Archive for April, 2010|Monthly archive page

Event Review: Joe Romm drops some wisdom

As Chris and many, many others have mentioned, Joe Romm is perhaps the most effective  climate blogger out there. Or as Rolling Stone says, the “fiercest”. He’s just released a new book, “Straight Up: America’s Fiercest Climate Blogger Takes on the Status Quo Media, Politicians, and Clean Energy Solutions” and is discussing his experiences that led to the book at Center for American Progress HQ.

Romm never naturally saw himself as a blogger. His dad worked at a newspaper, and he thought journalism simply wasn’t for him. He was a scientist, and focused on making the empirical case for action to stop climate change. He never even realized, however, how big a deal it was until the consensus started building among fellow scientists.

And that’s probably why I like him so much. He’s an empiricist in red alert mode, much like myself. And his insights about the failure of the old media establishment to dig down to the substance of the climate crisis are spot on, frankly not just with this issue but most others as well. The horse race, he-said-she-said dynamic just doesn’t work to get people the facts they need. With messaging gurus carefully crafting messages catering to those who wish to continue the status quo , “fair and balanced” simply cannot do justice to a very complicated issue. Romm believes his blog is different, because he can present real solutions without having to worry about presenting quotes from people he believes are full of it. He also tends to beat the media to stories, even hammering at a point until it shows up in mainstream coverage, and that’s his greatest satisfaction about being a blogger. I’ve gotta agree with him there, which is why I get most of my news from new media sources these days. As Kos and friends always say, it’s like getting the newspaper a week early.

The other major point that fascinated me was his repeated refrain that the climate scientists just aren’t well versed enough in messaging to combat the constant industry and right-wing disinformation campaign to vilify climate science. Scientists, of course, are terrible at messaging, practically by definition. Their natural inclination is to not report a conclusion until it’s 100% certain, and even then caveats must be recognized. That is a very valuable viewpoint to have, but it is decidedly poor in producing useful sound bytes that accurately capture the substance of the scientist’s conclusions. Then, when scientists are dead sure of something and actually very alarmed about it, their natural response is to repeat their point over and over again in the hopes that it’ll break through. Problem is, in the era of the spin doctor people will simply tune that message out unless it’s framed in a more accessible manner. So a new strategy is needed. In other words, they need a Media Matters style campaign to directly fight back.

At the same time, Romm also believes the move away from direct discussion of climate change and onto peripheral foci (“clean energy jobs”, “energy independence”, etc.) has had a detrimental effect on the push to actually do something about global warming. It’s made the substance of climate mitigation efforts reasonably popular, but the direction away from scientific reality has ceded too much ground to the smear merchants poking holes in the core of climate consensus.

Other notable insights:

  • The lack of significant progress in tackling global warming to date affects public opinion. When people hear that a problem exists but nothing happens to solve it, they tend to grow skeptical.
  • The Kerry-Graham-Lieberman bill will disappoint many progressives. The Senate faces the same issue it did with health care: how do you get to 60 without losing the left flank? It will be tough, and no guarantee that it can happen, but it’s not impossible.
  • At the same time, K-G-L probably not by itself be enough to fix global warming. But we saw the same thing with the ozone layer. The initial Montreal Protocol in 1987 wouldn’t have been enough either, but it was strengthened later as the forecasts became more dire, and we managed to save the ozone layer in the nick of time. This is a very similar situation, and we have to start acting now if we are to eventually get to a workable solution.
  • The old-school environmental movement has made a great mistake in their focus, ignoring their own past accomplishments to make the air and water cleaner in very direct ways.
  • Earth Day is also the entirely wrong focus. It’s downright silly to think we can or need to save the Earth. In fact, the planet will be just fine without us. We should be much more concerned about saving the people, which is really the point of stopping catastrophic climate change. (this is a point I very strongly agree with)
  • So what does catastrophic climate change look like? If we don’t drastically cut our emissions within the next half-century or so, we could see an ice-free world in a couple centuries, which would lead to roughly a 200+ foot sea level rise. Kiss all of the world’s coastal cities goodbye. Oh yes, and most of the western U.S. will become a dust bowl within a few decades.
  • There is a major difference between “weather” and “climate”. The fact that the past couple years have been rather mild in the United States does not mean the planet isn’t getting warmer. People who read the weather on TV often flippantly joke about climate change not being real because it’s cold today. They really need to STFU….in Romm’s words, asking a weatherman about climate change is like going to the dentist if your kid gets the flu.
  • It’s always easy to convince people to do nothing. Plus, when you don’t have to stick to the facts you can create a very compelling narrative.

Finally, I noticed Kate Sheppard was also livetweeting the talk. You can find her comments @kate_sheppard.

-Jeremy

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C&S Hiring an Intern

Insider Reporting and New Media Intern

The Carrots and Sticks Project is a new organization that emerged from the principles and vision of the 2008 presidential campaign. We are a grassroots DC-based action tank committed to rebuilding America’s physical, economic and democratic infrastructure through direct engagement with Congress. Our areas of focus include but are not limited to: green transportation, climate change policy, progressive budget and tax policy, and financial market reform.

We seek enthusiastic and talented young progressives who want to help make the change agenda a reality. The Insider Reporting and New Media Intern will cover congressional hearings and other events around DC, write about policy issues of your interest on the Carrots and Sticks blog and elsewhere, help compile the congressional committee schedule each week and perform other tasks as needed.

The ideal amount of time for this internship is 15-25 hours/week. If you wish to work more, we can assign additional tasks that best suit your qualifications. The internship can start immediately, and we are open to applicants for summer internships although we would prefer a commitment of six months. This internship is unpaid, but there is a genuine opportunity to grow with the organization.

Candidates should possess:

  • Superior research, writing, and interpersonal communication skills
  • A strong desire to make a difference
  • Experience in journalism and/or new media (very helpful but not mandatory)
  • At least a basic understanding of the American political landscape (mandatory)
  • Strong academic background, preferably with a focus in political science, public policy, journalism or a related field

Also, being able to explain why every decent policy gets clogged in the Senate is a huge plus. If you think you can answer this key question, please try to work it into your cover letter. However, don’t worry if you can’t – that will not automatically disqualify your application.

The Carrots and Sticks Project is an equal opportunity employer strongly committed to providing equal opportunity and to achieving an inclusive, diverse workforce that values every individual. Minority candidates are encouraged to apply.

Application instructions:

Interested applicants should send a resume and cover letter to Jeremy Koulish at jeremy@carrotsandsticks.org.

The “War” Against Coal

It’s rare that you have a truly hostile Congressional hearing. Here’s Rep. Jay Inslee responding to big coal executives complaining about a war against coal:

“If there is a ‘war’ being waged here, it’s being waged by your industry against our grandchildren,” said Inslee at one point. “Is it fair for the coal industry to be able to put CO2 in the atmosphere at zero cost?”

As I understand it was also pointed out that Waxman-Markey contains upwards of 60 billion in coal giveaways. So apparently the strategy is to drop bags of money on big coal until they surrender.

It’s no wonder people are looking for an alternative strategy?

-Chris

Massey Energy Disaster Fallout

Via Brad Johnson at Think Progress.

The good news

Shareholders are calling on Massey Energy to seek the immediate resignation of chairman and CEO Don Blankenship in the aftermath of the West Virginia disaster that killed 29 miners, the worst in forty years. The Change to Win Investment Group — a union pension fund group with over $200 billion in assets — believes the Upper Big Branch mine explosion is the “tragic consequence of the board’s failure to challenge Chairman and CEO Blankenship’s confrontational approach to regulatory compliance.”

and the bad news:

Yesterday, Standard & Poors upgraded Massey to a “buy,” saying the tragedy’s “financial effect” was “immaterial.”

Clearly the legal system is failing when 29 employees dead, doesn’t rate as a financial problem. Massey energy has a long and exceptionally awful safety record and yet the S&P is confident that 29 deaths will have only external costs to the company.

-Chris

Deficits and Elections

You read stuff like this WaPo article from David Cho all the time and it’s just never based on anything but vapors in the reporter’s imagination:

But by suggesting the deficit may have peaked, administration officials are taking a political gamble. If the favorable number does not hold up in coming months and the budget shortfall surpasses the $1.4 trillion recorded last year, voters in the November midterm elections could punish the Democrats for offering false hope.

Political Scientist Henry Farrell from the Monkey Cage offers this rejoinder.

It is certainly true that the electorate ‘could’ punish the Democrats for offering false hope on the deficit. But it’s also possible that the electorate ‘could’ punish the Democrats for how much Tim Burton’s latest movie sucked, for increases in shark attacks, or for failing to prevent the massive invasion of green alien space monkeys that’s due to take place this summer. Actually, there is some interesting evidence on the shark attacks. The false hopes, Alice in Wonderland and green space monkey effects? Not so much.

-Chris

Climate Econ 101

Paul Krugman is wrong that a Pigovian tax and Cap and Trade systems are “more or less equivalent”*, but this article is a great read nonetheless.

The view from the Reality Based Community:

Just as there is a rough consensus among climate modelers about the likely trajectory of temperatures if we do not act to cut the emissions of greenhouse gases, there is a rough consensus among economic modelers about the costs of action. That general opinion may be summed up as follows: Restricting emissions would slow economic growth — but not by much. The Congressional Budget Office, relying on a survey of models, has concluded that Waxman-Markey “would reduce the projected average annual rate of growth of gross domestic product between 2010 and 2050 by 0.03 to 0.09 percentage points.” That is, it would trim average annual growth to 2.31 percent, at worst, from 2.4 percent. Over all, the Budget Office concludes, strong climate-change policy would leave the American economy between 1.1 percent and 3.4 percent smaller in 2050 than it would be otherwise.

And what about the world economy? In general, modelers tend to find that climate-change policies would lower global output by a somewhat smaller percentage than the comparable figures for the United States. The main reason is that emerging economies like China currently use energy fairly inefficiently, partly as a result of national policies that have kept the prices of fossil fuels very low, and could thus achieve large energy savings at a modest cost. One recent review of the available estimates put the costs of a very strong climate policy — substantially more aggressive than contemplated in current legislative proposals — at between 1 and 3 percent of gross world product.

And the we make up reality as go along community:

What you hear from conservative opponents of a climate-change policy, however, is that any attempt to limit emissions would be economically devastating. The Heritage Foundation, for one, responded to Budget Office estimates on Waxman-Markey with a broadside titled, “C.B.O. Grossly Underestimates Costs of Cap and Trade.” The real effects, the foundation said, would be ruinous for families and job creation.

This reaction — this extreme pessimism about the economy’s ability to live with cap and trade — is very much at odds with typical conservative rhetoric. After all, modern conservatives express a deep, almost mystical confidence in the effectiveness of market incentives — Ronald Reagan liked to talk about the “magic of the marketplace.” They believe that the capitalist system can deal with all kinds of limitations, that technology, say, can easily overcome any constraints on growth posed by limited reserves of oil or other natural resources. And yet now they submit that this same private sector is utterly incapable of coping with a limit on overall emissions, even though such a cap would, from the private sector’s point of view, operate very much like a limited supply of a resource, like land. Why don’t they believe that the dynamism of capitalism will spur it to find ways to make do in a world of reduced carbon emissions? Why do they think the marketplace loses its magic as soon as market incentives are invoked in favor of conservation?

* The Cap in the Cap and Trade proposals is a downward moving cap, which theoretically could eventually lead to the elimination of emissions all together. It’s only in the short term that C&T would act as a de-facto Pigovian tax, in the long term it looks more like a strict mandated pollution reduction.

Fight for CLEAN-TEA Still Alive and Well

Hopefully it’s been made pretty clear on this blog and in other Carrots and Sticks materials that if we were to write a comprehensive energy and climate package of our own, we would support a cap-and-dividend approach to carbon pricing akin to that of the Cantwell-Collins CLEAR Act accompanied by a Green Bank initiative to leverage up to $1 trillion of private sector investment in the new green economy. However, the Kerry-Graham-Lieberman framework that seems to be moving now is far short of that in terms of both simplicity and effectiveness. Both Chris and I still don’t think it has close to 60 votes and this all may be a moot point, but nevertheless it’s worth working to improve the KGL language as much as possible.

Part of our climate agenda, basically a backup plan if direct cap-and-dividend doesn’t happen, is allocations or investment of climate revenues in clean transportation projects. The now-defunct CEJAPA bill did a pretty good job of this, and we’d like to see that commitment be continued in this new initiative. On Monday, Transportation for America delivered a letter to its three chief architects reiterating this request, and we are proud to be one of the letter’s 41 co-signers.

Here’s the letter in full:

View this document on Scribd

-Jeremy