"Debunking David Brooks’ Sad Green Fairy Tale"
In this post, I’ll debunk David Brooks’ error-riddled op-ed, “A Sad Green Story.” His piece is so myth-filled, it would be better termed a fairy tale.
Brooks, of course, is the conservative who wants to be loved by progressives. But for every seemingly mavericky thing he says — “I totally accept the scientific authorities who say that global warming is real and that it is manmade” — is another filled with errors, such as his “Flip-Flop on Green Jobs.”
Today’s piece is so bad, it’s hypocrisy has already been skewered by the Washington Post‘s Ezra Klein, and its litany of false statements have been debunked by the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Media Matters — which I’ll excerpt below.
First though, like every fairy tale, this one begins once upon a time in a land far, far away:
The period around 2003 was the golden spring of green technology. John McCain and Joe Lieberman introduced a bipartisan bill to curb global warming. I got my first ride in a Prius from a conservative foreign policy hawk who said that these new technologies were going to help us end our dependence on Middle Eastern despots. You’d go to Silicon Valley and all the venture capitalists, it seemed, were rushing into clean tech.
Yes, it was a happy time in the Bizarro world, Htrae. But soon, a darkness fell over the land:
From that date on the story begins to get a little sadder.
Al Gore released his movie “An Inconvenient Truth” in 2006. The global warming issue became associated with the highly partisan former vice president. Gore mobilized liberals, but, once he became the global warming spokesman, no Republican could stand shoulder to shoulder with him and survive. Any slim chance of building a bipartisan national consensus was gone.
Then, in 2008, Barack Obama seized upon green technology and decided to make it the centerpiece of his jobs program. During his presidential campaign he promised to create five million green tech jobs. Renewable energy has many virtues, but it is not a jobs program….
This is a story of overreach, misjudgments and disappointment.
You’re crying? I’m so sorry. But don’t worry, kids, this story never happened. It’s just make believe. Look, here, I have the real story. Sure, it also has an unhappy ending, but at least it has the advantage of being true.
You see, there was this couch, and, in an effort sponsored by Al Gore himself, the former Republican Speaker of the House, Newt Gingrich sat on it with his Democratic counterpart, Nancy Pelosi, and they both endorsed climate action. You’re crying, again? Oh, I see, yes, he is a giant newt, but his bark is much, much — googolplex much — worse than his bite. Where was I?
Yes, take a look at this chart, it’ll make you feel much, much better … for a while, anyway.
Percent of Americans Who Believe the Effects of Global Warming Have Already Begun to Happen, by Political Ideology, from McCright and Dunlap
Political polarization on climate jumped in 2009 — long after Gore’s 2006 movie.
Many, many Republicans embraced cap-and-trade after the movie and didn’t flip flop on climate until 2009, suggesting again it was something other than Gore’s advocacy to blaim (see Tim Pawlenty: “Every one of us” running for president has flip-flopped on climate change).
Let’s remember that the GOP presidential nominee in 2008 ran on a platform of climate action and cap-and-trade — even his conservative VP, Sarah Palin, endorsed it. That’s a key reason again that you see in the top chart that the liberal-conservative polarization did not accelerate until 2009, when a certain person got elected with overwhelming majorities and the prospect of an actual climate bill became quite real.
Extensive polling data and analysis simply doesn’t support this myth that Gore polarized the debate. Indeed, on the basis of his 2012 peer-reviewed analysis, Dr. Robert Brulle told me,
“I think this should close down forever the idea that Al Gore caused the partisan polarization over climate change.”
I’ve asked many other leading experts on social science and public opinion — including McCright and Dunlap, authors of “The politicization of climate change and polarization in the American public’s views of global warming, 2001–2010″ — and they all agree the data don’t support this myth. Stanford’s Jon Krosnick also agrees there is no data to support it.
It is a fairy tale, and one that people as intermittently smart as David Brooks should stop telling.
Ezra Klein notes that “pricing carbon” is “an idea Brooks supported then and supports now,” and then he skewers Brooks:
It’s a story, though Brooks doesn’t mention this, of conservatives building an alternative reality in which the science is unsettled, and no one really knows whether the planet is warming and, even if it is, whether humans have anything to do with it. It’s a story of Democrats being forced into a second and third-best policies that Republicans then use to press their political advantage.
It’s a story, to put it simply, of Democrats doing everything they can to address a problem Brooks says is real in the way Brooks says is best, and Republicans doing everything they can to stop them. And it’s a story that ends with Democrats and Republicans receiving roughly equal blame from Brooks.
The existence of this op-ed is part of the story of why the Democrats failed. The story of what happened over the last 10 years is right there in Brooks’s column. But he doesn’t want to say who’s right and who’s wrong, which is the only tool pundits have to help those who are right and push those who are wrong. Instead, he wants to say everybody is wrong, and isn’t it just a shame.
Brooks leaves the distinct impression that venture capital clean tech boom began in 2003 but then fizzled under Obama’s watch. But that isn’t quite what happened (see “Clean Energy Investments Hit Record Highs in 2011, U.S. Clean Tech VC Funding Jumps 30%“):
As you can see, clean tech venture investments in US companies in 2011 were near an all-time high last year — and almost a quarter of all venture investment — in spite of coming off the worst economic and financial collapse since the Great Depression.
It wasn’t in 2003 that cleantech VC funding hit its inflection point — it was still a tiny fraction of VC funding and still smaller than government R&D. No, the inflection point would appear to be much closer to 2006, coincidentally enough, when funding doubled. Go figure!
Brooks claims that “Renewable energy has many virtues, but it is not a jobs program.” Yet that doesn’t merely ignore “explosive growth” documented in the sector by a major Brookings report.
It’s also massive flip-flop given that not so long ago, Brooks was championing green jobs. Here is what he wrote in January 2010 after a panel discussion that included business executives:
I was once again reminded how many business and investment types are thinking quite practically and capitalistically about green, job-creating technologies. For us Hamiltonian conservatives who believe in internal improvements, energy and infrastructure are obviously the two big areas where we should be investing.
Now, less than 3 years later, he writes:
Obama’s stimulus package set aside $90 billion for renewable energy loans and grants, but the number of actual jobs created has been small. Articles began to appear in the press of green technology grants that were costing $2 million per job created. The program began to look like a wasteful disappointment.
Well, if unnamed articles appeared in the press then they must be true!
In fact, this nonsense has been widely debunked — in Brooks’ own paper! As Media Matters writes:
But the $90 billion figure — which Mitt Romney cited in the first presidential debate — has been repeatedlydebunked, including by Brooks’ own New York Times. As the Times‘ Matthew Wald explained after the first debate, not all the money went to renewable energy, not all of it has been spent, and much of it was authorized under the Bush administration:
The $90 billion is a real number drawn from the 2009 stimulus package, but it wasn’t all spent, as Mr. Romney said, and a lot of the green energy spending that went out the door on Mr. Obama’s watch was authorized during the Bush administration.
The biggest component of the $90 billion was $29 billion for energy efficiency, of which $5 billion involved improvements in the homes and apartments of low-income households. There was also $18 billion for fast trains and $21 billion for wind farms, solar panels and other renewable energy. Supporters point out that much of the energy spending drew in private capital.
Another New York Times fact-check called the number “outrageous” and “a piece of masterful spin.”
The paper was ridiculed earlier this year when then-public editor Arthur Brisbane questioned whether reporters should be “truth vigilantes.” The resounding answer was “of course,” yet the Times and other leading newspapers continue to leave misleading claims unquestioned, even when their own fact-checkers havedebunked them.
Then we have the absurd claim of “$2 million per job created.” As MM writes:
These calculations are problematic because they often count loans as if they are grants, and assume that all the money has been spent, development is complete and no new workers will be hired. A more accurate accounting of the jobs impact of clean energy investments might note that a Brookings Institution study found clean energy jobs grew at an average annual rate of 11.1 percent between 2003 and 2010, “more than twice as fast as the rest of the economy.”
Here’s a chart from the Brookings report:
Brooks goes on to make a string of misleading or erroneous statements:
The federal agencies invested in many winners, but they also invested in some spectacular losers, from Solyndra to the battery maker A123 Systems, which just filed for bankruptcy protection. Private investors can shake off bad investments. But when a political entity like the federal government makes a bad investment, the nasty publicity tarnishes the whole program.
MM eviscerates this:
But as Clean Technica pointed out after Solyndra declared bankruptcy, “the Obama administration is batting a much better average in “picking winners and losers” than the private Venture Capital (VC) market itself.” Clean energy consultant Richard Stuebi expects just 3 out of 10 private investments to succeed — a 70 percent failure rate. By contrast, only three of the 26 companies that received Department of Energy 1705 loan guarantees have filed for bankruptcy, amounting to about 6 percent of the loan guarantee funds.
And as economist Dean Baker noted, Brooks suggested that solar energy is faring poorly because “Panel prices have fallen by three-fourths since 2008.” But that drop has actually made solar energy more cost-competitive and helped fuel a boom in installations, even if some high-profile manufacturers like Solyndra have not been able to survive making higher priced panels.
Brooks’ story is a story of overreach, misjudgments and disappointment. His own.