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Joe Nocera Joins the Climate Ignorati

By Joe Romm on February 9, 2012 at 12:30 pm

"Joe Nocera Joins the Climate Ignorati"

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http://graphics8.nytimes.com/images/2011/03/29/opinion/Joe_Nocera/Joe_Nocera-articleInline.jpgJoe Nocera is a business columnist for the NY Times.  He understands business, including some aspects of the energy business  (see Nocera on “The Phony Solyndra Scandal”: The “Real Winner is … the Chinese Solar Industry”).

But his Monday NYT article on the Keystone XL tar sands pipeline reveals the myopia on climate that is characteristic of most business and economics reporters.  He simply asserts the tar sands “is hardly the environmental disaster many suppose,” while providing no evidence.

And Nocera asserts, “Environmental concerns notwithstanding, America will be using oil — and lots of it — for the foreseeable future,” which is true in a hand-waving sense:  If we ignore environmental concerns, we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing.  Whether humanity can withstand such self-destructive activity, however, is the real issue.

Ultimately Nocera writes:

As it turns out, the environmental movement doesn’t just want to shut down Keystone.  Its real goal, as I discovered when I spoke recently to Michael Brune, the executive director of the Sierra Club, is much bigger.  “The effort to stop Keystone is part of a broader effort to stop the expansion of the tar sands,” Brune said.  “It is based on choking off the ability to find markets for tar sands oil.”

This is a ludicrous goal.

In fact, it isn’t a ludicrous goal.  As the nation’s top climatologist, NASA’s James Hansen said back in June,  “Exploitation of tar sands would make it implausible to stabilize climate and avoid disastrous global climate impacts.”

If Nocera wants to take on Brune’s position, then he is going to have to actually discuss climate change, which he fails to do at all in this article.  So far, it seems as if Nocera’s views on global warming derive from reading the likes of the widely debunked physicist Freeman Dyson and attending Exxon-Mobil shareholder meetings, which causes him to dismissing knowledgeable people who express science-based views of as trying to “push Exxon Mobil toward their belief system — their global warming religion.”

That equation of science with religion puts him him the climate ignorati.

If Nocera wants to become informed on climate science, I’d suggest that he start talking to actual climate scientists, folks like Hansen (who is conveniently located in New York).  He might also call up Lonnie Thompson who can explain why climatologists are speaking out: “Virtually all of us are now convinced that global warming poses a clear and present danger to civilization.”

Nocera could also review the recent scientific literature, which  I have summarized here: “An Illustrated Guide to the Science of Global Warming Impacts: How We Know Inaction Is the Gravest Threat Humanity Faces.”

One final note.   What is particularly ironic about Nocera being suckered by the “Big Lie” of the climate deniers is that he described how the Big Lie works in a different instance with uncanny accuracy  in a column titled, “The Big Lie“:

So this is how the Big Lie works.

You begin with a hypothesis that has a certain surface plausibility. You find an ally whose background suggests that he’s an “expert”; out of thin air, he devises “data.” You write articles in sympathetic publications, repeating the data endlessly; in time, some of these publications make your cause their own. Like-minded congressmen pick up your mantra and invite you to testify at hearings.

You’re chosen for an investigative panel related to your topic. When other panel members, after inspecting your evidence, reject your thesis, you claim that they did so for ideological reasons. This, too, is repeated by your allies. Soon, the echo chamber you created drowns out dissenting views; even presidential candidates begin repeating the Big Lie.

Sound familiar?  Nocera was talking about a different lie:

Thus has Peter Wallison, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, and a former member of the Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, almost single-handedly created the myth that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac caused the financial crisis.

But he has nailed how the climate science deniers operate –  if you multiply  the whole thing by, say, 16 (see In Must-Read WSJ Letter, 3 Dozen Top Climate Scientists Slam Murdoch’s 16 Posers: “Dentists Practicing Cardiology”).

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17 Responses to Joe Nocera Joins the Climate Ignorati

  1. SecularAnimist says:

    Joe Romm wrote: “… Nocera being suckered by the ‘Big Lie’ of the climate deniers …”

    What is the evidence that Joe Nocera has been “suckered” — as opposed to knowingly and deliberately participating in the fossil fuel industry’s campaign of deceit and denial?

    He hardly seems ignorant and gullible enough to be “suckered”.

    And in his article on Keystone XL, and his 2008 article about ExxonMobil that you linked to, he seems clearly sympathetic to the fossil fuel corporations and their desire to continue to profit from business-as-usual consumption of fossil fuels for as long as possible — arguing, as I understand it, that the BAU scenario is “inevitable” and that attempting to change it is nothing but the “ludicrous” behavior of those who “believe” in the “global warming religion”.

    And of course, he writes for the New York Times, which has systematically misled its readers about both global warming itself and about renewable energy.

    I think that the default assumption these days must be that journalists who purvey the fossil fuel industry’s deny / delay / obstruct propaganda are themselves propagandists and deliberate deceivers.

    If they wish to defend themselves against that charge, and claim to be merely ignorant, gullible dupes, then let them make that case.

    • Walter Borden says:

      Well stated and argued. From following his writing its clear that he is employing a strong confirmation bias. He wants to believe that matters are not serious and is seeking any argument, however thin, to support it.

  2. Paul Magnus says:

    Thanks for this Joe.
    It is ludicrous that these people are unable to grasp what is at stake. And also how implementing a clean energy goal is a way out of the economic malaise that we are in.

    • Lou Grinzo says:

      Ludicrous is an understatement. But it’s still not hard to see why this happens.

      Some people run from large scale change, and are willing to latch onto any source that tells them they don’t have to deal with the change at all. I think this explains the peculiar views of a lot of journalists and people we all deal with like friends, co-workers, and relatives.

      Those with an economic incentive (who go out of their way to give people like Nocera the ability to believe what they wish were true) aren’t against increasing job via green energy projects, per se; they’re against anything that challenges their ability to make obscene profits by ripping fossil fuels out of the ground and selling them. They are literally selling the future well being of humanity to gain short term profits. This is easily one of the most immoral, revolting things we’ve seen human beings do to each other, especially in an intergenerational context. And the people funding and pushing these denier views find that their job is ever so much easier when people like Nocera speak out of fear and ignorance, and rank and file ideologues fall into place to support anyone who says he or she is “against big, evil government”, even if that has nothing to do with the issue at hand.

  3. DRT says:

    Thanks Joe, Nocera is clearly ill-informed and short-sighted.

  4. An article like Nocera’s reminds me of the line from A Man for All Seasons when More turns to Richard Rich and says, “It profits a man nothing to give his soul for the whole world … but for Wales, Richard?”

    The New York Times was once THE newspaper a journalist would want to work for, but since their failure to apologize for ginning up the Whitewater scandal, they’ve been a mockery of what they used to be.

  5. Raindog says:

    I thought that description of the big lie was exactly right. It is clearly how the people who fight against taking action on climate change operate. It is clearly how anti-evolution forces operate. His example of the Fannie-Freddie lie was a good one and this happens on a range of issues. The right is typically better than the left on this, but I’d also throw in there that this is how the anti-fracking people operate pretty much exactly.

    Nocera does not really seem to understand how much worse the tar sands are for climate change. There is a possibility that they could be made a bit less destructive from a GHG point of view, but that would probably take building a big nuclear reactor or bringing in electricity from hydro power from thousands of miles away and getting most of the power to produce and process the oil from something other than fossil fuels.

    One thing he is right on, however sad it may be, is that Canada is going to produce this oil. They may have to send most of it to China, but they are going to produce it. Stopping the Keystone XL pipeline will do approximately nothing to slow climate change and it may exacerbate the problem a bit. If they put it in a pipleline and send it to the west coast and then via tanker to China where environmental regs are not as strong I could see the footprint of this oil being worse than it would be if we took it and processed it here.

  6. PeterW says:

    Well Nocera isn’t alone. Here in Canada, you absolutely never hear anything from the press about Climate Change when they discuss the pipeline proposals or the Tar Sands or Fracking. Mostly we have right-wing media here, but even the so called “balanced” media like the CBC and the Toronto Star never mention it.

    There’s a smug we know better than you attitude among most Canadian “journalists”. My feeling is most journalists are morons.

  7. John Pangolin says:

    This has become a way for fourth string scientific bench warmers to cash out. Ghost write a global warming denial book, promote it on Faux Newz and reich wing radio for six months and the oil companies buy a few hundred thousand copies.

  8. M Tucker says:

    Nocera, like many others, is resigned to the fact that burning fossil fuels will lead to environmental disaster eventually. That disaster might not be a big as “many suppose” but it will still be some level of disaster. But he is definitely not interested in discussing environmental impacts or the fate of humanity. He is bent on making two points. His first point is that because of the vast amount of tar sand oil and natural gas from fracking now available the US has an opportunity to realize a situation where it is “no longer beholden to OPEC.” That is a complete myth. If OPEC reduced production or cut off supply the US would still have shortages and, the most important part, the US will NEVER be free of the price swings an OPEC cut off would cause. The only way for the US to avoid paying the same price as everyone else would be to completely isolate itself from the world oil market.

    The other point is that the environmental movement has no chance of influencing the energy policy of the Canadian government. That remains to be seen but since energy is so vitally important to the Canadian economy I would think he is on to something.

    I am not defending Nocera. I am not defending Keystone. No matter what the US does about Keystone XL the US will never be free of the radical price swings in the oil market and the US will never be free of dependence on fossil fuels if the focus remains on supply and ignores demand.

    BWT- I got $5 that says whoever is President in 2013 will approve the new pipeline route.

    • Dennis Tomlinson says:

      I’ll take that bet. The way I look at it, if I win, I win, and if I lose, it’s lost.

  9. Sasparilla says:

    Thanks for the article Joe, I was rather horrified by Nocera’s “in the middle” view of the XL when I read it the other day.

    I agree with M Tucker though, whomever is elected will probably approve the rerouted XL tar sands pipeline to go with our other 2 existing ones.

  10. Leif says:

    Capitalism and Corporations no longer play on the same field as America alone. We cannot fight as though to win here in the USA alone is good enough, we have to look at the world game. I posted this on an older thread but it is relevant here.

    Part of the answer is that the Ecocidal Fossil Industry does not have the only dog in this hunt. Capitalism as well is a big bark and is designed to be mostly high maintenance parasitic. It has bled the large portion of humanity to the point of rebellion and exhaustion. To get the cash flow required, takes new impute, to retain Corpor-People lifestyle. i.e. invest in the highest profit, lowest overhead, most required, products available, energy and food! Corner the market and you are home free. (Distributed solar works for the wrong segment.) Capitalism is designed to keep the cost of each as high as the market can stand, (10% RoI for tar sands, 5% for distributed renewable power.) The bigger the spread the better for the Capitalistic-People branch. Do we call them “Cap-P” or perhaps Parasitic Capitalistic People, “PC-P”? It takes cash flow to be able to pump 50 gallons/hour of fuel through your bimbo yacht. Each feeds the other to a greater and greater degree, for we the B-P, (Breathing-People,) folks do not even get a seat at the table. A third of the Vote? What a JOKE! The “CEO” at the “Table”, which by all right’s of seniority alone should be ours. Clearly the democratic majority of the planet, “We the People”! Not the PC-P, the C-P, but the Breathing-People. B-Ps of the world UNITE! It is our last chance…

    If “we the people” can convince Corporations it is in their interest to work with humanity Wall Street will follow, the world will after that. The same goes if Cap/Corp/ is reversed. Awareness is viral, Keystone is in its death throws. I cast my ballot with Dennis.

  11. Mark Shapiro says:

    Joe Nocera clearly has listened too closely to oil CEOs and their Freeman Dysons.

    So yes, Joe Nocera should meet Jim Hansen.

  12. Mark Shapiro says:

    Can Joe Nocera be educated?

    Nocera had a similar column a couple years ago. He was chatting amiably with an oil company CEO who opined that since we don’t know for sure what climate will do, we shouldn’t panic or let exaggerated claims hurt consumers.

    How reasonable that sounded to Mr. Nocera!

  13. Susan Anderson says:

    I was cheered by the comment section, which provided a lot of expertise and reasoned response. I sure do hope Mr. Nocera actually reads it, as he might get a good education there.