Climate

NYT’s Revkin seems shocked, shocked by media’s own failure to explain climate threat

Who determines the set of ideas the public is exposed to — and how they are framed? The national media.

The media’s choices are especially important in a decade when the Executive Branch — the principal force for setting the national agenda — was run by two oil men who actively devoted major resources to denying the reality of climate science, ignoring the impacts, and muzzling U.S. climate scientists.

Yet the national media remains exceedingly lame on the climate issue, as a searing critique by a leading U.S. journalist details (see “How the press bungles its coverage of climate economics“). The media downplay the threat of global warming (and hence the cost of inaction). And they still hedge on attributing climate impacts to human action.

This criticism extends to our premier reporters, such as the NY Times‘ Andy Revkin. Indeed, I (and dozens of other people) have an email from last week that Andy sent to Mark Morano (denier extraordinaire staffer for Senate denier extraordinaire James Inhofe). Andy asserts:

I’ve been the most prominent communicator out there saying the most established aspects of the issue of human-driven climate change lie between the poles of catastrophe and hoax.

Following that shockingly un-scientific statement, he includes the link to his 2007 piece, “A New Middle Stance Emerges in Debate over Climate,” that touts the views of Roger A. Pielke Jr., of all people! The “middle stance” is apparently just the old denier do-nothing stance with a smile, a token nod to science, and a $5 a ton CO2 tax [which is why I call them denier-eq’s] (see “Finally, Roger Pielke admits he supports policies that will take us to 5-7°C warming or more“).

Now if the top NYT reporter is pushing the mushy middle — if he writes things like “Even with the increasing summer retreats of sea ice, which many polar scientists say probably are being driven in part by global warming caused by humans (see “Note to media: Enough with the multiple hedges on climate science!“), if his stories have online headlines like Arctic Ice Hints at Warming, Specialists Say — why on Earth would it be news that the public is itself stuck in the mushy middle?

And yet in both the NYT article and his blog, Revkin makes a huge deal of a poll that, if anything, merely reveals how bad the media’s coverage of the issue is. His blog post, “Obama Urgent on Warming, Public Cool” and his article, “Environmental Issues Slide in Poll of Public’s Concerns,” completely misframe the issue. Let’s start with the blog:

The latest in an annual series of polls from the Pew Research Center on people’s top priorities for their elected leaders shows that America and President Obama are completely out of sync on human-caused global warming. Mr. Obama stressed the issue throughout his campaign and several times in his inaugural speech, mentioning stabilizing climate in the same breath as preventing nuclear conflict at one point.

Uhh, Andy, you’re the science reporter, not the political reporter. The news, if there is any here, is that the public is out of sync with the science. Obama’s been President just a few days, so he’s not had bloody much time to undo the unsynching the last Administration (and the media) have done. Yes, Obama stressed the issue in his campaign, but the media largely ignored it, for instance asking just a handful of questions on the subject during the primary out of thousands of questions asked (see here).

The poll shows the failing of the media (among others, see below). But again, in your news story, it’s about Obama:

A new poll suggests that Americans, preoccupied with the economy, are less worried about rising global temperatures than they were a year ago but remain concerned with solving the nation’s energy problems.

The findings are somewhat at odds with President Obama, who has put a high priority on staving off global warming and vowed Tuesday in his Inaugural Address to “roll back the specter of a warming planet.”

In the poll, released Thursday by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, global warming came in last among 20 voter concerns; it trailed issues like addressing moral decline and decreasing the influence of lobbyists. Only 30 percent of the voters deemed global warming to be “a top priority,” compared with 35 percent in 2008.

I also find your explanation somewhat ironic:

The declining interest in global warming and other environmental issues might be unsurprising at a time when Americans face far more imminent threats to their jobs and homes. “Strengthening the nation’s economy” was the top-ranked concern of voters in the Pew poll. A relatively cool year and a harsh winter in North America and Europe have not helped, inspiring some commentators and a small cluster of scientists to make skeptical remarks about “global cooling.”

Uhh, you yourself helped enabled the disinformers pushing the absurd global cooling meme with your article titled “Climate Skeptics Seize on Cold Spell,” [see “Media enable denier spin 1: A (sort of) cold January doesn’t mean climate stopped warming“].

The year was only “relatively cool” if by “cool” you in fact mean incredibly warm from a historical perspective. To repeat, 2008 was nearly 0.2°F warmer than the entire decade of the 1990s, which, at the time, was the warmest decade in the historical record (see “Very warm 2008 makes this the hottest decade in recorded history by far*“).

As for a harsh winter (actually, a chilly month or two) in North American and Europe (a small fraction of the globe), what does that have to do with the increasingly strong observational and scientific evidence you yourself are aware of that human actions are warming the planet and dangerously so?

I thought it was the job of science jouristists to debunk disinformation and intentionally misleading spin, not to repeat it like a stenographer, the very charge Pooley makes against the whole media (see “The media’s decision to play the stenographer role helped opponents of climate action stifle progress”).

Again, if some fraction of the public has been swayed by misstatements or irrelevant information on “global cooling,” then you — the media — share a large part of the blame.

Your blog post then reprints some results from an unscientific poll that mostly shows the deniers are winning, especially with the GOP or the Deniers are winning, but only with the GOP.

Then you ask in your piece, “what do you think is going on?”

I think it’s kinda obvious why global warming isn’t a top priority for more voters. After all, we have a large number of journalists downplaying the threat. And we have mainstream economists doing the same things (as I am detailing in my series on Voodoo Economists, see, for instance, Part 2: Robert Mendelsohn says global warming is “a good thing for Canada.”). And, of course, we have deniers denying the threat.

We should certainly point the finger at a certain politician — but it isn’t Barack Obama. A 2007 report by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee concluded:

The Bush administration has engaged in a systematic effort to manipulate climate change science and mislead policymakers and the public about the dangers of global warming.

As Pooley notes in his recent study, “There is ample evidence to support this conclusion.” And, I might add, “as you yourself know” — see, for instance, your 2005 story “Bush Aide Softened Greenhouse Gas Links to Global Warming.”

No single institution drives more of the media coverage and framing of the major national issue than the White House and the executive branch experts on a subject — if the traditional media acts mostly as a stenographer, that is.

[I do think climate action advocates bear some blame for misframing the issue, but that will be the subject of a later post.]

Let me end by clarifying what I mean by labeling as unscientific this statement of yours:

I’ve been the most prominent communicator out there saying the most established aspects of the issue of human-driven climate change lie between the poles of catastrophe and hoax.

This is a common framing by you, puting yourself between these two supposed poles — see “Yelling Fire on a Hot Planet“? and “New Middle Stance” piece.

Why is this unscientific? Well, there is a 0.00% chance that the issue of human-driven climate change is a hoax, as you well know.

The “hoax” frame is anti-scientific in that it accuses the scientific community broadly defined of deliberate fraud — and not just the community of climate scientists, but the leading National Academies of Science around the world (including ours) and the American Geophysical Union, an organization of geophysicists that consists of more than 45,000 members and the American Meteorological Association and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. The “hoax” frame accuses all of the member governments of the IPCC, including ours, of participating in that fraud, since they all sign off on the Assessment Reports word for word. And, of course, it accuses all of the leading scientific journals of being in on this fraud, since the IPCC reports are primarily a review and synthesis of the published scientific literature [see “Diagnosing a victim of anti-science syndrome (ASS).]”

On the other hand, there is a greater than 95% chance that on our business as usual emissions path, global warming will be a catastrophe, quite literally an unmitigated catastrophe.

This is not a fringe view. It is, for instance, the explicit view of the UK’s Hadley Center, one of the most respected climate analysis and prediction institutions in the world (see Hadley Center: “Catastrophic” 5-7°C warming by 2100 on current emissions path). It is the view of the traditionally staid and conservative International Energy Agency, which noted in its most recent World Energy, “Without a change in policy, the world is on a path for a rise in global temperature of up to 6°C.”

It is the view of James Hansen and many other leading scientists in the published literature (see Stabilize at 350 ppm or risk ice-free planet, warn NASA, Yale, Sheffield, Versailles, Boston et al.) Over 200 leading climate scientists seem to believe the 2007 IPCC report itself is warning of catastrophe on our current emissios path (see “Must Read Bali Climate Declaration by Scientists“). And we have individual articles like Startling new sea level rise research: “Most likely” 0.8 to 2.0 meters by 2100 — unless a mid-range prediction of 5 feet of sea level rise (and along with some 10+ inches a decade of sea level rise) on our current emissions path doesn’t qualify as a catastrophe to you. If so, drop that one (but then write a column explaining to the public why it isn’t a catastrophe to destroy the world’s great coastal cities and wetlands, while creating 100 million environmental refugees).

Heck, it was your interview with F. Sherwood Rowland in which one of the world’s foremost authorities on atmospheric chemistry said we are headed to 1000 ppm. I think you would agree that 1000 ppm would be beyond catastrophe — and yet a close reading of the 2007 IPCC report makes clear that absent a very strong and immediate emissions reduction effort, we are aiming right at 1000 ppm or higher, as I explained in my recent Nature online article.

And at the end of your “New Middle Stance” piece, you quote the scientist who Obama has named as science adviser:

Some experts, though, argue that moderation in a message is likely to be misread as satisfaction with the pace of change.

John P. Holdren, an energy and environment expert at Harvard and president of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, defended the more strident calls for limits on carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases.

“I am one of those who believes that any reasonably comprehensive and up-to-date look at the evidence makes clear that civilization has already generated dangerous anthropogenic interference in the climate system,” Dr. Holdren said. “What keeps me going is my belief that there is still a chance of avoiding catastrophe.”

Note the formulation of the man picked to be America’s science-explainer-in-chief: We are headed toward certain catastrophe on our current emissions path, but maybe there is a serious chance we could avert catastrophe if we take aggressive action now. This would be almost the exact opposite of your framing of the issue.

Your formulation gives the impression that you think “hoax” and “catastrophe” are equally probable scientific outcomes, when that is in fact absurd. It is unscientific.

The last few years have changed our scientific understanding of what we face if we keep doing what we’re doing, as the links above clearly show. As I said to you in a long interview you published recently, “Doing nothing or doing little eliminates the uncertainty.

So catastrophe is all but certain on our current path — and the word ‘catastrophe’ does not even do justice to scientifically very plauble outcomes, like 1000 ppm or 6°C warming.

If the public doesn’t understand that — and they clearly don’t — who really bears the responsibility?

Tags

25 Responses to NYT’s Revkin seems shocked, shocked by media’s own failure to explain climate threat

  1. Shirley says:

    Re: “I’ve been the most prominent communicator out there saying the most established aspects of the issue of human-driven climate change lie between the poles of catastrophe and hoax.”

    It’s not only bad science … it’s horrendous, deliberately obfuscating English — the last thing a so-called journalist (and a science writer at that) should want to be accused of. I keep reading that sentence over and over again, and my first response is always, “What? What do you even mean to say here?”

    And as far as the public’s response to the Pew poll: yes, the economy is named as the No. 1 concern … for obvious reasons. It’s difficult to get worked up about catastrophic global changes expected over the course of decades when you’ve lost your job and home, and aren’t sure where your next meal is coming from. However, it will Obama’s (and his team’s) job to make people understand that, without taking swift action on climate change (which could, through green jobs initiatives and similar actions, actually stimulate the economy now), we’re guaranteeing ourselves a global ECONOMIC catastrophe in years to come, as well as a climatic catastrophe.

    Imagine 100 Katrinas a year. Imagine annual heat waves like the one that proved so deadly in Europe a few years back. Do you think global commerce (the insurance industry being just one player that would obviously feel the impact) could continue normally under those circumstances? I doubt it very much, as did Nicholas Stern in his review of the economic impacts of “business as usual.”

  2. jcwinnie says:

    JR, you obviously don’t work for an editor, who works for advertising and stockholders.

    Poor picking & grinning, it’s getting so a Gray Lady can’t walk the streets without being harassed by some scientist!

  3. Kevin says:

    I saw Revkin’s post a while back where he advocated a “Middle Position”. He basically said that, since huge increases in temperature are so bad, that it made sense to invest in carbon neutral technologies as an insurance policy – since even if there was only a small chance that Global Warming was real, taking this precaution was very prudent considering the possible danger.

    I laughed when I read it. I actually wrote a comment on his site even though I normally don’t bother writing comments when there are so many entries that I know no one will ever read it.

    I said that such an idea made sense… 20 years ago! During the Reagan years there was a lot of uncertainty about how fast and to what extent things would change. But it was obvious that some warming would occur and it only made sense to invest heavily in solar and wind and electric cars, etc. If for no other reason than as an insurance policy against the worst. [I still can’t believe that Ronny Boy and his handlers rejected this concept.]

    But suggesting such an idea today is ludicrous. The massive melting of ice packs and permafrost means that the time for insurance policies is over. He should either talk about ideas for stopping Global Warming or get out of the way.

  4. Ben says:

    Deep breathes, folks.
    Shirley–that quote is from an email, not an article. Even the most revered journalists out there deserve to be cut some slack in any non-published writing. (I certainly wouldn’t want anyone to go through my emails or blog comments with an editor’s pencil.)

    Besides–what Revkin actually says is entirely true. The established truths do lie between catastrophe and hoax. That’s not to say that there’s any legitimacy at all to the “hoax” side of things, and we know that “catastrophe” is likely. But not certain. “Catastrophe” is a necessary pole–you can’t have any bookends beyond catastrophe and hoax. (I suppose you could argue that “catastrophe” doesn’t go far enough, and that “total annihilation” might be a better edge to the discussion, but in my mind, catastrophe is as bad as it gets.)

    We all know that catastrophe of some form is, unfortunately, likely. Revkin knows that too. He didn’t say otherwise. But in a personal email to a source that it seems his job requires him to talk to.

    Which calls to question Joe’s statement that Revkin is a science reporter, not a political reporter. Is that still true? It seems that his job is broader now. On Dot Earth it says that Revkin “examines efforts to balance human affairs with the planet’s limits.” That’s not just science.

    So before we pillory him for even speaking to the deniers/delayers/myth perpetuators (which would’ve been fine if he were only a science writer) we have to realize that now, it seems, he isn’t just a science writer, and as part of the new crack climate and energy team at the Times, it’s likely that he’s going to have to cover a broader swath of the discussion, delving into politics (though I do imagine that Barringer, Kaufman and Wald will be doing the heavy political lifting). We can hope that the deniers voices carry less weight, but as long as they’re a political factor (and Inhofe is, alas), it’s the responsibility of the climate change and sustainability reporter to cover it. Thus–Revkin has to talk to Morano/Inhofe for reasons of journalistic integrity (not despite it).

    I do totally agree with Joe that Holdren’s quote better frames the issue. But let’s remember that we’re comparing it to an email–which sounds pretty informal to me. What was the context of the email? It’s an essential bit of information that’s left out of this accusation that digs so deep into every other minutiae of Revkin’s work.

    [JR: This is Revkin’s standard frame, as in one article I linked to “Between the poles of real-time catastrophe and nonevent lies the prevailing scientific view.” But, in any case, this was an e-mail sent to dozens of people, and most surprisingly to me, to a lot of denier and denier-eqs. I’m sure Andy will clarify exactly what he meant. I stand by what I wrote.

    Revkin clearly put Holdren’s view in the extremist camp, when in fact I would argue that Holdren holds the prevailing scientific view, at least based on every climate scientist I have spoken to.]

  5. Joe:

    I’ve just read Roger Jr’s. criticism of this post.

    I’m tempted to say something stupid, like Andy’s “human-driven climate change lie between the poles of catastrophe and hoax” about your and Roger’s positions.

    But it’s clear that your argument is more nearly on the mark than Roger’s.

    The problem for journalists – and unfortunately even most science journalists – is that they don’t know how to translate ‘confidence intervals’ , ‘margins of error’, etc. into language that most of the public will understand. Many themselves probably don’t understand estimates of uncertainty (Roger excepted.).

    I’m convinced, from reading a lot of their stuff, that both Andy and Roger believe that increasing greenhouse gas emissions are probably taking us closer to catastrophe. They are not “deniers”. But, as you say, careless ‘go slow’ prose, like some they offer, leads most of the public to see it as significant support for the true denier’s positions.

    As I say above, I agree with most of your criticism. But I don’t think it contributes too much to the reeducation of journalists when you come down so mercilessly on guys who are really trying to do the right thing. I mean this, not as an appeal to ‘rules of courtesy’, but rather with respect to the pragmatics of trying to achieve a desired result.

  6. Linda S says:

    Whew, Joe, I can tell this one got under your skin! But you were right on. To characterize the poles as being “hoax” and “catastrophe” is irresponsible. The true poles are more likely “still reversible” and “inevitable human extinction” with “catastrophe” being the middle ground.

  7. May I mention, too, the fact that the deluded public elected President Obama? By a landslide. How out of synch are we all with our newly elected president?

  8. Joe says:

    Leonard:

    My father was an investigative reporter and then an award-winning newspaper editor for 30 years. My mother was also an award-winning journalist. So I grew up in a media family talking media issues, attending the annual conference of the American Society of newspaper editors.

    I take the media very seriously. I think Eric Pooley’s critique from within the side the highest ranks of the journalism profession should be a wake-up call.

    I rarely concern myself with what Pielke says on his blog. What Pielke believes is beyond the ability of mere mortals to figure out — you can only go by the climate policies he proposes, and those are indistinguishable from Lomborg or even Newt Gingrich. The fact that he claims I called Revkin a denier is yet one more example of his self-parody.

    Revkin is a very serious professional journalist, one of the best climate
    reporters we have. In my discussions with him, he clearly understands the serious nature of the problem and the need to get off of business-as-usual paths (his comment on the my Pooley post notwithstanding). I wouldn’t waste time criticizing him if this were not the case.

    Your final paragraph is the key one. The media coverage of climate in general is bad, but I think the media believe it’s pretty good. I really doubt anything I do one way or another will change the media coverage. I do know the deniers spend a vast amount of time and money trying to influence the coverage — and they have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams on both the science and economics. Pooley’s study is but the latest example of that. But Gelbspan’s books also elaborate on this.

    I try most of all to stick to the science and to articulate it as clearly and as accurately as possible. I am not going to pull any punches.

    The word catastrophe does not do justice to where we are headed if we listen to the Pielke’s of the world (let alone pure deniers).

    In two decades time, if not sooner, I think it will be the single greatest regret of all major players in this area, that they put up with and/or enabled the crap the public is exposed to day after day on this subject. More and more journalists are starting to figure this out, from Tom Friedman to Eric Pooley. If a reporter can’t take a little heat from my tiny blog, how they hell are they going to deal with the real heat that is coming from our continued inaction.

  9. paulm says:

    Great post! Stoke the fire and let it run….

    Here’s an interesting bit Monbiot did on this sort of thing…

    The Patron Saint of Charlatans
    http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2008/09/23/the-patron-saint-of-charlatans/
    …The world becomes even harder to navigate. You cannot trust the people who tell you whom to trust. ..

  10. Barry says:

    Revkin sadly has gotten mushier and mushier over the last couple years. To the point where DotEarth left my daily read list and was replaced by the more new filled and relevant Green Inc blog on NYTimes.

    I think there are threereasons:

    1) Many advertisers at NYTimes are selling hyper-carbon products.

    Really look at the stuff advertised and imaging the carbon footprint of each. And I know from a personal email that Andy Revkin is very concerned about financial health of NYTimes.

    2) The DotEarth blog *was* out front on climate change in major media. As such it became a premier target of denialist crew of comment writers.

    The comments section is overwhelmed by endless denier spin and spew to the point it dominates the discussion threads. By not choosing to limit “non-science” comments like Joe does here, Andy lives in a info stream of endless denial and accusation of bias from the fossil fueled advocates. We should never underestimate the power of public voices around us to frame our attitudes. The deniers know this and are acting accordingly. Andy’s slipping from the science might be in part a swimming in the river of what comes his way all day…and is printed below his words.

    3) “Big lives” require “big carbon”.

    Study after study shows that carbon footprints are directly correlated to wealth for vast majority of people…even among “enthusiastic greens”. New York is a temple of “big lives” and the NYTimes is the paper of record for much of this class. Solutions to climate chaos require scaling back of luxury-carbon. And low-carbon alternatives either aren’t “big” enough or available yet. This class is choosing any straw it can find to save their fossil fueled “big lives”.

    Upton Sinclair had it right. You won’t get good climate science from folks who’s status and paycheck depend on it not being true.

  11. lgcarey says:

    Joe, thanks for your post, I surely wish it had not been so well merited. I for one am mad as hell, since I was among the apathetic until about nine months ago when I had to look at the actual GW science as part of due diligence for a proposed investment in the alternative energy sector. I follow the MSM and considered myself fairly well informed and somewhat environmentally concerned, but I had no clue that the actual science pointed so strongly to such an unparalleled degree of risk. I agree with Linda S that setting the poles as “hoax” and “catastrophe” is ridiculous if not delusional – the real poles at this point are something like “severe but maybe survivable disaster” and “unmitigated catastrophe/mass extinction event” with the odds moving in favor of the latter with every passing month.

  12. Mark says:

    Obviously the media plays a major role in public confusion and lack of concern on the issue. Still, we’re facing the worst economic times since the Great Depression. People tend to put off long-term concerns under such conditions. This effect can be seen in a Gallup poll:

    Gallup poll, March 6-9, 2008

    http://www.pollingreport.com/enviro.htm

    Notice that environmental concerns were of high priority in April of 2000, at the peak of the tech boom. Then they dropped significantly in the few years that followed. As the economy rebounded, so did environmental concerns. They dropped again in last year’s poll. Considering this was before the huge credit collapse, it would be no surprise if environmental concerns dropped further. It doesn’t help that the media often presents a false dilemma between economic and environmental health.

    Polling Americans in the middle of winter during cold spells in populated areas is going to skew the results on global warming a bit as well.

  13. Mark says:

    Notice that “protecting the environment” as a top concern dropped 15 points while “global warming” dropped only 5 points in comparison. These things are more of a function of a sinking economy than anything.

    http://people-press.org/report/485/economy-top-policy-priority

  14. David B. Benson says:

    Prevailing concensus view was IPCC AR4. Immediately thereafter, many signs that the climate was is worse shape than that.

    I’d say that the ‘scientific view’ is far from extreme enough!

  15. Vangel says:

    I hope that you folks have noticed the lack of warming for more than a decade and the simple fact that all of the ‘evidence’ for CO2 being a primary driver of temperature changes has been discredited by science. Instead of making personal attacks on people who do not agree with your views you need to open your eyes and look at nature as it is rather than as you imagine it to be.

  16. Gail says:

    I’m glad to see I’m not alone in my disappointment with .earth. I was initially very happy to see its launch but gave up reading fairly quickly. It struck me as being disingenuous and a vanity piece.

    Maybe there’s something going on at the NYT. This morning in Kristol’s farewell column he stated:

    “That exhortation was appropriate for World War II. Today, the dangers are less stark, and the conflicts less hard.”

    To which I posted a comment something on the order that that statement was delusional. Saving the planet from rapidly accelerating mass extinction attributable to climate change is going to be a far greater challenge to a much greater danger. Now, even though I posted very early in the morning it never got through the moderation, even though my ending, (Don’t let the door slam…) was far less stridently critical than dozens of comments that were posted later in the day, not one of which mentioned the rather obvious omission of the environment in Kristol’s column.

  17. Poor Andy Revkin doesn’t understand that those Pew Poll results are actually his failing grade as both a journalist and a science reporter. He’s taken a CYA stance on the biggest science story of his era and the readers who rely on him have missed the clue train because he never thought to get on board.

    The middle stance deserves the middle finger.

  18. David B. Benson says:

    Vangel — You are deluded. See several of Tamino’s recent posts, including this one:

    http://tamino.wordpress.com/2009/01/15/what-if/

    As for the role of CO2, this has been known since John Tyndall measure it in 1859 CE.

  19. Roger says:

    lgcarey, welcome to the club. I, too, was ignorant of how serious things were until being forced to actually think about the subject after watching “Truth” at the urging of my daughter.

    (Red face on.) Surely, I thought, if there were a real problem, and the research were clear, our government would be on top of it immediately! After all, I’d seen U.S. leadership dealing with CFCs/ozone. (Red face off.)

    Much has changed since then. I also appreciate what Joe is doing with this superb site. My big issue now is the size of the gap between what the scientists know and what the public knows–as pointed out by Jim Hansen, as discussed by Ross Gelbspan, and as covered in this blog today.

    To quickly close this knowledge gap, (sarcasm on) we need to spend at least as much money as we’re spending to let the public know about the coming switch to digital TV. Can you imagine the pain and suffering that might occur if millions of citizens were unable to watch it?! (Sarcasm off.)

    Even better would be if someone of authority, such as Obama, would go on national TV, to make a prime-time “State of the Climate” address to directly and clearly tell the American people, as he hinted last week, that climate disruption is real, it is serious, and we will address it, now!

    As a caring father, with two young daughters, Obama can understand what motivates many of us to become active in this movement. It is a willingness to begin an aggressive transition to sustainable energy so that our kids and grandkids may continue to live in an America similar to the one that we enjoy today. To do otherwise is, to me, unconscionable.

    We’ve had a “war on drugs,” we’re in a “war on terror,” and a war in Iraq, just to mention a few. What we really, really need is a “war on climate disruption!” This is where we face by far the greatest risk to our society!

  20. Ric Merritt says:

    I’m generally closer to Joe than to Andy on climate issues and policies. But the length and vituperation in this post get to be just counter-productive. Joe, have you EVER copped to a charge similar to that, admitting that yeah, you could have been a little more restrained and level-headed in your wording, in the name of convincing the wavering, who are after all the ones who will make the difference? If so, links would be nice. If not, think of the implication for a moment. Either your judgment is infallible, or it isn’t but you’re too wrapped up in trivialities to admit it, or there isn’t any such thing as screaming too loud. I think there is, and you did.

    [JR: I don’t think this is a matter of EVER having misspoke. This isn’t a single instance. I think this is a clear pattern that I have identified. One can scream too loud — though I am not certain one can scream too loudly on this issue, and I hardly consider what I have written to be screaming, in any case. When there is marching in the streets, then perhaps people will be sufficiently riled up. Right now, the polling suggests, we have a screaming deficit. I certainly have revised remarks when commenters have convinced me I have gone too far — you have to be willing to do that if you are a serious blogger — but I don’t think this is such an instance.]

  21. Arthur Smith says:

    Joe – Andy’s included me on similar email discussions in the past. I do wonder what benefit he could possibly have thought there was in talking to Marc Morano, but other than that, he does very typically seek input and thoughts from a wide range of people – Pielke Jr. and Shellenberger/Nordhaus “denier-eq’s” on the one hand, but also people like Dan Kammen, Ken Caldeira, and Amory Lovins on the other (or maybe that’s 5 different hands right there).

    So you have to give him some credit for seeking a wide range of informed opinion. But is his judgment being skewed by some of the more strident responses that the “denier-eq” side is capable of coming up with? It seems that maybe that’s a real problem.

    Reputation for any form of media or individual is a tricky thing to build up and hold on to; being consistently and reliably correct is really the only way to maintain that. If Revkin’s explorations of non-science policy-making are making his work less consistent it will be to the detriment of his own career and to some degree to the future of the NY Times. But the Times has far worse problems than anything Revkin has done (why, oh why, do they still employ John Tierney?)

  22. Frank Smith says:

    Sigh…CO2 is important for life on earth, and almost trivial as far as climate is concerned. The more CO2 the better, as it will add to agricultural productivity. As for the so-called ‘greenhouse effect’, well that’s not really important either for how greenhouses work except perhaps on planets with no convection, and no winds. So these long-winded and baroque articles on who said what to whom and why they are bad people as a result just leave me cold. A bit like the climate just now actually.

  23. Zeke says:

    This whole discussion has unfortunately become mostly political & commercial rather than scientific.

    There has been warming since the last Ice Age. Who is to say what the “correct” temperature is for earth, and doesn’t true science prove the temperature has fluctuated for nearly all of earth’s history?

    In one era wine grapes were grown in England, followed by the Great Ice Age, followed by another period of warming in northern Europe (probably entire northern hemisphere), followed by the mini Ice Age of the 1850s, etc. On and on it goes.

    Earth’s atmospheric chemical composition has changed during the epochs as well, long before obese chain smokers drove hulking SUVs in urban rush hour traffic. Again, who is to say what is the “correct” composition?

    I urge everyone to refrain from enacting public policy & throw hundreds of millions of dollars at a so-called problem which has no consensus. Opponents are not ignorant or backward-thinking – they simply want to be proven that a problem exists before applying a solution, and a very costly one at that.

  24. Frank says:

    Zeke. We are actually in an ice age, i.e. a period during which there are icecaps at the poles. During ice ages there are occasional glaciations during which time winter snows fail to melt in the summer, and ice sheets accumulate over, for example, much of North America. I believe ice ages are relatively unusual – it has been more common to have ice-free poles. Global temperatures have been slowly rising since the so-called ‘Little Ice Age’ of a few hundred years ago. There is no evidence whatsoever that anything important has changed in climate behaviour, in particular no recent (say last 100 years) climate variation has been extraordinary in any respect whatsoever. I completely agree with your point about public policy. The AGW hysteria has been an intellectual, moral, and political disgrace, and promises substantial damage to society, and more specifically to the standing of science.

  25. David Lewis says:

    Alan Brinkley, Provost of Columbia University, read out the Citation just before Andy Revkin was given the 2008 John Chancellor Award. I wonder who wrote it. A quote:

    “you respect different sides of this polarizing issue by sticking to the facts. That is a model for great journalism”

    The funny thing was that earlier speakers had lauded John Chancellor himself for “dispelling lies and ignorance” with his reporting.

    Chancellor became prominent when he reported on the National Guard in Little Rock as they barred some black children entry to Central High School. The equivalent of climate “deniers” then would have been the many Americans who believed that blacks were second class citizens who should not have the right to receive an education alongside of white children.

    I tried to imagine how a journalist could show “respect” to someone who believed that blacks should be re-enslaved, or that black children should not have the right to enter a school reserved for whites. “For his view, I now turn to Ku Klux Klan leader Dick Head, a prominent, respected man of our community, who is wearing a sheet over his head so no one will know who he is”. I have this funny feeling that Chancellor didn’t show respect to all sides of that polarizing issue.

    I believe that some day, when the consequences of allowing the accumulation of the forces driving climate disruption to proceed even this far is obvious to all, that deniers will have the same status as Nazi propagandists do today. I wouldn’t be that proud to be known as a guy who made such people feel respected and a vital part of a fundamentally important debate.