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Joseph Romm's Posts


The brutally dishonest attacks on Showtime’s landmark climate series

"Years of Living Dangerously" screen shot

The good news is the video of episode one of Showtime’s climate series, Years of Living Dangerously, has been getting great reviews in The New York Times and elsewhere.

The bad news is the Times has published an error-riddled hit-job op-ed on the series that is filled with myths at odds with both the climate science and social science literature. For instance, the piece repeats the tired and baseless claim that Al Gore’s 2006 movie An Inconvenient Truth polarized the climate debate, when the peer-reviewed data says the polarization really jumped in 2009, as you can see in this chart from The Sociological Quarterly:

Percent of Americans who believe the effects of global warming have already begun to happen, by political ideology, from Aaron M. McCright and Riley E. Dunlap. Click to embiggen.

As I said, Years of Living Dangerously — the landmark nine-part Showtime docu-series produced by James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Jerry Weintraub — has been getting great reviews. Andy Revkin, often a critic of climate messaging, wrote in The New York Times Monday:

… a compellingly fresh approach to showing the importance of climate hazards to human affairs, the role of greenhouse gases in raising the odds of some costly and dangerous outcomes and — perhaps most important — revealing the roots of the polarizing divisions in society over this issue.

George Marshall, “an expert on climate and communication” — who is also often a critic of climate messaging — wrote me:

What impressed me about the two episodes I watched was the respect that it showed to conservatives, evangelicals and ordinary working people. ... it is still the best documentary I have seen.

The New York Times op-ed is from the founders of the Breakthrough Institute (BTI) — the same group where political scientist Roger Pielke Jr. is a senior fellow. It pushes the same argument that Pielke made in his piece — which was so widely criticized and debunked by climate scientists and others that Nate Silver himself admitted its myriad flaws and ran a response piece by MIT climatologist Kerry Emanuel eviscerating Pielke.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


Leaked IPCC stunner: Going bald slashes your carbon footprint, offsets Arctic ice loss


Update: Apologies to the George Constanzas of the world: This was an April Fools' Day post. Your baldness isn't fighting climate change. 

Walter White may have been a sociopathic drug kingpin, but he knew how to lower his carbon footprint, according to a leaked U.N. report. Preliminary handwaving analysis suggests that if every adult male in the world shaved his head, it would entirely offset the enhanced warming from Arctic sea ice loss.

This week, the media has been focused on the official release of the second of four planned Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, on Impacts and Adaptation.

But Grist has obtained a draft of the third report, on "Mitigation" or how to reduce the amount of warming humanity experiences. Sure there is the usual boring stuff about how solar and wind power have reached grid parity, how energy efficiency is the cheapest carbon-free power available, and how we could harness an infinite supply of free zero-point energy through cold fusion if the fossil fuel companies weren't keeping the technology bottled up in their labs. Zzzzzz.

Read more: Climate & Energy, Living


American Atlantis: Sea-level rise means Miami is doomed

The sun is setting on good times in Miami.
The sun is setting on good times in Miami.

Jeff Goodell has a must-read piece in Rolling Stone, “Goodbye, Miami: By century’s end, rising sea levels will turn the nation’s urban fantasyland into an American Atlantis. But long before the city is completely underwater, chaos will begin.”

Goodell has talked to many of the leading experts on Miami, including Harold Wanless, chair of University of Miami’s geological sciences department. The reason climate change dooms Miami is a combination of sea-level rise, the inevitability of ever more severe storms and storm surges -- and its fateful, fatal geology and topology, which puts “more than $416 billion in assets at risk to storm-related flooding and sea-level rise”:

South Florida has two big problems. The first is its remarkably flat topography. Half the area that surrounds Miami is less than five feet above sea level. Its highest natural elevation, a limestone ridge that runs from Palm Beach to just south of the city, averages a scant 12 feet. With just three feet of sea-level rise, more than a third of southern Florida will vanish; at six feet, more than half will be gone; if the seas rise 12 feet, South Florida will be little more than an isolated archipelago surrounded by abandoned buildings and crumbling overpasses. And the waters won’t just come in from the east – because the region is so flat, rising seas will come in nearly as fast from the west too, through the Everglades.

Even worse, South Florida sits above a vast and porous limestone plateau. “Imagine Swiss cheese, and you’ll have a pretty good idea what the rock under southern Florida looks like,” says Glenn Landers, a senior engineer at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. This means water moves around easily – it seeps into yards at high tide, bubbles up on golf courses, flows through underground caverns, corrodes building foundations from below. “Conventional sea walls and barriers are not effective here,” says Robert Daoust, an ecologist at ARCADIS, a Dutch firm that specializes in engineering solutions to rising seas.

The latest research “suggests that sea level could rise more than six feet by the end of the century,” as Goodell notes, and “Wanless believes that it could continue rising a foot each decade after that.”

Read more: Cities, Climate & Energy


This ain’t The Onion: Wall Street Journal urges “more atmospheric carbon dioxide”

Nowadays, in an age of rising population and scarcities of food and water in some regions, it's a wonder that humanitarians aren't clamoring for more atmospheric carbon dioxide.

No, it's not The Onion. It's the Wall Street Journal editorial page, which nowadays is much the same thing.

Once again, the country’s leading financial newspaper is recycling long-debunked myths from disinformers with PhDs posing as climate scientists -- in this case, Harrison H. Schmitt and William Happer, "In Defense of Carbon Dioxide: The demonized chemical compound is a boon to plant life and has little correlation with global temperature."

But what nefarious forces have been demonizing CO2? Let’s see:


The coming GOP civil war over climate change

elephants fighting

The National Journal has a long piece out, "The Coming GOP Civil War Over Climate Change: Science, storms, and demographics are starting to change minds among the rank and file."

Back in October 2010, NJ ran an article explaining, "The GOP is stampeding toward an absolutist rejection of climate science that appears unmatched among major political parties around the globe, even conservative ones."

Now reality is biting back, or, perhaps more accurately, nibbling back. The new piece begins with MIT climatologist Kerry Emanuel, a registered Republican since 1973. He switched his registration to "independent" shortly after a not-so-successful meeting with Republican presidential candidates in the run up to South Carolina’s GOP presidential primary, a meeting arranged by the influential Charleston-based Christian Coalition of America:


The problem wasn’t the green groups: What Skocpol gets wrong about the climate bill fight

A lengthy new study opinion piece aims to pin the blame for the failure of the climate bill on the environmental community. It has already resulted in head-exploding headlines like this one in The Guardian:


First, if we’re going to truly learn from this epic failure, let’s frame the issue fully, something Harvard political scientist Theda Skocpol fails to do in her incredibly long but oddly incomplete essay “Naming the Problem: What It Will Take to Counter Extremism and Engage Americans in the Fight against Global Warming” [PDF].

As readers know, I think the opponents of action -- the fossil fuel companies, the disinformers, the right-wing media, and the anti-science, pro-pollution ideologues in the Senate -- deserve 60 percent of the blame. The lame-stream media gets 30 percent for its generally enabling coverage -- see “How the status quo media failed on climate change” and "The media’s decision to play the stenographer role helped opponents of climate action stifle progress.” Then the “think small” centrists and lukewarmers get 5 percent for helping to shrink the political space in the debate (see here and here).

So we are divvying up the remaining 5 percent of blame between team Obama and environmental groups (along with Senate Democrats, scientists, progressives, and everyone else, including me). I’m not sure how much can be learned from the climate bill failure if your main focus is the elite environmental community. Skocpol does spend a lot of time discussing the Tea Party-driven extremism of the GOP, but, I think, drawing the wrong lessons.

Second, for that last 5 percent of blame, the lion’s share has to go to Obama (see “The failed presidency of Barack Obama, Part 2"). He is the agenda-shaper. He has the biggest megaphone by far. He made most of the decisive blunders (see below). But not according to Skocpol.


Obama to college students: ‘Denying climate change won’t make it stop’

Obama at State of the UnionObama didn't mention climate change in his State of the Union address, but on college campuses, it's a different story. (Photo by White House.)

Recently, climate change has been the Voldemort of the Obama administration: the "threat-that-must-not-be-named.”

In January, the president omitted any discussion of climate change from his State of the Union address, since what really does the gravest threat to Americans -- and indeed, all homo sapiens -- have to do with the state of the union? Then the White House edited climate change from Obama’s Earth Day 2012 proclamation.

But in an April Rolling Stone interview, Obama pulled a Harry Potter, saying outright that he thought “climate change” would be a campaign issue. Nervous campaign aides looked around to see if invoking the threat that must not be named would somehow cause it to mysteriously appear. And it did, as the nation went through brutal heat waves and wildfires and a record-smashing drought.

Having learned his lesson, the president was back to being silent on climate change in his big Iowa energy speech by the end of May. Then, earlier this month, the president recounted the story of climate change record-breaking heat and ever-worsening drought, but wisely decided not to tempt fate by naming names, or causes, or what’s going to happen in the future if we keep doing bloody little, or any of that scary science-y stuff.

But it turns out that the president was just being coy. He will talk about climate change to select audiences -- you know, the kind that are going to suffer the most from climate change, thanks to their parents’ greed and myopia: college students, Generation CO2.

Read more: Climate & Energy


International Energy Agency: ‘Safe’ fracking cheap, but would destroy a livable climate

A version of this article originally appeared on Climate Progress.

The International Energy Agency (IEA) has a new report out, "Golden Rules for a Golden Age of Gas" [PDF]. Unfortunately, the IEA buried the lede -- the Golden Age of Gas scenario destroys a livable climate -- so the coverage of the report was off target.

For instance, The New York Times opines, “Energy Agency Finds Safe Gas Drilling is Cheap.” And the Council on Foreign Relations headline is similar: “Safe Fracking Looks Cheap.”

That’s true only if a ruined climate, widespread Dust Bowlification, an acidified ocean, and rapidly rising sea levels constitute your idea of “safe.”

Still, the IEA deserves much of the blame for this miscoverage. It’s not until page 91 (!) of the full report [PDF] that the agency explains that adopting its “Golden Rules” for developing shale gas doesn’t stop catastrophe:

The Golden Rules Case puts CO2 emissions on a long-term trajectory consistent with stabilizing the atmospheric concentration of greenhouse-gas emissions at around 650 parts per million, a trajectory consistent with a probable temperature rise of more than 3.5 degrees C [6.3 degrees F] in the long term, well above the widely accepted 2 degrees C [3.6 degrees F] target. This finding reinforces a central conclusion from the WEO special report on a Golden Age of Gas (IEA, 2011b), that, while a greater role for natural gas in the global energy mix does bring environmental benefits where it substitutes for other fossil fuels, natural gas cannot on its own provide the answer to the challenge of climate change.

D’oh! Or is that duh?

Read more: Natural Gas


Obama silent on climate change in big Iowa energy speech

Obama in Newton, IowaObama's energy speech: lots about wind, nothing about climate. (Photo by Darin Leach for USDA.)

A version of this post originally appeared on Climate Progress.

Last month, the White House edited climate change from Obama’s Earth Day 2012 proclamation. That was after the president omitted any discussion of climate change from his State of the Union address.

But then, in a Rolling Stone interview, Obama unexpectedly broke out of his self-imposed silence on climate change, saying he thought climate change would be a campaign issue.

Of course, it would be hard for climate to be a campaign issue if the president doesn’t actually talk about it in public. After all, his challenger Mitt Romney seems unlikely to bring it up, having Etch-a-Sketched his position on that subject many times. And Lord knows that media isn’t itching to talk about climate.

So it was disappointing again once again that on Thursday the president reverted to form in his big speech on energy at TPI Composites, a wind-blade manufacturing plant in Newton, Iowa.


‘Hug the monster’: Downplaying the climate threat won’t work as a survival strategy

Photo by Sebastian Anthony.

A version of this post originally appeared on Climate Progress.

Journalist Bill Blakemore has a great piece on ABC’s website called "‘Hug the Monster’ for Realistic Hope in Global Warming (or How to Transform Your Fearful Inner Climate)."

He offers advice to journalists in covering climate change -- and advice to the rest of us in a world captured by denial.

The piece helps dispel the myth that climate scientists have long been overhyping climate impacts -- when everyone who actually follows climate science and talks to any significant number of climate scientists knows that the reverse is true.

Read more: Climate Change