We’d expect this sort of thing from the New York Times Magazine perhaps, but the New Yorker? Last week’s issue features an opinion piece by staffer David Owen titled “Economy vs. Environment,” in which he bemoans the apparent contradiction between our economy and the environment, and warns of the economic “abyss” that awaits us all if we keep encouraging/demanding that people stop buying gas-guzzlers and commuting 80 miles each way. With not a scrap of cited evidence, he discounts alternative energy with a flick of the hand:
American dependence on fossil fuels isn’t going to end any time soon: solar panels and wind turbines provided only about a half per cent of total U.S. energy consumption in 2007, and they don’t work when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing.
and poo-poos the entire green jobs initiative with an argument that makes little to no sense:
Creating “green jobs,” a key component of the agenda, is different from creating new jobs, since green jobs, if they’re truly green, displace non-green jobs—wind-turbine mechanics instead of oil-rig roughnecks—probably a zero-sum game, as far as employment is concerned.
Luckily, over at Grist, Joseph Romm, the editor of Climate Progress and a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, has taken up the gauntlet, delivering a righteous smackdown that addresses many of the problems with the piece.
• Do humans have reproductive limits? And if not physical, how about ethical?
• Scientists give a big thumbs up to Obama’s environmental plan.
• A handy list of all the biggest “global cooling” hacks, now in bar graph form.
• Poor Tesla. The bad news just keeps on comin’.
• A universal flu vaccine nears completion—but will we have the cash to distribute it?
• Finally, some sliding profits news to be happy about. Oh no wait, never mind.
• Senate decides (thank goodness) that children and health insurance are two things that should really continue to go together.
• Happy Friday! Half the world’s population could face a global-warming-induced food crisis by 2100, according to a new study.
• And then there’s the floods…
• Need proof that evolution’s more than just a “theory”? Look no further.
• “Dear Obama: Please bring me cap and trade legislation this year.” A wish list from environmentalists.
• The U.S. isn’t the only tech sector getting slammed by the downturn.
• And now for a lesson in brutal honesty: How much does racism really bother you?
Mashing scientific evidence into a pulpy soup of agenda-laden misinformation seems to be a common theme for the modern GOP. The latest (and arguably most egregious) example is outgoing EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson, whose reign has been dominated by a poverty of factual information, with hard science routinely twisted to suit political designs.
In a scathing profile in the Philadelphia Enquirer (via ThinkProgress), writers John Shiffman and John Sullivan delve into the cult of mediocrity that dominated Johnson’s time at the agency. The piece is filled with forehead-slappers like the following:
Perhaps one of the best insights into Johnson’s vision for EPA can be found in written testimony he submitted to a Senate committee this year. In the document, Johnson laid out his top 11 goals.
No. 1 was clean energy, particularly approving drilling for “thousands of new oil and gas wells” on tribal and federal lands. No. 2 was homeland security.
Environmental enforcement and sound science ranked ninth and 10th.
And that’s not even the worst of it:
• It’s no surprise that Americans are losing sleep (though the label “sleep epidemic” is a bit extreme). So cue the comprehensive guide to insomnia treatments.
• Greening Mexico City? If it happens, color us impressed.
• Michigan legalizes medical marijuana, but patient’s can’t use it ’til April. Ah government bureaucracy.
• The Facebook virus is coming! The Facebook virus is coming!
• Is the Bureau of Land Management holding a “fire sale” for Utah’s oil-and-gas drilling leases?
• Um, duh. Seriously, is this even a question?
Ever since global warming awareness rose to the international level, there’s been quiet but persistent tittering among experts over whether climate change might actually be good for some regions. Given that the biggest of these regions has always been Russia, it’s not a huge shock that Russia Today jumped on the recent U.S. intelligence report “Global Trends 2025: A Transformed World.” In particular, the Russian press loved the report’s claim that within the next 17 years, Russia’s profit from climate change will be the biggest in the world.
From the article:
One of the reasons is the expected lengthening of the sowing term, but the key factor would be an easier access to oil and gas fields in Siberia and in the North, including the Arctic shelf. This will be a great success for the Russian economy, according to the NSC report, and the Arctic waterway would also open huge prospects for Russia.
However, the authors of the study warn of the possible threats: the infrastructure of Russia’s Arctic territories may be destroyed, and also new technologies may be needed to exploit fuel fields in the area.
Yeah, there’s always that downside…
The Democrats have retaken the White House for the first time in nearly a decade—and the happy afterglow is already fading. Gristmill reports that punches are being thrown between John Dingell (D-Mich.) and Henry Waxman (D-Calif.). The grand prize for this heavyweight bout is chairmanship of the House Energy and Commerce Committee.
Dingell, the current chairman, tossed out a few left hooks at Waxman, his challenger, on the radio last week, calling Waxman an “anti-manufacturing left-wing Democrat” with a “serious lack of understanding of people in the auto industry and manufacturing generally.” Meanwhile, both men claim to have enough votes for the post.
This would all be yet another amusing example of political infighting, except that the committee at stake has principal responsibility for legislative oversight of things like public health, air quality, the environment, and the nation’s energy supply. Dingell, who is 82 and has been in Congress since 1955 (we won’t even get started on how different a place it was back then) is known for being significantly more moderate than Waxman, and for garnering the support of leaders in industries like autos and mining. Whether that’s a reason to support him or not remains to be seen.
• A new administration, a new direction, and maybe—just maybe—a clean divorce between science and political ideology.
• And of course, the debate has already started: Who will Obama pick to head up the EPA?
• Meanwhile, we’re zooming straight into a “health care perfect storm.”
• Which makes it all the more admirable (or crazy, or excessively symbolic) that Wisconsin Democratic Rep. Steve Kagan has elected to go without health insurance as a gesture of solidarity towards his uninsured constituents. Stay healthy, Steve!
• And not to judge or anything, but videos like this one certainly don’t inspire confidence.
• The “net energy” debate gets serious. Is the whole thing a load of bull? We’ll leave it to the experts to decide.
Michael Crichton, one of the world’s most popular authors and a pioneer of modern science fiction, died yesterday at age 66 following a long battle with cancer. His ubiquitous books, including Jurassic Park and The Andromeda Strain, helped elevate science to a new status in pop culture, and ushered new technologies such as cloning into the mainstream. A graduate of Harvard Medical School, he also brought medicine to the forefront of entertainment by creating the TV show “ER,” which won him an Emmy, a Peabody Award, and a Writer’s Guild of America Award.
But while his career was unparalleled and his brilliance unquestionable, Crichton inspired a good deal of controversy concerning a crucial issue: global warming. His skepticism over the threat of climate change was so great that it culminated in a novel, State of Fear, published in 2004. The book, a typical Crichton-style thriller, revolves around an evil environmentalist mastermind who commits terrorist acts to center attention on climate change. It features footnotes, graphs, and other references culled from the three years the author spent researching the topic—all reflecting Crichton’s view that the current rising global temperatures aren’t necessarily a result of human action.
Nothing puts a damper on an historic world-mobilizing event like a steaming heap of pollution. As 80Beats reports, the nation’s current and least favorite—no, really, we’re not just saying that—president is using his last days in office to enact a virtual bonanza of legislation aimed at letting industries like coal-mining and commercial fishing wreak (even more) havoc on the environment.
Via the the Natural Resources Defense Council, here’s a description of one of the proposed rules, which exempts factory farms from requiring permits that limit water pollution:
Creates a loophole allowing facility operators to avoid permits by claiming they won’t have a discharge.
Adopts a scheme that allows facilities to avoid certain environmental enforcement. For instance, if an operator certifies that the facility won’t have a discharge, environmental authorities will ignore enforcement action, even if the facility discharges to the nation’s waters.
Rejects improvements in technology that would reduce harmful bacteria and other pathogens contained in animal waste, missing an opportunity to prevent water pollution and threats to public health.