Squaring New U.S. Climate Report with “All of the Above”

By Keith Kloor | May 7, 2014 2:08 pm

It wasn’t that long ago that global warming was mostly discussed as (and believed to be) a distant threat– the scope, timing and severity of its impacts considered uncertain. Then in recent years, as climate scientists began studying and asserting linkages between greenhouses gases and severe weather events, the discourse shifted.

We are now at the point where everything from typhoons and mountain climbing tragedies to civil wars and wildfires are seen through the prism of global warming. This is not to discount man-made climate change as a contributing factor to particular extreme weather events and related disasters; I’m just making an observation about the one dimensional lens increasingly used by many to view the world at large. By suggesting this, am I off-message, unhelpful, contrarian?

Regardless, no one can dispute the new discourse of climate change as an immediate and urgent concern. This week’s orchestrated roll-out of a new U.S. government report on climate change officially cements the “new normal,” a phrase used to characterize everything happening now in the context of climate change.

NBC had perhaps the darkest take on this new era.

Here’s a headline from another NBC story:

American Doomsday: White House Warns of Climate Catastrophes

President Obama was much less dramatic.

The #NCA2014 is clear: We have to act now to reduce carbon pollution and prepare for the effects of climate change. http://t.co/wIgUMan5wT

— Barack Obama (@BarackObama) May 6, 2014

The official White House codification of climate change as a clear and present danger gave pause to some and left others wondering if the needle on public attitudes would be moved. One commentator found a silver lining.

If you just paid attention to the headlines and stories about the big climate report issued this week by the White House, you might get the impression that the Obama Administration is really and truly serious about tackling global warming right now. But that’s only because you didn’t hear what John Podesta, senior advisor to the President, said during a White House press briefing on Monday. Here’s a taste:

The United States is now the largest producer of natural gas in the world and the largest producer of gas and oil in the world.  It’s projected that the United States will continue to be the largest producer of natural gas through 2030.  For six straight months now, we’ve produced more oil here at home than we’ve imported from overseas.  So that’s all a good-news story…We’ve added 133,000 jobs in the last three years in the oil and natural gas extraction sector, and those numbers are projected to continue to grow.  But at the same time as we’ve been producing more oil and natural gas at home we’re cutting our energy usage dramatically, improving energy efficiency.  That’s part of what the President means when he says that we have an “all of the above” energy strategy, trying to produce more domestic energy but also using it in a much more efficient way.

Yes, we can do this, America! After listening to Podesta tick off all the Administration’s statistics on increased oil and gas drilling, one reporter noted that it “pretty much read like a wholehearted endorsement of fracking.”

Indeed, Podesta’s enthusiasm for the”good news story” about the upward oil & gas production trend line was unmistakable. At the same time, he affirmed the “overwhelming amount of evidence” for climate change that is “caused by CO2 pollution and other pollutants that we’re putting into our air.” Additionally, he talked up the President’s commitment to action on climate change and also said this:

 if you want to try to side with the polluters and argue to the American public that climate change is not happening — today, tomorrow and certainly in the future, that’s going to be a losing argument.

The essence of Podesta’s contradictory briefing was captured in this tweet:

Obama appears to be genuinely concerned about climate change. Whether natural gas ends up being a bridge fuel to a clean energy economy or not remains to be seen. But hey, if you take the new White House report on climate change at face value, then at least we can chart the impacts of the President’s “all of the above” energy policy.

UPDATE: I didn’t see this Washington Post column by Dana Milbank until after I wrote my post. The opening graph:

On the eve of the Obama administration’s release Tuesday of a report warning about grave consequences of climate change, presidential counselor John Podesta went into the White House briefing room and crowed about fossil-fuel production in words that could have been penned by Dick Cheney.

  • Richard_Arrett

    I don’t understand this sentence:

    Is this off-message, unhelpful, contrarian?

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Keith Kloor

      It’s a throwaway line, intended for a certain segment of readers.

    • Richard_Arrett

      Right – I am just not clear on whether it goes with the first part of the paragraph or the second?

      Is it contrarian to view everything through the prism of global warming or contrarian to make an observation that this seems one dimensional?

      • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Keith Kloor

        I think I see the confusion. Take a look at the line again, and see if the change I made clarifies the meaning.

        • Richard_Arrett

          Much better – sorry to even bring it up – but I got hung up on it the first time through. Thanks.

  • Richard_Arrett

    In my opinion attributing every single weather event to global warming is very unhelpful.

    There will be a backlash eventually. More and more people will tune out the gloom and doom – because it does seem like snow and rain are caused by humans – but so is drought. Flooding is caused by humans but so are water shortages. Hurricanes are caused by humans – but so are less than normal amounts of hurricanes. Less tornado’s than normal is also apparently caused by global warming – and certainly more than normal (when we have such a year).

    Judith Curry just posted about this – and her conclusion was that global warming doesn’t really mean anything anymore – because everything is caused by global warming (which means nothing is caused by global warming).

    But I do see the contradiction you point out.

    Don’t use carbon – but we sure are producing and burning a lot of carbon.

    The President is conflicted on the pipeline also – and won’t decide whether to approve it or not. Not that it makes any difference where the oil is burned – the US, Canada or elsewhere – it is still carbon going into the air.

    This report just seems like a propaganda campaign – but it is not even clear what policy the USA wants to pursue.

    Maybe it is just less coal and more natural gas?

    It should be more nuclear and less coal, natural gas and oil – but we have not realized that yet as a nation.

  • http://goodbyemag.com Steve Miller

    The backlash actually preceded the attribution of specific events to global warming. No way this convinces anybody.

    The schizo reactions at the top – The World Is Doomed by this Wonderful News of Increased Energy Production – should be the basis of a musical.

    • Richard_Arrett

      Your right!

      I have noticed that polls seem to show a growing number of people who keep moving the importance of the issue of climate change down lower relative to other issues.

  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

    Anybody who disputes Climate Advocacy is thereby proven to be unqualified to comment.

    Vital evolutions – Vitalist Doctrine, Scientific Socialism, perpetual motion, Krebiozen, Carlo Pietro Giovanni Guglielmo Tebaldo Ponzi, remote viewing, tasseography, feng shui, reincarnation – have been crushed to our infinite loss. Pay double the Carbon Tax on Everything to Save the Little Children a century hence – or they will die by your hand.

  • Tom Scharf

    I think the climate change “here and now” strategy is a political one, not so much science. They are attacking the thinking that climate change is a far off threat so no one worries about it. Is this really what is preventing action on climate change?

    I looked at some of the data they used to prove it is happening today, and it was pretty much the same stuff as always. Which is to say they list climate disasters, not really climate CHANGE disasters. The extreme events du jour.

    The risk here is that they are pressing too hard to link everything to climate change, and thus are open to losing credibility when people check the trends to see if these items are really getting worse, which in most cases they are not. They are “normal” climate disasters that have always occurred. Bill Nye even argued on CNN recently that tornadoes were getting worse and caused by climate change, which was way off base.

    And even the events that are getting worse, take recent forest fires in the west, the causation here is a lot more complex than a minimal temperature increase. Ask the forestry service what they think is the major contributors.

    This latest hyperventilation will be in the news cycle for a couple days and be gone. We had the IPCC reports, and this latest one, and my guess is the peg never moved on public opinion.

    Screaming louder stopped working 10 years ago. The fear card has been overplayed. The bluff(?) was called. Now what? More of the same and expect a different result?

  • JH

    No doubt the Big Circus surrounding this report is in part a ploy designed to drive supporters to the polls in an off-year election, when hard-core democrat voters often stay home.

  • kennypoo

    Every thing is political these days. How about we just take care of the only planet we have.

    • http://solar-power-now.com/ Solar-Power-Now.com

      Exactly. It should be as simple as this.

  • http://solar-power-now.com/ Solar-Power-Now.com

    Hopefully the powers that be will start taking meaningful action while we still have relatively clean air to breathe. Millions already don’t.

    • Tom Scharf

      We have clean air in the US. Go to Beijing and see what they have. Increased CO2 is not harmful to breathe. You might investigate what comes out of humans in the respiratory process.

  • Jeffn

    Thanks for the link to Milbank. It is fun to see Joe Romm at odds with his old boss. He was quoted: “Obama is not pulling any punches on the climate science, but he’s touting an energy policy which basically assumes the climate science doesn’t exist or it’s not true.”
    Ya think? That’s been progressive SOP since Hansen’s 1988 presentation- shout at Republicans in public, admit they’re right in private. We all remember the “drill-baby-drill” furor and the realists among us are not surprised today. The funny part is that Harry Reid is still babbling on about Koch brothers and global warming- the thinking being this is a rallying cry for Progressives even though he’s clearly blaming the brothers for something Obama is taking credit for. Must make you warm and fuzzy to know this is what they think of Progressive intellect and principle.
    On a realist note, Obama’s move here is very smart. He and Podesta know AGW was a play for tax revenue. Domestic production increases mean Washington gets the cut the Saudis used to get- so the revenue comes in without the tax hike on individuals. A win-win for everyone except the suckers who thought they were serious about CO2.

    • Tom Scharf

      It is curiously fun to watch these contortions. In the 70′s energy self sufficiency was a huge deal, and now that this may actually happen, the usual suspects think it is bad for America.

      At this point, the economics outweigh the environmental concerns by probably 10:1. The progressives will talk a good game to keep the greens from revolting, but let’s see if they will actually place a vote to increase their constituents energy prices by 25%. I think they all got overly spooked by the 2010 voter revolt, and simply aren’t going to go down that road again soon.

      The Keystone politics are a sight to behold. Although it might be politically wise to vote “present” on this issue, it sure builds into the impression that Obama is reluctant to make tough decisions. He is also clearly deferring the Iran nuclear issue to the next President if he can get away with it.

      • Jeffn

        The fall will be interesting. Politically, I’m not sure how an energy price increase – the net result of any meaningful coal limitations – will be an effective distraction from a health care price increase.
        Reid must be beating on the Koch drum because otherwise people realize he’s the holdup on nuclear power (Yucca). And the “consensus” seems to be developing that gas and nuclear is the path to lower emissions. Romm is being hung out to dry, but they’ll welcome him back if the GOP wins the White House in ’16.

  • David Skurnick

    I am sick and tired of dishonesty from the government. The Bush Administration made every possible argument for going to war in Iraq, including false arguments. The Obama Administration made every possible argument in favor of Health Reform, including the falsehoods that we could keep our insurance and our doctor, and that the average family would save $2500 a year.
    Now, the White House is spreading misinformation regarding climate change. They took a pessimistic projection as if that were going to happen. They claimed that climate change has already worsened natural catastrophes. In fact, the frequency of hurricanes and tornadoes is slightly down. Also, the UN IPCC officially reported little evidence that climate change has made natural catastrophes worse. (To be clear, it’s certain possible that future global warming might worsen natural catastrophes, but there’s virtually no evidence that it has already done so.) The White House also neglected to point out that the various emissions reduction schemes they want wouldn’t help. Their microscopic impact on climate. would not be perceptible.

    False justifications led to a disastrous war in Iraq and a disastrous approach to reforming health care. Will false justification now lead to disastrous environmental policy? I fear that is the case.

  • Susan Anderson

    ‘no single event’ is not the same as ‘no event’. The more accurate formulation is ‘all events’ contain an element of changed climate (due to global warming from accumulation of heat-trapping greenhouse gases; high school physics, almost two centuries of science). Eliminating the extremest extremes from the mix does bias, but the bias is not as contrarians (phony skepticism galore) would have you believe, quite the opposite. The evidence is piling up.

    Now you all can go on arguing (with encouragement from Keith Kloor, who appears to lack sufficient objectivity, as he gives too much credit to a motivated minority in accepting the proliferation of PR science from wealthy and heavily interested parties) but the bill is coming due. It’s becoming quite obvious.

    My suggestion (I’m a layperson) is to go back to the source material and get rid of the muffler that is preventing the obvious from sinking in. There’s quite a bit of simplified information about the basic physics, and masses of evidence in all kinds of records. Try Masters of Wunderground, for example.

    As to the Kochs, plenty of evidence there too. All it takes is an honest look at the source material.
    http://www.propublica.org/article/a-reading-guide-on-the-billionaire-koch-brothers

    As to peddling influence, this gives you the overview.
    http://projects.propublica.org/graphics/koch

    Now I know I’m wasting my time visiting a hangout that welcomes the anti-science clique, but I am hoping that at least Keith Kloor will look at the sources and think a little harder about our future. It’s not looking particularly good, and as I see people moving from apathy to despair, I’m scratching my head about how we can’t all take responsibility for life itself.

    • Richard_Arrett

      Susan:

      What do you suggest we do?

      Have you done a cost benefit analysis on your suggestion(s)?

      I would suggest that wind and solar are not going to replace all hydrocarbon energy sources – we are nowhere close to being able to do that in the USA, much less the entire world. Given that – what do you propose?

      Are you pro-Nuclear? Nuclear doesn’t emit carbon.

      It would seem to me that building hundreds of nuclear power stations would be the fastest way to switch from hydrocarbon energy production to non-hydrocarbon energy production. Would you favor that?

      Some people believe that taxing carbon or turning off coal power plants will kill more people than global warming – have you looked at that issue? Anything which raises the cost of food, fuel, and/or energy will have an impact on people worldwide. Making food more expensive will kill people. Making energy more expensive will kill people also.

      So it seems to me that taking responsibility for life itself is not as straightforward as you seem to think.

      We need to look at what kills more people – the status quo or dramatic changes in world production of energy.

      Looking forward to hearing your response.

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Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

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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