A Better World is the Story

By Keith Kloor | October 28, 2011 2:40 pm

I had just finished up a post when I came across this 2009 cartoon from USA Today at Andy Revkin’s tumblr site.

Eco-summit cartoon: What if it’s a big hoax & we create better world for nothing?

I’m betting Andy posted it now because of the  recent BEST news, which has inspired many headlines like this one.

But for me, the cartoon perfectly illustrates the suggestion I offer at the end of my latest post for the Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: climate change, sustainability
  • Leonard Weinstein

    What if in trying to create abetter world, we bankrupt it instead with our mindless green policies, and find it was not necessary to do anything. What if it a cooling trend starting in the early 21st century and addressing the non-existing warming problem used our resources and left us unable to supply heat to most people.

  • Gaythia

    We already know how to flirt with bankruptcy:  Import Middle Eastern oil and fight Middle Eastern wars.

  • Tom Fuller

    Leonard, I don’t think many people are advocating bankrupting the world.

    33% of the energy used in both residential and commercial structures is wasted. It would save money (costed out including cost of capital) over a 5-8 yrd period to put energy efficiency mechanisms in place.

    That’s not bankrupting the world.

    The extremely modest subsidies given to renewable energies (which pale in comparison to support given to fossil fuels) is not bankrupting anybody. Those who have chosen to implement those technologies are not going bankrupt at any pace different to business (and homeowners) as a whole. They are choosing to spend available money on the fuel choice of preference, and preference is not necessarily determined by price.

    The UK is taking a foolish path–but I don’t see hordes of countries eager to follow them down it.

    If it cools this century it won’t change the fact that fossil fuels will tend to get more expensive, that utilities will tend to charge more money and that efficiency and renewable sources of supply will increase in attractiveness.

    I honestly do not see the problem you are trying to highlight. 

  • http://thingsbreak.wordpress.com/ thingsbreak

    I agree (though not with the rejection of anthropogenic warming, obviously) with Leonard’s point, in this narrow sense:

    The idea that we can mitigate and adapt to climate change and transition to a clean energy global economy without enormous tradeoffs is a strawman. While history shows that the anticipated costs of regulating/mitigating environmental problems are usually overstated, there are costs.

    If it was free and/or there were no difficult tradeoffs, then I don’t think there would be the kind of resistance to moving forward that we have. Sure, the Rush Limbaughs and Heritage Foundation types would still call it a hoax, but the general public would tolerate if not necessarily demand action on it; i.e. we’d have a situation similar to combating ozone depletion.

    It’s fine to point out the co-benefits of mitigation in terms of things like preserving rainforest (or the co-climate-benefits of pursuing other environmental goals, like preserving rainforest), but to me the above cartoon is incredibly misleading if not outright dishonest.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    The sticking point isn’t  trade-offs per se but rather the asymmetry between who benefits and who loses. 

  • http://thingsbreak.wordpress.com/ thingsbreak

    @5 Marlowe Johnson:
    the asymmetry between who benefits and who loses.

    In what/which sense? That the impacts of “losing” are disproportionately clustered around those least responsible for the problem with the converse being true of the benefits of the status quo?

    Or something else?

  • harrywr2

    Tom Fuller

    They are choosing to spend available money on the fuel choice of preference, and preference is not necessarily determined by price.

    Unless you haven’t noticed, the West Cost Climate Initiative MANDATES 20% renewable’s. There is ‘no choice’ involved. Do you know Bonneville Power ‘throws away’ GIGAWATTS worth hydro power ever year because renawables are MANDATED. That’s right…when the wind and the rain come together Wind takes precedent because it gets a 2 cent tax subsidy and Bonneville just ends up spilling the hydro-power.
    Here is the wind power people whining about how they need to be compensated for any losses they may occur due to ‘lack of demand’.

  • Marlowe Johnson

    While I agree that mitigation policy should be sold on it’s own terms, rather than the ‘oblique’ approach advocated by TBI-types, and that mitigation in the short term –if we’re serious about it–will cost money.  But when the rubber hits the road, it’s the distribution of costs/benefits that matters more than the sign.    

  • Marlowe Johnson

    What is the West ‘Cost’ Initiative? Freudian slip perhaps :-) ? Also, can you point me to the WCI document that mandates a 20% RPS?

  • http://thingsbreak.wordpress.com/ thingsbreak

    I disagree with the “oblique” approach because it seems fundamentally dishonest, and far, far more than the “deficit model” seems condescending.

    I don’t want to trick people into supporting mitigation in the guise of selling them something else. Again, that’s not to say that I think co-benefits shouldn’t be promoted until the cows come home- they should. But certainly “skeptics” are going to be all over any attempt to re-brand or reframe mitigation, and will tie the new attempt back to “energy taxes” or whatever, no matter how many veils the PR geniuses try to throw up.

    Yes, it’s certainly true that simply throwing facts at the problem isn’t going to solve it.

    But explaining the climate problem in contexts that involve the personal values of the people involved while still talking about climate (e.g. hunters, farmers, businessmen, etc.) seems like a lot more honest, a lot more potentially successful way to get support than trying to do an end run around them and hoping the ostensible “unwashed masses” are too ignorant to realize they’re being gamed.

    In other words, the oblique solution is something that sounds a lot more plausible to poli sci types who think the public is just an easy mark.

  • huxley

    Keith: Thanks for posting that cartoon. I had seen it somewhere and lost the link.

    For those of us on the right, however, that cartoon confirms our suspicion that climate change is part of a much larger liberal-green agenda that our liberal betters wish to foist upon us — for our own good of course, which they know so much better than we do.

    Much of the pushback from the right on climate change isn’t about the science so much as the wary sense we have that climate change is a Trojan Horse for all sorts of leftist utopian policies.

    It’s inevitable and perfect that climate activists are aligning themselves with the Occupy movement. Good luck with that. See you at the polls in 2012.

  • huxley

    I don’t want to trick people into supporting mitigation in the guise of selling them something else.

    thingsbreak @ 10: Good for you. We disagree on much, but I respect your honesty.

  • Leonard Weinstein

    #3 Tom,
    I am in favor of efficiency. I am in favor of Nuclear to replace coal. I am in favor of developing resources within the US. I am an environmentalist in a real sense, not a crazy green. I am also a CAGW skeptic, and think your ideas are totally unrealistic in the real world. The move to “green” is the most destructive move I have seen.


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Collide-a-Scape is an archived Discover blog. Keep up with Keith's current work at http://www.keithkloor.com/

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.


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