Readers weigh in on trusting scientists, planting trees, the Super Bowl, and more
Umbra, thanks for the discussion of the scientific process. It seems a good portion of the general public does not understand the rigor of science; progress in the field relies acutely on peer review. An idea won’t make it far unless it: a) has substantial quantitative support and b) is supported by independent efforts by other scientists. However, a confused understanding of science is perpetuated by the mainstream media, which thrives on generating the illusion of controversy (e.g., both sides of a scientific issue are given equal weight even if 99 percent of scientists accept a theory and the 1 percent of dissenters are not even trained in the relevant field).
For those interested, Realclimate.org is a site run by climate scientists aimed at disseminating climate science, not politics, to the general public. That is more than NOAA can do under the current administration.
Having seen the report in question on NBC News, I have to respectfully disagree with Umbra and the NOAA rep as I do not believe what the NOAA scientist said was scientifically accurate. NBC actually did a follow-up piece on this that contradicted their earlier story and did not rule out the role of global warming.
The problem: NOAA’s website doesn’t rule out a link and their leadership has been very reluctant to even acknowledge the debate over global warming and El Niño as well as hurricane strength.
“As a greenie/leftie I got angry.” Why are statements like this tolerated? Comments such as this one are upsetting, and I thank Umbra for setting “Warm and Worried” straight. Far, far too often, liberals that I interact with have nothing more sophisticated than knee-jerk reactions to current events and modern issues. Again and again, I hear Bush, Republicans, business, etc. are bad, end of story, while anything anti-Bush, Democratic, or “green” is praised and there is no actual consideration of the facts or background story. Debate is a necessity of our civil society, and those who vociferously jump to conclusions without being informed interfere with rational decision making. Ignorant, extremist rhetoric on the left is no more palatable than it is on the right.
So, rather than whining about imagined right-wing conspiracies in the media, educate yourself about the issues so you don’t waste your time on non-starters and are ready to speak up when your knowledgeable voice is really necessary. And leave the science to the scientists.
I don’t know how you wrote this article without touching my primary objection to agricultural subsidies, which is that they strongly favor animal slaughter and meat-eating. In addition to the harm done to animals, the subsidies give a competitive disadvantage to farmers in developing countries.
Based on my understanding of ecology and on a few books on the subject, I know that the costs associated with meat production are much higher than vegetable or grain production. Yet one can buy a hamburger for less than a bell pepper. I understand that this is mainly due to agricultural subsidies.
To briefly quote a recent U.N. report, “The livestock sector emerges as one of the top two or three most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems, at every scale from local to global.”
From my perspective, it seems that the primary goal of agricultural subsidies in the U.S.A. is to provide cheap meat to Americans. Ending such subsidies is by far my most important political objective.
I perceive an emerging conflict between, for lack of a better term, impulsive and informed environmentalism. Tree planting is one example. I’d swear I’ve been indoctrinated for almost my entire life — via the education system and mass media — that planting trees is always a good idea. Folks dreamed of covering the landscape with trees. Fire was an enemy. Reforest the barren land. Tree planting is almost synonymous with being a steward of the Earth. Cutting down a tree is considered evil.
Then I moved to southwest Wisconsin and learned about the pre-settlement landscape: savanna. And I learned about endangered grassland birds, about ancient trout streams overgrown by tangles of vegetation, about how the settlers suppressed natural fires and changed the ecology.
For several years, I’ve worked toward liberating my tiny bit of grassland from invasive trees. The first reaction of one of my friends was something like … “Oh my God! How can you cut down those boxelder trees and set fire to the grass! What about the poor animals?” I had to explain it was for the greater good. There are insects, birds, and mammals that prefer grassland over shaded dirt.
I’ve also volunteered to help The Nature Conservancy a few times and learned that their activities are not always welcomed by the community. Many people don’t understand that removing the red cedars from a hillside and burning the area is good for wildlife, a net gain for biodiversity. They think the trees are “normal” and that bare land — otherwise known as prairie — is bad.
This is a public relations problem that must be addressed.
One of the biggest upsets [of the 2006 election] was Jerry McNerney’s (D-Calif.) victory over Richard Pombo (R-Calif.), the only sitting head of a House committee to lose his job. The McNerney vote was largely fueled by backlash against Pombo’s career on the House Resources Committee, his war on endangered species, his chainsaw-hugging, and his love affair with oil and gas drilling on public lands.
If Luntz hasn’t digested the environmental reality of what happened in [Pombo’s] district in the last election, his advice to anyone about political strategy is suspect. I think he is just angling for a new job with the emerging environmental majority. He’s quite a political streetwalker.
Good luck with the job search, Frank. We have a copy of your CV and it’s not very green.
I am surprised at the characterization of the union of hunters and conservationists as “progress,” without any acknowledgement of the former’s motivation for seeking this end. For the sportsmen, it is, at heart, an endeavor rooted in bloodthirsty selfishness — namely, to protect animals long enough that they can enjoy the pleasure of killing them. There is nothing priceless about this sort of “progress,” and to declare so belittles the altruistic aims of the true conservationists — those who seek to protect the natural environment for its own sake, including the animals that are of its very essence.
Why is offering the customers the option of offsetting their carbon considered such a huge step? For the tiny percentage of Dell’s customers that will choose that option, it’s valid, but for the rest of the customers, it is still the rest of the planet that will be the cost of the carbon emitted, and Dell that will make the profit.
For Dell to claim to be an environmental leader, it needs to make a commitment to offset all, or at least a gradually increasing amount, of its emissions. In that case, it would also have an incentive to reduce those emissions significantly.
Hey there! I love your magazine. It’s a ton of fun. I was a little surprised, though, by the writing style of the [fourth] item on the Jan. 26 Grist List. It seemed crass — especially if those kids hear that they’re on the internet and want to check it out! Witty, punny, smart, informative, and entertaining — what I consider normal Grist fare — is good. That article wasn’t.
I haven’t been enjoying the podcasts nearly as much as the weekly emails I’ve been reading for years. The jokes and ‘tude just didn’t seem to come off nearly as well in audio as they do in writing.
That is, until the Schwarzenegger impression and the rest of that podcast. Superb! Keep up the great work!
Re: Even Stevens?
I often read your Muckraker column with interest, but I have some concerns. First, there are more than three environmentalists out there to quote. Carl Pope has not led the movement well. David Doniger has been great, but it has been interesting to see the Natural Resources Defense Council follow the almighty dollar and do a 180 on biofuels. They used to crush biofuels for many years. Nothing has really changed, except they woke up at the urging of their millionaire funders that want to make money there. Frank O’Donnell is a blowhard that sits around trying to get his name in the paper. He does little intensive watchdogging, and really has no hand in solutions to the environmental crisis we face.
On a separate note, Grist has been totally boondoggled by some folks. Your blasting of corn-based ethanol is simply misleading in its inaccuracies. Because you think you’ve got it figured out, you are doing exactly what you probably detest. In the climate world, it is well known that about 98 of 100 scientists support the notion, yet writers seeking “balance” go find one of the 2 percent and quote them, leaving the impression that there is no consensus on global warming. It’s a writer’s fear and folly that leads us here, and of course they go home thinking they are muckrakers.
Well, you’ve done the same thing with ethanol. Ninety-eight percent confirm the positive energy balance and the GHG benefits, and in your haste you overlook the fact that corn ethanol producers are the ones underwriting R&D for cellulosic ethanol (which everyone likes). Yet you all pan corn ethanol.
Grist is OK at times, but be careful to get your facts straight. People actually believe you.
No location provided
I’ve been reading your Weekly Grist for a while, and I always find it informative and humorous. I felt the need to let you guys know that your summary on the Super Bowl this week was hilarious. I think I might chuckle about it all day. Maybe I’m a dork, but that was funny. Keep up the good work.