State of the Blog

I know everyone has been waiting on pins and needles about the future of this blog. The suspense has been killing me, too. Well, I have good news and bad news.

Let’s start with the latter. Your combined generosity has enabled me to buy some new socks, take my kids to a matinee movie and fill up the family car’s gas tank. The upshot: unless some amazing ad revenue model materializes, or George Soros and the Koch brothers team up to throw money at me, this is a dead blog walking.

Oh, quit your bawling. We’ve had a good run. You’ll be fine. Maybe some old friends will even start talking to me again.

The good news is I won’t totally go away. In fact, I still write a once a week thingamajob at the Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media, which appears every Tuesday or wed. You can check Colide-a-Scape on those days for the blurb and link. Also, it’s not like I’m going to stop reading, reporting and writing about the subjects that have been a mainstay of this blog. So when my work appears elsewhere, I’ll flog it here.

Lastly, while I explore a few life support options for this blog, I’m going to post a round-up once or twice a week of links that catch my eye. That starts today, just below.

*******

Climate Change

Global warming “has joined abortion and gay marriage as a culture war controversy,” writes conservative WaPo columnist Michael Gerson, as if this were a fresh insight. There’s enough fodder in his piece to piss off all sides and reinforce the theme of Gerson’s column.

On a similar note,  Judith Curry finds that “the extreme polarization of the public debate on climate change seems very difficult to change.” Hmm, ya think? Curry says she is trying to build a “community for floaters, and diminish the basis for inflexibles and liars.” What is a floater? Someone who floats away from being inflexible and deceitful or between those two types? In any case, she seems to have realized that her blog, Climate Etc., “is fighting an uphill battle.”

The National Center for Science Education announces the launch of a new initiative “aimed at defending the teaching of climate change.”  This one will be interesting to watch. The Center made a name for itself by defending the teaching of evolution. See this LA Times story for more background.

Meanwhile, in the Guardian, University of Colorado media scholar Max Boycoff says that, beyond all this culture war stuff,

the “climate problem” suffers from a more powerful and enduring force: economic stagnation.

On the wonky front, a scholar considers the pros and cons of climate change being taken up the UN security council.

Anthropologist John Hawks tweeted that he was

Trying to figure out why climate change brings the Doomsday Clock closer to midnight than the Cuban Missile Crisis.

A new study in Science offers a short-term solution that would address global warming while also improving public health and food security. The ever provocative John Tierney, in the NYT, writes:

This proposal comes from an international team of researchers — in climate modeling, atmospheric chemistry, economics, agriculture and public health — who started off with a question that borders on heresy in some green circles: Could something be done about global warming besides forcing everyone around the world to use less fossil fuel?

As for what is being proposed, Tierney summarizes:

researchers determined the 14 most effective measures for reducing climate change, like encouraging a switch to cleaner diesel engines and cookstoves, building more efficient kilns and coke ovens, capturing methane at landfills and oil wells, and reducing methane emissions from rice paddies by draining them more often.

Barrie Pittock at The Conservation explains why a better framework for the climate debate would be risk-based:

Policy is value-laden, while science can only tease out the possibilities and probabilities. Some have now agreed we need to avoid a global average warming of more than 2°C. But this “limit” is uncertain and value-laden. What is “dangerous” to someone living near the coast in Vanuatu may be quite different from what someone in Russia or inland Australia might consider dangerous. Many of us think a 2°C limit may not be strict enough to avoid a dangerous degree of climate change. But that is a value judegment made under uncertainty.

Only time will tell what is an acceptable risk and to whom.

At the local level in Florida, comprehensive planning for climate change is underway. Michael Lemonick at Yale Environment 360 has the details. Shocker alert: Republicans and Democrats in the Sunshine state are working together on these regional climate initiatives.

Energy

The oil & gas industry must have perceived some tipping point over fracking, since a new law (in Texas, of all places) is about go into effect, forcing drillers to “disclose many of the chemicals that they inject into the Earth,” writes Steve leVine over at Foreign Policy.

CNN’s Fareed Zakaria looks at some “striking numbers” that convince him why oil prices will remain high for the foreseeable future.

India has a worsening energy crisis, resulting from years of “policy gridlock,” according to The Times of India, which reports:

A shortage of coal and gas and uncertainty over supply have thrown the business plans of the [power] generators into disarray and made lenders reluctant to lend, delaying projects.

Archaeology

A NYT story discusses recent discoveries that potentially upend  the “conventional understanding of the world’s largest tropical rain forest.”


Category: climate change

Paying Attention to the History of Climate Change

One of the unfortunate consequences of the hyperbolic, circumscribed climate change discourse (It’s all hoax, No it’s not!) is that we don’t pay enough attention to the climate change that did happen in prehistory, specifically the mega-droughts that combined with other factors to cripple ancient empires.

These are complicated stories that are still being puzzled out by scientists, as I discuss in this longish piece at the Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media. But I think these stories and the evidence of prehistoric drought are becoming clear enough for us to draw lessons from. Have a read and let me know over there what you think.

UPDATE: Via John Fleck, I see there’s an important new study on medieval megadroughts that adds to a robust body of literature.


Category: climate change, drought

The Climate Story You Don’t Hear About

So while American politicians and environmentalists slug it out over a proposed pipeline, China is stocking its rainy day shale and oil sands fund. Let’s start with the recent news out of Canada:

China will take over full ownership over a Canadian oil sands project for the first time after Athabasca Oil Sands Corp announced Tuesday it sold the remaining 40 percent of the MacKay River oil sands development to PetroChina for US $673 million.

The deal continues a trend that has seen China’s state-owned oil companies invest billions of dollars in exploration or production ventures in Canada, Africa, Latin America and elsewhere.

Elsewhere is another way of saying the United States, as this other bit of news suggests:

Showing that it isn’t worried about the upswell of angst over hydraulic fracking technology, the Chinese government, through state-controlled Sinopec, today struck a deal with Devon Energy to buy into five prospective new exploration areas in the U.S.

The deal, which includes $900 million in cash upfront and a promise of $1.6 billion in the years ahead to cover drilling and development, gives the Chinese a 33% stake in five of Devon’s fields, and a front row seat to what is effectively the second wave of development of U.S. shale assets. The areas in question include the Tuscaloosa in Louisiana, the Niobrara in Colorado, the Mississippian in Devon’s home state of Oklahoma, the Utica in Ohio and the Michigan basin.

The second wave? Does that mean it washes over us irrespective of the fight over the Keystone XL pipeline? Has anybody told environmentalists this? And what about climate activists? Who worries you more at this point: Mitt Romney or China? Oh, Never mind.

Back to that second wave, and how it’s being funded from Chinese cash, see this 2011 must-read from Jonathan Thompson. He writes that, over the last decade,

China has emerged as one of our biggest customers; U.S. exports to China have increased 460 percent since 2000. Compared to British, Canadian or Australian multinational corporations, Asian companies still have a minuscule investment in Western resources. But over the last year, as much of Asia scrambles out of the global recession unscathed and the U.S. continues to wallow, Chinese, Indian and even former Soviet-bloc companies have bought into American oil and gas fields, molybdenum mines and more.

The story of fossil fuels as a much sought after global commodity is the big climate story that climate-concerned activists and bloggers willfully ignore.


Category: China, climate change, Energy

The Big Climate Stories from 2011

In a new post at the Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media, I write:

In 2011, there were numerous themes that ran through climate change media coverage: 1) crazy weather, 2) a litmus test for Republicans, 3) man bites dog, 4) evidence of an actual climate movement, and 5) futility.

What’s that, you think I missed something? I’m all ears.


Category: climate change, Journalism

Don’t Lose Sight of Those Biases

I dip in and out of the comment threads at Judith Curry’s blog. The nesting style annoys me, so I rarely follow an actual conversation all the way through. But there are some commenters, such as Joshua, Martha, and Louise, and a few others on the skeptical side, who I find quite engaging. They usually make the time worthwhile.

This comment from Joshua just caught my eye. He’s responding to someone who asked how he would feel if global warming didn’t play out as expected:

That is a good and important question, and it is one that I have given quite a bit of thought to.

In all honesty, I can’t deny that at some partisan level, I will feel vindicated if AGW is definitively proven (I don’t feel it has been just yet).

When my better self thinks about the implications of that, I realize just how easy it is to let partisan interest, motivated reasoning, socio-centric bias, etc., distort my more rational thinking processes.

And not viewing myself as particularly better or worse then your average Joe or Jane climate combatant, that is why I am astounded that so many combatants, on both sides of the debate, seem so oblivious to influences that bias their thinking as well.


Category: climate change, climate politics

Light at End of the Tunnel?

Someone I have a lot of respect for says all the Durban bashing is misinformed. To those who argue that the recent climate summit in South Africa produced nothing of consequence, Andrew Light counters:

The fact is that not only did Durban produce a package of agreements essential for any hope of a meaningful contribution to mitigation and adaptation to climate change out of this forum, but it also avoided a disaster that would have sent this process back to where it started in 1992.

Light makes a strong, detailed case for why the climate community should be more appreciative of the lemonade made out of the lemons:

Those who claim Durban is a failure are missing the big picture.  It emerged out of an incredibly hard process with multiple trip wires for failure.  If there is going to be an international agreement (or cluster of them) that helps bend down emissions to get us to the goals we need to achieve then Durban will be seen as essential to getting there.

UPDATE: Roger Pielke Jr. says not so fast and elaborates here.


Category: climate change, climate policy

While Looking Ahead, Let’s Also Look Back

Responding to the notion that future generations are going to be worse off because of the actions (or non-action) of those living today, a U.S. reader offers another perspective:

By the time I graduated high school everyone personally not only knew someone who had ‘been to war’ but everyone knew someone who had been killed or maimed in a war. Sit down and make a list of all the ‘trials and tribulations’ our generation had to contend with and our parents generation had to contend with then compare them to the younger generation.

Our children aren’t going to get a perfect world, it’s a lot better then what was handed to us by our parents and it’s a lot better then was handed to our parents by their parents.


Category: climate change

Climate Hawks Letting off Steam?

Oh, this should be good for another noisy round of meaningless climate warfare:

“Our biggest problem is to deal with the skepticism and denial of the cult-like lemmings who would take us over the cliff,” said [California Governor Jerry] Brown, a Democrat, eliciting cheers and laughter from an audience of roughly 200 policymakers, businessleaders, and activists. “The skeptics and deniers have billions of dollars at their disposal … But I can tell you we’re going to fight them every step of the way until we get this state on a sustainable path forward.”

More laughter came when [IPCC Chair Rajendra] Pachauri joked that Branson could give climate deniers tickets on the aviation mogul’s planned flights into outer space. “Perhaps it could be a one-way ticket,” Pachauri said, smiling, “though I’m not sure space deserves them.”

So these yucks come on the heels of a toothless agreement that kicked the climate can down the road for another decade, and these guys are joking about sending “deniers” to the moon. Seriously, though, do Brown & company really believe that climate skeptics are the “biggest problem”? When will these guys and the rest of the climate concerned movement realize they are fighting the wrong adversary?


Category: climate change

The Climate Doom Drumbeat

There is a popular belief in some quarters that the media is timid with its coverage on climate change. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. The dominant narrative for some time has been that global warming is real and will soon wreak havoc with the planet and civilization.

Some in the climate concerned community think this message should be be drummed into us until we submit. At the Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media, I argue that this approach is having the opposite effect. Sara Peach, a colleague there, discusses some recent examples of engagement that is a refreshing departure from the traditional gloom and doom mantra.


Category: climate change, climate science, media

Historic Analogies for Climate Change are Beguiling

It is just about as obvious that AGW [anthropogenic global warming] is not a serious problem as it was that the Nazis weren’t in 1936. Plenty of supposedly reasonable people had plenty of reasonable reasons to do nothing about it then, but today we just think they were stupid. Wasn’t it just obvious, weren’t the facts staring them in the face? But there was not really a shortage of people who saw WWII coming.

A commenter on the previous thread makes that argument here. But we also don’t need to go that far into the past for 2020 hindsight. We could use today’s occasion in Iraq to argue that a war which had nothing to do with 9/11 and sold with selective, hyped information to a fearful nation, is, on the flipside, a good a argument for skepticism. Let’s review:

The U.S. war in Iraq — a conflict that killed more than 4,000 American troops, cost $800 billion and divided the nation — officially ended with a ceremony held under tight security.

“To be sure, the cost was high — in blood and treasure for the United States and also for the Iraqi people,” Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said. “But those lives have not been lost in vain.”

So, knowing what we know today, was it worth it?

This rationalization from Fox News is a gem:

There may not have been weapons of mass destruction but for sure the U.S. military came of age in Iraq. It learned how to fight a counterinsurgency. It learned what it felt like to be perceived as an occupier. But most importantly nearly 1 million U.S. service members who passed through it and the Afghan theater became experts on the Middle East in all of its roiling complexity, making it impossible for Americans ever again to become truly isolationist.

Those U.S. forces learned how to take intelligence and hunt terrorists, skills that General Stanley McChrystal and the CIA perfected in Iraq, which undoubtedly were the basis for the skills and planning that allowed the U.S. military to execute with near perfect precision the killing of Usama Bin Laden and target and kill 99 percent of Al Qaeda’s top leaders worldwide. Those skills were honed and perfected in Iraq.

Never mind that the forces diverted to Iraq could have been used to nail Bin Laden much sooner while also helping to avoid the quagmire we find ourselves in today in Afghanistan. Otherwise, yeah, we learned why it’s not such a good idea to be an occupier in the Muslim world.

But getting back to the topic at hand, do these two pieces of history, Germany in 1936 and Iraq in 2003, hold lessons for us today, in how we are responding to climate change?


Category: climate change