You know, when a Texas meat-packing company gets indicted for sending a torrent of pigs blood down the Trinity River — and I do mean a torrent, i.e. enough for it to be documented by an amateur’s drone aircraft — what are you going to do? You’re going to go with it.
Category Archives: environment
So what should scientists do when politicians make provably false statements about climate change (see: Rick Perry) and other scientific issues? My employer, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, is hosting a pretty good/lively/funny roundtable on this very question. And I’m not kidding; humor is included. In today’s entry, former scientist and current Hollywood filmmaker Randy Olson (who’s also the author of the book Don’t Be Such a Scientist*) gives the public opinion battle between climate change scientists and climate change deniers a name: “Cub Scouts versus the Mafia.”
You really might LOL. Take look.
* Here’s the opening paragraph of a review of Don’t Be Such a Scientist from The Times Higher Education site:
OK, here goes. I’m going to write this review in the style suggested by Randy Olson. This means that I’m going to use my penis. Not literally, you understand – that would be exhausting, anatomically complicated and likely quite illegible. Blame Olson for that mental image, by the way. I’m only following his advice – for this is the opening gambit of Don’t Be Such a Scientist: the suggestion that scientists should stop intellectualising everything they communicate. Sometimes you need to stop using your head and just get it out there, he suggests. For good communicators, the power of expression comes from the heart, from the guts and yes, sometimes even the “lower sex organs”, if I understand him correctly.
Enviro friends will all know about Robert Socolow and his paper back in 2004 (with Steve Pacala) about the seven categories of action that could be taken with existing technologies to stabilize the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere in 50 years. These categories, or wedges, of mitigation of global carbon emissions became famous and have largely defined the climate change discussion ever since–at least among the fact-based folks who have rational discussion about climate change as science, rather than a liberal political plot.
Today, Socolow reaffirms and updates that original wedges paper–and provides suggestions for improving the terms of climate change debate–in an essay simulaneously published by my employer, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, and Climate Central. (Socolow, a Princeton University professor, is also a Bulletin Science and Security Board member.) Comments by something of a Who’s Who of major climate scientists are appended to the essay.
This is not just important thinking. Professor Socolow can write, too. This one is worth your time.
Update on the wedges update: Over at the NY Times Dot Earth blog, Andrew Revkin has a lengthy take that includes a lot of wedges background that will be interesting for less-than-fanatic followers of the climate change debate. And even enviro insiders will likely find something of value here; that Revkin is one walking and writing environmental encyclopedia.
Update #2 on the wedges update: The Atlantic‘s inimitable Jim Fallows wrote about Socolow’s essay as well today, along the way providing the usual trove of Fallowsian added value, including a link to a past story of his, “Dirty Coal, Clean Future,” that is sure to enrage environmentalist coal-haters–or, perhaps, to make them think. After linking to the Bulletin and Climate Central postings, Fallows mentioned this blog, which was unexpected. Thanks, Jim.
For some time, I’ve been planning to write a long, ultra-serious post about the repeat failure of the establishment press to deal with complex, “dangerous” stories. This problem first smacked me in the forehead when I lived in Texas and the national press just flat missed the commercial-and-condo construction bubble that led to the multihundred-billion-dollar collapse of the savings and loan industry. Even after the fact, the major newspapers couldn’t seem to step up to the plate and assign blame to any of the major financial and political interests that had caused the catastrophe. Pathetic as it was then, this inability to face down powerful interests doing things dangerous to the Republic has only grown into an entrenched habit over time, as the major media have dealt glancingly, if at all, with complicated and major story after story. I was going to use Al Gore’s current (wordplay intended) piece in Rolling Stone, “Climate of Denial,” as the starting point for a lengthy, erudite excoriation of Fourth Estate failure to 1) puncture the obvious lies used as justification for invading Iraq and 2) warn of a mortgage bubble and derivatives nightmare that almost crashed the world economy. In my brilliant post, I intended not just to address the false equivalence the media have generally drawn between essentially the entire assembled scientific infrastructure of the civilized world and a few ideologically driven, industry funded hacks charged with creating some illusion of doubt about climate change, but also to wax eloquent about the bankruptcy of the he-said/she-said journalistic approach in general. Unfortunately, Gore did all this and more in his Rolling Stone piece, which (h/t to my friend Ryan Blitstein) deserves to be read in entirety. If you can’t be bothered to put out that much effort, take this part of the article away with you:
The scientific consensus is far stronger today than at any time in the past. Here is the truth: The Earth is round; Saddam Hussein did not attack us on 9/11; Elvis is dead; Obama was born in the United States; and the climate crisis is real. It is time to act.
Al Gore is very gentle with President Obama, understanding his various political dilemmas over the course of many boring paragraphs. For his care, the former vice president is being attacked by Beltway media critics who don’t seem even to have tried to understand his argument. (Jack Shafer has written an especially beside-the-point piece that is very good at expressing the contempt in which Shafer holds Gore — and, to my eye, nothing else.) But careful as he is in getting there, Gore comes to the proper conclusion: The president has, for political reasons, backed away from confronting the most important issue of our time — and a very real and very direct threat to the future of life on Earth. All the money Big Oil and Big Coal can muster cannot change a simple truth: Burning fossil fuels threatens the future of life. Mr. President, isn’t the planet more important than a reelection?
This is a very nice video about a seemingly starry-eyed plan to take an empty food processing building from the old stockyards district of the south side of Chicago and make it into “The Plant,” i.e. an urban farm that is “a completely self-sustainable non-waste facility, fish hatchery, vertical garden, aquaponics farm” — and here’s the part I love — “and microbrewery.” Totally green — with a malty aftertaste. Enjoy.
I’ve just finished reading a Q&A in Yale Environment 360 in which an expert contends that our educational system is a significant cause of “green failure,” ie. the inability of society to come to grips with climate change and other forms of environmental degradation. Here’s the nut of the argument:
The environment is often seen as a political issue and pushed to the margins of school curricula by administrators and parents, note [Charles] Saylan and Daniel Blumstein, a biology professor at the University of California-Los Angeles, in The Failure of Environmental Education (And How We Can Fix It). But at its core, the authors contend, environmental responsibility is a broadly held, nonpartisan value, much like respect for the law. As such, they believe, it deserves a central place in public education, with lessons on the environment permeating every student’s day.
I’m all for better education. I’m sure the co-author being questioned, Saylan, who’s co-founder and executive director of the California-based Ocean Conservation Society, is a smart and decent man. I consider the author/questioner in this piece, Michelle Nijhuis, to be an extraordinarily talented journalist. But the goo-goo argument I just summarized seems, to me, a very unfortunate example of preaching to the choir of environmental true-believers while, simultaneously, playing into the deepest fears conservatives love to spread about environmentalists and liberals. The belief that liberals control the academy and are corrupting our youth by pushing their ideology on them at school is central to the conservative catechism. What environmentalists might see as commonsense and noncontroversial — incorporating environmental responsibility into school curriculums — will be easily and effectively characterized/caricatured by the right as yet more of the leftist, nanny-statist, environmentally extreme social engineering that has killed the economy and saddled the nation with multitrillion-dollar debts and …. blad-dee-dah. Yes, it’s simplistic misleading nonsense, but it’s politically effective nonsense, and it seems that Saylan and his co-author are pitching right into the conservative big-government-is-bad wheelhouse. (I say “seems” because I’m judging from this one interview; I hope to get and read the book and will revise my opinion if necessary.)
By all means let us teach true scientific facts to our schoolkids. But climate change is a clear and present danger — the most serious threat the world faces — and a couple of generations of wrangling over environmental education policy is exactly the wrong way to address it. I don’t claim to possess a lock on wisdom about conveying the climate change message so public attitudes change in the direction of accepting scientific fact and rejecting know-nothing political rhetoric and energy industry obsfucation. But I do believe that the large environmental nonprofits — the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund, Audubon and others — need to take some of their huge income streams and devote significant chunks of money directly to the task of making climate change uncool and stupid, in the way that cigarette smoking has been made dumb and unhip.
Congress won’t aggressively act on climate change until public attitudes strongly support action. The ability of advertising — funny, smart, hip, multi-platform advertising — to change attitudes, and particularly political attitudes, has been proven, over and over again. Al Gore and An Inconvenient Truth did their part to start the climate-change marketing effort. It’s time for the environmental lobby to pull money out of Washington and put it into a major, long-term, brilliant ad campaign focused on the most conceited, mean, greedy and uncool kid in school: Carlyle Dioxide.