The Politics of Ice and Fire

In late June of 1988, just under 24 years ago, NASA’s James Hansen testified before the U.S. Congress about global warming. He noted that the Earth had been remarkably warm in the months leading up to that moment, and said he was 99 percent certain that the overall warming trend in the temperature data was due to human causes. ''It is time to stop waffling so much and say that the evidence is pretty strong that the greenhouse effect is here,” Hansen stated. (His actual testimony is here.)

Hansen’s testimony put global warming on the national agenda—and the reason for its dramatic impact isn’t hard to see. It was given during a time when Washington D.C. was suffering from sweltering heat, just as it is now; when Yellowstone National Park was ablaze due to drought-induced wildfires; and when the Atlantic Ocean would soon serve up Category 5 Hurricane Gilbert, then the most intense storm ever measured in the Atlantic basin.

In other words, events were highly conducive to climate change hitting the national agenda—and Hansen’s testimony was itself pegged to those events. Hansen even stated that the frequency of hot summers in Washington, DC had already increased enough to be noticeable to the average person.

Once again, this was 24 years ago. And I point it out because right now, we are clearly witnessing another of those agenda-setting summers—or at least, we should be.

This time, the wildfires are in Colorado, rather than in Yellowstone. This time, the heat waves are even more intense and widespread. And once again, scientists are linking the kind of weather we’re seeing to global warming—and doing so, frankly, with ever-increasing boldness. And no wonder: This year the U.S. is setting 7 new heat records for every new cold record, a lopsided ratio that is precisely what you would expect to see in the context of an overall warming trend.

And yet, is any agenda being set? Is anyone taking action? No: And it’s just more evidence that in the United States, politics are pretty much completely broken.

The time to act on global warming is clearly now—right now. In a sane world, Congress would immediately take up carbon cap legislation, and President Obama would be giving a big speech on the issue–and pressing Mitt Romney to explain why he flip-flopped into climate skeptic land, moving in precisely the wrong direction on one of the most important issues to afflict humanity.

Moreover, President Obama would recognize this as a smart political move, because the hard-core deniers notwithstanding, public opinion on global warming follows the weather. It always does. Now, with the whole country wondering about the sweltering heat, about the wildfires and the derecho and the destruction, people are more than ready to hear that, yes, this is global warming, and yes, something has to be done about it.

And yet still, it is not happening.

I cannot overemphasize how dramatic a missed opportunity this is–because we know that even against the backdrop of an overall warming trend, the weather is extremely fickle, and so is public opinion. In late 2009, the year of ClimateGate, and then in early 2010 (of “Snowmageddon” fame), public doubts about climate change increased in association with winter weather—and that could happen once again as soon as the end of this year.

Why are we so dysfunctional? That’s a massive question, and of course ever-increasing Republican irrationality and intransigence is a huge part of the picture (cf, The Republican Brain). Even if President Obama or Senate Democrats tried to do something, the Republican Congress would block any action.

Meanwhile, the media today are far worse at covering global warming than they were back in 1988. In those days, the late Stephen Schneider could actually fret that journalists were too readily linking global warming to weather disasters, without carefully explaining the scientific context. Would that that were the problem today. On the contrary, Media Matters has recently shown that journalists are overwhelmingly failing to discuss global warming in the context of the Colorado wildfires.

So the question becomes, what is it going to take to reverse these trends, of media irresponsibility and political dysfunction? If the last two weeks’ events aren’t enough to push global warming over the top, what will be?

I don't know any more. But I do know this: Once summer passes, it won't get easier. It gets harder—and we can’t afford to miss any more moments like this one.


Policy change for climate change is not going to happen anytime soon. Americans seem stuck in a mindless inertia of SUV’s, The hottest IT gadegts, the celebrity divorces. That broad sections of the country have been brought to their knees by extreme weather events, right now does not seem to make any difference in their concerns about AGW. A recent poll said that Global warming is the least concern for Americans when it comes to the environment. ‘Pollution’ in whatever form- air water,  is ‘more important’.

By 2020- as Greenhouse gases push past  420ppm (though due to the climatic inertia we will be seeing the effects of carbon released in the early to mid 90s)  We will be  seeing more extreme events-  Chicago reaching a high of 120 degrees? How about a hurricane flooding Manhatten?  Many types of crops  no longer being grown with any reliabilty in the Great Plains and Midwest? Will more disasters convince the clueless public that they are in deep trouble?

Lets push the timeline out to 2029. By then CO2 will be approaching 450ppm.  Will the unrelenting summer heat waves, damaging disruptive storms, floods, failed crops, wild fires  finally convince the bought and paid for Main Stream Media to begin to ask questions? Will the public finally ‘get it’?

We are sleepwaking toward a disaster. We may just begin to wake up in time to prevent the worst possible outcomes- but barely. Most Americans have little undertsanding of the science of climate change. Who is to blame for this? In the end it will make little difference- we are headed over a cliff at maximum speed.

Hey Peter, I went to look you up, but that is not your name. Are you one of the scum burning Africans off their land so you can plant tree’s to sell as carbon credits? Guess you will have enough money to pay for electricity, unless your carbon credit business crashes. Then you get to freeze to death with your fellow Americans.

I agree, summer is a the best time to make people believe in global warming, with people who live in the 5% of the planet that is warming. It will not work with those people who are living in the 95% of the planet that is cooler than usual. Not too many converts in the UK, Europe, the southern hemisphere or even the western half of North America.

Just wondering, how does warming in 5% of the planet’s land mass equal global warming?

look at the overall global temps- lets look at the first 6 months of the year. Lets see where the spring of 2012 globally has been  95% cooler  then North America. Please show me  the data. You will not find it- Lets see the month of June- soon to be released by the NOAA- let see if the rest of the planet has been  95% cooler then North America.

I would say there are two philosophically opposed strategies for dealing with climate change. The first is a left wing, statist, top down approach that relies on concepts like sustainability and the precautionary principle. It is probably best personified by Bill McKibben. It is not my preferred approach. I would argue that it involves H L Mencken’s concept of puritanism. Leftists are afraid that somehow, somewhere someone is happy driving an SUV.

The other strategy, which I tend to agree with, is a kind of market based, growth oriented techno-utopian vision. More energy is a good thing. AGW means more airconditioning. Fresh water shortages probably mean more desalination plants. When people are more prosperous, they tend to have less children and care more about the environment. This view is best expressed by Peter Huber.

Bill McKibben and Peter Huber had a debate in Feb 2000, which can be downloaded here:

Many of Peter Huber’s points are controversial and may even be wrong, but they are always interesting. His latest book is “the Bottomless Well”, which received praise frm Bill Gates who is very concerned about climate change.

I have heard for years from the right- that all we have to do about health care, is let the markets take care of it- and we will all be just fine. We have reached a critical point in soaring health care costs- which is mostly controlled by the private sector- we need Government regulation.

Bill Gates is hardly someone who is concerned ‘that much’ about climate change- he is a late 20th century Robber Baron, who thus far has not impressed me with any kind advocacy on the issue.

With us now in the ‘danger zone’ with C02 at nearly 400ppm is the ‘market’ doing much to promote clean energy? The Powerful oil companies seem primed to start new drilling in the arctic. Would this action seem to be the right step in slowing our emissions toward apocalyptic climate outcomes?

We are headed toward huge societal change. And what is  left of captialism will have to redefine itself from what it is today. And this seems unlikely given the current laissez faire mindset we have evolved into the last 32 years. Real change only comes from disaster and failure to understand that free markets in themselves can only do so much- and that was learned in October 1929- this time around we will be lucky to get off as easy.

Aside from Mooney trumpeting an all too partisan approach and being called on it …

I think “kind of market based” is the problem. If there was a free and equal opportunity market, we would probably already see a much stronger move away from fossil to renewable energy production, much to the benefit of probably … everyone. The right is calling for free market approaches loudly, but do not often put their hands where their mouth is. The fossil fuel (FF) industry still has an unfair market advantage, and an unfair lobbying advantage, so that its unequivocal demise (we WILL run out of FF sooner or later) is postponed to an unforseeable future. That neither creates jobs, nor does it help the economy as a whole, not to mention that other nagging problem …

The right would do better with the relevant section of the population, swing voters, if it actually promoted freer markets with equal access. People want (cheap) energy, not FF energy. And it needs to be reliable. How unreliable the large scale, central generation and long-distance distribution energy system we currently have is, can be seen after the recent natural disasters. The earlier you develop the alternatives and their markets, the better you are off in the long run. The US is already getting behind internationally. Those who will produce the future energy look for the markets. What do they see here? Naysayers, FF lobbyists, organized denialism, a disfunctional legislative. A market you want to sell in?

The advocacy of the global warmists have been the largest obstacle in finding an alternative energy source. They’re locked in their thinking and their near universal insistence to pursue technologies which can’t possibly work. They keep pretending that wind and solar electric gen are new tech. The first wind gen was made 125 years ago. It has the same problem now as it did then. We can’t store AC power and we don’t have storage technology to scale necessary for DC power. It is most likely that there’s another solution out there. But, we’ll never find it if all of our focus, funding, and research is wasted towards impossible technologies. If we let things naturally progress, it’s likely we’d find a workable technology within 50 years. History tells us this. But, we’ve wasted the better part of 30 years pursuing known failed solutions.

The reality is we’re going to see atmospheric CO2 rise in excess of well over 600ppm even if we all agreed to “do something” about it. The physical constraints of time and scale dictate this. Socioeconomic and geopolitical realities push the rise even further.

the biggest obstacle to prevent disastrous climate change is from those who deny its real. Blaming ‘warmists’ for causing a delay in new technology is false. Perhaps if we get rid of the oil and coal industrial complex we could move to new enery solutions.

Perhaps you could think of some. Your government is only capable of wasting your money by giving it to “soon to be bankrupt” solar companies. Were you waiting for your government to regulate that you can no longer have electricity? Do us all a favor. Go to your breaker box and turn the main breaker to OFF!

 should we continue to enrich the oil/coal/gas plutocrats? when the heat waves like this  current one become ‘average summer weather’ in 10 to 20 years- and violent storms begin to multiply- the great plains and mid west turn to a dustbowl- what should I do? cower in my basement and prey for Mitt Romney? I would at this point trust Government more then a bunch or sleazy corporations and their ultra rich CEOs- who care NOTHING for our climate

Please spare  me the ignorant tea party conspiracy theories.

“Journalists are overwhelmingly failing to discuss global warming in the context of the Colorado wildfires.”

Is Chris deeply shocked at economists failing to discuss the Euro crisis in the context of the Solyndra crack-up ?

Chris, please head over to WUWT and defend yourself, son!

They are crucifying you as we speak. The comments are hilarious and very indicative of WHY your approach is due to fail.

There is no Alarmism from Mr. Monney- only facts, data and observation of actual climate conditions. Should we wait until the Great Palins reverts back to a dustbowl- not for a few years but for a thousand years! The far right- the denier folks are beginning to get worried- their misinformation campaign of lies, & utter nonsense is beginning to wear thin.

In the end mother nature will win- As C02 continues to rise- at a rate unknown in the planets history- and this increase is greater then the End Permian, the PETM- and even the Milanokovitch cycles of the last 800,000 years- that has produced 6 ice ages and 6 interglacials- but C02 never varied more then 180 durnig an ice age- to 280 during an interglacial- that 100ppm difference took thousands of years to take place- we have now risen 114ppm in the last 100 years- and most of that since 1958! Mr. Mooney presents sound reasoning- this kind of geologic forcing is dangerous- and those who say it is ‘alarmism’ are simply fools who ignore facts in order to protect special interests.

Mr. Mooney could care less about Anthony Watts- who as each year passes will get less funding from the Heartland Institute.

PeterMilza stated;

“Mr. Mooney presents sound reasoning- this kind of geologic forcing is dangerous…”

Dude, did you even bother to read what Chris Mooney wrote in this article before you copeid and pasted your little rant? WTF?

People capable of critical thought have now joined the debate and all of the over-the-top alarmism is being seen for the complete sham that it is. Clearly Chris Mooney is more worried about selling books and little rants like this article (which he is PAID to write) than preventing CAGW.

Get a clue!

the huge temperature difference we see in continental North America- should prove without a doubt that we are seeing significant change. But its not just this summer- its been summers over the last 30 years. Any of you fossil fuel surragates who come here in 2020 (which I doubt) will have little to say.

I see that you do not understand. The eastern part of North America is the only place on the planet that is warmer than usual. That is 5% of the planet.

The rest of the planet is freezing. Do you understand freezing? The Peru government is taking blankets to kids to try and save their lives from freezing to death. Do  you care?

EveStevens claims:

“That is 5% of the planet. The rest of the planet is freezing. Do you understand freezing? The Peru government is taking blankets to kids to try and save their lives from freezing to death.”

Where do you get such rubbish? It is certainly not from actual data. Here are some global data for May 2012:

Are you colour blind? Massive amounts of the globe are well above average. You are correct about Peru, however, the blue spot on the map is so small it makes your cherry pick even more nonsensical, you do know what cherry picking is, don’t you?

EveStevens, do you base your posts on ignorance, dishonesty or because you get a cheque from the fossil fuel industry for every post? My bet is a combination of all three.

Hey Ian, I get the rubbish I posted from news reports such as:

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Extreme winter weather in Peru: Government sending blankets to freezing people


It may be warm in parts of the US, but in Peru the government is trying to keep freezing people warm:

Peru’s government on Monday sent 18 trucks carrying 97,000 blankets to villages in the Andean highlands, where the populations endure freezing temperatures.

The blankets were sent to Puno, Apurimac, Ayacucho, Junin, Huancavelica, Huanuco, Ancash and La Libertad regions, daily La Republica reported.

The shipment is part of the national government plan to provide support to people who are not properly equipped to weather the cold.

Children and the elderly are often the most vulnerable to the cold temperatures, and every year a number of people in the highlands die during Peru’s cold winter months of June through August.

Last week, temperatures in the district of Mazocruz, located some 4,000 meters above sea level in the Puno region, dipped to -18 degrees Celsius, which is the lowest temperature in the department so far this year.

However since people here are blind, rude, on the take from carbon credit scams or waiting for their government to tell them to turn their electricity off, there is no point talking to you.

Here is what you said:

“The eastern part of North America is the only place on the planet that is warmer than usual.”

That is complete and utter rubbish as you would have seen if you clicked on the map of the world which I linked to. Since I am sure even you with a seemingly very low technical and scientific background are capable of opening an internet link I can only assume that your latest post is because of your dishonesty since (unless you are colour blind) you would have seen that the Eastern USA is not the only place on the globe which is warmer than average and that even larger areas in Europe, the Middle East and Asia are warmer than normal also.

Your little blue dot showing it is cooler in a very small part of Peru is meaningless (in fact it is far far less than the 5% which you claim to be meaningless for warming areas).

It is hardly unexpected that people in the southern hemisphere, it is winter there you know, and living at an altitude of more than 12,00 feet above sea level would be experiencing “freezing temperatures”.

Why are AGW deniers like EveStevens so dishonest, especially when it is so easy to expose their dishonesty? Do they think everyone is as intellectually challenged as they are? By the way here are last month’s temperature data for Juliaca, 40 Kms from Puno (much closer to Puno than Mazo Cruz):

Nothing comes close to the temperatures desccribed by EveStevens. More dishonesty one suspects.

Keep it up Eve, dig yourself deeper and deeper into your cesspit of dishonest rubbish, it reinforces our expectations of the dishonest drivel we get from dishonest AGW deniers.

We are talking about Global Warming.  Not Northern Peru Warming.  Correct?

Not one scientist has said every single place on earth will be a little warmer consistently and at all times. Not a one.

In order to understand global warming, one must look at global data. (I’m currently in a heat wave here, but that only means that we are having a heat wave here and the weather could very well be unrelated to global warming.  I certainly wouldn’t try to draw that conclusion like you are.)

You mentioned how warm it was in the US… But of course you know its not all of the US that suffered this.  Record freezing temperatures have destroyed crops.

This is because the Gulf Stream wandered south in parts of the US;  Some scientists say its meandering farther and wider with global warming.  This has caused an unusually warm winter in parts of Canada and unusually cold springs in the parts of the US.

As for what people think around here… I’m pretty sure everyone here like’s Hansen’s Libertarian Republican Economist solution. A flat carbon tax, and give the money to the people.  I’m a huge believer in the free market.  I like the cap and trade idea, but I’m not drawn to it.  I’ve been swayed by right wing thinking. 

In case you are wondering, I’m pretty close to center in my politics.  I’m dreading the fact that I may vote LEFT in the next election because of fear of Canada’s extreme right activities. (Censorship… scientists trailed by government minders… Destruction of environmental laws…)

Maybe I am mistaken, but the EPA already has all the power to “do something” about Global Warming. All they need is the high sign from the Obama administration to enact a wide sweeping plan. 

I’m not sure anyone here would like what a Congressional solution would look like. It would be a big grabbag of corporate handouts to industries that deal in Ethanol, Clean Coal, Oil Drilling, Nuclear energy, Natural Gas, etc in order to get all the needed House and Senate members on-board. The recently failed Kerry bill was evidence of that.

Looking wistfully to Congress as a solution to problems is always a losing proposition. You only need to look at the health care reform and HAMP programs as evidence of that.


Toxicadam, I think you are certainly mistaken - although in the opposite manner of most EPA critics.  The EPA does not have the authority to implement a “wide sweeping plan” to address climate change.  They can formulate rules which implement legislation under existing law (Clean Air Act, etc.), but they cannot go beyond the general language of the statute regulating pollution.