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Shellenberger and Nordhaus smear Gore by making stuff up

By Joe Romm on November 17, 2008 at 1:10 pm

"Shellenberger and Nordhaus smear Gore by making stuff up"


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Yes, I understand that Shellenberger and Nordhaus are desperate for any media attention they can get, which is why they go after Democrats and not Republicans, see “S&N go after Obama by recycling GOP talking points.”

And everybody understands S&N don’t get global warming at all ever since Nordhaus made his amazing admission on this blog, “We have argued for five years now that efforts to build the clean energy economy needed to be centrally defined around energy independence not global warming.”

So of course it really isn’t a surprise that they have attacked Al Gore for the umpteenth time (see below). It is a bit of a surprise that they write “cap and trade regulations, which would cap greenhouse gas emissions and allow companies to trade reductions, cannot work in the U.S.” It’s not a surprise they believe that, only that they have admitted it in print (see “What exactly is the difference between Lomborg and Shellenberger & Nordhaus?“)

Yes, I know that everyone thinks too much ink is wasted on these publicity hounds. Me, too. That’s why I respond to them only when some mainstream outlet publishes their nonsense, in this case the once respectable New Republic, which decided to print S&N’s purely fictional reimagining, “A New Inconvenient Truth: Al Gore just updated his prescription for fighting climate change. Now other environmentalists have to follow his lead.”

Huh? Updated his prescription? Did you miss something? No. S&N made up something. Gore, you may recall, recently wrote an excellent op-ed laying out his specific vision for an “emergency rescue of human civilization from the imminent and rapidly growing threat posed by the climate crisis” (see Gore lays out his energy and climate plan, disses “clean coal”).

Gore repeated his long-standing argument for aggressive investment in clean technology. And he repeated his long-standing plea for a carbon price and cap & trade system:

Fifth, the United States should lead the way by putting a price on carbon here at home, and by leading the world’s efforts to replace the Kyoto treaty next year in Copenhagen with a more effective treaty that caps global carbon dioxide emissions and encourages nations to invest together in efficient ways to reduce global warming pollution quickly, including by sharply reducing deforestation.

Dog bites man, really. But not to S&N, who spin Gore’s gold into straw:

In a New York Times op-ed published on the first Sunday after Barack Obama’s presidential election, Nobel prize winner Al Gore shifted from his longstanding focus on regulating carbon pollution to advocating direct government investments in clean energy as the best way to deal with climate change. Gore is the country’s most prominent spokesperson on climate change and a shift in his thinking in reaction to new economic and political circumstances is highly significant.

Of Gore’s five recommendations to President-elect Obama, the first four are for investment–in solar thermal plants, energy efficiency, a new electrical grid, and in electric cars–and only the final is for regulation, establishing a price for carbon. But even on this last point, Gore was far from aggressive, suggesting merely that the United Nations meeting to replace to Kyoto treaty in Copenhagen next year should result in countries agreeing to “invest together in efficient ways.”

Has your head exploded yet? Personally, I only read their stuff wearing a tight baseball cap.

I really don’t know how to describe what S&N is doing here except “making stuff up.” Unlike S&N, I reprint what Gore actually wrote so there could be no confusion. Gore clearly repeated his urgent call for putting a price on carbon here and cap emissions globally. How is this “far from aggressive”?

In an effort not to call S&N names, let me just put this in the form of a question: Can anyone explain to me how a sane person could translate what Gore actually wrote,

… the United States should lead the way by putting a price on carbon here at home, and by leading the world’s efforts to replace the Kyoto treaty next year in Copenhagen with a more effective treaty that caps global carbon dioxide emissions


… suggesting merely that the United Nations meeting to replace to Kyoto treaty in Copenhagen next year should result in countries agreeing to “invest together in efficient ways.”

And just to be clear here, when Gore writes

… with a more effective treaty that caps global carbon dioxide emissions and encourages nations to invest together in efficient ways to reduce global warming pollution quickly, including by sharply reducing deforestation.

he is clearly saying that the treaty both caps emissions and encourages investment.

Note to Shellenberger and Nordhaus: You do understand that everybody can read what Gore actually wrote, don’t you? He wants a carbon price in this country and a global carbon cap. Do you deny that? It reminds me of that old Marx Brothers line, who are you going to believe — me or your own lying eyes?

S&N have almost nothing whatsoever to say in this piece other than repeating over and over again this insane nonsense I suspect some would label insane:

This is a remarkable change from just a few months ago. In July, when he first called for 100 percent of America’s electricity to be from clean sources in ten years, Gore said, “Of course, we could and should speed up this transition by insisting that the price of carbon-based energy include the costs of the environmental damage it causes. I have long supported a sharp reduction in payroll taxes with the difference made up in CO2 taxes. We should tax what we burn, not what we earn. This is the single most important policy change we can make. ”

In late 2007, when Gore accepted the Nobel Prize, he said, “Most important of all we must put a price on carbon …. this is by far the most effective and simplest way to affect solutions to this crisis.”

… With his op-ed, Gore has reversed the longstanding green lobby prioritization of regulation first and investment second. This reversal of priorities is crucial because cap and trade regulations, which would cap greenhouse gas emissions and allow companies to trade reductions, cannot work in the U.S.–and are not working in Europe….

Gore shifted because he knows that cap-and-trade, and most any new regulation, would raise energy prices–a political nonstarter during a recession. Taxing one part of the economy to invest in another, as cap-and-trade would effectively do, is not stimulus.

Well, I’m so glad S&N have come right out and admit that they oppose cap and trade.

So S&N are claiming that because Gore puts regulations fifth on the list that he actually believes they are less important than — and should come later than — investment. Does anybody on the planet believe Gore has shifted and/or reversed his priorities in this “remarkable” way? Besides S&N, that is:

We have long argued that it has been both a policy and political mistake for greens to place a higher emphasis on carbon prices and regulation rather than public investment in technology. The reason for this is simple: The order of investment and regulations matter. Investments aimed at making the technological innovations to reduce the price of clean energy alternatives should come first, as they are crucial to making future carbon regulations work. Moreover, these investments should not depend on being funded by the auctioning of pollution allowances. Gore’s shift shows what it looks like when greens go from rhetorical support for public investment as ancillary to regulating carbon to making it their central focus. Other environmental activists would be well-served by following his lead.

Can anyone come up with another word for this than “insane”? Guys, we can all read what Gore actually wrote.

Gore could not be clearer that he wants a carbon price in this country now and a global cap next year.

As a historical aside, S&N claim that Gore has never been a believer in investment replacing regulation. In fact, he was one of the driving forces behind the Clinton administration’s Partnership for a New Generation of Vehicles (PNGV), which I discussed Salon article, “Is Detroit worth saving?” To repeat the key point:

When I was at the Department of Energy in the 1990s, we partnered with G.M., Ford and Chrysler to speed the technological development of hybrid gasoline-electric cars, given that increased fuel efficiency and advanced hybrids vehicles were (and remain) clearly the best hope for cutting vehicle greenhouse gas emissions and ending our oil addiction. This partnership was an informal deal between the Clinton administration and the car companies. We did not pursue fuel economy standards and the car companies promised to develop a triple-efficiency car (80 miles per gallon) by 2004.

In one of the major blunders in automotive history, G.M. and Ford and Chyrsler walked away from hybrids as soon as they could when the Bush administration came in — and after taxpayers had spent over $1 billion on the program. Ironically, the main result of our government-industry partnership (which had excluded foreign automakers) was to motivate the Japanese car companies to develop and introduce their own hybrids.

G.M., in particular, which had had a technological lead in electric drive trains, allowed its No. 1 competitor, Toyota, to achieve a stunning seven-year head start in what is certain to be this century’s primary drive train, that of the hybrid gas-electric Prius.

I suspect that one reason Gore shifted toward a strategy that insists on government regulation is that unlike S&N, he learned the lesson from PNGV and other government clean-tech programs: All the investment spending in the world doesn’t get you significant or rapid commercialization and maret adoption without smart regulatory policies.

The other reason I’m sure Gore shifted is that, unlike S&N, he understands the dire nature of global warming, which means we have run out of time and can’t sit around waiting for and hoping for and praying for the technology breakthroughs that S&N’s Breakthrough Institute insists will not only come but which will then rapidly deploy themselves [see "Is 450 ppm (or less) politically possible? Part 3: The breakthrough technology illusion"].

Finally, no S&N piece on Gore would be complete without their attacking his core Nobel-Prize-winning message on global warming:

While he hasn’t completely let go of his apocalyptic rhetoric, which polarizes rather than unifies voters, Gore should be applauded for embracing an investment-first agenda. Some green leaders will no doubt privately accuse him of inconsistency, to which Gore could quote John Maynard Keynes, who replied to a similar charge by saying, “When the facts change I change my mind. What do you do, sir?”

Actually, what I think Bizarro Keynes said in S&N’s Bizarro World, is “When the facts don’t change, I change what the facts say.”

S&N don’t think the public should be told the truth about what inaction on global warming means. But they do think the public should be told lies about Gore believes. In a New Republic article from last year, S&N repeated their core argument that environmentalists like Gore only preach doom and gloom and sacrifice, and that solving global warming …

… will require a more optimistic narrative from the environmental community. Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, like Silent Spring, was considered powerful because it marshaled the facts into an effective (read: apocalyptic) story…..

In promoting the inconvenient truth that humans must limit their consumption and sacrifice their way of life to prevent the world from ending, environmentalists are not only promoting a solution that won’t work, they’ve discouraged Americans from seeing the big solutions at all. For Americans to be future-oriented, generous, and expansive in their thinking, they must feel secure, wealthy, and strong.

Gore has never promoted such an inconvenient truth and indeed I don’t know any major environmentalist or environmental group who has promoted such a message. Who has promoted this message? Frank Luntz and Rush Limbaugh and President Bush and other conservatives.

The Deniers and Delayers want people to believe that environmentalists are backing climate change to achieve a hidden agenda of government limits on their consumption, as I discuss here: “Krauthammer, Part 2: The real reason conservatives don’t believe in climate science.”

They can’t win on the merits of the science, but they can scare people into inaction. S&N play right into their hands, reinforcing tired old stereotypes:

Nor should we want to dramatically curtail energy consumption. Increasing energy use is the primary cause of global warming, but it is also a primary cause of rising prosperity, longer life spans, better medical treatment, and greater personal and political freedom. Environmentalists can rail against consumption and counsel sacrifice all they want but neither poor countries like China nor rich countries like the United States are going to dramatically reduce their emissions if doing so slows economic growth.

Apparently S&N have never heard of energy efficiency (which decouples economic growth from energy consumption), never been told what California has accomplished or what energy efficiency can really do (see “Energy efficiency is THE core climate solution, Part 1: The biggest low-carbon resource by far“). They have never met any of the environmentalists I talk to every day.

But then again, it wouldn’t matter if they had. They don’t make arguments based on what they have heard. They make up what they have heard to support their arguments.

This article should forever discredit them in the energy and climate arena.

Robert Hirsch: Peak-a-Boo, I don’t see you?

Global Boiling: In California, It’s ‘Fire Season All Year Round’

15 Responses to Shellenberger and Nordhaus smear Gore by making stuff up

  1. Joe Galliani says:

    Al Gore is not JD Salinger, a recluse holed up in private somewhere, unwilling to publish his writings, silent as to his thoughts and ideas about today’s world. Al Gore says what he means and means what he says. No honest person was confused by where Al stands today.

    So Gore does not need two consistently discredited propagandists who have a proven record of distorting facts offering a pixelated (see the movie “Harvey”) rant about what they wish he had said.

    Here in Southern California, S&N come across as a more clueless version of Heckle and Jeckle, loudly squawking against cutting back brush and having an evacuation plan as the wind-swept wildfires bear down upon us. Their thinking seems clouded by the dense smoke, dust and particulate matter that have blinded them and congested their systems. Most of what they have to say seems more like the last desperate hacks and coughs of someone choking to death on their self-immolation.

  2. ken levenson says:

    And clearly the letter “A” is much more important than the letter “E”!
    After all, “E” is fifth!
    (it’s really a whole new way of seeing the world….lobotomized.)

  3. Brian M says:

    More importantly, this clearly allows us to determine that S is a lot more important than N, otherwise why would N be (insert dramatic music here) second?

    Legends in their own minds.

  4. Wes Rolley says:

    Shellenberger and Norghaus have picked up a grain of truth, that the public responds better to positive messages than negative ones, and used that to fill their silo.

    I would rather have gotten the message from Julia Butterfly Hill, who has been quoted recently as having said that “Many of us have gotten so good at defining what we are against that what we are against has started to define us.” There are technological solutions that will help solve conjoined problems of global warming and energy. However, neither of them have figured what they are yet. It isn’t nuclear. It isn’t ethanol from corn. It isn’t vaporware like clean coal. It might just start with a smart grid.

  5. Joe says:

    Brian M:

    Wicked good point. Indeed, you would naturally expect the names to alphabetical. The fact that they aren’t means ‘N’ is definitely second fiddle here.

  6. john says:

    Oh boy .. the court Jesters are back.

    Let’s see, S&N (or is it N&S, now?) you say it’s important to get the order right so that we can bring down the price of renewable energy, that about it?

    Well, seems to me there’s 2 ways to do this:
    1) Your way — spend several hundreds of billions of dollars on R&D on a hoped for — but unlikely — breakthrough that would lower the cost of renewable energy several decades down the road, spewing out GHG all the while.
    2) immediately go to work making our economy use less energy, creating jobs, preventing emissions, and actually making a profit (nearly everyone who’s looked at the issue from McKinsey to DOE Labs has found we could cut energy use at little or no cost by as much as 50%).

    So let’s see, number 2 would effectively cut the cost of renewables by 50% (because we’d only need half as much), start immediately, save us money and create jobs, while number 1 — your idea — is well … just plain stupid. Whoops. That slipped out. Let me rephrase that: less than optimal. Yes, that’s it.

    Now, to go on, you also seem to believe that the public will absolutely go berserk if we implement a cap and trade.

    Well, the RGGI states have implemented a cap and trade — and they even held their first auction. Raised a lot of money for efficiency, but not a peep of protest.

    By the way, the EUs cap and trade isn’t failing, the economy is — if the economy tanks and there’s less economic activity, there’s less GHG emitted and the caps are easily reached. This isn’t a failure — it’s an elegant part of the design of a cap and trade — when we can’t afford to buy carbon credits due to bad economic times, we don’t have to.

    Guys, I know you love publicity — but this act isn’t working out very well for you. In fact, your pretty much a laughing stock.

    Might I suggest a new gig — say, a new patent medicine or a weight loss book?

  7. hapa says:

    they may have been in a hurry when they were reading. after all, they turned this:

    What follows is a five-part plan to repower America

    into this:

    Gore’s five recommendations

    i realize that “plans” are a dime a dozen in DC but i got the feeling from reading the op-ed that al was a little more serious than usual about the interrelation of the components…?

    i probably need new glasses.

  8. Peter Wood says:

    The idea that technology policy without any carbon pricing is sufficient to address global warming is debunked quite well in:

    Pezzey, Jotzo and Quiggin Fiddling while carbon burns: why climate policy needs pervasive emission pricing as well as technology promotion Australian Journal of Agricultural and Resource Economics, 2008

  9. crf says:

    Carbon pricing is hugely important. Every limited good (or ill) that doesn’t have a price will get abused. It is right now completely free to add however much carbon dioxide one wants into the atmosphere. Most technology to reduce carbon dioxide, without a market to reduce carbon dioxide (either through cap and trade, carbon taxes, or direct regulations), will not be sufficiently deployed to mitigate the worst effects of the problem. Huge amounts of energy are simply wasted right now because there is no sufficient cost attached to the waste it generates. Furthermore, many industrial processes do not pay an open market rate for energy, but every serious plan would provide some equality in carbon emission costs for those industries.

    Talk of a deepening recession from a price on carbon needs to be emperically validated, because other believable economic theories do not suggest it. In the real world, every seriously proposed or implemented carbon tax or cap solution starts with a small tax, increasing gradually. Proposed small taxes on carbon energy would be much less than recent upward variations in energy pricing. It is entirely possible that a small tax would provide an impetus for finding economy-wide efficiencies which would actually pay for themselves (Whoooa, in Europe, people drive more efficient cars. I wonder why?). Without a little more negative incentive for wastefulness, people may still not bother to get off their butts even if it would otherwise benefit them.

  10. vakibs says:


    What we are talking about is not a price. It is a fine for dumping hazardous waste into the atmosphere.

    It is not a question of carbon being a limited good. It is a question of carbon being an environmental poison.

    Cap & Trade is a step in the right direction. But it will not work. It is full of legal loopholes. We need a simple and efficient carbon tax (carbon fine). This will be levied directly at the 200 or so places where carbon is drilled/mined.

    And finally, we should be sincerely and independently working towards a global moratorium on coal plants. This is the most important thing to do to prevent climate tipping points.

  11. Cyril R. says:

    “Of course, we could and should speed up this transition by insisting that the price of carbon-based energy include the costs of the environmental damage it causes. I have long supported a sharp reduction in payroll taxes with the difference made up in CO2 taxes. We should tax what we burn, not what we earn. This is the single most important policy change we can make. ”

    Absolutely. IMHO this is the best policy proposition Al Gore has made so far. The carbon tax revenues recycling back into the economy via reduction in income tax will make the cost to the overall economy relatively tiny. What we get back for that relatively tiny cost to the economy is:

    - a guaranteed stable and favorable investment climate for low carbon, domestically produced energy, energy efficiency and conservation. We won’t get that with cap and trade, because there is no long term guaranteed price minimum. In fact, cap and trade risks creating bubbles and busts, damaging the very industries that we want to stimulate.

    - local and regional improvements in air, water and soil quality and ecosystem health.

    - greater overall equity as well as efficiency in the economy

  12. Cyril R. says:

    And of course

    - less money flowing to dubious countries (less oil and natgas) flowing instead into the local economy, creating favorable multiplier effects.

    - immediate increase in competitiveness of low carbon energy (since the bar is raised a bit), allowing low carbon technologies to penetrate swifter, thus also moving faster along the learning curve to bring down costs faster and improve the technology.

    - conserving the buying power of working America – allowing them to buy the more efficient products and electric vehicles and such that will be even more interesting to buy with the carbon tax making inefficiency expensive.

  13. Cyril R. says:

    In addition, a small percentage of the carbon tax revenue can be used for research, development and deployment of promising new technologies.

  14. paulm says:

    Lest hope the Chinese don’t steal his plan.

  15. Ludovic says:

    First they attacked the EJ folks, and no one cared. Then they attacked the enviros, and no one cared. Now they attack Gore…

    They are the Liebermans of the enviro movement. Are they still funded by ‘environmental’ foundations?