Is NYT’s Revkin pushing unjustified ‘balance’ in the Senate climate debate coverage?

I like and respect Andy Revkin a great deal. He is one of the best reporters on climate and certainly the most prolific climate journalist now that he has his Dot Earth Blog. But I must take exception to his recent posting, “Climate Debate: Democracy In Action?

You would never know from his post that one side in the debate was desperately trying to save future generations from catastrophic warming and the other side was simply doing shameless political posturing. Here is how it opens:

David M. Herszenhorn has a piece today examining this week’s Senate action (or inaction, more accurately) as the debate over the Warner-Lieberman-Boxer bill aimed at curbing emissions of greenhouse gases stalled amid partisan parrying using age-old rules of order.

As I read the article, I was reminded of a conversation I had with Senator John McCain about climate and American politics in 2005, while we were taping an interview for the Discovery-Times documentary “Arctic Rush.” Mr. McCain, the presumptive Republican nominee for president, said flatly that democracies don’t do well with this kind of long-term, looming threat.

David’s story may hold some evidence that this is true.

You MUST be kidding, Andy. McCain’s comment is utterly absurd. It is McCain’s own Republican colleagues who don’t “do well with this kind of long-term, looming threat.”

Boxer-Lieberman-Warner are trying to deal with this threat. The majority of Republican Senators don’t acknowledge the serious nature the threat — and many continue to reject the scientific understanding that there is any threat at all.

Does Andy feel that so-called journalistic balance does not allow him to bluntly state the real lede, which is that conservatives have chosen to score political points at the expense of taking any action against the gravest threat to the security of Americans?

Let me go further. McCain’s comment is laughable. Where is the evidence that non-democracies “do well with this kind of long-term, looming threat”? I have one word for McCain and Revkin — China (see “The immorality of China’s coal policy is breathtaking (literally) — Part I.”
Inaction on climate has NOTHING to do with some flaw inherent in democracies — indeed, the governments of all the other major industrialized democracies in the world have taken action

This has everything to do with the fact that a large segment of the political power structure in this country (and elsewhere) benefits from the status quo in energy because the incumbent, polluting industries are making tens of billions of dollars a year that they can and do use to maintain their power.

Ironically, democracies should be better than non-democracies at this because they/we (theoretically) have an uncensored media that can tell the public the truth about the threat. But that would seem to be mostly a theoretical advantage in this country, as long as the media in this country is self-censored and leaves the public the impression that inaction on climate is just “politics as usual” partisan parrying in Washington, with both sides equally to blame. Then the public says, a pox on both your houses, and becomes as disempowered as the public in a non-democracy.

15 Responses to Is NYT’s Revkin pushing unjustified ‘balance’ in the Senate climate debate coverage?

  1. Andy Revkin says:

    If congressional (in)action on climate is all about Republican obstructionism, why was it that the Clinton effort to establish an energy tax, which had support from coal and oil, was killed by Democrats in Congress, not the Gingrich revolution a year or two later? Listen to the video interview I did with former President Clinton on this issue to get a briefing on events in the early 1990s.

    A lot of experts I talk to say that if the voters rise up and press their elected representatives to act meaningfully, they’ll probably do something, at least if history is a guide. But that leads back to the tough questions about climate — related to the worst impacts being somewhere else, or some*when” else.

    That’s what makes this issue more like Social Security insolvency than the environmental problems we grew up with way back in the 20th century. (You could tackle them on your own watch and get credit when the air or rivers got cleaner.)

    How’s Congress doing on Social Security?

  2. Thom says:

    Joe, I normally like what you write, but you’re off on this one. Andy is right that the long term problem of climate change will not be handled well by democracy that runs on two and four year election cycles.

    Whereas in China, they have a command and control type of government that can turn the ship quickly.

    Andy is dead on in his analysis, although I do agree with you that he gives too much play on occasion to the he said/she said type of journalism. Notice that he recently ran a blog post on Lomborg. And he is still not immune to quoting Pielke Jr.’s nonsense. Nuff said.

  3. Colin Beavan says:

    Actually, Joe, you’re right. I like a lot of what Andy writes, too, but sometimes I get the feeling that if he were writing a blog about the shape of the planet, he’d give equal time to the flat earth society.

    The problem is that, these days, journalists don’t consider a one-sided argument to be interesting enough, so they seek out the minority view, no matter how minority and how crazy.

    Personally, I would have the narrative “will we save the planet or won’t we?” would be enough to keep the readers coming back.

    All the best,
    Colin Beavan aka No Impact Man

  4. Robert says:

    I don’t know exactl what is in the Boxer-Lieberman-Warner bill but something tells me it won’t make the slightest difference to global emissions and CO2 concentrations even if passed in full.

  5. Dano says:


    Andy’s job was to get the conversation going, not to pass judgement (he’d likely get fired if he did that too often). Now, I know you have no reservations about passing judgement, but Andy likely does.

    Nonetheless, the points you want to make and highlight are there in the comments, deep down in the fever swamps.

    Until now, the denialist fringe hasn’t spammed the comments yet, so some good, useful ‘discussion points’ are coming out.

    Anyway, I’m becoming less concerned about your knee-jerk popping off, as it seems most expect that from you, so the effect gets lessened over time. Your message does too, but I guess that’s the calculus you made for yourself.



  6. Robert says:

    OK, now I’ve read it I am definitely convinced it won’t make the slightest bit of difference.

    Too weak. Too unambitious. Too many sources of CO2 emissions not affected. Not global. Too complicated and difficult to monitor. Any document with the word “offsets” should be binned immediately.

    The only way to control and reduce global CO2 emissions is to control and reduce the amount of coal. oil and gas we extract. Anything else is just messing around.

  7. Joe says:

    Andy —

    I think you need to do better than comparing the present climate situation to the early 1990s. I am happy to acknowledge that the Clinton administration did not do as much as it should have.

    But, 1) the science was nowhere near as overwhelming as it is now 2) the theory had not been repeatedly vindicated by as many observations, 3) the possibility of catastrophic outcome was nowhere near as obvious, 4) I don’t think anybody expectedthe recent explosion in carbon emissions, 5) every other industrialized country in the world had not committed to action. Failure to act now is Luddite immorality.

    That said, the Clinton political team clearly blew it by switching from a carbon tax, which people could understand, to a BTU tax, which they couldn’t. I’m told we could have had a carbon tax. Still, I have Little doubt that the Gingrich Congress would have worked very hard to repeal it.

    Your yourself know that we may be headed to the unmitigated catastrophe of 1000 ppm unless we act soon. The progressives and the moderates in Congress and around the country want to take action, and only conservatives in Congress are blocking that action.

    This issue is nothing like Social Security. We don’t need to tackle Social Security for decades. What does it matter if it goes into crisis? We could wait two decades to solve that problem with higher taxes and lower benefits. If we wait Even another decade on climate, it will be all but impossible to take action to avoid catastrophe.

    As long as you are pushing the story line that “Congress is to blame” rather than the part of Congress but doesn’t want to take action is to blame, the public will never be informed enough to rise up. But I must say, I don’t think we have the time to wait for voters to somehow bypass the message from the traditional media and figure out just how dire the situation is.

    We need the political leaders to lead.

  8. Joe says:

    Thom — How is it that Every other major ndustrialized democracy has signed on to take action — and managed to stay with their commitment while the Bush administration has been working for seven years to undermine their effort?

    Dano — Andy has a blog, so presumably he can offer his opinions. Otherwise, I’m not exactly certain what the blog is for?

  9. stone1343 says:

    I’m not a McCain supporter (not even American!), but I think McCain’s point is that:
    – voters look at many issues; a specific one (eg. environment) won’t be everyone’s top priority (in this case, many believe the “delayers” that’s it’s not even an issue)
    – anyway, all the candidates will say they’re pro-environment and this is a very complex issue. Individual, non-expert voters will have a hard time evaluating each candidate’s platform.
    – many won’t choose the short-term pain

  10. kenlevenson says:

    What’s infuriating about it to me is that Andy’s article is just another damn “horse race” article parading as serious coverage. We need more “horse race” like a hole in the ozone. It’s awful reporting too.

    I think that if he doesn’t have anything beyond “horse race” to report and not much energy to report out even that – I suggest the public would be better served if he didn’t print anything.

    Andy, you say “But that leads back to the tough questions about climate — related to the worst impacts being somewhere else, or some*when” else.”

    Yes it does – so why don’t you report that out and enlighten the public? (why aren’t a team of reporters working on it continually????)

    Is it not news that if we fail to act our children and grandchildren are f*cked? (and generations beyond) Seems to me to be a bigger story than WWII was….but what the hell do I know.

    It’s damn depressing….

  11. Dano says:

    Dano — Andy has a blog, so presumably he can offer his opinions. Otherwise, I’m not exactly certain what the blog is for?

    Sigh…under the NYT domain.

    Shall I resort to monosyllaby? His opinion is constrained.

    Nonetheless, the important thing is the comment board, where the denialist fringe hasn’t taken over and spammed yet. This is important. That, I think, is one of the reasons for the blog – the discussion. Once the denialists grow tired, then the value will show.



  12. Joe says:

    Dano —

    There is no need to be condescending.

    Many, many reporters from the major media have blogs in which they share their opinions and/or they have columns designated as opinion and/or appear on cable TV and share their opinions.

  13. Russ says:

    Dano wrote regarding Dot Earth:
    Nonetheless, the important thing is the comment board, where the denialist fringe hasn’t taken over and spammed yet. This is important. That, I think, is one of the reasons for the blog – the discussion. Once the denialists grow tired, then the value will show.

    Although I still read Dot Earth, I stopped reading the comments (most of the time) a long time ago precisely because, for my taste, there are so many denier cretins running rampant. I remember that one denizen was said to get paid $25 per obfuscationist post. If so, he must be rolling in it by now, since that guy would have like ten posts a day. If that’s not spam, I don’t know what is.

    I personally don’t understand why vandalistic comments are tolerated on serious environmental blogs, any more than Holocaust deniers would be allowed to crash the boards at survivor blogs. It’s the same thuggery.

  14. Dano says:

    I personally don’t understand why vandalistic comments are tolerated on serious environmental blogs, any more than Holocaust deniers would be allowed to crash the boards at survivor blogs. It’s the same thuggery.

    Aaaaa-men, bruddah.

    I suspect, though, that gnashing of teeth, wailing, and rending of garments would ensue over the “quashing of free speech” or “censorship!!! waaaah!!” or some such, with mobilization to put the Rachel Ray scarf thing to shame.



  15. Solar Engineer says:

    I have worked in the solar energy business for many years. I have designed and built energy efficient houses, and zero energy houses.

    I am vehemently opposed to the Cap and Trade tax bill. Give the Lieberman Warner bill any flowery title you want, bottom line it is a tax bill.

    What bothers me about this bill is this. There are many very concrete steps that can be taken to reduce energy consumption. The technology to do this is well understood, proven, and is “off the shelf”. What the government should do, if they are serious about reducing carbon emissions, is reduce energy consumption. I will give a few examples of things that can be done today.
    1) Solar hot water heaters on every building that uses hot water (ncluding homes). There are two ways to use energy from the sun. One is direct gain, that is the most efficient. And, is the way that a solar hot water heater works. Adding a solar hot water heater to every building in the country would cost roughly 50 billion $. And would reduce energy consumption by 12%. And would create tens of thousands of jobs. The reduction in carbon emissions from doing this can be precisely measured.
    The government would need to supply each building owner grant money and access to knowledgeable people both inside and outside the government to get this done. This could be done in one year.
    2) Replacing oil fired heating systems with geo thermal heat pumps. One of the ways to use energy from the sun is to store it in a thermal mass and get the heat back out of the mass when it is needed. The earth is a very good storage system. Go down about 9 feet and it is 72 degrees year round. This would cost about 10 billion $ and would reduce oil consumption by 14%. The reduction in carbon emissions can be very precisely measured.
    3) Make all buildings as energy efficient as possible. Most of the things that one does to an existing building to make it energy efficient are small steps that do not cost a lot. Weather stripping, insulated thresholds, storm windows, caulking, well there is a long list of very practical things that can be done. The government should fund an energy audit for every building in the country and then give a grant to make the building as energy efficient as possible. This would cost roughtly 500 billion $. And would cut energy consumption by 40%. Again, the technologies used in this are well known, well understood, proven and “off the shelf”.
    4) Wind farms. Wind power can only ever be a supplement to electricity generated from coal, oil, natural gas or other means. Wind power is intermittent and an electrical generating plant has to produce a base level of power 24/7. One way to mitigate the intermittent nature of wind power is to build a grid of wind farms across a very large area so that the wind is blowing somewhere most of the time. Then connect this grid using super conductive power lines so that there is no loss of energy from transmission. Only the government can raise the kind of money it would take to do this. How much this would save is not well understood. I am guessing 20 %.
    5) Solar thermal power generation. There are two ways to turn the sun’s rays into electricity. One is photovoltaic or PV, which is a conversion of sunlight into electricity. The other is through direct gain. Using the heat to drive a power source. Direct gain is several orders of magnitude more efficient. Solar thermal power generation is a well known, well understood, proven technology and is “off the shelf”. It only makes economic sense in the southwest, southern California, and the southernmost parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida. Like wind, solar is a supplement to the electrical gnerating plant because solar power is intermittent. Only the federal government can fund projects of this size. I’m guessing that building a number of solar thermal power generating plants would cut power usage from fossil fuel power plants by 15%.
    6) Sugar cane ethanol. Corn based ethanol is an economic and environmental disaster of enormous magnitude. Sugar cane based ethanol, however, does not harm the environment, does not divert food to fuel, and is very economical. Current government policy, however, makes sugar cane based ethanol pretty much illegal. Sugar cane can be grown economically in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Puerto Rico, US VIrgin Islands, Hawaii, and the southern most parts of Mississippi and Alabama. As well as pretty much anywhere in the Caribbean, Central America and South America. Imported oil could be replaced completely by sugar cane based ethanol. This would shift 700 BILLION $ from going to OPEC countries to going to economically deprived areas of North and South America.
    7) Solar lighting. Solar lighting is a well understood, well known, proven technology that is “off the shelf”. The federal government could mandate that all buildings use solar lighting. And provide grant money to install it. This would cost roughly $80 billion. Human beings are much happier when using natural sunlight. When the sun goes down the fiber optic solar lighting tubes are flooded with light from special light bulbs which mimic natural sunlight. These bulbs are extremely energy efficient, don’t burn out, last a very long time, and you only need one located at the input point for the solar lighting system. The light then travels down the fiber optic tubes to the light diffusers. Solar lighting does not create heat inside the building so air conditioning costs are lessened. This would cut energy usage roughly 7%.
    8) Turbo diesel engine. The turbo diesel engine has been in use in Europe for many years. This engine gets over 50 miles per gallon. It is illegal in the united states. In Europe, 2/3 of cars sold have this engine. If this engine was allowed to be sold in the united states, the CAFE standard could be immediately raised to over 40 miles per gallon and car companies could easily meet it.
    9) Lubrication oil for engines. The best source of a lubricant oiil for engines is the lowly jojoba bean, which grows best in semi arid deserts. Hmm, the United States just happens to have millions of square acres of just such land, which is pretty much not used for anything else. Establishing an organic lubrication oil industry would cut oil imports by 4%.
    This is a well understood, well known, proven technology and is “off the shelf”.