Friday, October 30, 2009

Climate Progress

Climate Progress

Rep. Jay Inslee slams SuperFreakonomics: "People are still trying to write books to deceive the American public" on climate science.

Posted: 30 Oct 2009 09:01 AM PDT

This is a repost from Wonk Room.

Yesterday, Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA) rebuked the authors of SuperFreakonomics for participating in a "continuing effort to deceive the American public" on the science of climate change. During an investigative hearing on forged letters sent by the coal industry to oppose climate action, Inslee condemned the industry's effort to "hoodwink, defraud, and deceive the American public now to cover up the toxicity to the world environment" of global warming pollution. Inslee then turned to Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, criticizing them for "absolute deception" in their work on global warming:

The second thing I want to note is this is not the only continuing effort to deceive the American public. I want to note a book called Freakonomics, or SuperFreakonomics, that some authors wrote, that basically said or asserted we don't have to control CO2, we'll just pump sulfur dioxide up into the atmosphere and that will solve the problem. They purported to quote a scientist named Ken Caldeira from Stanford who's one of the predominant researchers in ocean acidification to suggest that Dr. Caldeira didn't think we should control CO2. Which is an absolute deception. Dr. Caldeira I've spoken to personally. He's told me we have to solve ocean acidification. You can't solve ocean acidification without controlling CO2 and yet people are still trying to write books to deceive the American public. And we ought to blow the whistle on them, we're blowing the whistle on one today, we'll continue to do it, because ultimately science is going to triumph in this discussion.

Levitt and Dubner's promotion of geoengineering as a "cheap and simple" alternative to carbon mitigation is in direct opposition to the views of Dr. Ken Caldeira, Paul Crutzen, and the world's scientific community. Although Caldeira objected to the chapter and has since repeatedly said he was misrepresented in multiple ways, the SuperFreakonomics authors have continued their deception, joining the billion-dollar effort by fossil-fuel companies and the radical right to thwart action on climate change.


We have seen this movie before, and it was the exercise by the tobacco industry to try to hoodwink and cover up the science of the devastating toxicity that they were involved in for decades. And it actually worked for decades. And we have seen a similar effort to hoodwink, defraud, and deceive the American public now to cover up the toxicity to the world environment, and ultimately to our own health, of carbon dioxide and other climate change gases. They have used every trick in the book including the ones we will investigate today But I just want to note that they are now failing. The tobacco industry got its comeuppance, if you will, and justice triumphed ultimately.

And that's what's going on right now in the climate change debate. You see in the U.S. Senate, members of the U.S. Senate on a bipartisan basis finally coming out to move based on the science, which is now becoming dominant in the discussion.

The second thing I want to note is this is not the only continuing effort to deceive the American public.

I want to note a book called Freakonomics, or SuperFreakonomics, that some authors wrote, that basically said or asserted we don't have to control CO2, we'll just pump sulfur dioxide up into the atmosphere and that will solve the problem. They purported to quote a scientist named Ken Caldeira from Stanford who's one of the predominant researchers in ocean acidification to suggest that Dr. Caldeira didn't think we should control CO2. Which is an absolute deception. Dr. Caldeira I've spoken to personally. He's told me we have to solve ocean acidification. You can't solve ocean acidification without controlling CO2 and yet people are still trying to write books to deceive the American public. And we ought to blow the whistle on them, we're blowing the whistle on one today, we'll continue to do it, because ultimately science is going to triumph in this discussion.

Update 1: The House Committee on Science and Technology will be holding a hearing on geoengineering next Thursday, with witnesses including Dr. Ken Caldeira.

Update 2:  Inslee, beware! Steven Levitt has licked ocean acidification, too:

Of course, ocean acidification is an important issue. Now, there are ways to deal with ocean acidification, right, it's actually, that's actually, we know exactly how to un-acidify the oceans: it's to pour a bunch of base into it, so, so if that turns out to be an incredibly big problem, then we can deal with that.

Listen here:

Update 3:  At Deltoid, Tim Lambert notes when Dubner claimed "we routinely address the concerns that critics accuse us of ignoring (the problem of ocean acidification, e.g.)," he was lying.

Related Posts:

Republicans for Enviromental Protection push back on Big Oil's attack on Lindsey Graham

Posted: 30 Oct 2009 07:40 AM PDT

A major denier group has started running falsehood-filled ads going after Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the conservative gamechanger who just made a climate bill likely.  As Media Matters explains in their ad fact check:

Using false oil industry talking points, the Big Oil funded American Energy Alliance produced an ad attacking Sen. Lindsey Graham for his willingness to work with Democrats on clean energy jobs legislation.  Contrary to the allegations made in the ad, legislation increasing our investment in clean energy technologies would create jobs in every state and help America become more energy independent, all for less than a quarter a day.

Now Republicans for Environmental Protection (REP) are pushing back with their own ad:

The inside-the-beltway GOP and conservative leadership have strayed far from their original roots with their single-minded determination to stop all efforts to preserve a livable climate.  The photo and Goldwater quote above come from the REP website (as does the photo/quote below).  Here is REP's news release that goes along with this ad:

Republicans for Environmental Protection began running television ads on October 30 across South Carolina supporting U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham for his strong leadership on energy and climate change.

The group also plans to air radio ads as well.

The aid may be viewed by clicking here.

"REP applauds Senator Graham for setting a powerful example of conservative leadership," REP Vice President for Government and Political Affairs David Jenkins said. "True conservatives take seriously the risks facing our country, and they take responsibility by supporting prudent measures to reduce those risks."

REP believes that constructive Republican engagement will produce a better climate and energy bill than one produced by Democrats alone.

The ad features State Senator John Courson, a Columbia Republican representing Lexington and Richland Counties, who calls oil companies and other special interests on the carpet for their misleading ads attacking Senator Graham.

"We appreciate Senator Courson's standing up for Senator Graham," REP President Rob Sisson said. "Both of these outstanding leaders are patriots who have served our country with honor and understand what true conservatism is. They recognize the value of problem-solving over gridlock and of statesmanship over partisanship."

"Senator Graham deserves enormous credit for stepping forward to solve real problems facing our nation and world. He correctly connects our national security, energy security and economic security with the need to protect our world for future generations," said REP Vice President for Policy and Communications Jim DiPeso.

"We urge Republicans and Democrats to work together in good faith to frame balanced climate and energy legislation that a broad majority of Americans can support," DiPeso added.

The ads are airing in the South Carolina media markets of Greenville-Spartanburg, Columbia, Charleston, and Florence-Myrtle Beach, and the Georgia media markets of Savannah and Augusta.

Kudos to REP for supporting Graham's bipartisan efforts to address the twin issues of climate and energy security.

For more on the polluter-funded American Energy Alliance:

Republicans for Environmental Protection

Must-have PPTs: GOP witness details harsh impact Bush-Cheney policies had on U.S. manufacturing jobs

Posted: 29 Oct 2009 03:45 PM PDT

Cicio big 1

The US manufacturing sector has lost over 5.1 million jobs in the last 10 years. Output and investment per GDP has fallen consistently and imports have risen sharply. (See charts below) This is not the time to implement risky unproven climate policy. The US economy cannot afford to lose any more jobs or shutdown facilities. Approximately 40,000 manufacturing plants have closed during the seven years ending in 2008. We have lost eleven industries that we were once dominant since the late 1990s. By late 2008, the US trade deficit with China alone was running at close to $1 billion per day, amounting to more than $90 per month or more than $1100 per year for every American.

That's from one of the strangest pieces of testimony you're ever going to see — by Paul Cicio, Executive Director, Industrial Energy Consumers of America.

Cicio was the GOP witness at the landmark hearings for the Senate climate and clean energy jobs bill  today.  He seemed to think that a strong argument against the clean energy bill was that the U.S. manufacturing sector has been devastated by eight years of conservative rule.  I have argued many times that conservative do-nothing energy and economic policies led to sharp increases in energy costs (see "Senate GOP propose 25% 'Do-Nothing' energy tax on Americans") and sharp decreases in US competitiveness (see "Invented here, sold there").

But Cicio has the most (unintentionally) damning set of slides I've ever seen, a few of which I'm going to reproduce here since I'm sure progressives will want to use them in explaining why we must never go back to the Bush-Cheney policies.  The figure above shows how conservative policies have killed manufacturing jobs.   And lest you think that it is purely a coincidence that the manufacturing sector has been slammed by Bush-Cheney, Cicio provides this jaw-dropping figure which goes back another decade:


Invesment in industrial equipment recovered under the Clinton administration and stayed high for most of it, but simply collapsed under the Bush-Cheney administration and stayed low.  Looks like those tax cuts for the rich didn't do very much other than enrich the rich.  The data in green is from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, but that amusing "trend line" is apparently from the Industrial Energy Consumers of America.

Here's one more figure:

Cicio Last

Yes, imports of manufactured goods soared, especially after 2003.  Again, thank you Bush-Cheney and a conservative Congress.

Sen. Boxer herself turned Cicio's argument on its head and said that she agreed completely with his historical analysis, but disagreed completely with his conclusion.  The answer was not to continue these devastating do-nothing conservative policies, but to pass the clean energy jobs bill.

During forged letter investigation hearing, coal industry lies under oath about its lobbying history

Posted: 29 Oct 2009 02:09 PM PDT

This is a Think Progress repost.

Today, the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming held a hearing investigating fraudulent letters forged by Bonner & Associates on behalf of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) to attack the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454). As the Wonk Room's Brad Johnson has reported, ACCCE President and CEO Steve Miller lied under oath when he told the committee that his organization has never opposed clean energy legislation.

Later during the hearing, Rep. Jay Inslee (D-WA) asked Miller about the purpose of ACCCE. Miller replied that in addition to grassroots lobbying (astroturfing) and state-based lobbying, his front group has only began federal lobbying in "April of 2008″ in its "16 year history":

INSLEE: Your entire goal of your organization is to influence Congress. Is that right?

MILLER: We do work at the state level, we do regulatory matters, we do general education to the public. So, the federal, direct federal lobbying has only been part of our portfolio since April of 2008 with a 16 year history of the organization.

Miller's claim is another example of the coal industry's perjury under oath. In a six month period of 2007 alone, ACCCE, under its previous name of Americans for Balanced Energy Choices, spent $2,660,000 lobbying the federal government. Senate disclosures show that the organization has spent millions more lobbying since 2001.

ACCCE was formed in 2008, according to its website, with the combined "assets and missions of the Center for Energy and Economic Development (CEED) and Americans for Balanced Energy Choices (ABEC)." So when Miller noted his 16 year history, he was referring to the lobbying efforts of the coal industry's previous incarnations, ABEC and CEED.

Here is Brad Johnson's post:

In the hearing investigating fraudulent letters forged on behalf of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity (ACCCE) to attack the Waxman-Markey American Clean Energy and Security Act (H.R. 2454), ACCCE chief Steve Miller told Congress his organization has never opposed the legislation.

The record shows otherwise.

ACCCE Politico ad, 6/18/09ACCCE Called Waxman-Markey A 'High-Risk Proposition.' On June 18, a week before the House of Representatives voted on the legislation, ACCCE ran a full-page ad in Politico with the headline, "If a climate bill goes too far, too fast it could keep us from getting where we need to go." The ad described the greenhouse gas pollution reductions in H.R. 2454 as a "high risk proposition."

ACCCE Criticized Waxman-Markey For 'Skyrocketing Energy Costs.' On June 18, ACCCE published on its website the claim that Waxman-Markey could "have consumers paying higher costs for decades." "In its current form, H.R. 2454 does not do enough to guarantee that consumers are protected against skyrocketing energy costs."

ACCCE Said It 'Cannot Support' Waxman-Markey. Following the passage of the legislation in a 217-213 House vote on June 26, ACCCE issued a statement in opposition to the legislation: "ACCCE cannot support this bill, as it is written, because the legislation still does not adequately protect consumers and the domestic economy or ensure that the American people can continue to enjoy the benefits of affordable, reliable electricity, which has been so important to our nation."

Increasing competitiveness through clean energy: Taking on China's broad-based effort to be the world's clean energy leader

Posted: 29 Oct 2009 01:37 PM PDT

I hope you have been watching panel 3 of today's Senate climate bill hearings.  It has been incredibly informative about the international competitiveness issue, especially China's aggressive efforts to become the clean energy leader and the complete turnaround in the thinking of Chinese business and policymakers since Chinese President Hu Jintao's UN speech (see "Are Chinese emissions pledges a game changer for Senate action?").  I'll do a post on it later.  Here is the testimony of CAP president and CEO John Podesta.  I have reprinted the extensive discussion of China's efforts to forever seize leadership in clean energy, which we can only match if we pass the clean energy bill.

Madam Chairman and members of the committee, thank you for inviting me to testify before you this afternoon. I am very pleased to have this time to share my thoughts on the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act, S. 1733, and its power to boost our economy's competitiveness.

The Senate global warming debate has focused on pollution limits and timetables, carbon markets and allocations. But we have lost sight of our principal objective: building a robust and prosperous clean energy economy. Moving beyond fossil fuel pollution will involve exciting work, new opportunities, new products and innovation, and stronger communities. Our current national discussion about constraints, limits, and the costs of transition overshadows the economic opportunity of clean energy investments. It is as if, on the cusp of the Internet and telecommunications revolution, debate centered only on the cost of digging trenches to lay fiber optic cable.

Many of our economic competitors see investments in clean energy technologies as key to their long-term sustainable economic growth. Germany, Spain, Japan, China, and even India are building the foundation for a prosperous low-carbon future. Many leaders in the American business community realize the competitive threat to the United States if we do not join other nations by investing in our clean-energy sector. Venture capitalist John Doerr and General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt warn, "There is still time for us to lead this global race, although that window is closing. We need low-carbon policies to exploit America's strengths—innovation and entrepreneurs."

To gain the lead in the clean-energy race—as we have done in other sectors—we need to reduce our global warming pollution as the Clean Energy Jobs and American Power Act requires. The bill puts a price on carbon pollution that recognizes the harms and costs of global warming, and it would level the playing field between the prices of dirty and cleaner energy sources. The Clean Energy Jobs Act, combined with companion measures before the Senate, would create a clean-energy investment program that would cut greenhouse gas pollution, spur clean-energy technology innovation, create new jobs, and increase American energy independence.

Here is Podesta's discussion of China's astonishingly broad-based clean energy efforts (footnotes are here):

Two months ago, I led a small American delegation to China that included Senator Tom Daschle, Ambassador Wendy Sherman, MIT Professor John Deutch, former Deputy Secretary of Defense Rudy deLeon, and SEIU President Andy Stern. Our group spent three full days speaking with some of the senior-most government officials, leading academics, and members of the financial industry about a range of issues of utmost importance between our two countries.

These discussions made us realize that climate change and clean energy rank among the very top issues of importance to China's social and economic development challenges. China fully grasps the strategic economic opportunity that the clean-energy sector represents. As Li Keqiang, first vice premier of China and Premier Wen Jiabao's deputy, has publicly said on various occasions, the development of new energy sources represents an opportunity to stimulate consumption, increase investments, achieve stable export opportunities, and adjust China's energy structure, all while enhancing its international
economic competitiveness.13

China is also diversifying into clean energy sources for energy security concerns. It already imports almost 50 percent of the oil it consumes, and for the first time in 2007, started to import coal. With China's consumption expected to grow from eight million barrels of oil a day currently to 20 million barrels of oil a day by 2030, its demand for global oil resources is bound to rise steadily and drive oil prices up.14 It has started to build a strategic oil reserve, encouraged its state-owned energy companies to invest in overseas energy assets, and sealed multibillion dollar oil and gas supply contracts with
countries including Russia, Brazil, Iran and Venezuela.15 But Beijing knows that a reliance on fossil fuels is not a complete solution, and is thus making heavy investments in domestic sources of clean and renewable energy.

Over the past few years, China has quietly made significant investments into low-carbon infrastructure.16 Although reported numbers vary, allocations to clean energy and sustainable development account for 14.5 percent of China's $586 billion economic stimulus in 2008, while the proportion is as high as 34 percent if supporting rail and grid infrastructure is included.

China is making steady progress to meet its goal to reduce energy consumption per unit of gross domestic product by 20 percent of 2005 levels by 2020. It has steadily grown its wind power industry as part of its long-term effort to increase its share of non-fossil fuel power to 15 percent of its overall energy mix by 2020. China's installed wind power capacity has doubled for each of the past four years, and this year it has launched major investment programs in solar photovoltaic installation to catalyze the domestic solar market.

The rapid growth in renewable energy deployment in China has compelled its policymakers to revise their 2020 target for wind power from 30 gigawatts to 100 to 120 gigawatts, and for solar power from 1.8 gigawatts to 10 gigawatts. China also plans to make significant investments in nuclear energy—$130 billion over the next 15 years. It plans to expand its nuclear capacity from 11 gigawatts to 40 gigawatts in 2020. China had nearly twice the amount of installed renewable energy capacity, excluding large hydro, compared to the United States by the end of 2008 (76 gigawatts versus 40

China is also an emerging world leader in ultra-high-voltage, or UHV transmission lines, with more than 100 domestic manufacturers and suppliers participating in the manufacturing and supply of UHV equipment. A transmission line from Shanxi to Hubei boasts the highest capacity in the world, and is able to transmit 1,000 kilovolts over 640 kilometers. The State Grid Corporation of China will invest $44 billion through 2012 and $88 billion through 2020 in building UHV transmission lines. China will unveil in the coming months plans to build an extensive smart grid by 2020.

As the world's largest auto market, China is serious about making the clean-energy vehicles of the future. They have slashed gasoline subsidies and increased taxes on cars with bigger engines while reducing taxes on smaller cars. They are spending $2.9 billion on developing energy efficient vehicles. China wants to raise its annual production capacity of hybrid and all-electric cars and buses to 500,000 by the end of 2011. This would account for only 5 percent of total car sales, but is up from only 2,100 in 2008.

Thirteen cities will roll out pilot subsidy programs for the purchase of "new energy vehicles," ranging from $7,350 for small hybrid passenger cars to $87,700 for large, fuelcell-powered commercial buses. The subsidies will target public-sector purchases such as public transportation, sanitation, and postal services. The State Grid plans to deploy pilot networks of charging stations for electric cars in Beijing, Tianjin, and Shanghai, while Nissan-Renault plans to help establish a pilot charging infrastructure network in Wuhan.

China's emerging leadership in electric vehicles is based on its innovation in energy storage technology. The world's first mass-produced, plug-in hybrid is the F3DM, launched by China's BYD Auto last December. Just six years ago BYD Auto was only in the business of making batteries for mobile phones. The F3DM sells in China for approximately $22,000, and the founder of BYD, Wang Chuanfu, is now China's richest person.18

During our delegation's visit to Beijing, we rode on a high-speed train to Tianjin, traveling 65 miles in just 30 minutes—less than half the time compared to conventional rail. This is part of the largest railway expansion in history. China plans to spend almost $300 billion expanding its railway network from 78,000 km today to 120,000 km in 2020. Of this, 13,000 km will be high-speed rail. The 1,300 kilometer Beijing-Shanghai line is under construction and will reduce travel time between those destinations from 14 hours to 5 hours when it opens in 2013. This will attract an estimated 220,000 daily passengers and should dramatically reduce air travel between the metropolises. What's more, China is poised to have the world's largest network for intracity urban rail transit. About 2,100 km of railway lines will be laid and operational by 2015 in 19 cities.

Ten cities currently have 29 urban rail routes, totaling 778 km, and 14 cities are building 46 urban rail lines, which total 1,212 km. Aside from infrastructure, China is also leading the way in manufacturing clean-energy technologies and products. It accounts for nearly 40 percent of the global production of solar photovoltaic panels. Historically, the vast majority of this production has been exported, but as described above, a push to develop the domestic solar market will mean that more solar panels will stay in China to produce clean electricity for the benefit of its own people.

China's rapid wind power expansion has also created a vibrant wind power manufacturing sector. Where some five years ago there were virtually no domestic manufacturers of wind components, now there are as many as 70 to 100 companies, with Sinovel, now the seventh largest in the world, producing one thousand 1.5 MW turbines in 2008 and with a capacity to produce twice this quantity. Though the first priority of these companies is to satisfy the growing domestic market, they are starting to explore international markets.

China's program to increase renewable energy and efficiency will also lower its greenhouse gas pollution. The Washington Post noted that "last week, the Paris-based International Energy Agency said the efforts are starting to pay off…[and] lowered its estimate of future Chinese greenhouse gas emissions."19 China has also signaled for the first time that it intends to manage carbon emissions growth. Last month, President Hu Jintao announced that China will reduce its carbon emissions per unit of GDP by a "notable margin." How quickly such a deceleration leads to a peaking of China's total emissions depends on the specific carbon intensity targets, but senior Chinese officials have recently given public assurance of its desire to peak its carbon pollution "as early as possible."20

All these actions send signals to the international business community. According to a recent report, the clean tech market in China alone has a potential to develop into a $500 billion to $1 trillion per year market by 2013.21 Enterprising American companies such as First Solar and American Superconductor have sensed the economic opportunity by investing directly in the Chinese clean energy market or, in the case of Duke Energy, partnering with Chinese companies to develop clean-energy projects here in the United States.

Make no mistake about it—China wants to lead the world in the development and production of clean-energy technologies for use at home and abroad. The United States should assume that China is in the clean-energy technology race to win.

Contrarian Chic: Why can't the media tell the difference between an attack on dubious 'conventional' wisdom and an attack on genuine scientific wisdom?

Posted: 29 Oct 2009 11:27 AM PDT

The Atlantic Monthly named Freeman Dyson a "Brave Thinker" for the "contrarian view" he's taken on climate change.  They tout his quote, "I like to express heretical opinions. They might even happen to be true."

Like the authors of the error-riddled Superfreakonomics, Dyson is contrarian for the sake of contrarianism — the truth is secondary.  Coincidentally, the same is true of the reporter who profiled him for the NY Times magazine — see Media stunner: When asked "Does it matter, from a journalistic point of view, whether [Freeman Dyson is] right or whether he's wrong?" his NYT profiler replies "Oh, absolutely not."

In fact, the media's adoration of contrarians means it is a lot less brave to be a contrarian these days than it used to be in, say, Galileo's day.   Dave Roberts at Grist makes that point in a terrific piece (reposted below):

Willing to risk a fawning NYT profile … freeeeeedooooom!
Is Freeman Dyson really "brave"?

What leads people to think that entire areas of climate science and policy, the subject of close study by thousands of very smart people all over the globe every day, can be overturned with facile points of logic and Silver Bullets Nobody's Thought Of?

Well, it ain't bravery….

On the other hand, simply repeat the broad global consensus— climate change is an urgent problem that warrants coordinated action to reduce GHG emissions—and you get nowhere. Boooring.

(I can't tell you how many back-and-forths I've had with media outlets where I try to explain that the thing most people think is right actually is right, and they say, maybe so, but that's not going to titillate our readers.)

Ditto!  Scientific wisdom was, like, so last year.

Krugman had it right in his first take on the Superfreaks:  "If you're going to get into issues that are both important and the subject of serious study, like the fate of the planet, you'd better be very careful not to stray over the line between being counterintuitive and being just plain, unforgivably wrong."  Last week, in "Contrarianism without consequences," the Nobel laureate added:

The refusal of the Superfreakonomists to take responsibility for their failed attempt to be cleverly contrarian on climate change is a sad spectacle to watch….

What it is, instead, is a failure of courage — having paraded their daring contrarianism, the freakonomists are trying to wiggle out of the consequences when it turns out that they were wrong.

Krugman links to a terrific post by contrarian Daniel Davies on the Superfreaks, "Rules for Contrarians: 1. Don't whine. That is all," which I'll repost at the very end

Contrarian Dyson was one of the "geniuses" pushing Project Orion — the absurdly impractical idea of creating a rocket ship powered by detonating nuclear bombs.  Hard to beat that for being contrary to good old-fashioned common sense.  You want real bravery?  How about Dyson test piloting the thing?

More recently he started saying stuff like, "There is no doubt that parts of the world are getting warmer, but the warming is not global" (see "Freeman Dyson, Climate Crackpot").  Contrarian?  Yes.  But it doesn't happen to be true.  The warming is global and occurring in virtually every region of the planet, as made clear in this figure from NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies comparing the temps during the 2000s with those from 1951-1980 (you can make your own map here):

Fig 1: Global map

And Dyson started proposing outlandish "solutions" (see Freeman Dyson and his amazing, incredible 'genetically engineered carbon-eating trees'):

If one quarter of the world's forests were replanted with carbon-eating varieties of the same species, the forests would be preserved as ecological resources and as habitats for wildlife, and the carbon dioxide in the atmosphere would be reduced by half in about fifty years.

Oh, well, replacing 25% of existing trees with imaginary genetically-engineered carbon-eating trees will solve the problem. Why didn't anyone point this out before? It certainly would've saved the IPCC a lot of time.

Wait, I can improve his idea. It's obviously too risky to take the carbon and "bury it underground." What if it leaked? Let's put the carbon on rocket ships powered by nuclear bombs. That way we can be sure the carbon won't ever return to our atmosphere.

Dyson and his fawning, fact-check-free NYT interview goes on and on:

… "the climate is actually improving rather than getting worse," because carbon acts as an ideal fertilizer promoting forest growth and crop yields.

Except that ain't happening. Quite the reverse (see "Science: Global warming is killing U.S. trees, a dangerous carbon-cycle feedback" and "Climate-Driven Pest Devours N. American Forests" and "Nature on stunning new climate feedback: Beetle tree kill releases more carbon than fires").

But that's the beauty of being an 85-year-old theoretical physicist with no training or publications in climate science — you don't have to concern yourself with the facts.

"Most of the evolution of life occurred on a planet substantially warmer than it is now," he contends, "and substantially richer in carbon dioxide."

Well, yes. Of course, sea levels were 250 feet higher back then. But Dyson says not to worry:

Sea levels, he says, are rising steadily, but why this is and what dangers it might portend "cannot be predicted until we know much more about its causes."


Note to Dyson: Sea levels are rising because the planet is getting hotter, causing the water to expand and the land-locked ice to melt and/or flow rapidly into the oceans. Those are the "causes." Duh. Either read the scientific literature or shut up. Start here: Startling new sea level rise research: "Most likely" 0.8 to 2.0 meters by 2100.

You can read more debunking of Dyson here.

Dave Roberts full response to Dyson and the Superfreaks is well worth reading:

Freeman Dyson is a noted physicist who's argued—utterly implausibly—that carbon eating trees will save us and we shouldn't worry about the whole climate change thing. For this, he's been profiled in The New York Times and now dubbed a Brave Thinker by the Atlantic. But is he really that brave?

Said friend Oliver Sacks of Dyson, "He feels it's important not only to be not orthodox, but to be subversive, and he's done that all his life." For whatever reason, Dyson decided enviros were the latest orthodoxy to need a thumb in the eye.

It's a pretty common sentiment.  Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner are the latest to do it, in their new book Superfreakonomics. Their chapter on climate change sits awkwardly with the rest of their work; the original Freakonomics was based on Levitt's academic work, real data and models the authors used to make ostentatiously counterintuitive points about perverse economic incentives. But Levitt did no original work on climate. The chapter's not about economic incentives. There's no evidence of deep or sustained engagement with the literature or previous research on the subject. The authors just high-stepped in, cast a cursory glance around, and started condescending to the people involved in it (and stepping on rakes).

Why? What leads people to think that entire areas of climate science and policy, the subject of close study by thousands of very smart people all over the globe every day, can be overturned with facile points of logic and Silver Bullets Nobody's Thought Of?

Well, it ain't bravery.

The fact is, anybody who takes a poke at the Dirty F*ckin' Hippies—anybody, for any reason—can get attention and access to media. There's an enormous infrastructure on the right to elevate any anti-DFH voice, including random economists,  physicists, meteorologists, talk show hosts, computer programmers, whatever. You don't need any particular credentials. You don't even have to believe what the right does; as long as you confuse the issue, they'll amplify your voice. (Indeed, they're embracing Superfreakonomics.)

Add to that the fact that mainstream media outlets seek one thing above all else, and that's the unexpected, the contrarian. When it comes to climate change, that generally means taking a poke at greens (or better yet, at Al Gore). It's even better if you're a purported green bashing other greens. That's the kind of media crack Nordhaus & Shellenberger dealt on their way to fame and funding. Bash the greens, no matter your qualifications or the merits of your arguments, and you will find yourself on television and in opinion sections from the New York Times to Washington Post to Wired.

Helpfully, when you offer facile dismissals of science and policy to which people have devoted their lives—"We could end this debate and be done with it," sighs Dubner, "and move on to problems that are harder to solve."—they get angry, and they express that anger. Then you get to be the Brave, Persecuted Freethinker battling the Quasi-Religious Orthodoxy, and the press loves you all the more.  Why else would anyone know Roger Pielke Jr.'s name? Lomborg rode that train, along with Shellenberger/Nordhaus and Dyson. In a smaller, grubbier way, even a flack like Patrick Moore ("co-founder of Greenpeace"!) has made it work for him. It's no wonder Levitt/Dubner thought they could do the same thing, and you can sense their hesitation now that it's not working so well. Though it did work like a charm on the normally sharp Jon Stewart, who offered Levitt this pathetically fawning interview:

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On the other hand, simply repeat the broad global consensus— climate change is an urgent problem that warrants coordinated action to reduce GHG emissions—and you get nowhere. Boooring. (I can't tell you how many back-and-forths I've had with media outlets where I try to explain that the thing most people think is right actually is right, and they say, maybe so, but that's not going to titillate our readers.)

I could start doing this crap tomorrow: Have a revelation that greens are emotional, irrational, in the grips of a cultish faith (a "secular religion"!). Realize that they're doing everything wrong, from their message to their recommended policies. Discover that the real solution is … I don't know, thorium reactors, and everything else is needless hype and meddling. I could be denounced by greens and wear their opprobrium as a badge to gain entry into cable news and op-ed pages.

I would get the egoistic thrill of subversion. I'd get a hearty band of supporters on the right and thrillingly dastardly enemies on the left. I could parlay the conflict into national attention and infamy. If I was a retired physicist in my twilight years, it might even be a real kick in the pants to be back in the fray again.

Yeah, I could do all that. It would be many things, but "brave" isn't among them.

Jon Stewart's "interview" of Levitt was indeed one of his worst in recent memory, but people should realize that Stewart has not taken the time to educate himself on climate science, preferring to take the contrarian role himself in his May interview with EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson  — see Treehugger post here:

The Daily Show With Jon Stewart Mon – Thurs 11p / 10c
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Brad Johnson of Wonk Room spares me the trouble of critiquing Stewart and yet another debunking of the Superfreaks:

On last night's Daily Show, host Jon Stewart heaped praise on the contrarian approach to global warming taken by SuperFreakonomics author Steve Levitt, a University of Chicago economist. Stewart was baffled by the widespread criticism of Levitt and co-author Stephen Dubner, asking, "Have you stepped on a secular religion?" Stewart, often a tough interviewer, coddled Levitt, saying, "I'm sorry you've taken so much s**t for it." He blamed the uproar over SuperFreakonomics on people who "feel you are betraying environmentalism":

I've been somewhat surprised at how angry people are. The global warming chapter, you don't deny global warming. You don't say that CO2 isn't a factor, but they feel you are betraying environmentalism or our world. Why are people so mad?

SuperFreakonomics mischaracterizes the field in order to argue that "moralism and angst" has blinded scientists and policymakers from pursuing the "cheap and simple solution" of geoengineering. Although the book condemns scientists for fearmongering and promotes a radical alternative to existing policy, Levitt tells Stewart, "I don't try to pretend I know the science."

In reality, the critics of Levitt's treatment of climate science and policy are not "dogmatic" believers of a "secular religion" — they are highly respected climate scientists, energy experts, and economists, including climate scientist Ken Caldeira, who has said Levitt and Dubner misrepresented his views. The widespread criticism isn't based on the book's personal attacks on Al Gore or its mocking of global warming as a "religion," but on the multitude of factual errors, misrepresentations, and false conclusions that the authors use to promote their mindless contrarianism. As science journalist Eric Pooley writes, "The book claims the opposite of what Caldeira believes."

Levitt recommends untested, planetary scale geo-engineering to block the sun as a "band-aid" that "buys us time" if "we might need to do something," because carbon dioxide stays in the atmosphere for a long time. However, scientists concerned that global warming needs to be reduced rapidly have already found a well-proven approach that's cheaper and safer than pumping unlimited amounts of sulfur dioxide into the stratosphere: stopping black carbon emissions of soot from diesel and biomass burning.

Stewart hit the nail on the head when he concluded, "I really don't know what I'm talking about, do I?" However, he failed to understand his mistake when he concluded that he had "apparently frightened our audience by suggesting that conservation isn't the only way out of any of our problems."

Stewart has excoriated other media darlings for their laissez-faire approach to serious issues, from Tucker Carlson to Jim Cramer, and just last week skewered CNN for its failure to do even basic fact-checking of its guests. Unfortunately, this time Stewart ended up being just like those he usually mocks — neither funny nor accurate.

UPDATE 1:  Stephan Faris writes:

In short, Stewart misses the point completely. There's no doubt the environmentalist movement is full of people who are ideologically opposed to consumption. But there are also plenty of people (like myself) who are no fan of hairshirts, but still worry about the potential catastrophic impacts of climate change. The problem with Levitt's book isn't that it attacked a holy cow (it may have done that, but that isn't the problem). Where Levitt went wrong is that the solution he and his co-author Stephen Dubner propose isn't actually a solution.

UPDATE 2:  Geenfyre's Mike Kaulbars writes:

That's right, Levitt doesn't even have to BS the interview because Stewart does it for him. From mocking green living to calling climate science "a religion" Stewart sounds like he is reading Levitt's talking points. Instead of challenging Levitt, Stewart does all of the disinformation and obfuscating for him. Journalism schools could use this as a case study of really appalling interview technique; it's that bad.

Finally, here's Daniel Davies of Crooked Timber:

I like to think that I know a little bit about contrarianism. So I'm disturbed to see that people who are making roughly infinity more money than me out of the practice aren't sticking to the unwritten rules of the game.

Viz Nathan Mhyrvold:

"Once people with a strong political or ideological bent latch onto an issue, it becomes hard to have a reasonable discussion; once you're in a political mode, the focus in the discussion changes. Everything becomes an attempt to protect territory. Evidence and logic becomes secondary, used when advantageous and discarded when expedient. What should be a rational debate becomes a personal and venal brawl."

Okay, point one. The whole idea of contrarianism is that you're "attacking the conventional wisdom", you're "telling people that their most cherished beliefs are wrong", you're "turning the world upside down". In other words, you're setting out to annoy people. Now opinions may differ on whether this is a laudable thing to do – I think it's fantastic – but if annoying people is what you're trying to do, then you can hardly complain when annoying people is what you actually do. If you start a fight, you can hardly be surprised that you're in a fight. It's the definition of passive-aggression and really quite unseemly, to set out to provoke people, and then when they react passionately and defensively, to criticise them for not holding to your standards of a calm and rational debate. If Superfreakonomics wanted a calm and rational debate, this chapter would have been called something like: "Geoengineering: Issues in Relative Cost Estimation of SO2 Shielding", and the book would have sold about five copies.

Viz also, Stephen Dubner:

"They have given the impression that we are global-warming deniers of the worst sort, and that our analysis of the issue is ideological and unscientific. Most gravely, we stand accused of misrepresenting the views of one of the most respected climate scientists on the scene, whom we interviewed extensively. If everything they said was actually true, it would indeed be a damning indictment. But it's not."

Okay, point two. The other point of contrarianism is that, if it's well done, you assemble a whole load of points which are individually uncontroversial (or at least, solidly substantiated) and put them together to support a conclusion which is surprising and counterintuitive. In other words, the aim of the thing is the overall impression you give. Because of this, if you're writing a contrarian piece properly, you ought to be well aware of what point it looks like you're making, because the entire point is to make a defensible argument which strongly resembles a controversial one.

So having done this intentionally, you don't get to complain that people have "misinterpreted" your piece by taking you to be saying exactly what you carefully constructed the argument to look like you were saying. Fair enough, you might not care to defend the controversial point it looked like you were making, but a degree of diffidence is appropriate here, because the confusion is entirely and intentionally your fault:

"(That is the "global cooling" in our subtitle. If someone interprets our brief mention of the global-cooling scare of the 1970's as an assertion of "a scientific consensus that the planet was cooling," that feels like a willful misreading.)"

No it doesn't; it feels like someone read the first two pages for the plain meaning of the words and didn't spot that you were actually playing a little crossword-puzzle game where the answer was "consensus". In general, whatever "global cooling" meant, it was put on the cover in full knowledge of the impression it would give to a normal reader so once more, it is not legitimate to complain that this phrase was interpreted in the way in which it was intended to be interpreted.

In general, contrarians ought to have thick skins, because their entire raison d'etre is the giving of intellectual offence to others. So don't whine, for heaven's sake. Own your bullshit, like this guy.

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