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August 27 2012

19:41

Fuel Economy Standards To Save U.S. Consumers Billions, Create Jobs, Yet Republicans Say Too Expensive

A proposed rule by the Obama Administration to raise fuel economy standards for cars and “light-trucks” is facing mounting attacks by Republican lawmakers. The proposed rule would require all newly manufactured automobiles that fall under the car or light truck category to achieve a minimum gas mileage of 54.5 miles per gallon by the year 2025.

The crusade against the new CAFE standards is being led by Republican Darrell Issa, the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Issa claims that the new standards amount to “coercion” of the auto industry. Rep. Issa has received more than $188,000 from the oil industry during his career, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Issa’s statements show how out of touch he truly is with both economics and business, as the new standards were the result of cooperation between the Obama Administration and the auto industry itself.

The new fuel economy standards have been approved by Ford, GM, Chrysler, BMW, Honda, Hyundai, Jaguar, Land Rover, Kia, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Toyota and Volvo, who together control 90% of the United States’ auto sales market.

U.S. News and World Report details the contention over the standards, as well as the benefits for consumers:
  

Fuel economy standards have become a surprising example of tougher government rules that benefit practically everybody. In 2007, the Bush administration raised the gas mileage requirements automakers had to meet. Then in 2009, the Obama administration raised them further. Those rules, which are about to be finalized in detail, will require each automaker's fleet to average a lofty 54.5 miles per gallon by 2025—roughly double the mileage requirement of just five years ago.

The aggressive new standards are controversial, especially among Republicans opposed to activist government. GOP presidential contender Mitt Romney, for one, characterizes the new rules as just another effort to "insert the federal government into the life of the private sector." He has suggested that if elected, he'll roll back or even seek to eliminate federal mileage standards.

Yet so far, the new mileage rules have generated tangible benefits for consumers, with few of the downsides opponents have predicted. "Without a doubt, the new rules have been a win-win for everybody," says Jesse Toprak, of the car-research site TrueCar.com. "It's a win for consumers, a win for manufacturers, and a win for the environment."

Boosting fuel economy by four or five miles per gallon might not sound earth-shattering—until you bank the savings. A 5 mpg improvement would save about $525 per year for a motorist who drives 15,000 miles annually, if gas were at $3.50 per gallon. With gas at $4 per gallon, the savings would amount to $600 per year.
 

But the benefits of the new standards extend far beyond personal bank accounts. Reports show that the new fuel standards would create an estimated 700,000 new American jobs.

Republicans like Darrell Issa claim that the $192 billion price tag that the standards impose on industry is too lofty to incur right now, but that view is incredibly short-sighted and dishonest.

The new standards will save a projected $1.7 trillion for U.S. consumers by the time of full implementation, meaning that the investment will pay off tenfold. Additionally, by the year 2025, reports show that consumers will be saving an average of $8,000 a year per vehicle.

Issa is not alone in his crusade against the new standards. Joining him in the fight is Republican Representative Mike Kelly from Pennsylvania, who happens to have amassed his $11.9 million personal fortune from the car dealerships that he owns in Pennsylvania. Kelly made the following statement about the new standards: “The new CAFE standards will limit choice, compromise safety, and increase costs to millions of Americans.”

Unfortunately for Kelly, there are no numbers or statistics to back up any of these claims, particularly his statement about compromising the safety of consumers. Safety and fuel economy aren’t two things that are directly related, so it would be interesting to find out where he pulled that from.

Again, all of the major automobile makers have signed onto the new standards, and agree they are necessary to save consumers money, to help their businesses survive in a competitive economy, and to help reduce air pollution emissions.

The only people who stand against the new standards are the politicians beholden to the dirty energy industry.

August 25 2012

11:00

Keystone XL Pipeline To Take Center Stage At Republican National Convention

Over the next few days, Republican lawmakers, Party officials, delegates, and supporters will gather in Tampa, Florida for the Republican National Convention. During their weeklong convention, we can expect to hear a lot of debunked talking points, particularly about the need to approve the Keystone XL Pipeline.

For more than a year, Republican lawmakers in the U.S. have been pushing for approval of the Keystone XL Pipeline, while completely ignoring the environmental risks that would come along with the plan to pipe dangerous DilBit from the Alberta tar sands south to the Gulf Coast.

In addition to ignoring the risks, Republicans have vastly overstated the alleged “benefits” of the pipeline, which they claim would create thousands of jobs, lower energy prices, and reduce our dependence on foreign oil. That last claim is ironic, as the pipeline would carry foreign fuel from Canada, already the largest exporter of fuel to the U.S. Americans certainly love Canada as a neighbor, but it's still technically a foreign country and its ultimate goal is to reach foreign markets in Asia and elsewhere, not the United States.

Bold Nebraska has compiled a list of the possible topic areas to be discusses regarding the pipeline, as well as the truth about the consequences of the pipeline. Here are some of the talking points they are expecting, as well as the fact-based counter arguments:

Many Republicans and Keystone XL pipeline supporters like to say that the Keystone XL pipeline will lower gas prices. The following sorts of statements may be thrown around at the Republican convention, even though pipeline supporters have been quieter on the subject since gas prices have been lower all summer and have only started to rise again because of a recent pipeline spill in Wisconsin and refinery fire in California.

Reports have shown that not only will the Keystone XL pipeline do nothing to ease the price of gas, but it could actually raise the cost for consumers in parts of the country. The reasons for that being Keystone XL is likely to both decrease the amount of gasoline produced in U.S. refineries for domestic markets and increase the cost of producing it, according to a report from NRDC, Oil Change International and Forest Ethics Advocacy.

U.S. Senator Richard Lugar from Indiana has said that Keystone XL will result in “hundreds of thousands” of new jobs, created indirectly by the Keystone XL pipeline project. Senator Lugar’s “estimate is based in part on Perryman’s 2010 study for TransCanada, according to the senator’s spokesman, Andy Fisher.”

An independent analysis by Cornell University’s Global Labor Institute finds that these claims are completely false. Most jobs that are created by Keystone XL, according to the Cornell study, will be “temporary and non-local.” The Cornell report concludes that the pipeline “will not be a major source of US jobs, nor will it play any substantial role at all in putting Americans back to work.”

Republicans claim to be have the utmost concern and concerned about landowner rights, so much so that the issue was included in the GOP party platform of 2008 following the Supreme Court’s Kelo v. City of New London decision with which they disagreed…

In the GOP’s rabid support for construction of the Keystone XL tarsands pipeline, some members seem to have disregarded their fundamental support for property rights and opposition to eminent domain—a position that they made clear following the Supreme Court’s decision in.
Among others, Senators Cornyn (R-TX), Crapo (R-ID), Inhofe (R-OK), Isakson (R-GA), Hatch (R-UT), and Rubio (R-FL) all publically opposed the Kelo decision and now publically support the Keystone XL pipeline—despite the fact that eminent domain would be used to claim private property in seven states.
 

Keep in mind that the discussion of the Keystone XL Pipeline will be taking place in a city located on the Gulf of Mexico, an area still reeling from the effects of the 2010 BP oil geyser. To make things worse, TransCanada recently won a permit for the first leg of their pipeline that would cross several waterways in and around Galveston, Texas that feed directly into the Gulf of Mexico. TransCanada has already begun that construction.

Reports over the last year have shown that the pipeline will feature dangerously inadequate supervision, and that small leaks are almost impossible to detect. (A small leak can still cause massive oil spills and contaminate water supplies.) The Gulf of Mexico cannot afford another oil disaster.

The 2008 RNC convention brought us “Drill Baby Drill,” and it looks like that battle cry will reverberate through the state of Florida again this week.

Do Republicans understand the irony of advocating for foreign interests - Canada's - on a project that will raise prices for Americans, inevitably spill and contaminate our lands and waterways, and further threaten the global climate?

August 23 2012

10:00

US Chamber Rejoices As Courts Rule For Polluters

Earlier this week, an appellate court in Washington, D.C. ruled that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had overstepped their authority with their Transport Rule that was put in place to reduce the amount of air pollution being spewed from coal burning plants. The rule would have put stringent limits on the amount of pollution that was being emitted and carried across state lines by weather.

The Courier-Journal has more:

A panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit found in a 2-1 ruling that the EPA, in its so-called “Transport Rule,” had required too much pollution cutting when regulating power plants in 27 upwind states.

In looking at the rule’s “good neighbor” provisions under the Clean Air Act, the court found the EPA did not allow states time to reduce pollution on their own before taking its own action.

The EPA’s own estimates show that the rule could have prevented as many as 15,000 heart attacks a year, 19,000 emergency room visits, and would have reduced sulfur dioxide emissions by 73% and nitrogen oxide emissions by 54%. Both of those are known lung irritants.

Wasting no time, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce sent their astroturf division out to tout the court’s ruling as a victory for businesses, and for America. The Institute for 21st Century Energy, the Chamber’s energy front group, released the following statement from their president, Karen Harbert:

“Today’s decision is good news for consumers and for the reliability of our electricity grid. It is notable that for the second time in two weeks, federal circuit courts have affirmed the primary responsibility of states—not the EPA—in determining how to meet air quality standards under the Clean Air Act.”

“It has always been the contention of the Chamber that EPA regulations should be supported by sound science and accurate analysis. The EPA has habitually inflated the benefits and underestimated the costs of its regulations.”
 

The EPA was granted the authority to regulate carbon dioxide emissions by the U.S. Supreme Court back in 2007, but the recently struck down rule did not apply to carbon dioxide, only sulfur and nitrogen. However, if the case makes its way up to the Supreme Court, it is likely that the 2007 ruling could be broadened to include emissions in addition to carbon dioxide.

And while the Chamber was quick to jump on the side of industry claiming that the costs of the regulations were too lofty, they completely ignored all of the available evidence that these new air pollution standards would have actually saved our economy trillions of dollars.

An analysis by the Environmental Protection Agency [PDF] shows that the cost of fully implementing the Clean Air Act – which included the sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide regulations of the Transport Rule – would have cost $65 billion. However, they would have saved a grand total of $2 trillion for the economy as a whole, which includes the healthcare burdens shifted to American taxpayers for pollution-related illnesses, giving us a net gain of $1.935 trillion.

So now, we have an industry and their corporate lackeys at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce who aren’t just putting their profits above the health of American citizens, but they are putting those profits ahead of the health of the already-fragile U.S. economy. The American taxpayers will continue to foot the bill for those who get sick from the pollution the dirty energy industry continues to pump into our atmosphere.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has a long history of being on the wrong side of environmental issues. A few years ago, they were the target of enormous corporate backlash when they continued to ignore climate change, leading numerous high-profile companies like Nike and Apple to leave the group because of their backwards-thinking, science-denying operations.

The U.S. Chamber and their “Institute for 21st Century Energy” have also been strong proponents of the Keystone XL pipeline, as Ben Jervey pointed out for DeSmogBlog last year.

But the U.S. Chamber isn’t the only villain – state and local chapters of the Chamber of Commerce have been on the forefront of climate change denial and polluter defense for years. Think Progress reported that the state branches of the Chamber of Commerce in Kansas, Michigan, West Virginia, and Indiana have done their best to either completely deny climate change, host speakers that deny climate change, or to confuse the public about this issue. In the state of Michigan, the Chamber is actually lobbying against efforts to invest in renewable energy, which would create much-needed jobs.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is consistently referred to as the country’s most powerful business group and lobbying organization, and they have worked hard to earn that title. So far in 2012, the group has already spent close to $60 million on lobbying and political spending, which already matches the entire amount that the group spent during the 2007 – 2008 presidential election cycle in the U.S.

One of the main reasons the U.S. Chamber has been so successful with their lobbying efforts is that they have a very broad focus. While most companies or interest groups focus solely on elected representatives, the U.S. Chamber has spent an enormous amount of time, money, and energy lobbying the Judicial Branch. And as this week’s ruling shows, that has been a wildly successful venture for the group.

And this week wasn’t a fluke, either. According to reports, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce emerged as the clear victor in this year’s Supreme Court session, allegedly remaining “undefeated” in the issues that they became involved in.

The court that issued this week’s ruling, United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, has a very conservative majority sitting on the bench. Only three of the appellate judges in the Circuit were appointed by a Democratic president, and those were from Bill Clinton. The Court currently has three vacant seats, which leaves President Obama as little as 4 months to fill those vacancies, if Mitt Romney wins this year’s elections.

Americans tend to forget about our Judicial Branch of government, and of the three branches, the Judiciary gets away with a lot more than our Executive or Legislative branches. It is also a branch that is dangerously susceptible to dirty money, and the lack of public attention allows activist, anti-environmental judges to receive powerful, often lifetime appointments that are nearly impossible to undo. The recent anti-environmental court rulings should serve as a wakeup call to American citizens.

August 11 2012

17:59

Romney’s New Campaign Strategy: Attack Green Jobs During Massive Unemployment

Since President Obama took office, industry-funded think tanks and faux grassroots organizations, along with oil-friendly politicians have been collectively demanding to know “where are the jobs?” And with last month’s jobs report showing an increase in the U.S. unemployment rate (even though there was a net job gain for the month, making 28 consecutive months of private sector job growth) it would be unwise for any politician seeking national office to attack programs to put Americans back to work. But Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney is doing exactly that.

On the campaign trail recently, Romney took a few jabs at Obama, claiming that the president has an “unhealthy obsession with green jobs,” a claim that numerous media outlets are warning will not resonate well with the American public.

The Associated Press points out, as we mentioned last week, that Romney’s energy plan (which is being guided by industry insiders) would cut tax breaks for renewable energy sources like wind energy, while expanding tax breaks for oil companies. AP also noted that the American public, by a two-to-one margin, favor renewable energy over fossil fuels, showing that Romney’s positions go against the majority of Americans.

While most media outlets have only given cursory attention to Romney’s comments about Obama’s alleged “obsession” with green jobs, it's not a remark that should be taken lightly. In fact, it tells us a lot about what we can expect from Romney should he win the presidency.


The green economy is one that has never really been given a chance to survive in our "free market system." While stimulus money has flowed to many renewable energy companies, the lack of a green infrastructure has caused these projects to remain stagnant.

Investment in green jobs shouldn’t be a partisan issue. We could create millions of American jobs – jobs that can’t be outsourced; We could reduce our dependence on fossil fuels, and reduce our oil imports from hostile nations; And we would help reduce the country’s carbon footprint. None of those are partisan issues, as both major parties have talked about the need to do all of the above.

That’s not hyperbole, either. Studies abound about the benefits of investing in a green economy. But they also all say the same thing – More has to be done to create a delivery system for renewable energy. At the moment, there is no major infrastructure for delivering renewable energy to the masses, leaving the vast majority of the country reliant on fossil fuels to power their lives.

There are very few, if any, drawbacks to investing in clean energy, green jobs, and renewable technology. The benefits listed above should be enough to get any American on board, as long as that American isn’t a fossil fuel CEO.

Following the money on the issue helps us understand why we’re still so far behind in the green economy sector. USA Today has the numbers:
  

Last year alone ConocoPhillips, Royal Dutch Shell, Exxon Mobil, Chevron and the American Petroleum Institute, the trade group that represents these energy giants, used $66.2 million for lobbying efforts, nearly 44% of the $150 million total spent by the oil and gas industry, according to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics. Collectively, nearly 800 lobbyists worked on behalf of oil and gas interests in 2011.

The total towers over the $53 million spent by what the center classifies as the "miscellaneous energy" industry — which counts the Renewable Fuels Association, Growth Energy and the American Wind Energy Association as its members. The grouping includes 751 lobbyists.
 

The Obama administration has also met fierce opposition on their renewable energy and green jobs investments by industry-funded think tanks and astroturf organizations like Americans for Prosperity and ALEC. These groups are able to outspend their green counterparts, and in Washington, D.C., that gives them access to a much larger microphone.

And that brings us back to Romney. He’s already shown us that he’s willing to employ dirty energy industry insiders to craft his energy policy, and his claims about Obama’s “obsession” with green jobs is an extension of his pandering to the oil and gas industries. After all, they have the finances that he needs to keep his campaign alive through November.

Reports from earlier this year tell us that at least 3 million American workers are employed in the “green economy” sector, most of which are with private sector firms. Romney’s attack on Obama is an attack on the 3 million workers in this industry.

August 10 2012

17:27

Republican Ohio Governor Kasich's Trillion Dollar Shale Gas Lie

About the only positive thing you can say about industry-funded astroturf groups is that they at least base their misinformation campaigns on phony “studies” and “reports.” Their lies are based on SOMETHING.

The same cannot be said of Republican Ohio Governor John Kasich, who has come up with a whopper based on absolutely nothing. Kasich recently told the press that his state of Ohio is sitting on top of $1 trillion worth of natural gas that’s just ripe for fracking.

Obviously, this would be quite an economic boom for not just Ohio, but the entire United States. The only problem is that, again, Kasich isn’t basing his estimate on any studies, reports, documents, surveys, or anything even remotely credible. It appears that Kasich is telling reporters that this trillion dollar bonanza number is what he overheard from members of the natural gas industry.


CityBeat explains the story:
  

Arthur Berman, a Texas-based petroleum geologist and independent energy consultant, says there is no way to verify Kasich’s number.

“No one knows what the reserve number is,” he says. “It takes longer before we know.”

Berman says a true analysis would take at least 18 months and, more realistically, eight to 10 years. This is because geologists need to wait until they “have enough months of production to see a trend,” Berman says.

Even when enough time has passed and geologists get a real estimate, Berman says there will still be a lot of uncertainty about how much of the oil and gas can actually be obtained. He says that although there might be a lot of oil and gas, it could be inaccessible due to technological and practical constraints. After all, if oil and gas reserves are found beneath a city, it’s unlikely operators will actually try to drill there.

Another question for Berman is whether Kasich expects the $1 trillion to come over time or immediately. With the way Kasich has been presenting the number to the media, Berman is worried Ohioans might be getting the impression that the $1 trillion would come as an “immediate windfall.” The reality, Berman says, is that “it takes a long time to produce natural gas and oil.” That means even if Kasich’s number was somehow right, it would take years — Berman estimates longer than Kasich’s gubernatorial terms — to see that $1 trillion.

Kasich claims he heard the number from an unnamed CEO at an energy company. That brings up some concerns for Berman. In his experience, oil and gas operators tend to overestimate production potential by about double, relative to Berman’s own data. Berman says they could be overestimating because it makes the venture seem more profitable to investors.

To truly understand how much oil and gas is underground, Berman would like to see an independent, objective opinion. More importantly, he hopes that Kasich would demand a higher standard of analysis before promoting any policy.

“I hope the governor would make decisions based on more than a lunch conversation,” Berman says.
 

Berman is absolutely correct – the head of a state needs a little bit more information than can be gathered through eavesdropping in order to come up with policies for his state.

So why the trillion dollar lie? Kasich isn’t a member of the industry, and as a whole, Follow the Money tells us that Kasich received a meager $50 from the energy industry during his last campaign. But things aren’t always what they seem. The fracking industry has been much more generous to Kasich than the reports would have you believe.

A Truth-Out report from last year reveals that Kasich actually received more than $213,000 from the natural gas industry, more than any other Ohio politician in the last 10 years. The Truth-Out report also tells us that Kasich was the recipient of an additional $127,000 from Koch Industries.

Not only does this money explain Kasich’s trillion dollar lie, but it also helps us understand why he has opened up state parks and other protected lands for natural gas companies to frack.

In the era of Super PACs, political money flowing to candidates is going to become harder and harder to trace. But when you’re making the rounds on the media, telling lies worth one trillion dollars, honest and hard working investigative journalists like those at Truth-Out and elsewhere are going to do their homework and figure out the truth.

August 02 2012

12:36

Are Conservatives Inherently More Biased than Liberals? The Scientific Debate Rages On

In the first round of critical reactions to my book The Republican Brain, there wasn’t much to impress. As I related at AlterNet, the general conservative response to the book was to misrepresent its arguments, rather than to engage them seriously. (The book predicted this, incidentally.)

But now that some researchers have been able to read and process the book, some highly intellectually serious criticism arrives courtesy of Yale’s Dan Kahan, of whose work I’ve written a great deal in the past. You can see Kahan’s first two responses to the book here and here—the latter includes new experimental data. You can see my roadmap for how I plan to respond to Kahan here.

This is the first post of my response, and it is solely dedicated to clarifying my position in this debate. You see, while many people will read this exchange as though I am claiming that conservatives are inherently more biased than liberals—or in other words, claiming that they engage in more or stronger motivated reasoning—it isn’t actually that simple.

The closing words of The Republican Brain are these:

I believe that I am right, but I know that I could be wrong. Truth is something that I am driven to search for. Nuance is something I can handle. And uncertainty is something I know I’ll never fully dispel.

These are not the words of someone who is certain in his beliefs—much less certain of the conclusion that Dan Kahan calls the “asymmetry thesis.”

As Kahan uses the phrase, it is the view that conservatives, more than liberals, or more intensely than liberals, engage in the process motivated reasoning—e.g., letting their emotions and beliefs shape their sense of factual reality in a goal-directed manner, one aimed at preserving their identity, their group’s identity, and so on.

Does The Republican Brain strongly assert and defend the asymmetry thesis as Kahan describes it? Well, not exactly. I discuss motivated reasoning in great detail, to be sure. And I take the position that conservatives often engage in motivated reasoning very strongly—for instance, in denying the science of climate change (to preserve their belief in “individualism”), in believing that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction (to preserve their belief in George W. Bush), in believing that President Obama was not born in the United States (for reasons that you can guess about) and so on.

However, I also observe at many points in the book that liberals, too, engage in motivated reasoning. In fact, they may even do so more strongly than conservatives on certain issues where liberals are themselves highly emotional and (literally) identity-protective. These tend to be matters pertaining to equality, such as race.

In other words, I fully acknowledge that liberals, too, let their emotions skew their reasoning. As human beings, it would be stunning if they didn’t. And yet nevertheless, in modern American politics, conservatives overwhelmingly seem to hold more politically convenient but factually wrong beliefs—so what is up with that?

At the close of the book, I report a new experiment designed by political scientist Everett Young, conducted at Louisiana State University, trying to solve this riddle. We set up an experimental design to test whether conservatives engage in more motivated reasoning than liberals—and the data did not confirm the hypothesis. To be sure, the findings were suggestive at points—especially in showing conservatives to be more biased than liberals about the issue of nuclear power, of all things. But you could hardly call the findings definitive.

Accordingly, The Republican Brain is ultimately pretty agnostic about the issue of “asymmetry” in motivated reasoning. That’s because I was well aware of the scientific uncertainty that lingers around this question, and the difficulty of conducting experimental tests to dispel it. Kahan discusses many of these difficulties, but let me just elaborate a bit myself.

Suppose that a study (one by Kahan, as it happens) shows that conservatives who know more about science are more wrong in their beliefs about global warming, whereas liberals who know more about science are more right in their beliefs about nuclear power. This sounds a lot like an asymmetry in motivated reasoning—especially since we know that more knowledge or political sophistication generally worsens this biased reasoning behavior—but is it definitive proof? Not necessarily. After all, it could simply be that conservatives have stronger emotions about global warming than liberals have about nuclear power—which would make it unfair to compare the two issues.

See the difficulty here? You can’t measure an ideological difference in motivated reasoning unless liberals and conservatives have the same motivations, or at least the same motivational intensity, to begin with. If the motivations are different, or different in intensity, then those might be the true cause of any difference that you observe in the experiment.

Such is the scientific quandary, but do I personally believe in the asymmetry thesis? Let me put it this way. I believe there is something inherent about conservatives, versus liberals, that leads them to process information differently and that, in the current era in American politics, leads them to hold more politically convenient but factually incorrect beliefs. However, there are many candidates for what that something is; and importantly, many of them are much better documented in the scientific literature than is any fundamental left-right gap in motivated reasoning.

I review the candidates for that special something in The Republican Brain—and note that these also might be termed “asymmetries,” although they are not the one Kahan is focused on. They include:

1. Conservatives have different personalities than liberals on average—less openness to new experiences, for instance, and more conscientiousness.

2. Conservatives have different psychological needs than liberals on average—including, importantly, the psychological need for closure, or to have a definitive belief about something…to have certainty. This is not a comment on the quality of conservative reasoning, by the way (something Kahan is mistaken on); rather, it is a comment on conservative motivations in processing information.

3. Conservatives tend more strongly towards authoritarianism, a personality type or disposition associated with an intolerance of ambiguity and seeing the world in sharply defined, black and white terms. Authoritarianism is not a "quality of reasoning" measure either, but this is a trait that has been associated with reasoning errors, such as committing the Fundamental Attribution Error (FAE), and also with more selective exposure to friendly sources of information.

4. On a moral level, conservatives are more group oriented—more likely to affirm loyalty to the unit, the tribe, the team—and more respectful of authority. This is based on Jonathan Haidt’s work, but it also echoes the research on authoritarianism.

And so on. Really, that just scratches the surface of the research on left and right.

Now, all of these differences could be having downstream effects on how conservatives process information and apportion beliefs in public policy debates. In fact, let me put it more strongly—I’m quite convinced these differences are having all sorts of downstream effects, although I’m considerably less certain about precisely what they are (because the research on this is, as we’ve seen, more scant and more difficult to conduct).

What are some possible downstream effects? Well, one is certainly motivated reasoning—and when it comes to conservatives’ moral convictions and group loyalty, I’m quite sure these are fueling motivated reasoning, asymmetrically or otherwise.

But there are other possible effects. For instance, perhaps conservatives consume or process less information than liberals, a behavior we would expect to see based on their greater need for cognitive closure. And indeed, as I mentioned, some evidence discussed in the book suggests conservatives engage in more selective exposure to friendly information sources, like Fox News. Is that motivated reasoning? Well, not exactly. Is it an important asymmetry? Well, yes: I believe it is.

Let me also note that in the study at LSU, while we did not find clear evidence of worse conservative motivated reasoning, we did find something that smacks of the need for closure: conservatives across the board were spending less time reading the essays provided in the experiment.

And then there is still another factor, one that I ultimately decide, in the book, is probably most important. And it is that liberals and scientists (and social scientists) share a deep psychological affinity—they are explorers, tolerant of uncertainty, always seeking out the different, and the new. They have similar personalities. This leads liberals to want to be scientists, and leads the ranks of scientists to be full of liberals—and thus builds a natural allegiance and affinity between the two groups.

So when it then comes to determining what’s true about reality, liberals are lucky enough to have the “right friends,” as the psychologist Peter Ditto put it to me. And conservatives have the “wrong enemies.” This—not an inherent asymmetry in motivated reasoning—is the most important underlying explanation here, in my mind.

This is a complex explanation, to be sure—but then, I’m a liberal. I can’t help it. The point is that throughout this process, and throughout writing the book, I have strived to apportion my beliefs and my claims to the available evidence. That’s precisely what The Republican Brain does. It is careful because the issues are complex. Indeed, as I painstakingly explain in the book, any inherent left-right differences also play out in a changing cultural, technological, and media context—adding yet another layer of complexity to the issue.

Nonetheless, evidence is very strong that 1) conservatives and liberals are psychologically and morally different; and 2) U.S. conservatives today hold a wealth of demonstrably false, but politically convenient beliefs.

What’s the precise nature of the bridge, the linkage, between 1 & 2? Based on the current state of the science, I do not think we definitively know. However, I think we will find out and that we’ve got a lot of good leads—which is why this discussion is so helpful to have.

So let’s have it. 

July 30 2012

14:56

Conversion Fever! Why The Media Adores Former Climate Skeptics

If you’ve been following the science of global warming for over a decade—as I have—you might find the recent conversion of Berkeley physicist Richard Muller into a climate believer kind of underwhelming. That’s certainly the reaction of many longtime climate scientists, with whom Muller now, finally, agrees.

At this rate, Muller should be caught up to the current state of climate science within a matter of just a few years!” climatologist Michael Mann tweeted. Climate scientist Ken Caldeira also had an amusing take, as quoted by Joe Romm: “I am glad that Muller et al have taken a look at the data and have come to essentially the same conclusion that nearly everyone else had come to more than a decade ago.”

Why, then, does Muller draw New York Times op-ed attention for his conversion? Is it really news that one individual physicist has finally come to agree that the science of climate change is very solid?

Note that this is not the first time this has happened with climate skeptic conversions in the media, or in the New York Times in particular. Remember the former skeptical journalist Gregg Easterbrook, of the New Republic and elsewhere? The New York Times published his conversion op-ed in 2006. Even at the time, some of us thought Easterbrook was pretty tardy in his turnaround—and this was six years ago.

Another prominent 2006 convert was the libertarian publisher of Skeptic magazine, Michael Shermer. Once again, upon hearing the Shermer news some of us thought, “better late than never, I suppose.” Or as I blogged at the time:

As in the case of Easterbrook, I don’t see why people like Shermer held out so long…but as we all know, there’s a lot of misinformation out there that can lead earnest people astray. So perhaps we should simply applaud these rather late AGW converts, rather than presuming to judge…

So what is up with former climate skeptics, conversions, and media attention?

The short answer is that most non-science journalists (and editors!) simply don’t know much about the science of climate change, or how solid it is. In this area in particular, they are classic low information thinkers, and so they make up their minds about what is newsworthy based upon short-cuts and heuristics.

This has many consequences. For instance, it explains why journalists (like average Americans) are much more likely to focus on climate change in the context of extreme heat and weather. It also makes these non-science journalists highly susceptible to framing effects—which gets to the heart of our story.

There are few frames that journalists dig more than the conversion story, the “Nixon Going to China” narrative, in all its various incarnations. And of course, they don’t dig it for scientific reasons—they dig it for political ones. A convert represents a shift—movement—in the overall political narrative. A convert is also likely a proxy for the public, especially at a time when more and more Americans are shocked and alarmed by extreme weather, and highly open to considering global warming as its cause.

What all of this means, of course, is that while in a scientific sense Muller’s conversion is quite insignificant—in fact, its tardiness may even seem rather trying—in a political sense, his recent arrival is all that matters. So just declare victory, my scientific friends. True, we won over most of the scientists that matter a long time ago. But politically, converts still count for a great deal. 

July 27 2012

21:21

Latest Pro-Keystone XL Website Backed by GOP Special Interest Group

This morning, the latest in pro-tar sands spin went live. KeystoneXLNow.com takes aim at President Obama for failing to approve the Keystone XL project (even though the White House just announced approval of the southern leg today), calling it "an affront to millions of Americans out of work and an outrage to millions more who are paying higher energy costs as a result of this administration's policies."

KeystoneXLNow.com invites users to send a message directly to the State Department to counterbalance "the crazy lefties [who] are already pouring in comments to give Obama an excuse to kill the pipeline." The site calls on users to "push back by filling the official State Department docket with comments demanding they stop stalling and approve the Keystone XL pipeline now!"

Not only is KeystoneXLnow.com rife with faulty facts, but its backers and secret funders make an oil trail back to the GOP and oil-backed right wing think tanks. 

KeystoneXLnow.com argues the U.S. State Department should expedite the review process of the Keystone XL because it could take years, and, worst case scenario, Canada will simply give up and build the Enbridge Northern Gateway pipeline to ship tar sands crude to Asia.

Failing to approve this tar sands pipeline project now will threaten "about 20,000 immediate jobs, a secure supply of North American oil, billions in private investment, and the global efficiency benefits of connecting a major crude source to the world’s most efficient refining center," the site claims.

Canadian oil giant TransCanada quickly tweeted about the campaign, which claims to have sent 13,000 emails and letters so far. 

A closer look at the website registration for KeystoneXLnow.com reveals the site was registered this morning to Phil Kerpen of the free market group American Commitment.


According to its website, American Commitment is "dedicated to restoring and protecting America’s core commitment to free markets, economic growth, Constitutionally-limited government, property rights, and individual freedom".

The Washington Post calls American Commitment "the latest GOP player", and notes the new group has already raised $7 million to attack Democrats, mostly at the state level. Apparently they aren't only focused on state-level battles. 

In addition to his role as the president of American Commitment, Phil Kerpen is a columnist on Fox News Opinion, chairman of the Internet Freedom Coalition, and author of the book Democracy Denied, part of the Heartland Institute's Author Series.

Kerpen previously worked for the Club for Growth, a Club offshoot called the Free Enterprise Fund and the libertarian Cato Institute.

Kerpen also spent the last five years working at Americans for Prosperity, co-founded by David Koch. Kerpen will not confirm whether the Kochtopus is bankrolling his latest front group.

As for the job creation claims that KeystoneXLnow.com touts, even TransCanada acknowledges that the claim that the project will create 20,000 immediate jobs is false.

TransCanada itself claims the project will create 13,000 direct construction jobs, a number from a report TransCanada commissioned from the Perryman Group. The Perryman Group, however, has refused to release important data behind its estimate, and there are deep flaws in their research methodology. In reality, TransCanada is counting "job years" in its job-creation estimates. In other words, TransCanada believes the project will produce 6,500 jobs that last for two years only.

Six thousand five hundred jobs is a far cry from the 20,000 KeystoneXLnow.com claims are at stake, but according to an independent assessment by Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, even the 6,500-job estimate is exaggerated. According to their analysis, the project would produce between 2,500 and 4,650 construction jobs — and could even end up costing the country jobs.

KeystoneXLNow.com also claims that KXL will provide "a secure supply of North American oil", and blames the Obama Administration's policies can for high energy prices. But according to TransCanada, KXL will increase the price of heavy crude oil in the Midwest by almost $2 to $4 billion annually, and those prices could further escalate over several years. This is because tar sands crude that now supplies Midwest refineries will be diverted so it can be sold at higher prices to the Gulf Coast and other export markets.

Consumers in the Midwest could pay 10 to 20 cents more per gallon for gasoline and diesel — adding $5 billion to annual US fuel costs.

In case there was a shadow of a doubt, KeystoneXLnow.com is little more than a secretly funded special interest group backing GOP candidates, using misinformation that is delaying our transition to a clean energy future. 

July 25 2012

14:19

If Conservatives Were Really “Conservative,” They Would Want to Do Something About Global Warming

Originally, when I asked MIT atmospheric scientist Kerry Emanuel to be a guest on the Point of Inquiry podcast, my goal was simple. I wanted someone who could give an expert take on the relationship between climate change and all the freakish weather we’ve been seeing. As for having this individual also be a self-described conservative and onetime voting Republican, and someone who fell under attack from Tea Party types because of his stance on climate change…well, that it was kind of icing on the cake.

As the interview progressed, though, I came to feel something quite different. I felt, ever so tentatively at least, that there is a real persuasive case to be made by conservatives to other conservatives about climate change, one that just might help bring them around to seeing the need for real policy solutions. What’s more, such a case might even prevail if conservatives in the U.S. today truly embraced the principles of their Burkean intellectual forefathers—which one can conclude almost by definition that they don’t, since they largely deny the science of global warming.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

At the start of the interview, Emanuel expertly detailed why we know climate science is reliable, how climate change manifests itself in extreme weather—statistically, of course, and not anecdotally—and why outright skepticism of global warming caused by humans just isn’t a credible intellectual position for one to hold any longer. So far, so good.

But where things got really interesting was around minute 14, where the conversation shifted towards policy and Emanuel made a conservative case for taking the science of climate change seriously, and finding a solution to the problem. “The thing to do is to get [conservatives] to understand how much they could potentially bring to the table in trying to figure out how we deal with these risks,” Emanuel explained.

What did he mean? Well, if one is a Burkean conservative, then one by definition wants to prevent risk to the existing order of things. One wants to conserve, to ensure stability. And since climate change is clearly a grave risk to economic, ecological, and overall planetary order, Emanuel naturally sees addressing global warming as a conservative idea. As he explained at minute 16 or so of the podcast:

It’s conservative in the little C sense that most people mean when they say, a conservative family insures itself, for example, and doesn’t take unnecessary risks and gambles. And that’s an important point, because what we’re dealing with here is risk. And a conservative approach to risk is, to take out an insurance policy, for one thing. And that’s the way we ought to be thinking about this problem.

Are you listening to that, conservatives?

But that was only the beginning of Emanuel’s conservative argument that today’s U.S. conservatives are doing global warming all wrong. Emanuel then went on to explain how the current state of affairs on energy policy is anything but…conservative:

On the energy side, there are a lot of things [going on] that aren’t conservative at all, that are at the heart of the problem. Is it a conservative free market principle for the U.S. taxpayer to be massively subsidizing one industry at the expense of another? No, I don’t think it is, but that’s precisely what we’re doing with fossil fuels. There are huge tax subsidies.

Is it a conservative principle to permit one business to pass on a major part of its cost of doing business to some completely different industry, make them pay the bill? There’s nothing conservative about that, but we do that massively for the coal industry. The coal industry racks up somewhere around 180 billion dollars a year of health costs, that have to be absorbed by ratepayers of insurance policies, and by taxpayers who are underwriting things like Medicare.

These aren’t conservative principles.

I have to confess that at around this point in the interview, I wanted to cry out, preach it Brother Emanuel. I was getting pretty darn fired up. It all makes so much sense that a conservative wouldn’t want to put up with this kind of stuff. Subsidies? Come on.

But of course, it doesn’t really help for me to have some weird out of body experience and get all psyched up on behalf of conservatives being principled. After all, I’m still a liberal at the end of the day. It’s not me who needs psyching or convincing.

The question, then, is why today’s U.S. conservatives don’t listen to people like Emanuel, despite the fact that he speaks to them in a language that they ought to understand, and furthermore, speaks as one of them?

This is, of course, a question that takes us very deep into the Republican brain. Emanuel, in our the interview, basically blamed it all on the extremism of the Tea Party—the very same extremism that pushed him out of the Republican Party and made him call himself an Independent (although philosophically still a "conservative").

But I’m not so sure it’s that simple. I think that the natural conservative tendency to want order and stability tends to travel along with a lot of other tendencies—to want find such stability in the group, the tribe, the team; to more adhere to dogma and religious beliefs; to staunchly defend the tribe and banish outsiders (like Emanuel)—and an overall tendency towards closure and fixity of beliefs, rather than openness to new ideas. In other words, psychological conservatism all too readily undermines sensible intellectual conservatism—leading to a situation where someone like Kerry Emanuel makes a whole lot of conservative sense…and so-called conservatives want nothing to do with it, because they've gone all in on a worldview that won't allow it.

So perhaps Emanuel’s response, when I bluntly asked him why he didn’t stay around and fight to reclaim his onetime political party, makes sense. He laughed, and then frankly added,

I’m still quite willing to talk to anybody about this problem that wants to listen to it, and talk about the fact that we ought to be debating the things that are really debatable about these problems.

Here’s hoping Emanuel will find a lot of conservative people to talk with. At least in a former incarnation, I think Mitt Romney is just the sort of conservative who would have listened.

Which…yeah. Which gets at the very root of the problem.

To listen to my full interview with Kerry Emanuel, click here.

July 23 2012

13:01

It’s the Weather, Stupid: Slowly Re-Awakening the Public About Climate Change

The Yale and George Mason Centers on Climate Change Communication, collaborators on the well-known “Six Americas” studies of how the public views global warming, are out with their latest report, the fifth in the series. And it hints at an underlying theme discernible in many of these surveys: On climate change, the U.S. public is a lot like a weather vane. When there’s freaky weather—like now—people increasingly worry about global warming. When the weather is what they’re used to and expect, not so much.

Let’s start with some background on the “Six Americas” study: It began in the fall of 2008, that hopeful time when Barack Obama was soon to win the U.S. presidency and many thought he’d address the global warming problem within the short space of a year. In those days, fully half of the public fell into the two “Six Americas” audience segments that evince the most worry about global warming—the “Alarmed” and the “Concerned.” Yet by January of 2010—following “ClimateGate” and the failed Copenhagen summit—the number of Americans falling into these two segments had tumbled by 11 percentage points. Meanwhile, the denialist segment of the public—the “Dismissive” category—had ballooned dramatically, from 7 percent to 16 percent.

Those were sad and depressing days for science and environment advocates; and when it comes to public opinion, we have not yet clawed back to where we were in the fall of 2008. But what the latest survey hints at is that the public is growing more concerned again—a finding that is particularly noteworthy in that these data only run through March of 2012, and thus really only take into account the freakily warm winter (not, you know, the summer heat waves, wildfires, and drought).

I’m betting that since March 2012, Americans have gotten even more alarmed over global warming—perhaps moving all the way back to where they were in fall 2008.

Anyway, what’s interesting in the latest data is that from November 2011 to March 2012, the number of Americans falling into the “Cautious” category on global warming had gone up considerably. (See figure 1a). This is a centrist category, leaning more towards being alarmed than toward being denialist, but still not fully convinced that humans are causing global warming. At the same time, the “Disengaged” category—even more skeptical than the “Cautious,” but not particularly fired up about denialism—has shrunk, as some of its members presumably moved in the direction of feeling “Cautious.”

In other words, it looks as though on global warming, the middle ground has been subtly shifting—and again, this is only through March 2012.

What does any of this have to do with the weather? Well, as Yale and George Mason note in a message to readers about the latest survey:

93 percent of the Alarmed92 percent of the Concerned74 percent of the Cautious, and 73 percent of the Disengaged say that global warming is affecting weather in the United States. Majorities of these groups also say that global warming made several extreme weather and natural disasters in 2011 worse, including the drought in Texas and Oklahoma, floods in the Mississippi River Valley, and record high temperatures across much of the U.S.

Remember that the “Cautious” and “Disengaged” normally aren’t even sure whether humans are causing global warming. Yet nevertheless, when asked about weird weather in March of 2012, they were quite sure global warming was behind it.

How much do you want to bet that they are even more sure of this now?

Another way of thinking about this is that the “Alarmed” and the “Concerned” are keyed in to the climate issue pretty much no matter what. So, for that matter, are the “Doubtful and Dismissive”—who stick to their denialist guns in the face of all counter-evidence (especially the "Dismissive"). But the “Cautious” and the “Disengaged”—those in the middle—are less reliable, more malleable, and more sensitive to things like weather. That means they’re most likely to move, to change their views.

In recent, powerful testimony before the House of Representatives, Joe Romm called upon our government to “do its job” and tackle global warming. If legislators are up to that challenge, I’m willing to bet the public will increasingly fall in behind them. 

April 02 2012

17:17

Judith Curry Was For Me Before She Was Against Me

I first got to know Judith Curry—the Georgia Tech researcher who blogs at “Climate, Etc.,” and has been drawn into controversy for, in her words, “challenging many aspects of the IPCC consensus”—when I was working on my second book, Storm World. I spent a fair amount of time with Curry, and with the other scientists profiled in the book—interviewing them in person, getting to understand their research. This is what science writers do.

At the time, Curry and her colleagues were just coming off a media feeding frenzy after having published papers linking hurricanes to global warming right in the middle of the devastating 2005 hurricane season.

When Storm World came out, it is no exaggeration to say that Curry gave it a rave review. I want to quote in full from her Five Star endorsement at Amazon.com, which is entitled “Science writing at its very best.” Bear with me, this will all become very relevant; and I've italicized a few important parts:

To provide a frame of reference for this review, I and my colleagues Peter Webster and Greg Holland are among the scientists that are featured prominently in Storm World. Our involvement in the issue of hurricanes and global warming began when we published an article in Science shortly before the landfall of Hurricane Rita, where we reported a doubling of the number of category 4 and 5 hurricanes globally since 1970. When Chris Mooney first approached me with his idea for writing a book on this topic, I was somewhat skeptical. I couldn't see how this could be accomplished given the rapid changes in the science (I was worried the book would be outdated before it was published), the complexities of the technical aspects of the subject, a concern about how the individual scientists would be treated and portrayed, and a concern that the political aspects of the issue would be handled in a partisan way. Over the course of the past year and a half, it became apparent that Mooney was researching this issue extremely thoroughly and was developing a good grasp of both the history and technical aspects of the subject. Upon finally reading the book, I can only say Storm World has far exceeded any hope or expectation that I could have had for a book on this subject.

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March 27 2012

18:48

Beginning of The End for Big Oil’s Billion Dollar Subsidies?

Democratic Senator Bob Menendez (N.J.) has introduced legislation in the U.S. Senate to kill, once and for all, the billions of dollars worth of subsidies that are flowing from the federal government to the oil industry.

Under Menendez’s proposal, the $4 billion annual corporate welfare handed out to oil companies would instead be used to pay down the federal deficit and be re-invested into renewable energy technology.

Given the Republicans’ history of fighting for the oil industry and their subsidies, you would expect this bill to be dead on arrival. However, in an odd combination of arrogance and ignorance, Senate Republicans actually sided with Democrats in a vote to move the bill onto the floor for debate.

Republicans currently believe that any issue involving gas and oil is a home run for their party, so they’re banking on the issue actually helping them out, politically. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell made the following statement about the issue:
  

“We’re going to use this opportunity to explain how out of touch Democrats are on high gas prices, and put a spotlight on the common-sense ideas Republicans have been urging for years — ideas that reflect our genuine commitment to the kind of all-of-the-above approach the President claims to support but doesn’t.”
 

McConnell’s comment demonstrates both the arrogance and ignorance of the Republican Party on the issue of gas prices.

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March 26 2012

12:44

How Do You Build a Scientific Republican?

It’s widely known that Republicans, far more than Democrats, reject modern climate science. And more and more, it has become apparent that this is at least partly because Republicans have a deep distrust of scientists in general, or at least environmental scientists.

But there are many other causes for this rejection as well. These include Republicans’ strongly individualistic system of values—basically, a go-it-alone sense that government is the problem, and markets the solution—and even, perhaps, some aspects of their personalities or psychologies. This is something that I’ve argued in my new book.

There is also, of course, the huge role of Fox News in all of this: Watching it causes conservatives to have more false beliefs than they would otherwise, about issues like climate change. We’ve written about this extensively on DeSmogBlog; and I’ve highlighted a new video on the “Fox misinformation effect” here and below.

Such are some of the factors that seem to build an anti-science Republican; but now, researchers at George Mason, American University, and Yale have swooped in to ask the reverse question. Given that this is so, how do you make a pro-science one? Or in other words, what attributes or beliefs predict being an outlier Republican who actually believes that global warming is real and caused by humans?

The researchers call such Republicans “counter-normative.” That’s academic speak for “out in the cold” in their party right now.

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March 23 2012

19:06

Tracking The Origins Of The "Blame Obama For Gas Prices" Talking Point

Since at least last summer, conservatives have been parroting the oil industry talking point that President Obama is somehow the one responsible for the spike in gasoline and oil prices. As we have pointed out, they base this on their assertion that the President has been “hostile” towards the dirty energy industry by prohibiting drilling and denying the passage of the Keystone XL Pipeline proposal. While the Keystone deal is currently on hold (although not even close to being off the table,) the assertion that the president has been hostile to the oil industry is beyond false.

Furthermore, the claim that Obama is responsible for the rise in gasoline prices is untrue on all premises. Just this week, the Associated Press released a report explaining the numerous ways in which gasoline prices are far beyond the control of the President, regardless of his actions or policies that he puts in place regarding oil exploration. Here are some highlights from the new report:
  

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March 22 2012

13:05

The Science of Truthiness: Why Conservatives Deny Global Warming

These are notes for remarks that Chris Mooney gave recently at the Tucson Festival of Books, where he was asked to talk about his new book on a panel entitled “Will the Planet Survive the Age of Humans?” Video of the panel is currently available from C-SPAN here. Please note: Mooney’s notes do not necessarily match his spoken word perfectly. 

I want to thank you for having me.

So the question before us on this panel is, “Will the Planet Survive the Age of Humans?” And I want to focus on one particularly aspect of humans that makes them very problematic in a planetary sense—namely, their brains.

What I’ve spent the last year or more trying to understand is what it is about our brains that makes facts such odd and threatening things; why we sometimes double down on false beliefs when they’re refuted; and maybe, even, why some of us do it more than others.

And of course, the new book homes in on the brains—really, the psychologies—of politically conservative homo sapiens in particular. You know, Stephen Colbert once said that “reality has a well-known liberal bias.” And essentially what I’m arguing is that, not only is that a funny statement, it’s factually true, and perhaps even part of the nature of things.

Colbert also talked about the phenomenon of “truthiness,” and as it turns out, we can actually give a scientific explanation of truthiness—which is what I’m going to sketch in the next ten minutes, with respect to global warming in particular.  

I almost called the book “The Science of Truthiness”—but “The Republican Brain” turns out to be a better title.

The Facts About Global Warming

So first off, let’s start with the facts about climate change—facts that you’d think (or you’d hope) any human being ought to accept.

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March 15 2012

22:06

U.S. Chamber Front Group Holds “Whine And Blame” Facebook Party – Nobody Shows Up

American Free Enterprise, a front group of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, held a complaint session on Facebook on Tuesday afternoon to let Americans vent about “who is to blame” for rising gas prices. Unfortunately for the group, few people attended their virtual party.

The pity party was an attempt to get Americans riled up at President Obama for allegedly being an enemy of the oil industry – a claim that conservatives have falsely been throwing around since he took office. But the lack of enthusiasm was evident by the low participation.

Here is the comment thread from the “discussion," which I captured yesterday. Names and pictures have been covered:

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March 14 2012

16:04

Is James Inhofe Shilling For God, or Oil? The Correct Answer is “Both”

Last week, we were treated to one of those facepalm moments that make those of us who care about the future of planet intensely frustrated. Or worse.

Senator James Inhofe, climate conspiracy theorist, was on a Christian radio program talking about his new book The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future. And here’s what he said (audio at link):

Well actually the Genesis 8:22 that I use in [the book] is that “as long as the earth remains there will be springtime and harvest, cold and heat, winter and summer, day and night.” My point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.

Okay, forget about the biblically-based climate denial for a moment. I’m kind of fascinated by Inhofe’s statement that God is still “up there.” Really? Like, in the sun? Directly over our heads?

Is Inhofe a pre-Copernican as well as a global warming denier? Does he not realize that while “up” might have meant a great deal to Ptolemaic Christians, it has no real significance in the context of modern physics and cosmology?

What’s most frustrating, though, is this bizarre invocation of Scripture to justify the idea that we don’t need to worry about climate change. For those of us who are secular in outlook, it’s not just that this makes no sense. The idea that such sectarian notions—arguments or motivations that cannot be proved by rational argument or discussion with those who do not share Inhofe’s religious premises—could be influencing U.S. policy is, frankly, shocking.

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March 12 2012

21:07

Fox News’s Attacks on Climate Science Now Include The Denial of Basic Physics

There was a time, believe it or not, when Fox New’s Shepard Smith openly mocked global warming deniers—seriously comparing them to a man who got stuck in a portable toilet. (Hat tip to D.R. Tucker for showing me this clip.) But since then, Fox has become a veritable misinformation machine on this topic.

One way the station sows doubt about the scientific consensus on climate change is through constantly putting climate “skeptics” on the air. A study by American University’s Lauren Feldman and her co-authors, for example, found that in the period of 2007-2008, 46 percent of Fox’s guests discussing global warming were climate change doubters. By contrast, only 40 percent of guests defended the scientific consensus.

That’s not just phony "balance"—that’s coverage strongly tilted towards unreality. And if anything, I suspect that Fox has grown still more unbalanced during the Obama years.

One of Fox’s frequent doubter guests is meteorologist Joe Bastardi,  who recently said on the show that carbon dioxide “literally cannot cause global warming.” As Media Matters soon pointed out, this statement seems to throw out over 100 years of science on the greenhouse effect, and the behavior of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

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March 08 2012

04:03

Republican Claims About Gas Prices Demonstrate Lack Of Knowledge About “Free Market”

As the national average for gas prices pushes closer and closer towards $4 a gallon, Republicans have wasted no time in attempting to convince the public that President Obama and his “hostility” towards the oil industry is the reason we’re feeling the squeeze at the pump.

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March 07 2012

14:35

Can Geeks Defeat Lies? Thoughts on a Fresh New Approach to Dealing With Online Errors, Misrepresentations, and Quackery

This afternoon, I’ll be at MIT for this conference, sponsored by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard and the MIT Center for Civic Media and entitled “Truthiness in Digital Media: A symposium that seeks to address propaganda and misinformation in the new media ecosystem.” Yesterday was the scholarly and intellectual part of the conference, where a variety of presenters (including yours truly) discussed the problem of online misinformation on topics ranging from climate change to healthcare—and learned about some whizzbang potential solutions that some tech folks have already come up with. And now today is the “hack day” where, as MIT’s Ethan Zuckerman put it, the programmers and designers will try to think of ways to “tackle tractable problems with small experiments.”

In his talk yesterday, Zuckerman quoted a helpful—if frankly, somewhat jarring—analogy for thinking about political and scientific misinformation. It’s one that has been used before in this context: You can think of the dissemination of misinformation as someone akin to someone being shot. Once the bullet has been fired and the victim hit, you can try to run to the rescue and stanch the bleeding—by correcting the “facts,” usually several days later. But, psychology tells us that that approach has limited use—and to continue the analogy, it might be a lot better to try to secure a flak jacket for future victims.

Or, better still, stop people from shooting. (I’m paraphrasing Zuckerman here; I did not take exact notes.)

From an MIT engineer’s perspective, Zuckerman noted, the key question is: Where is the “tractable problem” in this, uh, shootout, and what kind of “small experiments” might help us to address it? Do we reach the victim sooner? Is a flak jacket feasible? And so on.

The experimenters have already begun attacking this design problem: I was fascinated yesterday by a number of canny widgets and technologies that folks have come up with to try to defeat all manner of truthiness.

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