There is an old adage: Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics. With an advocacy piece, with heavy over tones of analysis and citations with reams of numbers, it is hard to work through a series of statistics to understand whether the basic material is truthful or contrived and manipulated to support a preconceived notion. This poses a real challenge to an editorial staff: how do they judge thought pieces in terms of fact checking? Is it enough that the reference says what is said or do the editors owe the readers more? Should basic asserted facts be accepted without examination or do the editors owe the readers more? And, if basic facts are wrong should the overall article be published or do the editors owe the readers more?
A pause for basic truth: wind power is providing tremendous value, around the world, with lower polluting energy that is helping to restrain (if not drive down) energy prices. Fully-burdened cost benefit analysis shows great benefits from supporting wind power.
Simply put, I am far from the only one who believes “editors owe the readers more”. Recently, The New Yorker‘s editors failed their readers by publishing Jonathan Franzen’s Birds-Climate without — it seems — giving a serious look at assertions and basic failures. Newsweek‘s editors have done a similar — if not more serious — disservice to their readers with the publication of Randy Simmons’ broadside attack on wind power. Simmons, in short, argues that government subsidy of wind power (such as the Production Tax Credit) is counter-productive and too costly.
As with Franzen’s piece, books could be dedicated to dissecting this one article and providing more accurate discussions to support public debate and discussion. This article gets things wrong on so many levels: from misstatements on basic facts, to misrepresentations, to playing with statistics, to not addressing fundamental issues to … Below the fold are three missing examples:
Within discussions of the energy system and options, what is too often lost is that people simply want (and, well, often require) “services” — the meeting of their needs and wants. As put before
Consumption: Needs / wants — what are seeking? Example: At the end of the day, I want (oops, many days, need) a cold beer …
When we turn on the light switch, it is because we want light … not electricity. The specific energy (whatever the source and type) and the efficiency of our usage are tools to achieve something: we don’t “want” electricity or gasoline to move our train or car but we want to get somewhere (in some level of comfort, within some time frame, …). We don’t “want” a wireless router but leveraging it for ability to connect (rapidly, seamlessly) electronically with the world for entertainment, communication, and other purposes. We want the “service” not the “energy”.
Within this, arguing against divestment, Stanford Professor Dan Wolak stated that — in essence — “people want fossil fuels”. Dan Gould, supporting divestment, challenged this (41st minute) with the statement that:
They don’t demand fossil fuels. They demand energy.
As per above, people don’t “demand energy” but desire, expect, demand “energy services”.
Gould’s next comment was spot on.
So, the idea that we must have fossil fuels … that this is the only answer to our energy needs … is fundamentally flawed.
To some, perhaps the idea that they should look to the Bronx for true inspiration likely seems foreign. Here are three examples of Bronx institutions and people who take my breath away and inspire me with hope as to ways to solve problems and create opportunities …
Sustainable South Bronx (SSBX) (and its founder, Majora Carter) is truly inspirational as to how to leverage a green economy and other paths toward social equity & strength, economic performance, and greening/cleaning up some of the nation’s dirtiest streets.
The Bronx Community College’s Center for Sustainable Energy (CSE), operating in one of the most stressed communities and community colleges in the nation, is providing services ranging from training for jobs in solar installations to being on a path to being a leading biodiesel research / development center. (Full disclosure: I was a key note speaker at their annual 2014 conference which gave me to learn about CSE’s programs and plans and to visit something at the Bronx Community College that I regret that I’d never even heard of before, America’s first hall of fame…)
Green Bronx Machine is both an institution and an individual: Stephen Ritz. Ritz is a teacher in the poorest Congressional district in America with classrooms filled with children facing serious challenges to ‘equality’ in their opportunities. And, as a teacher who any (sensible) parent would love to have their child to have, Ritz is doing more than his part to address and overcome these challenges.
He has created a program focused on green — on growing food (which ends up in his student’s and community residents’ bellies) and on vertical gardens. Moving from basic seeds to some leading edge urban agricultural technologies and techniques. But, the food is not the end state …
For New York public school teacher Ritz and the students participating in his hybrid urban farming and workforce development program, the Green Bronx Machine, growing fresh produce in an unconventional inner city setting goes hand in hand with upward mobility and community revitalization.
My favorite crop is organically grown citizens — graduates, members of the middle class, kids who are going to college, …Social sustainability and a living wage is at the heart of innovation. The green economy — that represents jobs today, now and into the future.
For true inspiration, take some time to watch and listen to Ritz … for example, his Ted talk.
just published a sobering look at likely deglaciation in Western Canada during the 21st century with continued carbon emissions. The research team led by Garry Clarke of the University of British Columbia developed models that incorporate ice dynamics physics with existing surface mass models. Using global climate models to project temperature and precipitation projections with “business as usual” carbon emissions, the models indicate that glacial ice mass in this region will decrease by 70% from its 2005 footprint by the end of the century.
Retreat of mountain glaciers is a significant contributor to sea-level rise and a potential threat to human populations through impacts on water availability and regional hydrology. Like most of Earth’s mountain glaciers, those in western North America are experiencing rapid mass loss. Projections of future large-scale mass change are based on surface mass balance models that are open to criticism, because they ignore or greatly simplify glacier physics. Here we use a high-resolution regional glaciation model, developed by coupling physics-based ice dynamics with a surface mass balance model, to project the fate of glaciers in western Canada. We use twenty-first-century climate scenarios from an ensemble of global climate models in our simulations; the results indicate that by 2100, the volume of glacier ice in western Canada will shrink by 70 ± 10% relative to 2005. According to our simulations, few glaciers will remain in the Interior and Rockies regions, but maritime glaciers, in particular those in northwestern British Columbia, will survive in a diminished state. We project the maximum rate of ice volume loss, corresponding to peak input of deglacial meltwater to streams and rivers, to occur around 2020–2040. Potential implications include impacts on aquatic ecosystems, agriculture, forestry, alpine tourism and water quality.
Think of this as yet another chapter in the water crises that will be the hallmark of the 21st century. Climate change and unsustainable agricultural uses of water have conspired to put California into a drought with profound economic implications. Syria fell into civil war after a prolonged drought wiped out agricultural productivity in rural parts of the country. Blood shed in South Sudan and other sub-Saharan countries has become all too common during water shortages. Freshwater reserves in China are under pressure from climate change, industrial use, and pollution. Ditto in India. The list goes on. And on.
To suggest that humanity is capable of impacting and disturbing forces of such magnitude is reflective of a self-centred arrogance that is mind numbing. Humanity is a subset of Nature. Nature is not a subset of humanity.
This is an argument that I’ve encountered too many times in the past. This sparked a question: “Do you believe that a major nuclear war could bring about a nuclear winter?” A “yes” response was virtually a gotcha moment: okay, you believe that humanity can impact the climate. In other words, we’re now just haggling over the price.
Let’s be clear. This is far from truly ‘fringe’. A chairman of a powerful Senate committee directly states
The hoax is that there are some people who are so arrogant to think they are so powerful they can change climate. Man can’t change climate. [M]y point is, God’s still up there. The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He is doing in the climate is to me outrageous. [Senator James Inhofe]
Rather than taking the hypothetical of nuclear warfare, there are so many tangible examples of humanity having a direct impact on the global system. When it comes to the atmosphere, for example, CO2 levels and the ozone layer. We could show humanity’s direct ability to impact God’s creation via major canals, replacing forests with cities and farms, flattening mountaintops, etc …
In the past day, there are a number of efforts going on that provide strong visualization of humanity’s thumbprint on the globe. It is hard to imagine anyone watching Chasing Ice and not being awed both by the enormity and scale of Greenland, Antarctic, and other major ice (glacier and otherwise) formations along with overwhelmed by the rapidity of change in them.
Lakes on the Mongolian Plateau are shrinking rapidly, according to researchers from Peking University and the Chinese Academy of Sciences. After analyzing several decades of satellite imagery, the researchers found that the total lake surface area had declined from 4,160 square kilometers (1,060 square miles) in the late 1980s to 2,900 square kilometers in 2010, a decrease of 30 percent. The authors attribute the losses to warming temperatures, decreased precipitation, and increased mining and agricultural activity.
Note something: this is not solely (nor necessarily) dominated by climate change but climate change (“warming temperatures”) is part of the causation for shrinking Mongolian lakes.
Human beings have replaced nature as the dominant force shaping Earth. We’ve cleared away forests, dammed up mighty rivers, paved vast roads, and transported thousands of species around the world. “To a large extent,” two scientists recently wrote, “the future of the only place where life is known to exist is being determined by the actions of humans.”
Yes, humanity is a subset of nature … but a subset which has figured out how to have its thumb weighing heavily on nature’s scales.
Plumer’s post and the NASA project are worth a visit … and perhaps sharing with those who wish to assert that humanity is too insignificant to have an impact on God’s creation.
Hurricane Katrina revealed the power of nature and the incompetence of the Federal Emergency Management Agency under Michael Brown. The storm shredded the Gulf coast and breached the levees protecting New Orleans, leaving 1883 people dead, 2 million homeless, and the city in chaos. It took the Joint Task Force Katrina under Lt. Gen. Russel Honoré to rescue the recovery efforts. The general has since retired from the military, but now leads a Green Army.
Here is a taste of the general in action. Starting at the 3:50 mark, he says that the environment is biggest challenge of the millennial generation and beyond. Here is the situation in Louisiana.
“There is an expiration date on clean drinking water in Louisiana. We will have less tomorrow than we had today. And this is because of the acts of men, of greed and of a failed democracy. A democracy that put the flag of oil and gas companies over our capitol, over the constitutional responsibility to look out for the welfare of the people.In that regard, our democracy has failed us. I don’t say that with any pride. I say it with a sadness in my heart because I spent 37 years, 3 months, and 3 days wearing the cloth of this nation as a soldier. To come back to my home state and see corporations work with total disregard, with collaboration and support from elected officials, to do things that tell the people of Louisiana that oil field wastewater is not hazardous. These are elected officials in the state of Louisiana who will stand up and defend this industry.”
He goes on to describe industry-fueled propaganda as psychological operations (about the 6:00 mark).
Every day this group practices psychological operations on us. Don’t say nothing bad about the oil and gas companies because if you do, they will leave. And, oh my Lord, what is going to happen to our economy. This is psychological operations.
Around the world, solar prices are simply collapsing. With double-digit year-to-year growth rates and double-digit year-to-year price drops, solar electricity is reaching grid parity (and better) in new markets with virtually every passing day. For a long time, those fighting clean energy have argued PRICE! PRICE! PRICE! Those (including myself) arguing for the necessity for a rapid transition to clean energy as a core part of addressing climate change (and other issues) have had to make the case that energy business transactions leave out huge parts of the cost-benefit equation with “externalities” like pollution-driven asthma, mercury in fish populations, and acidification of the oceans (very) real costs from the burning of fossil fuels that are not accounted for in the direct bills. The subsidy — not accounting for externalities — to fossil fuels far outweighs any price supports to clean energy (and is added to the huge cash subsidies that fossil fuels receive globally). What is going on with solar, however, is that it (and other clean energy systems, like wind) are competitive on a price basis even with the huge benefits given to incumbents.
The following graphic, however, provides the “solar price” story as might be promoted by ‘clean energy deniers’. See the pauses? Selective accounting could prove a “Solar Price Decline Pause” to argue against making clean energy an integral part of future energy planning in part because of “energy poverty” — that going clean would be mean to the world’s poor. However, “solar PV will soon become the cheapest form of electricity generation in many parts of the world”. And, a huge share of the world’s poorest and energy poor people (without reliable electricity supplies) live far from grids — going clean in a distributed fashion wouldn’t just be cleaner cheaper than dirty centralized electricity generation but also far faster to get them initial electricity (lighting, phone recharging, …) and on the path to higher-level electricity services.
Many Americans recognize that the introduction of the Corporate Average Fuel Economy (CAFE)standards was a key tools to reduce US oil demand in face of OPEC’s emergence and the various oil embargoes. While today liquid fuel (oil) and electricity have minimal overlap in most of the developed world, few recall that oil once provided a major share of U.S. electricity production and that “increased reliance on coal was a crucial part in the Carter Administration energy program” as part of the effort to reduce oil import requirements and the risks of foreign disruption of our fuel supplies.
With this in mind, on 3 April 1980, “the most trusted man in America” spent a few minutes exploring the implications of coal burning and its carbon dioxide for global warming.
While this was actually (somewhat) true before this, 35 years ago
scientists and a few politicians are beginning to worry a global energy planning does not take the greenhouse effect seriously enough
Sadly, the timeline was perhaps too optimistic:
they fear the earth will gradually become warmer causing as yet uncertain but possibly disruptive changes in the Earth’s climate fifty to seventy years from now
35 years ago they spoke of the potential impacts on sea level rise
if the earth gets too warm for example ice caps could not raising the level of the Seas possible probable we really don’t know but if it happens it means
goodbye Corpus Christi
goodbye to Orleans
goodbye charleston and Savannah
Perhaps this will be the children’s book to replace “Goodbye Moon” for later in the century, “Goodbye Miami ….”
It wasn’t, it seems, all dreary prospects for those ‘inside the Beltway’
on the positive side it means that we could enjoy boating at the foot of the Capitol and fishing on the south lawn
CBC Video: Trains Bobbing Like BoatsAs (some) Americans pay attention to Califonia’s worsening drought (with the occasional media reporting (correctly) linking the worsening conditions (at least in part) to climate change impacts), climate change influenced impacts are felt elsewhere in the world. Few Americans have ever heard of Atacama, Chile. And, many would have a hard time finding Chile on a map.
For most Americans (and most in the world), this is yet another ‘out of sight, out of mind’ severe weather situation and, well, certainly not to be discussed climate chaos impact.
For impressive images of the flash flood and its impact on human infrastructure, take a look at the CBC video below. It is not often that one sees train cars floating by as if they are toys in children’s bath tub.
The New Yorker has been a bright spot, in many ways, in the media disaster that has been global warming reporting. Elizabeth Kolbert is not just a beautiful writer, a pleasure to read, but insightful and thoughtful about the climate crisis and energy issues. (See, for example, her wonderful The Island in the Wind.) From exposure to great literature, to amazing looks at societal issues, to insight on foreign policy, to great science report, it remains legitimately on the reading list. Sadly, on occasion, the editors chose to put out pieces that stain the quality that Kolbert (and other) bring to its pages on climate change and many other science issues.
In a supremely shitty piece, Jonathan Franzen shows inadvertently how the conservation community (heavily weighted toward hyper-wealthy landowners and extractive-industry billionaires) is overrun with a twisted form of climate denial.
That doesn’t indicate that I headed to the (long) article (both on line in and then in my dead-tree copy) with the most open of minds.
To step back, for a moment, in a generous fashion, there is an interesting core element: how can and should “traditional” conservation approaches coexist, interact with, reinforce, and benefit from climate mitigation and adaptation efforts? That is an interesting and difficult issue … but really is not where Franzen’s energy and attention is devoted.
For a moment, I questioned the use of “climate denial” when I read these Franzen words:
As a narrative, climate change is almost as simple as “Markets are efficient.” The story can be told in fewer than a hundred and forty characters:
We’re taking carbon that used to be sequestered and putting it in the atmosphere, and unless we stop we’re fucked.
Hmm … that isn’t a bad tweet to summarize the situation.
However, in reading the article, this tweetable moment might remind one of the racist / sexist / xenophobe / etc who comments “some of my best friends are …” before launching into an offensive diatribe.
In other words, sadly, the “Codswallop” introduction was on the mark.
A fatally flawed article?
Franzen’s piece is, again, long and books could be dedicated to debunking the illogic and misguided nature within it. [Read more →]