Sorry, NY Times, The Filibuster, The Polluter-Funded Campaign, and The Feckless Media Don’t Make Us All ‘Climate Idiots’. Well, Maybe The Media Do.

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"Sorry, NY Times, The Filibuster, The Polluter-Funded Campaign, and The Feckless Media Don’t Make Us All ‘Climate Idiots’. Well, Maybe The Media Do."

Another week, another idiotic headline in the New York Times:We’re All Climate-Change Idiots.”

Who is to blame for the nation’s inaction on climate?

Who is to blame for the fact that a climate bill that passed the House in 2009 — and that  would have put us on a path to take stronger action than any other country in the world — didn’t become law?

Could it be the anti-democratic, extra-constitutional, super-majority “requirement” that only bills that get 60 votes in the Senate can become law?

Nope.

Could it be the fact that the GOP strategy for dealing with Obama, as explained by Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell back in 2010, is to avoid giving  any legislation the patina of bipartisanship: “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president.”

Nope.

How about the anti-science, pro-pollution ideologues — many funded by fossil fuel companies — who have spread disinformation and poisoned the debate so much that it is unrecognizable — so much that John McCain, the GOP champion of climate action actually trashed a bill considerably weaker than the one he tried to pass twice?

Nope.

How about the media’s generally enabling and inadequate coverage – see “How the status quo media failed on climate change” and How the press bungles its coverage of climate economics: “The media’s decision to play the stenographer role helped opponents of climate action stifle progress”). See also “Silence of the Lambs 2: Media Herd’s Coverage of Climate Change Drops Sharply — Again.”

Of course not.

No, this piece ignores or dismisses the groups that deserve 90% of the blame and instead says in the next paragraph:

Yes, there are political and economic barriers, as well as some strong ideological opposition, to going green. But researchers in the burgeoning field of climate psychology have identified another obstacle, one rooted in the very ways our brains work. The mental habits that help us navigate the local, practical demands of day-to-day life, they say, make it difficult to engage with the more abstract, global dangers posed by climate change.

Seriously.

Yes, there is that oh-so-tiny “barrier” called the filibuster. And there is “some”  strong ideological opposition, just a bit, though, really none worth devoting even a full sentence to (see National Journal: “The GOP is stampeding toward an absolutist rejection of climate science that appears unmatched among major political parties around the globe, even conservative ones”).

And so we are subjected to a bunch of psychoanalysis and social science research about how we all have a mental block to solving the climate problem.

No doubt many do — but the piece never bothers to cite any polling analysis, probably because virtually every poll conducted in 2009 and 2010 and more recently shows that the American public wants strong climate action. Here are a few:

“Political candidates get more votes by taking a “green” position on climate change – acknowledging that global warming is occurring, recognizing that human activities are at least partially to blame and advocating the need for action – according to a June 2011 study by researchers at Stanford University.”

So yes, we’re all to blame, the “silent majority” of people who want climate action. Or I should say “silenced majority,” since the media mostly ignores us as does  the other key player who gets no mention or blame in this piece — the President (see “The failed presidency of Barack Obama, Part 2“).

If we’re climate idiots, Dave Roberts at Grist knows who is to blame — see his great piece “TV news endumbens viewers on climate, again.”

The Times has a lot of choice about what opinion pieces to publish. But it is no surprise at all that they picked one with this final paragraph:

Simply presenting climate science more clearly is unlikely to change attitudes. But a better understanding of our minds’ strange workings may help save us from ourselves.

Here’s the thought balloon from the NY Times that should accompany this piece:

See, dear readers, just because we’re doing a wholly inadequate job of covering climate science, we aren’t to blame for climate inaction. You are!

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126 Responses to Sorry, NY Times, The Filibuster, The Polluter-Funded Campaign, and The Feckless Media Don’t Make Us All ‘Climate Idiots’. Well, Maybe The Media Do.

  1. Sam says:

    At least they are finally covering climate change at all, and at least they acknowledge that the science is clear. That’s at least one step in the right direction.

  2. catman306 says:

    Exactly Joe, as I wrote earlier, if someone doesn’t accept climate change denial, it’s probably because they don’t watch enough TV.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      In Australia you can add because they have not consumed enough Murdoch muck nor sufficient talk-back radio moral poison.

  3. joyce says:

    Gosh, I think you missed the point. One of the first videos we use in our program is from Dan Gilbert that I call “why humans are so good at ducking baseballs but can’t get climate change.” http://poptech.org/popcasts/dan_gilbert__poptech_2007
    Perhaps it is more applicable for years ago when it was produced, but I still think it applies now. Working with the public a lot, I find psychology/sociology is a giant barrier. It is changing now, as people are actually seeing the effects of climate change—but that will probably change in winter, when it gets cold…
    That’s not to let the media/politicians off the hook, but it is human nature to deal better with immediate threats vs. those considered far away.
    History shows it takes a long time before media and politicians catch up to public views. Unfortunately, we don’t have the luxury of time with this one.

    • Joe Romm says:

      Humans DO get climate change.

      Gosh, I wish people would read polling or actually talk to real people.

      • joyce says:

        I do talk with people, ordinary working stiffs, and read polls, Joe, and I can say that many are so consumed by everyday needs and concerns that climate change doesn’t rise to the top of their list. They may know, but put it aside. Addressing climate change will require a culture change–and historically, that takes time. Polls are fickle. Come winter polls will show a decline in concern. But it’s not worth arguing–I certainly agree the MSM has been attrocious and our politician, with a few notible exceptions, lame. History shows such behaviour happens time and time again when there is need for change. It’s just that this time there is so much at stake.

        • Joe Romm says:

          Actually, the polls have been very consistent on climate action and come the fall, the polls will be higher. But so what. Public opinion doesn’t move the Senate.

          • Brian R Smith says:

            But surely the public as voters have some useful influence. If not, arrrgh!, major wrench in my gearbox of assumptions.

          • Dave says:

            From my understanding of the polls, they are consistent, but the support for climate action is “softer” than for other issues like jobs and the economy. If most people really “got it” re: the importance of climate action, then the demand for action would be so strong that the rules of the Senate wouldn’t matter. Soft public opinion doesn’t move the Senate, but massive demands for action by the majority of the population would.

            I’ll write a more full response below…

          • Joe Romm says:

            This is the argument that if only people cared more, we could get 60 votes in the Senate.

            Again, it is still blaming the victim, who deserves far less of the blame than this article suggests.

          • Dave says:

            If people cared as much as warranted, we’d get 99 votes in the Senate! (Inhofe is long gone)

        • Frank Zaski says:

          An uneducated down and out person told me about the hot weather, “If you f___ with Mother Nature, Mother Nature will f___ with you.”

          Simple framing, repetition, repetition, ..

    • Steve says:

      Joyce — congrats on the work your group is doing at Washington State University. (I went to the link you provided with your comments.) I plan to use your site as a resource. Thanks.

      (Joe deals with a lot of smart-ass people in DC… I doubt he realized you were using “gosh” colloquially… or that you WERE working with REAL people.)

      • joyce says:

        Thanks for the support! We don’t have funding for next year–but may sqeak by someway… The volunteers are amazing–working in every corner of our county. We laugh sometimes how we do “climate change–through the backdoor” since just mentioning it can put up barriers. We’ll keep the website up for sure. I would love to update and expand it–have it be a source for our region, but we’ll see. Yes, definately I work with “real” people! :-)

    • Merrelyn Emery says:

      Sorry Joyce but that is absolute nonsense. There are some countries in which it is almost impossible to FIND a denier.

      It is wearying to constantly find American pop psychology being used to justify all sorts of pathologies, and then generalized to include the rest of us, ME

      • Steve says:

        Whoa… I should be working right now, but this difference of opinion intrigues me because I’m usually a big Merrelyn fan.

        Are we talking about the same thing here? I read one NYT’s article this morning about “reason for hope” on climate change action, which I thought Joe might jump on if time had allowed, but I did not read the one that starts this article so I don’t know the theme other than what Joe quoted at the top.

        I sense the theme is, Who do we blame more — institutional government dysfunction and GOP tactics or ourselves — on a personal level — for, I guess, some sort of psychological blockage over accepting that there is a problem.

        I guess Merrelyn is saying there are no genuine “deniers” of the science of climate change out there; they are all frauds with a hidden (or explicit) agenda. In other words, don’t give them cover with pop psychology. I’m not sure I agree with that. People honestly believe lots of things that others feel are factually indisputable.

        Either way, I think the real psychological challenge here builds up like this — 1) at first, some people were not inclined to faithfully believe the climate scientists, especially when the message was framed as end-of-the-century predictions of disaster; 2) now, many people are having personal experiences that lead them to believe the science could very well be accurate, and that the time frame is more imminent than people had been assuming; 3) in light of this steadily-growing awareness caused by concrete empirical evidence (and no, it’s not a all-or-nothing or a sudden realization issue at all… it’s a gradual, incremental, prioritizing issue in the minds of most people), people are starting to ask what they should be doing; 4) some people are frankly wondering whether they are going to feel a little foolish if they start making radical, personal lifestyle changes and the science later “corrects” itself and proclaims it is not as dire as we thought; and finally 5) people do ask themselves, ALL THE TIME, “Do I want to do these things if everyone else is either too indifferent, too lazy, or too stupid to be making similar sacrifices?”

        Because of number 5, many people are (inappropriately and recklessly) waiting for a [paternalistic] big USA government and inaccurately-presumed-to-be omnipotent President to show the way and to require equal sacrifice by all.

        • Ken says:

          Steve, I think fairness plays a big part.

          “People are willing to change, but they need to see others acting around them to feel their efforts are worthwhile. Fairness matters.

          A combination of incentives, community initiatives and local feedback will reassure people that they are part of a collective movement that’s making a real difference.”
          (from a 2006 UK study funded by DEFRA – for a western govt dept, they are surprisingly cutting edge it seems)

          There’s a reason why I don’t stop buying mangos (from wherever) though I live in Canada. What actions I take, as an individual, mean nothing in the grand scheme. I think most others know that as well. (Where am I going, and what am I doing in this handbasket?) Only collective action on a massive scale can bring about the changes needed. And I think most others also know that.

          The study quoted, though it dealt with sustainable consumption, shows that people are interested in doing the right thing if they see that others are also doing the right thing.

          Here’s a question, though.

          Would a person be more likely to follow someone who says:

          “Look, I have been canning my summer crops from my backyard for years, and you can too!”

          or,

          “We’re in a mess, aren’t we? But, it is a mess of our own creation. When we look to point a finger of blame each of us had better first make sure we are standing in front of a mirror. Yet, we can fix it, but the only way we can do it is if we all act together. We know the next steps on the path to fix this; we’ve known those steps for years if not decades. Beyond that, we require faith: in our institutions, in our moral sense of right and wrong, in our communities, yes, faith in the notion of markets and day-to-day solution-finding, and, certainly, faith in ourselves. etc etc etc (or blah blah blah, if preferred)”

        • Merrelyn Emery says:

          Steve, there are deniers, I’ve met lots of them – I’ve been working on the behavioural side of climate change for over 10 years now. Some of the key factors involved in producing denial are (in no particular order):
          choice of TV over other media (TV produces a unique neurophysiological response which inhibits analysis)
          choice of commercial media rather than national (ABC and SBS in Oz)
          ignorance of basic science -physics and chemistry
          immersion in a cultural sub group which either features denial or other characteristics which align with it -as Asch showed back in the 1950s, people feel extraordinarily insecure when they find themselves at odds with their group.

          We have shown that it is possible to bypass all this with carefully designed and managed events in which communities and organizations come together to plan and start implementing more desirable futures for those entities. They don’t even attempt to argue about their views on climate change.

          What I object to are theories, usually untested, that boil down to ‘human nature’ and fly in the face of all observations that most people around the world firmly believe in the climatology and are trying to do something about it. See below e.g. comments about evolution – they disregard the fact that the huge variety of human behaviour we see everyday flouts most of our evolutionary pressures. Evoking ‘human nature’ is self-serving as it allows us to cop out of our responsibilities both as researchers and people, ME

          • Brian R Smith says:

            “We have shown that it is possible to bypass all this with carefully designed and managed events in which communities and organizations come together to plan and start implementing more desirable futures..”

            This is a conclusion that has obvious valuable impact on the question of how to go forward in a given community – or in a national conversation. I’d like to follow up if you would post some links here. Thanks..

          • Richard Miller says:

            I agree Merrelyn. We can talk about social, cultural, and psychological influences that condition our freedom, but when we say it is part of human nature we enter into a convenient determinism.

            I am interested in your research. Would you be so kind to make some reading suggestions?

            I am also interested in the psychological, anthropolgical, and social cultural research (as long as we do not move into determinism). Any reading suggestions on that front?

            Thank you.

          • Merrelyn Emery says:

            Brian and Richard, that particular design is discussed on http://www.sustainablefutureplanning.com.au.

            It is part of a larger body of work and the most comprehensive source of both theory and practice is ‘Searching: the theory and practice of making cultural change’, Emery M, 1999, John Benjamin Publishing. Somebody told me recently they found parts of it on the net, ME

        • Pego says:

          Hi Steve

          I understand your confusion, however things are a little different in the science community. When a theory is proven, there will normally be scientists that pick at it in the hopes that they will get funding for some research to pursue the scientific oddities of a given thing, like gravity. Gravity has been proven, but there are people who work on why gravity doesn’t always seem to apply. They get money and we get nifty new breakthroughs like adhesives and self-watering garden containers. Contesting gravity does not risk the human species.

          In Climate Change, the first, best scientists that sorted out the facts and likelihoods of the issue, the Jason group, reported to the president in 1989 that climate change was real and would likely be critically endangering to the US. Carter promptly slapped some Solar panels onto the roof of the White House. However, one of that group that made this finding, and who had signed his agreement to their conclusions, promptly sold himself out to the highest bidder and spend the rest of his life raking in a great deal of wealth generating climate denial pseudo studies. I do not know why he thought his wealth and comfort was more important than our nation or the human species, but it was to him. Scientists with normal consciences have not chosen that path even if it may generate funds for interesting research because we have to deal with this issue, First, before that becomes a sensible and safe option. And then there are a few scientists that look at the evidence and do not care. This is creating an unusual delineation between scientists with a conscience and those without.

      • Mike Roddy says:

        You are right, Joe. Our media are trying to provide excuses for their own abdication of responsibility. I’m not going for it.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Psychology is a broad continuum of phenomena. I meet a lot of people, literally off the street, and a few get it, a larger number (easily identified even before they utter a word)consider it a Communist conspiracy as their MSM thought controllers tell them is the truth, and the vast majority deny it the way people deny death-they simply put it out of their minds because they feel impotent in the face of it, and they hope to magically wish it away. This group seem to be moving towards full realisation, and, if only we had a MSM dedicated to truth and reason, not morally insane Rightwing ideology with all its psychopathological baggage, the public could be rapidly brought onside in a wartime effort. The MSM, the Murdoch abomination in particular, has acted as if it was 1940 and they are denying that the Nazis control Europe and the Luftwaffe is bombing London (do I get a ‘Godwin’?)

  4. karen says:

    It is extraordinarily foolish to dismiss the psychology of climate change denial this way. Yes, Congress could have taken action; do you really think that those who refused to do so fully understand the problem, but blocked action anyway? They are in denial themselves, as are those who donate to them and lobby them. At the gut level, where we are most strongly motivated, it’s way, way more comfortable to believe that serious climate change just isn’t happening, let alone that we are likely facing the end of our species’ existence.

    • Joe Romm says:

      Who is dismissing it?
      I’m just saying it’s not one of the top 3 reasons we didn’t pass a climate bill.
      When you do a post mortem, look for the bullet wound, not the hardening of the arteries.

      • Joe, I’m a psychologist and completely agree with you. I think the author of the piece cited valid empirical research, but used it incorrectly. That is, the findings are more relevant to strategies that can help people become aware of, and become more motivated towards actions on a personal level, and add to building public opinion. In short, I think she confused that with reasons for inaction – which are political, from fossil fuel funded politicians, as you point out.

        • Sailesh Rao says:

          Climate change cannot be solved until some deep cultural changes occur within industrial societies. Therefore, it isn’t just policy changes, but personal changes that need to occur. Neglecting this aspect is also a form of denial.

          • Paul Magnus says:

            This is only happening as people are directly affected by extra ordinary extreme events. This way is a way to doom as it becomes too late to take effective action in the case of GW.

            Some argue its too late already. (mmm) But this is a situation where late is always going to be relative.

            We needed some leadership here to motivated and show people and the media the danger and the way forward.

            That has not happened to date. So we are moving relatively to a more too late scenario as each day goes by.

          • “Until some deep cultural changes occur within industrial societies,” or more accurately, within the the U.S. elites.

            When bracketed to match the phenomenon, rather than a loose generalization, it becomes clear that the quintessential roadblock is not generalized “human nature”.

            As other commenters have pointed out, the nub of the problem of U.S. and therefore global inaction is the particular human nature of certain Americans, rather than our species as a whole.

      • Dave says:

        But it is the reason the other reasons are possible. To continue your analogy, when you find the bullet wound, you want to know why the shooter pulled the trigger and what put him in the state of mind to be able to do that.

        The psychology of climate denial is what enables the obstructionists to be successful when they should not rationally be allowed to be destroying our way of life!

        I’ll write a more full post below…

    • Paul Magnus says:

      Its a chicken n egg situation. Both aspects of the denial feed of each other. People avoid the issue and politicians dont want to upset the status quo.

      I think it is a bit like that for the media as well.

      However, that is not really an excuse for the media not to have addressed this properly in the first place.

      I think that when we reflect back on this further down the road or even now , the media is actually the key player in all this that could have broken the cycle of denial.

      But then when we see how the media was taken over by the 1% – clearly set out in Gore’s book, The Assault on Reason, and clearly obvious from the Murdoch matters recently, then the ultimate blame falls back on to the 1% and the greed there of.

      However, individuals have to shoulder some personal responsibility. We are after all living in a civil democracy and should not shirk our role here.

      • Ken says:

        Paul, is it true that the blame lies with 1% of the population (whether “The” 1%, or any other 1%)? If the other 99% of society has been unable to guide the development then perhaps we ought to learn lessons from the 1% who have been steering the ship.

        And, like the old adage that one doesn’t need to run faster than the bear when chased, just faster then your friends, the 1% needs lifeboats for themselves only when the ship starts to sink. And it is fun to ponder where those private jets will be heading off to when those exit strategies are implemented. :)

      • Sailesh Rao says:

        Paul, we know that the 1% have taken over the levers of power, the media and governments throughout the world, and our collective response must take that reality into account. If we say that individual actions are ineffective, then aren’t we ignoring everything that Gandhi and the civil rights movement taught us?

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      All that matters to the fossil fuel cappi is that the twenty to thirty trillion in assets represented by their ‘resources’, is the greatest pile of loot in history and the very bedrock of global capitalism. If we do the only thing that can save our species and leave as much as possible in the ground, immediately the stock-markets and all the inter-connected spiders’ webs would begin to rapidly untangle. And away would go the plutocratic elect’s vast wealth, power and privilege. Most have only twenty or thirty years left, and don’t care what happens after about 2040. I think a very great number know precisely what they are doing, and simply do not care.

  5. with the doves says:

    God, I love a free press in action.

  6. Peter M says:

    The so called ‘Free Press’ has been hijacked by the rich profits the Media has become accustomed to in our Wonderfully ‘Run amok Free enterprise’ culture of consumption and runaway greed.

    The question now is how long will the Media continue to deceive the public with the real and ugly truth about climate change, and the disastrous future ahead.

    • Merrelyn Emery says:

      There is no such thing as a ‘free press’ unless it is one that is free of all commercial pressures and vested interests, ME

      • Leif says:

        Merrelyn, I agree. However until we get to a point of all social services paid for by the cost of BTU’s, it looks like we are stuck with a “cost of business operation” that must be covered. We must be thankful that some give as much as they do. If the cost of each BTU consumed was equal to the cost of all social service, from military to health care to street sweeper, we could have no taxes and no IRS and all could work for far less wage but get far more value in living and pursuit of happiness. Yes, the cost of BTU’s will be high, but distributed power to all would give each a cash cow in their bank-account, direct from the sun. Use more green power and help social service and bring the cost down for all, No war, lower energy cost. Ditto, a healthy society. No Deficit or interest. Rock solid paper. (Banking disfunction solved.) No need to amass wealth per say as each could excel without exploiting the backs of others or polluting the commons. We have a lot to do, people crying for jobs, preferably, meaningful jobs, and all our society offers is service industry or building pipelines across continents to enhance the wealth of the already filthy rich. Oh, and a quickly deteriorating climate along with the rest of Earth’s Life Support Systems.

        • Merrelyn Emery says:

          Leif, I am not sure what a BTU is apart from a British Thermal Unit but Australia has the Australian Broadcasting Commission which runs a national network across all media. It is govt funded and costs each taxpayer 8 cents per day. It has an independent board and yes, questions have been asked about some appointees but on the whole it provides an excellent service and is the most trusted news source in the country, ME

  7. I’ve posted my comments to this article on my facebook page, its like we’ve been and are still doing so, beating a dead horse to draw the cart. Your in America , where it seems no-one questions why anything, happens or doesn’t. Most American’s opt to follow the possible least resistance to accomplish anything no questions ask,Its possible to gain a following if your 1st to place a comment, ; but anyone’s guess who will be believed after that, look at 9/11 there are still many that believe we did it to ourselves, that no planes crashed that day,even after see all the recordings, and who was the idiot who did’nt want to leave anyone behind?? These same people can witness everything we’ve got on video, and will never believe we have effected our climate, that before its to late we can possibly envoke changes to make this change less dramatic than it is now presenting. Its like I’ve said before, this is possibly a pattern that is geared to happen every 10 thousand years, but its now devouring ice thats 100 thousand years old, One would’nt expect to see ice that old if it was melted every 10 thousand years,given this and all the trash you read from both sides of the issue, all I see and read, is about the CARBON FACTOR,” well when its warm enough”,
    and the frozen methane gas at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico is releasted, and the Artic tundra,and subsiquint layers of this gas are entered in to our atmosphere, make peace with your God , you’ll be seeing him soon. This same gas is 20x (times) more dangerous than the carbons now enlisted by the trillions of tons in our atmosphere, now you would expect our Congress and our Senate to get off their greedy asses, and express others to find a solution now. This up comming drought, will bring disbelievers to open their EYES, pray they’re not to late, so anyone out there that can read, better if you can write, this fracking for oil will also if not by accident, other means; release methane gas into our atmosphere !!So wake up get up and join in our cause to assist mother nature in saving our species from destruction.

  8. Leif says:

    It is a pity that such universally evaluated and accepted “science” must be defended. One does not “believe” in science, one accepts it or rejects it with rational arguments and facts. (None of which is forthcoming from the opposition.) However the opposition is funded with over 200+ years of “legal” exploitation of and the pollution of the commons; the ability of the ruthless few to amass those riches and retain them. It has been estimated that the cost of transition to a Green Awakening Economy today is approximately the same % of GDP that it cost the nation to transition to sewers and indoor plumbing in the 1800′s. Can anyone deny the value to humanity opposed to dumping “chamber pots” out multistory buildings on a daily basses? (Yet many did for much the same reasons expounded today.) Once again humanity finds itself in a position of the greedy few to amass huge profits from the exploitation of, and the pollution of, the commons. I prefer the “We All Win War” and the “R-love-ution” of investment in the future of humanity, the children, and Earth’s Life Support Systems. The only outcome in continuing the current path of ecocide leads to “Toastville” for the Kidders. Stop profits from pollution. NOW! It is not a cure all but it will go a long way toward a solution IMO.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      Leif, I’d say that the accumulation of wealth by the parasite type in humanity began long ago, perhaps when the first cave-man whacked this victim with a rock in order to steal that which he coveted. After the patriarchy replaced the earth mother religions, and women were the first victims of ‘enclosure’, things slowly worsened. The Babylonians inventing interest (although they were wise enough to have periodic ‘Jubilees’ of debt forgiveness) really set us on the path to perdition. It was only really a matter of when our technology would grow strong enough to completely stuff things up, and that was plainly during the ‘thirty glorious years’ after WW2. The rest is epilogue.

  9. Jim Baird says:

    Ideological opposition

    Those most opposed to doing anything about climate change are generally hawks when in comes to defence.

    In 2010 the U.S. government released updated data on the cost of current and past wars in current dollars, adjusted for inflation. The total comes to just less than $7 trillion ($6.815).

    In 2009 the insurance company Allianz estimated that $28 trillion worth of coastal infrastructure will be at risk by 2050 due to sea level rise alone. A study by the Stockholm Environment Institute shows climate change could reduce the economic value of key ocean services by up to $2 trillion and we are already seeing the cost of climate induced draught in terms of lost harvests of both food and timber.

    The cost of WWII was $4.1 trillion or about 2/3 of the total for all of the wars. To end this America and its allies undertook the Manhattan Project.

    To prevent 7 times the damage we should be doing no less.

  10. Bird Thompson says:

    Thanks, Joe! When I first read this piece this morning, I thought it made some good points. But your points are better. The right wing, anti-science, corporate idiots are what’s keeping humanity as a whole from decisive action. They control the media. It’s not that hard to understand the science. 350 & other great groups are leading the way to action…

  11. publius2012 says:

    Kind of like veganism: The climate hawks and vegans are natural allies — but the same psychological impediments undermine this relationship. You can’t “solve” the climate crisis without eliminating the industrial meat system — it’s a necessary wedge — BUT very few hawks are willing to embrace this and a depressingly small amount are vegan, probably for similar psychological reasons and mental habits… :(

    • Sailesh Rao says:

      I call this the Civil Disobedience of Deliberate Under Consumption.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      People will be forced by necessity to become vegetarians. Meat will soon be a luxury, fish most definitely.

  12. Jeff Huggins says:

    “A shocking crime was committed on the unscrupulous initiative of few individuals, with the blessing of more, and amid the passive acquiescence of all.”
    - Tacitus

    Although I haven’t read most of it, from what I read here, I agree that the NYTimes article misses some vital points and apparently excuses all the other problems.

    So, I won’t — and wouldn’t want to — defend the Times’ article. I’m sure Joe’s criticism of it is valid.

    That said, I have a few other/related comments.

    This notion — used again and again — that we can apportion “blame” on a 100 percent scale, as if it’s a zero-sum thing and linear and additive, is just as misleading and confusing as rejecting an understanding of evolution and thinking of species as “immutable kinds”, and other such things. In one important sense, of course, the blame primarily falls, by a wide margin, on the fossil fuel industry, the climate change deniers, the Republicans who hamper progress, and so forth. But in a different — yet equally valid and consequential sense — a huge amount of the blame also lies with the President and his Administration. That simply cannot be denied, especially since all signs indicate that he isn’t even trying hard, and ESPECIALLY since he told us all that he would try HARD to address climate change, and he got elected on the basis of our votes, many of which were cast for him on the basis of those promises.

    Where does that leave me? It leaves me agreeing with Joe in his criticisms of the oil industry, the deniers, the Republicans, the New York Times, the Chamber of Commerce, and so forth. But it also leaves me disagreeing with him — very substantially — when it comes to the degree that he is critical of the President (not nearly enough), the Democrats (not nearly enough), and also when it comes to some aspects of what he chooses to cover or not cover on CP.

    For example — and I’ve asked this several times before, with no answer — will CP be covering the Green Party’s stance on climate change, and Jill Stein, and how that stance compares to President Obama’s stance and policies so far?

    And, will CP cover the recent Pew Global Survey results, in which there are results regarding the world’s assessment of President Obama’s performance with respect to climate change?

    And, what is being done on CAP’s part, or on CP’s part, to insist — not only publicly, but also through connections and networks — that President Obama address climate change, concretely, in his speeches and policy announcements during these coming weeks and months, prior to the election? At these point, we (potential voters) really have NO IDEA whatsoever — no credible idea whatsoever — about what Obama’s policies will be regarding climate change if he’s reelected. This, after he made promises last time and after he’s been in office well over three years now! My goodness! In my view, that is a Major Dropped Ball, not only on the President’s part, but also on CAP’s and CP’s part, and on the part of all of us.

    AT THIS POINT, nobody can tell me credibly, on a factual basis, in any way that I can trust, what President Obama proposes and promises to do regarding climate change if reelected. Joe can’t tell me (or us), Bill can’t, the Sierra Club can’t, nobody can; and yet they all support him and imply support for him. Do we not find that bizarre, and indeed unacceptable, at this late date?

    So, as a blanket request — (all that’s necessary is to use your imagination to figure out what we should be demanding of the President, in terms of speaking out about climate change and telling us what he’ll do to address it) — I ask, what are CAP and CP and others doing to demand and ensure that we get concrete and trust-able information, prior to the election, from President Obama regarding what he will do to address climate change if reelected.

    Cheers,

    Jeff

    • I rather agree with Jeff and would love to see the same questions answered… but I don’t plan on holding my breath until they are.

      What I seen in the current presidential campaigns is a consensus that the election is going to be about job. Solve the problems of jobs and you get elected. However, that also requires increasing the economic growth patterns that got us into the climate change mess in the first place. The consensus about this election is almost universal: Obama camp, Romney camp, TV news reporters, Nightly Business Report and Ali Velshi, even Fox News and MSNBC agree.

      But we are solving the wrong problem. Rather, we should solve the climate problem and the rest just might follow: new industries, people working. Fail, and subtracting a billion or so people from the world wide consumer base in not in the long term benefit of any economy.

    • Brian R Smith says:

      I’ll have a stab at that. I think you are sincere in your angst over those with influence not doing enough (Obama not acting, Joe & his colleagues not doing enough to “demand and ensure” that he does), but I think it’s misdirected.

      I don’t know what Joe would say but he & John Podesta, the Sierra Club & Bill McKibben have been in this game for a long time with a primary focus on the politics, so you *have* to assume, don’t you, that they spend a lot of well informed time thinking about and using the most effective means available to them as they see it.

      CP has been adamant about Obama’s failure to lead, as much, perhaps, as thought useful. And has detailed the degree to which climatehawk Democrats are stymied by the weight of the congressional/industrial opposition and the confusion-spewing media.

      We all wish there were magic bullets that could get through the armor of the Obama team’s narrow election calculations. Maybe if the top 50 climate scientists, economists, business leaders, policy leaders and environmental leaders
      publicly and persistently demanded a high level conference with the administration..camped out at the gates.. they would get it, and then things would break open. Love to see it happen.

      In the meantime, it looks like engaging the public in the fight IS the magic bullet and it is taking a while to forge. CP is about this and CAP is an alliance builder. If you want more specific action, be specific. What would you do?

      • Jeff Huggins says:

        Hi Brian, thanks for the comments.

        In response, I’ve been very clear in much-earlier posts, and with Joe, regarding the sorts of things I think we should do or consider doing. So, I won’t repeat the specifics here. (Your point is a good one — specifics please — but I’ve written specific suggestions so many times that I’ll refrain from rewriting them today, given the scope of this message and time I have available right now.)

        That said, regarding your other comment: You are correct that Bill McKibben, Joe, the Sierra Club, and so forth — not to mention Andy Revkin and others — have been actively involved in the climate change issue for years and years, some of them for decades now. At this point, I see that as a sign of deep sincerity, excellent motivations, a high degree of intelligence (at least regarding the scientific aspects of the matter), persistence, courage, and all sorts of other good things. But I definitely don’t see it as a sign of effectiveness, sad to say. In particular, I don’t see it as any indication whatsoever that their political judgments and tactics have been effective, or could not have readily been much better. I’m not trying to be an after-the-fact quarterback. We can’t have the past back, nor can I say whether or not something else might have worked better. BUT, it is equally true that we can’t draw the conclusion, from what has been done so far, that our present situation is an endorsement of or vindication of past strategies. Indeed, it is quite clear that we MUST begin thinking and doing differently — that our approaches over the last twenty-some years have not been sufficient, or even nearly so. Indeed, right now I do not think we are approaching Obama in the right way, and the fact that John Podesta and Joe and Bill and so forth have been in the battle for years and years does not provide any reason to think that we are approaching Obama in the right way.

        What’s more is the silence. Obama is largely silent, sending very mixed signals, and indeed doing (and saying) more to exacerbate the climate change problem than to face and address it. And, I do not see anything publicly to demand that this change. In a sense, the silence on Obama’s part is enabled, in part, by the silence (or at least lack of clear demands and corresponding consequences) on the part of Bill, Joe, the Sierra Club, and so forth. Indeed, as far as I can tell, they’ve all endorsed him or implied endorsement — without even demanding that he FIRST tell us what he will DO, if reelected, regarding climate change. In effect, the movement seems intent on giving Obama a “blank check” and free ride. Although it may be too late, or close to it, to change that approach (but I don’t think so), that was likely a major, major, major strategic mistake — not a sign of political wisdom, if you ask me.

        Thus, if Obama isn’t reelected, it may very well be because he lost credibility and didn’t do what he said he’d do last time. If he is reelected, on the other hand, and if his reelection is based in part on this “trusting free ride” that many people in the movement are giving him, those people take on a great deal of responsibility for what he does or doesn’t do in the first part of his next term.

        In any case, these are some of my concerns. Thanks for your comments, though.

        Cheers,

        Jeff

      • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

        What is rather snide of this ‘Cato’ (Terra delenda est)robopath is the way he has listed a few of the areas where Obama has sold out his supporters in ways that would please the Right. He left out refusing to prosecute torturers, as he is required to do by US and International law, and quite a few others, but you get the point. In the USA, like Australia, no matter who you vote for you end up with a hard Right zealot, plus or minus some PR stunts.

    • Gestur says:

      Jeff, again I agree with you completely. For others, let me repeat what I’ve written here on several occasions now. Campaigning strongly on any issue, global climate change especially, is a necessary but not sufficient condition for getting legislation passed implementing a meaningful price on carbon in a second Obama presidency. That is simply Realpolitik. Don’t believe me? See the quote in Ryan Lizza’s June 18th New Yorker on second terms. Quoting from that piece:

      Axelrod told me that Obama has learned from recent history. “President (George W.) Bush claimed a mandate after the last election and took steps that he never ran on,” Axelrod said pointing to Bush’s miscalculation on Social Security. “You have to govern boldly, but with the humility of knowing that you can’t assume that the people embrace your case—you have to make it, even after the election. The thing that trips you up, and certainly tripped up Bush, is the assumption that, if you win (reëlection), you can them embark on an agenda that is wholly different from the one you campaigned on.”

      So it’s clear then that the Obama administration believes that campaigning on a strong climate bill with a price on carbon is necessary for any meaningful legislation to be passed in a second term.
      Yet the Obama administration continues to sidestep this issue in this reëlection campaign. The implication of this is clear: They have decided not to try to get any meaningful legislation passed if reëlected. You can choose to believe that something magical is going to happen in a second Obama term, but that’s not going to make it happen.

      We are in what the economists call a second-best situation. Making choices as if we are in a first-best situation is not in general optimal, if you want a meaningful price placed on carbon sooner rather than later. A second Obama term will reduce substantially the probability of getting a Democrat elected in 2016, especially compared to having Romney overseeing a disaster of climate change in his first term.

      We are literally running out of time, folks. Time to make some hard, hard decisions.

      • 1) The premise based on George W. Bush is fatally flawed. he acted differently that he campaigned (“A uniter, not a divider”) from day one of his first term.

        2) I’m not convinced we are quite at a generalized technical “second-best situation” yet. Damn close, of course, but there’s still a reasonable opportunity for timely climate change mitigation:

        A Practical Roadmap to Turn the Tide on Climate Change by 2020
        http://www.ArchitectureWeek.com/newsletters/green/127.html#roadmap

      • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

        ‘Democracy without choices’-the only type capitalism allows. I absolutely confidently expect Obama, if he fools the US electorate twice, to be even worse in his second term. That is my estimation of his character and purpose.

  13. Leif says:

    I as well .. “love a free press in action.” Thank you Joe for all you do. Two palms up,

    Part of the 99%

    or I prefer:

    100% of the oppressed. !

  14. DRT says:

    ” We have trouble imagining a future drastically different from the present.”

    Imagine this:

    Every night on the news alongside the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the box office numbers for the latest movie we get the current PPM of CO2, the Arctic sea ice extent, the volume of ice loss from Greenland and Antarctic glaciers, the number of high temperature records broken for the day, and a running total $ value of damage due to extreme weather events triggered by climate change, along with an intelligent discussion of what these values mean.

    The manufactured he-said, she-said debate used by the MSM to generate interest is not between the lackeys of those who benefit from using the atmosphere as a garbage dump and ‘some environmentalist’. Instead we get real scientists discussing real science and a likely point of debate is about why the models fail to keep up with the actual observed changes, or a discussion of why the day’s extreme weather event was made X times more likely by excess GHG, or other experts discussing the benefits of LEED vs. passivhaus, or biodiesel vs. battery power for cars, or the best way to finance local solar, etc., etc..

    Countries, states, counties, cities, towns, communities, and neighbors are competing with each other to have the highest levels of efficiency, the lowest energy use, and the highest level of energy produced by renewables. Children brag about who walked the farthest to school.

    Every night on the news we hear about the number of buildings which were retrofitted to net zero energy/passive house standards. We see maps showing green bubbles expanding indicating areas where all the buildings are net zero. We hear about the construction of solar plants and wind mills and the new energy grid.

    Companies are competing with each other to retrofit my home for efficiency and to provide my solar panels. Houses and buildings come with a window sticker showing the cost per year to operate. Its clear that the best value is to build or buy the most efficient available.

    There is a tax on GHGs. When coal comes out of the ground there’s a tax. When oil comes out of the ground there’s a tax. When methane comes out of the ground there’s a tax. When methane leaks from a mine or a pipe there’s a tax. When GHG from some human induced process goes into the air, there’s a tax.

    When fossil fuel leaves the county, there’s a tax.

    When fossil fuel arrives at a port or a national border there’s a tax; the tax includes the embedded GHG content (how much GHG was produced to get it to that point) and how much GHG will be produced when its consumed.

    When a good or service comes into the country there’s a tax on its embedded GHG content. There’s a tax on the green house gas content of my Chinese iPad and my Chilean apples and my Vietnamese shirt and the service center call from Mumbai.

    All this tax, goes back to us citizens ala the Pete Stark bill or Citizen’s Climate Lobby, except for some small percentage used by the federal govt. to fund its own building retrofits and energy efficiency efforts.

    For those pollutants contributing to ground level ozone, there’s a tax. (Jump on in here witsend)

    The amount of these taxes has gotten high enough that the only thing left to do with fossil fuels is to power the effort to get rid of them.

    Policies and laws continue to evolve to eliminate all negative externalities.

    There is a shortage of workers because everybody is busy manufacturing, constructing, installing and maintaining windmills and solar power, or retrofitting buildings, or retrofitting manufacturing facilities, or building the new electric grid, or doing the myriad other things that there will be to do on the way to the GHG free economy.

    Manufacturers and importers are responsible for the entire life cycle of their products. All goods when they have reached the end of there usefulness are returned to the technologic or biologic stream from whence they came ala “Cradle to Cradle”, William McDonough & Michael Braungart.

    I can take a electric powered train from DC to NY; the rip takes an hour. Continental high speed rail is under construction. The only place left to fly is across an ocean.

    Plans are afoot and projects are under way to green the deserts of the world to start sucking carbon out of the air.

    There’s a constitutional amendment to the effect that citizens of the future and citizens of the present have a right to clean air and clean water.

    Corporations are not people; the Koch brothers are pariahs and James Inhofe has apologized.

    • Leif says:

      Easy DRT, but then again I have been a rewarded fan of CP and the many loyal commentators for 2+years.

    • Mark Shapiro says:

      Right.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      DRT, why aren’t you running for President? I’d vote for you, with that program, early and often.

    • Mike Roddy says:

      Good one, and I’m glad someone else is finally talking about internationally enforced carbon taxes. I addressed this here in a guest post a couple of years ago:

      http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2010/06/10/206095/china-india-global-warming-greenhouse-gas-carbon-dioxide-emissions/

      Products made from coal power need to be taxed at the port as well as domestically, as you pointed out. The challenge here will be international enforcement. We have moved to the Right lately, and international cooperation on issues of human survival have somehow become demonized.

      This does not reflect global opinion, but is a meme promoted by the oil companies, who prey on our own fringe paranoid streak- “world government”, etc.

      The people of this country can stand up and win this battle, but it’s crucial that the media stop fighting for the fossil fuel and financial sectors. They are blocking change more than anyone, and providing cover for creatures like Mitch McConnell, who by all rights should be prosecuted.

      We also need to stop our Strangelove like military reflex, which even under the Democrats consists of sending in the drones, or cruisers to the Persian Gulf whenever we determine that someone is misbehaving. We are capable of this, since it was the US that hosted the original United Nations. We desperately need to rediscover our souls, for everybody’s sake.

      • DRT says:

        Thanks Mike, As far as ‘Products made from coal power need to be taxed at the port as well as domestically… . The challenge here will be international enforcement’, I am thinking that if this policy starts in the US only, then goods and services imported into the US will be taxed on their embedded GHG content, based on their country of origin to start with. So imported Danish butter cookies would have a lower tax than their Chinese counterpart because Denmark has a high percentage of power produced from renewables. Now because everyone wants to sell to US great consumers, producers will be induced to lower the GHG content of their products so less tax is applied at the point of import, and the Chinese imitation Danish butter cookies can compete with the Danish version. Furthermore if some other country applies analogous GHG taxes to their fossil fuels then the import tax would be waved (except for the embedded GHG content associated with the transport).

        The challenge I think will be in assessing the GHG content of goods and services, getting to finer and finer levels of granularity in that assessment, and stopping things like washing all products through Denmark so that Denmark appears to be the country of origin.

        Somehow in this pipe dream, maybe a virtuous circle can be created.

    • Ray Kondrasuk says:

      Thanks, DRT…

      Your paragraph “…Every night on the news alongside the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the box office numbers for the latest movie we get the current PPM of CO2, the Arctic sea ice extent, the volume of ice loss from Greenland and Antarctic glaciers, the number of high temperature records broken for the day, and a running total $ value of damage due to extreme weather events triggered by climate change, along with an intelligent discussion of what these values mean….”

      …gives me fodder for a local letter to the editor here in Eau Claire, Wisconsin…

      Danke!

  15. To frame it with some metaphor:

    People can be made afraid in large numbers of raptors or other dinosaurs coming back (Jurassic Park), but they only yawn at the idea of all the carbon absorbed by plants living at the time of the raptors coming back.

    That’s because humans are wired to perceive threats with an individual face as urgent (large predator coming up) and small incremental changes to the environment as unimportant.

    As Schneier explains in a TED talk, that has been an advantage in earlier stages of evolution. It is now a disadvantage when dealing with global warming.

  16. Deke says:

    Thanks for rebutting this. I think you make a strong argument against the opinion piece which seems crafted to incite poorly formed feelings not logic or truth.

    Truly the NYT and other media powerhouses have failed us, but should we be surprised? After all they failed us on two wars and the worst financial crisis in decades.

  17. The Wonderer says:

    I note the NYT also printed “There’s Still Hope for the Planet” in today’s Sunday Review. A bit of a mixed bag, but overall disappointing. Shale Gas, hopes for breakthoughs without carbon pricing, and lowering subsidies for clean energy don’t instill hope in me.

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      I mean, it’s psychotic, isn’t it, after years of denialism, ignoring the facts, false ‘balance’ between science and deranged lies and paranoia, and suddenly they are talking of the planet still having ‘some hope’. As if it is in grave danger, suddenly discovered, of catastrophe. And, of course, it’s not the planet that suddenly only has ‘some hope’ left. It is humanity. The planet will recover, without the NYT. No great loss, that.

  18. Ben Lieberman says:

    Some of the psychological literature may provide some useful tips for how to frame arguments most effectively, but there is a very historical quality to the way in which much of this is presented. Yes, people have an great capacity to believe what they want, but if some kind of allegiance to hierarchy was so powerful why is it that conservatives were so much less motivated to deny climate change 15 years ago? Why was the “conservative” brain, should such a thing exist, more willing to accept scientific reality at that time? The rapid movement of the GOP toward extremist rejection of climate science would appear to have a lot more to do with identity politics in which almost anything can be manipulated into a culture war.

    It also defies logic to suggest that we can get people to make large scale changes by suggesting that they face a tiny little problem that can be easily solved with just a few little nudges.

    • Solar Jim says:

      A human activity, or “industry,” built on fraud, no matter how much collusion with politicians and other corruption involved, is not sustainable forever. That is, it always fails after time.

      This era today is the end game of fossil fascism, and the battle is just heating up, like the planet. That is the tragedy, because the climate is spring-loaded and the response is not linear.

  19. ltr says:

    Terrific response to a horrid NYTimes column.

  20. Terrific piece.

    The New York Times, as a bastion of the establishment, seems to still be living largely and excessively in the era when journalists took pride in being social generalists.

    In these when industrial/technological culture facilitates enlargement of the human ecological footprint to the scale where it truly threatens the stability of the biosphere, journalists need to actually know what they are talking about – or else they are liable to be part of the problem, rather than the solution.

    Well past time for the Gray Lady to get consistently, not just haphazardly, on the right side of the line of wisdom and accuracy.

  21. Steve says:

    I’ve now read the article that prompted this article and series of comments, and as informative as the ensuing debate here has become, I really don’t think the freelance NYT writer needed to be trashed on this blog.

    She wasn’t undertaking to comment on politics, or acting as an apologist for why a climate bill wasn’t passed. She wasn’t drawing a sharp moral judgment call between us, the people, and the politicians in Washington. It is a classic case of “our” blog looking for a difference of opinion — a reason to take off the gloves — when one did not exist.

    So, I don’t see the purpose or the advantage gained from jumping down the throats of every individual who comments on some aspect of climate change who does not also, first and foremost, parrot the particular theme — federal political inaction, is it? — “everyone” here wants to hear.

    As for polling, has any poll asked, “If you believe Congress should impose regulations on GHG emissions, how much of an increase in per-gallon gasoline prices are you willing to pay to ensure a better climate in 2040?” Or something along those lines. “How much more would you pay in electricity bills per month to ensure it prompted people to cut back on wasteful usage?”

    And those are just polling questions over the phone when someone is trying to do something else, by the way. The real issue is not beliefs, but action. So, with all of that in mind, why not have some research with this inquiry: “In light of the unusual heat waves and drought conditions we have seen this year, what have you personally DONE to reduce your GHG emissions — without waiting for some law or regulation to make you do it?”

    The results of that study may well have relevance for the psychological research the NYT author was reviewing, without her necessarily fully endorsing any of it.

    And yes, the NYT Sunday edition story, “There’s Still Hope… ” is much fairer game for this blog since the article deals with the real issues much more directly: Given emerging awareness of the problem, what have been the policy responses to date, and are they reason for hope? That article, however, understates the multiple risks and inaccuracies of counting natural gas as a “solution,” and it understates the urgency of the problem confronting us. Blast that author, if you feel it is warranted…. or at least correct some common misconceptions.

    • Sailesh Rao says:

      There are really two kinds of denial regarding the predicaments we face: 1) the denial that it is even happening and 2) the denial that our personal consumption patterns need to change in order to address it. It is the denial of the second kind that the NY times author was primarily addressing because she was examining how individuals respond to the threat. It is the denial of the second kind that even President Obama is promoting because of the “jobs” issue.

      • Leif says:

        The “jobs” issue is important Sailesh, but not just any job, only green jobs can help us out of the morass of both climate change and unrewarding dead end jobs.

    • Leif says:

      Besides living a low impact life style by western standards, I invested ~$25,000 in solar PV last year. With Washington State production credits, wisely endorsed by the tax payers, I will receive for my first years production, a check for $1435.47 This benefit works for me, as an early investor and sunsets in 2020, but also for the state as my early investment has lowered the cost of a similar system to others by 4 to 6% in just one year. ($1,000 to $1,500.) In 8 more years I will have recouped $13,000 plus ~ 2/3 of my power consumption for free. Others 2020 costs will be in the neighborhood of $5,000, all things being equal. All from the sun hitting an otherwise unused portion of my property. A cash cow that pays far more than the ~1% I was making in my meager savings account. Solar PV works for me, how about you?

    • joyce says:

      Glad I’m not the only one who interpreted the piece that way. Perhaps it is because I’ve been following the research, which has both confirmed my experience & influenced my approach. Especially the last line: “Simply presenting climate science more clearly is unlikely to change attitudes. But a better understanding of our minds’ strange workings may help save us from ourselves.” For every graph, chart, data presented we need a story—or better yet, field trip to a business, farm, organization that is changing practices to address CC. Such stories help open communication and lead to more ideas. Slow progress for sure, but the only way I know of to get real buy in and positive action started here. I was pleased to see such research addressed, although superficially, in a newspaper—and surprised that Joe & others read so much more into it. Like the blind men & the elephant—we all see different things. (I do wonder how many actually read the article, or just read Joe’s interpretation…) Joe’s blog is my go to place if I want science interpreted clearly–but I also value other ideas to increase effectiveness.

  22. Mike Roddy says:

    Thanks, Joe, this argument (also championed by Revkin) has infuriated me for a long time.

    “People are idiots, interested only in short term rewards, so we might as well accept it and hurtle toward extinction”.

    It is defeatist, disrespectful and, as you pointed, out out, conveniently shifts the blame away from where it belongs- at the intersection of big money and big media companies.

    • with the doves says:

      Excellent! “People are idiots, interested only in short term rewards, so we might as well accept it and hurtle toward extinction.”

      and I would add:

      “And trying to do anything about it is just not cool, so don’t bother.”

  23. Paul Magnus says:

    And here is the example of the top 1% putting the spanner in…

    George Osborne wrecking green plans to placate MPs – senior Tory
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/jul/22/george-osborne-green-plans-tory

  24. Ozonator says:

    So when shills and media outlets of extremist Republicans and Christians blame my lust for a zillion dollar eco-grant, the brain barrier is not really my $10 Casio fx-280 and getting messages across the Union lines north of Jindalstan? Even with an Evil Inhofe earmark, I have yet to see any leading GOP t-bugger pass a MMPI that includes how to use a calendar, spellcheck, or body count.

  25. Peter M says:

    The truth of science has been replaced in the United States by corporatism, ultra nationalism, the obsession of greed, intolerance and ignorance. These are strange, brutal and difficult times. Far worse then then those of the 20th century, or any era before in human existence over the last 10,000 years.

    That we disregard science and continue to follow the hideous criminal policies in the name of growth -which is no longer sustainable, and continue to worship the Cult like myth of American exceptionalism, eventually will lead to both social and economic disaster.

  26. scarecities says:

    Climate change, resource depletion or food shortages, in the mind of joe public they fit into the same head-in-sand category. While we collectively nod in agreement that there might be a problem, somewhere, sometime, maybe in the future, our individual attitude convinces us that bad things always happen to the other guy, hopefully several thousand miles away. This isn’t callous, it’s built into our genetic survival system. Like all species, our prime function is to survive and procreate, we have not evolved to concern ourselves with threats that may or may not materialise, or to worry about the fate of individuals who are not part of our family group or tribe. We are altruistic only insofar as we can afford to be; right now, millions in the developed west are feeling the pinch of hunger as food prices rise, as a result food aid to those really starving is drying up.
    This is why we choose to believe our governments and much of the media who have chosen to go along with the optimism of the oil companies, the cornucopian nonsense that oil, if not quite infinite, is available in such quantities that it would take our civilization so far into the future that we need not concern ourselves with its immediate problems of supply. Oil, climate change or food, our reaction to a ‘maybe’ threat will always be the same. There was and still is a belief that our corporate expansion could go on forever. This is why we welcome denial by those in power who assure us that there’s nothing to worry about.
    We have the same degree of complacency about energy supply/climate change/food supply as our hunter-gatherer forbears did. Oil, coal and gas effectively form our ‘latest kill’ and most of us are too busy feeding on it as a short-term energy source to notice that we’ve posted a blind man as lookout, and climate change is going to overwhelm us before it’s finished

    • Merrelyn Emery says:

      Oh dear, here we go again – I simple cannot let this go through, it is riddled with inaccuracies and misconceptions.
      -head in sand – you are certainly not talking about the global community and I very much doubt that you are talking about a majority of Americans
      -”it’s built into our genetic survival system” – if there is one ‘law of life’ it is cooperation with and altruism for others. Self interest and putting self first has only slowly emerged as a feature of human life in the last 250 years and is still a long way from being a dominant feature
      -hunter gatherers complacent? On the contrary, they were finely tuned to their environments and exercised extreme care in looking after them, ME

      • joyce says:

        I think “one law of life” would be consumption and reproduction–from the tiniest organism to the biggest. That’s the meme for all living things. Ecology is the study of how the multiple ecosystems interact with each other and keep things in check. Since humans discovered fossil fuels human population has exploded with few checks. Perhaps climate change will provide that check—if pollution, plagues, wars, meteors… don’t come first.
        If you haven’t seen Suzuki’s 3 min. video explaining exponential growth, it’s worthwhile. http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=8x98KFcMJeo#!
        Probably heretical to state on a cc blog, but climate change isn’t the only urgent issue.
        Too much to do—gotta stop reading blogs.

        • Merrelyn Emery says:

          Consuming and reproducing are two things living creatures do. On their own they tell us nothing about the laws governing those behaviours.

          I have been reading Suzuki for yonks and if you think climate change is somehow a separate problem from exponential human population growth, you should invest a little more of your precious time in his work. Perhaps you could also read a little of Angyal’s work and find out what a system actually is, ME

  27. wili says:

    “We are altruistic only insofar as we can afford to be”

    Actually, for most people living above absolute minimum levels, the opposite is true.

    As income rises, people tend to give a smaller and smaller portion of their income to charity, and they tend to more and more give to ‘charities’ that mostly benefit their own, already-privileged class.

    The book “Charity begins at home” (a few years old now) did a nice job of examining this phenomenon.

  28. SecularAnimist says:

    This New York Times piece is simply blaming the victims — the victims of a generation-long campaign of lies, distortions and, yes, psychological manipulation.

    You know who thoroughly studied the psychological factors that make people tend to deny, or ignore, the reality of global warming?

    I’ll tell you who. The ad agencies and “think tanks” and media outlets that the fossil fuel corporations paid to find those psychological factors, and to mercilessly and relentlessly exploit them to manipulate people, that’s who. The generation-long propaganda campaign of deceit and denial didn’t just pop up out of nowhere — it was the product of a lot of research into the vulnerabilities of its targets and how to effectively exploit those vulnerabilities.

    All the “psychology” stuff that commenters on this thread are puzzling over, the deniers had all figured out thirty years ago.

  29. Dave says:

    Joe – I agree with almost everything you write on this site, but on this issue I have to side with joyce’s and karen’s and some of the other comments above.

    I highly recommend reading Dan Ariely’s “The Upside of Irrationality”, Chapter 9, which describes why, for climate change, “this kind of problem is the toughest kind to get people to care about.” Dan is a very accomplished behavioral scientist, and his views are consistent with all the established research in the field.

    Climate change is a potentially civilization ending threat that already is responsible for many deaths (albeit indirectly) and is having negative effects on millions of people and we are headed to much graver consequences. Are the rules of the Senate, Republican’s partisan tactics, obstructionists and the media the core reasons why we’re not doing enough to address it? Thought experiment: what if CO2 was visible (black, green, whatever), people could see with their own eyes the effect it was having (e.g. their skin color was changing to the color of the pollution) , that direct effect was killing people today, and most people in the US were being affected directly or knew the people being affected. Would the rules of the Senate matter? Would the media have any choice but to cover this? Wouldn’t the polluters be trying to save their own skin (so to speak) rather than trying to convince people what was so obvious wasn’t happening at all?

    If all the forces arrayed against climate action tried to prevent any government response at all to 9/11, do you think they would have been successful? And did the media have any choice at all whether or not to cover 9/11? Although it is established that climate change is killing and will kill many more people and cause much more economic damage, it is because of human psychology that the majority of the population does not *demand* action to respond to climate threats in the same way in that we demand action in response to an event such as 9/11.

    Smog isn’t nearly the threat that overall climate change is, and similar forces should be arrayed against action to address it, but it has been addressed strongly in the U.S. – significantly because it is visible.

    Some of the same exact lobbyists, “scientists”, and partisans worked hard and successfully to prevent legislation curbing smoking for many years because when people smoked, they didn’t get sick immediately. But after many people knew someone who died or was dying from lung cancer, partisan politics didn’t matter anymore on this issue, and, again the media had no choice.

    The NY Times, like the rest of the media, is a for profit enterprise that exists because it tells people mostly what they want to hear or crave to hear. But, occasionally, it does publish something proactively useful, such as the article you reference here.

    Unless we wish to become science deniers ourselves and deny behavioral science, it is really important to understand the conclusion of the article: “simply presenting climate science more clearly is unlikely to change attitudes.” Because, though people say that they want climate change to be addressed, they are not prioritizing it like the civilization ending threat that it is. And we very much do need to understand behavioral science better to get people (and therefore Congress) to prioritize climate action as they should for their own self interest and because people do care about their children and grandchildren.

    • Joe Romm says:

      That’s OK. We don’t actually disagree much, maybe 5%.

      The Times called everyone, including all readers of this blog, “climate idiots.” The fact is tens of millions of people care a great deal about this issue but have been disempowered by the political system.

      Now I never said ” simply presenting climate science is likely to change attitudes.” That’s less because of people psychology, however, than the the fact that one political party has decided it is not in their short-term interest to accept the science and because the media thinks the public isn’t interested in the story.

      • joyce says:

        We are lucky to live in a republic—where communities and states can move forward on climate issues even without leadership at the federal level. A slow process for sure, but more rewarding for someone like me, who would go nuts trying to do what you do, Joe. There are days I’m tempted to cover my ears and sing rather than watch what’s going on in DC. But keep it up—I need your insight into science & policy.

      • Dave says:

        Funny – I had originally read the article and ignored the headline. I do agree with you that the “idiots” headline is dumb and wrong. And it doesn’t really reflect the article. A more appropriate headline would be: “Behavioral barriers exist for combating climate change.” Though unwieldy as a headline, I presume we all agree with that statement?

        However, it appears there’s still an important distinction on which we disagree. The reason that it is possible for one political party to decide not to accept climate science and for the media to think that the public isn’t interested in the story is *because* of people psychology. Again, for an issue like 9/11, where far less people were affected, but that grabbed people psychologically, it would not have been possible for a major political party to decide that it wasn’t a big deal or for the media to ignore it.

        I recently saw “The Big Miracle” which recounted how the US and Soviet military forces along with big oil cooperated to save 4 whales. Yet no-one lifts a finger comparatively to save entire species that are going extinct now. Why is that? The whales had names and faces, and immediate action had immediate results. It would behoove us to think about how to frame the climate crisis in ways like this that activates our underlying psychology for taking immediate action. If we could do so on large enough scale so that a majority of voters made taking climate action their *top* priority, then we wouldn’t have any problem getting 60 votes in the Senate…

  30. The problem is us, the general public, our scientific ignorance here in America. Climate change and evolution contain concepts that are contrary to beliefs or interests of major portions of the population. We can solve the problem by changing ourselves, by insuring that the current generation of students has the neural development needed to develop a high level of literacy in reading, math and science. We have the technology to educate the entire human population, and that will change our decisions and reduce our population to sustainable levels. It is obvious that the way we educate children would have to change to accomplish this.

  31. Steve Hackett says:

    In terms of the psychology of abstract & uncertain future risks that can adversely affect you or your family: If people could not handle these types of problems, then how is it that we have extensive insurance markets designed to allow people to purchase the right to shift risk? Yes, some insurance markets suffer adverse selection (e.g., healthcare and the need for an individual mandate), but there are robust markets for business insurance. If businesses and individuals can relate current premium costs to the possibility of future damages or harms, then how is that circumstance so different from current investment to mitigate future GCC impacts?

  32. Sailesh Rao says:

    Here’s another article from the NY Times on climate change that’s worth a read:
    http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/21/opinion/the-climate-change-tipping-point.html

    Humans have been violently churning the biosphere, especially over the past 200 years, turning all ecosystems into the macro equivalent of the turbid Lily ponds of the Netherlands in the 80s, mentioned in the article. In the Netherlands, the lily ponds were resurrected by eliminating the pollution runoffs into the ponds and by removing the fish that thrived in the turbid water.

    In the turbid ecosystems of present day Earth, the species that thrive are humans and their Livestock, which are bred and harvested by humans for human consumption. My veganism is based on the belief that by adopting a non-violent lifestyle in future and by removing the Livestock alone from the turbid ecosystems, both the individual ecosystems and the biosphere as a whole can be revived. I don’t know for sure if this is true, but I have seen a few examples where this has happened. Therefore, I will never give up on that belief.

    As for concerted grassroots action that actually has the chance of making a difference, I believe Veganism is it.

  33. Steve says:

    Look, the “blaming the victim” expression goes back to 1960s research dealing with extreme poverty in America… where there was a legitimate claim of “victim” and of disadvantage.

    What some of you are now calling “blame the victim” journalism and psychology posits that the climate change “victims” are all those people (not in the House or Senate GOP, I guess) who in fact represent the full spectrum of over-consumers of energy, materials, and food, often with ridiculous levels of waste and pronounced luxury.

    Trust me, if you want to start “messaging” this as some poor-us, ordinary Americans-as-the-climate-change-victims story without attributing some blunt responsibility, you are going to be laughed out of the American political landscape. And you are going to be ridiculously ineffective in getting real change.

    • Sailesh Rao says:

      Steve, perhaps underlying this is the techno-optimism that the current American way of life can somehow be salvaged, at least for another few decades. I wrote about this here:
      http://climatehealers.ning.com/profiles/blogs/the-peter-paul-debate

    • Mulga Mumblebrain says:

      ‘Blame the victim’ is a sub-set of an essential feature of Rightwing pathopsycholgy-’Hate the victim’. Itself a sub-set of the Right’s general modus operandi, ‘Hate the Other’.The victim, usually of some Rightwing atrocity, like under-payment for work, institutionalised poverty, deliberately inadequate social welfare, racist legal persecution and police harassment, does not merit compassion or assistance. That’s for the despised ‘do-gooders’ and ‘bleeding hearts’ of the Left. No a sturdy Rightwinger gains immense self-satisfaction from despising those less fortunate than himself, and positively thrives on rubbing their noses in it, while hectoring and preaching some tired nostrums about ‘initiative’ and ‘personal responsibility’.

      • Matthew says:

        “while hectoring and preaching some tired nostrums about ‘initiative’ and ‘personal responsibility”

        I am disappointed that such a hate-filled post is even allowed here.

        Who exactly are you directing your anger at?

        This came after I wrote, “So it appears that it is down to you and me to do something.”

        Was this directed at me? If you are then you certainly are a coward. If not, whom are you venting your anger at?

        • Matthew says:

          “Blame the victim’ is a sub-set of an essential feature of Rightwing pathopsycholgy-’Hate the victim’. Itself a sub-set of the Right’s general modus operandi, ‘Hate the Other’.The victim, usually of some Rightwing atrocity, like under-payment for work, institutionalised poverty, deliberately inadequate social welfare, racist legal persecution and police harassment, does not merit compassion or assistance.”

          What a load of rubbish.

          Cite some sources if you want to be taken seriously.

          Although I stopped voting yrs ago, and so have no political axe to grind, I was hoping to be able to recommend this site to others who are right wing for information on climate change. However with such anti-right drivel seemingly accepted I will look elsewhere.

          And to think that climate change believers complain about personal attacks. Amazing.

          • Matthew says:

            BTW your post smacks of the sort of self-righteous, morally superior tone that often comes from those on the “Left”.

            To point out that not all people on the “Right” are not what you falsely portray them to be. I might add that I have a good friend in Sydney who is a Pastor in a Pentecostal church. He has a Bravery Award for saving a young woman in a back alley late on a Saturday night who was about to be raped by a group of 4-6 men. He took them on single handedly and was badly beaten but saved her from rape.

            What have you done lately I wonder.

  34. fj says:

    It’s Not the Heat, It’s the Stupidity
    By Katherine Ellison
    NY Times July 29, 2006

    http://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/29/opinion/29ellison.html

  35. Matthew says:

    Just a short note to say thanks to Joe Romm and ThinkProgress.org for some great work.

    I believe that it was the IPCC that in 2007 gave the warning that we only had 10 yrs left to avoid going beyond the 2°C of warming that would result in “catastrophic and irreversible climate change”.

    This means that we only have 4 ½ yrs left to avert disaster.

    Currently, the UN climate negotiators say that there will be no global agreements to tax and limit CO2 and other greenhouse gases before 2020. If climate scientists say that 2017 is the cut-off then clearly 2020 is too late.

    So it appears that it is down to you and me to do something.

    Good Luck All!!!

    • Matthew says:

      Just for the record: I am changing careers by starting study again (after a couple changes in what I initially set out to study) I have now settled on a Bachelor of Law.

      Climate change is what I intend to devote the last half of my life to. I have now joined some groups and hope to work with those who want to use the law to lobby governments for legislative change and to be a part of those who will litigate for the future victims of climate change.

      The inevitability of extreme climate change now means litigation for damages is the only hope for closure, and a sense of justice, that many in the world can look to.

      • Leif says:

        Matthew: Perhaps in your efforts you can tell me why the GOP get skip funding abortion but a far larger % of my tax dollars fund the ecocide of the planet and I can not even bring the the question to the table?

        Along the same lines: If I throw a paper cup out the car window and a cop sees, it is a $100+ fine. ($1,000 in Alaska.) Corporations are people now, I call them Corpro/People, and they get to dispose of tons of toxins out our tailpipes and get filthy rich. Even get my tax subsidies. How come they get to play by the corporation rules the like, the people laws they like, but ignore the fiduciary law of humanity of not polluting your neighbors property? Profits or otherwise! Corporations must learn to play nice with their brothers. Stop profits from the pollution of the commons. It is a start…

  36. Kai says:

    Fascinating discussion.

    What I’d like to add is the tendency for many NYTimes articles to have such blatant and arrogant American-centric bias. Is the author really equating all of ‘human nature’ with the contemporary American politics of climate change denial? So many other countries around the world are having legitimate discussions and understand the importance of climate change. The failure to see beyond the borders of the US is something I can’t stand– which is why I tend to find some of the best reporting on climate change and extreme weather events from sources like Al Jazeera.

  37. oggy says:

    Get a single cylinder scooter or electric bicycle and ride it around. Everywhere I go on my single cylinder moped I get compliments but everyone in Texas basically drives a V8 truck with a totally empty bed and they leave it running at the market to keep the A/C on in the 105 temps. Parking lots are full of V8 pickup trucks idling with nothing in the bed. “Oblivious” is the word that comes to mind. I am literally riding around on the alternative and people recognize that it’s possible but there isn’t a single other bicycle or moped or scooter on the road (except in Austin). I think old habits die hard.

  38. Brian Ford says:

    Everyone should read the article (url below) in Rolling Stone July 19, 2012. http://www.rollingstone.com/politics/news/global-warmings-terrifying-new-math-20120719

    It is frightenly correct.

  39. Kent Doering says:

    Goodness, glad I live in work in Germany as an old ex-pat vet, outsourcing for the German “sustainability industry”.

    Of course, the question´s do not pertain to establishing anthropogenic climate change.
    The “energy change” or “energy transition” we have is far more profound.

    “How do we create a general mobilization in Europe for the “Global War on global warming?” “What financial instruments do we have for a non-deficit forward financing of the `general mobilization´ on the “global war against global warming?” “What technological developments should we pursue in building out a fast as possible exit from both nuclear and fossil fuels that are cost effective and efficientß”

    It is one thing to say “get off nuclear energy.” That is followed by a question: “with what and how do we cost effectively replace that “non-co² emitting form of energy?.” “How do we get off fossil fuel consumption while simultqaneously going off nuclear?”
    How can we go beyond “carbon capture and pressurized deep well sequestration to energy efficient carbon capture and co² disassociation/breakdown- releasing o2 into the atmosphere while passing the carbon onto other applications?”
    “Methane has a greenhouse gas warming efect 20 times stronger than co.” “Currently, feedlot, dairy, and poultry operations account for 48% of greenhouse gas methane emissions. How fast can we implement rural region methane recapture bio-gas systems for power heat-hot water?”
    Untreated sewage sludge and garbage dumps emit greenhouse gas methane, How fast can we eliminate all untreated sewage systems and garbage dumps in the European union- building out waste incineration power generation and long distance heat hot water systems related to them?”
    How can we increase the efficiency of solar p.v. to a maximum of 44% and keep it focused on the sun all day long for maximum, cost effective output. What different finasncial instrumnets can we apply for its rapid production set up and buildout?”

    Germany is sitting on two geotheremial hot rock fields- the North German field, and the South German -Molasse field. How can we cost effectively convert them to closed system- deep hot rock geothermal- and upgrade their p.g. capacites for maximum exploitation of the geothrmal heat… on both the shut down and to be shut down systems, for a smooth cost efficient transition to the post nuclear- post fossil fuel age?”

    We have other questions that are not being asked in U.S. circles. “There are five known aqueous fuel systems” which can radically reduce fossil fuel consumption in ICE Internal Combustion Engines- by up to 90%. Why are they not being generally applied already?” “Where are the bottlenecks- in applying aqueous combustion enhancement systems?” “How can we get around them”.
    Can we apply aqueous CHP systems as a baseline back up system in buldings- SMART grid co-ordinated? How much do they cost and what are the forward financing modes to install them?

    Right now, the consensus in Germany is for a massive build out of different forms of renewable, and energy efficiency measures for exiting nuclear in 20222, and fossil almost right behind it in 2025. “Quo Vadis Germania?” The answers to the challenges we face here in Europe may also be relevant to discussions in the U.S., and perhaps more attention should be paid to the borad syneregy of sustainability solutions that are being developed here as we exxit both nuclear and fossil fuels while maintaining our position as a leading industrial society.
    How can Germany lead Europe in exiting nuclear and fossil for an economic recovery based on the building out of a sustainability based economy?” How can Germany get the rest of Europe to join it in its declared “global war against global warming?”
    We can get away with these questions because we have neither the Koch brothers nor the Heartland Institute.

    The New York Times editorial was naive to say the least. Perhapos it was needed over there in the U.S.. Here in Europe, we have other concerns pertaining to global warming and the transition to the post nuclear, post fossil fuel age. it is no longer a question of exiting nuclear and fossil, but rather how fast can we do it, how can we finance it, and what technologies can we ost effectively apply?”

    A friend of mine is the enrgyx consultant for the Associaation of Spouthwest African States. He arranged a deal between them and G.E. /Lockheed to put up 24.700 on shore-offshore and inland turbines by the end of 2022. Simens is putting up 7.500 wind turbines alone on the Moroccan coastline – as an adjuvent power source to the massive concentrated solar “Desertec” program. (Each one of those generates 6 MWh each in constant North African atlancic coast winds. Not bad. That alone is the equivalent of 22 nukes by the way.

    What amazes me is that these two massive wind projects found not a word of mention even in the most progressive of U.lS. blogs- as if they never even happened or were happening. I think a total build out of 32.200 wind turbines elsewhere in the world is definitely worth mentioning. India is going mjassive with wind, and concentrated solar. They are covering 240 square kilometers of arid land with concentrated solar by 2024, a massive build out.

    Goodness, Simens is participating in a massive North German offshore project five times further out into the north sea than any previous offshore wind prject for year round wind power generation. Extreme conditions. Four trnasformere platforms 20 meters over the lsurface to cope with even the worst of North sea weather, and HVDC transmission to the mainland. 3.5 GW of power right there.

    Gopodness gracious. High speed rail, regional rail, commuter rail, light rail, and subway systems are all standard S.O.P. in modern Europe (state owned railway systems that actually turn a profit these days, fancy that!) And the G.E. Arcelor high speed Bullet service on CONRAIL lines is actually slower than the old steam- electric service train runs in the 40s on teh New Haven Railroad.
    Goodness, the apartment house where I live in Munich was built in the fifties, and even then it was hooked up to the utilitiey long distance heat hot water system which has since been upgrasded. The building has new, one inch wide vacuum twin pane insulation windows, three inch facade insulation, and three inch roof insulation, and advanced solar is going up on the roof next year with efficiencies of 43.9%. Thank you. Tell me all about how “we are responsible for global warming.” Everything i flush down the toilet and throw in the trash is returned to me in the form of power andlong distance heat and hot water. I live a five mibnute walk from a subway station- which is getting new, brrake energy recyclling Simenes trains. The city just re-built and upgraded a light rail line carrying two numbered lines on the south end of the station. (they pulled the wooden corssties between the concrete udner the asphalt, and laid concrete, and bolted the rail down. it will hold for decades. AS bus line using articulated joint- common rail diesel engine busses also pases there. (And that service will go aqueous- soon being retrofitted with aqueous, to run 10% Euronorm diesel (already 10% water and 5% rapeseed oil) and 90% aqueus. That is applied “sustainability”.