Primary tabs


The Climate Change Hangover

Let’s assume that the Obama administration and Congress get their act together this year and make good on their pledge of enacting meaningful climate legislation by establishing the nation’s first cap-and-trade system.

Let’s further assume, for the sake of argument, that the administration, working with its international partners, succeeds in drafting a robust successor to the Kyoto Protocol at the climate talks in Copenhagen later this year.

If we accept that the U.S. climate bill, known as the American Clean Energy and Security Act (ACES), will accomplish its goal of bringing down emission levels 80 percent below 2005 levels by 2050—which is nothing to sneeze at when you consider that a substantial fraction of policymakers (including some Democrats) vehemently oppose the measure—then the question becomes: Will it be enough to prevent the worst of climate change?

New Study on Solar Variability Is Neither New Nor a Study

Misinterpreting a new study requires there to be a new study in the first place. Though it may seem obvious, this basic truth was evidently lost on the throngs of deniers who pounced on a story about solar variability that appeared on the news aggregator ScienceDaily—on May 12, 2008.

The piece, entitled “Solar Variability: Striking a Balance with Climate Change,” makes the point that, over the course of the Earth’s history, the sun and volcanic eruptions have typically exerted the largest influence on climate change. In recent decades, however, the sun’s influence in particular has been replaced by that of anthropogenic activity—something which Robert Cahalan, a climatologist at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, says “has never happened before.”

Denier Conference Readies for Round Three

Among the many conservative think tanks faithfully pushing the skeptic message in Washington, D.C., few are as prominent—or, should I say, infamous—as the Heartland Institute. The “independent” research and non-profit group has the dubious distinction of having organized the first major denier-palooza, the “International Conference on Climate Change,” last year. Despite a less than stellar showing, and an even more lukewarm follow-up in March, it’s hoping that the third time will be the charm.

The likes of Senator James Inhofe, Lord Christopher Monckton and Anthony Watts will be descending on the Washington Court Hotel this week to discuss the “widespread dissent to the asserted “consensus” on the causes, consequences, and proper responses to climate change.” Its ostensible purpose will be to “expose Congressional staff and journalists to leading scientists and economists in the nation’s capital” and demonstrate that “global warming is not a crisis and that immediate action to reduce emissions is not necessary”—which it calls the emerging consensus view of (the handful of) scientists outside the IPCC.

A Question of Framing

What a difference a year can make. While the consensus on the Hill may not have grown stronger in the interim—I’m looking at you, House Republicans—the American public seems to be increasingly wising up to the idea that global warming is, in fact, a real threat and not some nefarious liberal plot to deprive it of its God-given right to pollute.

That is the principal finding of a new survey, entitled “Global Warming’s Six Americas,” that was released this past week by the Center for American Progress. The survey, which the authors describe as an “audience segmentation analysis,” splits the American public into six distinct groups based on their level of engagement with global warming: alarmed, concerned, cautious, disengaged, doubtful, and dismissive.

The authors polled 2,129 American adults in the fall of 2008 on a variety of issues related to global warming, including risk perceptions, policy preferences, and values.

The Oceans v. EPA

Out of sight, out of mind,” is a pithy saying that aptly sums up the attitude most industrialized countries have toward ocean acidification. While there has been much (justified) hand-wringing about the terrestrial impacts of climate change, policymakers have largely ignored the threats posed by acidic seas – which are considerable.

For one, ocean acidification could wipe out a significant fraction of the world’s coral reefs – perhaps even all of them – by mid-century if we don’t curb our emissions. In late 2007, 17 marine biologists co-authored a review article in Science in which they warned that, under a worst-case emissions scenario (450 – 500 ppm and a temperature increase larger than 5.4°C), all reefs could disappear, taking up to half of all marine life with them.

The OMB-EPA Kerfuffle That Wasn't

Is the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) deliberately trying to sabotage the EPA’s efforts to regulate carbon dioxide emissions? Is Peter Orszag, the agency’s brainy and genial director, secretly in cahoots with Republican opponents of President Obama’s climate policies?

Not quite – though that may have been your first impression upon reading the raft of articles published yesterday that breathlessly reported that an OMB memo had strongly criticized the EPA’s proposal to regulate greenhouse gases.

Gore and Inhofe, United at Last

Climate policy can make for strange bedfellows – perhaps none as strange as the former vice president and Republican senator from Oklahoma, whose views on most issues could not be more divergent. Yet on one issue – related to climate change, no less – they agree: black carbon, or, as it’s more commonly known, “soot,” is a dangerous pollutant that deserves more study.

In fact, Inhofe considered it a grave enough threat that he recently co-sponsored a bill with Democratic Senators Carper, Boxer and Kerry to prod the EPA into studying the health and global warming impacts of black carbon emissions.

And while the insufferable Oklahoman may insist that his support for the legislation in no way contradicts his established denier bona fides – for good measure, he unleashed a typically scathing critique of the Obama administration’s proposed environmental policies the same day the bill was introduced – there is no denying that black carbon, the product of fossil fuel consumption and biomass burning, is a major agent of climate change.

What Scientists Have to Say About Global Cooling

Scientists have been quietly gnashing their teeth in frustration over deniers’ latest attempts to pervert their research on global warming. Until now.

In an article published in the latest issue of the journal Geophysical Research Letters (sub. required), David R. Easterling of NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center and Michael F. Wehner of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory set out to refute the “global cooling” lies peddled by Fox News, The Washington Post, and the Republican Party once and for all.

When Deniers Deny Their Own

Who can you trust, if not your own advisers? That is the inconvenient question raised by NYT reporter Andrew C. Revkin in a newly published article that reveals the extent to which the coal and oil industries ignored the advice of their own scientists on the question of climate change.

The Global Climate Coalition (how’s that for an Orwellian name?), an industry-funded group that spent years vehemently contesting any evidence linking anthropogenic activity to climate change, found itself in the uncomfortable position of rejecting its own experts’ recommendations when they reached the inevitable conclusion that the contribution of manmade greenhouse gas emissions to climate change “could not be refuted.”

Boehner: What's the Big Deal with CO2, Anyways?

The award for this week’s most understated headline goes to Politico’s Lisa Lerer for this little doozy: “GOP grapples with climate confusion.” Though little of her article actually breaks new ground, it perfectly encapsulates the Republicans’ current predicament – that of being stuck between a rock and a hard place when it comes to taking action on climate change.

On the one hand, the Republicans need to marshall their resources and come up with a coherent alternative to the proposed Democratic plan, lest they wish to lose the PR game and suffer another legislative defeat in the House of Representatives (the Senate, unfortunately, will be a much larger hurdle to overcome); on the other, they need to be wary of not alienating their base by devoting too much time to addressing a “hoax.”