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Climate reality debunking

December 22nd, 2015 · No Comments

Debunking deceit is difficult business.

Among other things:

  • Deceit and dishonesty is easier than thoughtful, substantive, truthful engagement. As Winston Churchill put it, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”
  • People simply don’t have the capacity (think time and luxury of deep consideration) to absorb detail counterpoints on issue after issue, day after day.
  • Which means that Gish Galloping (“a debate spewed forth an endless torrent of talking points, rendering constructive debate impossible”) powerfully sways the ‘undecided’ and marginally informed as the talking points stick and detailed rebuttals sound weak, whining, and caught up in the details (rather than exuberantly thriving in 140-character Twitterdom climate-science denial like @RealDonaldTrump). Simply put, those who care less about truthful engagement have a debate advantage:
  • And, people simply don’t want their misperceptions corrected — there is a natural resistance to inconvenient truth.

All this combines to mean that fact checkers operate with inherent disadvantage.

Worsening the situation is the ever fracturing of our media and communal interaction landscape. There is no longer a Walter Cronkite nor M.A.S.H. unifying American discourse and providing true common guidestones for interaction and ground truth. Too many are getting “their truth” from “their” media and are not open to external voices or opinions.

And compounding the problem further:  most ‘debunkers’ seem not to have read Randy Olson‘s Don’t be such a scientist: talking substance in an age of style and take a rather academic and intellectual approach to the process, much like what one might have been taught in an academic class back in grammar school, with a argument structure that can fail to capture audience and, even worse, can actually reinforce falsehoods in audience’s minds.

All of this combines, as per the opening sentence, to make debunking myths extremely difficult and highlight the importance of taking this very seriously, including learning from those that dedicate serious attention to the challenges and leverage their learning to foster more effective styles.

Simply put, The Debunking Handbook (pdf) is one of the most effective pieces of literature that I’ve encountered. A short, fully documented yet highly digestible paper with a real impact on how I think about and approach ‘debunking’ and refuting truthiness-laden arguments. (See here for my review: Debunk me: Lean, mean, and easy to read.) There are five core elements:

  • Mud sticks: it is hard to change people’s mind and simply providing accurate and more information is not likely to dislodge myths.
  • Familiarity Backfire Effect: The more people hear something, the likelier that it ‘sticks’ with them.
  • Overkill Backfire Effect: More information and arguments ? more effective.  Less often is more.
  • Worldview Backfire Effect: Sadly, when it comes to climate change (or evolution or …), a simple reality is that there are unreachables that will not be convinced no matter how much energy you put into it and therefore “outreaches should be directed towards the undecided majority rather than the unswayable minority”.
  • Mind the Gap: MIND THE GAPThe debunking effort creates a void (a gap in people’s mental model) and nature abhors a vacuum.  For effective debunking, “your debunking must fill that gap” with an alternative (truthful) explanation

With these in mind, here is an Anatomy of an effective debunking. Bringing all the different threads together, an
effective debunking requires:

  • Core facts—a refutation should emphasize facts, not the myth. Present only key facts to avoid an Overkill Backfire Effect;
  • Explicit warnings—before any mention of a myth, text or visual cues should warn that the upcoming information is false;
  • Alternative explanation—any gaps left by the debunking need to be filled. This may be achieved by providing an alternative causal explanation for why the myth is wrong and, optionally, why the misinformers promoted the myth in the first place;
  • Graphics – core facts should be displayed graphically if possible.

While important in providing ‘how to’ guidance, the Handbook also provides a window by which to consider debunking efforts.

Perhaps like debunking myths, The Debunking Handbook seems to face an uphill struggle.  People “know” how to debunk and remain locked into old patterns that might not be effective.

There are many organizations and individuals across the climate (and broader science) communities who expend meaningful resources challenging various myths (and outright falsehoods) about climate science and potential mitigation paths forward.  All too often, these individuals and institutions do not follow debunking basic principles.

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→ No CommentsTags: climate change · climate delayers

.@SenSanders releases climate plan … lots of great material but …

December 7th, 2015 · No Comments

Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign has released his climate change plan, advertised as People before Polluters.

Several upfront comments

  • To be clear, there is much of real and substantive value in the Sanders’ plan — despite some critical comments to follow.  With whatever faults it may (or may not) have, adopting (and executing) this plan would put the United States on a much stronger footing economically and help lead the world toward meaningful engagement / progress toward climate mitigation.
  • Important in (and central to) this plan are several elements that set this plan apart:
    • As discussed by Brad Plumer, “the call for all-out war against fossil fuel interests, that sets Sanders’s platform apart from traditional Democratic climate proposals.” And,
    • a serious focus on environmental and ‘economic justice — the tackling of climate challenges and seizing of opportunities in ways that foster greater equity domestically and internationally.
  • Full and robust analysis will wait until later. (And will probably involve a ‘side-by-side’ discussion of the full Sanders’ material with that of Senator Clinton and Governor O’Malley.)
  • The substantive discussion of climate change and paths to address it that is seen on the Democratic side of #Election2016 is, of course, in stark contrast with the devoted science denialism across the GOP candidate rabble.

So, understanding that this is not based on a detailed read and analysis of the plan, follow after the fold for some thoughts / comments.

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→ No CommentsTags: climate change · Election 2016

Energy COOL: Greenbuild window on better living/working spaces

December 5th, 2015 · No Comments

Since diving into the deep end when it comes to energy issues, almost every day sees new fascinating concepts, approaches, and technologies. Fascinating … exciting … even hope inspiring at times. And, as well, as the passion builds, so many of these are truly Energy COOL. Often, at conferences, the trade show floors intrigue and impassion me far more than sitting and listening to formal presentations. Simply put, I do not know what and who will catch my attention when walking into these ‘business development/promotion’ spaces but know that I will have some happy surprises.

Every year, the trade show of USGBC‘s Greenbuild provides numerous opportunities for learning and excitement about developing and, even more importantly, available technologies and systems that can help provide solutions to and create opportunities within our energy, environmental, and economic challenges.

The 2015 Greenbuild, held in Washington DC last month, had an enormous trade-show floor — essentially stuffing the DC Convention Center’s ‘basement’ with hundreds of booths. Regretfully, with only a few hours available, I couldn’t even walk the entire trade show space with limited ability to pay serious attention to booths. Even so, there were many both new items of interest and new windows on long known about items. This post provides four brief examples from Greenbuild:

  • Comfy: “intelligent software for personalized comfort in the workplace”;
  • Suite Plants‘ indoor/outdoor vertical planters;
  • Waterfence rain storage systems; and,
  • Solatube tubes for bringing sunlight into living and working spaces.

Let’s be clear, none of these is the earth-shaking panacea to climate change and all our energy challenges that Bill Gates (and others) seems to be seeking and counting on.  While these aren’t Holy Grails, each  provides Silver BB value streams to be ‘part of a solution set’ to our myriad challenges. More interestingly, each of these has intriguing system-of-system value streams and their staff that I engaged with at Greenbuild were ready to speak substantively about this.

For some discussion, follow after the fold.

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→ No CommentsTags: architecture · Energy · energy cool · energy home

Growing Dutch Electric Vehicle fleet not driving Rotterdam coal use

November 28th, 2015 · No Comments

an electric car is a relatively low-polluting vehicle today and will be even less polluting tomorrow.

A simple truth upfront:

All things being equal, electric vehicles (EVs) reduce pollution loads.

Now, there are many caveats and corollaries to this truism. For example,

  • Better to reduce transport requirements (build/live in walkable communities; telecommute; etc …) than use electric vehicles.
  • The cleaner the electricity sourcing, the lower the EVs pollution load.
  • Even with 100% renewable electricity sourcing, EVs reduce pollution compared to “BAU” (business as usual)– they don’t eliminate it.

With this in mind, lets consider a recent Washington Post article on electric vehicles in the Netherlands and the potential ‘pollution’ impacts from the growth in Dutch EV deployment.  While buried deep within the article, the author vehicles-ev-tool-promorightly looks to a recent Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) study on electric vehicles that concluded that — even in the most heavily polluting of US electricity supplies — the worst status for an EV is roughly the climate impact of a 36 mile per gallon vehicle.  And, as the electric supply cleans up (hydro, wind, solar, nuclear, …), that mpg equivalent increases — actually skyrockets — to well about 100 mpg (and, well, potentially into the 100s of mpg equivalency).

Let’s be clear, to reinforce, EVs are better pollution wise (on the street level for urban pollution loads and globally for climate change) than their internal combustion equivalents … That is not what one really gathers from this front page article.

The Post article creates a misleading image for its readership as exemplified by the online title: Electric cars and the coal that runs them.  From the opening paragraphs,

In this traffic-packed Dutch city [of Rotterdam], electric cars jostle for space at charging ­stations. The oldest exhaust-spewing vehicles will soon be banned from the city center. … the share of electric vehicles has grown faster in the Netherlands than in nearly any other country in the world.

But behind the green growth is a filthy secret: In a nation famous for its windmills, electricity is coming from a far dirtier source. Three new coal-fired power plants, including two here on the Rotterdam harbor, are supplying much of the power to fuel the Netherlands’ electric-car boom.

What would any reasonable person take away from this?  From my perspective, rather simple: growth of EVs is driving deployment of coal-fired power plants and the use of this “filthy” energy source negates any potential value streams. [See published letter to the editor below [1].]

Let’s do a quick summation of why this framing is simply at odds with a reasonable read of the situation:

  • Dutch EV penetration is growing rapidly, now. This comes well after the decision-making about whether to construct Rotterdam coal-fired plants (with a 2008 announcement of their construction).  E.g., the coal-fired power plants were being built well before “electric cars [began to] jostle for space …”
  • EV electricity usage is only a small fraction of the demand for these coal-fired plants. Even if 100% of the EV electricity comes from these plants (a simply unrealistic assumption), the total Dutch EV demand is pretty much only a rounding error in terms of their electricity production. (See calculation below indicating that this is well below two percent. [2])


Thus, to make it clear: electric vehicles did not drive the development of Rotterdam coal-fired power plants nor are they using a substantial portion of the generated electricity. Now, as per the UCS study, electric vehicles’ environmental advantages over traditional internal combustion engines increase as the electricity supply gets cleaner. Thus, running an EV off coal is far from optimum. However, in the Netherlands as in most parts of the world, the rapidly increasing penetration of clean-electricity options is more than outpacing the introduction of electric transportation options.

Reading the article makes one wonder … The Washington Post has long had an editorial stance questioning the viability and basic sensibility of electric vehicles (on this, see, for example, hereherehere, here, here, here, ….).  Even though real-world developments are — with every passing day — making this seem a less reasonable position, articles like this one make one question whether and/or how that editorial position is influencing the writing/editing of news articles.

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→ No CommentsTags: coal · electric vehicles · electricity · emissions · Washington Post

Climate Change and the US national security rebalancing to the Asia-Pacific

November 18th, 2015 · 1 Comment

The Center for Climate and Security released a report yesterday with a series of looks at the intersection of climate, the rebalance to Asia, and US national security concerns (pdf of the report).

the effects of climate change are likely to both shape, and be shaped by, the U.S. role in the Asia-Pacific. If the U.S. is to engage constructively in the region – building and broadening alliances, helping advance regional security and prosperity in the face of potentially catastrophic change, and advancing U.S. national security interests – it will have to seriously consider how climate change affects the region, how the U.S. can help advance the climate resilience of the region’s diverse nations, and how the U.S. will adapt strategically to a changed security environment.

From Admiral Samuel Locklear’s, US Navy (retired), forward:

Today we find ourselves in a period of unprecedented global change – change that is offering many new opportunities, but also introducing significant emerging challenges to the global security environment. Foremost among these emerging challenges are the long-term security implications of climate change, particularly in the vast and vulnerable Asia-Pacific region, where the nexus of humanity and the effects of climate change are expected to be most profound … Fortunately, within the context of the ongoing Rebalance to the Asia-Pacific, thoughtful consideration is now being given to the long-term security implications of climate changes – but much more is needed.

The report looks to be rich (disclosure — I’ve only had a chance to read about 20 (somewhat scattered) pages so far), with many top-notch people taking a look at specific issues (such as Marcus King‘s look at Vietnamese fisheries). This report might provide a template for discussions and examinations that should continue not just with US security/climate change interaction in the Asia-Pacific region but across the globe.
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→ 1 CommentTags: Energy

The ultimate buzz kill: climate change drives down sex drive …

November 3rd, 2015 · No Comments

We’ve known that climate change threatens agricultural productivity, infrastructure near oceans, human health, biodiversity (and huge numbers of species), sea turtle intercourse, national security, allergy sufferers, economic output, beer, chocolate and coffee, wine, whiskey, cherry blossoms, maple syrup, and, oh by the way, human civilization …. but sex … now we’re talking about something serious.

The National Bureau of Economic Research just published Maybe Next Month? Temperature Shocks, Climate Change, and Dynamic Adjustments in Birth Rates. In this study, economists Alan Barreca, Olivier Deschenes, and Melanie Guldi look at the impact of “temperature shocks” on U.S. birth rates between 1931 and 2010. In short,

  • If the temperature is above 80 degrees, birth rates nine months later are lower. [With implication that ‘sexual’ intercourse goes down as well — although, well, it could be impacts on fertility from sexual activity.]
  • There is a rebound in following (cooler) months, but only about 30% — leading to notable reduction in overall birth rates (projected 2.6% decline in US birth rate).
  • The delayed births — generally representing shifts from summer to autumn conception — occur in summer months, where there is a higher mortality and other health problems for babies (whether due to stress in pregnancy during higher heat or impacts directly on baby in summer months)

An economics perspective seems more focused on birth rate implications for economic performance (since a Dismal Science credo is that population growth = good …):

As summers heat up, developed countries may see already low birth rates sink even lower. Plunging birth rates can play havoc with an economy. China’s leaders recently acknowledged this by ditching the longtime one-child policy and doubling the number of children couples are allowed to have. A sub-replacement U.S. birthrate means fewer workers to pay Social Security benefits for retirees, among other consequences.

Non-economists might be more interested in the underlying point:

Climate change threatens sex

→ No CommentsTags: climate change · economics

Minimalist plastic bag fee shockingly does not cause panic on High Street

October 5th, 2015 · No Comments

Across societies, relatively small policy changes have led to real change.  Getting people off a lazy addiction to plastic bags (and thus reducing plastic impacts — from use of fossil fuels to produce them, to reduced litter on the streets, to reduced impacts on wildlife) is one example. Over a decade ago, the institution of a 33 cents per bag fee in Ireland led to a 93 percent reduction of plastic bag use within a decade. Washington DC’s five-cent per bag fee Bag use pollution reduction DCis credited with cutting DC’s plastic bag use (with resulting impacts in terms of reduced plastic bags showing up in annual Anacostia River cleanups and otherwise).  The fees spark people to think and have, for many, an impact far greater than the actual price involved. Go to shops in most of Western Europe and you will see the vast (typically nearly 100% each day) majority of people walking in with their own bags and the shopkeepers very used to handling a wide range of size, style, nature of bag for packing up purchases.

As with so many things surrounding us, plastic bags (and, of course, plastics) are big (BIG) business. Thus, there are plentiful resources for fighting tooth-and-nail against bag fees. This includes money spent to “prove” that plastic bags are better for the environment than — well — anything else and to argue for the collapse of modern human society if there is the slightest inhibition created to their profligate (ab)use.


Such was the warning from the Daily Mail that a new 5 pence per bag charge in three UK cities would “cause chaos” on High Street.  Truth be told, there are some legitimate reasons to call this a confusing approach:

  • Bags with handles should have a charge, no handles free.
  • Only stores with >250 employees (e.g, mainly chains) should charge.
  • “Unwrapped food, raw meat and fish, prescription medicines, uncovered blades, seeds, bulbs and flowers and live fish are exempt.”

Really, “prescription medicines” really need a free plastic bag (as if that container of antibiotic bills really can’t fit in a pocket)?  (Note: I am with the “environmentalists” who believe that a simple flat fee, without exceptions, is the more sensible move.)

In any event, when it came to the first day of implementation, a Guardian reporter tested the waters and found some confusion and differing perspectives as to the shopping bag charge but, writ large, when asked to investigate “Is there really panic on the streets?“, the result:  “Despite dire warnings, our reporter fails to uncover chaotic scenes on our high streets, and even manages to acquire a few free bags.”

My prediction: this will be incorporated into daily life and this 5p charge will help drive down plastic bag use and reduce public littering in these cities.

We will not ‘solve’ our societal problems and adequately address climate change with incremental changes like (confusing) 5p charges on plastic bags. Yet, we will not “solve” our societal problems and adequately address climate change without such incremental changes.

→ No CommentsTags: environmental · environmental economics

The Pope at Congress: too subtle on climate change?

September 24th, 2015 · No Comments

Pope Francis has finished his speech to Congress.  Within his comments, there are elements to please virtually all segments of U.S. society. From ‘sanctity of life’ to ‘sanctity of planet’ from the value of business to the importance to seeking greater equity, from …

One of the Pope’s major efforts relates to climate change. His encyclical merits reading — no matter whether you believe you understand climate change — as a powerful scientific, economic, philosophical, ethical, and moral laydown of the criticality of action.

The climate science denialists dominating the U.S. Congress (e.g., the GOP political elite) and the GOP in general feared that the Pontiff would lay down a strong gauntlet on climate change.  That their rejection of science, their fossil foolish endangerment of our common future in service to ideology and, in too many cases, their paymasters would face harsh and direct denouncement by the Pope.

This was not the case.

Listening to his speech, it is possible that many didn’t even pick up that he spoke to climate change — after all, those words aren’t even in the speech. Read the speech. It is worth the time … but notice how sublime the climate references are … (the relevant section after the fold

One has to wonder whether subtlety works in today’s American political system.

The Pope had the biggest soapbox in American politics.

The Pontiff, unlike too many in the American elite, actually seems to understand the serious risks we face and the criticality of serious actions to mitigate climate change if we are not to move from risks and damage to utterly catastrophic consequences for humanity …

At the greatest soapbox in American politics, the Pontiff chose subtlety rather than a sledge hammer.

I hope that his political judgment is correct.

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→ No CommentsTags: climate change

To what extent was VW pollution fraud a death device?

September 23rd, 2015 · No Comments

Looking at the reporting as to Volkswagon’s systemic fraud re diesel-engine pollution, there are some legitimate questions to ask:

  • Will legal entities, around the world, take the legitimate approach of moving beyond “Corporate” to individual responsibility?  Will — sadly unlike the financial frauds of the 2000s — executives go to jail?
  • To what extent do the implications from the 11 million+ VW vehicles built with systems designed to deceive pollution testing devices threaten VW’s financial health and, even, viability as a major global automaker?
  • How many people have and will die due to VW’s deliberate deceit?

This last is a question that seems not to have caught attention … yet.

Pollution regulation exists, in no small part, to protect human health.  When it comes to vehicle fuels, the regulatory action to remove lead has had an economic value exceeding $3 trillion over the past 30 years with untold numbers of people living better lives (from reduced brain damage to reductions in crime rates).  Volkswagen acted deliberately — in what we might reasonably call a criminal conspiracy — to undermine pollution regulations.  In other words, acting with malice and forethought to take actions to threaten human lives around the world.

The VW system to defeat/deceive pollution testing systems has led to (and continues to cause) increased pollution levels, particularly of NoX.

Nitrogen oxides, or NOx,  contribute to smog, particulate matter and a wide range of health problems for certain people, which is why they’re so heavily regulated in emissions. Via the EPA:

NOx pollution contributes to nitrogen dioxide, ground-level ozone, and fine particulate matter. Exposure to these pollutants has been linked with a range of serious health effects, including increased asthma attacks and other respiratory illnesses that can be serious enough to send people to the hospital. Exposure to ozone and particulate matter have also been associated with premature death due to respiratory-related or cardiovascular-related effects. Children, the elderly, and people with pre-existing respiratory disease are particularly at risk for health effects of these pollutants.

Over 11 million vehicles being driven around the world with systems deliberately designed to emit greater levels of pollutants than regulation allows.   How many people have faced “serious health effects” due to Volkswagen’s actions?  How may have had implications “serious enough to send [them] to the hospital”?  How many people are six feet underground who might have been alive if Volkswagen’s executives had not made deliberate decisions to foster increased pollutant emissions?

To date, reporting has discussed the potential financial implications (stock falling, over $7B for a recall, potential for $16B of fines (just in the United States), etc …) and the likely end of VW’s CEO’s tenure due to this.  When will we begin talking about how many people Volkswagen has killed?

→ No CommentsTags: pollution

Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics re #Climate financing in @WashTimes

August 12th, 2015 · No Comments

When it comes to the use (and, more appropriately, misuse) of analysis, perhaps the most powerful phrase is “There are three kinds of lies: Lies, damn lies, and statistics“.

a phrase describing the persuasive power of numbers, particularly the use of statistics to bolster weak arguments

Today’s Washington Times provides an excellent example of this (ab)use of statistics in an effort to discredit efforts to address climate change by painting these efforts as a massive monetary scheme.

A heads up: in the business consulting world, when one tries to define ‘market’, generally this starts with extremely large definitions. The “Defense” market can include weaponry, construction of bases, information technology contracts to manage health care for dependents, day care provision at military bases, training programs for retiring personnel, etc … In terms of climate change “market” and business activity, this could range from things that ‘all’ consider directly related (such as research work on “climate change” science), things that are partially related but with wider benefit streams (investments in wind turbines which will put electricity into the grid at a lower price than any new fossil fuel power plant; insulating buildings; restorative efforts to Gulf of Mexico wetlands; …) to related but undertaken for other reasons as well (investments in resilience in electricity systems to reduce vulnerability to severe storms). “Market” is everything that you can potentially consider linked to the arena, sometimes with very tight linkage, sometimes very tenuous association.

Leveraging work done by a business consulting firm on the full extent of business opportunities related to “climate change” (note: this report is behind a (high-price) paywall and thus has not been examined for this post), the Times‘s article is entitled An inconvenient truth: ‘Climate change industry’ now a $1.5 trillion global business.


$1.5 trillion dedicated to Al Gore!

That is the intended — both overt and implied — take away.

The plaintive calls about global warming and loss of polar bear habitats, the stern warnings about rising seas and flooded coastlines – this is what the public hears about. Then there’s this pesky, inconvenient truth they don’t hear about: $1.5 trillion.

OMG!  $1.5 Trillion!!!!

No serious discussion, of course, of how much of this is the price of putting in wind turbines versus NOAA’s weather satellites versus insulating homes so that are more frugal in energy use and, well, more comfortable live in.

No, because, the real point is: OMG!!! $1.5 TRILLION!!!

The only market segment specifically discussed?

the talkers, creatives and handlers too.

E.g., the “consultants” …

“climate change consulting market … estimates at $1.9 billion worldwide and $890 million in the U.S.”

Of course, $1.9B sounds like (is?) a big number … and all of 1/10th of 1 percent of the headline number.   But, this is ‘look, look, look, these people are earning so much money …”

The Washington Times has provided raw meat for climate science denialist trolling rather than a meaningful contribution to understanding our economy.

This Washington Times article is, politely phrased, a perversion of a more reasoned discussion based on the business report over at Insurance Journal.  From that article, something quite interesting as to that consultant ‘class’: that the work has been moving from greenhouse gas (GHG) analysis toward work on sustainability, resiliency, and adaptation. And why?

credits Superstorm Sandy, along with Hurricane Irene, for jump-starting a new market for climate risk assessment and resiliency solutions in the Northeast and the Gulf Coast.

“I think Sandy definitely stimulated more adaptation planning work,” Ferrier said. “Many more municipalities were requesting climate adaptation study scenarios. (Sandy) was a bit of a shot over the bow of a lot of municipalities.”

Who, other than those municipalities, are clients for these resiliency consulting services?

Those who own large property portfolios, big retailers and giant food producers to name a few. In other words it’s anyone who fears losses from more frequent extreme weather events – whether they are climate change related or not is anyone’s guess and a contentious point for some – as well as those who fear business interruption.

In other words, businesses who are concerned about protecting their businesses are hiring “climate change” consultants to help assure their supply chains, reduce risks from major storms, better plan their long-term capital investments … E.g., those who think strategically recognize that spending on “climate consulting” has solid benefits for their bottom line.

Clearly, the Washington Times doesn’t care itself with fostering such strategic thinking.




→ No CommentsTags: business practice · climate change · global warming deniers · journalism · media