Wednesday, November 28, 2007

NBC's Green Week really Greenwash week

From November 4 through 10, NBC, (for you non-U.S. readers, one of the big 4 broadcast networks here in the states) dedicated a week of programming to the theme "Green is Universal". Scripted dramas, news, sports, game shows, and reality shows were all supposed to be in on it.

You can see the archive of this event at NBC's website.

I was a little apprehensive that this would turn in to a series of quickly forgotten stunts and, for the most part, that's what happened. NBC pulled off a neat logistics trick by doing live simulcasts from the Arctic and Antarctic giving a vivid "the world is small" feeling. But the rest was pretty forgettable.

I knew it was going to be more style then substance when watching football on NBC on Sunday night and the studio which does commentary before the game dimmed their lights and used candles for their entire time on the air. They said it saved some tons of carbon and I'm sure it did but the lights were right back on full the next week. It was eye-catching at least; looked like they had a partial power outage.

Joe over at Climate Progress has more thorough review. He was also unimpressed.

The best part was Al Gore's cameo on "30 Rock" where he gave a nice speech about how networks could do more to promote solutions to global warming then stunts, all while appearing on an episode which skewered greenwashing stunts. I can't find the full clip online so you'll just have to see his exit:

You can see the whole episode for free for the next couple of weeks at NBC's website. Its episode 205. The funniest joke is when the large plastic Earth prop they're using catches fire right at the end of the episode. As the screen fades to black, you can hear lead character Liz Lemon say "Ok this Earth is ruined! We need a new one!" If only it was that simple.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Chicago Sun-Times business editor shills for denialists

A minor journalism scandal is brewing here in Chicago over the decision by Chicago Sun-Times editor Dan Miller to write a cover letter urging an "open mind" over global warming. The cover letter is part of a package sent out by right-wing "think" tank The Heartland Institute. (Hat tip to Inel for alerting me to this.)

Phil Rosenthal over at the Chicago Tribune saw some of his fellow reporters get the package and wrote about it first:
Chicago Sun-Times Business Editor Dan Miller apparently believes this paper doesn't have enough editors to guide its staff. Two Chicago Tribune reporters received a letter under his name urging them to "keep an open mind" on global warming.
Heartland Institute spokesman Tom Swiss was maybe a little too honest in explaining The Plan: "If it came from just ourselves, it would look like an advertisement and just get lost." And its not just reporters who are getting this package:
The letters went to others in the media, Swiss said. Others whom Swiss declined to name signed cover letters that accompanied packages for those in other fields.
What is it about denialists and their packages? If you get one of these, let me know.

Who is Miller and why would he do this? Rosenthal tells us all we need to know:
Miller, who oversaw Heartland publications in 1998 and 1999 before joining the Sun-Times, is friends with Heartland President and Chief Executive Joseph Bast.
Is he in trouble? Maybe:
Efforts to reach Miller by phone and e-mail for comment Thursday and Friday were unsuccessful. Sun-Times Editor in Chief Michael Cooke indicated Thursday that he did not know about the Heartland packages and wanted to talk to Miller, a 2006 Chicago Journalism Hall of Fame inductee.
Rosenthal quotes Poynter Institute for media studies ethics scholar Bob Steele:
Most news organizations discourage staffers from being activists, particularly on issues that touch on what they cover or edit, Steele said. "It would be exceptionally hard to argue that global warming doesn't fall somewhere in the sphere of business," he said. "At least based on the cards I see on the table, it raises serious ethical concerns."

Jon Coifman over at the National Resource Defense Council doesn't think Rosenthal went far enough:
Still not convinced that this is a deep breach of journalistic ethics?

Try replaying the same scenario, but substitute “Hillary Clinton” or “Rudy Giuliani” for “global warming.” If the business editor for a leading metropolitan daily had sent a letter nakedly encouraging fellow reporters to take a second look at one of the presidential candidates, he would fast be looking for a new job.

Here, he has done essentially the same thing by throwing himself into one of the most important political debates today.

(For comparison's sake, note that *former* ABC News correspondent Carole Simpson yesterday had to offer up her resignation from the journalism program at Emerson College for publicly endorsing Hilary Clinton for President.)

To be clear: It would have been perfectly legitimate for Miller to raise this sort of question in a column, under the cold hard light of day. Or to assign a reporter to a news story examining the issue.

But it is *not* OK for him to be using his name and that of the paper as part of a one-sided, behind-the-scenes sales pitch from an organization with an expressly unbalanced view of a critical public issue. (It wouldn’t be any more appropriate for him to stick his name on something from us, for the same reason.)

Heartland President Joseph Bast apparently didn't like Rosenthal's piece calling it "libelous" in an email sent to his list which was reprinted in the blog of one of the package's recipients, Houston Chronicle reporter Eric Berger. In a typical bullying tactic of denialists, he included the emails of Rosenthal and his interviewee Steele in the letter and encouraged his minions to "let them know what you think". I hope Rosenthal publishes some of those thoughtful, intelligent letters!

Update: St. Petersburg Times got the package and are unimpressed.

Update 2: Former reporter Richard Littlemore weighs in over at desmogblog. Read all the way to the end for his spot-on put down of Miller and lawyer-baiting of Heartland.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Midwest climate pact generates little attention

Midwest Governors (plus Canadian officials) signed a couple of climate agreements in Milwaukee last Thursday. Madison's liberal paper, The Capital Times, only ran a couple of AP articles by Emily Fredrix who explains:
The plan calls for laying out concrete goals within the next eight months and establishing the cap-and-trade system within a year, with the entire agreement implemented within 2 1/2 years.

Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Manitoba, Michigan, Minnesota and Wisconsin agreed to that deal, according to an association ballot circulated among the states. Indiana, Ohio and South Dakota have agreed as observers.
Those states also agreed to the other part of this agreement:
Under the other pact, biofuels produced in the Midwest and other low-carbon fuels would make up at least half of all transportation energy consumed in the region by 2025. A third of retail gas stations in the region, or about 10,000 stations, would offer the ethanol-based gasoline E-85 by that year.

Thirty percent of electricity in the region would come from renewable sources by 2030. All new coal plants would capture and store carbon dioxide emissions by 2020, and a multi-jurisdiction pipeline would be permitted by 2012 to move carbon dioxide captured from new plants to a reservoir.

This was called a regional summit on energy and climate change but a lot of the above is about "energy independence": finding a replacement for middle-east oil which powers our transportation. Everyone reading about global warming should remember this fact: doing something for independence in our transportation fuels doesn't necessarily do anything to stop global warming. Burning ethanol still produces CO2, though not as much as gasoline. Most of our CO2 release is from electricity generation.
A Reuters article from John Rondy answers my question from two posts ago:
The third such pact between U.S. states means that nearly half of Americans will be living in areas covered by agreements designed to combat global warming, according to the Washington-based World Resources Institute.

The area involved in Thursday's agreement runs from Ohio west to Kansas. If the region were its own country, the World Resources group estimates, it would be the globe's fifth-biggest producer of greenhouse gas emissions behind the United States as a whole, Russia, China and India.
The midwest gets about 70% of its electricity from coal (Chicago, mostly nuclear, is an exception) so we've got a lot to do. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel endorsed the pact in an editorial.
The NYTimes covered it as part of story on other regional efforts. The WashPost didn't cover it at all.

Friday, November 16, 2007

IPCC prepares final synthesis report.

If you only follow the IPCC reports casually, you probably wonder "What? Again?" every time you hear about one which you have a lot this year.

To review: there are 3 working groups -- basic science, impacts and mitigation -- and they each release a Summary for Policy makers (SPM) and a full report. This blog started around the time the SPM was released for the science working group (Working Group I)

All those pieces need to be summarized and the SPM for the "Synthesis Report" is due out tomorrow. Expect to see lots of stories about diplomats and scientists negotiating the text (which they do only for the SPMs). This will complete the Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) of the IPCC.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

U.S. Midwest governors to form climate pact

Local papers again are the place to go for global warming coverage.

Tom Content reports for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:
Frustrated by inaction in Congress on global warming, Midwest governors will convene in Milwaukee next week to craft a regionwide strategy to curb greenhouse gas emissions and boost renewable energy.
Those dates are November 14th and 15th.
More from this just-the-facts article:
The summit agenda calls for the signing of a "Midwestern Energy Security and Climate Stewardship Platform." [Wisconsin Governor] Doyle currently serves as chairman of the 12-state governors association.
The plan is expected to follow regional plans created by six states on the West Coast and 10 northeastern and mid-Atlantic states to reduce emissions linked to global warming.
"These governors will be gathering in Milwaukee next week and will be getting together to sign historic agreements that will increase the production and use of renewable energy, promote energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gases," [Doyle's spokesman Matt] Canter said.

An exercise for the reader: if enough U.S. regions get together and form cap-and-trade type systems, is this the same as if the U.S. had agreed to Kyoto as a nation? Better? Worse?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Low Carbon Kid: That Geoclimatic Studies hoax - and what it was about

Read all about this great hoax perpetrated on gullible global warming deniers. I don't think the hoax made it in to any traditional media outlets (unless you count Rush Limbaugh) but I want you all to know about it anyway.

The Low Carbon Kid: That Geoclimatic Studies hoax - and what it was about

Update: Reuters ran a short story about the hoax.

More on the WPost Democrats and climate change story

I was going to make this an update to my previous post on this Washington Post article and its false choices but there's another angle to this.

First, Talking Points Memo noticed how awful this article was:
A few days ago, The Washington Post ran a long front-page story that carried this frightful headline:
Climate Is a Risky Issue for Democrats

There was zero polling data in the piece to support this claim. As Matthew Yglesias noted, the basis for it appeared to be little more than the "time honored principled Everything is Bad News for Democrats."
TPM links to a Politico story on a poll, conducted by a Republican pollster, which suggests the opposite, its bad for Republicans to ignore the issue and not propose solutions. Republicans need to do something. TPM concludes:
Yet despite the fact that lots of Republicans have reached this conclusion, somehow The Washington Post was only able to discover that this is a risky issue for Democrats. This illustrates once again that the default setting for many in the political media is still that Dems are always vulnerable; Dems are always at risk of getting too far ahead of public opinion; and Dems are always at risk of provoking a backlash from the same public that strongly agrees with them.

It'll be interesting to see if WaPo revisits this issue, now that we have some actual empirical evidence to shed light on the topic the paper reported so extensively on. Somehow one doubts that WaPo will call up Ayres and ask him what gives.
I'm not holding my breath.

The Columbia Journalism Review treated this article more seriously then it deserves. But I thought this passage said a lot:
Indeed, energy and the environment have been a source of strength for the Democrats in particular....The concern that the public may react unfavorably to a strong pro-environment platform in the general election is a fairly novel idea for news pages, and Post writer Juliet Eilperin makes the case that it’s legitimate.
"Makes the case". Think about that for a minute. Its not reporting that Eilperin is doing. She's trying to persuade her readers to believe something that simply isn't true. Making a case.

This is almost "swift boating". Here's the WPost taking a Democratic strength, the environment, and saying, with no support at all, just conjecture, that its a weakness for the candidates. I predict the next step in this will be a story which talks about how "reasonable" and "sensible" the Republican candidates plans are. Lets hope this particular brand of "kick the Democrats" that the beltway media loves to play stops here.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

False choices: economy or environment?

The Washington Post had a front page article on the presidential candidates' plans on global warming with the awful title: Climate Is a Risky Issue for Democrats and and even worse sub-title: Candidates Back Costly Proposals You almost don't have to read the article. The title asks the question "why is it risky?" and the subtitle has the answer: because its costly!

I've complained about Post headline writers before. If you read the article, you'll find what's becoming a....oh no I'm going to use that word..."frame" for solutions-focused articles: you get to choose between business-as-usual early 21st century prosperity or fix the environment and guess which one those no-fun liberals want you to choose?

Lets just pick apart the opening paragraph:
All of the leading Democratic contenders for the presidency are committed to a set of cuts in greenhouse gas emissions that would change the way Americans light their homes, fuel their automobiles and do their jobs, costing billions of dollars in the short term but potentially, the candidates say, saving even more in the decades to follow.

"would change" is followed with "costly" implying its not a change for the better. Also its stated as fact that it will definitely cost billions while it only "potentially" will save more. And the savings is "candidates say" implying its one of those lies they like to tell while the cost is just a God-given fact.

Quotes from Clinton's energy speech are for some reason countered with an MIT study about how much energy will cost in 2050 under an 80% reduction plan. Where's the quote about how unreliable economic forecast models are? Oh wait, they only do that for climate models.

A Siegel has more on how you can both protect the environment and be prosperous. A frequent subject on Michael Tobis's blog is how silly it is to discuss "cost-benefit" when we're talking about the one-and-only planet we live on.

I actually liked the second half of the article which goes into how global warming is figuring in to political strategy for the upcoming presidential election. This actually cheered me up:
"It's a huge issue. I've been stunned by this," said Democratic pollster Stan Greenberg, who found in a May poll that energy independence and global warming were cited as America's most important domestic challenge by 29 percent of respondents, second only to health care. "I think this is a top-tier voting issue that has crossover appeal," Greenberg said.
Republicans will try to attack them on the cost. I hope some candidate points out that it's a false choice.

Update: another take on this article above.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Another underreported story on CO2 emissions: they're getting stronger faster then expected

Back in June, I wondered why a report from the Global Carbon Project that emissions rose faster then expected got little coverage.

4 months later another Global Carbon Project study, this one also published (and available for free) in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, that asks why this is happening is also not getting much attention. Its a shame because it has some sobering news: global emissions are rising faster then the most pessimistic scenario used in the recent IPCC climate predictions. (hat tip to Michael Tobis for finding this.)

USAToday had some good matter-of-fact coverage on the "why" question:
The growing world economy is fueling the emissions. "Our ability to become more carbon-efficient is declining, especially since 2000," Field says. "We're no longer seeing progress in this area, which is probably a reflection of a large amount of coal coming into the power system."
The Associated Press had an article by Randolph Schmid but I haven't seen it picked up anywhere except the Seattle Post-Intelligencer:
Carbon dioxide emissions were 35 percent higher in 2006 than in 1990, a much faster growth rate than anticipated, researchers led by Josep G. Canadell, of Australia's Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization, report in Tuesday's edition of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Increased industrial use of fossil fuels coupled with a decline in the gas absorbed by the oceans and land were listed as causes of the increase.
Unfortunately, Mr. Schmid felt the need to include some "balance" and NCAR's Kevin Trenberth, surprisingly, supplied it:
Trenberth noted that carbon dioxide is not the whole story — methane emissions have declined, so total greenhouse gases are not increasing as much as carbon dioxide alone. Also, he added, other pollution plays a role by cooling.

There are changes from year to year in the fraction of the atmosphere made up of carbon dioxide and the question is whether this increase is transient or will be sustained, he said.
For the first point: the CO2 is the one that will stick around for thousands of years and he knows that. For the second: that might matter if it was a new trend but this is plainly a continuation of an existing trend.

A companion article (also free) goes in to the global and regional drivers of the rise. Its worth quoting at length despite the tiny bit of algebra:
The strong global fossil-fuel emissions growth since 2000 was
driven not only by long-term increases in population (P) and
per-capita global GDP (g) but also by a cessation or reversal of
earlier declining trends in the energy intensity of GDP (e) and
the carbon intensity of energy ( f ). In particular, steady or slightly
increasing recent trends in f occurred in both developed and
developing regions. In this sense, no region is decarbonizing its
energy supply.
Continuous decreases in both e and f (and therefore in carbon
intensity of GDP, h=e*f) are postulated in all IPCC emissions
scenarios to 2100, so that the predicted rate of global
emissions growth is less than the economic growth rate. Without
these postulated decreases, predicted emissions over the coming
century would be up to several times greater than those from
current emissions scenarios. In the unfolding reality since
2000, the global average f has actually increased, and there has
not been a compensating faster decrease in e. Consequently,
there has been a cessation of the earlier declining trend in h. This
has meant that even the more fossil-fuel-intensive IPCC scenarios
underestimated actual emissions growth during this period.
GCP also made available a PowerPoint presentation with some figures. Initforthegold explains the best ones. There's been plenty of blog coverage: ClimateProgress, Rabett Run, and Stoat but they all seem to focus on the one part of the increase: a slow down in the natural carbon sink. But Canadell et. al. say that's only 18% of the increase, the rest is the growing world economy and its increasing reliance on coal.

If you're feeling depressed just remember: we've just now started talking collectively about doing something. There's a lot of inertia in the system so the previous years of neglect will continue to generate bad stories like this while we work to prevent future worse stories.

Monday, November 05, 2007

StepItUp post script

I went to check out the StepItUp2007 event near me which was over in the Lakeview neighborhood of Chicago at the High Risk Gallery on Belmont. Not a place associated with a historical leader like most StepItUp rally sites but a nice venue.

You can read reports from the organizers and others here.

The first part featured speakers talking about the problem. Tim Montague from Climate Justice Chicago seemed to be at the wrong venue. He gave a very doom-and-gloom talk about the urgent need for action which seemed more suited to a general audience. Isn't everyone at a StepItUp rally already aware of the need for action? Also he kept using the phrase "runaway global warming". I don't know what he meant by that but the old idea that we might develop a Venus-like climate was discredited years ago. Anthony Star from the Center for Neighborhood Technology went over Chicago's GHG emissions. He also mentioned there is a Chicago Climate Task Force which has been formulating a climate plan for the city. Its supposed to be released "soon" and will make Chicago a world leading Green City. I'm looking forward to seeing it. Jack Darin, Illinois Director of the Sierra Club, told me something I didn't know: that the Sierra Club made global warming its central issue for the next 10 years at a conference in 2005. He had some interesting facts like Illinois is about equal to the Netherlands in total emissions and that Detroit currently makes two versions of every car sold: a clean version for California and similar states with tough laws and a "dirty" version for Illinois (the 5th largest car market by state) and states without those laws. There's currently a bill in the Illinois legislature which would make us clean and maybe that would be the "tipping point" to convince Detroit to make only clean cars.

In the second part of the meeting, we heard from elected officials. I was most pleased to hear from Mike Quigley and learn about the great work he's doing in the Cook County Commissioners office. Cook County has a $3 billion annual budget and can do a lot to make Chicago green. Illinois State Rep. Greg Harris had a disappointing answer to my question about possibly banning coal-fired power plants in Illinois: "not likely". Illinois has 1/4 of the country's coal and mining counts for a lot of jobs in the southern part of the state. Debra Shore of the Metropolitan Water District talked about the changes there such as seeing rainwater as resource to preserved instead of waste to be rid of.

Although I know a lot about the science of global warming, I didn't know much about what's being done locally to address it. I learned a lot at this meeting. The most encouraging bit of news was a recent law which gave customers a rebate in electricity bills included a provision to make it easier for the local utility to buy wind power. A wind farm north of Bloomington, IL was announced almost immediately after the bill passed.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Step it Up tomorrow

Back in April, author and environmentalist Bill McKibben "led the organization of the largest demonstrations against global warming in American history". Step It Up 2 is tomorrow, November 3rd, one year before the U.S. presidential election:
On November 3rd, Americans will demand real leadership on global warming. From coast to coast, we'll rally in our communities and invite our politicians to join us. We'll see who rises to the occasion and who has a real plan to tackle the defining challenge of our time. One year before the election, let's make sure the world witnesses our national call to action.

I've been disappointed that global warming doesn't seem to be on the top of any candidate's stump speech. This is not just a policy issue you need to have a position on. You need to lead. From the website:
...most of our elected officials and candidates for federal office think global warming is a “third-tier” issue for their constituents—they don’t know that this is the greatest challenge confronting our civilization. And so they’re likely to act too modestly if they act at all—passing some new law that calls for only small cuts in carbon emissions and takes too long to get started. If we allow that to happen, the pressure for change will fade away, and by the time it builds again the scientists tell us it may be too late.

And let's not forget, November 3 is one year before the next federal elections, and most campaigns will be eager to get out see their constituents. If we do our job right -- all of us -- at events all across the country on November 3 and find out who's a leader.

I encourage everyone reading this blog to find a location near you and go.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Climate change polls presidential candidates should look at

A couple of climate change polls in the early primary stats of New Hampshire and Iowa show climate change is on voters minds.

Think Iowa hunters would be a conservative group with a typical denier attitude? Think again. According to this poll taken by the National Wildlife Federation and reported in the Des Moines Register:
--69 percent of Iowa hunters and anglers agree global warming is currently occurring.
--57 percent agreed with a statement that global warming is an urgent problem requiring immediate action
--57 percent believe global warming is a threat to fishing in Iowa.
----54 percent believe global warming is a threat to the future of hunting in Iowa.
--75 percent agree the U.S. should be a world leader in addressing global warming.
Party identification was split evenly.

On the other hand, a New Hampshire poll done by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests found concern for climate change breaking along party lines:
the poll...found that 69 percent of Democrats said they were very concerned about climate change, while just 22 percent of Republicans had the same level of concern. Forty percent of independents said they are very concerned.

Education level is also a factor, with more educated respondents more likely to be concerned about climate change.

Both polls were conducted in September.