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A Critique Of The Broken-Record Counterfactual Message of The New York Times On Environmentalists and Scientists

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"A Critique Of The Broken-Record Counterfactual Message of The New York Times On Environmentalists and Scientists"

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Broken Countrywide Record

The New York Times keeps running opinion pieces and analyses that misstate the positions of the major environmental groups and even leading scientists.

A classic example is the Dot Earth post from Friday headlined, “A Critique of the Broken-Record Message of ‘Green Traditionalists’.” I will show that this critique is pure bunk. Indeed, this critique isn’t merely untrue, it is the exact opposite of the truth.

Amazingly, we will even see that the critique contains an utterly false attack on “a bunch of scientists” who just published a major report. But people just don’t click on links, I guess.

The New York Times post begins by stating that Keith Kloor “has an essay posted on Discover, titled ‘The Limits to Environmentalism,’ that is well worth reading.” The NY Times then reposts this introduction with a link to the rest:

If you were cryogenically frozen in the early 1970s, like Woody Allen was in Sleeper, and brought back to life today, you would obviously find much changed about the world.

Except environmentalism and its underlying precepts. That would be a familiar and quaint relic. You would wake up from your Rip Van Winkle period and everything around you would be different, except the green movement. It’s still anti-nuclear, anti-technology, anti-industrial civilization. It still talks in mushy metaphors from the Aquarius age, cooing over Mother Earth and the Balance of Nature. And most of all, environmentalists are still acting like Old Testament prophets, warning of a plague of environmental ills about to rain down on humanity.

For example, you may have heard that a bunch of scientists produced a landmark report that concludes the earth is destined for ecological collapse, unless global population and consumption rates are restrained. No, I’m not talking about the UK’s just-published Royal Society report, which, among other things, recommends that developed countries put a brake on economic growth. I’m talking about that other landmark report from 1972, the one that became a totem of the environmental movement. [Read the rest.]

No and no.

This analysis, which would have been relevant 20 years ago, is simply the opposite of the truth today.

Indeed, anyone who follows the history of the environmental movement knows that the most serious complaint offered against it these days is that it has become too corporatist and too focused on the techno-fix. I’m not saying I agree with that critique 100%, but it has far more truth to it than this critique.

If you look at the major environmental groups — the ones with the power and money that this analysis purports to be about — they all work closely with industrial corporations, generally take lots of industry money, and they aggressively supported a climate bill that was absurdly pro-technology and pro-industry, that was business friendly and market oriented.

The climate bill was entirely about pushing any low carbon technology into the marketplace — including nuclear power. The bill had staggeringly generous subsidies for pretty much every industry, including many billions for the coal industry to help it develop technology to save its ass.

And the broken-record New York Times simply seems unable to acknowledge that the tens of millions of dollars spent to promote the climate bill was done by focusing on the pro-technology message and utterly downplaying the threat of climate change. The primary focus of the messaging was on clean energy jobs, along with energy security and the threat of international competition — industrial competition.

While the NY Times is oblivious to this, it did not escape the attention of the Washington Post’s Ezra Klein, who wrote about it in his 2010 article,Can you solve global warming without talking about global warming?

This notion that the environmental movement — or any other major play in the media landscape — is pushing non-stop apocalyptic messages like a broken record is one I debunked in this post “Apocalypse Not: The Oscars, The Media And The Myth of ‘Constant Repetition of Doomsday Messages’ on Climate” (excerpted at the end).

To see what message they are pushing, please visit the front page of the websites of The Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council — and of the enviro groups with the really big revenues — the World Wildlife Fund, and National Wildlife FederationNational Audobon Society, the Nature Conservancy. Apocalypse not!

UPDATE: Dr. Robert J. Brulle of Drexel University, author of two books and some 20 refereed articles on the U.S. environmental movement – whom the NY Times has called “an expert on environmental communications” — emailed me after reading my post:

This opinion piece by Mr. Kloor and Mr. Revkin is, generously speaking, highly problematic. It ignores a vast amount of scholarship on the environmental movement. It seems very difficult to me to understand how Mr. Revkin can maintain his argument that his opinion blog is “science based”and run something like this. There is apparently a double standard in operation, where the physical sciences are taken into account, but the social sciences are not. I would expect more fidelity to the empirical research on this topic from the NY Times. Perhaps a good start on becoming conversant with this material might be the books of two previous NY Times environmental reporters –Mark Dowie’s Losing Ground and Philip Shabecoff’s A Fierce Green Fire.

As an aside, the notion that being anti-nuclear is somehow a litmus test for proving environmental groups are “Green Traditionalists” stuck in the 1970s is particularly absurd.  The Economist just published a 14-page report, “Nuclear energy: The dream that failed, A year after Fukushima, the future for nuclear power is not bright—for reasons of cost as much as safety.” Is there a more pro-corporation, pro-technology mainstream global publication than The Economist?

And then we come to the utter misrepresentation of the “just-published Royal Society report,” People and the Planet. Reading the NY Times, you’d get the impression that this is somehow a doom and gloom report about how “the earth is destined for ecological collapse” if we don’t reverse course. And you’d also believe that a “bunch of scientists” have written a jeremiad that “recommends that developed countries put a brake on economic growth.”

Not. And not.

Anyone who knows the Royal Society – the UK’s national academy of science, founded in 1660 — knows that like most big scientific bodies, it tends to be pretty staid and conservative. The Royal Society’s motto is apt:  Nullius in verba — Latin for “On the words of no one” or “take nobody’s word for it.”  It is “an expression of its enduring commitment to empirical evidence as the basis of knowledge about the natural world.”

So when someone attacks the Royal Society scientists, it’s a pretty good idea not to take their word for it. And in fact the report is pretty darn mild given the dire nature of our situation. More important, it most certainly does not recommend developed countries put a brake on economic growth.

If you go to the link the New York Times provided, here’s what the Royal Society has to say about our situation:

This project was a major study investigating the links between global population and consumption, and the implications for a finite planet.

The final report People and the Planet was published on 26 April 2012.

Rapid and widespread changes in the world’s human population, coupled with unprecedented levels of consumption present profound challenges to human health and wellbeing, and the natural environment.

The combination of these factors is likely to have far reaching and long-lasting consequences for our finite planet and will impact on future generations as well as our own. These impacts raise serious concerns and challenge us to consider the relationship between people and the planet. It is not surprising then, that debates about population have tended to inspire controversy.

This report is offered, not as a definitive statement on these complex topics, but as an overview of the impacts of human population and consumption on the planet. It raises questions about how best to seize the opportunities that changes in population could bring – and how to avoid the most harmful impacts.

This is about as alarmist as a clock radio set to Muzak.

“Profound challenges” and “far reaching and long-lasting consequences.” Yeah, that is stuff right out of Old Testament prophets.

You can go to the overview page, still no Apocalypse. Go to the Executive Summary, still no Apocalypse. Read the full report — but only if you want a relatively straightforward discussion of the demographic challenge we face discussed in non-apocalyptic terms.

But what about the claim the report demands the developed countries stop growth?

Here are the key recommendations:

  1. The international community must bring the 1.3 billion people living on less than $1.25 per day out of absolute poverty, and reduce the inequality that persists in the world today. This will require focused efforts in key policy areas including economic development, education, family planning and health.
  2. The most developed and the emerging economies must stabilise and then reduce material consumption levels through: dramatic improvements in resource use efficiency, including: reducing waste; investment in sustainable resources, technologies and infrastructures; and systematically decoupling economic activity from environmental impact.
  3. Reproductive health and voluntary family planning programmes urgently require political leadership and financial commitment, both nationally and internationally. This is needed to continue the downward trajectory of fertility rates, especially in countries where the unmet need for contraception is high.
  4. Population and the environment should not be considered as two separate issues. Demographic changes, and the influences on them, should be factored into economic and environmental debate and planning at international meetings, such as the Rio+20 Conference on Sustainable Development and subsequent meetings.

Yes, the developed countries must stabilize and then reduce material consumption — through investments in technologies that allow us to “systematically decouple economic activity from environmental impact.”

Not exactly a hair shirt.

To be clear, the Royal Society is arguing for policies that allow the economy to keep growing but without environmentally damaging consumption — using a technology-based strategy.

Seriously, who could possibly object to these recommendations — except perhaps someone who doesn’t think we have to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions at levels that would avoid, say,  4°C or higher warming? Of course, the New York Times opinion writer steadfastly refuses to explain where he thinks we need to stabilize greenhouse gas emissions, but even so, what is the objection to these recommendations?

Ironically, this NYT opinion writer is rather famous for arguing that population ought to  be part of the discussion of how we respond to climate change. But now he is praising a critique that dismisses a report that advances a rather sensible, science-based approach to thinking about the issue (not that this report focuses on climate — it does not).

The report itself is quite pro-technology and in the full report it states again as a main finding:

A priority for the most developed and the emerging economies must be to stabilise, and eventually reduce, material consumption and to adopt sustainable technologies.

The entire dichotomy put forward by the New York Times and the critique it cites is simply an oversimplistic conterfactual. The critique puts it this way:

The way I see it, [Gus] Speth is a green traditionalist, the kind who demonizes economic growth based on faulty reasoning and perhaps an ideology that associates growth with environmental plunder. [Robert] Reich is a green modernist (though I’m not sure he’d call himself a green), the kind who recognizes that irresponsible resource extraction “isn’t an indictment of growth itself. Growth doesn’t depend on plunder. Rich nations have the capacity to extract resources responsibly.”

The thing is, the scientific and economic literature says we can avert catastrophic climate change while continuing to grow. Now, not everyone buys that, for sure, and you certainly will find pockets of anti-technology people in the environmental community (and elsewhere). But in its definitive 2007 synthesis report of the scientific and economic literature, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) concluded:

In 2050, global average macro-economic costs for mitigation towards stabilisation between 710 and 445ppm CO2-eq are between a 1% gain and 5.5% decrease of global GDP. This corresponds to slowing average annual global GDP growth by less than 0.12 percentage points.

Not exactly a braking of growth — more like the regenerative braking you experience in a good hybrid vehicle. Overall GDP would continue its steady march year after year.

I myself probably have written as much as anybody on the dangers of  unrestricted greenhouse gas emissions, which would supposedly make me a “green traditionalist” (see An Illustrated Guide to the Science of Global Warming Impacts: How We Know Inaction Is the Gravest Threat Humanity Faces).  But I have also written as much as anyone on how a technology-based strategy (including nuclear) can avert the worst case (see The full global warming solution: How the world can stabilize at 350 to 450 ppm), which would supposedly make me a “green modernist.”

But that supposes these distinctions have any reality in this world. They don’t.

As but one example, a major source of this phony distinction is, of course, The Breakthrough Institute, which you can tell by reading the links in the original critique. But BTI opposed the climate bill! Why? It supposedly had too many industry-friendly components. So the alleged green traditionalists supported a technology- and industry-friendly bill (without pushing a climate message) while the alleged green modernists opposed it!

Finally, this notion that there is a broken-record message from “green traditionalists” at a national level has become, well, a broken record.  It simply isn’t true.

To repeat what I wrote in February on Oscar night, Here are the key points about what repeated messages the American public is exposed to:

  1. The broad American public is exposed to virtually no doomsday messages, let alone constant ones, on climate change in popular culture (TV and the movies and even online). There is not one single TV show on any network devoted to this subject, which is, arguably, more consequential than any other preventable issue we face.
  2. The same goes for the news media, whose coverage of climate change has collapsed (see “Network News Coverage of Climate Change Collapsed in 2011“). When the media do cover climate change in recent years, the overwhelming majority of coverage is devoid of any doomsday messages — and many outlets still feature hard-core deniers. Just imagine what the public’s view of climate would be if it got the same coverage as, say, unemployment, the housing crisis or even the deficit? When was the last time you saw an “employment denier” quoted on TV or in a newspaper?
  3. The public is exposed to constant messages promoting business as usual and indeed idolizing conspicuous consumption. See, for instance, “Breaking: The earth is breaking … but how about that Royal Wedding?
  4. Our political elite and intelligentsia, including MSM pundits and the supposedly “liberal media” like, say, MSNBC, hardly even talk about climate change and when they do, it isn’t doomsday. Indeed, there isn’t even a single national columnist for a major media outlet who writes primarily on climate. Most “liberal” columnists rarely mention it.
  5. At least a quarter of the public chooses media that devote a vast amount of time to the notion that global warming is a hoax and that environmentalists are extremists and that clean energy is a joke. In the MSM, conservative pundits routinely trash climate science and mock clean energy. Just listen to, say, Joe Scarborough on MSNBC’s Morning Joe mock clean energy sometime.
  6. The major energy companies bombard the airwaves with millions and millions of dollars of repetitious pro-fossil-fuel ads. The environmentalists spend far, far less money. As noted above, the one time they did run a major campaign to push a climate bill, they and their political allies including the president explicitly did NOT talk much about climate change, particularly doomsday messaging
  7. Environmentalists when they do appear in popular culture, especially TV, are routinely mocked.
  8. There is very little mass communication of doomsday messages online. Check out the most popular websites. General silence on the subject, and again, what coverage there is ain’t doomsday messaging. Go to the front page of the (moderately trafficked) environmental websites. Where is the doomsday?

The New York Times should stop pushing this myth.

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52 Responses to A Critique Of The Broken-Record Counterfactual Message of The New York Times On Environmentalists and Scientists

  1. Timeslayer says:

    Joe,

    While most of us appreciate your cogent critiques of the New York Times, why bother? The New York Times is utterly terrible, and has been for at least a decade. There’s no chance it will ever reform. It functions the same as any other corporate mainstream press outfit. They’re all terrible. Occasional brushes with reality like a truthful story on climate change mean nothing in the context of their daily irresponsible.

    TS

    • Timeslayer says:

      “irresponsibility.”

    • Joe Romm says:

      The NY Times is still the paper of record and it drives a tremendous amount of traffic to its website.

      The myth that it is pushing here is one that, if unrebutted, might actually take hold and undermine serious efforts to address climate change.

      • Timeslayer says:

        I fully understand that the New York Times IS the paper of record and is basically the leader of the mainstream media. My point is that they will not listen to your critiques. From what I have heard, and my own observations, the Times is a very insular institution that does not accept criticism with an open mind. Have you noticed any improvement in their reporting? I haven’t, and I don’t expect to.

        TS

        • Joe Romm says:

          I don’t expect to change them. But myths pushed by credible sources need debunking lest they take hold.

          • Timeslayer says:

            I see your point. I don’t consider the New York Times a “credible source”, but I realize that most people still do. It is certainly an influential source. I don’t know how many people read Climate Progress, but I’m sure that far, far fewer will read your rebuttal than will read the Times’s misleading piece. I think that dynamic has to change, somehow. The corporate mainstream media still exerts massive influence on public perception of issues, and that’s an enormous problem for the climate movement.

            TS

      • ltr says:

        This is not the New York Times, but a blogger who is no longer a reporter for the Times, a miserable anti-science and anti-environment writer. Completely false blogging by Revkin as usual.

  2. T.J. says:

    I am so sick of these “bright green” techno-worshipers. They think they can monetize everything and somehow that’ll fix all of the problems in the world. It’s nothing but a bunch of fuzzy faux “progressive” capitalist crap.

  3. Spike says:

    These absurd straw men caricatures are used by people who have an objection to any interference with business as usual, and who conceal their reactionary and immoral position by adopting concern troll postures, such as a ned for balance, more research, or more discussions. Anything to avoid pragmatic and sensible changes that might impose some much needed changes. And anyone who picks a fight with the UK’s Royal Society is likely to be on very shaky ground, even if they don’t pick a fight with an irresponsible caricature of the report but actually try to engage with the issues.

  4. cervantes says:

    By “New York Times” do you not mean “Andrew Revkin”?

    • Joe Romm says:

      I mean the New York Times. They publish and promote this work, often times on the front page of their website and mobile app. Yes, they post this under “opinion,” but this is the former lead reporter on this issue for the paper and I don’t see them promoting any counter-opinions on their website through some other column.

  5. Tim says:

    The idea that environmentalism is as it was in the 1970′s could only be concluded by watching network news affiliates do their obligatory Earth Day stories from second grade classrooms.

    I was amused by the vinyl “broken record”, but it exactly appropriate as it turns out, since the NYT editorialist(s) really do seem to have fallen asleep in the 1970s when vinyl records were still around. What utter trash.

  6. Peter says:

    The Times is behind the curve- again. In the early 70s it did a damning critique of the LGBT Community as being ‘deviant’.

    Its current blindfolded reporting on AGW is of course far worse- but the huge profits now are something the Times is afraid to lose. In the end the NYT will lose those profits and its moral credibility.

  7. Andy Olsen says:

    Once again, I am grateful to Joe Romm for being there and for speaking in strong terms.

    The author appears to be speaking about the environmental movement in his imagination.

    Thanks, Joe!

  8. John Tucker says:

    “the notion that being anti-nuclear is somehow a litmus test for proving environmental groups are “Green Traditionalists” stuck in the 1970s is particularly absurd. ”

    I guess, BUT the example you give (that one sided Economist article on costs) isn’t the primary motivator in anti nuclear arguments – with respect to antinuclear groups SPECIFICALLY. [im not talking cost analysis, or arguments on poorly functioning or recklessly thought out installations]. I mean groups JUST concerned with eliminating ALL nuclear power and those tethered to them.

    I think the analysis of a seemingly antiquated approach is correct with respect to those groups especially as all nuclear technology is not the same and lumping cost, risk, impact and emissions into a singular entity is inherently incorrect.

    Realistically however the only “environmental group” ive seen dominated by a anti nuclear sub organization so far would be Greenpeace and I am still not 100 percent sure they are of one mind.

    So the NYTs could say “focused absolute anti nuclear environmental groups” – “have what appears to be a antiquated approach to environmentalism , by their singular focus, that inherently downplays newer research on the importance of climate change and acidification.” I think it would be closer to correct, but not so good sounding.

    I wouldn’t use “green traditionalists” that was a particularly bad choice of words and conveys a incorrectly vague element of stereotyping in that level of dialogue.

    • John Tucker says:

      oh but I messed up and mentioned climate change.

    • Marion Delgado says:

      I would call all the alleged 3rd and 4th gen nuclear plants pure vaporware. It’s fine to say don’t lump all nuclear power together – until you look at what they actually build vs. what they propagandize they’re going to build. And at the actual economics vs. the fake, highly ideological economics they promise.

  9. Pennsylvania Bob says:

    The biggest story in….history. And they’re missing it.

  10. Anne van der Bom says:

    They decided some time ago that environemntalism would be nothing more than a passing fad. They tried to ignore it, but to their shock and horror, it got ever more popular. They tried to ignore it even harder, putting fingers in their ears and singing la-la-la-can’t-hear-you-la-la-la. But it didn’t go away.

    And now they haven’t got an answer. They are utterly clueless. Society has changed, and they have not seen it coming. Because it was THEM that have stayed frozen in time, the era of the 50′s and 60′s where the dream of abundance and unlimited growth was not a dream, it was obvious.

    I grew up in the seventies and remember the environmentalists of those days. Bearded men, “goat wool socks types” we call ‘em over here. They either had a rusty bicycle or drove the most anti-establishment, most minimalist statement on 4 wheels: the Citroen 2CV.

    Today environmentalists have solar panels, a Nissan LEAF and a job as IT specialist.

    ’nuff said.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Capitalism and the continued existence of humanity are antithetical. The big capitalists will do whatever it takes to destroy environmentalism, and the more powerful the Green movement becomes, the more determined, unscrupulous and, in the end, violent they will become. Environmentalists have already long been targeted for elimination in the poor world, and those chickens will come home to roost in the rich world, too. There is absolutely no chance of capitalism reforming itself, as we can see if we open our eyes.

      • Mike Roddy says:

        Capitalism isn’t going anywhere, Mulga, and the track record of statist socialism outside countries like Denmark is not good. It doesn’t matter if you are right. This is the world we live in.

        • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

          The alternative is not between capitalism and Stalinism. If I might be so bold, I think that false dichotomy is a propagandistic trope. A socialist, collectivist, egalitarian and just economic system can be created, and the experience of the past need not condemn us into the future. Socialism must mean freedom for the individual, but freedom for all, as near equally distributed as possible. Capitalist ‘freedom’ pertains to dollar bills only, and the burgeoning ranks of the poor in capitalist states are as unfree as imaginable. Capitalism, in my opinion, is inherently irredeemable, and will, indeed is, destroying humanity, because of its innate destructiveness and injustice, but socialism can be perfected.

  11. Mike Roddy says:

    Kloor, Revkin, BTI, and the New York Times share the same terror: They are all generalist reporters with no particular expertise and an uncertain future. This leads to desperate efforts to either reach or expand their audiences. Facts are an afterthought, as you so well pointed out, Joe.

    All have concluded that the best career strategy is to throw bones to environmentalists while tut-tutting them. What they really want to do is to snuggle up to the cash rich corporations, most of whom are embedded with fossil fuel companies in one way or another. The result has been manufactured doubt, creating straw man doomers and extremists, and writing smiley faces for the bloated wealth class, in the hope of having a few nickels land in their pockets.

    It’s quite sickening, really. I feel soiled just by criticizing them.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      The pertinent fact is that the NYT’s plutocratic owners are part of the ruling global elite, the 0.0001% who own most of the planet’s wealth. Much of that wealth is fossil fuel wealth, so greenies are the enemy, and Revkin et al are merely property, to be disposed of if not fulfilling expectations. Tell the truth and join the unemployed queue.

  12. I cross posted this comment on the NY Times Dot Earth column that Joe’s writing about — Andy Revkin’s promotion of Kieth Kloor’s Discovery article. It’s hard to understand why Revkin is promoting the “new green thrive” types lately. They seem to be as clueless, and as dangerous as the libertarians and neocons with whom their promulgations align.

    Here’s my Dot Earth comment:

    So Kloor is aligning himself with Stewart Brand and his heir apparent Mark Lynas and the rest of the Anthropocenistsas, saying, “nothing to worry about — just throw some nuclear reactors and GMOs at the problem, let the markets do their thing and anybody who thinks the there might be a problem is stuck in the past.”

    “The polar ice cap is disappearing? No problem! New shipping lanes will open up, increasing trade, and we’ll get access to deep sea oil, which, thanks to (drumroll) technology, we can now extract, increasing general prosperity.”

    “Don’t be a sourpuss. Embrace the future. Thrive!”

    So all the neocon nonsense of the 90s gets a fresh coat of paint, and “environmentalists” become the new bad guys. Funny how all this segues with this election year’s campaign thrust by Big Fossil to demonize environmentalists for America’s dependence on foreign oil.

    Sorry to be a sourpuss, but we’re in deep environmental doo-doo, and the mindless consumption that most people call “growth” — driving to the mall every weekend and stuffing as much junk as they can put on their credit cards into their cars before driving to the supersized fast food joint — isn’t going to brighten our future. (Neither is nuclear power or GMOs).

    We still have a chance if we reduce (use less stuff and energy), reuse and recycle, and embrace renewable energy which, with concentrated solar power, is now available 24/7.

    You know, all that outdated 70s stuff.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      After his disinformation services at Copenhagen, the mere mention of the words ‘Mark Lynas’ produces waves of nausea. A pseudo-Lomborg in the making, and, as ever with the descent of this type, growing ever more febrile in his services to the money power. These creatures have to leap and caper a good deal to draw the plutocrats’ attention, unlike old hands like Lomborg, with a well established denialist ‘brand’. I mean who, apart from political entomologists and green masochists, has ever heard of him?

    • Ray says:

      “‘Don’t be a sourpuss. Embrace the future. Thrive!’”

      Yes, because who would possibly want to think “positively” about the future. Oh, wait, everybody. They’re morons though. And what fool could possibly assume we can “thrive” in a future where climate change is solved? We all know that a world where warming is limited to 2 degrees C involves extreme hardship, significant personal sacrifice, and a large carbon-sequestered campfire where everyone holds hands and sings kumbaya, as they move beyond the long-forgotton information age, and embrace a return to simpler times.

      Or… not.

      By the way, I can’t think of anything more grinch-like than attack the human feeling of hope, and that’s exactly what you’re doing here. Congrats!

      Nobody, especially Mark Lynas, is downplaying the threat of climate change. Time is short, and we have to pick our battles. GMOs are not a priority right now, especially considering that they can be a net-positive for the environment in our fight against AGW. And considering how big of a threat this is, and how few people are talking about this issue in the media, I would consider it not very wise to attack people like Mark Lynas. You do realize he’s the author of 6 degrees right? Or did he fall from grace for not constantly shouting “end is nigh”?

      I can understand the annoyance with an article like this. It can send the wrong message to people who know nothing about these issues, and unfairly creates the perception that most environmentalists are “traditionalists” from the 70′s, and that modernist environmentalists are a new and growing minority. I know it’s not that black and white.

      But can we stop freaking out every time somebody suggests a different narrative, while still acknowledging the dangers of climate change? This blog almost FIGHTS to maintain an utterly depressing, gloomy atmosphere, even to the point of trashing peer-reviewed papers that suggest our situation is less bad than previously thought. That’s when it gets a bit goofy, in my opinion.

      • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

        Ray, please, where did you get the idea that genetically engineered organisms can aid the fight against climate destabilisation? Please forgive my incredulity, but that seems a very long, and bent, bow. All genetic engineering does is increase the wealth and power of Monsatan etc, impoverish farmers, lead to the outbreak of superweed infestations, and directly contribute to a massive surge in the use of Roundup, and other hideous toxic substances.

  13. Joan Savage says:

    Unfortunately, second-hand material as stupidly irritable as a used-car commercial is a way that media can stimulate readership counts. NYT’s Revkin not only didn’t write his own material, he reposted Discover Magazine’s re-post of Kloor’s blog.

    Guess it was a really slow week in enviro-news, for some.

    For others, exceptional drought:
    http://droughtmonitor.unl.edu/

    Or greater frequency of floods leading to a new role for military:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-latin-america-17838868

    Even while recent floods are attributed to La Niña:
    http://www.accuweather.com/en/weather-news/seasonal-rains-produce-deadly/64264

  14. Doug Evans says:

    Great piece
    Saved me putting together some sort of rebuttal to send to Dot Earth. Instead I’ve simply removed it from my blog list. I wont waste time any longer on Prof Revkin’s covert propaganda for a slightly modified ‘business as usual’ take on the environment. With population increasing exponentially, living standards rising and the global ecological footprint already at 1.5 ‘Earths’ how can Kloor (or anyone) be sanguine about continued economic growth? Kloor, Brand et al are mad.

  15. john atcheson says:

    I wish we could ignore the NYT and the MSM — but that’s where a lot of people, many in a position to make a difference, get their information. So dismissing them would be a big mistake.

    Thanks for once again setting the record straight, Joe.

    This kind of crap is just a desperate attempt to make news where there is none — to turn a dog bites man story into a man bites dog.

    They crave controversy because they’ve mistaken it for substance. No controversy, no substance. What to do? Create it.

    Why create it? It sells papers or air time; it jacks up your ratings or your circulation or your Nielsen numbers.

    Reporting that we are knowingly proceeding with the destruction of much of the natural capital we rely on for surviving and that this is a consensus doesn’t sell papers and it could turn folks off. So the MSM doesn’t go there.

    Attacking a popular movement — even using fabrications and falsehoods? That sells.

    Environmentalists have been soft-pedaling how bad things are because they are afraid of turning folks off. Far from doom and gloom, they’ve slapped a happy face over the Big Mac lifestyle that’s killing us.

    Yeah, this kind of crap must be debunked, and thanks to Joe for doing it.

  16. Paul Magnus says:

    Straight to the essence of it all. Great article.

  17. Dick Smith says:

    Too many editors (and liberals who aren’t yet alarmed by GW/CC) remember Paul Ehrlich as a bad scientist who cried wolf. So Lester Brown’s arguments about food and water shortages and price hikes being the tip-of-the spear of impacts for most people is ignored. I’ve tried this approach with some success.

    MYTH: In the 1960’s, Paul Ehrlich got it all wrong.

    REALITY: Ehrlich was only half wrong.

    1. Ehrlich’s predictions of imminent resource scarcity and famine were wrong.

    o He seriously underestimated the potential of innovative technology fixes.

    o And, he completely missed the agricultural “green revolution” in which food production grew faster than population for decades.

    2. However, people overlook that his major assumptions were right:

    o Most societal problems are harder to solve with billions more people.

    o If you want to stabilize global population, lowering birth rates sure beats raising death rates.

    o If technology fixes do exist, they can cause more problems (ah, GW/CC) than they solve.

    3. Our tech innovations and green revolution relied on an unprecedented fossil-fueled energy explosion.

    o Incredibly, ½ of all human fossil-fuel CO2 emissions have occurred since 1980.

    o So, it’s hard to look at today’s CO2 emissions and say that Ehrlich was wrong about the scale and complexity of problems inherent in using some technologies—especially, fossil-fuel technologies.

    EXTREMIST MYTH: Experience shows that environmentalists are “extremists” who cry wolf.

    EXTREMIST REALITY: Experience shows both sides have extremists. Regardless, this time is very different.

    1. Science progresses as new data in peer-reviewed studies support or contradict earlier predictions.

    2. So, in the 1970’s, new data quickly proved Paul Ehrlich’s extreme predictions about resource scarcity and imminent famine were wrong.

    3. What’s different today is that new data is validating the more extreme CO2/GW predictions.

    o From 1990 to 2007, the IPCC (International Panel on Climate Change) issued 4 reports.

    o The 2007 report had a dozen scenarios for CO2 emissions and temperature increases, based on low, moderate and high fossil fuel use.

    o They also estimated things like rising sea levels, ocean acidification, drought, glacial and arctic-ice melting, flooding, wildfires, and extreme-weather events.

    o Experience shows that since 1990 (and certainly since 2007) the IPCC has been too conservative.

    o In 2010, GDP grew 2.9%; CO2 emissions grew 6%.

    o In November 2011 the IEA reported that global CO2 emissions exceeded the “worst case scenario” (A1F1) imagined by the IPCC climatologists only 4 years earlier.

    • Joan Savage says:

      Very clear and readable. Thanks.

      • Dick Smith says:

        Thanks Joan.

        To paraphrase Bill Clinton…when it comes to assessing the validity of predictions, “it’s about the (subsequent) data, stupid!”

  18. Seems to me that it is idiotic for Revkin to think that an idea is somehow discredited because it has been repeated for 40 years. On the contrary, every idea that has changed history has been repeated for longer than that. Imagine if he’d had the same attitude about other ideas that changed society dramatically:

    Andy Revkin in the 1960s: 40 years ago, in the 1920s, feminists were saying that women should be treated equally with men, and now they are still saying that women should be treated equally with men. How can they expect to influence anyone by repeating the same thing for 40 years?

    Andy Revkin in the 1880s: 40 years ago, laissez-faire economists were saying that a free market would make production more efficient, and now they are still saying that a free market will make production more efficient. How can they expect to influence anyone by repeating the same thing for 40 years?

    Andy Revkin in the year 100: 40 years ago, Christians were saying that Christ died for our sins, and now they are still saying that Christ died for our sins. How can they expect to influence anyone by repeating the same thing for 40 years?

    As a journalist, he reports on changing trends rather than thinking about ideas, and he wants something new to talk about. People who think seriously about ideas will just laugh at this sort of shallow view of intellectual life.

  19. David B. Benson says:

    To correct a misunderstanding of costs, a recent estimate in Michigan puts the busbar LCOE of a new coal burner without CCS at US$133/MWh while VC Summer’s 2 new NPPs still look to have LCOE = US$0.076/MWh.

    So NPPs look less expensive than new coal burners. Of course, new natgas burners are less than that so long as the price of natgas remains below around US$6/MMBtu; about US$2–3/MMBtu right now.

  20. Sasparilla says:

    Excellent, painstaking piece, thank you Joe. Just to add here, this published record of rebuttal is incredibly important – this is a big channel for news outside of the Newscorp vector, and having someone the Koch’s view favorably (what could be worse) send out the weekly “green” propaganda (i.e. we don’t really have to worry about climate change or that environmentalists are nuts and shouldn’t be listened too – that’s just patent Koch) without question is not acceptable.

    Joe, nobody does this better than you and the world’s blogosphere needs it – please continue and do not be discouraged by commenters who don’t see the point, its vital to call this, propaganda masquerading as the truth, out when it happens in our major media outlets but papers in particular due to their last nature of content (NYTimes because of its editorial left leanings).

  21. Tom King says:

    As long as the information in this blog is more actionable than the NYT or Fox, then evolution will follow its standard course. Many mainstream readers (including myself) once received real benefits from their time investment in reading news. But the nutritional content has dropped, and everybody now knows that Fox makes you dumber. It took awhile for the Titanics to get built and it will take awhile for them to sink.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Apparently, for the first time, average IQs in the West are falling. Why am I not at all surprised? The MSM in Australia speaks with one voice on every subject, and differing opinion is verboten, and contrary news suppressed. Once it took years to discern the truth, as academics and historians and malcontents gathered the evidence and published it, if possible. Today the internet quickly tells you when the MSM are lying, which is pretty near always. In very few areas do the MSM present both sides, and one, unsurprisingly, is anthropogenic climate destabilisation. There a sordid ‘equivalence’ is maintained (although the Murdoch sewer, which cannot help itself, is pretty nearly 100% denialist, although they, naturally, deny it), between truth and lies, between science and Rightwing ideological fanaticism and between those who know what they are talking about and the Dunning-Krugerites too dumb to realise they have been conned, but increasingly angry and threatening because they fear that the evil ‘greenies’ are going to take away their plasma TVs and SUVs.

      • Tom King says:

        Good points, to which I would like to add that people also extract information from the frequency of reports. Even if climate change is reported accurately, people can still be mislead by irregular reporting of it. The whole idea of big typeface/small typeface headline, front page/back page location, and frequent/infrequent reporting is to subconsciously rank problems in terms of priority.

        • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

          Imagine an honest, humane and moral MSM. With their tremendous power, they would accurately communicate the bad news of ecological crisis on the front page, every day, and their editorials would urge that action be taken before it is too late. After all, as the science tells us, the lives of billions and the fate of our civilization are hanging by threads. But, of course, the really existing Rightwing business-owned MSM do nearly the exact opposite.

  22. SecularAnimist says:

    Talk about a broken record: If you go back and read the corporate media’s attacks on the environmental movement from the 1970s, you will find that they are basically the same litany of falsehoods, stereotypes, caricatures and scare-mongering that Revkin and Kloor are regurgitating.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Precisely! And in five, ten, twenty years, the criticism will be the same. Capitalism, represented by the Big Business owned MSM and environmentalism, representing the future of humanity, are near perfect antitheses. Bullying, intimidation and, eventually, violent repression have never failed the global ruling elite before, and, in Australia at least, the depth and breadth of hate propaganda against environmentalism and greenies is growing by the day. And the latest wave of Rightwing regimes being elected in the states, are ferociously anti-environmental and pro-fossil fuels. We are careering backwards just as the collapse looms. And when it kicks in, don’t expect the Right to throw up their hands and say ‘We were wrong-let’s try and save things together’. Far more likely is a final violent spasm of rage and angst, directed at environmentalists for being correct.

  23. Daniel C Goodwin says:

    It’s just absurd for Kloor to assert that further “growth” (in human population, and expropriation of everything in sight) is somehow good for the environment. You can fly around in Google Earth to see for yourself: we’ve already plundered nearly every last square kilometer.

    Kloor’s threadbare stewardship model relies on shaky expectations for three technologies in particular:

    (1) Nuclear power. Out of the frying pan, into the fire.

    (2) Heat- and drought-tolerant GMO crops. Aside from the wretched results from GMO crops thus far and the lack of any evidence that crops could be cultivated in a dust bowl, it’s perfectly obvious that no agricultural monocultures are doing the Earth any favors.

    (3) Direct Air Capture (DAC) technology to reduce atmospheric carbon. Is it “anti-technology” to mention that DAC may be thermodynamically impossible, like a perpetual motion machine? Too many of those age-of-aquarius dreamers have infiltrated the American Physical Society:

    Direct Air Capture of CO2 with Chemicals

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Daniel, the Rightwing ‘cornutopians’ practice the Big Lie, the lie so audacious that the common man, who is effected by conscience when he lies, cannot believe that anyone would be so audacious and dishonest as to confect such an untruth, and therefore gives it credence. Moreover the cornutopian Big Lie directly appeals to the greed of the Rightwing True Believer who disbelieves environmental science and viscerally despises greenies (with a frightening and growing intensity here, assiduously stoked by Murdoch’s hate press)because he fears that they will take away all his energy guzzling toys, the possession of which constitutes the sum total of his Earthly existence.

  24. Marion Delgado says:

    I reject the implied truism that lies and propaganda and booster slogans and marketing and general market fundie nonsense are the only way to survive and that telling the truth is naysaying. Yes, it’s true that’s a good repetition of, e.g., Brand’s and Lynas nonsense – and their downplaying of actual problems. But it’s simple assertion, and it’s wrong.

  25. ltr says:

    Andrew Revkin became wildly hostile to environmentalism after leaving as a reporter for the New York Times. The blog posts are just Revkin rubbish and scarcely deserve a glance. Revkin is truly an anti-science and anti-environment writer but is no longer reporting for the Times.

  26. MarkfromLexington says:

    Now the NY Times are running a 3 page article by Justin Gillis promoting Lindzen’s latest climate denial claims. Only one line of sanity at the end of the article from Kerry Emanuel.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/01/science/earth/clouds-effect-on-climate-change-is-last-bastion-for-dissenters.html?partner=rss&emc=rss