Posts Tagged Obama

China and US reach emissions deal, NZ govt warned its policies are failing Gareth Renowden Nov 13

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Today’s news that the US and China have agreed a long term policy to reduce carbon emissions is being hailed as a “game-changer” in international climate negotiations. China has agreed to cap its emissions in 2030 — the first time it has committed to anything more than a reduction in the carbon intensity of its emissions, while the US will aim to cut emissions by 26-28% on 2005 levels by 2025, up from its current target of 17% by 2020. [BBC, Guardian, Climate Progress.] Meanwhile, NZ’s third term National government is being warned by its own civil servants that its current emissions policy settings commit the country to substantial emissions increases over the same time frame.

With the world’s two largest emitters — between them they account for 45% of total emissions — agreeing to work together for the first time, prospects for a global deal in Paris next year look brighter than before. However, the cuts on the table do not look like enough to keep the planet on a trajectory to 2 degrees of warming or less. Associate professor Peter Christoff of the University of Melbourne explains (via The Conversation):

These commitments will frame the levels of ambition required of other states at Paris next year. Climate modellers will no doubt now be rushing to determine what these new commitments, if delivered successfully, will mean for combating global warming.

The US and Chinese cuts, significant though they are, will not be enough to limit the total increase in the atmospheric carbon dioxide unless other states engage in truly radical reductions.

In other words, global emissions are likely to continue to grow, probably until 2030, which will make it impossible to hold global warming below the world’s agreed limit of 2ºC above pre-industrial levels.

In New Zealand the briefings for incoming ministers in the new government — same as the old lot, in climate relevant ministries — have been remarkably blunt in their assessment of the task the country faces.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) Briefing to Incoming Ministers (BIM)1 is blunt about the importance of dealing with climate change (pdf here):

Climate change and resource scarcity are challenging core elements of the global ecosystem. Climate change is the most urgent and far-reaching threat we face, and the current negotiations on climate change are the most important multilateral negotiation now under way. Positions taken by countries on climate change and their readiness to contribute to global solutions will increasingly define the way that others perceive them politically and economically.

The Ministry for the Environment BIM2 points out the huge gulf between fine words and inadequate policy settings:

…We have an established price on emissions and market infrastructure in place through the New Zealand Emissions Trading Scheme (NZ ETS), although current settings are not driving meaningful emissions reductions. In 2015 the NZ ETS is scheduled to be reviewed to assess whether the settings remain suitable for delivering on government objectives.

That ETS review will have to consider the reality shown in this graph from p22 of the MfE BIM.


The only way the government can reach its unconditional target of a 5% cut on 1990 levels by 2020 is by using carried forward emissions reductions from the first Kyoto commitment period (even though it subsequently withdrew from CP2) and by buying emissions units from overseas. Real cuts in emissions in the following decade will require a real carbon price — not an ETS that rewards polluters for their pollution.

If NZ is to table emissions cuts that parallel those from the USA, then emissions policy settings are going to need an urgent and dramatic revamp. The good news is that the China and US initiative on emissions means that NZ’s government can no longer point to international failure to cooperate as a reason why NZ should do little or nothing.

PM John Key has said in the past that he wants NZ to be a “fast follower” of the world leaders on emissions reductions. Now is the time to show just how fast a follower he intends to be. We can only hope it’s pretty damn speedy.

  1. The incoming ministers are Murray McCulley (Foreign Affairs), and Tim Groser (Trade and Climate Change Issues), full ministerial list here.
  2. Incoming minister is Nick Smith, same as the outgoing one.

The Climate Show #32: a Cook’s tour of the Aussie heat Gareth Renowden Jan 24

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At long last: John Cook from Skeptical Science rejoins the Climate Show team for the first show of 2013. He hooks up with Glenn and Gareth to review Australia’s big heatwave, and stays around to dig into the new Greenpeace report on dirty energy, discuss Obama’s inauguration speech and Boris Johnson’s climate blunder, the latest scary news on sea level rise and the implications for the future. Plus much much more…

Watch The Climate Show on our Youtube channel, subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, listen to us via Stitcher on your smartphone or listen direct/download from the link below the fold.

Follow The Climate Show at The Climate Show web site, and on Facebook and Twitter.

The Climate Show

Story references


Australia bush fires and temperature records: For the first image used in the show and further background, see The Conversation.

Bushfires captured by satellite: NASA Earth Observatory

Global Warming Has Increased Monthly Heat Records Worldwide by a Factor of Five, Study Finds

If global warming continues, the study projects that the number of new monthly records will be 12 times as high in 30 years as it would be without climate change. “Now this doesn’t mean there will be 12 times more hot summers in Europe than today — it actually is worse,” Coumou points out. For the new records set in the 2040s will not just be hot by today’s standards. “To count as new records, they actually have to beat heat records set in the 2020s and 2030s, which will already be hotter than anything we have experienced to date,” explains Coumou. “And this is just the global average — in some continental regions, the increase in new records will be even greater.”

A new report commissioned by Greenpeace says the world could be locked into dangerous levels of global warming if 14 planned fossil fuel projects get the go ahead. The projects in the Point of No Return report include the expansion of Indonesian and Australian coal exports, a tripling of production from the Canadian tar sands and extensive offshore drilling in Brazilian waters.All in all, the 6,340 million tonnes of CO2 a year by 2020, more than the total output of the US.
RTCC news, full report pdf.

US media coverage of Climate Change in 2012 fell by 2%! This despite the devastating drought and Hurricane Sandy.

But if Obama has his way that’s all about to change: Youtube video here.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says his top hopes for 2013 are to reach a new agreement on climate change and to urgently end the increasingly deadly and divisive war in Syria.

Dispatch from London…. Shock! Horror! Boris says something really stupid! He says this week’s snow casts doubt on Climate science. Of course, as Leo Hickman points out in The Guardian he’s only trolling BUT it still matters because he could be Britain’s PM one day…

Jason Box’s Dark Snow Project. He is also going to be speaking at a Climate Desk Event in Washington next month. See also: SkS and HT.

Sea level rise: a sequence of stories…

Natural Relationship Between Carbon Dioxide Concentrations and Sea Level Documented

The researchers found that the natural relationship displays a strong rise in sea level for CO2 increase from 180 to 400 parts per million, peaking at CO2 levels close to present-day values, with sea level at 24 +7/-15 metres above the present, at 68 per cent confidence limits.

Richard Alley lecture – final section on the Thwaites Glacier in West Antarctica.

Which leads us to the ultimate paradox: Sea level rise could lead to cooler, stormier planet, says Jim Hansen.

A catastrophic rise in sea level before the end of the century could have a hitherto unforeseen side effect. Melting icebergs might cool the seas around Greenland and Antarctica so much that the average surface temperature of the planet falls by a degree or two. This is according to unpublished work by climate scientist James Hansen of NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City.

Plus: Gareth being gloomy.

And this from The Climate Desk: they report that a group of researchers and educators based at San Jose State University think climate science needs a superhero. And they have: Supermandia!


Scott A Mandia’s blog is here.


Sprinkling billions of tonnes of mineral dust across the oceans could quickly remove a vast quantities of climate-warming carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, according to a new study. The proposed “geoengineering” technique would also offset the acidification of the oceans and could be targeted at endangered coral reefs, but there’s a downside — it would require a mining effort on the same scale as the world’s coal industry and would alter the biology of the oceans.

Thin Film Solar Cells: New World Record for Solar Cell Efficiency

UK scientists bid to mimic plant energy creation

Researchers at the University of East Anglia (UEA) are embarking on an £800,000 project to replicate photosynthesis, the process by which plants convert sunlight into sugars to help them grow.

The process will be used to create hydrogen, which can be used as a zero-emission fuel for cars, or converted into green electricity.

It is hoped the method, which involves placing tiny solar panels on microbes to harness sunlight and drive the production of hydrogen, will be a more efficient way of converting the sun’s energy than currently exists.

We have an email!

Thanks to our media partners: Idealog Sustain, Sciblogs, and Scoop .

Theme music: A Drop In The Ocean by The Bads.

Climate Show New Year podcast special: where it’s at and where it’s going Gareth Renowden Jan 05

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Here’s the podcast you’ve all been waiting for — The Climate Show New Year special. Glenn and Gareth review the big climate stories of 2012, discuss at the big picture post Doha, and peek into their transcontinental Skype-powered crystal ball to prognosticate on the next 12 months. The three sections were recorded shortly before Christmas for Glenn’s New Year Things You Need To Know for 2013 summer series on Radio Live. The first two aired last week – the final section will be broadcast on Wednesday, so consider this an exclusive preview.

Climate Show Podcast special

PS: My reference to CO2 at 400 ppm in 2013 should have been qualified with where it will happen — which is northern hemisphere, high (Arctic) latitudes.

The Climate Show #30: Obama, Sandy and the rabbit Gareth Renowden Nov 09

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Another news special on this week’s Climate Show. With Barack Obama winning “four more years“, and the biggest Atlantic storm ever seen slamming into New Jersey, New York, and most of the northeastern USA, Glenn and Gareth chew over the details and consider the implications. With a side order of accountants PwC being gloomy, agricultural emissions, and a rabbit. (Not you, Eli).

Watch The Climate Show on our Youtube channel, subscribe to the podcast via iTunes, listen to us via Stitcher on your smartphone or listen direct/download from the link below the fold.

Follow The Climate Show at The Climate Show web site, and on Facebook and Twitter.

The Climate Show

Story references

US Election:

6 hours of televised debate and no talk on Climate Change:

President Obama addresses climate change in his acceptance speech:

“We want our children to live in an America that isn’t burdened by debt, that isn’t weakened by inequality, that isn’t threatened by the destructive power of a warming planet.”

Damian Carrington in the Guardian:

What does a second term for Barack Obama as US president mean for action on climate change? The short answer is that some action is now at least conceivable. It would not have been under Mitt Romney, whose statement that the president’s job was not to stop the sea rising was hideously exposed by the inundation of New York and New Jersey by the surge of superstorm Sandy.


Sandy by the numbers: trying to comprehend a stunning disaster: Jeff Masters

George Lakoff, professor of linguistics, Berkeley:

Yes, global warming systemically caused Hurricane Sandy — and the Midwest droughts and the fires in Colorado and Texas, as well as other extreme weather disasters around the world. Let’s say it out loud, it was causation, systemic causation.

There is a difference between systemic and direct causation. Punching someone in the nose is direct causation. Throwing a rock through a window is direct causation.

A systemic cause may be one of a number of multiple causes. It may require some special conditions. It may be indirect, working through a network of more direct causes. It may be probabilistic, occurring with a significantly high probability. It may require a feedback mechanism. In general, causation in ecosystems, biological systems, economic systems, and social systems tends not to be direct, but is no less causal.

US Election/Sandy:

Mayor’s endorsement could turn climate change into a serious election issue – and it might even embolden Republicans – it didn’t – or did it? Guardian.

The best conservative tweet of election night may belong to David Frum, former speechwriter for George W. Bush:

Horrible possibility: if the geeks are right about Ohio, might they also be right about climate?

Nice Real Climate post by Gavin Schmidt, riffing on how wishful thinking about polling came crashing down on election night…

And now it snows:

A winter storm bearing down on the East Coast “First Hurricane Sandy, now Winter Storm Athena for the Eastern U.S.”
Jeff Masters, Climate Central.

Not just the USA

Heatwave in Brazil, typhoons in Asia… Weather Extremes at Weather Underground.

PricewaterhouseCoopers report – heading for 6C

“PricewaterhouseCoopers, the world’s largest professional services firm, is not known for scaremongering. So it is worth paying particular attention to its latest annual low carbon economy index.
Behind the understated language, it points to a catastrophic future unless radical action is taken now to combat climate change.
“Business leaders have been asking for clarity in political ambition on climate change,” says partner Leo Johnson. “Now one thing is clear: businesses, governments and communities across the world need to plan for a warming world – not just 2C, but 4C or even 6C.”

Common Dreams
Climate Spectator
PricewaterhouseCoopers press release

One-third of our greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture

Nature News:

The global food system, from fertilizer manufacture to food storage and packaging, is responsible for up to one-third of all human-caused greenhouse-gas emissions, according to the latest figures from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), a partnership of 15 research centres around the world.

Great picture from Pine Island Bay. Via @NASA_ICE at Twitter.

Thanks to our media partners: Idealog Sustain, Sciblogs, and Scoop .

Theme music: A Drop In The Ocean by The Bads.

Words matter: a politician tells the truth Bryan Walker Mar 26

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’The land we call our home, the land owned by this sweet funny brave people is being transformed, as is the rest of the planet. And yes, since the late eighties I have been an unapologetic believer in the grim reality that human activity is changing the earth’s climate.’

These words were spoken by the new Australian Foreign Minister, Bob Carr, in the course of his first speech to the Australian senate last week. I felt a twinge of envy as I tried to imagine a New Zealand Minister in any portfolio, let alone Foreign Affairs, speaking with such directness and entirely appropriate emphasis.  ’Grim reality’ is exactly the right description, and one from which, once uttered, there is no easy evasion.

Carr well understands the basic science of global warming and the history of its development, as is evident in a video clip of a lecture he gave in 2008 in which he called climate change deniers ’the present danger’. In his Senate speech he also made clear that his concern includes the oceans:

 ”But what if this shock, this chemical experiment with the Earth’s atmosphere is only the first of a series of shocks we might sustain?”

“What about the change in the chemical composition of the oceans as they absorb more and more of the carbon our civilisations have been emitting?”

What an Australian politician does with this clear understanding of the dangers of climate change when it comes to policy decisions related to the fossil fuel industry may prove comparatively murky, especially in a country heavily dependent on coal for energy and for export income, but it is nevertheless good to hear that in the mind of this Minister there is no diluting of the scientific message or failure to grasp the severity of its implications. Even more important is his readiness to say so publicly and without prompting. His appointment to high political responsibility has evidently not led him to soft-pedal the message that climate change is a deeply serious threat to human society.

There is a desperate need for politicians with a full appreciation of the science of climate change and a corresponding readiness to seize public opportunity to declare that we face a global crisis. If they are silent or evasive on the issue it becomes that much harder for the population at large to credit the grim reality and accept measures to address it.

President Obama’s abdication from the position he appeared to be taking when first elected has hardly helped Americans to appreciate the gravity of the issue. Bill McKibben recently predicted that Obama’s speech at Cushing on 22 March would avoid any talk of global warming in spite of the severe weather events that country has been experiencing. He was absolutely right. The speech boasted of the administration opening up millions of acres for gas and oil exploration, the quadrupling of the number of operating rigs and the addition of enough new oil and gas pipeline to encircle the Earth. It reiterated Obama’s ’all of the above’ energy policy, meaning the full exploitation of oil and gas along with the development of clean energy and efficiency. Not a word on climate change.

Words matter in politics. And the absence of words matters. As the scientific evidence for climate change continues to mount and consolidate we should expect clarion calls from political leaders.  They owe it to us. I grew up during World War II and even as a child I was aware of the way the words of Churchill matched the enormity of the conflict with fascism. The challenge of climate change is different, but of no less moment. Bob Carr’s bluntness is to be applauded.

Prat Watch #4: Foundation and Empire Gareth Renowden Mar 20

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While the noble Lord, Viscount Christopher “I’m no potty peer” Monckton tours the USA and Canada at the behest of his friends at the Heartland-lite Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (aka the Billionaire Liberation Front), his Australian admirers, led by former Climate Sceptic Party candidate Chris Dawson, have announced the creation of… wait for it… The Monckton Foundation. This remarkable institution is set to “open its doors” this month, and has, as you might expect, some laudable, if long-winded goals:

The Lord Monckton Foundation shall conduct research, publish papers, educate students and the public and take every measure that may be necessary to restore the primacy and use of reason in science and public policy worldwide, especially insofar as they may bear upon the rights of the people fairly and fully to be informed, openly and freely to debate, and secretly by ballot to decide who shall govern them, what laws they shall live by and what imposts they shall endure.

It has a vision too — it may be having them still — issued by the charter of Monckton himself:

The Lord Monckton Foundation stands as the wall of the West, the redoubt of reason, the sentinel of science, the fortress of freedom, and the defender of democracy.

Or perhaps a pied-à-terre for a pompous peer? For an organisation spawned in a former colony, the Foundation has a high opinion of Australia’s former rulers:

With the British Empire, governance became truly global for the first time. The world, said the philosopher Santayana, never had sweeter masters.

The Foundation has questions. Lots of them:

Is science dead? Must reason fail? Shall objectivity be slaughtered again on the pagan altar of mere ideology? Is life now objectionable, liberty deplorable, the pursuit of happiness a crime? Has the nation had its day? Is the globalization of governance really a public good? Can democracy survive it? Should not the use of the ballot-box be extended? Should not every supranational and global institution of governance be elected?

Meanwhile, back in the USA, the good Lord demonstrates the full extent of his grasp of reason, objectivity, ideology and the primacy of the ballot box by publicly endorsing “birther” claims that President Obama was not born in the USA and therefore not entitled to be President:

I have watched Sheriff Arpaio’s press conference in AZ and have examined some of the evidence directly. It is clear — as Alex Jones rightly said on the day when Obama first put up his faked ’long-form birth certificate’ on the White House website — that a fraud has been committed, and that, absent a valid official record of Obama’s birth or a very good explanation of the anomalies in the published version, he is not qualified to stand for re-election as President.[…] This is beginning to look like a widespread, high-level fraud.

These frauds are everywhere: hockey sticks, birth certificates, hidden declines. Whatever next, one wonders? A conspiracy to put Monckton in front of any legislature daft enough to have him? Funnily enough

At the invitation of Assemblywoman Shannon Grove, R-Bakersfield, Monckton is coming to Sacramento March 21 to speak to the Legislature, but said that he expects a ’stormy session.’

Not surprising, given his opinion of the sunshine state:

’But flaky la-la-land California will go on pursuing this senseless [climate] policy right into insolvency and bankruptcy,’ Monckton said. ’State expansion will stop. Cap and trade will collapse. And Democrats will be forced out of office, hopefully not to be replaced by the soggy Republicans which have dominated the party for some years.’

And finally: John Abraham, the engineering professor at the University of St Thomas in St Paul, Minnesota, who famously attracted the ire of the potty peer by having the temerity to tenaciously, and devastatingly debunk a Moncktonian peroration, is profiled in a recent St Thomas Magazine. All the 1,000 plus people who signed the Hot Topic post supporting John against threats of legal action by Monckton should read the article. It shows just how much support he received from his university, and what real academic freedom is all about. Perhaps a new campaign? John Abraham for head of the Monckton Foundation! Who better to defend science, objectivity and reason against ideology?

[Build Me Up Buttercup]

Stuck in the muddle with Obama Bryan Walker Jan 27

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I look back with some embarrassment on my enthusiastic posts when Barack Obama was in the early days of his presidency.  I thought he was offering strong political leadership in addressing climate change.  His words seemed unequivocal. Here he is speaking at the UN in September 2009:

That so many of us are here today is a recognition that the threat from climate change is serious, it is urgent, and it is growing.  Our generation’s response to this challenge will be judged by history, for if we fail to meet it — boldly, swiftly, and together — we risk consigning future generations to an irreversible catastrophe.

And he was positive about facing that challenge:

As we meet here today, the good news is that after too many years of inaction and denial, there is finally widespread recognition of the urgency of the challenge before us.  We know what needs to be done.  We know that our planet’s future depends on a global commitment to permanently reduce greenhouse gas pollution.  We know that if we put the right rules and incentives in place, we will unleash the creative power of our best scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs to build a better world. And so many nations have already taken the first steps on the journey towards that goal.

The rhetoric has changed substantially since then. In this week’s state of the union address there was certainly no clarion call to confront climate change. The term was used, and the science acknowledged, but  only in passing in the context of his promotion of clean energy:

I know that there are those who disagree with the overwhelming scientific evidence on climate change. But here’s the thing — even if you doubt the evidence, providing incentives for energy-efficiency and clean energy are the right thing to do for our future — because the nation that leads the clean energy economy will be the nation that leads the global economy. And America must be that nation.

One might think that’s OK. After all it will be clean energy that delivers us from the dangers of continued fossil fuel burning. But Obama makes room for fossil fuels; in fact he categorises natural gas as clean energy, along with the ever-elusive clean coal:

So tonight, I challenge you to join me in setting a new goal: by 2035, 80% of America’s electricity will come from clean energy sources. Some folks want wind and solar. Others want nuclear, clean coal, and natural gas. To meet this goal, we will need them all — and I urge Democrats and Republicans to work together to make it happen.

The administration are doing their bit on the fossil fuel front:

Over the last three years, we’ve opened millions of new acres for oil and gas exploration, and tonight, I’m directing my administration to open more than 75 percent of our potential offshore oil and gas resources.

He proclaims that the US has enough natural gas to last 100 years.  And look what it will mean:

The development of natural gas will create jobs and power trucks and factories that are cleaner and cheaper, proving that we don’t have to choose between our environment and our economy.

Its extraction from shale is no problem:

And by the way, it was public research dollars, over the course of 30 years, that helped develop the technologies to extract all this natural gas out of shale rock — reminding us that government support is critical in helping businesses get new energy ideas off the ground.

But renewables matter too. He speaks approvingly of developments in that area and talks of a change in direction for government subsidy:

We need to get behind this innovation. And to help pay for it, I’m asking Congress to eliminate the billions in taxpayer dollars we currently give to oil companies. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but they’re doing just fine on their own. So instead of subsidizing yesterday’s energy, let’s invest in tomorrow’s.

In his espousal of renewable energy Obama may be well ahead of many American politicians. And while he now studiously avoids talking about climate change he also leaves it clear that he is no denier of the science. Which in some ways makes all the more puzzling the apparent assumption that natural gas can be regarded as a clean energy. It is a fossil fuel. When it is burned it releases greenhouse gases. Less than coal, for sure, but that doesn’t make it safe for the climate.

The seemingly unequivocal statements on climate change of the early days of Obama’s presidency have become a confusing muddle. Maybe that’s understandable in the intractable conflicts of American politics these days, but it should still be rejected as a far from adequate response to the reality of global warming.

[See also: Greg Laden's take on the SOTU address at ScienceBlogs. GR]

[Stealers Wheel]

Al Gore: denial derails the democratic conversation Bryan Walker Jun 24

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Al Gore’s book The Assault on Reason, which followed An Inconvenient Truth, was published in 2007 and revealed an impressive intelligence in its analysis of how America was losing the rule of reason in democratic discourse, the Enlightenment ideal which was a founding principle of the new republic in the 18th century.  America’s people were not participating in the conversation of citizens essential to functioning democracy, with a consequent diminishment of reason, logic and truth in decision making.  Television and advertising had been appropriated and used to make for a passive citizenry which expects no engagement in the political process.

Gore pointed to the results apparent in the Bush administration. The invasion of Iraq was justified by deliberate falsehood and deception.  Twisted values were promoted in the shocking use of torture.  The threat of terrorism was exploited for purposes well beyond the needed response, giving unnecessary powers to the executive. The careful work of climate scientists was treated with dismissive contempt and the climate crisis threatening humanity ignored in the perceived interests of big corporations.  ’Greed and wealth now allocate power in our society.’

I mention The Assault on Reason here because its themes are echoed in the lengthy and eloquent article by Gore which has just appeared in Rolling Stone and which Gareth listed under Hot Tweets. I also like to take any chance that offers to recommend the book as demonstrating Gore’s intellectual depth.

The Rolling Stone article discusses the trampling of the rules of democratic discourse by the organized propaganda of the polluters and ideologues. They are financing pseudoscientists, buying elected officials wholesale with bribes that can now be made in secret, spending hundreds of millions of dollars each year on misleading advertisements, and hiring four anti-climate lobbyists for every member of the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. They are undermining public respect for science and reason by constantly attacking the integrity of climate scientists, accusing them of falsifying evidence or pursuing a hidden political agenda.

Gore sees the increase of extreme weather events as clear evidence of the reality of climate change. ’It is not uncommon for the nightly newscast to resemble a nature hike through the Book of Revelation.’ The large reinsurance company Munich Re agrees: “The only plausible explanation for the rise in weather-related catastrophes is climate change”.

’Yet most of the news media completely ignore how such events are connected to the climate crisis, or dismiss the connection as controversial; after all, there are scientists on one side of the debate and deniers on the other.’

Gore is in no doubt that continuing on our current course would be suicidal for global civilisation. But he asks how that fact can be driven home in a democratic society when questions of truth have been converted into questions of power, when the distinction between what is true and what is false is being attacked relentlessly, and when the media are failing to exercise responsibility.

The ’public square’ of early America, where the conversation of democracy was accessible to every literate person through the inexpensive medium of the printed word has given way to a world where television is the medium through which the public mind is shaped. Access to it requires large sums of money.  This is the power allocated by wealth theme which he sounded in his book.

’The public square that used to be a commons has been refeudalized, and the gatekeepers charge large rents for the privilege of communicating to the American people over the only medium that really affects their thinking.’

He discusses the effect of this on political life in trenchant terms. Up to 80 percent of the campaign budgets for candidates in both major political parties is now devoted to the purchase of 30-second TV ads. The only reliable sources from which the necessarily large sums can be raised continuously are business lobbies. No one else can match them and the recent deregulation of unlimited – and secret – donations by wealthy corporations has made the imbalance even worse.  And the corporations expect returns for their financial support.  Politicians who don’t acquiesce don’t get the money they need to be elected and re-elected.

The result is that the ‘conversation of democracy’ has become deeply dysfunctional. Americans’ ability to make intelligent collective decisions has been seriously impaired. The distinction between truth and falsehood is systematically attacked without shame or consequence and crucially important decisions are made on the basis of completely false information that is no longer adequately filtered through the fact-checking function of a healthy and honest public discussion. The climate crisis is denied or ignored as a result.

Gore takes space to discuss what he calls the special case of Barack Obama’s approach to the climate crisis. He is cautious in his criticism, expressing sympathy for Obama in the enormous challenges he has had to face. On the climate front he details them:

…a badly broken Senate that is almost completely paralysed by the threat of filibuster and is controlled lock, stock and barrel by the oil and coal industries; a contingent of nominal supporters in Congress who are indentured servants of the same special interests that control most of the Republican Party; and a ferocious, well-financed and dishonest campaign poised to vilify anyone who dares offer leadership for the reduction of global-warming pollution.

He acknowledges the worth of many of the climate-friendly measures Obama has nevertheless put in place, and he makes it quite clear that he is a strong supporter of his presidency. But in spite of his many achievements, Obama has thus far failed to use the bully pulpit to make the case for bold action on climate change.

’President Obama has never presented to the American people the magnitude of the climate crisis. He has simply not made the case for action. He has not defended the science against the ongoing, withering and dishonest attacks. Nor has he provided a presidential venue for the scientific community – including our own National Academy – to bring the reality of the science before the public.

’…The United States is the only nation that can rally a global effort to save our future. And the president is the only person who can rally the United States.’

Gore understands the political advice which will lie behind Obama’s disappointing failure so far to give leadership on the issue, but he reiterates that the crisis is real and it’s time to act.

It’s a terrifying passivity in American democracy that Gore perceives. ’Citizens’ have become ’consumers’ or ’the audience’. Championing the cause of rationality and science in the face of the rampaging unreason that special-interest money has funded and supported may look like a lost cause, but Gore doesn’t concede to the accusation of naivety. He urges individuals to become actively involved and build unrelenting pressure on the media and on politicians. That is, to ignite the democratic conversation and not surrender the public square.

Telling the whole truth Bryan Walker Apr 09

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Not infrequently when reading and reviewing a book I find myself wishing there was some way of lingering longer on what it has to say before the spotlight moves on. David Orr’s Down to the Wire: Confronting Climate Collapse, published in 2009 and reviewed here, was one such book, and it was therefore with pleasure that I saw it highlighted on Joe Romm’s Climate Progress a few days ago. A paperback version is to be published in some months’ time and Orr (pictured) had sent Romm a copy of the new preface.

He contacted Romm because of a post Romm had written the previous day on the necessity of including science-based (dire) warnings as an essential part of good climate messaging, along with a clear explanation of the myriad clean energy solutions available and the multiple benefits they deliver. Romm was exasperated at the idea (and apparent White House practice) of not mentioning global warming or climate change but simply concentrating on green jobs, national pride, and reducing dependence on foreign oil. He regards it as a foolish strategy.

’The planet is going to get hotter and hotter, the weather is going to get more extreme.  One of the reasons to be clear and blunt in your messaging about this is that even if you don’t persuade people today, the overall message will grow in credibility as reality unfolds as we have warned…

’You must tell people what is coming, not just because it is strategic messaging, but also I believe because we have a moral responsibility.’

Orr agrees fully with Romm.

When Orr wrote his book he was one of a team who had prepared recommendations for climate change action in the first 100 days of President Obama’s administration. He writes in the book of the importance of ’transformational leadership’, the first element of which is ’to prepare the public to understand the scope, scale, and duration of climate destabilization…’  If he entertained hopes that Obama might provide such leadership they have not been fulfilled. In the new preface to his book he acknowledges that Obama has launched the largest effort in US history to deploy solar and wind power and raise national standards for energy efficiency, but laments that he has not used the power of the Office to lead public opinion when he still might have done so. He didn’t make climate and energy the first priority of his administration. So far he has failed the test of transformative leadership on the issue of supreme importance.

’The capacity and apparent willingness of humankind to destabilize the climate conditions that made civilization possible is the issue of our time; all others pale by comparison. Beyond some unknown threshold of irreversible and irrevocable changes driven by carbon cycle feedbacks, climate destabilization will lead to a war of all against all, a brutal scramble for food, water, dry land, and safety. Sheer survival will outweigh every other consideration of decency, order, and mutual sympathy.’

In polite circles, he says, the issue is not faced in such terms. It is relegated to merely another problem to be solved by better technology and proper market signals. While he supports both of these, Orr urges the need to see climate destabilization as more than a technical or technological issue.

’We ought to ask why we are coming so close to the brink of global disaster so casually and carelessly. We ought to ask why the market–skewed to the advantage of corporations and the super wealthy–is allowed to trump the rights of our descendants to ‘life, liberty, and property’ which presupposes climate stability.’

How we talk about climate destabilization is determined by the seriousness with which we think about it.

’For example, we do not face merely a ’warming’ of the Earth, but rather a worsening destabilization of, well, almost everything. We are rapidly making a different and less hospitable planet, one that Bill McKibben calls ‘Eaarth’.’

This is not something that can be fixed by tinkering at the edges. We can’t go on talking about climate destabilization ’as if it were an ordinary issue requiring no great vision, no unshakable resolve, no fear of the abyss’.

He then confronts those who say the problem is that we have failed to present a positive image.

’Their advice, instead is to be cheery, upbeat, and talk of happy things like green jobs and more economic growth, but whisper not a word about the prospects ahead or the suffering and death already happening…

’But ‘happy talk’ was not the approach taken by Lincoln confronting slavery, or by Franklin Roosevelt facing the grim realities after Pearl Harbor. Nor was it Winston Churchill’s message to the British people at the height of the London blitz. Instead, in these and similar cases transformative leaders told the truth honestly, with conviction and eloquence.’

That’s the standard we should follow.

’We must have the courage to speak the truth and the vision and fortitude to chart a plausible way forward. The truth of the matter is that even in the best scenarios imaginable, we would still have a long and difficult road ahead before climate stabilizes again, hopefully within a range still hospitable to us. It is also true that we have the capability to make the transition to economies powered by sunlight and efficiency. The point is not to be gloomy or cheery, but to be truthful and get to work.’

I think Romm and Orr and many others who sound the same theme are absolutely right. To soft-pedal the message from climate science is a disservice to humanity. If political leaders really do understand the science they should bluntly tell the populace what it means for the future, and in some cases for the present. Then they should make this their ground for pushing hard for the energy solutions that will avert the worst outcomes and not allow themselves to be distracted by the pleas of vested interests. If they don’t understand the science then we have to keep pressing them to make the effort and face up to the stark reality.

Tell it like it is Bryan Walker Nov 08

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Whether denial of climate science was what the Americans thought they were voting for when they cast their ballots for many of the Republican candidates in the mid-term election, or whether they had other things on their mind, the end result is that the US now has an apparent majority of legislators who flatly deny climate change, or, if they don’t go that far, certainly deny the need to address it. It’s an extraordinary spectacle. The science is utterly clear, more so by the day. But the clearer it gets the more sure the denial becomes in that sadly mixed-up country. Their own government scientific institutions are to the forefront in the reporting of climate change.  Their National Academies of Science produce regular accessible reports affirming the science and urging appropriate responses. Their universities provide a large number of scientists working productively on many aspects of the issue. Yet a substantial sector of their politicians are now confidently announcing that they don’t believe it’s happening. Suzanne Goldberg in the Guardian reports an investigation by a website run by the Centre for American Progress think tank which found 50% of the more than 100 Republican newcomers deny the existence of man-made climate change. An overwhelming majority, 86%, oppose legislation that would raise taxes on polluting industries.

’Climate is gone,’ was Karl Rove’s comforting message to the attendees of a shale-gas conference in Philadelphia, Brad Johnson reports. Rove told them that the incoming Republican House of Representatives ’sure as heck’ won’t pass legislation to limit greenhouse pollution from fossil fuels.

In an op-ed in the Washington Post on Sunday Bracken Hendricks (pictured) put his finger on the radical nature of the conservatism which informs the Republican denial of climate science. It is conservatism at odds with itself.

’…far from being conservative, the Republican stance on global warming shows a stunning appetite for risk.

’…they are recklessly betting the farm on a single, best-case scenario: That the scientific consensus about global warming will turn out to be wrong. This is bad risk management and an irresponsible way to run anything, whether a business, an economy or a planet.’

It’s a very high risk, as he reminds readers:

’The best science available suggests that without taking action to fundamentally change how we produce and use energy, we could see temperatures rise 9 to 11 degrees Fahrenheit over much of the United States by 2090. These estimates have sometimes been called high-end predictions, but the corresponding low-end forecasts assume we will rally as a country to shift course. That hasn’t happened, so the worst case must become our best guess.’

The irony, he points out, is that the result would be not the rolled-back government that Republicans are currently espousing but a greatly expanded role for government:

’With temperature increases in this range, studies predict a permanent drought throughout the Southwest, much like the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, but this time stretching from Kansas to California. If you hate bailouts or want to end farm subsidies, this is a problem. Rising ocean acidity, meanwhile, will bring collapsing fisheries, catch restrictions – and unemployment checks. And rising sea levels will mean big bills as cash-strapped cities set about rebuilding infrastructure and repairing storm damage. With Americans in pain, the government will have to respond. And who will shoulder these new burdens? Future taxpayers.’

The sheer recklessness of denying climate change or the need for action to address it is breathtaking. It’s unfathomable considered alongside the caution with which the US guards itself against terrorism, for example.  It’s so deeply irrational that one wonders if anything can shift it. Yet the deniers won enough of the votes. Small wonder that Stephen Schneider feared democracy couldn’t cope with the confusion in which the issue of climate change has been wrapped.

The Administration, which doesn’t deny climate science, appears to have lost its nerve or not know how to speak to the public about the matter. However there are encouraging indications that American scientists are ready to enter the bruising public arena to challenge the confident denial that is echoing in political circles. The LA Times reports today that there is rising support  among climate scientists to establish a broad campaign to push back against the congressional conservatives who have vowed to kill regulations on greenhouse gas emissions.

’The still-evolving efforts reveal a shift among climate scientists, many of whom have traditionally stayed out of politics and avoided the news media. Many now say they are willing to go toe-to-toe with their critics…’

The American Geophysical Union plans to announce today that 700 researchers have agreed to speak out on the issue.

Another announced pushback intention comes from John Abraham of St Thomas University in Minnesota whom Hot Topic readers will recall received enormous support here when attacked by Christopher Monckton. He is pulling together a “Climate Rapid Response Team,” which includes scientists prepared to go before what they consider potentially hostile audiences on conservative talk-radio and television shows.

Scott Mandia, professor of physical sciences at Suffolk County Community College in New York explains:

“This group feels strongly that science and politics can’t be divorced and that we need to take bold measures to not only communicate science but also to aggressively engage the denialists and politicians who attack climate science and its scientists.

“We are taking the fight to them because we are … tired of taking the hits. The notion that truth will prevail is not working. The truth has been out there for the past two decades, and nothing has changed.”

If such developments take place on a large enough scale they could be very important. The public would better see just how strong the consensus is amongst those scientists who actually work on the issue. They would also realise the alarm that many of the scientists feel as emissions continue to rise. It’s all too easy for politicians to isolate distinguished figures like James Hansen and portray them as some kind of maverick, but phalanxes of scientists ready to speak out publicly would be a different matter. At least it would make it absolutely clear to the public that if they run with their denialist politicians on this issue they are rejecting mainstream science and exposing themselves to what the science sees as grave risks. I’m not sure that they as yet realise that is what they’re doing.

[Aaron Neville]

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