Entries Tagged as 'climate change'

Limbaugh Loses a Listener

August 10th, 2011 at 1:39 pm 69 Comments

Conservative writer and radio host D.R. Tucker is no stranger to challenging conservative orthodoxy. On FrumForum he published his Confessions of a Climate Change Convert and now he has written about why he can no longer support Rush Limbaugh.

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GOP Climate Stance Could Have Been Different

August 4th, 2011 at 3:16 pm 19 Comments

Citing an essay by D.R. Tucker, online Peter Sinclair asks: What if American conservatives had followed their British counterparts and not allowed partisan animus against Al Gore to distract them from the scientific evidence on climate change?

Imagine if Reagan had delivered speeches similar to Margaret Thatcher’s 1989 and 1990 speeches on combating climate change, troche suggesting that this was a cause beyond the threshold of partisan politics, pharm and that the threat of a warming planet imperiled conservatives and progressives equally. What if Reagan had heeded Dr. James Hansen’s June 1988 call for action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and encouraged members of his party to seek alternate energy routes?

Would conservatives have dismissed “Ronaldus Magnus” as a crank, or would they have listened to his words?

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Humans Are Making it Hotter

August 2nd, 2011 at 12:34 am 42 Comments

Partisanship in Washington has been extreme lately. So has the weather. Might there be a connection? It certainly looks that way.

Let’s talk about heat. As anyone living in Washington—or in about three-fourths of the nation for that matter—has surely noticed, this summer has been unusually hot. In fact, July’s heat was unrivaled in 140 years of Washington, D.C. weather record-keeping.

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D’Amboise’s Change of Mind on Changing Climate

July 22nd, 2011 at 12:23 am 16 Comments

As part of his effort to present himself as the conservative alternative to Olympia Snowe, Scott D’Amboise has trumpeted his opposition to the enactment of a cap-and-trade policy that would aim to fight global warming by putting a price on greenhouse gas emissions. The “News” section of his campaign Web site features a press release from the anti-tax group Americans for Prosperity that praises him for signing a pledge to “oppose legislation relating to climate change that includes a net increase in government revenue,” and he thanked the organization for giving him an opportunity to highlight his opposition to Snowe’s “cap and trade tax hike plan” in a recent Facebook post.

But is D’Amboise’s professed opposition to cap-and-trade consistent?

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An Environmental Stance Can Win the GOP Votes

July 7th, 2011 at 12:40 am 48 Comments

Stanford University’s Woods Institute for the Environment recently released the result of polls suggesting that Republican candidates should reconsider pandering to the most ideologically locked-in Republican voters on climate change.

The numbers suggest there is no downside risk for GOP candidates who accept scientists’ conclusions about the impacts of fossil fuel emissions on climate and who support policies encouraging development of alternative energy resources. Their Republican support would largely hold. Indeed, they could gain, by wooing independents and ticket-splitting Democrats.

Republican candidates are, with a few exceptions, tending toward a groupthink of avoiding any hint that they’re willing to listen to climate scientists, or to support any policy that would cool down the rising heat.

Tim Pawlenty, for instance, has taken with gusto to climate change political correctness. T-Paw, trying a little too hard to be Tea Party, has thrown himself on the mercy of the climate-change-is-a-hoax crowd by disowning the mainstream energy and climate record that he compiled as Minnesota’s governor.

For Republican voters who admired Pawlenty’s past life as a pragmatist, it hurts to watch such unseemly displays of groveling.

Stanford’s numbers don’t seem to support the wisdom of such a strategy. In a national study that included interviews with 1,001 voters, respondents were read issue statements assigned to hypothetical Senate candidates.

One of the statements read to respondents randomly assigned to a “green” group was a “green” climate stance. A “not-green” group heard a “not-green” statement. In a third, control group, the hypothetical candidate said nothing about climate.

Among Republican respondents, the “green” statement resulted in a small decline in voter support for the candidate compared to the control group. However, the “not-green” statement resulted in a slightly greater decline. In both cases, green and not green, the candidate’s GOP support largely held.

Among Democrats and independents, the largest support went to the candidate with the “green” statement, as might be expected. The silent candidate was second, and the “not-green” candidate trailed badly.

Similar results were reported from similar surveys among voters in Florida, Maine, and Massachusetts.

Stanford’s researchers offered a few grains of salt. The survey did not focus on gathering the views of likely voters only, hypothetical candidates took positions on only a few issues, and voters were not questioned on how they would react if hypothetical candidates were attacked by opponents for their climate positions.

Still, the research offers a promising indicator that Republican candidates have some room for maneuver on climate change. Donning a straitjacket that forbids even the slightest deviation from climate denial orthodoxy might not be the smartest general election strategy, for which building a majority requires mastering the art of addition, not subtraction.

Romney’s Climate Change Straight Talk

David Frum June 6th, 2011 at 9:58 am 34 Comments

When Tim Pawlenty called for a (gradual) end to ethanol subsidies, he won accolades as a “truth teller.” Surely he deserved them, even if (as FF noted at the time) his stance was not quite as brave as it seemed.

It’s courageous, principled, and right for Tim Pawlenty to travel to Iowa to denounce ethanol and other farm subsidies. But I’m also left wondering: is this also a very good way to manage expectations if he comes second or third or worse in Iowa, where Pawlenty is currently polling in single digits?

But why no such accolades for Mitt Romney for telling a much more dangerous truth in a Republican primary?

I don’t speak for the scientific community, of course, but I believe the world’s getting warmer. I can’t prove that, but I believe based on what I read that the world is getting warmer. And number two, I believe that humans contribute to that. I don’t know how much our contribution is to that, because I know that there have been periods of greater heat and warmth in the past but I believe we contribute to that. And so I think it’s important for us to reduce our emissions of pollutants and greenhouse gases that may well be significant contributors to the climate change and the global warming that you’re seeing.

Pawlenty’s comments may put him on the wrong side of some Iowa farmers. The rest of the organized GOP will applaud. Romney’s comments on global warming defy the orthodoxy of Fox and talk in a way we have seen from few other Republicans in the past two years. Ditto his defense of the merit of extending health coverage to more Americans.

The global warming comment demonstrates a trait I’ve noted in Romney before:

The reason he has a reputation as a panderer is precisely that he’s not very good at pandering.

When Tim Pawlenty repeats nonsense about “fiat money,” he does so without a blink of mental reservation. His listeners are induced to imagine that he really believes what he says – even if as president he would almost certainly jettison that belief for one more in accord with modern economics.

When Mitt Romney panders, however, he leaves behind doubts whether he really means what he says. He’s not in trouble on abortion because he changed his mind to appeal to conservative voters. He’s in trouble because they suspect that he did not truly change.

On health and now climate, Romney is signaling: in important ways, he has not.

Extreme Weather: A Climate Change Wake Up Call?

May 31st, 2011 at 9:50 pm 18 Comments

Bill McKibben, cure founder of the global climate campaign 350.org, health recently wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post titled A link between climate change and Joplin tornadoes? Never!

Using rather effective sarcasm, McKibben makes the case that the spate of recent extreme weather events should be a wake-up call on the urgency of addressing climate change. He correctly points out that climate scientists have been predicting for years that carbon loading in our atmosphere will create droughts, floods and other extreme weather events.

Does that scientific concurrence absolutely prove cause and effect? No, but it does distinguish McKibben’s hysterics from those of climate deniers who point to every cold snap or snowstorm as evidence that global warming is a hoax.

Because “climate” represents long-term trends, and day-to-day weather relies on multiple variables, it is wrong to say that any one weather event or abnormal season either proves or disproves climate change. However, weather trends that are demonstrated over time, and that track with other well-documented scientific evidence, should indeed be a wake-up call. We ignore them at our own peril.

The more important question that McKibben’s op-ed begs is: How much evidence will it take to convince the American public and its elected representatives that action on climate change is warranted?

It is hard to imagine that most Americans who have been watching news reports over the past few months of numerous extreme weather events—the unusually powerful tornadoes wreaking havoc across much of the South and Midwest, the record-breaking flooding along the Mississippi River, the extreme droughts in the Southwest, and the record snowfalls in the Midwest and Northeast—have not begun to suspect that something is amiss and that climate change may be responsible.

The problem is that action to address climate change not only requires the belief that it is happening; it also requires the belief that we can do something about it. This is where the climate change deniers—along with some narrowly focused folks in the oil and coal industries—do their most damage.

As the deniers’ assertion that climate change is a hoax begins to falter under the weight of reality, they have begun to pivot to the argument that climate change is a natural occurrence that mankind cannot alter, only adapt to. It is an argument designed to lull people into a state of complacency—similar to the tactics totalitarian regimes use to lull their subjects into passivity and government dependency.

Perhaps President Reagan recognized such tactics when he rejected the arguments of those who were trying to forestall action to address another climate problem, ozone depletion. He consulted with climate scientists, looked honestly at the evidence, accepted mankind’s role, and took prudent action to solve the problem.

Reagan faced ozone depletion with the same clear-eyed realism that he faced the threats posed by the Soviet Union and communism.

In an interview last year, Reagan’s Secretary of State George Shultz recalled that the President believed action on ozone depletion was necessary because he recognized the huge potential for damage. Shultz noted that Reagan viewed acting on the best available science in the same light as taking out an insurance policy.

Reagan’s leadership resulted in the Montreal Protocol Treaty, which began the phase out of chlorofluorocarbons.  Today the threat from ozone depletion is greatly diminished and our stratospheric ozone layer is healing.

Reagan once said, “Facts are stubborn things.”

With today’s climate threat, let’s hope that like Reagan, we are wise enough to face the facts honestly—and courageous enough to accept our responsibility to act.

Christie’s Climate Change Straight Talk

May 27th, 2011 at 5:41 am 31 Comments

Chris Christie has pulled New Jersey out of the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, or “Reggie,” the power plant cap-and-trade program that covers NJ and nine other Northeastern states.

Left-leaning environmental groups are framing Christie’s pullout as a bag of pander candy to delight ideologues for whom climate denialism is a litmus test for any potential GOP presidential candidate.

That’s not what Christie is doing. Christie is not a climate denier. He did not put on a tinfoil hat and rant about scientists plotting world domination. He is not polishing apples for the Koch Brothers and Big Coal. He did not buy a ticket to fly Air Inhofe.

Much of what Christie said about climate change at today’s news conference was only mentioned in passing by the press. His remarks deserve a wider airing.

Such as: “Climate change is real and it’s impacting our state. There’s undeniable data that CO2 levels and other greenhouse gases in our atmosphere are increasing.”

And this: “When you have over 90 percent of the world’s scientists who study this stating that climate change is occurring and humans play a contributing role, it’s time to defer to the experts.”

And this: “We have an obligation to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.”

Christie concluded that Reggie is not effective for getting the job done. He didn’t conclude that the job is not worth doing.

In fact, given that Pennsylvania is not part of Reggie, Christie fears that clean power plants in New Jersey could be aced out in the regional power market by “dirty Pennsylvania coal plants,” three of which Christie’s administration has sued in federal court for wafting pollution into the Garden State.

The pugnacious governor put emphasis on the word “dirty,” as if pushing back at PA for all the Jersey jokes they tell on the west side of the Delaware River.

There’s more than one way to kill the climate change snake.

An alternative that Christie prefers is to scale up cleaner energy. Last year, he signed bipartisan legislation to support development of 1,000 megawatts of offshore wind energy, including financial assistance for component manufacturers.

The state has sent the Interior Department a list of areas in federal waters off New Jersey that ought to be considered for deepwater wind energy leases. In the Northeast, offshore is where the richest wind energy resources are found.

Christie also has pushed back against the “drill, baby, drill” dogma that is touted as a magical answer for energy security and high fuel prices. He doesn’t want to see any drilling rigs off New Jersey or off the coasts of nearby states, such as Virginia, where a blowout could smear the Jersey Shore with tourist-repelling brown goo.

Reasonable people can debate the right mix of incentives and standards for spurring replacement of dirty energy with cleaner alternatives.

That’s the sort of debate that Republicans and Democrats should have. Christie deserves credit for taking part.

Americans Tuning Out Climate Change

May 22nd, 2011 at 2:19 pm 24 Comments

According to a recent Gallup poll, thumb Americans are less concerned about climate change than in the past.  Has the environmental movement dropped the ball on keeping the issue in the public eye?

The poll reports:

Americans continue to express less concern about global warming than they have in the past, generic with 51% saying they worry a great deal or fair amount about the problem — although attitudes appear to have stabilized compared with last year. That current level of worry compares with 66% just three years ago, mind and is only one percentage point higher than the low Gallup measured in 1997.

There are any number of theories that explain why Americans seem less interested in this issue now than they were in the days when Al Gore told inconvenient truths. Perhaps the protracted recession has pushed all other concerns from the minds of most Americans. Perhaps the effort by the conservative/libertarian pundit class to add doubt and scorn to the political environment surrounding this issue has had an effect.

Or, perhaps, it’s because there is no sustained media effort by the environmental movement to keep its ideas in the political forefront. Gore’s movie helped to push the conversation in the eco-conscious direction, but it obviously wasn’t enough.

We simply do not have an ideologically focused green media in the United States. The environmental movement is at risk of dying out in this country if eco-conscious people don’t borrow a few tactics from their adversaries in the conservative/libertarian pundit class.

The critics of today’s environmental movement are sustained by a conservative media apparatus specifically created to keep the right’s ideas in perpetual prominence. Conservatives had a compelling interest in building this media empire, as they believed their contenders were too often getting adverse rulings from biased referees in the arena of ideas.

It’s not enough to complain about this conservative media apparatus, to attack it for peddling misinformation about climate science, to denounce it for its smears of those concerned about this issue. Why not replicate the right’s tactics? Why not work to build up an environmental media apparatus geared to promoting green policy initiatives and obtaining specific political outcomes?

Clearly, environmentalists can no longer rely upon the mainstream media to devote sufficient time to these issues. As economist Bruce Bartlett noted in 2009:

[The mainstream press] no longer has the resources to pay reporters to look into things deeply and write about issues authoritatively. Reporters even at the best newspapers often seem like glorified bloggers who get their basic facts from the Internet instead of their own research, substitute speed for thoroughness and accuracy, and have no time to become experts on the subjects they cover because they are covering the waterfront. And since television news has always depended upon newspapers as their basic sources of material, the decline of newspaper reporting led inevitably to a decline in television reporting.

Bartlett was speaking of progressives generally, not environmentalists specifically, when he noted, “I think they need to abandon the mainstream media and create their own alternative media just as conservatives have done. That will help redress the imbalance that now exists in the media which benefits conservatives.” However, his advice is critical for environmentalists in particular.

No movement can survive for long if its core issues are not constantly reinforced in the American political conscience. Conservatives understand this: it’s why we have right-leaning think tanks, pro-Republican publications, Rush Limbaugh, Fox News. These entities may be a source of irritation for environmentalists—but why can’t they be a source of inspiration?

It’s long past time for the environmental movement to focus on its own political sustainability—to push for nationally syndicated commercial radio shows dealing with green issues, to lobby for wider distribution of documentaries on our planet’s peril, to subject the hardcore climate deniers to the same sort of public rebuke Van Jones was subjected to in 2009, to convert the environmental movement into an interest group that politicians from both parties are profoundly reluctant to antagonize.

Americans’ decreasing concern for green issues should increase the motivation of environmentalists to press harder to integrate their concerns into the national discourse. After President Lyndon Johnson destroyed Senator Barry Goldwater in the 1964 election, it seemed that Americans weren’t interested in conservatism either. The outcome of that election galvanized the American right, which spent the next four decades working to ensure that the products from their idea factories were always on the average American’s shopping list.

The green movement needs to study what worked for the conservative movement, and use those same tactics to regain the political momentum they’ve lost. Of course, environmentalists have to move much faster than conservatives did decades ago. With the physical and political climate deteriorating, environmentalists must make the ironic choice to turn up the heat.

Climate Change Policy Won’t Prevent Twister Deaths

May 13th, 2011 at 9:57 am 17 Comments

By any reasonable measure, the windstorms that ravaged the South in April present a massive tragedy: the most disaster-caused deaths in a single day since 9/11 and more deadly than all but three post-World War II natural disasters. Communities will mourn, ponder what-ifs, and rebuild. Federal, state, and local authorities as well as dozens of community organizations will do everything they can to help those now left without homes, neighbors, and loved ones. And many of those involved in the public policy debate over global climate change will use the storms to push for agendas that they support anyway.  In particular, groups that favor controls on carbon emissions will point to research showing that such emissions could produce the conditions that cause tornadoes; groups that oppose restrictions will point out that strong tornadoes have become less frequent in recent decades by some measures. And the debate will rage on. For all of the argument, there’s a good case that climate change and its politics should have nothing to do with the way America responds to tornado activity.

Here are the facts: the United States’ overall response to tornadoes through stronger building standards, better technology, and improved insurance practices has made the nation much safer. Even with the recent deaths taken into account, total death rates from tornadoes have dropped every decade since accurate statistics are available in the early 20th century and have fallen at least 80 percent in all: more than as many as a thousand died from tornadoes in a typical year in the early 20th century while few years in the 00s saw more than 100 deaths. If America wants to make sure the tragedy doesn’t repeat itself, continuing efforts to improve building, technology and insurance—not an emphasis on climate change—will save the most lives.

Building standards around the country have made most buildings in tornado-prone areas much safer over the past century. Tying roofs to house frames so they won’t blow away, required in many wind-storm prone areas, means that even people who fail to take shelter in basements will usually remain safe when storms roll through. Siding secured directly to home frames rather than simply nailed on also helps. But these efforts aren’t as widespread as they should be; most houses predate standards that require them. Buildings all across the country need reinforcement.

While strengthening building standards simply represents commonsense, developing better technology has saved even more lives. Some developments like Doppler weather radars that convey information about the velocity of funnel clouds have obvious direct applications to tornado forecasting. But even bigger declines in tornado deaths have happened as a result of broadly useful technologies like radio broadcasts that allow for advance warning and automatic gas line shutoffs that prevent storm-caused fires.   But there is more to do. For example, although smartphone technology makes it possible to send most people severe weather alerts for their exact locations (current tornado warnings cover huge areas so many ignore them), there’s no system that actually does so.

Lastly, insurance, although less directly, has also saved many lives. Over the past several decades, most states have moved towards “open competition” systems for setting insurance rates that let market forces rather than government agencies determine what people pay for insurance. These prices convey information about safety because people who live in dangerous places pay more. But this trend, like the others, could still go farther. Although the sheer number of factors involved with tornado damage makes it nearly impossible to draw firm conclusions, it’s interesting to note that the states with the most damage—North Carolina, Alabama, and Mississippi—have not historically allowed for much choice for flexibility in their insurance markets.

In short, we have good evidence for what works. The climate change debate matters quite a lot in many areas of public policy. But the evidence about what has worked to deal with tornadoes indicates that public policy should focus on things other than climate change if we want to make America safer against severe windstorms.