Posts Tagged ‘misinformation’

This week’s Senate deliberations on the Lieberman-Warner Climate Security Bill, made for a fascinating display of high-level politics psychology, all viewable on YouTube:

Yet another display of kindergarten squabble, this time from the Senate Republican Minority – with a few exceptions – How else would you call the ridiculous request of subjecting colleagues to a whole day of reading of a 500 page document?

Per Reuters, ‘Environmental groups were jubilant, even as the bill was defeated . “Today’s vote sets the stage for a new president and Congress to enact strong legislation that will more effectively build a clean energy economy and prevent the worst consequences of global warming,” a coalition of green groups, including Environmental Defense Fund, National Wildlife Federation and Natural Resources Defense Council, said in a statement.

I am not sure I can share such enthusiasm. That is placing a lot of hope in our new president, and in the Congress. It will require new anti-lobbying legislation, to minimize the power of the special fossil fuel interests, over our senators and congressmen. Also, climate change does not respond well to our human attempts at bargaining for more time. Every day counts, at this point.

Again, I ask myself the question of why? Why, would otherwise, well meaning, intelligent people engage in such destructive acts as denying their constituents the chance of a healthy place to live? All I can think of, is that these climate denying senators are the victim of terrible misinformation, on the part of lobbyists, and the Bush administration. They obviously do not understand the realities of climate science and economics. They may also be seduced into cheap populism, the same way Hillary Clinton tried to rally popular support with her gas tax holiday proposal. All in all, not a pretty picture, and one that raises issues of political ethics.

The solution, besides pushing for more Democratic representation in both houses? Maybe introducing climate change on the agendas of both Senate and House Ethics Committees? And asking that the next rounds of climate debates be preceded by introductory sessions on climate ethics.

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Last night, Prad and I attended a fascinating presentation on the theme of ‘A Scoop in Time: Global Warming and the Press‘. Organized by E2, the event gathered a panel of environmental journalist luminaries, including Felicity Barringer from the New York Times, Chip Giller from Grist, and Peter Waldman, a recent export from the Wall Street Journal and now at Portfolio magazine. This was a timely talk given some of the discussions I have been participating in lately on DotEarth, the New York Times‘ environmental blog led by Andrew Revkin.

My main take away from the discussion were the difficulties facing journalists trying to report on the topic. The first point made by Felicity Barringer was the lack of immediacy of global warming. As Chip Giller put it, the thing oozes over time. Since the press thrives on news, this in itself makes it very hard to break global warming stories. There is also a lack of personal relevance. On the list of priorities in people’s mind, global warming comes way behind the economy, health care and immigration. This makes it hard for environmental writers to compete with writers from other desks, when the editor needs to decide which stories are going to make it in. Peter Waldman brought up the systemic nature of the problem, and the lack of easily identifiable perpetrator, as another source of relative low newsworthiness. All three of these hurdles are inherent to the topic of global warming.

The panelists confirmed some of the earlier research I discussed earlier in this blog, particularly Daniel Gilbert‘s theory, that stresses the need for the threat to have a human face, and be present and immediate, in order for it to trigger a human response. There is also Michael Oppenheimer‘s research on the need to make global warming as personally relevant as possible. According to Chip Giller, part of the reason Grist has been so successful has been their strategy of engaging their readers around friendly topics such as fashion, recycling, or practical green tips. All panelists agreed that the environmentalist movement has failed at rallying the public, largely because of its inability to meet people’s mindsets.

To this, I would like to add Maslow‘s hierarchy of needs. If I am worried about the recession and engulfed by a fear of losing my job, and of having no health care, I am going to naturally gravitate towards stories that address those immediate concerns, not news about ice melting in the Arctic, and possible flooding five, ten years from now. I am going to look for clues in the news that can answer my present needs for personal safety.

Last, Peter Waldman talked at length about the unrepairable damage from extensive misinformation campaigns over the last ten years. That the media are just now starting to come around to agree on the reality of climate change, cannot undo the negative effect misinformation has had on the public conscience and consequently, environmental U.S. policy.

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Forwarded to me, by Jeff Huggins, this email, that was sent to him by a relative, who got it from someone else:

Global Warming and the Courts

Last year, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals pushed itself into the debate on climate change, ruling that the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration must take into account the “risks of global warming” when it sets mileage standards for trucks, minivans and SUVs. In doing so, however, “Justice Betty Fletcher and her colleagues on the bench demonstrated they have little expertise in climate science,” writes atmospheric physicist and Independent Institute Research Fellow S. Fred Singer.

According to Singer, drawing upon research documented in the forthcoming report by the Nongovernmental International Panel on Climate Change, the computer models used to determine the human impact on climate change are deeply flawed, and have been wholly inaccurate and unreliable in predicting such phenomena as the cooling of the tropical troposphere. Furthermore, “greenhouse warming has been significantly overestimated” and “might amount to no more than one-half of 1 degree Celsius by 2100, well within the climate’s normal range of ups and downs.” Singer argues that the “variability of solar emissions and solar magnetic fields” provides a more plausible explanation for climate changes than human carbon emissions. Finally, it is doubtful that even a massively invasive and costly government program will have much of a measurable impact on global temperature. Singer concludes that “the Justice Department should appeal the 9th Circuit’s ruling to the Supreme Court. . . . This time around, the White House should be better prepared to argue its case. Science is on its side.”

Courts Confront Climate Change“ by S. Fred Singer. (Washington Times, 1/24/08.)

Also see the transcript and DVD from An Evening with Michael Crichton “States of Fear: Science or Politics?”

Buy Hot Talk, Cold Science: Global Warming’s Unfinished Debate by S. Fred Singer.

How is that for Not So Green Exposure? For a second, I considered providing the links for the sources in the email. For a second only.

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We need to remember, one quarter of the American population watches this:

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