When Life Gets in the Way

Miller-McCune has an article titled, “Why Isn’t Climate Change on More lips?” It starts off:

Eighty-three percent of Americans believe the Earth is heating up, according to a recent Reuters/Ipsons poll. Yet most live as though global warming isn’t taking place, even while knowing that it is.

The piece goes on to discuss an

array of denial devices created to protect us from fear. Along with social etiquette, cultural narratives and beliefs, and even jokes, they form a social shield allowing us to “look the other way” and lead our daily lives calmly, says University of Oregon sociologist Kari Norgaard.

The researcher studied this “collective denial” in a Norwegian village and wrote up the results in a recently published book called, Living in Denial: Climate Change, Emotions, and Everyday Life.

Now I’ve discussed this phenomenon numerous times already, and the best article I’ve seen to date on it is this one in the NYT magazine, from two years ago. But I’m going to talk anecdotally about this supposed “collective denial.” Because I’m not sure that really explains why more people aren’t talking about global warming. I’ll use myself and my own social circle in NYC. Many of my friends are highly educated, successful professionals. Doctors, lawyers, Wall Streeters. They are mostly liberal. They are well read. They subscribe to The New Yorker, the NYT, The Economist, etc. They stay up on the news. They care about the world.

They just have no time for it.

Their lives revolve around family, job, and sports. That makes them roughly similar to most Americans, regardless of income bracket.

My friends never talk about global warming. I don’t even bring it up. (Why would I ruin the Giants game on Sunday, anyway?) We talk about our kids, whether to get the Nook or new Kindle Fire for X-mas, the last movie we saw. We’ll talk politics during election years, but we don’t ever seem to get around to talking about global warming.

Are we in denial? I don’t think so. Most of us (who don’t write about this stuff for a living) are just too consumed with our families and our jobs to worry about a slow-moving, amorphous threat that isn’t slated to materialize until later this century. We have more immediate concerns.

The climate change-concerned community lives in a bubble of its own making, which reinforces the graveness of global warming to those who live and breathe the issue every day. Well, the rest of the world lives in a bubble of it’s own making, too. It’s called life. Global warming hasn’t penetrated that bubble yet, and I’m not it sure will anytime soon.

Category: climate change, global warming

The Durban Climate Deal and Cognitive Dissonance

There’s something remarkable happening this week in the climatesphere. People who routinely thunder that we are on the verge of climate doom have mostly shrugged at the lackluster outcome of the recent climate summit in South Africa. I’m wondering if they’ve self-medicated themselves with sedatives. Consider that, last week Grist’s David Roberts wrote (his emphasis):

If there is to be any hope of avoiding civilization-threatening climate disruption, the U.S. and other nations must act immediately and aggressively on an unprecedented scale. That means moving to emergency footing. War footing.

Yesterday, a more muted Roberts was waxing on about the importance of “symbolism” while chiding greens for holding to the ”illusion that an international treaty could compel national decision makers to cut emissions faster their their domestic populations are willing.”  So I’m curious to hear what mechanism he believes will compel the world to get on that “war footing.” Because I’m kinda thinking that “a plan about a plan,” with “holes big enough to drive a hummer through,” as Andy Revkin notes, and which, whatever it ends up being, doesn’t go into effect until 2020, is not anything to pin one’s hopes on.

Then there is Mr. Hell and High Water. Nobody consistently shouts louder from the climate doom mountaintop than Joe Romm. And nobody else relentlessly berates the media for failing to shout with him from the mountaintop. Like Roberts, Romm often argues that the urgency of global warming is at hand, and that continued dawdling will ensure climate catastrophe on a wide scale. Yet, seemingly determined to make lemonade out of lemons, Romm hailed the Durban agreement as a

a pretty big success, committing the entire world — not just rich countries — to develop a roadmap for reductions.

True, he also said that

from the perspective of what is needed to avert catastrophic climate change, the agreement was, sadly, lacking.

Which makes me wonder, according to the brutal logic of climate change, how Romm will define “success” going forward.

For as Fred Pearce observes in the New Scientist, the Durban deal

is a post-dated check. It won’t do anything to help the climate in the next decade – a decade that scientists say is critical to arresting global warming and turning the world’s energy infrastructure towards low-carbon sources.

So I’m still struggling to reconcile the feverish rhetoric and dire warnings with the cold reality of climate diplomacy. Stripped to its essence, what has the Durban agreement truly yielded? Eugene Robinson, in his Washinton Post column, pretty much nails it:

Durban’s real accomplishment was to keep the slow, torturous process of climate negotiations alive — with the biggest carbon emitters now involved. This buys time for real solutions to emerge.

I think he’s right about the first part, that the process is still alive, but more like a death row candidate buying time with legal appeals. Exactly how much time climate negotiators can buy for the climate is anyone’s guess, except those who laud the results of the process while saying time has already run out.

Category: climate policy, climate politics, COP17, global warming

Will Global Warming Heat Up 2012 Election?

Six months ago, I would have said no.

Now, I’m thinking there’s a good chance it may. I lay out the rationale over at the Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media. Also appearing today at the Yale Forum is Sara Peach’s meaty piece on the GOP’s dramatically changed stance on global warming. A related story by Julie Halpert surveys the media’s fact-checking of Republican Presidential candidates.

All in all, a nice package on this election day (in the U.S.) for you political/climate junkies.

Category: climate change, climate politics, climate science, global warming

When Global Warming Isn’t Scandalous

Many climate skeptics perturbed about the BEST results are complaining that the media has gleefully hyped the story. There is certainly evidence of widespread coverage in newspapers and the blogosphere.

But the story has been virtually ignored by cable TV and mainstream broadcast outlets. Last night, Jon Stewart had some fun comparing that dearth with all the play given a certain climate news event two years ago.

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Category: climate change, global warming, jon stewart, media


Carl Zimmer coins a term and it catches fire on Twitter. Some examples:

  • @carlzimmer I point to the increase in global warming and I point to porn. That is all. #greenfieldism
  • @carlzimmer I point to the deliciousness of waffles and I point to Belgians. That’s all. #greenfieldism
  • @carlzimmer I point to climate change and I point to a dramatic decrease in seafaring pirates, that is all. #greenfieldism

Category: climate change, global warming, greenfieldism

On Attribution, Global Warming and Disclosures

The issue of special interest/advocacy funding is ever present in the climate change debate. Several months ago, Matthew Nisbet challenged the conventional wisdom that environmental organizations were being vastly outspent by industry-affiliated associations and deep-pocketed conglomerates with an anti-regulatory bent.

One of the things that perpetuates the monolithic climate skeptics-are-funded-by-industry meme is the lack of transparency by some contrarian scientists, as revealed in stories like this one from yesterday. Additionally, as Reuters reports, it’s not just the considerable sum of money that climate skeptic and astrophysicist Willie Soon has received in the last few years, it’s recent stuff like this:

Soon co-wrote a May 25 opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal called “The Myth of Killer Mercury.” In the piece, Soon was identified as a natural scientist from Harvard, but the newspaper did not disclose that he receives most of his funding from the energy industry.

Hell, I would have accepted even a simple acknowledgement that he receives some money from coal companies. I have to think that WSJ readers would have appreciated knowing this about someone who co-authors an op-ed claiming that mercury (emitted from coal-generated power plants) is not harmful to your health.

Speaking of disclosures, on the same day the story broke on Wille Soon’s lucrative side gigs with the energy industry, Scientific American put up a feature headlined,

Storm Warnings: Extreme Weather Is A Product Of Climate Change

The writer, John Carey, reports:

Scientists used to say, cautiously, that extreme weather events were “consistent” with the predictions of climate change. No more. “Now we can make the statement that particular events would not have happened the same way without global warming,” says Kevin Trenberth, head of climate analysis at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colo.

That’s a profound change—the difference between predicting something and actually seeing it happen. The reason is simple: The signal of climate change is emerging from the “noise”—the huge amount of natural variability in weather.

If you read to the end of the piece, which is the first in a three part series, you’ll also learn this:

Reporting for this story was funded by Pew Center on Global Climate Change.

Now that’s how you do a disclosure!

Then again, I have to ask: why is a highly reputable science magazine letting a foundation-supported organization (whose “mission is to provide credible information, straight answers, and innovative solutions in the effort to address global climate change”) financially underwrite a story about global warming and extreme weather?

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not unheard of for foundations to help fund specific articles in magazines, but often those are for investigative or enterprise stories that require a significant expenditure of time and resources. And even then, these stories are usually published in political or advocacy-oriented magazines (such as Mother Jones or High Country News). And by the way, I don’t have a problem with that. I see nothing wrong with grant funded journalism as a supplement to the traditional advertising and subscriber-based model, as it allows reporters to pursue stories that might otherwise not get written, especially given the tight budgets at many publications.

I just question whether it’s appropriate for a magazine like Scientific American, which I consider to be a top flight science journalism outlet without any stated political or ideological agenda. (Of course, they get periodically hammered from partisans that inhabit the polar ends of the climate debate, but that’s par the course.)

There’s also another odd aspect about this SciAm story funded by the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. It’s advancing a controversial claim (for a global warming link to individual weather-related disasters) that is largely contradicted by a “white paper” issued yesterday by…you guessed it, the Pew Center on Global Climate Change. Here’s from the paper’s introduction (my emphasis):

The fact that 2010 was one of the warmest years on record as well as one of the most disastrous, begs the question: Is global warming causing more extreme weather? The short and simple answer is yes, at least for heat waves and heavy precipitation. But much of the public discussion of this relationship obscures the link behind a misplaced focus on causation of individual weather events. The questions we ask of science are critical: When we ask whether climate change “caused” a particular event, we pose a fundamentally unanswerable question. This fallacy assures that we will often fail to draw connections between individual weather events and climate change, leading us to disregard the real risks of more extreme weather due to global warming.

None of this is to say that Carey’s SciAm story is without journalistic merit, even if it leans heavily on one source-Kevin Trenberth-who is known for unreservedly advancing the extreme weather event/global warming link. Trenberth is again a central source in part two of Carey’s article that is posted today, but this time he is juxtaposed with another scientist with a counter view:

This science of attribution is not without controversies. Another case in point: the 2010 Russian heat wave, which wiped out one quarter of the nation’s wheat crop and darkened the skies of Moscow with smoke from fires. The actual meteorological cause is not in doubt. “There was a blocking of the atmospheric circulation,” explains Martin Hoerling, a research meteorologist at the NOAA’s Earth System Research Laboratory, also in Boulder. “The jet stream shifted north, bringing a longer period of high pressure and stagnant weather conditions.” But what caused the blocking? Hoerling looked for an underlying long-term temperature trend in western Russia that might have increased the odds of a heat wave, as Stott had done for the 2003 European event. He found nothing. “The best explanation is a rogue black swan—something that came out of the blue,” he says.

Wrong, retorts NCAR’s Trenberth. He sees a clear expansion of the hot, dry Mediterranean climate into western Russia that is consistent with climate change predictions—and that also intensified the Pakistan monsoon. “I completely repudiate Marty—and it doesn’t help to have him saying you can’t attribute the heat wave to climate change,” he says. “What we can say is that, as with Katrina, this would not have happened the same way without global warming.”

Hmm, this kind of dueling seems exactly the kind of counterproductive debate that Daniel Huber and Jay Gulledge caution against in their “white paper” for Pew. They conclude that,

it does not make sense to focus on whether individual events are supercharged by climate change. It does make sense, however, to take lessons from actual events about our current vulnerabilities and the risks to society caused in unabated greenhouse gas emissions that drive extreme weather risks ever higher as time passes.

The case they make for a “risk management framework” is well worth reading alongside Carey’s SciAm articles exploring the evidence for a link between specific extreme weather events and climate change.

Category: climate change, global warming

Why Climate Change Loses Out to Sex and Scandal

From a Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist:


Category: climate change, global warming

The Love Affair with Climate Disasters

In recent weeks, disaster porn has mutated with concerns about climate change to produce an orgy of writhing, conflated arguments. People, I know you have a lot of pent-up frustration. It’s been a rough couple of years: a global recession, climategate, the failed promise of Copenhagen and Obama.

I know how you’ve been yearning for years to hook up with severe weather so you can prove to the world once and for all that climate change and human misery belong together. But what if this is just another passing fling? What will you do when the recent spate of tornadoes, floods, and wildfires fade from the headlines?

When will you ignore the urge for instant gratification and settle down with someone you can build a future with? (On that note, you might want to rethink this relationship. It’s gotten a bit stale, no?)

Of course, that would mean you’d have to live in a reality-based world. Maybe think outside the box a little.

Unless you think you can make a go of it with your climate disaster honey. We’ll soon see how far you get.

Category: climate change, climate politics, global warming

The Google Guide to Global Warming

If you had little to none knowledge about climate change and wanted some facts, you would probably turn to Google. Curious to see what you would turn up, the Yale Forum on Climate Change & the Media recently conducted an interesting experiment. They did

nearly 100 Google searches for terms related to climate change, such as “global warming,” “climate change,” “greenhouse effect,” “anthropogenic global warming,” “climate change news,” “global warming hoax,” and “climate change myths.”

Next, The Yale Forum examined the websites that appeared on the first page of results for each search string, 980 webpages in all. The sites were classified based on the type of information offered, such as support for the scientific consensus, news about the topic, or skeptical claims.

Guess what?

The results suggest that often, Google leads people to accurate information about climate change.

Category: climate change, climate science, global warming

Luck of the Irish

Some good news for Guinness (and black & tan) fans who want to drink away their climate woes in a European “lifeboat.”

Category: climate change, global warming