meaning of his words. Wirth is merely suggesting that climate skeptics should be more aggressively challenged on their claims, that’s all.
But Watts, a combat leader in the climate wars, puts his own spin on this for obvious partisan purposes:
Well yesterday, the former senator insulted the Jewish race with the tired old “denier” label, then set his foot on fire, then stuck it in his mouth trying to tell about half of the US population (according to recent polls) that he’s “coming after them” because they don’t share his opinion.
Please. People should be able to see through this for what it is.
Also, funny how Watts is offended on behalf of the “Jewish race” (interesting phrasing). Several days ago, Watts mentioned that he was “dismayed” by Lord Monckton’s recent use of Nazi imagery, in a post titled
Note to Lord Monckton: this isn’t helping
In that post, Watts wrote that
putting swastikas in planned public powerpoint presentations, and linking that by name to a person, is in my opinion, way over the top and in very bad form and totally hijacks and negates the important messages elsewhere in the presentation.
Evidently, such behavior doesn’t rise to the level of insult to Jewish people. It’s just “way over the top and in very bad form,” because it undermines the climate skeptic argument.
What’s very bad form is when partisan climate bloggers express phony, selective outrage.
The American debate over climate change turns on two main themes. One is the science of the problem; the other is government measures to fix it. Many believe these themes cover the entire debate. They’re wrong.
Far more than science is at play on climate change. At its root is a debate over culture, values, ideology, and worldviews.
As such, he says the debate
must move away from positions (climate change is or is not happening) and toward the underlying interests and values at play. It must engage at the deeper ideological levels where resistance is taking place, using new ways to frame the argument to bridge both sides.
The entire piece is well worth reading.
I have a story that just went up on the Science magazine website. I’ll have much more to say about it on my site over the weekend.
UPDATE: I didn’t see this editorial in the Salt Lake Tribune until after my story was published in Science. Here’s an excerpt:
Puzzling out the real reason why the state archaeologist and his two assistants were fired Tuesday, supposedly for budget reasons alone, is also a matter of setting the event in context. But it doesn’t take a lot of digging to see that the lamentable action had very little to do with payroll and everything to do with payback.
Officially, the axing of state archaeologist Kevin Jones and assistants Derinna Kopp and Ronald Rood was nothing personal, just business, forced upon the Utah Department of Community and Culture by legislative spending cuts.
But, set in its full context, the firings strongly suggest that the archaeologists had become very unpopular with the powers that be in the Legislature, governor’s office, Utah Transit Authority and others in Utah’s inordinately powerful real estate development business.
Though Green has been an occasional commenter on this site before, I’m not actually familiar with where he stands on climate science and the whole climate change debate. But I like that he’s not afraid to criticize what I have referred to as the “climate capos” on the right wing side of the debate, as seen here from an essay posted earlier this week:
Over at climatedepot.com, and, apparently in the Rushbo zone, there is a new tone of intolerance when it comes to diversity of climate opinion: Newt Gingrich, Mitt Romney, and Chris Christie (hail the redeemer of fat guys from New Jersey!) have all been slammed recently for being taken in by the great climate con, and are basically being written off as viable candidates on the right. The Right has refined their tolerance equation to match that of the Left: “you’re either with us or against us.”
Note to readers: Green is being sarcastic there with his reference to the “great climate con.” I do know that he not a subscriber to the Morano/Inhofe grand hoax worldview.
any comment on Gore’s primary critique; namely that the MSM is failing the public on this issue? I thought media bashing and climate change was your bete noire”¦.
I do have some thoughts, but let’s first have a look at John Broder’s nice summation in the NYT of Gore’s media criticism:
Much of Mr. Gore’s essay is devoted to criticism of the news media as failing to report accurately on the scientific consensus that climate change is real and that it is most likely caused by human activities. He said the media had been cowed by an aggressive lobbying and public relations campaign financed by the oil, gas and coal industries, or had presented ideological entertainment in the guise of news reporting.
I would say that of all these points, only the last one rings true to me (“ideological entertainment in the guise of news reporting”)–but only with respect to broadcast TV, which is in line with my own critique of the PBS segment on Gore’s essay.
I have argued many times on this site that I think all the histrionic criticism of climate reporting in mainstream newspapers and magazines is unwarranted. I still believe that. My other thoughts on this issue are best captured by Andy Revkin here:
The [Gore] piece retreads old arguments implying that if the disinformation on this tough issue were swept away (along with bad media habits), some kind of magical consensus would emerge. That’s a fundamental misreading of a lot of social science, at least to my eye. There are inconvenient truths, yes. But we also have “An Inconvenient Mind.”
Additionally, here’s Bryan Walsh over at Time magazine:
Gore and other critics from the left are wrong about how poorly the media reports on climate change””and even more wrong about the difference it makes for the public.
But as Walsh also notes,
Gore’s bigger concern is television, where he’s on surer ground.
So in sum, I think it’s important for critics of climate reporting to not conflate the different mediums when they go on their journalism bashing benders.
On a related note, Walsh also makes some very important distinctions that climate concerned media critics should pay close attention to. He writes that “the scientific consensus over the reality of manmade climate change has grown increasingly strong in recent years,” but that
consensus on the reality of climate change is not the same thing as consensus on the exact effects and severity of climate change, where there is significant and natural scientific debate. Nor is there consensus””or some kind of unimpeachable fact””on how we as a nation and a world should deal with climate change. The reporting should reflect that very lively debate“”a fact that sometimes gets forgotten by environmentalists.
Oh, the irony.
Yesterday, Rolling Stone magazine posted Al Gore’s 7,000 word essay, which is critical of the media’s (and President Obama’s) handling of climate change. That same day, the highly respected PBS news show hosted a discussion of Gore’s essay. Instead of inviting non-partisan environmental scholars or political scientists to analyze the essay’s premises, PBS went with three agenda-pushing wonk/pundits that reflected the left wing/right wing spectrum.
One of them was Ken Green, a resident scholar at the conservative/libertarian-oriented American Enterprise Institute. At one point in the discussion, Gwen Ifill, the PBS host, unintentionally gave him an opening to hijack the discussion. According to the transcript, here’s the exchange where Green does his best Marc Morano imitation. What follows requires serious unpacking. But first read it through:
GWEN IFILL: Are we having the right argument? Is — are the climate skeptics being given too much, too little attention?
KENNETH GREEN: We’re beginning to actually have the right argument, which is interesting.
You have Andy Revkin at The New York Times, an environmental reporter, seriously upset over the fact that the U.N. IPCC, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, let a report on renewable energy be written by the Sierra Club.
And this is a huge scandal of unprecedented proportions.
GWEN IFILL: Is that true?
KENNETH GREEN: And some in the environmental left reporting community are furious, they are livid over what’s been done, and the discrediting that’s going happen to the entire U.N. environmental movement.
So, I think now we are beginning to have the right debate. It’s no longer, oh, there’s only a few cranks and, oh, there’s a few people with tinfoil hats. There’s a real problem with the politicization of climate science. And now, if we have that debate, I think that’s…
DANIEL WEISS: But, Ken, that politicization has occurred on the right. The National Academy of Sciences just released a report two months ago that found that 96 percent of all the global warming studies that have been peer-reviewed by scientists were all pointed in one direction, increase…
KENNETH GREEN: But, Dan, it takes two to tango. It takes two sides to tango.
Yikes! Let’s start at the top, when Ifill asks, “Are we having the right argument? Is — are the climate skeptics being given too much, too little attention?” Hello, the debate was was supposed to be about Gore’s essay.
Green, of course, thinks its a terrific “argument” to have. And then he uses Andy Revkin in an egregiously misleading fashion to help make his argument: “You have Andy Revkin at The New York Times, an environmental reporter, seriously upset over the fact that the U.N. IPCC, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, let a report on renewable energy be written by the Sierra Club.”
Just about everything about that statement is factually incorrect. Or as Revkin himself puts it:
I’m cited (inaccurately) by Green for my concerns on the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report on renewable energy. (He mashes up the Sierra Club with Greenpeace and misses my main concern about the report, which was over the lack of transparency, not the unsurprisingly involvement of an environmental group.)
In the next breath, Green grossly exaggerates: “And this is a huge scandal of unprecedented proportions.”
At this, Ifill’s BS antenna goes up: “Is that true?”
To which Green conveniently ignores her and moves right along to expand on this “huge scandal” and “why we are beginning to have the right debate. It’s no longer, oh, there’s only a few cranks and, oh, there’s a few people with tinfoil hats. There’s a real problem with the politicization of climate science. And now, if we have that debate, I think that’s…”
At this point, Daniel Weiss, who is director of climate strategy for the Center for American Progress, cuts in and soon the debate lapses into the both sides are guilty narrative.
Game over. Green wins because a discussion that was supposed to be about whether Obama is doing enough on climate change morphs into a discussion of the latest “huge scandal” in the climate concerned community and the politicization of climate science by both sides.
All in all, the exchange is a perfect distillation of not just the impoverished public climate debate (represented by ideological combatants on TV), but also the cynical tactics employed by some partisans.
Leo Hickman in the Guardian takes stock of some recent encouraging developments and muses:
Could peace talks ever end the ‘climate war’?
In his article, he wonders,
are there any shared goals between the two warring parties in the climate debate worth finding “peace” for?
Towards the end, he sums up:
When so much of this war is fought in anonymous online forums (see below for details!), would it be constructive to bring these two groups together in a room to begin tentative “peace talks” based on first trying to identify any common ground? Or is it hopelessly naÃ¯ve of me to even suggest that this could ever bring positive results?
My immediate reaction to Hickman’s olive branch (before reading any response to it) was captured by the “BBD” commenter at Bishop Hill’s blog:
My own small experience – some of it in comments here – is that closed minds rule.
And indeed, a quick scan of the 100-plus comments on that thread bear this out. Hickman, in his comment at Bishop Hill’s, also noticed:
Thanks for responding to my Guardian article. Unless Andrew [Montford] has his own views, I’ll conclude from the reaction here that the answer to my headline question is a resounding ‘no’. It’s a shame that there doesn’t appear to be any common ground at all, but I’m glad I asked the question.
I have some ideas on why I think the hostilities between the warring camps will continue unabated, but first I’d like to hear from you.
Do you think the ‘climate war’ will grind on, irrespective of olive branches waved from either side? Or do you see some possible middle ground that can be agreed on?