What a relief to find I wasn't the only viewer perplexed by Fergal Keane's Ten O'Clock News report on global warming and the Inuit. Tim Luckhurst lets rip in the Times:
Keane got news and entertainment hopelessly confused. His piece was so overwritten and bereft of analytical value that I believed I was watching satire.
At the other end of the spectrum, Richard Lindzen, the arch-sceptic from MIT, is given room to lay out his views in Newsweek's climate change supplement:
Much of the alarm over climate change is based on ignorance of what is normal for weather and climate.
The other articles, it must be said, point firmly in the other direction. One piece, for instance, explains how temperature rises could affect different countries and continents:
One of the most profound economic changes of our time—the rapid rise of India and China relative to the west—could conceivably be slowed if not reversed by global warming. The countries at the top of the list—the ones least vulnerable to climate change—are rich economies of the north. The Baltic countries of Sweden, Finland and Norway hold the top three spots; Canada comes in at fifth place, and the United States rings in at ninth (China is 52nd and India 74th).
Jonathan Chait thinks the American Right, obsessed with bashing Al Gore, is running away from a genuine debate on climate change:
A tiny number of influential conservative figures set the party line; dissenters are marginalized, and the rank and file go along with it. No doubt something like this happens on the Democratic side pretty often too. It's just rare to find the phenomenon occurring in such a blatant way.
But is Gore's proseltyzing counter-productive? Bjorn Lomborg, back in the fray, lays out his arguments against what he calls "climate porn":
We need a stronger focus on smart solutions rather than excessive if well-intentioned efforts... My proposal for tackling global warming in the long run is that all nations commit themselves to spending just 0.05 percent of gross domestic product on R&D of non-carbon-emitting energy technologies. This approach would cost about $25 billion per year - seven times cheaper than Kyoto and many more times cheaper than a Kyoto II. It would involve all nations, with richer nations naturally paying the larger share. It would let each country focus on its own future vision of energy needs- whether that means concentrating on renewable sources, nuclear energy, fusion, carbon storage, conservation or searching for new and more exotic opportunities.
"No lie was too big to tell, no bit of pseudo-science too ridiculous to pass off as legitimate. Parents, if you have teenagers considering a career in p.r., have them read this first." Bryan Burroughs, author of Barbarians at the Gates, reviews Allan Brandt's book about the history of Big Tobacco:
The modern cigarette, Brandt reminds us, was born in the late 19th century but for the longest time remained the industry's neglected stepchild. Chewing tobacco (also known by its technical name, God This Stuff Is Gross) and even pipe tobacco sold better. Hand-rolled cigarettes cost too much to make and sold for too little to justify greater investment... But then came rolling machines. For the first time, cigarettes could be made for pennies apiece, and at that point no one much cared about the naysayers. (Did you know that 16 states briefly outlawed cigarettes in the 1920s..? )
The two sides in the climate change debate came face to face in front of a Manhattan audience on Wednesday. Seems the sceptics - Philip Stott, Richard Lindzen and novelist Michael Crichton - carried the day, among the people in the auditorium anyway. RealClimate's Gavin Schmidt, a member of the opposing team, feels bruised:
I'm afraid the actual audience (who by temperament I'd say were split roughly half/half on the question) were apparently more convinced by the entertaining narratives from Crichton and Stott (not so sure about Lindzen) than they were by our drier fare. Entertainment-wise it's hard to blame them. Crichton is extremely polished and Stott has a touch of the revivalist preacher about him. Comparatively, we were pretty dull.
Perhaps, but he still lands an uppercut after the final bell has rung:
One minor detail that might be interesting is that the organisers put on luxury SUVs for the participants to get to the restaurant - 5 blocks away. None of our side used them (preferring to walk), but all of the other side did.
UPDATE: Philip Stott's wife, Anne, has added a brief clarification in my comments section:
That was below the belt, Clive. Philip told me he was with the others, he didn't know where to go but got in the SUV as directed! Perhaps he can offset against this the fact that he commuted using British Rail/Connex/Network South East for more than 30 years. And still does.
Red-state Americans will fight to the last breath for the right to bear arms; those normally rule-bound Germans insist on the right to drive at nearly 200 mph on the autobahns. But could environmentally-friendly speed limits be on the way?
For years, speed limit advocates tried to argue their case on safety grounds. The autobahn, though, is statistically safer than highways in many countries, even if its crashes are singularly horrific. Saving the planet, it turns out, may be more persuasive than saving lives. "Given the pride of Germans about being No. 1 in protecting the environment, this could lead to a breakthrough," said Peter Schneider, a writer who limits himself to 90 m.p.h. on the autobahn.
When I was on Blogger TV last week, one of my fellow guests, that lively libertarian Andrew Ian Dodge, came up with the strangest defence of whaling I've ever heard. Anti-whalers, he said, would never dare disapprove of hunting if the Icelanders and Norwegians were black: if they were, it would be just another culturally valid activity. Er, I think not (consider the ivory poachers) but full marks for inventiveness. No wonder I don't get on with libertarians.
This morning, incidentally, was just about the first time I've ever found myself out of step with Bryan Appleyard. Is it really true that hatred of 4x4s is down, in part anyway, to our old friend, class hatred, not to mention sexism? I loathe the damned Übervehicles, but it's because of the sheer narcissism of the owners, whether they're City boys intent on blocking everyone else's view of the road or Mummys who think their offspring are so terribly precious they have to be driven around in a Sherman tank, and to hell with everyone else's kids.
On the other hand, if I see a millionaire crossing a mountain stream in his Range Rover, I simply admire the suspension. It's all a question of right place, right time.
I didn't bother to watch The Great Global Warming Swindle, partly because I was rushing around too much, partly because I'm more and more wary of documentary-makers' habit of over-egging their arguments. (So, no, I won't be tuning in to the latest Adam Curtis ideas-fest either. Norm sends up the concept very nicely.)
Is Doomsday really just around the corner? Gregg Easterbrook, one of America's most open-minded environmental writers, has written an Atlantic essay which attempts to weigh the effects of climate change. Plenty of alarming data there, of course - especially about the impact on poorer countries - but some shades of grey too:
Temperatures are rising on average, but when are they rising? Daytime? Night time? Winter? Summer? One fear about artificially triggered climate change has been that global warming would lead to scorching summer-afternoon highs, which would kill crops and brown out the electric power grid. Instead, so far a good share of the warming—especially in North America—has come in the form of nighttime and winter lows that are less low. Higher lows reduce the harshness of winter in northern climes and moderate the demand for energy. And fewer freezes allow extended growing seasons, boosting farm production. In NorthAmerica, spring comes ever earlier—in recent years, trees have flowered in Washington, D.C., almost a week earlier on average than a generation ago. People may find this creepy, but earlier springs and milder winters can have economic value to agriculture—and lest we forget, all modern societies, including the United States, are grounded in agriculture.
Pollyanna-ish? You have to be a subscriber to read the entire piece, but there's a very useful open-access interview with Easterbrook in the on-line version of the magazine. Here's part of what he has to say about the task of cleaning up the environment:
If your goal is reduce greenhouse gases, it’s far more logical to spend your money and invest your capital in China and India than it is in the United States, because the bang for your buck in terms of greenhouse gas reduction there is many orders of magnitude higher there than it is here. A lot of the people who talk about greenhouse gas reduction focusing on the United States just seem to want some sort of punitive measure that harms American industry so they can feel good and go back to their Chablis and brie...
If American capital and expertise did nothing in the next 20 years except raise the efficiency of Chinese coal-fired power plants—if that’s the only thing we did—it would be probably the single greatest contribution to slowing the rate of greenhouse gas accumulation that anybody could make in the world. It would certainly exceed any possible reform here in the United States.
And here's his assessment of An Inconvenient Truth and the media's role so far:
You don’t need this silly Hollywood exaggeration. So a lot of elites have made doomsday claims about global warming destroying society and things like that, though the doomsday scenarios are statistically unlikely and statistically unlikely things don’t happen very much.
But the likely and scientifically credible scenarios are plenty worrisome enough. And to the extent that the media has been pushing doomsday on this, one of my worries is that the press corps has totally shot its credibility in a classic crying wolf exercise all through the ‘80s and ‘90s. The big deal press corps—The New York Times, everybody—has repeatedly demonstratedtotal incomprehension of the relative risks of environmental issues. We’ve heard an awful lot about arsenic in drinking water and electromagnetic emissions from power lines and things that even in the worst case analysis are really marginal threats and affect only very small numbers of people and only very slightly raise risks.
Not that I want to spoil anyone's Valentine's Day, but a new book about the floral industry offers a less than romantic picture of how all those blooms arrive on the doorstep: "Readers of "Flower Confidential" will be surprised and appalled to learn the extent to which something as fleeting and romantic as a rose or a lily has been turned into an industrial widget."
PS:Slate goes all steamy with an up-market collection of Valentine's Day verse.
PPS: Soppy video moment ahead... Roberta Flack sings The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face over scenes from Jane Eyre. That's what I call a double-whammy.