If you’re following the Peter Gleick/Heartland Institute saga, you know this story likely has a few more twists and turns. Or as journalist Marc Gunther puts it:
This story will get worse before it gets better. There remains the sticky problem of a “climate strategy” memo which appears to be a forgery, for a host of reasons, not the least of which is that it includes mistakes about Heartland that no insider would make. (See McArdle for the details. ) Even before Gleick confessed, his critics suggested that he forged the climate memo; it’s written in a style similar to his, and identifies him as a nemesis of the climate deniers, thus inflating his own importance. Gleick says that he got the strategy memo in the mail, and that was what prompted him to lie to pry the other documents out of Heartland. That story strains credulity, to put it mildly.
Indeed. And now there is rampant speculation in the blogosphere that Gleick is the author of the memo. Even Shawn Lawrence Otto has joined the parlor game:
Gleick says it [the strategy memo] was anonymously mailed to him. Perhaps this was by a whistleblower, or perhaps it was by an disgruntled insider. Or perhaps it was a honeypot – a sweet trap designed to compromise or discredit Gleick by getting him to write about it, while Heartland could trumpet how it is not authentic – in which case it would seem Gleick turned the tables by posing as a board member and requesting – and receiving – a cache of authentic Heartland documents.
Personally, I have a hard time believing that a Heartland insider would mail such a document to Gleick, instead of, say, a reporter. And to my mind, the memo has a fishy quality to it, for all the reasons Megan McArdle has laid out. In a separate post, she has also worked through the leaps of logic required to believe Gleick’s explanation:
You receive an anonymous memo in the mail purporting to be the secret climate strategy of the Heartland Institute. It is not printed on Heartland Institute letterhead, has no information identifying the supposed author or audience, contains weird locutions more typical of Heartland’s opponents than of climate skeptics, and appears to have been written in a somewhat slapdash fashion. Do you:A. Throw it in the trashB. Reach out to like-minded friends to see how you might go about confirming its provenanceC. Tell no one, but risk a wire-fraud conviction, the destruction of your career, and a serious PR blow to your movement by impersonating a Heartland board member in order to obtain confidential documents.As a journalist, I am in fact the semi-frequent recipient of documents promising amazing scoops, and depending on the circumstances, my answer is always “A” or “B”, never “C”.
For those inclined to take Gleick at his word–that the memo was mailed to him by a Heartland insider–what do you make of Otto’s musing about about it being a Heartland set-up? Lastly, what would it take for Gleick himself to end all this speculation?
David Roberts at Grist seems to have had an a ha! moment. In a long, wonky post about the “rebound effect,” he frames the grand challenge of emissions reduction as a problem that offers one of two choices:
2a. Drive down global energy intensity.
2b. Drive down global economic growth.
Roberts runs through the math and concludes that “it will be extremely difficult to drive energy-intensity decline faster than economic growth.” He also admits that it will “be extremely difficult to scale up low-carbon energy fast enough, especially in the short- to mid-term.” The logical conclusion he arrives at:
So what option does that leave us? It seems we’re back to 2b, the option that dare not speak its name: suppressing economic growth.
Roger Pielke Jr. gets a chuckle out of all this (while coughing “iron law“) but gives Roberts props for
taking the time to run the numbers and report the results — we all benefit from such analyses, uncomfortable as the results might be.
Roberts is a brainy fighter in the climate debate (he popularized the term climate hawk). He believes in staying on message and not giving his opposition any ammunition. By all appearances, he abides by the an enemy of my friend is an enemy of mine credo. So who knows what prompted this sudden realism, but it will be interesting to see where he goes from here.
Roberts’ post has also triggered a sane, constructive discussion at the Grist thread, including this comment by Steve Harris, a Fellow at the UK’s Schumacher Institute:
Having spent some time considering these issues in my role as a researcher at the Schumacher Institute here in the UK I have also arrived at the conclusion that further growth is incompatible with climate change mitigation. Today’s figures on the upsurge in UK emissions as our economy goes back into growth are yet another confirmation, if any were needed. Unfortunately – and I think Jesse’s [Jenkins] contributions on wealth redistribution also point to this – the tight connection between GDP growth and GHG emissions also carries serious implications for social justice, the ‘development’ part of sustainable development, which also appears to be strongly tied to growth (unacceptable as that might be in principle). In other words, it looks like social justice loses both ways: either because the poorest are hit hardest by climate change, or because they are hit hardest by degrowth/recession. The situation is, as you say, daunting. I for one am being forced to reluctantly agree with the growing cadre of scientists who are arguing that as abandonment of growth-oriented economics within the required timeframe looks unlikely, geoengineering now looks inevitable and we better start seriously researching it as soon as we can. It’s also caused me to radically shift my position on nuclear energy - here I’m with the Breakthrough guys – because if the gap between renewables and demand is much bigger than we thought, as rebound indicates, then we better throw any and every low-carbon technology we have into the gap. All in all, the more information we get the more it becomes clear that the old entrenched positions within the environmental and sustainable development movements are no longer tenable, especially where they lead to rejecting technological solutions out of hand before we have enough knowledge to judge them fairly.
I once thought that Grist would be at the forefront of a necessary debate, examining how “old entrenched positions within the environmental and sustainable development movements are no longer tenable.” But it has mostly become a bloggy clearinghouse that, when it comes to technology, is happy to encourage long-standing green fears about nuclear power and GMO’s.
Roberts’ post lays out the huge challenge of climate change from the energy perspective. It gives me hope that maybe, just maybe, Grist will start to question green orthodoxy, instead of enforcing it.
UPDATE: I should say it’s clear that Roberts recognizes the negative implications of option 2b–suppressing economic growth. I assume he’ll try to puzzle out (in a future post) how it can be done without the downside that Harris notes in his comment.
Jon Huntsman’s callout of Texas Governor Rick Perry’s controversial statements on evolution and climate change has garnered much attention and highlighted what Andrew Revkin at Dot Earth calls “the fundamental Republican science problem.”
Meanwhile, in a similar vein, but flying under the radar of the national media, another Republican governor has recently said Huntsman-like things about climate change that have been met with disapproval by conservatives. Jonathan Adler, a popular conservative blogger, has taken note of this episode and offers an incisive critique that speaks to the litmus test pathology afflicting the Republican party:
Until last week, many conservatives considered New Jersey Governor Chris Christie a hero. Some were even clamoring for him to enter the presidential race. Now, however, some of the same conservatives are branding him a heretic, even as he embraces policy decisions they support. What’s going on?
Last week, Christie vetoed legislation that would have required New Jersey to remain in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI), a multi-state agreement to control greenhouse gas emissions through a regional cap-and-trade program. The bill was an effort to overturn Christie’s decision earlier this year to withdraw from the program. Given conservative opposition to greenhouse gas emission controls, the veto should have been something to cheer, right? Nope.
The problem, according to some conservatives, is that Christie accompanied his veto with a statement acknowledging that human activity is contributing to global climate change. Specifically, Christie explained that his original decision to withdraw from RGGI was not based upon any “quarrel” with the science:
“While I acknowledge that the levels of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases in our atmosphere are increasing, that climate change is real, that human activity plays a role in these changes and that these changes are impacting our state, I simply disagree that RGGI is an effective mechanism for addressing global warming.”
As Christie explained, RGGI is based upon faulty economic assumptions and “does nothing more than impose a tax on electricity” for no real environmental benefit. As he noted, “To be effective, greenhouse gas emissions must be addressed on a national and international scale.”
Although Christie adopted the desired policy “” withdrawing from RGGI “” some conservatives are aghast that he would acknowledge a human contribution to global warming. According to one, this makes Christie “Part RINO. Part man. Only more RINO than man.” ["RINO" as in "Republican in Name Only."]
Those attacking Christie are suggesting there is only one politically acceptable position on climate science “” that one’s ideological bona fides are to be determined by one’s scientific beliefs, and not simply one’s policy preferences. This is a problem on multiple levels. Among other things, it leads conservatives to embrace an anti-scientific know-nothingism whereby scientific claims are to be evaluated not by scientific evidence but their political implications. Thus climate science must be attacked because it provides a too ready justification for government regulation. This is the same reason some conservatives attack evolution “” they fear it undermines religious belief “” and it is just as wrong.
If enough conservatives speak up like this, they just might be able to lance the boil before it makes their party grotesque to the general electorate.
UPDATE: From libertarian Ronald Bailey:
Case Western Reserve University law professor Jonathan Adler has a sharp analysis over at the Volokh Conspiracy of what might be called Republican “Climate Change Derangement Syndrome.”
Where the syndrome is most acute.
In his recent widely publicized Rolling Stone essay, former Vice President Al Gore harshly criticized media coverage of global warming. He compared journalists to referees of “professional” wrestling. Some mainstream reporters who regularly write about climate change objected. But climate scientists nodded approvingly, as did Joe Romm, who called Gore’s essay a “devastating critique” and piled on:
I would add that the media doesn’t just mis-report the climate story, it under-reports the story of the century.
I’ll also add that, while the media grousing by Gore et al appears sincerely felt, there is another element at work here: these guys are doing what some well known basketball coaches (think Phil Jackson) often do: work the refs.
That said, it’s still worth examining Gore’s media criticism at face value, which is something John Wihbey does in an extensive post at the Yale Forum on Climate Change & the media. This observation from Stanford communications expert Jon Krosnick caught my eye:
“As a backdrop to Gore’s assertions, it’s useful to consider evidence on the impact that the news media have had on Americans’ thinking about this issue,” Krosnick told The Yale Forum in an e-mail interview. “According to our national surveys, large majorities of Americans have believed that climate change is real and human-caused, will have undesirable consequences, and merits substantial government action to address it. These majorities rose a little in the years preceding 2007 and fell a bit in the years after, but the majorities remain large. Mr. Gore might look at these data and say: “˜Ah, ha! Just as I expected! During the last 15 years, climate scientists have generated more and more evidence of the existence and threat of warming, but Americans are not being well-informed of this growing consensus by the media, so public opinion has held relatively steady instead of moving toward my views even more. The climate science is not getting the attention it deserves from the news media!’”
Krosnick continued: “But I’m not sure this would be a fair accusation: I’d say the news media have paid plenty of attention to the climate science, but truth be told, that science is now an “˜old story,’ one the media have told many, many times before. It’s understandable, therefore, that every new climate study is not at the top of the front page of every newspaper in the country. So given today’s ethics and principles of journalism, I’m not sure it’s appropriate to fault the news professionals for practicing their craft as they do.”
It may not be appropriate, but scapegoating journalists will surely continue as frustration over climate inaction mounts. Someone has to bear the blame, and since many leading climate activists have proven averse to introspection, media bashing offers a distraction from their failures.
When Phil Jackson worked the refs as a coach with the Chicago Bulls and Los Angeles Lakers, it was a tactical ploy. He may have overdone it, but he also knew that players win games, not referees.
Last week, when news broke about NYC Mayor Bloomberg’s $50 million donation to the Sierra Club’s anti-coal campaign, I noted that his rationale was based largely on public health considerations and NOT global warming. I wrote:
One of the climate moralists I cited in that passage was David Roberts of Grist. He’s become a favorite target of mine for his sneeringly sanctimonious droppings. What a shame, too, because he’s obviously smart and is a gifted writer.
Anyway, after Revkin tweeted my Bloomberg post, Roberts sent Revkin a disapproving message:
@Revkin Kloor’s vapid, snotty point was refuted by the VERY PRESS RELEASE HE CITED. Don’t get why you give that guy so much exposure.
No it wasn’t.
Regardless, let’s turn to today’s article in Time magazine by Bryan Walsh, who writes (my emphasis):
[W]hen I spoke to Bloomberg before his donation became public, climate change wasn’t foremost on his mind. He saw coal pollution first and foremost as a public health issue, one that is directly hurting Americans through higher rates of asthma and heart disease. He was certainly worried about the greenhouse gases those coal plants were spewing “” coal is responsible for about 20% of global carbon emissions “” but what really motivated him were the mercury emissions, the particulates, the arsenic and all the other conventional poisons created by burning coal. “Coal kills every day,” Bloomberg told me. “It’s a dirty fuel.” So it is with the Sierra Club’s Beyond Coal campaign, which has succeeded more by motivating individual communities over the local health effects of coal pollution than by appealing to the broader risks of global warming.
If we’re smart, this approach might be the new way to attack climate change: by identifying actions that can provide a wealth of benefits “” including on carbon emissions “” rather than simply focusing on global warming alone. That’s the message of a new paper called “Climate Pragmatism” that’s being published today by a bipartisan range of thinkers on energy and climate issues. The best way to deal with climate change, as it turns out, is not to deal directly with climate change. As the authors write: “Policymakers today are likely to make the most progress to the degree that they refrain from centrally justifying energy innovation, resilience to extreme weather and pollution reduction as ‘climate policy.’”
Let me stop there for a second and just remark that very smart people can sometimes be rigid, dogmatic moralists. Now back to Walsh:
It sounds a bit confusing “” if we’re going to deal with climate change, why not just directly deal with climate change? The answer is simple: we can’t, or at least, we refuse to. Over the past several years, even as the scientific case on manmade climate change has gotten stronger, the international system has failed again and again to reduce carbon emissions. The effort to produce a global carbon deal failed decisively in Copenhagen in 2009. In the U.S., a carbon cap-and-trade bill died in the Senate a year ago, and there’s little chance it will be revived. Even Europe “” home to the governments and citizens that seem to care about climate change the most “” has gradually scaled back its ambitions on reducing carbon as the cost and complexity of those policies has become clearer.
The failure of the global deal is an inevitable consequence of what Roger Pielke Jr., a professor of environmental science at the University of Colorado and one of the authors of the “Climate Pragmatism” paper, calls “the iron law of climate policy.” Any climate policy that is viewed as obstructing economic progress will fail “” especially in large developing countries that are counting on rapid economic growth to lift citizens out of poverty. Take China, for example “” while the country has emerged as a world leader in terms of clean energy investment, its leaders remain reluctant to sign onto any kind of meaningful carbon reductions. The economy comes first, with renewables supplying just a tiny portion of China’s overall energy mix. Coal is and will be far more important, with coal imports in China and India slated to grow 78% in 2011.
In case you haven’t gotten the gist of the article, it’s titled
Fighting Climate Change by Not Focusing on Climate Change
Here’s a link to that Climate Pragmatism paper, which I’ll do a separate post on later this week.
In the absurdist precincts of the climate blogosphere, certain gatekeepers take offense when their icons and orthodoxy are challenged. I’ve previously referred to these partisan gatekeepers as climate capos.
Like most bullies, partisan bloggers that use intimidation tactics don’t like it when they get called out. The latest instance is Marc Morano, who, in response to a post I put up this morning, has already countered at Climate Depot:
Kloor Makes Mafia Reference: [Morano's warning] ‘spoken like a true climate capo’ — Capo defnintion: ‘A caporegime or capodecina, usually shortened to just a capo, is a term used in Mafia for a high ranking made member of a crime family who heads a ‘crew’ of soldiers and has major social status and influence in the organization’
Now there’s one thing about that Capo reference Marc should know. I have used it previously at this site to describe the thuggish behavior of a certain climate blogger who also growls when getting a taste of his own medicine. For example, here’s an opening line to a post I wrote two years ago:
This is rich, coming from the Global Warming capo on the left, he who relishes rhetorical knee-capping.
More recently, I also invoked the term here:
But there’s too much of an echo chamber”“especially in the climate blogopshere”“ and anyone who steps even a teensy out of line risks getting worked over by the climate capo and his band of loyalists.
So Marc, consider yourself in good company. And remember: A hit job is a hit job, no matter what the politics of the assassin.
Over at the new incarnation of Think Progress, Brad Johnson has given himself a tall order. He also sets down what he calls the “new reality”:
To preserve the promise of civilization, we must start anew.
My guess is that the new design bundling all the CAP blogs together under one site (which I like) will be mostly a palette cleanser for the two resident head knockers there. But who knows, maybe they will surprise me and start “anew” with some fresh ideas about how to make real progress on climate change, instead of always playing defense against the dastardly polluters and “deniers.” Maybe, just maybe, they’ll even stop trying to delegitimize those that offer different paths to what is ultimately the same goal.
What world is Chris Mooney living in?
Well, I think the story on Nisbet’s report was fair and turned out quite well, too. How about that! We agree. Here’s an essential passage from the Miller-McCune article that perhaps Mooney should reread (my emphasis):
Nisbet’s underlying argument is not really new: that groups passionate about climate change should reconsider their own communications and strategy flaws before moving forward. What’s new is that no one has made the case quite this way before, with such a thorough debunking of the primary bogeymen “” and with such shocking data (albeit data Nisbet’s critics contest).
I thought that Emily Badger, the Miller-McCune writer, did a nice job balancing the criticisms of the report by Mooney and others, with reaction from Nisbet on what he considers the larger context of that criticism.
But don’t take my word for it. Read the story yourself.