In the early 2000s, when the Bush Administration started formulating its domestic energy policy, they snookered U.S. environmental groups with a classic bait & switch. Bush & company made a lot of noise about opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), which has long been a symbolic icon for green groups. Environmentalists promptly went into full battle mode over ANWR. They wrote articles, formed campaigns, poured their time and resources into ANWR’s defense. The theatrics (Republicans: open ANWR! and Greens: Over our dead bodies!) continued throughout Bush’s two terms, despite the fact that oil companies had no interest in the Refuge.
Meanwhile, the real battle front was out West, in Wyoming, Colorado, Montana, New Mexico, and Utah, where coalbed methane and gas drilling was skyrocketing, with marginal regulatory oversight and comparably little pushback from national green groups. In the early to mid-2000s, I crisscrossed some of those states, writing about threats to wildlife and archaeology from unrestrained gas drilling. (As a senior editor at Audubon magazine at the time, I also assigned related environmental stories.) Yes, the Western gas rush received plenty of local and regional news coverage, including from the terrific High Country News magazine. And big newspapers and magazines periodically parachuted into some of the hot spots. But Abraham Lustgarten at Pro Publica mostly had this story to himself, and man, did he own it.
As for national green groups, they kept up their costly vigil to save ANWR all through the 2000s, while drill rigs continued to multiply in the West’s fragile ecosystems, turning many thousands of acres of wildlife habitat into industrial zones. By 2008, one writer for High Country News had concluded that the Bush Administration’s ANWR ploy was a “straw dog.”
I got to thinking of this recent history after reading Bryan Walsh’s post on how the Keystone pipeline has become a symbolic, uniting issue for environmentalists today. He starts off:
Given that there are already more than 2.3 million miles of pipelines in the U.S.””carrying petroleum products, chemicals and natural gas””it might seem odd that so much political energy has been expended on a proposed 1,700-mile pipeline. Yet the controversial Keystone XL pipeline””which would cross the upper Midwest to carry crude from Canadian oil sands down to refiners in the U.S.””has become the single biggest environmental issue facing America.
Walsh goes on to analyze where the lines in the sand are being drawn (by the opposing sides) and how the battle might play out. To my eyes, it looks like the Keystone pipeline is the new ANWR for U.S. greens.
Someone I have a lot of respect for says all the Durban bashing is misinformed. To those who argue that the recent climate summit in South Africa produced nothing of consequence, Andrew Light counters:
The fact is that not only did Durban produce a package of agreements essential for any hope of a meaningful contribution to mitigation and adaptation to climate change out of this forum, but it also avoided a disaster that would have sent this process back to where it started in 1992.
Light makes a strong, detailed case for why the climate community should be more appreciative of the lemonade made out of the lemons:
Those who claim Durban is a failure are missing the big picture. It emerged out of an incredibly hard process with multiple trip wires for failure. If there is going to be an international agreement (or cluster of them) that helps bend down emissions to get us to the goals we need to achieve then Durban will be seen as essential to getting there.
By the time I graduated high school everyone personally not only knew someone who had “˜been to war’ but everyone knew someone who had been killed or maimed in a war. Sit down and make a list of all the “˜trials and tribulations’ our generation had to contend with and our parents generation had to contend with then compare them to the younger generation.
Our children aren’t going to get a perfect world, it’s a lot better then what was handed to us by our parents and it’s a lot better then was handed to our parents by their parents.
Oh, this should be good for another noisy round of meaningless climate warfare:
“Our biggest problem is to deal with the skepticism and denial of the cult-like lemmings who would take us over the cliff,” said [California Governor Jerry] Brown, a Democrat, eliciting cheers and laughter from an audience of roughly 200 policymakers, businessleaders, and activists. “The skeptics and deniers have billions of dollars at their disposal … But I can tell you we’re going to fight them every step of the way until we get this state on a sustainable path forward.”
More laughter came when [IPCC Chair Rajendra] Pachauri joked that Branson could give climate deniers tickets on the aviation mogul’s planned flights into outer space. “Perhaps it could be a one-way ticket,” Pachauri said, smiling, “though I’m not sure space deserves them.”
So these yucks come on the heels of a toothless agreement that kicked the climate can down the road for another decade, and these guys are joking about sending “deniers” to the moon. Seriously, though, do Brown & company really believe that climate skeptics are the “biggest problem”? When will these guys and the rest of the climate concerned movement realize they are fighting the wrong adversary?
Christopher Hitchens is being lionized today for many things. I met him once, in the early 1980s, after signing him up to to speak at my college. The first thing he said to me, after arriving: “Comrade, where do you go to get a drink around here?” He was terrific that day, of course.
Like all of us, he was often wrong, but never in the way everyone else was wrong. His originality was a constant, his independence an unstoppable engine. He loved to argue and debate, not because he was a bully but because he thought it pointed in the direction of truth.
There is a popular belief in some quarters that the media is timid with its coverage on climate change. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. The dominant narrative for some time has been that global warming is real and will soon wreak havoc with the planet and civilization.
Some in the climate concerned community think this message should be be drummed into us until we submit. At the Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media, I argue that this approach is having the opposite effect. Sara Peach, a colleague there, discusses some recent examples of engagement that is a refreshing departure from the traditional gloom and doom mantra.
It is just about as obvious that AGW [anthropogenic global warming] is not a serious problem as it was that the Nazis weren’t in 1936. Plenty of supposedly reasonable people had plenty of reasonable reasons to do nothing about it then, but today we just think they were stupid. Wasn’t it just obvious, weren’t the facts staring them in the face? But there was not really a shortage of people who saw WWII coming.
A commenter on the previous thread makes that argument here. But we also don’t need to go that far into the past for 2020 hindsight. We could use today’s occasion in Iraq to argue that a war which had nothing to do with 9/11 and sold with selective, hyped information to a fearful nation, is, on the flipside, a good a argument for skepticism. Let’s review:
The U.S. war in Iraq “” a conflict that killed more than 4,000 American troops, cost $800 billion and divided the nation “” officially ended with a ceremony held under tight security.
“To be sure, the cost was high “” in blood and treasure for the United States and also for the Iraqi people,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said. “But those lives have not been lost in vain.”
So, knowing what we know today, was it worth it?
This rationalization from Fox News is a gem:
There may not have been weapons of mass destruction but for sure the U.S. military came of age in Iraq. It learned how to fight a counterinsurgency. It learned what it felt like to be perceived as an occupier. But most importantly nearly 1 million U.S. service members who passed through it and the Afghan theater became experts on the Middle East in all of its roiling complexity, making it impossible for Americans ever again to become truly isolationist.
Those U.S. forces learned how to take intelligence and hunt terrorists, skills that General Stanley McChrystal and the CIA perfected in Iraq, which undoubtedly were the basis for the skills and planning that allowed the U.S. military to execute with near perfect precision the killing of Usama Bin Laden and target and kill 99 percent of Al Qaeda’s top leaders worldwide. Those skills were honed and perfected in Iraq.
Never mind that the forces diverted to Iraq could have been used to nail Bin Laden much sooner while also helping to avoid the quagmire we find ourselves in today in Afghanistan. Otherwise, yeah, we learned why it’s not such a good idea to be an occupier in the Muslim world.
But getting back to the topic at hand, do these two pieces of history, Germany in 1936 and Iraq in 2003, hold lessons for us today, in how we are responding to climate change?
Miller-McCune has an article titled, “Why Isn’t Climate Change on More lips?” It starts off:
Eighty-three percent of Americans believe the Earth is heating up, according to a recent Reuters/Ipsons poll. Yet most live as though global warming isn’t taking place, even while knowing that it is.
The piece goes on to discuss an
array of denial devices created to protect us from fear. Along with social etiquette, cultural narratives and beliefs, and even jokes, they form a social shield allowing us to “look the other way” and lead our daily lives calmly, says University of Oregon sociologist Kari Norgaard.
The researcher studied this “collective denial” in a Norwegian village and wrote up the results in a recently published book called, Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions, and Everyday Life.
Now I’ve discussed this phenomenon numerous times already, and the best article I’ve seen to date on it is this one in the NYT magazine, from two years ago. But I’m going to talk anecdotally about this supposed “collective denial.” Because I’m not sure that really explains why more people aren’t talking about global warming. I’ll use myself and my own social circle in NYC. Many of my friends are highly educated, successful professionals. Doctors, lawyers, Wall Streeters. They are mostly liberal. They are well read. They subscribe to The New Yorker, the NYT, The Economist, etc. They stay up on the news. They care about the world.
They just have no time for it.
Their lives revolve around family, job, and sports. That makes them roughly similar to most Americans, regardless of income bracket.
My friends never talk about global warming. I don’t even bring it up. (Why would I ruin the Giants game on Sunday, anyway?) We talk about our kids, whether to get the Nook or new Kindle Fire for X-mas, the last movie we saw. We’ll talk politics during election years, but we don’t ever seem to get around to talking about global warming.
Are we in denial? I don’t think so. Most of us (who don’t write about this stuff for a living) are just too consumed with our families and our jobs to worry about a slow-moving, amorphous threat that isn’t slated to materialize until later this century. We have more immediate concerns.
The climate change-concerned community lives in a bubble of its own making, which reinforces the graveness of global warming to those who live and breathe the issue every day. Well, the rest of the world lives in a bubble of it’s own making, too. It’s called life. Global warming hasn’t penetrated that bubble yet, and I’m not it sure will anytime soon.
I just read a post that leads off this way:
In January 2009, new voluntary pharmaceutical industry guidelines on marketing to physicians went into effect (David 2010), which emphasize disclosure and transparency regarding the relationship between physicians and pharmaceutical companies. They also require changes in how pharmaceutical companies market products to physicians.
In fairness, the post is about the use of social media by pharmaceutical companies, but it just so happens that I know a few doctors, and trust me, those “voluntary” guidelines are worthless. Bermuda golfing junkets, gifts, and flirty, hot reps remain the norm.
Oh, and what happens in Bermuda usually stays in Bermuda.
There’s something remarkable happening this week in the climatesphere. People who routinely thunder that we are on the verge of climate doom have mostly shrugged at the lackluster outcome of the recent climate summit in South Africa. I’m wondering if they’ve self-medicated themselves with sedatives. Consider that, last week Grist’s David Roberts wrote (his emphasis):
If there is to be any hope of avoiding civilization-threatening climate disruption, the U.S. and other nations must act immediately and aggressively on an unprecedented scale. That means moving to emergency footing. War footing.
Yesterday, a more muted Roberts was waxing on about the importance of “symbolism” while chiding greens for holding to the “illusion that an international treaty could compel national decision makers to cut emissions faster their their domestic populations are willing.” So I’m curious to hear what mechanism he believes will compel the world to get on that “war footing.” Because I’m kinda thinking that “a plan about a plan,” with “holes big enough to drive a hummer through,” as Andy Revkin notes, and which, whatever it ends up being, doesn’t go into effect until 2020, is not anything to pin one’s hopes on.
Then there is Mr. Hell and High Water. Nobody consistently shouts louder from the climate doom mountaintop than Joe Romm. And nobody else relentlessly berates the media for failing to shout with him from the mountaintop. Like Roberts, Romm often argues that the urgency of global warming is at hand, and that continued dawdling will ensure climate catastrophe on a wide scale. Yet, seemingly determined to make lemonade out of lemons, Romm hailed the Durban agreement as a
a pretty big success, committing the entire world “” not just rich countries “” to develop a roadmap for reductions.
True, he also said that
from the perspective of what is needed to avert catastrophic climate change, the agreement was, sadly, lacking.
Which makes me wonder, according to the brutal logic of climate change, how Romm will define “success” going forward.
For as Fred Pearce observes in the New Scientist, the Durban deal
is a post-dated check. It won’t do anything to help the climate in the next decade ““ a decade that scientists say is critical to arresting global warming and turning the world’s energy infrastructure towards low-carbon sources.
So I’m still struggling to reconcile the feverish rhetoric and dire warnings with the cold reality of climate diplomacy. Stripped to its essence, what has the Durban agreement truly yielded? Eugene Robinson, in his Washinton Post column, pretty much nails it:
Durban’s real accomplishment was to keep the slow, torturous process of climate negotiations alive “” with the biggest carbon emitters now involved. This buys time for real solutions to emerge.
I think he’s right about the first part, that the process is still alive, but more like a death row candidate buying time with legal appeals. Exactly how much time climate negotiators can buy for the climate is anyone’s guess, except those who laud the results of the process while saying time has already run out.