Countertrend: Google, Economist Flee from Climate Reality

Thu, 2013-07-25 08:00Richard Littlemore
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Countertrend: Google, Economist Flee from Climate Reality

The once-authoritative Economist news magazine has set fire to its credibility, again, by reporting that global warming has slowed to the point where one columnist argues that we should wait “a decade or two” before instituting any policy measures to ameliorate the threat. At the same time, Google, a company that advertises its corporate philosophy as “Do No Evil,” has decided to snuggle up to the climate change denial community, splashing money at the likes of Oklahoma Senator James Inhofe and the “think” tank, the Competitive Enterprise Institute.

This kind of blithe disregard for fact or prudence was more in style a couple of years ago, when Denier-in-Chief George W. Bush was in the White House and Inhofe was Chair of the Republican-dominated Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works. But how can you account for so irresponsible and reactionary a performance - from theoretically credible sources - in 2013?

One potential explanation is the loveable naivety of the scientific and environmental community - the kind of people who are always willing, in good faith, to join a conversation about a “climate-change slowdown.” The very phrase is like red meat to the Anthony Watts types who deny climate science as part of their business plan. Looking, for example, at the current state of Arctic sea ice and the predictions for the $60-trillion time bomb that will detonate as that ice disappears, any talk of such an actual slowdown is absurd.

There is a legitimate discussion to be had about where additional warmth has been going in the last couple of years. But seriously, the last time the world enjoyed a single month with temperatures below the average (since record-keeping began in 1880) was February 1985. Revelling in thoughts of a slowdown in the rate of change would be analagous to someone celebrating having reached terminal velocity after falling out of a plane: things are still very, very bad, but isn't it nice that we have slowed the pace at which they are getting worse?

Well, no. As the insurance industry is only too eager to point out, the situation is already dire. Even if we had not loaded the atmosphere with enough carbon dioxide to keep the trend going for a century, this would be no time to chortle.

So, again, how could you account for purportedly reputable information sources coming so badly off the rails? There is no obvious explanation for the Economist. The story is poorly researched and the opinion both dumb and contrary to evidence.

For example, Economist writer Will Wilkinson writes that cutting carbon “would exact a terrible humanitarian price” in the developing world because of a concurrent - and, he says, inevitable - bump in the global economy. But, per the insurance statistics, climate-change related droughts and storms are already exacting a price - most horribly in the developing world - while a new report on the carbon tax in British Columbia shows that it has been effective at reducing carbon emissions while doing no damage whatever to the economy.

It seems Wilkinson is more enthusiastic to push the libertarian ideology of his Cato Institute colleagues than, say, reading any science or economics.

The problem at Google may be more obvious. On one hand, you have the people at Google who write slogans and, apparently, invest in carbon offsets - promoting a corporate policy that looks socially and environmentally responsible.

On the other, you have the amoral business types who just want to make friends with potential political allies and could care less about the social, political or environmental implications of their actions. The folks at SumOfUs and Forecast the Facts are among those who think that EVERYone at Google should be held accountable.

Certainly, as the principal nexus for web information, Google likely has an even greater responsibility than the Economist to stay on the right - which is to say, accurate - side of this conversation. They'll be needing to undo a little evil to get back to that position.

Previous Comments

Adding my two cents to the subjects of the post:

On environmentalists. University environmental departments are more geared toward market based solutions now days. Graduates from these departments probably won't become environmentalists. They'll be working at consulting firms doing compliance or at think tank/NGOs doing policy. Both have the same paying customers. The young 22 year old environmental scientists, with hopes and dreams of saving the planet, quickly realizes the pathway to success is sales. Nobody buys nothing from a climate change bore.

The Economist is staffed chiefly by posh Brits from Oxbridge. Britain is a small island. There's only so many families of good stock. Writers and editors are products inbreeding. This shows up in their work. 

Google? Its business needs cheap electricity so all of the above, maybe? Tax breaks? The NSA is doing its content backup for free? Nerds don't do environmental? That's it! Most nerds I know spent their youth inside the house.

Very good article.


Just today I was heaving a sigh of relief that the tone of much of the climate change and environmental action coverage that I have been seeing lately is leaning in a productive direction.  It seems that I was premature …

I guess we can never assume that the Monckton's and Watts' of the world have gone away. They are simply lurking, just below the surface like a bunch of crocodiles waiting until we zebras look away for a moment to make their move.

But on the positive side, Michael Mann has moved a couple of steps closer to getting a judicial ruling in his lawsuits against all of those slanderous (or are they libellous?) bloggers that willfully ignore factual evidence and scientific corroboration of his results.  With any luck, he will win – a result that would cast a chill comparable to the Little Ice Age over deniers who are still happy to spout long-debunked tripe with impunity.  The oh-so-careful Economist might take a few steps back & reconsider …

As for one of the present issues, “There is a legitimate discussion to be had about where additional warmth has been going in the last couple of years, I find it very frustrating that so few people seem to be able to stand back and take a look at the big picture.  The atmosphere is a highly complex and variable system.  It includes the air, the oceans, and basically anything that isn't nailed or strapped down to the earth's crust.  So if this system is absorbing and storing heat trapped by the C02 in the atmosphere, why should it surprise anyone that SOME of that heat is getting caught up in ocean currents, horizontal & vertical?  Of course warm water is getting cycled into the depths. The oceans operate like mammorth washing machines churning it all around. Which means that warming is also happening 'way down there where we can't see it.   

On one hand the deniers tell us that the climate is too complex to predict or model, and in the next breath over-simplify by saying, see? warming on hold! (full stop) No worries (nor explanations offered)! IF surface warming has slowed down, I would advise caution, because all of that heat is going somewhere, and my scientifically informed opinion tells me that it is going to leap up like that crocodile and bite us in the ass. 

Ever been rolled by a crocodile?  


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