Tag Archives: climate

The Problem With Climate Deniers

SeaLevelRise

via Peter Gleick.

There’s always something in the data. There’s always a caveat, a preface, some qualification, some uncertainty. There’s an explanation. It’s all a hoax.

Do you engage with climate deniers or ignore them? Are they legitimately questioning science, or are they merely trolling? As long as politicians pay attention to them, I suppose we probably need to push back. It just seems so ridiculous sometimes.

And now there’s this, from U.S. Congressman Dana Rohrabacher:

ROHRABACHER: Just so you know, global warming is a total fraud and it is being designed by—what you’ve got is you’ve got liberals who get elected at the local level want state government to do the work and let them make the decisions. Then, at the state level, they want the federal government to do it. And at the federal government, they want to create global government to control all of our lives. That’s what the game plan is. It’s step by step by step, more and bigger control over our lives by higher levels of government. And global warming is that strategy in spades.… Our freedom to make our choices on transportation and everything else? No, that’s gotta be done by a government official who, by the way, probably comes from Nigeria because he’s a UN government official, not a US government official.

Rep. Rohrabacher is a senior member of the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology. Seriously.

 

 

Stuff to Read

Some really interesting things on climate policy communications and climate policy strategy:

1. Theda Skocpol explains and expands on her critique of the cap-and-trade battles of 2009-2010.  She’s right on about 90% of it, and on the other 10%, she’s not entirely wrong.   I certainly hope big green philanthropy is reading this stuff. (Also, philanthropy, while you’re reading things, read this one on how progressives are losing think-tank ground in the states.)

2. A lengthy and scholarly article on “framing and moral messaging in environmental campaigns.” The article describes “methods for reframing climate change in ways that are more personally engaging, for creating a moral foundation that compels greater participation, for localizing the issue and switching policy focus, thereby diffusing political polarization, and for using opinion-leaders as community-level connectors and recruiters.” Smart advice that shouldn’t have needed a lengthy and scholarly article to explain.

3. An interview with UCLA professor Ursula Heise on “the narratives of climate change and the evolving challenges environmentalism faces in telling its story.” Also, an interesting discussion on why climate change is talked about way more than other environmental imperatives.

 

Fires and Floods

Moving from the urban environment of Baltimore to the wilds of North Idaho meant learning a lot of new environmental issues. And moving from the inland northwest to the SoCal coast brings yet another set of learning curves. A lot of things are the same — the need for non-profit fundraising, for example, is universal — but there are issue similarities that I hadn’t expected. The intersection of climate change impacts and local land use regulation is remarkably similar in communities that couldn’t be more different.

In North Idaho, and throughout the forested Rockies, climate-induced wildfire is an increasing threat to rural residents. Fires are larger, more frequent and more intense, and costs to  governments, property owners and their insurers are mounting. Meanwhile, along the coasts, extreme-weather storms, with damaging wind and rain and storm surge, are also larger, more frequent and more intense. And costs to governments, property owners and their insurers are also mounting.

And interestingly, both locations could stand to learn from one another.  For example. as coastal communities consider “managed retreat” from the increasingly problematic proximity to rising sea levels, so too should rural communities reconsider isolated development in the fire-dangerous wildland urban interface.

The excellent Bozeman-based Headwaters Economics research organization came up with some good advice to western communities worried about fire that could be just as useful to coastal communities worried about storms. According to Headwaters Economics, “Addressing the issue of ever-escalating fire suppression expenses could achieve a number of related public policy goals: increasing fiscal responsibility, introducing a fairer and more equitable distribution of those costs among those benefiting from wildfire protection, and improving the safety of future homeowners and wildland firefighters.” Change “fire suppression” to “storm surge mitigation,” change “wildfire protection” to “flood protection” and “wildland firefighters” to a more general “first responders” and the similarities are clear.

A Headwaters report (pdf) offers ten ideas for controlling the rising cost of protecting homes from wildland fires. Most are entirely applicable to coastal communities dealing with storm-related flooding:

  1. Mapping: Publish Maps Identifying Areas with High Probability of Wildland Fires.

  2. Education: Increase Awareness of the Financial Consequences of Home Building in Fire-Prone Areas.

  3. Redirecting Federal Aid towards Land Use Planning: Provide Technical Assistance and Financial Incentives to Help Local Governments Direct Future Development Away from the Wildland-Urban Interface.

  4. Cost Share Agreements: Add Incentives for Counties to Sign Agreements that Share the Costs of Wildland Firefighting between Local and Federal Entities.

  5. Land Acquisition: Purchase Lands or Easements on Lands that are Fire-Prone and at Risk of Conversion to Development.

  6. A National Fire Insurance and Mortgage Program: Apply Lessons from Efforts to Prevent Development in Floodplains.

  7. Insurance: Allow Insurance Companies to Charge Higher Premiums in Fire-Prone Areas.

  8. Zoning: Limit Development in the Wildland-Urban Interface with Local Planning and Zoning Ordinances.

  9. Eliminate Mortgage Interest Deductions:Eliminate Home Interest Mortgage Deductions for New Homes in the Wildland-Urban Interface.

  10. Reduce Federal Firefighting Budgets: Induce Federal Land Managers to Shift More of the Cost of Wildland Firefighting to Local Governments.

Again, by just swapping out a few words and phrases, this could be an impressively robust agenda for coasts. As we develop a work plan for coastal development issues at Coastal Conservation Network, this list might be an interesting starting point.

 

Newest Best Argument for Taking Action on Climate Change Is Now Climate Change

An interesting article in the New York Times makes the claim that compared to the frequent and vague “green jobs” argument, “the stronger argument for a major government response to climate change is the more obvious argument: climate change.” The piece concludes that, “In the end, the strongest economic argument for an aggressive response to climate change is not the much trumpeted windfall of green jobs. It’s the fact that the economy won’t function very well in a world full of droughts, hurricanes and heat waves.”

As a comprehensive cap-and-trade approach seems less likely, and more direct carbon pollution regulation by EPA seems more likely, the change in argument seems not only natural but necessary.  For one thing, the cost-benefit calculations are becoming increasingly clear even without a jobs and economic development hook.

 

Communicators Communicating About Climate

With a few weeks of more intensive on-the-job attention being paid to climate and coastal impacts under my belt, I am more aware of the communications issues involved.  I would tend to agree with recent scholarly discussions about the science of science communications that concrete coastal adaptation issues will get more traction than abstract and politicized  issues of  international carbon pollution policy and global warming temperature math.

So yes:

Because being out of step with one’s cultural group in struggles over the nation’s “soul” can carry devastating personal consequences, and because nothing a person believes or does as an individual voter or consumer can affect the risks that climate change pose for him or anyone else, it is perfectly predictable—perfectly rational even—for people to engage the issue of climate change as a purely symbolic or expressive issue.

In contrast, from Florida to Arizona, from New York to Colorado and California, ongoing political deliberations over adaptation are affecting people not as members of warring cultural factions but as property owners, resource consumers, insurance policy holders, and tax payers — identities they all share. The people who are furnishing them with pertinent scientific evidence about the risks they face and how to abate them are not the national representatives of competing political brands but rather their municipal representatives, their neighbors, and even their local utility companies.

What’s more, the sorts of issues they are addressing—damage to property and infrastructure from flooding, reduced access to scarce water supplies, diminished farming yields as a result of drought—are matters they deal with all the time. They are the issues they have always dealt with as members of the regions in which they live; they have a natural shared vocabulary for thinking and talking about these issues, the use of which reinforces their sense of linked fate and reassures them they are working with others whose interests are aligned with theirs.

The challenge, of course, is how those of us “environmentalists” — burdened with a brand identity associated with warring cultural factions — further “the ongoing political deliberations over adaptation.” Our very existence at a round table discussion has the potential of polluting potentially productive communications and deliberations.

The problem is, I don’t think this conclusion:

In this communication environment, people of diverse values are much more likely to converge on, rather than become confused about, the scientific evidence most relevant to securing the welfare of all.

follows necessarily. Certainly not without some sort of advocacy somewhere along the line. Property owners, resource consumers, insurance policy holders, and tax payers may understand the evidence if the evidence is served up to them by less problematic communicators, but they aren’t going to act necessarily. Or act quickly enough.  It’s an interesting advocacy challenge, to be sure, but I think there’s more to addressing climate change than waging some sort of proxy battle.

 

Big Green Environmentalism’s Big Climate Failure

Maybe it’s because I spent about four years dueling with stupid in North Idaho, but I have to admit some amusement with the recent what-went-wrong analysis of the climate battles in Obama’s first term. A recent study (140-page pdf) by a Harvard researcher puts a lot of the blame on the Big Green groups based in Washington, DC and their blindness to the swift radicalization of the Republican Party and their inability to counter it.  Indeed, the concentration of policy wonk generals calling the shots in DC without sufficient resources being put into the necessary grassroots army across the country was a fatal flaw that was glaringly obvious from Coeur d’Alene.

It probably shouldn’t have required a Harvard political scientist to do so, but researcher Theda Skocpol provides a clear-eyed explanation of how things went wrong, culminating with the Tea Party summer of 2009. It was entirely too easy for Big Greens to dismiss the rantings of right-wingers in flyover states — what with all their misspelled signs and all the Jon Stewart ridicule — but the truism that all politics is local was lost on Big Greens whose strategy was based on coalitions with (selective) Big Businesses far from that summer’s town hall shouting matches.

As Skocpol is quoted in a brief Washington Post interview:

Theda Skocpol: Climate-change denial had been an elite industry for a long time, but it finally penetrated down to conservative Republican identified voters around this time. That created new pressures on Republican officeholders and candidates. And I don’t think most people noticed that at the time. …

… I think a lot of environmental groups were under the impression that the Republican Party is a creature of business, and that if you can make business allies, you can get Republicans to do something. But I don’t think the Republican Party right now is mainly influenced by business. In the House in particular, ideological groups and grassroots pressure are much more influential. And in the research we’ve done, the two big issues that really revved up primary voters were immigration and the EPA.

The fact that much of the white-hot rhetoric was directed at health care reform served only to mask the equally hot anger at legendary evils of EPA  overreach. Indeed, the terms “cap and trade” and “scientific consensus” were no less threatening than Obama’s death panels. The DC leadership of the Big Green groups should maybe have gone to an Idaho town meeting or two rather than climate conferences in Copenhagen.

The folks at Grist have provided some superb analysis of the analysis, but I’m hoping that the lessons aren’t lost. For one thing, foundation funders and big enviro thinkers could start re-emphasizing grassroots capacity in locations other than big blue cities where the Big Green groups are headquartered.

Furthermore, enviros can’t be missing in action on important issues related to climate. This exchange closes out the interview and, with a week or two into my new role with a new group, it doesn’t bode well.

Washington Post: The Sandy relief bill is going through the House [on Tuesday], and almost no environmental groups weighed in on that. That’s shocking to me. Here we are, a large group of people in New York and New Jersey that environmentalists want to connect to climate change, and the groups aren’t there.  Why not?

Theda Skocpol: So you do have to build broader coalitions. That was one of the things that health reformers did this time around. They buried hatchets and forged ties with groups they needed to, like medical providers, and reached out to small businesses. Health care reformers spent years talking about what went wrong, what they could do differently. But that also took 15 years, from 1994 to when health care finally made it over the top. I’m not sure climate can wait 15 years.

All I know is if another opportunity comes along to get legislation through Congress, those that are prepared are going to be the ones that will be take advantage. And that’s what I don’t see yet. I haven’t been impressed by the inside-the-movement post mortems I’ve read. I don’t see any thought that there will have to be a lot of rethinking for that to happen.

Indeed, last night, as the House of Representatives was voting on amendments to the delayed Sandy relief legislation, the sacrificial cuts — given up at the altar of the Tea Party gods of debt ceilings, deficit reductions, fiscal cliffs, and deadbeat deadlines —  came from $150 million in oceans and coastal programs, and a particularly unlucky wildlife refuge in Connecticut.

Yeah. Like we’re ready to fight any climate battles any time soon.

 

Traditionalist or Modernist?

There has been another upswell of a theoretical critique of environmentalism that I find both fascinating and frustrating. The relatively new eco-pragmatist / modernist critics say, “conservation is losing the war to protect nature despite winning one of its hardest fought battles — the fight to create parks, game preserves, and wilderness areas.” Instead of preserving the increasingly rare pristine landscapes, the pragmatists say we need to work with what’s left — working with development, not against it, focusing on sustainability in a changing world. The pragmatists promote a sort of glorified global gardening as a better way forward.

As someone who has been involved with the environmental movement in several states, covering a wide range of environmental issues, usually in close proximity to genuine grassroots, I’d generally concur with critics of the critique, captured by a twitter post characterizing the pro-pragmatist position as “all wooly thinking, strawman arguments, gross simplifications.” Indeed, to broadly characterize such a large and diverse “traditionalist” movement as strictly preservation-based, seems to neglect to acknowledge a number of different strains of traditional environmentalism. Moreover, to call preservation-based approaches ineffective, the pragmatist-theorists diminish what has indeed been preserved.

Nevertheless,  I’d also agree that in some instances, a more pragmatic approach could be worthwhile.  As I start a new position in a new organization, I expect the tension between traditional and modernist approaches will be in the forefront of my work. Coastal conservation in a time of climate change and rising sea levels, must necessarily be a mix of preservation, mitigation, restoration, and adaptation.  Hardening a coastline against future storm surges, for example, may actually be most efficiently accomplished through softer preservation of wetlands, dunes, and buffers.  Traditional environmental approaches may actually be the most pragmatic. On the other hand, coastal conservation needs to be especially pragmatic as coastlines are redrawn while climate change goes essentially unaddressed.

Having been on the job for only a day or two, I’ve obviously got a lot to learn. But I expect that I’ll have a lot more to say about all of this in the coming months.