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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 20 2012

10:00

See No Evil, Speak Little Truth, Break Rules, Blame Others

The "Wegman Report", led by Edward Wegman of George Mason University (GMU) got criticized in 2010's Experts claim 2006 climate report plagiarized.  Experts called it "obvious" even "shocking" plagiarism.  GMU's incompetent handling, mistreatment of complainants and flawed rulings were mostly documented in March, but recent FOIAs expose more untruths.

Is the harsh title fair?  Read on, then study the 69-page attachment.

GMU Provost Peter Stearns' February letter to GMU faculty made claims of non-plagiarism that contradicted not only experts, but themselves.  The process consumed almost two years to assess four (4) pages of text.  

Stearns' letter was even more untruthful than previously known.  It  fabricated an imaginary second investigation committee, seemingly to somehow excuse crucial contradictions.   This seemed an attempt to defend the Wegman Report at all costs, even with potential problems from Federal agencies who expect schools to handle misconduct properly.  They fund much of GMU's actual research, done by faculty that to the best of my knowledge are normal, credible researchers.

However, a few groups in GMU are closely, even uniquely enmeshed with people behind the machinery of anti-science, such as Charles Koch, Ken Cuccinelli, David Schnare, Fred Singer, and Pat Michaels, plus the Heartland Institute and key Washington think tanks.  GMU even has a long history of tobacco connections, oddly relevant.

Following are a few brief summaries to motivate the title's phrases:

See No Evil: Via FOIA, the only investigation committee took 200 days to produce a 9-page report.  It ruled on Ray Bradley's three complaints based on Canadian blogger Deep Climate's early discoveries:

  • 2.5 pages of text mostly from Ray Bradley's book: paraphrasing, not plagiarism although serious plagiarism experts said otherwise long ago.
  • 5.5 pages of near-verbatim plagiarism of social networks text: never mentioned.
  • 1.5 page subset re-used in later paper: plagiarism, likely unavoidable, since the publisher had forced retraction in May 2011. This is an obvious contradiction.

But there was more, found by Deep Climate and others:

  • Another 70 pages of formally-reported plagiarism, 27 in WR alone, in 6 more articles, half Federally-funded, and four PhD dissertations: never mentioned.
  • Alleged falsification in the Wegman Report: never mentioned.

Speak Little truth: GMU VP Roger Stough rarely told complainants much and when he did, he was often wrong or misleading, now seen more clearly by FOIA replies.  Stearns' letter   fabricated committee(s) and processes that never happened, casting doubt on the credibility of anything thereGMU never informed Ray Bradley of any result.  GMU acknowledged receipt of other complaints, which then seemed to vanish into limbo. Complainants got no status reports.

Break Rules: FOIA replies exposed large policy-breaking schedule slips, at best poorly explained, at worst misleading.  GMU ignored its policy of pursuing all significant issues -  Stearns said there were no more investigations.   GMU's seemed to maximize discouragement and stonewalling of external complaints, even from distinguished academics like Ray Bradley or Ohio State's Rob Coleman, an experienced misconduct expert.  One can imagine GMU's handling of internal complaints, especially from junior faculty of students.

Blame Others:   GMU violated its "retaliation" policies by making false or misleading claims about Bradley, impugning his reputation and helping incite vitriolic blog attacks against him.   Universities are supposed to guard complainants from retaliation, repair it if need be, not do it themselves.  GMU owes Bradley many apologies.

Why would they do this? FOIAs have revealed actions far outside GMU's own policies, the norms of academe and possibly Federal rules.  Big universities are expected to know how to follow misconduct policies, so mere incompetence seems an insufficient explanation, especially with experienced administrators who should know better.

We cannot know exactly what happened, but GMU has some unusual connections that might help explain this.  No explicit pressure need be assumed, but a few parts of GMU are deeply involved in climate anti-science activities, so it is no surprise that something like the Wegman Report was written almost entirely by GMU faculty and students.

Funding. Charles Koch is by far the largest single foundation funder for each of GMU Foundation, its Mercatus Center and Institute for Humane Studies (IHS).   His donations to these usually exceeded the research grants of most government agencies. His lieutenant Richard Fink cofounded Mercatus and is a  Director of it and IHS. Koch is a Director of Mercatus and Chairman of IHS

Money comes from other Koch allies, such as Richard Mellon Scaife, Searle Freedom Trust, Earhart Foundation, L&H Bradley and  DONORS Trust+Capital, the second largest foundation giver, which anonymizes the real givers' identities.  The recently-discovered Knowledge and Progress Fund seems to send Koch money only to DONORS.  It is a real money maze.

Governance. Nancy Mitchell Pfotenhauer is the Vice-Rector of the GMU Board of Visitors. She was a Koch Industries lobbyist and an executive of Americans For Prosperity.  The Board also includes Kimberly Dennis (Searle Freedom Trust, DONORS) and Mark McGettrick, Executive VP at Dominion Resources, a large utility that has donated well to the campaign of Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, as has Koch Industries.

Lawyers. Ken Cuccinelli, his Deputy Wesley Russell and his ex-partner Milton Johns (Wegman's lawyer) all got their JD degrees at GMU in the 1990s.  So did David Schnare, of the American Tradition Institute (ATI), well-known for FOIA harassment of UVA, Michael Mann, James Hansen, Andrew Dessler and Katharine HayhoeFOIA has legitimate uses, but can also be employed for harassment.  The reader can decide which these are.

Schnare is also an Adjunct Professor who recently taught a GMU course on how to do FOIAs, use the Data Quality Act, using this outline.  it starts:

'This course is an introduction on how to sue the government when it does what it should not do. Citizens, advocates of small government and Tenth Amendment proponents engage in this kind of litigation practice to address the imbalance between federal authorities and state and individual sovereignties.'

He also offers "externships" to give students practice, via a new 501(c)(3) "public charity," originally (and legally still) the George Mason Environmental Law Clinic.  it is now called the Free Market ELC, consisting of him and Chris Horner, as at ATI.  He was looking for students to file FOIAs against some Virginia university, likely not GMU.

Conclusion. We cannot know whether the strange process and absurd rulings came from overt pressure or implicit GMU culture.  A few parts of GMU form a very large gear in the machinery of anti-science and they defended Wegman at all costs.

Public funding of research depends on credibility, of which little is found in GMU's handling of this case.  Maybe it is time for a first-ever institutional debarment from Federal funding until they rebuiild a track record of normal behavior.  Given the credibility problems of key people, this may require outside teams.

Finally, people might recall the potential felony issues raised here  and wonder if this process might add more obstruction of justice to the mix.  The old saying may apply: "It's not the crime - it's the cover-up."

Image Credit: andere andrea petrlik  / Shutterstock .

AttachmentSize see.no_.evil_.speak_.little.truth_.pdf3.05 MB

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. 

March 29 2012

10:39

Conservatives versus Science: A New Scientific Validation of the Republican War on Science (and Republican Brain) Thesis

For a while now, I’ve been aware of a powerful new paper that directly tests the central argument of my 2005 book The Republican War on Science—and also validates some key claims made in my new book, The Republican Brain. I’ve had to keep quiet about it until now; but at last, the study is out—though I’m not sure yet about a web link to it.

The research is by Gordon Gauchat of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and published in the prestigious American Sociological Review. In the study, Gauchat uses a vast body of General Social Survey data to test three competing theses about the relationship between science and the U.S. public:

1) the cultural ascendancy thesis or “deficit model” view, according to which better education and engagement with science lead all boats to rise, and citizens across the board become more trusting of scientists and their expertise;

2) the alienation thesis, according to which modernity brings on distrust and disillusionment with science (call it the “spoiled brat” thesis if you’d like); and

3) the politicization thesis—my thesis—according to which some cultural groups, aka conservatives, have a unique fallout with science for reasons tied up with the nature of modern American conservatism, such as its ideology, the growth of its think tank infrastructure, and so on.

The result? Well, Gauchat’s data show that the politicization thesis handily defeats all contenders. More specifically, he demonstrates that there was only really a decline in public trust in science among conservatives in the period from 1974 to 2010 (and among those with high church attendance, but these two things are obviously tightly interrelated).

And not just that.

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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 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 16 2012

04:55

See No Evil At George Mason University

George Mason University (GMU) has labored for 2 years on simple plagiarism complaints.  It has just written self-contradictory findings that avoided seeing plagiarism in the 2006 Wegman Report (WR) while admitting the same text elsewhere was plagiarism.

In March 2010, climate scientist Ray Bradley complained to GMU of 2.5 pages of plagiarism of his paleoclimatology book by the Wegman Report.  In May he added 5.5 pages of WR Social Networks Analysis  plagiarism  and a 1.5 -page subset in a Computational Statistics and Data Analysis (CSDA) paper.

All were based on the work of Canadian blogger Deep Climate, who kept finding more problems. The known total of 80+ pages has 4 PhD dissertations, some lectures, a patent and 7 papers.

Edward Wegman and Yasmin Said published two largely-plagiarized papers in a “peer-reviewed” Wiley journal they edit with David Scott.  Wikipedia pages they copied were better. 

In May 2011, CSDA publisher Elsevier finally forced retraction of the CSDA paper.

 

 

 

 

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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.

read more

February 29 2012

12:39

New Data: 81 Percent of Climate Deniers Think Scientists Are In It “For Their Own Interests"

The Brookings Institution has a new report out on the public's views about global warming, and most commentators are going for the predictable headline. It's this: Following the post-ClimateGate decline in belief that global warming is happening, we're now seeing a bit of a rebound. More people believe the planet is warming than they did in early 2010—probably in part due to warm weather.

That is good news—not great news by any means, but surely something. People certainly seem remarkably fickle and malleable on this topic, but then, they always are in polls.

To me, though, what you’ve just read is not really the headline. I dug into the Brookings data, and found something much juicier (and newer).

In the poll, 42 percent of Republicans say there isn’t solid evidence that the Earth is warming, and another 11 percent say they are unsure. In contrast, only 15 % of Democrats are out and out deniers. (Note: People were not being asked whether humans are causing global warming, which would have made these numbers much worse.) 

And here’s the thing: Of the deniers—Democrat or Republican, but mostly Republican—81 percent also think that “scientists are overstating evidence about global warming for their own interests.” That's a finding I've never seen before—and a very disturbing one.

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February 27 2012

15:29

James Inhofe Takes the Climate Conspiracy Theory to New Heights—While His Home State Reels from Record Heat

James Inhofe, Republican Senator from Oklahoma, has a new book out. It is entitled The Greatest Hoax: How the Global Warming Conspiracy Threatens Your Future.

I have not read it yet. So I cannot say much about its contents, but I can say this: The title suggests that Inhofe, like Rick Santorum, is endorsing the global warming conspiracy theory. Indeed, where Santorum only muttered the word “hoax” without a great deal of elaboration, it looks like Inhofe is going to put some real meat onto those paranoid bones.

Let me once again reiterate why the global warming conspiracy theory is, well, just plain ridiculous.

To believe that global warming is a “hoax,” or that there is a “conspiracy,” you must believe in coordinated action on the part of scientists, environmental ministers, politicians, and NGOs around the world. It won’t do just to situate the hoax in the United States and its own scientific and NGO community, because the idea of human-caused global warming is endorsed by scientists, and scientific academies, around the globe.

Any one of these could blow the whistle on the so-called “hoax.” That this has not happened either means there is no hoax, or that the degree of conspiracy and collusion—among people who are notoriously individualistic and non-conformist, by the way—is mindboggling. We're talking about some serious cat-herding going on.

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February 21 2012

18:02

Rick Santorum, Attacking Scientists, Claims He’s not Anti-Science

Rick Santorum is becoming the anti-science gift that keeps on giving.

Yesterday, while speaking in his home state, the former Pennsylvania senator once again tilted at the idea of human caused global warming, saying that it is based on “phony studies,” and really a case of “political science.”

This is, you will note, a clear attack on climate scientists. It suggests 1) that climate researchers have either done bad research or, worse still, perpetrated falsified or fraudulent research; 2) that the norms of their field are somehow inadequate to prevent dubious conclusions from becoming accepted; 3) overall, climatology is a body of research that you just can’t take seriously.

Any climatologist would find this insulting. Any climatologist would consider this an affront.

Which is why it is so amazing that Santorum then went on to claim that he isn’t anti-science—no, it’s the Democrats who are the problem:

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February 14 2012

23:08

February 13 2012

16:21

Republicans Aren’t the “Truth Party,” Mr. Santorum. They’re the “Certainty Party.”

Rick Santorum has been talking about the “politicization of science” a lot lately—although (a pet peeve of mine) he seems to have a problem with pronouncing the phrase. He says “polititization.” Check it out here.

Not as bad as the people who say "political-ization," but don't get me started.

Anyway, this is part of a broader narrative Santorum has woven, one in which the left wants to misuse science in order to exert control over you and quash your freedoms. This is particularly apparent in Santorum’s recent CPAC speech, where he once again hints at a climate conspiracy theory: Global warming was made up to help leftists take control of the global economy.

In another recent speech in Oklahoma, meanwhile, Santorum said similar things but made a point of asserting that Republicans are not the ones politicizing science. “You hear all the time, the left: ‘The conservatives are the anti-science party,’” Santorum said. “No. No we’re not. We’re the truth party.”

Well, actually, the data clearly show that Republicans distrust the scientific community more than Democrats do, at least on environmental issues. They really are more “anti-science,” at least when the term is defined in this manner—based on trust in the scientific community.

Nevertheless, I understand what Santorum means.

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February 08 2012

14:19

Santorum Calls Global Warming a “Hoax,” Suggesting a Full-Fledged Climate Conspiracy Theory

Conservatism is a political philosophy that is, at its most fundamental, about resisting change.

So perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that an outrageous and absurd line uttered about global warming in 2003—Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe’s assertion that it is the “greatest hoax ever perpetrated on the American people”—has not, nearly a decade later, been discredited on the right. Instead, this idea has persisted.

Indeed, the “hoax” charge was recently reiterated by Rick Santorum—who uttered it in Colorado on Monday en route to his three state primary triumph yesterday.

This raises at least two points for me that bear addressing:

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February 06 2012

15:38

A Conservative Ignores the Science on Why…Conservatives Ignore the Science

David Klinghoffer, of the anti-evolutionist Discovery Institute, has a revealing article in the conservative American Spectator entitled: “Republicans and Science (as opposed to liberals and the science they’ve politicized).”

Why “revealing”? Klinghoffer seeks to explain the real reason why conservatives like himself resist certain scientific findings. But in the process, he shows a surprising, er, inattentiveness to the scientific research on this very topic.

At the same time, Klinghoffer also strikingly affirms the results of that research by…denying science for ideological reasons that are quite obviously rooted in deep-set (and even gut level) conservative moral impulses.

In other words, he’s doing precisely what the science tells us he is going to do.

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