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Nobelist Krugman calls climate science denial by House conservatives “a form of treason ” treason against the planet”

By Joe Romm on June 29, 2009 at 10:35 am

"Nobelist Krugman calls climate science denial by House conservatives “a form of treason ” treason against the planet”"


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Some have asked whether I’m using too-tough language against those devoted to delaying or blocking action needed to stop catastrophic global warming.  Actually, most of the time I think it is too mild, a point underscored by a terrific NYT column from Nobel-Prize-winning economist Paul Krugman, “Betraying the Planet.”

Krugman’s writing on climate has gotten increasingly blunt (see Nobelist Krugman takes on the “fantasists” of the “burn-baby-burn crowd” for opposing climate action that costs Americans 18 cents a day.  And his blog, “The Conscience of a Liberal,” is becoming a must-read for those interested in seeing the record set straight on climate economics.

As an aside, the times this blog gets bluntest are when I think about how future generations will speak about us if we fail to spend the tiny amount of our vast wealth needed to prevent their decades and centuries of incalculable misery — see “Intro to climate economics: Why even strong climate action has such a low total cost — one tenth of a penny on the dollar.”  They won’t be calling us “The Greatest Generation.”  They will be cursing our name as “The Greediest Generation,” as the Bernie Madoffs of the global Ponzi scheme we created to enrich ourselves unsustainably at their expense.

Today’s column by Krugman takes that perspective, and I’m reprinting it below, with annotation:

So the House passed the Waxman-Markey climate-change bill. In political terms, it was a remarkable achievement.

But 212 representatives voted no. A handful of these no votes came from representatives who considered the bill too weak, but most rejected the bill because they rejected the whole notion that we have to do something about greenhouse gases.

And as I watched the deniers make their arguments, I couldn’t help thinking that I was watching a form of treason “” treason against the planet.

To fully appreciate the irresponsibility and immorality of climate-change denial, you need to know about the grim turn taken by the latest climate research.

The fact is that the planet is changing faster than even pessimists expected: ice caps are shrinking, arid zones spreading, at a terrifying rate. And according to a number of recent studies, catastrophe “” a rise in temperature so large as to be almost unthinkable “” can no longer be considered a mere possibility. It is, instead, the most likely outcome if we continue along our present course.

Thus researchers at M.I.T., who were previously predicting a temperature rise of a little more than 4 degrees by the end of this century, are now predicting a rise of more than 9 degrees. Why? Global greenhouse gas emissions are rising faster than expected; some mitigating factors, like absorption of carbon dioxide by the oceans, are turning out to be weaker than hoped; and there’s growing evidence that climate change is self-reinforcing “” that, for example, rising temperatures will cause some arctic tundra to defrost, releasing even more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.

Perhaps Krugman reads this blog, as I have written at length about the important study from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Climate Change — when it first was published on MIT’s website (see “M.I.T. joins climate realists, doubles its projection of global warming by 2100 to 5.1°C“) and almost entirely ignored by the media — and again when it was published in a peer-reviewed journal and got (a little) more attention (see “M.I.T. doubles its 2095 warming projection to 10°F “” with 866 ppm and Arctic warming of 20°F“).

I would add that MIT is hardly alone in upwardly revising their projections of planetary warming on our current path of unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions (see “Hadley Center: “Catastrophic” 5-7°C warming by 2100 on current emissions path” and U.S. media largely ignores latest warning from climate scientists: “Recent observations confirm “¦ the worst-case IPCC scenario trajectories (or even worse) are being realised” “” 1000 ppm).

Temperature increases on the scale predicted by the M.I.T. researchers and others would create huge disruptions in our lives and our economy. As a recent authoritative U.S. government report points out, by the end of this century New Hampshire may well have the climate of North Carolina today, Illinois may have the climate of East Texas, and across the country extreme, deadly heat waves “” the kind that traditionally occur only once in a generation “” may become annual or biannual events.

This is, of course, the recent multi-agency report, Global Climate Change Impacts in United States (see “Our hellish future: Definitive NOAA-led report on U.S. climate impacts warns of scorching 9 to 11°F warming over most of inland U.S. by 2090 with Kansas above 90°F some 120 days a year “” and that isn’t the worst case, it’s business as usual!” and Lubchenco says, “This report is a game changer”).

In other words, we’re facing a clear and present danger to our way of life, perhaps even to civilization itself. How can anyone justify failing to act?

Well, sometimes even the most authoritative analyses get things wrong. And if dissenting opinion-makers and politicians based their dissent on hard work and hard thinking “” if they had carefully studied the issue, consulted with experts and concluded that the overwhelming scientific consensus was misguided “” they could at least claim to be acting responsibly.

But if you watched the debate on Friday, you didn’t see people who’ve thought hard about a crucial issue, and are trying to do the right thing. What you saw, instead, were people who show no sign of being interested in the truth. They don’t like the political and policy implications of climate change, so they’ve decided not to believe in it “” and they’ll grab any argument, no matter how disreputable, that feeds their denial.

Indeed, if there was a defining moment in Friday’s debate, it was the declaration by Representative Paul Broun of Georgia that climate change is nothing but a “hoax” that has been “perpetrated out of the scientific community.” I’d call this a crazy conspiracy theory, but doing so would actually be unfair to crazy conspiracy theorists. After all, to believe that global warming is a hoax you have to believe in a vast cabal consisting of thousands of scientists “” a cabal so powerful that it has managed to create false records on everything from global temperatures to Arctic sea ice.

Yet Mr. Broun’s declaration was met with applause.

For the YouTube clipe, see “Rep. Broun receives applause on the House floor for calling global warming a ‘hoax’.”

Given this contempt for hard science, I’m almost reluctant to mention the deniers’ dishonesty on matters economic. But in addition to rejecting climate science, the opponents of the climate bill made a point of misrepresenting the results of studies of the bill’s economic impact, which all suggest that the cost will be relatively low.

Still, is it fair to call climate denial a form of treason? Isn’t it politics as usual?

Yes, it is “” and that’s why it’s unforgivable.

Do you remember the days when Bush administration officials claimed that terrorism posed an “existential threat” to America, a threat in whose face normal rules no longer applied? That was hyperbole “” but the existential threat from climate change is all too real.

For a full discussion of that threat, see “An introduction to global warming impacts: Hell and High Water.

Yet the deniers are choosing, willfully, to ignore that threat, placing future generations of Americans in grave danger, simply because it’s in their political interest to pretend that there’s nothing to worry about. If that’s not betrayal, I don’t know what is.

Hear! Hear!

[Note:  I am putting this into the "Uncharacteristically blunt scientists" category knowing full well that Krugman is not scientist.  I just can't see starting a category "Uncharacteristically blunt economists" since it would be so damn tiny! (see Voodoo economics reporting, 7: Failing to report the consensus that action is cheaper than inaction).]

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30 Responses to Nobelist Krugman calls climate science denial by House conservatives “a form of treason ” treason against the planet”

  1. cce says:

    On the topic of over-the-top langauge, it might be amusing (saddening?) to collate threads of “skeptics” decrying Waxman-Markey.

    A couple of examples:


    And, of course, WUWT:

  2. mike says:

    Treason against the planet? I think not. The planet is just a big rock. Habitable or not, it will be here until the sun becomes a red giant. Call what the deniers are doing what it truly is….

    A crime against humanity

  3. ken levenson says:

    Good for Krugman and us all!
    When the theater is on fire you’re not an alarmist to yell “fire”.

    Unfortunately the MSM is lagging…The New Yorker calling Hansen a “Catastrophist” – gawd…..

    Joe, haven’t seen you mention this report:
    ‘Climate change: Global risks, challenges and decisions’
    reported on here by Bloomberg:

    The Krugmans are not alone…but you wouldn’t know it by the NYTimes utter lack of meaningful coverage.
    Of course Revkin ghettoized the coverage with a Dot Earth post:
    And Revkin can’t help himself, spending half his post casting doubt on the report!

    It should have been a straight-up news article in the paper but we not only don’t get that we get “balance” (adding insult to injury he links to Pielke’s blog Prometheus!)…. awful…

    Sorry to digress…loving Krugman today.

  4. paulm says:

    Spot on mike.

    It’s a form of fascism and egocentricity.

  5. Justin says:

    Hi all,

    Does this project have potential as a mitigator of CO2? I’m an avid reader of this blog with very little scientific knowledge

    Thanks a lot!

  6. Justin says:

    Whoops… it would help if I included the link:


    It’s an algae plant that would “turn CO2 into fuel” and it looks sustainable. I’d love to get a response on this, thanks!

  7. “I am putting this into the “Uncharacteristically blunt scientists” category knowing full well that Krugman is not scientist.”

    I believe they call it the Nobel Prize for Economic Science – but I agree with you that economics includes so much ideology that it cannot be called a science.

  8. paulm says:

    catastrophe…. It is, instead, the most likely outcome if we continue along our present course.

    This thing, AGW, still is underestimated. You see even Krugman is not getting it.

    Even if we stop from going along our present course now, catastrophe is what is to come. Its whether or not we can reduce it’s impact and survive in a reasonable state.

  9. Gail says:

    There are an astounding number of comments at the NYT from people who are at least as doom and gloom as am I. It’s bizarre, where are all these people and why aren’t we organized or mobilized in an effective way?

    Where’s the money to blitz the media with the facts?


  10. Justin:
    They say they don’t have the process down yet:
    “Because algae does not require any farmland or much space, many energy companies are trying to use it to make commercial quantities of hydrocarbons for fuel and chemicals. But harvesting the hydrocarbons has proved difficult so far. … Among the steps still being improved is the separation of the oxygen and water from the ethanol. The Georgia Institute of Technology will work on that process, as will Membrane Technology and Research, a company in Menlo Park, Calif.”

    More important, they say they will sell the ethanol as a vehicle fuel and they hope eventually to use it as a feedstock for plastics.

    If the ethanol is used as a vehicle fuel, the ethanol will be broken down into CO2 and H2O when it is burned, and the CO2 will be emitted from the tailpipe – the same amount of CO2 that was used to create the ethanol. There is a benefit because you get twice the bang out of those CO2 emissions: first they are emitted by, say, a coal burning power plant and embodied in ethanol, and then they are used to power a vehicle before they are released into the air. So, this could potentially cut emissions from a coal burning power plant by as much as half – which would just bring it down to the level of a natural-gas burning power plant, which is not good enough.

    If the ethanol is used as a feedstock for plastic, then the CO2 would be permanently sequestered, because plastic never biodegrades. But taking CO2 emissions from coal plants and converting them to non-biodegradable plastic does not sound like my idea of an environmental ideal.

    To deal with global warming, we need ethanol that takes CO2 out of the atmosphere. Then the whole process of producing and burning the ethanol would be carbon neutral: the same CO2 you took out of the air would be put back in the air when you burned the fuel.

    If you need a concentrated source of CO2 such as a coal-burning power plant, then the entire process of producing and burning the ethanol is not carbon neutral. It might be a good transitional solution if it reused the CO2 from a natural-gas burning power plant and got twice the bang from those emissions, but it is not permanently sustainable.

    At any rate, such is my take on this article.

  11. ecostew says:

    I watched Black Blizzard yesterday – check out the picture: http://www.history.com/genericContent.do?id=60648

  12. Alex J says:

    Justin, I tend to be skeptical of such claims, considering how many have been made by other startups over the years. It’s tough to tell whether they’ll be able to scale up while controlling costs. Separating water without expending lots of energy certainly seems like an important milestone, and they don’t really say how much progress they’ve made. Then there are the questions of CO2 delivery and bioreactor maintenance. Last I checked, there still wasn’t an economical method of delivering large amounts of “clean” CO2 from the nation’s power plants. And IF this process involves a specialized algae strain, I would ask if there are potential issues with undesirables compromising the bioreactor and competing with the efficient fuel-producing algae. I recall that being a concern for those trying to cultivate high-lipid strains for biodiesel.

  13. Justin says:

    Thanks a lot Charles that was very helpful

    And that Nate Silver critique is pretty damning and also quite scary in highliting how marginal these places seem compared to the giants

  14. paulm says:

    I though obama was that Churchill …

    Climate war could kill nearly all of us, leaving survivors in the Stone Age

    We need a climate change ‘Churchill’ to lead us away from planet-wide devastation, writes James Lovelock in the latest edition of Conservation magazine, part of the Guardian Environment Network

  15. James says:

    I don’t see how the algae process could possibly work as described. It takes energy to split the CO2 into carbon & oxygen. That energy has to come from sunlight, through not-very-efficient photosynthesis, which means (unless I’m overlooking something) on the order of tens of square km of algae tubes to deal with the CO2 from a typical coal-fired powerplant.

  16. ecostew says:

    There has been some discussion of algae at the following site:

  17. Chris Winter says:

    He who hesitates is locked out.

    I intended to add my bit to the thread on Paul Krugman’s column, but while I was composing it they stopped accepting comments. (The tally stands at 502.)

    Perhaps I can e-mail him…

  18. Chris Winter says:

    Mike D:

    Thanks for the link to Nate Silver’s thread. Over there I found a report that looks interesting:


    Published by Alliance Bernstein, January 2008 (128-page PDF, 3.0 MB)

  19. David B. Benson says:

    Justin — There are many algae ‘farms’ being started, usually as pilot plants. Eventually some good will come out of it. In the meantime, read the grassoline article in this month’s Scientfic American.

  20. ecostew says:

    Well biofuels, including algae:

    Compete with food security, energy security, and water security; a World Bank 2008 report estimates that biofuels have increased food prices by 75%; increasing AGW-related temperatures expected to decrease crop yields (recent US national assessment) and increase irrigation requirements; algal biodiesel potential, but current small-scale production costs of $33/gal are too high and based on first principles of solar insolation falling on a square meter of land, the maximum algal biodiesel yield you could expect to get is around 1 gallon/square meter/yr with photobioreactors cost over $100/square meter; a recent Proceedings of NAS study reported that jatropha requires five times as much water per unit of energy as sugarcane and corn, and nearly ten times as much as sugar beet–the most water-efficient biofuel crop and jatropha requires an average of 20,000 liters of water for every liter of biodiesel with soybeans and rapeseed, the two other biodiesel crops considered in the study, being next highest, each requiring roughly 14,000 liters of water per liter of fuel

  21. It is ironic that Bernie Madoff was sentenced today to 150 years in prison for his Ponzi scheme while Representative Paul Broun received applause for his statements about global warming being a hoax. Madoff was praised as a financial wizard right up to his fall too.

  22. ecostew says:

    Yes, and the “Rs” hope to achieve the same outcome next election, unfortunately it’s our kids and their kids that go to jail.

  23. quakergardener says:

    re “skeptics” decrying Waxman-Markey:

    Here is a link to an article in Investors Business Daily claiming the EPA suppressed a report that disproves global warming so ACES could pass. Real denier stuff full of half-truths and outright lies.


  24. Susan says:

    Here’s another article about algae; perhaps it is more specific:

    I think (though I too am insufficiently informed) it might have some potential. It gets confused by some with a couple of other items involving algae which are not so positive. I got the impression it gets points because (a) it consumes more CO2 than it emits and (b) it’s cheap and easy to produce.

    People tend to be dismissive about it, but I’m not sure it is as flawed as indicated. I first heard about it second hand from someone associated with MIT; perhaps someone with connections there can find out what they’re up to, and I’ll try to track down who it was.

    I don’t think it should automatically be lumped in with efforts likely to fail.

  25. Susan says:

    oh dear, ecostew, you seem to have gone right into it. I’m not sure if what I was talking about was identical but if so it doesn’t sound so good, does it? It is so annoying not to have enough scientific training.

    Nonetheless, IMHO it looks better than other biofuels.

  26. Susan says:

    re DotEarth, though I remember hooting and hollering about the oozy “fair and balanced” Copenhagen article, there have been a lot of good posts there. This on MIT:

    The New Yorker article on Hansen is pretty good, though I agree it would be nice to avoid the flames the title might cause. It shows him as likable, humble, and driven by necessity, directly contracting the nasty factoids being circulated by the hoax toadies.

  27. Max says:

    I believe the consensus is that something needs to be done and fast…have any of us ever seen government so anything fast? Government may be one of the solutions but the world will have already melted by that big red star…before government takes action. They are influenced by too many pet projects, lobbyists and a desire to keep a cushy job to ever do anything quickly.
    It will take the actions of the human population to solve our environmental problems. When consumers talk…manufacturers listen. When humanity shouts, government listens. When we (humans) decide that saving our environment from ourselves is important, we will be the ones who will make a difference…not government intervention. All we need is someone to lead us all, wake us up, and motivate us to do the right things. Then we will make a difference.


  28. David B. Benson says:

    Susan — Algae dervied biofuels will have their place, but they are not necessarily better, in all circumstances, than other biomass. For example, Jatropha does well in India and in Southeast Asia. Could be grown on Caribbean islands.

  29. Chris Winter says:

    This may be more than you wanted to know about Dr. Krugman’s column, but I’ve just tallied the comments. It comes out like this: 333 in favor, 153 opposed. (The remaining 16 either are duplicates, or I couldn’t divine their position.)

    Thus, readers approved his view by better than 2:1. Also, if you check the average recommendation scores, they are 29.1 for approving comments, 18.0 for those opposed.