The analogies that come to mind describing Big Oil are plentiful…and none too kind.
“In other words, an industry driven by profit above all is attempting to rebrand itself as a champion for the poor”.
Over the course of this year, Pope Francis will ramp up his foray into the politically charged debate for action on climate change. It begins unofficially with Tuesday’s Vatican summit, co-hosted by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon. This summer, Francis will publish his widely anticipated encyclical, a Catholic document that will examine man’s moral relationship with nature.
Unlike the usual discussions of climate change as an economic and scientific issue, Francis conveys it as a moral cause. His past comments—that it “is man who has slapped nature in the face”—frame the issue in vivid and urgent terms. He’s presented the fossil fuel industry with a challenge. Though they have a well-worn playbook for countering the economic, political, and scientific need for climate change action, industry is in relatively new territory with religion. How will they reply?
Here’s a hint: Heartland Institute, a conservative think tank closely aligned with the fossil fuel industry and climate-change denial, will send its own “experts” to the Vatican to argue against the Pope’s points in a side panel for reporters. These experts will no doubt parrot the usual Heartland line, distorting the scientific consensus of humans’ impact on the climate and its consequences. “The world’s poor will suffer horribly if reliable energy—the engine of prosperity and a better life—is made more expensive and less reliable by the decree of global planners,” Heartland Institute President Joe Bast wrote in a press release. The American Petroleum Institute (API), the oil industry’s lobby arm, reprised a similar theme, telling The Guardian, “fossil fuels are a vital tool for lifting people out of poverty around the world, which is something we’re committed to.”
In other words, an industry driven by profit above all is attempting to rebrand itself as a champion for the poor. If you take this logic a step further, like Alex Epstein, founder of Center for Industrial Progress (and fossil fuel consultant), did in his 2014 book, The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels, it is the world that owes industry executives a debt of gratitude. “I believe that we owe the fossil fuel industry an apology,” he writes. “While the industry has been producing the energy to make our climate more livable, we have treated it as a villain. We owe it the kind of gratitude that we owe anyone who makes our lives much, much better.” Epstein is confident in fossil fuels’ ability to make the world “wonderful for human life.”
These critics, except maybe for Epstein, do have a point: It is an immense challenge to transition the world to clean energy without heaping burden on the poor, and it would also be unfair to expect countries such as India to make the same drastic cuts to carbon pollution as the United States and Europe.
This is the central divide of ongoing talks for an international climate deal: How much should industrialized nations contribute and how much should the developing world? Because of that gulf, India won’t be identifying a peak date for carbon pollution; China has identified a date after 2030; the United States will bring its emissions down at least 26 percent by 2025. It is not easy to balance the needs of 100-plus countries, and the Kyoto Treaty and Copenhagen both fell apart largely due to this conflict.
That doesn’t mean the fossil fuel industry has the moral high ground. Inaction today guarantees irreversible warming for centuries to come. Far from making the environment “wonderful,” as Epstein says, carbon pollution lands hardest on the people with the fewest resources to adapt. It means more extreme weather, rising food insecurity, an increase in vector-borne diseases, and higher levels of water contamination. Climate change and air pollution already impose a huge cost on the world’s poor, which Heartland and API overlook—the impacts of extreme weather and sea level rise, for example, mean low-lying nations such as Bangladesh have the most to lose. An independent report in 2012 from the group DARA International linked 400,000 deaths per year, worldwide, to climate change.
Fossil fuels are just as dangerous in the immediate term as they will be years from now. The same DARA report attributed five million deaths annually to burning fossil fuels, as carbon-intensive economies see many deaths from outdoor air pollution, indoor smoke from poor ventilation, occupational hazards, and skin cancer. China and India, in fact, should arguably be more motivated to transition to cleaner fuels in the near term. Their citizens are choking on their cities’ polluted air.
In 2013, the world spent $550 billion on direct subsidies for fossil fuels. “On average, the richest 20 percent of households in low- and middle-income countries capture 43 percent of fuel subsidies,” an International Monetary Fund report found. It’s an all-too-typical trend: The rich stay on top, and the rest suffer the consequences. The people most responsible for climate change hardly need Pope Francis on their side.
President Barack Obama asked “Science Guy” Bill Nye how to promote science education in a video released by the White House on Friday, while also taking a shot at lawmakers who have argued against the existence of climate change.
“When I see members of Congress being part of the climate-denier clubs and basically stiff-arming what we know are facts — and not rebutting them with other facts but rebutting them with anecdote or just being dismissive,” Obama said before Nye interjected.
“‘Oh, I’m not a scientist,’” Nye said, sarcastically repeating a common conservative argument against the phenomenon.
“I’m not a scientist, either, but I know a lot of scientists,” Obama replied. “I have the capacity to understand science. The capacity to look at facts and base my conclusions on evidence. Part of shifting our political culture I think, is we’ve gotta model for our kids that facts matter.”
Nye also encouraged the president to promote “science every day in every grade,” calling it a huge opportunity.
“Teaching science [at] elementary level is very inexpensive,” he said. “We fight these surprising problems about reading and arithmetic and standards problems and so on, it seems like a very solvable problem. We have to invest in the elementary grades.”
“Part of it is also, I think, our culture has to support and elevate science,” Obama said, adding, “Sometimes what we see in the popular culture is, if not a denigration then not an emphasis on science.”
Nye told CNN before the video was posted that the White House asked him to join Obama in the Florida Everglades to film the video.
“[Obama] knows I’m like-minded when it comes to the environment,” Nye said. “He didn’t bring in Marc Morano or somebody like that. I think it’s cool.”
Morano, who has been featured on Fox News on several occasions, is a blogger whose parent organization, Climate Depot, has ties to the oil industry. On Wednesday, Fox News host Greg Gutfeld argued that global warming was a trumped-up threat because the president and the former TV host flew there on Air Force One.
Watch Obama’s discussion with Nye, as posted by the White House on Friday, below.
Happy Earth Day! Today is a day we can all band together and share our love for this beautiful planet—or at least drown our sorrows about climate change with nerdy themed cocktails. Later today, President Barack Obama will mark the occasion with a climate-focused speech in the Florida Everglades. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a frontrunner for the GOP presidential nomination, had a different idea: Fire a big chunk of the state’s environmental staff.
From the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel:
Fifty-seven employees of the state Department of Natural Resources began receiving formal notices this week that they might face layoff as part of Gov. Scott Walker’s budget for the next two fiscal years…
The DNR’s scientific staff conducts research on matters ranging from estimating the size of the state’s deer herd to to studying the effects of aquatic invasive species. Work is paid for with state and federal funds…
All told, Walker’s budget would cut 66 positions from the DNR. Of this, more than 25% would come from the science group. Cosh said a smaller number of employees received notices than the 66 positions in the budget because some positions targeted for cuts are vacant.
It’s no secret that a signature tactic in Walker’s controversial environmental recordhas been to degrade the DNR, which in addition to carrying out research is tasked with regulating the state’s mining industries. Still, the timing of this particular announcement is striking. I guess no one marked Earth Day on Walker’s calendar.
Neither Walker’s office nor DNR immediately returned requests for comment.
As consolation for this depressing news, here’s is a webcam of pandas at the San Diego Zoo.
What will you be doing on Monday, 4/20, at 11 p.m.?
Perhaps watching the premiere of acclaimed astrophysicist and author Neil deGrasse Tyson’s new show StarTalk. Tyson, who may be best known for hosting the reboot of Carl Sagan’s Cosmos series in 2014, will now be appearing weekly on the National Geographic Channel in what may be the first late-night science talk show. Along with a trusty cast of comedians and science-minded folks like Bill Nye, Tyson hopes the adaptation of his popular podcast to a broadcast format will make getting a regular dose of science as pain-free as possible. He thinks that by embedding it between pop culture discussions and entertaining asides, the science will go down easy, and even leave you wanting more. And he’s right.
The first episode features an interview with George Takei, who requires no introduction to any Star Trek fans: he played Hikaru Sulu, helmsman of the USS Enterprise. Takei has also become known for his activism surrounding human rights. Other guests this season include President Jimmy Carter, director Christopher Nolan, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, astronaut Chris Hadfield, and Ariana Huffington.
ThinkProgress was lucky enough to snag a few minutes of Tyson’s time to ask him about his new show, his feelings on how the media covers science, what we can do about climate change, and more.
Who is StarTalk trying to reach specifically?
We are trying to reach people who don’t know they like science, and people who know that they don’t like science. We are doing this through the use of three pillars: science, pop culture, and comedy. Who doesn’t like listening to a great comedian? Who doesn’t like occasionally, whether they’ll admit it or not, picking up an issue of People Magazine and checking out the latest stars. I think it might even be hardwired; seeking out people who get the adoring attention of others.
If you explore all the ways that science falls into that then you get people’s interest for free, because the pop culture got them there, and then they learn about the science as part of it. There is this eternal golden braid that we’re attempting to weave.
What was the reasoning for having the first episode feature George Takei?
There were other guests we had that could mislead you into thinking what future episodes would be like. For example, if we presented Richard Dawkins first, you might think StarTalk is about interviewing scientists, but we hardly ever interview scientists. We wanted a representative show that balanced science, pop culture and comedy and the Takei show did that in exactly the way we aim to do every week, whether or not we succeed. My stand-up comedian co-host is also a trekkie.
You recently spoke about who to blame for the state of the climate change debate in the U.S., the electorate or the politicians. Can you elaborate on that?
If you want to lean in a political way because that’s your politics, you should do that based on an objective truth rather than cherry-picking science before you even land at an objective truth. You can’t just cherry-pick data and choose what is true about the world and what isn’t.
So I’m not blaming the electorate in that sense. I’m blaming an educational system that is not positioned to educate an electorate such that they can make informed decisions in this, the 21st century, where informed decisions based on objective scientific truths will play a fundamental role in what kind of society we create for ourselves.
When can we expect you to run for public office?
I was asked that by the New York Times a few years ago when there was some impasse in Congress and they did a fun thing and found a set of people who were not traditionally associated with elected office and asked them what they would do if they were President. They were looking for ideas that maybe hadn’t surfaced yet and could possibly solve the problem. So I responded to that and it’s on my website. It’s pretty clear where I stand on the issue and you can quote it with abandon — provided the headline you put above it is accurate.
From Tyson’s “If I Were President” post:
When you’re scientifically literate, the world looks different to you. It’s a particular way of questioning what you see and hear. When empowered by this state of mind, objective realities matter. These are the truths of the world that exist outside of whatever your belief system tells you.
One objective reality is that our government doesn’t work, not because we have dysfunctional politicians, but because we have dysfunctional voters. As a scientist and educator, my goal, then, is not to become President and lead a dysfunctional electorate, but to enlighten the electorate so they might choose the right leaders in the first place.
Neil deGrasse Tyson
New York, Aug. 21, 2011
Sounds ominously like the infant stages of totalitarianism…
Shortly after Rick Scott (R-FL) was elected governor, Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection moved forward with an unwritten policy banning the terms “climate change” and “global warming” from use by the department.
Now, according to Bloomberg, Republicans in Wisconsin, favoring greed over public good, are following Florida’s lead. Matt Adamczyk, Republican State Treasurer and Board of Commissioners of Public Lands (BCPL) board member, recommended that BCPL employees are banned from working on climate change related issues while on state time. The board passed the ban in a 2-1 vote on Tuesday.
Adamczyk explained his motivation for banning BCPL staff from addressing climate change:
“It’s not a part of our sole mission, which is to make money for our beneficiaries. That’s what I want our employees working on. That’s it. Managing our trust funds.”
It appears Adamczyk is primarily concerned that the board’s executive secretary, Tia Nelson, will ‘diddle away’ time addressing the impact of climate change on public lands rather than focusing on making “money for our beneficiaries.”
Nelson is the daughter of former Senator Gaylord Nelson, a champion of conservationism that founded Earth Day in the state. Tia Nelson is a conservationist as well. She ran the Nature Conservancy’s climate change initiative for 17 years. However, she hasn’t worked on a climate change related project for years.
Nelson responded to Adamczyk’s paranoid accusation that she’s been “engaging on this topic for years” by informing him:
“Just for the record, I haven’t worked on climate change in any direct manner since the year 2008—or 2007.”
According to Bloomberg, climate change directly affects Wisconsin’s public lands. Not being able to address the topic leaves staff unable to discuss how climate change might impact the lands it oversees:
“The Midwest warmed about 1.5F on average from 1895 to 2012. Pine, maple, birch, spruce, fir, aspen, and beech forests, which are common in the region, are likely to decline as the century progresses, according to the latest U.S. National Climate Assessment. ‘Climate change may threaten forests in the Midwest,’ according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. ‘Threats include more frequent droughts, wildfires, and larger populations of harmful insects such as gypsy moths.’”
Wisconsin Secretary of State Douglas La Follette is the sole Democrat sitting on the board and the only board member that voted against the ban. He believes Adamczyk has a political vendetta against Nelson. In a previous meeting, La Follette mentioned that Adamczyk’s antagonism toward Nelson bordered on that of “an irresponsible witch hunt.”
La Follette finds the ban to be nonsense:
“Having been on this board for close to 30 years, I’ve never seen such nonsense,” La Follette said in the conference call on Tuesday. “We’ve reached the point now where we’re going to try to gag employees from talking about issues. In this case, climate change. That’s as bad as the governor of Florida recently telling his staff that they could not use the words ‘climate change.’”
Banning work on climate change or use of the term isn’t going to solve the problem. Climate change is one of the most serious, if not the most serious, long term issue we face. We need elected officials ready to take on the challenge and lead on this issue, not those suffering from an ideologically driven denial of it.
“We’ve seen waves crashing into our homes.”
Presidents and diplomats aren’t the only ones calling for climate action at the United Nations. During the opening ceremony of today’s climate summit, Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner—a 26-year-old poet from the Marshall Islands—spoke eloquently about the threat that rising seas pose to her country.
Jetnil-Kijiner warned delegates of the high price of inaction and described the current challenge as a “race to save humanity.”
“Those of us from Oceania are already experiencing it first hand,” she said. “We’ve seen waves crashing into our homes…We look at our children and wonder how they will know themselves or their culture should we lose our islands.”
“We need a radical change of course,” she added. “It means ending carbon pollution within my lifetime. It means supporting those of us most affected to prepare for unavoidable climate impacts. And it means taking responsibility for irreversible loss and damage caused by greenhouse gas emissions.”
You can read more about Jetnil-Kijiner here.
This is not the first time the networks dropped the climate change ball. It’s almost as if they don’t want to offend their big oil sponsors…(snark)
The People’s Climate March on Sunday was perhaps the largest climate change protest in history. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of New York City. Celebrities and high-profile politicians were among the marchers. The protest was a huge topic on social media.
All in all, it was a perfect opportunity for some of America’s biggest news organizations to cover the topic of climate change, something that usually gets either ignored or badly handled. For Sunday talk show hosts, there was even a nice political hook, since the march was pegged to a UN summit that President Obama will be attending.
Well, so much for that idea. It seems climate change remains one potentially world-shattering issue that just can’t get any respect on television. No Sunday morning show except MSNBC’s “Up” so much as mentioned climate change, or the march, save for one stray reference on “This Week” by The Nation’s Katrina vanden Heuvel. She pointed out that the march was actually gathering right outside the ABC studios in Lincoln Center where the show is taped.
“NBC Nightly News” was the only evening news show to do any segment on the march. (ABC devoted about 23 seconds to the topic in its evening show, and CBS spent exactly zero seconds on it.) Cable news, with the exception of Al Jazeera America, mostly looked the other way, besides a couple of segments on CNN and MSNBC.
How did I miss this one earlier in the week?
Wednesday had to have been a frustrating day for White House Science Advisor Dr. John P. Holdren.
Holdren, a lauded theoretical physicist, appeared before the Republican-led House Committee on Science, Space and Technology on Wednesday to testify about the Obama administration’s plan to fight climate change. But, as is true for all House Science committee hearings on climate change, much of the questioning focused not the content of the plan itself, but whether global warming is even real.
Additional lines of questioning included whether carbon dioxide actually harms human health, and whether the climate plan would lower global temperatures on its own — two questions with complicated answers that have been very thoroughly explained since the plan was introduced. One Congressmen accused Holdren of breaking the law by sending work e-mails from his personal account in 2013, while another said climate scientistsshouldn’t be trusted because of their dependence on the existence of climate change to make a living.
Fortunately, Holdren is a confident speaker who was able to succinctly explain the science to his climate denying questioners despite constant interruption. Here are a few of the best times he did just that.
Rep. Stockman’s Questions On “Global Wobbling”
After expressing his distaste for Obama’s Climate Action Plan, Rep. Steve Stockman (R-TX) spoke about a recent trip to Maryland, where he apparently asked a NASA scientist what ended the last Ice Age. The scientist, Stockman said, credited “global wobbling,” or slight changes in the earth’s tilt and orbit that happen over tens of thousands of years.
What Stockman then wanted to know is, why isn’t “global wobbling” included in climate modelings?
“How can you take an element which you give to the credit for the collapse of global freezing and into global warming but leave it out of your models?” Stockman asked. “I’m a little puzzled because we still don’t have metrics of how to determine global wobbling.”
In the video, Holdren explains that global wobbling happens so slowly — on timescales of 22,000 years, 44,000 years, and 100,000 years — that it doesn’t impact the comparatively fast impacts of climate change. In fact, Holdren says because of previous wobbling, we should be in a cooling period as we speak. “But the warming inflicted by human activities has overwhelmed the effect of global wobbling,” he said.
Stockman also said he “can’t get answers” to how long it would take for the sea level to rise two feet. “Think about it, if your ice cube melts in your glass, it doesn’t overflow. It’s displacement. This is some of the things that they’re talking about that mathematically and scientifically don’t make sense.”
Holdren wasn’t given a chance to answer this question, but the answer is pretty simple. Stockman seems to be forgetting that not all melting ice is already in the sea. Melting land ice — glaciers, ice sheets, ice caps, and permafrost — are the major contributors to global sea-level rise as their water flows into the ocean. And even though melting sea ice doesn’t directly contribute to sea level rise, it does cause ocean temperatures to rise. This causes the ocean to expand and rise — a big component of sea level rise — and the added heat can ultimately cause more land ice to melt.
The exchange ends with an awkward silence over the length of ice ages, and Stockman eventually getting interrupted by the committee’s sitting chair to move on with the hearing.
Rep. Rohrabacher’s Questions On The Health Impacts Of CO2
The reason the Environmental Protection Agency is able to regulate carbon dioxide is because it is considered a threat to human health. In 2009, the EPA issued anendangerment finding which confirmed that carbon indirectly harms human health by contributing to climate change, which causes heat waves and increases in ground-level ozone pollution.
Still, Rep. Dana Rohrabacher — not shy at all about his climate denial — tried very hard on Wednesday to back both Holdren and EPA Office of Air and Radiation Assistant Administrator Janet McCabe into a corner by asking repeatedly about the direct health impacts of carbon dioxide. “At what level does carbon dioxide concentration become harmful to human health?”
It’s long been stated that if policies to tackle climate change are going to work, the biggest emitters from around the world are going to have to do their part (see term: “global” warming). No policy from any one country is going to do anything on its own; the point is, someone needs to start. As the second-largest emitter of carbon, and the country that has altogether emitted the largest amount of greenhouse gases, many think that the United States should be the one to take that step.
Holdren explains as much. “The limitation of carbon emissions in the United states is a very important first step for us to take on a longer trajectory to meet the President’s goals of a 17 percent reduction from 2005 by 2020, and ultimately an 80 percent reduction by 2050,” he said. “If the United States does not take that sort of action, it is unlikely that other major emitters in the world — China, India, Russia, Europe, Japan — will do so either. And the fact is, all of us need to reduce our carbon emissions if we are to avoid unmanageable degrees of climate change.”
Bucshon’s response: “Okay, fair enough.”
When House Speaker John Boehner told a group of reporters on Thursday that he would not discuss climate change on the grounds that he, himself, was not a scientist, he joined the ranks of other prominent Republican politicians who have refused to talk about the issue on the same grounds.
“I’m not a scientist,” said Florida Governor Rick Scott last week, when asked if he thought man-made climate change was affecting the weather. “I’m not a scientist,” said Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) in 2009, his first in a long line of statement denying climate change. “I’m not sure, I’m not a scientist,” said Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) said of climate change in 2010 (Grimm changed his mind on the issue this past April).
The tactic is an interesting (and seemingly effective) way for politicians to avoid acknowledging or denying the reality of climate change while still getting to fight against any regulation to stop it. But actual climate scientists say the tactic is irresponsible, dangerous, and ignores the fact that credible scientific information is readily available.
“Personally, I don’t think it proper for any American to use that argument,” said Donald. J Wuebbles, a distinguished professor of atmospheric sciences and coordinating lead author for the U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s 2013 assessment report.
Wuebbles, who was also a lead author on the recently released National Climate Assessment, said that report was written by scientists and other experts specifically so that members of Congress could understand climate change and how it affects the country. With that report available, he said, climate change should be “readily understood by any policymaker.”
“The assessment represents the latest understanding of the science and is the most comprehensive report ever prepared for the American people on climate change,” Wuebbles said. “The report itself was done for Congress under a law passed by Congress.”
Michael Mann, director of the Earth System Science Center at Pennsylvania State University, went even further, calling Boehner’s comments a “pathetic dodge” that doesn’t make sense in the context of political decision-making.
“What if we asked ‘Senator: do you advocate drinking toxic sludge?’ or ‘Senator: is jumping off the north rim of the Grand Canyon safe?’ or ‘Senator: should I place my head in the jaws of this lion?’,” Mann said. “Would the response still be be ‘I don’t know, I’m not a scientist’?”
Mann noted that politicians have no qualms making statements about other political issues — abortion and public health, for example — because they are supposed to use established science to inform their decisions. Climate change, though, is a different story, he said.
“Why is it somehow different when it comes to the climate change threat and the need to regulate carbon emissions — something opposed by fossil fuel interests like the Koch Brothers who fund so many of these politicians campaigns — why is it in this case different?” he said. “That, of course, is a rhetorical question.”
2013 American Meteorological Society president Marshall Shepherd, however, said both politicians and scientists need to back away from inflammatory rhetoric and start actively working together on solutions. He acknowledged that politicians should not make statements about climate change without knowledge of peer-reviewed science, but said climatologists must also live up to their responsibility to make sure policymakers are well-informed.
“I am certain that no policymaker is an expert on many different topics that cross their desk but they have to be considered,” he said, noting that scientists have an “obligation to ensure that public and policymakers don’t fall victim to being duped because of lack of science knowledge.”
“I think scientists that are too overtly political or activist lose credibility. Likewise, a stakeholder or policymaker speaking definitely on climate without any background or from non-peer reviewed perspectives is also dangerous,” he said. “I have long argued that we have to remove the vitriol and name-calling and work to help each other in the discussion.”