There was a time, about 50 years ago, when thoughtful scientists and science writers dreamed of the day that the American public would wake up to the importance of science. Jacob Bronowski, C.P. Snow, Carl Sagan and Isaac Asimov saw science as integral to life. They didn’t like the idea of science “popularization,” as if something so important and ubiquitous had to be promoted. Instead, scientific issues and controversies should be taken up and understood, and maybe even debated, by the average person.
Well, that day has arrived, in a sense. We now have the spectacle of the Average Joe, who never set foot in a science class, imagining that climate scientists are lying about radiative forcing and the use of the Stefan-Boltzmann constant. And this is just the beginning.
RECENTLY, Barack Obama stopped US government financing of most overseas coal projects due to climate concerns. The predictable reaction from the energy industry and its friends was expressed in an opinion by Ken Silverstein in the Christian Science Monitor:
The underlying philosophy here is that if a developing country is going to move “up” the energy ladder, it needs to develop basic cheap energy sources first, use them to fuel development, then move “up” to more complex fuels, and then finally move “up” to nuclear power.
Thirty-five years ago this evening,* Jimmy Carter stared America in the eye, and invoking his promise that “I will never lie to you,” gave us all a royal scolding.
It ran just over a half-hour, back in the day when such speeches were carried by all three of the commercial TV networks, in prime time, before tens of millions of viewers. Every one of those viewers had likely spent some recent time in a gasoline line, paying inflated prices for scarce fuel.
“Why have we not been able to get together as a nation to solve our serious energy problem?” asked the president, with an earnest gaze and several chopping, pounding motions with his right hand. It was a second sortie for a president who two years earlier had told us that our energy woes were “the moral equivalent of war.”
Information about world oil reserves has been skewed for political purposes. Until very recently, everyone believed the Middle East has 2/3 of all the world’s oil. But in fact, the Middle East has only 2/3 of a narrow politically defined category called “proven” reserves. How is it that we were so badly misinformed?
As a very young news reporter in Washington DC in 1979, I was invited to one of those think tank “luncheons” where the speakers chat amiably about the next imminent disaster. This one was about world oil reserves and the possible collapse of the Persian Gulf.
Not surprisingly, all the speakers agreed that a shut-down of the Persian Gulf would be catastrophic and must be prevented at all costs. All the speakers, that is, except one smiling Venezuelan named Alirio Parra, who was then the country’s oil minister. The bottom line of his talk was this: Don’t worry. Venezuela has more oil in the eastern Orinoco region than all the Middle East. And if this seems surprising, he said, your petroleum geologists should be more honest with you.
I remember the shouts of outrage from the assembled policy wonks, one of whom yelled that there was “a journalist here” in the same tone that a Victorian preacher might caution: “ladies present.”
There’s an adorably naïve tendency among many who live and breathe environmental issues – journalists, scientists, advocates – to presume that reason, backed by science, will rule the day, any day now.
I recommend either one of two easy cures for this: Watch an hour of Fox News, America’s most-watched cable news network by a long shot. Or do what I did earlier this week: Watch the White House press corps.
By the time Carney closed the briefing 68 minutes later, the final score was climate, 26 minutes of press corps interest, Benghazi 34.
Climate change was ostensibly the Story of the Day for Monday’s daily briefing: White House Counselor John Podesta, the administration’s climate point man, headlined the affair. He showed slides and took questions for 24 minutes before being whisked away, with reporters invited to continue the dialogue with Press Secretary Jay Carney. Continue reading Climate news displaced by Benghazi obsession
Deep red sunsets offer more than just a stunning backdrop for Old Masters’ paintings: They can tell how dirty the air was when the painter picked up the brush.
The degree of red in the skies depicted in historic paintings offers a proxy for pollution levels in the Earth’s past atmosphere, according to a study published Tuesday. What’s more, artists’ sunsets have gradually gotten redder over the past 150 years, likely reflecting increased manmade pollution.
Editor’s note: This story is part of an ongoing series at The Daily Climate exploring climate change impacts hitting society right now. Find more stories here on The Daily Climate.
WILLIAMSBURG, Va. – Weary of debating the causes of climate change, mayors and other elected officials from Virginia’s battered coastal regions gathered here last week and agreed that local impacts have become serious enough to present a case for state action.
“We are here to ask for your assistance,” said Norfolk Mayor Paul Fraim. “It’s a threat we can no longer afford to ignore.”
So far, assistance from the state level has been paltry and grudging at best. In 2011, a group of coastal scientists and planners, with the backing of mayors like Fraim, were asked to study the problems, but only after tea-party conservatives in the state Legislature insisted that “recurrent flooding” – and not climate change – would be the study’s sole focus.