Sunday, March 25, 2007

Al Gore goes back to Congress

I was going to do a big long post on how the media covered Al Gore's day of testimony to both the House and the Senate. But Media Matters did a great job covering the subtle and over-the-top smearing of Gore in various media outlets, including NPR, here and how coverage of his confrontation with Senator Inhofe was mis-handled here.

Basically the hate-hate relationship the media has with Al Gore continues more or less unabated and hopes for rational coverage of climate change issues may be a casualty.

(For a primer on the media's War on Gore, see this article at Consortium News)

Some comments on the NY Times main story on Gore's testimony by Felicity Barringer and Andrew Revkin. We first encountered Ms. Barringer in her condescending profile of Bill McKibben. In the opening sentence, Gore's appearance is described as "part politics and all theatre". We are told he arrived in a hybrid S.U.V. and was later "whisked" out. You know, like Elvis. Why do we need to know what he arrived in, hybrid or not? Is it because Gore is viewed as a hypocrite? The constant references to Gore's Oscar and description of him as film star are not complimentary. They serve to trivialize him: "How can this movie star tell us how to reconfigure our energy system?".

Update: Media Matters also flagged Ms. Barringer's uncritical citing of debunked global-warming denier Bjorn Lomborg.

March 07: more recent climate press

Cost of doing nothing. If you think any steps to reduce emissions will cost our economy too much, what about the cost of doing nothing? This excellent article in TerraDaily tells the story of an economics professor at a small Canadian college who asked his class to calculate this cost:
The important question is the cost of these opinions [in favor of doing nothing] being wrong relative to the cost of the IPCC report being wrong in its assessment.
Indeed. Even if you hate statistics, read this article for a good introduction to some of the concepts and how they apply to this question of what to do?

Investors on board. This Reuters article by Timothy Garner tells us which investor groups are asking Congress for climate change legislation. According to John Donnelly of the Boston Globe, they've signed an agreement calling for legislation.

Food. Don't Panic but Steve Conner of The Independent has news that some crop yields are already feeling the effects of climate change.

Repression. The New York Times reviews material released by the congressional committee looking in to administration attempts to quiet government scientists on climate change:
The documents “appear to portray a systematic White House effort to minimize the significance of climate change,” said a memorandum circulated by the Democrats under the committee chairman, Representative Henry A. Waxman of California.

Big Enviro. Alternet has a post from Megan Tady with the provocative title "Are Big Enviro Groups "Holding Back" Anti-Warming Movement?". The holding back is relative: the complaint is that they aren't doing enough. Greenpeace in particular is taken to task for not pushing hard enough for renewable support and energy-use reduction.
...Greenpeace is not pushing for the government to get heavily involved in funding and distributing renewable energy, but instead promotes weaker reforms like removing subsidies for fossil-fuel industries and forcing prices to reflect the actual costs of environmental damage.

Scaling back. GW-activist Bill McKibben has an editorial in the L.A. Times that begins to question if "more is more" in our 21st century lifestyle.
We made an assumption — as a society and as individuals — that more was better. It seemed a reasonable bet, and for a while it may have been true. But in recent years economists, sociologists and other researchers have begun to question that link. Indeed, they're finding that at least since the 1950s, more material prosperity has yielded little, if any, increase in humans' satisfaction

That may be true in some general sense but as a music fan, I'm grateful for the recording technology advances since the 50s.

The wedges approach to reducing emissions

The "wedges" approach to climate change mitigation is one that needs more coverage in the press. The basic idea is that we need to do several things, not just one or two, to reduce CO2 emissions. Carbon caps are not enough by themselves. Energy efficiency is not enough by itself. You can read more at the HQ for this idea, the Princeton Environmental Institute.

Here's a small, very small, start at some media coverage. An original article by Shawn Dell-Joyce in the Middletown, NY, Times Herald-Record does a good job introducing the idea.

A good explanation also appears in this essay by truthout's Kelpie Wilson. Its important to consider the economic costs of each wedge when deciding what to do. Unfortunately, estimating those costs is an inexact science.

Friday, March 23, 2007

The new skepticism -- From denial to fatalism

One of the articles below mentions that the conventional wisdom in Washington is that "the debate is over" on global warming. That is, there is no longer any serious debate on if the planet is warming and if human activity is the cause: it is and they are. This means Congress, or at least most of Congress, has finally caught up with the scientific facts.

Now comes the debate about what to do about it. And almost overnight, the skeptics have thrown off their global-warming-is-real skepticism* and replaced it with we-can-do-anything-about-it skepticism.

Paul Krugman recently remarked on this phenomenon in an article on the shrinking middle class:
...One thing I've been noticing on multiple debates in public policies -- climate change is another one -- is there seems to be an almost seamless transition from denial to fatalism. That for 15 or 20 years the people would say, "No, what you're saying is not happening." And then almost immediately they'll turn around and say, "Well, yeah, sure it's happening, but there's nothing that can be done about it."
As usual, Krugman hits it right on the head.

Although the approach may have changed, the underlying goal is the same: do absolutely nothing to apply even modest changes to our fossil-fuel based energy system. This laissez-fair philosophy is an essential part of conservatism which is partly why the climate change debate, which has also been a debate about what to do, tends to break along political lines.

*(Please note that "skepticism" is a natural part of science and calling anti-global warming science people "skeptics" gave them to much credit. This is why myself and others instead call them "deniers".)

The Broad article

The recent article by William J. Broad in the NY Times about supposed over hyping of climate change by Al Gore has been addressed by the folks at realclimate.

A slightly different take comes from this essay by Joe Brewer on the use of frames in the global warming obfuscation effort. Mr. Brewer has an interesting perspective since he has an M.S. in atmospheric science from the University of Illinois and is a fellow in the Rockridge Institute which promotes the idea of frames and their use in politics.

Broad's horrible article should be an embarrassment for any newspaper. So why did it happen in Times?

One view comes from the Daily Howler, who has passionately documented the mainstream media's War on Gore of which the Broad article is a sample. Howler's thorough put-down of Broad's article and subsequent media coverage is in 5 parts: part1, part2 , part3 , part4, part5 (scroll down each page for parts 2-5). A sample quote:
A question came to our analysts’ minds as they worked their way through the endless jumbles of Broad’s report. Here it is: Could a college student present such work without being rebuked by his Teaching Assistant? One would hope that the answer is no—that American teens are held to a higher standard than Broad observes in this report. And yet, amazingly, we see such work misleading the public at the very highest levels of American journalism! For reasons only the gods can explain, Broad is part-owner of two Pulitzer Prizes, and his piece appears in “Science Times”—a section which would surely count as one of the headiest regions in all of American newspapering. But his work is an utter failure—a joke.
So why did this bizarre essay, which misreports facts the Times got right in its earlier coverage of the IPCC release, appear in the "paper of record"?

Media Matters patiently dissects the Broad piece here, here and here with a piece by Eric Boehlert here.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

March 07: recent climate press

Alaska division of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has to identify who's going to talk about polar bears on foreign trips (see NY Times story at truthout).

Brief overview of the 4 or 5 pending climate change bills from Chicago Tribune's Karoun Demirjian. Notable for a bold quote from do-nothing proponent Myron Ebell: "We think we have a very good opportunity to stymie everything so that nothing will emerge." Also mentions how some business are only in it for the money to made during a transition to a cap-and-trade.

Newsweek international points out some serious bugs in the current global emissions trading schemes.

Grist covers some of the pressure on the coal industry.

This Reuters story covers, without snarky comments, Al Gore's call for a successor to Kyoto. Notable for mentioning the 10 year figure: we have 10 years to prevent the really bad global changes from happening.

The NY Times has a short profile of Bill McKibben who is organizing the April 14th nationwide demonstration for action on global warming. Typical of the Times, reporter Felicity Barringer can't resist a shot at their favorite punching bag, Al Gore, referring to him as "the American Idol" of the "movement". Please grow up, Felicity.

Update: Daily Howler also noted Ms. Barringer's "Creeping Dowdism".

A slight change of plans.

The original intent of this blog was to comment on media coverage of climate change and global warming. There's still a lot to do there.

But if the last few posts below, I'm mostly pointing out well written articles that deserve notice.

Expect to see more of that but grouped in to one or two posts a week.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

NYTimes: Evangelical Christians and climate change

I've been curiously watching the recent entrance by some evangelical Christians in to the global warming issue. They want to do something to stop it because they recognize this as a "stewardship" issue and that global warming will hit the poor in Africa and Asia hardest. I say any ally is welcome in the struggle to start some serious mitigation of climate change.

This brief NYTimes article (reprinted at truthout) covers some infighting with other evangelical leaders who don't want a distraction from the "great moral issues of our times" which is not the climate or environment. They want the spokesman for this issue in the National Association of Evangelicals to please shut up already or resign. The Times was unable to get a quote from the spokesman, Richard Cizik, but the association's president has his back.

Update: This essay provides a sample of evangelical Christian thought in working for a solution to global warming.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Guardian: Shipping is a huge CO2 emitter and will get bigger.

Did you know emissions from cargo ships and other shipping traffic accounts for 4% of worldwide emissions? I do now thanks to this excellent article by John Vidal of the Guardian.

The figures come from a report by oil giant BP and the Institute for Physics and Atmospheres in Wessling, Germany. The article mentions that aviation has gotten all the attention because of the rise of cheap flights. But aviation is only half of shippings emissions. Shipping is also not covered under Kyoto.

Great job by Vidal illuminating a little-know piece of the carbon puzzle.

The shipping industry maintains they want to address the problem internally before officials wise-up and impose emission restrictions. And the problem is going to grow according to a BP Marine official: "Ships are getting bigger and every shipyard in the world has a full order book. There are about 20,000 new ships on order."

AP gets copy of U.S. Climate Action Report: 20% CO2 increase by 2020

The Associated Press has obtained a copy of the new U.S. Climate Action Report. This report is required by all signatories to the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change which includes the U.S. The report was originally due Jan 1, 2006 but is still officially being reviewed.

This AP article mentions that by 2020, CO2 emissions will be 20% higher than in 2000, according to the report. The report straightforwardly says warming will lead to less snowpack in the Northwest and more drought: all conclusions well known from IPCC reports.

The administration's excuse for the delay is the "extensive review process". Also a 20% increase is somehow a win because it would be even larger if not for Bush administration policies to reduce the rate of increase of CO2 emissions.

Further coverage in the New York Times, who also got a copy of the report, says the report was leaked by a government employee frustrated by the slow pace. Quotes from former CCTP director David Conover point out, correctly, that a 20% increase is not a win.

The Times points out how the earlier report, issued in 2002, was shockingly honest on the harmful effects of global warming. Bush distanced himself from it. The Times also mentions that the delay is due partly to recent departures of climate science managers who have yet to be replaced. Has anyone seen more coverage of that?

More coverage of the report in The Guardian.

DOE missed efficiency deadlines--by 15 years and counting!

Ouch. This LA Times article by Robert Lee Holtz talks about a recent GAO audit which reveals the Department of Energy has failed to meet deadlines to set efficiency standards for appliances 34 of 34 times! 24 have yet to be set at all.

This may look like a frustrating anecdote of government incompetence until one crunches the numbers. Not having just some of those standards in place can cost consumers $28 billion dollars in energy savings and result in 53 million extra tons of CO2.

Great job by Holtz using the numbers from a Lawrence Berkeley Lab study.

I can't really fault Holtz for not finding the silver lining here: its not to late to implement these simple efficiency standards which can result in a large reduction in future CO2 emissions. By itself it's not enough but nothing is. We have to do about 15 things at once and this is one of them.

Climate change as a human rights issue

This very good Reuters article by Deborah Zaberenko gives a background on Nobel Peace Prize nominee Sheila Watt-Cloutier and her efforts to make climate change a human rights issue.

The argument is simple: human induced climate change is depriving Inuits and other indigenous people of the right to live amongst the ice and snow as their culture has done for thousands of years.

The article points out that simply getting a hearing before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States is a victory. The real struggle is connecting climate change to human rights. And the article is free of any global warming deniers or people talking about the "winners and losers".

Sunday, March 11, 2007

WGII summary leaked - in U.S.

The AP has picked up the leaked summary of the WGII report in this article by Seth Borenstein.

Again, we won't know how accurate it is until the report is released. This article highlights that although some food-growing areas may see a temporary increase in productivity, the result by 2080 is widespread starvation in the poor regions of the Earth.

The article is mostly gloomy but concludes with the hopeful, and true, statement that most of the negative impacts on humans can be avoided if we take action "within a generation" or 10-20 years.

Update: More gloom. Yahoo news titled this story "New Climate Report: More Bad News"

Sunday, March 04, 2007

WGII summary leaked

German magazine Der Spiegel (english version) has apparently obtained a copy of the summary of the IPCC Working Group II report which is to be released in April.

Working Group II summarizes current and future impacts of climate change.

The article by Volker Mrasek attempts to summarize the report but we won't know how accurate it is for a month. There are no false balance or other denier quotes.

The main take away message is that current impacts are more extensive then thought and scientists now have "strong certainty" or "very strong certainty" in their predictions of future effects. Among the future effects for the U.S. are heat waves and more strong hurricanes.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

The other UN report

There has been recent coverage of another U.N.-related report on climate change released on Feb 27th.

Unlike the IPCC Working Group I report, which covers only the science, this report goes in to policy details on how to avoid further climate change and adapt to what has already happened.

The report is not really by the U.N. but instead by a U.N. booster organization funded by Ted Turner called the UN Foundation. Sigma Xi, a scientific research society, also authored the report. It was however requested by the U.N.

AP article by Charles Hanely in the Wash Post does a good job summarizing the report and contains no false balance quotes. He does use the negative word "heavy" to describe the carbon taxes proposed. Heavy compared to what?