Here’s a nice article by Coral Davenport from the National Journal: Heads in the Sand.
Two days later, the reporter tried again. Approached in the Capitol, Barrasso smiled and appeared poised to answer questions, inviting the reporter into an elevator with him. As the door slid shut, the reporter asked, “Do you believe that climate change is causing the Earth to warm?” A long silence ensued. The senator eventually let out a slow laugh and said, “This isn’t the time to have that conversation.” As soon as the elevator opened, he clapped his phone to his ear and walked briskly toward the Capitol subway.
I realize our election cycles are all about the next year or two. But on the timescale of decades, the Republican Party’s current approach to climate change is a loser. This is going to cut across all demographics, all socio-economic categories. Race, taxation, civil rights; it doesn’t matter. Whatever your hot button issues are, they are predictably going to be trumped by climate change. The Republican Party is placing a red bet on a roulette wheel that only has black slots.
It will be interesting (painful, but interesting) to see how that works out for them.
Doubtless you’ve already been pointed to the video of the UC Davis campus police pepper-spraying the student protesters who were sitting on the ground, arms linked, in an effort to prevent the police from forcibly evicting some other students camping on the quad. In case you missed it, though, here’s the video:
I’m reminded of the incident from a few years ago, in which a UCLA student who refused to show his ID and then refused to leave the campus library was repeatedly zapped with a Taser by campus police (see 36 Views of Mostafa Tabatabainejad Being Tasered).
As in that incident, I can see things from both sides. As a former coworker of the UC campus police, I think I have a pretty clear idea of the mindset that led to this pepper spraying, and I have a certain amount of sympathy for the cops in question. With that said, I also feel a certain sympathy for the views expressed by UC Davis Prof. Nathan Brown, in his Open Letter to Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi:
I call for your resignation because you are unfit to do your job. You are unfit to ensure the safety of students at UC Davis. In fact: you are the primary threat to the safety of students at UC Davis. As such, I call upon you to resign immediately.
Just as a strategic matter, I think it’s pretty clear that the student protesters “won” this exchange. By sitting down, linking arms, and refusing to relinquish their places, they placed themselves in the path of the authorities who would control their behavior. Those authorities, by resorting to force, and doing so in full view of lots of cameras, committed the same strategic error that was memorably depicted in the movie Gandhi, in the scene where non-violent protestors march on the salt works, knowing they will be clubbed, but marching anyway.
The next step for the UC Davis protestors is clear, and it’s the same next step I wrote about in connection with the Tabatabainejad tasering at UCLA: Go back to the same place with lots of buddies, sit down and link arms, and dare the authorities to spray pepper spray in your eyes again.
If enough of you are willing to do that, you win. If you really believe in your cause, believe in it strongly enough to stand up non-violently to those who would inflict brutal pain and, potentially, permanent injury or death, without being deterred (and, crucially, if there are cameras present, and if your actions are presented with sufficiently compelling production values to inspire others to follow your example), then you win.
Unfortunately, you also run a fair risk of being tasered, pepper-sprayed, bludgeoned, or killed.
If you watch the UC Davis video to the end, there’s a pretty compelling part where the cops are basically looking around at this angry crowd surrounding them, and you can see the thought going through their heads: This could really get out of hand.
You can see them get scared.
I’m not saying they were scared for their personal safety (though it would be silly to think that as human beings, they didn’t experience such fears). But I think they were certainly scared of being put into a situation that compelled them to escalate their use of force.
It’s at that point that the guy does his “Mic check!”, and the crowd, collectively, tells the cops: Hey, cops. You can leave. Why don’t you?
And the cops do.
Again, I’m not sure I’m totally on either side here. But it’s a compelling piece of video.
I’m not saying any of this to ask you for mercy, but to ask you to join me. If you side with Mr Huber and believe that your role is to discourage citizens from holding their government accountable, then you should follow his recommendations and lock me away. I certainly don’t want that. I have no desire to go to prison, and any assertion that I want to be even a temporary martyr is false. I want you to join me in standing up for the right and responsibility of citizens to challenge their government. I want you to join me in valuing this country’s rich history of nonviolent civil disobedience. If you share those values but think my tactics are mistaken, you have the power to redirect them. You can sentence me to a wide range of community service efforts that would point my commitment to a healthy and just world down a different path. You can have me work with troubled teens, as I spent most of my career doing. You can have me help disadvantaged communities or even just pull weeds for the BLM. You can steer that commitment if you agree with it, but you can’t kill it. This is not going away. At this point of unimaginable threats on the horizon, this is what hope looks like. In these times of a morally bankrupt government that has sold out its principles, this is what patriotism looks like. With countless lives on the line, this is what love looks like, and it will only grow. The choice you are making today is what side are you on.
In a Tank Riot podcast from a while back, they talked about how the widespread access to unmediated information about the Kennedy assassination (in particular, the Zapruder film) led to the rise of a million conspiracy theories. But here’s an interesting one I’d never thought of: that Kennedy was actually just collateral damage, because Oswald’s real target was John Connally: A New (to Me) Theory about the Kennedy Assassination: It Was an Accident.
Dale McGowan explains (in an otherwise worthwhile piece that I’m not going to focus on here) how he helped his 9-year-old daughter deal with the fear that resulted from her having heard about Christian radio-show host Harold Camping’s (latest) prediction that the world would end soon:
I looked her in the eye. “When you’re trying to figure out what to believe, a good way to start is to just ask why other people believe it, then decide whether it’s a good reason.”
We can apply this approach to the question of whether human activity is altering the climate, and whether that alteration is dangerous. For example, today USA Today ran an editorial (Our view: America, pick your climate choices) that basically equates climate change deniers with birthers:
Late last week, the nation’s pre-eminent scientific advisory group, the National Research Council arm of the National Academy of Sciences, issued a report called “America’s Climate Choices.” As scientific reports go, its key findings were straightforward and unequivocal: “Climate change is occurring, is very likely caused primarily by human activities, and poses significant risks to humans and the environment.” Among those risks in the USA: more intense and frequent heat waves, threats to coastal communities from rising sea levels, and greater drying of the arid Southwest.
Coincidentally, USA TODAY’s Dan Vergano reported Monday, a statistics journal retracted a federally funded study that had become a touchstone among climate-change deniers. The retraction followed complaints of plagiarism and use of unreliable sources, such as Wikipedia.
Taken together, these developments ought to leave the deniers in the same position as the “birthers,” who continue to challenge President Obama’s American citizenship – a vocal minority that refuses to accept overwhelming evidence.
Nothing much new here (as the editorial points out). But they also did something interesting: They ran an “opposing view” piece by Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) arguing the opposite position. See Inhofe’s view: All pain, no gain.
Not too long ago, President Obama and his Democratic allies in Congress proudly announced that America would lead the fight against global warming by passing a cap-and-trade bill. But despite overwhelming majorities in both houses of Congress in 2009, Democrats barely found the votes to get the proposal through the House, and Senate Democrats never even brought it up for a vote.
The reason is simple. Cap-and-trade is designed to make the energy we use more expensive. Consider President Obama’s Energy Secretary Steven Chu, who said in 2008, “Somehow, we have to figure out how to boost the price of gasoline to the levels in Europe.” That’s about $7 to $8 a gallon.
What the Democrats have since learned is that the American public is more skeptical of the science of global warming than at anytime over the past decade. Frank Newport of Gallup stated earlier this year, “Americans’ attitudes toward the environment show a public that over the last two years has become less worried about the threat of global warming, less convinced that its effects are already happening, and more likely to believe that scientists themselves are uncertain about its occurrence.”
I encourage you to read Inhofe’s whole piece. There are some additional arguments in it, mainly that if the US pursues cap-and-trade pricing on carbon it will simply shift carbon emissions to other countries and actually increase those emissions.
So, I put it to you: Just on the basis of these two pieces, which side in the debate is making the stronger argument?
USA Today editorial board: the nation’s pre-eminent scientific advisory group is straightforward and unequivocal in stating that “Climate change is occurring, is very likely caused primarily by human activities, and poses significant risks to humans and the environment.”
Jim Inhofe: Congress has failed to pass cap-and-trade legislation, despite Democratic majorities, because the electorate is worried about the effect it would have on gas prices. Meanwhile, the American people’s concerns about global warming have diminished over the past decade.
Hm. I wonder which argument should carry more weight as I try to assess whether climate change poses a significant risk? I could listen to the scientists who study climate. Or I could listen to politicians who receive massive campaign contributions from the fossil fuel industry, and consumers concerned about the price of gas. I wonder which of those groups has a better take on what’s going to happen with climate?
CORUSCANT – Obi-Wan Kenobi, the mastermind of some of the most devastating attacks on the Galactic Empire and the most hunted man in the galaxy, was killed in a firefight with Imperial forces near Alderaan, Darth Vader announced on Sunday.
David Roberts, writing at Grist, coins my new favorite expression (“the fussilade of lies”) while describing the Republican response to Obama’s attempted centrism: Policy in an age of post-truth politics:
The political logic behind Obama’s center-right healthcare plan (and center-right cap-and-trade plan, and too-small stimulus with too many tax cuts, and too-mild financial reform) is that there is a “center” in the policy spectrum, and that if he chooses policies located there, moderate Republicans, by virtue of their previous policy commitments, will be forced to work with him, and he will get credit for being reasonable and centrist, which will translate into votes, victories, and political momentum. That has been the basic approach of his presidency. Unfortunately, it reflects a naive policy literalism that is absolutely ubiquitous on the left.
What happened instead? On policy after policy, Obama began with grand, magnanimous concessions (see: offshore drilling) and waited in vain for reciprocation. He adopted center-right policies … and was attacked as a radical secular socialist Muslim babykiller. Every Dem proposal, no matter how mild, has been a government takeover complete with confiscatory taxes, death panels, and incipient tyranny. The fusillade of lies began early and has continued unabated.
Now, on the naive, positivist view, the media and other elite referees of public debate should have called a foul. Republicans should have been penalized for opposing and maligning policies that they’d supported not long ago, for brazenly lying, and for rejecting all attempts at compromise. They chose the strategy; the strategy should have been explained plainly to the public.
But the crucial fact of post-truth politics is that there are no more referees. There are only players.
Ann Carlson of the Legal Planet blog was initially impressed by the Japanese government’s openness about the unfolding nuke crisis. But today there were signs that the U.S. government thinks things are more serious than their Japanese counterparts have been saying, which makes her wonder what’s going on. From Why Do Governments Cover Up the Truth About Environmental Disasters?:
I’m reminded a bit of the Obama Administration’s efforts in the early days of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill to seriously understate the rate of leakage of oil even in the face of independent and credible expert conclusions that the spill was far larger than either the government or BP wanted to admit. After investigating the response to the oil spill, the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Drilling and Oil Spill blasted the administration for its lack of candor and explained in very clear terms that the consequences of lack of candor go far beyond a PR disaster. To quote the Commission’s staff:
The absence of trust fuels public fears, and those fears in turn can cause major harm, whether because the public loses confidence in the federal government’s assurances that beaches or seafood are safe, or because the government’s lack of credibility makes it harder to build relationships with state and local officials, as well as community leaders, that are necessary for effective response actions.
One could easily substitute a few words and make the same claims about the Japanese government’s handling of the nuclear crisis if the US version turns out to be the correct one.
So why do governments engage in obfuscation in the case of a major environmental crisis? Is it because they fear that the political fallout from a disaster is likely to increase with the size of the calamity and therefore wishful thinking leads them to underestimate the harm? I honestly don’t get it. Candor breeds trust, something badly needed during an emergency. And yet governments seem incapable of learning that lesson.
I think she’s right that wishful thinking is a factor. There’s also this: Politicians are in the business of fostering a particular set of public perceptions. “I’m the best candidate/vote for me.” “The steps our administration has taken have been instrumental in bringing about [good outcome X].” “[Bad outcome Y] had nothing to do with the actions of our administration.” And so on. A lot of those things may have only a tenuous relationship with the truth, yet politicians’ overriding imperative is to convince people that those things are, in fact, true. In a crisis, with solid information in short supply and public perceptions in an especially volatile state, the urge to spin reality in as favorable a direction as possible is surely overwhelming.
Except that with disasters, reality has a way of asserting itself despite the spin. And as Carlson points out, squandering credibility by engaging in politics-as-usual can lead to very real harm.
Reading this made me think of J.A.Y.S.O.N., whom I believe has a dad who consumes a fair amount of Fox News: Standing Up To Glenn Beck.
I know this is whistling into the wind, but it’s long past time for the adults in the Republican Party to speak up about this. Glenn Beck is the Father Coughlin and the Robert Welch of his generation rolled into one, and his brand of noxious conspiracy theorizing isn’t something to be tolerated just because it produces a few useful idiots. It’s time for this to end.
As someone who’s concerned about climate change and interested in local governments’ response to same, I really liked this article by Mark Hertsgaard: Why Seattle will stay dry when your city floods. It talks about the efforts of Ron Sims, former chief executive of King County, Washington, to incorporate climate science into decision-making surrounding Seattle’s water infrastructure.
One of Sims’ ideas was to make climate change central to the mission of every department in county government. “Ron is always telling us, ‘Ask the climate question,’” said Jim Lopez, Sims’ deputy chief of staff. “That means: Check the science, determine what conditions we’ll face in 2050, then work backwards to figure out what we need to do now to prepare for those conditions.”