Why are environmentalists so lousy at politics?


My original post is below.  I just came across this information from Washington Post, showing that in this election cycle one environmental group, the League of Conservation Voters, is actually one of the bigger donors to Democratic candidates.

LCV has donated nearly a million dollars in 2010, and is ranked #2 in terms of total donations over the last week.

Read the full article here.

A few weeks ago, I was at an event at Paul Smiths College where Bill McKibben gave the keynote address.

Bill began his career as an environmental writer and activist in the Adirondacks.  He spoke passionately about the looming climate change crisis.

He pointed out that the United States has a near-perfect record of doing nothing to stop global warming, despite a near-perfect consensus among scientists that the threat of catastrophic impacts is growing.

With his talk coming just a couple of months before the 2010 mid-term elections, I expected Bill to pivot and make a point-blank appeal that would go something like this:

Elect more environment-friendly Democrats this fall, or the Republican Party will take control of Congress.  That means any realistic hope of pushing through carbon-reducing policy will evaporate.

Bill talked at length about organizing international rallies and events, but the idea of taking direct action to influence the outcome of this year’s vote here at home never came up.

That moment lingered in the back of my mind until I came across an essay this weekend by conservative George F. Will, who comments on “the environmental movement in retreat.”

I’m not a huge fan of Will’s.  In this column, he does what he often does in his public appearances, which is to suggest that there is a growing level of doubt about the scientific evidence for climate change.

That’s hoakum.

It’s fine to refuse to accept global warming for whatever ideological reason you choose.

And it’s also perfectly fair to say that you would rather boost the economy or create jobs (or whatever) rather than spend society’s resources on cutting carbon emissions.

But to suggest that there is any substantive doubt among scientists about the physics and chemistry behind human-caused climate change is either goofy or outright deceptive.

Still, Will’s larger point is spot-on:

The national green movement is in full retreat, disorganized and increasingly marginalized, despite the fact that “their” party is in power and “their” message is at the center of the debate over energy and conservation.

It’s not that Americans don’t care about the environment.  We do.  But greenies suffer from two big problems.

First, most eco-problems these days are big and abstract.

Before environmentalism took root in the U.S., our rivers were so polluted they were bursting into flame.  Our most iconic birds and animals were going extinct.

Human children were being born with deformities and illnesses because of industrial pollution. Green spaces were vanishing.

A half-century later, many of those easy and obvious problems have been solved.

These days, scientists will tell you that the remaining problems are just as big, but the causes are much harder to see and explain.

What’s more, tackling global-scale issues like climate change will mean all of us doing stuff we really don’t want to do.

Like paying extra at the gas pump.  Or using mass transit.  Or living in smaller houses.  Eating locally grown food when it’s in season.

Still, those hurdles would probably be surmountable — at least incrementally — if not for environmentalists’ other big problem.

They stink at politics.

By way of contrast, consider the tea party movement on the right.  Tea partiers march and protest and occasionally say idiotic things about the president’s birth certificate.

But they also connect the dots between their conservative worldview and the importance of winning elections.  They rally aggressively behind candidates who reflect their values.

Environmentalists not so much.

I just looked at a list of the top 130 donors to political campaigns between 1989 and this year, compiled by OpenSecrets.org.

Archer Daniels Midland is there.  So is Wal-Mart.  And General Motors.  And Koch Industries.

All those companies have a vested interest in seeing climate change and environmental legislation stopped in its tracks, and they’re willing to dig deep to win the fight.

(To accomplish their goals, they’ve even helped to fund the tea party movement itself.)

But there is not a single environmental group, PAC or eco-campaign on Open Secret’s list.  Not one.

After greens fell short in the debate over carbon controls this year,

It’s worth pointing out that other progressive and left-of-center groups figured out a long time ago how to play a major role in American politics.

Indeed, half of the top-20 contributors to political campaigns since 1989 have been labor unions.

Organized labor groups also field huge get-out-the-vote efforts on behalf of their candidates, a grassroots tradition which translates into vast power.

Put simply, they understand that in a democracy, you have to win elections to win policy debates.

If you want your values reflected, you have to make sure your candidates get across the finish line.

Green groups have never learned that lesson.   Instead of holding political rallies, and fundraisers, they hold non-partisan “Earth Days.”

Bill’s group, 350.org, plans to stage a similar world-wide chain of “work parties” on October 1oth, less than a month before the election.

It looks to be a great and global event.

But once again, there is no obvious link between the work parties and the opportunity to vote, which directly shapes the political culture in Washington.

Here’s 350.0rg’s argument for how this event will push the debate, taken from their website:

What is the strategy for using work parties for larger systemic change?

Work parties build community, create real change on the ground, and inspire communities to get involved in shaping their own sustainable future. Thousands of simultaneous work parties all over the world attract a lot of media, and send a message to politicians that we care enough to “get to work” and that we will leverage the strength of our numbers both locally and globally to make sure they’re getting to work too.

Speaking on David Letterman’s show recently, Bill summed it up this way:

“If I can go to work and do something, then I damn well expect my political leaders to do something.”

Consider me a skeptic.

Not when it comes to climate change, but when it comes to this kind of consciousness raising as a method for influencing politicians and shaping public policy.

The bottom line is that even with the science and millions of Americans on their side, environmentalists aren’t likely to see a carbon bill cross President Barack Obama’s desk any time soon.

Not until they learn how to win big fights in Washington.

Bill spoke to this concern during an interview with Politico back in August, when support for a climate change bill collapsed.

The environmental movement needs a radical overhaul if Congress is ever going to pass a climate bill, McKibben said. That means lawmakers need to be aware of the political consequences if they don’t side with the greens.

“We weren’t able to credibly promise political reward or punishment,” McKibben said. “The fact is, scientists have been saying for the past few years the world might come to an end. But clearly that’s insufficient motivation. Clearly, we must communicate that their careers might come to an end. That’s going to take a few years.”

56 Comments on “Why are environmentalists so lousy at politics?”

  1. Mervel says:

    In his defense though and the Environmental movement in general, this is a tough tough sell as you pointed out above. Health care reform at least we could say this is needed and you will get this, and even here we are now worrying that health care reform will further hurt the economy. If capping carbon or using a trade system for it; is going to cost jobs it simply is a toxic issue right now.

    I think the Green movement is very very bad at PR not just politics. My parents still laugh about global cooling and how “that was all the rage about 20 or 30 years ago and that was a bunch of hookum, and now they want us to believe in global warming” and so forth. Also at the end of the day most people think that the costs of fixing this will fall on those who can least afford it, it does not help when the major public figures that the average person knows about (Al Gore etc) pushing this issue are very wealthy and live in giant homes and fly around the globe at will. Sure they will be fine, they don’t worry when the price of gas goes up 50c a gallon, they can still get to work. I know that is not fair and it does not apply to all environmentalists, but it comes down to PR. What are the costs and exactly what should be done? The Green movement has largely presented a case that this is so horrible so far out of our grasp and so big that it can’t be solved, at least that is what I hear when I listen to what they are saying.

    Many countries signed the Kyoto treaty 10 years ago, what happened to emissions in those countries since then?

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  2. Bret4207 says:

    The problem is partially as Mervel points out- the proposed “fixes” to climate change all involve America suffering, paying out huge sums of money and seeing their standard of living degrade. That’s a pretty hard sell and that’s even assuming you can truly convince people anyone can be trusted in this debate. The huge sums of money, the sheer power of the players, the massaged data, etc. have pretty much relegated the climate change debate to something suitable for a Sally Jesse Rafael TV show.

    Personally, I’m kinda glad the knee jerk reactionaries in the environmental movement stink at politics. No one appreciates clean water, air and sustainable practices more than me, but some of the ideas proposed over the past few decades have been waaayy out there.

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  3. JDM says:

    “It’s not that Americans don’t care about the environment. We do. ”

    Let me start there. I do care about the environment.

    “But to suggest that there is any substantive doubt among scientists about the physics and chemistry behind human-caused climate change is either goofy or outright deceptive.”

    I disagree. There are right-leaning blogs who say the same about your position.

    If this were 1975, the position-of-the-day was that we were running out of fossil fuel and it would be gone long before now, and those who disagreed were “goofy or outright deceptive”

    Also, if this were in the 1970’s, we were heading into the next ice age, and those who disagreed with the scientific community were “goofy or outright deceptive”

    So, I remain convinced that 20 years from now, the “scientific community” will have forgotten about their man-made global warming diatribe, and be on with the next big scare-of-the-day.

    And I-know-who will buy into it.

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  4. mememine69 says:

    If the media had covered climate change and the IPCC as well as they covered Toyota…..
    The media should have done a better job concerning the validity of climate change instead of passing it on blindly as just news. They had a duty somewhere over the last 24 years of impending doom warnings from this CO2 mistake, to dig for the real truth like real journalists. Now we the media consumers use the same tools as the media, Google. This sewer of untreated information called the Internet was our own tool for finding truth. Our view of the world thanks to the Net, now clearly shows how fallible scientists are and how corrupt they are along with their complicit politicians promising to make the weather better with taxes on CO2. Tax the air. Tax a volcano. This modern day witch burning is for the history books to laugh at, as we laugh at Romans looking for Omens sheep entrails.
    Now climate change is like the CFL, the media is all over it but nobody cares. The voters have the consensus that counts and voters are not voting YES to taxes and sacrifices of lifestyle to SAVE THE PLANET so get ahead of the curve you lazy copy and paste artists in the fading media.

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  5. mememine69 says:

    “A consortium of national scientific academies has scolded the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change for down-playing uncertainties about global warming, failing to point out when its claims of catastrophe were based on weak evidence and misrepresenting some findings as peer-reviewed by scientists, when they weren’t.
    The findings of the InterAcademy Council investigation also criticized IPCC management, recommending the organization adopt a conflict-of-interest policy. IPCC Chairman Rajendra Pachauri has advised energy and financial companies potentially affected by policies stemming from IPCC findings. He says proceeds go to an energy think tank he heads and to charity.
    The criticisms outlined this week by Princeton University professor Harold Shapiro, who chaired the investigation, essentially told the IPCC to stop lobbying governments to combat global warming and restrict its role to explaining science.
    We have voiced similar complaints for years with IPCC reports, the fifth of which is due in 2014. Each successive report ratcheted up catastrophic predictions even as temperatures stopped increasing, despite soaring greenhouse gas emissions that the IPCC claims overheat the planet.”

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  6. Brian Mann says:

    JDM –

    My point here is really about the environmental movement and its political acumen.

    But I want to point out that what you’re saying about the scientific community and warnings of glaciation in the 1970s is simply factually wrong.

    Yes, there were some popular-press, Time-magaziney sorts of treatments of the then-new science of climatology.

    Some of the popular-press stuff had a wild-eyed quality and made hay about the idea that glaciers might some day return.

    But if you read the actual scientific literature, there was almost no discussion of immediate climate trends on par with what researchers say now about climate change.

    And even if you can find the occasional bozo scientist saying something in the 70s about stampeding glaciers, there was nothing like the fundamental scientific consensus — based on an vast body of research — that exists today.

    So there simply is no parallel.

    Two other key points.

    1. Even had scientists gotten it wrong thirty years ago — and they didn’t — climatology is a vastly more sophisticated field today.

    2. Climate change is about physics and chemistry, not political ideology.

    What we do about climate change — that’s a different story. That’s the political part.

    –Brian, NCPR

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  7. Pete Klein says:

    Let me be blunt. When the environmentalists argue we should do this and not do that because of Climate Change or Global Warming, they are being stupid.
    Why? Because the argument should have focused on the pollution they say is causing Global Warming. We all breathe the air and drink the water, and we need to do this even if it doesn’t cause Global Warming or the coming of the next Ice Age.
    We might disagree on the Global Warming thing but I think we can agree on wanting clean air to breathe and water to drink.
    I think a lot of people dislike the scare tactics used by Al Gore et al. I think we are all mistrustful of the “EXPERTS” who have been proven wrong on just about everything except for being expert at getting money for doing nothing but getting money.
    Just look at what the experts have done for us with the economy, education and defeating terrorism.
    Let’s scare the people and make a buck while we are at it seems to be what the experts are expert at.
    I hear the word “expert” and I feel like I’m about to be scammed.

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  8. scratchy says:

    Why are environmentalists so lousy at politics? No need to look any further than the Adirondack Park where some of the radical environmentalists have angered park residents.

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  9. PNElba says:

    Let me back up what Brian M. said about the 1970’s cooling warnings with some hard evidence. It doesn’t really matter what popular magazines wrote about climate change possibilities back then. What matters is what was published in the scientific literature.

    Thomas Peterson of the National Climatic Data Center did a survey of the peer-reviewed scientific literature from 1965-1979 concerning warming or cooling theories. 62% of the publications supported a warming theory, 28% took no stance, and only 10% supported a cooling theory. The majority of scientists did not predict global cooling in the 70’s, that is simply a myth.

    It’s very easy to find this information about the 70’s cooling myth and the basis for other climate change isn’t happening myths. The evidence is available, you just have to be willing to look it up and read it.

    And, who cares what Al Gore or some pundit thinks? Gore is not a scientist. Forget about Gore and other politicians and look at the scientific evidence.

    Furthermore, scientists may be experts, but it is almost impossible to “scam” in science because of the way science works. Yes you can lie and you can make up data and results. But eventually you are going to be found out.

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  10. oa says:

    You answered your own question when you pointed out the Archer Daniels Midland, Koch Industries and GM data. In the U.S., there’s no green money.
    Never will be either, since we’ve ceded those new industries to Germany and China.
    And Bret, our standard of living has fallen without any carbon regs. And as you like to point out, is likely to continue to fall because of food production and oil availability problems. We’re just not very good as a country at addressing big problems. I guess that’s Bill McKibben’s fault.

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  11. PNElba says:

    Oa, did you mean to say the standard of living for the lower and middle classes has fallen?

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  12. Mervel says:

    But PNE I think that is what Brian is saying. If you want a political solution requiring massive sacrifice from an entire group of nations, you better darn well care what popular magazines write, we should care what pundits and powerful politicians are saying and doing. The PR about this is not going well, and yes part of it comes from using scare tactics to sell me something.

    So when we have $5.00 per gallon gas which is really what this will cost to do; to really put a dent in our use of carbon based fuels we cannot have cheap carbon fuels; we better be able to explain to people who don’t have a job anymore why they don’t and what we are going to do to mitigate the suffering that these solutions will cause.

    To me I just can never really get my arms around what it is exactly the climate change political movement wants. What is the solution and what will it cost? It seems to me they have some sort of spaghetti on the wall ideas, see what sticks and keep trying, but when you are playing with people’s lives and their incomes, that won’t cut it.

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  13. JDM says:

    “What we do about climate change — that’s a different story. That’s the political part.”

    Brian, my point is this. If we do nothing, the earth will correct itself.

    We mere humans couldn’t warm the earth if we tried. We cannot cool it either.

    The only political thing is how much money will we willingly turn over to government who is trying to scare us into giving them more money.

    It is like my post on another thread. It’s like saying “the sun goes down at night, and it’s your fault. Hand over your money or else…”

    Guess what. The sun will come back tomorrow on its own.

    We cannot effect climate change anymore than we can stop the sun from going down.

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  14. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    I agree with oa along with PNElba’s caveat.

    People are told by the ADM’s and the Koch’s that addressing environmental issues will create a lower standard of living for them and they paint environmentalists as people who want to make you live in a teepee, wear Birkenstocks and eat granola.

    The truth is that we, and our children and grandchildren, can have a better standard of living if we act in a fashion that is much more conservative. That is the big lie. The environmental movement is not a liberal movement it is conservative. It is all the values your great grandparents wanted you to have; be frugal, don’t waste, leave things better than you found them, do unto others…

    The people who get rich from Americans being wasteful, greedy, gluttonous, and ignorant are the ones who tell you to drive a big truck, live in a bigger house, eat meat at every meal, smoke cigarettes, and use a leaf-blower.

    It isn’t that environmentalists are clueless, it is that the other side has all the weapons–including the ability to manipulate the media.

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  15. JDM says:

    “Why are environmentalists so lousy at politics?”

    Short answer – how can the guys who can’t get unemployment under 9.5% going to lower the temperature of the earth?

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  16. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    By the way Brian, I believe it is misleading to paint the Democratic Party as the natural home for environmentalists. If we only had 2 parties that might be the case. Not that it changes your argument in any way; if you look at the Green Party it may make your argument stronger.

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  17. dave says:

    Politics is the “art of compromise” – as the famous quote goes – and there are just some issues that do not lend themselves to the type of compromises that our political system is comfortable with. A lot of environmental issues fit this profile… there is just no way to have your cake and eat it too when it comes to some of this stuff. So environmentalists have an uphill climb when it comes to building political consensus.

    That our culture is adverse to anything even resembling economic sacrifice, no matter the consequences, doesn’t help the political plight of these issues either.

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  18. George Nagle says:

    JPM writes: “If we do nothing, the earth will correct itself.” He’s correct.
    Our planet will adjust, and it will do just fine.

    At issue is whether earth’s corrections will provide a benign environment for humanity, an environment to which we’re adapted and in which we flourish.

    If we continue on our present course the overwhelming evidence is that it won’t.

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  19. oa says:

    I meant that compared with the rest of the world in many categories that measure standard of living, the U.S. as a whole is losing ground. But you’re right: the ones doing nearly all of the falling behind are the lower and middle classes. The rich have gotten richer.
    One problem: many of the poor and middle class in this country have never been to places where conservation policies and emphasis on new industries like solar power actually improve the economy and standards of living, like Germany–a place where they do have their cake and eat it too.

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  20. Bret4207 says:

    Mervel, the problem isn’t that gas will cost $5.00 a gallon average in the US. It’s that’ll cost $8-10.00, that electricity cost will at least triple (per Obamas promise), that coal will be basically outlawed and that nuclear power isn’t on the table at all. The climate change crowd loves to talk about making a better world. Well, yes, it would be nice if we could have a nice sustainable lifestyle where cottage industries and small farms abound and there is no ADM, GE or other mega corp ruining things. The simple truth is we aren’t going to change to that world. What we’re going to get if we follow the Al Gores ( and what he says DOES matter since he’s the recognized spokesman for climate change) is a whole new class of rich getting richer, a lower standard of living for the middle and lower classes and a knife shoved in the back of capitalism, which is one of the main goals of some of the CC crowd.

    Meanwhile China and India and other lessor developed nations will continue to spew pollutants and CO2 into the atmosphere and we’ll be subsidizing that. There’s the problem- we aren’t going to fix the CO2 issue, we’re just going to move it. And of course then there are the carbon credit exchangers- the neo-wealthy. These guys make Soros look like a choir boy.

    People simply don’t trust anyone anymore, and rightly so. We’ve been lied to, raped and robbed too many times.

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  21. Pete Klein says:

    No where in these posts have I seen anyone mention nuclear as the way to go to limit green house gases.
    Clean coal won’t do it. Wind power and solar power won’t do it. Fewer people on the planet would help but the only practical solution is nuclear in the short term and fusion in the long term.
    Why waste money on the band aid approach of wind and solar power?
    Personally, I would like to live long enough to see the start of the next Ice Age. I hate warm weather. When it does come, enough of us will survive to screw up the planet again. It was during the last Ice Age that we became human. It taught us how to survive, how to make do, use our brains. In a natural environment, predators are much better at surviving than are the herbivores.

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  22. oa says:

    “No where in these posts have I seen anyone mention nuclear as the way to go to limit green house gases.”
    That’s because enough nuclear will take 30 years to get up and running. Too late. It’s part of a solution, definitely (if done the way the French do it).
    But there are short term things people can do immediately, and that small changes in governmental policy (actually reverting to old policies) can do to help in a shorter term than waiting for GE to build us a bunch of nukes.
    Some ideas: Insulate your house better, and get new windows.
    Walk or ride a bike whenever possible. Help your kids do the same.
    Buy food from local farms and eat less big industrial Archer Daniels food (less likely to have salmonella and e coli, anyway.)
    Finally (and farmers can do this, too), lobby for zoning laws that make it possible not to have to drive everywhere., eg, where people can walk to grocers, etc… In effect, set up our towns more like the way they were set up in 1900, rather than keep sprawling so that we can uphold the ultimate value in our current society–the right to drive everywhere, for everything, and to never drive slower than 30 mph. Work to make it more like, you know, the good old days.

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  23. Mervel says:

    I would be happy to have some nice Birkenstocks and live in some eco-friendly yurt or green home. But that is not what we are talking about, Birkenstocks are expensive, eco-friendly homes are expensive, no what I would end up with is an unemployment check and public housing and no way to get to work because I can’t afford the gas. Sure I could wait 30 years for the mass transit of the future to be built, but that is like waiting for the world of the Jetsons.

    The environmental movement should figure out how to make a case to working people that higher gas prices won’t hurt them in the long run because more jobs and a healthier economy will in the long run result from transitioning to a cleaner way of living, that case right now has not been made. How do we do this transition?

    What is ironic is that the bright spots we do see on the eco front; things like wind turbines these are being fought!!

    One the burden of this transition falls on the wealthy and their views and property values then well all bets are off.

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  24. PNElba says:

    Pete, I don’t accept that alternative means of producing energy “won’t do it”. The amount of energy we receive from the sun everyday is staggering (petawatts). Denmark produces 20% of its electricity using wind power. Don’t forget wave power and the genetic engineering of algae to capture COO and turn it into oil. Are you saying the American people are not capable of innovation in responding to the coming energy crisis?

    As for nuclear, I think many are coming around to your point of view – at least in the short term. Unfortunately, as long as there is natural gas, oil and coal, nuclear reactors are not as cost effective as solar and wind. They would be if there was a price on carbon however. What we need is a standardized design of a small nuclear fission reactor, rather than having every reactor designed from scratch. Personally, the pebble bed reactor interests me alot due to its modular design, small size, and potential safety. We still have the problem of fuel disposal however.

    There is a nicely balanced article on the case for and against nuclear power in the WSJ

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  25. DaveC says:

    Pete Klein – How is solar and/ or wind a band aid patch? The computer I’m typing on right this very minute is being powered by the sun. Come to think of it, my entire house is powered from the sun.
    It’s pretty wild…I put these do-hickies on my roof and when the sun shines, it’s stuff is pumped into these thinga-ma-bobs so that when I plug something in, like my tablesaw, it whirls and twirls. Maybe you could stop by and dip your hand in the blade if you’d like to see this “band-aid patch” you speak of.
    It works – it has never failed and like JDM said “Guess what. The sun will come back tomorrow on its own.”
    These are just little things I like to call facts.
    oa really sums up the solution with the last paragraph.

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  26. Ellen Rocco says:

    I agree with Mervel. I would just say it a bit differently…From my years as an activist on a variety of issues, I took away one essential lesson:
    no one changes their mind or actions until the issue touches them directly. For example: you can say the turning point in our involvement in Vietnam came because the draft was pulling middle and upper class kids into the danger zone or because of the Ohio State shootings; you can say that until the lakes and rivers working and middle class people used turned poisonous, water quality was not an actionable issue; and so on.

    Assuming global warming is happening–and fairly rapidly–the problem is that by the time each of us notice (in a negative way) the impact of the global warming, it will probably be too late to do much about it.

    So, I do think it has to be deconstructed into manageable, actionable pieces that people can grasp and relate to…and take compelling political action on. GLOBAL WARMING is just too big to feel that one or a few people can have an impact.

    Back to Brian’s theme–environmentalists tend to talk in big hairy abstractions. Get it down to the streets and make it real.

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  27. PNElba says:

    There is one environmental group that has had some successes – the Environmental Defense Fund. Their approach uses sound science, corporate partnerships, and economic incentives. They give many examples of their successes on their website. EDF talked MacDonald’s into doing away with styrofoam packaging 20 years ago.

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  28. dave says:

    “Meanwhile China and India and other lessor developed nations will continue to spew pollutants and CO2 into the atmosphere and we’ll be subsidizing that.”

    China is currently one of the world’s leaders in renewable energy… both in terms of investment into future “green energies” and in terms of manufacturing current green energy systems (wind turbines, solar panels, biomass, etc)

    While we keep worrying about their CO2 levels and whether it is fair in relation to ours… they are busy positioning themselves to be the next global energy leader. It is interesting to imagine a future where we are no longer dependent on the middle east for fossil fuels, but instead are dependent on China for green energy.

    It is even more interesting to ponder why a country like China is able to seize this obvious opportunity, while we are incapable of taking any steps to move away from fossil fuel dependence… even after something like the gulf spill.

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  29. Notinthevillage says:

    Brian Mann wrote:

    2. Climate change is about physics and chemistry…

    Popular myth that is plain wrong. Climate change is primarily about statistical models. The computer models are simply to crude to model the physical processes. In reguard to CO2 the basic physics are quite clear. Without any feedbacks a doubling of CO2 above preindustrial levels would result in a 1 degree C rise in temperature. There is no debate on this point, it’s pretty basic physics. The only way to get a larger rise is if there is a positive feedback in the climate system. All the climate models the IPCC uses assume that there is a positive feedback that increases the temperature beyond this 1 degree C rise. You would think that something so important would have a section in the IPCC reports expounding the science behind this positive feedback. There isn’t. There is no proof of a positive feedback. It is an assumption. IOW, the consensus (science is not about consensus, it is about proof) is based on a belief and is not science, it’s politics. So Brian show me the proof of this positive feedback.

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  30. oa says:

    Exactly, Dave.
    And on this: “It is even more interesting to ponder why a country like China is able to seize this obvious opportunity, while we are incapable of taking any steps to move away from fossil fuel dependence… even after something like the gulf spill.”

    See: Archer Daniels Midland, GM, Koch Bros., et al…

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  31. oa says:

    I know you know this, but it was Kent State, not Ohio State.

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  32. Bret4207 says:

    Dave, is it or isn’t is more or less accurate that China is building 40-50 coal fired power plants a year? http://www.nytimes.com/2009/05/11/world/asia/11coal.html Whens the last time the US built coal fired plants, much less clean coal fired plants? In fact just how often is any major energy development done in the US? Cripes, look at the garbage that happened just trying to run a power line to Tupper Lake!

    I’d love to have solar and wind and a wood gasifier. I’d love to see huge banks of solar collectors in the deserts and tidal generators on our shorelines. I’d love to see small nuclear plants built and biomass projects around the country. The problem? Very few people can afford or have the interest in producing their own power. Solar and wind don’t work everywhere, battery banks are toxic waste nightmares and every alternative has a group or 10 ready to fight it to the death. You can’t blanket the desert with solar panels because it cools the desert too much(???), you sure can’t have wind offshore because some trillionaire Kennedy might have to look at it and you can’t, can’t, can’t have nuclear! We’ll all die from that.

    It’s simply a lot of NIMBY protesting or things being more than people can or are willing to do themselves. They want mainline power. Tell a city of apartment dwellers the building is going solar and they will have restricted power use 24/7… man, the fur will fly then.

    Hey,. I’m all for alternatives, renewables, clean everything. Problem is making it affordable and convenient. I really can’t picture my mother in law operating a solar array or keeping track of the battery bank, much less affording it.

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  33. Pete Klein says:

    Actually, when confronted with the ideas of having huge banks of solar collectors in the deserts and tidal generators on our shorelines and more windmills than there are cell phone towers, I say let’s bring on Global Warming, even though I don’t like warm weather. I’ll just move someplace cooler.

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  34. Mervel says:

    Yes Ellen that is what I meant exactly.

    Maybe the climate change movement should talk to Ducks Unlimited, they organized an international organization that helped protect an entire flyway through wetlands protection in critical areas. They climate change bunch just need to show duck hunters how climate change is really going to screw up hunting, then you will get action! Instead they say well you will all die unless you pay more now, and you know that’s a loser from a pr perspective.

    The whole idea of global “warming” was also a marketing nightmare/mistake. When I talk to people up here they say, yeah whats wrong with that? Longer growing season, warmer winters, longer navigation season on the Seaway and so forth.

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  35. DaveC says:

    Bret4207 comment:
    “I really can’t picture my mother in law operating a solar array or keeping track of the battery bank, much less affording it.”

    Lets take that sentence and plop it into 1915 when the automobile was first becoming popular.

    “I really can’t picture my mother in law operating a automobile or keeping track of the oil changes, much less affording it.”

    As for Brian’s main point, as always, campaign finance reform would do wonders in having a level playing field for the Environmental Defense Fund’s of the world in going toe to toe with the GE’s of the world.
    Eco-Imagine that.
    My lobbyist, (sorry, representative) Scott Murphy would actually represent me and the majority on this blog and push for alternatives in the house. Or at the very least push for getting rid of the barbaric ways we produce power now.
    Can you believe most of us put up with mercury poisoning? Should that be normal? I just shrugged my shoulders. What am I gonna do? I’m a environmentalist.

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  36. Jack says:

    Will’s skepticism is not without merit. He’d be the first to point out that the same scientists espousing global warming were clamoring about global cooling thirty years ago. As a political philosopher w/an Ivy League education he knows a bit about the philosophy of science and is probably familiar w/ Karl Popper’s work. The problem, philosophically, w/ much of what’s attributed to “global warming” / climate change science is non-falsifiable. Take for example when Katrina hit, global warming was the CAUSE. Now that there are fewer hurricanes and of less intensity – guess what – global warming. The theory isn’t nearly parsimonious enough for Will, hence is skepticism.

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  37. PNElba says:

    “…the same scientists espousing global warming were clamoring about global cooling thirty years ago…”

    Jack, do you actually have evidence for the above statement? Because posts above have already debunked that statement with actual evidence.

    Not all science is based on falsifiable hypotheses, there is also descriptive or observational science. But isn’t a climate change model that doesn’t make accurate predictions sort of a falsifiable experiment?

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  38. Mervel says:

    But we are mixing up science with marketing. Scientists don’t know anything about politics or marketing or pr, so they should shut up. Most people in the US believe that scientists promulgated the idea of global cooling 30 years ago it does not matter what the scientific journals actually said. It is a matter of what the media has pushed and promoted.

    So many people feel that global warming is just another long line of scare tactics, many people feel it is just another long line of crap we are being sold, none of which comes true or is true.

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  39. Mervel says:

    I don’t believe that by the way, the scientific consensus is that this is very real I don’t think that is really a debate anymore.

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  40. PNElba says:

    No Mervel, it doesn’t matter what most people believe or what editors decided to publish in Newsweek (besides, I thought conservatives didn’t believe the mainstream media). What actually matters is what most scientists were saying at the time. We can tell what they were saying by looking at how many scientific papers were published, in the 70’s, promoting a cooling theory or a warming theory. By doing so, you get numbers – a measurement, some would call a fact. One doesn’t have to agree with the measurement, but it’s unlikely the disbelief will change the number.

    And, it really doesn’t matter what one ‘believes’. I can say I don’t believe Wilt Chamberlain was 7’1″ tall. But it won’t change the measurement.

    What matters is what the evidence supports and whether you accept the evidence or not. Scientific consensus can be measured – a number can be put to it. A hundred proxies can be used to measure temperature. The key word being ‘measured’. Numbers, not beliefs.

    I agree scientists aren’t very good a PR or marketing. Unfortunately, scientists don’t seem to be very good at teaching how science works either.

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  41. Bret4207 says:

    We still come down to the problem of how to fix the problem, who will be most affected, who will pay for it and what the outcome will be. Call me a dirty conservative, but when the answers all involve the US throwing itself on the sword and and becoming Ethiopia I don’t get real excited about participating.

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  42. Jack says:

    I’m suggesting the foundations of Will’s beliefs. Description & observation isn’t science – and leads to problems of inference. Confirmation isn’t science in the least.

    To your last point, yes, it would be falsifiable, but what we often hear about are the rather broad – non-parsimonious – claims of climate change.

    There are other ways of thinking about progress in science but I’m suggesting that Will’s view is Popperian.

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  43. knuckleheadedliberal says:

    Bret we all will be affected. That is why scientists and, yes Al Gore, have been trying to get your attention. The problem is that large shifts in climate can best be helped by small changes in behavior sooner rather than later.

    Here’s the good news: you can help by saving yourself money! Try to use less energy. Don’t waste heat. Turn out unnecessary lights. Don’t air condition if you don’t have to.

    Beyond those types of things, if we had listened to the scientists we would have been investing in better, greener technologies, more efficient autos, photovoltaics – the list is endless – and our industries would have been busy exporting that technology to the rest of the world. Instead we have had Detroit automakers losing market share to the point of collapse and Germany, Japan and China leading the world in creating the technologies of the future.

    We turned from being a nation of “can do” to a nation of “you can’t make me.” it is really sad.

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  44. PNElba says:

    Jack, again, sorry to disagree. Description and observation is a huge part of science. Astronomy is almost purely observational. Geology and epidemiology have large descriptive and observational components. When it comes down to it, all science is at least somewhat descriptive.

    KHL, I agree, the USA is slipping deeper and deeper into a “can’t do” nation.

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  45. Pete Klein says:

    You might or might not find the following interesting.
    The current temp at Vostok in Antarctica is -98 F and is expected to fall to -114 later this week. This is while they have almost as much sunlight as we now do.
    It is now down to about +10 F at the North Pole.
    For the other side of the Climate Change/Global Warming argument, you might have some fun going to this Web page – http://www.icecap.us/
    I remain hopeful to live to see the start of the next Ice Age, even if it takes a little Global Warming to trigger it.

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  46. PNElba says:

    Pete, thanks for the icecap site. It’s nice to have sound arguments (and data) from climate change denialist’s to compare with the climate change conspiracy side. I compared their answer to the “hurricanes have become more common” with the answer at Pew Center for Global Climate Change.

    Here is what icecap says: “Scientists have studied this issue and come to the opposite conclusion: extreme events are becoming LESS common. Atlantic hurricanes were much more numerous from 1950 to 1975 than from 1975 to present.” No scientific citation unfortunately.

    Here is what PewClimate says: “From 1850-1990, the long-term average number of tropical storms was about 10, including about 5 hurricanes. For the period of 1998-2007, the average is about 15 tropical storms per year, including about 8 hurricanes. This increase in frequency correlates strongly with the rise in North Atlantic sea surface temperature, and recent peer-reviewed scientific studies link this temperature increase to global warming.” Unfortunately, they didn’t provide an adequate reference either.

    They also pointed out There is an ongoing scientific debate about the link between increased North Atlantic hurricane activity and global warming. The 2007 report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change rates the probability of such a link as “more likely than not.”

    The two groups are comparing apples and organges unfortunately. Atlantic hurricanes vs N. Atlantic hurricanes and tropical storms.

    It also bothers me a bit that many of the scientists at icecap have received funding from the energy industry.

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  47. klem says:

    “Still, those hurdles would probably be surmountable — at least incrementally — if not for environmentalists’ other big problem. They stink at politics.”

    That’s not it. The stink at lying and scare mongering, and the public is fed up with it. The alarmists blame AGW for just about everything, and everyday we hear about a new ‘peer reviewed’ study blaming AGW for a new malady. It’s been like this now for several years and the public does not buy the rediculous claims anymore. The peer review process is now being seriously questioned because the claims are out of control. Here are a few of the claims attributed to AGW http://whatreallyhappened.com/WRHARTICLES/globalwarming2.html


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  48. Jack says:

    There’s a gigantic distinction b/w “Description and observation is a huge part of science” & “…there is also descriptive or observational science.” [your quotes]. I agree with the former but not the latter – science isn’t simply observing and describing. If I observe that it’s raining and describe the volume of precipitation I’ve not done anything scientific. Yes, epidemiology/ geology describe but more importantly they explain and attempt to predict. To predict an anomaly, for example, involves testing or, dare I say, attempts at falsification.

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  49. Brian Mann says:

    I’ve worked closely with many scientists involved in climatological research who are beyond any question ethical people, interested in providing clear and provable data about the world.

    They are the smartest people in the room when it comes to understanding this stuff, and they are almost universally convinced that the evidence for human-caused climate change is overwhelming.

    The fact that so much of this discussion is still oriented around a debate that researchers considered settled points to the fact that environmentalists — if they want to win policy battles — will have to get much, much better at building political support.

    –Brian, NCPR

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  50. Pete Klein says:

    Thanks, klem
    I went to that whatreallyhappend Web page and had a good laugh. It made me think of all the things cigarettes are blamed for to the point where some people might believe that if no on smoked, no one would ever die.
    We seem to be living in a world of new religions – the global warming religion, the anti-smoking religion and the let’s pass another law to solve all our problems religion. I’m sure there are more but those three come quickly to mind.

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