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May 04 2012


A New Tactic in the Climate Wars

The Heartland Institute deploys the personae of Ted Kaczynski, Osama bin Laden and Charles Manson as poster boys for global warming.

September 17 2011


"Doubt" Video On Fossil Fuel Industry's Tobacco PR Tactics To Undermine Science

In case you didn't manage to catch all 24 hours of the Climate Reality Project (I mean, what the heck else were you doing?), I wanted to flag this one video for you, as it's particularly germane to the ongoing coverage here at DeSmogBlog.

It's called "Doubt," and it's about how the fossil fuel industry took the tobacco industry's playbook (didn't just borrow a play, but really the whole playbook) to confuse the public on the science of climate change. Not by disproving the facts — because that's impossible — but just by creating enough doubt to make a busy public dismiss it.

DOUBT from The Climate Reality Project on Vimeo.

Here's the core of it all:

"How did the tobacco companies manage to lie to the public in face of all the scientific evidence?

They realized that the science didn't need to be disproven. It was enough to create doubt in the minds of the public to keep them from recognizing the truth."

While the subject might be one that we dive deep into regularly (and which Chris Mooney has covered from every direction, upside down and backwards), I think it's important to spotlight a broader birds-eye perspective like this one. Especially as the video is incredibly well produced, and could be something that manages to reach a whole new audience. Speaking past the choir here.

Here's to hoping that it goes viral. Spread the word!

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September 14 2011


Want to Sway Climate Change Skeptics? Ask About Their Personal Strengths (And Show Pictures!)

Readers of my posts over the last half year will be familiar with the phenomenon of motivated reasoning, in which people’s subconscious emotional impulses lead them to respond, in a biased way, to information that challenges their deeply held beliefs and worldviews. We’ve been focusing on this so much because I believe it explains a great deal of what we here call climate change denial, and the resistance to inconvenient science (and inconvenient facts) in general.

One important researcher on motivated reasoning is Dartmouth political scientist Brendan Nyhan. In Mother Jones, I described one of his previous studies, demonstrating how motivated reasoning can lead to a “backfire effect” when people are confronted with politically inconvenient information:

Take, for instance, the question of whether Saddam Hussein possessed hidden weapons of mass destruction just before the US invasion of Iraq in 2003. When political scientists Brendan Nyhan and Jason Reifler showed subjects fake newspaper articles (PDF) in which this was first suggested (in a 2004 quote from President Bush) and then refuted (with the findings of the Bush-commissioned Iraq Survey Group report, which found no evidence of active WMD programs in pre-invasion Iraq), they found that conservatives were more likely than before to believe the claim. (The researchers also tested how liberals responded when shown that Bush did not actually "ban" embryonic stem-cell research. Liberals weren't particularly amenable to persuasion, either, but no backfire effect was observed.)

So how do you persuade people, if not with factual corrections of the sort run by newspapers? That’s what a new paper by Nyhan and Reifler has undertaken to study.

This time, the contested issues under examination were whether the 2007 troop “Surge” decreased insurgent attacks in Iraq (it did), whether the U.S. economy added jobs during 2010 under President Obama (it did), and whether global average temperatures have risen since 1940 (they have). Those who opposed the Iraq war and supported troop withdrawals were disinclined to credit George W. Bush’s surge with having worked. Those who oppose President Obama are disinclined to credit him on the economy, or to generally believe in global warming—especially that it is human caused.

Nyhan and Reifler once again confronted partisans with information on these subjects that (presumably) contradicted their beliefs—but there was a twist. This time, the contradictory information was sometimes presented in the form of a convincing graph, showing a clear trend (in attacks, jobs, or temperatures). And second, sometimes the individuals went into the manipulation after having undergone a “self-affirmation” exercise, in which they were asked to describe a positive character attribute or value that they possessed, and a situation in which showing that attribute or trait made them feel good about themselves.

And in both cases, the manipulation worked—although by different means.

Presenting an unequivocal graph was powerful enough to change people’s views, even as presenting technical text (at least in the rising temperatures case) was not. Meanwhile, getting people to affirm their values and sense of self also decreased their resistance, presumably because they felt less threatened by challenging information after having had their egos reinforced and their identities bolstered.

This is a really important development, in several ways. First, it shows that scientists who communicate in wonk text, or cluttered graphs that are hard to follow, are shooting themselves in the foot. For instance, here is the wonk text in question, straight from a NASA press release*—the text that failed to work where a graph succeeded:

Groups of scientists from several major institutions — NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's National Climatic Data Center, the Japanese Meteorological Agency and the Met Office Hadley Centre in the United Kingdom — tally data collected by temperature monitoring stations spread around the world. All four records show peaks and valleys that vary in virtual sync with each other. They each show an increase in average global surface temperatures of approximately 0.5 degrees Celsius over the last three decades. Data from each source also indicate that the last decade is the warmest since 1940.

By contrast, here is the graph that worked (it is also the image accompanying this post).

But I think the finding about self-affirmation is even more important. Because what this shows is that people are clearly resisting facts because these threaten their identities—which means that arguing back at them factually will only make them more defensive and engender a backfire effect. By contrast, approaching them in an emotionally sensitive and aware manner, and making them feel less threatened, will open them up. (Sometimes, at least.)

Nevertheless, there are also several potential problems that I see with the study, and its global warming portion in particular.

First, none of the study’s manipulations were done in a really partisan context that would have gotten people’s political emotions firing, priming them to be really, really defensive. For instance, people were asked if jobs increased, but they weren’t asked whether “President Obama’s unfairly maligned stimulus worked to help save the economy from disaster, in contradiction to the bogus claims of many Tea Partiers.”

Similarly, the most hotly contested issue in the climate debate is not whether the world has warmed, but whether humans are responsible for that warming. Many deniers will agree that warming has occurred, but then claim that it’s natural. So they might not have found the information presented in the study very threatening. And once again, it wasn’t presented in the most partisan and emotionally arousing way—e.g., they weren’t shown evidence to prove that “Al Gore is right about global warming and those who have been irresponsibly attacking him, like Rush Limbaugh, don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.”

Second, while I am not surprised that John Q Climate Skeptic cannot refute a definitive temperature graph, I think that those who occupy climate denial blogs—a very small proportion of the total public, but individuals who are very engaged on this issue and very intense in their beliefs—would be more than happy to give it a try. In fact, we see them picking apart and undermining graphs, like the Hockey Stick graph, all the time.

In other words, if high bias is combined with high sophistication (as in the case of the most engaged climate deniers), I don’t think the graphical treatment is going to work. Nyhan and Reifler write that “graphs may be effective in reducing misperceptions because they are more difficult to counter-argue”—but some will still be able to. Al Gore showed lots of graphs in An Inconvenient Truth, and that hardly stopped him from being attacked (by people who don’t know what the hell they’re talking about ;>).

Will the self-affirmation work on such folks? I would imagine at least to an extent. It would make them less defensive. But some people are so set in their beliefs that they are virtually unchangeable.

Luckily, the new study suggests they’re a relatively small proportion of the overall population.

*CORRECTIONThe graph and text discussed above were based on, but did not exactly duplicate, the NASA press release. I regret the error.

September 05 2011


John Stossel Tells EPA To Pack Up Shop

Fox News host John Stossel says that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has passed its prime, and is no longer useful. After the Obama Administration last week overruled the EPA’s smog regulations, Stossel took to the airwaves on the Fox Business Channel to tell us that the EPA is no longer a worthwhile organization. Stossel told us: “Thank goodness for the EPA…The air and water are cleaner than they use to be. But they passed those rules. It’s diminishing returns. They have done a wonderful job, stop already. Stick a fork in it, it’s done.”

Raw Story has video of Stossel’s segment:

In his decision to overturn the EPA’s smog ruling, Obama told Americans that he wanted to avoid “costly regulations” that could potentially harm businesses. He also claimed that his administration is still 100% committed to standing with the “hard working” folks at the EPA. However, his actions last week clearly show that he is not 100% committed.

In spite of the administration’s actions, the EPA is far from “done,” as Stossel tells us. This is just the latest in a long line of anti-climate, anti-environment stances that Stossel has taken over the years.

Prior to joining News Corp, Stossel was a regular contributor to ABC’s 20/20 and Good Morning America. During his time with ABC, Stossel took quite a few shots at the science behind climate change, as well as environmentalists. In a 2007 piece on 20/20, Stossel took the time to straighten out the public on a few climate change “myths”:

MYTH: The Earth is warming because of us!

TRUTH: Maybe. The frantic media suggest it's all about us. But the IPCC only said it is likely that we have increased the warming.

MYTH: There will be storms, flooded coasts and huge disruptions in climate!

TRUTH: There are always storms and floods. Will there be much bigger disruptions in climate? Probably not.

In the same piece, Stossel tells viewers that “global warming” might actually be beneficial to humans:

The fundamentalist doom mongers also ignore scientists who say the effects of global warming may be benign. Harvard astrophysicist Sallie Baliunas said added CO2 in the atmosphere may actually benefit the world because more CO2 helps plants grow. Warmer winters would give farmers a longer harvest season, and might end the droughts in the Sahara Desert.

A year later, Stossel took the time during a speech to attack both scientists and Al Gore. He tells us that most of the climate change “hype” is just a media creation:

On his Fox show, Stossel has warned the public that, when it comes to climate change, the best thing we can do is to just all calm down.

Stossel freely admits that he is not a climate scientist, nor is he an expert on the issue, yet his powerful positions on both ABC News and Fox News Channel have allowed him to spout his non-expert opinions to people who believe he is telling them facts.

Stossel’s belief that the EPA should close up shop is shared by numerous Republican politicians who have vowed to shut down the agency should they regain the White House in 2012. For the sake of the planet, let’s just hope that the EPA is allowed to continue doing their job, in spite of the massive opposition that they face from ideologues and pundits.

July 18 2011


Say Brother, Can You Share My Logic? The Climate Debate and “Talking Past Each Other”

I’ve previously written about University of Michigan business professor Andrew Hoffman’s insightful work on the underlying motivations behind climate skepticism. Now, I’ve come across a more detailed recent paper, in Organization and Environment, that advances the case.

Hoffman’s strategy this time is to examine newspaper editorials, op-eds, and letters to the editor from both sides of the issue—795 of them, published between September of 2007 and September of 2009. Hoffman combines a look at these opinion pieces with an examination of the rhetoric at last year’s Heartland Institute climate denial conference.

His conclusion is that the two sides of the debate simply argue past each other. The Heartland folks, of course, think climate science is ideological and corrupt, and action on this non-existent problem will hurt the economy—and that, basically, it’s all an environmentalist power grab. They even detect hints of socialism or communism at the root of the movement for climate action.

But this we know already. What’s more interesting is the newspaper writings.

A large majority of the articles were convinced of climate risks--but there were lots of disagreeing letters to the editor. Overall, “skeptic” opinions came not from journalists or experts, but from average citizens. And what lay at the center of their logic, content wise?

Not surprisingly, almost 90% of skeptical articles reference science. It suggests that the skeptical logic centers on the idea that the problem definition of climate change is the crux of the debate. For the skeptical, there is no problem or there is uncertainty about whether there is a problem.

The skeptic articles are also very interested in diagnosing and explaining the “motives” of those who disagree with them—and in bashing one person in particular. Guess who?

Similar to the terminology of the climate denier movement, nearly 25% of all skeptical articles refer to climate change proponents as “alarmists.” More specifically, the dominant political target of these arguments is Al Gore, who is blamed by skeptical authors for fabricating the problem of climate change for ideological and personal gain. A word count of all the skeptical articles showed that nearly 40% of them mention Gore in one fashion or another.

Not only do skeptics love to talk about Gore—but they think he’s in it for the money, not the planet. Wild, off base? Sure. but that’s what they say. They are going after our motives, and our leaders.

Those who are convinced climate is a problem overwhelmingly talk about it in a different way. They discuss not so much the validity of the science, but the many risks from doing nothing, and the specific solutions—such as legislation—for addressing the issue. 

Hoffman’s conclusion is that the two sides are talking about vastly different things—and also, that the level of demonization is far too high for de-polarization to occur:

The form of the political dialogue illustrated above (which may be suggestive of the denier/believer extreme of the debate) suggests a conflict of positions that are relatively exclusive and rigid, positions that will not yield to negotiation and resolution because they define and establish very strong in-group/out-group distinctions. At the national level at least, it appears that for some of the more extreme elements, political debate has broken down and the two sides are talking past each other. 

No shock, maybe--but certainly the situation is bad, bad, bad. It is increasingly being observed that the climate debate is becoming like the abortion debate—far too polarized and entrenched for any dialogue to occur. Hoffman’s results lend strength to this characterization. 

July 13 2011


Al Gore's Reality Show

The Climate Reality Project, a renamed and redefined group overseen by Mr. Gore, will seek to educate the public about the impacts of global warming and counter what he considers the well-financed disinformation and denial campaign run by the fossil fuel industries.

June 22 2011


Al Gore Roasts Obama Over Climate Position

In a scorching, 7000-word article in the coming issue of Rolling Stone, Al Gore savages mainstream media for its incompetent reporting of climate change and roasts President Barack Obama for failing to advance policies against global warming any more quickly than his woeful predecessor.

Gore is clear, quotable and uncompromising in stating his own case:

"Here is the truth: The Earth is round; Saddam Hussein did not attack us on 9/11; Elvis is dead; Obama was born in the United States; and the climate crisis is real. It is time to act."

But after making the case for reality in climate reporting - and crediting Obama for some early efforts -  Gore says this:

"But in spite of these and other achievements, President Obama has thus far failed to use the bully pulpit to make the case for bold action on climate change. After successfully passing his green stimulus package, he did nothing to defend it when Congress decimated its funding. After the House passed cap and trade, he did little to make passage in the Senate a priority. Senate advocates — including one Republican — felt abandoned when the president made concessions to oil and coal companies without asking for anything in return. He has also called for a massive expansion of oil drilling in the United States, apparently in an effort to defuse criticism from those who argue speciously that "drill, baby, drill" is the answer to our growing dependence on foreign oil."

The implications for U.S. credibility in the global conversation is obvious, Gore argues:

"During the final years of the Bush-Cheney administration, the rest of the world was waiting for a new president who would aggressively tackle the climate crisis — and when it became clear that there would be no real change from the Bush era, the agenda at Copenhagen changed from "How do we complete this historic breakthrough?" to "How can we paper over this embarrassing disappointment?"

Not to say, "we told you so," but it's worth recalling that Obama's position on climate change has long been unconvincing. In 2007, the DeSmogBlog served the then-presidential candidate with a SmogMaker Award for his failure to take a stronger position in favour of good climate policy and, especially, against coal. We said, "Barack Obama may not be the worst offender among the spinmeisters, but he’s the biggest disappointment."

And we were flayed for saying it across the internet. Friends and allies responded in outrage that we were holding Obama to an unrealistic standard and, counterproductively, attacking the candidate whose climate position was most progressive.

So we apologized.

That now looks like a mistake. The environmental and scientific communities' tendency to be polite, supportive and tame when dealing with their "allies" in the White House and Congress have left those allies with the impression that there is no political cost to doing nothing - even as the Republican "mainstream" takes ever more stupidly radical positions in response to the Tea Party ravers and campaign-funding lobbyists. If the climate conversation is inane - perhaps insane - some of the blame surely falls on those of us who have held our tongues in the face of disappointment. If the people of America and the world have been left standing on a busy intersection with their backs to the traffic, it's because we have failed to shout the warning. We certainly have failed to offer fierce and constructive criticism to those of our political "friends" on whom we rely to make matters better.

As Gore points out, President Obama has let dust gather on the Bully Pulpit. It's not clear whether that's because Obama doesn't want to be mistaken for a bully or because he truly thinks there will be no political cost for ignoring his timid base.

Gore, much to his credit, has taken the second option off the table. He says:

"Here is the core of it: we are destroying the climate balance that is essential to the survival of our civilization. This is not a distant or abstract threat; it is happening now. The United States is the only nation that can rally a global effort to save our future. And the president is the only person who can rally the United States."

April 25 2011


Climate Policy Failure, and Laying Blame

Joe Romm battled extensively with Matthew Nisbet last week over the latter’s sweeping attempt to redirect much of the blame for the failure to achieve a climate bill onto environmentalists, scientists, and Al Gore. (I had a few whacks at Nisbet too.) The implication of the Nisbet report was that the standard villains—climate deniers, the Kochs, the media, the perpetrators of ClimateGate and those who can’t stop talking about it—had wrongly drawn all the attention. If we want to be charitable to Nisbet, we might recast his message as: “but look at all these other things, too.” However, his report was framed in such a way that such nuance was largely lost (and Nisbet studies framing).

Now Romm is back,  with his own apportioning of blame. He even gives figures: 60 percent for the denial machine, 30 percent for the media, and the remaining 10 percent split between what he calls “think small” centrists and the Obama team. Huh.

I now think I can see from this that I’m somewhere between Romm and Nisbet.<!--break--> I would never downplay (as Nisbet did) all the attacks on science that have occurred. But I also would not exonerate environmental organizations. God knows they have their problems, and personally, I’ve felt that the inward firing squad is the biggest—and the lack of unity and common cause.

Nor would I completely exonerate scientists—and they’re not letting themselves off the hook either. They know they need to communicate better. The introspection and reflection going on in that world at the moment is a really impressive thing to see.

But Romm is right that science denial and the media (combined) have been the biggest problem. I don’t know about 90 percent, but surely in the 60-90 percent range.

How do you calculate these percents, anyway? To me, the main factors in attributing “blame” (and I don't think this is especially novel) are power and responsibility.

Thus, those who deny or attack climate science have a lot of power (through political influence, largesse, etc), and have done the wrong thing (responsibility) by undermining knowledge, disseminating misinformation, etc.

The media, meanwhile, also has vast power, and have done the wrong thing by not covering adequately the story of the century, and thus not living up to their societal responsibility.

Hence both deserve a lot of blame.

And of course here’s why scientists and environmentalists (and the Obama administration) are different: They didn’t misinform, and they wanted to do the right thing. Did they go about it the right way? Surely not, at least in many respects. And they do have power (especially Obama), so they are hardly blameless. But are they as blameworthy as those who have misled us, or those who ignored the problem? You see my point.

This may also explain why there was such a strong reaction to Nisbet’s report. While he might be willing to admit that much blame should  fall on the denial machine, the media, etc., his report was framed in such a way that it appeared to neglect them, while casting aspersions elsewhere. Thus, it seemed to shunt this power/responsibility dimension of laying blame.

By not showing outrage, it sparked outrage.

April 16 2011


Power Shift 2011- Youth Leaders Flock to DC

This weekend in Washington DC, thousands will descend upon the Walter E. Washington Convention Center for Power Shift 2011. A veritable boot camp of movement building, it will bring together the leaders of the so-called “youth” movement to converge on finding solutions to effectively fight climate change, ensure a clean energy future, and finally displace the entrenched dirty energy industries.

The jam-packed agenda includes keynote addresses from Al Gore, Bill McKibben, and EPA administrator Lisa Jackson along with a plethora of workshops, meetings, and trainings planned from morning until night each day of the conference, culminating in a day of action on Monday the 18th in which attendees will take direct action against major polluters and also participate in citizen visits to Congressional offices.

With climate threats posed by hydrofracking and unconventional gas production booming across the US, the Canadian tar sands  and dangerous proposed pipelines, and the coal and oil industries stubbornly fighting to keep their dirty energy subsidies, we definitely have our work cut out for us.
Yet something has always bothered me about the “youth” label so frequently applied to this movement by the media. I remember the first time I heard it when I was working with several groups at the COP15 summit in Copenhagen, and a few friends were telling me about the youth delegations attending the conference. I thought, what a smart and provocative idea to bring a bunch of little kids and tweens along to show exactly whose futures we are sacrificing if we do not reach any meaningful, science-based and binding agreements. However, I was dismayed to learn that the “youth” delegation was actually comprised of mostly 20-somethings and college students - in other words, people from my generation. Suddenly I felt like I was sitting back at the kiddie table at Thanksgiving.

While it is true a few of my generation are sparking a new subset of psychological rules in life milestones, branding us as “youth” diminishes the importance of our goals and undercuts the leverage we need to get our message across in the struggle to enact change from all sides of this momentous challenge. The average age of a member of the 112th Congress is approximately 57 years, leaving a minimum 25-year age gap. While the age-old adage of “respect your elders” is a fine social construct, sometimes it is frustrating when your elders are swayed more by what’s being placed in their pockets and campaign coffers instead of the science-based messages being placed in front of them.

There are many people in my age range working to solve climate change and combat dirty energy in diverse and powerful ways. They work as journalists, offering smart and insightful views of policy and science. They work in urban sustainability, attempting to make our cities more livable with less impact and waste. They work locally in communities across the globe enabling people to become more resilient against future climate impacts. They work to fight for a better future through acts of nonviolent civil disobedience. They receive distinguished titles and work in Federal service. While pragmatism is a key priority, we “less-aged” folks also leave room to envision a more ideal, fairer world.

Today in an article on Power Shift by the Washington Post, some view these demands for climate justice and a clean energy future as “unrealistic” just based on the political hurdles that would need to be surpassed to reach those goals. The first step is not accepting the deal currently on the table if it’s not going to do anything that’s going to solve the problem. President Obama has disappointed many in the last few years with his continual kowtowing to oil and gas industries. This year at Power Shift, the organizers are not giving him any praise this time around. Co-director of Power Shift 2011, Courtney Hight was quoted as saying,

“We want to make sure the president is seeing that we’re done with this. We need them to draw a line in the sand. We need him to stand up to the polluters.”

We want our leaders to understand that we are not just some kids with paint brushes working on some elaborate art project and aimlessly waving signs and banners in the air. It seems like the “youth” branding leaves us with this connotation that the “real adults” are the ones actually equipped to make the important decisions. If anything, our generation’s voice is just as - if not more - important, since it is our future that is being decided (or sentenced, depending on how you look at it).

We have daunting obstacles in front of us, including decision-makers who don’t even believe in the science of climate change or feel it’s not important enough to act on. Then there are those who have the mentality that they won’t be around to see the fallout of our current decisions, so why bother. Well, we “youth” don’t want to be handed an ecologically devastated planet when we grow older - we want to fix it now.

Our generation will not be underestimated. Our abilities will not be discounted. And we definitely will not sit quietly and let our potential futures and the planet get flushed down the drain just to enable a comfortable joy ride for the elders.

I fought hard to graduate from the kiddie table at Thanksgiving as I grew older, and my peers and I will fight just as hard to not be placed at the kiddie negotiating table.

Follow me at the conference this weekend on Twitter @Laurel350.

February 11 2011


Memo to Fox News: Science and Politics Don’t Mix

This piece was co-written by Ryan Koronowski, Alliance for Climate Protection Research Director and Josh Nelson, Alliance for Climate Protection Director of Online Communications and New Media.

Former oil and energy trader Eric Bolling, a financial news personality on Fox News, often gets on television to talk about climate change. On Tuesday, Media Matters published research on Bolling's program and uncovered a history of claims that are demonstrably false:

Bolling Hosted Skeptic To Claim "There Is No Global Warming." Bolling hosted Brian Sussman, radio host and author of Climategate: A Veteran Meteorologist Exposes The Global Warming Scam, who asserted that "there is no global warming." Sussman claimed that the "hottest decade in history was the 1930s."

Bolling: "I think We Warm And We Cool. It's The Globe." Discussing a Rasmussen poll asking respondents "how likely is it that some scientists have falsified research data," Bolling stated: "Listen, you know where I stand on this. I'm not -- I think we warm and we cool. It's the globe." [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 12/4/09]

Bolling Falsely Suggested Snow Disproves Global Warming. On Fox & Friends, referring to the 2010 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Cancun, Bolling stated: "I think, a couple of years ago, they were in Washington. It was snowed out. The global warming issue wasn't, I guess, a factor there. But they solved that problem going to Cancun." [Fox News, Fox & Friends, 12/9/09]

<!--break-->In fact, the decade from 2001-2010 was the hottest on record, and as Alliance for Climate Protection Chairman Al Gore explained in a recent blog post, extreme weather events -- including heavy snow -- are entirely consistent with climate science.

So why would Bolling repeatedly push these discredited ideas? One possibility is the fact that the managing editor of Fox News specifically instructed the network's on-air personalities to do just that. This unfortunate myopia extends beyond Fox's news and opinion programming -- it affects the advertisements that Fox viewers are permitted to see.

Last May, VoteVets.org ran an ad on cable that made "the familiar case that climate legislation would have national security benefits by reducing the oil profits of hostile Middle Eastern states." CNN and MSNBC aired the ad. But Fox viewers weren't allowed to see the ad because it was "too confusing."

Unfortunately, Fox's deliberate attempts to mislead their viewers about climate change appear to be working. A pair of recent studies found that Fox viewers are far more likely to be confused about climate change than the general public. A December 2010 University of Maryland study found: "Those who watched Fox News almost daily were significantly more likely than those who never watched it to believe that most scientists do not agree that climate change is occurring." Incredibly, regular Fox News viewers were 30% more likely (PDF) to believe that most scientists don't agree about climate change, when compared to Americans who don't watch Fox News.

A December 2010 Woods Institute for the Environment poll (PDF) had similar findings with regard to Americans' understanding of basic climate science:

Among Americans who watched no Fox News, 82% believed that the Earth's temperature has been rising, and 85% of them believed that any temperature increase is caused mostly by things people do, or about equally by things people do and natural causes.

Among the most frequent viewers of Fox News, 63% believed that the Earth's temperature has been rising, and 60% of the most frequent Fox News viewers believed that the temperature increase is caused mostly by things people do or about equally by things people do and natural causes.

While these findings are unfortunate, a more important point is this: Climate science is bigger than politics. Despite the best efforts of conservative-leaning news outlets such as Fox News, Americans from across the political spectrum are concerned about climate change and understand the need to take immediate action to address it.

Consider former Congressman Bob Inglis of South Carolina, who recently said, "As a Republican, I believe we should be talking about conservation," he explained. "Because that's our heritage. If you go back to Teddy Roosevelt, that's who we are." Or take Senator Lugar of Indiana, who once said, "Changes in climate will bring more droughts, floods and extreme weather events. Pests and disease will spread into new regions of the world threatening public health and economic growth. More conflicts will arise."

Fox News viewers, we hope you'll join us, and we'll gladly welcome you to the cause. Climate change is too big of a problem to solve without your help.

January 27 2011


Hide Your Kids, Hide Your Wife: Not Even Canadians are Safe from the Kochs Anymore

From Koch Industries' roots as "the biggest company you've never heard of", David and Charles Koch have become household names for funding climate change denial and efforts to steer the United States away from a clean energy future.  They suffered a little hiccup when California voters failed to buy the arguments of the dirty oil interests bankrolling Prop 23.  Then, when David Koch was booed at the Nutcracker ballet just before Christmas, it started to look like the tides were shifting on public opinion around the billionaire brothers. 

Despite the headway made in holding the Koch Brothers to account, they've creeped their way into Canada. 

Well, let me be clear.  Its not as though Koch Industries is a totally foreign force in Canada. Koch and its subsidiaries currently operate in seven Canadian provinces, and according to a Greenpeace report, Koch has held multiple leases in Alberta's tar sands, and since the 1990s the Koch Pipeline Company has operated the pipelines that carry tar sands crude from Canada into Minnesota and Wisconsin where Koch’s Flint Hill Resources owns oil refineries.

On the policy development front, they've busily bankrolled Canada's Fraser Institute to the tune of $175,000 between 2005 and 2008 to ensure Canada remains in the Stone Ages when it comes to environmental policy.  

This time though, it's gotten political.  According to Chris Genovali's piece in the Huffington Postrenewable energy in Ontario is under attack by the Kochtopus. <!--break-->

The Ontario Green Energy Act has been heralded by Al Gore himself as the "single best green energy program on the North American continent."  Environmental Defence touts it as a monumental success, demonstrating that one year in, the law is steering the province into a prominent position as a global leader of economic and environmental renewal, on par with European standards.  

After all the jobs the Green Energy Act has created and accolades it has received, it is curious that Tim Hudak, leader of Ontario's Conservative party, would try to scuttle it. 

To make matters even worse, Hudak is confusing the public by using phoney astroturf research.  His fake green turf of choice is the now well-debunked "Spanish study on renewable energy jobs".  The 2009 study, the "Study of the effects on employment of public aid to renewable energy sources," by Gabriel Calzada Alvarez, an economics professor at King Juan Carlos University in Madrid, was funded by the American Energy Alliance, a "free-market think tank" funded by the Kochtopus and ExxonMobil. 

According to Dr. Alvarez’s ginned-up study, Spain's policy on renewable energy caused the country to lose jobs.  It erroneously implies that the cost of creating a renewable energy job is higher than the average cost of creating a job in Spain, and outrageously claims that Spain’s policy commitments to renewable energy development actually cost Spain 2.2 jobs lost for each clean energy job created.  The study has made its rounds through the echo chamber, and was used to fight the Obama Administration's 2010 budget proposal to create tax incentives for clean energy programs, and to oppose efforts to promote growth in the renewable energy industry.

Though a favourite of renewable energy detractors, the study has been thoroughly debunked by the Spanish governmentU.S. Department of Energy, and numerous others (though apparently the Toronto Sun didn't get the memo).  And the American Wind Energy Association notes that "The Spanish Ministry of Labor has found that... renewable energy industries have created 175,000 jobs and the European Commission found that aggressive renewable policy would create a net increase of over 400,000 in the European Union by 2020, giving a 'significant boost to the economy and the number of jobs in the EU.'" 

While many Americans have by now heard of the misleading study, many Canadians probably have not, and Hudak has taken full advantage of that.

Knowing Hudak's stance on other clean energy issues, his stance on renewable energy is perhaps not a stretch.  He is already an outspoken opponent to a plan to create 17,000 renewable energy jobs in the province, and remains a vocal proponent of nuclear energy, despite the Liberals' commitments to eliminate coal as a fuel by 2014. 

Now Hudak is promoting energy policies that are moving Ontario backwards instead of forwards on energy, using a dirty industry-funded study to scare voters into believing that proven green job creation efforts are somehow killing jobs.   That has no basis in fact, and is totally inexcusable. 

Hide your kids, hide your wife, the Kochtopus and Tim Hudak are working in concert to kill Canada and Ontario's clean energy future. 

Nip on over to Chris Genovali's blog to read more on this story. 

December 17 2010


Climate Questions and Fox News

The media watchdog Media Matters cites an e-mail from an editor cautioning reporters not to say that the planet has warmed without adding that the relevant data has been called into question.

November 23 2010


Gore Admits Corn Ethanol Support Was A Mistake

At a green business conference on Monday, Al Gore admitted that his support for corn ethanol subsidies was a mistake. This news comes weeks before tax credits are up for renewal.

U.S. tax breaks for ethanol make it profitable for refiners to use the fuel even when it is more expensive than gasoline.  Total ethanol subsidies reached $7.7 billion last year according to the International Energy Agency. In fact, biofuels worldwide received more subsidies than any other form of renewable energy.

Gore argued that "It is not a good policy to have these massive subsidies for [U.S.] first-generation ethanol".  Giving extraordinary subsidies to first generation feedstocks was a mistake, he says.  "The energy conversion ratios are at best very small." <!--break-->

Mr. Gore is not alone in thinking that corn-based ethanol is a losing proposition.  Several environmental groups have voiced concerns that the market sets food and fuel needs in direct competition.  In addition, there are concerns about accelerating the conversion of rainforests and conservation lands to farmland.  In California, regulators were prepared to declare corn biofuel's carbon footprint too large to help the state fight climate change after new tough emissions standards passed.  As the Daily Climate noted, greenhouse emissions and loss of the carbon sink associated with deforestation and disruption must be counted towards the biofuel’s total emissions, qualifying them as dirty.

Numerous studies suggest that corn ethanol is among many crop-based biofuels that encourage land-use changes that are, on the whole, detrimental to both environment and climate.  According to the Sierra Club and World Watch Institute, next-generation biofuels - derived in less energy-intensive ways, and from non-food sources like switchgrass - are potential future solutions.

A recent paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences corroborates the astounding impact of corn ethanol in its finding that Brazil risks incurring a 250-year carbon debt based on the deforestation expected by 2020 as it expands production of sugarcane ethanol and soybean biodiesel.

Gore noted that a major roadblock to getting rid of these multi-billion dollar subsidies has been corporate lobby groups. "It's hard once such a program is put in place to deal with the lobbies that keep it going", he noted.  

One such lobby group has been the corporate-funded Renewable Fuels Association.  According to Matt Hartwig on their blog, corn ethanol is more efficient than ever, and does not compete with the food supplies. That's not what the prevailing peer-reviewed literature says, according to David Tilman, a University of Minnesota professor of ecology who has studied biofuels' conflict with food crops.  According to Sourcewatch, the Renewable Fuels Association is a supporter of the Alliance for Abundant Food and Energy whose other members include Archer Daniels MidlandDeere & CompanyDuPont and Monsanto. Interestingly, Matt Hartwig is also involved with the Astroturf group Center for Science and Culture that seeks to "defeat Darwinism". Maybe fanciful lies are his specialty.

The corn ethanol of here and now has a hefty ecological footprint, and is creating an ecological headache. Kudos to Gore for speaking out that his support for the subsidies was based on votes, and not science. 

Image credits: Renaissance Ronin.


Gore Annoys Corn Ethanol Lobby

Al Gore irks the corn ethanol industry by calling his early support for the fuel a mistake -- although the former vice president's thoughts on the topic are not, in fact, new.

July 12 2010


Al Gore Calls For Ken Cuccinelli To End Witch Hunt Against Michael Mann

Former U.S. Vice President Al Gore over the weekend called for Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli to end his baseless witch hunt against climate scientist Michael Mann. 

Ignoring the fact that the University of Pennsylvania completely exonerated Professor Mann of any wrongdoing in the wake of the mythical "Climategate" media frenzy, Cuccinelli vows to continue his political attacks on Mann and the whole of climate science. 

In a blog post featured on Huffington Post over the weekend, Gore calls Cuccinelli's attempts to subpoena ten years' worth of Michael Mann's documents "an assault on academic freedom" and "an affront to the scientific process."

"It is time for Cuccinelli to end his witch-hunt," Gore concludes.
Gore's post naturally generated plenty of interest among trolls and conspiracy theorists, who immediately launched into ad hominem attacks on Gore, lauded denier 'experts' like Christopher Monckton (the non-scientist with a penchant for trampling Godwin's Law), and almost entirely avoided the subject of Gore's piece - Ken Cuccinelli. 

Why focus on the politicization of science when you can sit around dreaming up conspiracy theories about Al Gore and the U.N.?

May 25 2010


Christopher Monckton: Lies, damn lies or staggering incompetence

John Abraham's Critique Devastates the Florid Lord's Denier Diatribe

Christopher Monckton, the self-celebrating Third Viscount Monckton of Brenchley, toured Canada and the U.S. last year calling the world's best climate scientists and activists "liars" for setting out their concerns about the dangers of climate change. In his presentations and his PowerPoints, Monckton was graceless and taunting in tone, making fun of Al Gore's accent along with his science. The record now shows that Monckton was also wrong - and frankly, wrong is such a way that he himself must be found to be either a flagrant and shameless liar or the most incompetent compiler of information since church scholars gathered to argue for the flatness of the earth.

The new critique was assembled by John P. Abraham, an engineering professor at St. Thomas University in St. Paul Minnesota. A diligent - even painstaking - researcher, Abraham is also unreservedly respectful in his own presentation, giving Monckton the benefit of every doubt.

The facts, however, are less accommodating. As Prof. Abraham demonstrates time and again, Monckton has consistently misinterpreted, misrepresented or flat-out lied about his "evidence" arguing against the theory of human-induced global warming. He has mangled references, misrepresented findings, cobbled together unattributed graphs and staked his case to critically compromised scholars.<!--break-->

Monckton has already revealed himself as someone whose capacity to be antisocial goes well beyond mere rudeness. This new presentation should be required viewing for anyone who regards him as even vaguely credible on climate science. Take the time: you will find he is anything but.

April 14 2010


'Hockey stick' graph was exaggerated

The 'hockey stick' that became emblematic of the threat posed by climate change exaggerated the rise in temperature because it was created using 'inappropriate' methods, according to the head of the Royal Statistical Society.

March 09 2010


Lorne Gunther: Denial (and dumb analogies) are us

In a wonderfully silly update of the (Canadian newspaper the) National Post's campaign of climate change denial, columnist Lorne Gunther (picked up here in the Edmonton Journal) argues that global warming has ended - and to prove it, he imagines the earth as an out-of-control Toyota which he decides has run out of gas.

What good fortune that might be (running out of gas in time to stop before you hit the cliff). But how can we think that our careering planetary heating system - which appears to have it its top speed and has been holding steady for more than a decade - is "out of gas" when we're pumping the stuff into the atmosphere at an unprecedented rate?<!--break-->


Look, for example, at the graph to the right. This is a fuel guage for atmospheric CO2: we're not running out; we're topping up.

So, given that rudimentary physics demonstrates CO2 to be a greenhouse gas (which has the effect of holding on to more of the sun's radiative energy) and given that, by burning fossil fuels and cutting down trees, we are pouring more CO2 into the atmosphere every year, the best scientists in the world have postulated that global average temperatures will likely rise as a result.

And whadaya know: global average temperatures have indeed been rising (per the graph below). The climb hasn't been quite as steady as the increase in CO2 because, as Gunther might agree, climate is complicated. For example, we also have to consider the influence of the sun, which was raging along in the latter part of the 20th century but has (again as Gunther notes) hit an unusually dead spot lately.

Now, I know that the people who wish warming weren't real - or could be blamed on something else so we fossil fuel consumers could keep on keeping on - will reiterate Gunther's goofy argument that warming seems to have stalled. Regardless that nine of the hottest 10 years in recorded history have occurred since 2000, they want to believe that our Toyota is slowing safely, despite the stuck accelerator.

But I invite you all to have a quick read of Bart Verheggen's great post on this issue. In addition to having pulled together clearer images of the graph at left, he has illustrated exactly how such graphs have been used to misrepresent the science.

Then, before you get back behind the wheel of Gunther's imagined auto, consider this: knowing that the accelerator is sticky, is it prudent to keep your foot on the gas? Or would it be smarter to take the car in for a check-up - and not with a journalist or a gasoline salesman, but with someone who actually knows something about cars?

If you choose the first option, please honk before you get behind the wheel. It will help the rest of us recognize that you are part of the problem.

March 04 2010


March 02 2010


Climate Change—“Smoke and Mirrors”

By Nina Munteanu In an article in Salon.com, Elizabeth Svoboda endorses an outlandish global warming geotechnical “fix” proposed by Gregory Benford. “Benford thinks Al Gore’s a good guy and all, but he also thinks the star of “An Inconvenient Truth” is a little delusional,” says Svoboda. “Driving a hybrid car, switching your bulbs to compact fluorescents [...]
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