Wired magazine jumps the shark once too often and is eaten alive (along with Chris Mooney and geo-engineering)

sharks_with_laser_beams-w72pgv-d.jpgWired magazine used to be the place to go for the latest in technology. But now it covers any sexy techy idea, no matter how impractical.

Given that we all have limited time, Wired should be off every technophile’s must-read list and replaced by Technology Review, which has revamped its stodgy old self and become what once Wired aspired to be.

For me, this started with the absurd cover story by Peter Schwartz 5 years ago, “How Hydrogen Can Save America,” which claimed “What we need is a massive, Apollo-scale effort [$100 billion over ten years] to unlock the potential of hydrogen, a virtually unlimited source of power.” Uhh, no. Hydrogen is an energy carrier, not a source — except for the sun, of course, and if we really want to harness its power we should be placing big bets on solar energy. Try instead my Technology Review piece “The Last Car You Would Ever Buy — Literally.”

Recently Wired published their most misinformed piece, “Inconvenient Truths: Get Ready to Rethink What It Means to Be Green.” RealClimate beat me to the punch debunking Wired‘s bizarre analyses in favor of using air-conditioning and against protecting old-growth forests or buying a Prius (see “Wired Magazine’s Incoherent Truths“). They didn’t debunk Wired‘s claim, “Face It. Nukes Are the Most Climate-Friendly Industrial-Scale Form of Energy,” perhaps because it is so obviously absurd (see The Self-Limiting Future of Nuclear Power).

Now Wired has fallen into the tank containing sharks with lasers by publishing Chris Mooney’s bizarre paeon to geo-engineering and the late Edward Teller and his prot©g© Lowell Wood — famed uber-hawkish promoters of all things dubious.

The piece, “Can a Million Tons of Sulfur Dioxide Combat Climate Change?” is true shark-bait. First off, geo-engineering is at best a very dubious, post-2040 strategy of very last resort. That goes double for the notion of injecting sulfur dioxide into the atmosphere, which might itself cause “potentially catastrophic drought” and would not stop catastrophic ocean acidification (see “Geo-Engineering is NOT the Answer“). As John Holdren, President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science: “The ‘geo-engineering’ approaches considered so far appear to be afflicted with some combination of high costs, low leverage, and a high likelihood of serious side effects.

Second, I personally can’t see touting any strategy supported by the likes of Wood and Teller — the leading proponents of wasting tens of billions of dollars on Star Wars space-based weapons that the physics community has long understood are wildly impractical. Thanks in large part to Wood and Teller, the United States even today is spending some $9 billion a year on Strategic Defense, even though the systems probably would not work in a real wartime situation, and they are utterly useless against the most likely nuclear threat we face — a bomb smuggled into this country. Yet we spend about one-tenth that on research, development, and deployment of the energy-efficient and renewable technologies that could cost-effective way mitigate.

Wood and Teller do not deserve positive treatment in Wired or anywhere else. I can’t understand why Mooney just parroted their disinformation:

Unlike many political conservatives in the late ’90s, Wood and Teller took climate change seriously.

[How do we know? Because they said so? Or because they promoted geo-engineering? I assert they never took climate change seriously.]

But they doubted people would ever give up enough of their costly energy-consumption habits to prevent climate-associated risks (a cynical point of view that seems to have been borne out a decade later).

[‘Cynical’ is not the word I would use to refer to the standard conservative tripe that the only way to solve global warming is for people to give up “their costly energy-consumption habits.” Obviously the deniers and delayers want people to believe that is the answer, but it is a very odd statement from genuine technologists at our national energy laboratories, who at the very least should understand the reality of clean energy technology. In any case, their view has not been “borne out” yet. What has mostly been borne out in the last decade, I would say, is that it is easier to push disinformation than information.]

Wood and Teller were just as dismissive of global greenhouse gas treaties like Kyoto as they had been of arms-control agreements during the ’80s.

[Note to Mooney — Those arms control agreements of the 1980s actually worked in moving us toward deep cuts in weapons that people had said would never happen. Why? Because we actively participated in them. Kyoto never had a chance as long as we didn’t. In short, Wood (along with Teller) was wrong in the 1980s, which should not give much confidence in his judgment today. In the 1980s, Ronald Reagan was president and pursuing arms control. The fact that Wood and Teller opposed even what Reagan was doing should tell you just how extreme their views are.]

They thought the only solution lay with technology: direct, aggressive intervention, either in the upper atmosphere or low Earth orbit, essentially to turn down the volume knob on solar radiation.

[Now this is (unintentionally) funny. Wood and Teller opposed mitigation (arms control), which worked, and endorsed space-based weapons, which didn’t and don’t. I’m shocked, shocked I tell you that they diss mitigation again and embrace another space-based strategy. I am rather shocked Mooney, Wired or anyone else would care what these guys think about global warming solutions.]

The more that I read these popular treatments of geo-engineering, the more I realize that legitimate geo-engineering proponents — scientists like Ken Caldeira who are genuinely worried about the dire consequences of global warming (as to oppose to the delayers, who just promote geo-engineering as an excuse to do no emissions reduction now) — miss perhaps the most fatal flaw in all geo-engineering strategies — a flaw I discussed in my book and that will be the subject of a later post.

22 Responses to Wired magazine jumps the shark once too often and is eaten alive (along with Chris Mooney and geo-engineering)

  1. Mike G. says:

    thanks for speaking to the nukes part of WIRED’s article and for the rebuttal link, i was sorry RealClimate left that out. also: totally awesome graphic!

  2. beefeater says:

    Shouldn’t Wireds CEO be taken to the World Court and tried for “Crimes Against Humanity” for daring to print articles that you disagree with! The debate is settled, and the deniers need to be brought to justice.

  3. thingsbreak says:

    I noticed Mooney’s Intersection post mentioning an article on geo-engineering after I had just written on right wing anti-regulation AEI floating an op-ed in the LA Times in support of geo-eng.

    As I commented on the Intersection, surely we can do better than the suggestion being touted by a well-known Exxon front group.

    Also interesting to see the Strategic Defense connection again.

  4. Joe says:

    Beefeater — Much as the media will get their special place in Hell (and High Water) for their role in climate obfuscation, the moral crimes are really being committed by the professional disinformers and the fossil-fuel funded disinformers.

    You, Beefeater, will almost certainly live long enough to realize just how wrong you are. If you have children, you can safely live in the knowledge that you helped contribute to making their world a worse place. No, there won’t be any trials — other than the trials and tribulations that the next 50 generations of humanity will be put through. Will that bother the consciences of the professional deniers and their funders? They would have to have consciences in the first place.

    Mike — thanks. The Internet has a lot of terrific graphics if one looks hard enough. I will probably be using that one again.

  5. Jay Alt says:

    Here is something I found interesting, from Eli a few months back. Myanna Lahsen’s paper examines how weapons physicists, who were losing their nearly exclusive status as policy advisors, were at the core of opposition to earth science work.

  6. Paul K says:

    How can you not admit the religious fervor of your anti democratic alarmist rhetoric when you accuse people of moral crimes and condemn them to Hell? Follow me or die, but until then shut up is what you are saying.

  7. Joe says:

    Paul — The deniers are the ones who are condemning us all to Hell and High Water. [Uhh, note to Paul, mellow out, dude! You apparently missed the point of my apparently not-obvious-enough word choice.]

    The anti-democratic voices here are the deniers who are paid by the special interest to spread disinformation. They Are committing moral crimes. Frankly, that’s the mildest thing I can think of accusing them at this point, since they haven’t definitively won yet.

    Assuming they succeed in blocking action, then they will indeed have blood on their hands. The science is remarkably unequivocal on this point.

    As for your last sentence, I never said anything of the sort. Please identify where I did.

  8. Paul K says:

    So like the Inquisition, you condemn the evil forces of differing scientific and policy views. You rail against the dastardly financed denial machine. It spends a pittance compared to what goes into the alarmist political promotion. I’m sure you are familiar with George Sauros, the fabulously wealthy money trader who is spending many millions of dollars to influence American politics.

  9. Earl Killian says:

    Paul K, why complain only about Soros and not the big-money backers of your political persuasion? Did you complain when Richard Mellon Scaife gave 1 million to the Nixon-Agnew campaign, or when he funded the 1990s coup attempt against Clinton? In 1999 the WaPo put Scaife’s political spending at 620 million in 1999 dollars, and that was nine years ago.

    You know, when Scaife and his ilk were merely talking about the Communist threat, Soros was using his money to fund anti-communist groups in eastern Europe. Were they complaining about his politics then? It was only after the fall of Communism that he turned his attention to the another very worrisome ism: Republicanism.

  10. hapa says:

    yeah, really. those people screaming STOP THE TRAIN are so much noisier than the innocent dispatcher whose only thought is delivering his cargo to the bottom of the cliff in record time.

  11. David B. Benson says:

    Paul K — The science is essentially settled. Those who deny that are the modern equivalent of ignorant flat-earthers.

    Deal with it.

  12. beefeater says:

    “The science is essentially settled”

    Isn’t that what the Catholic Church told Galileo. Now it’s the Church of the Goracle that needs to stifle decent.

  13. tidal says:

    Now, now. That’s just uncalled for. You’re not supposed to play the devastating Galileo card until at least 25 comments.

  14. John Hollenberg says:


    Where are you when we need you???

  15. Paul K says:

    Earl Killian,
    I strongly opposed Nixon and agree with hardly any of his policies. In ’72 I went door to door for McGovern. As I recall the million dollars came from Insurance Magnate W. Clement Stone. Scaife could have given that too. The Nixon scandals gave us public financing of presidential elections. You have previously voiced support for public campaign financing. John McCain has been a champion of campaign finance reform. The principle fund raiser for your candidate’s pre-senate political career is on his way to jail. Your candidate is the first presidential candidate to refuse to participate in the system you favor. His assertion that the system is broken is absurd since the only breakage in it is him.

    I don’t have a problem with Mr. Sauros. In politics, money is the same as speech. I mentioned him to show that people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. The Democrats like to complain about Republican 527’s, but Democratic 527’s outspend Republicans – so far this year it’s 2 to 1. On the very day that Obama said that Republican 527’s were one of the reasons he had to turn his back on reform, launched a $500,000 ad attack. It’s almost laughable.

  16. Earl Killian says:

    Paul K, I support real public financing of elections. The kind they have in Arizona and Maine. The public financing option at the Federal level is worthless.

  17. Joe says:

    The science isn’t settled. We don’t know if unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions will prove imaginably catastrophic or unimaginably catastrophic.

    Seriously, the only thing that is unsettled about the science is the input of how much greenhouse gas emissions humans will emit. We are on track to 1000 ppm. That is unimaginably catastrophic.

  18. David B. Benson says:

    Well, the more we learn about PETM

    the more I can imagine the impending catastrophe. :-(

  19. Earl Killian says:

    The attempt to compare 17th century church and the 21st century Joe Romm is really quite amusing. Joe is trying to keep the discussion based upon science. This forum is not the place to create science; peer-reviewed journals are the place to do that. This forum exists among other things to report science. Deniers try to take their arguments to non-science forums like this one because they won’t fool scientists and so won’t get printed in peer-reviewed journals. They hope instead to win in the court of public opinion, which can be swayed by volume. For Joe to try to parry every misinformation post would simply turn this into a contest of how many deniers can gang up to try to take over this blog and prevent him from accomplishing its purpose, which is to communicate news and information about what is happening with climate, science, solutions, politics, humor, etc.

  20. CMann says:

    The Nixon scandals gave us public financing of presidential elections.
    And look how we’ve shown our gratitude to that poor man! Paul K just keeps going downhill.

  21. Paul K says:

    We owe no gratitude to Nixon. He was the worst president of the 20th century.

  22. Earl Killian says:

    Paul K, the title of worst President, no century qualification required, belongs to George Bush.