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111 ways Nate Silver hire Roger Pielke Jr doesn’t like you

Roger Pielke Jr

Roger Pielke Jr, the political scientist recently hired by Nate Silver’s new FiveThirtyEight “data journalism” venture, has a long record of harsh criticisms of the climate science community, impugning the motives, ethics, and honesty of climate scientists and communicators. Bonus: find out what he thinks about Grist readers (#79)!

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Slow Ride Stories: Kick-starting conversations about climate change

The climate is a-changin’ -- but the debate on climate change isn’t. As a result, climate scientists and environmental advocates appear to be fighting a losing battle: A recent poll of American attitudes toward climate change, put out in March by the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, revealed that the number of climate skeptics in America is growing, and fewer voters view climate change as a scientifically affirmed or politically important issue.

With this news in mind, a two-man film crew has hit the back roads of America to, in their words, kick-start a new national conversation about climate change -- one that might circumvent heated politics by focusing on local perspectives.

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Here are some of the death threats sent to a climate scientist

University of East Anglia. (Photo by mira66.)

James Delingpole is a British journalist for The Telegraph who was primarily responsible for the pseudo-controversy known by the unoriginal name "Climategate." Last month, he wrote an opinion piece mocking claims by climate scientists that they'd received death threats -- in particular, Phil Jones of the University of East Anglia.

Delingpole wrote:

Maybe it's time someone did an FOI to see whether the UEA's dodgy and discredited Phil Jones really did get any of those "death threats" he claims to have received after Climategate and which allegedly drove him to consider suicide. Speaking for myself, if Phil Jones released a report claiming that grass is green I'd feel compelled to go outside just to double check.

Simon Hopkinson did exactly that. Yesterday, the university responded.

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BP’s Glenn Beck strategy for maybe saving a few million dollars

Both a representative image and a metaphor.

Three years ago, Harvard Law professor Lawrence Lessig wrote an essay for The New Republic, "Against Transparency." His argument was an uncommon one: Political transparency is not an unalloyed good. His core argument is well articulated here:

[R]esponses to information are inseparable from their interests, desires, resources, cognitive capacities, and social contexts. Owing to these and other factors, people may ignore information, or misunderstand it, or misuse it. Whether and how new information is used to further public objectives depends upon its incorporation into complex chains of comprehension, action, and response.

I am not a Harvard Law professor, so I will paraphrase the movie Spider-Man (Tobey Maguire version): With great amounts of information comes great opportunity for abuse.

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The top five things voters need to know about conservatives and climate change

Five! (Photo by woodleywonderworks)I've seen a recent surge of stories about conservatives and climate change. None of them, oddly, tell voters what they most need to know on the subject. In fact, one of them does the opposite. (Grrrr ...)

I respond in accordance with internet tradition: a listicle!

5. Conservatives have a long history of advancing environmental progress. In a column directed to Mitt Romney, Thomas Friedman reels off (one suspects from memory) "the G.O.P.'s long tradition of environmental stewardship that some Republicans are still proud of: Teddy Roosevelt bequeathed us national parks, Richard Nixon the Clean Air Act and the Environmental Protection Agency, Ronald Reagan the Montreal Protocol to protect the ozone layer and George H. W. Bush cap-and-trade that reduced acid rain." This familiar litany is slightly misleading, attributing to presidents what is mostly the work of Congresses, but the basic point is valid enough: In the 20th century, Republicans have frequently played a constructive role on the environment.

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Climate-change deniers hitting a wall — but so is the planet

A version of this article originally appeared on TomDispatch.

It’s been a tough few weeks for the forces of climate-change denial.

First came the giant billboard with Unabomber Ted Kacynzki’s face plastered across it: “I Still Believe in Global Warming. Do You?” Sponsored by the Heartland Institute, the nerve center of climate-change denial, it was supposed to draw attention to the fact that “the most prominent advocates of global warming aren’t scientists. They are murderers, tyrants, and madmen.” Instead it drew attention to the fact that these guys had overreached, and with predictable consequences.

A hard-hitting campaign from a new group called Forecast the Facts persuaded many of the corporations backing Heartland to withdraw $825,000 in funding; an entire wing of the institute, devoted to helping the insurance industry, calved off to form its own nonprofit. Normally friendly politicians like Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) announced that they would boycott the group’s annual conference unless the billboard campaign was ended.

Which it was, before the billboards with Charles Manson and Osama bin Laden could be unveiled, but not before the damage was done: Sensenbrenner spoke at last month’s conclave, but attendance was way down at the annual gathering, and Heartland leaders announced that there were no plans for another of the yearly fests. Heartland’s head, Joe Bast, complained that his side had been subjected to the most “uncivil name-calling and disparagement you can possibly imagine from climate alarmists,” which was both a little rich -- after all, he was the guy with the mass-murderer billboards -- but also a little pathetic. A whimper had replaced the characteristically confident snarl of the American right.

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Winning the climate culture war

Put 'em up.

My previous post covered a new study from Yale researcher Dan Kahan and colleagues showing that greater scientific literacy does not correlate with greater acceptance of the risks of climate change. In fact, polarization on climate change is greater among the scientifically literate.

What divides those who acknowledge climate risks from those who don't ("skeptics") is not education, intelligence, or numeracy, but values. Kahan uses the terms "egalitarian communitarian" and "hierarchical individualist," but I think it's easier to follow Chris Mooney and just call these personality types liberal and conservative. Possessing the personality traits and values of a liberal inclines one toward accepting the threat of climate change; possessing the personality traits and values of a conservative inclines one toward skepticism. This comports with other studies that find skepticism clustered among conservative white men.

What's to be done about this?

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It wasn’t just the billboards: How activists brought down the Heartland Institute

Activists protest outside the Heartland climate-denier conference. (Photo by Forecast the Facts.)

It's been a rough few weeks for the Heartland Institute, the "intellectual" nexus of the fossil fuel-powered machine that disparages climate science in the United States. Nineteen corporations have pulled more than $1 million in expected funding for the institute, leading President Joe Bast to ask attendees at the recent Heartland climate-denial conference whether they had a "rich uncle" who could help out. Seriously.

At a time when most news about climate change is bad, Heartland's decline has been a rare bright spot. How did it come about? In the reductive rendering of the mainstream media, the narrative has become that Heartland simply overplayed its hand by launching a billboard campaign comparing people who believe in global warming to the Unabomber, one of the single dumbest PR moves in recent history. Others have gone deeper, pointing out that Heartland has been painting itself into the crazy corner for a long time, and its lies were bound to catch up with it eventually. In that view, Heartland's demise was essentially inevitable.

The infamous Unabomber billboard.

While these narratives have elements of truth -- the billboards were incredibly stupid, and Heartland has been lying for a long time -- neither offers a full explanation because both deemphasize the crucial role of citizen action. Simply put, the post-billboard exodus of Heartland's corporate donors would have been neither as big nor as fast if not for the actions of thousands of everyday Americans calling those donors to account. Indeed, it might not have happened at all.

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Report: Corporations are big fat hypocrites about climate change

Corporations are officially people now, and like people, sometimes corporations will loudly say that they believe one thing while their actions reveal another preference entirely. Like a lady who says she wants to settle down but dates only dudes who are apt to move to Hawaii at a moment's notice, American companies having been saying they’re concerned about climate change at the same time that they have been fooling around with trade organizations, think tanks, and lobbying groups that have been working to undermine climate action.

In a new report, the Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) calls companies out on this behavior. Being an organization staffed by scientists with “scientists” in the name, UCS approached this in a rigorous manner: Its team identified 28 publicly traded companies that had intervened in the climate debate in some way, and looked at their lobbying, campaign donations, advocacy work, SEC filings, earning calls, funding of think tanks, and press materials. You know, basically every shred of evidence the companies had left behind.

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North Carolina tries to outlaw sea-level rise

North Carolina is no stranger to the "if you dislike it then you should have made a law against it" model of legislation, but this is extreme: The state General Assembly's Replacement House Bill 819 would rule that scientists are not allowed to accurately predict sea-level rise. By all legal calculations, the sea level will now rise eight inches by the end of the century. Sure, so far models have predicted an increase of more than three feet, but if they keep that shit up, they're going to JAIL.